Before I begin, let me just say that all along I had been expecting Shehr-e Zaat to end its run today; the news that it had been extended to accommodate an extra episode was extremely annoying and off-putting. It would not be far from the truth to say that I switched on this latest episode feeling really exasperated, with my finger on the fast forward button. Prepared to hate on it, I had initially thought of skipping it – after all who wants to watch a filler episode? But, since this was Shehr-e Zaat I watched…
Did I walk away aggravated? Was this a dragged-out episode? Did I still think it unnecessary? Read on …
For the past few weeks we’d been given tantalizing glimpses of Tabinda, and these scenes had been so deliciously well-done that I always walked away with a feeling of tishnagi – we weren’t seeing enough of this evil yet somehow lovable character. Today’s episode opened with a continuation of Tabinda and Falak’s confrontation. Despite my initial reservations, after watching the first twenty or so minutes, with Nadia Afgan and Mahira Khan matching each other step for step, I was completely sold! Ladies and Sarmad please take a bow!
There was so much to sift through and parse in this meeting between Salman’s first and second wife. Their demeanor, body language, speech, outlook on life, just about everything is poles apart. From a much humbler background, Tabinda has no appreciation for the finer things in life. But on the other hand, can one really blame Tabinda, coming from a social strata where one can barely make ends meet, where money spent on things other than for instance a beti ki shaadi, would rightfully be considered madness. Before she met Salman, Tabinda, for all her faults, was supporting herself by working in a factory, how can she then understand Falak’s penchant for shopping designer labels and dabbling in the arts. This is not to say that shopping or appreciating art is a bad thing, but seen from Tabinda’s perspective having char sau suit, ek sau pichhatar bag and ponay char sau jootey (!) and spending time sculpting is beyond indulgence, these are luxuries that only a privileged few can enjoy, for the rest of the world just eking out a living is a big deal. For Tabinda, all this is israaf -a waste of money and time, resources that could be fruitfully used otherwise.
What made this exchange meaningful was that it was not just Tabinda holding up the mirror to her aadhi paagal sautan, Falak too was telling off Tabinda. Chiding a supercilious Tabinda, Falak noted that while passing glib moralizing judgments, labeling artists as behaya and dismissing their body of work as behayai, might resonate with certain factions within our society, the fact of the matter is that chezain behaya nahin hotin, unse jo kuch mansoob kiya jaata hai woh behaya ya bahaya hota hai; haya bhi nazar main hai or behayai bhi. It is not as if objects or even people come with embedded meanings, it is our gaze that bestows meaning on them, vulgar or otherwise. Similarly, when Tabinda voiced her reasons for trashing the sculpture, Falak pointed out that a sculpture on its own is nothing more than a lifeless stone. It is we who in effect breathe life into these inanimate objects by assigning them a whole range of meanings and memories. How can we then call art a bad thing or label artists as obscene? Isn’t it more our attitudes that need to be scrutinized here?
Falak’s showdown with Salman was worth the wait. I’m glad Falak was able to maintain her self-respect in this confrontation with that absolutely unrepentant husband of hers. Keeping a tight grip on her dignity, she asked him all the questions that any wife in such an unfortunate situation would want answered. Why did he leave her? What did he see in Tabinda? How could he choose this coarse woman over her? Tough questions to which Salman has no real response… but, I absolutely loved the way that Falak still got all her answers! Superb stuff!
What was so praiseworthy here was the way this entire sequence was written by Umera, and narrated by Sarmad and his talented actors. With a deceptively mellow pace, the first half of the episode was jam-packed in terms of action. Falak and Tabinda’s dialogues represented a strong critique of not only the materialistic trend in our society, but also of our easy resort to playing the religion card in frivolous games of one-upmanship.
While Falak might appear strong now she is still struggling on the inside. Trying to maintain her composure in front of her mother, she loses it in the solitude of her bedroom. Yes, this path that Falak is treading on is not an easy one – she has no one to lean on anyone except her relationship with God, to help her overcome the pain and rejection, she felt on seeing Salman ecstatically happy with Tabinda. Verily, it is easy to talk about and label trials and tribulations as azmaish, but when one actually confronts an azmaish head on it is akin to being blind-sided. Even someone like naani ends up asking the inevitable question: Why?
Mehrunnisa, another character undergoing a tough azmaish; she is gradually realizing that her wealth and social standing cannot comfort her help, nor can it ease Falak’s misery. She is helpless as she watches her daughter suffer. Ultimately, like Falak, she too has to turn to God for solace – her family and social friends are of no help.
Realizing mistakes and making amends is not a process that happens overnight – it takes time, sometimes years. Mehrunnisa is gradually learning, but when Falak confronts her about the harsh conditions under which the servants live, she again resorts back to her old self, the “us” vs “them” syndrome – “we’re” socially responsible helping “them” out as much as is possible within “our” means. Clearly, Mehrunnisa still has ways to go and many lessons to learn – Mummy, baat haisiyat ki nahin zarf ki hai!
Shehr-e Zaat is an enchantress, a beguiling city of mirrors – you see your reflection at every turn. Sometimes a hideously distorted and grotesque figure grins back, while at other times you might just be lucky enough to see a beautiful face smiling beneficently. I wonder what Falak saw when she turned around to look in the mirror. Did she find what she was looking for? Is her arduous journey about to end? What did the reflection say to her? Looking forward to the answers next week!
So, what did I think? Overall I was happy that this episode was added – if indeed it was. It tied up a lot of loose ends. I liked that we saw Falak’s steely strength as well as her vulnerability. Mehrunnisa’s transition is also smoother because it shows time and hiccups, not an overnight change. Many of us had wanted to see Salman and Tabinda together and here we got an insight into their very earthy relationship. The pace seemed very mellow throughout, but I think there was more than enough going on that I did not feel cheated. I had been unhappy with the original ending, so I find myself enjoying this version better. Mahira Khan keeps surprising with her portrayal of Falak. Hina Bayat is a rock star, Samina Peerzada as lovely as ever, and after this outing, Nadia Afgan is a hot favorite. Mikaal has impressed with his very restrained performance. Umera Ahmed deserves a ton of applause for her changes to an already popular novella. Sarmad Khoosat, you just keep blowing me away week after week.
As I sign off, let me leave you with this lovely thought, one that I hope I can keep with me long after Shehr-e Zaat has ended …
Allah ka shukar ada karney ke liye kisi cheez ka hona zaroori thori hota hai
Bas insaan ko aadat honi chahiye Allah ka shukar ada karney ke liye
Written by SZ~