Review: Sinf-e-Aahan may just have ended my Pakistani drama hating days

Six strong, passionate and opinionated women with well-rounded and developed characters? Count me in.
30 Nov, 2021

Almost all avid Pakistani-drama watchers I know — and they all happen to be women — were looking forward to the moment ARY's Sinf-e-Aahan aired on television. The idea of watching a stellar all-female cast go through the grind of military training on the silver screen somehow ticked all the boxes for these ladies when it came to entertainment. Was I one of these women as well? Eagerly awaiting the arrival of Sinf-e-Aahan's episode 1? No, not really, and yet I somehow ended up watching the first episode and having a strong opinion about it.

Allow me to introduce myself: I'm your friendly neighbourhood Pakistani drama hater and I watched the first episode of the much awaited drama Sinf-Aahan. I wasn't always a Pakistani drama hater, you know. Some of my greatest memories from my teenage years revolve around some stellar drama classics. I binge watched the likes of Dastaan, Shehr-e-Zaat and Meri Zaat Zarra-e-Benishan with a passion, watching episode after episode with my mother late into the night, a box of tissues and a dozen or so chocolates always just an arm's length away. I spent my university days getting awestruck by what the late Haseena Moin had created for PTV. I was charmed by Sahira Kazmi in Parchaiyan and Shahnaz Sheikh in Tanhaiyaan.

Over the years, our dramas lost the spark that once made them stellar, be it strong plots, gorgeous dialogues and unique characters, and my fondness for them gradually diminished and became a distant dream. How then did I end up watching Sinf-e-Aahan when I'm a self proclaimed drama hater? Well, the teasers got to me, to be honest — six of them to be precise — all scattered across my social media feeds for days on end. Each teaser showed a leading lady in character — Sajal Aly as Rabia Safeer, Kubra Khan as Mahjabeen Mastaan, Ramsha Khan as Pariwesh Jamal, Yumna Zaidi as Shaista Khanzada, Syra Yousuf as Arzoo Daniel and, to my delight and surprise, Sri Lankan actor Yehali Tashiya as Nathmy Perrara.

Each teaser shed some light on who these six women are and where they come from, and the first episode felt like an elaboration of the women we saw in the teasers, sans Tashiya. The first episode was all about getting a closer look at what their lives were like before they are selected and join the army; their desires, their challenges and the people who surround them.

Right off the bat, the episode rang true to the teasers' promise and my heart jumped with joy. It showed you five intriguing women characters who are headstrong, passionate, opinionated women — a far cry from the usual round-up helpless women being berated by their in-laws on television. Most of them are adamant to join the army, women who do not believe themselves to be any less than their male counterparts and are willing to stand up against convention and dissent form their families and friends to make it happen.

Take Ramsha's dialogue at the beginning of the episode when her mother scolds her for learning how to use a gun for fun, something "only men do". "Amma iss mein kahan likha hua hai yeh mardon wali cheez hai? Aurat uthai gee na tau aurat wali ban jaye gi [Mother, where does it say on the gun that this is used by men only? When a woman picks it up, it'll become something a woman uses as well]."

At one point during the episode, Zaidi scolds her male relative for thinking that women aren't intelligent enough to join the army. "Yeh jo cheez yahan hotee hai na (aql), yeh kahee dafa aurton mein mardun sey zyada hotee hai, jaisey mujh mein hai. Aaj kal aurtein bhi army mein jarahi hai. [Many times women have more of this thing up here (your mind) than men. Nowadays, women are also joining the army]."

These five women want to prove their naysayers wrong and there are plenty of those around in their lives — their parents, grandparents, friends or lovers. In different circumstances and scenarios, every woman is underestimated for the value she holds within her and she has to prove herself to those around her.

"Aap ko lagta hai mein nahi kar sakti? [You think I can't do it?]" asks an adamant Kubra Khan to her mother who doesn't think her daughter is army-material. "Yes, I can."

"Yes, I can," she repeats.

These women are headstrong in their respective manners and they also come from different cultural, religious and socio-economic backgrounds, a facet of the drama that I appreciate very much. It is so important that our dramas, and even films, have representation that reflects the very real diversity within our people.

It was endearing to see Yousuf very convincingly portray a soft-spoken Christian from Lahore's Youhanabad. So far, the character's storyline normalises the life of the young Christian girl and stays away from stereotypes. Her everyday life battles are the same as those of any other girl in Pakistan. This on-screen normalisation is important in a country where Christians, and other minority groups, are often marginalised and vilified for being "different".

For all the things that made the first episode stand out, it was also great to see various instances in the first episode that were very relatable for women.These five women go through the same things most of us go through at that point in life. They feel the same things. One woman desires to be a supportive child to her loving father, another desires to overcome her lack of self esteem and to express herself as she really is.

Take Aly who protests against the humiliation she feels after being rejected by various "rishtay waley". "Mein tang agayee hun [I am annoyed]," she says to her mother. "Meray saath pass out honee wali larkiun mein sey koi power sector mein bethi hai, kisi ko MIT sey scholarship mil gayi hai, koi Oxford mein parh rahi hai aur mein pichlay do saal mein Pakistan mein aik 'achey larkey' ko pasand nai asakee [Of the girls who graduated with me, one is working in the power sector, someone got a scholarship to MIT, someone else is studying at Oxford and for the past two years, I have been sitting in Pakistan and haven't been able to endear myself to a "good boy"]. Wow how incompetent I am."

