The drama Hum Kahan Ke Sachay Thay was advertised as this year’s must-watch drama serial but despite a stellar cast and promising promos, it turned out to be a total disappointment. Below we look at what went wrong.
HKKST centres on the lives of three cousins — Mehreen, Mashal and Aswad. Mehreen (Mahira Khan) is academically gifted and well behaved but when her dad (a drug addict) commits suicide and her mother remarries, Mehreen essentially becomes an orphan and a liability. She moves in with her grandmother and cousin Mashal’s (Kubra Khan) family who treat her like a servant and constantly talk down to her because of her father’s checkered past.
Mehreen and Mashal’s childhood friendship turns sinister as Mashal becomes increasingly jealous of Mehreen being so good at everything she does. Mashal won’t miss an opportunity to torture Mehreen — she kills her pet bird, throws her inhaler in the trash, tells everyone Mehreen has a new boyfriend every three months and burns her clothes with a cigarette so everyone thinks she smokes. And because Mashal knows Mehreen loves Aswad (Usman Mukhtar), Mashal begins a relationship with him in which she basically takes on Mehreen’s persona by pretending that all of Mehreen’s art and trophies are hers. By the time Aswad returns to Pakistan, he’s fully poisoned against Mehreen and Mashal is confident he’s going to marry her.
But, plot twist, Aswad’s mom (ie Mehreen’s khala) sees through Mashal and tells her son if he’s going to marry anyone it’ll be Mehreen. When they hear that Aswad and his mother are coming for Mehreen not Mashal’s rishta, Mashal and her family rightly lose it because Aswad has been spending all this time talking to Mashal, sending her gifts from the US and taking her out for dinners. Mehreen, who is sick of Mashal ruining her life every chance she gets, agrees to marry Aswad even though she promised to marry her university friend Safwan.
One night, Mehreen comes home and sees that Mashal has torn her shaadi dupatta. Mehreen slaps her but Mashal invites her to sit down for a cup of chai so that they can have a real conversation about why the two of them went from being childhood best friends to sworn enemies. Mashal promises to tell Mehreen all the reasons she’s jealous of Mehreen who, in return, says she no longer will come in between Mashal and Aswad. The next day Mashal is found dead.
Immediately, Mashal’s parents and Aswad accuse Mehreen of killing Mashal because Mehreen and Shabo the maid (more on her later) were the only ones at home the night Mashal died. Mehreen is thrown in jail and no one from her family comes to visit her. Only Safwan visits. Eventually, Mehreen is bailed out by Aswad and shortly after Mehreen and Aswad are basically forced into a marriage by Aswad’s mother.
Things get ugly fast on the wedding night. Aswad tells Mehreen he only married her to avenge Mashal’s murder. He tells Mehreen she’s going to live like a prisoner in his home and won't be able to go out, call or see anyone.
Mehreen, now trapped in a bonkers marriage, begins to hallucinate that Mashal is back from the dead and wants to kill her. These hallucinations along with Aswad verbally torturing her every chance he gets leads to Mehreen having a nervous breakdown. A psychiatrist (Nadia Hussain) meets with Aswad and asks if there are any marital problems. Aswad replies that there aren’t because he doesn’t physically abuse or name-call his wife. The psychiatrist tells Aswad that there are other ways to abuse your spouse, including emotional abuse.
She then tells Aswad that his wife has always had anxiety but now she’s depressed and facing a complete mental breakdown. She also tells Aswad she thinks he could benefit from psychiatric treatment as well because he seems hellbent on forcing his wife to commit suicide.
Meanwhile, Shabo the maid is shown to be struggling with her conscience because she’s the only one in the world who knows what actually happened that night. It turns out that Mashal had planned to poison Mehreen’s chai the night they sat down to talk and reconcile. However, Mashal accidentally drank out of the wrong cup and died of an accidental overdose. And, to make it worse, Mashal’s parents know the truth. Shabo tells Aswad the whole truth and he spends the final few episodes crying and going through his wife’s diaries, which is how he realises Mehreen has always been kind and good and madly in love with him. He apologises to Mehreen and the two live happily ever after.
Is the criticism of the show warranted?
In a nutshell: yes.
