Last section! The one were everything finally happens, and we get our nice ending.
Before getting into SPOILERS, I get to do some discussion of the show as a whole without SPOILERS, fun! First, and most importantly, Mahira Khan is excellent. That is the whole reason I am watching this, to get a sense of her as an actress before seeing Raees. At first I thought she was kind of eh, because she was just this quiet presence in the room, barely noticed. But as the show went on, she revealed herself to be a vibrant and beautiful woman. And then in later episodes, to be a strong and confident woman.
The best part about her journey as a character, for me, is that it is her love story which makes her unfold herself. First, her husband makes her feel desirable and beautiful and worthy and talented and confident. Not that her life was so terrible before, but it was a small life with only her mother and a few close friends, she never had someone before who saw her as this amazing being.
But as time goes on, and the love story runs into predictable difficulties (that’s not a spoiler, right? This is a soap opera, you knew it couldn’t all go smoothly), she takes that confidence and worth given to her by her husband, and how much she desires this new life, and that is what gives her the strength to fight back and find her own voice.
Until, by the final series of episodes, she is almost unrecognizable as the girl we first met. Almost, but not quite. Mahira keeps her grounded in her quiet manner and reluctance to bring herself forward, to be the center of attention, to make a scene. But now those are just preferences and personality, not fears which are stopping her from moving forward.
And this is what I hope for Raees, that she is a true partner to Shahrukh in the film, that their marriage is a source of strength and transformation for them both, not merely a “distraction” from the real gangster-y plot. If they cast her based on her work in Humsafar, that certainly seems likely.
Okay, now SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
We start this section with a time jump, viewing everyone in their new place. Or old place. In the last few episodes of the last section, it became more and more clear that Khirad was the main character of the story, not Ashar or Sarah or anyone else. And that is even more clear here, as Khirad is the only one who seems to have really moved forward in the interim.
Ashar is working harder than ever, now in glasses! His mother is still worried about him and wants him to be happy and maintain his status. Sara is still hopelessly in love with him and trying to be happy as just his best friend. Sara’s mother is still worried about her. Khizar is off in America, and still obsessed with Sara.
But Khirad is different. And once again, just as in the first 2/3rds, it is her arrival that shakes things up. But, unlike in the first 2/3rds, she is the one making the decisions and driving her story this time.
By the way, there is some fascinating class stuff burbling under the surface. My vague memories from one of my grad school seminars is that Pakistan has a bit of a communist radical political party mixed in with the traditional powerful rich/army parties. As with all mass media, the political message can’t be right out there and spoken (if it is, it means it’s not a very good message because no one would object to it). But it’s still there. All along Ashar’s mother Fareeda and the rest of his family have objected to Khirad because she is poor and out of their class. But until now, it seemed more like just a general evil rich people thing.
Only now, in the last section, Khirad is no longer the sweet innocent and she has no problem expressing the anger of the lower classes against the way they are treated and ignored. Or, to put it another way, the writers can no longer resist expressing their frustration and anger at their lives through the words of their protagonist.
And so we open with Ashar in his usual fancy office while Khirad is riding a crowded bus. She lies about her name to get in to see him (no longer the fragile innocent), and once she is in the office, she is even less the fragile innocent. While Ashar sputters and storms in anger, she opens up the folder she brought and throws down a photo on the desk, telling him it is his daughter, Hareem.
She follows it with a birth certificate, showing his name and the date a few months after she left him. And a letter from a doctor specifying blood type, that it matches Ashar’s, not hers or Khizar’s (Ha! Admire the tight plotting! They knew all along we would reach this point, which is why there was a plot point made 7 episodes back of Khizar and Khirad’s blood type both being O-).
And finally, while Ashar continues to yell and storm, she explains that her daughter is sick and needs an operation, that is the only reason she has come to him for help because he owes her daughter that. Two things in this scene really stood out to me. First, that she is so emphatic about calling Haseen “my daughter” over and over again, not “our daughter”.
And second, that she is so much stronger and straight-forward than she used to be, while still recognizably the same person. You can see that she is steeling herself to have this confrontation, to keep talking through Ashar’s objections. Even the way she is throwing down evidence on the desk from the folder, it doesn’t feel like dramatic presentation, it feels like she has carefully prepared for this moment by putting it all in a file and in order so she can just pull it out piece by piece and say her little speech and then leave.
