My socio-cultural analysis of serial “Zeenat”

Based on a novel by Mirza Qaleech Baig published in 1890- translated by Zunera Yousuf to English from Sindhi

ZEENAT: Our protagonist is the only educated young woman in Hyderabad who does not believe in following suit with the values of the society if they are wrong. She values her education and applies what she learnt in her real life.

HAMID ALI:He is Zeenat’s brother. He is liberal, like their father, and supports his sister’s education and her decision of not accepting the proposal of a four-year-old cousin for marriage. He teaches Englishmen for a living

SHERBANO: She is Zeenat’s and Hamid Ali’s mother. She is a conventional and impulsive woman and constantly berates Zeenat for being single and educated

ALI RAZA: He plays Hamid Ali’s friend who later marries Zeenat. He is an educated fellow who is a businessman by profession but also teaches Major Young and two other “Farangis” Urdu and helps them understand the culture better.
His character is also broadminded contrary to other men of the time and he specifically asked his mother to find him an educated wife.

ALAMDAD: He Sheharbano’s brother. Although the families have differences in the beginning of the serial but they reconcile in the end. The four-year-old cousin, whose proposal came for Zeenat is actually his son. He is a powerful feudal lord but a fair man. Although he is conventional he is convinced later on that women are not as stupid as he thought they were.

RAMZAN WAKEEL: He is also a powerful landlord but he loves abusing power. He sends a marriage proposal for Zeenat to be his second wife but is sent to jail for murder so the marriage does not happen.

HAIBAT KHAN: He is a powerful “dakoo” whose stories are enough to terrify people. He lives in a haven he built somewhere along the coast of Sindh and carries people and goods away as he pleases. He abducts Zeenat but later tries to escort her to safety.

SAKINA: When Zeenat is missing, Ali Raza, remarries his cousin who recently got windowed. She is a difficult, cruel, and ignorant woman who dies after two years of marriage.

BIBI JAN: She is Ali Raza’s mother and Zeenat’s mother-in-law. She is a caring mother and loves Zeenat like her own daughter.


Zeenat is educated unlike other women of her time. She is confident and sure of herself and boldly rejects the wrong and oppressive traditions of her time. She faces all the problems of her life with maturity and dignity and overcomes all of them while changing the stereotypical impression of women for some men who are able to see her closely.
Her deceased father faced criticism from all he knew for educating his daughter. However, his wife and Zeenat’s mother, is a conventional woman and nitpicks at her daughter for speaking her mind and not bowing down to what society considers right.
Zeenat’s brother supports his sister and often squabbles with their mother for taking her side. She his friend who is also a very learned and liberal man. Both are happy with each other. But Ali Raza, her husband, moves to Muscat for business. Zeenat falls into the sea on her way there and washes up at a little fishing village. She lives with the fishermen for a year and gives birth to Ali Raza’s son. She leaves her son with the family she stayed with to find her husband but is kidnapped by Haibat Khan.
However Zeenat’s empathy towards Haibat Khan dissolves his resolve to keep her with him and he decides to escort her to safety. On their way he is shot dead by the Englishmen who were on a lookout for him on the request of Zeenat’s uncle, Alamdad.
Zeenat runs away and stays with another family in a village near Gawadar. Meanwhile Alamdad is able to trace her son and brings him home.

Zeenat attempts to go to her husband once again but is caught by Wakeel Ramzan this time who is out of jail. He was in jail for his friend’s murder and couldn’t marry her.

While Zeenat wanders to places the family have no idea that she is alive. Although Ali Raza and his mother refuse to believe that she might be dead, they grow less hopeful as time passes.

Alamdad continues to search for her. He finds Zeenat’s son and gives him to her family. Meanwhile Ali Raza remarries his cousin who is recently widowed, but continues to miss his first wife.

Zeenat manages to find her husband’s house. Sakina, the second wife, hires her as a maid. Since her mother-in-law is now blind and she observes purdah Ali Raza cannot see that it’s her. The second wife, Sakina, is unbearable for the whole family. She beats her mother-in-law, tries vodoo to kill her and bear a child.
After about two years Sakina dies because of consuming poison, a woman gave to her as medicine, promising that it will make her pregnant.
Long after her death does Zeenat’s husband find out that it was her and then she is reunited with her family.


The drama begins with the year 1886, roughly 30 years after the War of
Independence (What the English call Indian Mutiny) of 1857. The scene opens with the area ruler asking one of his courtiers why his wife stepped out of the house. He apologises but at the same time expresses his concern over being so overprotective of their traditions. He relates how his mother drank poison after his father died at the battlefield, because he had asked her not to step outside the tent at any cost and she didn’t want to disobey him.

