[someone hold my bag] Flirting With Modernity: Pakistani TV’s Obsession With Toxic Men

So the Pakistani entertainment scene, on the outside, seems to be growing fast. The cinematography is skyrocketing, people are experimenting with special effects, directors are sneaking in increasingly skimpy outfits and repressed dance moves. But no matter how “modern” and “liberal” Pakistani TV tries to get, it will always fall short of true progress because this seems to be the formula:

more fashionable clothes (+) more dumb girls unable to survive without men (+) a few angsty closeups here & there (-) any actual philosophical inquisition into the archaic social structures constricting women = MODERN, LIEBRAL TELEVISION! WOO!!!

In other words, the industry is adopting outward appearances of modernity while lacking any actual substance. It’s a hollow, shallow effort driven by the desire to have the cool Western aesthetic. And I guess that’s what they’ve turned modernity into: an aesthetic. None of you are interested in changing the status quo or actually adopting the pro-women qualities of more liberal countries.

The drama which has sparked enough rage to bring you this post is none other than RAQS E BISMIL (roughly translated to the dance of the dying/the sacrificed). It’s an excellent example of how Pakistani TV is relentlessly (and I mean relent.less.ly.) obsessed with glorifying toxic male behaviours that threaten the lives of women.

the object of my rage

RAQS E BISMIL is based on the premise of a guy* from a super religious, powerful family falling for a dancer/girl paid to spend time with men**. Here is a list of reasons why I feel like barfing every time I watch it.

  1. The boy, Musa, stalks the hell outta his romantic interest Zohra. Out of good will, she comes to his aid when he gets into trouble on a bus, and then he falls in love with her and tracks her down. I mean, the girl was just trying to be nice. She didn’t want to create a stalker outta him.
  2. When Musa confronts Zohra, she tells him to screw off. And he does not, of course. Instead, he asks her why she wants him to screw off, because clearly, a woman has to explain herself when telling a stalker to back off. He demands to know if she’s in a relationship and she says no, to which violins start playing. I wanna barf while writing this. Gawd.
  3. The stalker is the hero of the show and at NO POINT, YOU GUYS, LITERALLY AT NO POINT AT ALL is his stalking behaviour shown negatively for what it is. In fact, it’s glorified because all is fair in love & war, right? That gives him the right to pursue her even against her wishes. She’ll love him. She just doesn’t know it yet. He will MAKE her know it.
  4. The drama starts out with Musa busting his cousin Sakina’s secret nikaah (legal marriage) with her lover. Sakina is portrayed as a rotten, rebellious, naive girl. Why, you may ask, is she portrayed this way? Well, it’s BECAUSE SHE IS A GIRL, Y’ALL. I’M NOT EVEN KIDDING. THE HERO IS LITERALLY DOING THE EXACT SAME THING AS HER but he’s a guy, right??? He can’t be mistaken because his love is pure and hers isn’t. His prostitute entertainer lover is more pure than the simple Joe Sakina wanted to marry. Like, I can’t. I just can’t even. I need an Advil.
  5. Sakina gets forcibly married to Musa’s brother and this, in and of itself, is full of so many issues that it warrants a separate article. She marries the dude, hates him, tries to run away but then her lover is proven to be inept and rotten, and then she ends up loving the guy she was forcibly married to and accepting the error of her ways. Shabash. Whoever wrote this BS, just… sha-fricken-bash.
  6. Everything Musa does is good and holy. Everything Sakina does is bad and dumb. It’s literally painted that black and white, folks. Gray ain’t a colour.
  7. Musa’s parents get him engaged to a girl named Sitara, whom he doesn’t like but he doesn’t deny the arrangement. Sitara is googoo gaga in love with him even after finding out that Musa is in love with a prostitute “entertainer”. She meets up with Musa and begs him to let her “keep his name” (whatever the frick that means). Like, she wants to be under his ownership even if he doesn’t like her and never sees her again. She just wants her name to be attached to his, that’s how much she loves him. At the end of the drama, she lands in the mental ward because she’s that disturbed over losing a guy who never even returned an ounce of affection for her.

Anyways, the list could go on but I desist. I could literally start an entire website to reveal how absolutely ridiculous and dangerous Pakistani dramas are for young men and women. RAQS E BISMIL tries to paint Musa as a diehard romantic but what it actually does is turn a stalker into the hero and legitimize all his toxic behaviours.

It’s about time Pakistanis got over romanticizing these ancient, harmful archetypes. I mean, what are you trying to teach your daughters? Well, according to you, you’re telling your daughters that:

  1. Men who stalk you might genuinely love you (vs. the reality that stalkers are often abusers and rapists)
  2. Men have the right to demand why you won’t return their affection (their affection is noble vs. the reality that many men are just messing around and are complete scumbags)
  3. You might be in love with a stalker but just in denial about it, i.e. give him some real thought and consideration (vs. the reality that women should trust their instincts and run le F away from creepers)

These old-time notions of obsessive, toxic love don’t translate properly into the modern lived realities of Pakistani women. Old-time love doesn’t take consent into account. It doesn’t take the integrity and dignity of women into account. In fact, old-time love is completely constructed around concepts of male privilege, pleasure, and superiority.

Whatever noble, worthy notions of love directors are trying to promote, they leave women in the dust.

So much for being modern!

*It’s worth mentioning that I generally love Imran Ashraf’s acting but the director did NOT do him justice (like, at all). Also, Ashraf is the same guy who played a literal stalker/rapist in INKAAR. His actions in this drama are not that different from the character in INKAAR. Did he ever give that a thought? In one drama, those actions are painted as horrific. In the other drama, those same actions are glorified. At what point will actors begin to call out these toxic mindsets? At what point will they publicly refuse to accept roles that promote toxicity?

**Yes, she’s actually supposed to be a prostitute, except they never call her that and decide to depict her as a simple entertainer/escort instead because dancing & bein a general ho is forgivable but getting laid ain’t, and no one would root for such a heroine in Pakistani culture (having sex would turn her into “spoiled goods”). I mean, see what they did there? The directors tried having their cake and eating it, too. They played it safe by watering her down and keeping her “innocence” so she’d stay attractive to the male viewership, and in doing so they destroyed the literal point of the story.

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