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The Power Of TV Dramas To Critique And Shape Cultural Values

The following are reviews of a few recently finished and currently ongoing Pakistani dramas by the author.

Raqs-e-Bismil

Raqs-e-Bismil, as the name shows, is the story of a very passionate lover. But it also focuses on the hypocritical mindset of the society. On one hand, the character Peer Sahib is preaching to his followers, “Yeh duniyah dil laganay ki jagah nahi hai to palatnay kay liyay tayyar ho jao.” (This world isn’t the place to be enamoured with. Be prepared to return from this world.) On the other hand, he insistently wants to maintain the status quo and is not ready to accept even a minuscule change in his family’s power dynamics. His heart is immersed with love for worldly power and gains which he enjoys by being the community peer (religious leader) and the male head of the family. Thus, at the same time as he is preaching the futility of worldly gains and pleasures, he is not ready to let go of his own lust for power and control. For example, Peer Sahib is not ready to let his niece marry the person of her choice as that would mean allowing an outsider to share the family’s power and status. The obvious disparity between his words and actions makes the play a social satire. We are introduced to the hypocritical mindset of our elite.

Moreover, his son Musa, the show’s protagonist, also embodies the double standards of our patriarchal society. Musa is devoid of empathy and kindness towards others and takes pride in his elevated social status. His character reminds me of a quote from Turkish writer Elif Shafak’s novel, Forty Rules of Love: “Every true love and friendship is a story of unexpected transformation. If we are the same person before and after we loved, we haven’t loved enough”. What remains to be seen is if Musa’s personality would transform as a result of his love for Zara. We will see how things develop in the next episodes.

Dunk

Dunk is another excellent play about the clash between truth and lies, right and wrong, and the choice to stand up with either. Every good drama explores these ideas. The answer to the existential question in its official soundtrack, “Mai hunn jeevaan, ke mar javaan?” (Should I now live or should I die?), is directly related to the human quest for truth. During this quest, average minds become so impatient that they are ready to punish those they perceive to be wrongdoers, even before the nature and severity of the crime are established. They are quick to judge and are savagely brutal in trying to teach lessons to the suspected wrongdoers. This reminds me of the people who are ruled by emotions of fear and anger.

For example, in the recent past, we saw a majority of our population declaring sentences like castration and public hangings to be necessary to uproot sexual crimes. Resorting to a mob-like mentality, people often not only react to the person who is suspected of committing a crime, but also punish his or her whole family by alienating and slandering them in the worst possible ways. So much so, that they aren’t even ready to spare a child from the scourge of what a parent is suspected to have done. At the same time, people tell the victims to hush up about the wrong they have been subjected to (or are in danger of being subjected to) out of a fear of “shame”. The mentality which gets reinforced is that it is the victim’s fault that a wrong was done to her. Dunk highlights these problems by showing how many people make judgments without making an effort to investigate, understand, and respond to the facts – as seen in the case of the professor – or fail to make efforts to eradicate the crime – as in the case of Amal. Such people don’t respond; they react to situations. Rather than using their faculties to think and respond rationally, they follow their emotions and thus make rash judgments.

An example from the drama is when, in the fifth episode, Haider’s father is shown shrugging off his responsibility by blaming Haider’s mother for his inappropriate own behaviour. He also snubs and rebukes Haider for the same behaviour and Haider, in turn, spits his anger and frustration out on the professor and his family. The drama faithfully depicts how we have rigid social codes, as represented by our so-called universal values and standards of conduct for individuals.

Ghissi Pitti Muhabbat

Mainstream Pakistani dramas usually display young men and women as strictly conformist in their superficial roles in society. They are either idolised or demonised. But Samia’s character is very different. She is very much human, a girl with strong individual traits and undaunted willpower. The real strength of anyone’s personality is to be true to oneself and to feel proud of who one is. Samia is one such character. We rarely get to see such winning female characters in Pakistani dramas. I want to congratulate the writer for coming up with such a powerful personality for a Pakistani girl. She is a girl who is strong enough to discover her beliefs and live according to her principles. She does not feel shy in upholding her values and does not get discouraged when the mob bashes her for practicing her true identity. I appreciate her character because I respect people who are not ashamed of making mistakes and learning at their own pace. They grow and live fully. The ending of the play could have been different, and she could have gotten settled with a partner. But the drama refuses to follow the standards imposed by society; so what if she didn’t ultimately get settled? There isn’t just a single script to life, as our culture tries to impress upon us. The beauty of Samia’s character is in that, come what may, she is proud of who she is. She would not compromise on her values, and therefore not give in to mob mentality. Kudos to the girl and the creator of her character.

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Naya Daur