Mirza Kalich Beg`s novel reminds the reader of a similar endeavour by Deputy Nazeer Ahmad to encourage women during his period to educate themselves.

During the early 20th century, women in the West were engaged in a struggle to gain their basic rights. They wanted the right to education and be considered equal to man in the workplace.

Beg who took incidents from real life and focused on how to create awareness among people regarding the principles of life. He realised that until women were acknowledged as equal the institution of marriage would not be able to run smoothly.

But what Beg emphasised on was the equality of man and woman inside the house and how both are equally important in marriage. With the character of Zeenat he wanted to show that education brings maturity of character and mind, rather than teaches rebel.

In the early 20th century when women had no clear concept of the rights given to them by religion, novel such as Zeenat stood out as exemplary.
It had a simple tale to tell- how maturity acquired through knowledge empowers a woman. The dialogues are crisp and effective while the characters are drawn to be believable.

Marriage, according to the author, is a union of the mind and body. If both partners are aware of the sanctity of this relationship then their union blossoms and imparts happiness. A lot of emphasis has been rightly placed on the importance of trust between the husband and wife, for without it marriages cannot work.

Zeenat is the only educated girl in all of Hyderabad, in that reflected the broadmindedness of her father. But since her father was dead her mother would try and marry her off to anyone, which was the source of a lot of domestic disputes between their mother and Zeenat’s and her brother Hamid.

The plot and dialogues make it clear that being liberal does not mean breaking every value, but it also means keeping some of them religiously. In one scene when Zeenat’s husband asks her to adres shim as “tum” she refuses, on the basis that mutual respect was what drove their relationship.

Beg was clever to emphasise on the fact that women are equal to men within their homes if they have to equal in the society as well. Because the social values reflect at home and homes reflect on social values. He recognised that unless women are acknowledged as equal in their homes they cannot be equal in the society.

When Zeenat is kidnapped by Haibat Khan her husband accepts her, and vows that whatever may have happened to Zeenat was because she had no choice.

The character is Zeenat is highly novelistic to the extent of being unreal. She always does the right thing and melts the hearts of everyone she stays with. But at the same time the drama also shows her human side. How she prays, and gets depressed when her mother berates her. Once, when she even succumbs to the pressure and agrees to marry Wakeel Ramzan just because her mother blackmails her emotionally.

The rigidity showed to try to protect the ages old traditions can be attributed to the fact that the novel was written almost after 30 years on the War of Independence. The Muslim Indians were finding it hard to deal with the idea of the “farangi” ruling them, and imposing their own laws on the people as they deemed fit. Wakeel Ramzan, the villain of sorts, is shown to be keen to gain the favour of Farangis as he eats up their bribes and does what is asked as long as they keep him in power.

However, Zeenat’s husband and brother are shown to each the Englishmen Urdu, and talk and explain to them their culture are progressive and believe in working with them for the general good. Their English students are people first to them and Farangi who rule them later.

The theme touches upon the British rule in India along with women’s education. The farangi are shown to be keen to help the people and eager to understand the region’s problems. But if they find anyone playing a double game with them, or breaking their laws, they are ruthless. For example, British soldiers kill Haibat Khan, the dacoit who Zeenat stays with and send Wakeel Ramzan to jail for murder.

The drama was released in the early 1980s, when Pakistani women were just finding their bearings outside homes. This was just the teaser. After this production, followed the era of the emancipated woman of Hasina Moin’s plays who set the direction for the modern Pakistani woman.

Thus, Zeenat was the fore runner for setting the path for equality of women in and outside their homes. It did so, while staying inside and valuing the norms that were already present in the society. By norms, it is meant that traditions which were born out of core values that religion and basic ethics teach us while at the same time moulding those which were oppressive in nature.

Director: Mohammad Bukhsh
Producer: Fatima Surya Bajia
Rabia Naureen as Zeenat
Mehmood Siddiqui as Ali Raza
Zaheen Tahira as Bibi Jan
Ishrat Hashmi as Sheherbano
Khalid Zaman as Hamid
Manzoor Murad as Ehsan Ullah
Nasreen Naz as Sakina
Gulab Chandio as Ramzan Wakeel
Shafi Mohammad as Alamdad
Seema Hasan as Sehbhai
Sultana Zafar as Sara
Bachal Shah as Major Young
Farooq Memon as Hoat
Abdul Aleem Sheikh as passerby
Israr Alim Siddiqui as doctor
Music by: Javed Allah Ditta
Production House: Pakistan Television

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