We’re currently all obsessed with Pakistani Drama serial Cheekh – which sees Manat, played by Saba Qamar, fighting for justice for her murdered friend. With a gripping story and excellent performances by the cast including Emmad Irfani as Manat’s husband Shayan and Bilal Abbas Khan as this brother Wajih. Adeena Tahir talks about why Cheekh and particularly the relationaship between Shayan and Manat has Pakistani audiences cheering.
Every time that I have watched Saba Qamar on the TV screen, nailing the role of Manat for the Drama Serial Cheekh, I see in her a strong and a powerful lady who is willing to go to any lengths to fight for justice on behalf of her murdered friend. But as each episode progressed, I also felt this intangible fear creeping up on me whenever Manat and her husband Shayan would appear together in a scene. It was almost as if I was waiting entirely for the painful, yet inevitable death of their love story to happen. Wasn’t it plainly obvious to all of us viewers? As Manat became more determined and vocal against the culprit who happened to be her husband’s own brother, she became more vulnerable to all of her enemies’ endlessly toiled conspiracies and threats. It was clear therefore, that it was not too long before Shayan would finally be misguided by some false accusation, and fall out of love with Manat. Then, like we have seen in so many of the dramas before this, Shayan would lash out at her in fury and anger, belittling her dignity and respect, shunning her out of the house and declaring his love for her as no less than dead. It is what the audience had expected indeed yet for once, this is precisely where the Drama Cheekh took everyone by a surprise.
Viewers were left in disbelief as Shayan chose to side with his wife and her side of the story. It was so unreal, seeing a male character on screen being supportive of his own wife and not paying heed to what the hate mongers had to say. Pakistani Drama Industry had indeed just witnessed an iconic twist of a gripping story, but why is it that so many from the audience, including the educated and privileged like me, have struggled to believe it to be true?
This is where we dissect the life of a spirited brown girl, belonging to an Asian household like ours. See, it all starts from the day when she was a little kid and she had grabbed her very first story books from the library to read. In those pages of dreamy fairy tales, her curious mind was possessed with the idea of a female character, a damsel in distress, who was unhappy with her life and was searching to feel complete by looking for someone else. Without fail, Prince Charming would swoop to rescue her in a grand, dramatic act, and he’d promise her a loving life of eternal bliss as they made their marriage vows. This is what the little girl read, no matter which book she picked. And just like that, she began believing in the notion of being incomplete and incapable of being happy as her own person, until she had married her soul mate.
Skip ahead to a few years, and she ventures into the world of soap dramas and a frankly disturbing potrayal of romance and marriage. Invariably the ‘happily ever after’ is where the man behind the mask is finally revealed. Suddenly, the little girl is bombarded with the concept of an ideal wife, and the fate of those who defy it. The story becomes chaotic and graphic, and difficult to digest. The female characters are suddenly imprisoned and bounded by those around them. They are supposed to stay gentle and forgiving and definitely not voicing their opinions or interests in the fear of them being disliked by their husbands. But even then, in spite of all these attempts, they are deemed undeserving of trust.
Khirad from Hamsafar, that superhit, iconic Pakistani drama, is just one example among many heroines. Just a single moment of a look, or a touch and the husband would be convinced that his wife had betrayed him. And so the character would be insulted, thrashed against the walls, have profanities spewed at them and left out in to the streets in the darkness of the night beneath the pouring rain. The female character would be offered no empathy, no chance to make a stance for herself. She would beg for mercy and trust, and even bend at the feet of he who claimed to love her up until yesterday, but no words that she would whimper now could mean anything. She was suddenly a nobody, a charred, useless shadow obscured into the dusty rubble of her remains. This continues till the hero of the drama realizes his mistake and comes back with an apology that is almost always served with the expectation of not only being accepted but returned as the heroine would happily go back in to his life again. This right here, is the haunting image that gets engraved onto the mind of the girl who saw no better love story on her TV than this.
So does it makes sense now? Why suddenly some compassionate and kind drama projects on TV are causing so much of a reaction from the public? It’s as if they’ve shaken up an entire generation and forced them to reconcile with their own fears that they had been fed. The story of a sobbing, helpless heroine that once pulled in the TV ratings has finally been replaced with characters that can inspire the Pakistani audiences to be someone for themselves. After years of being told “Log kiya bolien gey”, it’s a refreshing relief to now being asked “Tum kab bolo gee”.