Since the past few months I have been working closely with a group that counsels and helps rehabilitate survivors of domestic violence. Over the years, like many of you I too had read and watched a ton of stuff dealing with physical and emotional abuse, and like many I too thought myself pretty well-versed about this problem. Its only when I started working one on one with those directly affected that I realized how hopelessly naive I had been. All that earlier reading and watching did not even come close to scratching the surface of all that I was hearing now. My initial reaction to these stories was one of bewilderment. Many of these survivors (I choose not to use the word victims in this context) were educated, some highly educated infact, many had the financial means and several had a strong support system around them, why then did they put with all the abuse? Why not just walk away?
It is far easier to talk the talk, I realized later, than to walk the walk. It took committed un-learning and re-learning on my part to understand what the battered person syndrome truly meant. Even after all the training I can’t claim to fully understand the horrific implications of domestic abuse, but at least now I can say I don’t know enough. That in and of itself is a hugely humbling admission in this day and age where we think we know it all because of the amount of information out there. But, as I am learning, mere information can never be equated with experiential knowledge.
Having worked closely on several such cases, I salute all those who find the courage to seek help and break the cycle of abuse. For every person who walks away, however, there are innumerable others who continue to suffer in silence. So adept are they at hiding their dirty secret, not only from others but even from themselves, that their family and close friends remain unaware of the dire extent of their domestic situation. All this to say, kudos to Vasay Chaudhry, Mehreen Jabbar, Aamina Sheikh and Ali Kazmi for having done their homework and keeping it real. Salma and Iman’s situation in Jackson Heights is one of the best characterizations of domestic abuse I have seen on our TV in recent times. I had earlier appreciated MJ’s intelligent handling of Yamina’s track in Mata-e Jaan, but this detailed, to say nothing of sensitive, study is definitely applause worthy.
Salma’s involuntary flinch, as Sikander reaches for a towel from the closet behind her, was only one of the many great scenes in this latest episode. Along with Salma’s detailed character sketch it is great to see how perfectly Iman too has been included in this up close study. Like battered spouses, their children too are particularly adept at learning the unwritten rules of abusive households. Silence is golden; if they pretend hard enough the problem will disappear. This is exactly what we see Iman doing. There are no questions asked of her mother and Salma for her part does not offer any explanations. It is business as usual in their family – just another typical day. The only thing out of the ordinary: daddy’s brought candy. No need to spell out what’s going on here.
Aamina Sheikh is fabulous and she proves that again here. The big surprise, and a happy one at that, has been Ali Kazmi. it is truly inspired casting to have him play Sikander. I remember him from Vani, Phir Youn Love Hua and then in Kaisa Yeh Junoon, and wasn’t expecting such a mature performance from him. We are so used to seeing our drama baddies as big evil looking guys, that one is almost taken aback by this boyishly charming, good looking guy’s cruel, mean streak. But then again real life baddies don’t really walk around with blinking neon signs on their head, do they?
Neon signs ka zikr ho aur bhai jaan Bhatti ka na ho aisey kaise ho sakta hai? Agar ab bhi cake na aata tau Imran sahab would’ve definitely pasted a main bechara sign on his forehead. So, so glad the poor guy got his cake. Shabash Salma! Took three episodes but finally we are done with the bwayz budday. Now can he build a bridge and get over it? Kya bhai, in ke tau dukh hi khatam nahin hotay … haye becharey!
Waisey, seriously speaking, Bhatti is such a perfect counterpart to tayee ji, both so full of their dukhi dastaans. He complains 24/7 about Kathy and her kids and how badly they treat him, and apni tayee ji complains day in and day out about Salma and Iman’s taur tariqey. How easily they both forget their own hypocrisies and shortcomings. Were Kathy to go out and hang with a guy like Imran does with Salma, I’m sure we would’ve gotten an earful about gori biwiyan aur un ki harkatein. Similarly when tayee ji rants about her bahu she conveniently forgets about her naukri-less, indebted to bookies, bekaar beta and all the bills that her be-zubaan bahu pays, to say nothing of raising another woman’s child as her own. Magar nahin aaina kaun dekhey … so much easier to play the mazloomiyat card.
Neelofar Abbasi is a senior artist who makes quite the impact even with a relatively small role. The way tayee ji suggests Sikander ask for Salma’s jewelry was beautifully done. I love Neelofar’s equation with Ali. As for her male counterpart, bhai wah! Hats off to Nauman Ijaz for his absolutely brilliant portrayal of the extremely annoying but immensely likeable Bhatti bhai. I don’t think any other actor could’ve done better justice to this very complex character. Again, kudos to Vasay and Mehreen for allowing Bhatti the space to grow, come into his own, and then keeping him reigned in just so.
And jahan mamu sair tau bhanja sawa sair. Jamshed, you’d better not be messing with my girl Michele! She deserves nothing but the best, and something tells me that you ain’t it. Sigh! Now if only you weren’t so hot I would find it easier to hate you! Kidding aside, again excellent casting here. Like all the men in this serial, Jamshed too comes across as ever so sincere; his educated background, polished charm, dry humor, all paint a picture of someone you wouldn’t really see as being so callous and cruel as to play with an innocent woman’s heart, but then again con men too come in all shapes and sizes.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, and allow me take a moment to say how much I am enjoying this unlikely pairing. Marina Khan is playing Michele ever so well. Love her hesitancy, her being flustered every time Jamshed calls her out, her blushes at his ceaseless flirting – fab stuff! Marina, can’t even begin to count the ways I love thee! And yeah Adeel, you ain’t so bad yourself either! That whole jalibee lana aur khana and park sequence was excellent!
Twelve weeks in, Jackson Heights has just crossed the halfway point and I have to say its been a great journey so far. Yes, scenes tend to last a few seconds more than they should and earlier there were issues with repetitions, but now that the characters have come into their own, I’m loving their contradictions and inconsistencies and enjoying the way this story is unfolding. In terms of writing I find this to be a very mature script from Vasay, and the best part is that along with the seriousness there is a consistent thread of humor running throughout. As for Mehreen, Jackson Heights is her serial and it shows. Ab please, Team Jackson Heights, beech rastey mein laa kar saath na chor dejiye ga .. here’s to hoping the next twelve weeks are equally absorbing and the end is worthy of the story.
Oh, wait, one last thing…. whatever happened to the slap we saw poor Jamshed getting? I kept waiting for it and then watched again, twice, to see whether I had missed it! #NotHappy!!
Written by SZ~
For all MJ fans check out her recent interview with Radio Azad. Hear what she has to say about her career so far, future plans, and Jackson Heights! Her interview starts about 23/24 minutes in.