Lately, Pakistani dramas have followed a cookie-cutter method, adding a few extra ingredients and churning out a sure-shot, blockbuster drama for viewers. The typical line-up includes saas/bahu conflict, sisterhood rivalry, infidelity, angelic self-sacrificing, the crying achchi aurat who is abused and battered both emotionally and physically, and finally, the progressive independent and strong buri aurat. Except for a handful of dramas which do provide robust storytelling and terrific acting and direction, most of the dramas on major channels are simply using some mixture of these tried and tested troupes to garner viewership. One of the most used troupes is physical abuse against women.
On January 24, Geo’s drama ‘Aye Musht-e-khaak’ showed a graphic scene of physical abuse against a woman. Horrific beyond words, the male character drags a female character by her neck, chokes her, and shouts at her savagely. The girl breaks free and pushes him away, angry and hurt. In retaliation the man grabs her by the arms and shakes her violently, and then grabs her hair and again presses her face tightly by the neck. Anger floods through his eyes as he shakes her violently and then ends this physical assault with a sweeping slap across her face to shut the girl up. Furthermore, he shouts, breaks a glass, and pushes her on the sofa. He shouts while the girl shakes with fear and anger. One may be excused for thinking the show must be some sort of thriller or a murder mystery. But that is not the case. It is what passes today as a typical, run-of-the-mill story of toxic love and narcissistic tendencies.
Why was this violent scene added in the first place, if it was not to support the story telling? The painful answer is to glorify violence against women.
Every script has its own flavour and rhythm which guides the overall narrative. In some shows, uncomfortable scenes are used to further the story and maintain the flow of the narrative. Furthermore, when such graphic scenes of violence are included, there is a trigger warning, so that such scenes are not taken lightly by viewers. Some of the alerts mention if the content is unsuitable for a certain age. However, in the case of most Pakistani dramas, there is often no need for such a scene. The director could have edited the violent scene out.
Why was this violent scene added in the first place, if it was not to support the story telling? The painful answer is to glorify violence against women. Like sex, violence against women sells. When it is performed by a well-known star, like Feroze Khan who has a massive following on Instagram, the show is assured to bring huge success, pulling in 4.8 million views for the channel.
Does it give our audiences some sort of twisted and sadistic pleasure when they see a woman being man-handled on screen? Audiences are seemingly okay with this casual and irresponsible mockery of violence against women.
Personally, I am against censorship and banning culture because it inhibits creativity. However, there should be some age-appropriate guidelines as well as trigger alerts on television, so that violence is not normalized. When such abusive behaviours are normalized on television, we send a disturbing message to our youth. A boy will think that it is socially acceptable to hit a girl. On the other hand, a girl will think it is perfectly okay if her partner hits her and not tell her parents that she is in an abusive relationship. Repeatedly portrayed as ‘toxic love,’ abuse is misconstrued as a form of passion. Whereas in real life, that is not the case. When a husband hits his wife, there is no love or respect left in a relationship.
After watching this horrendous scene, another key question is why doesn’t PEMRA, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, react to such immoral displays of ‘indecency’? I do not hear of any religious groups coming forward and condemning such scenes. On the contrary, dramas highlighting the problem of sex trafficking like ‘Dil Na Umeed to Nahin’ were banned in the past.
Today more than ever, when gender-based violence is so rampant in our country, television channels need to take social and moral responsibility. Seeing such dramas feeds trash into boys’ and girls’ heads; a rejected boyfriend could easily justify gender-based violence against his girlfriend watching these shows. We do not need to see another girl dying mercilessly at the hands of her ex- or current boyfriend anymore.