Twenty seven weeks after the first episode aired on APlus, Pinjra has ended its run on a very strong note. Written by Imran Nazir and co-directed by Kashif Nisar and Shahid Rashid, this one was a tale of feudalism and patriarchal honor and addressed the place of women in a system where local jirgas bypass the law of the land and mete out their own version of justice.
Even as a girl Asiya had always yearned to be free, fly high in the sky like the birds she loved so much. The idea that these lovely free creatures were caged on a whim, merely for amusement, was an anathema to her. Little did she know then that her life would play such games that she too would be imprisoned, for no fault of her own, paying a price for sins she did not commit. But then it was never about her, wasn’t it? She suffered on account of a brother who was so much a part of the system that fighting for his sister never occurred to him.
And it was not only his sister, Mubashir also lost a mother, a wife and a daughter – all for a crime he did not commit. What this story highlighted very well was the mindset of those who have fully internalized the oppressiveness of a system spread over generations. He could’ve moved but that piece of aabayi zameen was very important to him. Such is the thinking that allows feudalism to prosper. But then again, when it came down to saving his own skin versus sticking it out with the lane, he was smart enough to pick the former option. Clearly his own life was more of more value to him than that of his sister’s. Mubashir’s last choice underscored the patriarchal mindset, where a man’s life is ultimately more worth saving than a woman’s.
And it was exactly this rationalization that Jahan tried to present to Bibi, when he came begging for his life. For the life of him he couldn’t understand why Bibi was not getting it! But was Jahan solely to blame for thinking this way? He was only thinking and saying what he had ben taught by his elders. His brother Ranga never thought twice before lifting his hand to his wife. His mother had not blinked even once when she extracted the price for Ranga’s murder – Asiya as Jahan’s vani. What we saw here was that patriarchy is not perpetuated only through men, but is also supported by women who see this as the only way to gain power in a male dominated system.
What I appreciated here was that not all men shown were brutes and cowards. If there were the Rangas, Jahans and Mubashir’s there was also a Zebi. The soft-spoken, very caring man, was quite the anomaly in this testosterone heavy feudal setup. Zaibi had dreams of changing the system from the inside out. He did not see things changing unless someone in his position took the first step. He knew he would face resistance, but his own mother would be the one to stand in his way, as strongly as she did, came as surprise. But he persevered, not heeding his mother’s warnings till he paid the ultimate price.
Bibi was the tough matriarch, who not only ruled over her household but also the jirga with an iron-fist. I am so glad that over time we got to the still-wounded woman hiding behind the very tough façade. But this insight was not easily gotten. Zebi was the son closest to her heart, personifying the gentleness that was once a part of her personality, a part she had willed herself to forget. He was the one she couldn’t refuse anything, but then there came a time when he asked for too much. The cracks started showing the day she mouthed the first refusal but the ice finally broke the day he died. The cocktail of power and control was heady but was it worth the price of losing her beloved son? These were questions with no easy answers, questions that required an honest conversation with herself.
Zulekha was another one woman who refused to be cowed. She was not strong enough to demand equality on her own merit so she played games, pitting one person against the other and then sitting back and enjoying the tamasha. But how long can such games last, particularly when she was not playing with a full deck. Her love for Mubashir was her biggest shortcoming and ultimately her strongest weakness.
There was a lot more that happened in this span of 27 weeks, but by the time it all ended we had circled back to Asiya freeing the birds in Bibi’s house. Hers was quite the journey, but she emerged stronger at the end. Over time she learned that there were no knights in shining armors, no brothers charging in to the rescue – it was all up to her. And finally she stood free like her beloved birds. Her achievement so much more special because in freeing herself she had also freed the other household women of their mental cages. She had empowered herself and was now empowering other girls in the village by implementing Zebi vision of universal education.
Imran Nazir did a great job with the script, which maintained narrative coherence till the end. I appreciated the powerful takeaway message, but do feel that the slow pace severely affected the flow of the story and it became a dragfest in the last 5-7 episodes, which made it difficult to watch regularly. Kashif Nisar and Shahid Rashid’s direction was spot on and they got very good performances from their cast, bar one. Hassan Ahmed was the weakest link here and very likely the reason Mubashir’s track did not garner any interest, and this was a huge problem because his was a central character.
Where Mubashir did not work Hassan Niazi was fantastic as Jahan. He had this debauched feudal down pat. Kiran Haq was more than his equal as the conniving Zulekha and I absolutely loved her very distinctive look. Aimy Khan and Faiza Gilani were very effective as Nazo and Sakina. Daniyal Raheal impressed as the soft spoken Zebi. I loved his scenes with Samina Ahmed, they were very good together. His other partner in crime Yumna was brilliant here. Her Asiya went through so much but the actor never faltered. There were many times when had the potential to go the mazloom aurat route, but the character was held back firmly in check. There was vulnerabilty mixed in with a sense of resolve, and towards the end, as Asiya starts coming in to her own, Yumna totally owned her.
Now that is over, if for nothing else, Pinjra should be watched just for Samina Ahmed’s powerhouse perfrormance as Bibi. She was absolutely magnificent. An iron-fisted tyrant, a cruel mother-in-law, a grieving mother, an abused wife, girl mouring her lost youth – this was Bibi in a nutshell. A very complex character, Samina ji played all her shades to perfection. Bibi gave me the chills, but then towards the end I also felt the depth of pain and sorrow. To guide the viewers through such a range of emotions is not as easy ask but Samina ji made it all look so effortless. Given the paucity of training facilities, I hope younger artists are looking to such giants and learning from them every chance they get.
All in all, I enjoyed this journey with Pinjra. Yes, it dragged on for a few episodes too long, but overall it remained true to its original promise. The story remained as raw and gritty as ever and I am glad they did not compromise and soften it up to please commercial sensibilities. That said, there is a lot to be said about the importance of good publicity design – this was the worst ever serial poster I’ve seen in recent times.
Finally, as we close out on this serial, a huge shoutout to all the readers, those who commented as well those who remained silent. Thank you for sticking with me for this one – spinning pinjra ‘n all! Thanks guys!
Written by SZ~