When Meri Guriya first began airing on ARY Digital, there was a great fear that this drama would exploit the tragic story of little Zainab whose death and assault at the hands of a serial killer (that turned out to be a neighbour) triggered international outrage.

However, actor Fahad Mustafa’s production company Big Bang Productions handled this difficult story with maturity and grace, leaving both director Ali Hassan and writer Radain Shah to give audiences one of the most gripping serials on air this season.

[SPOILER] The production began with the shocking death of a little girl and it ends with the shocking death of the man who killed her. Dabeer (Mohsin Abbas Haider) is the serial rapist and murderer, who is finally exposed and hanged for his crimes. There have been a lot of serials focusing on rape and child abuse in the past two years and each one has given viewers a different perspective on this harrowing social problem.

Police investigating the murder.
Police investigating the murder.

For its part, Meri Guriya concentrates on the people in our society who allow killers like Dabeer to thrive and the way victims are suppressed. Dabeer manages to murder 12 young girls before he is taken to account because the local SHO Rab Nawaz can't be bothered to do the hard investigative work required. For him, the deaths of these girls are like the changing seasons; a regular inconvenience that has to be endured. Meanwhile, the victim’s families turn inward with grief, hiding from the public humiliation of losing a daughter to so “dishonourable” a death.

This twisted concept of izzat is a recurring motif in this drama and is used to silence anyone who speaks out. Men are told to control their women like cattle or sheep, while women are told to keep quiet and stay within the confines of their four walls. It is next to impossible for a Pakistani drama to avoid the saas-bahu-nand triumvirate and Meri Guriya has its fair share of competitive women fighting over the scraps of men's fate left in their way, but Radain Shah’s script does manage to broaden and rise above the domestic angle.

Sania Saeed refusing to back down, fighting to make her daughter's murderer pay for his deed.
Sania Saeed refusing to back down, fighting to make her daughter's murderer pay for his deed.

It exposes a self-appointed community leader like Shaikh Saheb who acts as a willing accomplice to Dabeer’s crimes because he sees an opportunity. Characters like Shaikh Saheb who step in with “khoon baha“ and “maafi nama“ solutions in exchange for a woman are usually seen in rural settings but his presence in this urban nightmare is a reminder that wherever people are unable to trust the law of the land, such manipulators will step in the breach.

This serial is studded with some fantastic performances, with the entire cast earning some serious award buzz. Sania Saeed is amazing as the bereaved but determined mother, her perseverance and courage shine like a beacon through each episode showing us just how a mother should value her daughters. Unlike Roshan Appa, she isn’t willing to give her daughter away in exchange for money or peace of mind. She values her children as individuals rather than how useful they are.

Sonya Hussyn playing the role of Safina.
Sonya Hussyn playing the role of Safina.

Her younger firebrand counterpart Safina is played with energy and conviction by the talented Sonya Hussyn. While Sania Saeed rules the screen and conveys everything with her expressions alone, the otherwise excellent performance from Sonya Hussyn has been burdened with long dialogues that slowed the pace of the narrative. Hopefully next time both writer and director will remember that television is a visual medium and that action is better than reams of dialogue.

Mohsin Abbas Haider has been mesmerising as the evil Dabeer, slipping and sliding between naivety and cruelty, deftly handling every nuance of this frightening character. Sajid Hasan, Faris Shafi, Amara Chaudhry and Ayesha Khan have played out their roles to maximum effect. Sajid Hasan is no doubt one of our best actors and can play anyone from a comedian to a king; his character’s change of heart and growth as a father and husband are one of the most heartening aspects of this serial.

Mohsin Abbas' character sentenced to death.
Mohsin Abbas' character sentenced to death.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this drama is the way the script takes specific aim at the patriarchal structures that subdue and circumvent women’s voices. Shaikh Saheb and disgraced SHO Rab Nawaz are motivated not just by their own greed for power but by the fear that if Safina and Shehnaz succeed in having Dabeer hanged, other women will feel empowered enough to challenge them.

However, while 24 episodes of Meri Guriya are set up to challenge many accepted norms that make life difficult for the average woman, the final episode takes a step back. It is almost as if the makers realise they have gone over some invisible line and want to jump back into the safety net of so-called “traditional values”. Shehnaz is shown reassuring her relentlessly cruel mother-in-law that empowerment hasn’t gone to her head, and she will be bowing to authority by giving her tea every morning. Meanwhile, Safina is told that her mother’s complete lack of understanding and empathy for her daughter comes from a good place.

Sania's character defying the patriarchy.
Sania's character defying the patriarchy.

Despite the momentous changes and awareness, the women are shown slipping safely back into their old roles, as if they suddenly cannot bear the weight of their new awareness and strength. From local politicians to smallminded relatives and manipulative NGOs, Abida’s family faces an array of obstacles before it can find any semblance of justice.

It would be comforting to think that all these hurdles and enemies are just for dramatic effect but reading through the heartbreaking stories on Twitter from countless victims under the #WhyIDidntReportIt tells us that no matter where society still wants to silence victims and support perpetrators. Overall, Meri Guriya has made for a compelling viewing and the credit goes to director Ali Hassan for keeping up the suspense till the last scene. What worked was a good script, authentic characters, and responsible, researched drama making that didn’t sink into any kind of lurid sensationalism.

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