Even with an excellent cast who really did their best with the script they’ve been given, the show meanders in an unbearably slow, choppy way. And, despite a happy ending, 22 episodes later, I’m left unsatisfied.
Mahira Khan as Mehreen is simply sensational. Her interactions with her mother and nani are my favourite because that’s when we really see how painful Mehreen’s life has been and how bitterly realistic her circumstances have made her. A particularly poignant moment takes place near the end of the show when Mehreen tells her mother that all she needed as a child was her mother’s soft touch. She tells her mom that her remarrying was never the issue but not seeing her daughter for five years after getting married was what allowed the bitterness to seep into and become a part of adult Mehreen. It’s a shockingly simple yet powerful reminder of how much power adults have to mould young lives. Throughout the show, watching the elders criticise and compare and neglect the children made me realise that just because someone can become a parent doesn’t mean they’re automatically a good parent.
Kubra Khan as Mashal also packs a punch. Mashal’s character is a nuanced, multi-layered portrait of a woman torn between right and wrong, good and bad. Initially, I dismissed Mashal as a stereotypically one-dimensional typical Hum TV villainess. But by the end, when we learn why Mashal had so much jealousy and hate in her heart, we almost sympathise with her. Mashal’s motivation to make Mehreen’s life hell, while unjustifiable, is motivated by a lonely life spent constantly belittled and compared to her larger-than-life cousin. By the time we come to learn that Mashal changed her mind about poisoning Mehreen and accidentally overdosed, she’s almost become a tragic heroine in our eyes.
Usman Mukhtar’s Aswad is the character that has generated the most controversy and caught a lot of flak on social media, so much so that Mukhtar recently admitted to having had reservations about taking on the role of Aswad.
To me, the biggest problem with Aswad is that he starts off and remains a poster-boy for toxic masculinity with no proper redemption arc. While we see both Mehreen and Mashal undergo character transformations from start to finish, Aswad who is fantastically bad for pretty much the entirety of the series is never shown as going through any meaningful change and still manages to get the girl at the end.
Toxic masculinity is defined as a set of expectations and behaviours of how a “real man” should be and Aswad is the epitome of the stereotypically tortured and toxic desi male. First, he lets Mashal think he’s interested in her. Then, when her family is upset that Aswad’s mother wants Mehreen as her bahu, Aswad acts shocked that Mashal had any romantic expectations from him. Later, he marries Mehreen just to ruin her life.
Indeed, throughout the show, Aswad is single-handedly destructive and damaging to the women in his life. He’s the kind of man who thinks he owns and controls the women around him, from his mother to his wife. He’s the sort of guy who goes out for lunch with a random girl only to come home and accuse his wife of having an affair. He’s also the kind of guy who will verbally abuse his wife to the point where she has a nervous breakdown but be shocked at the suggestion that he could’ve played a part in her psychotic break.
Even when Aswad comes to learn the truth about Mashal and Mehreen, he doesn’t take ownership for his role in their mutual destruction. He never details what he did or apologises to all the women he has wronged. Near the end, he tells Mehreen, “I don’t know who's at fault but maybe I was a little bit at fault”, which is the greatest understatement of the century considering he gaslit and misled everyone around him from the get-go.
It’s searingly obvious that Aswad sees the sum of his transgressions not as mistakes he’s made, but as stuff that’s happened to him. There’s never any redemption story here because Aswad never has any personal growth. And, for such a toxic, unstable and unredeemed character to be the romantic lead who “gets the girl” feels like a frustratingly rushed decision on part of the writers. Sure, he spends the final two episodes driving around town looking morose and crying a lot. But, for the most part, his bad behaviour gets a free pass.
In the end, Aswad quickly goes from being the fantastically terrible husband to our supposed romantic hero. Many have (rightly) commented on Twitter that at no point in the show does Aswad actually do anything that makes him worthy of a woman like Mehreen who is repeatedly shown to be an academically gifted, self-sufficient person.
It’s not enough for the writers to just expect that the audience will happily accept Aswad as a different, reformed and remorseful man. After 22 episodes, we deserve more. And this, ironically, is exactly how our society views and rewards toxic masculinity. Because no matter what, the Aswads of our society will always manage to land on their feet and find their place in society.