Psychiatrists, psychologists, mental illness, disorders, depression, delusions, professional intervention, therapy, counselling – these are not terms we expect to hear in our everyday dramas, socialized as we are to the more commonly used concepts of pagalpan, daurey, jadoo tona, aseb, saaya, jin, taveez, mazaar and pirs. Of the recent dramas that I can remember, very few have touched on the topic of mental health and that too only peripherally, and if I may say so, rather crudely. I still shudder when I think back to the gross mishandling of this very important issue in a recently concluded serial.
I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, when I came across this new series of Express telefilms, all of which revolve around the issue of mental health. Presented by different creative teams, these films differ in that each has a distinctive look and feel, showcasing the particular story telling styles and aesthetic sensibilities of the various writer-director-producer combinations. In terms of writing there is nothing unique about any of the stories. The protagonists we meet are not one a kind, nor are the situations they find themselves in extraordinary, but it is the story tellers’ approach that turns these everyday stories into something definitely not run of the mill.
In Tum, Meena, who claims to hear voices that portend future events, is not simply labelled as aseebzada by her family and left to her own devices. On the contrary, her concerned brother seeks professional help and convinces the rest of the family there is nothing otherworldly about her condition, all Meena needs is proper medication and counselling. In Darr, an otherwise pleasant woman beats her young son for no apparent rhyme or reason, but rather than maligning her as an abusive parent, professional intervention uncovers deeply embedded painful memories of past events. Breaking News is the story of an elderly gentleman who is caught shoplifting; as events unfold we are skillfully led into the very bleak world of a lonely man. Doosri Dulhan introduces us to a young bride who is fully convinced that she is already married, a claim vehemently rejected by her ultra conservative and controlling father. Pehli Jummerat details the story of a girl who feels marginalized in the family after her younger brother gets married.
Connecting these otherwise disparate stories is Dr Jahan Ara, psychiatrist extraordinaire. Beautifully played by Hina Bayat, Dr, Jahan Ara embodies all qualities one would want in someone in whom one confides their deepest and darkest fears. She is patient, compassionate, and most importantly withholds judgement. And herein lies the key to what compelled me to sit and watch – there was no rebuke or censure – nobody was right or wrong, no guilt trips, no finger pointing, no nothing, only a genuine desire to help. All protagonists are afforded so much dignity that not once, in any of the stories, do any of them come across as becharey. An important point highlighted here is that in cases such as these it is not just the patient who needs to be treated, more often than not the people around are equally in need of help. Hence in almost every story we see Dr. Jahan Ara holding counselling sessions with family members as well.
Though there is a clear agenda here, to increase awareness, the educational aspect is handled so well that there is none of the preachiness or moralizing we have come to expect from issue-based dramas. Kudos to all the creative teams who have contributed to this special project headed by Iqbal Ansari. Among the directors we see well-known names like Marina Khan, Ahson Talish and Shahid Shafaat, and writers include names like Mohammed Ahmed, Amina Khalid and Mustafa Hashmi. Of the actors, it was fabulous to see Talat Husain back after a hiatus. Samina Ahmed and Shamim Hilali were effective as the troubled mothers trying their best to deal with very difficult situations, Hina Bayat was elegantly understated in a completely different avatar, Salma Hasan gave a career best performance, Maheen Rizvi was very good as the abused wife, and ZQ impressed with the intensity she brought to her character.
While there is a lot to be appreciated here, like any other project this one too is by no means problem free. The background score is seriously loud in some films. The acting of some actors leaves a lot to be desired, and there is the inevitable resort to stereotypes in a couple of stories. And yes, happy endings are not the norm, nor are they guaranteed as it might seem from here. Nonetheless I applaud the sincere effort to draw attention to a very serious matter. Of all the films, I found Amina Khalid and Ahson Talish’ Darr and Mohammed Ahmed and Marina Khan’s Tum to be the most engaging and well made.
Even as this is all good and Express Entertainment deserves praise for backing a worthy cause, I am very disappointed in how they have handled publicity for this project. Like it was with Talkhiyan, the only reason I know about these telefilms is because of a heads up by a friend. I fail to understand why Express is stingy in matters of publicizing their own projects. Their FB page is filled with nothing but glossy pictures promoting their Indian content. I have no problems with them doing this, but surely it doesn’t cost them anything extra to post a picture or two publicizing their own homegrown projects as well. How are we expected to know if nobody spreads the word? What is the point of putting out good stuff if nobody out there is watching ?!?
Have any of you had a chance to watch any of these? Looking forward to your thoughts!
Written by SZ~