Laal Baig is a 1999 telefilm directed by the critically acclaimed Mehreen Jabbar and written by Bano Qudsia , a figure not in need of an introduction, for the most widely read novel of Urdu language, Raja Gidh, is her creation.

In Laal Baig, Bano Qudsia addresses a common problem of our domestic lives, that of the “saas” and “bahu”, but since both Ashfaq Ahmad and Bano Qudsia have their novel styles of dealing with issues, one does not think of Laal Baig as a play having a clichéd topic that can be avoided. Bano Qudsia looks at the mundane topic related to the conflicts of mothers and daughters in law from a psychoanalytical perspective. While other dramatists simply focus on the aggressive attitude and hatred of mothers towards their sons’ wives, Bano takes the viewers into the minds of the mother through her thoughts and dreams, and explains the reason behind the prevalence of this problem.

The telefilm starts off with a sad, haunting music playing in the background, preparing the viewers for something somber in store, while on the screen, we see incomprehensible, abstract paintings depicting elements of mystery and complexity to be found in the play.

In the first scene, we see a middle aged woman sitting before a psychiatrist, asking questions reflecting confusion, one of them being that why do the eyes of a person remain open even after he is dead. She is explaining her other fears as well in her conversation with the psychiatrist. The woman is in fact a mother who could not resist her son marrying a woman of his choice. The son is now dead, while the woman is being brought for sessions by that very daughter-in-law she despised, telling that there are no more conflicts between them, probably because the object of tussle is not in existence anymore. Our focus is on that “object” and the fight over it.

The woman reveals to the psychiatrist her insecurities, one of them being that she constantly envisions two eyes following her. The matter to be pondered upon is that whether the following eyes are of her son, or of her daughter-in-law. While she claims that people used to consider her daughter-in-law’s eyes very attractive, she also inquires about the eyes of a dead person, which leads us into thinking that the eyes she envisions are probably of her son, who keeps reminding her that she ruined his matrimonial life. From a psychoanalytical view, the eyes are the guilt inside her which keeps torturing her. If they are the beautiful eyes of her daughter-in-law leading towards a conflict, it makes us think that the mother might be jealous due to her son being attracted towards another woman who is beautiful. This reflects that she might be repressing her instinct of incest, which according to the most important psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud, is one of the repressed desires of every human being.

In another revelation to the psychiatrist, the woman tells of a dream of a dog yearning for a tree. Dogs in dreams have a number of interpretations from friendship to enmity, loyalty to disloyalty. Where dogs are a symbol of loyalty, their presence in dreams in an unhappy aura can depict disloyalty of a person, which in case of the woman can be the disloyal attitude of her son for her. Since she envisions the dog yearning for a tree, we can relate the dog with the woman and the tree with her well-grown son, but one who after having grown up, is not hers anymore. Keeping the plot in view, we can interpret it in a number of ways, for Bano Qudsia for unknown purposes, keeps the psychiatrist silent at this and allows the viewers to interpret the dream, which is important to do so, because Freud believes that the dreams are the road towards a person’s unconscious activities.

We are also taken in the flashback where we see both women fighting over the man, who is unable to decide which woman to heed. His wife describes him as a man who has not yet become adolescent, for he is not ready to abandon his mother’s lap, and if that was the case, he should not have married in the first place. She had been expecting a mature man depending on his own decisions.

Bano Qudsia must be credited for developing her characters in such a manner so as not to let the viewers form a biased opinion towards any of them. Instead, she takes them into her characters’ mind so that their psychologies can be read and then we may sympathize with them, for we feel sorry for all the characters owing to their helplessness. The husband possesses such a disposition because his mother sacrificed her whole life for him and gave her much love. The mother can be sympathized with because she, even after being widowed, did not go for another man but brought up her son, as a result of which she is afraid of sharing him with someone else. We feel sorry for the wife whose hopes of a mature and wise husband are not fulfilled.

The word Laal Baig, an Urdu word for cockroach, comes at the point in the play when the son dies. The woman accuses her daughter-in-law to be the murderer, and calls her a cockroach whose function is to crawl out from gutters at the time of night in order to scavenge for food. The reason she might have been associated with a cockroach crawling at the time of night is that night has an important place in the life of a married couple, for it results in their closeness, and in the generation of their offspring. The nights spent in mother’s service before marriage are spent with the wife after marriage. Most of the rows in the telefilm take place in the bedroom, the symbolic significance of which cannot be ignored.

The reason why this problem is prevalent here is that unlike western societies where after eighteen years, the children are free to live their own lives, children here cling to their parents for a period of twenty five to twenty six years, thus resulting in a very strong emotional bondage between the parents and children. When we come across western films, we commonly find even infants sleeping in separate bedrooms, while in this part of the world, the children sleep with their mothers during the initial eight to nine years of their lives. This emotional attachment creates insecurities in the minds of both parents and children that they might be separated. The females who have the courage to leave their homes for another man expect the man as well to be brave enough to keep a certain distance from his parents, specifically mothers.  The problem lies in the unfortunate fact that a woman is expected to forget her relations, while it is not anticipated from a man, which leads Bano Qudsia’s character of the wife to think that her husband has not yet grown adolescent. It is not only her husband who is not adolescent, but generally, majority of the husbands inwardly do not reach the age of puberty as far as their personalities are concerned.