Does Salahuddin really love Manu? TV drama Mann Mayal struggles to answer the question
Six episodes down and Mann Mayal is still riding high in the ratings. This is a classic love story where differences in class and wealth become barriers between the main characters.
The lovely Manahil or Mannu (Maya Ali) is a willful but essentially naïve girl who lives in provincial Hyderabad with her large joint family. Mannu has fallen in love with Salahuddin (Hamza Ali Abbasi), her best friend Bea’s (Aiman Khan) older brother.
The two families share a strong bond of friendship and Mannu’s father asks Salahuddin to tutor Mannu; the student and teacher duo soon realize they are in love. Where Mannu is brave and willing to fight for her choice, Salahuddin is cowed by his lack of wealth and position in society and cannot muster the courage to ask for her hand.
Deeply disappointed, Mannu accepts the first rishta that comes along in the shape of Meekal (Gohar Rasheed) a man who is superficially pleasant but has little to recommend him except his family’s wealthy background.
Mannu does her best to goad Salahuddin into some reaction but he is resigned to what he sees as his fate and even goes to the extent of persuading the slightly suspicious Meekal into accepting Mannu as a suitable bride. The latest episode begins with Mannu’s marriage to Meekal, whose true nature turns out to be strangely unstable and impulsive. While Mannu does her best to adjust to her new life in the fast pace and bright lights of Karachi, it seems it will never be enough for Meekal.
What works so far:
Mann Mayal boasts a strong cast. Hamza Ali Abbasi provides a lot of the star power, his screen presence alone seems to be enough to ensure this serial’s high ratings despite what looks like a lack of chemistry with his leading lady.
The surprise packages of the show are Maya Ali and Gohar Rasheed, who despite being antagonists seem to have captured all the energy in the room between them. Maya Ali has given a simply outstanding performance as Mannu. Her expressions, her nuanced dialogue delivery and willingness to work hard on every detail of her character are making her the lynchpin of this serial. This is a sea change for Ali, whose lisping tones and lengthy crying scenes distracted from what was otherwise a very popular portrayal in Dayar e Dil.
Gohar Rasheed has also come back from a lot of generic portrayals in various serials to fulfill the promise he showed in Digest Writer and Goya. Rasheed suddenly has that star quality back, playing the slightly disturbed Meekal with refined understatement. Too often villainy is calibrated on our screens by a loud brashness, which renders it cartoonish and reduces its impact. Rasheed allows Meekal’s uncaring amorality a hint of reasonableness which makes it all the more menacing.
Aiman Khan as Mannu’s best friend and Salahuddin’s younger sister also manages to makes a strong impression, and shows a lot of talent and promise as an actress.
Mann Mayal is produced by Sana Shah Nawaz, who's related to Sameena Humayoon Saeed, a well-known producer in the fraternity behind many successful serials. In her first outing, Sana has worked hard to give this drama high-quality production values. The lighting, sets and the general styling of this story are one of this serials biggest strengths.
Problem: While Mannu is definitely in love with Salahuddin and willing to sacrifice all and everything in his pursuit; Salahuddin, seems a trifle too laid back.
Director Haseeb Hassan is fresh off of Dayar e Dil, his super hit collaboration with Farhat Ishtiaq. With his usual attention to detail and atmosphere, the director has given Mann Mayal a softer, more intimate look than the multi-layered, multi-character sagas he usually handles with such ease. The writer of Mann Mayal is Samira Fazal who has many commercial and artistic hits to her credit and is well known for her witty dialogues and nuanced scripts.
Both writer and director have concentrated on the lead couple and their interaction without the usual distracting side tracks.
Haseeb Hassan and his director of production Zaib Rao have given us a beautiful, if sanitized, vision of Mannu and Salahuddin’s world and the fairytale-like quality is further enhanced by the popular original sound track sung by Qurat al Ain Baloch of Humsafar fame.
What doesn't work:
Despite the soaring music Hum TV uses to invoke a Pavlovian response out of its audience, much of the dramatic tension required to connect emotionally with the plot is lacking.
