As a social group we desis take great pride in our close knit relationships. Our connections stretch across generations making for an incredibly interwoven and complicated tapestry. Insignificant though each one of us might seem in the context of the larger picture, note the intricate detailing and the variety of shades and patterns. One close look and the significance of every individual contribution becomes apparent.
Each of the telefilms discussed below represent a pattern block in this social tapestry of ours. Befittingly so, since we are celebrating the International Women’s Day today, these four stories revolve around women, and the issues and challenges they face as females living in a male dominated society. Be it a Kiran or an Abeera or a Firdous or a Talat, each woman is an individual with her own unique story to tell. These stories are not easy watches, in fact all require you to think and then think again.
Given the significance of this day, here’s one question we need to ask ourselves: If we are indeed living in the 21st century why then do our issues continue to sound like they belong in the 19th century?
Watching sugar-coated frothy love stories is entertaining and fun, but once in a while we need to pause and ponder: Kahan se chaley they hum aur kahan aa pohonche hain … Is this the kind of regressive society we want our daughters to grow up in?
Drama Fever/Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki
Written by Zafar Mairaj and directed by Adnan Wai Qureshi, this is the story of Kiran and her uxorious husband Amir, who lives to please his wife. For her part, Kiran is a housewife who lives and breathes filmi TV serials. Sona jagna, uthna baithna, her dressing, even her cooking, all are inspired by what she see watches on TV – obsession is too mild adescriptive for her addiction. Time and again Amir tries to reason with her, explain the difference between reality and fantasy, but madam tau bas … bibi kuch alag hi sample hain!
Kahani ghar ghar ki derives its title from one of the many serials that Kiran watches, but like the story, the title too lends itself to various readings. Ghar is not just the brick and mortar structure that Kiran and Amir call home, but it is also refers to that fantastical place that Kiran has created in her own head. Much as she lives in the present she spends far more time with her imaginary friends in her khayali ghar. When they’re together Amir might think he has wife’s undivided attention, but in her mind Kiran is character A who is romancing B in XYZ serial. To some extent there exists a Kiran within all of us, but when reel ghar aur ghar waley start taking precedence over real ghar aur ghar waley is where problems start.
Though she drives Amir nuts with her never-ending demands Kiran is not a mean or bad person. Far from it. She’s a genuinely sweet person- uska mala kuch aur hai. Her biggest dushman is her own mind, one which is looking to be challenged in ways other than cooking and cleaning. For many, her life might be an ideal one – pyar karney wala aur nakhrey uthaney wala shohar, no susral ka jhamela and no kids. For Kiran, however, this comfortable but ultimately meaningless life feels much like a gilded cage. With so much free time and no creative or emotionally satisfying outlet for her intelligence, her imagination acquires wings, soaring higher with each flight of fancy.
How many times have we seen people gossiping, interfering in others’ lives simply because they have way too much time on their hands. Read this way, this is indeed a kahani ghar ghar ki. Kiran is no different from those around her, sirf us ka khud ko behlaney ka tariqa alag hai. Though hers is an exaggerated example, it is a poignant commentary on our societal setup. Kiran lacks for nothing, we tell ourselves, what else could she want? Us ko shukar karna chahiye, woh kitni lucky hai, we pontificate and move on. Forgotten in this sweeping assessment are her individuality and her desperate need for intellectual engagement.
Amir is a good husband who pays the ultimate price in trying to satisfy his wife. But should Kiran be held responsible for this?
Yes, her demands lead to tragedy, but could all this have been avoided had someone heard her unvoiced cry for help? Would it have helped if Amir had taken his wife’s need for attention a little more seriously and tried to figure out the issues driving her ever increasing demands? Her friends and family laughed at her and chastised her but how many stopped to help her?
Simply put this telefilm is brilliant in getting the point across that as intellectual beings our needs are bit more complex than the simplistic roti kapra makan paradigm. Add to this the claustrophobia on account of being caged and deprived of fresh air and you have ghar ghar ki kahani.
