As I sat down to watch what many in my own country couldn’t watch yet – trigger alert – peace vibes between Pakistan & India, I wondered, what is it about this web series that has forced a ban before the first episode even hits the screens? Also, is it a blessing in disguise? Will all the publicity, the public (twitter) hue & cry actually translate into more people watching it?
So here’s what happened as I streamed the first episode at home.
Husband: What is this series about?
Me: It’s a web series that aims to depoliticize the Pak-India issue and talk about how it affects real people on both sides of the border (at least, that’s what I thought it was)
Husband: (After listening in to first 20 min) – Not watching. It was banned for the right reasons. There can be no peace with India. We need to settle the Kashmir issue. Please note: he is not on Twitter.
Okaaaayy, said the peace-loving me. This is how we begin. Exactly as the world views this project, we have a mini Twitter war at home. Nothing could be nearer to reality!
Onwards with the review then.
The Frame & The Feel
We expect no less from director Haseeb Hassan as he nailed the color palette. A sepia-toned backdrop gives a naturally vintage feel to the Sher Ali & Malhotra gharaanas. As Gopi & Nawaz serve up garam garam naashta, we identify immediately with the way our grandparents had narrated their childhood stories – of trusted male servants who were entrusted with everything under the sun. These people were part & parcel of the family, they played cricket, walked us to school, tended to dada and dadi and were what fond memories were made of.
If an anday ki zardi hitting the frying pan carried a rawness, so did the pataakhay that Vishal’s family happily lighted when India gained victory in the coveted Cricket match. If Manzar Sehbai as dada, emoted raw thakkan in his mere posture, if Samiya Mumtaz’s character fondly contemplated her husband’s return in a canteen, if Sajal (Sara) de-lidded kitchen pots, craving a quick bite at home after college and Ahad (Vishal) belted out a teenage soaked guitar- riaz early morning – it is all because Haseeb Hasssan planned every frame, every move with precision. I’ll come to THE scene later. Hold on folks.
There are terms & dialogues and then there are writers. When the children addressed Vishal ‘Bhaiya’, they used a typically subcontinent term that younger siblings used traditionally for their older brother. It was not bhai – please note. Bhaiya emits a totally different feel.
Paneeri ko faasle se lagaana, verna poday sahi nahi ugain ge – dada advises the gardener. But was he referring to the Pak India divide? Ek ek lafz mein mayenay chupay hain – khayaal se sunye ga.
Koi Maan se pooche, wo bataae gi, shaheed marta hai keh zinda rehta hai – When Zaib Rehman’s character utters these lines, you felt it right in your heart, but then … this one was a bit on the fence. While I am acquainted with Shaheed’s families, and while they, always laud a shaheed’s maut with courage and valour – I have also seen the endless pain in their eyes – it never goes away. I cannot judge what a mother or a wife feels inside her heart but I’m happy to let Umera Ahmed give us her depiction – you see, I believe in democracy & diverse opinion – that’s why I married my husband, some would say. He doesn’t think the Pak-India dosti carries much leverage!
What of the successive dialogue as the media dives in head-first to earn gains from the tragedy of a family torn in heart-breaking loss?
Mera beta apne pita ki maut se paise nahi kamaye ga – quips Vishal’s mom, giving credence to the overt media campaigns that drive Indian media houses to despair (and high ratings). These words should have hit home for many of us when we rush to gain social media views by covering intense tragedy – the more intense, the higher the views – of course, it has to be another’s tragedy (not ours) that will give us the enthusiasm to forge ahead with gusto!
The repeated use of the word Shaheed in India. Yes, there’s a history behind it. I had to read up on it as it had been objected to earlier. Umera Ahmed has picked up on the bareekiyan of the Indian people who seek to use this term unofficially to label their dead as heroes – shaheed and martyrs are both used, although they have Islamic & Christian origins. Do note, the government or army does not use this term officially.
But as a writer, she has picked up on what is and not what should be… right? I respect that depiction frankly, it takes a lot to stay neutral & real in the face of ‘the enemy’. You can read more about the shaheed commentary here, as I did.
The War & Peace Narrative
So here’s the thing, I had a Pakistani friend remark – but I didn’t feel for the Malhotra’s like I did for the Sher Ali’s. And I don’t know why? My answer, in the hyped pre-match rhetoric, in the shabaashi that Vishal received from his fellow country men ( as if clapping on the back for scoring the victory goal in a football match), Umera jee has very aptly mirrored the Indian mass culture as we, Pakistanis see it – loud, unapologetic, unrelenting and crass – hence, the lack of sympathy for people we cannot have sympathy for?
I would also say (in the event that was not the writer-director’s aim, that they wanted us to feel sympathy for both sides) that the combination of Samina Ahmed & Manzar Sehbai on the Pakistan side is a tad imbalanced. Their performances, the way they emote, gives Pakistanis an edge over the other side. That is not to say that I didn’t feel for Vishal’s mom (Savera Nadeem was love), or that Samiya Mumtaz did not do a stellar job as the young wife of a shaheed who lost a beloved husband – it just means that the scales were slightly tipped on this side. Which ahem – brings me to the star performances.
The Scene That Got me!
Yes it did. The plot switch from cricket to shahadat was gripping, intensely painful & hit you where the makers wanted it to. The soldier boots hitting the ground, the military caps taken off in respect, the salute – there was a poignant silence, a spine-chilling goose bumps kinda feel that took you back many decades, till you reminded yourself, it still happens – remember Pulwama, Siachen & Kargil?
If you, as an Indian felt more for the Malhotra’s it is, after all, the deep connection with the sight of your country’s flag, wrapped around the life of a person who gave it up for his country – for you – so that you and your loved ones can live.
If you, as a Pakistani, felt for the Sher Ali’s more – it is but natural – for the same reasons mentioned above.
If you, as a global citizen, shut your eyes, just for a second and just take note that a life has been extinguished, a life attached to a family, loved ones left behind, even if it is, but a transient emotion, till anger and justification take over – “this is what they deserve”, you say – just that fleeting moment of feeling for the other person across the border, might be a beginning? Just like we sent them covid help, just like our stars, and their stars collaborate at times to give us joint projects, we too, can feel for the blood let across the line of control – but not for long though, because, like my husband said above – Kashmir has yet to be resolved!
I am a cricket fan. Especially when India-Pakistan matches are up for grabs. But somehow, I did not catch the enthusiasm there. Maybe we were trying too hard for both families to pre-hype the match & catch the atmosphere, maybe an intangible realness factor was missing, but I felt some forced dialogues there. Even as Samiya Mumtaz’s character plays the Fawad Khan card, the script seemed a bit too scripted. Not sure why, I think it is trying too hard to display a naturalness on screen that didn’t quite add up for me.
Dadi stuck on Drama Naagin was also, for me, a bit stretched. I’m not aware of any dadis in Pakistan watching Naagin, but many in India watching Humsafar, Pyar ke Sadqay & Yakeen Ka Safar. Perhaps a correction in order there – sometimes, when we want to fit the narrative, we seek dialogues that gel, and for me, this one needed a reality check.
Can Dhoop Ki Deewar cross over as a peace narrative or remain an emotional cross border story?
Too soon to say. It’s not about Kashmir, at least that’s what it seems like so far. Are we at war with peace? Maybe. Do we feel the other side has more to blame? YES!
Although the story did touch upon the fact that the soldiers died in Kashmir. Dhoop Ki Deewar might not accomplish what we fear it aims to do – the unthinkable – peace between two warring nations? BUT, it might be a stepping stone to something more in the future? Maybe.
As they say:
If you reach for the stars, you might not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either!Leo Burnett