Pinjra ~ Episodes 6, 7 & 8 Review

Eight episodes in I am thoroughly enjoying the intelligent writing and eloquent narration of Pinjra. Imran Nazir’s story, given its basic premise – patriarchy, feudalism, panchayats, honor killings, blood feuds, bonded labor – is unapologetically grim, but it is to Kashif Nisar, the director’s credit for understanding the nuances and not only ensuring the darkness is kept at bay but that the melodrama too is kept to a minimum. The writer and director have worked well as team to ensure the complicated story unfolds easily and pacing is kept fluent. Rashid Abbas’ cinematography adds another layer of meaning to the textured narrative. For their part the actors have done a great job, completely justifying their beautifully fleshed out characters. Yes, I am happily onboard so far!

Shahzeb’s return to the family fold has certainly shaken things up at the Chaudhrys’ haveli. Gone are the days when Jannat Bibi’s word was the law. Though he hasn’t been made any substantive difference to the status quo as yet, Shahzeb’s quiet determination and the steely look in his eyes has certainly rattled Bibi, mor than she would like to admit.

Bibi who has never had her decisions questioned, let alone challenged, is now up nights trying to figure out how to handle her beloved son. Shahzeb is the one she loves the most but what her baby is asking for is not a mere toy. He wants to turn her world upside down. This, her position, her izzat, in the typically male dominated panchayat run society, was not handed to her on a platter. She has paid a very high price for where she stands today and she will be damned if she lets anyone undermine her authority – even if it is her own son.

Conversely, though she claims otherwise, Bibi cannot bear to see Shahzeb estranged either, hence the various offers to placate him. But Shahzeb is not quite as easily swayed, he is Jannat’s son after all and he is determined. While both are stubborn and have made up their minds, in this war of wills one of them will have to blink. Question is who will be the first to give in: Bibi or Shahzeb?

While the matriarch and her youngest son fight over big matters with far-reaching consequences, Bibi’s other son, Jahanzeb, is kept occupied with his own problems. Jahan is a simple-minded man. Questions like whether peasants should have access to education, should the archaic panchayti system be done away with, are not the kind to hold his interest. For him these things matter only as far as they can assure and ensure his high status in this social setup. Rest.. nothing matters.

In sharp contrast to Jahan, Zulekha is a sharp cookie. She has no love lost for her husband, she imagines herself in love with Mubashir, but at some level she sees herself as a natural successor to her mother-in-law’s power and position. In order for her to become the next Bibi, however, Zulekha needs to hold on to her husband. His weak nature – wayward ways and wandering eye – are known to her, but these she is willing to put up with him long as necessary. Asiya’s, however, is a very different case. She might be Jahan’s vani, but is still his legally wedded wife. Zulekha sees in Asiya a rival, a threat to her aspiration and ambition. Hence Zulekha’s constant attempts to keep Jahan focused on her person while doing everything she can to demean Asiya. Jahan, though, is not as unaware as he pretends … he’s equally sharp when it comes to such things. Both husband and wife are indeed a match when it comes to kahin pe nigahein kahin pe nishana type matters.

Asiya, for her part, wants to have nothing to do with the entire khandan. Bibi scares the heck out of her and Jahan creeps her out. For Zulekha she is part rival part punching bag. Sakina and Nazo at least see her as a living breathing person, but they are so disenfranchised that their sympathy is of no practical use. Asiya might be infatuated by the prince-like Shahzeb, but after the several times he’s gotten her into trouble she needs him to stay away from her as well. That said, there is something very real and endearing about Asiya, the way she is at once embittered yet idealistic enough to dream of knights in shining armors. Sadly though, the way events are shaping up it would seem that Asiya’s dreams will remain just that – dreams. The precap holds out the promise of a dhamekdar 9th episode.

Engrossing as the story is, it would all fall apart were it not for Bibi and Samina Ahmed’s brilliant portrayal of this very complex woman. She is not a nice person by any stretch of the imagination but her love for her son is certainly testing her and humanizing her in the process. Finally there is a glimmer of a chink in her armor, it’s really faint though! Each and every scene of hers is an absolute delight.

With Samina leading the pack, Yumna Zaidi is very effective as the vulnerable Asiya, imbuing life in her character making it so much more than the stereotypical abla naris that can be found in pretty much every drama these days. Kiran Haq is another one who impresses. Zulekha is so fun to watch with her colorful styling, her pizzaz and unapologetic nastiness, so bad she is good!  Hasan Niazi is equally great as the weak-willed but calculative Jahan. Daniyal Raheal is very well cast here as the son who dares defy the iron-willed Bibi. His scenes with Samina are fabulous! Faiza Gilani and Aymi Khan are effective in their parts as well. I like the two maids, Kausar and Sheedo, but really wish their makeup was toned down quite a few notches.

