Warning — this review contains spoilers.
The season finale of drama serial Surkh Chandni aired last night and what a finale it was!
There was revenge — Aida finally gets a fair trial against Jawad, the man who threw acid on her face for turning down his proposal.
There was redemption — Aida’s evil sister-in-law, Shumaila, is given a chance to redeem herself by apologising to everyone she wronged and her deathbed confession is what helps Aida win at trial.
And there was romance galore: Aida and Aman come out of their trials stronger and more in love than ever and we get to see a glimpse into their future — a future in which Aman is successfully employed, Aida goes back to school and the two have a baby girl.
Note to drama writers: more fully fleshed out love stories like Aida and Aman’s, please!
One of the things that stood out most about Surkh Chandni’s finale is the way it treated its villain, Jawad.
Throughout the show, Jawad has a Joker-esque kind of madness about him in that he’s perfectly content watching the world and everyone in it burn. After watching drama serial Cheekh’s season finale in which the villain wins the audience’s sympathy, I was wary that Surkh Chandni would take the same route with Jawad’s story arc.
Thankfully, the show writers had the good sense to treat Jawad like an unstable villain all the way to the end. He gets his comeuppance through the courts and is revealed to be a cowardly loser; when Aida throws a bottle of ink on him, he absolutely freaks out and loses it.
The show then moves past Jawad, choosing instead to focus on all the good and positive in Aida’s new life.
Note to drama writers: please don’t insult the audience’s intelligence by glorifying villains at the end!
I have to admit, though, Surkh Chandni’s plot wasn’t what I had initially expected. At the start of the season, I’d assumed that the drama would be about Aida’s journey to activism. I’d anticipated that the show would be about Aida, the defender and champion of acid attack survivors everywhere.
Instead, Aida spends most of the show’s runtime as a disheartened and down-and-out victim. It isn’t until the final few episodes, with the support of Aman, her mother-in-law and activist Rehana, that we get to see Aida emerge as a true survivor.
The serial spends most of the time showing us Aida and her family’s struggle to bring her perpetrator to justice. We don’t get to see what Aida’s life is like after things have settled down. We only see a brief epilogue in the final episode when Aida appears on a radio show to tell people that life doesn’t have to end with an acid attack, that there are laws on the books that we should rely on, and that justice should and could be served if we all just tried a little harder...
So, in order to better understand what it’s like to be a real life Aida, I spoke to two women who have not only survived, but thrived after their lives were permanently altered by an acid attack.
One of these women, Kanwal, appears as herself in Surkh Chandni. Both of these women are remarkable in their own way.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Please tell us your story
My name is Margaret and I was living a very peaceful and simple life until I got married. I became a victim of domestic violence soon after; my husband used to beat me and his reasoning was that I bring money from my father.
I was tortured and continuously threatened that if l didn’t fulfill his demands he would divorce me and throw me out of our home. Whenever I brought money, he was calm, but when I couldn’t because my father was unable to, he would beat me.
One day, my husband asked me again to bring money from my father and I refused. Because of my refusal, the severity of the beating was much more than usual.
That night, while I slept, he entered our room and locked the door; he then threw kerosene oil on me and burnt me. I was rushed to the hospital by my in-laws, but that part is a blur.
My name is Kanwal Qayyum. My story started after I got married and due to some domestic dispute, my husband divorced me. I applied for a job in the national carrier as a flight stewardess to support my children and I was selected.
On my first day of work, my ex-husband threw acid on me. My parents rushed me to a hospital and there I was admitted.
My whole world turned upside down. It turned so dark. I was in distress. No one was there to help me or guide me.
The first time you saw a mirror, what did you think and feel? How did your world change?
I was admitted in hospital for over a year and whenever I asked my parents to let me see my face they used to stop me by making excuses.
One day I was walking with my mother in the hospital’s corridors and I insisted again for a mirror but they refused, but I stubbornly went and saw the mirror... when I saw myself I was absolutely shocked and as I kept on seeing myself I kept asking myself: is this really me?
I started screaming loudly, saying “It’s not me, it’s a ghost”. I banged [my fists] here and there then my mother and sisters grabbed and stopped me. This moment changed my life in so many ways but at that moment I couldn’t accept myself.
When I saw the mirror, I asked the doctor to poison me.
I had no face, and the condition of the flesh and skin left was very horrible. I was screaming and became insane, people were running away from me. I only got support from my parents and siblings at that time
Did your family and old friends support you?
My old friends left me, saying the way I looked made them feel uncomfortable, however my family supported me a lot. They encouraged me to live my life once again and my sisters became my best friends.
Today, I am lucky to have new friends at my workplace.
I had and have my old friends who support me. I continuously thank Allah, my family and last but not least, my second husband. He has held my hand through these tough times and changed my life. I have two cute baby girls from my second husband and the lady behind all my support is Masarrat Baji [Masarrat Misbah, founder of the Depilex Smile Again Foundation].
Tell me about your treatment. Did you get any support from NGOs? How many operations did you have?
My mother used to work as a house help and she was told by her employer that they can’t afford my treatment. The employer informed her of Depilex Smile Again Foundation, which works for the medical treatment and rehabilitation of acid and kerosene oil burnt victims.
I contacted DSF and got a very good response and finally went to visit their office to register myself. There I met Masarrat Misbah; she hugged me and gave me hope of a new chapter in my life.
Soon after registration, my medical treatment started and so far I have had 10 operations. Not only this, with Masarrat Misbah’s support I trained as a beautician and got employed in Depilex Beauty Clinic’s head office.
I am very happy to work here in the hair and nail department; I have a steady clientele and regularly get opportunities to train further. I have a son whom I support through my work; his wellbeing is the sole focus of my life.
Yes, Depilex Smile again Foundation stood beside me, providing all assistance and medical treatment. Masarrat Baji personally visited hospitals for me and supported me through each step of my rehabilitation. I had more than 35 surgeries and still continue to get surgeries. After Allah, Masarrat Baji is an angel for me and my husband is my lifeline.
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