Aisa kahan hota hai … /… Yeh kaisey loag hain ... / … Sassi jaisi larkiyan kahan hoti hain … / … Qasim itna sissy type kyon hai ... / … Tipu itna annoying joker kyon hai …. /… Why is Mammo such a roti dhoti wimp … / … Is kahani mein koi bhi kirdar “normal” kyon nahin hai??
How does one define normal in a world where nothing is normative or prescriptive?
A place where there exists no morality, no compassion, ethics ko goli maro, sharam aur haya khatam ho chuki ho, adab lihaz ka siray se koi guzar hi na ho, har koi sirf apna hi bhala dekhta aur sochta ho, aik aisi jagah jahan naik, shareef loag munh chupatey phiren aur badmash uchakay seena taan kar chaltay hon, jahan betay waledain ko sarak par laa kar khara karne ka sochtay hon, aur jawan betiyon ke baap ‘ishq farmatey na thaktey hon ….
In as much as O Rungreza is about the here and now, for me the true genius of Saji Gul’s O Rungreza lies in its depiction of a dystopic society marked by a cataclysmic decline in values and morals.
Sassi, Qasim, Mammo, Tipu, Khayyam, Sonya, Meena – all characters dipped in colors of chaos and drawn out of dysfunction, inhabit a space where there is no place left for any other. Khayyam who turned selfishness into an art form, Sassi who pursued her ambitions to a point beyond pointlessness, Sonya swooped in on another woman’s husband, Tipu saw his parents as handy cash cows, Wajih showed no qualms in using Sassi as a convenient instrument of revenge.
Painted by the rungreza’s brush in vivid vibrant hues, these characters took immense pride in pushing boundaries of socially acceptable behavior, as rebels questioning norms. Their actions those of beings dancing to a frenzied beat, the tunes of which only they seem to hear. But is this really true? Are those beats really that silent?
Patriarchy, male honor, toxic masculinity, control and manipulation, repression, suppression, emotional mental, financial and physical abuse … These behaviours do not come out of nowhere. They do not grow in a vacuüm.
What we see with people like Khayyam, Tipu and Wajih is centuries of enabled behaviour, one that as a society we have allowed to grow to the point where it has taken on a toxic life all its own. And it is in retaliation to this kind of suppression, a response if you will, that a girl like Sassi comes to the fore.
Fragile and feminine on the outside, Sassi is cruel and hard on the inside. But should she alone be called out for her questionable choices? What about the societal setup around her that failed to provide her with positive female role models? Why aren’t we equipping our daughters to deal positively and proactively with the realities of today’s world, where life is a bit more complicated than waiting for the errant husband to eventually find his way back home.
Bearing the burden of gendered stereotypes hinders not just girls but even boys from developing healthy relationships, leading to self-confidence issues. In Qasim we see a boy-man so beholden to his aunt’s family he is never able to realize his full potential, always holding himself back in case someone in the family needed him.
Like Sassi, Qasim also knows what he does not want to become – another Khayyam or a Tipu – but where is a gentle boy like him to go looking for a model worthy of emulation? Isn’t it a societal tragedy of epic proportions that a twit like Tipu has thousands of like-minded people whose footsteps he could follow but an honest upstanding guy like Qasim is considered a failure and a social misfit?
Preoccupied as we are these days with negativity and naysayers is there any space left in our narratives for humanity, sensitivity, empathy, compassion, kindness?
Important, thought-provoking questions such as these are what will stay with me long after O Rungreza has ended. And this to me is what good, meaningful entertainment should be: asking audiences to think, reflect and hopefully look at the world around a little differently.
Zooming in on to the specifics, as the story winds down there is the inevitable tying up of loose ends and while I get the urge for a neatly tied package, I so wish that end had not been handled in quite so pat a manner. Karma, for one.
Karma plays a big role in bringing things to a head as Sonya and Khayyam now find themselves at the mercy of Mammo. She is no longer the once confused and abused wife, this is a new Mammo. And this is where I will say that I am disappointed by the writing, with the introduction of religion into the narrative.
The thought of Mammo being spiritually rewarded for all her worldly sufferings via Meena’s dreams is extremely problematic as it attaches godly virtue to suffering in silence in abusive relationships. Mammo gained strength over time, with Qasim’s help, Sassi’s urging and spurred on by Tipu’s asinine misdeeds – why then add religion in to an already overflowing pot?
Along similar lines, the issue of Meena’s conversion seemed out of place and uncalled for in a story as special as this one. Also, Meena’s religious turn, shown as incompatible with “modernity”, her religiosity conveyed through conservative clothing feed into very problematic stereotypes, all of which I wish the team had thought through a bit more seriously.
These stumbling blocks aside, O Rungreza has offered a lot of food for thought through its run. From writing to acting to directing to creating a distinct design for this dystopic world, every department has worked together to create a merit worthy project. Kashif Nisar’s understanding of the nuances of Saji Gul’s complex script has brought out intricacies that could’ve otherwise easily been lost. Among the actors, Nauman Ijaz has an author backed role and he does it justice. Omair Rana is so very suave as Wajih. Sana Fakhar is effective as Sonya.
But really O Rungreza is all about Irsa Ghazal and the three youngsters: Sajal, Bilal and Hamza. Sajal is absolutely brilliant as the young girl flailing and falling, frightened out of her wits but never losing her cool and collected exterior. Bilal is pitch perfect as the gentle Qasim. Hamza annoyed many as Tipu but for me that is the success of the character. Tipu is neither here nor there, but his manhood is never in question the way Qasim’s is – a brilliant juxtapositioning of the two different characters by Saji Gul.
Finally, chalte chalte, Irsa Ghazal. Mammo: You had me at hello and here I am … holding on till the last goodbye…
And this then is my take on O Rungreza … ab waiting on you guys. Been a long while since we discussed this one. Let’s hear it… what do you all think?
Written by SZ~