Zafar Mairaj’s story is as complicated as it is simple, and here I applaud the director for stepping back and allowing the story to play itself out. Much like the script, the visual narrative is deceptively uncomplicated and remarkably unburdened by the much darker subtext.
Infact, don’t be mislead by my serious take – the telefilm is hilarious for the most part. That Sania Saeed plays Kiran to perfection makes Adnan’s task that much simpler. Yes, this one is Sania’s show all the way. Kiran’s fabulously OTT get ups, her mercurial mood swings and her dance (!) are not be missed. Sania’s meticulous reading and understanding of her character’s complex emotional graph make this one an absolute must-watch.
While Sania is undoubtedly the star of the show, it is Shahood Alvi’s understated but equally impressive reading of Amir’s graph that anchors the story; it is Amir’s gravitas that makes Kiran’s flights of fancy believable. You watch this telefilm and think back to Zafar Mairaj’s Ashk, check Shahood out in some more recent stuff, and you can’t help but feel for the immense talent being wasted in inane TRP targeted projects. Along similar lines, I had watched these telefilms and a few episodes from ‘Ain, that Adnan had directed earlier, and, therefore, had great hopes from his ongoing Zid… but alas!
What happens when a girl is raped by someone in her own family, woh jis se uska nikah jayiz nahin nahin….
Taking this loaded question as a starting point, writer Mohammed Ahmed, director Erum Shahid and producer Rubina Ashraf introduce us to Abeer and her family: an affectionate naani, a firm father, loving mother, an elder sister in a troubled marriage, a frustrated rebellious brother, and finally an uncle who seems lost in a world all his own.
On the surface they are about as normal, or as dysfunctional, as any other family. The dining table is where Munawar sahab, the firm disciplinarian, holds court: scolding his wayward son, snipping away at his wife, getting impatient with his older daughter’s inability to hold her marriage together, and expressing concern about his younger daughter’s wan appearance. Behzad, the insane uncle prefers to be left to his own devices, mumbling stuff that makes no sense to the sane people around him.
Incest is not a matter to be handled lightly hence the writer and director’s quietly underplayed approach to the story and their characters. Their sensitivity and refreshingly non-judgmental attitude to thus delicate matter holds them in great stead as they navigate the slippery slope of unsaid taboos, societal pressure, and familial honor – all very real issues that Abeer and her family members must negotiate before they arrive at any kind of a resolution.
I don’t want to give away spoilers but suffice it to say this is not a lighthearted watch. On the other hand, however, to give them credit, Mohammed Ahmed and Erum Shahid do not allow the narrative to get weighed down by melodrama and refuse to dwell upon the standard main lut gayi barbad ho gayi type scenario. At the end of the day this is a story as empowering as it is tragic. The ladies of the family start off fearing the personal and social cost that comes with acknowledging this ugly truth – someone in their family is a sexual predator- but as things unfold they strive to rise above the shame and guilt, and work proactively to deal as best as they can with this situation.
As the extent of the horror sinks in there is a discernible shift of focus; the omnipotent loag and duniya are replaced by a more pressing concern for Abeer’s health. There is a gradual realization about the need to seek professional help. More than anything else this telefilm highlights the need to speak up and break the culturally imposed code of silence. Yesterday it was Naureen today it it is Abeer; how many more had there been in between? As is beautifully underscored, khamoshi in such cases not only emboldens the perpetrator but puts innocents at risk as well.
The writing is brilliant in highlighting our societal predilection to judge on outward appearances; comparison between Munawar and Behzad underscores the arbitrariness of socially determined boundaries that separate the sane from the insane. Overall, if you walk away feeling heavy-hearted but more aware, saddened but more informed, then Khamoshi has achieved its intended goal: to open up a public conversation, shed light on what we as a society prefer to bury in the darkest recesses of our mind.
In terms of acting this is Mohammed Ahmed at his darkest best. Shakeel and Badar Khalil are veterans and their experience shows. Nyla Jaffri and Maira Khan are very impressive but it is the newcomer Maliha, as Abeer, who steals the show. Hassan Niazi makes for a believably troubled Anwar.
