Second part! I realized when watching this series that it broke down neatly into three narrative sections, so my reviews reflect that.
A little bit of non-spoiler first. In my last post I talked about how the show reminds me of BBC miniseries, in the way it has a beginning middle and end, in the way the actors and writers are so dedicated to building real characters and natural situations. That’s still true in this part, but with a nice dusting of TOTAL INSANITY.
When you are watching a BBC show, or any of those “prestige dramas”, it can feel like they are resisting the real over the top kind of emotions. Confusing restraint with realism. Not an issue here! Things get messy and complicated and emotional and a little bit crazy. But without completely losing the groundwork established in the first 8 episodes, in fact building on it, even on little things you might have thought they had forgotten.
Okay, now SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
The drama starts slowly. Khirad is now going to grad school, and her new classmate recognizes Ashar when he comes to drop her off. He is Khizar, Sara’s cousin, seems nice enough. But now Ashar is reminded of how Khirad is going out into the world, meeting people besides him, younger people, more exciting people.
It gets worse in episode 9, when Khizar is in an accident. After checking with “Mummy” (Fareeda, Ashar’s mother) Khirad volunteers to donate blood to him. Ashar can’t logically object, and yet it bothers him. Especially when Khizar is overly grateful and familiar afterwards. And yet Khirad is unaware of any difficulties. Ashar is still loving and generous to her, teasing her while she tries to study, even having some flirty bedtime talk.
(This is of course what I think of any time blood donation is a plot point)
By the way, to be crass for a moment, I kind of wonder if this is the first episode where they actually have sex? It is kind of implied that it might be, certainly it is implied that the have sex here (shades suddenly drawn, lights go out), and the way the show keeps flashing back to this moment makes it feel possibly extra significant in their relationship. But the show is so restrained and modest about these issues that it is hard to tell. They are sharing a bed for a while before Ashar touches her hand and little “tinkle tinkle” music starts, making it seem like that would be the first time they have touched. So a traditional “first night” is definitely out of the question. They get slowly more and more comfortable with each other and Ashar gets increasingly besotted. And we see them talk in bed often. But there is no clear implication of when their relationship may have moved to a different physical level.
The way the whole thing is handled reminded me a lot of Silsila. You know how Amitabh and Jaya have a forced marriage and are clearly not close for a long time? And then, somehow, they reach a point of joking together as they are getting dressed in their shared bedroom, or sharing a bathroom. Oh, and Jaya gets pregnant. At some point they clearly started having sex, and that is an element in their increased closeness. But it isn’t the end all be all of their relationship changes. It’s not the only thing to solve their problems.
The way Ashar is so besotted, so obsessed with his wife, definitely at some point they became closer and slept together. It would explain the euphoria and sudden shift in their relationship. When it happened exactly, who knows! Maybe on a closer viewing I could figure it out, but on the other hand, what would the point of that be? Ultimately all we need to know is that they are husband and wife in every way possible, and are living in their own little world of happiness at the moment.
Well, except when tiny little doubts start to prick at Ashar. There is Khizar, and there is also Khirad’s dedication to her grad school and her studies, which he sees as competition with him, not realizing that she is only so dedicated in an effort to become worthy of him. Ashar is so in love so suddenly, he can’t stand the thought of their perfect world being threatened and reacts with uncertainty and defensiveness to any outsider.
Strangely, Khirad’s problem is the opposite, she has become too confident. She is so sure in her own love and dedication to her husband, that she does not even consider it could be in doubt, that he might not understand her actions. Either in this episode or the next she finally begins to understand what is happening and tells him directly that she loves him, she loves him so much more than he could ever love her, that he is her whole world and all she has, which are the magic words to briefly repair the flaws in their relationship. That’s all he wants, to know that she needs him and wants him.
Remember how I mentioned the issues arise naturally out of what we saw earlier? Khirad’s pride, established in the first episode when she resisted her mother asking for help from her uncle, has also kept her from fully expressing her feelings for Ashar. And Ashar’s search for someone who can be a true companion in his life, who he can share everything with, has made him suddenly cautious with trusting this girl who he loves but doesn’t fully know yet.
