In a social set up where people insist on sparkling clean cages for their pets, expect their kababs to be shaped just so, a mere suggestion that an old sweater be repaired by an inexperienced hand is frowned upon, and puraney bahar se aaney waley bartans handled with extreme care, why does a young girl’s abject misery not register on those around her? Why does a messy cage garner more attention than this bride’s messed up life? Why is a kabab’s rounded perfection more important than her less than perfect marital relationship? Was this the acchi zindagi her mother had promised her? Why is it that despite having landed the perfect rishta – bara ghar, ameer loag, suljha hua handsome shohar – Laila feels more a prisoner than the caged ducks in Mansoor’s house? Her every move questioned, her inefficiencies highlighted on a 24/7 basis, and Mansoor’s slights and oblique insults becoming the order of the day is it any wonder then that Laila is gradually withdrawing into herself? Her shawls, worn not just for for warmth, but also as a metaphorical shield, protecting her from the cruel insensitive barbs of those around her, each of which hits her like a body blow. Lonely and abandoned. Barely a few months into her marriage and these are the two adjectives that best describe Laila’s state of mind and her situation.
Seemingly the world is Laila’s oyster. An only beti and an only bahu, she is pampered no end. Her saas does not interfere in her bahu’s life, and her parents dote on her. But is this the whole picture? No, this is the view from Laila’s mother’s and saas‘ perspective. Look through Laila’s eyes and there emerges a whole other reality, one where the saas does not miss a single opportunity to let her zingers fly. While a saas‘ attitude is somewhat understandable, it is her mom’s attitude that has shaken Laila to the core. Any attempt at trying to open up to her mom are shot down. There is ignorance and there is willful ignorance, and Laila’s mother is a firm believer in the latter. Sab theek ho jayega … is her mantra in life. Who knows, things might get theek eventually, but who is to say how long will Laila’s suffering last – a month, a year, a decade, a lifetime? Is Laila’s life only about being acknowledged as beti no. 1 and bahu hamari sab se pyari? For how long are these dubious distinctions gonna be the be-all and end-all of a woman’s life? What about her own dreams and aspirations? Bee Gul’s questions are very difficult and complex, not the kind that Laila can ask for of her saas or mummy or hubby dearest. Laila needs a friend. Not the giggly girls she befriended in college but someone more mature, someone who looks like she has it all sorted out … a mazboot aurat, a potential role model for the young Laila – enter Kuku.
From Laila’s perspective Kuku has it all. She is financially independent, free of the worry of the duniya walas, at liberty to come and go as she pleases, and last but certainly not the least, a caring, openly affectionate husband. Kuk’s life is as perfect as could be. So awed is Laila that even as she is desperate to reach out, voice her fears and share her worries, she cannot look Kuku in the eye. Clearing her throat, her eyes downcast and hands fidgeting, Laila’s tense body language belies her qualified praise for Mansoor. What Laila cannot see is the pain barely hidden behind Kuku’s mazboot persona. From Kuku’s perspective Laila is the one who has it all. A husband who leads rather than waiting to be led by hand, a name/a pehchan in the society, and the cruelest blow of it all – a baby. What more could a woman want?
Respect. Kuku gets her answer sooner than expected, when the two couples face each other at the dinner. If Kuku had been wavering even slightly in her decision to keep Mansoor at arms length, his slighting of Laila has firmed up her resolve. How could she be envious of a girl who is treated so shabbily by her husband? More importantly, what this does this say of the man who treats his wife’s worse then he would an annoying insect? While Kuku might think she has succeeded in fending off her ex-boyfriend, she does not realize that her rejection of his advances has only whetted his appetite. The battle has begun. And this time its not just between Kuku and Mansoor, but has enveloped Laila and Khurram as well. Who all are left standing at the end is something only time can tell.
