I’m not telling you anything new when I say that by now we are all fed up of the stereotypical roti dhoti mazloom aurat we see in our dramas. How often have we begged for this helpless weepy female to be replaced with a woman who stands up for herself, holds her own against the duniya and duniyawalas, who does not need a man to act as her spokesperson, and who strives for an identity independent of the men in her life? Kitni baar? Pretty much every time we watch a Pakistani drama aajkal, I would say. Nahin?
Today while watching the first episode of Pehchan I found myself wondering that even as we are critical of the stereotype of the mazloom aurat, aren’t we equally guilty of responding to one stereotype with another handy dandy one, that of the mazboot aurat? If we call the TV wali mazloom aurat one-note then isn’t our picture perfect mazboot heroine uni-dimensional as well? Come what may, nothing would faze our ideal heroine; she might suffer in the process but would ride out every storm, eventually emerging victorious with her head held high. In this version of our idealized woman how much thought have we spared to the price she pays for this distinction of being the “strong” one. Much as we malign contemporary TV heroines for being sappy, have we left any margin for weakness in our so-called mazboot heroine? Just one tear rolls down her cheek and we are ready to peg her as yet another mazloomiyat ka ishtihar. Conversely any woman who does not shed tears, no matter how bubble brained she might otherwise be, is happily designated a “strong” character.
All this is to say that with Pehchan Bee Gul and Khalid Ahmed extend an eloquent invitation for us to revisit these stark binaries and re-think our simplistic understanding of mazloom vs mazboot. On the face of it Mrs. Khan is our typical sati savitri wife. Whether it it pleases her or not, whether her haircut suits her or not, this woman is willing to go to any lengths to please her domineering husband. Juxtaposed against this weak woman is the stunning, self assured Kuku. She is the epitome of our definition of a mazboot aurat. She is all that we want to see in our idealized heroine. Kuku is bold, independent, living life on her own terms, married to a man of her choosing – all the good stuff we want for our gal. But wait… why are Kuku’s eyes so shadowed… why is she so melancholy?
Stepping behind the mirror, looking beyond the obvious, we meet a woman who is vulnerable and hurting. She has paid a heavy price to earn the dubious distinction of being mazboot. Her young husband who had married a khaas, bohot mehnati, bohot solid, supportive aurat, has no empathy for her maternal inclinations. He is infact disappointed in her aam aurton ki tarah bacchon ki khwahish. Even now as she threatens to leave him all he begs for is yet another handout. It is all about him, his chance to prove himself yet one more time – at her expense. Her lover Mansoor Ahmed, though not as much of a weakling as her husband, is another one who was initially attracted to her for the challenge she posed. Kaun aisa mard hoga jo Kuku ko paa lega, he thought to himself. Once she succumbed to his charms he was elated, that she was married was an easily overlooked footnote in their relationship. Once he conquered her, yes she is no more than a trophy he is proud to have won, his impression of her makes a 360° turn. This once mazboot, bohot khas aurat is now deemed as unhappy, someone in dire need of a savior – him. It is only after Mansoor reaches the obvious conclusion that she needs him does he allow himself to fall in love with her.
Like she did in Talkhiyan, here too Bee Gul plays with time ever so effortlessly. Pehchan is not a simplistic linear story nor does it lend itself to easy storytelling, but once again Khalid Ahmed does a fantastic job narrating a very nuanced script. The transitions between the past and present are fluently accomplished and the parallel tracks are skilfully woven into the onscreen narrative. Even as Ammi ji is celebrating her son’s nuptials we see Kuku dressing up, for a groom getting married to another woman. She, who had wanted to have her hands adorned with the mehndi of her lover’s name, now has her hands reddened with her own blood. The attention to even the minutest of details plays a huge part in creating an ambiance that sucks you right in.
Though an intense story, this one succeeds in walking that fine line between oh-this-is boring-artsy-stuff and the full-on-ratings-guaranteed-tearjerker stories. An important factor that keeps this one from sliding into the darkness of the narrative is the visual appeal of Pehchan. DOP Naveed Malik breathes life into Bee Gul’s vision. The stark shots of Kuku walking among dead leaves, sitting alone in an empty playgrounds, her on an old fallen tree surrounded by withered branches add so much more to texture her musings about her barren life. I could go on an on about the cinematography, lighting and the framing of each scene, but suffice it to say Pehchan is a visual delight.
To come to the characters, Kuku is as real as can be and is lovingly brought to life by Iffat Umar, who is back with a bang, reminding me of the Iffat I had fallen in love with way back when in Ghulam Gardish and Nangay Paon. Sohail Sameer was good but it will take me time to warm up to his portrayal of Mansoor. I would’ve loved to have seen somebody more polished like Adnan Jaffer here. Fawad Khan was adequate as Khurram, Kuku’s immature loser of a husband. That said, it is good to see lesser seen faces and theater trained actors on TV. As a first episode this was a very effective opening chapter and I am now eager to see how the rest of the characters fit into the larger narrative and where we go from hereon forward.
It will be nothing less than a travesty if I did not comment upon the über fabulous OST. Faiz Sahab’s kalaam set to tune by Arshad Mehmood took me back to the days of those melodious PTV era classics like Yeh Dhoop Kinara, and then Arshad Sahab’s unforgettable works with Nayyara Noor like Hansi Khanakti Hui and Main Tum Se Na Poochoon. I would be lying if I said that I did not miss Nayyara Noor, but to be fair I enjoyed this rendition by Erum Nafees just as well. The background music, Elvis Costello and Liz Callaway’s songs, fitted in so well with the story unfolding on screen. Do I need to say that my drama drought is over!?!
Finally, a huge thank you Seema Razi and Raziuddin Ahmed for once again backing such a classy project. It is great to see smaller producers (Nouman Masood being another with Ullu Baraye Farokht Nahin and Sannata) standing their ground, resisting the ratings hoopla, and willing to take risks by experimenting with a hatke story. And yes, a huge round of applause for A-Plus for taking on this kuch alag project. Previously it was Aunn-Zara and Ghoonghat and now they are back with Pehchan. Lets hope these are only precursors to bigger things.
Accha ji, so this was my take on Pehchan… ab you tell me….what did you all think?
Written by SZ~
Pehchan ~ Episode 1 (Alternate links available here)