The Ashars of Pakistani dramas are slowly turning into better ‘humsafars’ and that is something to celebrate!

This week, hit family drama Cheekh saw the entry of a new character Shayan (played by Emmad Irfani), who is the husband of lead character Mannat (Saba Qamar).

Shayan has returned from the States because his family is in turmoil. At his sister Haya's engagement, her friend Nayab (Ushna Shah) was murdered and Mannat disclosed that it was in fact their younger brother Wajih (Bilal Abbas Khan) who committed the crime. While the family ganged up on Mannat for the accusation, Shayan did something different.

Also read: TV drama Cheekh will keep you hooked even after it reveals the murderer

Shayan is the anti-Ashar (from Humsafar); someone who believes in his wife and doesn’t automatically assume the worst of her just because his family says so. Yawar is no Farida Aunty (again, from Humsafar), but he’s about as close as one can get to a male version of her.

So, what's new in Cheekh?

In a last bid to save Wajih from going to jail, Yawar (Aijaaz Aslam) goes to see Mannat’s mother (Gul-e-Rana) to see if she can talk Mannat into taking back the FIR. Unfortunately for him, she is not successful.

Haya's fiancé Asad goes to see Nayab's father and tries to figure out what happened, after which he breaks off his engagement with Haya (Azekah Daniel). After spending two nights in jail, Wajih is out on bail and starts playing the victim. His newest plan is to make everyone believe that Asad and Mannat were having an affair that Nayab found out about – which is why either Asad killed Nayab or had someone else do it.

Emmad Irfani as Shayaan confronts his family about their hateful accusations against his wife Mannat
Emmad Irfani as Shayaan confronts his family about their hateful accusations against his wife Mannat

Haya believes him and Yawar goes along with it. In fact, Mannat's husband Shayan (Emmad Irfani) comes home from the States and Yawar tells him that same story, which he doesn’t believe. Shocking, I know.

Shayan is the anti-Ashar; someone who believes in his wife and doesn’t automatically assume the worst of her just because his family says so. How low are the standards for male characters for this to be considered an upgrade on the typical husband portrayed on Pakistani TV?

Shayan listens to everyone, sees how Mannat is being treated like an outsider, and tries to understand everything without blaming anyone. Yawar and Haya push Shayan to immediately divorce Mannat. But, he doesn’t – nor does he ever accuse Mannat of lying to, or cheating on, him. He does, and only once, ask Mannat to tell her the truth, and when she does, he believes her.

Asad also personally came to clear the air with Shayan and tells him that he broke off the engagement with Haya because he couldn't believe how quickly she forgot her best friend Nayab for her own interests. Shayan takes Mannat to her mother’s house for her own safety and sanity – but only till he can get a job and a place of their own.

Shayan goes home to tell Yawar that he stands by his wife and slaps Wajih when he gets hostile. Episode 14 ends with Shayan happily telling Mannat he found a job.

A new model couple on Pakistani TV

Zanjabeel Asim has written the characters of Shayan and Mannat as (what should be) a new benchmark for couples: a husband and wife who talk to each other, who openly and honestly communicate with each other, it is sad how foreign this concept has become in TV dramas.

To illustrate, Mannat never has to beg Shayan to believe her. She even tells him that it's okay if he leaves her because she understands the situation he's been put in.

But she never backs down from trying to get justice for Nayab. She knows it’s her against the world, but she’s okay with it. She’s not scared of losing her husband, her house or anything else because she knows Nayab deserves justice.

These are the kind of women we need in reel and real life. Women who believe in themselves and refuse to beg for a relationship. Saba Qamar has brilliantly portrayed the character and essence of Mannat as only she could have. No other actor could have done this gutsy role with such perfection!

Are Saba Qamar and Emmad Irfani's Mannat and Shayaan the new couple that fans are going to gush about?
Are Saba Qamar and Emmad Irfani's Mannat and Shayaan the new couple that fans are going to gush about?

Let’s now talk about Shayan’s character. Here's a man whose wife has accused his younger brother of killing her best friend. This resulted in his younger sister’s engagement being called off. His family’s reputation is at stake – all because of his wife’s allegations against his brother.

But not once does he raise his voice, disrespect her or accuse her of anything. Not once does he let his older brother persuade him to do something he’ll regret. His brothers accuse his wife of having an affair with his own sister’s fiancé yet he stays level headed.

When Asad comes to tell him the truth, he doesn’t immediately start a fight with him – he listens to him as rational human beings should! How has it taken so long for such a character to be written? And how low are the standards for male characters for this to be considered an upgrade on the typical husband portrayed on Pakistani TV?

Saba Qamar's Mannat is not scared of losing her husband, her house or anything else because she knows Nayab deserves justice. These are the kind of women we need in reel and real life. Women who believe in themselves and refuse to beg for a relationship.

Emmad Irfani takes on the character of Shayan like second skin. He doesn’t once falter. If seven years later, Fawad Khan's Ashar from Humsafar is still remembered by the audience; 14 years later, Shayan will also still be remembered by us. This is Emmad's most memorable performance to date.

From his dialogue delivery to his facial expressions, he was outstanding. Again, it's unfortunate that the concept of a husband who stands by his wife and believes her over his family is so foreign to Pakistani dramas. We need more Shayaans and fewer Ashars.

Bilal Abbas' got the role of a lifetime in Cheekh
Bilal Abbas' got the role of a lifetime in Cheekh

Bilal Abbas Khan is the perfect Wajih. For someone so new and young, I am extremely impressed (and a little scared) at how effective his portrayal of a madman is. He is fearless when threatening Mannat or his eldest sister-in-law. Not many people can play the role of someone who knows he has done wrong yet be so remorseless and play the victim card all at once.

While Zanjabeel Asim has truly done a fabulous job with all the characters in her script, Badar Mehmood has done an equally fantastic job in bringing these characters to life. He has extracted nothing less than perfection from every single person in Cheekh; from Mannat and Shayaan to Haya, Asad and Yawar.

Every single frame and scene transition seamlessly. Oh, and speaking of Yawar, this is perhaps Aijaaz Aslam’s best performance yet.

From the script to direction, acting and editing, Cheekh deserves all the praise it has been receiving, especially in the last four episodes. The hope is it stays on this trajectory going forward.

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