Entertainment media and tunnel vision

Which is the worst show airing on Pakistani television right now? Main Gunahgaar Nahin.

I have finally found the answer to that question. Believe me it was not easy because of the wide array of choices to pick from. It seems as if most TV shows are competing with each other not for the award for “Best TV show” but for “Worst TV show”.

MGN revolves around a young girl who was happily engaged to a spineless young man, as ubiquitous on television as in real life, until one fateful night robbers come to loot her parents’ house and, in the process, rape her. Her engagement breaks off, with her to-be mother-in-law taking the lead and her “obedient” son following in tow.

Of course, every terrible thing that can happen then happens to the girl and she cries and weeps her way through the next five episodes. Her brother tries to support her but his wife does not (obviously) because really when in the world have bhabis ever been supportive of nands?

No points for guessing what happens next. Our “heroine” is then married off by her family to a man who is a rich, spoilt brat. The makers drive that point home through an asinine scene where the girl is shown sitting on a praying mat when her newly-wed husband walks in drunk. Our heroine obviously decides to resign to her husband’s failings and begins to mould herself into her unhappy new life.

Meanwhile, “justice” is served to the person she was supposed to marry originally. The woman he ends up marrying is in an extra-marital relationship and leaves him high and dry, wanting to return to our heroine.

Just when I thought there was no cliché left to be introduced into this already third-rate plot, the writer goes beyond my expectation. In triumphant poetic justice, robbers (not the same as the earlier ones, thankfully) then come to the house of her brother and threaten to assault his wife if he does not empty his coffers for them. This episode hasn’t aired yet, but I am fairly certain that this should bring about a change of heart in the bhabi for her wronged nand and we will be treated to yet another cliché happy ending.

I do not blame the show for depicting exactly how rape survivors are treated in our society. I understand that one of the purposes of media is to entertain while informing people of what actually happens in a society. But it is important to understand that entertainment media can also be a very powerful tool towards defining social norms. If that were not the case, there wouldn’t be such a furor over television shows perceived as “threatening” to our social fabric.

But here’s what I blame the makers for: having tunnel vision. Why is there only one future course of action that any woman can take in life, following a rape, a divorce or the death of her parents? Why can there be no other outcome of such an event? Why can’t a woman be an agent instead of a subject of destiny?

All I am urging makers to do is to try to find newer plots, even if they are based on the usual girl-meets-boy-falls-in-love type trite plot. Yes, things happen in society a certain way and it is okay to depict them as such but things can happen a certain other way too, and I assure you it will be just as entertaining to show that. Last time I checked, people do like watching plays that show lives that they aspire to have.

I present to you the example of Fatima Gul, a Turkish play currently playing on Urdu One that includes many cliche ideas but still manages to be a much more thorough and enjoyable a plot than the sickeningly boring MGN. The heroine, Fatima Gul, is a rape survivor just like the protagonist from MGN. Her fiance also ditches her and her bhabi is a pain in the neck. She is also forced to marry – in this case, the plot is even more offensive as she is married off to her alleged rapist!! At least MGN wins on that count.

But here’s where the difference lies: in Fatima Gul, the protagonist – a girl who has never been to school as opposed to the MGN protagonist who is said to have a college degree – decides to rebuild her life and sets up a restaurant. She does end up making something of her life, instead of constantly wailing and crying over her ‘fate’. As the show is progressing, Fatima Gul is continuing to fight her alleged rapists in court and is shown to be becoming a symbol of defiance in Turkish society.

Why don’t our writers create stories like that? Why couldn’t the protagonist from MGN stand her ground against a forced marriage, use her college degree to get a decent job and eventually make herself a good life? Why couldn’t she be shown as someone who decides to teach at a girls’ school, encouraging young women to be strong people who take charge of their lives?

Yes, writers like to work with the truth but as far as I can tell, Fatima Gul is based on just as much truth as MGN is. Rape is a reality everywhere in the world and women, let alone rape survivors, are treated unkindly everywhere in the world. Then why can mainstream television series from elsewhere show a protagonist’s life taking a different, more happy path than ours?

Media is but a product of society. The reason we do not see women fighting back on TV and are bombarded with half-baked plots with weeping heroines is because we do not see women like those as models that other women should aspire to. Taking rape as an example, the reason our protagonist is such a doormat is because a woman like Mukhtaran Mai who fought her rapists tooth and nail is not considered a role model for other young women to follow.

There needs to be a balance between entertainment and socially-responsive programming. Currently, a brilliant television series by the name of Rihaai is being telecast on Hum TV. Funded by Kashf Foundation, the play explores the very pertinent and shameful issue of child brides, and is being watched very widely. I hope that it acts as a catalyst of change, encouraging other producers, directors and writers to at least try to come up with newer plots that support modern thought.

Eventually, this bubble will burst and the crying leading ladies will have to go. The smarter television whiz can spot this business opportunity now.  The only question is, are those smart television wizards willing to take the risk?

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