Falak/Fifi: Mahira Khan
Falak’s Nani: Samina Peerzada
Mehrunnissa, Falak’s mother: Hina Khawaja Bayat
Hamza, Falak’s friend: Mohib Mirza
Rushna, Falak’s friend: Mansha Pasha
Salman Ansar, Falak’s love interest/husband: Mikaal Zulfiqaar
Tabinda: Nadia Afgan
Written by Umera Ahmed
Directed by Sarmat Khoosat
June to November, 2012, Hum TV Network
Episodes 1 through 4.
Recap: It’s a dead graveyard where Falak (Mahira) and Hamza (Mohib) are taking pictures. They are art students who are exploring the Makli site, which is one of the world’s largest graveyards. Falak is enamored by the tombs and Hamza, who doesn’t share her sentiments, is poking fun at her as they spend their time walking along the ruins. Falak is charming and funny. Hamza is slick and intelligent. They have a natural sort of a chemistry that invites you into their story.
Falak is then seen making sculptures during an art class. She has created a bust of a person who she has come up with all on her own. This face becomes real, as she peruses through her Makli photos and spots a man who looks exactly (?) like this man. She chances upon meeting this man again at a party and is entranced by the idea of talking to him and knowing more about him. It is, after all, the man she created. In her head. Through her art. Via her imagination.
Falak’s interest in this man becomes a bit of an obsession. She talks about him with a certain confidence, the kind you reserve for a beloved. Yet he seems distant and uninterested. Falak keeps getting proposals from other families but she rejects them all. One poor “Asad” (guest appearance by Sarmad Khoosat) she rejects because he has a ringtone of a Pakistani drama soundtrack (one of Umera Ahmad’s previous drama, Zindagi Gulzar Hai – sly!). Asad’s family pursues the proposal relentlessly offering her their heart in a platter, but she rejects them. The audience are also made to understand that Falak also has no romantic interest in Hamza, even though he clearly seems to be in love with her. Falak’s own personality is not without problems. She is rude and entitled, typically annoyed at the hired help and street kids, has little regard for other peoples’ feelings and is often self-absorbed and selfish. She seems to be a variant of her mother, who is a beautiful but rich, snobby socialite who wears lots of makeup and designer clothes and is always yelling at her servants. On the flipside, Falak’s grandmother is a religious, pious, simple woman who wears no makeup and always has religious beads in her hands and is always helping out poor people and feeding stray animals.
Review: This characterization and dichotomization rich snobby aunty vs pious religious aunty is gradually becoming the original sin committed by Umera Ahmed in the modern drama age. It is curious to see how other writers tend to execute similar dichotomies unsuccessfully. While Umera’s characters/stereotypes have some semblance of depth and dimension, other drama writers tend to largely rely on the tropey nature of the stereotypes to attract audiences (thereby further lowering the collective IQ of audiences) but fail in producing the emotional and intellectual intensity of the stories and the characters. Umera Ahmed executes her characters’ exposition and journeys through an acute observation of human behavior and philosophizes in depth, the conflicts and the humane struggles of her protagonists. This is why stories like Shehr e Zaat may have a dangerously religious message but still manage to resonate some kind of relatability with audiences in general.
The first four episodes set the tone loud and clear. There will be comeuppance, nothing exists without the color of karma. Be careful what you wish for, God is watching. Treat your fellow people right, because being rich automatically makes you insensitive. The messages, even though horribly dogmatic at times, speak of a certain spiritual journey and the crucial social issues prevalent in our society. One of them being how we treat domestic helpers. Falak and her mother are portrayed as callous and insensitive to the various issues faced by their staff; in one scene we see Falak yelling at one of her servants to switch on the generator in the middle of the night and in another Falak’s mother is yelling at another servant for no actual apparent reason. Hina Bayat reprises her role as unfeeling socialite mom from Zindagi Gulzar Hai, whereas Falak is a departure from Mahira Khan’s earlier role, as Khirad.
