It goes without saying that lately there have been an awful lot of assault stories on Pakistani television. Unfortunately, plots like a damsel in distress, domestic violence or forced marriages have always been successful tropes in our dramas but we have witnessed a surge in assault survivor stories in the previous year and we expect many more this year as well.
Over a year ago we saw Faysal Qureishi giving a phenomenal performance in Haiwan, a story about child abuse. Before that, there were plays like Meri Guriya and Dar Si Jati Hai Sila, both of which boasted of stellar performances and strong stories. Abuse and rape were also discussed in Sami Khan-Sonya Hussyn starrer Aisi Hai Tanhai, proving that themes of sexual assault have become a focal point in big banner productions.
Many advocates of such plays claim that these stories are televised to increase awareness about taboo subjects and open conversations. We agree to the point but on the contrary we see that the gravity of such heinous acts like assault, rape and harassment is marginalized with sob stories where the perpetrator is glorified meanwhile the so-called ‘survivor’ is victimized in every scene without any rebuttal.
We saw it recently in Ruswai — apparently, a story of a gang rape survivor — who was continuously pushed into one marriage or the other by her family. The drama was about everything but Sameera’s (Sana Javed) struggle; even her triumph in the last episode was aided by her ex-husband who had tortured and hit her earlier. A somewhat similar case was seen in Cheekh where Mannat (Saba Qamar) lost her best friend, husband, mother and her unborn child to the atrocities inflicted by the perpetrator, Wajih (Bilal Abbas), only to be left alone in the end.
Later, we saw a battered and beaten Mariam (Ramsha Khan) in Kaisa Hai Naseeban who was suffering at the hands of her husband and mother-in-law. Surkh Chandni also led us to believe that there isn’t no light at the end of the tunnel. Aida (Sohai Ali Abro) survived an acid attack only to be rejected by her family: her father committed suicide, her brother shamed her, her sister-in-law abused her, all while her mother remained silent. Her only hope was Amaan (Osman Khalid Butt) and even he struggled to save her from Jawad’s wickedness.
The depiction of sexual assault or harassment isn’t completely problematic here. We have to admit that these dramas are by and large mimicking what is happening in our society. We, as a nation, regard assault stories as a taboo subject. Those stories are brushed under the carpet and are almost never a part of our drawing room discussions. So, it is a welcoming change that writers and producers are confronting these long-buried issues, however, is it too much to expect these stories to be encouraging, rather than just depressing and gut-wrenching tales of torture?
For instance, in Inkaar we saw a resolute Hajra (Yumna Zaidi) with a supporting father Hafiz Ilyas (Rehan Sheikh) and fiancÃ© Shayan (Sami Khan). Despite her mother and brother’s taunts and an evil-minded Rehan Chaudhry (Imran Ashraf) who stabbed her multiple times, she didn’t lose hope. Though we don’t agree to the conclusion of the drama, we can still safely say that Hajra won the battle against power, politics and oppression on her own terms. That’s a laudable character and praiseworthy storyline.
More recent dramas like Ranjha Ranjha Kardi, Ishq Zahe Naseeb,Â Yeh Dil Mera and even Pyar Ke Sadqay have all had prominent incidents of assault or harassment, despite them being dramas of a completely different genre. Without getting into the nitty-gritty of when and how the presence of assault makes sense in a storyline, we can say that this trend is gradually becoming an easy instrument of creating drama, tension and sympathy around a character.
Another drama on ARY Digital — Dushman e Jaan — has recently hit the air waves and by the looks of its teasers, we can predict that another rape story is in store. However, only time will tell if this will do justice to the plot. I certainly hope that Pakistani dramas start offering narratives that explore these heinous acts of assault beyond a shock-inducing plot device and portray them with complexity and sensitivity that they demand.