ARY Digital’s Meri Guriya continues its gripping journey into the kind of tragedy that is all too often in the headlines.

The story revolves around a small family eking out an existence in a lower middle class mohallah. Shehnaz (Sania Saeed) is determined that her daughters get an education despite her meager circumstances and the dire predictions of her mean-spirited mother-in-law (Ayesha Khan). Two of her daughters go to school while the youngest, Abida, is a regular at the local madrassa.

Another family living a few streets down also has its share of difficulties and issues. The youngest son Dabeer (Mohsin Abbas) is strangely immature and refuses to settle down with the girl he has just married. Instead his eyes follow Abida, a frequent visitor to his home due to her friendship with his bride, Safina (Sonya Hussyn). Dabeer is a pedophile, uninterested in adult women and the predator responsible for the spate of rapes and murders of young girls in the area.

Also read: Meri Guriya's tragic first episode treats child abuse sensitively, but is the project ethical?

Meri Guriya shows how pedophiles go undetected

After the gut-wrenching culmination of Dabeer’s obsession with Abida, the young girl's brutalised body is recovered in yesterday's episode.

Egged on by the buzz of social media that the sensation-hungry press is creating; the shock and grief give Abida's father Shahmir (Sajid Hasan) the courage to stand up and demand justice. The police response is as usual callous and obstructive, an attitude that ultimately makes them the rapist's inadvertent accomplices.

Dabeer all but admits his guilt outright as he trips over Abida’s grave but instead of making inquiries the police spend their time suppressing the investigation with threats and bribes. So while Shehnaz weeps and rages for justice, we are shown exactly how society works against victims and supports criminals like Dabeer.

Dabeer is not a criminal mastermind. The only reason he has escaped detection is the apathy that runs unchecked throughout the community. Children disappear every other day and police officers don’t even want to file an FIR. The neighbours are busy in their own lives. But the truly sad part is the ignorance of the young victims' own families.

Director Ali Khan has effectively kept up the tension in each episode while handling the scenes between Abida and Dabeer with restraint and care. Their interactions were at least superficially innocent with only Mohsin Abbas’s subtly sliding expressions hinting at his cruel intentions.

Studies show that pedophiles are amongst the most manipulative and narcissistic criminals known; they work tirelessly to project an image of reliability and generosity to gain people’s trust in the pursuit of their victims. Mohsin Abbas takes that cliché of the “quiet, pleasant guy next door" and fashions a sinister portrait of evil hidden in plain sight. There are plenty of signs that point to Dabeer’s pedophilia — the dolls tucked away in his cupboard, his frequent disappearances, his lack of interest in his wife and the way he talks to children, Abida in particular.

Despite all his plans and maneuvers, Dabeer is not a criminal mastermind. The only reason he has escaped detection is the apathy and ignorance that runs unchecked throughout the community. Children disappear every other day and it is dismissed as just another hazard of life in general. The surly, indifferent police officers don’t even want to file an FIR and the neighbours are busy in their own lives, but the truly sad part is the ignorance of Abida’s own family.

Shamir never questions why his daughter is in Dabeer’s company at odd times. He is preoccupied with a new marriage and son. Radain Shah’s well plotted script shows us a bleak, hopeless world where women have no future and no hope except marriage. The underage girl Shahmir’s mother hopes he will marry is already a victim of rape and her parents are desperate to see her married even if it is to an old man with a wife and children.

No doubt Radain Shah has written some well-rounded characters and his story is addictive watching, but the picture he paints of life is a little too closed at times. Human beings have a way of finding a little humour and ways around all the hurdles life throws at them but you wouldn’t think so watching this show.

Last week there were some particularly disheartening dialogues between Safina and Shehnaz, which reached the stereotypical soap opera levels.

Safina bemoans her fate saying *“Iss ghar main meri saas, vaha aap ki saas. Koi chup reh kar, koi shor macha kar aik hi kirdar adaa kar raha hai. Hairat to iss baat par hai kay doosri aurat hi aurat ko mazboot hota nahi deykh sakti."

On a very superficial level this dialogue seems to hit at the root of the problems these women face but it ignores the societal structures that disempower women. The reality is that concepts of honour, lack of financial opportunities and independence are a lot more to blame than our dramas' favourite premise of 'aurat hi aurat ki dushman hai'.

It also absolves the men like Shahmir and to a certain extent Dabeer of responsibility for the actions they are choosing to take. Shahmir’s choices are not due to a gun pointed at his head, he doesn’t have to beat his wife nor does he have to listen to his mother’s ridiculous demand for a grandson. However the writer’s point that a little girl like Abida is lost because she was just another mouth to feed is well made.

The Meri Guriya cast makes the most of their characters

This show features some stellar performances and may well be one to watch out for when awards season comes along.

Sania Saeed is a masterclass in acting
Sania Saeed is a masterclass in acting

Sania Saeed is, as always, a masterclass in acting as she plays out every parent’s worst nightmare. The strength of this serial rests on her very capable shoulders; whether she is vulnerable or angry, courageous or weak, every facet of her character is so nuanced and genuine.

Sonya Hussyn plays the outspoken Safina well but why would a strong woman like her want to love a weak man like Dabeer? A man she knows has not only tried to kill her but blame her for his sister’s poisoning? It is incomprehensible. Sajid Hassan, Ayesha Khan and Faris Shafi are excellent and Mohsin Abbas shines in this negative role.

Radain Shah's taut script and Ali Khan’s skillful direction paint a frightening and compelling picture yet the story has not been able to escape the clichéd saas/bahu format that our producers insist on using. This format is stifling the creativity of not just the makers of dramas but also the audience's ability to think beyond those confined spaces.

Just like Udaari, Roag and Dar Si Jaati Hai Sila this serial deserves some serious credit for being informative. It focuses on the tolerance for these crimes that lets perpetrators get away with them. Most importantly it highlights the many signs missed by people surrounding Abida that might have saved her.


Meri Guriya airs 8pm on Wednesdays on ARY Digital.

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