Ending sooner than people had anticipated, drama serial Alif’s last episode aired this weekend and with it ended a deeply spiritual and engaging story that had held its fans captive for 24 episodes.
Written by Umera Ahmed and directed by Haseeb Haseen, it was the combination of good story telling, sensitive direction and impeccable performances by the entire cast that made the drama serial, produced by Sana Shahnawaz and Samina Humayun Saeed, such a masterpiece.
The story touched upon the letter ‘alif’ as a reference and metaphor for connection to God, and how the journey between a question and its answer was a simple, straight line when man chose to stay connected with his conscience.
Very briefly, the story – an adaptation of Umera Ahmed’s novel of the same name – revolved around the protagonists Qalb e Momin (Hamza Ali Abbasi) and Momina Sultan (Sajal Aly), their troubled pasts and how they help each other deal with their tragic existence and find peace in righteousness. While both Hamza and Sajal delivered flawless performances, the casting of the whole drama was undoubtedly its biggest strength.
From the characters of Abdul Aala (Manzar Sehbai), Husn e Jahan (Kubra Khan), Sultan (Saleem Mairaj), Taha Abdul Aala (Ahsan Khan), Suraiyya (Lubna Aslam) and even the young Momin (played by Pehlaaj Hassan), the casting was brilliant.
Equal, if not more, credit must be given to the director, Haseeb Hassan who managed to weave the story, set in two time zones and two different cities, together so effortlessly. The movement between past and present, Momin’s childhood and adult life and of course, Pakistan and Turkey gave the production a dimension that is rarely seen in local productions.
Haseeb Hassan has several big projects, including drama serials Diyar e Dil and Mann Mayal and films like Parwaaz Hai Junoon, to his name and has picked up numerous nominations and awards for his work over the years. Alif will definitely go down in history as one of his iconic projects and is sure to pick up awards this year.
Pakistani dramas, written primarily for housewives, mostly revolve around family politics and familial relationships especially between a married girl and her husband and/or in-laws; most others tackle a complicated love triangle. Socially conscious dramas have recently been on the rise but even dramas like Surkh Chandni and Ruswai, promoted as the stories of acid burn and rape survivors respectively, cannot avoid addressing the familial pressures of the survivors. Alif came across as refreshing for its subject matter, deeper meaning and portrayal of women as strong and progressive characters. Though the narrative did appear slow at times, the relaxed tone and tenure was important to convey the unrushed message it meant to send out.
Momina Sultan (Sajal Aly) is an actor, divided by her gift of performance (she wins an Oscar for her debut film) and her deeper desire to stay on the path that leads to God. She wants to spend her life doing calligraphy but she must earn to keep her ailing brother alive; she is also breadwinner in her house as her parents – a makeup artist and a junior actress – are both retired. She manages to find a beautiful balance. At one point in the story, her fiance Faisal (Osman Khalid Butt), orders her to give up acting as “you sell your face and body to earn” but she gives him up instead and finds an honourable way to act without taking her clothes off.
Her mother, Suraiyya (Lubna Aslam) is shown as a junior artist who falls in love with Sultan but recognizes and accepts his obsession with Husn e Jahan, a bright star of their time. Suraiyya not only accepts Husn e Jahan as part of her life but sells her jewellery and aids her husband when he needs to help Husn e Jahan out. Comfortable in her skin, the character of Suraiyya is rare and extremely progressive; most narratives these days pitch women against each other, even when they are sisters.
And finally there is the character of Husn e Jahan, portrayed brilliantly by Kubra Khan. She is a woman who gives up a thriving career as an actress for the man she loves, moves to Turkey for him and spends her life raising her son, giving up the fame and fortune she grew up with. She is a loyal friend to Sultan, her makeup artist, even walking out of a high profile film when he is being replaced in it. She is a sensitive and responsible mother, sending her son to Turkey to be raised by his grandfather, when she feels he would do a better job. She is portrayed as a tragic heroine, losing the love of her life as well as her son to circumstances actually created by her father in law, Abdul Aala. One would have to blame her husband’s guilt – that ultimately led to his death – and her son’s hatred for her, on Abdul Aala, a pious but ultimately egotistical man. That pious and ostensibly religious and righteous men can be flawed is a good message to give out.
Alif, as a story, is layered and nuanced, which is what made it so iconic. One can only hope its success producers to think beyond family drama and hysteria.