What is it about Ek Jhooti Love Story (EJLS)?

The web-series doesn’t have the sort of trailblazing plot that you aren’t familiar with. You can predict how some of the story is going to pan out after watching the initial few episodes. And yet, you keep watching it, one episode after the other, back to back, enjoying the banter, humming along to the title track and floating along with the characters as they chalk their romantic journeys.

One of the main reasons why EJLS makes for a riveting watch is that lately, very few dramas have served up feel-good, romantic, intelligent storylines the way it does.

The plot remains lighthearted, oscillating only rarely towards emotional duress, replete with good ol’ fashioned chemistry and refraining from becoming mere fluff because it is bolstered by sub-plots that touch upon topics that are more cerebral: economic class complexes, the Pakistani obsession towards marriage, unrealistic romantic expectations, the independence allowed to sons instead of daughters and the need for women to think beyond marriage and choose their individual paths in life.

There is no emotional torture, no domestic squabbles, no borderline incest, no long unnecessary flashbacks and while the social commentary is impactful, it doesn’t suffocate in the form of long, weepy lectures – a refreshing change from the fare offered by local dramas!

Bilal Abbas and Madiha Imam are a match made online

But there is so much more to EJLS than just the fact that it is different from the typical Pakistani drama. Zeroing in on middle class Karachi, it is a well-told story of the life lead by its inhabitants and the dreams they have. There are the winding narrow lanes with garbage strewn about, the aging homes with peeling paint, the small kitchen where sisters cluster about to make tea for yet another potential rishta, the small-scale neighborhood weddings and more than anything else, the complexes that prick at the various characters, making them want so much more than just a life in the mohalla.

Director Mehreen Jabbar doesn’t glorify nor does she make this unassuming neighborhood seem desultory – she merely tells its story, exploring the fabric of these households that are so intrinsic to Pakistan with the trained gimlet eye that is her forte.

Taking center stage is the confused love story of the protagonists, Sohail and Salma, who both assume fake Internet personas in order to connect with who they consider to be their ideal partners. Tired of their middle class existences, they aspire for a future that is far more glamorous and they unknowingly chat with each other, projecting a world that fascinates them, hopelessly falling in love over cyber-space.

Their lives, ultimately, unravel once reality hits home. Running parallel to this ‘jhooti’ love story are other twists and turns; the dilemmas of Salma’s elder sisters and brother who are yet to get married in the hope of getting hitched to someone worthy of them, Sohail’s younger sister who gets betrothed to a taxi driver living in London and the sentiments of their respective mothers.

Scriptwriter Umera Ahmed proved her mettle with a similar genre some years ago with the drama Zindagi Gulzar Hai and here, she works wonders again, intertwining the nuances and nitty-gritties beautifully as the story steamrolls towards the sort of happy ending that has you sighing.

And the fact that the story steamrolls is another reason why EJLS works so well. Local dramas have a tendency to drag on for a few extra episodes in order to rake in more money from sponsors. Longwinded flashbacks are the order of the day. If a character is sad, he or she will usually invest a good five to ten minutes crying. The longer the scene, the more earnings for the producers.

It’s a sad, inevitable reality and more often than not, it has ruined some truly absorbing storylines. Eschewing the need for such ploys, EJLS moves at its own pace, never droning on for one scene and instead skipping on to the next. The series wraps up in 18 episodes, without you feeling bored.

The ensemble cast helps – and how! Bilal Abbas has been proving his acting brilliance for some time now, completely personifying every character that he plays. In EJLS, he transforms completely into Sohail, bringing an earthy, very real sweetness to his role. He can certainly add EJLS to his repertoire of hits and I wouldn’t be surprised if it spirals Bilal to the top tier of favorite chocolate heroes.

Madiha Imam, also, acts extremely well as the confused, complicated Salma who yoyos from trying to manage her emotional baggage to giving staid advice to her family. Madiha may be relatively new to the field but she has been making her mark and EJLS allows her to shine very brightly indeed.

Taking over the spotlight, though, from the main leads is Beo Raana Zafar as Salma’s cantankerous, bossy mother. Chewing paan, glaring down at her family and obsessed with making ambitious marriages for her children, her scenes are some of the most regaling.

Hina Bayaat is endearing as Sohail’s mother and the rest of the entourage performs well too: Kinza Razzak, Kiran Haq, Mariam Saleem, Mohammed Ahmed and Furqan Qureshi. Prior to the series’ release, director Mehreen Jabbar had told me that she had been given carte blanche to select her cast according to whoever suited the roles best. There had been no pressure, she had said, to choose actors who were particularly popular or social media stars. Her cast, as a result, all fit into their roles perfectly.

Romance done right

What’s there not to like in EJLS? I am a stickler for a sweet romance and this one comes laden with social messages that mattered. There isn’t much that I didn’t like. There are, however, slight loopholes in the plot. How did the leads fall so abruptly in love via online chats?

How could they stay obsessed with their online love interests despite knowing that the relationships had been forged on the basis of lies? How did the people they were impersonating never come across the fake IDs’s that Salma and Sohail had created? These little details do make some aspects of the plot implausible.

But it is likely that you will let these flaws pass, simply enjoying Mehreen Jabbar’s expert direction, her motley crew of well-chosen characters and this story, unique and true to Pakistan but devoid of the kind of turmoil that makes you cringe. All EJLS makes you want to do is smile. We need more stories like this one: on TV, on the web, in cinema!

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