Ever since the begining I have been raving about the fabulousness that is Pehchan. For the past thirteen weeks, episode after episode, we have been compelled to face up to our hypocrisies, our double standards, our lies, our half-truths – yes I say and mean ours, as in main, as in aap sab, as in hum, as in hum loag, as in hum khud. Pehchan is not a story of a society and its evils – no, this one is about us and ours. This is about pehchan-ing that society is nothing more than a name for a whole bunch of us living together as a social group, leading our lives according to prescriptive norms arrived at by common consensus. Social evils that exist do so only because we make allowances for them. We are all equally complicit in preserving and perpetuating outdated ideas and ideals and responsible for the regression we see around us. In other words, we are perpetrating hurt even as we see ourselves as being victimized. Zaalim aur mazloom, accha aur bura, kamzor aur mazboot, naik aur bad-chalan, yeh sab ek hi tasveer ke do rukh hain, sirf dekhney aur samjhney ka nazariya alag hai. In and of themselves these words don’t have much import, it is we, as a society, who imbue them with meaning. Ongoing accommodations for difference and negotiations over gender roles are simplified to the point of irrelevance and translated into absolute terms that render nuance ineffective.
Pehchan is not about what “they” say and think, “they” as in duniya waley, those unknown, nameless entities who rejoice in stalking and talking about you and me. No, Pehchan is about recognizing ourselves in these duniya walas. One supposed digression from the prescribed straight and narrow and we fear Laila is turning into a Kuku, or that this is her way of publicly shaming and humiliating Mansoor for his infidelity. That conversation between Kuku and Mrs. Khan was sheer brilliance in terms of writing. Mrs. Khan is no other than a stand-in for us/duniya waley – hiding behind the rhetoric of loag kya kahenge while actually expressing her own disappointment in Laila’s behavior – and Kuku represents the writer asking the hard questions: Agar mard aur aurat ki izzat ek hoti hai tau phir Mansoor ke kuch bhi karne se Laila ki izzat kyon nahin khak mein milti? Why is honor deemed to be solely a male preserve? Why is it a given that safeguarding izzat is only Laila’s burden to bear? Mansoor se bhi koi hisab leney wala hai ya nahin?
This serial is magnificent in how it flies in the face of stereotypical homogeneous societal constructions of femininity and returns individuality and agency to the woman. Once the pat and easy interpretations are set aside there emerges a whole other narrative, one that explores the possibilities of creating imaginative spaces within which power relations can be re-organised. In going away with Sa’di Laila plays out society’s worst fears: give the aurat too much dheel and she will forget herself and her station in life. Aurat jab khud mukhtar ho jati hai tau control se nikal jaati hai. Ammi ji’s exhortations are an unwelcome reminder of what duniya walas are apt to say: What kind of a shohar is Mansoor, kaisa mard hai yeh … he cannot even control his own wife?
In a social setup where a man’s izzat is predicated on his control over the woman’s body, or to put it bluntly over her sexuality, Laila’s departure has undermined Mansoor’s manhood, dealing a severe blow to his mardana ego. His mother’s ire is, therefore, not only directed at Laila but also reflects her disappointment in her own son. Had he but realized the grave error he was committing, throwing his fling with Kuku in Laila’s face, he would have thought twice about doing so. But is he really to blame for his stupidity? Mansoor wasn’t doing anything new, he was merely following in his male predecessors’ footsteps. Rather than questioning his judgement, shouldn’t we be looking at ourselves? Haven’t we as women, insecure in ourselves, allowed men to walk all over us? Fearful of hearing the dreaded “T” word, talaaq, or the other favorite threat, agar tum aaj ghar se nikli tau dobara waapis nahin aaogi, how often have women kept their mouths shut and put up with their spouses’ repeated transgressions? Doesn’t a biwi’s izzat count for anything?
For her part, to me, Laila’s going away is not as much her going away “with” Sa’di as it is about her needing me-time, time to think through her options. Walking away from a marriage is not easy and neither is having a fling. Many are the confusions running through Laila’s head as she weighs her various options. Bucking centuries worth of social conditioning is not a simple thing and neither is it easy for Laila to take on the responsibility for her life. Throughout their lives, Laila and scores of other girls like her, have had their choices made for them: first the elders in the family chalk out a girl’s path and after marriage her husband assumes the role of her guardian. How then is a woman like Laila expected to arrive at her decisions so easily? Her inner struggles, her indecision and hesitancy are beautifully juxtaposed against the breezy manner with which she informs Mrs. Khan and the steel she displays when talking to Mansoor. How seldom is it that we see a woman’s story unfold through a woman’s eyes – told from the margins, her story brings to light a whole other perspective, one that is decidedly different from that which is seen through the lens of patriarchy and the omnipotent duniya.
Week after week I am left marveling at Bee Gul’s keen insight and her ability to tell a very complex story in such an accessible manner. I fell in love with her writing in Talkhiyan and this one seals the deal for me. Not to be left behind, Khalid Sahab’s direction more than holds it own as he keeps the onscreen narrative as simple as possible, allowing for the said and unsaid words to make themselves heard and felt. Iffat Omar, Sohail Sameer, Alishba Yousuf, Anita Camphor, Parveen Malik all are doing more than enough justice to their beautifully etched out characters. Though Faris Khalid is yet to grow on me, his Sa’di has introduced a whole other layer of meaning to an already compelling story. So yes, another pitch perfect episode from Team Pehchan – ab tau lafz bhi khatam ho gaye hain tareef karney ke liye … will a standing ovation do?
Written by SZ~
Pehchan ~ Episode 14 (For alternate links click here)