'Sammi' raises questions about the value of a daughter's life in Pakistan, but will it give us any answers?

While this is a common theme, writer Noor Ul Huda Shah focuses particularly on the brother-sister bond in 'Sammi'
Updated 15 May, 2017 02:31pm

“Maa ney dhee ko bachaa liya aur bete ko jalney kay leeye chor deeya.”

Waqas Jutt (Haris Waheed) rages at his mother, after she saves her daughter from being burnt alive at his hands. This is the dilemma at the heart of Hum TV’s drama serial Sammi: in a culture where sons are valued so highly, what value does a daughter’s life have?

Also read: Mawra Hocane's Sammi is a slow unravelling of one of Pakistan's darkest truths

While this is a common theme in a lot of message-oriented dramas, writer Noor Ul Huda Shah has chosen to focus particularly on the bond between brothers and sisters. Traditionally, brothers are the champions and guardians of women, but as with any institution where the balance of power is so lopsided it is open to exploitation.

Recap

In the first episode, Waqas’s uncontrolled temper causes him to accidentally kill his best friend, Sammi’s husband-to-be Pervez, in a dispute over mehar (a gift a groom must give to a bride on their Nikkah, according to Islamic law).

Haris Waheed does a brilliant job as the murderous Waqas Jutt
Haris Waheed does a brilliant job as the murderous Waqas Jutt

The dead groom’s powerful uncle, Chaudhry Rabnawaz, puts justice to one side and demands retribution. He agrees to spare Waqas’s life in exchange for Sammi becoming a vani, a revenge “slave bride” to his young, school-going son. Chaudhry Rabnawaz’s wife wants nothing to do with the situation and persuades their servant and gunman, Rashid, to spirit the young girl away.

Chaudhary Rabnawaz thinks a slave bride is just recompense for the loss of his nephew's life
Chaudhary Rabnawaz thinks a slave bride is just recompense for the loss of his nephew's life

Sammi hides in Karachi with Rashid’s old friend Chandi (Sania Saeed), whom he was involved with before falling in love and marrying Salima (Saman Ansari). Chandi is a beautician and kindly teaches Sammi her trade but when she learns that her son Salar (Ahad Raza Mir) has fallen in love with Sammi, she gives the girl’s location away in a fit of possessive anger.

Sania Saeed's Chandi gives Sammi refuge but takes it away in a fit of rage
Sania Saeed's Chandi gives Sammi refuge but takes it away in a fit of rage

Waqas finds his sister and decides to murder Sammi by setting her on fire in public before the Chaudhry Rabnawaz can find her, all in the name of ghairat or “honour”. Tragically, Salar dies while chasing after Sammi and Waqas.

Unhappy sisters

The Chaudhry's wife doesn't quite benefit from his position of power — she's unhappy too
The Chaudhry's wife doesn't quite benefit from his position of power — she's unhappy too

There are a lot of unhappy sisters in Sammi, all of them forced to live in misery for their respective brother’s convenience. From the Chaudhry’s wife, whose brother says she must live with her husband taking a vani, to Nahid the nurse, who must marry in secret, because her greedy brother wants her earnings and her share of their parents’ house.

Then there is Sammi who must either die or live a life of degradation for her brother to hold his head high.

This week, Sammi’s mother stops her son from setting fire to Sammi by once again giving her away into what can only be described as a life of degradation and sexual slavery to Chaudhry Rabnawaz. Waqas’s superiority over his sister is so deeply ingrained in her mind that she sees this as the only way to keep both her children alive. Letting Waqas face the consequences of his actions never occurs to anyone in this story, which is a sad reflection of the mindset that allows women to be traded like animals.

None of these women have the courage or the knowledge to challenge their tormentors because a lifetime of conditioning and dependence has robbed them of their self-respect or will to live. Even an intelligent, strong man like Rashid is cowed and broken by a lifetime of servitude under Chaudhry Rabnawaz but in one powerful scene he quietly trains his gun at his master. When the arrogant Rabnawaz threatens to make Rashid’s young daughter his vani if Sammi escapes again, a breaking point is reached.

