Take it to New York

Half-baked and a bit bland, the play may be okay for a one-time watch

Take it to New York

When I first heard the name, I thought it was a Hollywood film but later I learnt that this was a three-episode mini-series directed by Mehreen Jabbar of Jackson Heights fame released on a television channel.

With Mehreen Jabbar at the helm of affairs, I had high expectations. The fact that this series comprised only three episodes meant one could easily sit through it.

Before delving into a critical analysis of the series, it is heartening to note that directors are experimenting with different storylines and novel ideas, which is very important, especially if the goal is to stay relevant.

7 Days in Coney Island is set in Coney Island in New York (a predominantly South Asian neighbourhood). Mehreen has a penchant for narrating stories of Pakistanis settled abroad and highlighting their plight. Many of them suffer from an identity crisis and are struggling to find their niche. This play brings to light some stark realities about Pakistanis settled in America. It shows that life is not exactly a bed of roses for those settled abroad.

The cast does not feature any big or very familiar names. Several stories unfold over the three episodes. The viewer is introduced to Haider, portrayed by Noor Naghmi, who owns a store and has a daughter, Maddie, and a wife, Rosa.

Maddie frequents a store in Coney Island where Salik, a boy from Multan, works. He is infatuated with Ghazala, a therapist who has recently shifted to the area and orders meals regularly.

Salik, a new arrival in Coney Island and rather naïve, makes the first move but is rebuffed by Ghazala who is going through an extremely messy divorce and contending with her own demons. The last thing she needs or wants is to be involved with an employee at a restaurant she orders her daily meals from. Salik is extremely dejected at being spurned and is unable to focus on his work. To top it off Ghazala visits the restaurant with the owner, Salman Masood, and he is expected to wait on their table. Feeling humiliated, Salik quits and quickly discovers that life abroad is not all that it is made out to be.

Maddie, meanwhile, is fighting her own battles as she struggles to procure admission to one of the top colleges in the US. She recognises her limitations but is unable to reason with Haider, her father who is extremely ambitious for his only daughter. She has a black boyfriend, André, who is her anchor as she faces rejection after rejection from seeral top colleges in the US.

Unknown to Salman, his wife Sana, played by Sidra Batool, is seeking therapy. Her therapist (yes, you guessed it) is Ghazala. The director has endeavoured to pack quite a lot in the three episodes but somehow, the mini-series fails to hit the bull’s eye. To be honest, it gets off to a good start and the characters, dialogues and storyline initially came across as quite refreshing. But somehow, I found myself unable to connect with any of the characters or relate to them. The conclusion was rushed, the dialogues were relatable but the characters were half-baked and had not been properly developed.

The mini-series would have had a greater impact if the focus had been on one or two characters and they had been fleshed out properly. Sana’s trauma, for which she seeks therapy, does not sound convincing. The viewer is unable thus to identify with the plight of all characters in the story. Since I had very high expectations from the series, I was quite disappointed at the poor characterisation and the weak plot.

Telling a story in just three episodes may have been an over-ambitious attempt on the part of the director. It’s a laudable endeavour but did not have the desired impact. The acting was a little shaky also, apart from Maddie who I thought was the best of the lot. Some of the stories were quite predictable. The overnight shift in Maddie’s father was a bit too hard to digest. Her mother, Rosa, is played by a natural actress. André’s character too was acted well. Most of the dialogue is in English with a smattering of heavily accented Urdu, especially when spoken by characters born and raised in the States.

Overall the acting appeared natural but somehow, apart from the characters mentioned above, it failed to have the desired impact. Full marks to Mehreen for trying. Hopefully, next time, the characters will be better developed and be able to strike a chord with the audience. A one-time watch.

The writer is an educationist and blogs at gaiteeara@hotmail.com           

Take it to New York