Jhooti is the story of Nirma (Iqra Aziz) a cunning and certifiably crazy lower/middle-class whose only goal in life is to bag a rich man.
To make this happen, she’s willing to lie, cheat, steal and even kill (an unborn baby).
The show begins with Nirma’s life at home. Her dad loves her blindly so is oblivious to her scheming ways but her mom, older brother (along with his wife Zubia Bhabhi), and her younger brother are all on to Nirma.
Everyone around her orbit is more often than not, helpless, because anytime someone tries to stop her from stealing or scheming, Nirma raises hell by screaming for help and accusing the person of physically abusing her. (This, as you can imagine, makes for many loud scenes and while I was able to endure a shrill Iqra Aziz in Suno Chanda I was not so keen on a screechy Iqra Aziz in Jhooti).
Nirma isn’t just a nightmare at home. Out in the real world, she’s no better. She has a like-minded friend with whom she frequently plots on how to bag a rich dude so that life can be lavish and easy.
The two friends constantly cover for each other's lies as well; including that one time Nirma makes up an excuse to offer condolences to her friend's mother who has passed away, only to go to a party instead.
This same friend also hangs onto all the jewellery Nirma steals from her mom and Zubia Bhabhi. (Yeah, it’s all next level nuts to watch).
A downward spiral
Nirma’s family isn’t well off. Her father and brothers run a general store and Nirma is adamant not to marry a parchoonwala like her father. So, when Nirma gets a rishta from a neighborhood shop owner, Nasir (Ahmed Ali Butt), she tells her family they’re out of their mind if they think she’s going to marry some small-time businessman.
However, she changes her mind once her friend helps her hatch a plan - marry Nasir, ask for a large amount of haq meher, get her name on all of his property and then leave him.
Since Nasir sincerely loves her, he marries Nirma and blindly agrees to all her demands. He puts the shop under her name, takes out a large loan with interest to pay her haq meher (which results in his dad almost disowning him) and he buys her expensive jewellery and a flatscreen TV - all because he wants to see Nirma happy.
But because Nirma’s ultimate goal is to steal from Nasir as much as possible and then get a divorce, she becomes even more of a monstress after the wedding.
She steals jewellery from her mother-in-law, breaks kitchenware, and when no one is around she even smashes the TV and other expensive household items like the refrigerator and washing machine.
When everyone wonders out loud how these things keep breaking, she begins crying loudly, and lamenting about how her family always called her a mahnoos and now her in-laws must think it too.
Back at home, Nirma tells her family that Nasir's parents physically and verbally abuse her and that her husband doesn't stop them. She even paints on fake bruises and cuts and shows up at her parents house crying about how her mother-in-law beat her.
Because Nasir’s rishta came through Zubia Bhabhi, Nirma’s plan is twofold: get rid of her husband Nasir and also get her brother to divorce Zubia bhabhi. It’s never made clear just why she hates Zubia bhabhi so much. In fact, it’s never clear why she hates both her bhabhis. She is just a hateful person, so she hates.
For instance, when younger brother Majid gets marries, Nirma decides to turn both the bhabhis against one another by facilitating the younger bhabhi’s fall so that she miscarries. She then puts this blame on Zubia bhabhi. While the writer attempts to show just how stereotypically evil Nirma is, trying to destroy her bhabhis’ marriages and killing their unborn children is just par for the course.
Eventually, Nasir catches onto the fact that Nirma is not in the business of making their marriage work. He shows up at her home to give her one last chance because he seriously loves her. She mocks his love and comes clean about her plan so he gives her talaq on the spot.
Of course, this is the perfect setting for a parent to have a heart attack and so Nirma’s father suffers an inexplicable heart attack/stroke combo (which renders him an invalid for the remainder of the show).
Now, Nirma is now divorced and back at her parents home. And because, according to the drama writers, being divorced is worse than the plague, all day Nirma’s mother hurls abuses at her, complaining about the burdens of an unwed, divorced daughter.
So spiteful is Nirma’s mother towards her, it’s really no wonder Nirma herself is so horrible. In fact, while the drama is about Nirma the tormentor, liar and the problem in everyone’s lives, I actually found everyone in Nirma’s household to be equally problematic and unbearable.
Nirma meets her match
By this point, I’m over Jhooti as a show. Nirma’s psychotic behavior, while initially mildly entertaining, is now just too toxic to sit through. I find myself worried for the impressionable young girls watching the show, and start to feel that were I not being paid to write this review, I would’ve stopped watching Jhooti a long time ago.
Right around this time, the show takes a promising turn as Nirma’s friend introduces her to rich property tycoon Ali (Yasir Hussain).
Ali dresses nice, drives a fancy car, has multiple homes and parents who live in Dubai. He tells Nirma he can take the little bit of money that she has (i.e. all the money she’s stolen from her family and ex-husband Nasir) and invest it into property so that she too can be a millionaire like him. So naturally, Nirma who always has rupee signs in her eyes, is a smitten kitten.
Ali proposes to Nirma telling her that he sees a bright future with them as a couple and as business partners. His parents come to Nirma’s home and act all ultra-cool about Nirma’s past marriage. They tell Nirma’s skeptical, taken aback parents that all they want is to make Nirma their bahu ASAP.
This is the first time in the series when Nirma’s mom says something slightly sensible. She tells her daughter to not rush into things. Why, the mom points out, would this ultra wealthy and modern family be so adamant about about getting their only son married to some middle class divorcee.
But Nirma is convinced that her mom hates her and is jealous of her happiness, and eventually bullies her family into accepting Ali’s rishta and the two get married.
By now the audience knows Ali is shady because a woman has been showing up to his office claiming to be his ex-wife and demanding the money he conned her out of. Things quickly escalate after the shaadi.
