In Sangat, the rapist is both hero and villain — and that's a problem

In Sangat, the rapist is both hero and villain — and that's a problem

In what seems like an attempt to appear different, Sangat sets up the rapist to be as much of a victim as his prey
Updated 04 Nov, 2015

The Pakistani drama industry may have found its new favourite topic: rape.

We have to give TV producers credit for not shying away from addressing difficult social issues. In between the now routine doosri teesri biwi stories, the mismatched love affairs and soaps with 'mayka' or 'sasural' in their titles, there are always dramas with an original or challenging storyline.

Rape, in particular, is a highly important subject, given the steady rise of sexual assault awareness after the high-profile Nirbhaya case in neighbouring India and the steady stream of similarly tragic stories that haunt the Pakistani news cycle.

However, TV dramas often contribute to rape culture, rather than attempt to dismantle it. Hum TV's Sangat is an unfortunate example of this.

Sangat and its strange plot twist

The happily wedded couple of Sangat - Ashy and Adnan - see their life turn upside down – Publicity photo
The happily wedded couple of Sangat - Ashy and Adnan - see their life turn upside down – Publicity photo

Sangat is the story of Ashy (Saba Qamar) who is happily married to her college sweetheart Adnan (Mikaal Zulfikar). On a rare visit to her mother’s house, Ashy falls prey to her long-time admirer Shavez (Zahid Ahmed), who breaks in under the premise of a robbery and rapes her.

Ashy soon discovers that she is expecting a child and is forced to go through with the pregnancy by her mother. Neither her in-laws nor her husband suspect a thing and are ecstatic about the new addition to their family whom they name Sangat.

TV serials tend to follow an unfortunate formula in the treatment of rape: a happy family life is shattered and supposedly strong relationships are tested to breaking point. But a majority also try to portray the difficulties of the victim. One of the best dramas to explore this topic with the respect and gravity it deserves has been the award-winning drama, Roag.

Sangat, however, defies all norms (and logic) by trying to whitewash the rapist. Whatever commercial or clichéd faults dramas like Chup Raho or Main Gunehgaar Nahi had, one thing was for sure: the rapist was the bad guy.

The rapist in Sangat: Hero bhi, villian bhi?

In Sangat, everyone's nice to the rapist villian – Publicity photo
In Sangat, everyone's nice to the rapist villian – Publicity photo

In what seems like an attempt to appear “different”, Sangat sets up the rapist to be as much of a victim of cruel circumstance as his prey. So far into the story we have learnt he suffered as a child, was brought up by a single father and at one point his mother was robbed at gunpoint.

What's more, the TV serial imparts his character with a hero-like desirability. Despite the fact that he is known to be good-for-nothing goonda type, his landlady swears that though she isn’t sure what he does outside the house, he enters their home with a modestly lowered gaze.

If anyone were in doubt of this rapist’s complete sharafat, the writer has added the character of Salma, the lovelorn daughter of Shavez’s landlord who throws herself at him with monotonous regularity.

Salma and her family desperately try to trap our hero – oops, I mean villian – into marriage, but he steadfastly maintains that “Main kissee aur sey mohabbat karta hoon“ (I love someone else) in Zahid Ahmed’s no doubt sonorous voice.

False, dangerous messages in Sangat

12 episodes down and apart from Shavez’s 'love' for his victim, writer Zafar Mairaj has given us no clue why this misunderstood paragon would actually commit such a heinous act.

The audience is left to conclude that this rape was about unrequited, obsessive love rather than a particularly evil act of premeditated violence. The whole story feeds into the myth that rape is about sex or lust or attraction, when the overwhelming evidence from studies on this subject indicate clearly that it is about dominance, power, control and humiliation.

The seeds of repentance do not come from Shavez’s realization of the horror of his actions but from the pain he sees he has caused the woman he “loves”. The writer does a great disservice to victims of sexual violence by romanticizing the rapist and his motivations.

The drama does get one thing right, however: many rapists (but not all) are known to their victims, not strangers. Shavez is the son of an old colleague of Ashy's mother and his assault is a carefully planned attack disguised by the robbery.

Much of the drama is then taken up with Shavez's regret, his tears and his many contrived meetings with the unfortunate Ashy.

