Let me begin by saying that this review has been sitting on the back burner for the past eleven weeks. I had drafted the post even before the first episode aired, but the first few installments, despite a lineup of some of my favorite stars, did not quite do the trick for me. Samira Fazal’s story, of two married couples, who happen to be neighbors, and their intertwined lives, did not seem to bring anything new to the table and Yasir Nawaz’s narration seemed to miss the mark quite a few times. There were quite a few hiccups early on as the writer and director tried to set up a context for the main story within the space of a few episodes, thus leading to many a head-scratching moments – where exactly were these two houses situated in context to each other, how does a child run around unsupervised in the streets of today’s Karachi, how does a ball thrown by the said child bounce so high as to go over an entry gate, since when do people in Karachi, particularly women, go out for leisurely strolls and chat in empty parks at midnight, why does a seemingly intelligent woman have such poor taste in friends, why would a sensible guy go and spill his guts to a loser of a coworker (who just happens to be married to his wife’s loony BFF), and finally why does an otherwise smart woman not buy some meds to silence her evil mother-in-law’s incessant khaoon khaoon… More than anything else Ma ji’s coughing drove me nuts!
But that was then, in the past four weeks or so Shuk has come into its own. While I remain unconvinced about the need for yet another shohar-biwi ke beech mein jhagra kind of a story, I am enjoying Samira’s approach to an otherwise hackneyed formula. Shuk offers an intimate look at marriages and examines how conscious and unconscious insecurities transform otherwise forgettable moments and minor misunderstandings into issues grave enough to tear a once happy couple apart. Yasir has been great in his handling of the narrative where tension is gradually built, suspense created, and just as you think ke is baar tau qissa khatam, we get an unexpected resolution. What I like is that issues are not dragged out, neither do we have a scenario where after a resolution all is good forever. Rather, much like in real life, where forgiving is easy but forgetting harder, we see older insecurities and misgivings resurface under different guises every step of the way.
With the initial frenzy, to establish a past history and justify the present context for the two couples’ story as quickly as possible, now behind them, Samira and Yasir have settled down to a comfortable pace and the narrative wrinkles of the earlier phase have been nicely ironed out. For those who have not yet watched this one, here is a bare bones recap: Shuk is the story of a happily married couple Sehrish and Ehtisham. While all is generally well between them, the fact that that they are childless even after 7 years is something that keeps coming up time and again in different ways. Though they both deny it, this issue was creating invisible cracks in their otherwise strong marriage. Things come to a head when Sehrish and Ehtisham suffer a devastating loss. In this latest episode we see them trying their best to come to cope with the aftermath.
The other couple, Sania and her husband Ali, along with Ali’s mother and their son Rumi, have recently moved into Sehrish and ‘Sham’s neighborhood. Sehrish first meet this other family when Rumi walks into Sehrish’s house looking for his lost ball. Since Sehrish does not have children of her own she is very drawn to Rumi and this in turn leads to her friendship with Rumi’s mother, Sania. As the story progresses we learn that Sania was once engaged to Ehtisham. Their engagement, however, was short-lived and broken off when Ehtisham chose to marry Sehrish instead. In and of itself a broken engagement is not that big of a deal, but the fact that Sehrish did not know that Sania was the girl in question is yet another issue that tests ‘Sham and Sehrish’s now wavering marriage.
While this is primarily Sehrish and ‘Sham’s story, Sania and Ali are not idle bystanders here. We see how Sania and Ali’s marriage too is being tested, but by different stresses. What is great here is that like Samira’s other characters none of our four protagonists are black or white. they all have their moments. There is a well-defined character arch as all are growing and learning from their experiences and interactions with each other. Ail who had initially appeared cold, distant and kaanon ka kacha, is now showing himself as a person who given time does see with his own eyes and think with his own brain. In this latest episode Ali’s scene with Rumi was to die for. The splicing of that particular scenes was a perfect illustration of what I said above. Just as I thought chalo once again Ali Sahab is being a loser, we were later shown otherwise. Another well-timed moment was when ‘Sham walked in to Ali and Sania’s house just as Sehrish was about to spew venom about Sania and ‘Sham.
The most annoying among all the other characters, apart from Ali Ma ji who is in a class all by herself, are Atif and Maham, Sehrish and Sham’s loser friends, both of whom need to find a hobby ASAP. I have no clue why anybody sane would even consider discussing the weather with them forget about sharing the most intimate details of their lives. Khair, I’m glad that ‘Sham is now on to them and hopefully it won’t be too long before Sehrish too will see through Maham. I was so thrilled when Sham first fired Atif and then later blew up at Maham – wah! what a fabulous scene! That I hate Maham and Atif so passionately is an indication that the two actors in question, Meher Jaffri and Vajdan Shah, are doing their job well.
As for our protagonists, Ayesha Khan is back with a bang and it is good to see her do well after a run of lackluster serials. She is very good as Sehrish. Sanam Saeed, though good, is now starting to sound monotonous. There are so many times when her Sania gives off a very strong Kashaf vibe. Badar Khalil is totally wasted here, but Jibran is very effective as her son Ali. Shamim Hilali is as endearing as ever as the loving mother-in-law. While these actors are great, it is Adeel Husain who shines here. After his eminently forgettable Jiya Na Jaye (why Adeel?!?) it is great to see him back in form here. Earlier Mora Piya had tapped into his sensitive side and here we see Adeel doing justice to ‘Sham. The scene where he breaks down while on the phone with his mom was beautifully done. He shares great chemistry with Ayesha and their scenes together are very good, but he is electric with Sanam Saeed. From Daam to Mera Naseeb to Mata-e Jaan to Shuk, their equation just keeps better and better. Standing head and shoulders above all these experienced actors though is Bilal Khan, the cutie playing Rumi. He is simply adorable. The looks Rumi gave to his father when he came back to help him with the ball was fabulous! A huge hug from me to him!
So yeah overall I would say that after a shaky start and some settling in issues Shuk has picked up pace and is now chugging along merrily. Here’s to hoping it stays the course!
Written by SZ~
Shuk ~ OST