Whenever I think of Pakistani TV dramas, my initial thought is always "let's hope it's not another love triangle," which it normally is. Three months ago when I saw teasers all over Instagram for a show called Dobara, I wondered why Hadiqa Kiani and Bilal Abbas Khan would sign up for a drama that seemed like a typical romance. Was I wrong about the drama? One thousand per cent.
Dobara not only tackles the struggle of a woman marrying a younger man but also explores the many restrictions imposed on widows and how they must live according to society's confusing standards. The opening scene shows Kiani finding comfort in untying her hair and symbolically cutting off the ropes tying her down. I could relate to this scene, not because of the trauma but the feeling of finally being in charge of your self.
Kiani's character Mehrunissa is a character that I felt was missing from our TV screens for a while. A woman fighting back for her rights, for her life and for her ability to live the way she wants to is something we rarely if ever see. On multiple occasions it was shown that Mehru had gone through a shift when she married a man far older than her. She not only lost her ill father but her young-spirited self who was still learning about life. This sad element in the show shows how two different mentalities collided and how she had to give up herself in order to keep her marriage going.
In the drama, it not only focuses on her but Khan's character Mahir who can't fit in the world his divorced parents have created for themselves. Filled with doubt, envy and losing loved ones, he finds in Mehru the one person who is truly a comfort to him.
The show highlights how desi society points fingers at women for prioritising their needs over the opinions of others, be it their sisters-in-law, children or even friends. These people often dictate your life but Dobara is the complete opposite and is the bright light at the end of the tunnel I didn't think people would get to see on Pakistani TV.
With first few episodes entirely focused on the struggles of both Mehrunissa and Mahir, the recent episode that showed their union drew attention towards the fact that it's somehow acceptable for a man to marry a woman far younger than him but not for a woman to do the same. This twisted logic is prevalent not just in the elite family Mehrunissa belongs to but also her house-help and employees.
The drama also debunks the idea that widows get all their husband's wealth. In Dobara, Mehrunissa's late husband, Hidayatullah (Naumaan Ijaz), had profited off the wealth his late uncle — father of Mehrunissa — had given him to take care of until his daughter was of age. It was like a breath of fresh air seeing a woman remind other members of the family that whatever had been left behind had been hers since day one and no one has any right over it.
What could've been different?
Phuppos, son-in-laws and daughter-in-laws are almost always stereotyped in TV serials and films and just like countless other projects showing these 'evil' characters, Dobara sadly paints Hidayatullah's sister Durdana (Sakina Samo) in a negative way. It makes me wonder why can't there be any nice phuppos in dramas.
While I do get why there was a need to show a character that reminded Mehru of the standards she had to live by, it's not a nand (sister-in-law) or phuppo's job to spread negativity all the time. Neither is it necessary to paint a soon to be daughter-in-law and her family as greedy or mean. The show also depicts Mehrunissa's son-in-law, Zameer (Nabeel Zuberi) in a negative light.
While the bottom line of the drama is to break the basic stereotypes around women marrying younger men, highlighting these characters in negative lights could also have been avoided. Why not smash all those pesky stereotypes?
The first personality trait shown in these three characters is greed. Envy, jealousy and materialism are the three characteristics that our drama creators aren't ready to give up on but the real question is why. Is that all we're left with when it comes to writing characters?
A new perspective
Dobara is not your average drama. Though I still noticed some things similar to what other dramas had done before, Dobara is still far more diverse. What I appreciated as a viewer was that it didn't entirely focus on one person or character. The story goes back and forth between both Kiani and Khan's characters.
I would have liked to have seen Mahir's flashbacks from his childhood when he must've suffered more from his parents separation. Him being below 30 doesn't undermine the trauma he suffered which seems to be missing from the show except in the form of the crimes he committed, how his step-parents bully him and so on.
What I really would've appreciated and loved to see is a supporting family that helps their mother fight back against society's demands and expectations. I would love to see Affan (Usama Khan) and Minal (Maheen Siddiqui) in positive roles who stuck by their mother and tried to understand her instead of choosing to be aggressive and doubt her choices. While I agree there is an emotional attachment all children have, female leads remarrying have to face a far more belligerent attitude than their male counterparts and that needs to change.
Nonetheless, Dobara has impressed viewers (and me) with its narrative if a lone ranger who will continue to live the way she wants, act according to her needs and behave as she likes and no one can stop her from doing that, not even her children. There's more to see considering Mehrunissa and Mahir have just gotten married but hopefully they will face their challenges together.
Dobara airs every Wednesday on Hum TV and is helmed by actor and director Danish Nawaz. The drama has been written by Sarwat Nazir who has also written many famous dramas such as Pardes, Qayamat, Khaas and Main Abdul Qadir Hoon.