And then we are left with the aftermath. Ashar at first refuses all help and Khirad goes home. And again, we get a Khirad flashback, indicating that this is completely her story at this point. We don’t care about what Ashar was doing for the past 4 years, because he is a big jerkypants.
Khirad has been living in a friend’s household (again showing how she has the kind of emotional loving support that Ashar does not, from people who can much less afford to give it). She has been supporting herself and her daughter by teaching in a “government school” (I am getting the sense that there is a whole class thing about students who go to government schools and people who teach in them). She is a devoted and confident mother. We see her brushing her daughter’s hair, giving her breakfast, and it’s not just a girlish innocent mother, it is a grown up woman who is capable of being a disciplinarian, of taking care of her daughter, of making decisions on her behalf. They are managing, just the two of them, until Haseen faints at school and is diagnosed with a heart condition, an expensive condition that Khirad cannot afford to treat.
This show has such an interesting relationship with motherhood. I know in India there is the trope of the strong, almost magical mother. Which is nice in a way, because it gives back female power. But also bad, because it makes it seem that the most important thing a woman can do is raise a son (it’s always a son).
But this show feels different about it. For one thing, there are mothers of both daughters and sons. For another, motherhood doesn’t necessarily make them wiser or better or more spiritual. It just gives them a bigger interest in life, a more self-sacrificing interest in life, outside of the traditional romance storylines. And more power and confidence within themselves.
What makes it really awesome is that it doesn’t privilege motherhood above fatherhood! Or at least, it doesn’t say it necessarily has to be like that. Sure, right now Khirad is the primary caregiver for her daughter. But Ashar is a nice guy and he feels an immediate connection to his daughter as soon as he meets her, and he shows himself to be more than capable as a caregiver as well.
Oh right, that’s the other half of the storyline. Ashar looks at the pictures and documents and sleeps on it, and finally drives over to the address Khirad left for him. And meets his daughter when he catches her ball and she calls him “the Papa from the picture”.
It’s such a great meeting, because it confirms that Ashar is essentially a decent person. He catches the ball and gently offers it to Haseen before he even recognizes her, because he is nice and likes children. And as soon as he recognizes her, he gives her a hug and responds to her affection in just the right way, kindly and loving but without scaring her. And he immediately tells her that she should start packing her things because she will be moving in with him tomorrow.
Really, set aside all the other soapy parts of the show, this is just about the best vision of shared custody I have seen on film! Both parents have this huge dramatic past. And yet they are careful not to let it spill through to their relationship with their daughter or each other as co-parents. Or to let their personal issues color their mutual trust in each other as parents.
Khirad went to Ashar for help because she had faith in his essential decency. Even if he was a failure to her as a husband, she believed that she knew him well enough to know he would care about his daughter. And he came through for her not because of some soapy twist, but because he is essentially a decent man and once he thought about her story, he knew it to be true and immediately was ready and eager to step up and be a father (doesn’t hurt that they cast THE CUTEST GIRL IN THE WORLD to play Haseen).
And Ashar shows the same trust in the essential decency of Khirad. That he may believe she cheated on him, but he also knows she would be a loving and responsible mother and he should not separate mother and child. And so, after his immediate impulsive suggestion of Haseen coming home with him, he modifies it to be an invitation for Khirad and Haseen to stay with him while Haseen has treatment for her heart condition.
This is also where the showrunners start sneaking in their little subversive class messages. Khirad’s frustration is that, as a middle-class working mother, she cannot save her daughter’s life. And yet she knows that her wealthy ex-husband could just wave his magic wand and save her, if he chose. After living independent and proud for years, she has to bend and ask for help because it is something that just cannot be accomplished in this society without extreme wealth.
And so, at the end of episode 15, we are in a new reality with Khirad and Ashar sharing a house and sharing care of their daughter.
Episode 15 was primarily about Khirad and Ashar, letting us know what was happening with them. Fareeda had a brief scene explaining she was leaving town for several weeks so Ashar would be alone in the house, but Sara and Zarina were barely present, and Khizad wasn’t even mentioned.
