Sangat proves that mothers will always force their daughters to stay silent about abuse
Written by Zafar Mairaj who has also recently penned down Muqabil, another drama that deals with a victim of sexual abuse, Sangat has hundreds of snags and a few redeeming points.
Ashi (Saba Qamar) is a cheerful, bright woman married to Adnan (Mikaal Zulfiqar) and lives with him in their house along with her sister-in-law, Farah (Kiran Haq) and mother-in-law (Samina Ahmed).
It’s all hunky dory. Adnan is a doting husband, Ashi is a dutiful wife. But they can’t have kids because Adnan needs to undergo medical treatment in order for Ashi to conceive, a matter which he is delaying. Ashi’s mother (Saba Faisal) is a professor whose colleague’s son, Shavez (Zahid Ahmed) was sort of obsessed with Ashi.
One night, Ashi is visiting her mother when Shavez and two of his friends arrive to rob Ashi’s mother’s house. Shavez locks Ashi in her room and rapes her. His friends want to rape her as well but Shavez stops them and in that occurrence, his face becomes visible to Ashi. She recognises him but says nothing. Her mother realises that Ashi has been raped but asks her to stay silent. Ashi’s mother doesn’t see Shavez’s face and later when she meets him, she asks for his help and they bond because Ashi’s mother is just that nice.
A few weeks later, just when Ashi is picking people from a line-up that the police has arranged for her to identify her attacker, she realises she is pregnant. She says nothing to Adnan about the reality of the baby’s paternity. Only Ashi, her psychotherapist/psychiatrist and Ashi’s mother know that Ashi had been assaulted that night. When the child is born, everyone is ecstatic, but a few weeks later they find out that their daughter, Sangat, has blood cancer and would require DNA testing for bone marrow treatment. It is this when Adnan finds out that Sangat is not his daughter.
On the other hand, Ashi’s mother and Shavez have become best friends. She is found trying to get him employed, figuring out his relationships for him and she goes as far as allowing him to stay at her house. Shavez is found trying to ask for forgiveness from God and is trying to make amends. He is still a jerk, though, because he is rude and horrible to the girl who loves him, Salma (Sonia Mishal) and is willing to give up everything for him.
What Sangat managed to get right
Before we dig into what Sangat got absolutely and undoubtedly wrong, let’s first point to the few things it got pretty much right. It was spot on about discussing the effects of sexual abuse on a woman. The shame and the guilt she deals with after such a trauma is not something that can be taken lightly. She lives with it like living with dead weight.
Sangat also got this aspect of attackers often being people you trust and know right, and dealt with it well. There is a long monologue by Adnan in which he talks about how society treats rape victims. He talks at length and passionately about how there is a huge culture of victim blaming that stops victims from coming forward with their stories or seeking justice.
Sangat explored a much ignored reality of how women, especially mothers, force their daughters to stay silent in the face of abuse. In a long detailed dialogue between Ashi and her mother, Ashi’s mother successfully manages to convince Ashi that if she dared tell her husband about what happened on the night of the robbery, Adnan would most certainly not accept her.
This behaviour and the many circumstances that came forth after hiding this fact is catastrophic in many ways. Had Ashi trusted her husband, had Ashi’s mother stood by her and continued to be supportive of her daughter, it would have created problems, sure; but nowhere near as the ones that came to pass later.
What Sangat definitely got wrong
First and foremost, the undue emphasis on how the rapist isn’t really a bad guy, he was just a guy who took some bad decisions because of his troubled life etc, is one of the most problematic aspects of Sangat.
Shavez is shown as someone who has compassion and is helpful but suddenly turns into a psychotic angry person as well as the occasional rapist. This raises about a billion questions (read = discrepancies) about his character.
The political statement Shavez makes on mainstream media in a society like Pakistan where slut-shaming and victim blaming is already an accepted practice, where people are more than happy to absolve criminal behaviour against women, is nothing short of irresponsible writing. We also do not see much about what made Shavez commit this crime. We see more of his path to redemption than the path he took to commit this crime – which subconsciously humanises Shavez for the audiences.
In another scene we see Shavez tell Salma what he did to Ashi and she listens to everything and then says,
“But I will always love you, I can never hate you.”
As if all the hate and misdemeanour wasn’t enough, the guy tells you he’s actually sexually abused another woman and you say you can’t ever hate him? I’ve heard of women with low self-esteem issues, be it in abusive relationships with less than worthy men, but this was just ridiculous.
Using rape as a plot device
Many dramas in the past have used sexual abuse and rape as a plot device. Chup Reho, Nanhi, Andaz e Sitam, Gul e Rana, Muqabil and the critically and commercially successful Udaari were the many plays in the recent past that tackled the subject of sexual abuse. It was only in Udaari where the victim spoke out and found support in family and friends – the rest of the dramas, although well-written and beautifully acted, followed similar problematic steps.
Using rape as a plot device is hardly new to the world of television. Ranging from General Hospital to Downton Abbey to Game of Thrones (which some of critics believed was completely unnecessary), television series in the west have also numerous times graphically portrayed rape. Some show runners there are looking to stop this from becoming a practice, but it doesn’t seem like it is going to happen because of how rape is an inciting plot device.
Sangat ends with revenge, and Adnan eventually shoots Shavez because he finds out that he was Ashi’s rapist. This becomes a convenient ending for the audience and only proves how the system itself is broken in providing justice to victims.
The question inevitably falls onto how rape is depicted: is it only done to boost ratings and capitalise on the shock factor? Or is it done to portray a social issue or explain the depth of someone’s character or motivations behind someone’s actions?
The problem with serials like Muqabil and Sangat thereby becomes their humanisation of rapists and how there is little to no attention on what created these monsters who attack women in such a brutal manner, destroying their lives and mental health.
To write about rape, writers must consider the various psycho-social theories put forward about rape and enhance the negativity of the act itself rather than whitewashing the attacker by repeated scenes of showing him in tears and begging for absolution.
Sangat failed to create a psychologically accurate portrayal of Shavez and spent most of its duration showing how he was angry and hateful, sure, but look how much he loves his daughter. He’s abusive, yes, but look how much he wants to save the woman’s life. The mixed messages shown in Shavez’s character ruin the credible exposition of psychological trauma as suffered by Ashi.
All the actors are fantastic, even though the plot is horribly wrong most of the time. Ahmed is adeptly menacing and appropriately kind in this bizarrely conflicting role, Qamar’s portrayal as a rape victim is moving and heart-breaking. Haq as Farah makes a lot of sense throughout the play that make you want to stop hating the plot for a short while. Zulfiqar is convincing as the anguished and angered husband who eventually finds peace as he kills Shavez. The key music in the entire drama was a straight up rip-off from Requiem for a Dream – and the rest of the background score seemed a little too inspired from the main theme of Game of Thrones.
At the end of the day, Sangat is a problematic play at best.