Initially, Ali takes Nirma to a beautiful mansion but then Ali gets a call from the real owner of the home saying he’s returning to Pakistan and could Ali make sure the house is tidied up. Turns out, the house isn’t Ali’s.
The couple moves into a studio apartment and Ali says it’s because his dad cut him off financially. After a few days in the apartment, Ali tells her they have to leave again because all their money is gone (into some bogus property investment). Now the two are homeless and forced to move in with Nirma’s family.
Once they move in with Nirma’s family things reach a new level of awkwardness. Everyone in Nirma’s family is confused why their allegedly wealthy son-in-law is basically squatting in Nirma’s old bedroom while Ali could care less what his in-laws think as he goes about doing shady deals during the day and, in the evening, flirting with Nirma’s younger bhabhi.
One day, the cops come looking for Ali, which confirms for the family that he’s not a good guy. But Nirma - once a wily queen of trickery - has become a naive bechari after marriage and believes Ali when he says the police were only there to “kindly request” that he appear at the police station for a property dispute.
At this point in the show I’ve checked out again. Initially, Ali’s appearance had me excited. I think Yasir Hussain is great in the role of a hustler. And I was excited to see just how a con artist cons another swindler.
But unfortunately the show dragged too much. What could have been said and done in 5-6 episodes took 12-15. Slowly (too slowly) we viewers learn about Ali’s reality.
His parents are paid actors and he marries women long enough to rob them. He has corrupt friends who he pays to pose as loan sharks. But, for some reason, Nirma who has gone from cunning to clueless, always buys into Ali’s lies.
Ali convinces Nirma to demand her part of her father’s inheritance. In the middle of the constant back and forth and stress Nirma’s parents die and eventually Nirma loses the support of her brothers and bhabhi who, after the father’s death, begrudgingly agree to sell the family home and pay out her portion.
As soon as Nirma gets her money she hands it to Ali who, in exchange, hands her divorce papers. It turns out Ali was always in cahoots with Nirma’s friend who was Ali’s real girlfriend and was part of the lets-fool-Nirma ploy all along. The friend and Ali make off into the sunset and a stunned Nirma wanders around the streets.
First, she tries to go to her brothers. The younger brother Majid and the sister-in-law (whose miscarriage Nirma had facilitated) turn her away. Then, she shows up at her ex-husband Nasir’s home only to find out he’s moved to Dubai.
Finally, she retreats to some jail-like women’s shelter where she hacks her hair off and slowly loses her mind. The drama ends with an insane Nirma babbling about being a jhooti.
And, there you have it folks: the end of a problematic drama. Poorly scripted because the script predictably follows the typical Pakistani drama story arc of “evil girl acts all evil until karma catches up and drives her insane”.
The only thing Jhooti succeeds in is perpetuating dangerous stereotypes about women
Folks, I tell my daughter more creative and riveting bedtime stories. What we viewers want are complex and nuanced scripts. After all, we are a country currently on the 500th episode of Erutgrul (a show about the freaking saga that is the Ottoman Empire).
Clearly, we’re hungry and ready for different and diverse stories.
Along with being poorly scripted, the show is problematic because it reinforces the dangerous stereotypes our society has about women.
Pakistan is the sixth most dangerous country in the world for women. The prevalence of domestic violence against women ranges between 21% to 50%. This is why it is incredibly reckless and dangerous to show a woman “faking” domestic violence by painting on fake bruises and fake-crying.
Already women who are victims of physical or sexual assault are not believed in this country. So often their experience is downplayed or downright dismissed so it’s revolting for a network to air a plotline of women faking domestic abuse.
Equally troubling is the way the drama weaponises tools like haq meher and inheritance laws which are actually really useful and important devices when it comes to protecting women in a stifling, misogynist society like Pakistan.
Nirma is repeatedly shown as abusive of others because she demands a high haq meher amount or asks for her portion under inheritance laws. Although Nirma is wrong in her approach, wanting to familiarise oneself with her nikah nama or asking for a reasonable haq meher amount or even expecting to receive your portion of the family’s inheritance doesn’t make a woman a troublemaker or homewrecker; it makes her a functioning part of civil society.
Why Iqra Aziz signed up for this project baffles me because she’s usually quite vocal against society’s insidious and regressive norms (like the time she turned down a Fair and Lovely ad campaign).
In an interview, Aziz explained that Jhooti is about the importance of family and listening to your elders. To me, that didn’t come across until the very end when Nirma found herself alone. Otherwise, the show was mostly about the many ways women are prone to being manipulative, self-absorbed gold diggers.
And herein lies the biggest problem. Dramas have got to stop reducing women to just two types - one as the virtuous, self-effacing homemaker and the other a completely unhinged, lying and scheming gold digger.
Jhooti does just that and in doing so it does injustice to women everywhere. Tragically, Jhooti isn’t alone in demonising women in this way. Turn the TV on anytime this week and you’ll see plenty of dramas about desperate women looking to bag rich guys.
This is not a new or surprising angle for our creativity-deficient television networks. Right now Hum TV is airing three dramas with gold digger plotlines - Dil Ruba (starring Hania Amir), Rabba Menu Maaf Kareen (starring Hina Altaf) and Mohabbat Tujhe Alvida (starring Sonya Hussain)).
But what separates Jhooti from the above dramas is how, along with showing the story of a golddigger, it insists on trivialising the problems women around us face.
How many of us know a victim of domestic abuse? How many of us know just what we signed up for when we signed our marriage contracts? How many of us would have the courage to stand up for our legal and marital rights? How many of us have been told that the right type of woman is silent and submissive?
Ultimately, this is why Jhooti and dramas like it are so problematic. They remind us of all the ways our society still fails women.