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?
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. Whereas 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This article also appears HERE