Udaari is proof: A TV drama doesn't need helpless women to be a hit

Strong women, moments of hilarity and performances par excellence - Udaari's got plenty going for it
Updated 22 Jun, 2016

11 episodes down and Udaari is flying high, defying stereotypes and raising awareness about one of society’s deepest, darkest secrets.

Despite a recent notice from PEMRA, Udaari continues to highlight the insidious evil of child sexual abuse, which is a subject many of us find too difficult to acknowledge, let alone discuss and tackle head-on.

That's not the only reason we should celebrate Udaari. The drama, directed by Ehteshamuddin and written by Farhat Ishtiaq, has proven that strong female characters don't put off TV audiences. Women watching at home finally have a role model or two to observe on the small screen. That's as momentous an accomplishment for Pakistani TV as a candid exploration of child abuse. Let's examine how this has been achieved.

Also read: How Pakistani morning shows are keeping women 'where they belong'

First, a recap

Udaari’s main focus is Sajjo (Samiya Mumtaz), a widow who lives with her young daughter Zebu, next door to a merasi family that traditionally sings and dances at weddings for a living. Her neighbor Sheedan (Bushra Ansari) is a large-hearted woman who also takes care of Zebu when Sajjo is at work. Sheeda also has a daughter, Meera (Urwa Hocane) who has a beautiful voice (playback singing credit goes to Hadiqa Kiani).

As a single parent, Sajjo has little support and she ends up marrying Imtiaz (Ahsan Khan). Imtiaz initially seems like a dream come true, but turns out to be an evil child abuser on the prowl for a victim.

Ahsan Khan breaks out of the hero mould to play the abuser Imtiaz
Ahsan Khan breaks out of the hero mould to play the abuser Imtiaz

When Imtiaz tries to rape Meera, she manages to escape .The whole incident causes a deep rift between the neighbors as Sajjo sides with her new husband. This leaves her and Zebu isolated and easy targets for a predator like Imtiaz.

Meanwhile, a heartbroken Meera meets Milli, whose mother works with the Kashf Foundation, an NGO that promotes women's welfare. Milli and her friends Haris (Adnan Saeed) and Arsh (Farhan Saeed) are in desperate need of a vocalist for a competition, a position Milli thinks Meera can fill.

Udaari's women make the show a must-watch

The best thing about Udaari is the wonderful array of strong female characters writer Farhat Ishtiaq has created.

Sheedan is newly widowed and can barely afford her children’s next meal, but instead of crying about her fate, she looks for work where she can. If she has nothing else to give, she helps by working in Milli’s garden, in the kitchens or making a poultice for Milli’s mother to show her gratitude. Sajjo is also a widow with few resources, but earns a living and feeds her daughter with the help of her neighbors before she marries Imtiaz.

Meera's character, played by Urwa Hocane, bounces back after every disappointment
Meera's character, played by Urwa Hocane, bounces back after every disappointment

Meera is the character closest to the bholi larki trope, but she too is quick to come into her own. In earlier episodes, she allows Sajjo’s nephew Elyas to humiliate her about her merasi roots because she hopes to marry into respectability. However, when he lets her down, Meera learns her lesson, defying the usual trajectory of the forever naïve, helpless object, waiting to be rescued. She gives the arrogant Arsh as good as she gets.

Read on: Most people are okay with downtrodden women on TV, says Sakina Samo

Farhat Ishtiaq is smart to not write these characters like they are unrealistic super women. They are shown to suffer from the same weaknesses and vulnerabilities we all do: they cry, they get depressed but they don’t give up. When Elyas leaves her for a wealthier girl, Meera is heartbroken, and Imtiaz’s attempted rape leaves her shaken but even though Arsh hurts her feelings she won’t let him dominate her. Like all Farhat Ishtiaq’s heroines, these women have an innate self-respect and maintain their dignity no matter what life throws at them.

Similarly, Milli is not the typical 'elite' jeans-clad girl that we so often see in dramas. Instead of putting Meera down or trying to take advantage of her, Milli actually treats her with respect and kindness.

