'No means yes': Pakistan TV's dangerous trend of celebrating rapists and stalkers as heroes

Published: April 13, 2016
For a change, listen to what the women are saying.

For a change, listen to what the women are saying. PHOTO: FILE

Sometimes trends catch on – capes over kurtas, chai at dhabas over chai at home and Fawad Khan over well, everyone else. Mostly they are passing fads, soon replaced by the latest flavour of the month.

But what do you do if a trend revels in turning rapists into heroes, glorifies goons, promotes stalking as a precursor to romance and use of force as an expression of love?

There used to be a time when Pakistani dramas didn’t shy away from holding a mirror to our society and also gave us protagonists who struggled against an unfair system. It’s true that some of these dramas were slower than attempts at making Youtube accessible; still, most had more pithy dialogues than, “Aga Khan, nashta kar lein.”

The women were not always bickering and plotting schemes to outdo each other but actually held jobs and ambition. Then cable TV happened and the idiot box truly lived up to its name.

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Since last year’s blockbuster Pyare Afzal, which was about a lovable loser-turned-gangster, many a goon avatar has thundered through our TV screens. While this may be a reflection of increased crime and the reality of our times, and the inner life of goons might make for compelling character study, portraying them as heroes is a travesty.

Sangat, which was ostensibly about a rape survivor, turned into a convoluted debacle of a rapist’s forgiveness. Forget justice, the victim barely got time to recover before the rapist moved into her house. While this might be the more exaggerated of cases, other dramas aren’t faring any better. Gul-e-Rana takes it a step further.


Inspired by the popular Diyar-e-dil trend of coercing women at gunpoint, Rana is forced to marry her cousin (another increasingly popular trend on TV). She puts up with his psychotic behaviour and passes off the blame for his attempted rape onto the woman. Of course in telling visual shorthand, the woman is dressed in Western clothes so naturally, the attempted rape is “her fault.”

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Even the popular Mera Naam Yousuf Hai had the hero stalking his love interest. More troublesome is that when the girl did not reciprocate his feelings, he refused to take no for an answer. His insistence on stalking her, and then landing up at her house were all played out as romantic gestures. File that under that age-old tradition of desi male entitlement, and many Bollywood films as early as the ’60s that enforce the idea ki na na karte pyar tum hi se kar baithe.

In the ’80s, along with bad clothes and worse hairstyles, Bollywood also introduced the reprehensible tradition of women marrying their rapists. Fast forward a few decades later, now we are turning that into women must marry at gunpoint and live happily ever after with their stalkers.


In the current Dillagi too, there is a large-hearted thug masquerading as a hero. His bleeding heart is in love with the feisty Anmol, so much so that despite her repeated refusals, he sees it fit to barge into her home, follow her at work and scare off any prospective grooms – real or imagined.

Though all the women said no, clearly and unequivocally, their answers stand for nothing. Her voice is to be drowned out. Her guroor to be broken. These kinds of dangerous mindsets are one step short of leading to acid attacks and honor killings. This entitlement is what our leaders defend when they say they have the right to hit women.

Strong arming into someone’s home, having women acquiesce to demands at the barrel of a gun, watching and following them as they go about their day, beautifully shot scenes of thuggery in the rain are not romantic gestures, they are acts of violence.

The only drama thus far to have gotten the memo is Bhai. Noman Ijaz plays the sadistic neighbourhood gunda with few redeeming qualities. Given our drama writers’ love for binaries, he is a composite of every evil imaginable. Still, his harassment and threatening behavior is depicted as menacing and scary as it is, and rightly should be portrayed.

It’s not so hard to see that peddling thugs as heroes and stalking as romance feeds into a convoluted idea of what a relationship should be. A healthy relationship involves the consent of both parties. In our repressed society where film and TV play more than just the role of entertainment, our dramas need to examine the dangerous stereotypes they are reinforcing.

For a change, listen to what the women are saying. ‘No’ always means ‘no’; not ‘I’ll change my mind if you can make me bend against my will.’ Force and coercion cannot be glossed over by the hero’s supposed romantic gestures, rather constant demands for chai, dinner, ironed clothes and freshly squeezed orange juice as if fulfilling his every need is all that a woman lives for.

If only drama writers as well as the men they sketch respected a woman’s ability to make a choice for themselves. In case we need to spell it out, ‘no’ is a complete sentence.

Sadaf Siddique is a freelance writer, avid reader, film and drama enthusiast and sometime drama queen, not necessarily in that order.