And on things that need to be toned down – the background score and the OST. Please, please, please – editors turn down that volume! We do not need the OST blaring every two seconds nor do we need the impact of every scene to be drowned out under the over loud music. This is such a fabulously done project please don’t mess it up like this. As it is the marketing department have already done a sizeable amount of damage with the very uninviting, unattractive poster.

The fact that I continue to watch, despite the atrocious poster and the horribly loud music, speaks volumes about the quality of the writing, direction, acting and cinematography. Now APLUS, do not spoil this any further with stretching. Thank You!

So this was my take… what do you all think?

Written by SZ~

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23 replies

  1. Loved your review and it was worth the wait …

    Yes indeed Pinjra nowadays is our only quality entertainment .. even though Asiya is vani but they have not bombarded us with roti dhoti asiya and making it terrible to watch which other ‘Vani’ does all the time.. anyway i like how she gets happy like a normal girl on getting cosmetics and not-so-new clothes.. she is brave in her own way.. though scared like deer when in front of jannat bibi and zulekha but other wise she is so sane and tries to maintain her composure.. Yumna is really good..

    Talking about Jannat Bibi.. uff she gives me chills.. the graveyard scene was so amazingly done.. she has nerves of steel..visitng graveyard in middle of night i suppose and that khoonkhar nazroon se dekhna apne sain ki qabar ko.. my goodness.. i wish they show us back story of jannat bibi.. will be quite interesting.. Samina Ahmed.. hands down is just queen of this show.. oh and the way she took knife and started cutting her wrist.. who can dare her seriously..

    Hahaah zuleka and jahanzaib are truly match made in hell… they should get Lucha Couple awars of the year.. btw what was precap.. was tht asiya killing him??

    Daniyal Raheel so far looks eye candy and yes i love the firmness in his voicr.. will look forward to his initiatives

    Oh yes i so agree with u on ost in bg.. jab bhi asiya and shahzaib meet.. i m like no way phir se ishqaway suna parega.. rehm karo bhayee.. we have now got it..

    • lol Rehmat, that ost is the pits! It was also blaring away when Zulekha met Mubashir. Arrey bhai we get it that this abt love etc why hit us on the head with it!
      Uff yes! That scene where she cuts her wrist or when she takes the bandage off .. too good! What I love here is that she does all this without the usual star plus melodrama – just her look and her stiff body language is enough.
      Btw, does Mubashir’s fake mustache annoy you as much as it does me? Why can’t they invest in less fake ones? One would think they would buy them by the case given how many of our dramas are now rural based and how men are shown with mustaches.

      • Uff specially when he met zulekha all i was looking at was moustache n was wondering ab nikLi..
        Why don’t they grow matlab asli me

    • Rehmat, really enjoyed reading your comment 🙂

      So agree with you about Jannat Bibi. And I’ll second you about wanting to learn her backstory. Uff, what a class act Samina Ahmed! Mazaa aagaya…

  2. @SZ and all.
    I haven’t really been into this show only because it’s a plot we have seen so many times.
    A recent one with a #MenacingMatriarch was ‘Laaj.’
    [As an aside, I just can’t get enough of Faiza Mujahid’s OST of Laaj ]

    Some of the more interesting stories of feudal systems were a couple with Humayun S., in the lead where some interesting practices were enacted; also one with Noman I.

    In Pinjra the first episode where they showed Aiyisa playful, laughing, maasum, refusing to make roties etc., was a sign for me. It appears the more “laadli” the beti is portrayed, the worse she is set up for barbadi later.
    I have trouble seeing women being so violent towards each other. Those scenes where Sulekha (who I find over-made up and dressed like a Christmas tree here) puts black on Aiyisa’s face etc. Uff! Sulekha (don’t remember the actress’s name) is such a beautiful woman she doesn’t need so much make-up. Perhaps they are trying to portray the local-ness of shiny clothes and excessive jewellery for status in the vernacular. But yaar – that red lipstick! Yikes!

    So here’s my rant:

    In *all* these shows (feudal systems; rural; tribal, etc.), one of the brothers or *the* son and heir apparent, goes abroad to study and comes back and attempts to create change, though never really succeeding or at least it’s not shown fully. In fact in Numm, I think the woman who married FK’s character accused him of supporting the feudal status quo despite his Oxford (or was it Harvard) education.
    So here in Pinjra, it is Shahzeb who goes outside the society and comes back with intentions of creating change. And isn’t it cute when he slips into using the English language with Aiyisa and pauses…and reverts to the local dialect?

