In spite of delivering a heart-warming conclusion and giving viewers everything they expected from this drama and more, there are still some issues with Tere Bin.
Pronounced the biggest blockbuster in the history of Pakistani dramas by its producers Abdullah Kadwani and Asad Qureshi of 7th Sky Entertainment, Geo TV’s Tere Bin, directed by Sirajul Haq, and written by Nooran Makhdoom, has been all the rage among Pakistani drama viewers not just because of its fairytale-like love story and the immense popularity of its male protagonist, but also due to its later controversial episodes. Offering stellar performances by Bushra Ansari, Wahaj Ali, Yumna Zaidi, Sabeena Farooq and others and boasting some impressive directorial choices, the romantic drama did, however, expect a lot from its viewers when it asked them to digest facts that did not entirely tie up with earlier actions and which did much to compromise the characterisation of its heroine.
Tere Bin, with its presentation of a love story right out of romantic novels, complete with candlelit dinners, subtle nuances of rising emotions between the hero and heroine, and the ultimate promise of their union, explored the developing relationship between the dashing Murtasim Khan (Wahaj Ali) and the fiery Meerub (Yumna Zaidi). Keeping at its centre the usual family politics and the exhausted love triangle found in most dramas on Pakistani television, there was nothing exceptional about the plot of this drama.
In a nutshell, Meerub who at birth was adopted by family friends, discovers the truth about her real parents once she is pressured into marrying her cousin Murtasim who in turn is obsessively sought after by another cousin Haya (Sabeena Farooq) who has been brought up by his mother, the formidable Bhabhi Begum/Ma Begum (Bushra Ansari). The couple are separated when Meerub runs away from home and husband, but they are reunited when she returns two years later.
What caught the attention of viewers was Tere Bin’s presentation of the turbulent relationship between Murtasim and Meerub and their vacillating emotions of love, desire and conflict, which made it clear that the couple would have to go through a series of experiences before they could arrive at an understanding of each other.
With an image closer to that of a Bollywood action hero, Murtasim, the young, good-looking, charismatic feudal landlord and village head, manages to stride straight into our hearts with his tough attitude and loosely-draped-over-the-shoulder shawl. Simultaneously aggressive and sensitive, Murtasim could handle irascible adversaries, irate villagers, and demanding women, all with equal ease. Meerub, introduced as an intelligent, assertive heroine, with her interest in and awareness of the need to get social justice for women, was also a refreshingly tough and assertive female protagonist.
Aspiring towards a career in law, Meerub’s noble intentions were made apparent in the very first episode when she came to the aid of her maid, Saima Baji, who had been physically abused by her husband. Even after she became a victim herself when she was persuaded into marriage with Murtasim, Meerub maintained this stance of defiance and fortitude.
In subsequent episodes, however, Meerub’s attempts at self-assertion became a little too pronounced for us when her need to prove herself correct seemed to overshadow her good sense, making her largely responsible for causing several near disastrous situations. But it was not until the drama’s later, more controversial episodes, after the much-awaited consummation of marriage between the couple took place, that this blundering heroine was rendered almost ridiculous. Whether this was how the character was originally written or whether the character suffered due to improvisations made to the plot remains unclear.
In a former act of defiance, Meerub, most unhappy at being forced into marriage with Murtasim, had him sign a pre-nuptial agreement at the time of their nikkah that stated that he would not assert his husbandly rights on her by forcing the consummation of their marriage upon her. Apparently, at the time she had felt both the need to punish him and to protect herself from him. In the ensuing episodes, however, this parchment remained like a sword over the couple’s heads and became an obstruction to their growing intimacy, even leading to a curiously excessive preoccupation by family members as to why Meerub had denied Murtasim his husbandly rights.
It was in episode 46 that we were asked to believe that Murtasim, insulted, slapped, spat on by Meerub after being discovered in an embrace with Haya, forgot all his tender feelings for her and forced himself on her. As excessive as Meerub’s action — and re-action — was in light of the circumstances, we were led to believe that it was enough justification for marital rape. Or at least that is what it seemed like when Murtasim threatened to show her the significance of the signed agreement and ominously locked the bedroom door.
