Sans ear busting background music, holier than thou dolled up heroines, Fair ‘n Lovely ke chaltey phirtey ishtihaar type heroes, scary close ups, hand wringing and ab mera kiya hoga qism ki baatein, a conniving back-stabbing relative (preferably female), a handful of shuk, a rape or two, some main tumhare bina mar jaaunga type lines, a lecture ‘n a half about everything and nothing … Point being that ‘aam serials jaisa kuch bhi nahin hai yahan. Despite these “shortcomings,” however, Jackson Heights continues to be one my favorite serials this quarter. Ab yeh alag baat hai ke somehow somewhere something comes up and I have been unable to share my take weekly… but that is more due to my crazy schedule and should not be taken as a reflection on how much I enjoy and how highly I rate this very understated, well-written, well directed, well acted and aesthetically sound serial.
Where other serials claim to be reality based, although the question of whose reality is one jis ka jawaab tau sirf producers aur channels hi bata saktey hain, Jackson Heights actually shows life such as it is for a large majority of our desis abroad. Michele lives in an apartment not a mansion even though she owns a restaurant, despite his marriage to an American citizen Imran Bhatti’s immigration status is in a state of limbo, Jamshed continues to struggle financially, working a nickel-and-dime job at Michele’s restaurant, being a good catch (eligible bachelor in desi terms) does not automatically qualify Rizwan as Michele’s number one pick for hubby no. 2, well-meaning advice from caring friends is not enough to make Salma walk away from an abusive relationship, a plea here ‘n a breakfast in bed there does not make Sikander a magically reformed husband – NO.
Like all of us, here too the residents of Jackson Heights deal with life one day at a time, and this is what makes this serial immensely watchable and relatable for me. There is no magic pill that can cure Sikander of his abusive tendencies, and dil tau akhir dil hai… ab Michele ka dil Jamshed pe aa gaya tau what can Rizwan do? Thankfully I am not a Salma, have not walked in Michele’s shoes, never had immigration issues like Bhatti, and not slammed the door shut behind me like Jamshed, when he entered the U.S. with stars in his eyes. That said I have heard all these stories. The characters I see on screen are very much alive, apni complexities and contradictions samait.
Salma, Bhatti sahab, Michelle, Rizwan, Jamshed, all are flawed in their own ways, some more so than the others; tayee ji and her boy gang, Sikander and Kash, for instance. Even with the negative characters, however, casting is such that like in real life these “villains” do not walk around with neon signs pasted on their forehead. Neither tayee ji nor her son look like our typical baddies – foul-mouthed co-conspirators ganging up cruelly to heap verbal and physical on their hapless victim. On the surface tayee ji is ever so polite and cultured, never raising her voice, but what good are softly spoken words when they cut through like a knife. Neelofer Abbasi is fantastic as the cruel mother-in-law. Similarly Sikander. Ali Kazmi plays him with such charm and likability that like Salma I too find myself rooting, hoping against hope, for him to sudhro-fy. Even though it was obvious he was up to no good, what with the whole paon pakarna, rona and cleaning the bathroom routine (he was this close to getting my vote there!), but still…
Sikander is a pukka poster boy for an abusive spouse: pal main tola pal mein masha, manipulative, contradictory behavior, explaining away violence a an expression of love, distorting the truth, refusal to acknowledge abusive behavior, minimizing or shifting blame, not acknowledging the seriousness of actions, etc. After being very disillusioned by how crassly similarly sensitive issues have been recently handled on TV, I am glad to see Vasay and Mehreen’s mature handling of Sikander and Salma’s relationship. In many ways Aliya represents us, the viewing audience, well-meaning, concerned, rooting for her friend, willing her to leave Sikander, and not quite getting why this otherwise sensible woman doesn’t just walk away from this mess. Salma for her part is a perfect representation of what an abused wife looks, sounds and thinks like. I hope her situation serves as a much needed eye opener for our masses who are yet to be fully educated about the battered woman syndrome.
