There are serials, then there are more serials and then there are even more serials, but very rarely do our TV dramas have the kind of impact that Shehr-e Zaat does – making us reflect on our words and deeds, persuading us to go inwards and search deep within, and compelling us to introspect, go beyond the Me/Myself/I and ask: Who am I? Where have I come from and where am I headed? Does my life have a greater purpose – beyond the routine fulfillment of familial obligations and keeping pace with inanities of societal expectations?
With each new episode of Shehr-e Zaat, we, along with Falak, Mehrunnisa and naani, take one more step away from the majazi pleasures and pains of the material world, and come that much closer to the alternate realm of the haqiqi, that which lies beyond the minutiae of worldly joys and sorrows.
Traversing this metaphorical path is not an easy task. In the last few weeks we’ve seen Falak weakening, faltering, questioning and getting frustrated with the seemingly never-ending journey. Mehrunnisa, who initially appeared to be completely lost, is slowly but gradually finding her way back on track. Falak keeps holding up the mirror to her mother, serving as her guide and conscience here. The scene where they talk about Nadira’s daughter’s wedding was a beautiful illustration of the difference between empty chatter and actually empathizing with somebody’s plight. Naani is another one who has never hesitated in pointing out the error of their ways to both her daughter and granddaughter; but again as they say there is a time and place for everything. It is only after her experience with Salman that Falak actually begins to hear what naani had been saying all along, before that her naseehats were as meaningful for Falak as elevator music is for most of us. Now, everything naani says hold so much significance for Falak. She thinks and reflects on each and every word.
Similarly Mehrunnisa too, who earlier paid scant attention to her mother’s well-meaning advice, is now struck by the depth of her mother’s wisdom. The opening scene, where naani chides her daughter for worrying about what her socialite friends say about Falak, was superbly executed. After all, shouldn’t Mehrunnisa be more concerned about how she will answer to the questions put to her by God?
I love how the story is being told, somber moments offset by the lighter, more colorful moments. The very serious scene between naani and her daughter was followed by the equally thought provoking, but humorously done scene between Salman and Tabinda. Again a moment of reflection for all of us; Tabinda may be coarse and vulgar, but there are many things she says which are not so far off the mark. Her point about parents’ expectations from their children was very well-made. How often do we see parents mistreating their elders and then turning around expecting their children to show them respect and courtesy. Along similar lines, her comment about formal education and college degrees was worth thinking about it as well – if these were any measure of aqal, then Falak would have been attuned to Salman’s capriciousness from day one, and Salman too would be more aware of Tabinda’s shortcomings and less rude to his parents.
One big change from the original novella that I absolutely loved was that Falak signed the divorce papers. Yes, talaaq is not a pasandeeda amal, but in cases like these an absolute necessity. I am so glad that for a change we are shown parents who are not advising their daughter to compromise and are not concerned about duniyawale and their opinions. Similarly, really appreciated the very civil manner in which Mehrunnisa met and cleared the air with Salman’s mother, Nuzhat. Thank you Umera and Sarmad for sparing us the OTT-ness we are subjected to on a regular basis in dramas these days.
manum-maa nayaz-mandi ke be to nayyaazdaara
I am the needy person who needs you
gham-e-choon to naaz-nini behzaar naaz-dara
I will take for granted very dearly the sorrow of a beloved like you
tuu-e- afataab, chashman wa jamaal tust roshan
You are the sun; my eye is alight with your beauty
agar ast-o-baazgeeram be ke chashm e aaz-daaram
If I give you up, to who shall I go?
My absolute favorite scene, which I’d been waiting for since the promos, was the one on the beach. Falak’s come so far and changed so much, why is it then that the only thing she now desires is still eluding her? How frustrating it must feel to come this far and still be without a glimpse of the Beloved? Has Falak’s journey been in vain? All questions she is asking herself, as she is about to reach the end of her tether. Just as she is tiring of walking alone on a path without any signposts, out of the blues is a sign of benevolence. This is the jamal-e-yaar that poets write reams about; here is an indication that though it might’ve seemed that way, Falak was never alone – her Yaar is indeed ja ba ja. A brilliant scene in terms of the screenplay, acting, camerawork, the direction, loved the analogy of the shepherd leading his flock (also a little funny because of it being Bakra Eid n all), and the judicious selection of the Persian couplet to complete the package. Loved it!!
For me, this was yet another mind-blowing episode. I along with others had questioned the notion of filler episodes, but after having watched the last episode and this one – I have to say these were by no means filler episodes. These were absolutely essential to the overall narrative. Each and every scene is laden with meaning and nuance. The way Umera has knit the story, each new scene is integral to the story as a whole, and so well-connected to the previous ones that it would be criminal to cut them out just to wrap the story. The pace has been just right for me – a story of this complexity cannot and should not be rushed. I like that we see the vulnerability in each character. All have weak moments that are offset by their stronger ones. I am particularly appreciating how each loose end is being gradually tied up. The story of the dog barking at Falak, which began in the first episode, culminated today having made a larger point about humans being worse than animals when it comes to recognizing true love.
Acting wise, yet again brilliant stuff from Mahira, Hina, Samina, and Nadia – these four ladies just keep upping the bar with every episode. Mikaal was effective as the uxorious husband, who is loco and blinded in his love for his wife. Shazia Afgan left her mark in her one scene. I love the little touches that add so much to the narrative: Falak carrying her naani’s handbag throughout the wedding; naani’s little flower buds in her baalis; and the endearing moment when Falak comes and sits on her naani’s lap — awww! On the technical side, Khizar Idrees continues to impress with his skills behind the camera. My one peeve today was with the loud background music. To begin with, I fail to understand why do we need music in every frame, and then if we just have to it have it, why does it have to be so loud? Today there were parts where I could barely make out what Mehrunnisa and Falak were saying!
To wrap it up, I can only say: Shehr-e Zaat, How do I love thee? Let me count the ways… Umera, Sarmad and team SeZ you guys rock!
 Lyrics and translation from http://urdupoetry.wordpress.com/2012/05/28/yaar-ko-hamne-ja-baja-dekha-by-abida-parveen-lyrics/