A few days ago, I got a recommendation from YouTube for a show called Mere Humsafar. From the promo itself, the show looked so tempting that I couldn’t resist watching it right from the first episode. While watching the show, I realised it’s nothing but a classic fairy tale filled with Cinderella Syndrome, childhood trauma and gratuitous violence against women. But after I watched a few more episodes, it dawned upon me that the character of Haala (the female protagonist of the show) is me in an avatar of Hania Amir. In fact, there were many scenes in the show where I felt either Haala is living my life or I’m watching my biopic.
If we talk about Haala’s character, she is a little girl brought to Pakistan from the UK by her father after her mother left them for reasons unknown to the audience. Her father remarries and leaves her at his family residence. In this new household, she is treated as an alien since can’t speak Urdu or understand the local Pakistani culture, unlike the rest of them. She is bullied, beaten and traumatised by her tayis and chachis who didn’t want her to live in this house in the first place but had to give in when their mother-in-law decided to keep her here. As a result of this treatment, Haala grows up to be a timid, fearful and unassertive individual with low self-esteem and zero confidence level. On top of that, she suffers from childhood rejection syndrome which weakens her morale even further. A classic Harry Potter case!
As someone who too had been completely abandoned by biological parents and nurtured by a foster family, I relate completely with Haala’s character. The only difference is that in my case, my foster parents were a Godsend. They gave me the best life a child could possibly have, and never even revealed to me that they took me from Edhi, or that I’m not their daughter. However, in Haala’s case, the trauma is magnified by her father’s unjustified negligence and her uncles’ and aunts’ behaviour.
Haala is a people-pleaser. She does everything her aunts ask her to, out of fear and an innate desire to seek compassion from others. Having no self-confidence, she gets easily influenced by others. For instance, when Khurram (Haala’s ex-beau) says, ”Aurat mard se peechay chalti se, mard uska rehbar hota hai” (A woman walks behind a man, a man is her guide), she believes him, without asking any questions whatsoever. Forget questioning, she never even trusts herself enough to form an opinion or have a discussion with others. I’m somewhat like Haala here, as I too believe everybody except me is making the right opinion, therefore I should stay tight-lipped; however, sometimes, I do ask questions to get the gist of the whole conversation, but that’s about it. Unlike Haala, my lack of confidence stems from helicopter parenting, with my parents taking every decision for me, and I’m simply enjoying its output.
Everything about Haala reminds me of myself. For instance, in Episode 16, when Haala tells her husband Hamza that she didn’t have food at the dinner party because ‘’Mjhe chopsticks se khaana nahi ata’’ (I can’t eat with chopsticks), it took me down the memory lane to my first dinner post-marriage. We went to a steak restaurant and since I’d not tried a steak before that, I didn’t know how to cut one. I was playing with a knife and fork when a waiter came and asked, ”ma’am, any problem?” It was such an embarrassing moment for me, though my husband helped me cut it, later on. Therefore, I can totally understand what Haala must have felt at the mere sight of chopsticks, let alone thinking of eating with one!
In the later episode, talking about that dinner party, Haala tells Hamza, ”Hum barabar nahi hain” (We are not equals) because she can’t indulge in conversations with others on different topics like Hamza can. When I watched that scene, I felt Haala is my reincarnate as this is exactly how I feel when my husband takes me to his friends’ gatherings where he and his buddies are involved in a casual discussion around pop culture shows, Netflix’s new series and latest music releases and I’m simply looking at them, thinking, what’s the big deal if the torrents of Spiderman: No Way Home are not yet available? Why does it matter if the showrunners of Halo didn’t respect the source material of the game?
But, despite all these ordeals, I don’t cry as much as Haala does. These incidents do have an impact on me, but unlike Haala, I don’t find a reason to cry, unless it’s my teddy bear, Bubbloo falling from the bed. I find Haala’s character a bit exaggerated. She finds excuses to lament her past. In Episode 16, when Hamza asks her to go with him for a dinner, she refuses initially because ‘’Mjhse aj tak kisi ne sath chalne ko nahi kaha.’’ (Nobody has ever asked me to go with them) And, instead of feeling happy about the fact that he has, she sheds khushi kay aansu but aansu (tears) nonetheless.
Hamza is a kind and caring individual, who leaves no stone unturned in empowering Haala physically, emotionally or financially, from the moment he married her. Whether it’s about protecting her from his evil amma and abba or standing up for her, we see him doing everything he should or can as a husband. In Episode 14, we see him even helping Haala try on new shoes, select dresses, adjust her sharara and walk hand in hand with him at the reception. Similarly, in Episode 18, we see him getting Haala’s bank account open and teaching her the true meaning of companionship and equality in a marriage.
My husband is as kind to me as Hamza is with Haala. He is my mentor, guide, therapist, chef and philosopher. Sometimes, he is also an editor. (For instance, he has edited this article.) He has also got my bank account opened but unlike Hamza, he has been through several ordeals to do so. Since my fingers have lost their prints due to a skin condition, I fell through bureaucratic cracks as no official banking remedies were available for a person like me. He had to go bank-to-bank, meeting managers, showing each of them a note from my skin specialist. The process took over one year. During situations like these, I feel I’m more Haala than Haala herself is, and my husband is a more patient version of Hamza.
Besides Hamza and Haala arc, the show glorifies violence against women. There are certain extremely problematic scenes in the show that you simply can’t ignore. For instance, in Episode 16, there’s a scene where Haala’s mother-in-law, Shah Jahan says, ”Meri tarhan ki majbur sansein hi hoti hongi jo bahaoun ko zinda jalati hongi” (Only desperate mothers-in-law like me dare to burn their daughter-in-laws alive). This scene is a classic example of victim-blaming. According to this scene, it’s apparently bahus’ fault to bring their saas(ein) on the verge of becoming evil.
In a country where domestic violence is rampant, scenes like these are not making any positive impact, in fact, justifying the very act.
As per the Global Database on Violence against Women, approximately 25% of women are subject to physical or sexual assault by their intimate partners in Pakistan; the stats for non-partner sexual violence are not even reported.
Yet, writers have the audacity to write such plots and dialogues that cause more problems, instead of solving the existing ones. Being somebody who’s lived most aspects of Haala’s life, I’d request our writers to pick up topics that show strong, independent women working hand in hand with men. Why does always a man have to come to ‘’rescue’’ a woman? We’ve women working, excelling and smashing gender stereotypes in every field, so why not take real-life examples and create a story around it?
It’s not like there aren’t great examples to choose from, TCM’s Wonder Women Playlist on YouTube is one of the best examples. Any one of those ladies can be the protagonist of an incredible drama if writers and producers had the confidence to invest in such stories.
It’s important to talk about strong women in today’s climate because when you glorify women like Haala, you create characters that people can only sympathize with but not take any inspiration from. Take this message from a real-life Haala who has abandoned most Haala-esque quirks in her life, and is now living as a strong, independent woman.