By Maliha Rehman
Longwinded, heartbreaking Cinderella stories are quite popular as Pakistani TV drama fare. The innocent girl suffering at the hands of evil relatives and a callous husband is an audience favorite. She gets taunted and misunderstood, cries, gets beaten about and sometimes she even ends up dying and all the while, she hauls in high viewership ratings. It is rare that midway through the drama, she realizes her self-worth and takes a stand for her rights.
In Daraar, the 7th Sky Productions drama airing on Geo Entertainment, Amar Khan’s character Ifra does just this. She tries to rectify a troubled marriage but finally decides to take a stand against her odious, womanizing husband. She is an orphan, doesn’t have any financial security to her credit and her husband – Syed Jibran, brilliant in a negative role – does not allow her to even leave with her newborn daughter. And yet, she looks him in the eye and says, ‘Har baar ek aurat majboor nahin hoti’ (‘A woman isn’t going to be helpless every time’) and walks out.
It’s a game-changing moment, the sort of scene that makes you want to clap and perhaps even watch again – I know that I did. TV has always been littered with countless narratives where the woman continues to wallow in misery till perhaps the very last episode. Her suffering prolongs endlessly as she selflessly sacrifices herself for the sake of her children or for financial security or in a bid to save a marriage with a husband who doesn’t deserve such unflinching loyalty.
A leading lady who decides to walk out is rare – and the message that she gives is a very significant one.
Amar Khan observes, “We are all aware of so many families that tell their daughters to compromise in a difficult marriage once they have a baby. Even well-educated, financially secure parents advise their daughters not to rebel. A story like this points out that sometimes, in the face of adversity, a woman needs to be strong.”
In the case of Daraar, Amar’s character Ifra is that of a young, independent girl who works hard at her job. She lives with her uncle, aunt and no-good, self-serving cousin Sajal – Momal Sheikh in a commendable performance, bravely playing the evil other woman – and weathers taunts from her aunt on a regular basis. Shaheer, aka Jibran, meets her while she is at work and he proceeds to woo her until she agrees to marry him. He’s an affluent, powerful businessman and Ifra is considered very lucky to have made such a prestigious match, even making Sajal considerably jealous of her good fortune. Things are hunky dory for a while until, several weeks into the marriage, the audience gets to know that Shaheer is a compulsive womanizer. He has a secret girlfriend who he meets on the pretext of out of town business trips and there are some very suggestive scenes that the censor board fortunately chose to ignore which indicate precisely how little regard he gives to his marriage.
For quite some time, Ifra remains happily unaware of her husband’s philandering. She falls pregnant and the doctor prescribes her an unfathomably long period of bed-rest. Sajal moves in to help her out and since Ifra’s bed-rest goes on for so long, her cousin and her husband soon strike up an affair. A few more of the suggestive scenes allowed in by the censor board come about and the baby gets born. Sajal still doesn’t leave Ifra’s home and finally – finally – Ifra begins to smell a rat. While spending several hours a day crying, she also ends up uncovering Sajal’s earring on Shaheer’s bed. There is a confrontation in which Shaheer unapologetically informs Ifra that he is tired of her and that his happiness lies with Sajal. He tells her that the world still considers her his wife and she could continue living in his home and save face. It is at this point that Ifra walks out.
And in doing so, Daraar moves away from typical, morbid storytelling that the drama industry thrives on and takes a progressive turn.
Amar says, “Of course, I enjoy how the drama has been getting high ratings every week. I also have to confess that I like being in the audience’s good books. I recently played a negative character and the backlash that I got from it was quite draining. It feels great to have the audience on your side!”
She continues, “At the same time, this story is a progressive one. My character suffers and constantly bears with her husband’s disdain. But then, just once, when it is necessary, she speaks out with great conviction. A woman may not always be as strong in her statements as a man but when she is, she can really make a change.”
A woman like Ifra, in most cases, would have had borne with her wheeling dealing husband and cousin for a few more episodes. She would have had endured many more heartbreaking scenes for several more episodes. A few more salacious scenes would have had added shock value, depicting Shaheer’s polygamy to greater extents. Given the audience’s predilection for tragedy, TV ratings would have skyrocketed. It is rare that a female TV drama protagonist opts to stand up for herself.
This doesn’t mean that Ifra won’t be in pain for many more episodes. Separated from her child, she will be crying for quite a bit longer. But it is hoped that she will continue to stick to what she feels is morally correct.
By adding a twist like this in a mass-centric drama like Daraar, on a mass medium like TV, 7th Sky Entertainment gives out a strong message to its audience: that it’s okay for a woman to walk out and perpetually bearing pain doesn’t make you a virtuous hero.
Drama producers and directors have been known to analyze the popularity of the suffering woman in TV dramas by observing that a large proportion of the audience consists of women who have unhappy domestic lives. These women naturally gravitate towards stories where other women are similarly unhappy but eventually get a happy ending.
However, what if these stories could be swerved in new directions? An unhappy woman could decide that she no longer wanted to be pushed about. She could set an example for that supposedly unhappy diaspora that forms Pakistan’s TV audience, reminding them of their rights and their self-worth.
What if the female TV drama lead could be ‘good’ without sacrificing herself to the point of madness? The stories told by TV dramas have the power to quietly seep into society and bring about a change in the way the audience’s perceptions of morality. You never know, with the right narration and treatment, the ratings could even skyrocket for a progressive storyline.
Daraar may turn out to be one such drama.
What do you think?