    So it’s in the” inside/outside”; and the “returning” but the “outside” is better. We are plagued with this post-colonial mentality of the “outside” being superior, and the “return” to be the savior/massiha having learned from the outside – bringing the knowledge and technologies of the outside.

    The only one exception (at least among the plays I’ve seen) is Malangi (NI was brilliant BTW) but here it was a battle between the oppressed and the oppressor in a feudal agricultural system.

    I’d like to see some stories with a local narrative and local ‘heroes’ who are the protagonists in creating change from within oppressive systems. There are many with great wisdom, and strength. They may not have college degrees or sit in classrooms like we do but that doesn’t mean they lack knowledge or spirit. For instance I have met and know many farmers who can accurately predict the weather 100% of the time just by seeing the way insects move around trees. And they do all this without meteorological technology.

    We see this “global” kind of hero in Bollywood as well. I think there was a whole phase of NRI movies – the “return” from “outside” jumping out of helicopters, driving sports cars etc. I remember when I went through my old movie phase several years ago, I saw movies where Dilip Kumar or Rajesh Khanna talked about the kisaan and mazdoor, and they were union leaders in city factories or fighting for change in the kheti…
    Perhaps neoliberal ideas caught up with Bollywood.
    Compare Krish (was it? where Hrithik Roshan payed a superhero in a kind of batman costume). Yes my friends, it’s blurry because it was so forgettable. I think the super-duper success of Dabang was because we had a pure “shuddh” *desi* superhero named Chulbul!
    Sorry I’ve gone off on a tangent!

    It’s one of my pet peeves but I’ll shut up now.
    JR

    • This is everything I wanted to say. I am following this drama and find it interesting in bits. I haven’t watched a lot of shows and certainly not enough to make claims about how certain stereotypes are perpetuated. But most of the shows have these western educated hero types as harbingers of change. Education no doubt brings about enlightenment but it doesn’t have to be phoren or even the kind that gets you a degree. I have had more enriching and interesting conversations with the fisherfolks and farmers I spent time with during my vacation in my village in India than in my very academically oriented research lab outside India where I work most of the year. There are amazing individuals in both situations to be fair but mainstream television/movies are just obsessed with this subtle social elitism.
      I lurk read reviews of shows I watch here. You have a great blog. Keep up the good work!

      • Dear JR and FAM

        I think they have used Shahzeb as foreign-returned for two reasons:

        1. To show he is not steeped in the same atmosphere as the rest, he is someone who has seen a more liberal society where there is rule of law and opportunities to move away from traditionally handed down riwayats. He can see possibilities where others cannot or see optimism where others have given up and given in to traditional practices.

        2. He provides insight into this strange contrasting situation where, on one hand, those imposing feudalism want to keep things the way it has always been, but at the same time, send their cherished kid to a “better” land, for better opportunities, and expect them to return to their fold with that foreign degree or whatever. There is no pondering over the use of that degree nor what will happen if that son (usually) wants to move and shake things around after coming back. I believe SZ has raised this in one of her earlier reviews for Pinjra.

    • This is a fascinating insight, @JR. Thank you!

      But I think the “other” is a necessary trope in these sorts of stories. The “inside” characters may recognize a problem. But they’re also too close to the problem to do anything about it, or maybe too invested in the system to take the risk of changing it.

      One thing about Numm that stood out for me was that Wali was only nominally an outsider. Even when he attempted to change things, he did it in a fairly manipulative and feudal way. He’s a pedawar of the system, he knows how to navigate it, and he uses that knowledge to good effect.

      Shahzeb’s approach is less subtle, but maybe more honest?

      Bollywood heroes being foreign-returned is more about Bollywood selling this slick, overproduced formula to the world and less with outsiders (particularly those from the west) being superior. But hey, it’s Bollywood.

  3. I was avoiding this thread because I wasn’t all caught up yet, but I’ve now watched eight episodes, and I genuinely like the show. There’s a good balance between dialogue and visual storytelling, and some of the musical cues in the background were good too. I don’t mind the OST so much, but I’m guessing you guys are not big fans, lol.

    What I find especially interesting about Pinjra are the female characters on the show. The A plot is obviously the battle of wills between Jannat Bibi and Shahzeb, but it’s fascinating how all the women in the haveli are engaged in their own subtle rebellions against Bibi. Whether it’s Sakina quietly helping Asiya or Nazo giving her insight into the reality of life in the haveli or even Rasheeda khalla trying to defend Asiya from time to time, they’re all using what little agency they have to do the right thing. They’re also doing this knowing how dire the consequences can be. This ought to be a story about one mazloom aurat, and instead it’s the story of a house full of strong women who are going to get their own in the end, whether for good or bad.

