September 18, 2019

Pakistani dramas and their dysfunctional families

Just to establish some basic facts before launching an offensive in our television drama series currently in trend, let me start by saying that the top level of our dramas is world class and offers the kind of intense narration that distinguishes them from most dramas created in the subcontinent at least. Their USP is that they are real and mostly project and revolve around people who really exist around us. With very limited resources, as in the budgets, they manage to create a visual and attractive experience that keeps the masses hooked on them.

That said, there are recurring characters, especially within the family of the protagonist, who repeat themselves so much that they have now become tedious to watch on television. Writers, directors and producers are asked to think beyond these stereotypes that prevent any story from creating an unexpected or surprising experience for the viewer. Due to these recurring nuisances, television dramas are becoming too predictable.

The “bechara baap”, for example, is a character that we can and must think beyond. The ‘bechara baap’ is the new ‘bechari, boorhi maan’ of Bollywood of the 80s (the one that is represented as a widow in a white sari, is mistreated by her daughter-in-law and most of the time she loses her sight with time ; yes, we) thinking about Nirupa Roy and the fact that she was crowned Queen of Misery). The “bechara baap” is the man who has multiple daughters and is overwhelmed by the pressure of poverty and / or society. Her honor and happiness is directly proportional to whether her daughter marries and if she is accepted by her husband and her in-laws.

“Your main duty is to make sure that Ammar is happy, to take care of him,” says Saba’s father, played by Behroze Sabzwari in the drama series Khas, when he tries to express how unhappy he is. Saba belongs to a upper middle class family, so this problem is definitely not class specific. “The doors of my heart and my home are closed forever,” he exclaims, when he learns that his married daughter has been talking, yes talking, with another man. Then he leaves and has a heart attack.

Ayeda (Sohai Ali Abro in Surkh Chandni) has deeper complications when her father goes and hangs herself in shame when her daughter is accused of having a bad character, so she is attacked with acid in her face. Instead of supporting her during the trauma, he goes and adds it, which makes you wonder how and why men are labeled the strongest sex. Unable to deal with the slogans of “aap ki beti badchalan” that shouted at him, he commits suicide.

There are innumerable examples of “bechara baaps” that yield under the slightest pressure; Daneen’s dad in the drama series Anaa is another example. The only character that one can show as an example of how a father should be and what we need to see more is Hajra’s father (Yumna Zaidi) in the recently concluded Inkaar. Strong and supportive of her in the most difficult moments, Hafiz Ilyas (rendered brilliantly by Rehan Sheikh) is exemplary.

But the great and large family of Pakistani drama series does not end or begin with the “bechara baap.” There is, more often, a tyrannical older brother who, 1) slaps his younger sister and 2) intends to marry her with the first suitor who benefits him monetarily. We have witnessed this character in Surkh Chandni (Mukhtar), in Ishq Zahe Naseeb (Saleem) and previously in Baaghi and Sammi. The tyrannical older brother is usually accompanied and bothered by a sister-in-law accomplice, not sincere and greedy. Bhabhi is almost never a good person, which makes real-life bhabhis feel that challenge that stereotype.

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