Aly's rant to her mother is definitely something many of us can deeply relate to when it comes to defying or feeling bitter about the rishta culture in Pakistan.

And so dear readers, it's surprising for me to confess that I really liked what I saw in Sinf-e-Aahan's first episode. It made me root for five passionate women whose unique characterisation and storylines have sparked my interest enough to say that I'll be watching the rest of the episodes as well. I want to see how the drama treats these women each week.

As a disillusioned drama hater, I am pleasantly surprised (and low-key shocked) at my reconversion and willingness to watch this drama. Here's hoping the drama continues to be as good as the first episode was right till the end.

Sinf-e-Aahan airs every Saturday on ARY Digital


M. Saeed Nov 30, 2021 03:04pm
It is true that, the present day Pakistani dramas are real teasers of mind to watch. They just drag a person's life for all the remaining days of a week, to show another five minutes of story with 55 minutes of flash-backs and commercials to bait another 6 days of wait.
A. ALI Nov 30, 2021 03:04pm
hats off to thsi column.
Nasser Nov 30, 2021 03:21pm
As a male, I too have more or less the SAME reasons for not being interested in “same theme/formula dramas with virtually complete lack of imagination and creativity”. For a start, they tend to portray families and individuals from the top 3% wealthiest of our society. This article has rekindled my interest in Pakistani dramas after decades; at least for such episodes:
Meh Nov 30, 2021 03:23pm
Why are there two characters from Islamabad and none from Karachi? Girls from Karachi can't join the army? I'm deeply disappointed.
Sane Mind1st Nov 30, 2021 03:39pm
Well, guess ok. Happy viewing. Bas. Not to implement in real life.
SAk Nov 30, 2021 04:15pm
I am going to watch it now. (Thanks for the review)
AA Nov 30, 2021 04:30pm
@Meh - same feelings here.
M. Saeed Nov 30, 2021 05:23pm
@Meh , why being parochial without being factual? All actors i.e. Ramsha Khan, Syra Yousaf and Yumna Zaidi, were born in Karachi, except Sajal Ali, Lahore and Kubra Khan UK. The sixth is a Sri Lankan star.
Fandom Beyond the Boarders Nov 30, 2021 06:04pm
After Parizaad, this is the next big gem being delivered by the Pakistan drama industry,
Jamal Nov 30, 2021 06:48pm
@M. Saeed. Agreed, Khuda Aur Mohabbat, Neeli, and many others are prime examples.
Ali Wadood Nov 30, 2021 09:35pm
this is no drama
Mehwish Dec 01, 2021 12:20am
@Meh Same. Noone from Sindh at all.
Chachi's_Chacha Dec 01, 2021 01:12am
@Meh Yes. And why not from Haiderabad, Sukkar, Raheem Yar Khan, Sawabi, Tank, Dir Lower, Dir Upper, Zhob etc?
hamza khan Dec 01, 2021 02:06am
@M. Saeed i think he/she meant in the characters, not the actors themselves. none of the characters are shown to be in karachi.
Akil Akhtar Dec 01, 2021 03:09am
@Meh cant think beyond Karachi....
Maryam Furqan Dec 01, 2021 07:41am
To mat dekha karyn Pakistani dramay agar itna maslaa hai to.
asad Dec 01, 2021 08:20am
I am all for women empowerment but there are lots of other avenues in the society where it can be highlighted. Military is not the first outlet to resort to IMHO. Even in the US where women were recently granted active combat role, there are still some lingering reservations. Women are by nature nurturing and they may have more important role behind the lines. How about the profession of nursing? May be its not as glamorous I guess especially in the civilian sector. Or it comes down to a specific state institution which is a co sponsor of the series!
Ga Dec 01, 2021 08:57am
Direction is pathetic as usual. Only Zindagi Gulzar Hai checked all the boxes with direction, acting and covering all the bases. That drama was perfect. The rest are as slow as Ertugrul.
Azmat Shah Dec 01, 2021 09:19am
The storyline is very predictable - 4 females from very diverse backgrounds and cultural environments joining the Army, with an extra religeous touch of a christian girl being added to the mix. Reminds me of the old Bollywood formula of 3 heroes in a movie, Hindu, Muslim and christian. Just playing to the ultra liberal elite and psudeo faminists
Mehwish Dec 01, 2021 02:23pm
@Meh Same. Noone from Sindh at all.
Naz Dec 01, 2021 04:25pm
@Ga direction is perfect Of you know A B of Direction. zindagi gulzar hai had ordinary camera work. Just like any good camera user can shoot the same scenes in family too.plz dont be so rude and critic.
Naz Dec 01, 2021 04:28pm
Direction is pathetic? It is perfect of you know something about direction.ZGH had ordianry camera work just like any good camera user can shoot family scenes. Stop being over critic plz.