Aamina Sheikh plays Salma every so sensitively, truly understanding the various layers of this woman’s personality. Her involuntary flinching ever time Sikander comes near her, her confusion as her heart fights with her mind to give her abusive hubby yet another chance, defending him to her friend, trying to help mend fences between the father and daughter…. all nuances beautifully essayed. Salma is a woman of very few words, but what little she does say she means it. Be it doing her best to placate Sikander, help Iman complete her dance session, or trying to manao Bhatti sahab, this woman is somebody who seems to live her life for others. Not once have we heard her utter a word of complaint to anybody about anything. But then again there is has to be a limit to the amount of abuse a person can handle; at some point or other there is bound to be a complete breakdown. For Salma’s sake I hope there will be a much-needed professional intervention before she reaches the point of no return.
On interventions, Jamshed seems to have made quite a few inroads into Michele’s otherwise very closely guarded personal life. Going where no man has gone before, Jamshed has actually managed to intrigue and charm his boss-lady. I don’t now know about you all but I am simply loving Marina Khan and Adeel Husain here, they are fabulous together! In addition to going awww and wah wah over her kismat, two hot guys vying for her attention (yes, I’m happily superficial when it comes to such matters), I am particularly appreciating how well the director and her actors have etched out Michele’s two very different equations with the two guys. She is very comfortable with Rizwan, he is her equal in more ways than one but theirs is a relationship where she has the upper hand. Jamshed on the other hand is nothing like the older man, he’s her subordinate in more than one way, yet we see Michele flustered around him, finding herself occasionally lost for words and gradually opening up under the heat of his scrutiny. Marina Khan, Adnan Jaffer, Adeel are all fabulous here. From his attitude it is easy to discern that Jamshed has his own reasons for wooing Michele, but for the sake of my romance loving heart I hope he will re-think his master plan, of doing pukka kaam. Oh, and Jamshed sahab, you need a haircut- zara ASAP!
As for doing things as soon as possible, Uff! Can Bhatti sahab just get over himself? Ji, ji hain ji I get that bechara ek akela has a whole khandaan he is supporting back home and ab nephew is here, he has an unfeeling mean wife, aur tau aur even the otherwise seedhi saadhi Salma stood up the birthday “boy” (hello?! earth to Bhatti sahab!), magar seriously if Bhatti sahab were to take off his self-pity wala chashma he would see things for what they actually are …
If his brother’s family is bleeding him dry then it is to a large extent apne bhai jan’s fault as well. It is he who has been the enabler here, encouraging the leechers ki toli by all his bharam rakhne wali bari bari baatein. Why can’t he just come clean about his financial status and his immigration status? He was even lying to Jamshed even though he was right there seeing the truth for himself. Yes, he felt sad because Kathy forgot his birthday, but then he ain’t such a beeba baccha either … the way he lied about working when he was meeting Salma, his curt refusal of Kathy’s invitation to join her for a weekend away, all tell a very different story from the one he’s been telling himself. His outburst at Salma without giving her a chance to explain herself was the last straw as far as I’m concerned. Nope, can’t bat on your team anymore, Bhatti sahab. Taali do haathon se bajti hai ek se nahin!
It’s a good thing Nauman Ijaz is playing the kuttey ki dum ki tarah seedhay Bhatti bhai. Can’t think of any other actor playing this all too familiar desi guy with so much color and flamboyance. Love how naturally Vasay’s one-liners roll off his tongue and how even the most cliched of scenarios take on a life all their own with this guy. Again, kudos to Vasay, Mehreen and Nauman for keeping Imran so realistically annoying.
Suffice it to say that I am very much on board with Jackson Heights. What with all the OTT-ness that has seeped into into our dramas these days, I am truly appreciating MJ’s tell-it-like-it-is brand of storytelling. Among the actors I have my favorites but itne saarey faves ke beech main se fave-tareen choose karna would be patently unfair. Vasay’s script is well written and his one liners are hilarious. I like the depth of characters and appreciate how the various tracks have been woven together, making meetings and interactions seem very natural. Yes, the pace was an issue earlier, but I am enjoying the way the story is coming along. So much happening, but ever so subtly – silently widening ripples of skilfully interlaced events rather than the din of loudly crashing waves. Yes, Jackson Heights is an MJ project and it shows. And, ab tau zarda bhi pak gaya… mazedar khana, solid story, fab acting, and excellent direction … now if only Michele would make up her mind in a hurry and send the other contender my way I would be a very happy camper – intezaar-ing!
Jaatey jaatey … Urdu 1: Could you please please upload HQ/HD videos on your website??
Written by SZ~