This post originally appeared here.
Sets and Art Direction: ✓
Background Score and OST: ✓
Just the other day, Sadaf emailed me about an interview with Firaaq’s director Aabis Raza, asking if I had any questions for him. After pondering for a while, I sent Sadaf a somewhat long list of questions hoping I’d get some sense of how Raza sahab thinks, if not an outright indicator of how he chooses his scripts. As I started writing this review I couldn’t help but go back to that list of questions, and what jumped out at me, as I’m sure for everyone else, was why mental illness? Pagalpan kyun?
If the past is any measure of a successful drama, then, I am sad to say that even with all the checkmarks acknowledged above, Firaaq ostensibly lacks the magic ingredient: a good story. Take for instance, Kadurat, with a revenge hungry Sanam Saeed, or Main Deewani, jahan Saniya Shamshad har booday mard ki thi deewani, even Kankar, for that matter, with its dark and sinister theme challenged our assumptions of what a good drama can and should be. Yet, the former two – Kadurat and Main Deewani – failed to impress, in fact, I’d say they were two steps short of a disaster, and only Kankar managed to send the right ripples across Pakistani television screens, clearly audiences (myself included) wanted more than a sarsari look at revenge, domestic abuse, and obsession.
Having said that, I think, Firaaq has more substance to its characters and more nuance to its story than Raza’s previous experiments. A point that’ll become clearer by the end of this review.
My next question (more to myself than to Raza sahab) was what did Hum TV expect from this drama. This isn’t a romantic, boy meets girl story, which many amongst us crave, then, why the stellar cast, expensive locations, flawless sets, and beautiful costumes. After Laa, Janam Jali, Aahista, Aahista, and not to mention the two train-wrecks above, it is a fair question: Can a drama like Firaaq really change their fortunes?
As I speculate and ponder, I’ll leave you with my first impressions.
Relationships – broken, turbulent, traumatic, and painful. These are just a handful of adjectives that describe Mustafa Afridi’s script.
Tabassum or the rather daunting Maa-jee, played by Uzma Gellani, is the source of many (if not all) these descriptors. From what I can gather, Maa-jee is one unhappy soul, as she constantly berates her daughter, Paiman (Sanam Saeed), insults her husband, Haider (Mazhar Ali), and is unforgiving of her son, Shams (Junaid Khan). In one brilliantly scripted scene after another, we get an insight into Maa-jee’s irrational hatred of all things – tangible and otherwise. She doesn’t like salespeople (and clearly Panama City is another Pindi), she has a problem with Paiman’s maila dupatta, she sees Haider (who happens to be her second husband) as a baagi, an instigator of all things troublesome.
Maa-jee’s severe control issues have led Shams to viscerally escape her talons, an aspect that has a significant bearing on not only their relationship but also their psyche. For Shams, it means an incomplete married life after three years of matrimony. Something that is beginning to sink in for his wife Sara (Cybil Chaudhry). As much as I feel for Sara, her accented Urdu, perhaps, that’s the reason she got the part, leaves me unsatisfied in some ways. For a character I want to empathize with, the moment she starts talking I can’t help but dismiss her as a firangi.
The same can’t be said for Paiman. If Uzma Gellani is every shade the Bader Khalil from Marasim, then, Saeed is far removed from her traditional safety zone of an “angry young woman“. Here, I see a girl that’s meek and timid because of her surroundings, but by no means lost and hopeless because of them. The briefest of interaction with Uncle Haider is testament enough. There is (and this is something I have always felt about Ms. Saeed’s abilities as an actress) an inner strength to Paiman that is visible even as she in the clutches of an overbearing mother. The manner in which she gets up mid-way from her meal, walks to the laundry room, brings out the maila dupatta for Maa-jee to inspect was a highlight of this episode (at least for me).
Rounding off these two interconnected family units (Maa-jee, Haider, and Paiman & Shams and Sara) are Roomi (Noor Hassan) and Amroze (Mohib Mirza). Roomi is bffs with both Shams and Sara, and also happens to be acquainted with Amroze, a psychologist (yaani pagaloon ka daaktar, to quote Maa-jee). In fact, it is Roomi who suggests Sara pay Amroze a visit. This is where I find the writer and director working in sync because if the first half was being set up as “Maa-jee is the root cause of all problems”, then, the second half was about the impact this troubling relationship has had on her off-spring, a scene convincingly portrayed by Sara and Amroze.
Their conversation about insecurities, mental states, and how they’re affecting Sara and Shams’ life is not an easy subject to explore. What Afridi and Raza are trying to do here is not easily accessible at the surface level. It’s like making a drama where one is searching for God (Shehr-e-Zaat) or their own pehchaan (Laa or Shanakht), and we all know the anjaam to these experiments. So, as our bahu makes her way into shohar-ji’s ghar in search of her own happiness, I can’t help but think things are set for a quick and fast confrontation.
So, do I find the story lacking? No, not not at all, I actually like the idea (and much of it stems from the execution). The writer has given away enough but still held my curiosity, I’d even go so far as to say interest. I find Firaaq to be a story of consequences rather than actions, and that is in itself refreshing. With so much going for Firaaq, I doubt Hum TV can mess this up, but then again there’s never a guarantee.
Till next week.
Shaba Khair aur Rab Rakha
RB (Tweet me!)