Alif Allah Aur Insaan ~ Episodes 1-6 Review

One nose, two eyes, two ears, two arms and two legs – we humans are all the same. Beyond the basics, however, there are differences galore. Each of us walks through life on a path uniquely ours. Destiny has and does play a big role in starting us off, but so much of who we are what we become and where we end up depends as much on the choices we make as it does on those whom we meet along the way. Hence even as life is a personal experience it is informed and shaped as much by the person living it as it is by those around him. Conversely, despite the individual nature of the journey, the destination for all of humanity is the same: a return to the Creator.

It is these esoteric concepts – intertwining of fate and free will, intersectionality of individuals’ paths, the overlaying of the personal journey with that of the collective – that form the crux of Qaisera Hayat’s novel Alif Allah Aur Insaan.

Adapted for screen by the novelist herself and directed by Aehsun Talish, MD Productions’ serial Alif Allah aur Insaan is one I had been eagerly anticipating. Boasting a hat ke plot, an experienced director at the helm of affairs, a popular cast, and last but not the least all the MD bells and whistles… matlab ke this one had blockbuster written all over it. And so I started this one with great expectations.

Alif Allah is the story of Nazneen, Shahzeb, Nigar, Rani and Shammo, five very different people whose paths intersect for but brief moments in time, but such is the power of these encounters that none of them remains the same thereafter. For Shahzeb its his first glimpse of Nazneen’s face, Nigar’s life changes forever after meeting Shahzeb, Nazneen’s arrogance pushes Shammo to introspection and stars find a permanent residence in Rani’s eyes after a chance encounter with Nigar.

As the story unfolds some of what happens to these characters can be chalked up to destiny, but free will plays a big role in how they respond to situations and how their choices then end up altering the direction of their lives. If the combo of fate and free will were not enough to make mischief we also see here the impact others – well-wishers and the not-so-well-wishers – have on our principals’ actions, decisions and choices. For Shahzeb, baba ji is a mentor who explains to him the larger purpose of life, Nazneen has her chichori friends whose inane chatter leads her to see Basit in a new light, Shammo’s life takes a 180º turn when first the kindly ustad Jamal and now Seema steer him in a new direction, and Nigar has Chaman begum who thrives on stirring the pot in her kotha.

Story wise there is a lot here to reflect on. Aehsun Talish does a commendable job in keeping the various tracks separate yet connected and there is a . I am also enjoying his visual narration where there is a significant shift from the patented MD style – tight closeups and beauty shots, static frames, tourist brochure type landscape shots, absence of dust and grime – and brings in movement and wider open shots and you feel hustle and bustle of small town bazaars, the lush serenity of open fields, and you actually see a main character looking less than perfect. The director has also done his homework with regard to understanding his characters and their motivations, and has for the most part been successful in conveying his vision to his actors.

So far so good. The problems, and there are many (!), arise when what looks great on paper does not transition quite as smoothly on to the screen. For starters, I get that this is a complex story, but once the decision was made to televise it why then the need to dilute it? And that too to the extent that all that made the story special in the first place is essentially rendered meaningless? Was it not deemed enough that the opening episode set up the basic premise (didn’t quite buy into that scene with the teacher but the writing worked), that we need the subtext turned into the text and hammered in repeatedly with baba ji’s scenes and voiceovers? Surely there is a reason why the subtext is called just that and is different from the text.

Also lost here is the difference between a written text and a visual narrative. There is way too much talking, over explaining, and different scenes keep repeating the same idea over and over again. Case in point Nazneen and her friends’ shopping trip with Basit in this latest episode. Not only was the acting beyond mediocre and the dialogues inane, but that one cringe-worthy outing basically lasted through the episode. And this brings me to the issue of time. Why does time move differently for different tracks?

Last week Shammo moved to the city and within a 30 minute span became the hottest thing since sliced bread, but then this week Nazneen’s outing didn’t seem to want to end! And this time travel happened with Rani too as she underwent what seemed like a Fair & Lovely sponsored transformation. Gone were her blackened rotten front teeth (although to be fair they came and went at will earlier too) and gone was the overly tanned bhikaran and what we got in her stead was every desi saas’ dream of a chand si bahu. Had it been any another serial I would’ve wondered if this was  the director taking poetic license with time, as in how it stands still for some but seems to race for others, but here, where everything is spelled out to the nth degree, I don’t think that is quite the case.

Of the actors and their characters, Imran Ashraf as Shammo is hands down the pick of the lot here. Yes, his character is endearing in its writing but more than that it is the actor’s whole-hearted commitment that serves them both well. Sana Fakhar is a great choice as Nigar and her filmy persona fills the shoes of this smitten tawaif really well. In many ways, Nigar brings to mind Sunheray from Mumtaz Mufti’s brilliant short story Samay ka Bandhan.

