Mata-e Jaan or Meri Jaan Hai Tu recently ended its run on Zindagi channel in India and it seems, therefore, an apt time to revisit this old favorite.
Mata-e Jaan, written by Farhat Ishtiaq, directed by Mehreen Jabbar and produced by Momina Duraid started off on a very rocky note. The overt nods to Samuel Huntington’s tired old thesis of the clash of civilizations had many of us grinding our teeth. In the original novella Haniya and Ibad’s story held the most attraction for readers, they were after all the lead protagonists. But when it came to the onscreen narrative, despite the lovely backdrops and the appropriate ambiance this main track remained vapid at best.
To begin with, Ibad as a character was completely flatlined. He was a loving and obedient son, a brilliant student, a caring friend, and a dream partner, and if all that was not enough he was easy on the eyes too! Had I been looking for the perfect rishta for myself, beti, behen, parosan, whoever, this paragon of virtues would’ve been hands down my first choice, but in terms of dramatic interest Aabi was boring as boring can be. Similarly the case with our heroine.
This born-in-the-USA but dil-hai-desi Haniya, with her desi diction, and her lovely but oh not so tomboy-ish, wardrobe, was the perfect girl – a holier than thou bearer of mashriqi values, a loving granddaughter, caring sister, good friend, and later on a perfect biwi to her perfect shohar. All this perfection would perhaps have been easier to handle had there been a hint of a spark between Haniya and Aabi. Sadly, though their romance was of the blandest kind possible and their scenes so insipid that after the first few episodes it seemed almost impossible for this love story to leave its mark.
What kept it going, or at least had me hooked through the first few episodes, apart from Shahzad Kashmiri’s beyond gorgeous cinematography, was Yamina, Haniya’s older sister’s track.
Juxtaposed against our holier than thou lead couple was the dysfunctional, pair of Adam and Yamina. As far as can be from perfection, theirs was the track that added the much needed gravitas and dramatic interest to the first half of the serial. It had been a while since we’d seen the very important issue of domestic violence highlighted on our TV screens. Moreover, that the victim and her abuser were upper-middle class, sophisticated, and highly educated was a very significant detail. For too long spousal abuse has been depicted as an issue specific to illiterate, poor, lower-middle class households.
Here we saw that abusers and victims cannot be distinguished on the basis of their socio-economic status. Scenes of the very glamorous and supremely confident Yamina being abused by Adam, her equally successful and ostensibly charming husband made for a very powerful visual statement. Sanam Saeed was fabulous as Yamina and Junaid Khan left quite an impression as her abusive husband, Adam.
By the mid-point, when Aabi made his choice known to his parents, the seemingly suave Mr. Uzair and his gorgeous wife Hajra, along with their dutiful son, got me so involved in their family dynamics, that initial aggravations were reduced to minor irritants.
In the showdown between Uzair and Ibad, even as the father rambled on about our Eastern values and the influence of the corrupt behaya Western values on his son, ultimately it was Uzair who ended up with egg on his face. His own rant exposed him as a hypocrite, a stubborn and arrogant man, for whom his pride, his given word and his ego, reigned supreme over everything else– even the happiness of his one and only child. By refusing to even entertain the thought of listening to Ibad, forget about consenting to his marriage with Haniya, Uzair demonstrated that even as he hid behind the rhetoric of the superiority of one culture over the other, his anger had more to do with his damaged pride than with any kind of cultural value system, Eastern or Western.
Where Uzair Farooqi was full on bluster and annoying to the nth degree with his my-way-or-the-highway attitude, the gorgeously stunning Mrs. Uzair was love and grace personified. Hajra’s was a character that said so little but conveyed so much through her eyes. The moments between Hajra and Ibad were truly special. Hajra didn’t spout off long-winded lines and her son was not verbose either, but there was such a connection between them that words were rendered unnecessary.
Without saying anything untoward, Hajra, with her characteristic softness, underscored Uzair’s hard-headedness ever so beautifully throughout, making a very strong statement even as she was an ostensibly docile wife.Watching their familial interactions I wondered about how many similar clashes had this house in Karachi seen?
From the way Hajra posited herself as a silent referee, in the battle of wills between the father and son, hinted that such exchanges were not new in this family. No long spiels, no wringing of hands, no buckets of tears, nope, none of that for her – Hajra knew when and how to take a stand for what she believed correct. Her support of her son on his wedding said it all.After Aabi we met a very different Hajra. The visible difference in her demeanor, her tear-filled eyes, her unmade face, her drab clothing, all told the tale of a woman whose life had undergone a devastating change. This colorless woman was nothing like the gorgeous, vibrant woman we had met in earlier episodes. All in all Hajra Uzair remains one of my fave Hina Bayat performances.
While it was initially on-air a lot was said about the too-good-to-be-true Aabi and Adeel Husain’s bland portrayal of this character. To begin with, I too was not a fan of this seemingly perfect guy. But, with the extension to the original story, Aabi grew on me. This was no longer a flat one-dimensional character. Adeel did full justice to his role, bringing that extra something to an otherwise sappy character.
When the serial started Ibad was pretty much the poster boy for perfection, but by the end of it all we did get to meet the real man behind the paper poster. Aabi was obedient but maintained the right to respectfully question his father, he was dutiful but he did not hesitate to rebel against outdated traditions and cultural stereotypes. Where Adeel lacked chemistry with Sarwat, he made up for it in spades with his equation with Hina. As a mother-son duo they were fabulous and magical together. Similarly all of Ibad’s confrontations with Uzair were fabulous. Loved how Adeel made his anger, frustration and disappointment felt without resorting to OTT theatrics or shedding boatloads of tears. Before this serial, I had enjoyed Adeel’s work in Daam, Mera Naseeb, but with Mora Piya and Mata-e Jaan I felt he really came into his own, and yes, I’ve been an Adeel fangirl since.