Now, in Episode 16, the world begins to expand outward again. We check in with Sarah and her mother, and learn that Sarah isn’t doing much better than she was when last we saw her. She is still sure that someday Ashar will love her, and that she will never want anyone else. Her mother is increasingly worried about her and concerned that they have done a wrong thing in breaking up Ashar’s marriage. Khizad is still around too, calling Sarah from America, sure that she will marry him someday.
But mostly the world is still Khirad and Ashar. In the early scenes of their marriage, they built a little world within their bedroom, their private space inside the house. Now, with Fareeda temporarily gone and Haseen having her own room, the whole house has become a sanctuary for their relationship. They interact awkwardly around Haseen, reading her stories together, giving her medicine, meals, planning outings. They are both still restrained and formal with each other, but they are learning to relate and trust again, a little.
This tiny world continues to be the main focus through out episode 17 until it receives its first challenge when Sarah chances upon the little family at a restaurant. She is immediately angry, and Ashar pulls her away to protect Haseen from her wrath. Sarah also spreads the word to Zarina and Fareeda as to what has occurred, bringing in outside powers to threaten our fragily reunited family.
It is also in this episode that Ashar reveals his first cracks, confronting Khirad in Haseen’s beautiful pink bedroom and expressing his still present fury at her actions. But on the other hand, there is also a lovely sequence either in this episode or the next (some of them blur together a bit at this point) when he first begins to think about the struggles she must have experienced in the past few years and his culpability in them.
And again, it has a tiny class message to it! Ashar is in his office and his servant/chaiwalla comes in asking for leave as his wife is having a difficult birth and pregnancy. Ashar agrees, but asks for clarification since he understood that the Chaiwalla was estranged from his wife. And the chaiwalla explains that yes, they had huge fights, she was disrespectful and cruel to his parents, and is now living back in her parents’ home. But, on the other hand, how can he look his children in the face if he is not there for their mother at this moment.
This is such a nice practical moment of feminism! Forget work equality and that kind of stuff, a simple appreciation for the dangers of pregnancy in a partially developed place (or heck, in a developed place!) and a gratitude for women for going through it, that is a good building block for essential action to defend women’s/human rights. And to have it come from the voice of one of the lowest of society and resonate with one of the highest is a nice reminder that the relationship of father-mother-child is universal.
Ashar responds by asking the next time he sees Khirad if Haseen’s birth was difficult. We, the audience, know that she called Ashar one last time while suffering labor pains and fearing for her life and the life of their child, and it was his rejection of her at that moment that made her forever cut off contact. Ashar does not know that, but the way Khirad refuses to give additional details beyond the fact of a cesarean surely tells him that it was difficult, and he should have been there, and the fact that he wasn’t has made Khirad rightly decide that he has no right to ever learn the details of it.
But again, none of this means she does not trust him as a father. Which is why, in episode 18, Khirad calls her friend to tell her that Haseen’s treatment is progressing, and Khirad has decided that once she is well again, Khirad will leave her with her father and go out of her life forever. Not because he is a better parent than Khirad, but because he is just as good and has proven himself trustworthy and most of all he is rich! This is the most explicit the class statements become, Khirad saying that “what happened to me would never have happened if I had a rich father”. And she’s not just talking about “my mother-in-law wouldn’t have resented me”. She’s talking about the overall injustice and helplessness that the poor have to put up with, while the wealthy are able to live their lives with all consequences cushioned.
In the same episode where Khirad makes her sacrificial decision as a mother, we are again reminded of her opposite counter-part, Fareeda, who is incapable of making such a selfless and clear-eyed judgement, but is also driven by concern for her child. Fareeda returns and confronts Ashar, asking why he has taken Khirad back into the house and their lives, and what makes him believe this child is his. And then the sound gets a little wonky and Fawad Khan super overacts and over-emotes! It’s not the greatest scene in execution.
But it is nice in concept. Way back 4 years ago, Fareeda challenged Khirad to prove that the child she is carrying is Ashar’s and get him to acknowledge it. I’d almost forgotten about that challenge, because in the end, it wasn’t a hard thing for Khirad to do. She presented Ashar with an assortment of factual items and offered to have a DNA test done, and he thought it over and then quickly realized the truth of her statements and naturally fell in love with his child and brought her home. As any decent person would have done.
