ARY's Ruswai tells the gut-wrenching story of the headstrong Sameera who is abducted and gang raped.
The show has a great cast. Sana Javed plays Sameera and Mikaal Zulfiqar plays her husband, Salman. The supporting cast is also incredible -- Osama Tahir as Sameera’s brother and Syed Mohammed Ahmed as her father are particularly notable.
The first few episodes give no sign of what’s to come.
We mostly learn about Sameera’s life. She’s thriving in her house job and has, for many years, loved Salman, her family friend. Even though her brother is nikkah-fied to Salman’s younger sister, Salman’s mother is still desperately trying to prevent Salman and Sameera from ending up together.
There’s some minor dramatics and theatrics including the shortest breakup in the history of breakups between Sameera and Salman followed by the shortest leaving his home to prove his point by Salman.
There’s also a strange side story of a creepy new doctor at work -- a much older physician whose just returned from abroad and has a definite staring problem when Sameera is around.
Things take a harrowing turn
Eventually, by the fourth episode, Salman’s mom gives in (for now) and the audience is treated to a nikkah ceremony where there’s some heavy duty intimate gazing and romantic dialoguing.
Later, in the same episode, things quickly swerve towards much heavier, darker terrain. While out with her brother, his wife and her father, Sameera is spotted by a group of guys who are parked and drinking in a large car (signaling their position as powerful, wealthy types). These guys abduct Sameera at gunpoint and drive away into the night.
The brother and father go to the police station where some seriously sleazy-looking, lazy cops demanded to see a picture of Sameera. Her father flat out refuses to share pictures of his daughter because he doesn’t trust the cops nor does he want his daughter’s image to be broadcast as some part of chaotic and ineffective media circus.
The family then turns to Salman’s father for help. He takes them to see his senior-ranking police friend. Again, the same back and forth begins over sharing Sameera’s photo.
Ultimately, the men talk sense into the father, telling him that already several hours have passed since Sameera was taken and time is of the essence in such cases.
Meanwhile, the mother-in-law returns to her sinister ways. She tries to stop her daughter from telling Salman what’s going on. The daughter, who has more of a moral compass than the mom and who is very much traumatised because she could easily have been the one who was abducted, tells Salman anyway who immediately heads home.
As night turns into day, we become more and more aware that Sameera is still somewhere out there. This is an example of when not showing something proves to be far more effective.
For those of us who thought the fourth episode was a difficult watch… well, the fifth episode really brings home the horror. Sameera is found on the side of a road by a street sweeper who brings her home. Her body and face are badly bruised and battered. She can barely stand and she’s simultaneously silent and delirious.
Upon returning home, Sameera immediately removes her chaddar to show her mom her ripped clothes. I imagine this is the drama writers’ way of confirming for Sameera’s family (and the audience) that she has been physically and sexually assaulted.
We then get to see the reaction of everyone around her. It takes Sameera’s mom a few minutes to even embrace her. Her younger sister takes even longer. We see her hysterically crying and refusing to come near Sameera.
The brother is equally shocked but manages to keep moving and getting things done like getting Sameera’s medication (the family refuses to take her to the hospital and instead has one of Sameera’s colleagues come check up on her).
Perhaps the most frustrating reaction is Salman’s. It takes him a solid two days before he is able to get over his wounded ego and complex emotions over his wife’s izzat being tarnished. He finally goes to see her for a meeting that’s mostly silent and lasts literally minutes.
When he returns home after that first brief meeting his father sets him straight by reminding him that for someone to successfully overcome something traumatic like rape, they’ll need support from the person they love the most to which Salman replies “it’s hard”.
At this point, I wanted to throw something at the screen. Of course, Salman, of course it’s hard...for your wife, Sameera. You know the one who has just been gang raped and, subsequently, has had her entire existence permanently altered.
Sameera’s mom, in a scene that has made me irrevocably dislike her, suggests to the dad that they get Sameera married to Salman immediately so that he can handle her anger. What in the world, lady? Not therapy, not the courts, not intrafamily support but… marriage is this auntie’s solution?
Things only get more frustrating when Salman returns the next day. The couple is sitting in awkward silence until Sameera gets a call from the hospital that her reports came back normal. It’s not immediately clear what type of testing she’s had done (if someone is familiar with the procedure in such cases please leave a message in the comments below).
Anyway, Salman absolutely loses it when he finds out that not only did Sameera get testing done but that all her colleagues know what has happened to her.
Sameera, in her typically sanguine and straightforward manner, reminds him that her and her colleagues are used to seeing cases like hers on the regular, which makes Salman freak out even harder.
He tells her she’s not a medical case, that she was his family’s izzat. Sameera is left stunned by his reaction.
Things steadily get worse between the two. In the seventh episode, Salman stands Sameera up for lunch.
Also, in the seventh episode, Sameera’s family continues to struggle with her decision to pursue her case. Her siblings tell her they support her. But, her mom, in a scene that has made me irrevocably dislike her, suggests to the dad that they get Sameera married to Salman immediately so that he can handle her anger.