This fix goes away in episode 10, when Ashar drops Khirad at a party with her schoolmates and arrives home to overhear his mother talking about how much Khirad enjoys spending time with Khizar. It plays into his worst uncertainties, that he is too old for her, that she was forced into this marriage, that ultimately they are not truly right for each other. And so, while Khirad is eager to see him after the party and tell him the news that she is pregnant, he is distant and resistant.
He remains distant for the next several days, while Khirad endures, starving herself, not sleeping, anxious and unhappy but unable to feel close to him again. Everything she does suddenly seems wrong somehow. And, okay, this bit does seem a little sudden that Ashar would stop talking to her or trusting her all of a sudden. But the performance sells it! You can see his doubts and misery, how no matter what she says his mind twists it to be something else. How those very traits he used to love in her now make him all the more aware of what he might lose if she tires of him, how he is trapping her in a life she may not want. Khirad has the easier part her, just being her natural self, and unable to understand why he no longer seems happy with her.
(Very similar to Raakhee and Dharmendra in Blackmail, and almost as painful)
Most of episode 10 is taken up with Ashar and Khirad growing apart, but there is also a strange little bit where we spend some time with Khizar and learn out of the blue that he is in love with Sarah. It seems a bit out of place, but is a nice thematic matching, Khizar is also a poor relation, Khizar is also trying to improve himself to be “worthy”, like Khirad. And like Khirad, he is desperately trying to please the one he loves, since Sarah barely seems to consider him.
It’s in episode 11 that Khirad finally begins to take a little control, and the Khizar story reaches its pay off. Ashar has left on a business trip, and asked Fareeda to take her to the doctor while he is gone. Oh, I forgot, even in the midst of all his grumpiness, when Khirad stumbles and almost faints in their room, he is quick to grab her and express concern. He may be wracked with doubts that are making him lash out, but he is still not consciously cruel or unfeeling.
Khirad and Fareeda go to the doctor and confirm that, yes, she is pregnant. Fareeda urges her to call Ashar, but Khirad refuses, and explains that she wants to tell him face to face and see his reaction, to find out if even this news will be enough to make him admit that he is angry with her and tell her what she has done wrong. If he will still hold whatever it is against her once he knows her news. She has gained the confidence to take action and control of her own life, no longer to suffer the whims of her husband. Perhaps because now she has her future child to consider as well?
Everything seems to be working out for the best of all possible worlds. Khirad and Ashar half make-up over the phone, the distance has given him perspective and he misses her and apologies for how he has acted. She immediately admits her own missing of him and that she is desperately eager for him to come home. Khizar is about to leave for 3 years to study in America, that complication is leaving their lives. Sarah hasn’t been seen for a few episodes. And Khizar and Fareeda are closer than ever with the promise of a baby. And then it all goes shockingly terribly wrong!
Fareeda and Khirad and Zarina (Sara’s mother) are visiting Khizar’s apartment for lunch. Zarina has brought along her maid to help serve, and Khirad of course offers to help because that is the sort of sweet person she is. But then the maid leaves to buy supplies and never returns, and Khirad quietly keeps working away in the kitchen. I thought surely we were leading to an accident with the stove, but instead it is something a lot stranger and less predictable! Khizar comes in to check on her, apologizes for her having to do all this work, and then spills water on her dupatta and takes it off, offering to clean it. Khirad grabs it and tries to tell him it’s fine, and just then Ashar and Fareeda and Zarina appear in the door of the kitchen to witness this.
But that’s not the shocking bit! No the shocking bit is what comes after, when they move into the next room and Khirad tries to explain that she wasn’t here alone, she came with her mother-in-law and aunt-in-law and their maid and was simply helping in the kitchen. And the other women deny it! Say that she hadn’t come with them at all. Not only that, Khizar denies it! And goes one further, to say that he and Khirad love each other, she has never felt like she fits in with Ashar’s life, they have nothing in common, the marriage was forced, Ashar should just let her go.
