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KARACHI: How women and their issues are painted with the same brushstroke on television and not given the due sensitivity they deserve was the topic of discussion at a dialogue for change on Wednesday organised by Uks, a research, resource and publication centre dedicated to the cause of gender equality and women’s development.

To talk about this issue, the cast and crew of the controversial Pakistani television drama Dar Si Jati Hai Sila were present to share their views.

Dar Si Jati Hai Sila centres round the story of Sila (Yumna Zaidi) who is a victim of sexual abuse by a member of her family, Joee Mama played by Nauman Ijaz.

Bee Gul, writer of the play, spoke about how her story ideas were considered too “bold” for television and how in the past her work was either sidelined or disregarded completely due to low ratings on television.

“Dar Si Jati Hai Sila happened as a result of a conversation with Noorul Huda Shah in which she had asked me to write something about sexual abuse.

“I was afraid and said I would think about it, because there is a very insensitive attitude of producers and directors towards such issues.

“After a few days, I told her that I would do it but my setting would be a middle-class joint family system which is considered a holy cow and considered to have a superior value system where respect is considered to be very important.”

Director Kashif Nisar rebutted claims that the drama was “bold” by stating that it is a reality and is happening in society.

“We as a society have heard about it but don’t want to see it or discuss it. This was a tough part of my job as a director; taking such a sensitive subject and presenting it to a repressed and closed society.”

The play, he revealed, was sent a Pemra notice within days of it being aired as it made some viewers uncomfortable. But isn’t that the point, he questioned.

The drama aimed to shatter a lot of stereotypes and one in particular was the portrayal of a traditional villain.

“Our view of a rapist is very far away from reality and the character of Joee Mama aims to break that belief. In the reports of young girls being raped most rapists are not conventional villains and are in fact seemingly harmless individuals,” he explained.

Another challenge was presenting the idea without sensationalising it which would be a disservice to the struggle of the characters, as well as to the writer, said Nisar.

“We did not want to sell the story in a salacious way. We knew there would be families watching the drama and so we were very careful in the portrayal. This was made easier as the writer had very intelligently written the characters.”

Economic and financial abuse, apart from sexual abuse, is also an element explored in the drama, he explained. He also shared that he made his young daughters watch the show to apprise them of the grotesque reality of sexual abuse.

Nauman Ijaz, who plays the predatory character of Joee Mama on screen, recalled how he first rejected the role.

“I initially refused the role because I had a certain image which I had to safeguard and also because I was fearful that the drama would not be sensitively portrayed.

“Every person has a responsibility; a broadcaster, director, actor and a lot of times in this industry people don’t take stock of their responsibility. So I refused.”

It was only after he heard that Nisar would be directing the play, and after a detailed conversation between the two, did he sign up for the role.

“We have to set limitations and not allow vulgarity to cloud the issue. There should be subtlety in the storytelling and we had to sensitively handle the scenes.”

Yumna Zaidi, who had to play the role of Sila and who had very few dialogues in the script, explained how she had to rely on her body language and facial expressions to convey the hopelessness and helplessness of Sila.

She felt that the role needed to be played and shared instances of how many girls reached out to her and shared their stories of abuse at the hands of tormenters.

Other cast members who also spoke were Saman Ansari and Sakina Samo.

Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2018