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.
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