Be it in the des or the pardes desis all over are hooked and how! Thanks to Sang-e Mar Mar Thursdays are now marked off as must-watch-TV days!
Reviews are typically brief recaps followed by a discussion of the various pros and cons, but this for Sang-e Mar Mar is a one off. For starters, it is a bit late in the day to go back to alif anaar, secondly, and more importantly, for me at least, what sets this one apart is not the plot but the intelligent writing and the skillful unfolding of the said story, and the broader implications of that. From the creatives to the cast to the techies, all have put in a ton of work to make the age old zar zan aur zameen saga look and feel fresh and novel. Yes, this one is all about the art of storytelling.
Patriarchy, honor killings, blood feuds, male privilege, unrequited love, revenge, murder, forced and/or multiple marriages, infertility, domestic violence, none of these themes are new to our screens. Infact, our drama industrialists aka TRP tyrants love them since violence + tears -> higher ratings -> increase in revenue. The formula is simple and the stories written per this formula simpler still. That viewers – other than the thousand odd TRP households – are fed up of the steady diet of misogyny, mediocrity and mindlessness seems to be of little or no concern.
Amidst this dismal scenario it is heartening to see writer Mustafa Afridi pen a script that reads between lines, striking the right balance between commerce and art, weaving a story as simple as it is complex, as straightforward as it is layered, and as grim as it is empathetic. Sang-e Mar Mar is set in picturesque Swat, the serene valley an unlikely host to a bloody inter-generational feud between the families of Gulistan Khan and Saif ur Rehman.
As events unfold there are twists and turns galore, some likely and others convenient plot points, but it is all kept believable by the fact that these characters and their stories are uncomfortably real. Honor killings, forced marriages, and domestic violence continue to make news headlines with depressing regularity. Afridi pulls no punches with his writing and his male characters are no heroes, conversely they aren’t the typical villains either. Gulistan, Torah, Saif ur Rehman all are beautifully written characters with well-defined back stories that do not justify but certainly put their present actions in perspective, giving viewers a lot to chew on.
Safiullah, Gohar and Aurang, Gulistan Khan’s three sons are all a study in the crucial role played by the familial environment in shaping a child’s personality. The mother might be their go-to person but at the end of the day she is a woman. Patriarchy in general and tribal cultures in particular make no accommodation for women and the boys sense this intuitively. For the boys, the father is their hero and role model and each seeks his approval. Even this late in the day, Aurang appears to grow in stature, stand up a little taller, as his father opens up to him. No longer is he a weak mama’s boy, he is now Gulistan Khan’s heir. To what extent can Shamim’s upbringing prevent history from repeating itself remains to be seen.
And on Shamim, while Afridi has a firm grip on all his characters, it is in writing Shamim that we see him at his empathetic best. She might have been nameless for most of the serial but Shamim is the pivot that holds the story together. In earlier episodes this woman seems to do nothing, but look closely and she is the one holding the family together. Gulistan Khan’s sons look up to him because she treats him such. Be it resolving tensions between siblings, dealing with Bano’s issues, handling Gulalai’s insecurities, or easing Shirin’s entry into the household, it is Shamim who handles the aftermath of every decision taken her husband. Tribal cultures might have no place for a Shamim or a Shirin or a Gullalai but it is because of the unwitting support of such women – dutiful wives and obedient daughters – that such a misogynistic system continues to thrive.
Pari is the antithesis of Shamim. Where Shamim is warmth and grace personified, putting everybody else’ needs before hers, Pari suffers from no such compunctions. Had she been a man she would’ve given Gulistan Khan a run for his money with all her scheming and plotting. But tperhaps, much like Shamim, she too grew up unwanted in her paternal home and looked forward to her marital home as her own little fiefdom. The difference being that while Shamim reconciled herself to her fate, Pari fought and hard. She may have been thwarted for now but the “lullaby” to her unborn child signals that Aurang may not have as an easy transition into Gulistan Khan’s shoes as he perhaps is imagining right now.
About Aurang, also unresolved is the question of Shirin’s future in Gulistan’s household. With Gulistan having passed on the mantle to his son and Shamim having passed on her responsibilities to Shirin it does seem like that theirs is a pair meant to be. Where will this then leave Palwasha and how would Bano and Torah respond to the possibility of such a match, particularly after Durkhane’s impending confession, is yet to unfold.
Keeping all these intertwined tracks coherent, allowing the story the space to unfold at its own pace, and resisting the temptation to over tell the story is no mean task and director Saife Hasan makes it all look effortless. The darkness of the subject is skilfully juxtaposed against the bright and open landscapes of the valley, making for that much more easy viewing. In a story rife with possibility of filmi-ness, we are thankfully spared the heavy duty melodrama as the director opts for the subtle and nuanced route. Also forgone are the cutesy folk/ethnic costumes that seem to be very much in vogue these days and in its stead we see actors transforming into their characters by the sheer dint of their craft.
Speaking of actors, Nauman Ijaz and Sania Saeed are the best in the business and here they prove that yet again. Nauman has the author backed role and he takes to it like fish to water, adding in exquisite nuances – the stooped shouldered walk after the recent deaths – that are really a connoisseurs delight. Sania, on the other hand, plays a character that seemingly has no presence, but so powerful is her performance that Shamim does not even need to speak but still manages to anchor the entire narrative. Her body language, that duck walk, her drab getup, the faded omnipresent mehndi – all gel so well that it is almost impossible to think of her as a much younger woman otherwise. Together, Nauman and Sania are a match made in acting heaven.
Not to be left behind, the rest of the cast also pitches in with superb performances. Paras Masroor is a revelation. It would be so easy to hate on Torah but he imbues him with such humanity that makes it hard to hate on him. Omair Rana is fabulous – the gamut of expressions across Safiullah’s face, right before he is shot, were absolutely applause worthy. Working alongside so many accomplished actors Mikaal Zulfiqar too turns in a very well thought performance as Aurang; his moments with Sania are very special. It is great to see Uzma Hasan back on screen with a character that gives her margin to perform. Kaif Ghaznavi is so so good as Pari; the scene where she was singing to her baby was so very eerie. Tipu Sharif is very effective as the conflicted Saif ur Rehman. First in Preet Na Kariyo Koi and now here Hasan Noman has turned into quite the scene stealer. Kubra Khan is the newcomer but she certainly leaves an impression. Rounding up the cast, Najeeba Faiz, Beenish Raja and Sharmeen Ali all do justice to their characters.
All in all Sang-e Mar Mar is quite the serial, a perfect blend of entertainment and raising awareness of endemic social issues. And this brings to mind the latest trend of a whole new breed of dramas, claiming to address social issues. Why? Shouldn’t all our dramas be entertaining and informing simultaneously? Why the need to hold press conferences and highlight particular drama as social issue based? As opposed to what? The rest of the talaaq, doosri shaadi, halala, rape dramas that are now by default designated as mindless entertainment? Does anybody realize how dangerous a thought that is?
I sincerely hope that the unprecedented success of Sang-e Mar Mar has signaled the fact that entertainment, raising awareness and educating the audience are not mutually exclusive. We as audiences are not dumb and do not need to be hammered on the head with social messages – a little subtlety goes a long way. Its all in the story telling and Team Sang-e Mar Mar proves it so. Two thumbs up guys!
So this was my take, now looking forward to what you all have to say!
Written by SZ~