As someone who watches Pakistani dramas and has watched them for quite a while, I have noticed that it has become a norm to impose vulnerability on women who are often the ones who have to bear all the abuse in a drama. This plot device seems to be a favourite amongst show creators and writers who have been making different serials with similar characters and storylines.
Hum Kahan Ke Sachay Thay is a serial that has caught everyone’s attention. We are first introduced to Mehreen (Mahira Khan), a woman who dealt with trauma from an early age who now has to deal with lack of acceptance and all sorts of lies being told about her. Then Aswad (Usman Mukhtar), an emotionless mess who only believes scheming people that hate Mehreen and finally Mashal (Kubra Khan), a cousin of Mehreen and Aswad’s who can’t stand her and constantly tries to make her life worse than it already is.
Their relationship is as toxic as it gets and early into the series I wondered if I was perhaps too early to call out the glorification of toxicity in this drama that not only focuses on three individuals who are in a love triangle but also on abusive personalities, and normalises suicide and injustice, all of which we do not deserve to see as viewers.
The storyline is quite common if we compare it to screenwriter and novelist Umera Ahmad’s previous dramas — she’s also the brains behind Meri Zaat Zarra-e-Benishaan and Shehr-e-Zaat. When these two dramas released, it seemed like a never-before-seen storyline that we needed but now, rehashing the same old vulnerable characters has led to many fans, including myself, growing disappointed and only watching the drama each week in hopes that things will change.
Personally, I watch the show every weekend solely because of Mukhtar, hoping that his character won’t continue to disappoint, but being let down every week as Aswad continues to be the toxic guy no one wants to see or even talk to.
Mashal was last seen in the ninth episode telling house helper Shabbo (Kaif Ghaznavi) to throw away the poisoned food left for Mehreen. After eight episodes of the family bashing Mehreen and 'investigating' the murder and Aswad getting married to Mehreen and torturing her until he literally drives her nuts, the story begins to look somewhat promising again.
It has now picked up some pace in the 18th episode (after eight episodes of complete misery) and the opening scene begins with Mehreen hallucinating and conversing with Mashal in her head. Some parts of her hallucination include her deceased father who died in the early episodes by committing suicide.
Though the actors have each played their parts to perfection, what caught everyone’s attention was giving suicide importance in the form of a solution to all problems. This is just simply unnecessary and, if required as a plot device, should’ve subtly shown the struggle of a person contemplating the act rather than proceeding to show suicide without a trigger warning — a measure that should be considered seriously if this is the kind of storyline we want to show viewers in the future.
Warnings are often provided when a show is showing a character smoking and alcohol is always blurred out. Why then can something similar not be done when a show depicts suicide. Would it be that difficult to include a helpline number?
Why is it that something like suicide is not given much importance when it’s being showed in every other drama? Yashma Gill had publicly posted about not agreeing with the depiction of a suicide scene in her drama Azmaish and said that she gave in to pressure from her team. It's time people realise what we show on TV can set the wrong example for viewers who take inspiration from their favourite celebrities.
During the series, Mehreen suffers the trauma of losing someone who inexplicably means a lot to her— Aswad, the bully and abusive husband who wants nothing to do with her and asks her to sign divorce papers. In her grief, Mehreen suffers a nervous breakdown and sees ‘Mashal’ who wants her dead. Mashal, of course, died in episode 9 and comes back to haunt Mehreen in the form of a hallucination.
Soon after she is seen trying to drink a chemical cleaner, a rather disturbing scene that unnecessarily proceeded for more than five minutes up until her subconscious brings up images of her father. Losing him at a very young age triggers a number of battles faced by Mehreen who then has a breakdown in front of Aswad and her aunt, Saleha (Huma Nawab).
The much-awaited 18th episode made me jump in joy when the psychiatrist treating Mehreen calls Aswad out for his behaviour. It was indeed needed, not just for us but Aswad who badly needed a scolding.
The acting of the star-studded cast is definitely enjoyable but you can’t simply deny that Aswad was responsible along with Mashal for ruining Mehreen’s life. It’s almost as if in their bid to make Aswad the hero and love interest, the drama team is hoping to pit two women against each other and let the man walk away scot-free.
Growing up we have always heard the story of Prince Charming who will save you from your misery. Similarly, Pakistani dramas have heroes who save their ladyloves and live happily ever after. Hum Kahan Ke Sachay Thay has definitely changed for the good but it also seems to be painting Aswad as the prince who will ‘fix’ Mehreen and they will live happily for the rest of their lives. I wonder when will the day come when our dramas no longer link happiness with another human being but finding inner peace and strength instead.
I admit that the psychiatrist telling a deeply toxic person that he needs treatment is the one scene that I have watched over and over again because it was the best part of the episode. Perhaps Aswad should seek therapy from the same counsellor because everyone is tired of his problematic personality — especially me!
His confession of knowing about Mehreen’s mental illness raises the question about whether the way he tortured her was deliberate and if so, why is he not being held responsible for his actions.
The scene at the psychiatrist’s office was exceptional but it doesn’t change the fact that Mehreen suffered due to Aswad’s toxicity and that does not deserve to be praised. Fans of the Raees star tweeted about her performance and I agree it was definitely an emotional rollercoaster.
The episode also revealed information about the sudden death of Mashal, though it should’ve had happened eight episodes earlier without dragging the story. The episode also goes into the depths of what went down between the two cousins that night. Judging by the current episode I can only hope that the next one lives up to the mark because the pace may slow down with each character feeling sorry for Mehreen.
After watching a number of serials, I believe TV shows need to evolve and offer better content. How many of us actually watch Pakistani dramas because we like the story? It’s often the stellar star cast that wins us over, not the actual script. Whenever we think about our Netflix watch-list it’s always got something interesting and different to binge watch. We can’t always say the same about our list of Pakistani dramas to watch.
Even though Netflix offers us variety, there are still millions of people who still watch both local and foreign content but if our stories revolve around same ‘love triangle’, ignoring basics like a trigger warning, then sooner or later the shift from local content to foreign will become permanent as people search for variety. In order to grow as an industry, it’s necessary to offer better yet promising content that doesn’t lead to disappointments. At a time where people appreciate content such as Squid Game or Stranger Things, it’s high time we look into making the kind of stories we should be showing and not giving in to what we’ve been watching for years.
As it stands, Pakistani dramas are often a rehash of the same old content, often missing the trigger warning for repetitiveness, toxic characters, violence and the glorification of abuse.