Alif Allah chambay di booti
Mere man vich murshad laai… hoo…
Nafi asbat da pani milya
Har ragay har jaai… hoo…
Andar booti mushak machaya
Jaan phulaan te aai… hoo…
Jeevay murshad kamil bahu
Jain ae booti laai… hoo…
~ Sultan Bahu
Laa ~ nonexistence of that which appears to exist. Laa ~ effacement of me myself and I. Laa ~ from negation to affirmation. Laa ~ first step on a path Sufi poets have written reams about. Laa ~ a journey from zaahir to baatin, juz to kul, from sifaat to that which is the ultimate truth – zaat. Laa ~ an invitation from Sarmad Sehbai, Farooq Rind and MD Productions to look past hasab and nasab and ponder on that which is beyond the apparent and obvious.
Sehbai’s exceptionally well-written first episode introduces us to Daniyal Malik, a well-educated and self-assured young man, equally loved by family and friends. Very comfortable with who he is, Daniyal makes no apologies for his wealth and is quite comfortable sharing the perks of his luxurious lifestyle. From inviting his friends for shikaar to breezily handing out generous sums of money, he is a man high on life. He is a Malik and proud of it. So busy is he living his life that not once has he stopped to think about how different life would if he were stripped off his identity and wealth. Were he just another Daniyal would he be just as popular and loved as Daniyal Malik? Forget about him, have we ever thought who we would be if we were not who we are?
Along with Daniyal we also meet Naina, a family friend’s daughter. Equally privileged but not quite as affable as Daniyal, she is headstrong and somewhat spoilt. Unlike their more laid back friends, Naina’s parents, particularly her mother, are very hung up on getting their daughter married into a family with the “right” background – caste and creed is above all else for them. It is this quest for a sahih, accha rishta that brings the family from Karachi to Lahore, thus setting up the premise for the pehla takra of Daniyal and Naina. And a takra it was, literally!
Alongside the story unfolding in the urban setting of Lahore we also get an intriguing glimpse into Naimat Khan’s past. Set in the rural environs of Punjab, this track deals with the darker side of feudalism. From the flashbacks there is a sense of things having gone terribly wrong, ending in the tragic death of his young daughter Ameena, apparently on the powerful zamindarni’s behest. What ensued next is yet to come, but whatever happened was enough to land him in jail. While Naimat Khan’s connection to Daniyal is not yet clear there is enough indication that Naimat Khan knows a thing or two about Daniyal’s past, secrets that the younger man might not be able to deal with as casually as he does with pretty much everything else in life.
Like its name, this serial promises to go well beyond the obvious. One one level Laa is Daniyal and Naina’s story, their relationship and the hurdles they will face before they can finally be together. A second look, however, reveals their love story to be little more than a well-told allegory for the real love story – the one between man and his Maker, and the hurdles that need to be overcome before the ultimate union takes place. As the buzurg at the dargah tells Daniyal, we take what we see with our two eyes as the truth, but the Truth is only visible through a veiled third eye. Not really understanding the import and implications of what they are being told, Daniyal and Naina smile an unknowing smile as they ask for a particular taweez, engraved with just the one word – Laa.
Sehbai sahab is a fabulous story teller, no two ways about it. The different tracks are woven in beautifully, and there is not only depth and meaning but the story has soul as well, something very rare these days. I have been very critical of MD Productions and their less than stellar offerings in the recent past, but for this one they deserve a huge round of applause. Just one episode in and I know I’m in for the ride. That said, stories alone do not a drama make, and this is where the director and his vision play a huge role in translating the story on to the screen. Last week I loved the presentation of Ahista Ahista but lamented the lack of an engaging story and here the reverse is true. A fabulous story is being let down by mediocre editing and inconsistent direction.
The episode started off impressively and the various tracks were beautifully intertwined. The sepia tones of the past helped set it apart from the near past and the present. I loved the locations. The sights of Lahore, ambiance of Mian Mir’s shrine, architectural splendor of Hiran Minar, and lush greenery of rural Punjab, all were beautifully captured; excellent job by the DOP Nadeem Kashmiri. The slice of life scenes at the haveli were gorgeous and Mikaal’s chase scene was nicely choreographed and shot. This attention to detailing reminded me so much of Farooq Rind’s work in Sanjha. That said, I have to mark my disappointment at the jumpy editing which led to disjointed scenes. I wonder if MD hired new editors, because this did not seem like Kashif or Tanvir’s work, the men behind Humsafar and Shehr-e Zaat among others.
Aside from editing, this episode had its fair share of scenes that did not work. Why was Mikaal running like a looney at shikaar, as if his life depended on it? Even if I take that as dramatic license, all said and done it did have me curious, the lion joke was very juvenile. Moving on, Daniyal and Naina’s meeting fell completely flat. It was supposed to be funny but I could only shake my head at Naina’s childish idiocy. The prospective groom, his questionnaire, and his OTT reaction to her sheesha smoking was out of sync with the overall feel of the episode. I liked Daniyal and his equation with his friends, but the larki patao bit was way off. At the shrine, in what was a very important scene, the piped music and the lip syncing fakirs in their brand new chogas failed to create the required impact. The buzurg too was unconvincing in his patently fake wig and beard and spotless shalwar kameez. While there is not much that can be done in terms of get ups, but I do wish that somebody at MD would take a second look at the editing to ensure smoother transitions.
In terms of acting, Simi Raheal was the pick of the actors for me. She was just fabulous in that one scene in the living room. No words, just her eyes conveying so much. Apart from the fact that he looked much older than his co-actors Mikaal was good as Daniyal. On costars, I liked the three newcomers (?), enjoyed their camaraderie, and appreciated that we saw a girl in the mix. Sadia Khan is pretty but her acting skills are yet to impress. I hope she can grow into her character and do an iota of justice to Naina. Rehan Sheikh was very good, sadly his mustache not so much. Apart from this I am sure many among you recognized the famous red haveli from Ullu Baraye Farokht Nahin and Numm. Similarly Daniyal’s house’s exterior too has been used quite a few times recently. As for the interior, the less said the better, just be sure that I am never getting my house done by that interior designer.
Overall this was a great start and I am in it for the long haul. I just hope the directing, editing and acting will be on par with Sarmad Sahab’s patented brand of layered story-telling. Fingers crossed!
Written by SZ~