The play is based on a novella by Umera Ahmed. It is a group of short stories under “Maine Khwabon Ka Shajar Dekha Hai” which also includes Shehr e Zaat. The text of the original story is not, of course, painted in as much detail as the play which is created for around 19 episodes. In the original text, the story reads more plainly and the story sees Falak more as a raving lunatic giving religious lessons than a girl with real thoughts and ideas and as someone who begins to understand the lesson of selflessness and humanity through experience and effort. The faultlines in the original text and the play are similar though, as some of the platitudes become far too preachy for their own good and the end of the play seems hurried and tied together without enough explanation. The characters of Nani and Hamza have been added for the televised version and while Hamza’s character and portrayal (done delightfully and heart rendingly by Mohib Mirza) add more to the story, Nani’s character serves as the morality teacher of the story. She is also the ‘good’ woman shown in contrast with her daughter, Mehrunnissa (Bayat) who tries to teach Falak the value of Fajr prayers.
Umera Ahmed’s writing itself is an aggravating blend of brilliance and cognitive dissonance. At one point where you will see the heroine making perfect sense and construing absolutely spot-on arguments – in the following scene, you can well expect her to be relaying a dangerously fundamentalist message and diving headfirst into a religious monologue that probably has little to do with logic and the story. In the first four episodes, for example, Nani is shown as someone who practices “Islamic humanism” of sorts. But her ideology is confusing. She hates sculptures but is okay with dogs. She treats her servants and her poor relatives with kindness and compassion but also harshly judges her daughter for wearing ‘modern’ clothes. She prays and reads the Quran and insists everyone do ‘astaghfar’ for their sins but also encourages a faqir who sings devotional songs. She says a girl’s will must be paramount in the decision to her wedding – but also pressurizes Falak to marry Asad because Asad and his family like her a lot and this should be reason enough to marry someone. She claims ‘make your God happy, not your husband’ and forgets that similar guardians of faith teach women to obey everything their husbands tell them to, almost given them god-like status. It seems that Ahmed’s writing is filled with cognitive dissonance of faith and practicality. She understands the complexity of human emotions and relationships well but she soon turns it into a religious sermon and hence loses and confuses her audiences who hadn’t come to watch a play for a jummay ka khutba. The audiences are riveted to a character, not an ideology. Ahmad often forgets the difference and thence her female protagonists, especially, seem to be in as much conflict as she herself.
That is not to say that Ahmad isn’t brilliant at what she is able to write and execute with dexterity. There is a small monologue by Mehrunissa in which she self-reflects about her lifestyle and the lessons given to her by her mother, wondering about the relationship between ‘heritage’ and ‘progress’ vis a vis past and present. That little insight is not just clever, it holds a deep and existential meaning for many parents and adults who have traversed through the pitfalls of social mobility and embraced social change. Another positive element in Umera’s depiction of Nani could be how Nani believes in empowerment in terms of marriage and lovingly listens to Falak when Falak tells her she has fallen in love with a boy. So maybe the message is – not all religious people are hardcore nuts who want to kill the girl over showing just a tiny bit of spine? I hope so.
Mohib’s portrayal as Hamza and Zulfiqaar’s portrayal as Salman made me wonder if it would have been better if the actors had been reversed for the roles. Mohib has a darker, mysterious and at times slightly sinister quality that enables him to be loved and hated at the same time – which is exactly the kind of emotion the team of SeZ could have expected from the audience. Zulfiqaar is a man with standard good looks, a kind face and a soft voice – someone who could have played the left-behind best friend beautifully and evoking a lingering empathy from the audiences.
Mahira Khan has a childlike appeal to her brattiness and while it seems like the role was written as that of a narcissist and not endearing at all – Mahira’s inherent charisma and naturally beautiful looks make her less artificial and superficial and more tangible. Instead of seeing her as some mafauq ul fitrat haseena (an impossible beauty) we see her as one of those girls we encounter every day – privileged, beautiful and annoyingly entitled. Her choice of clothes also help – while she is dressed like a ‘modern’ girl, she chooses pastels and colors that highlight her natural aura. Her flyby hair become a character. When she is distressed, they fly and whirl around her like a storm. When she is calm and steady, they stay on her shoulders like obedient aides. She is superb with the little nuances, the micro expressions and the minute interactions that make her character someone you and I could know in our lives instead of a fairy tale princess. The role seems to be written for her – and she gives herself to this character in full.
