For a drama based on the very sobering subject of child rape, Udaari managed to end on a surprisingly celebratory note. Defying the entire mazloom aurat stereotype that our TV dramas love to perpetuate, the women of Udaari don’t just manage to survive but actually triumph over their circumstances.
Although it is a close call Zebu finally gets the justice she deserves but it is not without a fight. Rape is the strangest crime, one where the victim feels the burden of shame for an act she/he had no consent in, and too often society works to protect the abuser. Farhat Ishtiaq ‘s beautifully written , well researched story touches on all the difficulties faced by those who have suffered this most heinous of crimes , but what sets it apart is how it shows a path out of the cycle of abuse. Like a lot of women in a difficult situation, Sajjo thinks she can limit Imtiaz by guarding her daughter but she learns the hard way that such predators can never be controlled or negotiated with. When Sajjo leaves Pa Imtiaz she makes her first and most important choice, even though she has no resources or family help, she takes the steps necessary to get her daughter out of harm’s way.
Udaari began as a slice of Pakistani society, and with such a large cast of players it could easily have diluted its message with time filling side tracks. However the writer kept the focus on the main theme and made each character an integral part of moving the plot forward. The always outstanding Bushra Ansari kept viewers laughing and crying as Sajjo’s best friend Sheedan, while Urwa Hocane has gave a fabulous performance as Sheeda’s daughter Meera. Meera evolved from a shy, insecure young girl, ashamed of her Merasi roots, to a proud singer, accepting her own identity and helping Zebu through the rape case. It is these wonderful bonds of love and friendship between women; working to lift each other up instead of pulling each other down that makes this drama so different.
Ahsan Khan’s acting has been a study in excellence from the beginning to end of this serial, bringing the manipulative evil of Pa Imtiaz frighteningly to life. What made this last episode especially gratifying was the way the burden of shame finally shifted to its rightful place: firmly on Pa Imtiaz’s shoulders. At last, it was he who hid his face in humiliation and disgrace as the truth of his guilt came out. Similarly Sammiya Mumtaz has given another powerful and memorable portrayal as a woman facing every parent’s worst nightmare.
Director Ehtashamuddin has elicited some phenomenal performances from his cast and kept a tight rein on the story line and pace of this serial. Sexual assault of a child is an incredibly tough subject to translate to the screen and it is to the director’s unending credit that he maintained the impact of the act without resorting to lurid details or graphic scenes. That restraint and subtlety are what kept PEMRA from banning this serial, and made it accessible to larger audiences in a society which would rather not acknowledge the existence of such abuse let alone face up to it. Ehtashamuddin is fast becoming a watchword for quality family viewing: Aseerzadi , Sadqay Tumharay, Preet Na Karyo Koi and now Udaari all bear his skillful touch. We can only hope he can bring his talents to a bigger screen soon.
Meera and Arsh’s love story was another thread that lightened the mood in what could have been a very depressing story. Farhan Saeed as Arsh, may well be the most unlikely Farhat Ishtiaq hero ever. Looking at him I can only be reminded of one of those memes “when you have a case in court but have a rock concert afterwards.” Arsh never lost that rock star swagger while hitting those law books and somehow Farhan Saeed managed to make this curious combination work. Following the theme of strong women, by the end of the episode it is Meera who delights the audience by proposing to Arsh and presents him with a ring. The most wonderful part about this scene wasn’t Arsh “winning” Meera, but Meera’s realization of how important Arsh was to her and how unimportant those barriers of class had become now she was a person in her own right.
This serial was made with a grant from the Canadian Government and the Kashf foundation (an NGO which works for women’s empowerment in Pakistan) in collaboration with Momina Duraid productions, with a stated goal of raising awareness about child abuse and pedophilia. Hina Altaf Khan as Zebo was a bit of a mixed bag but where she did succeed was with the positive affirmation
“Main Victim Nahi Main survivor hoon . Main Beychari Nahi banoo gee Main apney Mujrim ko sazaa dilwaoon gee . Sharm mujhai nahi ussay karnee chahiye.”
If this single dialogue of empowerment can help even one person come out from the shadows then this serial has succeeded beyond all hopes. However we cannot ignore our own responsibility as a society. The story amply illustrates the critical points of failure that facilitated Imtiaz’s power. If Sajjo’s family had helped her she would not have fallen into Imtiaz’s trap , if the eye witness to Zebu’s rape had saved her instead of keeping quiet and most of all if Sajjo had listened to her daughter earlier much of this the tragedy might have been avoided. Perhaps the best take away from this serial is that it shows victims that even if they cannot completely heal they can move on and enjoy the rest of their lives. They are not bound by the rapist’s crime, they can be free. The last scene shows Zebu studying hard to be someone who can advocate for victims, because the very best use for the lemons life gives you is to make sweet lemonade.