By now we've all heard about Udaari even if we haven't watched it — we know that PEMRA has served a legal notice to the team calling it immoral and ‘ghair ikhlakhi’.
But is that all we need to know about the TV serial?
Written by Farhat Ishtiaq and directed by Ehtishamuddin, Udaari stars Bushra Ansari (Sheedan), Ahsan Khan (Imtiaz), Farhan Saeed (Arsh), Samiya Mumtaz (Sajida), and Urwa Hocane (Meera). The drama is jointly produced by Momina Duraid and Kashf Foundation.
Six episodes in and I must say Udaari is about as real as it gets; a concept completely different from the typical Pakistani dramas on screen these days. The women earn a living for themselves and education is shown to be important even in a village. Set in Mirpur Khas and Lahore, Udaari features two parallel stories with each operating under completely opposite socioeconomic conditions. Both worlds both heavily revolve around music.
In Mirpur Khas live Sheedaan, Imtiaz, and Sajida. Sheedan’s family sings and dances at weddings and other events, something she is fiercely unapologetic for and proud of as it is her mehnat ki kamaai; her family has been doing this for years. Her daughter Meera is embarrassed by this as people view them as 'low class mirasis'.
She is more embarrassed because the guy that she's in love with (Ilyas) is from a rich family and constantly puts her and her family down for what they do. His mother (Durdaana) is an evil and extremely loud lady who thinks of no one but herself and consistently puts Sheedan and her family down (like mother like son!). As well off as she is, she doesn’t even help out her own widowed sister, Sajida.
When she finds out that her son wants to get married to that ‘miraasi’, she gets him engaged to his Phuppo’s beti (shocking) and goes to Sheedan’s house to brag — she even asks them to sing at the engagement. When Meera confronts Ilyas, he is unapologetic and ends things with her; giving her a reality check about life and teaching her the value of her family.
Presenting a wholly positive vision of motherhood
Sheedan is the star here. She takes no prisoners. She has a heart of gold, but is also blunt and fears nothing and no one; not even the Choudhary whose house she is singing at when he tries to take advantage of Meera. Sheedan is a fiercely protective mother and could not have cared less for whose house she was in when she threatens to beat up Choudhary saheb’s ill mannered son.
She is a complete contrast to the ‘log kya kaheinge’ mother that Pakistani dramas seem to churn out by the masses. No words would ever be enough to describe Bushra Ansari’s acting in Udaari. It’s as if Farhat Ishtiaq tailored this role for her.
Another story arc drives the point home even further. Sajida (also Durdaana’s younger sister) is a widow of four years with a little daughter Zaibu. She works in a family’s house to make ends meet. Imtiaz is her late husband’s friend and is back in town from Dubai. Imtiaz is shown to be as the perfect manipulator; he helps everyone and is respected by all. He even marries Sajida and Zaibu is very fond of her new abba.
But after gaining Sajida and Zaibu’s trust and letting Sajida go back to work, his true colors come out. Imtiaz really is a character right out of the US series Law and Order: SVU. He not only hits on a semi-oblivious Meera, but also starts playing games with Zaibu telling her to keep those games a secret from her mother as she is jealous of the love between the two.
Taking advantage of Meera’s unfortunate situation, Imtiaz tries to molest her, but Meera manages to run away and tells her mother.
Again, Sheedan doesn’t sit there getting worried ‘ke ab kya hoga,’ she marches into Sajida’s house to confront Imtiaz. He makes up a lie about how he was trying to actually help Meera, and she actually led him on, but Sheedan knows her daughter and trusts her blindly.
Pairing a debate on sexual abuse with commentary on parenting is a smart move, and just shows how, of all the plays running right now, Udaari is not only intelligent and real, it highlights issues in society that need attention.
She calls him for what he is; a despicable liar and a molester. Sajida doesn’t believe a word and insults both Sheedan and her daughter calling them mirasis and kamzaat, and reminding her of all she has done for her after her husband died. Sajida here is forgetting how Sheedan has been helping her and her daughter for the last four years and how she thought of Sajida as her sister.
Even when Sheedan’s own brother suggests that maybe Meera is mistaken since Imtiaz is such a respected person, Sheedaan doesn’t back off and still trusts her daughter.
By episode six Imtiaz has fully converted into a perverted, disgusting and manipulative person. He makes fun of Sajida and yells at her for the way she looks, talks, acts, and cooks. He has gone from playing games with Zaibu to asking her to rub his shoulders and complimenting her ways. He has his sick eyes set firmly on her by the end and asks her to continue inside; Imtiaz is every child’s worst nightmare!
Through all of this, Sheedan stands tall.
In the city, a contrasting maternal influence
Away from the village, set in Lahore, is the story of four college friends; Arsh, Milli and Hassan, and Farwa. The four of them are in a band together where Arsh and Farwa are the lead singers (Farwa is also the lyricist). All of them are privileged, but Farwa’s are the only parents who have worked hard to get where they are, hence their expectations of her are very different and so is their treatment of her.
(BTW, what’s with Hassan’s long hair and Arsh’s almost-ponytail? Not all musicians need long hair and a ponytail - not a pre-requisite!)
In contrast to Sheedan, Farwa's mother is ridiculously strict and doesn’t at all care about her daughter’s passion for music; to her it is a waste of time and she looks down on it. When the band gets a chance to perform on TV, her mother forbids her. Farwa sneaks out of the house to get the final recording done. The mum has her packed off to her brother’s house in Karachi.
Needless to say, the band is in a bind since the lead singer and lyricist has left the city. The entire scenario gives a subtle lesson to parents on the unrealistic expectations and pressure they put on their kids. Farwa isn’t out clubbing, doing drugs, or drinking; her passion is music. She has the right to decide how she is going to live her life. In contrast, Milli and Hassan’s parents (Laila Zuberi and Behroz Sabzwari) are shown to be open-minded people who taught their kids right from wrong and gave them the freedom to what they want.
Again, Farhat Ishtiaq has written a brilliant script where she very sensitively demonstrates how mothers should stand up for their daughters and forget about what others will say... after all, your responsibility is to your kids, not the world. Most kids are molested by people they know and trust, but are told to keep quiet.
I said this above and I’ll say it again, Bushra Ansari excels as Sheedaan. You couldn’t find a flaw in her acting if you looked for it.
The director has managed to extract the best out of all of his actors and has shown a great amount of sensitivity to what should be projected on screen. Sexual abuse is a huge issue in Pakistan, yet for some odd reason has become a taboo and cannot be spoken about.
Pairing a debate on sexual abuse with a commentary on parenting is a smart move, and just shows how, of all the plays running right now, Udaari is not only intelligent and real, it highlights issues in society that need attention so they can be prevented. It shows that victims need not keep quiet and that their families should be their first line of defense.