18 episodes in, Mann Mayal is beginning to fizzle out.
When a young Salahuddin (Hamza Ali Abbasi) first fell in love with Mannu (Maya Ali), he had neither the courage nor the confidence to ask for her hand in marriage. Mannu’s wealthy family and his own lack of resources seemed an impossible hill to climb.
Mannu was the braver of the two, willing to fight for her love, but Salahuddin's cowardice shattered her confidence and she married Mikaal (Gohar Rasheed).
Mannu is never happy with Mikaal — who can blame her? He's obsessed with partying, drugs, and most of all gambling. While Mikaal’s parents were alive, Mannu, who although was not happy, had led a fairly stable life but their sudden death has left her to cope with two children and a husband who has no feelings for any of them.
Will Salahuddin's guilt be his downfall, and are he and Mannu in denial?
Meanwhile, Salahuddin has gained all the power and money he once lacked and is constantly shadowing the broken Mannu in the hope that he can make up for the mistake he made all those years ago.
A recent addition to this mix is the character of Jeena (Aisha Khan) who works at Salahuddin’s office. Jeena falls in love with Salahuddin and manages to insinuate herself into his personal life as a “friend” always hoping that he will eventually move on from his relationship with Mannu.
“Woh aap ki Mannu nahi hai" says the mid-level management executive, Jamal, giving voice to the silent cry of the audience. Even after that moment of ice cold revelation, Salahuddin refuses to move on because for him, guilt is a stronger motivation than love.
Writer Samira Fazal has given a familiar twist to this original story idea from Khalil ur Rehman Qamar; Salahuddin definitely has shades of Fazal’s previous characters, notably Ehtashamuddin of Shukk who is also motivated by remorse.
What's happening between Mannu and Salahuddin looks very much like an affair, despite the characters claiming they're going to stay apart. Why can't they either own up to their feelings or just... stop?
There was a time when heroes maintained a respectable distance from their married former loves; that being said, Salahuddin and Mannu seem to be part of Naya Pakistan. Therefore, despite repeated declarations that they'll never see each other the two do end up in each other’s company quite a lot.
While the audience is force fed the idea that their meetings are events beyond Mannu and Salahuddin’s control, this is patently not true. Both protagonists can choose better options and better actions. Despite the flimsy twists used by writer Samira Fazal to maintain Mannu’s absolute innocence in all matters, this looks very much like an affair.
The latest episode shows us a desperate Mannu searching for someone to take her sick child to the hospital (Mikaal is off gambling). Salahuddin instinctively knows Mannu needs help and is standing by the door. Any normal mother of two children living in such a palatial house would send her household help for some paracetamol or just take the child to the hospital herself; Mannu, as always, needs a man to help.
Eighteen episodes in, the characters showcase little growth
Inconsistencies in plot and characterizations are strewn throughout Mann Mayal.
Mannu is a strange, helpless creature on whom motherhood has made no impression. She relies on her ex-lover more than her own family or herself. She seems to have absolutely no control of her life or even the smallest sense of self preservation and is always putting herself and her strangely silent offspring in bad situations.
She plays the kind of helpless female that Pakistani audiences lap up.
In 18 episodes of what is reputed to be a 25 episode serial, Mannu’s character arc as the bholi larki is unwavering.
The writer has once again given the public the kind of personality deficient drone they adore and she has the ratings to prove it. Maya Ali has been the saving grace of this character from the first scene, giving a strong performance, especially in the first half of this serial and has made this uninspiring character at least watchable.
In a sad race to the bottom, Salahuddin’s character leaves little to be admired: a coward in the beginning and the obsessive stalker of a married, mother of two towards the end.
Despite his uneven performance, Hamza Ali Abbasi’s considerable star power has also given this serial a big boost.
But in this a sad race to the bottom, Salahuddin’s character leaves little to be admired: a coward in the beginning and the obsessive stalker of a married, mother of two children towards the end.
Much was expected of Abbasi after his iconic performance in Pyaray Afzal but for most of this serial, he seemed uninterested and unfocused. However, in the last two episodes, he has shown a distinct improvement, providing Salahuddin with much needed depth and intensity.
Will Mann Mayal have a happy ending?
Director Haseeb Hassan has not been able to elicit the controlled performances he did in serials like Nanhi and Dayar-e-Dil. How a veteran actress like Aisha Khan, known for her outstanding performances, could overplay some of her recent scenes without the director checking her is surprising. Her character Jeena is an educated, working woman who lives alone but acts like a lovesick teenager obsessing over Justin Bieber.
This alone makes it evident that the director seems to be on a different page than the writer. On an interesting side note, Jeena’s scenes are often marked by discordant music, to mark her out as suspicious, even though as a single woman she might be a more appropriate match for Salahuddin than the married, mother of two, Mannu.
It's time to talk about about Jeena. She's marked to be something like a villain (or 'negative character') yet, to be honest, she'd make a much more suitable match for Salahuddin than already-married Mannu. But she's just not naive or downtrodden enough.
Poor Jeena! Her fault does not lie in her stars but in the fact that she is a strong, sensible woman, who knows her own mind. If she watched Pakistani dramas, she would know by now she just wasn’t naive enough to get the guy.
Mikaal is another one dimensional character with little nuance fashioned to facilitate Mannu and Salahuddin’s reunion. Gohar Rasheed plays Mikaal with such deadpan , straight-faced villainy that one can imagine him kicking children (probably even his own) as he walks down the street .
Team Mann Mayal has managed to produce a very slick product, easily digested by the masses. While there are complaints of plot loopholes and one dimensional characters, this started off as a very popular serial and still is. So far, Mann Mayal has offered nothing new or challenging. It confirms every stereotype and comforts its audience’s prejudices, making it a winning and very commercially viable combination.
Sadaf Haider blogs at SadafSays.com