Episodes 5 through 10
Recap: Falak is becoming increasingly obsessed with Salman Ansar. Yet Salman is barely even attracted to her, let alone consider her as an important part of his life. Yet this does not deter Falak. She is quite single-mindedly sure of how ‘intelligent’ and ‘funny’ Salman is. It is clear that this relationship is one-sided. Falak, often lauded and loved for her beauty and cherished as the only daughter of a superfluously rich industrialist – has never encountered this kind of an attitude where she is treated so off-handedly. As Falak and Salman become better friends, Salman often loses his temper on her and ignores her. But this doesn’t deter her either. Even though she realizes that he is careless and heartless towards her, she continues showering him with affection and apologies and every way of love and feeling that she knows.
Hamza visits Nani and tells her that he wants to marry Falak. Nani approves but Falak gets angry. But this anger doesn’t stop her from doing a woefully obtuse act: she asks Hamza to give one of his paintings to Falak so she can give them to Salman so he can hang it in his bedroom. Falak takes this painting to give him and arrives at his house and meets his mother. Later, Salman calls her and rages about this. Moments later, he calls again to apologize. Salman talks about this painting later, claiming that he is like the ‘sea’ which, like him, is dark and mysterious.
In these episodes we also see a bit of Salman’s family life. He is shown as someone who has ‘never’ had any relationship with a woman. On the other hand, Hamza has confessed his love for Falak and has attempted to knock down Falak’s feelings for Salman. Falak and Hamza have a conversation where they debate about how Hamza’s feelings are real because he has ‘known Falak for 15 years’ whereas Falak has only known Salman for a few short days. Falak doesn’t listen to any logic or reason and at point ditches her friends to go meet Salman on his birthday as he invites her for lunch (completely impromptu). Salman has regressive and chauvinist views about women and it seems to have an effect on Falak as she goes into periods of self-doubt.
In a surreal and uncomfortable conversation, Falak and Salman decide they would get married. The conversation is framed on Salman’s opinion that he does not have to love anyone to get married. “I could even marry you, Falak,” he says off-handedly and she takes him up on this unceremonious offer. She well and truly believes that her love would be enough for their marriage and would survive any obstacles in the future. He tells her he’s a ‘difficult’ person and is quite obviously a narcissist chauvinist, but Falak does not see or hear this. Nani disapproves of Salman because of ‘religious’ reasons. Interestingly no one else seems to have any problem with this man apart from Hamza, who tells Falak that there is a stark difference between the love Hamza has for Falak and the love Falak has for Salman. Nevertheless, Falak and Salman get engaged.
One day at a dinner date, Falak tells him that her father wants him to join the factory. What if I don’t want to, Salman asks. Falak tells him happily that there is no question of him refusing. Within a moment, he takes off his engagement ring and places it before her. She’s in obvious shock and apologizes to him. She later wonders how he could dismiss their relationship over something so minor.
Their wedding is a grand old affair, Falak’s family spends millions of rupees and there is a discussion about the ostentatiousness at weddings. Mehrunissa dismisses these discussions (initiated by Nani) and goes on to buy more dresses and jewelry for her daughter’s wedding. The first few days after the wedding are shown as typically blissful. But there is an obvious difference between the intensity of love that Falak has for Salman and the amount of affection Salman has for Falak. One day Falak and Salman are walking by the beach when they encounter a mad fakir (Munawar Saeed) who talks about how dirt and sand don’t bother him because his God can see what’s deep within his soul. He talks about how it is the fate of ‘wujood’ to be a beggar but not ‘zaat’ – a ‘zaat’ can never beg.
In an unfortunate accident, Falak loses her first child in an early miscarriage. Salman’s attitude towards her starts to change soon after this incident as well, as he starts to come home later rather than on time. He is more flippant than usual and often loses his temper with Falak. He also forgets their first wedding anniversary and yells at her for making a big deal out of him forgetting it. Perturbed by this behavior she tries to confront him and even tries to make an effort in making things right. But he does not seem to come out of his attitude change.
