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Are these Heroines inspiring ?

Anyone scanning our TV channels for inspiring or even realistic female characters is going to be sorely disappointed. There was a time in the recent past when Dramas like Dastan, Humsafar and Zindagi Gulzar hai gave us iconic heroines like Bano, Khirad and Kashaf to match the wonderful, well remembered protagonists of the past. Can anyone really forget Dr Zoya of Dhoop Kinarey, Zahra and Sanya of Tanhayan, Shehnaz Sher of Alpha Bravo Charlie and Sana Murad of Ankahi to name just a few?khirad


So who are the heroines of today? A quick glance at the top rated dramas on television might give us clue to the spirit of the moment. Unfortunately it’s a depressing list. Of the current hit dramas, the female leads are unrelentingly disappointing. Look at Mann Mayal, a drama that consistently produces high ratings; the heroine is a personality less drone, whose entire existence revolves around the men in her life. 8552e1be40fe15c9c36392de3d2852eaWhereas the nation’s past favorites, Khirad and Kashaf were both shown reading a book or two and striving to pass exams, Mannu of Mann Mayal goes to Mazaars to pass her exams and has yet to feature in a scene which doesn’t mention her evil husband or her lost love. She has absolutely no inner life, no preferences, and certainly no ambitions or hobbies.  Her general, bland, helplessness mark her out as the archetypal “bholi larki lost in a bad, bad world “waiting till she is rescued.maxresdefault

Another recent hit was Gul e Rana, in which the eponymous heroine is certainly interested in getting an education, but that education does nothing to empower her. She is forced to marry at gunpoint but cannot even hint at this to her mother and nor can she free herself of her abusive husband till he reforms and ‘lets “her go. While Gul E Rana gives speeches about women being able to achieve anything, she also tells off a victim of assault, for wearing clothes that “invite “rape. Another hit drama is Abro, where the heroine is punished for the rest of her life because she ran away to get married. A rude, arrogant girl, her spirit is broken and she is reshaped as the victim of her mother in law’s unending hate. In almost twenty years Abro is unable to improve her condition .Yet another popular drama Bay Qasoor takes the mazloom, helpless woman syndrome to a new level of depravity when a mother actually poisons her own daughter to avoid a forced marriage. Bay Qasoor also has the dubious honour of introducing a new phenomenon to Pakistani culture, where Aunt and niece get married the same rich man.Va9CZ

These sad, dis-empowered females suffer but are never allowed to change their own circumstances despite having the sense and ability to do so. What a sharp contrast to a heroine like Bano who suffers abuse but plans her escape, or Khirad who puts aside Asher’s attempt at reconciliation and leaves, or Kashaf who  famously  would not kow tow to either her neglectful father or her domineering husband….? None of these characters had to prove themselves worthy, saintly or innocent in order for their situation to improve. Their self-worth was intrinsic, they never earned respect they expected it as their birthright.images

Despite this onslaught of silly girls and stunted women there are a few interesting, strong female characters out there .The new drama Dillagi has one Dabang style heroine, Anmol, who stands up to her goonda of a husband and won’t back down from any challenge .In Udaari, Sheedan stands out as a woman with courage and pride despite her poverty and lowly birth. In fact many of the women in both these serials are practical and resilient, making them rare, almost unique figures on our screens at this time. The upcoming drama serial Mor Mahal also promises some strong women characters if the story can resist sinking into the usual tropes of women manipulating men to gain power.images

So, what is a heroine? The most basic definition is a “woman who is admired”. Who we admire says more about us and more importantly what we aspire to be than anything else. It’s the perfect tell, if you want to understand someone’s real values, find out who they respect rather than who they love. So the question is, who do we as a nation admire? Who do we as a nation aspire to be? In today’s digital age, more than ever before the images flashing before us on our mobile phones, our laptops and every other screen subtly shape our thinking in ways we may not even realise.Udaari

How will these characters inspire the next generation, what images will be frozen in our subconscious? The Pakistani drama industry has set the bar high in times past and there is no reason why they cannot make both commercially viable and inspiring serials now.

Sadaf Haider

This article also appears HERE


  1. Brilliantly written, Sadaf and quite needed if I may add. As I have mentioned before, I am a fairly new entrant into the Pak drama watching club and have so far seen some good characters and some not quite. But the examples you have chosen are all fantastic examples of the stereotypes that writers seem to want to project these days. What I dont see is balance in the characterization. I do understand and appreciate that some kind of an extreme character attracts TRPs but things have taken a wrong turn now, it looks like. I am ready to give some points away if the stories were set in olden days where women had to struggle to get out of the house and find their footing in a patriarchal world. So the bechari, dukhyaari aurtein were par for the course. But, in this day and age, why should a heroine be as lame and insipid as a Mannu who has absolutely no active pursuits or an inclination towards studies or whatever in spite of hailing from a wealthy family, or a Gul E Rana who is so totally confused and and is a hypocrite, despite her circumstances is beyond comprehension.