While trying to dig up more info about this telefilm I was surprised to hear it had been rejected by major channels and was eventually aired on the lesser known TV One where it came and went without attracting eyeballs. I get that incest is a very difficult subject, but sensitive and mature treatment makes all the difference. Compare Khamoshi with the ongoing Chup Raho and decide for yourself. If a Chup Raho can be aired weekly, at primetime for 6+ months on a mainstream channel, how many apple carts could’ve an hour long telefilm upset?
Firdous Ki Dozakh
This telefilm is brilliant. No questions. But I have another, more personal, reason for my attachment to this one. Firdous was my introduction to the fabulous duo of Bee Gul and Khalid Ahmad. Way before Pehchan, long before Talkhiyan, I chanced upon this telefilm purely by accident. I did not know Bee Gul then but had tremendous respect for Khalid sahab so thought to give it a dekho. Paanch minute aur bas … nahin acchi lagi tau band kar doongi, I remember telling myself.
Fifteen minutes in and I was head over heels in love. Then came Talkhiyan and the deal was sealed. Today, after Pehchan, I regard Bee Gul as one of our most gifted writers and Khalid sahab a visionary who breathes life into her words in a way no one else can. Simply put, they create magic together. Here, the visually stunning 3 minute opening scene and Bee Gul’s exquisitely penned monologue are a connoisseur’s delight.
Produced by Raziuddin Ahmad and Farooq Mengal, Firdous is the story of the unvoiced trauma and pent up fears of a young girl ordered to silence her screams and wipe away her tears. Young Amina’s rape was hushed up and never talked about again. Pretending it never happened was her family’s way of dealing with this horror. The victim’s emotional distress and the need to address it were not deemed as important as the fact that she was from a maulviyon ka khandan aur yeh unki izzat ka sawal tha. The iron will of the karta dhartas of our patriarchal society, where familial honor is defined through and vested in the female body, ensured that not even a murmur escaped young Amina’s lips. Preserving their khandan ki izzat was the paramount concern.
With passage of time that dark night became a distant hazy memory. But does time really heal all wounds, even those that hurt on the inside, the kind that keep you up at nights?
Amma ne awaaz tak nahin nikalne di, Amina recollected years later as she consoled her traumatized daughter. And it is from this point that this story really takes off. In what I have now come to recognize as vintage Bee Gul, we get an exquisite intertwining of three time zones, the distant past, near past and the present. Our narrator is the lovely, heart achingly young widow Firdous, and it is through her eyes that we see this very complex story unfold.
Inasmuch as this is Firdous’ story in so many ways it is Amina’s as well. Firdous’ life was dictated by the strict dont’s and very few do’s that her dour mother allowed. When something untoward did happen, Firdous’ mother seemed almost relieved. Finally! From her response it was as if she’d been waiting for something like this to happen and when it did, she felt not only vindicated but also validated.
That one night changed everything for Firdous. Her life, which had never really been hers to begin with, was now totally in her mother’s hands. It was as if from thereon forward she had to carry the burden of two lives – not only was she to pay for her own sins, but also had to atone for all that went wrong in her mother’s life. There were fleeting attempts at rebellion but those were vehemently quashed. Hell is not something to be experienced only after death, for Firdous, dozakh bar roo-e zameen ast … hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast.
Firdous ki Dozakh is a subtle yet scathing critique of our desi setup where a woman and her feelings are deemed worthless and easily sacrificed at the altar of familial honor. But it is not just that. Bee Gul’s brilliance lies in her underlining of how our woefully ossified patriarchal societal setup continues to perpetuate.
How does such a vicious social system, one that feeds off of its own, continue to not only survive but thrive?
