*Udaari* has a strong star cast and it looks as if we will see some great performances
*Udaari* has a strong star cast and it looks as if we will see some great performances

The first episode of Hum TV’s new Sunday night offering Udaari reads like a brightly colored map of Pakistani society today. Divisions of class and wealth are amply illustrated but so are everyday human interactions.

After the serial Rehaii, this is writer Farhat Ishtiaq’s second collaboration with the Kashf Foundation, which promotes women’s empowerment. Rehaii showcased the evils of child marriage, and Udaari deals with difficult social issues like sexual abuse and rape. The producers behind this serial are Momina Duraid Productions and the Kashf Foundation with an additional grant from the Canadian Government. Farhat Ishtiaq is famous for sensitive, romantic novels; notably Humsafar and last year’s iconic hit Diyar-e-Dil, and though Udaari covers more challenging ground, it will hopefully retain the writer’s usual compassionate, positive style.

The story so far

Udaari tells a lot of stories, and introduces to a lot of characters very quickly. It is to director Ehtashamuddin's singular credit that he blends so many introductions with a deft hand, making a seamless transition from the rural Punjabi singers or 'Merasi' family who live a happy life singing and dancing for a living despite other people’s prejudice and their own poverty to well-to-do college kids forming a band.

Music is a recurring theme in Udaari and the opening sequence gives us no less than four singers.

Meerab (Urwa Hocane) sings like a husky angel as she hangs her washing, her parents Sheedan (Bushra Ansari) and Majid (Rehan Sheikh) are also great singers. They live near a widow Sajda (Samiya Mumtaz) who makes ends meet by working at khoti in Lahore.

Urwa as Meerab and Bushra Ansari as her mother Sheedan
Urwa as Meerab and Bushra Ansari as her mother Sheedan

Travelling to and from the city is an issue, so like many good neighbors, Meerab and her family take care of Sajda’s little daughter in her absence. Imtiaz (Ahsan Khan) is a childless widower, recently returned from Dubai. He is visibly better off than those around him and seems like a bit of a narcissist with his fancy watch and fancy clothes but he is also an exceptionally kind man going out of his way to help anyone especially his old friend’s wife Sajda.

Adding another layer to this story are Arsh (Farhan Saeed) and his friends who are desperately trying to win an upcoming music competition. Between these two distant strata of society is another family, that of Sajda’s sister. They are middle class with a thriving business and look down on both their unfortunate relative’s difficulties and her Merasi friends. Their son, Elyas, is in love with Meerab but is so disgusted by Meerab’s family that he forbids her to sing, if she wants to marry him.

How does the acting measure up?

Udaari has a strong star cast and it looks as if we will see some great performances.

Ahsan Khan, Bushra Ansari, Samiya Mumtaz and Rehan Sheikh are known for their strong screen presence but it was good to see both Urwa Hocane and Farhan Saeed making an excellent first impression too.

Farhan Saeed as Arsh and director Ehteshamuddin on the sets of Udaari
Farhan Saeed as Arsh and director Ehteshamuddin on the sets of Udaari

Ahsan Khan and Bushra Ansari look to be the powerhouses in this intricate drama, already giving us a reason to watch regularly. So far director Ehtashamuddin has kept a firm hand on his cast, reining in any tendencies towards bombast or overacting, and hopefully it will stay that way because the potential for melodrama is great.

The ambience and atmosphere of the drama is both authentic and evocative without being overbearing. The script is a little repetitive at times but because the main storyline is skillfully unfolded before us and at such a fast pace, there is little time for the mind to wander. The mark of any good drama is how it captures the audience’s attention and for a first episode Udaari succeeds in being both entertaining and compelling viewing.

Social issues: here's what to expect

Although there is a theme to this drama many issues of social justice are also tackled and Farhat Ishtiaq is to be commended for skillfully blending so many threads into this story.

The plight of widows and single-parent families, as well as the barriers created by cast and wealth are all addressed. That fascinating contradiction of Pakistani society that values pop stars aping Western singers but holds our own musical heritage and traditions in contempt is also explored.

The most interesting family is Meerab’s family. Meerab’s Mamu seems to be an effeminate transgendered person, yet he doesn’t seem to be a source of shame or an object of hatred to anyone. Even Meerab doesn’t like Elyas mocking him.

Ahsan Khan at the Udaari press conference
Ahsan Khan at the Udaari press conference

There are a few downsides to this drama such as the way some of the dialogues seem inauthentic, especially the ones used by the ‘cool’ college kids and their band trying to make an “awesome song”.

Then there is Hum TV’s recurring problem with overwhelming background music. The songs introducing us to Meerab’s family were almost drowned out by the background music. With such wonderful voices and the rural, folksy setting, there really was no need to go the Bollywood way and bring on the 42-piece orchestra.

Overall, Udaari seems like a safe bet for some informative and enjoyable hour every Sunday.

'Udaari' is a Punjabi word and like many simple words it disguises a wealth of meanings . Some would say it means a leap but there is more to it than that; 'Udaari' is like the Urdu word 'Uraan', and implies flight and freedom too.

Keeping its serious subject matter in mind it will be interesting to see how the title fits into the story.

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