After a tumultuous thirty one weeks Sassi’s restless soul has found its way back home. With Khayyam’s direction Sassi is on the path that will lead her to the ultimate Rungreza. It is HIS color that she now seeks.
As she dances alongside fellow seekers, memories of the past rush through her mind. Images of Sonia and Qasim flash in front of her eyes. They were mere mirages, she now realizes, but back then she had thought of them as her destination. Such intense learning and unlearning takes time and is not gained without suffering and Sassi has endured more than her fair share of pain and paid a very heavy price for where she is today.
But how did she get to this point? Where and when did sassy Sassi’s life take such a 180° turn? Most importantly, is this – spending the rest of her life at a shrine – the only way for her to be with her Rungreza? What are the larger implications of Sassi/O Rungreza’s end?
First questions first though.
When we first met Sassi she was a brash young rebel, unafraid of going against established socio-cultural norms. She challenged patriarchy, called out societal hypocrisy, and stood up against prescribed gender roles.
Along with Sassi, the vibrant O Rungreza universe also introduced us to various aspects of human nature: Khayyam Sani, Mammo, Kareeman Bua, Qasim, Sonya Jahan, Wajih, Tipu and Meena/Amina. In their own way each character made us re-think what we take as norms and givens. Mard ban yaar, kitna sissy larka hai, aurtein yeh nahin kar saktein, mardon ko waisa ho chahiye, tum biwi ho biwi ban kar raho, larkiyon ko aisi nahin bolna chahiye, shareef larkiyan aisi nahin kartein, duniya kya kahegi, hum izzat dar loag hain, yeh tau aurtein waley kaam hain…. all this we have heard and internalized after centuries of conditioning. Despite knowing better, a similarly worded phrase is bound to have come out of each of our mouths at some point or the other.
I have reviewed this serial extensively so will not go into details (check out archive here ) but needless to say Saji Gul’s script offered us plenty of food for thought up until the 20th or so episode – about the half way point.
Issues with the serial started when the narrative started getting stretched, scenes long-winded and maudlin, and dialogues sounding more like they belonged in a literary magazine, where they could be read and re-read at leisure, rather than being apt for a visual medium like TV. Add to this the very problematic introduction of religion, in a story that was really hitting it out of the ballpark up until this point.
Meena’s conversion started the story rolling down a very slippery slope from which it lost momentum and dare I say went out of control very fast. To posit Mammo, a long suffering abused wife, as an ideal for Meena was all kinds of problematic, particularly in a country where the prevailing mindset is still to keep quiet and pray to God for deliverance. Also, the idea that clothes were some kind of a barometer of religiosity and acted as a protection from unwanted attention was also troubling.
After her conversion Amina transforms into a benchmark of purity and perfection against which Sassi’s every action was weighed and measured. The money Sassi offers to help the family is rejected but help offered by Meena accepted, even though Meena had earned it the same way – by “selling herself”. Time and again Sassi is berated for her choice of career and Mammo lives in constant fear of her khandani izzat being besmirched.
Even as she rejects Sassi, Mammo accepts Meena as a daughter, on account of her mehnat, she tells Sassi, but more, I suspect, because the former has modeled herself almost completely on Mammo, right down to acting as a doormat and waiting for her husband, Qasim, to return her love.
With intertwining characters and tracks galore, after a point it was as if it got difficult for creators to decide where to focus and what to highlight. Hence we had Mammo’s continued unhappiness, Sonya’s deteriorating health, Tipu’s shenanigans, Meena’s sati savitri turn, Qasim’s I-love-Sassi-I-love-her-not, Sassi’s film, Wajih’s big bad wolf act, the film premier, Sonia’s glossed over murder, Meena’s pregnancy, Tipu’s disappearance, Wajih’s disappearance, end of Sassi’s film career and then her mental breakdown. Enough to make anyone’s head spin. How did it all this lead to Sassi’s turn to spirituality in the last fifteen minutes of the final episode is where the question of coherent story-telling and pacing of the narrative arises.
O Rungreza had started off as a broad-based social commentary but by the time it ended it was only critiquing Sassi’s perceived transgressions, and before her Sonya’s. As in real life, here too only the two women who dared challenge the rules were brought under fire. The rest all sat pretty in their glass houses. Left off the hook were Khayyam and Mammo and Qasim and Tipu. Khayyam and Qasim both got several chances to please their cases, Sassi and Sonya weren’t half as lucky. They were judged and sentenced. Case closed.
Khayyam, whose shairana mizaj started off the story, ended the story pretty much where he began – the somber head of the household. The emotional abuse he heaped on his wife year after year, bad parenting, extra marital affair, murder – all were like water under the bridge as he yet again donned the mantle of authority and yet again his daughter looked to him for advice.
