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Are we romanticizing villains?

Pakistani drama serials and the entertainment industry has recently taken up the task of depicting and talking about many difficult subjects in its recent projects. Domestic abuse, sexual abuse, divorce, infertility, emotional abuse – all have now long become a part of the regular subjects of Pakistani dramas.

The recent most trend is showing sexual abuse of children and young women. Sexual abuse, often, is a tool of power rather than merely sexual gratification, but have our writers and creators gotten the memo?

In ‘Meri Guriya’, the subject of sexual abuse was roughly shaped around the story of Zainab Amin Ansari, a young girl who was brutally raped and killed in Kasur early last year. Many an outcry was raised and Zainab’s culprit turned out to be a serial killer who had raped and killed not one but ten other young girls. Mohsin Abbas Haider played Dabeer, a shifty young man, who is clearly mentally disturbed and preys on young girls. While the overall drama’s plot wasn’t as problematic as say Muqabil’s, where the assailant was shown as being ‘sorry’ about his actions and ended up killing himself, ‘Meri Guriya’ heavily relied on capital punishment and ‘bringing the due’ on to the criminal. It did highlight some specific gender biases that exist in our society in the shape of Ayesha Khan’s character.

In ‘Haiwaan’, we saw another child predator but it was needlessly turned into a sensationalized, bizarre character that neither explained nor created awareness about child abuse. In ‘Cheekh’, the story is still developing. Nayab (Ushna Shah) is murdered and there is a monologue where the alleged Wajih talks about how no girl has ever said no to him. This explains many crimes against women well. Male entitlement, or how men think women owe them sex or submission, is a big feature in such crimes.

While we cannot really form a verdict about the villain in ‘Cheekh’ yet, but if we were to give examples, ‘Udaari’ was a play that showed a dynamic where predators can easily exploit their victims. According to psychology, however, here are a few elements that writers can keep in consideration before writing characters that are predatory/attackers in nature:

  •   Predators are not always hyper realistic. Drinking and drugs may cause increase in abusive behavior but that is not the actual or the only reason why these disturbed individuals act the way they do.
  •  Show the childhood. How did your predator become the way they are? How did nature and nurture play a role in making this person the way they are? Predators usually have very abused, neglected childhoods and they have been unable to resolve those childhood conflicts. Without showing this as an ‘excuse’ for their behavior, show that this is how important childhood is. As they say, it is easy to rear up whole individuals than it is to repair broken adults.
  • Do not shame the victim. Many times we see a ghairatmand bhai or a hapless father crying about his daughter’s izzat. Even though this is a reality of our society, but there also need to be some heroes shown that take an initiative and love a woman despite her scars. A good example is Wali (Muneeb Butt) from the currently airing ‘Baandi’. Wali is a good cop who has decided to speak up against the abuse that is faced by Meeru (Aiman Khan), a domestic servant.

While there is a lot more that goes into creating storylines around sensitive issues, our writers must also pay attention to how they are creating said storylines. While stories about sexual abuse and domestic abuse ‘bring ratings’, media also has a social responsibility to not display harmful images and send romantic messages about predators.

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