Chup Raho started off as a gripping story outlining the hardships befalling a rape victim. I’d hoped since the makers had so boldly taken on this project, they might actually treat us to bolder solutions to the problems their protagonist (Rameen) faces.
Alas! That never happened and what did happen was this image.
I don’t have a problem with it because Rameen’s savior is a man. Men are nice. Men can save fellow human beings, no doubt. My problem emerges from the mindset this ‘man’ symbolizes – a patriarchal mindset that deems a woman so weak, she can’t help but be doomed if not for someone as strong, as rich, as influential as the Saeen in the picture. I have a problem with the fact that every woman in this play, including Rameen’s own mother and sister, worked to tear her down when she was nothing but worthy of their sympathy at least and aggressive support at most. I have a problem with the twisted philosophy the female characters in this play (and every other godforsaken play for that matter) represent: that a woman must endure all and everything for her familial fabric to stay intact because her greatest achievement in life is to be and to stay married.
Which century are these plays signifying?
Rameen is forced to stay silent – Chup Raho – for the honor of her family, for her sister’s happiness; never mind the fact that the one to dishonor her is her own brother-in-law who is hell bent on repeating the offence forever and ever and ever again.
Another damsel in distress in another play, Parvarish, is accused of illicit relations – oh, sure, like we’ve never seen that before. Meri Zaat Zara Benishaan, Hamsafar, Qismat, Rukhsaar, Bashar Momin, Nazdeekiyan, Mausam…need I go on?
Then, there’s the usual lineup of bad MILs, everyday domestic abuse, estranged husbands and overbearing parents. And couple dozen other heroines have to play second fiddle to first wives or first fiddle to new wives or plain witches to accidental matrimonies their husbands confess to one fine morning whilst sipping orange juice quite casually after a tight workout.
“Darling – I love you – please, try to understand. I’m married to Gul-e-Rakhshandan-e-Alishban-e-Qandeel. It was all very SUDDEN! We’ll call her Gul.”
We love this theme so much that we have a play named literally meaning Second Wife: Dusri Biwi. Then, there’s Dil Nahi Maanta as in the heart wants what the heart wants as in I want my chacha’s daughter and my mamu’s daughter and my neighbor’s sister and my sister’s friend and then I’ll wait for one of them to die/divorce/disappear so I can take up another. Or I’m dying so I must abandon current wife and run far, far away to find another more-appropriate-to-my-condition sorta wife (courtesy: Firaaq). Or I’ll just marry my brother’s widow who really cannot stand me nor my wife and still mourns my brother but that’ll make Ammi/Abbu/Muhallaywalay so happy if we just forced it (courtesy: Tu Mera Hi Rahay). And Mehram…I just…I can’t!
Do these men even realize what the cost of keeping just one wife really happy is these days?
But wait till you’ve seen Zid. This one attempts to kill all birds with all stones for what could be more heartening and empowering to women than tricking a wayward daughter, notorious for making fiancés run, into marrying a man who’s already married. And when she objects, she’s shot down with hard core facts:
- You broke THREE engagements, he’s only been married once
- You broke THREE engagements, he’s a man who’s only married one more woman before you
- You’re lucky to have him because you broke like THREE engagements!!!!
We get it. Sinful slut. She deserved him.
I’m at a loss for examples when it comes to finding strong female protagonists in our plays who don’t tolerate nonsense dutifully, who don’t blame God/luck/matchmaker for their screwed up life and actually take a stand for what’s right. Our playwrights increasingly leave important decisions to chance in a scenario where they are actually, totally in charge! How can you NOT impose revolutionary changes in a setting that’s seriously so make-belief that you can literally do whatever you please with it? I mean – HELLO – it’s fiction!
HUM TV’s Kankar and Shnakht were a breath of fresh air, by the way. Then, there was darkness after them as was before and in between they aired. And I’m not talking about power outages.
Remember when all the scholars came out of the woodwork to defend and protect Junaid Jamshed for his blasphemous remarks and argued that he shouldn’t be booked for it because he’d apologized and whatever he’d said wasn’t actually blasphemy because he never berated the Prophet? – I agreed with them.
I agree he shouldn’t be booked for blasphemy. He should be banned for misogyny. His hate for women is no secret and it was this very trait that led him to not even spare the Prophet’s favorite wife.
The fact that we just let all this prejudice against women roll and seep into our social fabric with such oomph and ease that it’s so very unnoticeable is indeed vomit-inducing. Our plays project that, too, because apparently and ironically that’s what the women want to watch.
When Burka Avenger was aired, and it is an animation, the series was met with strange criticism. There were the conservatives who thought it dishonored the burka because women in burka are subdued and cannot kick butt. Then, there were the liberals who thought it dishonored the women because women in burka are subdued and cannot kick butt. Their critique was so identical, I could easily forget who said what. However, with due respect to neither critic because they deserve none - congratulations! You just stereotyped a cartoon. Maybe, she’ll listen and not fight Baba Bundook anymore.
We women must, indeed, be very comfortable with being mistreated. Even on TV in make-belief scenarios.
This post appeared first in The Nation.