Simply put, Bee Gul responds, it does so because it self-perpetuates. Like in Pehchan, here too we see the process by which yesterday’s victim turns into today’s victimizer. Amina had sacrificed so much in trying to protect the status quo that to turn against it now would have be akin to denying her own sense of self. To Amina’s mind, therefore, it made perfect sense for her to turn away the rishtas of less than izzatdar gharanas and marry off Firdous to an aged maulvi, after all khandan ki izzat ka sawal tha. Then it had been her abba and amma now it was Amina, talking about maintaining the all important izzat ka parda. From one generation to another the mantle had been passed. Long live patriarchy and long live the men AND women who reinforce it.
Amina is by no means an easy character, she is mazloom in one instant but unquestionably zalim in the next, at one point you empathize with her, but in the very next scene you hate her, spanning as she does more than 50 shades of grey. It is to Nimra Bucha’s credit for making it all look so effortless; she effectively carries the telefilm on her shoulders and essays the complicated Amina so very beautifully. Khalid Ahmad is great as her husband. The big surprise here is Sana Askari, who is remarkably effective as Firdous. I so wish this talented actress was not so underutilized, type cast as she is as the manipulative nand, behen, bhabhi, or seen in one crazy jadoo tona type serial after another.
Coming from someone who has written one brilliant script after another, where every gesture has meaning and every scene has a reason, I’m at a loss to understand this mishmash called Zid. Yes, it bears traces of Bee Gul’s patented writing style and I see the DNA of her thought process, but that’s about all. Muddled, confused storytelling, randomly thrown in dialogues, disjointed scenes, this is clearly not the work of the writer I fell in love with.
Tum Mujh Mein Zinda Ho
Tumhari qabr par jis ne tumhara naam likha hai
Woh jhoota hai
Tumhari qabr mein main dafn hoon
Tum mujh mein zinda ho
Kabhi fursat miley tau fateha parhney chaley aana
This one is written by Sameena Nazir, directed by Naeem Khan and produced by Sameena Nazir and Tariq Siddiqui. Tum Mujh Mein Zinda Ho is one of those telefilms where writing, direction, acting, set design, sound design, cinematography, everything is pretty much spot on.
Like Bee Gul, Sameena too tackles the question of a woman’s place in a patriarchal society. Her protagonist Talat is the firstborn daughter of a father who had expected and wanted a son, one to whom he could pass on his khandani knowledge of hikmat, one who would be his shoulder to lean on, and one who would take care of the family after he was gone.
Her father, Saifuddin, the scion of an ooncha gharana, a noted hakim, a nafees man who loved poetry, was someone with way too much rakh rakhao to demean himself by publicly expressing his disappointment and dashed expectations. It was a mere mention here, a fleeting aside there, that occasionally gave voice to his innermost feelings. More obvious, though, was his firm determination that Talat not be frivolous with her time. After all she was the eldest… beta na sahi magar thi tau bari. His attitude towards his younger daughter is remarkably different.
Because she was a girl born at the wrong time meant that she started life on the wrong foot. No matter what she accomplished, a double MA and B.Ed, nor her sacrifices, giving up her love for poetry and literature to become a stern teacher, nothing could ever compensate for the fact that she was not Saifuddin’s son.
Talat was the name chosen for the son Saifuddin had been expecting. Ab jab yeh larki paida ho gayi tau ek aur naam bhala kaun sochey … hence the daughter was given the son’s name. That she spent an entire lifetime living up to the weight of expectations attached to the name was never realized let alone be acknowledged. The brutal quashing of her love for poetry, frequent reminders that frivolities like shaadi and ghar basana were not for her, constant meen meekh in every rishta that came for her – years later these are her only recollections of her father.
Yousuf’s entrance in her life is akin to that of a stone thrown in still waters. He reminds Talat of feelings she’d buried deep within herself, hidden them away because to remember them hurt too much. She finds herself softening, melting, wanting to feel the warmth of being loved for herself, but then … abba aur un ki woh saari baatein.
So what is it that stops Talat from responding to Yousuf’s knocks on her gate? What makes her reconsider her decision at the very last minute? Abba tau guzar gaye they phir Talat kyon ruk gayi, ab tau koi rokne wala nahin tha?
