After eleven weeks it is evident that Numm is a story that defies easy categorization. Not a regular love story, it is not a straightforward story of a corrupt feudal who changes wives faster than one changes clothes, nor is it our by now formulaic story of a man caught between two women, one whom he desires and the other who desires him, and neither is it a routine gharelu masley masa’il wali story. It is precisely this intriguing difference from the norm that has had me rooting for Numm from day one. But, and I know I say this week after week, just because Numm has a hatke story, has depth and meaning, and boasts a stellar leading pair, does not mean that we the viewers have infinite patience and are willing to put up with a sub-standard product for too long. Surely it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that for a project to succeed it is not enough for two or three elements to work, everything has to gel just so. There is no point in having meaningful lines, if the viewer has to rewind a scene 4-5 times to make sense of the mumbling, which is being further drowned out by the horrible background score. Why have a brilliant scene which either goes on forever or is cut short so abruptly that it loses its significance? I realize its too late for some things to be fixed, but editing and background score are issues that can and should be addressed – ASAP!!
With this rant out of the way, to get back to an episode that shed more light on Wali’s character and focused on his take on all that was going around him. For the first time we hear Wali voice his frustrations. How long can he be expected to twiddle his thumbs at home and take care of gharelu politics? If that was what he was supposed to do for the rest of his life then why even bother sending him abroad for a stint at an elite educational institution? How is he to even begin explaining his family life to his friends? The old man though is as shrewd as they come. Anticipating these questions, and sensing Wali’s frustrations, he placates Wali with grandiose gestures, making noises about the mantle being passed on to him. On the other hand though, Baray Sahab refuses to let power slip out of his hand; as he bluntly puts it: two swords cannot be put together in one sheath.
Much as Sikandar Bakht sugarcoats it, the harsh reality is that grandson or not, heir to the throne or not, much like Neelam and Mahjabeen, Wali too is no more than a pawn in Baray Sahab’s master plan, details of which only the old despot is privy to. For now, the only options that are open to Wali are either be his grandfather’s stooge and run for political office, or live a somewhat autonomous life doing busywork, managing a sugar mill that for all intents and purposes is running fine on its own. And, since this is Baray Sahab, the master manipulator, even the sugar mill option comes with strings attached – take the khandaani bahu for a honeymoon abroad. For a man who had thought he was done with his obligations the day he married Neelam, or later when his grandfather made him his official successor, both options, politics or sugar mill, are equally repugnant. Nonetheless for now he plays along, opting for the choice that allows him time to rethink his next move.
Though Wali might not be too taken with the prospect of a forced honeymoon, Neelam is absolutely thrilled. Excitedly reporting the news to her mother and sister, planning shopping sprees and thinking travel itineraries, she misses seeing similar excitement mirrored on her husband’s face. It will be interesting to see how this relationship shapes up, for now I think Neelam is deluding herself and Wali is unknowingly leading her on. In many ways his grandfather’s sending him away for eight years was perhaps the cruelest stroke of all. Now that he is back, it is very hard for a man like Wali to come to terms with the confusion his life has become. There is no way he can do justice to either of the two women in his life – no matter how hard he tries to be fair to both.
The scenic setting of the grand haveli also brings Wali face to face with his mother again. A brilliantly played scene, with the crazy Amtul refusing to look her only son in the eye, while the well-intentioned son tries his hardest to let go of past resentments and bridge the gap between them. Ultimately the effort required proves to be too much for both as Wali storms off and Amtul is left calling for him to return.
Though Neelam is the only one with whom Amtul seems to open up, the fact is that Neelam is quite clueless as to the darker undertones of Amtul’s seemingly meaningless uttering. Her questioning look at Neelam’s childish pronouncement that she wouldn’t mind living in the haveli all her life, seemed to have flown right above Neelam’s head. Later too, when Amtul and Neelam are sitting out on the porch and Amtul talks about sunlight, locked rooms, madness, and revolutions, Neelam is left with a disquieted look. In a deftly choreographed move, Wali’s entry at the mention of revolution was one of those aha moments in the episode. Beautifully penned and executed sequences, the Amtul scenes were the pick of the episode for me – Farah Shah was fabulous as the haunted Amtul.
Back in Lahore, Mahjabeen is left alone to ponder over her life, which has been turned upside down by a storm named Wali. She, who had gotten used to living a colorless life was rudely shaken awake, made aware of the color, smell and feel of life around her. Unfortunately for her though, just as she was wrapping her head around all the changes, Neelam’s re-entry made all that happened seem like a dream. Now she is unsure of her place in this household. No longer in a caretaker position, but not really in Wali’s life as his wife, who is going to determine her new position. Wali seems equally confused and unsure. He calls her incessantly when she is not around, calls her out for her late arrival home, but then when she calls him, he is angry with her – what is sauce for the gander is clearly not sauce for the goose in this case. For now, therefore, she can only offer hollow platitudes to the as yet mysterious Qasim, and view her bangles, a sign of a married woman, as iron bands that keep her shackled to Wali, and imprison her within the chaardiwari of Wali’s house.
Overall, I am still intrigued by the Numm, but the sound and editing issues, and the slow pace are a huge turn off. Apart from the fact that I had to rewind scenes to understand what was going on, I was also irritated by the repetitive, never-ending scenes. Mahjabeen and her insecurity, self-questioning, etc vis-à-vis Neelam are valid concerns, but surely the director could have come up with more creative ways of showing these rather than relying on the now tiresome device of checking reflection in the mirror? The scene where Mahjabeen is returning a fallen bird’s nest back to its original spot was beautiful, and I had loved it in the promos, but here it seemed to go on forever. Is this the producer/channel’s way of padding to come up with a requisite number of episodes, regardless of the requirements of the story? Needless to say I’m aggravated but still on board … though can’t say for how much longer!
Written by SZ~
Numm ~ Episode 11