So, perhaps Meerub was right after all in wanting protection from him? Indeed, there were hints enough in both dialogues and action to merit such a belief. In episode 10 for instance, Murtasim had, after all, admitted to the possibility of being driven over the edge when he warned Meerub: “Lekin mujh sey darro. Kyon key agar merey andhar ka janwar jak gaya toh tum kuch sambal nahin paoo gi Meerub [But fear me because if the animal inside me awakens, you won’t be able to handle it Meerub].” Understandably, however, the idea did not go down too well with viewers who were not willing to see their much-adored hero in the role of a villainous husband.
If the original storyline had been aiming towards female empowerment by presenting Meerub as a woman who stands up for her rights but ultimately forgives her husband for marital rape, the drama nicely digressed from it. In spite of asking us not to jump to conclusions, there was a sense that the producers had an afterthought and re-wrote the script after backlash over episode 46.
In episode 47 we were made to believe (by voice-overs cleverly passed off as internal monologues, particularly for Meerub’s character) that the consummation of the marriage was through the mutual consent and that things between them were not so bad after all.
The question that then arose was what was all the continuing fuss about? Post-act, the hero and heroine were seen shedding tears, suffering profound mental anguish and resorting to desperate acts. The heroine’s reaction (setting aside her earlier impulsive behaviour) was so severe that she ran away from home ready to brave nights out alone on the streets of Hyderabad and Karachi. She was visibly distraught and traumatised enough to be without money or a mobile phone, willing to put her safety at risk.
When she finally sought refuge at an elderly couple’s home, her mental anguish and something akin to fear of Murtasim, just didn’t measure up when considered with the flashback scenes of the blossoming romance between the couple as Meerub recalled their past. Murtasim, on the other hand, was seen wallowing in guilt and self-pity — even though that did mean that we got to witness a rather exciting shot of him punching the mirror. It did all appear to be a case of emotion in excess of the facts à la Eliot. The couple did love each other after all, didn’t they? If anything, the action in these later episodes conveyed a lack of understanding in the script about how human emotions work.
The only other way of making sense of this contradiction between action and reaction was to assume that the producers of Tere Bin had interfered with the storyline to save the hero and themselves. A possible rapist as a hero wouldn’t help ratings nor the image of the channel. One can only guess that the later action in the story was meant to develop Meerub’s character into someone who could have been a good advocate for women’s rights, especially in light of her aspirations to study law. But the decision to re-work the plot, and through it the demolition of the heroine’s character, seemed a real pity at the time in light of the inspiration Meerub could have offered female viewers.
For the perplexed and disappointed viewer, the drama which had thus far captivated was now in some danger of losing its magic. And its female lead who had created so much noise and fury over so little was fast turning into a sad portrayal of womanhood. The options given to us for Meerub’s continuing actions all appeared equally ludicrous — she decides to face difficult circumstances willingly by staying away from home as a kind of punishment for breaking the contract between Murtasim and herself; she sees it as an kind of act of self-assertion; she is simply continuing to be foolishly obstinate.
While there was some justification for Meerub’s reluctance to return to Murtasim in the title of the drama Tere Bin (Without You), it did not entirely work. Murtasim’s character also came close to falling from our high regard when he agreed to marry Haya after earlier declaring his undying love for his wife. As for Haya, whose adherence to an all’s fair in love and war philosophy was brilliantly portrayed by Sabeena Farooq, her characterisation was a woman whose very existence appeared to depend on her acquisition of a man was both distressing and problematic.
But just when we thought that this ship was sinking fast, a kind of rescue and recovery was seen in the penultimate and final episodes. Good sense returned to Meerub and she decided to reappear child in hand to make her nail-biting entry at Murtasim’s and Haya’s nikkah ceremony. The final episode with its dramatically powerful return of Meerub, the look on Haya’s face once she no longer has any hopes of keeping Murtasim to herself, and Meerub and Murtasim’s touching reunion all worked as a kind of atonement for the all-enduring viewer for past grievances against their intelligence. Meerub’s aspirations of working in the interest of social justice were also quickly brought back with a final shot of her dressed in lawyer’s garb, off most likely to do her bit to address the plight of women in society.
The end result? A happy resolution — Murtasim saved, Meerub saved, drama saved. Haya silenced, even if a little ominously. And the happy viewer, if a little confused about what had taken place, appeased in the end. As tempting as it has been to forgive the makers of Tere Bin both because of the way they presented the final episode and for earlier moments of brilliance, it is a little hard to forget that something was just not right in the storyline. When Murtasim does ask Meerub for forgiveness in the final episode, it is never made clear for what.