It’s amazing how the internet connects the world. Indian cinema may have banned Pakistani actors, Pakistani TV channels may have blocked Indian soaps, but everything flourishes on online platforms. Eros Now, a Mumbai based entertainment platform, this week released its first original web-series from Pakistan. Written, directed and co-produced by Wajahat Rauf (Karachi Se Lahore, Lahore Se Aagey), Enaaya, the 12-episode series starring Mehwish Hayat and Azfar Rehman in lead roles, is the first of its kind and it’s refreshing to say the least.
Mehwish Hayat, the country’s most bankable film star, steps into the character of Enaaya, a college student with father-estrangement issues and a passion for music. She finds herself being roped into the college band, led by Jimmy (Azfar Rehman) and his two friends/bandmates - played by Asad Siddiqui and Waqas Godhra. Jimmy’s girlfriend, the typically possessive Faryal (Faryal Mehmood) takes an instant dislike for Enaaya and there is friction on stage. But that’s just the first episode and this apparent love triangle is not just what Enaaya is about. It’s about human relationships and every character has an arch, a back story, which keeps the viewer intrigued.
The first episode of Enaaya is available on YouTube for free viewing whereas the remaining 11 episodes are behind a subscription paywall, which will cost you something like PKR 800 per month. But is it worth the watch?
Just going by the treatment, I’d say it is. Wajahat Rauf picks up his passion for music and plays it into a bright young, urban story where kids wear jeans and t-shirts to college and yes, they swear. People can complain about the language – and they have – but it’s no use denying the fact that teenage kids in Pakistan do swear, like it or not. The internet allows one creative liberties that would not make it to TV or cinema screens and that, for a filmmaker, must be a relief.
“It was a relief not to have censorship issues,” Wajahat Rauf admitted, in conversation with Instep, between shooting his upcoming feature film. “There was freedom to write. College students do swear and say f*** (which we are not allowed to use in print) and we just tried to keep it as organic as possible.”
Wajahat shared how Eros had gotten in touch with him through IMGC and had asked him to write this 2-season series. “It fell in my lap,” he said, revealing that Season 1 ends on an explosive note, which will be picked up in Season 2.
The online audience is younger, and definitely less politicized, which is what makes cross-border content permissible. The look and feel of Enaaya, as you can see, is very modern, with almost nothing referring it back to Pakistan…not unless you’re watching closely, that is.
“In the very first frame, when Enaaya is walking into college, you’ll see the Pakistani flag waving in the background,” Wajahat explained how he had incorporated Pakistan very subtly. “The characters say salam and there’s use of words that we commonly use in our daily vocabulary. I felt this was a good way of showing that we weren’t all as archaic as we’re portrayed to be in Indian films.”
It definitely is refreshing to see Pakistan cast in the light of being urban cool. It’s also a relief to see characters who are dealing with issues optimistically and progressively; there is no melodrama or tragic overplay, which we’re served enough of on cable television. In short, there is no rona dhona. And I’m two episodes in and so far no woman has been slapped. I hope it stays this way.
Enaaya is by no means perfect. The casting itself is a bit of stretch; it takes time to accept Mehwish Hayat and Azfar Rehman as college going students but one discounts that to the fact that it would be tough to find 15-17 year old actors (who can additionally sing) and Wajahat must have felt the need for star power to market his first web-series. The story is also very simplistic; at least that’s the way it appears in the first two episodes though I am told that it does pick up and spins beyond the expected. But despite its flaws, it is refreshing and pleasant viewing. The aesthetics are right and the tone is progressive.
“Your father abandoned us,” Enaaya’s mother relives her life, one morning over breakfast.
“So what,” Enaaya, who’s is also dealing with daddy-issues, says to diffuse the melancholy. “I’ll find you a man with a yacht and a row of luxury cars.”