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Dulhan started off with a bang: the shocking story of two completely immoral and ruthless young men willing to do anything, no matter how abhorrent to win a bet. Amal played by Sumbul Iqbal was the bholi larki at the center of the storm. A lower middle class girl who works in a mall boutique selling designer clothes, somehow Amal comes into the notice of Shahmir (Faizan Khawaja) , who is so attracted to her that he offers her money and even tries to threaten her into bed with him. Faizan Khawaja played this privileged, elite class young man, with a hard arrogance that kept the story from losing its edginess right to the end. This was obviously not the first time Shahmir had propositioned a girl, his surprise and simmering rage at being rejected showed us that this was a man used to getting his way.

His cousin Mikaal played effortlessly by Sami Khan, is just as immoral but cleverer. He has a slightly softer image, which he knows how to use to his advantage. Both young men are a picture of elite decadence, with no imperative to work or make something of themselves, instead they spend their time riding high on their family money. Writer , Adeel Razzaq, gives us a striking image of two men leading double lives: in front of their families they are immature but basically respectful sons, but the reality is that they are predators, who think nothing of rape or any other deceit. When Mikaal hears of Shahmir’s obsession with Amal, he offers to get him the girl in exchange for Shahmir’s expensive car. For Mikaal it is a game but for Shahmir forcing Amal to do what he wants becomes a matter of pride and over weaning ego.

Amal’s character arc is perhaps the most facile and Sumbul Iqbal played it straight without too much nuance. Shellshocked by Mikaal’s betrayal, after courting her for weeks and leaving her on their wedding night for Shahmir to rape, she retreats into fear and shame. Her character matures and progresses after marinading in misery for a good chunk of the drama but thankfully the writer does allow her to understand that she is more than just a victim.

Amal is a strong woman whose paycheck is essential for her family’s survival but her own naivete and her step mother’s greed always leave her vulnerable Sumbul Iqbal brought out Amal’s strength without any drastic turn into some wonder woman character and that kept her track believable. My only complaint is why must heroines be such angels of virtue, surely, they too can be human and protect themselves in some way?

This drama began in such an exciting way, It reminded me of a slick an almost Netflix style thriller that would skip the usual Pakistani drama motifs of dusri bivi and love triangles and follow a dark path like Mera Saeen or Ullu Baraey Frukht Nahi. Well, I was wrong. Mishal Khan provided the dusri bivi, we had a ghairatmund mard dialogue, a tum jaisi larkiya dialogue, a competing sister track and a strange triangle between Shahmir- Mikaal and Amal. Despite all those yawn inducing tropes the drama did manage to keep its grip on the story and the audience. After the first few episodes I had sworn there was no way either of these men could possibly come back from the heinous nature of their actions . However, Sami Khan gave us a fantastic performance as Mikaal’s making his moral growth and repentance believable on screen, if not likely in real life.

Mishal Khan is an actress I kind of enjoy seeing on screen. She is one of those actresses who always play themselves in a role as opposed to melding with a character, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. A lot of our most popular actors are like that and screen presence, which she has, is not something that can be manufactured. However, someone should be kind and get her a better wig.

A special word of appreciation for Director Adeel Siddiqui, whose fast-paced scenes and storytelling had me enthralled in the first few episodes. I just hope he gets a chance to make something as good without the shackles of content heads and what will sell more soap powder. Unlike a lot of dramas, Dulhan gave us a powerful ending with Amal refusing to pardon Mikaal or to turn to Mikaal as a “mashriki” wife. Mikaal carried on his journey of becoming a better person from jail, and we were given a good open ending, that left the audience thinking. The only thing that spoiled the end a little was the sudden change in Amal’s family, which should have been a lot more gradual. I think our drama makers should learn to get out of this trap of simplistic sazaa to jazaa, Sometimes the best happy ending is not people acknowledging your sacrifices (though it would be nice) , but just being happy and free of the drag that bad people put on your life.

My plea to this creative team and especially producer Momina Duraid  next time do not miss out on the chance to step up to the next level, please, please, take that jump into innovation and make what you really wanted to. Forget the imaginary audience of housewives or advertisers wanting to sell cooking oil in your mind, ignore the content heads. Dulhan showed us just how capable this team is, I hope they do not let the spark die.

Sadaf Haider

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