Over a year’s span, very little has changed when it comes to the glorification of toxic relationships in TV dramas in Pakistan
A recent tweet poking fun at Mahira Khan’s roles in TV plays over the years is currently making the rounds on social media. A pattern emerges. While the TV industry is moving towards more ‘progressive’ storylines, toxic relationships are still glorified or glossed over in quite a few plays. In Hum Kahan Kay Sachay Thay, Mahira Khan plays Mehreen, who is in an abusive relationship with her husband. The problem is made worse by the lack of support from her family. Ten years ago, Humsafar came out and took the country by storm. Back then as well, Mahira Khan had the role of an abused woman, constantly sacrificing her sanity for her husband’s approval, even in the face of baseless accusations and demeaning conduct. The similarities in the two characters played by the actress 10 years apart show that storylines featuring toxic characters and abusive situations are still in demand. Despite the need for a facelift, these are watched by many.
Moving on from the log kya kahein gay storylines, there have been a few TV offerings in 2021. However, some of the alternatives have been equally disturbing scenarios. In Futoor, Faysal Qureshi plays the role of Haider, a wealthy man who marries a girl named Dilnasheen (Hiba Bukhari) half his age. Beyond the problematic age difference, which by default results in a power imbalance and developmental disparity, Haider is unfaithful. He chases after a first cousin (bearing similarities to Hum Kahan Kay Sachay Thay’s cousin love triangle), while neglecting his wife. Down the line, to save face, he falsely accuses Dilnasheen of having an affair. This too resembles accusations that Mahira Khan’s character had to face in Humsafar and Hum Kahan Kay Sachay Thay.
The blatant glorification of toxic, at times bordering on abusive, relationships in TV dramas in Pakistan is rife. The PEMRA is meanwhile more concerned with banning consensual displays of affection rather than violence in familial relationships.
In Qayamat, violent domestic abuse and grooming are at the forefront of the storyline. Rashid (Ahsan Khan) lusts after his sister in-law Ifrah (Neelam Munir) after practically murdering his pregnant wife Samrah (Amar Khan). When Samrah pleads to Rashid for emotional support and loyalty during her pregnancy, he goes into a fit of rage and hits her, eventually shoving her while she is 9 months into her pregnancy. As a result of the physical assault, there are complications during childbirth and she passes away. Her younger sister Ifrah is then forced to take up the mantle and marry the man who has been trying to groom her, while she is taking care of her deceased sister’s child. Qayamat has a very unsatisfactory conclusion, as Ifrah has supposedly no agency and stays with Rashid despite vowing to never forgive him for his abominable behaviour.
All these examples are from the top-billing plays on offer in 2021. One would be hard-pressed to find a positive and nurturing relationship in any of them. There has been only one striking example of a supporting relationship this year in Aik Hai Nigar. This is a cause for concern as people tend to internalise concepts from the media that they consume. The blatant glorification of toxic, at times bordering on abusive, relationships in TV plays in Pakistan is rife. The PEMRA is more concerned meanwhile with banning consensual displays of affection rather than violence in familial relationships. And although storytelling in TV dramas is beginning to branch away from these cliches, it is a sad fact that such content continues to generate a steady viewership. Looking at the tonal and characteristic similarities between Mahira Khan’s characters in Humsafar and Hum Kahan Kay Sachay Thay alone is jarring, despite the two productions being aired several years apart. This goes to show that the TV industry still has a long way to go towards creating content that does not trivialise abuse and suffering, particularly when it comes to issues faced by the female protagonists in these series.
The author is a staff member.