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Reader Comments (33)

  • Azher
    Apr 13, 2016 - 3:57PM

    Very true and correct article. We are now promoting uncivilized societies through the media. Where moral values are of less imporatnceRecommend

  • Mak
    Apr 13, 2016 - 4:42PM

    Can’t agree more. I find attempts to paint bad in a positive image simply despicable and a pathetic attempt at showing what might garner good numbers on the viewership graph. Last year, first wife second wife was the in thing. this year its the ‘rape is actually love’ season. Makes me want to puke…Recommend

  • Curious Citizen
    Apr 13, 2016 - 4:49PM

    Nicely written. i hope the private channels work to transform our society into more tolerant and noble society. where every one have their rights and everyone will aware of that. Recommend

  • Uzair
    Apr 13, 2016 - 4:56PM

    Well written! I avoid the bilge that passes for entertainment on most of our TV channels, however catching the occasional soap “drama serial” in passing I am always struck by the glorification of marriage “within family”, and that traditional meek girls who dress conservatively are somehow better human beings than modern and educated ones.

    And yes, No should mean no. Sadly machismo and false bravado are a huge part of our culture still, and ashames me as a man.Recommend

  • AA
    Apr 13, 2016 - 7:32PM

    a very well timed and pertinent article. Hum Tv is turning more and more regressive every day. Recommend

  • hameed
    Apr 13, 2016 - 9:29PM

    Today’s dramas are crap. PeriodRecommend

  • Mariam G
    Apr 13, 2016 - 11:33PM

    Haven’t been watching any plays as such but from this article it seems the writers are following trashy romance novels which seem to believe that woman love aggressors. Put pressure on the woman, show her down, make her believe she is not important and nor is her word. And there you have it. The perfect love story. Recommend

  • Apr 13, 2016 - 11:53PM

    go back in time when dramas was only fairy tails good guys is all good and in the end he wins all and they life happily ever after ….
    welcome to the reality my dear .. this is what we have became you can call it our misfortune … but at least its much of the truth that’s being portrayed on TV you gotta give them that at least … miss feminist ..Recommend

  • Fatima
    Apr 13, 2016 - 11:53PM

    Afzal was shot by police.
    Shahwez was shot like he was a stray dog.
    Adeel did not get Rana in the end even after he repented.
    Mohid learned in the 4th episode that he couldn’t force someone to love him.
    None of these men were forgiven! Look at the bigger picture.Recommend

  • Faiza iftikhar
    Apr 14, 2016 - 12:34AM

    Plz dont be judgmentel after only 5 episodes. When u see broking anmol ..then tell me .. :) Recommend

  • roughcheck
    Apr 14, 2016 - 1:02AM

    I remember my extensive travelling in under ground and over ground tubes/trains and flipping through ‘London Metro’ and ‘Evening Standards’ say and night during my stay in UK…., but frankly speaking never had seen this much usage of complex vocabulary what I see in this piece…
    I feel the writer has had a dictionary opened by her side all the time during when she was trying to write this article….
    My advice is to make things simple as to garner maximum readershipRecommend

  • Sara
    Apr 14, 2016 - 9:16AM

    Thank you for writing this. It was much needed. I left watching many dramas in the middle because of their regressive depiction of women and then justifying bad treatment of women. Gul-e-Rana was one recent drama that i left watching…Recommend

  • omar
    Apr 14, 2016 - 10:23AM

    such moral degenerates! Where is the censor board? why dosent islamic ideology council take notice????Recommend

  • shafi
    Apr 14, 2016 - 11:18AM

    Agree with the writer. What are these drama’s trying to show that you can have a girl by stalking her forcing her even by raping her ??? .Does they ever thought of the consequences of it ?? . What If young boys follow this trend ??? These dramas are leading our society to dark ages.Recommend

  • Spectator
    Apr 14, 2016 - 11:25AM

    Good Article. Also Pakistani dramas are crap! ThsRecommend

  • Arshad Khan
    Apr 14, 2016 - 11:57AM

    Everything electronic in Pakistan is going to dogs. It would have been more interesting reading had the writer also shed some light on the current production of television and radio commercials. It seems brainless people have taken over everywhere be it drama production (that includes script, acting and filming) or advertising. Recommend

  • Ahmed
    Apr 14, 2016 - 11:58AM

    Finally, someone wrote about this artistic atrocity that is gaining momentum in the scripts of Pakistani drama serials. In particular, the serial Sangat is so ill conceived that it makes my stomach turn. Turning a rapist into a hero is not only sick but it’s a slap on the face of hundreds of thousands of rape victims in our society whose voice is already buried into the cultural/societal taboos and pressures. While the west is contemplating having gender-free public restrooms (yet another extreme) in the name of equality, we are still marginalizing our women and just can’t break away from the shackles of our misogynistic mindset.Recommend

  • Maria
    Apr 14, 2016 - 1:07PM

    Sadaf, thank you so so much for this article! when HUM TV arrived I had particularly better expectations as Momina Duraid is reigning queen there and as Shonda Rhimes demonstrates, a great female producer will use the power of the media to make voices heard and I suppose that’s what I expected of our dramas. In addition to producers, directors and writers, female leads acting these characters are equally responsible. As written within the last 24 hours, “If you are questioning who made women feel oppressed in Pakistan then you are part of the problem.” We are all part of the problem and need to look in the mirror.Recommend

