Now that Piyari Bitto is done and dusted allow me to begin this final review with a standing ovation.
Sab se pehley Sania Saeed. Kya actor hain yeh aur kis paye ki acting ka muzhaira kiya hai inhon ne is serial mein … wah wah!!! Give her a tamgha-e imtiaz already, please!!
Piyari Bitto would not be half the serial it was without the amazing ensemble cast which included seasoned actors like Shamim Hilaly, Rashid Farooqi, Atiqa Odho, and Zeb Rehman. All were brilliant. Fawad Khan, the halal-est mehboob ever, and Kaif Ghaznavi were an absolute joy to watch as they negotiated their complicated relationship. The mother and daughter duo in Islamabad were very good. Saniya Shamshad demonstrated that younger actors are capable of delivering if they show willingness to learn from their seniors and heed the director’s guidance.
Director Mazhar Moin made an impression with his sensitive and artistic treatment of this ostensibly simple, sad story of a woman used and abused by her family. Here was a story rife with potential for melodrama but in its stead we were treated to a moving portrait of a woman gradually losing her grip on reality. Instead of capitalizing on the mazloomiyat + aansoo = high TRPs formula we saw empathy and gentleness, an overall sense of quietude that was much appreciated. Special mention also for the talented DOP, and the rest of the technical crew.
Outdoor shoots are a rarity these days, and within that too going beyond the Defense and Clifton area is almost never done. Here, in sharp contrast we got to see a whole different side of Karachi, and some areas around Islamabad, from a perspective very different from the typical rich/upper-class one that we usually get. Here was a story about the middle class from an authentic middle-class viewpoint. Adding further authenticity were the lines and actors’ body language, all capturing that particular milieu very well. Within indoor shoots too there was plenty of movement which is such a welcome change from the seated talking heads.
Saji Gul deserves a nod for moving away from the done to death pyar –> shaadi –> barbadi triangle and bringing us a story that revolved around richly etched, interesting characters, a welcome change from the simpering heroines and brain-dead heroes that are dime a dozen these days on TV. Starting off with a very lost Shakira in Islamabad was a great hook and that brilliant begining episode was what piqued my interested in the first place. Keeping the Islamabad track interspersed throughout was a great idea because it kept viewers like me coming back, particularly when the Karachi track got tedious and monotonous.
So, after all this richly deserved tareef does Piyari Bittu find a permanent home on my must-watch dramas wali list?
After a lot of thought I will have to be honest and say No. Much as I applaud and appreciate all the positives there were a lot of things that caused me to switch off while the serial was on. And here are my reasons why:
The story, interesting enough in and of itself, did not have the bandwidth to last 7 months. Twenty eight weeks is a long time and watching a sick woman get used and abused week after week , no matter how well enacted, does not make for an inviting watch. Moreover, after the first ten or so episodes the characters were pretty well-established and so watching Sakina and Bitto pull one fast one after another lost its appeal early on. And that they continued with their harkats till the very last was too much to take.
When it first started the publicity surrounding the serial underscored that it would highlight mental health issues. After 28 episodes I am not quite sure when where and how the serial highlighted mental health. Yes, the central character suffered from dementia, but apart from that fact there was no sustained engagement. In fact if ever there was a missed opportunity to underscore societal attitudes towards mental health this was it. Rather than positing this story as a simple binary between good and evil or selflessness and selfishness, I wish they had stressed that people like Shakira act this way not because they are “nice” but because they are unwell. Bittu was an obsession, a fixation for Shakira, not her love in the common sense of the word.
The serial ended with Bittu in jail, ostensibly for murdering her mother. Shakira dead and Bittu in jail. What a convenient end, one which allowed all other culprits to carry on with their lives. How is such an ending justified? I get this story is based on real life events, but once fictionalized it could have utilized to serve a larger purpose. Why should Bittu be the only one punished? What about the rest of the extended family that failed both these women? By mid-point of the story everybody knew Shakira was not all there. The signs were obvious and her mother-in-law suggested a therapist but Rukhsana nixed that idea in the bud. And that was the end of that.
Shakira’s miscarriage, postpartum depression, unsupervised use of birth control pills, all issues that needed at least a comment were used merely as plot points. Basically everybody pretended everything was fine because to do otherwise would have meant taking on Bitto’s responsibility, which nobody wanted to handle. So Shakira kept on deteriorating while the rest of her loving family kept up their facade of concern. Later when she kept getting “lost” it was if each time was the first time. Everybody blaming the other person without anyone actually stepping up to the plate and taking responsibility of her health and care. Instead of the continued focus on evil Bittu vs angelic Shakira why not a readjustment and focus instead on the causes that engendered such behavior.
If Shakira was used as a convenient peg to hang Bitto’s problem, she was another one who never really had a chance at a healthy lifestyle right from the get go. First she was caught between feuding parents, later a helpless prisoner of a narcissistic, frustrated mother, then a frightened bride, then back to a family where she was patently unwelcome… when did this girl ever get a fair shot at life? Is it any wonder she turned out the way she did? Why did no one, not even Shakira, with all her education ever think that Bitto would benefit from therapy. Again, I know counselling is as yet a new thing in Pakistan and may never have been an option for the real life Bitto, but that’s precisely where dramas like this can have an impact.
Given her trajectory, to see Bitto make a miraculous 180° turn in the last episode was all kinds of random and pointless. Was she being redeemed only to justify Sakina’s murder? And on that, Bitto being the only one punished was very difficult to stomach. I understand the whole khandan could not have been punished, but a scene or two showing some introspection on the part they played in destroying these two women’s lives would have gone a long way. As it stands now the ending only justifies the need to wrap up the story neatly, with no loose ends.
For a serial that had begun on such a brilliant note I am sorry to see my hopes of an excellent serial dashed. Given the rich potential of this story the brilliant cast and an excellent director I so wish the team had ventured beyond the formulaic good vs evil binaries and looked out for innovative ways to keep viewers’ engaged throughout and to end with a flourish. Also this stretching out of stories beyond their capacity is killing the art of story-telling. What is the point of mounting a 28 episode drama when the majority of viewers have switched channels and moved on.
Bottom line, I enjoyed the first several episodes a lot more than the last 12-15 episodes. From waiting eagerly for the episodes to upload I started watching 5-6 episode together and even then it was a tedious watch. Had it not been for the brilliant acting and the visual narration I would have happily given this one up a while ago.
So yeah this was my take on the good bad and ugly of Piyari Bitto – what about you all? Thumbs up or thumbs down? Looking forward to reading your take!
Written by SZ~