Kubra Khan’s Nazneen suggests another comparison, but one not as flattering; Falak as played by Mahira Khan in Shehr-e Zaat. Falak was flighty and arrogant but had a sense of vulnerability, a naiveté about her that added an interesting depth and dimension to her character. Here, Nazneen lacks any kind of nuance whatsoever, leaving us with a cardboard cut out of a shallow self-centered girl. And her OTT makeup and hair is not doing her any favors either. Even if it wasn’t so in the script, I wish the director had played with this one a bit to keep it interesting. She is the weakest link here.

Ushna Shah’s Rani, however, is a fab character. Here, we get not only depth and dimension but also nicely defined arc which gives the actor a lot to work with and she tries to do just that. Unfortunately though Ushna’s efforts didn’t always pay off, particularly in the earlier episodes where in her beggar’s avatar she tried too hard and ended up alternating between really bad and good with alarming frequency. Her makeup too seemed to come and go at will. It is pretty clear that by now makeup artists have perfected the art of making actresses look like valimey ki dulhans no matter the requirements of the scene but the art of playing it down remains elusive. That said, now that Rani is Reena begum I do like her bare look and thankfully she is no longer required to “act.”

Mikaal Zulfiqar has not had much to do so far, but I do like the thehrav that he brings to Shahzeb. There are depths to this man, his arrogance shone through in his rejection of Nigar’s izhar-e muhabbat, but will have to wait to see more from this character. And this brings me back to my biggest problem with this serial.

While the written text has depth and nuance sadly the visual version has none and I don’t know if I can make it through however many plus weeks of heavy-duty in-your-face philosophizing, particularly when the story is doing a perfectly decent job of illustrating the said falsafa. Hence even as I am intrigued by arcs for the main characters, they talk too much for my liking, there is way too much repetition and the scenes far too long for me to stay interested.

Needless to say I am disappointed – I had higher expectations from this MD + Aehsun Talish combo. Going forward I shall keep an eye on this one to gauge its progress and see where the story goes but for now Alif Allah aur Insaan is off my weekly must-watch list.

What about you all? Looking forward to reading your views on this one!
Written by SZ~

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25 replies

  1. SZ!! Great Article…You got over your writer’s block yay!!! I soooo agree with you. Episode 5 was so of putting with the repetitive tawaef dialogues that I just decided to wait before resuming this drama again. I love Imran Ashraf’s acting he had brought a lot more to Shammo’s character than scripted. Amazing versatility. Really wondering when Mikaal’s story is finally going to start.

    It really is rare to find a drama which keeps me engaged these days. 🙂

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    • @Seher: Hello ji! Thanks for reading and commenting. I was getting worried that everybody had given up on me ever writing 😦 But yeah its great to finally be back – appreciate your patience and the support!

      Glad to know I’m not the only one feeling gypped with this one :/I kept reading the glowing comments on various forums and was so confused ke mat poocho, I really thought ke there must be something very wrong with me ke Im not getting this masterpiece.
      Re repetition: Haina! Abhi tau you missed out the OTT never ending chichora pan of Nazneen’s friends in the latest episode .. taubah taubah!!

      Yup, I hear you … I’m not watching much either other than Pinjra which has shaped up to be such a gem of a serial.

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      • SZ unfortunately I have a slight different opinion about Pinjra. Where horrible things happen in Kashif Nisar’s previous drama’s there was some mystery and subtility on how it was presented on screen. Pinjra is in your face torture. The love story also makes no sense, why is Zebi interested in Aasiya… social cause tak to theek hain… overall I am quite disappointing, or perhaps my expectations were too high. Also I wish there was better casting to me Samina Ahmed was a bad choice for bibi Jahan….

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        • @Seher: Oops! Sorry yaar then I wasted your time – hope you didn’t give me too many gaalis when watching 😉 I’m sure @JR will be glad to know your er since she is not a fan either 😀
          No, but seriously, thanks for sharing your honest take .. I would like to think we have here a space where we can agree to disagree.
          Are you watching Yaqeen Ka Safar? I think I’m trial-ing (love this phrase coined by @Annie) that one next .. lets see how that goes …

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          • LOL….I don’t mind giving it a shot! I think I watched the first episode of YKS. The whole shaadi wali raat room scene was just boring and disturbing at the same time. How hard is it to write a good dialogue and leave some things to imagination? No I have decided to watch something you all have been raving about for a while but I never got to… I am going to binge watch Pehchan. Will let you know my thoughts 😀

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    • @Shamim Hasan: Hello, welcome back! Lovely to hear from you after a long while – we’ve missed you ❤

      Uff! Mat poochen … the story was and continues to be intriguing but the way its being presented is akin to a War and Peace type tome being read out to 5 year olds (Im sure there are better analogies out there but this is all I can think off at the moment).

      What are you watching these days?