As uninterested as I was in her while she was in New York, I began to root for Haniya after she moved to Pakistan. Starting with the office scene, where she bamboozled Uzair, to the despair she portrayed after losing Aabi, her contemplated suicide, and finally her lovely contented smile when she saw Aabi looking down on his united family, Sarwat Gilani shone as Haniya in the latter half of the serial.
For Hajra, initially her husband dictated her life then fate stepped in made its own cruel choices. Nonetheless she continued to plod on, living a drab, colorless life like a zombie. Uzair was miserable as well, but his suffering was more from having to live with the realization of the choices he had forced upon others. Both, Hajra and Uzair, were simply going through the motions, till Haniya came in and lit up their life like a beacon.
Call me a sentimental fool, but two scenes, a) when Haniya calls Hajra mama, and Hajra’s response to that endearment, and b) when Uzair refuses Haniya’s request to call him Uncle, asking her instead to call him baba, and Haniya’s response to that admonishment, were the standouts for me. Earlier, the range of emotions that flitted across Haniya’s face, as she drove away from her first visit with Aabi’s parents, stayed with me long after that particular episode had ended. Yes, by that time Sarwat had turned into the perfect Haniya.
I never thought I’d be writing this, but Uzair did finally win me over by the final episode. It was hard not be swayed by this now repentant father who had lost everything due to his over inflated ego. Javed Shaikh was excellent as he successfully essayed the various shades of Uzair’s character. I was very moved by his confessions and the graveyard scene. Uzair, who could not stand to see his child upset even for an afternoon, was now doomed forever to be haunted by the memories of his last conversation with Aabi, and of course that final text that seemed to be mocking him every time he looked at it.
The shocking twist was not unexpected, at least for those who had read the novel, but the way it was handled and the non-linear manner in which the story moved from that point forward was Mehreen Jabbar at her best. Throughout, the serial bore the unmistakable MJ stamp, but Aabi’s accident was dealt with exceptionally beautifully; the last few minutes of Ibad’s life, the bustle of everyday life on busy roads, his conversation with Haniya, the text to his parents, and his final interrupted conversation, all were superbly done. The death scene was fantastically handled, brilliant flashes interspersed with fading light leading to an eventual all engulfing darkness – the finality of it all was inescapable. Ibad was dead.
The final episode pulled together the many shades and meanings of love, a deceptively simple emotion. Love, as illustrated in Mata-e Jaan, was is not only about scaling the emotional highs but also about experiencing the lowest of ebbs. It was about the joys and sorrows, laughter and tears, and expectations and disappointments. It was about memories, the kind that keep you warm at night, the kind that elicit a smile, the kind that bring a tear to the eye, the kind that remain with you forever. Love was the emotion that Haniya experienced with Ibaad, the affection that Uzair and Hajra had for their son, the sisterly bond that Yamina enjoyed with Haniya, the friendship that Adeel had with Ibaad, and the concern that Adeel felt for Haniya. Kudos to Farhat Ishtiaq for beautifully essaying so many facets of a singular emotion – love.
A round of applause also to Farhat Ishtiaq and Momina Duraid for coming up with the seamless additions and organic alterations to the original story. I know there are many who loved the novella, but for me this enhanced and more nuanced script worked much better. And of course, superb as all actors were, fantastic as Farhat’s story was, none of this would’ve worked without Mehreen Jabbar’s directorial eye. Her effortless balancing of the various tracks and sensitive handling of the accident and funeral scenes was absolutely brilliant, couple that with the superb intertwining of the past and present, and add in the seamless manner with which the story moved between New York and Karachi, and voilà you see a master storyteller at work.
Adding to the deliciously textured drama being played out on the screen was the lack of any background music at many points in the serial. Thank you editors for giving us credit for being intelligent enough to figure out the high points, we do not need musical cues in every scene – silence is indeed a powerful language in and of it itself. And on music, Bilal Khan’s soulful OST provided the perfect backdrop for this aesthetically sound serial.
Along with the sound people, the editors too were on point, as the narrative flowed smoothly from mashriq to maghrib and back, with never a sense that one track was being randomly shorted to privilege the other, nor there being this feeling of rush to get from one point to another. Infact the entire serial was imbued with a sense of calm. There was a lot that happened in the span of 17 episodes, but it always felt very serene, mirroring the thehrav, the ethos of the story itself.
Finally, indulge me for a moment longer as I drool over the cinematography. As a New Englander I am used to autumnal colors, but seldom have I seen fall foliage take on such rich and vibrant hues. Every shade of red, orange, yellow, brown, and green seemed to glow with a life of its own. New York has seldom looked better. And it was not just New York, throughout the lighting was fabulous in the indoor scenes. Hina has never looked this gorgeous, Sarwat never quite as fragile and vulnerable, and Adeel never as drool-worthy. Back to the drama, every eyelid flicker, every glance, every move was brilliantly captured – Shahzad Kashmir, you are fab!
Overall, despite the rough start, the early dhaka start moments, and the thandi thaat love story I fell for this one from the get go, then when it picked up pace and got better I was a goner.
Written by SZ~
Mata-e Jan ~ OST