Aur phir chalte chalte train apne aakhri station tak pohonch hi gayi… aur is safar ke ikhtetam pe aa kar janam liya ek naye safar ne … a fresh start a new beginning for the group of six women who had met and bonded on account of sharing their stories on this life-changing trip.
The women who had gotten on the train from Lahore had been a rag-tag group of strangers. Each compelled to walk away from that which had been familiar to her. Yasmin, Gulmeena, Farzana, Rafia, all had tried their best to make things work but as their stories revealed there came a point when walking away seemed liked the only way out of the dastardly situations in which they found themselves.
As the train chugged along, Shabana and Shumaila joined in and listening to others share their troubled lives emboldened them to share their tales of sorrow as well. Shabana’s problems stemmed from being married to a man ruled by his ego – he was highly educated and therefore, he felt, deserved a job equal to his qualifications. That such a job was not available and that household bills needed to be paid and children needed to be fed did not quite make it through the me-myself-and-I echo chamber in his head.
If Shabana and her children – born and unborn- suffered on account of her husband being an egomaniac, an aptly named Shumaila suffered on account of being married off to an insecure man. Parents seek nothing less than a chand ka tukra when looking for a bahu but not once do they stop to think of their less than moon-faced son. To see Shumaila’s beautiful face disfigured so horifically was absolutely heart wrenching.
Getting a disparate group of people to open up and share their most painful memories with a bunch of strangers is a herculean task, but Tehmina’s seemingly genuine interest and most importantly her non-judgmental attitude gets these women to open up and gradually a circle of sharing and caring is formed.
That Tehmina is able to look past the obvious socio-economic disparity, the differences in ethnicity and language and culture speaks to her open-mindedness and her willingness to engage with that which may not be visible at first glance. And this may not have seemed as a huge deal when she first walked in to the train station, but as the various stories gradually unfolded so did her past unravel. Tehmina may appear calm, collected and controlled now, but she too had to had to travel down a difficult path to get this far.
Where the other ladies had to physically walk away from toxic situations, Tehmina’s fight was internal and her journey emotional rather than physical. But there were certain resonances as well. Like her fellow passengers, Tehmina too had to fight against social stigma. For others it may have been a societal stigma – walking away from marriages, leaving children behind, HIV, etc – for Tehmina it was an internalized stigma. Depression is not considered a “proper” disease, and depression sufferers often seen as “not strong.”
Seven weeks, seven women, seven stories. Each story differing in details but similar in ways that mattered most. And this is where the producers, Kashf Foundation and Khoosat Films, deserve a huge round of applause for selecting stories that were thematically connected but symptomatically very different. Kudos to Amna Mufti for a script where the various stories were skillfully woven in so as to create a tapestry of sorts, one that paid a well-deserved tribute to the resilience and courage of those who dared take a first step towards breaking the cycle of violence.
Pulling together the complex stories, doing justice to the nuances and layers of meaning in each story, treating them sensitively while not letting go of the artistic component is a feat not many directors could have accomplished with as much finesse but Sarmad Khoosat made it all look so effortless, almost organic. Right from the absolutely stunning first episode to the much mellower last one, each was connected through the stories hidden behind those ominous closed doors. Each door different in tone and texture but used for exactly the same purpose. And this difference in tonality and texture was reflected in how each story looked and felt as well.
We were spared the melodrama but what we did not see was so much more scary – our imaginations worked overtime and the exhausted, world weary faces of the survivors told us the rest of their stories. These stories came alive because the characters came alive. Superbly casted for most part, Aakhri Station will be remembered for the great blend of seasoned and fresh faces. Sanam Saeed was excellent as Tehmina. Her outing as a patient of depression was among the best I have seen in recent times. Mikaal Zulfiqar was great as her very patient and supportive husband.
Nimra Bucha was simply stunning as the absolutely exhausted Shabana, but then even in the midst of all her misery this woman’s ability to find joy in the simplest of things – getting drenched in the rains – was amazing and made for a beautiful moment. Eman Suleman, Malika Zafar, Anam Gohar, Farah Tufail, Zoay, Fadil all were great in their parts. Irfan Khoosat was brilliant as always.
Aakhri Station had started off with a bang but sadly it ended on a whimper. The thoughtless ending has left a very bitter taste and seems very out of place in an otherwise very well-done drama. That Tehmina had undertaken the journey with the express intention of meeting women to dig out their life stories in order to find fodder for her book is absolutely mind boggling.
The idea of Tehmina’s book germinated as a part of her own therapy, how and when did this project grow to the extent that she felt competent and comfortable enough to tell other people’s stories? Later, in not disclosing her true intentions at the outset and interviewing these women without their consent, Tehmina was unethical to the nth degree and violated all kinds of laws regarding using humans as test subjects, confidentiality concerns, etc. Also, once she’s done with her interviews it is no more about the women themselves. She keeps moving from one group to another, to a third. Much like war journalists for whom the thrill lies in reporting the war, not the reasons for the war itself.
In giving Tehmina the last word it was almost as if the other six women’s efforts, to help each other make better lives for themselves and their families, were not somehow not worthy enough. What was more important, in its stead was this woman’s quest to dig out stories to tell. To what end? That was never made clear.
Overlooked in this privileging of Tehmina’s voice, and allowing her control over the telling of these stories, was that in doing so she was making mockery of the basic tenet of this series – returning women control over their lives. Shouldn’t it have been the women’s prerogative to choose when and how to tell their stories? Would Tehmina had liked it if her voice had been co-opted by someone else? Wasn’t it precisely this issue – her writing being published without her consent – that was the reason for Tehmina’s mother’s fights with her husband and why Tehmina fought with her husband? Why then was she doing the same to other women?
My peeves with the ending aside, in the final analysis Kashf Foundation and Khoodat Films worked well together to bring us the thought provoking Aakhri Station. This was a very well-made series with aesthetically sound beautifully narrated stories. The overall plot needed a lot more thought and research but the individual stories read well. My one advice/critique would be to not try and pack so many issues in each story. Gulmeena’s story for instance was a difficult one to keep contained. That said, I hope to see more mini-series along similar lines.
So that was my take. What about you all? What did you all think of this final stop of Aakhri Station? Looking forward to reading your thoughts!
Written by SZ~