Pakistani drama industry progressing in terms of the number of dramas it produces yearly however the progression in terms of quality content is uncertain. While talking about the quality of a drama, many things come to mind i.e. story, character development, production, acting, handling of the storyline, and how the team plays with their creative liberty.
If we take a look at the viewers of content that has been produced including dramas, films, telefilms, web series, etc., we shall find many categorizations. These categorizations – all over the world – are subjected to cultural norms, moral and religious values, educational and awareness levels, and the historical course of the media industry. A media industry is never progressive or regressive in nature. It depends on people working in any industry to make a difference through their content.
While there is no doubt that the Pakistani drama industry has produced several good dramas and strong characters but the ratio is offsetting. The last few years have given many popular dramas with high ratings with a cliché storyline. Our drama makers are fascinated with the idea of a damsel in distress saved by / require a prince charming to get her life together. In a time where women’s empowerment has become a topic of discussion, these characters prove to be counterproductive. A woman in our dramas is fully dependent on a man – financially, emotionally, and socially.
Now the point is not to dismiss the role that men play in the lives of women nor it is to show female characters with no moral and religious values. But in the wake of growing femicide and female oppression, the duty falls on everyone, including drama makers, to handle these matters sensitively. The constant and unnecessary display of domestic violence and providing no agency to female characters is highly problematic. The overuse of these themes impacts the viewers’ minds. They absorb these negative values unconsciously, which normalize these toxic values in a society. Later on, this problematic mindset is depicted in society in form of abuse, murders, violence, etc. on women and becomes the headlines of news channels.
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A good recepie for a successful drama is the variation of its characters and their contribution to the storyline or drama. However, character stereotyping is a thing in our society that is endorsed by our drama industry. Let’s break down the female characters of our dramas first.
The good women in our dramas are usually wearing eastern dresses, have a domestic role in the family, are forgiving and patient, do not stand up for themselves, are good (acceptable form of oppressed) women who are initially dependent on their fathers and then on their husbands. These women have no agency or liberty in making their decisions and follow the male counterpart of the fictional households. Manno of Man Mayal, Zubi in Pardess, Raema in Muqadar, Misha in Jalan etc. On the other hand, negative female characters are often shown wearing western dresses, are working women, have the agency to do something for themselves. These stereotypes confirm the already problematic mindset existing in our society.
Now coming to males characters. The male characters in our dramas are a ploy to either extend the female characters’ misery or become the knight in shining armor who saves the girl. Unfortunately, there are no role models for the males of our society that can influence their thinking to become strong people. The males in dramas have the authority to make decisions as a show of their masculinity. A father will instantly be triggered if his daughter shows interest in a boy and will refuse his daughter’s love interest in a blink. Yes, there are such characters in real life but validating their behaviors is not going to bring the needed awareness in our society.
There is a significant difference in glorification of unhealthy traits or showing it to take lessons. This difference lies in the portrayal of characters. An obsessive boy who is in ‘love’ with a girl has every right to share his interest in her once. However, on rejection, the sane thing would be to leave the girl alone. Constantly following her and guilt-tripping her is stalking and unhealthy. Do these traits exist in our society? Yes. But is it necessary to glorify the guy’s acts? No. these are the things that young boys will learn from such hyped-up and viewed dramas.
Similarly, a woman sacrificing her needs and happiness to serve either her family or her husband’s family is not healthy. That woman is not a saint. The romanticization of such traits is very problematic as people attach unrealistic and negative expectations. There are a plethora of such examples; sister rivalry, toxic masculinity that lies in the oppression of women, no show of emotions in male characters, discouraging male characters from crying, etc. are all harmful traits to inculcate in society.
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Moving on, the characters in our dramas are domestic. There are wives husbands, fathers, and mothers, sisters but there are very few characters that are focused on the professional or career growth of both males and females. There are many real-life stories of women and men who started their careers from scratch and are now successful people in their lives. We seem to lack this kind of storytelling that is unfortunate in a nation full of different and beautiful stories.
Psychological researches have made it clear that constant exposure can lead to the internalization of certain traits. Let’s say a child has watched his parents fight and getting aggressive all his life. There is a high chance that the child will internalize the aggression into his personality just because of constant exposure. Yes, other factors play a decisive role as well but we cannot negate this factor. Therefore, parents are advised to monitor their behavior in front of children as they are highly influential.
Similarly, media holds a responsibility because it influences society in many ways. No one can stop a drama maker to make different kinds of dramas and introduce different characters (oppressive or dominant, negative or positive, independent or dependent). Showing different stories is necessary.
Stories are meant to be told, after all. But it is necessary to ponder upon the treatment of these characters. Whether they are progressive or motivating for the public or they are promoting the status quo of toxic misogyny and patriarchy. The latter will prove to be non-productive for the collective growth of this society.
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On the contrary, few dramas showcase strong characters with positive character growth. Dill na umeed to nahi, udaari, Ehd e wafa, raqeeb se, alif, yakeen ka safar, etc. are the dramas that were highlighting social causes with sensitivity while creating awareness among the masses. Despite the presence of oppression and negative characters, these dramas were motivating for viewers to stand up for themselves and get out of unwanted situations.
In a country full of cultural diversity, it is difficult to determine the taste of the public while making a drama. Sure the sensationalized dramas are good for commercial reasons but it does not free drama makers from their responsibility. Media is one of the biggest tools of awareness and education these days. Using it well can reform society. To say that the Pakistani drama industry is progressing or regressing would be a very subjective view. However, if we all take responsibility and deconstruct the messages a drama give before giving it rating and views. We can help in the progress of content on our part.
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