Adab Festival 2020: Scriptwriters weigh in on the role of women in TV
The recently concluded second edition of Adab Festival Pakistan took place from January 31 till February 2, 2020, at the Karachi Arts Council. The idea behind the festival is to address issues and challenges faced by artists in Pakistan and provide a platform for free speech and exchange of ideas. Free and open to all, Adab festival featured a series of activities including book launches, poetry and prose recitation, talks, interviews and film screenings, among other things.
One of the panel discussions held during the three days focused on the role of women on television, with particular reference to female portrayals in Pakistani dramas and what they are inculcating in viewers.
Comprising veteran playwright(s) Haseena Moin, Raana Shaikh, journalist-writer Reema Abbasi, Bee Gul (writer), Angeline Malik, (actor, writer and producer) with Tasneem Ahmar as the moderator, it represented voices that are pushing the envelope with their progressive scripts.
Reflecting on portrayal of women in TV dramas made in the past compared to what is shown on television presently, Raana Shaikh, who was associated with PTV since its initial years, pointed out that it is media’s responsibility to send progressive messages for generations to come.
“Dramas that we penned in the past did talk about women’s miseries but we didn’t leave them there,” she asserted, adding that women in our society are not very educated and aware so we need to tell them ways to get out of a problem rather than forcing them to compromise on their rights. “A society cannot be strong until its women are strong. Why don’t we make dramas on the lives of women like Madam Noor Jehan, Sana Mir, Malala Yousafzai, etc.? They are also our women but we just want to focus on one kind of woman – dependent, submissive and compromising!”
An integral part of Pakistani television’s golden era, Haseena Moin, who has 50 scripts to her name, spoke about her beginnings. Sharing that she started writing for local TV after graduating from university, she said that girls were well taken of at her university at the time. When she was called by the then General Manager of PTV, she could only think of creating a female who has a say in matters and can convince people of her stance.
“I wrote a story of a young woman who was the daughter of a maid but since she was nurtured in a good family, she proved herself to be Shehzori (reference: drama serial Shehzori), a girl no one can take advantage of – no matter which social class she belonged to. This is where I began from,” she recalled.
It is the duty of a writer to show that a woman also has self respect, she added, asserting that if you crush a woman’s self respect, you crush her. “We have done that; we are beating women, kicking them out of the house, and this is very painful for women whether they speak up or not,” she furthered.
Angeline Malik, producer of long running series, Kitni Girhain Baaki Hain, that aims to highlight bold subjects shared that it is not acceptable to show a strong woman who can seek divorce. She revealed that she has received notices from PEMRA for touching upon bold themes on TV.
“Instead of changing mindsets, if we keep promoting a similar ideology that sees women only in one light, how will we bring change?” she questioned, speaking to Instep on the sidelines of the event. She added that there should be a balance of stories airing on TV. “We should be able to tell all sorts of stories rather than churning out similar narratives for all slots. If we don’t show viewers what will educate them, we will be stuck in a rut.”
Bee Gul, writer of popular drama serial Dar Si Jati Hai Sila that stood out for sensitively handling the subject of sexual harassment within the confines of a household, also commented on the current state of Pakistani television. She shared that Dar Si Jati Hai Sila was said to be ‘bold’ and was put on hold for eight to nine months but she didn’t make any change in the script.
“Unfortunately, channels see a sensation in putting forth social issues; directors, writers and actors become insensitive and want to play in that area,” Bee Gul noted, adding that if we make socially relevant dramas with responsibility, the outcomes are worth the risk.
Speaking to Instep post the discussion, Bee Gul furthered, “I don’t agree that the audience doesn’t want to watch anything different on TV; it is important to educate them and for that we need alternate dramas in parallel with run of the mill stories. Today women are doing wonders and they don’t appreciate regressive portrayal on the small screen; this is not how they want to be shown.”
The only journalist-critic on the panel, Reema Abbasi, added a very pertinent angle to the discussion. She maintained, “When we watch today’s dramas, it is strange to note that our audience was more open-minded in Zia’s era than it is today. We were able to explore a variety of themes and that is where we got Samina Peerzada, Rubina Ashraf from. What a new-age heroine should have been like today; a perfect structure for that started at that time but unfortunately instead of taking it forward, we left it behind and entered into completely different dynamics.”
Given that the panel comprised writers from the previous as well as present era, the perspectives varied. There was emphasis on having progressive themes and stronger female protagonists but then it was also noted that there are certain boundaries that have blurred today (in the name of progression).