What in the world, lady? Not therapy, not the courts, not intrafamily support but… marriage is this auntie’s solution? Later, the mother says “jo baat parda mein hai, usko parday mein rehnay doh” and proceeds to ban her from returning to work or even leaving the house.
Uhh, the worst has already happened auntie jee. I had to stifle a scream of frustration in all the scenes involving the mom. I mean, this all probably is an accurate portrayal of society but it still frustrates deeply to hear these things said out loud onscreen.
Some unanswered questions
Right now, seven episodes in, there are still a few things that make no sense.
Part of the plotline involves Sameera levelling blame on her father for not doing enough to save her on the night of the abduction. She accuses him of willingly handing her over to the men so that he could protect his daughter-in-law, Warda.
My question then is: why this plotline? Why on earth would a father in this circumstance feel like he had to hand over (i.e. ‘sacrifice’) one of the girls with him over to the group of men?
I get that the three of them were largely overwhelmed by a group of men with a gun and a moving vehicle but still, wouldn’t the reaction have been to try and save everyone instead of handing over one of the girls as some sort of transaction?
The whole angle of “I protected my best friend’s daughter because how would I have shown my face to him otherwise” is not something I’m wrapping my head around.
Also confusing to me is what exactly has happened to Sameera. At one point, in the seventh episode, she asks her siblings if they really want to know what happened to her that night. But, she never gets into it.
We know she’s been physically assaulted. We assume she has been sexually violated, as well. But then, what type of lab testing did she have done that came back normal? What does normal mean in rape cases?
What Ruswai gets right
Apart from the minor confusions… there are a lot of things that are definitely being executed well by the show creators so far.
The acting… oh, the acting!
Those of us who have followed Sana Javed’s career trajectory (from Khaani to Dar Khuda Sey) can agree she is a natural talent and a clear shoo-in for the role of the strong-willed, self-sufficient Sameera.
From the abduction scene to the confrontation scenes between her and her family to the way she sits with a heavy slouch at the breakfast table, Sana Javed nails all of it to such perfection that, while watching episode six, I frequently found myself holding my body tight trying to imagine her personal anxieties and pain.
Mikaal Zulfiqar’s acting as Salman is equally impeccable. I was sold on him as a performer after Alif Allah Aur Insaan and, now in Ruswai, seeing him play the grieving, conflicted partner is a pleasure. We don’t only see his anguish, we feel it.
Plus, for what it’s worth… the two look great together as an onscreen couple.
The plotline is also being handled relatively well by the show writers. Initially, I was frustrated by the focus on the reactions and emotions of the men in Sameera’s life. But now I’m starting to see it as a plot-advancement technique. Only by seeing everyone’s complex and conflicted reactions to Sameera’s rape are we going to be able to understand Sameera’s next move.
Equally incredible as an actor is Muhammad Ahmad as Sameera’s dad. I’ve lately been enjoying seeing him in two of my current fave dramas: Meray Paas Tum Ho and Ruswai.
In the most recent episode, there’s a gut-wrenching scene where he cries while trying to down a glass of water. My word - how could a trip to the kitchen sink be so powerful?!
The plotline is also being handled relatively well by the show writers. Initially, I was frustrated by the focus on the reactions and emotions of the men in Sameera’s life. But now I’m starting to see it as a plot-advancement technique.
Only by seeing everyone’s complex and conflicted reactions to Sameera’s rape are we going to be able to understand Sameera’s next move (based off of this episode, it seems like she will take legal action against her rapists).
The show has also done a good job of showing the realities and frustrations of rape investigations (or the lack thereof) in Pakistan. Sameera’s father’s mistrust of the police is well-founded. In the past few years alone there have been several cases where the very police officers who were tasked with helping a rape victim turned out to be responsible for further sexually victimising her.
This is an incredibly important subject to showcase on the small screen because, despite the presence of promising laws, the prevalence of sexual assault and rape cases in Pakistan only continues to incrase.
In fact, according to a statement made in 2017 by Zia Ahmed Awan, the national commissioner of the Madadgaar National Helpline 1098, 70% of Pakistani women and girls will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime by intimate partners while 93% of women will experience some form of sexual violence in public places in their lifetime.
The show has also done a good job of showing the realities and frustrations of rape investigations (or the lack thereof) in Pakistan.
For instance, Sameera’s father’s mistrust of the police is well-founded. In the past few years alone there have been several cases where the very police officers who were tasked with helping a rape victim turned out to be responsible for further sexually victimising her.
Sameera’s father’s mistrust of the media is also justified. There have been far too many real-life cases where the media has revealed highly sensitive and private information such as the woman’s name and address, the name of her romantic partner all while casting aspersions on her lifestyle.
As of this week, it looks like Sameera has no plans to sit around and bemoan her reality. Because everyone around her, including her husband, is subconsciously treating her like a stain, she has nothing left to lose.
For next week, I predict that Sameera will successfully bring a criminal case but, in the process, alienate herself from her family (particularly her in-laws).
Watch this space for further updates and analysis.