By Maliha Rehman
A mother and daughter huddle together while their neighbors shout accusations at them. They are crying, trying to defend themselves, but their audience isn’t inclined towards listening. They have already passed judgment. At one point, the mother – Shireen, enacted by Saba Hamid – protests that they are accusing them with such ferocity because they are two lone women without a male relative standing by them.
This is one of the underlying messages woven within 7th Sky Entertainment’s Chauraha, currently airing on Geo Entertainment. Writer Edison Idrees Masih starts off the story with the grueling kidnapping of a young college girl, highlighting the dangers of revealing too much private information on social media, and then smoothly transitions to other obstacles that the protagonists encounter on life’s tricky crossroads, or chaurahay.
The neighbors proceed to throw out the women’s furniture from their homes. A sympathetic maulvi sahab suggests that Shireen should marry Saleem, played by Behroze Sabzwari, her coworker who has been helping her out and who is also romantically interested in her. The maulvi considers it the only solution for Shireen and her daughter Zoya, played by Madiha Imam. It’s a sad reality – it remains to be seen whether Shireen and Zoya will succumb to societal pressure.
Produced by Abdullah Kadwani and Asad Qureshi and directed by Aehsun Talish, the morals delivered by Chauraha form an intrinsic part of the narrative, helping in making the story impactful without resorting to sermons.
The dangers of social media are laid bare in the initial episodes when Junaid, enacted by Mikaal Zulfiqar, kidnaps Zoya assuming incorrectly that she hailed from an affluent household. In later episodes, he repents his sins and is aghast when his own sister almost gets kidnapped. At this particular point, the importance of a brother’s empathy towards his sister is highlighted. Junaid’s sister had lied to him and gone off to meet her boyfriend but once he got her safely back home, he doesn’t get angry or violent with her. Instead, he sympathizes. Some of his sympathy may stem from personal guilt since he believes that what nearly happened to his sister was a result of his own sins. Still, it is a relief to see a brother in a TV drama who refrains from being abusive in the name of honor or family pride.
Time and again, Zoya is judged for her lack of character through no fault of her own. It’s an apt reflection of the fake moralistic standards set by society for its own personal gains. Saleem’s attempts to help the women is misconstrued as evidence pointing towards Shireen and Zoya’s lack of propriety.
Moving the story along is the stellar ensemble cast. Bushra Ansari makes a short but memorable appearance as Zoya’s phuppo. Saba Hamid is brilliant as the middle class widow working hard to earn a livelihood and resiliently fending off the insinuations made towards her and her daughter. Madiha Imam is very believable as the long-suffering Zoya. Mikaal Zulfiqar is in his element, possibly knowing that this could be one of his more memorable roles and giving it his all; traversing fist fights, kidnapping scenes, screaming matches and now, melancholic episodes where he tries to make amends.
The only actor who seems to be wasted in his role is Asad Siddiqui, playing Arsal, Zoya’s neighbor who is romantically interested in her. Arsal stands by while his mother riles the rest of the neighborhood and ambushes Zoya’s home. His confrontations with his mother are half-baked, considering the travails being endured by the girl that he loves. As an actor, Asad Siddiqui is capable of enacting roles that are meatier and have much more shades to them. Arsal, so far, doesn’t seem to be one of them. On the upside, even a not-too-interesting role in a mainstream drama like Chauraha can help build an actor’s repertoire and pave the way for better roles in the future.
Beyond the morals, Chauraha has a strong storyline forming its backbone. Saleem, who may end up marrying Shireen, and at this point the women’s only form of support, is also Junaid’s father. The women do not know this. It remains to be seen how the story will unfold once Zoya makes her discovery.
For now, Chauraha continues narrating a story that walks off the beaten track and veers in unpredictable directions. There is the fear that Zoya could end up getting paired with Junaid, the very man who gives her nightmares and has ruined her life. This would be problematic. Junaid has his redeeming characteristics. He has been crying away – at a mazar, by his mother’s grave, in the solitude of his room, amongst friends – and his sister’s kidnapping episode has given him a jolt. Even when he was kidnapping with abandon, he was depicted as a twisted Robin Hood of sorts, paying the school fees of needy children with his illegally earnings. Still, this does not mean that he should be allowed to achieve a happily ever after with Zoya.
It would be hard to accept such a turn to the story – it would also give out some very wrong messages to the audience.
Chauraha is an intelligent drama; sensitive, well-paced, interesting. One hopes it remains that way.