That is what this first confrontation is about. Fareeda’s not-decent person and worldview confronting Ashar’s. Fareeda assumes that Ashar has forgiven Khirad and forgotten her “sins” and therefore accepted her child, because otherwise what would they be doing here? Ashar has to explain to his mother (with much emoting) that he is still suffering from Khirad’s betrayal, but also loves his daughter and can acknowledge the truth that she is his daughter. All along, Fareeda has been expecting her plan to work because she relied on everyone being as petty as she. But Khirad willing to share her child with her father if it is in the child’s best interests, and Ashar being a father to a child born of someone he still hates, that is something Fareeda could not conceive of.
Speaking of people not able to conceive of things, Sarah can’t understand why Khizar is still calling her and still thinking they will get married. It’s interesting, Sarah is positioned as “evil” for being forever devoted to Ashar, but Khizar is treated as sort of noble. Maybe it’s because Khizar’s love is being used, while Sarah’s love is using? Sarah wants Khizad to keep quiet about the destruction they caused to Khirad’s life, so she keeps making nice to him. She wants Ashar for himself, so she does everything to get him. But Khizad, he just wants to make himself into a better person so he is worthy of Sarah, to do what she wants to be happy. And, perhaps, if Sarah were married and committed to someone else, as Ashar was, then he would quietly go away. It is an honorable devotion. Sort of. Kind of.
Oh, but that’s in the next episode! Episode 19, so close to the end! Khizar calls Sarah, and Ashar slowly begins to have doubts about his vision of what happened 4 years ago. Two incidents happen, one in the present and one in the past. Well, his memories of the past come up and incidents start occurring in the present. Fareeda is rude to Khirad and cruel to Hareem. And Hareem innocently reports this to her father. And Hareem also innocently asks about her parent’s wedding pictures, which makes Ashar start to think about the past and his old keepsakes.
Both of these incidents are around Hareem and get back the essential thing that Khirad can understand in Ashar and his mother cannot. Hareem is an innocent who carries no sins with her. And Ashar can see that and love her for it. Which Khirad knew he would. And because he loves and and knows she is innocent, he trusts her and believes her. That is what Fareeda can’t understand, because she has lost the ability to identify and appreciate innocence.
Oh, and we also get to see Khirad stand up for herself some more! Back 4 years ago, she just sort of endured. Or didn’t even understand what was being done against her. But now she understands what is happening and has found within herself what she truly cares about, her dignity, her daughter, and nothing else. And so she warns Sarah by phone never to talk to her daughter again, and she lets Fareeda know that she wouldn’t take her son back if he offered.
Okay, finally, we are 5 episodes in to this section and things start just clicking along! Episode 20, time for Hareem’s surgery. Which is what finally brings her parents together. As I said, all along they have been presenting Khirad and Ashar as excellent co-parents. And as the episodes flowed by, the became more and more of a team. From trading off interactions, one in the room at a time, they slowly became partners in making sure Hareem ate and took her medicine and was happy and healthy. And now that the time has arrived to explain what will happen during surgery, they are doing it together, in perfect harmony, explaining in a way that lets her know she is loved and safe.
During surgery the bond just strengthens. Khirad is suddenly inconsolable, after being the strong one all these months, and Ashar helps keep her together while they wait. And it is this bonding experience that makes him, finally, start to look at her in a new light.
Also, a proposal! Things are coming to a head! First, Khizar comes to Fareeda’s house, tells her he considers her his “mother”, since she has helped and supported him all these years, and joyfully asks her to take his formal proposal to Sarah’s mother. Ashar sees him leaving the house and his mother quickly lies that Khizar was there to ask them to let Khizad leave the house and marry him. It’s a decent lie, but it’s a little shakey, and it’s another tiny hole in the dyke of Fareeda’s lies.
And then it all starts to come down when Fareeda goes over to Sarah’s house and tries to convince her, and her mother, to accept the proposal. Because she fears Khizar’s threat that he will tell Ashar the truth if Fareeda doesn’t help him. Only, it’s not a “threat”. Going back to how Khizar is surprisingly noble, what Sarah sees as pressure and Fareeda sees as blackmail, is him innocently thinking that Fareeda really does love him as a son and want to help him, and that Sarah actually does love him.