The story sets up a dangerously false equivalency between the perpetrator’s need for forgiveness and the victim’s need to recover, placing the burden of resolution firmly on the victim’s shoulders. The completely baseless idea that the victim can only be free to live her life if she forgives this man is insinuated throughout the story.

No respite for the victim, Ashy?

Ashy's in-laws don't make her life any easier – Publicity photo
Ashy's in-laws don't make her life any easier – Publicity photo

To be fair, the story does explore the victim’s painful recovery from the assault but again we are treated to the typical “zamana kiya kahey ga” mother so beloved of Pakistani dramas.

Despite being a highly educated woman of some wisdom and experience, Ashy’s mother oppresses her, warning her never to trust her husband or expect his support. Amazingly, Ashy cannot even bring herself to tell her mother the rapist’s identity.

Another beloved trope of Pakistani dramas is then dredged up in the form of the unreliable husband.

Ashy wants to share her terrible experience with her husband, but is cowed into silence when he thanks her for saving the “family’s honour”. He never wonders as to why his wife is so traumatised by an armed robbery, and seems more irritated bystander than loving husband, leaving Ashy so disappointed in him that she seriously considers leaving him.

The only person Ashy confides in is a psychiatrist who suffers from a huge compassion deficit and tells Ashy off for “distancing herself from her husband”.

She even asks Ashy whether she would forgive Adnan if he came to her after making a similar ghalti. Is rape just a ghalti, a mistake? Is suffering rape and asking for support equivalent to a man raping another person and asking for his wife’s support? Can a criminal and a victim command the same kind of empathy?

This mind boggling contradiction is presented to the audience as a moment of revelation and acceptance for Ashy, who now understands her strangely insensitive husband.

In contrast to Adnan’s unhelpful attitude, the writer allows the rapist Shavez to save Ashy and her child’s life by giving blood just at the right moment and reinforces this forced irony with dialogues like “Vo jis ka khoon aap ki ragho main daur raha hai" when referencing him.

Essentially the writer is building a case for the perpetrator’s acquittal from his crime, minimizing and mitigating his heinous actions. This story effectively emasculates the husband who is seen as obstructive, unhelpful and very possibly negative whenever he learns the truth.

Shavez has the universe on his side

In contrast to Ashy's plight, Shavez has a lot of help from the local Imam who gives him shelter and advises him on how to attain forgiveness. Ignorant of Shavez’s guilt, Ashy’s mother takes him under her wing and into her house, instead of using that time to focus on her daughter. Despite his disappointment in his son, Shavez’s father is always looking out for him, as is the ever hopeful Salma.

One is reminded of Paulo Coelho’s words “And when you want something, the entire universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." The Universe of Sangat is indeed conspiring to absolve Shavez of his guilt.

The strangest part of this story is that though Ashy looks at her attacker with contempt, she isn’t angry enough to confront him or even ask the most basic of questions: “Why did you do this?” or “Why me?”. Contrast this with the victims who fill the news risking life and limb begging for justice, while Ashy’s only demand is that Shavez get out of her life.

She will of course be punished for even that presumption of self-determination, and soon. In one of the most recent episodes, a desperate Ashy searches for Shavez as her child is in dire need of his blood for a lifesaving transfusion. However, this also drives home the point that once a woman carries her child with a rapist to term, her relationship with him will never end. In fact, it has just begun.

The team of Sangat

Director Kashif Nisar is no stranger to challenging material, having directed the award-winning Ullu Baraye Farukht Nahi. As can be expected from someone of his talent, he has managed to make a very compelling serial out of this flawed storyline and that is the real tragedy. Such a well-made serial should have been a great opportunity to raise awareness and inform the viewing public.

Saba Qamar is without doubt one of the industry’s better actresses and gives a rock steady performance as Ashy. Mikaal Zulfikar’s equally measured performance is the other saving grace. Sonia Mishal as Salma also manages to impress despite her clichéd role.

While Zahid Ahmed as Shavez works really well as the villain of the story, his performance as the penitent sinner lacks authenticity. When face to face with his prey, he may not be able to meet her eyes but away from her retains all the stubborn swagger of an overconfident man. True repentance requires humility, something sorely missing in Shavez’s character.

Perhaps the writer has blurred the lines so much that even Zahid Ahmed is confused; a recent post on his official Facebook page showed a picture of the masked Shavez with the completely inappropriate hashtag “#Herobhivillainbhi”. Hopefully this was a clueless admin and not the actor himself.

