Positive female representation in media has recently come to the forefront of the conversation not only in Hollywood, but in the South Asian film and entertainment industries as well. Writing well developed, nuanced female characters is still concerningly rare, and many of the TV shows and movies we watch still perpetuate harmful stereotypes of SA women. With her recent passing, we want to take a minute to talk about Haseena Moin and her legacy of writing empowered female characters in her TV shows from the 80s, and how many of them are a rarity still to this day. Her work not only flourished in the Pakistani entertainment industry, but transcended borders into India as well.
Haseena Moin was born in Kanpur in British India but grew up in Rawalpindi, Pakistan after her family immigrated after partition. After initially starting in teaching, Moin wrote several highly successful TV shows such as Tanhaiyaan (The loneliness) and Dhoop Kinare (At the edge of sunshine). In particular, I want to talk about one of the main characters Moin wrote in Dhoop Kinare – Dr. Zoya.
Dhoop Kinare is a show I have heard a bit about from my own mother actually - a show that she grew up with. Now considered a cult-classic, it follows the lives of a team of doctors in a hospital in Karachi (think Grey’s Anatomy but Pakistani). Zoya, as one of the main characters of the show, is an outspoken carefree new doctor on the ward. Unlike many female characters at the time, Zoya is not the submissive and meek person many would expect, but instead is in constant battle with the more experienced Doctor – Dr. Ahmer. Her charm and outspoken attitude made her an iconic symbol of Pakistani television and is still a beloved character today.
But Moin didn’t just write outspoken and headstrong women in her shows – she took the time to explore complex and nuanced societal issues, many of which are still an issue today. In Tanhaiyaan, her character Zara transforms from a traditional demure girl, unsure of herself and following her family’s traditions, to a confident and career-driven woman who knows exactly what she wants in life. She learns to respect herself and learns of the respect she must expect from her significant other. Unhealthy relationships, and toxic partners is such a recent conversation that women have only just started to unpack, a lot of which we still don’t understand because of social constructs and harmful ideas of what a relationship should be perpetuated by TV and movies. So, for Moin to write something as complex as this into her shows in the 80s is definitely something to applaud.
Movies and TV shows play such an important role in forming our ideas of each other, so with that in mind, scriptwriters and producers have the responsibility to ensure that they are not perpetuating harmful stereotypes. As South Asian women, we are so much more than only love interests and housewives (as many shows like to portray) and it is so empowering when we see characters reflect that nuance and depth on screen. Haseena Moin wrote these ground-breaking characters at a time when not many TV shows and Movies were showing complex female characters (regardless of cultural background). And for that, we hope that Haseena Moin’s legacy is honoured as these entertainment industries move forward.