Karachi: “There are things in women’s lives that they don’t speak about, things that they remain silent about. Women in our society are taught how to stay silent, how not to speak about themselves.”
Sarmad Khoosat’s words – at a press meet organized this weekend – set the premise of Aakhri Station, a 7-episode mini-series that has been produced by Kashf Foundation, directed by Sarmad Khoosat and written by Amna Mufti with Sanam Saeed as the pivotal character, to serve the sole purpose of raising awareness around some of the largest and yet unacknowledged issues that plague a woman’s life, including mental health.
“When I was studying psychology I discovered that the average age of a woman who comes for help is in her 40s; it’s not because younger women don’t suffer depression, for example, but because until a certain age their issues are brushed under the rug. Mental health isn’t even acknowledged and if it is acknowledged then it is silenced. It was important to talk about this and the minute I was approached for this project I knew that this was something I just had to do,” Sarmad said.
The minute one heard about Aakhri Station, it was evident that this mini-serial was something one just had to follow. Women’s rights and gender equality are global buzzwords these days; even fashion runways across the world are raising issues supporting feminism and the need for gender impartiality but unfortunately, there hasn’t been enough content written to highlight women’s issues on Pakistani television.
Barring the odd woman-centric story or two, a woman’s character is almost always written in relation to a male protagonist, whether a father, husband, love interest or child; not enough stories are written from a female perspective, advocating her rights, strengths and sensitivities. You can take any successful TV play and while on surface it may appear to be a woman’s story, it will be driven by a man’s ego. Humsafar was Khirad’s story but it was driven by Asher Hussain, Mann Mayal was Mannu’s story but it depended upon Salahuddin, even the recently acclaimed Yakeen Ka Safar appeared to be Zubia’s story but ended up being just as much about her relationship with Asfandyar. Khaani, again is more Mir Hadi than Khaani herself but even Khaani’s character is developed with the angle of her brother Sarim’s murder. Baaghi was perhaps one of the few stories that had a woman at its nucleus. Teri Raza, for all its flaws, was Suhana’s story. But there aren’t enough narratives that address a woman’s story.
Aakhri Station promises to change the narrative as it brings us seven stories of seven women, brought together on a train journey. Most importantly, the stories have been written from a woman’s perspective, we were informed at the press meet.
“Women in our society are often told, ‘maarta nahin hai, paisey deta hai, chalo seh lo’ (if he doesn’t hit you and gives you money then just bear with him). We disregard the mental abuse or personal trauma that he may inflict on her,” Roshaneh Zafar, Managing Director Kashf Foundation, explained the idea behind Aakhri Station a little more. “This is the story of Farzana; it is the story of Yasmin, who faces sex abuse, and if we take it a bit further then it is the story of Shabana, a woman who has been attacked with acid. There is the story of Rafia, who has to deal with stigmas associated with HIV. And most significantly, if we look at statistics in Pakistan, we see that women are twice as likely to suffer from depression than men and this is the story of Tehmina, portrayed brilliantly by Sanam (Saeed).”
Having Sanam Saeed onboard as the protagonist certainly lends more credibility to Aakhri Station. At the event she shared her mother’s lifelong battle with depression and how, as her daughter, she couldn’t understand why her mother – who evidently had everything including a loving family and home, etc. – would cry so much. Depression was never considered an ailment, rather an emotion that one had control over. Nothing can be further from the truth and this TV serial’s success will be to change that perception.
“We’re not bringing these seven stories to show you how regressive our society is but because we want to influence a change and help mindsets evolve,” Roshaneh Zafar said, echoing one’s thoughts. “There are no victims in our stories; these are stories of ordinary women with extraordinary strength.”
The event brought in Arshad Mehmood, who has composed the title track, sung by Tahira Syed with a narration by veteran Indian actor Shabana Azmi. Muniza Hashmi was introduced as one of the backbones of this project. Put together by this very strong team, one hopes that Aakhri Station manages to serve the purpose that it has been intended with.
“Mental health isn’t even acknowledged and if it is, then it is silenced,” said director Sarmad Khoosat, seen here with the team behind Aakhri Station including Muniza Hashmi, Tahira Syed, Sanam Saeed and Roshaneh Zafar.