Over the last two decades, the Pakistani shows industry has expanded, and with that, more channels launched like Indus, Geo, ARY, HUM, etc. More channels meant more shows, which was great.

Until it wasn’t.

Growing up, I watched some strong and powerful female protagonists. One of my fondest memories is watching Saba Hameed and Samina Ahmad in the witty comic Family Front. I also remember watching Marina Khan playing a cheerful but headstrong young doctor in the classic Dhoop Kinaray. And of course, how can I forget the iconic on-screen sister-duo played by Shehnaz Sheikh and Marina Khan in Tanhaiyaan?

Today, however, the majority of our shows are revolving around the same storyline and the same portrayal of women. These characters are being knit with the same thread when, in reality, we come in all shapes and sizes.

Our series not only depicts women as submissive beings, with no purpose and no voice of their own, but they also romanticize it. And we, the viewers, are expected to look up to them and draw inspiration from them.

Characters are being knit with the same thread when, in reality, we come in all shapes and sizes.

Rumiasa, the main female protagonist played by Sanum Jung in Mohabbat Subh Ka Sitara, is one such example. From the very beginning of the show, we see her as this obedient and docile character with no voice or ambitions of her own. She goes through some struggles, and like the compliant woman she is (as we “should” all be), she sacrifices everything throughout her life, and in the end, she is rewarded for it.

Dr. Rabail, Maheen Auranghzeb, Elma, all played by Ayeza Khan in Koi Chand Rakh, Mohabbat Tumse Nafrat Hai, and Tum Kon Piya respectively, follow similar paths.

Unfortunately, some women are entirely dependent on their brothers, fathers, and husbands. Some of them, either because of lack of education or because of necessity, have to endure the struggles. Not everyone is privileged enough to stand up for themselves, to get a divorce, and not look back. And our shows romanticize these struggles, painting them as “worth it”.

Pakistani shows hold a massive following around the world. They have a chance to make a difference. Instead, they are encouraging and cementing these dated ideologies.

We say, “such a lovely daughter, she takes care of everyone” even if she’s suffocating within.

These shows impose the idea that to be liked and accepted as a woman, she should cover herself in drapes and have no sense of fashion outside the traditional. A good wife shouldn’t voice her opinions or concerns. She should be compliant even if it means she is being cheated or if she’s not happy in her marriage. A reliable wife will keep everyone’s needs – her husband’s, her in-laws, her husband’s siblings – with no regard to her own. She should bear physical, sexual, and emotional abuse because she will get rewarded at a later time (read: afterlife). This is true for daughters as well.

A caring, working woman will go straight to the kitchen from work, while the men of the family go straight to the couch to watch cricket. And then we say, “kitni achi beti hai, sab ka kitna khayal karti hai (such a lovely daughter, she takes care of everyone)” even if she’s suffocating within.

If Pakistani shows continue to keep portraying women as objects with no voice of their own, their stories revolving around their marriage and the men in their lives, impressionable viewers will accept it as reality. These shows are taking away the power from women and handing it over to men on a silver platter.

I want to see women in power. I want to see friends holding each other up instead of tearing each other down. I want to see single and divorced women living happily rather than shunned and miserable. I want to see women traveling and exploring themselves.

Ultimately, I want to watch a female character I can relate to. I don’t want to see a perfect woman on screen. I want to see a protagonist making mistakes, learning from those mistakes, and growing in a strong character. As Jameela Jamil says, progress not perfectionism.

This is not to say we don’t have any strong female characters. We do but they are few, especially ones with great storylines and excellent acting. We need bettter role models. We need our shows to pave a path for our women and not to dig up their graves.

  • Shajia Abidi

    Shajia graduated from San Francisco State University with her degree in journalism. She loves playing with numbers, writing code, reading novels, and exploring different places and culture.