The Terrible Appeal of Hum TV Drama Humsafar
Humsafar is Based On A Urdu Novel By Farhat Ishtiaq
Written By: Farhat Ishtiaq.
Directed by: Sarmad Khoosat.
Produced By: Momina Duraid
Cast:Fawwad Khan, Mahira Khan, Naveen Waqar, Atiqa Odho, Noor Hassan, Behroz Sabzwari, Saba Faisal, Hina Bayat
The appeal of Humsafar is obvious. You could cut through the weird chemistry between Khirad and Ashar. Ashar is a hero authors of romance novels would be envious of. Eye candy, nakedly sexual, he stares arduously at his love interest with desire that would give the Grammarian and the Ayesha Bawani school girl goose bumps. He is clean cut. He smiles infrequently, and when does it seems as if it were a gift. Physical contact is at a minimum. Sex is implied, and there is a chastity reminiscent of Zia era dramas that drives people insane with tension.
Khirad on the other hand, played by the cherubic Mahira, with bright makeup, and translucent skin, appears surprisingly asexual — the recipient of the man’s desire, derision, and disdain – not interfering too much with the screen appeal of Ashar, with nice beauty, but insipid enough to not be threatening to female viewers. And being surprisingly silent, when all you want her to sit him down and feverishly explain the terrible misunderstanding the entire infuriating play is constructed on, over a cup of coffee or a glass of vodka.
If Khirad’s father taught her such great values, why was, her mild protestations notwithstanding, marriage into an affluent family and its inevitable accompaniments — an abusive mother in law, and a passive aggressive unpredictable husband — the only way to material security? Her mind that works faster than a calculator could also have landed her a Phd stipend at the University of Punjab where she could have raised her daughter modestly, but well. If not, then a junior analyst position at Engro where she would have adequate medical coverage for her child. And if not that, there could be situations around inflation and lack of opportunities. Eventually, she could have met a man less verbally challenged than Ashar and they would have actual conversations instead of old words reverberating in their heads like bipolar memories. In fact what Khirad’s father taught her was the hegemonic values – where honesty is inextricably entwined with being a good wife, and a submissive, self denying woman whose moral sexuality is her ticket to a livelihood.
The house is central to the play. It is luxurious. It has a swimming pool (virginal) in the background, and tasteful art. It is sterile, hotel like, and it’s the woman’s object of ultimate attainment. Khirad got thrown out, and in a scene that played cruelly on all women’s insecurities we are shown what capitalist patriarchy giveth, it taketh, if you can’t abide by bourgeois society’s moral ethics. Underlining, Khirad’s dramatic eviction from the House is the fact that she did abide by these ethics and is of unblemished character. It is she of moral purity who deserves the House rather than the manipulative mother in law. In an earlier episode it is the mother in law who is threatened with eviction if she does not agree with her husband’s decision to respect his dying sister’s wish. But, the mother in law’s non nuanced evil aside, isn’t it troubling that women despite age, motherhood and having maintained homes are always on the verge of losing it all — always at the whim of later apologetic, yet unapologetic men? And sadly, have to rely on puppeteering their sons for personal fulfillment. Note that the mother in law has a possibly satisfying career in an NGO – but this worldly fulfillment fades in comparison to the infinite delights of tormenting her child.
If Khirad has not submitted happily to Ashar’s gradual advances, and had asserted sexual autonomy or difference, then what? When she does give up on him, it is because he is weak and could not protect her. But imagine a Khirad who is coming of age and is actually exploring multiple, conflicting sexual emotions towards her cousin husband and maybe even her classmate, and later, raising her child as a single mother and meeting a man of her choice? But this would of course mean complexity and a screenplay that does not rely on overly simplistic archetypes. Functioning within the confines of patriarchy, Khirad cannot lose her chance of reunion with Ashar by responding to any other man in her four and a half years as a single woman. Playing on scenes in Bollywood, where the woman’s purity is depicted through devoted, childlike prayer, as the male voyeurs, here too in Episode 19, Ashar is shown after Khirad has vulnerably bared it all before her God.
Ashar too stays pure. But promiscuity will not cost him a home. His celibacy (and virtual impotency) is affirmation of his unattainability. No wafer think vamp like Sara can put her claws in him. Sara’s character, again, is monosyllabic evil. And the fact that she runs the show at corporate HQ when Ashar is in the doldrums is not commendable, but rather evidence of her manipulative abilities. That she uses yoga to keep her grounded in her evil designs is yet weird social commentary as is her always western attire. And since the drama is PG, we never see Ashar succumbing to Sara’s advances (though it would add a twist and a moral dilemma) despite being in hotels together and constantly in each other’s homes.
The terrible appeal of Humsafar is that it confirms characters and stories set in deeply patriarchal frameworks. It is sexist justice that soothes the hearts of patriarchal vigilantes, and keeps us on because we want to see the mother in law shamed, humiliated and thrust out, and moral purity rise to the top in the reunion of Khirad and Ashar. It is a modern day fairy tale, better than Cinderella, worse than Shrek, born again revival of TV drama in a tweeting world.
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