    Not to go on and on about Numm, but imagine how good that show could have been if its narration and plot were as tight and well done as on Pinjra! Ah, what could have been, lol.

  4. Finally all caught up with this story. So far so good, but I’ll still give it a “cautious optimism” rating, as I’ve just burnt my fingers with SeMM and others in the past!

    Enjoyed your take on it SZ and it’s clear you are really enjoying this. As RK and Rehmat have pointed out, the play is doing well at showing that however dire the situation, people do display some level of courage and decency when faced with tyranny. Also, having a woman perpetrate these crimes is an interesting subversive twist. At some level, when drunk on power and control, gender of the perpetrator doesn’t matter.

    And having a character like Zulekha is equally important – to show that these kinds of power games are like a drug and sooner or later there will be someone who’s equally bloodthirsty and itching and ready to fight to take things over, whether it’s siyasat or a lion’s den. Jannat Bibi will find a worthy opponent in Zulekha when the time comes. Loving Kiran Haq here… Until next week…

    • @VZ: Love your “cautious optimisim” rating system! wah! Absolutely agree withou on feeling this way .. for me ab tau its come to a point where I am happy on an episode to episode basis .. after all the duds we’ve seen and serials that have devolved even as late as the last two eps (Preet Na Kariyo, for instance), I have stopped investing emotionally and I think you had also mentioned this in an comment elsewhere … So for now am happily onboard but always sadly aware ke it can derail any time .. #sadwaytowatchdramas :/

      • SZ, I sometimes think I should just wait until a drama this finishes then watch it (or not!). But weekly basis pe drama dekhne Ka mazaa hi kuch aur hai #Iwillneverlearmylesson…

        • I hear you and Ive tried that, but find that this way does not work, at least for me. I find for me then there is no surprise element and there is a preconceived idea abt whats going to happen and in that kind of “acha I know whats gonna happen next” mode of watching I feel I miss out on discovering nuances that I do look out for when watching fresh. I find this preconceived notion abt movies also bothersome as it taints my experience.

  5. Thank you guys for this insightful convo on hand about unoriginal plots, stereotypes, insider vs outsider, “foreign” vs “indigenous” knowledge/education (yes, am aware of the baggage of these labels but using them here in the loosest way possible). And here is my two cents for what its worth 🙂

    Re: unoriginal plot: It has been said that there are only 6-7 original stories and the rest are all permutations thereof, and after all these years its no longer abt an original story but I look for a fresh take on the same old, and so it is more about the story telling rather than the story itself.. and I had mentioned this in earlier reviews.

    Re: insider vs outsider: I find myself agreeing with @VZ and @RK’s take on this.. Also on this I would like to share a real story that I know first hand.

    There is a village approx 20 miles outside of Karachi and it is connected to the main city via the main highway and its just 10 mins off this highway, and right before you enter the narrow lane to get to this village there are two huge fruit farms, owned by some very influential bigwigs, which are at a walking distance. The point being that this is not some remote village in the northern mountainous areas or some tribal settlement, this is as mainstream as it gets. A friend of mine was introduced to this village through an acquataince who works for a water pump supply company, and happened to be working in a nearby area when some villagers asked him if he could install a water pump for them as well d salinitysince they had to hand carry water from another village. Mind you they were only asking for a hand pump not a motorized one. He agreed and convinced his company to donate one and installed it Soon after he was physically threatened by the local bigwigs, including the fruit farm owners, for trying to buy villagers’ sympathy and trying to incite them to rebel.

    As they later found out these villagers were all bonded labor and a handy votebank for these guys whenever it came time for elections. These guys never felt the need to give anything back to these peasants because they were nothing to them.. to make a long story short the pump guy convinced them he had no political aspirations and was merely helping them out. Also he had political connections of his own, those guys brokered an agreement with these bigwigs and the villagers got their handpump. In the midst of all this, he also got to know these villagers pretty well and he was told there was no school, even though there was a trained teacher in the the village, the reason being the same ones Bibi told her son. Even with his education and will the teacher was unable to teach because everytime he tried the bigwigs would beat him up and threaten his family. Now with the outsider, with influence, they also negotiated a primary school, which is where my friend comes in as she is funding the school through funds raised on a personal level. Calling the one room hut a school is a severe misnomer but even that is a huge deal for these villagers. I visited this village and school last fall when I was in Karachi and heard this story first hand. The distance between the village and fruit farms might as well be the distance between South Asia and the US so obvious and hard hitting is the difference. These guys in the village are now running the school on their own, so there was obvious no lack of knowledge but they def needed an outsider to make it possible for them to help negotiate the arrangement.