Missed opportunities

There are a lot of missed opportunities in Sangat. The OST is itself highly offensive ,with the lyrics 'Mera jism mera gunaah hai' (my body is my sin) and 'Maa e Maa sazaa hai sazaa hai' (oh mother, I am punished). It is the act that should be stigmatized; it is the perpetrator who should be punished. What a revolution it would be if instead of using these nauseating lyrics over the victim, they were played for the actual perpetrator.

Instead of playing to the audience’s worst fears and ignorance, the entertainment media should wake up to its responsibilities and think about enlightening and educating the masses.

Moreover, must every mother in every drama be as cruel and unfeeling as the ones in Sangat and Chup Raho? When will we see a woman who stands up for her child, if not in public then at least in private? When will we see a male character who is strong enough to support his wife through such a distressing life event? If we can have a repentant rapist, then why not a real man as a husband, one who despite his pain and misgivings, acts as his wife's covering?

Each time we reinforce such stereotypes, we do injustice to victims everywhere.


Maria Nov 04, 2015 05:40pm
Very timely article with valuable, not-to-be-missed insight, thank you!
Syed Waqar Ali from Toronto Nov 04, 2015 05:46pm
The dramas are seen by every segment of society. We should be careful in selecting the theme. There are certain things which the children ask their parents and they cannot explain fully. In the west , sex education is common but not in Pakistan. I would say there are thousand issues to be discussed and we should concentrate on those. The cast is doing well in Sangat, they would have done much better if the theme was different.
M.Saeed Nov 04, 2015 06:04pm
A story can never be equal to reality. Then, we must also have acceptability factor for generating returns.
seemi Nov 04, 2015 06:18pm
Totally agree with the writer. Drama gives no social message.
Anita Turab Nov 04, 2015 06:37pm
Its absolute rubbish that is being churned out to a vulnerable male and female population. The mere fact that rape is ok if the rapist feels remorse later is a dangerous message and for the victim to be confused between sympathy for the rapist and hiding facts from her husband is another unethical message that needs to be taken off tv. Censor board as always is fast asleep and did not take note of this kind of trash that is being aired.
ed Nov 04, 2015 07:00pm
It was by a "technical" coincidence that I started reading this page. BUT kudos to the writer of this article. I have not followed the drama but I did click on the link for Zahid Ahmed's fan page provided in the article. Some of the comments by females praise the "villain" as opposed to the "hero". Only further proves the article writer's point of view. Very unfortunate and dangerous situation developing here. Perhaps PEMRA should take notice of this rather than politically motivated illogical stuff.
Urooj Nov 04, 2015 07:27pm
So the drama is trying to justify a heinous crime and criminal ...shocking
Ruma Nov 04, 2015 08:01pm
I am glad that you have written this. I am sick and tired of people praising dramas like that. This is plain pathetic. Hum tv used to be a family channel and I remember, I used to watch it with my parents , but now it has become like other TV channels (Geo) with meaningless stories and less than mediocre plots. The direction and acting is still top notch. All they need is good stories. Right now, there are almost more than a dozen dramas coming with this theme. We need to steer away from topics like that since we cannot handle it delicately. This drama is giving a very bad message to audience out there specially the younger ones. Not sure how these come on air from a channel that is created by strong women.
Ahmad Nov 04, 2015 08:15pm
Thank you for highlighting this issue, very valid points raised. this kind of irresponsible media would actually lead to rape being considered acceptable in the perverted minds within our society and discourages the poor victims. kudus for this piece.
Ehsan Nov 04, 2015 08:37pm
Another pathetic story, adding to the prevailing concepts of anti women dramas.
ashraf Nov 04, 2015 08:38pm
at least some one spoke up against this twisted drama that is giving wrong messages to the public from episode 1. Why is the drama victimizing the criminal. senseless and waste of time.
Saad Nov 04, 2015 08:45pm
This it utter nonsense. Such a shame that rapist is moving free and shown sympathy, what message are we trying to give out there. We should stop airing such stupid serial, I would like to ask the writer or director how would they feel if their sister or daughter is raped, will they still make this kind of serial
Absano Nov 04, 2015 10:05pm