Time will also tell if Kuku can hold on to her resolve to ignore Mansoor. She is trying her best, but when has the jazbati dil ever listened to the thanda dimagh. As she lets slip in her conversation with Mrs. Khan, Kuku is far from over Mansoor. The dip by the curve of his lip still haunts her. While Kuku is honestly trying to get over Mansoor, he on the other hand is nowhere near done with her. For him this chase is as thrilling as it is frustrating. Unfortunately though, even as Kuku is doing this for Laila, Laila is the one who is hurting, deal as she has to with Mansoor’s mood swings. News of her pregnancy is not welcomed with joy neither is it celebrated with gifts. On the contrary, her outstretched hand is shunned by her husband. Nope, Miyan Mansoor is not about to offer Laila any support in this matter. Along with him, his mother too is less than thrilled. Laila’s parents on the other hand are absolutely delighted.
While Laila will have to figure out where and how this baby will fit into her already complicated life, Kuku has to deal with her overgrown baby baby-ing baby – Khurram. What is interesting here is that even as he plays court jester and pretends otherwise, he is more than aware of what is going on around him. He is insecure and says so, but what he does not want to recognize is that Kuku is equally insecure. Or even if he sees it, he does not want to acknowledge it openly. And this is where we see his sharp mind working. As long as he feigns ignorance Kuku is not going to lean on him for support. But if he opens up to her, then he would be obliged to offer emotional and financial support. It is therefore to his advantage to feign ignorance and keep up with public displays of affection and saccharine sweet mannerisms. At home it is a completely different story. A broken Kuku cannot manage without tranquilizers, but even those cannot keep her nightmares a bay. Khurram’s pseudo-solicitousness make matters even worse. In her intricately woven story, all of Bee Gul’s characters find themselves entangled in the webs of their social relationships, some which they were born into and others they have spun in and around themselves. How many will succeed in disentangling themselves is a something that time will tell.
Attention to details, even the most minute ones – Laila’s dad’s ties, the old-fashioned wide kind, perfectly in keeping with his age – are what set Pehchan head and shoulders above the rest of the serials out there. I sincerely hope Noorul Huda Shah is planning an A-Plus awards ceremony next year. It would be a travesty if Team Pehchan and their efforts in presenting meaningful entertainment went unrecognized. Such an acknowledgement, from the channel itself, will go a long way towards improving the quality of serials on air these days. Just the aesthetics alone are something that others could learn a thing or two from.
On aesthetics, Naveed Malik has done a fantastic job with cinematography. Khalid Ahmad does more than enough justice to Bee Gul’s brilliant script. One thing I must comment upon is the beautifully set up dinner scene – simply fab! All actors deserve a huge round of applause for giving this one their best. This has to be Sohail and Iffat’s best performance to date. Mansoor and Kuku are two characters I will not forget in a hurry. Iffat imbues Kuku with a humanity that makes it difficult to describe her merely as the “other woman.” Alishba too is not to be left behind. Her Laila is vulnerable, hurting and confused, but she is no bechari, kudos to her for keeping Laila fragile but not weak. And how stunning did Alishba look in the dinner scene – her jewelry was to die for! Fawad Khan is great, appropriately annoying as Khurram. Sumbul Shahid, Qazi Wajid and Parveen Malik, all are perfectly cast. And, finally Anita Camphor as Mrs. Khan,only one question: When can we hang out for coffee, donuts and hot gossip?
Every episode adds one more layer of meaning to this beautifully evolving story. Bee Gul’s story Pehchan sheds light on so much that we as a society like to brush under the carpet. Out of sight out of mind – this is the mantra we live and die by. It is to Pehchan’s credit that we are being compelled to confront the lies, hypocrisies and double standards we knowingly and unknowingly preserve and perpetuate, passing the baton from one generation to other. Living in a society where popular memory extends back to hundreds of years, we tend to forget we are in a world very different from the one where our parents lived. Technical innovations have transformed the world into a global village. We know so much more than we did before and have seen so much more than our elders did. Faced with so much change why are we then still clinging on to archaic traditions and outdated societal dictates? How many more Lailas will have to suffer before we step out of our comfort zone and affect change?
Written by SZ~