While Mannu is definitely in love with Salahuddin and willing to sacrifice all and everything in his pursuit; Salahuddin, seems a trifle too laid back. In some of the series' deeply romantic scenes which are supposed to portray the intensity of the hero and heroine’s feelings for each other, I was afraid Maya Ali would fall off her chair emoting so well and Hamza wouldn’t pick her up.
This emotional ambivalence on Salahuddin’s part might have been acceptable if the dialogues he spoke would back him up, but they don’t. So while Mannu makes her declarations of devotion passionately and in detail, Salahuddin answers with the reserve of a kindly, if irritated, older brother — a far cry from the desperate, thwarted lover he's meant to be. This is a departure from Abbasi’s fabulous, barely controlled, simmering intensity in episode 1. Salahuddin’s feelings for Mannu lack definition and seem hazy at best.
At times the plot and its plausibility are also off. In the most recent episode, Mannu is quietly complaining to her mother that she cannot live like this, that she needs to come back home immediately but let a few scenes pass and she is the perfect, malleable mashriki girl making beds in an oddly passive manner and willing to turn herself inside out to win the audiences' sympathy...Oh, I mean, to adjust to her new life as Meekal’s wife. Meekal, for his part, lives a strange life sleeping all day and partying all night.
We're confused: Meekal seemed interested in Mannu and quite happy to see her clad in a dupata when visiting her home, yet the twenty four hours after their nikkah he acts as if he was forced to marry her and has no interest in this “paindoo” from Hyderabad.
In fact, Karachi seems to be party city because Meekal’s parents seem to be constantly attending exclusive parties too, which then begs the question: why on earth did they choose middle-class Mannu? Even more confusing for the viewer is that Meekal seemed interested in Mannu and quite happy to see her clad in a dupata when visiting her home, yet the twenty four hours after their nikkah he acts as if he was forced to marry her and has no interest in this “paindoo” from Hyderabad.
Many pivotal plot points seem inflated and contrived. There is little rhyme or reason for Mannu’s rush to get married to Meekal, whom her parents have already rejected as not educated enough and too modern for their traditional, conservative family.
Similarly the “zalim samaj” in this story seems to be a little exaggerated as Mannu’s father is willing to allow Salahuddin to marry her if only he had the guts to ask. That Salahuddin might feel too inadequate to ask is an understandable human weakness but the sight of him persuading Meekal to marry her as if she were bottle of soda he didn’t want was distasteful to say the least. It contradicted any ‘epic love story vibe' the makers were trying to push.
Meanwhile Salahuddin goes off to Karachi to work for his manipulating friend played with an even more glaring lack of interest by Vasey Chaudhry, who uses his default comedy setting to play what is in no way a funny character. Suffice to say Karachi is a bad, wild place where the two main protagonists are innocent, provincial babes in the woods.
For some strange reason, both Mannu and Salahuddin left all their common sense and the right to be treated with basic human courtesy in Hyderabad.
This story feels very Khalil ur Rehman Qammar-lite. Indeed, the famous author does seem to have some connection to this serial.
In a previous interview , producer Sana Shahnawaz had said that Khalil ur Rehman Qammar was a family friend and had looked over the story line with approval, even initially penning the lyrics to the OST, which were perhaps changed later as the official credits now list the co-singer Shuja Hyder as the composer and writer. Another coincidence: Khalil Ur Rehman Qammar had mentioned he was planning a serial with the title “Tera Ghum aur Hum“ which was also the original working title for Mann Mayal.
So far, none of the inconsistencies in the portrayals or the plot line have managed to deflate this serial’s momentum at all. Samira Fazal is well known for introducing an unexpected plot twist midway through her serials and she may well surprise us yet.
Another plus point in the serial's favour is the much-awaited entry of Jeena, played by the beautiful Aisha Khan, who may add a layer of intrigue and depth to what is so far a fairly simple story.
Anyway, for to the cynical Mann Mayal may seem a tad derivative and a little too familiar but If the audience is uninterested in looking for something fresh or authentic why should the drama makers innovate at all?