    Basically, what I am trying to say is that while the will to make a difference might be there but given the context at times it does take an outsider to make an actual difference. So even if this is a stereotype I wouldn’t dismiss it quite as easily because this where highlighting such issues can bring awareness to those of us in the cities who think such issues happen only in remote areas or whatnot ..Particularly in times like what Pakistan is going thru where th govt has no interest whatsoever in bring change at the grass roots levels. The latest initiative – brining wifi to the Thar area where there is no water – is the latest shining example of brilliant governance.

    • I’m just reading this and nodding my head here. I’ve heard similar stories from several friends who’ve tried to help out with rural development efforts in India, in sub-Saharan Africa, and in Eastern Europe. Often, it’s about local corruption and graft and not necessarily ancient imbalances in the power structure, but the end result is the same.

      It has been said that there are only 6-7 original stories and the rest are all permutations thereof

      One of my closest friends in the world simplifies this even further. According to him, everything in the world–literally everything–can be described in one of two words: “in” or “out”. I’ve been trying to prove him wrong for years, but I think he’s onto something, lol.

  6. Commenting in parts because am afraid of losing it and refuse to retype

    Re: the foreign vs the indigenous: I am not quite sure if the point is being made about only “foreign” degress or a more generic comment abt western styled education, which is different from the madrassa type homegrown education. Because if we move away from the label of “foreign” then we see Aurang in SeMM & Wali in DeD, to name two just off the top of my head, who were educated in the “city” and hence expected to bring about change. And by that token then even the harbingers of change in dramas like Udaari, Rehaii, or even the health worker in Sammi, all have more education than the most rudimentary level of education that we see happening in villages. And even if there were to be a local school wouldn’t that to be teaching science and tech, say new farming methods or livestock breeding techniques or medicine etc?

    If the problem is with the person being foreign qualified then doesnt that show bias on our part to say that just because the education is from Boston rather than Delhi it is somehow tainted? And if we go down that outsider route way than wont even a local college in Karachi will still be an outside education for say for instance this village outside of Karachi? The local teacher, in my example above, was educated in Karachi. And the local ladies and men referred to him as the sheher wala sahab.

    Also, when we see Bibi or say a Torah Khan or say a Gulistan Khan or any of the real life panchayat holders is there any questioning their intelligence? Do we doubt even for a minute their skill and manipulation, the way they have managed to run a parallel personal government along side the national governemt? I would say there is nobody smarter and more intelligent than these guys who have now come to a point where the Govt of Pakistan has actually legalized the jirgas and tribal councils and panchayats! Or are we saying that somehow their intelligence does not hold as much weight/value as say a local farmer or fisherman’s would? If we are then that is a problem, IMO.

    @FAM made a valid point about subtle social elitism and I agree with her but do know that in a society like Pakistan it takes almost super human will to affect change without having some kind of support or the other. Yes, people do and can make change happen and our mainstream should highlight those as well, but in the meanwhile I think I would also appreciate the real life difficulties faced in making any kind of change happen. If a landlord’s favorite son is facing so much resistance I can well understand why others lower in the social heirachy would choose to bide time till they see something happen and then join in the movement for change.

    A particular fact of Pakistani society which is taken almost as a given hence generally overlooked is that a large majority of national level politicians are from a feudal background – the Sharif brothers, the Bhuttos earlier, the Zardaris among others- and many among them are foreign educated, but that is because it is the done thing among that class, hence the surprise in Wali’s grandfather when he talks about social change or in Shahzeb’s case here .. these guys are not expected to change- its more like going to finishing school and returning with the right academic credentials .. so for these guys to talk of change is not really as common as it may seem.. and in that sense I would call such characters, like Shahzeb or even to some extent Wali, aspirational rather stereotypical, at least in the Pakistani context, and much needed now in the context of the legislation legalizing the Panchayats.

    At the end of the day though this boils down to an academic/theoretical debate… Whether the drama itself can manage to live up to the first few episodes of course remains to be seen. For now, this particular is hitting the right notes for me. Aage tau we know from experience that it is not just how it is written, directed or acted its also dependent on how the producers and channels treat it later so a lot of things can and usually go wrong. All that said whether one likes a drama or not is entirely a matter of personal choice, but its always good to read and learn from diff viewpoints and analyses. Keep them coming! 🙂

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