Excellent article. We need stricter and mature control over themes and content, not just what the marketeers think is going to sell. Trouble with taboo topics such as this one is that sections of society come out with sticks and stones to oppose any kind of debate thinking they are guarding the moral fabric of society. If we do not talk maturely about such issues, the thought process of a large number of people will remains confused and open to persuasion. The rapist as the victim is a shocking theme for a prime time drama. Content advisors desperately needed.
Abdul Ahad Khan Nov 04, 2015 10:13pm
An incisive yet highly realistic critique befitting the sensitivity of the subject. Whereas gaps/ circumstancial paradoxes have been aptly illucidated, yet, the heroics at the individual level grabed due applause where truely deserved. The article in entirety is obvious fresh air into the stereo type post analysis rendered as a matter of routine. A job very welldone
Obi kanobi Nov 04, 2015 10:15pm
Another thing that this drama got right is that most rapes are not reported. This is partly due to the victim not been taken seriously by authorities and that the onus of guilt or innocence is put on the victim not the rapist. It might not be perfect but I think you should wait until the serial ends before being too critical.
NOtothis nonsense Nov 04, 2015 10:21pm
How horrible!. And what example are we setting for a largely uneducated population. Rape is not about love or lust; it is about power and control - it is not a 'mistake' to be taken lightly, but a huge crime. In a male dominated society where women are already so oppressed this kind of nonsense in our homes is the last thing the society needs. This Drama must be stopped!
Afsana Nov 04, 2015 10:51pm
Dramas like this should be banned in pakistan....
Afsana Nov 04, 2015 10:52pm
I only watched first episode and said that's enough..... Oh my God ...very chep story.
Afsana Nov 04, 2015 10:53pm
I don't know why people praises dramas like chup raho etc.....
Afsana Nov 04, 2015 10:55pm
I request dawn to take some action against such type of dramas....
Farwa Nov 04, 2015 11:12pm
Thanks a ton for this. The serial makes no sense, when they tried to show the rapist's guilt or whatever, i thought there would be some psychological insight but it's complete rubbish. Though most of Pakistani serials paint men as angels but serials portraying rape have been sensitive about the issue and perpetrator is the bad guy even if they feel guilty later. With Sangat even that sensitivity has fallen apart.
sanam Nov 04, 2015 11:15pm
At last someone got notice of it, and surly this will go to the reponsible persons who made drama like this.. these type of stories were herd and seen in indian dramas and movies.. didn't expect this from a pakistani channel to allow these type of darama to be on aird..
sonia Nov 04, 2015 11:46pm
Thanks for writing about this SZ. I actually attended the event at harvard and was thoroughly impressed by the different techniques used by the director. from the charlie chaplin-esque karachi se lahore to the slo-mo thandaa gosht. looking forward to your review
Sadaf Nov 05, 2015 12:00am
@ed Thank you . The most disturbing part is the actor's facebook page actually has the caption on a masked picture of him reading Hero bhi Villain bhi ... This kind of thing should be stopped in it's tracks
Nimrah Nov 05, 2015 12:02am
Oh thank god there's still some intelligent life left on this planet! This show infuriates me. How is rape am end result of love? Has nobody from the writer to the actors ever even met a rape victim in preparation for this show? They should've at least seen a documentary on rape to at get their facts right. Oh and you've missed a gem. When their daughter is sick and Adnan confesses to killing a child by mistake, Ashy says kya pata mera gunah issay bhi bara ho? Wth! How is rape a gunah?
manal Nov 05, 2015 12:56am
unfortunately the dramas on TV reflect the sickest part of our society's mentality with everything from teesri beewi and extra marital affairs to rape/harassment/abduction being a way to show love/devotion/settle scores. May God help us!
adnan Nov 05, 2015 01:45am
this story and many others are carefully designed to alter and taken the pakistani mind set to a place , pre-planned and pre-designed for them. how is this passing through censors? what is this being aired? it doesn't even have entertainment value. the subconscious messages being relayed are terrifically dangerous to younger minds and mature alike who is doing this through pvt. cable channels like HUM, Urdu, GEO and many others? what has hapened to educated "professional" playwrites? what is hegemony of actors and directors and writers (you see their dramas, their tv ads, then seem same faces on talk show anchors) why are a very select few people being used to do 'something'? is this illuminati working through india-pak pvt channel nexus? sadly .... NS and lion sharif are always sleeping. their most important target low quality education