And this leads me to my biggest problem with this story. From the begining, we are told Sassi is a “strong” girl. But how and where is she actually shown as that? What does the word “strong” mean to the writer? The Sassi we met was a headstrong girl – bucking the norms, challenging every rule that was set down in front of her. But is headstrong = strong?
Where was Sassi’s growth? Where was the reflection, the introspection? When did she act like a responsible woman, in control of her actions and thoughts? Strength is not just about flaunting the rules it is also about working with rules to change them, for not just ones own self but for others. And then there was the break-down. Both Sonya and Sassi were made to suffer from illnesses – punishments meted out for their sins, I presume. In sharp contrast none of the men, Khayyam, Qasim, Tipu or Wajih, suffered from any such ailment, no matter what the did. Not just society even God seemed to want to punish women who challenged the norms in this drama.
Till the end Sassi is as if a child, she continues to look to others, more specifically the men for help and advice. Has life taught her nothing? Has she learned nothing about herself as yet? And for to turn her entire life around based on her father’s advice? Hadn’t he disappointed her innumerable times before? Hadn’t she seen through him? This is just unfathomable to me. Why does the narrative give so much import to the words of a man who has no dignity and honor left. Why is Khayyam Sani resurrected again? What has he done to regain Sassi/our respect?
It was not just in Sassi’s case where it disappointed, even in terms of challenging norms O Rungreza ended up reifying exactly that which it claimed to break down. Sassi’s entire struggle ended being about shaadi and pyar, and being like other “regular” girls. That there was nothing larger or more important at stake here was terribly disappointing – this was a great opportunity wasted. All the women in this drama, Sonya, Meena, Mammo, Sassi, all they want is love and home. If not that, then there is God. What kind of a take home message is this? Ya tau ghar ya phir dargah ka dar? Is there nothing in between?
Instead of the crowd-pleasing end, cleansing Sassi of her “mistakes” by showing her turn towards spirituality, why not have Sassi leave the past behind and go pursue higher studies somewhere far away and make something of her life. Wouldn’t that be a more productive message for women all over? Instead of giving Qasim so much screen where he dithered between loving and not-loving Sassi, how about having Meena walking out on her wishy-washy husband and starting life anew.
When are we going to stop glorifying these kinds of emotionally abusive relationships, where a wife keeps waiting for the erring husband to return to her/home? When will she stop begging for his love? Had their roles been reversed would an erring Meena have been allowed to lay her head that comfortably on Qasim’s lap? Going by Sassi’s example I think not.
Even if society is not ready for “strong women” stories, is not incumbent on our media and creatives to make change happen – one character, one story at a time? Sassi’s was a character begging for a different end – that it did not happen, and we got a cop out instead, is very sad and disappointing.
The spiritual turn at the end of the story would have made sense in another kind of a story, but here it is as if everybody ran out of ideas at the end. This easy resort, using religion as a quick fix for plot twists and clean endings is very problematic, specially in a divided society like ours. The serial claimed to be progressive and it was indeed so, but the last nine/ten episodes were very troubling – I am disappointed and had expected better.
Apart from writing, Kashif Nisar’s direction which had started off as top notch at the begining, also began to slide towards the end, as the melodrama began to sink in and the scenes became stretched. Sajal’s breakdown scene in particular was very troubling. I have mentioned the problem with the camera’s gaze in Kashif Nisar’s Dar Si Jati Hai Sila, and here too one notes the exact same thing – the camera revels in showing the victim’s humiliation and discomfort. That particular scene should not have been allowed to drag.
My peeves with writing and directing aside the acting was top notch throughout. Sajal was fantastic and easily the star of the show. Nauman Ijaz was his usual self, although the character petered out after the halfway point. Bilal Abbas Khan, Sonia Mishal, Hamza Firdaus all impressed. Sana Fakhar was impressive as Sonya Jahan and Omair Rana made a great Wajih. Irsa Ghazal was fabulous throughout as Mammo. Fareeha Jabeen was great as Kareeman Bua. The OST is firmly planted on my faves list.
All in all O Rungreza offered us a lot to chew on. It brought a different kind of story telling to the fore, shifted the focus away from hero-heroine mode of story telling and placed pertinent issues right on the center stage. Unfortunately even as it started off on a brilliant note it got lost along the way – but for all this I would really push for shorter serials. This would have been an excellent serial had it ended about ten episodes ago. Stretching might be good for the producers, channels and sponsors but it is killing the art of story telling.
As we close the books on this serial, a huge shout out to all of you who read the reviews and participated in the discussions – thank you guys!
Written by SZ~