This drama is based on Nazir Ahmed Dehlvi’s classic novel of the same name. Published in 1869, it tells the cautionary tale of two sisters: the foolish Akbari who creates nothing but problems for herself and the younger, exemplary Asghari, who is a blessing to all. To understand this story I think it is necessary to understand the context in which it was written. The nineteenth century was not a good time for the indigenous peoples of the Indian subcontinent, under the yoke of the British, a mentality of subjugation and withdrawal had taken hold of the Muslim Community in particular. Reformers such as Sir Syed Ahmed were encouraging female education and this novel was written as a response to the lack of “suitable” female literature available. Its popularity made it a necessity in any young bride’s dowry, both as a morality tale and an inspirational instruction manual. It is not the first time this work has been adapted for television, the first time was a PTV production and just recently as Akbari Asghari.
The drama opens simply enough and establishes its main characters and story lines very well. The original Akbari and Asgahri are now grandmothers and this is the story of their two grandchildren. For some inexplicable reason Aiza (Amna Shaikh) has been raised away from her family in Karachi by her grandmother Akbari while Ayma (Mehwish Hyat) lives with her parents in Lahore. Both are pretty and supposedly MBA holders but this is where the similarities end. Ayma is sweet, obedient and careful while Aiza is a self-assured, spoilt spendthrift. Not surprisingly the sister’s relationship is not close and Aiza seems like a stranger to even her own parents. Akbari has not changed much since her youth and manages to irritate her daughter in law at every meeting, finding fault where ever she can. Consequently there is always an undercurrent of dissatisfaction and unhappiness in that house hold.
Asghari has not changed either and as a result her household is a much happier, pleasant affair. She has three grandsons and a good relationship with her daughter in law who respects her opinion, so much that she decides to follow Asghari’s advice and choose a bride for her eldest son Hammad from Akbari’s granddaughters. For me the high light of both episodes were the wonderfully natural interactions between the three grandsons. Hammad (Mikaal Zulfikaar) is the obedient mother’s favourite, Hasham (Ahsan Khan) as the charming but feckless middle son and the younger son (someone tell me his name) as the baby, who is bossed around by everyone. Ahsan Khan stole the show in the first episode, I loved the car cleaning scene and how he plans to cadge a new car out of his older brother. Only then do you understand why, despite her sensible character, Ayma is in love with Hashem. In reality such a character might annoy the hell out of me but Ahsan manages to give his role just enough charm to get away with a few faults.
Superficially the other couple might be Mansoor of Durr e Shehwar meets Falak of Sheher e Zaat but by the second episode the viewer realizes it is deeper than that. Yes, Hamad is his Mother’s favourite and universal good boy but from the promos he loses a lot of his virtuous luster. Aiza maybe superficial but she is much cleverer than Falak and in some ways even more self-assured. She keeps her own counsel and is adept at keeping a quiet façade. It was quite funny the way Asghari and her family are worried about bringing home a talkative, gossipy Bahu but end up choosing meesni manipulative one instead.
Although both episodes were well put together, the themes were so familiar that I could almost predict each scene. I understand that human nature does not change but with time situations do. This story looks a little too obvious to me. However I will reserve judgment ,after all Umera Ahmed wrote the beautiful Qaid e Tanhai, Sheher e Zaat and Durr e Shehwar , all fairly predictable yet each one gripping the viewer to the very last moment. I have to say the direction was good but I wish some of the scenes were crisper and shorter. I felt both Mehwish and Amna were not comfortable in their roles yet but will do better in the later episodes. Amna looked fabulous and you could understand why Hammad could not take his eyes off her. Mikaal, Ahsan and the younger son were totally believable as a loving family of brothers.
If I had a wish it would be that this story had received the Dastaan treatment and we could all see the culture of Nineteenth century Delhi during British times. To understand and see this historically important novel in its actual context would have been amazing. I am not totally in love with this serial yet but if there is a good response and other people are interested then I shall keep reviewing.