Wha??????? But see, it all kind of fits! That is, it fits with Ashar’s worst fears, not that his wife is unfaithful, but that she is unfaithful because she has never loved him, never wanted him, never been able to be that true companion he desired. This comes totally out of nowhere, but you can see where the scriptwriters have been laying the ground work all along.
They have also been laying the groundwork for the next episode where we find out who the masterminds of this whole plot have been. Fareeda and Zarina! The older women. Each for their own reasons. Fareeda has never truly changed from her original feeling that Khirad is below her son, that his life was sold out to make up for the guilt her husband felt towards his sister. And, perhaps, she has also never fully recovered from learning that her husband was willing to threaten divorce if that is what it took to make her agree to this marriage.
It all goes back to that first episode when Fareeda and Khirad were on opposite sides of the phone call. Khirad resenting the idea of asking for help and revealing their helplessness, and Fareeda resenting the idea of being forced to give help. That same issue has never fully been resolved between them.
And then there’s Zarina. It would have been easy to just give her the same motivation as Fareeda, some kind of class hatred. But instead, it is something different and more forgivable. Sarah is still miserable, suicidal, desperate. And when Zarina’s arguments didn’t work, the scenes we saw of her trying to convince Sarah to move on, she decided that it was worth it to go into Fareeda’s crazed plan if it might bring her daughter peace.
And finally Khizar! The most twisted of motivations. His love for Sarah has convinced him that if he can just become what she desires she will love him back. And so he will do whatever is asked in order to be rewarded with an overseas education and the funds for a new business, the things he thinks Sarah wants.
Episode 12 finds us in this new reality. The set up is over, the slow growth of doubts between them and problems, we are on to movement part of this section. Khirad begins by confronting Fareeda, who reveals her motivations, that she has only been pretending love this whole time, waiting for the marriage to be over. That her son will never acknowledge her child as his own, that she should leave their lives and never come back. Khirad has no power against her, but doesn’t give up either. She leaves the house, but waits on the street all night for Ashar to come home. Even convinces a servant to take a note into him.
But it doesn’t matter, Ashar is too far gone, lost in his own misery. He returns home to have his mother confirm his own self-doubts, and descends into a nervous breakdown! Meanwhile, Khirad is no longer there, she waited most of the night before accepting a ride from a kindly truck driver (the only truly low-class person to really have a part, and a very nice and trustworthy person. Perhaps a little bit of the class message that will be more obvious in later segments?) back to her hometown and sanctuary with old friends.
(Okay, this subtitle made me giggle a little bit)
It’s their reactions, the old friends, that start to normalize the situation. Setting aside the angst and drama and elaborate gamesmanship, ultimately this is the story of a woman whose husband chose his mother over his wife and threw her out of the home. Not really that uncommon. Something to be criticised and judged, but still not that remarkable. Okay, Ashar’s nervous breakdown is a little unusual, but I can still see where they are coming from. And why their reaction is anger, but not jaw-dropping “wait, what happened?”
In episode 13, the consequences of all these actions begin to become clear. For one, Khizar has only done this because of his love for Sarah. And Sarah must now pretend to reciprocate his feelings if she has any hope of keeping him silent. She resists, but he will be in America for several years, so Fareeda convinces her it is worth it to pretend just a little if it helps keep their secret.
Ashar is in the hospital, uninterested in anything and unresponsive to visitors. Sarah and his mother are determined to draw him out again, but it may not be as easy as they hope. And Khirad is in Hyderabad, calling Ashar when she can but unable to get him to answer.
And so we move into episode 14! If these episodes seem a bit short on content by the way, it’s because there are a lot a lot a lot of clips of past happy times scattered through out. Which is smart, if the audience is only watching for the Ashar-Khirad relationship (which we are), you have to give us something to keep us going through the separation.
But it is interesting seeing what kind of a support system they each have for their broken hearts. Ashar has an expensive hospital, servants to help screen calls, and his mother and ex-girlfriend. But Khirad has old friends who love her just for herself, who are ready to open their struggling household to an extra person they can ill afford to feed out of care for her and concern for her situation.