Review: Falak has an ‘idea’ of a man that she loves. It is doubtful that she could love the man Salman Ansar was. Logically or rationally speaking, she would not be attracted to a man who treats her terribly. But in her haze of love and affection for a man she created, this love that she has for Salman, a love that envelops her from every which way and stops her from seeing reason and logic, this seems to be an extension of her own ego. The first step of Falak and Salman’s relationship is also supremely flawed. “Who are you? My wife? My girlfriend?” asks Salman in one of his initial-most conversations with Falak. It puts Falak at a disadvantage and the relationship doesn’t stop being lop-sided, ever. It would be ridiculous on all levels to expect this relationship to work smoothly at all.
There is a continued exposition of Falak as a spoilt, irrational brat. And Mahira Khan’s portrayal is what makes the role endearing and lovable as a heroine. Otherwise, it seemed that the role has been written in a way that could have made Falak really annoying really fast. There is also little explanation by the writer as to why Falak has found an overpowering feeling of love for Salman. What connects her to him? What exactly does she like about him? She’s not a teenager and she’s someone who generally has a rational head on her shoulders. So what tripped her? Are we simply to believe it was fate? That it is all happening because the universe is trying to teach arrogant Falak a lesson? Even then there is little explanation as to how the character’s personality has developed to this point. Surely treating domestic servants badly and being papa’s princess aren’t the only two experiences that define Falak? For a character’s journey forward, we need to know how their past voyages have been like. One cannot exist without the other.
Salman is also another character that is not explored either. He has never had a heterosexual relationship, he says he is a ‘difficult’ person, he doesn’t go out much, there’s little or no information about him. Perhaps the audience are supposed to be appreciating the mystery here, but it just ends up mystifying them. There is also a thin line between one-dimensional and mysterious and Salman’s character is definitely threading that line. In one scene, yells at Falak then apologizes. What made him apologize? What’s his psychology? What is his relationship with his parents like? What does he do when he’s not ignoring Falak? We don’t know. We just know that this undeserving man is the object of Falak’s affection and that’s that.
What we do know is that he’s a chauvinist and a narcissist. Dripping with tons of male privilege, he claims ‘all women think they are different when in fact they are all the same’. He tells Falak, ‘You’re not different but I like you’. On their ceremony, he tells Rushna that Falak is lucky to have him and not the other way around. Falak internalizes his put-downs and revisits her reflection in the mirror, the first signs of what happens when you are in a relationship that is emotionally abusive.
Hamza is one of the most real and relatable characters in the play. He speaks in coherence and with logic. He respects and loves Falak and cherishes her regardless of her treatment of him but isn’t afraid of telling her the truth. Their moments of friendship and camaraderie are honest and insightful.
The allegory about the sea that Salman makes about himself and Falak adds, “Cruel?” to the list of things Salman is, romanticizes the idea of emotional abuse. In the entire period of time where she is with Salman ‘happily’ she does not see the signs of abuse. Rather when he puts her down, a scene or two later she is found saying, “Oh there’s nothing special about me anyway” but the writer doesn’t use this track to explore the character’s psyche. The writer uses a mystical fakir, who Falak and Salman encounter at the beach. Played beautifully by Munawar Saeed, the fakir warns Falak of materialism and ego. Falak shakes him off and leaves. Do epiphanies strike like this, one wonders? It doesn’t matter. This is a spiritual play. So there will be many Paulo Coelhoesque life lessons to follow.
These episodes also talk about Falak’s dealing with loss and her breaking relationship with her husband. One of the greatest favors Mahira does to Falak is not do a weepy Falak. Mahira’s confrontation and rebuttals are strong and plucky. In the novella, Falak breaks down into a puddle but not this Falak. Even in her most vulnerable states, Mahira shows strength and confidence and someone in full control of the situation. With its already regressive shadow, had Mahira played it true to the novella’s feel, it would have turned Falak into merely a pool of tears and whines.
Episodes 11 – 15.