  • S25
    Apr 14, 2016 - 1:42PM

    How does being shot or miserable in the last episode justify the glorification of the previous 25 episodes?Recommend

  • Apr 14, 2016 - 2:13PM

    I don’t watch any sort of dramas because it’s just not my thing so I wasn’t aware of what the current trends were. This is horrible. Drag your kids away from TV screens and gore filled video games and to the park for some much needed physical exercise, fresh air and quality time with the family. I beg you.Recommend

  • Hasan
    Apr 14, 2016 - 3:56PM

    We see a social degradation on TV all in the name of “entertainment”. God only knows (who) is entertained by customs that degrade the individual instead of elevating the human spirit.
    All one can say is, choose wisely what you see and, what your children see till they are adults and can then choose for themselves.Recommend

  • Fatima
    Apr 15, 2016 - 1:12AM

    Thanks for writing this. Also you forgot to add the part about parents forcing their daughters into marriages only to have daughter fall truly madly deeply in love with husband so as to establish some variation of parents know best/its ok if it turns out well/forced marriage totally not criminal if it ends in love. And I’m look at you Diyar-e-dil and Hum Dil Dey Chuke SanamRecommend

  • Saima
    Apr 15, 2016 - 8:08AM

    Great article, well argued points.

  • TK
    Apr 15, 2016 - 10:06AM

    Excellent depiction of the current dramas and what they taught us, Great courage to talk on the hot issues but can’t understand that our beauty queens are making notorious plays to show them different on the part of vulgarity.

    Teaching the art of womanizing has become progressive and these actors likes to do it repeatedly. Some channels looks stressful and has taken the lead to become controversial by showing maximum bad side of the society to promote their channel.

    Big Salute to them for running in the hands of our enemies.
    Sadaf, keep on doing the great work, we will bring the change soon. , Recommend

  • Apr 15, 2016 - 3:25PM

    Convincingly written with a passion. Initially it were the digest writers writing for the TV that reinforced the stereotypical image of a weak, indecisive and ever-dependent woman and now here is another type of positioning of the woman, though off shoot of the old image.

    No one is bothered about the amplification factor of the media. For masses anything portrayed on media becomes a socially acceptable norm.

    Brilliant work Sadaf Siddique.Recommend

  • Baber
    Apr 15, 2016 - 7:13PM

    Dayar-e-dil was a perfect drama .. family values were the key element in it! it was best! Recommend

  • Azzad
    Apr 15, 2016 - 9:08PM

    I wish the people watching/liking and hence promoting these low quality shows would also realize that this kind of stupid thinking is against the basic rights of women.Recommend

  • Ali Husnain Shah
    Apr 16, 2016 - 12:37AM

    very nicely explained true picture of our drama industry now a days, we have to return to those days when dramas shown on TV screens had constructive message for everyone.Recommend

  • Zahra Khalid
    Apr 17, 2016 - 2:18AM

    Great commentary, much needed!

    The showcasing of big houses, cars, wealth and privilege of the main characters in most dramas is most alienating. They serve to reinforce patriarchy and misogyny by suggesting these as the norm for the so called educated classes that others may aspire to emulate (varying sociological theories about this but perhaps safe to assume a spectrum of aspirers). Dramas are one important medium through which the (imagined or otherwise) lives of the rich become accessible and transparent to everyone else. Thus, producing these should be taken as an important social responsibility and their power as a tool for social reproduction should be reflected on by all those who come together to create them.Recommend

  • brar
    Apr 17, 2016 - 4:57AM

    @roughcheck: It is available on line and easy to use and I agree that I had to consult the same many times when reading articles on ET and Dawn , English is not our mother tongue and the writers ust keep this in mind there are lot of simple words which a common man can under stand than the words used by the writer.Recommend

  • Syeda
    Apr 17, 2016 - 6:04AM

    Such a refreshing article by Tribune!! Wonderful!!
    Those who are saying now it is a reality in society, that doesnt mean dramas should show just that!! We need to educate the society that it is wrong instead of accepting it be like nothing can be done about it.
    I am so sick of overflow of women abuse and rape culture in dramas!! The more it is shown the more it becomes normal and acceptable in the society. We must more away from constant women torture to women empowerment in Dramas stories!Recommend

  • Aleem
    Apr 26, 2016 - 10:49PM


    And you watch too many dramas/soaps! :-)

    How the heck do you know the outcomes of all these?Recommend

  • khalid
    May 2, 2016 - 8:07PM

    most of these private channels are own,run by urdu speaking mohajirs and its there culture and mindset which they brought form dian in 1947.MAy god s curse be on these type of people(not talking about good,ind,type of urud spekaing mogahrs)Recommend

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