This should be an object lesson for drama producers who often insist that the mazloom aurat formula is the only way to gets ratings. Udaari avoids the trope yet proved to be popular.

Comic relief

For a drama dealing with such a grim subject, Udaari has a surprisingly upbeat tempo, offering audiences a spoonful of sugar to help each dose of the medicine go down.

Sheeda's trip to the modern-day bathroom

While the audience is horrified by the abuse Zebu has to suffer, the other tracks in the story also bring a little comic relief. Sheeda’s fights with Milli’s servants, her confusion over how to use an actual bathroom and Meera’s discovery that people are willing to pay a lot of money to eat 'kachi machi' (sushi), all poke gentle fun at the vast socio-economic differences between the characters.

Performances par excellence

Bushra Ansari is in brilliant form as Sheeda, capturing the viewers' hearts with her signature charm and magical ability to bond with audiences. Samiya Mumtaz and Ahsan Khan in particular have also given an excellent performance.

Bushra Ansari gives a winning performance as Sheeda
Bushra Ansari gives a winning performance as Sheeda

Ahsan Khan’s Imtiaz is an outstanding portrayal of evil and manipulation. Like all predators, he knows how to maintain a facade of goodness so convincing, that no one is willing to believe anything bad about him.

After having taken advantage of Zebu, Imtiaz is now following a common pattern of abusers, frightening and menacing his prey into silence and compliance. This is an important message for parents everywhere: trust your child, listen to them.

The on-screen chemistry pf Farhan Saeed and Urwa Hocane is apparent, unlike their other projects such as the mind-numbing Mere Ajnabi. As a more experienced actress, Urwa has been a delight to watch in every episode, but the real surprise is Farhan Saeed who manages to impress as Arsh. Although Arsh isn’t the usual extraordinary Farhat Ishtiaq hero, this angry young man has slowly endeared him to viewers as his arrogance melts into friendship with Meera.

Udaari’s success lies firmly with director Ehtashamuddin’s masterful ability to translate Farhat Ishtiaq’s wonderful script flawlessly to the screen. He has elicited some great performances from his team and made sure this wide-ranging storyline did not lose its way.

Udaari is what classic entertainment for the whole family should be: Intelligent, authentic and easy to watch.


