Should Udaari be banned ?
Is Udaari offensive?
Nothing is safe from another person’s perspective in this brave new digital world. One flick of the remote and you are bound to see something offensive, that your neighbor may find acceptable. PEMRA has just issued a notice to Hum Tv asking for an explanation of a couple of scenes in the drama serial Udaari. Whoever the eyes and ears of PEMRA are they seem strangely selective in their outrage. It isn’t that Hum Tv or for that matter ARY digital, Geo or Aplus or anyone of the many channels do not deserve scrutiny, they do, and lots of it. Either the authority is completely unaware of what passes for entertainment on Pakistani Tv screens these days or this is their version of the random security screenings used at airports to reassure the public that the Government is taking care of business.
Udaari is a rare bird in the highly commercial and competitive world of Pakistani drama serials. Funded by an NGO, with a grant from the Canadian Government this serial’s first directive isn’t to make money but to raise awareness about the very serious issue of sexual abuse. Such a daunting subject could hardly be a viable commercial project and could only be taken up by a writer with great sensitivity and moral courage like Farhat Ishtiaq. Her credits include not only the landmark Humsafar and Dayar e Dil but also Rehaii, a serial that dealt with the equally difficult topic of child marriages. Taken out of context any scene , any story may look as if it is taking a sensational stance to gain ratings but this serial has been written after much research and with considerable input from the well-respected Kashf foundation, which strives for the empowerment of Pakistani women.
The question remains, how can difficult topics be addressed while maintaining standards of decency? For many, Udaari had managed just that balance. Actor Ahsan Khan has explained that he knew he was taking a risk with his reputation as a romantic hero by playing such a villain. However, he felt raising awareness of an issue to protect children was much more important. Director Ehtashamuddin has handled these scenes simply and directly without a hint of voyeurism. Yes , the scenes are shocking , they should be , such acts must be never be romanticized or dulled to the point that they lose their impact or ability to disgust . However when watched in the context of the entire episode they are no way suggestive or vulgar.
The key word here is context .The scenes from Udaari look sadly tame when compared to what makes for prime time viewing these days. The recent Sangat had a rape scene choreographed like an art project, while the rest of the drama was spent on belittling the victim and glorifying the rapist as a misunderstood “bad boy”. In another recent hit Gul e Rana, the “hero” is shown attempting to rape a female acquaintance who seeks refuge in his house, telling her that “she asked for it”. In both cases the rapists are presented to the public in the form of romantic heroes with “heartbreaker” attitudes rather than villains to be reviled. Another drama winning the ratings battle is Bay Qasoor; in which a girl is openly shown hanging from a ceiling fan as a suicide ,a mother poisoning her own daughter to prevent a marriage, topping it all ,aunt and daughter get to marry the same man. Not satisfied with this level of lurid titillation, a recent episode added a point blank range murder and an attempted rape fully illustrated by an advancing policeman leering suggestively at a cowering young girl.
If sex sells, violence is just as popular .Anyone watching Sada Sukhi Raho might wonder why Pemra did not object to the kind of sadistic abuse shown in that soap or why no one objected to the heroine being violently strangled in Ab Kar Meri Rafugiri. Suffice to say violence and suggestive rape scenes are part of the scenery in today’s dramas.
While certain sections of society long for simpler times maybe horrified by anything more than a bee hovering over a flower, the younger generation is blasé after downloading sexually explicit serials like Game of Thrones for years. It is common for Pakistani’s to restrict and wound their own arts and culture in fits of puritan rage leaving the vacuum to be filled from across the border or in this day and age, the internet. A broad spectrum of information is always useful but, if indigenous creative outlets are constantly stunted and delegitimized we will continue to see our own heritage as alien and resolve societal problems with external solutions that don’t always fit our norms.. Child abuse is an important subject that needs to be addressed, hard truths must sometimes be faced in order to protect and inform. We cannot ignore a problem because it is ugly or distasteful. If Pemra does not maintain uniform standards or understand the environment it is supposed to regulate it will lose all credibility
this also appears in an edited form in Dawn Images