Fareeda tries to present the proposal as temporary, as just another step on the journey all three women (Sarah, her mother Zarina, and Fareeda) are taking together. But this is too much, finally too much, for the other women to see through. Interestingly, the costuming for this scene is identical to the first time we saw the three of them together, joyfully discussing Sarah’s imminent engagement to Ashar. And now here they are, 5 years later, and Fareeda is trying to convince the other two that Sarah’s happiness should be delayed, again. Only this time, they aren’t buying it. Zarina, interestingly, has already begun to express doubts. Not guilt, exactly, but doubt that she was truly helping her daughter by feeding her obsession. And Sarah becomes hysterical at the thought of marrying someone else, especially when she briefly thought it was finally her proposal from Ashar.
Her heart is further broken in the next episode, when Ashar comes to see her and begs her, once and for all, to move on. Maybe if they had had this conversation years ago, if he hadn’t gotten distracted from her initial expression of love by the whole marriage-aunt death-falling in love with wife-father death-whole life falling apart stuff, she could have had a happier life. Or maybe it would have ended the same way, with her once again sinking into depression.
But forget all of that, Romantic Drama!!!! All over the place in Episode 21 as we near the home stretch. The majority of the episode is Khirad and Ashar having a heart to heart. And, okay, this is when I start to forgive Ashar.
If you think about it, Khirad spent the past 4 years knowing her husband failed to trust her but was otherwise faithful, and knowing she truly loved her husband, and having a child to raise. Her devotion to his memory and failure to move on, that was just sort of a given. But Ashar, Ashar had 4 years when he could have moved on with anyone he wanted, Sarah or some other woman. He had 4 years to learn to be happy again, to stop obsessing. And instead, he was never able to get Khirad out of his heart or his mind. 4 years with the misery burning in him just as much as the first day it happened.
And know, after slowly letting Khirad back into his life, he can’t let her go again. Even if she betrayed him and never loved him and never wants him, he just wants her to be there, we he can see her sometimes and talk to her. If Khirad had actually betrayed him, this would be the most romantic and self-sacrificing gesture of all time!
But Ashar doesn’t even present it as something he is proud of himself for offering, he has no self-consciousness at all. Instead, he drags Khirad away from the hospital to beg her to come back to him, to stay in the house with Hareem even know that the operation is over. To forget the past and make a fresh start. He forgives her, he doesn’t care what happened back then, he just wants her now.
And Khirad doesn’t respond. Just like when they were first married and he became increasingly obsessed with her stillness and quiet in response to his approaches, again he is passionate and eager while she is firm and opaque. She will leave Hareem with him, but she will not go back to live in his house.
But WHY NOT KHIRAD?!?!? Just give in, go back to him! Let yourself be happy again! But then, I know why not. She compromised her ego once for him, agreeing to the marriage as a poor relative. She won’t do it again, nothing less than total belief and loyalty will bring her to trust him again.
Episode 22, FINALLY, it all comes falling down! First Khirad leaves the house, leaving a letter behind telling Ashar that he is responsible for Hareem now. Then Khizar goes to Ashar’s office, just as he threatened/promised to tell him all that happened. And finally, ASHAR FINDS THE LETTER!!!! The letter that Khirad wrote years ago and gave to a servant to deliver. Which explains that it was all his mother’s plan, she is waiting for him on the street outside his house, she is pregnant, please come save her.
Now, in a lesser narrative, I would have a bit of a “seriously? the letter? So if he had read this 4 years ago we could have skipped all this?” But it wouldn’t have worked 4 years ago. Because 4 years ago he hadn’t started to see his mother for the small minded woman he was, Khizar hadn’t come to his house, and then his office, he hadn’t fully understood Sarah’s obsession with him. And he hadn’t come to see Khirad as a dedicated and caring mother, and a woman who lives in relative poverty, still unmarried.
Oh, also Sarah kills herself. Which is legitimately heartbreaking, because of her mother’s response. Poor Zarina! She just wanted her daughter to be happy, and she never could quite make it happen.
