Mubarak ho! Saat mahine lage but bilakhir yeh taxi aur is ke sawaar ba khair-o khoobi apni manzil-i maqsood tak pohonch hi gaye, and did so in style I might add. Even though our cab drivers (read producers/channels) opted for the painfully circuitous route, the ending made the journey, potholes ‘n all, worthwhile. At a time when, despite claims to the contrary, mainstream serials rarely focus on the lived experiences of the common man, engage meaningfully with dark subjects, push the envelope in terms of issues explored, and most importantly shy away from experimentation and innovation, Jackson Heights was a serial that dared to be different. Staying within the parameters of commercial storytelling Vasay Chaudhry, Mehreen Jabbar and Six Sigma brought us a very fresh take on the very stale same old.
Like so many other serials, Jackson Heights too was a story of an abusive husband and a victimized wife, but there was a world of difference in the way their track was handled. Though Salma was a victim in every sense of the word, and nobody would’ve questioned her had she chosen to go the glycerin and woe-to-me route, to her credit not once did we see her pitch herself as the quintessential bechari mazloom aurat. Quite the contrary. For me, Salma was the perfect embodiment of grace and dignity, a poster girl for what it means to be a survivor and a strong one at that. Her return journey, towards a happy life, was not an easy one but determination and love for her step-daughter kept her plodding forward.
Salma’s equation with Bhatti was one of the most mature relationships we’ve seen onscreen in a long while. Unlike the candy floss love stories that feature leads with no other ghum in this jahan ek muhabbat ke siwa, Vasay and Mehreen brought us a hat ke grown up love story; not once did Salma and Bhatty sahab talk about lafaani muhabbat and pehli nazar ka piyar, and thank the lord for that. What we did get instead was a bond that grew out of a shared sense of loneliness. She had her trials to bear and he had his fair share of sar dards. As they opened up to each other they there was a dawning realization that somehow somewhere along the line they had changed, evolved as individuals, no longer the same people they had been when they left Pakistan. And if they had changed then wasn’t it time their old aspirations and expectations change as well?
Salma helped Bhatti realize that much of his unhappiness was his own doing. His reason for coming to America had long been addressed, he’d made more than enough money to live a decent life in Pakistan, so why then was he living a martyr’s life? An easy enough question with very difficult answers, the kind that required painfully honest introspection. It was Salma’s unquestioning faith in him that helped Bhatti make very hard decisions relatively easily. As long as there was a strong woman by his side his domicile did not matter – their being together was what mattered.
For Salma, on the other hand, life was not quite as simple. This was not merely a question of walking out on a bad marriage, which was hard enough given her cultural grounding. Unlike Bhatti, she had Imaan to think of, a child she had brought up as her own. Her staying back, when Sikander expected her to leave, and her refusal, to go to Pakistan with Bhatti. was a point where Salma truly earned my respect. Yes, this is what character growth is all about, and my girl had truly metamorphosed into a woman of strength. She no longer had anything to prove to anybody and she was done with having the men in her life tell her what was good for her. The child on the other hand was a different issue altogether. It was only when Iman freed her from her promise to stay back that Salma chose to leave. Choice being the operative word here. She walked out when she was ready – her heart and mind both in sync. Where many serials talk about empowering women we actually saw it happen here.
And on choices, Michele’s was another track where once again we saw a woman making her own choices – we can argue about how wrong or right they were, but the fact remains that till the end she truly did live life on her own terms. Rizwan had always been around, he was dependable, well-to-do and made no bones about his interest in her, perfect husband material some would say, but hamari pyari Michele!
Hiding behind the drab colors and a brusque exterior, was a hurt and scared, but a still hopeful woman. Hurt because her previous marriage had left her scarred; scared because she had trusted someone once and see how that turned out for her, and hopeful because she was unconsciously waiting to be swept off her feet, why else would she not accept Rizwan’s proposal? As it turned out, while jalaibee Jamshed was by no means her knight in the shining armor and she did end up getting hurt once again, the fact that we actually saw a woman in her mid-to late forties being depicted as an individual in her own right earns Team Jackson Heights a huge round of applause, from me at least.
When was the last time we saw a middle aged woman who was not just there in the story because she was a maa or bhabhi or bahu? The way these women are depicted it is as if they are mere props without any desires or ambitions of their own other than those associated with their husband, brother or children. In sharp contrast, not only was Michele an individual in her own right but she commanded, not demanded, the respect of those around her and wielded quite a bit of power as well. No matter how much Rizwan tried to persuade her otherwise she stuck to her guns and chose her own path.
Like Salma, we saw Michele evolve throughout this seven month journey as well. The woman we saw walk away in this last episode though alone was not lonely. Selfish and self-centered as he had been, in his own way Jamshed helped Michele lay her inner demons to rest. Empowered now rather than merely wielding power like before, Michele was back in touch with who she once had been, a woman not afraid to live and love. This new Michele was reflected in her choice of brighter clothes and noticeable makeup. Rizwan can wait as long as he wants, I don’t think Michele is now going to look back, she has well and truly moved on.
