Spiritually inclined Ramazan transmissions are a lucrative staple of Pakistan’s annual viewing schedules, and following the runaway success of 2018’s Suno Chanda, serials made especially for the Ramazan-Eid season have returned to vogue.
Ramazan serials are not a fresh idea, and Geo Entertainment has been ahead of the curve with two regular series of one story per episode, morality plays under the themes of Dikhawa and Makafat. This year has seen an uptick in this trend, with three serials, Taana Baana, Chupke Chupke and Ishq Jalebi — airing daily on Hum and Geo respectively — scheduling finales on or around Eid.
“Romantic comedy as a genre is undervalued here, from Aunn Zara, the Baraat series, Yeh Raha Dil, Suno Chanda and now Chupke Chupke, it is a formula that has always been successful, because it gives us a respite from everyday struggles and negativity. The humour has worked as an antidote to the Covid induced depression hanging over us,” said Osman Khalid Butt, who plays the lead in Chupke Chupke.
All three dramas have been successful, but Chupke Chupke emerged as a worldwide hit, with multiple episodes trending on YouTube and hashtags trending not just in Pakistan, but in India and Bangladesh too. While Suno Chanda was incredibly popular, with die-hard fans still demanding a season three, Chupke Chupke has become a phenomenon with a combined total of 100 million views, according to director Danish Nawaz’s Instagram.
“Chupke Chupke’s ability to transcend borders shows us that despite political differences, the shared cultural values of family and humour throughout the Subcontinent and diaspora can bring us together,” Nawaz told Images.
Producers often contend that though international audiences are good for prestige, the advertising money that sustains their businesses is firmly based on local audiences and their choices. However, numbers like these mean that revenue from YouTube hits, and international audiences have proven their value.
So, what made Chupke Chupke so popular? Like most Ramazan airings, the story revolves around traditional joint family dynamics, with seemingly hard though reflective of a family’s tough-love one-liners, retorts, and putdowns cracking up audiences. Faaz, played by Butt, and his cousin Hadi, portrayed by Arsalan Naseer, think they will die single; Faaz has three possessive sisters and wants a serious, intellectual like himself for a wife, while Hadi cannot even settle on a job, let alone a girl.
Meenu, played by Ayeza Khan, feels defeated by the math in her graduate studies degree, and hopes marriage will offer her an escape from both university and her sarcastic, condescending tutor Faaz.
After a set of improbable but hilarious events, Faaz and Meenu end up married, with both families regretting the wedding a full five minutes after forcing them into it. The twist that really makes Faaz and Meenu’s lives difficult is the revelation that Faaz’s younger sister, Mishi, played by Ayman Saleem Saleem, is in love with Hadi. With villains like Faaz’s elder sister Gul Appa, portrayed by Mira Sethi, and deep family hostilities, will either of these couples survive?
Adding to the usual mayhem are competing damaads (son-in-laws): Miskeen Ali, played by Ali Safina, and Maani, who’s played by Salman Shaikh. Mirchi, played by Areesha Sultan, the younger sister who specialises in spilling family secrets on Instagram, and cricket-mad younger brother Walid, played Aadi Khan, also contribute to the drama.
Bebe, played by Asma Abbas, and Amma, played by Uzma Beg, are simply brilliant as feuding grandmothers. Obsessed with social media, the two post one inappropriate message after another, much like teenagers.
The villain of the show is Gul Appa, everyone’s nightmare of a controlling elder sister played to deliciously mean perfection by Sethi. Gul Appa’s henpecked better half, Miskeen Ali, is played with equal parts charm and mischief by Safina. Aadi Khan is another actor who has made his presence felt, standing his own in front of more experienced actors on set.
The show’s biggest attraction was the magical chemistry between Meenu and Faazi, which has fuelled a million memes and video edits stringing together their scenes to romantic music. Despite their reluctant marriage, the pair find the seeds of attraction growing in their hearts, with the audience was rooting for them at every step.
While Butt is an old hand at comedy, carrying every scene and dialogue with impeccable timing and delivery, his real strength lies in the pitch perfect way he balanced the humour with intensity and tension in the more serious and romantic scenes.
The sweet intimacy of nervous half exchanged glances, the subtle play of emotions on Faaz and Meenu’s faces, and their budding connection is reminiscent of some of our favourite drama pairings like Asher and Khirad of Humsafar, and Arsal and Ajiya of Suno Chanda. South Asian culture is still ultimately conservative and this kind of modest romance, anchored in feelings and sincerity, never goes out of fashion.