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  2. Hello Ji I am back to enjoy all the comments & complains about our so called entertainment media, missed this forum a lot. I too read some glorious comments that were so majbur kerne wale ke I thought I should give it a try & watch it. Good I read ur review and saved me from the torture of seeing it.

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  3. Welcome back SZ! Finally we get to read a real review – missed your writings. I have to admit (sadly) that I too am disappointed with AAaurI. I expected a lot more from Aehsun Talish – subtle nuances and underlying spirituality instead of in your face obvious acting. Loving Imran as shammo but find Nigar Begum annoying and too filmy and dated. It’s just not working for me 😦
    I’ve unfortunately missed Pinjra but will catch up on it when I have some time. Enjoying Sammi and Yaqeen ka Safar though. Are you watching them?

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      • Hi Seher, working on Begangi for APlus, directed by Amin Iqbal with Asif Raza Mir, Durdana Butt, Shehroz sabzwari, Huma Nawab, Nausheen Ahmed, Aqdas Waseem and Zia Gurchani. A slightly different take on family relationships. Also reading a few scripts but haven’t finalised any yet. I am committed for Parwaz Hai Junoon (the film) written by Farhat Ishtiaq and being directed by Haseeb Hasan but haven’t started shooting for it yet. I have done a cameo for Yasir Nawaz ‘s upcoming film (SZ recognised my voice from the trailer) – let’s see how that goes.
        I am still not terribly excited by anything yet – hoping something will come up before I lose all hope 😉

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        • Thank you so much for your reply :). I will definitely be on the look out for Begangi. I loved your chemistry with Asif Sir in Ishq Gumshuda. :)… Your note about Manto on the other thread was appreciated. I was wondering if it was ever going to be shown on PK television, I also thought they would convert it to a drama, but I guess I can give up on those thoughts and just reluctantly watch the Indian copy.

          Wish you good luck with your future projects and hunt for something exciting 🙂

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    • Hina! Tons of pappies and jhappis, it is good to be back 🙂 Thank you as always for reading and commenting we are privileged to count you as one of our own – your support means a lot ❤

      So glad to know that we here are not alone in feeling let down by this one. Week after week as I read tareefs of this masterpiece I wondered if I had totally lost it and was seriously questioning whether I should even be writing about dramas any more since I clearly didn't know anything … It was initially in jest that I had started citing Manto's Tobah Tek Singh in the days of Diyar-e Dil (another masterpiece I totally did not get) but now I firmly believe that that story is totally playing itself out in the case of Pakistani Dramas … l understand and value difference of opinion and totally get that we are all entitled to our choices but these days I do feel like one of those lunatics in the asylum. Am I/we off or are those who lavish praise onto these masterpieces off? You had me chuckling at your use of the word "real" .. does anybody care anymore about a genuine take?

      Re: A3I (@VZ came up with this brilliant short form) I totally agree with you re: the dated-ness of the Nigar track and the whole channeling Rani bit but then when I look at the serial as a whole I find it very Lollywoodish (in its heyday) in its approach.. be it Mikaal as the gentle feudal or good maulvi or Annie Zaidi's getup as the chaudhrayan, the whole kotha set up, the stereotyping of the hairdressers and Nazneen's chichori girlfriends.. it all seems filmy to me. All through out as i watched these six eps I found myself going back to SeZ and re watching it … its been a few years and quite a few re-watches later it still looks and feels more fresh than what is airing these days .. and yes, I still want the clothes you and Mahira were wearing then!

      Re: Sammi: Ab what to say .. I had expected a lot (read tons and tons) more from Noor-ul Huda Shah and MD and the brilliant cast. The kindergarten level in-your-face linear narrative with a collection of all sorts of women-centric issues jumbled together and presented as yet another masterpiece of a spcial-issue wala drama did not work for me.
      Yaqeen Ka Safar I am starting to binge watch from tom .. I have heard good things about it and now with your recommendation added on I am looking forward to it. #FingerNToesCrossed

      P.S. Leaving another comment for you on the D'Buzz thread

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      • Sorrrrrry! Ramzan, shoots, travel and crazy hours have kept me away. I am hoping Begangi won’t disappoint – not promising a block buster but still getting a good feeling about it 🙂
        Reading a few scripts – including one by KuQ and our favourite Bee Gul! Hopefully will commit to something exciting………

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        • @HKB: Yay!!! Excited to read about the possibility of a collaboration between you and BG — fingers firmly crossed for that to happen!
          Will check out the first episode of Begangi and see how it goes from thereon 🙂

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  4. Yay, SZ! You’re back! Hopefully the writer’s block is well and truly behind you.

    Thanks for your (as always very articulate and well-observed) thoughts on A3I. I have to admit to being somewhat disappointed too. I thought the initial episodes were quite good, both from a production quality and writing/storytelling standpoint. But you’re absolutely right that there’s been far too much exposition.

