The title of this serial encapsulates in two simple words the essence of this drama. There is a sense of command and authority in this phrase, the kind of authority that society uses to silence victims, especially women ,so that we don’t have to face the ugly realities of life. Chup Raho is about a rape and its after effects. Rameen(Sajal Ali) is raped just before her wedding to Azar (Feroz Khan).This is a conveniently arranged love match between two happy families; Azar is Rameen’s wealthy brother in law’s younger cousin, just like her he is the poorer relative and this makes both of them easy targets. Rameen’s sister Manahil (Arjumand Rahim) is a spoilt wife, her overly generous almost too perfect husband Numair ( Syed Jibran) is everyone’s ideal. When Rameen catches Numair’s furtively roaming eye her life is changed forever.
The writer, Samira Fazal is no stranger to challenging story lines, she wrote the screenplay for Dastaan, Hum Tv’s gut wrenching but unforgettable drama. Directed by Haissem Hussain, this drama addressed the terrible horrors and tragedy visited on its chief protagonist Bano, and despite its beautiful, aesthetic presentation, the full weight of Bano’s humiliation after her capture and sexual assault was felt by the audience.
“It’s a very relevant topic these days .It’s a taboo subject, people do not want to talk about. To write it intelligently is very difficult and challenging” said Fazal in a recent interview.”
Pakistani writers have always been socially aware, rarely shying away from difficult subjects. In the recent past Roag, written by Faiza Iftikhar and directed by Furqan Khan /Javed Baber, Main Gunehgaar Nahi on Ary Digital and Mere Dard ko Jo Zuban Miley written by Bushra Ansari on Hum TV have also dealt with this subject. To their credit all these writers have treated this issue with nuance and sensitivity. The way a victim and her family is made to carry a burden of shame and guilt is perfectly portrayed in Roag where the family finds themselves exposed on the eve of their daughter’s Nikkah by some loud stranger as the family whose daughter was raped , as if they were somehow responsible for this heinous act. In Main Gunehgaar Nahi the main protagonist drowns in guilt allowing her to be mistreated and wed to an abusive man because decent women do not put themselves in such “situations”. In each serial the suffering and the difficult journey towards some semblance of healing after such a traumatic event is shown.
In Chup Raho, Samira Fazal has addressed many of the attitudes to victims. In one episode Numair tells his confidant and business partner Shiraz (Yasir Nawaz) that he can no longer resist Ramin because she is playing with him, flirting and even enticing him. This is typical of rape cases, where a perpetrators first line of defence is always to throw doubt on a victim’s character,so even though Shiraz is well aware of Numair’s hidden nature, he accepts that Ramin must be at fault. Rameen’s sister is presented with enough evidence to make anyone suspect there is something wrong but she cannot face leaving her comfortable, wealthy life and convinces herself that Rameen must be mentally ill. Her main concern is with her husband. In one swift turn Samira Fazal turns the concept of the obedient, virtuous wife on its head making Rameen’s sister an accessory after the fact.
The main push to “Chup Raho” however comes from the one place where it shouldn’t, Rameen’s mother.Like many in our society this woman suppresses her daughter at every turn, declaring her a mental case and never taking a stand for what is right. She thinks that she can somehow manipulate the situation so the status quo is never disturbed. She doesn’t want to ‘disturb’ her eldest daughter’s happy life and expects her youngest child to swallow the horror she has experienced, according to her it is Allah’s job to punish him not theirs. .Again it is a matter of convenience, with their unstable financial situation how will she handle the fall out of two daughter’s without husbands? It never occurs to her that allowing her daughter to live with a rapist is wrong, that if this man is able to do this once he will do so again. Similarly Azar with all his promises of eternal love and devotion is bought off by Numair with a high paid job, a car and all the advantages that a wealthy patron can give. Azar has ample proof but refuses to acknowledge Rameen’s plight accusing her of ruining his life and of being a fallen woman.
It is a sad fact that despite the headlines about gang rapes and the danger of strangers , that a rapist is often a person known to the victim. Rameen knows and trusts her brother in law so he is able to take advantage of her in a way a stranger would never be allowed to.
This drama has been skillfully directed by Yasir Nawaz, who for the most part has made this thrilling, highly compelling viewing. Nawaz is a master at building suspense and captivating his audience. However, just like his previous collaboration with Samira Fazal, last year’s blockbuster Shukk, this serial is long. A few of the episodes are inevitably repetitive and inconsistent like many successful serials on ARY digital. Despite good writing and above par direction, this lengthening reduces the dramatic punch of a few episodes.
Nawaz is also seen in front of the camera as Rameen’s saviour and Numair’s unwitting collaborator. Unbelievably, despite being violated in the worst possible way, losing both her parents and being abandoned by both her husband and her sister Rameen remains trusting and naïve. She befriends a suspicious woman at the women’s hostel where she has found refuge and almost allows herself to be sold by a prostitute. When she is saved By Shiraz , she enters his house as little more than a maid but is constantly challenging him and for want of a better word almost flirting with him . While it was necessary for Shiraz, just like the other protagonists to be made to face up to his actions, this track seems forced and reduces the gravity of the first part of the story. Shiraz is an unlikely hero, the depressed, irritable father of three young girls, who takes Rameen under his wing at her lowest point. “What I am trying to show is, real heroes of or lives are not hero material they are the people who trust you blindly support you and stand for you even if they are oddest kind of people..” explains the writer.
The acting in this serial has been outstanding. The main disappointment has been the actress playing Rameen’s mother who seemed unable to carry this important role. Despite a few missteps Feroz Khan has managed to impress in this debut role. His chemistry with Sajal Ali is perfect and their scenes together are well balanced. Sajal is one of the better young actresses in the industry and one of the few who could carry such a story with the depth and nuance it requires. If only she would not allow her makeup and at times nonsensical wardrobe to distract from the high quality of her performance this might well be an award worthy role for her. The fiery confrontation scene in which Rameen finally faces her attacker and the husband and sister who refuse to believe her is simply magnificent. Samira Fazal’s fabulous dialogues are spoken with control and power by Sajal Ali, as she tells her shocked screen husband that it is not he but she who will divorce him with three repetitions of those well-known words. Arjumand Rahim as Manahil is also a great addition to this cast, playing a silly, weak woman well. The star of the show though is without doubt Syed Jibran. His performance is a tour de force, a nuanced portrayal, other actors should study. At times pure evil, at times almost a slave to his obsession and just like the real devil he never forces those around him to do anything, it’s just that his perfectly reasonable suggestions are so easy to follow.
The greatest strength of this story is that it is not just the tale of a victim but that of a survivor. Rameen survives the rape, survives her family’s betrayals and even the subsequent mistreatment at the hands of strangers The message for the audience is” In even the most precarious condition we should trust Allah and have confidence in ourselves” says Samira Fazal.
This first appeared in Dawn.com and The Dawn Sunday print issue
By Sadaf Haider