NOtothis nonsense Nov 05, 2015 02:03am
Please do not romanticise rape. It is a brutal act of violence
Malik Nov 05, 2015 04:15am
Agree 100%. Tragic that our honor is at the expense of another life's destruction. About time we start holding the guilty accountable for their crimes, and support the victim.
Malik Nov 05, 2015 04:23am
It is this face of men that brings bad name to the faith. I can't imagine not supporting the victim whether victim in this case is my mother, my wife, my daughter, my sister, or any other women. Media's role, in my view, is to highlight the problems, and help create sympathy, support, and acceptability of victims. Whether victim of rape, torcher, abuse, etc. To tell the victim to suck it up is an atrocious.
zia Nov 05, 2015 04:38am
I don't watch Pakistani dramas as mostly they are depressing or immoral. More immoral than Indians and way more immorals than Western ones. This sort of theme will make one of the worst crimes against humanity as legitimate and will even encourage the ones who did not even think about it. Sultan Rahi and Gandasa spread so much violence in the society and people kept denying it that it had any part. Pakistani TV [ and Indian TV] guys just want spread anarchy and get money out of it and they call it ' free media'.
Omrna Nov 05, 2015 04:51am
I agree with the writer to give this drama a u turn...
Zahra Nov 05, 2015 05:01am
@sonia This article was written by Sadaf Haider. She is also an amazing and well articulated critic like SZ and writes for
Sadaf Nov 05, 2015 05:36am
@sonia I wrote this article not SZ ..My name is Sadaf Haider
Sadaf Nov 05, 2015 05:42am
@Nimrah The revelation that Adnan killed someone is all about mitigating Shavez's actions . So Even Mr Clean -"not rapist" husband has a skeleton in his closet ... now Shavez does not look that bad ?
Masood Haider Nov 05, 2015 06:19am
It is encouraging to see most comments agreeing with the author. Most Pakistani labor under the illusion that the quality of Pakistani TV dramas is vastly superior to India's . That is simply not true. The situation regarding the dramas is akin to that of Bollywood films; most are pure unadulterated trash, only a few are good. The problem lies squarely at the feet of inexperienced and shallow playwrights but shame on the producers who choose to produce such trash and also on the actresses who accept such roles that degrade and humiliate women. It is truly sad that Hum TV run by seemingly forward thinking, liberal and highly educated women resorts to such misogynistic and horrible portrayal of women in a most socially irresponsible manner. Even the highly popular' Humsafar' and 'Dayar-e-Dil' could not refrain from the usual ' crying and dependent' presentation of their female characters.
Sara Nov 05, 2015 07:06am
I stopped watching it after 8 episodes - they r glamorizing the rapist. Not a good drama at all.
Amir Khan Nov 05, 2015 10:27am
Dramas like these should not patronise the culprit. These themes need to be handled very carefully as they portray a strong message to society at large. Such portrayals should not seem encouraging or condoning in nature. The message should be loud and clear that such acts are criminal and will be prosecuted by law and ostracised by society. Women should not be made objects of desire. In Pakistan women already suffer and are downtrodden lot. Their respect, self-esteem and dignity needs to be encouraged and promoted to give them their rightful place in society. Finally Censor Board needs to screen and filter Drama content more effectively and give ratings based on its assessment. Dramas should be healthy entertainment, able to be watched by whole family members together and not in isolation.
Aneesa Nov 05, 2015 11:47am
@Absano Drama, Mora Piya , with Amna Sheikh and Adeel Hussain, showed Amna being raped on wedding eve. Her husband Adeel covers it and loves her despite what happened with her. However, he finds it difficult to accept the rape child. Very touching when he accepts the child eventually.
E.K Nov 05, 2015 02:44pm
Loved this: "One is reminded of Paulo Coelho’s words “And when you want something, the entire universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." The Universe of Sangat is indeed conspiring to absolve Shavez of his guilt."
Fahad Nov 05, 2015 05:24pm
Sadaf! You did a wonderful and detailed analysis on this drama. I am also an artist having proper education and training in acting and scrip writing. Such type of dramas are actually the reason of our industry's destruction. There are lots of creative and unique topics around us on which we can make a better drama or movie. But unfortunately our originality has died after the commencement of indian culture in our dramas.
