Thursday, November 13, 2014

Watching "Durr-e-Shahwar", A Social Drama From Pakistan!

This post contains some spoilers!


A kitchen lined with dark cupboards in a lower middle class house in Jhelum, Pakistan. The demure daughter-in-law spending long hours there kneading dough, washing dishes, cooking or making tea. Her head properly covered, her eyes always lowered, her voice soft, and her demeanour pleasing.

Four decades later, a modern apartment in Lahore. An ambitious career woman, her husband and their daughter at the breakfast table. They are irritable, grumpy and stressed out, snapping at each other for nothing.

Wait, this is not a case of a homemaker versus a working woman. These are scenes from a Pakistani teleplay "Durr-e-Shahwar" (I googled to learn the meaning of this and found that it is: Pearls worthy of kings) that was aired recently in India as "Dhoop Chhaon". Just 15 episodes of excellent storytelling, superb acting, touching dialogue and impeccable direction. Each episode stays with you long after you have finished watching it. Writer Umera Ahmad, director Haissam Hussain and rest of the cast have all done their job very well.

To be fair, there is nothing new in this story. It is the story (at least in parts!) of almost every home, every family and every couple in our part of the world. Its magic lies in the way it has been presented to the viewers. Beautifully shot, the frames are aesthetically pleasing, while the content candidly depicts what all it takes to hold a family together. The events unfold as if they were mirroring our lives, our relationships, and our surroundings. Maybe that is why they appeal to us.

Shandana and Haider. Durr-e-Shahwar and Mansoor. Two couples, a generation apart from each other. Shandana leads a fast-paced, hectic life with her husband Haider and young daughter Sophie. Their marriage is marred by their egos, impatience and immaturity. When she comes to the scenic Murree to spend a holiday with her ageing parents, she is struck by the gentle lifestyle of the older couple, filled with love and care for each other. But what she does not know is how much water has flown under the bridge before things came to such an idyllic setting. While Shandana adores her dad, she always thought that life has been a bed of roses for her mother, being married to such a thoughtful and considerate man as Mansoor. It is only after Durr-e-Shahwar decides to reveal her story to her daughter in order to help the latter deal with the crises in her life,  that we get a peek at the turbulent time she spent in the early years of her marriage.

And it is this part of the story that has been dealt with in a masterly manner. The flashbacks showing the claustrophobic environs of the young bride in her marital home leave you gasping for a breath of fresh air. Unable to find her feet there, she seeks relief in her father's letters. They come to her regularly, each and every word dripping with wisdom, love and encouragement.  Umera Ahmad excels in writing the dialogue for this play. Sample this letter to get an idea of her craft:

उम्मीद को ढूँढा नहीं जाता, उम्मीद को रखा जाता है अपने अंदर, अपने दिल में, अपने ज़ेहन में. ये नन्हे बीज की तरह होती है. चंद दिनों में बीज ज़मीन की मिटटी से बाहर तो आ जाता है मगर उसे दरख़्त बनने में बहुत देर लगती है. लेकिन वो दरख़्त बनता ज़रूर है, अगर उसको पानी दिया जाता रहे, अगर मिट्टी को नरम रखा जाये.

सिफ़र की ज़रुरत हर अदद को होती है कुछ बनने के लिए. सिफ़र जिस अदद के साथ लगे, उसकी कद्र-ओ-क़ीमत कई गुना बढ़ा देता है. तो अगर तुम अपने आपको सिफ़र समझती हो, तब भी क़ीमती हो, तब भी तुम बेकार नहीं हो, तब भी तुम हर गिनती से पहले आओगी. हर गिनती का आग़ाज़ तुम्हींसे होगा. और हर नौ अदद के बाद एक दफ़ा तुम्हारी ज़रुरत पड़ेगी. अगले मोड़ पर जाने के लिए तब्दीली जब भी आएगी, तुम से आएगी, सिफ़र से आएगी.

The language is as gentle as Durr-e-Shahwar's father is. It oozes with affection for his daughter. In fact, there are three father-daughter pairs in this play. Durr-e-Shahwar, Shandana and Sophie, all three have the highest regard and love for their fathers that shines wonderfully well through the narration.

The play is not dark and depressing. It is warm, honest and captivating. All the actors fit like a glove in their roles. Did I hear someone say that the story was old-fashioned, regressive? Well, it might be true for some situations or dialogue if one came across them in some other context. But here, they do not seem to be out of place. And even if they do, the play should still be watched to see what a neat package it is. Perfectly suited for the television medium, it can connect with people across generations. Wish we got to watch such short, tight and time-bound presentations on our channels instead of the long, loud and inane fare being dished out there in the name of entertainment!