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Do Pakistani Dramas portray workingwomen as Selfish ?


As per TV dramas a middle class woman who supports her family is noble but a wealthy woman with a career is selfish.

While daytime television is infamous for its easily digestible stereotypes and predictable plotlines revolving around the usual gheralu masley masail ; prime time on Pakistani television has managed to provide nuanced characters and  challenging story lines . Despite the purportedly conservative nature of Pakistani culture , working women have been evenly represented .From everyone’s favourite Dr Zoya of the drama Dhoop Kinarey to Kashaf Murtaza  of Zindagi Gulzar hai , audiences have been open to the idea of women working outside the home. Not only are they acceptable but often considered motivational role models for young girls. Just as at one time the nation cheered on Dr Zoya as she navigated her way around hospital wards the nation also rooted for Kashaf as she struggled to get through university and join the elite DMG of the Pakistani civil service.

There are also plenty of negative role models too running the full spectrum of careers: from aspiring models, singers and beauticians to writers, doctors and professors. Stories about models and actresses are usually served up as moral lessons and almost always end in heartbreak and tragedy. Meanwhile other professions are deemed more “honorable’ and the struggles women face to maintain both home life and work are depicted with much more empathy . For example :the recent serial Digest Writer, maps out the life of a writer and how her husband thwarts her career even though her earnings help support their family. However, where many Pakistani dramas reach the limits of their imagination is at the point where a capable or talented woman simply wants a career. While a single working woman may be portrayed in a positive light, a married woman (especially a wealthy one) with a career is not.

From Shandana of Durr e Shahwar to Zara of Izterab , married women with careers are often shown as demanding and inconsiderate. This woman inevitably has a dyspeptic, dissatisfied husband husband in tow that constantly yearns for a simpler life or a simpler girl who will make him paratas every morning. In Ahista Ahista , the husband Zorawer, completely turns against his first wife whom he had been madly in love with a few months back when his family blackmails him into marrying a typical bholi larki who likes to play with kittens and cooks well. His loving, well educated, first wife suddenly becomes pathologically violent and angry at the idea of a rival despite her MBA and earlier wishes to be accepted by her husband’s family. There is a similar scenario in the recent drama Izteraab , where the heroine Zara loses her husband to a visiting cousin , who….you guessed it….  plays with kittens and knows how to cook. Again in another recent serial n HumSitarey called Rung , the female lead is a doctor blinded by her overweening ambition while her husband and family are neglected.

According to Pakistani Dramas at least, it seems to be a truth universally acknowledged that a married woman in possession of a career must be in the process of losing her husband. The message is clear a married woman should stay at home, especially if she is already wealthy. Her career is a negative ambition, a luxury her family often pays the price for. There is a clear value judgment made: a middleclass woman who works to support her family is on a noble endeavor and should be supported but a wealthy woman with a career is selfish. Perhaps the most negative stereotype is reserved for older women who run NGO’s .They are often shown to be the worst kind of Hypocrites , full of elite western ideas about human rights while being oblivious to the simplest concerns of those in need around them.

Though this may be the most common scenario there are have been a few more nuanced depictions too. In Thakan the main protagonist Sadaf works to please her greedy family but in the end it is her husband who understands and trusts her enough to stand up for her. The drama Yahan Pyar Nahi quietly turned the whole stereotype upside down, when the stay at home mother Haleema is convinced her conceited, arrogant husband is having an affair with his old friend Dr Zunaira .She never suspects the real culprit is her own sweet and innocent cousin till the very end. Dr Zunaira was a surprisingly progressive and positive character , who was still cheerful about her life despite going through a divorce and was always kind to her colleague’s stay at home wife whom she encourages to be strong and independent. Such characters are rare and but at least they do something to counteract the more negative images we see on our screen.