Recap: Falak is searching for her jewelry but cannot find it. Salman looks queasy at the sound of this. His attitude is still terrible towards Falak and Rushna theorizes about a possible affair. Falak dismisses the idea and Falak’s further concerns are dismissed by her family. Maryam, their old mutual friend, meets Falak and tells her that Salman is having an affair. Falak confronts Salman and demands to know if he is in love with someone else. He accepts and refuses to tell her name, he only tells her that he loves her beyond his control. “I did not want to betray you but it was out of my control” he tells hers. A period of time later, Falak and Salman go out for dinner. But later that night, Salman tells her he wants to marry “Tabinda” the girl he has fallen for. Falak decides she would go meet this Tabinda and throw acid on her face. The moment she lays eyes on Tabinda (Nadia Afgan), however, she quietly walks off. She then calls Mehrunissa and complains about why Mehrunissa had not taught Falak how to love God. She screams and cries and then collapses. Falak has a nervous breakdown and then moves out of Salman and her home back with her parents. Falak meets Hamza and Hamza offers to marry Falak. Falak refuses, saying that Hamza would essentially be doing exactly what Salman has done to Falak. There is a visible change in Falak’s attitude as she now treats street kids with much more kindness than she usually would. She buys some newspapers from a street child when moments later she sees him hit a car and get seriously injured. She attempts to reach out to him but her mother stops her and takes her back home. Falak later finds out the home of the boy and finds out that he is dead. The little boy, Majid, has a poverty stricken home which Falak visits and gives the family some money to help them out. She comes home and gets into an argument with her mother and starts telling her that their materialism is madness and a disease that effects the society.
Salman calls Falak to inform her that he has married Tabinda. We find out that Salman’s parents once cheated their family members in the matters of property and this seems like karma to them that they are facing shame and embarrassment because of their son. There is a bizarre encounter between Tabinda and Falak as Falak decides to move back after spending time with her Nani, trying to find God and seeking meaning in spirituality.
Review: These few episodes are tumultuous. Lots of things happen, lots of things change, relationships mend and break and Mahira Khan’s acting skills are astounding in the scenes where it is just her and the camera’s naked eye. She ranges from being almost murderous with rage to being completely stoic with helplessness. In the scene where she and Mikaal face off as a couple stuck in terrible moment, Mahira’s expressions say more than her words. Her rage is everywhere yet she stands quietly. Her movements, slow and deliberate, occupy the screen with their power. In these moments you see how heavily the play relies on Mahira’s shoulders and how much it owes to her entirety to make Falak lovable and relatable. The way the character was written could have easily been a depressive, dark, brooding character but there is an optimism and light to Mahira that changes the course of Falak’s trajectory into believable instead of the supernatural.
In the scene where Mahira looks at herself in the mirror, wondering about what lacked in her that her husband fell in love with another woman – is nothing short of a masterpiece. Mahira smiles a little, cries a little, puts on a face, puts on kajal, then a tear rolls out of her eye, she breaks down, stares into her own existence. That scene gives you goosebumps. There is little dialog. There isn’t even much crying. But there is incredible intensity in Mahira standing before herself, questioning everything, finding no answers, completely empty and completely broken.
There is one instance that consistently happens throughout major dramas and it is this one instance that bothers me to no end every time: in a super charged, emotionally powerful scene, they chose an extra/small role playing actor who has the acting chops of a newborn kitten. The entire force of the scene, regardless of how well the veteran actors are playing it, crumbles within seconds. I am sure there are many, many talented actors out there who would love to share a screen moment, no matter how small, with major actors in a prime time television play. Why, oh why, do they choose people out of a lineup or someone sifarshi to ruin that scene? Please stop doing this.
Falak decides to take ‘acid’ to burn off Tabinda’s face. Great for dramatic effect, not so great for logic and also not too awesome for audiences who still are on Falak’s side. Not too great for logic because: Falak is an educated, intelligent person. Do educated, intelligent girls decide to play acid games if they’ve been jilted? If they do, this nation is more doomed than we’ve been worrying about.
Falak’s encounter with Tabinda isn’t executed as beautifully in the novella as it is in the dramatized version. Mahira has a natural grace under fire (probably why the acid-throwing angle seemed more implausible than ever) and a commanding presence that is a sight to watch as it shakes and is thrown out of its loop. Mahira also stuns in the scene where she goes back to where the fakir (Saeed) was and rubs sullied water onto her face. She is uninhibited and wildly emotive. The scene gives you goosebumps.
