Review: Jackson Heights almost falls through its plot holes

Review: Jackson Heights almost falls through its plot holes

Mehreen Jabbar's TV drama falters near its close and shows us how the American Dream withers for some abroad
Updated 27 Aug, 2015

So much for wrapping up and happy endings.

It looks like 'Jackson Heights' has been bitten by the extendititis bug that every drama on air these seems days to have caught. The blossoming romances we saw in previous episodes are starting to show their cracks and each new episode seems to drag on.

First, a flashback. Set in New York City's outer boroughs, 'Jackson Heights' (the drama is named after a largely immigrant neighbourhood) follows the lives of a set of Pakistanis living abroad.

Read also: Jackson Heights review: Zooming into South Asian immigrant life

For those who came in late, our hard-working beautician Salma (Aamina Sheikh) and the equally industrious cabbie Bhatti sahib (Nouman Ijaz) acknowledged their growing fondness, and Bhatti's nephew, restaurant manager Jamshed’s (Adeel Husain) seems to have cast a romantic spell on his boss Michelle (Marina Khan).

In 'Jackson Heights', no romance exists without consequences...

Though Salma and Bhatti sahib remain in their respective marriages, they know they must end old relationships to begin afresh and anew with each other.

Now we see Bhatti divorce Kathy (Monsoon Bissell), who resorts to threats and pleas to keep him in her life. Kathy’s domineering ways clearly show her underlying control issues as well as exposes her fear of loneliness. It’s an interesting reveal and her character wouldn’t seem so one-dimensional if her inner fears were interwoven with her tough persona so we didn’t just see her as screaming bloody murder (rather, unpaid bills) all the time.

A behind-the-scenes shot of filming. Photo: Jackson Heights Facebook.
A behind-the-scenes shot of filming. Photo: Jackson Heights Facebook.

Bhatti was the one stable relationship in her life, as well as for her kids. Though saddened, his step-kids stand up for him and allow him that clean break.

Ever the gentleman, Bhatti waits patiently for Salma to make her own break. She tries to tie up loose ends with her deadbeat (and freshly beaten up) husband Sikander (Ali Kazmi), who's managed to get into trouble with some goons: getting him home, paying for the $19,000 hospital bill by selling her jewelry and even having Bhatti sahib deal with the intimidating bookies.

Clearly, being threatened by desi cab drivers in what must have been a Gangs of New York moment off screen, works wonders and the bookies back off. These ill-conceived plot devices call for a stretch of the imagination but hey — that’s what creative license is for, right?

Sikander may now be remorseful and reformed, but Salma remains a prisoner of her own guilt. She finds herself unable to confront her own step-daughter Iman and plans to leave without letting her know. When Iman overhears her, she pleads to Salma to stay and rebuild a family that never was, and Salma once again takes on the onus of other people's happiness ahead of her own.

This is in keeping with Salma’s sacrificial nature while a well-aimed cruel wake-up call was needed for Sikander to truly change. So far, so believable.

As for the other budding relationship, Jamshed is on the fast track to wedded green-card bliss with Michelle.

Setting a fast-approaching wedding date, keeping Michelle’s family in the dark, Jamshed is quick to pat himself on the back. Unluckily for him Rizwan (played by Adnan Jaffer), Michelle's not-so-secret admirer, wises up to Jamshed's plot to secure his immigration status. Rizwan tries to delay the wedding.

Jamshed, not one to let anything get in his way, paints Rizwan as the bad guy – still in love with Michelle and trying to destroy their relationship. He manages to get love-stuck Michelle to come around to his point of view and even gets a restraining order to keep Rizwan at a safe legal distance. And here I pronounce the serial's creative license revoked.

...And no plot exists without large holes.

Plot holes which were mere irritants are now big enough for an NYC tour bus to pass through. Twice. In rush hour traffic.

A behind-the-scenes shot of Aamina Sheikh as Salma. Photo: Jackson Heights Facebook.
A behind-the-scenes shot of Aamina Sheikh as Salma. Photo: Jackson Heights Facebook.

The cut and paste desi scenario listed above, which ends up with Salma having to sell her jewelry to pay hospital bills, and Jamshed filing a restraining order on Michelle’s behalf, are just lazy writing.

Granted the writer didn’t make it to America, but some basic knowledge about the medical and legal system would have made for a stronger script. Denying people treatment or kicking them out midway through treatment is not the American way — that would be, as Pakistan is clearly aware, to treat you now and cripple you with debt later.

Also this is presumably showing the US, not Pakistan, where a man’s word is the last and final deal. To get a restraining order without having Michelle talk to the police is pure desi male fiction. Oh wait…

Even the director seems missing in action. While the scenes are adequate, they aren’t in any way revealing of their characters but sort of a direct word-to-screen translation. Where is the visual flair and storytelling? Sigh, plodding on…

Ultimately, each character has to confront Pakistan as 'home'

Meanwhile back home, Nani’s health deteriorates and she ends up being hospitalized with a severe lung infection and after pleading with Bhatti to come home, ends up in a coma. This throws a spanner in the works for both Bhatti sahib and Jamshed’s, and though devastated, both of them seem adamant to remain in the US.

Finally though, Bhatti sahib relents and in examining his life and his choices decides to give up the American dream and go back to Pakistan — not without buying Salma a ticket to accompany him too, of course.

Unfortunately for him, Salma makes a different choice.

Bhatti sahib needed this life altering moment to question whether his strife has been worth it. Nursing his broken heart, he is distraught to see his bed-ridden mother and to experience firsthand his blood sucking relatives.

So far we have seen a lot more plot progression and the choices that each of them make stay true to each of the characters.

Bhatti sahib still remains the most fully realized character. The scenes and even the dialogues where he makes his decision to return to Pakistan resonate with pain and pathos. The other reason this works is because of Nauman Ijaz’s flawless performance.

Even though all the other actors too keep up their end of good performances, 'Jackson Heights' is merely hobbling along now to its inevitable end, though frankly, most folks are just waiting for things to wrap up. Please? Hayain? Hain.

Sadaf Siddique is freelance writer, film and drama enthusiast and sometime drama queen — not necessarily in that order.