Reality is racing far ahead of the story lines we see on our screens as more and more women are joining the work force and using their talents productively. Perhaps its time the fantasy caught up to the reality and gave audiences  some better options than the usual unthinking stereotypes of unhappy husbands and neglected children . At their best Pakistani dramas have been sources of inspiration and illumination for the classes and the masses. Their unique position as a medium that matters will only be maintained if drama makers  maintain their commitment to authenticity and innovation.

Sadaf Haider this post originally appeared in Dawn Images



  1. Ya know, this irks me a lot! This insane way of showing that woman can either run the house or run the company. Which is just not true because there are amazing ladies all around us who balance the work and personal life so efficiently. Granted, there ARE some professions which are grueling and need an individual’s utmost attention all the time but it’s not like those professions are being shown in Pak dramas tou phir problem kya hai? HOW do writers think that women are so stupid that they can’t juggle two extreme things efficiently? Have they ever seen a woman? In today’s life, we juggle between multiple things from our childhood! Just look are going round balancing school, tuitions, extra curricular activities, recreational activities, family time, TV time..all in the span of 24 hours. Kids can do it but grown, educated woman can’t? This is why characters like Kashaf have a huge fan following because THAT is what we need more on TV! A woman who kept striving and struggling to get to a certain position in life and she didn’t give it up just because she got married. Instead, she showed how a woman can balance having a husband AND having a professional life without compromising one for the other. Of course for that we need more mature and supportive men on TV as well but writers ko auratein ladane se fursat mile tou kuch ho na -_-

    I agree, it’s not like there aren’t positive role model ladies on TV but they come by so rarely. For one good character we have 50 regressive ones. That isn’t a good ratio. What baffles me the most is that women writers can’t write good leading ladies but can write the most swoon worthy men? What kind of teenage logic is that? o.O Seriously longing for the day when our TV industry grows up else it wouldn’t take long for it to go back in the ditches again.

    P.S – That Pride&Prejudice reference was GOLD!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Irks is a kind word . it frustrates the life out of me and I am sure a lot of other women . I know a lot of Pakistani women who work and Maintain a very happy , balanced family life . BTW this obsession in Pakistani dramas with Paratas and kofte and Nashta is annoying the hell out of me . My husband was A huge ( still is ) fan of any kind of Parata .. but eating one every day would raise his Cholesterol levels and make him fat opening him up to Diabetes and all kinds of illnesses yet every drama shows a silly middle-aged man hankering after some girl barely out of her teens who makes Paratas . I admit there are some idiots like that but really most men prefer an educated , sensible wife . I Think there is a balance involved . Just as a man cannot simply be a Doctor or a Dentist , he must also be a husband , a father , a brother and a friend . Dramas were not always like this and we cannot simply blame writers there is a public malaise , a sleeping sickness that the viewing audience has contracted which allows them to watch such stories without question or intellectual challenge.
      I agree about Kashaf she certainly was a strong woman , but she was so mean to Zaroon and you know I dont like that … 🙂 ( Fawad Fan alert ) Kashaf was not flexible and that too is a mistake in a marriage. Pandering to some idiot’s ego is definately wrong but being ,reasonable , loving and caring is what makes a marriage work even if you are the CEO of Pepsico. I know lots of working women with MBS, PhDs and medical Doctors who are loving , understanding wives and mothers without being as angry as Kashaf but when i see the landscape of Bholi larkiya force fed us I miss her no end . I have even constitute an award is her name : The Baji Kashaf award for Bholi larki off the Year . We need some more Kashafs and less of these idiots .Its kind of Tongue in Cheek but its there as an antidote to all these sickeningly sweet heroines . BTW going back to DeD , I wish we had seen more of the ambitious , Lady Doctor /scientist in progress Faraa . Faraa was agood character but I think we missed an opportunity there .
      Ok Men are not perfect anywhere on the planet , but they often rise to the occasion a lot more than dramas give them credit for . Men are not the enemy attitudes are the enemy and it is high time we got some Inspirational role models for Men too . WALI … We need a few more Wali types 😉
      Thank you , pride & prejudice is always close to my heart

      Liked by 1 person

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