In Mahira’s scenes with Majid, the little street boy, we see a certain hollowness to her, she is almost wearing just as much makeup as she was in the first few scenes of the play – but there is something significantly plainer about her. She is smiling less and her eyes are saying more. When she goes to Majid’s house and hugs his sister, I cried with her. The squalor of the little boy’s house, the burden of Falak’s bourgeoisie guilt and scene itself makes you cry.
There is an allegory Falak uses for women, she calls them like vines along a wall. She says women are like vines who need walls so they can be visible and be accepted in the world. From a feminist point of view, it doesn’t seem entirely wrong. Patriarchal structures are rigged to make women secondary citizens and supplementary existences to men’s beings. But then suddenly the allegory turns into a sermon about worship and Umera Ahmed loses audiences like me again.
While Umera Ahmed’s commentary about the haves and have nots is painstakingly accurate, the point she seems to be sending is that it is impossible to be compassionate if you are rich and that it is impossible to find God without removing all kinds of worldly pleasures from your life. What the play doesn’t answer and forgets to address is that that would be a life without the world and it is impossible for most people in the world. But more on that when we discuss the final episodes.
The play also assumes that people who are rich are not humanists or give charity. It also sort of demonizes the women who do ‘charity work’. Sure they shouldn’t be hypocrites and their donations shouldn’t merely be for show, but the fact that they use this pastime instead of any other shouldn’t be undervalued.
Charity also has little to do with religion or fear of God. There are many humanists across the world, billionaires, who have donated their wealth out of compassion for their fellow human beings rather than finding spiritualism or any other notion as such. Mark Zuckerberg gave away millions of dollars to fight Ebola. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledged 95% of their wealth to good-will causes. JK Rowling gave away over 100m pounds and lost her billionaire status because of giving charity. (You can check out a full list here.)
Also erroneous to assume that religious people don’t have problems of their own or that they don’t grapple with existential crises. Perhaps if the idea were to be talked about more with reference to self-actualization and not merely the ritual of offering prayer, the philosophy of being one with God and finding peace within oneself would have made more sense. Many people who have found their true connection with God via compassion and love are those who have not fought with their mothers over the right way of doing ablution. This is where Umera Ahmed’s colluded ideology fails to sound like the humanistic banner she wanted – instead ends up sounding like something your overbearing religious teacher would say to make you pray more.
Episodes 16 – 19
Recap: Tabinda sees Falak at ‘their’ home and tells her to go away. Falak tells her that this is still her home but Tabinda tells her that Salman would be giving this home to her in a few days. Falak notices the vulgar changes Tabinda has made to the house and retains her composure. Salman tells Falak to go away and that she never cared about Salman in the first place. Falak visits her domestic servants’ quarters and sees the difficulties within which they survive. They tell her that they are usually without electricity because their mother does not allow servant quarters to share the generators’ load. Falak tells him that despite all their difficulties, they are still so easily thankful. Falak confronts her mother about their treatment of domestic servants and vents out her anger at her mother.
Tabinda and Salman are shown sitting together talking about Falak and Salman is shown as infatuated by Tabinda. A few weeks later, we see that Salman calls Falak and wants to patch up. He tells her that Tabinda has left him after almost robbing him. A few days ago they had a fight because she aborted their pregnancy and then she left him with all the major valuables of the house. Salman wants a patch up with Falak but Falak says she feels nothing. Their divorce case is already in the court and she doesn’t see any point in going back to him. But her nani convinces her to forgive and she goes back to him. Falak throws away the statue she once made of him. The play ends on the last scene where she is seen playing with her young daughter and they are playing together with play dough.
Review: Umera Ahmed’s cognitive dissonance strikes again. This time we see that the writer is defending a painting. When Falak goes to her home and Tabinda argues with her about one of the paintings being ‘bey-haya’ (shameless), Falak tells her that an object is not bey-haya aur baa-haya, it is in fact the thought that is either shameless or shameful. One wonders if this is Umera’s journey through the play where she initially posited via Nani that ‘b’ut banana gunah hai’ to this point where a transformed and a better Falak is defending a painting?
