Identity crises

June 12, 2022

Pehchaan, a newly released Pakistani drama, leaves a lot to be desired

Identity crises


ehchaan is a newly released drama that premiered on June 9. The trailers leading up to its release had a mysterious air to them, but the premier is anything but. Written by Rubina Kabir Khan, directed by Asad Jabal and produced by Momina Duraid, it stars Hiba Bukhari and Syed Jibran as the main characters.

The episode begins with a flashback to simpler times for Sharmeen (Hiba Irfan), who is affectionately known as Cookie. As she gleefully goes higher on the swing, she quips about wanting to fly like a bird, while her friend provides some social commentary about the role of women in society post-marriage. Cookie seems hopeful and naive in this scene, as she makes carefree jokes about her friend’s cynicism.

As Cookie is rudely awakened from her pleasant dream by the shrill droning of the alarm clock, she wearily gets out of bed while her husband continues to sleep without a care in the world. It is obvious that she is less than satisfied with her current circumstances as she looks weathered and miserable.

The scene cuts to Cookie’s sister-in-law and niece, who are busy in the kitchen as most women in Pakistani dramas usually are. Their discourse is stereotypical and features nothing of value. The mother complains about her daughter’s avoidance of housework and lack of success in the kitchen, lamenting that she will have to bear criticism for raising a less than ideal (and free, one might add) housekeeper for her future in-laws. The daughter seems unfazed by this. Instead, she talks about how she’d love to learn how to bake from Cookie. Her mother calls Cookie the epitome of a successful woman due to her ability to manage a household with no help, while also knowing how to cook every type of cuisine known to man. Her daughter aptly remarks that only a djinn can do all of that.

The story shifts back to Cookie, looking severely detached from reality as she starts her day. Viewers do not see her have breakfast. The first thing she does is bring her husband some coffee. Her adolescent son is no better, moaning unnecessarily about waking up early. As everyone is seated around the table, Cookie’s daughter is the only one who even notices her mother’s dissociative state, and asks her if she is okay. Her husband seems oblivious to her misery, despite having eyes, and contributes nothing notable to the conversation. He calls her his ‘habit’ and talks about how hard things will be for him when she goes to Pakistan, despite apparently having a fully functional body and mind.

Cookie just cannot seem to catch a break as she has to pander to her demanding mother-in-law over the phone while sorting out the living room. The mother-in-law complains about Adnan (her son) not calling often enough, as if that’s somehow Cookie’s fault. He appears to be a grown man. His mother should treat him as such and talk to him about why he doesn’t call more often.

The mother-in-law complains about Adnan (her son) not calling often enough, as if that’s somehow Cookie’s fault. He appears to be a grown man. His mother should treat him as such and talk to him about why he doesn’t call more often. 

Some other characters are introduced, but they do not appear to have a major direction in the story thus far. Cookie’s other sister-in-law (Nadia Hussain) talks to her father-in-law about how she’d like her teenage son to marry Cookie’s obviously underage daughter. He rebuffs her by explaining that they are too young and need to focus on their studies. The father-in-law seems to be the voice of reason thus far with his views and conduct towards Cookie.

The story circles back to Cookie, and she seems to be in her head. She commits the cardinal sin of forgetting to put sugar in her son and husband’s coffees, who promptly return their beverages although they could have just as easily reached for the sugar cubes themselves. Only when she forgets the sugar does her husband ask her why she’s distracted and if she’s feeling alright. Cookie tells him that she is upset because her friend’s husband is cheating on her, but judging by her body language, it looks like she is trying to catch her husband in a lie and warn him. She says that her friend isn’t looking to sever the relationship, she wants to punish her husband instead by running away. He continues to look guilty and says that it is normal for men to have “small affairs” here and there, basically telling her to put up or shut up. As Cookie becomes increasingly paranoid, he quips about how women are somehow the only creatures on earth capable of such emotion.

Someone in Cookie’s family has allegedly left her husband and run away. This unnamed character is lambasted by everyone around her. An older gentleman talks about how women these days have no patience or strength, and that he is glad he raised his daughters to withstand mistreatment at the hands of their husbands or in-laws. According to him, being complicit in your own oppression is the only way to become a khandani larki.

Towards the end, Cookie is seen packing for her trip to Pakistan as her husband complains about how much luggage she is taking with her. He stands there, twiddling his useless thumbs, and tells Cookie that she will be packing till she has to leave for the airport instead of lifting a single finger to help her. The only person who comes to her aid is her daughter which causes Cookie to exclaim that everybody around has tonnes of suggestions but no initiative.

The final scene features Cookie and her husband talking about her leaving for Pakistan. Rather than assuage her fears about leaving, he mocks her instead and says he will miss her because who will do all the work when she’s gone. After hearing this, Cookie clenches.

Based on the premier, Pehchaan is all bark and no bite, The storyline is regurgitated drivel that has nothing to offer in terms of substance and characterisation. Throwing gigantic houses with expensive furniture and swimming pools does not a good story make. The only redeeming quality in Pehchaan is Hiba Irfan’s acting. Her portrayal of a dissociated woman trapped in a societally designated role is very convincing. However, given how sinfully dull and one dimensional the other characters are, I cannot in good conscience recommend this drama to anyone. The pace felt suffocating and bloated, with unlikeable characters at every turn. It is nothing more than the clichéd propaganda that aims to normalise garbage relationships. Feel free to skip this one.

The author is a staff member.

Identity crises