Shehr-e-Zaat: A spiritual romance
After “Humsafar“, expectations for any work involving Sarmad Sultan Khoosat were high, and seemingly impossible to fulfil. How does one compete with a phenomenon, especially one you created yourself?
The answer was apparently simple ─ “Shehr-e-Zaat“. This isn’t “Humsafar”, but it is a tour de force in its own right. It is yet another bright feather in director Sarmad’s cap.
The story, written by Umera Ahmad, is a difficult concept to bring to the screen. What might be a deeply insightful work on paper can seem bland and heavy handed on screen. 7th Sky and Hum TV have done an admirable job, the production values are flawless.
This is a serious drama. It demands our attention, pushes us out of easy assumptions and, yes, it can be uncomfortable to watch, yet it catches hold of the viewer just like its beautifully haunting Original Sound Track (OST) “Yaar Ko Humne Ja-baja Dekha” sung by Abida Parveen. You hear the music in your head; the lyrics are unsettling in a strange way and you begin to wonder …What does it all mean?
Mahira Khan essays the lead role of Falak with surprising ease. It should silence her critics, and for those who it doesn’t silence, well, there is little that can actually satisfy them. She has grown as a performer and I am hard put to think of anyone else in this role. She owns it.
Mahira manages to make what is a very unsympathetic, self-centred and vain character, seem vulnerable and empathetic despite her flaws. Falak’s beauty, her wealth and social status have blinded her to the realities of this world. She despises ugliness and cannot see the human beings hidden by the grime of poverty.
Her accidental meeting with Salman Anser is poetic justice. The object of her sudden affections, Salman Anser , is already in a desperate love affair with himself and has little time for Falak. Undaunted, through shameless persistence she cajoles him into marriage.
Mikaal Zulfikar has given a masterful performance in his role. There is very little that can be called heroic about the character he plays, but Mikaal lends a certain charm that Salman hardly deserves. This is nothing new for Mikaal, who seems to excel at playing ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’.
Apart from the lead protagonists, every actor has given their best ─ Hina Bayat, Samina Peerzada and, of course, Mohib Mirza, who has done a simply outstanding job as Humza, Falak’s best friend and would-be suitor. I simply must mention Mansha Pasha, Falak’s friend Rushna, who is like a breath of fresh air every time she is on screen.
The heart of the story is about spiritual awakening. A sharp contrast is drawn between the Sufi concepts of ishq e haqeeqi, the love of a human for God, and ishq e majazi, the love of a human for another human ─ not an easy accomplishment.
“Aap ne mujh pe zulm keeya hai, mummy,” (you have been cruel to me, mummy) screams a tormented Falak. “Aap ne mujhe Allah se pyaar karna nahin sikhaaya!” (you did not teach me to love Allah!)
This she says after she discovers that the woman her husband is having an affair with is her inferior in every way.
While I could understand the oddly intellectual admonishment given to Falak by a beach side fakir, her naani’s (maternal grandmother) constant preachiness could explain the family’s disdain for overt religious practice.
I wish that had been done better.
In any other story, Falak would be the villainous, spoilt first wife, soon to be discarded in favour of the “miss middle class virtues” her beleaguered husband meets at the office. However, this is a story which defies stereotypes.
Tabinda, the “other woman”, is vulgar and coarse. Now this was a source of confusion for many. Why would the proud, refined Salman be interested in such a woman? However, the brilliant Nadia Afghan has given this a surprisingly comic turn, as the deadpan foil to the elite families. It might have been easier to understand if we had been shown the connection Salman made with her.
Umera Ahmad has insinuated a very feminist idea into this story. Men are like doors, she says, they can open a way for a woman or they can prevent her from going forward; they are not the goal.
She reminds us that marriage is sometimes like other material things of this world ─ a distraction. There is also a message of deep compassion for the victims of infidelity. Human beings may be cruel to one another; they may devalue and make a mockery of their relationships and promises, but Allah the Eternal, always values us.
From every billboard and movie, from our Facebook pages to business strategy books, we are told to follow our hearts, to listen to our feelings. Perhaps we should pause and think: is what our heart desires actually the right, the principled thing to do?
Follow Sadaf on Twitter @Tomtomatoe
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