Thaa jis ka intezar ….
Yes! Jackson Heights was the one serial that everyone and their uncle, and aunt for that matter, were eagerly looking forward to …. after all it is not everyday that you get actors the caliber of Marina Khan (don’t think anybody can ever replace her as my most beloved celeb – sorry, Fawad Khan and Adeel Husain, hot n happening as you guys are, sorry! Aap loag are nowhere near the spot she occupies in my heart – she’s just that special!), Nauman Ijaz, Adnan Jaffar, Aamina Sheikh, and Ali Kazmi, all together in one serial. Top off this casting coup with Mehreen Jabbar as a director, Vasay Chaudhry as the writer and Nausheen Dadabhoy as the DOP and you know you are in drama heaven. Magar yeh sab tau thi airing se pehley ki excitement … did the first episode live up to the hype? Read on…
The first installment opened with stunning visuals of New York’s skyline, smoothly zooming into a busy street corner in one of the most ethically diverse and heavily populated neighborhoods in the city – Jackson Heights. Vasay Chaudhry’s somber opening monologue set the tone and mood for this episode in particular and the serial in general.
Jackson Heights is a story of those who leave their homes, some with stars in their eyes and others because they have no choice, to come to what is seen as the land of milk and honey, a place where streets are paved with gold, and rose-colored dreams are transformed into glitzy reality in the snap of a finger. The reality, unfortunately, is quite the obverse, as can be heard in the world-worn weary voice of Imran Bhatti, a taxi-driver who left his hometown fifteen years ago. For his relatives back home, with the sole exception of his mother, he is little more than a money minting machine. His nephew Jamshed aspires to follow in his uncle’s footsteps, nothing that anybody says is going to sway his mind – not his lady love, nor the promise of a sifarishi government ki naukri – he is that determined.
Imran Bhatti, the over friendly and annoyingly chatty cabbie, serves as the linchpin that connects the various characters and holds the story together. He is Jamshed’s uncle, and try as he might he cannot dissuade his nephew from his blinkers on mujhe Amreeka jaana hi hai attitude. In the US, given his seniority, in terms of age as well as the number of years he’s lived in Jackson Heights, Imran is popular among the younger blue collar desi immigrants, and is well acquainted with Michele the owner of a popular Pakistani hangout Jackson Diner. From his various interactions it was easy to see that he is the one who keeps his family going back in Pakistan, and here he is the to whom the younger guys look up to in terms of having their back. Be it lending extra money when they conveniently run short of cash, or running interference with Michele, when the younger guys are unable to clear their dues at her diner, he is har dam haazir.
Its not just the guys he looks after, its the desi gals too, whether they ask for his help or not. The hardworking beauty parlor worker Salma is a reluctant beneficiary of his patently heavy handed tum-ek-na samajh- kamzor-aurat-ho aur-main-zabardasti-tumhari-hifazat-karoonga attitude. Have to say I totally got Salma’s aggravation at that point. Who the heck appointed this guy her savior? But then the way she is compelled to swallow her pride and accept this guy’s help was beautifully handled. Kudos to Vasay, Mehreen, Nauman and Aamina for getting that paternalistic desi mard vibe and Salma’s annoyance and fear just right.
Along with being a story of blue collar immigrants, Jackson Heights is also a story of the very suave and charming banker Rizwan. An Indian Muslim from Bombay, he is very interested in changing his friends-only status with Michele to something more serious and permanent. The lady in question, on the other hand is still dealing with the baggage of her past and her troubled relationship with Pakistan. Their relationship, therefore, is a no-go at the moment and we see them as good friends, who enjoy each other’s company. Their easy banter and genuine camaraderie, along with the earlier beautifully done romantic sequence in Pakistan were beautifully woven into the narrative, nicely breaking up an otherwise serious episode.
Overall I enjoyed this more realistic take on diasaporic life and issues – thank you for sparing us the lakefront mansions and the high flying lifestyle. In many ways Jamshed, and his naïve desire to go to the US where money was literally growing on trees, reminded me of our beloved Mujtaba, the protagonist in Six Sigma’s own Kuch Pyar Ka Pagalpan. In an otherwise well written scipt I found Imran bhai’s back story too trite and cliched (by the way how many caught on to Nauman Ijaz’s blooper?). Let’s hope we don’t have to deal too much with his typical roti amma and lalchi bhabhi aur bhai. Also, fantastic as Nauman is, and crucial as Imran is to the story line, I felt there was way too much screen time devoted to hamarey aapke saarey jag ke bhai, Imran bhai. I would’ve liked to have seen a bit more of Michele, Rizwan, Jamshed, and Salma’s tracks. Hopefully as the story spreads out we will see other characters come into their own as well.
In times of setting, basing the story in Jackson Heights is a great idea – a huge round of applause for Shehrazade Sheikh! This racially and economically diverse neighborhood lends itself naturally to telling this kind of a multi-track story. Though a more serious story than we have seen before from Vasay’s pen, I enjoyed this change of pace from him. I liked the deft interspersing of light and dark moments and appreciated the clean crisp dialogues. Like we saw in Mata-e Jaan, here too Mehreen has a firm hold on the onscreen narrative and the transitions between Pakistan and US seemed effortless. While MJ’s brand of story telling was evident from the get go – nothing over the top, everything as natural as can be – the one thing that truly stood out was the background sound. I loved the way various kinds of music was skilfully employed to create the right ambiance for every scene. I honestly wish that this episode could be shown to sound editors at Geo, Express, Hum, Ary… this is how you do sound right!
I had loved Nausheen Dadabhoy’s camerawork in Josh, and here too the lighting and frames were beautifully done – loved the rooftop romantic scene. In terms of acting, this was Nauman Ijaz’s episode. Marina Khan and Adnan Jaffar were fabulous. Aamina Sheikh shone as the over-worked Salma. I am looking forward to getting better acquainted with this Haseena beauty parlor employee as the story unfolds. Aamina’s de-glammed look had me thinking if only some of our newer actresses could take a page or two out of her playbook and go easy with their OTT makeup and hair. Adeel Husain left me wanting to see more of his Jamshed. Ali Kazmi is yet to make an appearance. Meher Jaffri was pleasant in her brief cameo and Naghma ji was a lovely surprise.
All in all the serial has started off on a strong note. Given our bad drama experiences in recent months I don’t want to jinx anything, but let me just say that I am eagerly looking forward to the next episode. What about you all? Kaisi lagi pehli qist?
Written by SZ~
Jackson Heights ~ OST