Gul Naz Nov 05, 2015 06:06pm
@Sadaf .It's totally are imposing your thoughts on the viewers.You should watch the serial positively. How could u judge a serial in the middle of it and How could u say that Aysha and Shavais would be happily Married ? Plz don't manipulate the emotions of the viewers.From ur illogical comments sometime it seems that u don't have issues with the subject but u r personal with the writer because according to your opinion a sensible director like Kashif Nisar and a responsible channel like hum and such a great cast is betrayed by the writer,,, how it comes,,,, ?
Malik Nov 05, 2015 09:00pm
Ms. Gul Naz, I have to respectfully disagree. I think everyone has the right to express their views, just like you have. If you read the reviews here you will notice that majority feel very uncomfortable glamorizing the culprit. As for not having watched the entire serial yet...well, if the drama doesn't keep my interest then perhaps the writer should have been a bit more calculating to have a tighter grip on the, dare I say, "majority"? Anyway, I hope the drama does have a better ending than the current tenor of the show. Though, a 5 minute finish hardly does justice to the 30/40/or perhaps 60 episodes that builds up the sentiments! Just my views.
Ruma Nov 05, 2015 10:26pm
@Gul Naz I don't think the writer of this piece is imposing her thoughts on anyone. If this is the case, then the same can be said about the many forums that are praising this drama. Even if the drama ends without the happily married rapist with victim, still by the review of it, it is quite sickening. Our drama industry is catering to a public that actually likes women being degraded (surprise) and I think there is a small minority that is still trying to fight it :(
moony Nov 06, 2015 01:24am
@Anita Turab i couldn't agree more.
sonia Nov 06, 2015 03:01am
@sonia ooops commented on the wrong article. Sadaf THANK YOU for writing this article. I share your sentiments 100%. very incisive and spot on
Nasir Nov 06, 2015 08:18pm
@Anita Turab Absolutely Correct!!
Nasir Nov 06, 2015 08:34pm
I am not against HUM TV and have been watching their dramas for a long time. However, I have come to a conclusion that HUM has some kind of hidden agenda to alter the existing culture of Pakistan into more liberal one, but doing so sometimes they are crossing the ethical and religious boundaries.
Divergence Nov 07, 2015 02:17am
@Ruma who are lunatics who are praising this drama? frankly, lately Pakistani dramas have become fond of touching sensitive social issues but they lack the finesse to convey a strong moral message, rather they end up creating more a mess than was intended.
Divergence Nov 07, 2015 02:18am
Most of Pakistani dramas are going downhill in terms of ethics and messages they wana convey to the public. PEMRA should either commit suicide or take its due responsibility. Otherwise, televisions are better shut because it is better to watch "nothing" than poor quality shows.
Masood Haider Nov 07, 2015 05:12am
I totally agree with Zia. The themes and plots of several Pakistani TV serials are far more morally repugnant than anything the western media could ever present. Two most depraved plays immediately come to mind - the all time most repulsive play - 'Meray Qatil Meray Dildar' and 'Chup Raho'. The regularity with which such themes are presented in play after play is nauseating and makes one wonder if Pakistani society is really that sick. The Pakistani playwrights and producers ought to pay some attention to presenting work of quality instead of repeating the same tired and clichéd plots and not tread territories of undesirable liaisons, quite often bordering on incest so frequently and the actors and actresses should show some sense in not selecting such despicable screenplays.
Jamal Nov 07, 2015 08:50am
Saba Qamar's portrayal of a violated woman was excellent. Unfortunately it went downhill due to a flawed storyline. The author does not know a whit about psychology of rape.
Ruma Nov 08, 2015 05:01am
@Divergence I have come across another website where this drama is being reviewed very realistically but many are praising it in the comment section. When Mahreen Jabbar posted it on her facebook page, then also some people praised this drama and if you see the comment section below, there are a few comments in favor of this. I have a feeling that the majority of the people actually like these types of stories, if not why oh why they are still showing, rape, injustice, multiple marriages and saas bahu nonsense on TV. Sadly, Pak TV is going backwards :(... I have lost all hope.
nishat aamir Nov 09, 2015 12:00am
@Syed Waqar Ali from Toronto You are right !