Posted by Shahla Khan
I had great expectations when I saw the title on my Amazon prime account. Not just because the protagonist was Samiya Mumtaz who I’d seen in the film Dukhtar. Also because the title Do Saal Ki Aurat suggested a woman’s story and I’m a total sucker for them.
Protagonist Hajra is a diligent wife looking after her kids and tiptoeing around her emotionally unavailable and abusive husband. A usual scene with very usual characters in a typical Pakistani/Indian household.
However, by the time I finished watching the series, I thought – there went a couple hours of my life I’m not getting back. Do Saal Ki Aurat went from highly exciting to highly depressing for me. Here’s why.
The actress has done a phenomenal job, no doubt on that. It’s the script that’s problematic. From the very beginning, we see Hajra as the mother and wife, waking the earliest, ensuring everyone is taken care of while her husband is seen abusing her over a shirt she didn’t iron.
It starts to get cliched when we learn that Hajra is scared of going out of the house on her own for buying groceries and paying bills. The husband is busy at work and asks her to cooperate and help out by running errands.
The problem here is that there’s already enough stigma around women being too timid and scared of going out of the house in conservative towns and colonies. Later, she discovers that this is a recognized disorder where she stammers and shivers and panics when confronted with a stranger or an unfamiliar situation.
Her being shown as such has only stereotyped women as timid creatures considering the current and past social climate. I’m not saying that social anxiety disorder is not a reality for many people. However, in this case, it was deliberately used to show the woman as unconfident, needing protection and dependent upon a man.
As Hajra’s trials begin, her husband abandons her with three young children and a huge debt on the house to be paid. She asks her sister-in-law for a loan and sells off her jewellery while hoping her husband would send some money. He doesn’t.
the trope of social anxiety was deliberately used to depict women as needing protection and dependent upon a man.
Hajra is seen distraught, weeping day and night for money while fearing that her home will be repossessed. She is constantly humiliated for being broke but somehow she never gets an idea to work until the grocery shop owner suggests it to her – further reinforcing the idea that when in crisis, women can only weep and beg relatives for money but not look for work.
If the writers had made an effort to ask women around them what would she do if she were in such a situation, they could have gathered some brilliant ideas of women surviving and thriving. In reality, despite harsh poverty and drunken or abusive husbands, women from underprivileged and turbulent communities are resilient.
After the grocery shop owner suggests she get a job, she searches the newspapers and finds some openings. Her interview experiences are awkward and painful considering she has social anxiety. Somehow she manages to get one job. She faces sexual harassment at work which is common and believable too, but the writers did a bad job once again.
Hajra is shown as a very cliched ‘good girl’ – the one that follows patriarchal society’s rules. She doesn’t look men in the eye when she talks to them. I want to scream out loud to the writers that by showing women in this light as being ‘pious and pure’ you’re not helping anyone. Again reiterating a very clear characteristic of a ‘good woman’ who is a wife and a mother.
If the writers had made an effort to speak to women, they would have found brilliant ideas of women surviving and thriving.
At one point when the goons are dragging her kids out of the house, she is seen falling on the floor, screaming and weeping but there are zero attempts in freeing her child’s arm from their grip. It’s horrifying to see that the makers chose to show a woman falling on the floor in agony but taking zero action to actually free her child. Try doing that to a mother in reality; you’ll return home with a missing eye and limb.
Then there is Hajra’s sister-in-law. A very stereotyped nanad who is always blaming Hajra, first for chasing her brother away to anonymity and then accusing Hajra of sexual misconduct and turning the kids against their aunt. It is shown that a woman is another woman’s worst enemy. Another stereotype about women – no surprises there.
The story moves to the next stage of their lives where the kids are all grown up and almost settled and there’s now talk about their marriage. Her second son Sharjeel wants to marry a wealthy man’s daughter who wears modern clothes and doesn’t cover her head. She is privileged and educated and confidently talks to her father about who she wants to marry.
She is instantly demonised as the bad girl who is ill-mannered and slut-shamed. More stereotypes about women from progressive backgrounds who are just not allowed to be good people. Simply because all women who wear modern clothes and come from wealthy families are rude, insensitive and just terrible people (sarcasm).
The elder son’s love interest is the aunt’s daughter. She too is a stereotypical xerox of her mother, hell-bent on giving grief to Hajra who now is the mother-in-law. One would expect that since Hajra has been through so much oppression and has spent a lot of time working, she may have learned to not make similar demands from her children.
Nope. She is seen insisting that Sharjeel give her grandchildren. Apparently, it’s perfectly alright for mothers-in-law to poke their noses into everybody’s business and annoy new brides by asking for grandchildren.
At first, this confused me because from the very beginning it was clear that Hajra is a unidimensional character who has no flaws and is the innocent puppet being played by the people around her. Why then, is she shown in a bad light now when more than half of her life has passed?
But then I realized that to the writers, this is not a bad light. To you and I, it is super offensive because we understand that having children is a complicated decision and brings into question of how much choice is there when it comes to motherhood. Pushing someone to get pregnant is a violation of their right to choose reproduction.
The directors and the writers did not seem to be aware of such rights. Thus by virtue of showing Hajra as a concerned mother-in-law, they made her pressurise her daughter-in-law, simply to make the latter look bad. So that when she expresses contempt on this intrusion of privacy, she could be shown as the insensitive, heartless bahu who doesn’t respect her elders.
Oh God, when will the stereotypes end?!
Finally, Hajra is seen taking a stand for herself when she learns she has lung cancer. So, unless a woman is dying, she can’t make decisions for herself that make her happy. That’s basically what this whole drama was about.
Do Saal Ki Aurat was an opportunity to show something different. Not only is this cliched image of the all-sacrificing woman old, it is also becoming unrealistic in this day and age when women are struggling to receive an education and become self-reliant. Just because a woman is self-reliant and educated, it does not automatically make her evil.
Divorce is still taboo and women do spend their lives with abusive husbands, keeping up the charade of marital bliss. Though this pattern is changing. Wanting to break this pattern does not make women evil in any way. It never fails to surprise me how women that are aware of their rights are portrayed as evil, unlikable characters. This is troublesome for reasons beyond counting.
It never fails to surprise me how women that are aware of their rights are portrayed as evil, unlikable characters.
After the last episode ended, I was curious to know who the director was. Of course, it had to be men behind the making of Do Saal Ki Aurat. Amir Raza is the writer and Chaudhary Ali Hassan is the director. They told a woman’s story in a way men want women to be.
It made me sad to think that Do Saal Ki Aurat could have been something very different, portraying the journey of a single mother but it was such a shame that it turned out to be an all-cliche fest complete with an all-sacrificing woman passing away while only protecting the men in her life. What a missed opportunity!
Shahla Khan is the author of ‘Third World Woman’ who also helps people write books. Her daily chores include blogging, making YouTube videos and researching for her PhD thesis. When not speaking professionally about gender issues, she can be found admiring Ghalib and Mir. She can be followed on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and her blog and website.
Featured Image Credit: Ebuzz Today