Mann Mayal started off with a fail-safe recipe for success.
According to producer Sana Shahnawaz, the original story was narrated to her by “family friend” Khalil ur Rehman Qamar while the actual script was penned by popular writer Samira Fazal, whose recent credits include hits like Shukk, Chup Raho and Alvida. Momina Duraid of Hum TV was also a co-producer along with Sameena Humayun Saeed.
Director Haseeb Hassan of Diyar e Dil and Nanhi fame was roped in with a strong cast that included Aisha Khan, Maya Ali, Talat Hussain, Vasey Chaudhry, Arjumand Rahim, Saba Hamid, Gohar Rasheed and star attraction, Hamza Ali Abbasi. This was Abbasi’s first role after the phenomenal success of Pyarey Afzal and loaded with expectations. With so many great ingredients, what spoiled the broth?
From the first episode, we found out Mannu loved Salahuddin but he was never brave enough to ask for hand in marriage from her wealthy parents. When Salahuddin refuses to elope with Mannu and sends her back to her parents, the angry, humiliated young girl jumps at the first chance she can to get away. The chance turns out to be Mikaal (Gohar Rasheed), an alcoholic addicted to gambling and any other vice we can imagine.
Such 'bholi larki' becomes 'mazloom aurat' stories are unfortunately common in Pakistani dramas but what makes them work is that each story has some thread of internal logic, a thread Mann Mayal kept losing.
Show us some love
What was touted as the love story of 2016 had precious little romance to it: unless we are to assume running away on the night of your wedding with someone who locked you out rather than marry you is romance.
Or perhaps the makers thought Mannu and Salahuddin locking lovelorn eyes while she is nine months pregnant with another man’s child was romantic? We can only guess.
Out of 34 episodes, 28 were miserable, showcasing Mannu and Salahuddin’s complete unhappiness with everything except each other, a ploy that just might have worked if there had been any screen chemistry between them.
The biggest rock weighing Mann Mayal down was the nonsensical script and the schizophrenic characterisations. Even in the last episode, the writer has not let us down in this respect. While in episode 32, Mannu left Salahuddin because she was 'manhoos' or bad luck, by the grand finale of episode 33 she is just taking ‘revenge' for Salahuddin’s rejection of her 30 episodes ago.
For 31 episodes, Mannu couldn’t be trusted to cross the road alone or travel to her parents’ house unsupervised, but this week’s Mannu is a feminist for five minutes. After weeks of playing to the balcony and suffering for her unending goodness and naivety, Mannu awakens to female empowerment in the space of an episode, rejects marriage, moves out of her parents’ house, and is now studying at university.
Just how badly were actors let down by the script?
At times, it seemed as if the producers put every cliché they could think of in a hat and picked them out turn by turn to be featured in each episode. The worst cliché of all was the ridiculous love triangle set up with Jeena, whose obsessive love for Salahuddin kept the stalled plot going like a 'dhaka start' car.
When this serial began, Aisha Khan promised her character would have “shades of grey”, but there was nothing but darkness in Jeena, whose superpower seems to have been being able to talk about herself after she is dead.
There were no big winners in the acting department either, apart from Maya Ali who managed to impress for at least twenty or so episodes before being weighed down by the script. Similarly, Gohar Rasheed and Saleem Mairaj were good, if inconsistent.
The worst offender as far as acting had to be Vasey Chaudhry, who looked as if he was punishing the makers for forcing him to act in this serial.
Then there were Mannu’s strange parents, especially her mother. This mother ignores her married daughter for months and has no idea that her son-in-law treats her daughter like dirt even though he gives ample proof. Then to crown it all she forbids her daughter from coming home, to protect her husband from the awful truth of Mannu’s divorce, thus reinforcing the stigma attached to women after a divorce.
Even in the last episode, she is plotting against her own daughter asking Salahuddin to knock her down a peg or two and pushing her into another marriage whether she likes it or not. Apparently this kind of parenting is genetic, because Mannu is another similarly “unfocused” mother, who is more obsessed with Salahuddin than growing as a woman and a mother.
After her divorce her period of iddat is not marked by contemplation or understanding of her past; instead it’s spent in childish fights with Salahuddin and ridiculous turf wars with Jeena.
The strangely familiar nature of some of the sequences from this serial (reminiscent of iconic hits like Dastan, Pyarey Afzal, Humsafar and Sadqay Tumhare), and all the other flaws did not stop Mann Mayal from being a resounding commercial success.
So, what was Mann Mayal's secret weapon?
If nothing else, Mann Mayal had some great production value in the first 20 episodes, the script still had some internal logic and it has always been beautifully picturised. High ratings may well have been the reason for its decline in quality, as the producers realised that this cash cow could be milked for another 10 episodes. Mann Mayal may well be a testament to the patience of the Pakistani public, the dogged determination of watching a serial to the end once it’s started but the real X factor was, of course, Hamza Ali Abbasi.
Abbasi’s popularity has always been the jet fuel behind Mann Mayal’s rise. Acting wise, Abbas was a mixed bag. When he did make an impact in some episodes, it only highlighted his lack of presence and focus in others. At times he seemed outright bored but at times his intensity was the only reason to keep watching.
Although audiences have certainly given this drama a free pass, overlooking glaring deficiencies to see this serial to the end, Abbasi has spent a considerable amount of his personal cache on this drama. Perhaps it’s time that an actor as talented as he concentrated on quality before his brand starts to lose its lustre.