Like Firdous, Tum Mujh Mein Zinda Ho is also an exquisitely presented scathing critique of our patriarchal social set up, where a woman’s position continues to be secondary to that of a man. Talat is very much a victim of this kind of a mindset, where her own desires and ambitions are deemed secondary to those of her father’s. It’s not her fault she was born a girl, yet she spends a lifetime atoning for a sin she never committed in the first place.
It is no surprise then that she resents the system which is so unfair and unjust, as reflected in her curt and terse interactions with everybody around her. It is as if the teachers in her school, the kachrey wala, all are stand-ins for those towards whom she feels the most anger. But then watch her carefully – is this really the same Talat who used to memorize poetry written by Pakistani poets? Who is this woman who feels only Indian poets are worth praising?
Tum Mujh Mein underscores the pain and suffering which the system inflicts on one of its own. Talat was/is a product of our desi setup; throughout her life she did everything right, nary a misstep, but try as she might she could never run away from the accident of her birth. But then in a stunningly executed final scene we see that she who had hated the system, and all that it represented, had now turned into one of those because of whom the system continues to exist.
Like Amina in Firdous, somewhere along the line, unbeknownst to herself, Talat too had crossed over and gone from being the victim to the victimizer. The major difference being that rather than victimizing somebody else, in a very sad twist of fate Talat becomes both the victim and victimizer. Her wish for freedom is palpable, but fiercer is the by now internalized impulse to maintain order and status quo no matter what the cost. Gut wrenching as it is to see the battle being waged within Talat, it serves as an important reminder that even though we live in the 21st century our struggles are against a societal mindset that is rooted in the 19th century. Abba mar kar bhi jeet gaye aur Talat zinda hotay huye bhi haar gayi.
This one is a must-watch not just for the brilliant story telling and the fact that it is an aural and visual delight, but also for Nimra Bucha’s stellar take on Talat. Watch Talat and compare her to Amina, and then wonder why we don’t see enough of this superb actress. Khalid Ahmad is another actor who remains woefully underutilized, he is outstanding as Saifuddin. Also fabulous are his narrations of Gulzar’s Makan ki upri manzil par and Nida Fazli’s Tumhari qabr par. Making their presence felt among these two powerful actors is Adnan Jaffar, who is very good as Yousuf, and Suhaee Abro makes an impression as the young Talat. Waisey tau each scene is beautifully executed, but the final scene is just magnificent.
After having seen this one, Tamasha Meray Agay and a couple of other telefilms written by Sameena Nazir, I was sorely disappointed with her recent Darbadar Tere Liye. Much like is the case with Zid, Darbadar too bears no resemblance whatsoever to the stellar writing we see on display here. And once again, the same questions: Why? Why? Why mess with these fabulous writers?
Granted these stories are not for the masses but don’t we have more than enough commercial stuff on air? Why must every story be expected to follow the same 2+2=4 formula? Rather than messing with an uber talented creative, why not open up a bit of a space for experimentation and innovation? Surely our mainstream channels can find a slot or two for artsy, ‘adult’ if you will, serials? If not at primetime, then why not after? Keep the mega projects for the weekends and give such serials a mid-week slot, would that be so hard? I know there are more than a few of us who appreciate meaning and depth in what we watch.
Moving on from TRP related whys to the bigger question raised in this post, why are we still living our lives dictated by outdated social mores. Why do we continue to be silent about things that should and do matter? I am not advocating throwing out the the baby with the bathwater. No. All I’m asking for is a reconsideration of issues we should be inviting public debate on, kinds of questions we should open for discussion. Watching women shed endless tears without any recourse is not helping us any, neither is watching dramas heavily inspired by the likes of Mirat ul Uroos and Baheshti Zevar. Surely this is not the legacy we want to leave for future generations of women?
I am fully aware of the fact that societies do not change overnight and social mindsets do not modify in an instant, but then isn’t this exactly the challenge our media industrialists, our TV channels and producers, should take on as a responsibility: to create awareness, to not only entertain but also educate, to become torchbearers and guides as we move forward towards the uncharted path that lies ahead of us.
Written by SZ~