Neelam is ghar ki bahu hai
Mahjabeen sirf vani hai…
That is it!
Well! Well! Neelam’s entry into Wali Bakht’s already complicated life and household has stirred the pot in more ways than one! Rude, ill-mannered, childish, immature, rebellious, high strung – so many ways to describe Neelam Wali Bakht’s behavior in her first few days as Wali’s new bride. Unlike the others, who have perhaps no recollection of when they last took a single breath without Baray sahab’s permission, Neelam still remembers what it feels like to lead life as a free individual, hence her chomping at the bit. What is interesting though that even as Neelam is rebelling, her anger is not directed at the age old customs or that she has been forced to marry an older man, rather her ire stems from the fact that she is sharing her husband with another woman. No matter how well Mahjabeen’s relationship with Wali is explained to her, and however many times her higher status in the household, vs Mahjabeen’s much lower one, is reiterated, Neelam cannot get past the very basic fact – she is the second wife.
At the other end of the spectrum is Mahjabeen – a woman of very few words, mature, empathetic, yielding, resigned – everything Neelam is not. Her maturity comes from having spent almost an entire lifetime imprisoned within the four walls of the grand haveli. Even as Neelam goes on and on about her being her sautan, all Mahjabeen can recollect are the times when she played mother to a fussy ten year. Though married to Wali, she knows that she is no more than a glorified maid in a family where social hierarchy determines a person’s worth. The way she was waits on Baray sahab, Wali and Neelam, at dinner time, underscores the harsh reality of Mahjabeen’s so-called marriage with Wali – she is indeed no more than a vani.
Right in the middle of the maelstrom is Wali, a young man who’s life experience far outweighs his age. Like Mahjabeen he is a mature man of few words, contemplative, resigned, controlled, and tortured by memories of a past he cannot erase. Though he is embarrassed of, and resents his relationship with Mahjabeen, it is with her that he shares the closest bond. She understands him perhaps better than he knows himself, and in turn he respects her the most. His snuffing out his cigarette the minute he saw her standing beside the pillar, rendered his terse apology almost unnecessary. His body language earlier, the way he came to stand behind Mahjabeen, as if he had her back, when Neelam was taunting her, had already spoken volumes of his bond with Mahjabeen. The way his shocked eyes flew to search Mahjabeen’s face, their unspoken communication, after Neelam’s unthinking shocker at the dinner table, sealed the deal – Wali and Mahjabeen may not realize it yet, but Neelam’s arrival has changed their relationship forever. That they are married is something that can no longer be pushed under the rug and conveniently forgotten. Rather, thanks to the new bahu’s constant jibes, this aspect of their relationship is now front and center in both their minds – Mahjabeen is not just a vani, she is Wali’s wife as well.
Baray sahab, the man orchestrating the drama, is pretty happy with the way his plans have worked out so far. A charming, easy going and patient man for those who don’t know him well, he demands nothing less than absolute compliance from the residents of the haveli – even his only grandson is not spared and is sacrificed at the altar of archaic traditions. What Sikander Bakht fails to realize is that Wali, Mahjabeen and Neelam are not lifeless pawns in a chess game, to be moved wherever and whenever according to his whims. That the three have played along so far has been something that he cannot take for granted for the future as well. Though he understands the larger stakes, Wali has already begun questioning his grandfather’s decisions. He might seem easygoing and accepting of all the changes going on around him, but something about the steely glint in his eyes promises that things will change. Whether for better or worse, remains to be seen.
For a story that moved along rapidly, the onscreen narrative was deceptively leisurely, and I for one loved the contrast. There was no sense of rushing through scenes. Myra Sajid’s screenplay is beautiful, where she has resisted the temptation to tell all. Little things, from Amtul’s choice of reading – The Inheritance of Loss, My Feudal Lord, The Adventures of Amir Hamza – to the director and DOP’s framing and composing of scenes, to the actors body language, facial expressions and the small, almost noticeable gestures, all come together to create fabulous moments where words are rendered unnecessary. The scene where Neelam was reading to Amtul, while the servants tittered away outside, was exquisitely handled. Ahson Talish must be commended for daring to be different, using a very complex approach to tell a very compelling story.
Among the actors, Sania Saeed is absolutely stellar, and Fawad Khan has upped his game that much more to match her caliber. Their scenes together are outstanding. Farah Shah, as the tortured Amtul is really impressive. I can’t wait to find out more about her journey from a loving wife to this crazed woman we see today. Usman Peerzada was very effective in his two-faced role. He was the charmer with as much as ease as he was playing the despot. Flailing badly among all these stalwarts is Kanza Wyne. Except the fact that she looks the part, there is not much else convincing about the way she plays Neelam. A beautifully conceived character, I wish Neelam had been played by someone more experienced. Along with Kanza, her screen mother and sister too failed to impress. The scene where Minahil was talking to Baray sahab was painful to say the least. While I am happy to see new faces, I wish somebody had spent time teaching these new actors to enunciate properly.
Overall, I enjoyed this second episode, as it continued to build on the momentum generated by the previous one. Just a note to the sound people and the editors. Though the background score sounded a lot softer as compared to the first episode, it needs to be toned down further; the onscreen narrative is compelling enough without the jarring music. In terms of editing, the second installment began with an abrupt jump from the first episode. While I liked that we didn’t waste time on a wedding that would’ve added nothing to the overall narrative, the opening would’ve been a lot smoother with a bridge scene connecting the two episodes. These peeves aside, with the foundation now set and characters introduced, I’m intrigued to know more of the haveli’s secrets, find out more about Amtul’s past and see how the writer and director develop Wali’s two very different but parallel relationships, one with the vani and the other with Baray sahab’s bahu. Looking forward!
Written by SZ~