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.
Read the first part here: Revisiting Shehr e Zaat, review of episodes 1-4.
Read the reviews of the upcoming episodes here,
To Be Continued…