Plot twist as Pakistani soap operas seek to break taboos

Pakistani actress Fatima Shah Jeelani, center, and actors Ali Abbas, left, and Imran Ashraf filming the drama serial ‘Mein Maa Nahi Banna Chahti’ (I Don’t Want To Become A Mother) in Karachi. (AFP)
Updated 12 January 2018
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Plot twist as Pakistani soap operas seek to break taboos

ISLAMABAD: In life, she chased fame, hoping to make her mark in Pakistani society. In death, murdered social media starlet Qandeel Baloch may have achieved her goal.
Today she is a household name, and her tragic story has been turned into a soap opera — one of several immensely popular TV shows seeking to challenge the country’s conservative taboos.
“Baaghi,” which means “Rebel,” charts the rise of Baloch from young, exploited girl to Internet sensation infamous for her provocative selfies until her shocking murder, with her brother confessing to the high-profile killing.
The show airs on private TV channel Urdu 1 every Thursday. Viewing figures are unavailable, but its pilot episode has been viewed more than 1.6 million times on YouTube. “That girl was a lioness. She should not have died yet,” says Shazia Khan, a writer on the series.
Baloch’s fate polarized Pakistan. For some, it inflamed outrage over so-called “honor” killings in which hundreds of predominantly women are killed each year, usually by male relatives, for bringing what they perceive as shame on their families.
But the concept of “honor” is deeply embedded in parts of Pakistan’s patriarchial culture, and other voices argued that Baloch had made herself a target by her actions — tame by Western standards but deemed provocative in the conservative country.
The decision to turn her death into one of Pakistan’s popular television soap operas has ensured the debate surrounding such murders of women endures.
Notorious for its high-profile story, Baaghi is just one of a wave of soap operas and dramas airing plotlines that revolve around such social issues: From domestic violence to child abuse, forced and child marriages, misogyny and women’s rights.
They are devoured by Pakistan’s 207 million strong population.
Research by Pakistan’s media regulator shows that in 2016, 65 percent of television viewers watched drama channels featuring such soap operas. Another survey by Gallup Pakistan shows 67 percent of adult female viewers and 56 percent of adult male viewers watch entertainment shows, mainly soaps.
Pakistan’s biggest entertainment channel, Hum TV, is a pioneer in using social issues as soap opera fodder.
In 2016 the channel aired “Uddari,” or “Flight,” which told the story of a young girl sexually abused by her stepfather and ignited a debate about the sexual abuse of children inside the home.
“Uddari took the sensitive subject ... to every household where discussion on sex is still a taboo,” says one avid fan, Aabida Rani.
In “Sammi,” which revolves around its eponymous star character, the station highlighted honor killings, forced marriages, and denial of property inheritance to women all in one show.
Sultana Siddiqui, a producer who later set up her own TV station, said they wanted Sammi to be a mirror of society, and an example of “how a taboo issue could be displayed in proper manner.”
Their efforts are not without backlash, and Siddiqui describes pressure from media regulators as well as a wave of vitriol on social media with people accusing her and her channel of spreading vulgarity and destroying social values.
But the shows’ popularity kept them on the air despite the blowback, she says.
Even as the shows push for awareness and change, the way soap opera heroines are portrayed can cause consternation.
Sadaf Haider, a blogger at the country’s major Dawn.com news portal, wrote in October that the storyline for Baaghi followed a predictable Pakistani track relieving the heroine of autonomy — essentially portraying Baloch as a victim.
“The actual Qandeel didn’t consider herself a beychari (helpless) at all, even a cursory reading of her interviews shows she worked hard and was proud of what she had achieved,” Haider wrote.
“Qandeel took full responsibility for her choices... So why has Baaghi portrayed something else entirely?”
Pakistani journalist Fifi Haroon has complained the portrayal of women in such shows still fits in to a patriarchal narrative.
“Simpering, dewy-faced heroines... suffer in obstinate silence or misguided stoicism,” she wrote in a BBC piece. “Tears are plentiful. Producers now claim that if you don’t show women crying, the drama won’t garner ratings.”
Lawyer Jatoi, while praising soap operas as vehicles for change, took a cautious view.
“They must ensure they are responsible enough to handle such sensitive topics and address underlying issues so as not to add to the already existing stigmas,” she told AFP.
Haroon agreed, writing that their makers must be aware of their audience.
“It is not just women,” she wrote.
“Men too are observing what it takes to be a man in Pakistani society and of course, what they can expect from the women in their lives and homes.”


Kangaroo on the menu for Harry and Meghan Down Under

Updated 18 October 2018
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Kangaroo on the menu for Harry and Meghan Down Under

  • The pair will only spend a few hours in Melbourne, but had a jam-packed schedule that included a meal featuring native Australian foods
  • Meghan was inundated by flower bouquets and baby gifts following their announcement

MELBOURNE: Chargrilled kangaroo was on the royal menu Thursday as Prince Harry and his pregnant wife Meghan arrived in Australia’s second-largest city Melbourne, where they were greeted by thousands of screaming fans.
Clutching flowers and waving flags, the crowds turned out to welcome the pair, who were delayed in traffic after flying in from Sydney on the third day of their tour Down Under.
The pair will only spend a few hours in Melbourne, but had a jam-packed schedule that included a meal featuring native Australian foods and a trip to a beach.
“I love everything they stand for. As a human being you have so much to look up to with them,” one young fan who had been waiting since before dawn told national broadcaster ABC as the pair mingled with the crowd.
A teenage girl cried tears of joy and threw her arms around the prince as she clutched a hand-written banner with the words: “Been here since 4am. Loved you since I was eight.”
“You’re gonna get me in trouble,” Harry joked as he embraced her.
Meghan was inundated by flower bouquets and baby gifts following their announcement on Monday that Meghan was expecting their first child.
The US-born royal also put on a dinosaur pasta necklace made by a five-year-old boy, who was wearing his favorite pilot uniform outfit, for the rest of her walk.
“I made it with pasta and dipped them in gold paint and threaded the string through,” he told news.com.au.
The Duchess was wearing a tan trench-coat, believed to be by Paris-based Australian designer Martin Grant, a navy dress by the breakthrough star of local fashion Dion Lee, and holding a Gucci Sylvie clutch.
The loved-up husband and wife mostly mingled with the crowd separately, but when they were together, they held hands and the Duchess periodically stroked Harry’s back.
After the public meet-and-greet, the couple spent some time with the Victorian Governor Linda Dessau in an official reception at Government House, where the Duchess of Sussex stole the hearts of local sports fans by handballing a football used in the Australian Rules game.
They then headed to a restaurant that mentors indigenous chefs with chargrilled kangaroo and wild boar on the menu, according to broadcaster Channel Nine. They will visit a school before finishing up at South Melbourne beach.
The couple will also follow in the footsteps of Harry’s grandmother Queen Elizabeth during her 2011 visit by taking a tram ride in Melbourne.
They are due to return to Sydney later this week for the opening of the global sports championship the Invictus Games, which was set up by Harry for wounded military personnel after his decade of service in the army.
The couple’s more-than-two-week official visit will take in multiple stops in Australia, Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand — all parts of the Commonwealth, a group of predominantly former British colonies.