Since her land mark serial Humsafar, any time author Farhat Ishtiaq, puts pen to paper, expectations are high.
With a string of popular serials and two successful movies to her credit, her latest Hum TV drama,Yeh Dil Mera reinforces this prolific writer’s reputation for producing memorable stories.
Yeh Dil Mera has all the ingredients of a classic gothic romance: Amaan (Ahad Raza Mir), a cryptic, wounded hero who knows a little too much about a girl he has only just met, Noor ul Ain (Sajal Aly), a lively heroine haunted by nightmares from her past and a loving but slightly sinister father figure, Mir Farukh Zaman (Adnan Siddiqui).
Mixing this potent brew to full strength is director Ahson Talish fresh from the phenomenally popular Ramazan show Suno Chanda.
Off to a good start
Despite some choppy editing, the first episode was an immediate hit, with audiences lapping up one of Pakistani drama’s favourite pairings, Ahad Raza Mir and Sajal Aly, whose last outing in Yakeen Ka Safar created such a buzz.
The second episode was much smoother and set a tone of quiet mystery combined with breezy romance that is not often seen on our screens. While no Pakistani play is ever allowed to not have a wedding, the focus is thankfully off the usual who marries who narrative in our serials.
Not only is this play great fun to watch, it also doesn’t rely on the usual regressive stereotypes to hook its audience. For example, Noor ul Ain’s frequent nightmares are not ignored; her father actually cares enough to take her to a psychologist (Syed Mohammad Ahmad).
The doctor even reminds the apprehensive father that mental health is like any other health issue and may require long term attention from a professional. While medications can certainly help, regular consultations to understand and manage an issue are also very important.
However, Noor ul Ain’s anxieties are not necessarily rooted in illness as much as in a childhood trauma that she relives in her dreams. Despite this, her overly protective father refuses to acknowledge his daughter has been through anything other than her mother’s death.
Just like Amaan, there is a lot more to Mir Farukh Zaman than meets the eye. Adnan Siddiqui is a master of his craft and manages to convey concern and love with an edge that feels threatening rather than comforting.
The sophisticated, high flying businessman who can have a boy bothering his daughter beaten up at a moments notice is an intriguing mixture of love and controlled violence.
Ahad Raza Mir’s easy charm is perfect for Amaan, a handsome young entrepreneur with an agenda. I loved the clever way each of his meetings with Noor ul Ain are calculated to throw her off balance; ghosting her at college, then friendly again at the golf course, it doesn’t look like a pursuit at all. However, what does look forced and frankly cliched is his secretive and broody piano playing.
There are ways of presenting this so it didn’t look so trite but director Talish seems to be reveling in the image. Obviously, the piano playing and the background song are important to the story but a “less is more“ approach might have been more impactful.
The heroes of yore managed to be brooding and mysteriously attractive with a few lines of poetry and a moment of contemplation but I guess there was only ever going to be one Rahat Kazmi. In this more digital age, we will happily settle for Mir’s more expressive ways.
Farhat Ishtiaq's signature romantic style is well in play; Amaan presenting Noor ul Ain with a quick sketch of her at a mehndi, asking her not to cover the mark under her chin because it suits her, are all moments of quiet intersection that make the story sweeter than long dialogues.
Sajal Aly works well with Mir and like all Ishtiaq’s heroines maintains an edge of intelligence without sinking into the 'bholi larki' trope. Aly is a powerful performer but she has kept a light, bubbly touch for Noor ul Ain, which fits this genre so well.
The narrative is well-paced and so far, each episode has provided clues to move the story forward. While Ishtiaq is famous for her romantic novels, I have always found her original screenplays like Rehaai and Udaari much deeper and well-plotted in comparison to her adaptions. Yeh Dil Mera looks like it is going to be another strong story, unshackled by the demands of a book adaptation.
And without any of the usual stale tropes
Yeh Dil Mera landed in controversy a couple of weeks ago after a teaser trailer seemed to showed the main protagonists, Aman and Noor ul Ain inappropriately flirting their way through a job interview. A lot of social media users called out this display as an example of sexual harassment being normalised as romance.
Although the air hasn’t been completely cleared it looks like those scenes were taken out of context and both characters have a relationship before any such interaction takes place.
High quality dramas like Yeh Dil Mera, Alif, Khaas and Ehd-e-Wafa feel like a breath of fresh air in a year that started out with highly regressive dramas like Qaid, Do Bol, Ab Dekh Khuda Kya Karta Hai and Hasad. Ad nauseam, it made for great ratings despite their problematic content.
Although it is probably a testament to my optimism than reality, maybe we can give our producers a vote of thanks and a pat on the back for making the effort to bring positive stories without the usual regressive tropes forward this season .
The very fact that pulp fiction like Mere Pass Tum Ho requires its team to make so many controversial statements to hype up a very ordinary project tells us that the dramas like Yeh Dil Mera are succeeding without that kind of noise, because they are simply good television.
So yes, stereotypes, lurid stories and controversies do get ratings but, dear producer, so does innovation, so does quality. Please, look up from counting your money and see the world around you and why the images you create are so important.