The past and the present as a single tapestry
ere’s the tea; I’m not an avid fan of Pakistani television soaps and I have my reasons which will make for a fine subject for another day but, despite that, there are a few productions that have left a mark on my heart with their plotlines and takeaways.
Drama serial Durr-i-Shahwar, written by Umera Ahmad and directed by Haissam Hussain, is one such production. Growing up, this play was one of my all-time favourites.
While Durr-i-Shahwar took on common themes such as companionship, trust and compromise, it also showed us glimpses of something more precious by capturing the essence of, broadly speaking, healthy parent-child relationship and more specifically nurturing mother-daughter relationships that persist, and are strengthened, well into adulthood. To top it all up, the acting, direction, production and script were top-notch with each character portraying their role beautifully.
Shandana, played by Nadia Jamil, married to her first cousin for eight years, begins to experience a rough patch in her marriage. She takes her daughter Sophie along with her to her parents’ home in Murree where she can process her relationship in peace.
Eventually, Shandana opens up to her mother, Durr-i-Shahwar played by Samina Pirzada in the present and Sanam Baloch in flashbacks. When Shandana, a doting daughter praises her father and tells her mother that she had had an ideal husband, Durr-i-Shahwar decides to open up to her and tell her that her life had not always been a bed of roses.
Durr-i-Shahwar then narrates the story of the early years of her married life. She confesses to her daughter the highs and lows she had experienced as a young bride trying to adjust to a different family after her marriage. What follows is a tale of compromise and resilience, as Durr-i-Shahwar finds hope in her father’s words of encouragement and letters of advice, even as her in-laws are being difficult.
The mother-daughter relationship has been explored from a wide variety of angles in our plays but Durr-i-Shahwar has an interesting spin on it. In Durr-i-Shahwar, we find a mother who is not trying to preach or sermonise but simply narrated her life story to her daughter while respecting her agency to arrive at a conclusion by herself.
In Durr-i-Shahwar, we find a mother who is not trying to preach or sermonise but is simply narrating her life story to her daughter while respecting her agency to arrive at her own conclusion. We also have in Shandana, a young woman confronting the overwhelming task of making bargains to sustain her relationship, but also a young woman unafraid to voice her reservations.
We also find a daughter who is fiercely expressive, not tight-lipped or meek. We have in Shandana, a young woman confronting the overwhelming task of making bargains to sustain her relationship, but also a young woman unafraid to voice her reservations.
Durr-i-Shahwar has a parallel plotline that unfolds gradually. While Shandana represents the present, Durr-i-Shahwar regales us with stories of the past. She speaks of times when life was steeped in tradition, some of which she had to struggle against. Despite this, the two women find common ground and solace in each other’s company. As a token of love, Durr-i-Shahwar passes her father’s letters on to her daughter, in the hope that she too would be able to cherish the life lessons in those.
Unfortunately, plays like Durr-i-Shahwar have become rare. Although our television industry has been able to roll out some thought-provoking productions, Durr-i-Shahwar is truly a masterpiece. This is more than what one can say for a lot of content being aired these days.
What we miss nowadays are nuanced characters like Sania Saeed’s in Raqeeb Say, a play penned by Bee Gul. The drama is another recent top-notch production that explores the complexities and intricacies of relationships without stereotyping them.
Another production by Amna Mufti, Dil Na Umeed Tou Nahin starring Yumna Zaidi, Navid Shahzad and Yusra Rizvi, also comes to mind. The play focuses on social issues that are, unfortunately, still around. The plot pivots around themes like child labour, trafficking and sex work. You can also expect complex characterisation.
Maat, a decade-old drama serial written by Umera Ahmad is an old favourite. It explored the relationship between two sisters who were poles apart. Sibling relationships have been a hot topic of discussion and debate in our plays.
With new productions, one cannot shake off the feeling that there is a little of everything thrown in. This becomes almost overwhelming. For instance, love triangles have been done to death with two men after the same woman or vice versa. It is about time we moved away from such clichés. Productions such as Durr-i-Shahwar can be our inspiration.
The year 2023 promises to be interesting with some extremely diverse productions coming up. Do combine the old with the new and keep watching evergreen productions while enjoying the current plays on television. As they say, ‘something old, something new, something borrowed something blue!’
The writer is an educationist. She can be reached at email@example.com.