1000 Characters
Fudayl Jun 22, 2016 12:42pm
I agree with the writer's view on Udari - an excellent drama. Deewana and Zara Yaad Ker are also brilliant. But looking at most of the other dramas, I will strongly suggest that all writers must undergo some training workshop on how to write a story that fits 25 episodes, rather than drag a 3-episode story over 25 boring, highly predictable episodes. TV Drama producers should be willing to raise the budget for writers, and then see if a team of writers could come up with something really entertaining, something that keeps the audience guessing and at the edge of their sofas.
Pakistani Jun 22, 2016 12:57pm
Completely agree with writer, the only work watching drama with lesson for society. Brilliant performers by all the actors esp bushra and Ahsan.
aslam shaikh Jun 22, 2016 01:36pm
This plot should not be shown to public we are not currently showing 18+ themes.
Mehreen Jun 22, 2016 01:44pm
Love this drama! The acting is superb! And a fresh story! Keep it up, and keep it coming!
iqbal Jun 22, 2016 02:29pm
Gradually lost interest in watching drama on TV when this small screen was flooded with private channels. Thanks to Udhari that revived my interest again in TV drama and special thanks to versatile Bushra Ansari. She may live long.
Awan Jun 22, 2016 02:52pm
@aslam shaikh It is not 18+ theme at all. In my view it is 11+ theme. Children should be aware of the lurking dangers around them. It is the right time to confront the problems of our societies rather than to run away from every reality.
Huma Jun 22, 2016 02:58pm
Amazing Drama
farhan Jun 22, 2016 03:35pm
i like this drama very much and team udaari you guys just created a master piece. Our society needs this kind of dramas which are rich in content and give important lessons to the masses. The writer farhat ishtiaq, all the actors and the director did the phenomenal job but like to mention the girl playing zebu and ahsan khan, you are very brave in choosing this kind of role. bravo......
zafra Jun 22, 2016 03:51pm
excellent effort by the whole team of udari.this subject needs to be discussed as we usually ignore this aspect that child abusers are mostly the near ones of the family. all the actors have performed very brilliantly.thumbs up
Zara Jun 22, 2016 04:14pm
Brilliant performance by Bushra Ansari and Ahsan khan
meldel Jun 22, 2016 04:18pm
a delight to watch and completely agree with the writer; have to give urwa hocane a little bit more credit for her acting tho because it is definitely far more superior than some of her other work and other actresses. She does justice to the character by performing every aspect of the character (from talking to mannerism) flawlessly.
Siraj Patel Jun 22, 2016 06:44pm
Udari is an extra ordinary drama which I believe must have won the hearts & minds of millions of viewers. Its' different compared to very many Urdu dramas which have more or less the same story line i.e. Marriage/Relationship/ Divorce/ parental or relatives disagreement with concerned boys/girls and so on with the same theme !!!! I would entirely agree with the writer of the article that "Udari as a drama itself and performance of all the characters are of par excellence and specially of Bushra Ansari" The only sad thing is UDARI is on the air only once a week.
Anil Sood Jun 22, 2016 06:51pm
Wish Bosses and Producers @Humtvnetwork read this review :)
Ahsan Jun 22, 2016 08:17pm
I don't usually watch dramas but this one did interest me. Keep it up. I think we should make more dramas for women empowerment.
gp65 Jun 22, 2016 11:00pm
Seems like a wonderful drama. I will check it out on youtube
Stehman Jun 23, 2016 12:13am
My favourite drama ....all actors doing wonderful job,bushra ,summiya,but have really impressed with ashen Khan and the little girl zebo is also very convincing ...well done to farhat ishtiaq and the director for this masterpiece...well done hum tv
Capilano Jun 23, 2016 01:25am
Excellent Direction, Acting and Story. Can't wait for the coming episodes!
Zee Jun 23, 2016 03:18am
No doubt a very important subject perfectly shown in this drama. This goes without saying the child actor has perfectly acted her part. There are no words to explain Bushra Ansari acting skills. Need to show other social issues on TV which are not openly spoken of. Good Job udhari team.
Omrna Jun 23, 2016 05:31am
Loved every episode and excellent acting by all characters
Omrna Jun 23, 2016 05:32am
@aslam shaikh this has to been shown to public, don't public have access to Internet for 18+?
Niggi Jun 23, 2016 01:38pm
Am completely agree with Fudayl... Many dramas with good story and plot became boring when writer-cum-director try to drag that 13 episode's story to 25. Yes right now Udaari is going Par Excellent with its subject and extraordinary acting of already proven caste. Child abuse is a topic that need to talk about, that need to create awareness among parents and childrens as well.
Alexa Jun 24, 2016 03:57am
Well-played drama, but Udaari deals with the same third-world issues that have repeatedly been discussed in the media for the past forty years, yet sadly no change has occurred in the country.
Husnain Buttt Jun 25, 2016 11:23am
niCe Serial...
Husnain Buttt Jun 25, 2016 11:23am
an excellent drama
Amal Hayat Jun 25, 2016 04:45pm
@Fudayl I totally agree with you in terms of the required training. Dramas such as the ones you listed made me switch completely to Pakistan TV dramas. However, I see myself fast forwarding episodes nowadays due to the uneventful slow pace. Being from the Arabian Gulf, I find Pakistani drama very relevant to our culture. Having said that, the excessive cunning of mother in-laws puts me off. Udaari is a very powerful drama that does not require modern houses or overly dressed or made up actresses/actors to attract you. Hopefully, it will not fall in the same trap as other dramas and trigger boredom in the episodes yet to come.