What's missing

One wishes there was more depth to Sammi's character
One wishes there was more depth to Sammi's character

While Sammi is a well-written, well-plotted drama, it hasn’t captured the audience’s heart the way Udaari and Sange Mar Mar did.

As a script, Sammi is missing the usual touches of humour and grand romance that captures the popular imagination, but the story is still very compelling. It had the potential to be a nail-biting thriller with a little tightening up and a faster pace. Too many side tracks have made it a little slow and hard to focus on the main narrative at times, but the disparate threads are coming together now and the story is picking up speed.

Read more: In its finale, Udaari puts shame where it belongs — with the rapist

16 episodes down and main protagonist Sammi remains a generic victim. She is an undefined character: her likes, dislikes, her hopes and her dreams can only be guessed; instead she is limited to crying or screaming on cue while her life spins out of control.

Mawra Hocane does her best with this stock role and manages to cry beautifully (something which has famously become her USP) but her performance is a mixed bag. She does a standout job as the frightened victim but at times her polished looks and confident body language contradict her expressions.

Sammi’s confrontation with her mother finally provided Mawra with some meat to her role and she did justice to it, but by the end of the episode her character slipped back into hopeless victim mode again.

In this week’s episode, Sammi’s mother (Humera Ali) finally remembers that Sammi is her daughter and stops her son from setting fire to her by once again giving her away into what can only be described as a life of degradation and sexual slavery to Chaudhry Rabnawaz. Sammi’s mother does love her daughter but Waqas’s importance and superiority over his sister is so deeply ingrained in her mind that she sees this as the only way to keep both her children alive. Letting Waqas face justice and the consequences of his actions never occurs to anyone in this story which is a sad reflection of the kind of mindset that allows women to be traded like animals in certain sections of society.

A cast par excellence

Adnan Siddiqui plays the conflicted Rashid perfectly
Adnan Siddiqui plays the conflicted Rashid perfectly

Adnan Siddiqui gives us a brilliant performance as the conflicted Rashid. Humiliated and pushed to his limits, Rashid is a simple but intelligent man slowly awakening from the numb stupor of generations of servitude.

This Sunday’s episode showed a change in his character as the Chaudhry’s threats make him realise how much he loves his daughters. In a beautiful sequence we saw him pull his hesitant girls towards him, he lets them paint his face and showers them with the kind of attention they have been starved of. It’s a testament to Adnan Siddiqui’s fantastic acting that he managed to look more menacing than Rabnawaz despite the way his daughters had dolled him up

Similarly Sania Saeed’s Chandni is complex portrait of anger and frustration; generous beyond her means one minute and smallmindedly mean the next. Rehan Shaikh is another actor who never disappoints and he is flawless as the arrogant, drunk on power Chaudhry Rabnawaz. Madiha Rizvi, Shazia Afghan, Bilal Khan, Saman Ansari, Humera Ali are all well cast and do justice to their roles.

Perhaps the most fascinating villain is Waqas Jutt, Sammi’s murderous brother played with authenticity and skill by Haris Waheed. His actions beg the question of whether he is just a psychopath or is it the cultural preference for sons and the way society views ghairat as a burden mostly carried on the bodies of women that has made him into a monster?

Ahad Raza Mir makes a strong debut as Salaar and his character's sudden death robs this serial of much of the charm and sweetness he had brought to it. Sammi’s shock at Salaar’s death gives me hope that this might be the turning point in her mazloom aurat arc and finally shakes her into some self-awareness. Salaar was the one person who valued and loved her as an individual rather than what she owed him in a relationship.

Perhaps the most fascinating villain in this tale is Waqas Jutt, Sammi’s murderous brother played with authenticity and skill by Haris Waheed. Waqas’s simple thinking and handsome face belie a cruel and arrogant nature that is at times even more sinister than Chaudhry Rabnawaz. Watching Waqas Jutt begs the question of whether he is just a psychopath or is it the cultural preference for sons and the way society views “ghairat” as a burden mostly carried on the bodies of women that has made him into a monster? In other words, would Waqas Jutt have been different had he been raised to respect his sister as a human being with equal rights?

Sammi tells an important story, plucked straight from the headlines and we will wait to see if it answers as many questions as it has raised by its end.