Double standards exist in South Asian society. This is a statement that generally will not be disputed. It is a reality in the world of South Asians; a reality that particularly weighs on South Asian women. But what part and/or role do Pakistani dramas play in that reality? Do they reinforce ideas that society should be moving away from? Are men accountable towards their marriages and the emotional well-being of their wife – and if so, is that depicted on our television screens?
In “Mera Rab Waris,” Haris (Danish Taimoor) is well-aware that Ayla (Shameen Khan) is in love with him. She has openly expressed it to him many times. She proposes to him for marriage herself on more than one occasion. She begs and pleads with him to marry her on more than one occasion. He rejects her. He falls in love with Aisha (Madiha Imam) and, after much struggle, marries her. Haris begins to discover God and his spirituality after spending time with Ayesha and wanting to be worthy of her. Ayesha is treated poorly in her new home by everyone but her father-in-law and husband. As always, Ayesha is ever the compromiser, even hiding household quarrels from her husband so as not to create animosity within the household – even though the fights are the sort her husband should know about. And somehow, through all of this, Haris begins spending time with Ayla again one-on-one and has lengthy conversations with her on the phone. There’s a point here where any normal wife would step in and say “Please stop this, this is not okay.” There’s a point here where any logical man would stop himself and say “This girl likes me, I’m married and my wife is uncomfortable with this friendship. I need to stop this.” But is this what happens? No. Haris has an argument with Aisha about Ayla, which results in the two not speaking – and during this time period, Haris casually calls Ayla and invites her to an event at his house. He then goes back home and while getting dressed for this event, chides Aisha for not trusting him with Ayla. There’s a fine line between storyline-driven conflict and painting a male character out to be so “innocent” in his naivety where he does not hold responsibility for his own actions.
In “Meer Abru,” Saim (Mirza Zain Baig) proves himself to be the perfect significant other in every way. Loyal, trusting, understanding and 100% supportive, Saim is the perfect husband for Abru (Sanam Chaudhry). But suddenly, when his childhood friend Maha comes into town, Saim loses all sense of normalcy. Maha insists on sitting in the front seat of the car, forcing Abru to sit in the backseat. Saim smiles apologetically at Abru instead of kindly asking Maha to move to the back. Maha drags Saim outside to sit with her for tea, holding on to his arm – an act that clearly triggers Abru. Saim smiles apologetically at Abru instead of having a discussion with his childhood friend about boundaries. Maha tells Abru to go to sleep as she wants to continue talking to Saim late into the night. Saim smiles apologetically at Abru instead of telling Maha that he’s a grown up and she needs to respect his space with his wife. Maha answers Saim’s phone when Abru calls him – and at this point, Saim should have been furious, snatching the phone out of Maha’s hands and demanding she respect his marriage. Instead Saim smirks and rolls his eyes, as if Maha is a 5 year old child and not a grown woman showing inappropriate interest in him. At this point, when Abru leaves home, is she not justified in her actions? Why is it treated like a spontaneous outburst? Is Saim, as a grown man, not expected to behave like an adult? And while ultimately, Saim does wise up, it’s because he overhears a conversation between Meer and Maha – otherwise, this game could have continued for episodes.
Watching dramas with such male characters makes one miss dramas written by Umera Ahmed and Farhat Ishtiaq; dramas in which men have flaws, faults and weaknesses. However, these weaknesses are realistic and provide layers to these characters – and do not include dimness, a dimness that serves no purpose but for the hero to be blind to the sabotage and manipulations of others. Writers on Pakistani television need to take notice of this. The days where foolishly blind male characters serve as an attractive plot-point are (hopefully) over. This is not quality viewing. Rather, it just perpetuates the stereotype that “Ghar aurat banaati hai” (A woman makes her own home), leaving the woman in charge of making or breaking her own home with little responsibility or role given to the man regarding the relationship.