The Transformation of Pakistani Dramas

Sadaf Ayaz

Magazine Journalism

Final Review Article

Growing up, I watched way too many superficial Pakistani dramas with repetitive, cliche plot lines of innocent, perfect girls who met perfect guys and the terrible family members and friends that ruined their lives. At first, I watched with my emotions on the table, lost in the sorrows of the main characters, drenched in tears for their struggling romance. It took me longer than it should’ve to realize the silliness and lack of substance within the stories. Even when I did come to the realization, I continued with the guilty pleasure, occasionally rolling my eyes, but deep, deep down relishing in every bit of the spectacle. 

Shows like “Tere Pehlu Mein,” “Doraha,” and “Yeh Zindagi Hai” kept me entertained with daily episodes that allowed me to feel like I belonged in, at least, the Pakistani society when I couldn’t find my place in America. These shows were the backdrop of my childhood and the slow but steady change the Pakistani industry came at perfect parallels of my transformation to an adult. 

As shows slowly became more conscious by punishing the antagonists by moralistic values and gradually bringing in female characters that were more than just pretty faces and objects of romance, Pakistani dramas slowly entered a new era. Poorly produced shows built on the friction between newly-wedded brides and their possessive mothers-in-law no longer took the prime time slots. Instead, they were replaced by new Pakistani dramas which explored topics that sparked reflective conversations on the family and societal structure in Pakistan with better production and technology. Shows started addressing issues like forced marriages, lack of girls’ education, inequality at home and in the workplace and stopped shying away from showing the LGBTQ members that existed in the country.

One of the pioneering dramas of that era was Humsafar, a show that created a new standard despite hanging onto the typical plotline by proving to be more than just a falling apart love story. It brought families in Pakistan together. First released in 2011, the show kept audiences captivated with the chemistry of the two main characters, but at its peak, it left them questioning their own relationships and judgments when, the female lead, Khirad’s character is questioned. Her response to the accusation was enthralling because, for the first time, we got to see a weak-minded, naive girl flourish into a strong, independent woman. Her husband, Asher’s lack of trust in his wife, didn’t build insecurity in Khirad; instead, knowing her innocence, she built herself up and kept her dignity. In our society, tearing a woman down by destroying her reputation is easy, especially one without a family supporting her. Khirad showed women and girls like me that being alone didn’t have to mean being helpless.

Eight years later, and very well-aligned with the #MeToo movement, the depth and strength of female characters have only leveled up. Cheekh, scream, a crime thriller currently on-air explores the story of Mannat, a modern, educated upper-class wife, who fights for the justice of the murder and attempted rape of her best friend by her own brother-in-law. The drama doesn’t linger too long in the suspense of whose responsible. Instead, the culprit reveals himself to Mannat, and the show then chooses to focus on her transformation as she maneuvers through the internal dilemma. 

What makes this drama so different from others that have addressed rape is that it refuses to accept the injustice by blaming the victim or painting the rapist as a hero. Instead, it clenches onto a morally conscious character who refuses to allow anything to hold her back. In fact, Mannat is the loudest female character seen on Pakistani dramas so far. She’s not afraid to go head-to-head against people who have the power to ruin her life, instead, she fights both men and women who have done wrong and those who promote it by staying silent slowly turning bystanders into active changemakers.

The transformation of Pakistani dramas specifically the development of the female leads as full, independent characters, has changed the idea of women in our society. Women are no longer depicted to be held back by the ropes of culture, family, and religion. The shows in the past few years have provided women with the knowledge to fight back on and get back their right on those merits. While romance remains a considerable part of the stories, I find my eyes well up with tears not because of a superficial loss, but from a well-deserved triumph. 

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