Even more interesting, we get the first Khirad flashback! Actually, the first flashback of any kind. She dreams of her father telling her how the first lie is easier, but then you lie and lie and it gets harder to tell the truth. A story she had told Ashar earlier, but now we see her memory of it, her loving father and her adorable younger self. This comes, I think, in episode 14. And it is a clear sign that from now on we are watching Khirad’s story and no one else’s is.
For the first 13 episodes, the protagonist was a little all over the place. Khirad had the most things happen to her, in terms of narrative it was her arrival in the house that started things off. But on the other hand, Ashar got the majority of the development, the most time was spent with his perspective, his friends, his conversations and decisions and problems. And then there was Sarah and her mother and Ashar’s mother, even Khizad got his little time in the spotlight. Was this supposed to be the story of them all, or was it one person’s journey?
Well, now we know! It’s Khirad’s story. The whole first half was just set up to get her to this point, alone and struggling with enemies arrayed against her to test her strength.
Oh, and also Khirad is our clear time marker here. Or rather, her pregnancy. At the end of episode 14, Khirad gives birth, which is traumatic because it is specified that she is only 7 months into her pregnancy. Okay, figure it took her about a month, maybe a month and a half, to realize she was pregnant. Another month, maybe, of her trying and failing to tell Ashar. She goes back to her hometown at 2 months pregnant then. Ashar has a nervous breakdown, which must have taken a couple of weeks at least. And shortly after he returns to work, he announces he is leaving for a 3 month seminar. Okay, now we are at 5 months. Khirad calls him again while in labor and he hangs up on her. At this point he is back at work and hardened against her. So, figure Ashar took a month or a little less to completely fall apart, then 3 months to get away and try to get perspective. And then 2 months of throwing himself into his new sad empty life, brings us to Khirad calling him and him ignoring her call. It’s interesting that they made her give birth prematurely, and I think it is specifically because of this timeline. Make it a full 9 months, and you would expect Ashar to be a little less raw. But 7 months, which is really closer to 5 since she left him because of the delay in telling him, that seems like a reasonable amount of time that he would still be afraid of talking to her.
Khirad is absolutely completely in the right here, but at least Ashar’s actions are a little understandable. I appreciate that, they never make him turn the corner to unforgivable, or even naive and stupid. I was more angry with him back in episodes 9-11 when he got jealous of Khizad for no reason than I am here when he is refusing Khirad’s calls.
His mother declares that she can tell him a story which will make him never willing to speak to Khirad again, and she’s right! It’s not that he is angry with her, it’s that he believes she is happier without him, that she was in love with Khizar and wanted to leave Ashar all along. What would be the point of speaking with her further? She doesn’t need him for anything, she would just want to apologize, to explain, to humiliate herself. The noble and correct thing is to avoid her calls, let her know in that way that she has permission to leave his life entirely and should not feel bad about it.
Going back to the timeline for a moment. Ryan C commented on how the show is structured around these few random scenes that give an impression of time passing and things happening that we don’t see. Which is completely true! And yet there is a vague sense of how time has gone by in the past episodes. It takes 2 weeks after her mother’s death for Khirad to even move into Ashar’s room. It takes another week or so before they really talk. Then there is a period when Ashar is rushing home from work every night, eager to see her. Finally, he encourages her to go to school still in this infatuation period. She starts school, but her life blows up and she leaves in the middle of the semester (we know this because at Khizar’s going away party it is mentioned that he is leaving before the end of class).
So, maybe 2-3 weeks of grief, a month or two of happy love, another month of tension as Ashar’s jealousy increases, and then she is gone. Certainly less than a year to cover all of episodes 1-11. And so it is reasonable for Ashar’s family to think that he could easily forget this woman if they managed to get her out of his life. And it is reasonable for Ashar to think he was no more than a brief experience, a mistake, in her life. She was a good wife as well as she could be for a few months, but it just didn’t work out. The best thing to do is to try to move on as best they can.
It is Khirad who sees things clearly. She knows that this was the one and only marriage she will ever have or want in her life, that her life has been ruined and no one seems to care or notice. And that is the correct view, the view that the audience will have and will follow for the remaining 9 episodes.