LAHORE: Pakistani dramas are notorious for usually stereotyping female characters in one of these three categories: the perpetually unhappy girl who sheds too many tears, the nefarious, revenge-driven woman or the insecure girl trying to be fierce. Not only are these clichés boring, but they also limit the ways in which female characters can be explored via storytelling.
Baji Irshad, an upcoming show on Express Entertainment, is, therefore, one to watch out for. With a female protagonist who is a Christian maid, the play has been written by Sarah Qayyum and is being crafted for TV under the supervision of renowned playwright Umera Ahmed. The project is the television directorial debut of Yasra Rizvi, who will also be playing the lead character, while the secondary cast is mostly new.
“Baji Irshad is not a regular maid so it makes for a very interesting story. She is a very positive character for everyone around her,” says Qayyum. Generally, when a strong female character is written, it usually lends itself to stripping away any sense of nuance or complexity, by turning out to be either entirely good or completely evil. Qayyum shares that Baji Irshad, who is inspired by a real life persona, offers a different mix altogether.
“I found a strong character in Qayyum’s short story. The Christian community is one that needs to be highlighted and with this drama, we got an opportunity to showcase their predicaments. The majority is always engrossed in their own problems so one never looks at the other,” says Ahmed. The playwright also reveals that the problems have been shown in ways that are easy for consumption and the writers have purposefully taken a different route. “The audiences should be able to see a reflection of their own lives in the characters.”
The drama emphasises the disparities between the rich and the poor. “We have put the elite class in it as well and tried to depict the similarities and differences. A maid is as helpless in her problems as a rich lady is, so that contrast is very interesting.”
Stating the serial is somewhat of a gamble for the team, Ahmed continues, “We have had stories on different characters but never had a maid for a protagonist. We don’t show regular women as anything special — every woman will see her reflection in Irshad.”
A few months ago, Qayyum submitted her short story on Alif Kitab, Pakistan’s first digital Urdu magazine, which is the brainchild of. “Since screenwriting is taught in our schools in English and our dramas are in Urdu, there is a major problem at the grass roots level. People use digital mediums at home so this is a way of tackling that problem,” adds Ahmed. “Qayyum’s first story got picked up through the medium. This makes one think about her talent and how it was being neglected for years.”
Ahmed has recently written the screenplay for Bollywood film Eidgah, starring Shabana Azmi, which will be released in December. She is also working on a Pakistani film titled Laal.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 22nd, 2016.