Poor Khizar too. Jumping ahead to the next episode and the resolution of his storyline, he quietly comes to Zarina and they share their grief. And he takes his leave, to return to America and never come back. I kind of wondered what was the point of Khizar going to Ashar’s office, since Ashar never even let him talk. But it wasn’t for Ashar’s story so much as for Khizar’s. He really was just a guy in love trying to do his best. His “threat” to Fareeda wasn’t a threat, it was a sincere expression of doubt. If Sarah didn’t love him, if none of this had a real point, then maybe he should finally relieve his conscious and confess his sins. Zarina is the same, now that Sarah is dead she finally sees her sister for the selfish petty woman she is. Ashar was never going to love Sarah, feeding that obsession was just cruel. Zarina’s initial instinct to warn her away was right and if it weren’t for Fareeda using Sarah’s feelings and Zarina’s sympathy to her own ends, this all could have ended differently.
And so they start to drop away, one by one, all of Zarina’s supports. And, from the narrative side of things, we finally have our Big Bad! At first, there was a whole collection, Sarah was obsessed with Ashar, Khizar was obsessed with Sarah, Zarina wanted her daughter to be happy, and Fareeda thought that her son could do better in marriage. But now Sarah has killed herself, revealing herself to be legitimately damaged and desperate, worthy of our pity. Khizar tried to tell Ashar the truth, the only one who sincerely tried to make up for what he had done. And Zarina has proved that she only wanted her daughter to be happy, and all along has felt trapped into doing crazy things with that goal in mind.
Zarina is also the first to put her finger on what has brought down all these conspirators. The curse of a virtuous woman! Khirad didn’t have to do anything to make it all fall apart, her very virtue has caused God to punish them on her behalf. Like in Satyam Shivan Sundaram, when Zeenat Aman made that dam burst.
(The power of a virtuous woman)
The choice of Fareeda as the “Big Bad” feels slightly random. Couldn’t it just as easily have been Sarah or Zarina? Not Khizar, obviously, because boys are never the big bad in soap operas. But on the other hand, going all the way back to the earliest episodes, Khizad and Fareeda were kind of always set up as opposing forces. Trying to keep brother and sister apart. Protesting the marriage for different reasons.
And most of all, what can be a more ancient battle than that of wife and mother-in-law? Which is what we finally get for the meat and potatoes of the final final episode. Ashar, having read the letter and discovered his massive sins, rushes off to bring Khirad home. But instead of begging her again, he simply tells her that Hareem needs her, and she immediately leaps to go with him.
Ashar knows that merely an apology won’t do it, he has to show what he is willing to do. And so he brings Khizar through the front door of the home and MASSIVE CONFRONTATION WITH MOTHER!!!! She pulls out every weapon in her arsenal, saying Khirad is lying, it isn’t even his daughter, she knows women like that, and so on and so on.
And Ashar fires back, that she destroyed his life and happiness, that Khirad is his wife and Hareem is his daughter and he will not have a word said against them. Okay, I know this is a soap, but the whole mother-in-law/daughter-in-law thing is a real big deal in South Asia. Like, a deadly deal. And this whole scene feels kind of removed from the details of the soap, it’s not about an elaborate blackmail and bribery scheme, it’s about a husband standing up to his mother and saying “This is my wife, she makes me happy, and nothing else should matter to you.”
And that’s also the argument that destroys any defense his mother may be able to make to him. Zarina was doing everything because she just wanted Sarah to be happy, Khizar and Sarah were doing it because they were in love, but why was Fareeda doing all this? Her son was happy, obviously blazingly happy and in love. And for the past 4 years, he has been miserable. He had a nervous breakdown for goodness sake! And yet, she cared more about getting one over on her dead husband, and defending her position, than his happiness.
Oh, and then happy ending! Fareeda goes to her room to be haunted by visions of those she has wronged, including poor dead Sarah and Baseerat. 3 months later, she sits in the garden, demented by guilt, to be gently spoken to by her son and granddaughter. Khirad has been convinced to stay in the house, but admits that she may never be able to fully trust Ashar again and feel that love for him. Until the rain starts, as it did back in their honeymoon phase, and this time instead of just watching her dance in the rain, Ashar goes out and joins her.
Aw! Simple happiness and joy and natural beauty finally, the whole little family brought together in perfect harmony. Well, except for evil Fareeda who’s been driven INSANE WITH GUILT. This is a soap opera, after all.