The waterworks were in full flow during the 14th episode of ‘Qayamat’, 7th Sky Entertainment’s top trending drama currently airing on GEO Entertainment. Actress Amar Khan’s character Samra’s life reached a sad end. The ratings, already quite sky-high for the drama, rocketed even upwards. Qayamat’s huge fan following were sad and were watching the drama with morbid fascination.
Some must have also heaved a sigh of relief. Samra had been the stereotypical suppressed wife and daughter-in-law. Caged inside a house where no one cared for her, she had been struggling with an abusive two-timing husband and a tyrannical mother-in-law. Even while heavily pregnant, she had put on a brave face and thrown herself into the manual labor that her mother-in-law heartlessly ordered her to do. She was the typical bechari bahu. Samra was also so spineless that anyone wincing while she was tortured knew that there was no hope for her. A character like that does end up dying. She had it coming.
The ratings were bound to rise because fact is, Pakistani drama trends dictate that stories of suffering woman – preferably those that are slapped about – do great business. A well-known producer once told me that the TV watching audience tends to be predominantly female and many of them suffer domestic torture. When they see similar stories enacted on TV, they feel an empathy towards the characters. They are drawn towards the story of a good-hearted woman getting beaten about until ultimately, 20 or more episodes later, the villains get punished.
“I am well aware that seeing Samra getting tortured was painful,” Amar Khan accepts. “For me, it is also painful that many of the women watching the drama have had to endure similar abuse in reality. Women do get tortured to the point that they die. They are raised by their mothers to believe that no matter how ruthless their husbands are, they have to love them and obey the demands of their in-laws. It’s saddening.”
The evil Rashid and the tortured Samra
Amar, herself, admits that she has never experienced abuse in her life. “I have been raised by my mother. She is a single parent and the strongest woman I know. It was especially difficult for me to understand what Samra went through because I hadn’t seen that kind of pain before.”
Why, then, did Amar take on the character? She may have started off her career with different roles but ultimately, she realized that the lion’s share of dramatic projects in Pakistan narrated the story of a holier-than-thou woman suffering endlessly. “It has been my biggest commercially popular role yet,” she admits. “When I read the script, in the fourth or fifth episode my character got slapped. I thought that if I could feel so much pain reading the script, how would people feel when they watched it?”
From a purely acting perspective, Amar was very believable. Samra’s body language was visibly that of a woman who was trapped, in the way she stood, squirming, to the occasional times when she dared to confront Rashid, her abusive husband played by Ahsan Khan, before quickly retreating into her shell. “I have to give Ahsan credit for the way the story has come out. We didn’t rehearse any of the scenes where he is abusing Samra because our reactions would have become more wooden. My facial expressions were purely reactionary to the way he was acting, viscerally, brutally.”
Was the crying – and Samra cried constantly! – also genuine? “I’ll be honest, glycerin is used to make the eyes look suitably tearful,” Amar says. “But even then, a lot of effort has to be put into a scene where the character you’re enacting is in pain. I think that actors have on-off switches to them. In real life, we will hide our tears in front of our loved ones but then, when the camera turns on it acts as an emotional outlet and all the pent-up feelings come flowing out.”
She continues, “2020 had been a tough year for me. I lost my grandmother. This was during the shooting of my upcoming movie Dum Mastam. I was completely depressed and I had to perform a dance sequence. Then, 10 days into shooting Qayamat I contracted a bad case of the dengue fever. For 15 days I couldn’t get up. Finally, when I got better and shooting resumed, I tested positive for the coronavirus. I was asymptomatic but I still had to isolate. With all that had gone on, it wasn’t that difficult to cry.”
The unfortunate Samra is a far cry from the emancipated roles that Amar has played in the part. Her repertoire even includes the character of an evil ‘dayan’ waging supernatural revenge, from 2018’s thriller Belapur ki Dayan. Amar is petrified of horror movies so she prepared for her role by listening to horrifying noises on her phone right before she shot a scene. What sort of method acting did she apply to Qayamat?
“The preparation for a tough, emotional scene actually begins a day in advance. You think about it while you’re going to sleep. And there are so many nuances that have to be considered. In one scene, Samra is weeping in her room and while I was bawling my eyes out, the director whispered to me that the crying shouldn’t be audible to the in-laws outside. I improvised by stuffing my face into my dupatta.”
Qayamat’s torturous narration continues – evidently, Samra’s evil mother-in-law is still quite the schemer despite her daughter-in-law’s tragic demise. It’s a wrap, though, for Samra and Amar Khan. What character does she want to do next? Dum Mastam, her upcoming movie, written by her and starring her as the female lead, is waiting in the sidelines until the coronavirus gets contained and cinemas reopen. In the meantime, Amar is getting plenty of scripts, most have which feature her getting beaten up!
“I do want our audience to start seeing more, getting introduced to new genres,” she muses. However, there are a smattering of different storylines currently airing on TV – the occasional cerebral storyline or out-of-the-box romance. The biggest dramas, biggest roles, highest ratings, however, tend to be for the stories centered around domestic tortures.
Qayamat is a case in point. Amar Khan has never been more well-loved. Even in death, Samra is a hit.