Politicians and Telly Dramas
By Maleeha Hamid Siddiqui
Malik Wajahat, a feudal tycoon and politician, is visiting his stashed away second wife in the city with whom he has two daughters. A conversation ensues between the feudal, an educated, handsome diabolical man and his pretty and not-so-submissive wife.
She tells her husband that she is pregnant yet again and the ultrasound has revealed the gender of the foetus to be female. This enrages Malik and he insists she gets an abortion. She refuses, indicating that she has been through the procedure a couple of times earlier and will not do so this time. Her protest notwithstanding, the heartless patrician calls out to his consiglieri to take care of this annoying piece of business; which in other words means that his stooge arrange for the foeticide by whatever means possible.
This above scenario was not from an actual politician’s life – although many people reading this would probably agree with this description, despite their minimal interaction with them and whatever familiarity they have gained is via the media and culture (My Feudal Lord by Tehmina Durrani). In fact, the scene above was a glimpse from drama serial Mera Saeein. Jampacked with lines dismissive of politicians, each episode of the play reinforced their stereotypical traits (corrupt, sleazy, deceitful, murderer, polygamous, unfaithful and cowardly). For instance one recalls dialogues, “Siyasatdaan ka kaam hota hai awaam ko exploit karma,” (Politicians are meant to fleece the masses) and “woh samajhtay hain kay unkay haram main har aurat aa sakti hai,” (They think they can have any woman in their harem).
At the risk of repeating myself, one can almost hear people crying out in unison declaring Mera Saeein an accurate portrayal of the feudal-politico strata. They would probably agree with the philanthropist Abdus Sattar Edhi who wants all politicians to be exterminated. But to do so would be a shame as it would negate the courage, respect and admiration some of them have gained locally and internationally. Salmaan Taseer, Sherry Rehman, Marvi Memon, are some that promptly come to one’s mind among many others. Taseer, Punjab’s governor, was quite well-known for his empathy with the minorities and paid with his life when he was shot dead by his bodyguard for his disapproval of the Blasphemy Law. Besides being the first female federal minister of information and broadcasting, Rehman introduced five pieces of women-sensitive legislation in the National Assembly and Memon too has taken up causes to highlight issues affecting the common people.
Living up to a similar cliché, was another serial Saans. The only difference in both the serials was in the latter case the protagonist was shown as an alpha female pursuing her ambitions neglecting her only child and husband. It was quite obvious that in the minds of the creators, the rightful place for a woman is at home, confined as a mother and wife. Ironically the title role was played by none other than Atiqa Odho, who until the recent liquor scandal, was the vice-president of the All Pakistan Muslim League, the newly formed political party by General (retd) Pervez Musharraf.
A couple of things came to one’s mind while watching the serial. Firstly how could Odho agree to such a simplistic and negative female character when her own life story has completely turned around this medieval concept on its head? Having survived a traumatic first marriage, Odho has been a working woman all her life and has gone on to have a successful second marriage and pursued variegated career choices while raising three children.
Finally, the director didn’t have to look very far but to recall the example of Benazir Bhutto. She trail blazed the path for women desirous of a political career coupled with a family life. According to her inner circle, Bhutto was very much involved in her children’s education and was a good mother. For discerning viewers it was obvious that politicians were a convenient punching bag regardless of the gender with no effort to depict inspirational examples. Despite their squeaky-clean image, military men are equally if not more culpable of the very same crimes that they accuse the civilian politicians of.
And on the other hand there is the glorious depiction of the armed forces on television such as Sunehrey Din, Alpha Bravo Charlie, Sher Dil and Faseel-e-Jahan Say Aagay. Almost all the patriotic dramas have cast the soldiers in the same mould – cheeky, romantic, patriotic, honest, brave and dedicated – raising them to a mythical status. Frequent viewings would prove difficult to pinpoint out any flaws in the endearing protagonists. Of course, one needs to factor in a crucial fact about these serials — all have been financed by the Inter-Services Public Relations - the PR wing of the armed forces. The proverbial you cannot bite the hand that feeds you is apt in this case.
So far nobody has had the guts to portray the shenanigans of the military personnel in dramas. Despite their squeaky-clean image, military men are equally if not more culpable of the very same crimes that they accuse the civilian politicians of. According to a paper “US Aid to Pakistan – US taxpayers have funded Pakistani corruption” presented in 2009 at the Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School by Azeem Ibrahim, the US had given 1.5 million US dollars as reimbursement for Pakistan navy vehicles damaged during counter-terrorism war efforts, when in reality they had never been used for the purpose. More corruption examples are cited — 15 million US dollars for bunkers and 30 million dollars for road construction, none of them ever materialized. As for flouting of laws, Ayesha Siddiqa in her cover story for the monthly Newsline in 2006, The New Land Barons-Pakistan’s armed forces as leading players in the real estate business, said presciently about the villagers of tehsil Nawazabad who were forced to leave the lands of their forefathers by military personnel. “To them there was no difference between the dominant feudal lords and the praetorian military.” When the brave farmers took their cases to the courts, the junior military officers threatened them and told the peasants that not even the courts could save them from the army’s authority.
But then the armed forces has a super-sensitive ego, that it does not even have the capacity to laugh at itself, which I discovered when I interviewed the host of a popular satirical program, three years ago for the monthly Herald. He told me that they had strict instructions to refrain from poking at them.
Surely, a drama with a slew of characters, one of them a drunkard soldier’s son who accidentally kills a bystander and gets away with it and the other a retired brigadier father, busy acquiring land at throwaway prices for his company, weaved into the storyline would be too high an expectation.
(The writer works as the Coordinating Editor at the Herald and blogs at tvnama.wordpress.com. Courtesy Dawn)