Pakistani Dramas and the Normalization of Abuse

Updated: Jun 17

Throughout the years, many have called out Pakistani dramas for their absurd portrayal of romance, and yet our writers continue to write scripts that are not just downright ridiculous but also promote abuse, internalizing misogyny in the audience, and painting a rather depressing and cruel image of the institution of marriage in the society.

In a country where women are ridiculed in homes and at workplaces, in political speeches and on late-night shows, our television screens and our dramas should be a way for our writers to enlighten and educate the audience about the role and importance of women in the society. For how long are we going to have female leads who are oppressed by their chachis/maamis/taayis until a hero saves them by marriage? Marriage is shown as the sole escape from oppression and dependence. And if a woman is to live a peaceful and successful life, she must please her man under every and all circumstances.

"Hum Kahan ke Sachay thay", a drama serial by Hum TV shows a girl, who aces at studies and is a brilliant artist, but has been traumatized by the toxic dynamics within her family. Owing to a series of ‘uncontrollable’ events, she ends up in an abusive marriage with her cousin. Her husband, who is clouded by misunderstandings against her, emotionally and physically tortures her. He is also the guy she has been in love with since she was a child. After immensely triggering scenes of emotional and physical abuse for several episodes, the girl gets sick enough to be admitted to a hospital. She is literally terrorized, as the drama shows. Her husband then learns the truth and finds that she’s been innocent throughout. Eureka! And you know the rest of the story, even if you’re lucky enough to not have watched the drama. It ends with her forgiving her husband and them living a happy life together.

So, this girl could have had better options for a life partner and also had a really bright future ahead of her if she were to separate from her husband. But she chooses to stay with her abuser because he has learned the truth now and is ashamed. Also, her love for him, how can we forget that. Yet again, we the audience are indoctrinated with the idea of a woman compromising her physical, emotional, and spiritual being before her man finally realizes that she's worth his respect.

For how long are we going to defend and cover up abuse due to misunderstandings and paint men as innocent, or rather dumb, creatures who are easily manipulated by their families or circumstances? For how long will the women in our society be expected to hard earn, through years of tolerance and sacrifice, the basic respect that every human deserves. Women, in our times, need to be taught to hold their men accountable for the injustice that they have been made to endure. And that men are equally human with brains that can, and should function on their own.

In another drama by ARY Digital, "Amanat" a husband separates from his wife, wrongfully accusing her of having an affair with his brother, and even refuses to own their child. The wife, throughout the drama, has to go through severe character assassination and in the end, when the man learns the truth, is advised to forgive him for their child's sake. Despite the husband's misconduct and inhumane attitude, she forgives him and they are shown to be leading a happy, peaceful life. We, as the audience, need to ask ourselves that at what cost did the girl get a roof over her head and a father for her child? Yes, her self-respect that was shattered not on one but on multiple instances.

Interestingly, PEMRA has put a ban on hugs and other intimate scenes even between married couples in Pakistani dramas. According to them, such scenes are an inaccurate portrayal of our society. But gruesome scenes of abuse and (TW) marital rape in dramas like "Qissa Meherbano Ka" successfully make it through their censorship and unto our screens, blatantly endorsing that in our society a man (TW) constantly raping and beating up his wife is way more acceptable than him hugging or caressing her. Our TV screens continuously showing horribly triggering scenes of women getting slapped and abused has served no purpose for the plots of these dramas but have unfortunately normalized such behaviors to such an extent that they do not even provoke a reaction anymore.

Due to the ban, our writers have resorted to nonsensical, inaccurate, and toxic portrayals of romance. Take "Kaisi Teri Khudgharzi" by ARY Digital as an example, where the "hero" takes pleasure in the female lead calling out his name as she cries on the phone and begs him to free her father. He threatens her that if she says anything except his name, her father will be severely punished. How are the channels allowed to air such scenes? It is also important to note that celebrities ought to be mindful of their responsibility in choosing scripts they become a part of and the characters they play. It would not be wrong to say that, in most cases, it is because of their favorite actors/actresses starring in a drama that people are lured into watching them, no matter how toxic and inappropriate the plot may be.

In our rapidly changing times, it is imperative to have strong and independent women leads. It is important that we see women play entrepreneurs, pilots, scientists, engineers, teachers, and even housewives who serve a purpose greater than a man’s redemption arc or an object in whom he takes pleasure.

But, sadly, the Pakistani drama industry, once known for its subtle portrayal of intimacy and strong scripts and acting, has been commercialized to such an extent that what mostly comes out of it is not art, which is meant to move people and create an impact, but just another desensitized commodity, the quality of which does not, and should not, appeal to a literate sensible individual anymore.


Wardah Khan is an in-house writer at Perspective.

Find her on Instagram at @wardahkhan_04

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