Humayun Saeed's character slapping Mehwish Hayat raises uncomfortable questions about our view of strong women
Humayun Saeed's character slapping Mehwish Hayat raises uncomfortable questions about our view of strong women

As we know, TV drama Dil Lagi revolves around two very stubborn and determined individuals, Mohid (Humayun Saeed) and Anmol (Mehwish Hayat).

Mohid is a well to do businessman and property dealer who falls in love with Anmol because he admires her honesty and courage. Anmol however is not at all interested in marrying a man whom she sees as a controlling, criminal type forcing his way into her life.

Anmol has been a different character from most female protagonists
Anmol has been a different character from most female protagonists

However, when Anmol’s fiancé Farid does not turn up for their wedding she decides to take revenge by marrying Mohid just to see if she can teach him a lesson, while Mohid believes that the power of his love will eventually melt Anmol’s heart. While planning her husband’s downfall she unwittingly makes friends with his sister Sabiha, who is also a victim of her mother’s stubbornness and overweening pride.

For the most part Mohid is a solid character who resists most of the weak traits favored by typical “drama husbands” by not only trusting his wife but supporting her in every way — but ultimately, in its latest episode, regressive attitudes that were until now kept at bay seep through.

Confronted with what looks like evidence of his reluctant wife’s infidelity, Mohid asks her to explain why she was at a hospital visiting a gynecologist. Anmol is so incensed by his question that she refuses to defend herself or plead her innocence.

The slap that caused a sensation

Twenty episodes ago Dil Lagi introduced audiences to one of the most intriguing female protagonists TV has seen in years. In a sea of two-dimensional bholi larkiyan and suffering saints, Anmol from Dil Lagi was a breath of fresh air. From the moment she forced the hero to say “qabool hai," she was happily plotting her own divorce with a cool determination that irritated audiences from London to Lahore.

Comments sections about this drama were full of shocked viewers declaring her character overbearing and unbelievable, but on the flipside there were those for whom she was a guilty pleasure, a quiet revenge for all the humiliations every onscreen “good" girl has had to put up with before the hero “understood” her worth.

This slap was unexpected. Why did the drama need to feature it?
This slap was unexpected. Why did the drama need to feature it?

Each time Anmol ignored her mother in law’s little digs at her character, each time she refused to be emotionally blackmailed by her own family, and most of all each time she refused to be disarmed by the massive charm offensive put on by her husband Mohid, it was a small victory.

By episode 20 though, Anmol the stereotype slayer, finally surrendered to the simmering attraction for the husband she had had been fighting for so long, only to be literally slapped back into the role of victim: in a desperate attempt to keep Anmol from revealing the source of their disagreement to full public scrutiny, Mohid strikes his hysterical wife into silence.

Why did this slap make its way into Dil Lagi?

With a strong writer like Faiza Iftikhar, a skilled director like Nadeem Baig and a star cast including Humayun Saeed, Mehwish Hayat and Saba Hamid, it’s no surprise that Dil Lagi is one of the best dramas on air.

However, despite some great performances, great production values and even better camera work, Dil Lagi did not make its mark on the ratings game till recently. Though the slap didn’t put Dil Lagi on the map, it did give a large section of the commenting public a lot of gleeful satisfaction.

Also read: My heroine won't allow anyone to slap her, says Faiza Iftikhar

In a previous interview Iftikhar declared that no one would like Anmol’s character because she would be so unyielding and assertive, and it seems as if her prediction came true. However, the writer had also said that “My heroine will not allow anyone to slap her". And now she seems to have reversed her position.

Wasn't Mehwish Hayat the 'unslappable' heroine?
Wasn't Mehwish Hayat the 'unslappable' heroine?

We reached out to Writer Faiza Iftikhar and asked her why she included such a scene, and she explained: “I'm not promoting violence, not at all. But kisi bhi cheez ko ghalat batanay k leye pehlay wo ghalat cheez dikhani parti hai... [to show the audience that an action is wrong, you first have to depict that act]. I don't believe in preaching in dramas. If I want to give any message it's always in between the lines. In the next episode you will get to know why Mohid slapped Anmol. And Zulakha’s reaction will be a must watch. I wish every mother would have the guts to be like this."

Do Pakistani TV audiences only love disempowered women?

Although Anmol has been at odds with her husband Mohid, she has actually been a prime mover in helping his sister Sabiha get back to her estranged husband; she even stopped her mother in law from getting rid of Sabiha’s baby. None of this was out of love or respect for Mohid or anyone else, but because it was the right thing to do.

Similarly she wants to help Farid, her ex fiancé, get away because she feels Mohid is victimizing him due to her past connection with him.

In each case her motivation is about principles rather than feelings, yet none of these values endeared her to audiences the way her sudden loss of face has. Is it a case of “taming the shrew”? Do audiences enjoy seeing outspoken women being humbled?

Dramas such as the recent Abro and even Diyar e Dil showed women being humbled before audiences found them sympathetic. Dil Lagi raises some very discomfiting questions about domestic violence, family dynamics and how we feel about this in Pakistan.

Will Anmol’s mother in law Zulekha take the same stand for her bahu Anmol as she did for her daughter Sabiha, who suffered a similar slap from her husband? Why do families find excuses for their sons but not their son in laws? Most importantly of all does the violence end with one slap? Should a woman or for that matter man give their partner a second chance or is that a mistake opening the door to years of abuse? Was Zulekha right to take her stand for Sabiha so far?

These are questions I would like answered in upcoming episodes.

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