The scene between Tabinda, Falak and Salman are bizarre. Tabinda is feeding Salman food and Falak is simply staring at the two of them. You know that self-respect Hamza was talking about in the first few episodes? It seems like despite showing the girl as confident and intelligent and now fully self-actualized, it still doesn’t seem to exist or given importance as a personality trait by the writer. Who needs self-respect when you have found God right? Wrong. Even God would want a person to have their dignity in a terrible situation. Fortunately for Umera, Mahira possessed a certain finesse and charm that stopped that scene from becoming a complete cringe-fest. Mahira looks on the two of them as not a victim but as a spectator and while Falak repeatedly says she is detached from any feeling for Salman and that she does not feel negatively about Tabinda, it still does not fit into any reason why Falak would subject herself to that situation when she knows Salman is not hers anymore. Not even a little bit.
Since there is little to no exposition about Salman’s personality, it begs the question as to what he sees in Tabinda and why he is attracted to her and not to Falak? He has grown up in an orthodox society where men and women end up falling for their husbands and wives as their arranged marriages take shape. But what stopped him from loving Falak as his wife the way that he should have – is still unanswered. There is a particular scene where Salman and Tabinda are talking and she is constantly making fun of him and Falak and he laughs and says, “These sweet and lovely words of yours are why I love you more and more!” Um. Sorry, but either the guy is delusional or completely misunderstands how love works. Now both these scenarios are possible, since there are many men in our society who are unaware of how to love a human being. We do not teach men empathy and kindness but tell them how to be macho and gruff. The toxic masculinity affects us all, and men the most. But Ahmed has given little to no attention to Salman’s character development. To the audiences he continues to be the sculpture. Perhaps it was intentional or a deliberate poetic angle to keep him one-dimensional but when the story stretches on for 19 episodes, 40 minutes each, you end up having questions. And funnily enough, considering Mikaal Zulfiqaar is a very talented young man, at many moments (one where he ‘proposes’ to Falak, or in the last scene where he asks Falak to stay) he seemed just as non-plussed as the audiences.
Many questions, along with these, are unanswered in the finale. It ended up being the Eat, Pray Love, Musalmaan version without taking on the more difficult subject of how would Falak now live with a man for whom she apparently has no feeling for any more. Would they forget everything and would they be able to move on from the massive turmoil they faced in their relationship? What would be her long-term plans to change the world, now that she knows exactly what’s wrong with it? How has Salman changed now? Does he appreciate Falak now? Or is she just a mere choice because no one else is there? Is Nani Amma okay with Falak making little statues with her daughter now?
The play ends abruptly and the ending does seem irrational and disjointed. Everything is in too much of a hurry to be wrapped and packed off to the audiences. There is also far too much emphasis on religious people being good and non-religious people being bad. This dichotomy reeks of bigotry as well. There are many religious people who hurt others and make lives miserable for others. And there are many irreligious people who have lived and died peacefully without hurting a fly. Human beings are complex and the human condition and psychology is not as divided between religion and irreligion. There are many factors that shape us and make us and turn us into who we are and what we choose in life. Falak chose religion to find her way to inner peace. Many people would not. And that would still be okay.
The good part was how it addressed some of the crucial issues that Ahmed brought the audiences’ attention to, from the very beginning. One of these issues were of treating domestic helpers with kindness and compassion. Another great message is to help people see beyond stereotypes. Falak goes to a wedding of one of her poor relatives and realizes just how much they needed their help. She speaks to her servant Imam Din and realizes the number of difficulties they live through each day and still are able to remain grateful. These messages are important and displayed well. There is also a message of tolerance and humanity that is hammered in repeatedly and for good reason. Another important lesson is that life is about learning to live with imperfections. Sometimes, women are taught to adhere to standards of perfection that make their own lives miserable. They are also taught to worship their husbands and leave behind or shed their own personalities just to please their significant others. Falak’s story tells women to be strong in their own passions and not eulogise men or put them on pedestals – because the fall is steep and hurtful, both for the man and for the woman.