Udaari will always be remembered as a hallmark serial. It's an extraordinary drama serial that has has fulfilled its aim of raising awareness about rape and child abuse, paving the way to a much needed discussion about this taboo subject.
After a spate of regressive and flawed dramatisations like Sangat, Chup Raho and Gul e Rana, Udaari is well researched, authentic and more importantly, champions the victim. Unlike previous story lines, it doesn't rely on ridiculous twists or lurid details to grab the public’s attention; the rapist is not in love with the victim, and she doesn’t spend hours thinking about forgiving him “for her own good”.
Regular viewers will know Udaari revolves around Sajjo (Samiya Mumtaz) and her daughter Zebo (Hina Altaf Khan) who is raped by her stepfather Imtiaz (Ahsan Khan). An outraged Sajjo attacks Imtiaz, leaving him for dead and begins a new life in Lahore with the help of an NGO (Kashf Foundation) and her old friends Sheedan (Bushra Ansari) and Meera (Urwa Hocane).
Seven years later, Imtiaz finds them and tries to take his ultimate revenge by taking Sajjo to court for attempted murder, secure in the knowledge that his victims would never dare to speak out. Meera’s old friend and lawyer Arsh (Farhan Saeed) has been assigned to defend Sajjo but his client’s silence is making the case near impossible to plead.
Inside the court
Farhan Saeed’s controlled performance as the shocked and angry Arsh serves as the perfect conduit for bringing home the depth of the savagery Zebo has faced at such a tender age. There are none of the graphic flashbacks or ambiguous dialogues too often used to portray such crimes.
Adding another layer of tension to the situation is Meera's rejection of Arsh’s proposal. His cold withdrawal weakens her resolve enough for her to reveal the truth. Her deep distress at giving up this information lays bare the all too familiar dilemma of such cases.
Prosecuting such cases can mean reliving a nightmare, which combined with the public exposure of what is the most intimate of crimes in front of prying, skeptical eyes can make it feel like a further violation.
This is amply illustrated by Imtiaz’s vindictive testimony in court, painting a modest widow like Sajjo as a 'loose', greedy woman and hinting at her affair with an employer. Ahsan Khan’s portrayal is magnetic and one of his best. He plays the ultimate in evil but never goes beyond the boundaries of the credible. For his deposition, he changes his body language, putting aside his cheap sunglasses and shiny watch, delivering every subtly, poisonous word with an almost helpless sincerity. Like many such criminals, he is incredibly manipulative and can put on the most believable front.
His performance is complemented by some great performances from Bushra Ansari, Urwa Hocane and Samiya Mumtaz, among others; however, what really sets this serial apart is the sensitive and knowledgeable treatment of the story from both writer and director.
Udaari's most important message
This week Udaari delivered what was perhaps its most important messages. In the 21st episode, victims are told that they can break free of the past. The importance of visiting a doctor and actually making a report is laid out and normal court procedures depicted so people can understand what happens at a hearing.
Most significant of all, instead of lecturing Zebo to do the right thing, Arsh becomes a true hero by empowering her and showing her a way to take control of her life. He explains that any shame or guilt is not her burden to carry; all of it should be firmly placed on the perpetrator's shoulders, never the victim's.
In a brilliant sequence that should be highlighted over and over again, Zebo repeats the affirmation that Arsh teaches her:
"Main victim nahi, main survivor hoon. Main beychari nahi banoo gee, main apne mujrim ko sazaa dilwaoon gee. Sharm mujhai nahi ussay karnee chahiye."
This simple but highly effective dialogue written by Farhat Ishtiaq, cuts to the heart of the matter making a quiet moment in front of a mirror vibrate with the strength and energy only magnified by Farhan Saeed and Hina Altaf Khan’s powerful execution.
If any further testament to the potency of these scenes was required, Facebook and drama review pages are showcasing stories from victims mustering the courage to face the abuse they have suffered. The women of Udaari are indeed inspiring change.
Director Ehteshamuddin has managed to spin a fine thread of tension throughout this serial, winding the audience closer and tighter with each episode. While the idea behind Udaari has always been raising awareness about sexual abuse and rape, this team has never forgotten that the first job of any drama serial is to entertain and engage its audience. Music, romance and humour all have all made the main focus more palatable.
As the drama comes full circle, we ask the question: will Zebo and Sajjo ever overcome their past, or will they always be haunted by the long shadow cast by the evil Imtiaz? Will Meera be overcome her own fears and trust Arsh enough to believe in the future?
We wait for episode 22 to find out.