- Especially from once upon a time
In a country where every now and then a few steps taken forward are reversed, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA)’s new notification asking for more television shows to be made outside of the ubiquitous ‘feminist themes’ has been taken as a slap against media liberalisation and an open discourse on feminist issues.
The notice goes on to say that by focusing on women-related issues the soap operas isolate stories related to men and children, which has been at the centre of much debate now. While the freedom enjoyed by media has allowed for there to be discourse on important themes related to domestic life, the sheer exuberance or isolation in which some narratives are being over-sold is traumatising.
So when the notice highlights the dramas’ fixation with storylines involving women and their mother-in-laws, and plotlines with social issues including domestic violence, child abuse, and misogyny, it isn’t entirely wrong. But going onto declare it as under a feminist issue, is the one thing that doesn’t sit well with a lot of people in this country.
As someone who’s grown up watching the 8 o’ clock drama, Pakistani dramas have had a profound impact on how I envisioned or understood the society around me. Women in my family found strength through Haseena Moin’s strong women who tackled everyday challenges with the utmost grace and determination. Who loved openly, were nurturing and at the end, saved themselves. These characters were perfected with minimal make up and various real life heroic tales. Each dialogue from Shehnaz Sheikh’s Zara resonated with thousands of women all around the country waiting to embark upon their own destiny, while Marina Khan’s Sanya encapsulated all that is pure and innocent about a young woman, not without its iridescently childish behaviour.
Over two decades from this time, we have a series of dramas from a number of channels about women who are ambitious not only to acquire a better life but getting others’ husbands to have this dream fulfilled, women who go out and do all sorts of evil, women who stay in and are victims to all sorts of evil, cheating husbands, nonchalant and irresponsible young men who are never held accountable for their actions – all in all it’s a series of exploitation that women have to bear at home and outside of it, which although paints a grimly true picture of what it is like for women in this society, the fact that there is little about how women struggle to keep themselves afloat makes it to the big screen is a pessimist approach to depicting the society. In Moin’s words, the image of a strong woman which took over 40 years to perfect has been completely tarnished and transferred towards something that offers no lesson for many.
When talking about these norms, PEMRA’s notice has also outlined that storylines in-sync with the cultural values of the country have to be produced
And it isn’t just about the image of a woman, it is about lending a voice to the thousands of women who wake up everyday to work, and standing aside their family envision for themselves a better world.
So perhaps what the PEMRA notice could’ve said was that more stories be made which are enlightening for the youth and gears them to work for a better tomorrow. After long days in the heat with no electricity, or the sheer cold without any gas, when people turn on their TVs at night, they look for an avenue of good entertainment; that is morally sound, humorous and relatable. So while topics such as child abuse, rape, harassment, domestic violence, cheating husbands, vile in laws has opened for there to be more discourse on the issues that women face everyday, as a regular watcher I hope there could be more stories that celebrate the sanctity of womanhood, and all the many relations that engender from it.
There’s a reason why dramas that break the usual overly dramatic pace, and celebrate familial ties or the heritage are viewed as superbly refreshing.
Drama serial Udaari was a drama with a robust female-lead team, one which was awe-inspiring, empathetic and uplifting for many people. But it wasn’t just because of these elements, but the fact that child abuse was approached in an empathetic manner, and the precepts under which it happens and the necessary call for action in the monologue by Zeba Bakhtiyar was a sensitised education unto itself. It also spoke of Bushra Ansari’s strong matriarch character who being an opportunist gave her art the right place in society. Udaari was also a journey of Urwa Hocane’s Meera, a shy village girl who remains grounded despite reaching all heights in her career. In the end, it talked of communes for correcting the wrongs, and the ability within women to stand their ground firmly.
In the age of globalisation where narratives and perspectives are at the palm of each hand, people need stories that they can relate to. This is where the role of media is of paramount importance for societal inclusivity and growth; and hence safeguards have to be applied in order to ensure quality control. This is in no way directed towards reducing dramas to just be a way of telling a story, but a constructive way of dealing with all that is ugly and continues to sustain itself in the society. Most dramas offer little or no respite to the victims of sexual abuse, who go on leading lives marred by societal policing and little hope. I have yet to see a success story of a woman, who defying the odds, got the better end of the bargain and wasn’t shunned away from the many ethos that these storylines try to protect.
When talking about these norms, PEMRA’s notice has also outlined that storylines in-sync with the cultural values of the country have to be produced. A demand so vague that it would send millions into a frenzy as to what is quintessentially Pakistani – a question that requires a national discourse encompassing seven decades worth of history.
So while the PEMRA notice could have been worded correctly to reduce violence on screen that can be seen as a tool desensitising the society, and that more stories be created that celebrate these women outside of them either being at the wrong side of reality or victims. As a concerned drama enthusiast I hope that this notice, in its present form, is taken constructively and stories with heroic endings make it to the screen. Stories that could be uplifting for the many strong women who work beside me, and are traumatised by the hordes of graphic scenes on screens, playing into the night.
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