Most Pakistani dramas are family-oriented because that’s what gets ratings and that is what sells soap powder.

The sheer volume of these dramas has been their undoing, turning what used to be thoughtful explorations of human relationships into mass produced, pulp fiction. However, creative minds thrive on a challenge and sometimes even the simplest drama can bring something insightful or a fresh perspective because of the hard work of the writer, actors or director.

Here is a list of dramas that challenge stereotypes or use a familiar cultural setup to show us something new or something we had forgotten.

Fair warning, get a box of tissues out. These characters may suffer but the beauty of these dramas is that journey however painful and long opens up to something better:

Marasim

Starring Ahsan Khan, Sonya Hussyn, Urwa Hocane, Saba Hamid
Starring Ahsan Khan, Sonya Hussyn, Urwa Hocane, Saba Hamid

One of Zanjabeel Asim's best-written and one of the best acted family dramas I have seen; props to director Owais Khan. When a mother decides to take revenge for the pain and misery she suffered as a bride through her children, a family is shattered.

Qaid-e-Tanhai

Starring Faysal Qureshi, Savera Nadeem, Sunita Marshal, Neelam Munir among others
Starring Faysal Qureshi, Savera Nadeem, Sunita Marshal, Neelam Munir among others

This unforgettable Umera Ahmad story highlights the life of a grass widow. Moiz and Ayesha have married for love so why have they not spoken in ten years?

Moiz left his country to struggle as an illegal immigrant; while his sacrifices are acknowledged , Ayesha’s pain is ignored. While he can seek relief in another marriage, his wife’s attempt to find companionship is branded as infidelity. This beautiful story asks if they can forgive each other.

Main Abdul Qadir Hoon

Big shoutout to Fahad Mustafa for this one!
Big shoutout to Fahad Mustafa for this one!

How does a sweet, sheltered mummy’s boy played by Fahad Mustafa become a callous, resentful womanizer who respects no one? How does that same man learn enough compassion to care for his friend dying of HIV and find a new life as a religious man? Follow AQ’s journey and find out.

The play was written by Sarwat Nazir and directed by Baber Javed; the cast also includes Alishba Yusuf, Faysal Qureshi and Aamina Shaikh in titular roles.

Mera Naseeb

Starring Adeel Hussain, Imran Abbas, Syra Yusuf, Sanam Saeed and Imran Aslam
Starring Adeel Hussain, Imran Abbas, Syra Yusuf, Sanam Saeed and Imran Aslam

Samira Fazal's story of two naïve friends bound by a family secret will keep you hooked. Their struggles and eventual triumphs teach us life is never as straightforward as we think but patience and love can conquer all.

Zindagi Dhoop Tum Ghana Saya

Starring Sami Khan, Sanam Baloch and Fahad Mustafa
Starring Sami Khan, Sanam Baloch and Fahad Mustafa

Faiza Iftikhar rarely disappoints. What happens when young woman is suddenly widowed, who does she turn to?

Dependent and taken advantage of, she looks for safe harbour but finds the strength to build that resilience and reliance in herself.

Choti Si Zindagi

Starring Iqra Aziz , Shehzad Shaikh and Nimra Khan
Starring Iqra Aziz , Shehzad Shaikh and Nimra Khan

Penned by Sarwat Nazir, this is an old-fashioned story set in the 70s when early marriages were still common, Urwa marries the childish, sheltered Amina but yearns for his college friend, Azra. Will their marriage survive and what will they learn on this journey that is life ?

Ek Nazar Meri Taraf

Starring Noman Ijaz, Mahnoor Baloch and Babar Ali
Starring Noman Ijaz, Mahnoor Baloch and Babar Ali

Superficially this is writer Zanjabeel Asim's story of a young widow, Sila, whose life is restricted by her mother in law, following dated customs and superstitions. Sila cannot forget her husband and often talks to him in her imagination. The surprise in this clever serial is the detailed portrait of infidelity and how unkempt desire can hurt the innocent.

Is it always right to follow your heart ? Hidden in this surprisingly sweet love story is a message about the difference between love and desire.

Doraha

Starring Humayun Saeed, Sonia Rehman and Sanam Baloch
Starring Humayun Saeed, Sonia Rehman and Sanam Baloch

Put aside the completely, ruthless lack of glamour, sets or any of the other visual cues that attract us to dramas in this Mehreen Jabbar project and actually listen to the story, you will be hooked.

For those used to seeing men in dramas move on without a glance back at the life they once had this will be a refreshing reminder that love isn’t that easy to forget. Once again, way to go Umera Ahmad.

Noor-e-Zindagi

Starring Aisha Khan and Syed JIbran
Starring Aisha Khan and Syed JIbran

It is never a woman’s purpose to change a man but she can definitely support his better impulses. Noor is the well-educated daughter of a professor who ends up marrying Saleem, a less educated man from a middle class background, who nurses an inferiority complex.

Sarwat Nazir wrote Noor as a strong woman who navigates her life with honour and dignity despite the difficulties her husband weak personality presents her with.

Maat

Starring Aamina Sheikh, Adnan Siddiqui and Saba Qamar
Starring Aamina Sheikh, Adnan Siddiqui and Saba Qamar

This Amna Nawaz Khan directorial may be the drama that started off the now hackneyed story of two sisters, one good the other evil, that resurfaces every season.

Saman is the pretty one but her looks and ability to manipulate the opposite sex have made her selfish and ruthless. Aiman is a the responsible one; kind and generous, she covers her sister’s faults and is always there for her family. Aiman is engaged to Faisal but he is more interested in flirty Saman.

The ending to this caused an uproar at the time because we are used to seeing only one form of victory but the writer Umera Ahmad reminds us victory and defeat can take many different forms.


This is the second of a series on which Pakistani shows to watch while social distancing. Stay tuned for part three, which will be highly recommended dramas with social messages.

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