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