    I think Dr.Zoya is still so well remembered because she was real, normal, yet strong and quite clear in her head. I really want to see someone normal portrayed on TV. – Take life as it comes and show these women’s reaction to that situation. I loved Aunn Zara for that reason, so much. All three elder women had their fair share of life thrown at them, but they were not bitter (as Kashaf was- beyond a point her glass half empty was too much to handle), and were quite real and normal in taking on the setbacks and maintained great dignity in how and who they were. Zara was also a sharp cookie. She knew what she wanted and absolutely knew what she didnt want and yet she was so lovable. Farah was one such character and so was this Sanam Jang’s character in Mere Humdum….they were pretty well written. I really hope there comes a day when we can look at a tv or movie character and go – oh thats me, thats my life instead of just identifying with these strange women in bits and pieces…

    Anmol looks a bit scary to me – she seems to be on an agenda and these characters turn out to be one trick ponies just like Kashaf was- it was too extreme. It almost felt like life would not take any other turn and everything was to be portrayed just in one color. She was good in that she didnt bow down to the hypocritical men in her life but the price she paid in terms of being angry, bitter and unhappy is nto what we want to project, yes? I want to see different possibilities on screen where women ( like in real life) take on real problems- in hospitals, in boardrooms, on design boards,on the coding platforms, in classrooms, in the studios, on the runways, and in places of service. I want to see them solve problems like real life women do and not turn out to be caricatures….The first step is to write stories for women outside of marriage, society, one man two women paradigms..make them intelligent for god’s sake, now..There are a great many number of women who do awesome stuff without being a cardboard carrying feminist or a doormat, and lead absolutely fabulous personal lives…lagta hai ab humein khud hi baithke kahani likhni hogi…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry I am a bit late in replying Rads . Your comment may is as always a fun and fabulous read . Yes , TYes and Yes . I have pointed this out about darling Mannu many a time . I could understand Mannu staying with a a careless , neglectful husband or even one she wasn’t attracted to but stuck with because he was a “good man “. The other excuse would be if she was from a poor family who who could not help her . Mannu doesnt make any sense at all . But ok , this story belongs to samira Fazal if she wants it to run this way fine … I just want to know what this empty headed woman does all day ? I have never seen her cook , I have never seen her dust infact I have never seen her do anything except mope around the house about Salahuddin and or Mikaal .
      As to Anmol she is like a person who has climbed a high mountain and doesn’t know how to come back down . Anmol is not a liberated woman , feminism is not about putting other people down . I hate to presume to know what Faiza Iftikhar was thinking when she wrote her but from the interview it seems as if she wrote a character who needed to learn some humility . Anmol is very intelligent and she dominates the space around her . last weeks episode was a big old slap on her face and she is going to learn slowly but surely if life isnt so black or white .Mohid was wrong to stalk her but she was really wrong to laugh at his sister running supposedly eloping . Anmol fell into the trap she accuses others of setting ..That women shoulder all the burden of honour in society .
      Lol we will certainly have to try !


  2. I used to look at the Zoyas, Sanas & Sanyas and think wow I would love to have their confidence, working in a hospital or office looked fun (off course now I am older I know its actually hard work as well) What was Zoya’s neighbor’s name, the one whose father wanted her to do a business degree instead of Arts, as teenager I wanted to be like these women. Who would I aspire to today? Probably Kashsaf but then again she had a supportive mother. This is linked to the whole issue about mothers in our dramas (I managed to find that article by Zahra, interesting). In todays dramas I think why the hell would you put up with these psycho in-laws?

    I am finding Dillagi interesting and entertaining but Anmol doesn’t inspire me, she is actually more on the scary side. There is something emotional missing with Anmol, I think Sadaf you mentioned how the three women in the house, mother, sister and Anmol seem to lack a supportive relationship.


    • Yes I think you have a point there . Like all people Anmol has a flaw and that is overconfidence . She loves making snap judjments and decions for others . Kashaf was different , she wasnt interested in other people . Anmol wants to rule … I notice how she found it tough to follow her own advice to marry a malleable husband . Myreal beef with these stupid women that pass as heroines is in an attempt to make these women mazloom or innocent they dont allow them to use the sense they were born with . for example , Abro . Ok she made a big big big mistake but she has paid for it , why is she waiting for her mother in law’s love or absolution ? Why not get on with your life… This is not how real women act .


    • The lack of camraderie at the An,ol household is becuase Anmol is just too domineering . Neither her mother nor her sister are allowed to be her equal . Ok so Anmol is smart , very smart but she isnt wise otherwise she would know that there are other things she could admire in people apart from practicality and the ability to lead .


  3. Great article Sadaf….I also like the heroine of “Ab kar meri rafugiri” in the sense that she is able to stand up to her father and that leech of a cousin. And she doesn’t relent to the hero/stalker v easily either.
    Hoping for more stronger women on screen.


    • sigh she recently relented on the stalker /hero and That I was dissapoited with .. I think she was too quick to mend fences with him but otherwise I like Taban’s character . This girl wont please everyone and take a life time of abuse , torture and beatings from demented cousin . I guess that makes her a bad person ?


  4. Absolutely agree with you Sadaf. I feel Mannu doesn’t even want to be rescued! She is a victim of self pity, someone who is bent on ruining her own life. Rana was a joke.


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