    I’m also a little concerned that six episodes in, most of the characters are still pretty much where they were in Episode 1. Their circumstances have changed, but their outlook remains about the same, and I don’t feel like there’s scope for an actual journey for any of them yet? (I also admit that I’m shallow enough that some metaphysical/philosophical things go over my head, lol).

    On another note, I started watching Silvatein recently, and so far, I really like it. Pleasantly surprised at the use of humor to tell a story (though not nearly as well as Aunn-Zara) and the lack of maudlin family drama. Let’s hope it lasts past Episode 7!

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    • Silvatein is fab!!! Do check out the reviews for that one … I dont think I have ever had so much fun writing reviews 😀 😀 How fab are the four guys and to think this was Meera’s debut .. and oh this from where we started calling Daniyal (aka Zebi from Pinjra) chotu … bechara the name just never went away LOL! Also this was Samira F’s patented writing style before she went over to the dark side :/
      Baqi wont give you spoilers but aap khud samajhdar hain 😉

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      • Ha! Bechara chotu!

        The thing I’m enjoying most about Silvatein so far is Vasay Chaudhry, to be honest. I’m even a bit disappointed that Zaib and Mikaal probably won’t end up together, lol.

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    • @RK: Thank you for sharing your take on A3I. It is truly gratifying to be reassured that I haven’t lost it quite as yet, and that there are a few of us still interested in watching dramas at a level that goes [slightly] beyond the basics of recapping and OMG he’s so hot and she’s so pretty. Perhaps there is reason still for a DRNR to continue to exist.

      I had the same kinds of questions as you when I got to ep 3/4 of the serial and not much was happening so I skimmed through the novel. It seems like there is a lot yet to come but woh sab kab hoga is I guess up to the channel gods .. after all these serials needs a minimum air time of at least 25+ eps so let’s see. And waisey bhi the way they are explaining everything – down to the nth detail, it doesn’t seem like the pace is about to pick up any time soon.

      How’s Silvatein going?

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      • Ah, interesting. It’s true that I may not have the patience for the slow pace of A3I, but maybe it will turn out better in the end? I’ll probably just binge-watch the show when the run is over. Easier than waiting for a new episode each week, lol.

        Silvatein is pretty good so far! I’m through about Episode 9, and I’m slightly confused by the plot, but also really amused. I had no idea Aamina Sheikh had such great comedic timing!

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  5. As much as i loved your review I equally disliked A3I.. right from Ost to episode 5 i saw. I didn’t like anything..i don’t know why but it just didn’t clicked.. @SZ i liked how you gave reference of SeZ in your reply to HKB.. yes that nuance and subtext is completely missing.. something that hits you right there… i have heard some amazing praises for this novel.. i might read it sometime..but the drama itself is not working.. i really got tried of repeatition in epi 5.. aray bhayee hifz hogaya sab.. sab k characters sab ki baatein bus aage chalo ab.. Shamoo ‘s story was going so fast ..chutkion me..

    Sana Fakhar i quite liked her as Nigar Begum..

    Not a happy camper but if @SZ you continue to write reviews for this drama then i am bound to watch 🙂

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  6. I have visited this site for the first time but your reviews are so good. But why they are so few??? Lol.i watched first three episodes of Alif Allah or insan. They were good but now I feel it’s a lil slow and then there is no comic relief. And yes Kubra character is so irritating. A chirpy beautiful girl can gain anyone’s attention easily but after 5min anyone and everyone can get aversive of her

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    • @Shabana Diana: Hello hello welcome to DRNR! Lovely to hear from a new friend and thank you for reading the reviews, glad they resonated with you 🙂
      Haina! So glad that its not just us here but that you too feel that the pace has slowed down to a crawl … I wish they hadn’t spent so much time on explaining every colon, semi colon, and comma of the written text ..and again brings me back to the SeZ comparison in terms of subtlety and pacing. And yes, Nazneen is a brat of the first order. I wish the director, who is very experienced, would have worked a bit harder with Kubra, a newcomer, and spent time exploring the nuances (which seems to have been lost in translation) and not turned it into such an annoyingly abrasive character. Khair lets see how it unfolds .. Im going to return to it in a couple of weeks ..

      Re: few reviews: Haha! Arrey bhai bohot saarey hain .. but yes, you are right that I have very few of the recent stuff #guiltyascharged. Part of the reason is that I have been busy otherwise but also that the dramas overall have not really been the kind which give you enough to chew on .. that said, I am hoping to pick up pace and write a lot more after Eid, when we get a whole new slew of dramas. #fingersntoescrossed. And, dekhen ji, if I write more than you have to promise to not be a stranger. Please do subscribe to the blog for the latest posts and join us as we rant n rave about our fave and not so fave dramas!

      Looking forward to hearing more from you 🙂

      Like

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