It's high time we see how sexual harassment affects common folks like young girls working desk jobs or housemaids.
It's high time we see how sexual harassment affects common folks like young girls working desk jobs or housemaids.

Will a star-studded cast and a terrific topic (sexual harassment in the workplace) be enough to save Dar Khuda Say? It’s still too early to say but so far, so good.

The show starts with the story of two very distinct and different families. First, we see Afreen (Sana Javed) sitting on-stage at her engagement, which is abruptly called off.

We come to know there’s an evil sister-in-law involved who has a problem not only with Afreen but with her older sister, Tamkeen (Kiran Haq), who recently returned home as a divorcee after two years of marriage.

Fast forward a year later, and we see Afreen dodging a bunch of tumultuous situations both at home and at work.

First, things at home still really suck. Afreen’s older sister Tamkeen is still single and stuck at home which means she’s constantly upset and irritated about being relegated to a housemaid for her parents and her two siblings who both work.

So far, Tamkeen has been shown spending most of her day shrieking at or about her siblings or bemoaning her less-than-ideal marital situation.

Confusingly, the parents are shown as being shockingly frail and old. I tried to do the math and I’m still not convinced that the average twenty-something Pakistani has parents in their mid-seventies but the drama seems to be hell-bent on showing the parents as completely helpless before their kids.

We're introduced to Afreen, who is juggling a lot of problems in her life.
We're introduced to Afreen, who is juggling a lot of problems in her life.

Probably a bigger problem than her older sister is Afreen’s brother, Azhar (Ali Ansari). On a day when there’s a transit strike, he refuses to drop Afreen off to work (choosing to take out his girlfriend instead).

She’s forced to hitch a ride home with a male colleague and when the brother sees her coming out of the car, he loses his mind, calls the whole family together and creates a scene going so far as to slap her (a cringeworthy scene but I’m giving the show writers the benefit of the doubt and assuming this theatrical abrasiveness was necessary to set the stage for later sibling shenanigans).

Later, thankfully, Afreen’s dad lets him have it: they trust Afreen with their life and no one is to lay a hand on her ever again. Thank the Lord for parental voices of reason.

Afreen’s other problem -- the one that, if the teasers are any indication, is going to derail her life -- is her sleazy, tharki boss at work.

Shahvaiz is the tharki boss of our nightmares

The ultra handsome, ultra sleazy Shahvaiz (Imran Abbas) is not only married, his wife is much older than him (even though I know he’s probably married her for her money or business or both, I’m still enjoying the relationship dynamic because it’s so novel to our industry).

The couple has a housemaid and because Shahvaiz is generally the worst and because this drama is going to be a deep-dive into Pakistan’s sexual harassment in the workplace laws, we come to know that Shahvaiz is super into making eyes and sending flying kisses towards this housemaid.

So far, the scenes between Shahvaiz and the housemaid have been super disturbing and uncomfortable to sit through. Such an unabashed abuse of power is something we all hear happens in our society -- but seeing it acted out with such coldhearted callousness is important, I think, because it makes you realize just how unfair and harmful and dangerous it can be for young girls working as the help in such households.

Shahvaiz is, of course, Satan reincarnated and nothing stops him. In a later scene Shahvaiz starts sniffing Afreen’s hair and comes really close to rubbing her arm while they stand in a packed elevator.

We’re in safe, familiar territory with the casting of Sana Javed and Imran Abbas as the show leads.

Imran Abbas has played the good looking villain many times and, personally, I like him more as the rogue bad boy more than some of his more heartfelt roles that haven’t felt as authentic (case in point: Tum Kon Piya).

Sana Javed has previously teamed up with the show’s director and producer Abdullah Kadwani for the hit drama serial Khaani in which she played the headstrong Khaani. I personally loved in that series because her character was such a fresh and uncompromising voice of reason, strength, balance and empathy -- qualities that aren’t always fully fleshed out in our female leads.

So far, all signs indicate that in this series, we’re going to get a repeat dosage of Khaani. And, if you enjoyed Khaani like I did, then chances are you’re okay with this.

In the first two episodes we see Shahvaiz publicly hounding his employee Afreen openly. Freelance life means I don’t work at an office, but I’m still not convinced it’s realistic to show really junior employees standing up to the company CEO so boldly and openly but Afreen does just that. She not only tells him off in front of the whole office, she also reminds Shahvaiz there’s a sexual harassment law in place to protect her.

Shahvaiz is, of course, Satan reincarnated and nothing stops him. In a later scene -- one that is downright disturbing and cringe-worthy to sit through -- Shahvaiz starts sniffing Afreen’s hair and comes really close to rubbing her arm while they stand in a packed elevator.

He then strings her dupatta through one of his buttons leading to them becoming entangled and giving us a chance to see Afreen erupt on him and insist that please, please won’t he leave her alone.

In the first two episodes we see Shahvaiz publicly hounding his employee Afreen openly.
In the first two episodes we see Shahvaiz publicly hounding his employee Afreen openly.

Later, we see Shahvaiz having a sleep dream sequence where he’s romancing Afreen so we know that this is going to be a cat-and-mouse game, a conquest for a bored man not used to hearing no.

This drama could take a bold stand against harassment... or it could end up justifying abuse. Which will it be?

Speaking of dream sequences… the whole thing does leave the audience sort of uncomfortable and wary. Is the sight of Afreen and Shahvaiz canoodling merely wishful thinking or is it foreshadowing, a sign of things to come? Will Afreen somehow willingly or unwillingly end up with Shahvaiz?

That sort of unimaginative twist is not unknown in the world of drama serials and right now I’m still hopeful that the show will take a less traveled road by imagining a different future for Afreen.

And speaking of futures… is the drama going to break out of the divorce-is-death message by imagining a hopeful, forward-moving future for Tamkeen? Or is Tamkeen’s story going to be sidelined as that of spiteful, vengeful sister?

It’s time we see how sexual harassment affects common folks like young girls working desk jobs or as housemaids. What does sexual harassment at the workplace look like? And what exactly constitutes a workplace? These are the questions I hope the show writers will answer with proper care.

Overall, the first two episodes do a good job at setting up a fairly compelling stage for what’s to come. Last year the #MeToo movement arrived in Pakistan in a big way when several female actors spoke about their personal experiences. Even right now, #MeToo remains is a front page story with the Meesha Shafi vs. Ali Zafar case, which continues to make its way through the courts.

So, the topic is there on our collective national conscience, which means it’s time we see an honest depiction of sexual harassment and unwanted sexual contact in the workplace.

Most importantly, it’s time we see how sexual harassment affects common folks like young girls working desk jobs or as housemaids. What does sexual harassment at the workplace look like? And what exactly constitutes a workplace? These are the questions I hope the show writers will answer with proper care, respect and detail.

Mostly, I’m curious to know how the show is going to treat the Women at the Workplace Act. It’s been around for almost a decade but has yet to be treated as a serious topic by our drama industry which has, in recent years, done a fantastic job of spotlighting important yet taboo topics.

It just sucks that, in the process, the show writers have to rely on some tiresome tropes like “unmarried daughters are a burden”, divorcees are a family plague, and unnecessarily evil and scheming sister-in-laws.

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