As their leading ladies moved on, our two resident bad boys Sikander and Jamshed were left with a lot to chew on. These seven months had been quite eventful for them as well. Sikander might’ve turned over a new leaf but the damage he had inflicted on his family for so many years is not the kind that fixes itself; his work, trying to build a bond of trust and affection with Iman, has just begun. Jamshed ended this journey as a more honest, wiser man; the lessons he learned here will stand him in good stead in the new journey he’s just begun.
A multitrack story Jackson Heights had a lot of characters that walked in an out of the narrative, the various tracks intersected, overlapped and paralleled throughout, and it is to Vasay and Mehreen’s credit for keeping all the this coherent and meaningful. There were loopholes for sure – the insurance and zevar gaffe was a big one and I am yet to see an abusive man come around like Sikander did, without any professional help – but overall I thought for the most part it all gelled well together.
In terms of writing, I found it to be an intelligent script and particularly enjoyed the mirroring of Bhatti sahab and Jamshed’s track, so much of the bhanja’s story provided a very sharp insight into mamu’s story of fifteen years ago. Domestic abuse and battered wife syndrome are very serious issues and these was woven very well into the story without turning it into a documentary. The May-December romance, between Jamshed and Michele, was another topic that we don’t really get to see too often, and I thought it was handled pretty deftly, not turning it into a sleazy, cheap relationship. Overall what I really appreciated was that all characters walked away with dignity and grace, with everybody getting a second shot at starting over. I don’t think it happens quite as smoothly in real life but I liked the optimism at the end of a very emotional finale.
In terms of characters and actors, undoubtedly Nouman Ijaz as Bhatti sahab was the epicenter, the heart of Jackson Heights. I have yet to see an actor who can impart so much meaning to every single hain, haan, each delivered very differently from the previous one, and he said it so many times in each episode! Truly Nouman sahab you are in a league all your own. And if Bhatti sahab was the heart then Salma has to be the soul of this serial. Aamina Sheikh turned in a stunningly understated performance as the oft beaten but never defeated Salma – fabulously done!
Marina Khan, my one true love and the reason I started watching dramas in the first place, reminded me why she was special all over again. To shine so brightly in a character which started off as colorless as Michele’s, is by no means an easy feat, but Marina made her character come alive: her fears, hopelessly blind infatuation, dawning realization, heartbreak, and quiet determination, all emotions were meticulously essayed. Adeel Husain and Ali Kazmi deserve a huge round of applause for opting for roles other than those of the stereotypical lovesick hero. Both made superb baddies and it was heartening to see them sink their teeth into their very different-from-the-run-off-the-mill characters. Also glad to see Ali Kazmi back on Pakistani TV after a long hiatus, ab please dobara ghayab mat ho jana!
That I can see so much worthy in this serial is all credit to Mehreen Jabbar. Only she could’ve pulled together a dream team like this and narrated a story like Jackson Heights. The DOP, technical crew and the rest of the cast all put in their best and their labor shone through. Why the serial did not do as well as it should’ve, is a question the producers and Urdu 1 need to reflect on. Why take on an offbeat story and then subject it to TRP norms? If TRPs were what the channel wanted then they might as well have stuck to the typical dau biwiyon ka ek shohar formula, why stretch this story?
I remain a very vocal advocate of this serial, but even I found it difficult to sit through some of the past few episodes in one go, the very lax editing made scenes drag on forever; so many of Jamshed-Rizwan scenes seemed like preschool kids fighting over a favorite toy. Earlier on in the serial too we had quite a few episodes with repetitive and reiterative scenes. Throughout the seven months on many occasions it felt like the channel was out to punish us, the fans, for daring to enjoy a serial that they perhaps would rather not have aired at all.
Like has happened in the past with serials like Talkhiyan and Pehchan, I am pretty sure that the next time we ask for something different on TV, the non-ratings of this serial will be handed out as the excuse for churning out the same old. But here’s my question to the media industrialists: Why hold the awam responsible? Woh tau wohi dekh rahen hain jo aap ne unhein dekhna sikhaya hai. You can’t feed people daal three times a day, seven days a week, for years on end, and then wonder why your rarely served qorma gets rejected by the masses – aur yahan tau qormey ka bhi hashar nashar kar diya channel walon ney!
Why not save the long-winded formulaic serials for the masses and allow niche/off-beat dramas like Jackson Heights to run their requisite length of 18 or so episodes? Put them on midweek if you wish, but at least allow such serials a fighting chance to find their audience – had this one not been messed around with, I’m pretty certain it would have fared much better.
All said and done, for me Jackson Heights was one of the better serials we’ve seen in recent times, could’ve should’ve been among the best, but sadly it was badly let down by those in charge of the final cut. The eventual outcome should, however, not be allowed to take away from the effort that some of the brightest and most talented names in our drama industry put into making a serial which fulfilled all criteria of what constitutes meaningful entertainment. Thank you, Team Jackson Heights, yeh taxi ka safar yaadgar rahega and you guys will be missed, hain, haan? haan!
Written by SZ~