Ayeza Khan has been the best surprise in this show, answering critics who thought she could only play the ‘mazloom auratein’ and ice queen roles with a knockout performance that is both fun and relatable without being irritating.
“In her very first scene she showed us all what a consummate professional she is, proving that she can ace any role. She has been a revelation as Meenu,” Butt told Images.
YouTube star Arsalan Nasir made a fantastic debut, with his signature brand of analytic cynicism, looking very much at home on the TV screen.
Both Butt and Nasir are masters of the sarcastic zinger, and the scenes with Faazi-Haadi bromance and break up are laugh out loud highlights of the show. Nasir fits easily into the humorous milieu of Chupke Chupke but needs time to build his skill set for the more emotional facets of his role. The other new talent is Ayman Saleem, who has made herself a favourite with audiences as she tried to navigate a way into Hadi’s life. The Hadi-Mishi pairing has found a place in people’s hearts, setting social media abuzz.
There is no doubt that Saima Akram Chaudhry knows how to write comedy, but she hasn't left the soap opera genre behind either, incorporating many of the tropes we can see ad nauseam on prime time TV into the show. Recent episodes have taken a melodramatic turn, shocking fans who had high expectations of Faazi’s character.
This prompted the actor to tweet:
Our television screens are full of unreliable men that pass for heroes, yet the reactions to capable actors like Affan Waheed, Agha Ali, Waseem Abbas and Faysal Qureshi playing cruel, jealous and selfish husbands — who are always forgiven, be it for adultery or kidnapping — is a collective shrug of the shoulders and a landslide of ratings.
Butt playing an educated and caring character like Faaz, who pivoted to similar behaviour has the Chupke Chupke fanbase up in arms. Ignoring his sister Mishi’s feelings, immediately suspecting a conspiracy, throwing his new bride out of the house, and then threatening a divorce to get back at his in-laws should be illustrative of a villain, and never a hero like Faaz. Part of the reaction may be the way we blur the lines between an actor and the role he is playing, just as Feroz Khan’s personal charm made Mir Hadi of Khaani popular despite being a cold blooded, murderous villain.
There is nothing wrong with illustrating bad behaviour so long as it is classified as such, and not whitewashed as acceptable. In episode 28, we saw the surprise on Faaz’s face when Meenu decided that she will no longer allow him or her parents to treat her as a parcel, shunted from her parents to his house according to his mood. Ayeza Khan uses her well-polished acting skills to drive this point home without going overboard. As expected by the close of the story, Faaz realises his mistakes and asks for forgiveness.
For some deep socio-psychological reason, manliness is measured on our screens by how harsh the hero is to the heroine. Being kind or understanding is considered a weakness. We need to collectively aspire for something better and show the good man to be the one rising above such behaviour. “Our dramas are close to reality, even a villain has a context. Faaz was under a lot of pressure from his family because of which he did these things. Meenu’s stand and his own growth allow him to redeem himself,” explained Nawaz.
This is not the only controversy. Initially, there were complaints from social justice warriors that the constant jokes about Miskeen Ali as the ghar damaad were regressive and played into the prejudices against married couples living with the wife’s parents. Miskeen Ali is the focus of many demeaning jokes, but by the end of the drama we see that the writer has used this to challenge the traditional notion that only women bear the responsibility of maintaining the bond of marriage. Miskeen Ali reveals that Gul Appa’s cold attitude is a reaction to the harsh treatment of her in-laws, but heleft his family and made all the compromises to sustain their relationship.
Critique aside, Chupke Chupke remains a fabulously entertaining watch and the credit goes to the entire team, though especially to director Danish Nawaz. Nawaz has grown by leaps and bounds in his craft, proving his versatility from his previous serials, the more serious and introspective Khaas, and the more spiritual Kashf. While much like the wonderful Suno Chanda, Chupke Chupke is fast moving, twists a minute pace, and combines just the right balance of comedy and romance, with a dose of serious drama feels. This is an emerging new style of drama that resonates with today’s more aware and diverse audience.
“The past year has been tough on everyone, Chupke Chupke acts like an antidote to the pall of depression that has all but consumed us,” said Butt.
Chupke Chupke has given those watching a welcome break from the stress of lockdowns and anxiety of the past year: the ebb and flow of cousin rivalries, relatives and friendships are a reminder of the love and affection we have sorely missed during these difficult times