Mr. Khan’s Review on Pehli Chori (1999)

A review on Pakistani classic telefilm, Pehli Chori (1999). This low budget telefilm is directed by Khursheed-ul-Hassan and written by Banoo Qudsia. Pehli Chori was aired on PTV in 1999.

+ Crew

  • Directed by Khursheed-ul-Hassan
  • Written by Banoo Qudsia
  • Cinematography by Aslam Sheikh
  • Editing by M. Hamza Max
  • Production by Rahim Khan and Naveed Ahmad

+ Note

Pehli Chori is a showcase of future Pakistani television talents, Sania Saeed and Nauman Ijaz. The telefilm is primarily visualized as a long stage play, tackling issues like poverty and abuse of higher power. 

 + Main Cast

  1. Noman Ijaz  as Ali
  2. Sania Saeed  as Bushra
  3. Firdous Jamal  as Doctor Daud Kazmi
  4. Roohi Khan  as Kishwar
  5. Khyam Sarhadi  as Baba Roray Maar
  6. Tariq Mustafa  as Azhar

+ Plot

Bushra and Ali are a middle aged married couple who are financially struggling to maintain their status quo. As their young son falls fatally ill, the parents are struggling to pay for his medical treatment by any means necessary.

+ High Points

i – If you are a fan of Nauman Ijaz or Sania Saeed, its great to see them as young and upcoming talents of Pakistani television. Even with budgetary and creative constraints, the chemistry between the two actors is fairly evident and noteworthy. Their performances might be a bit rough around the edges but one can see how these veteran actors have grown throughout the decades to improve upon their craft as legends in the business.

ii – Even though the production standards are incredibly outdated, the thematic elements of the telefilm have not. The issues of unemployment and abuse of power are still as prevalent as they were 25 years ago. Inadvertently, it also portrays issues that are severely lacking from the Pakistani television of today. No ‘Saas/ Bahu’ melodramas but rather, addressing societal issues head on.    

iii – Pehli Chori has a good heart but the execution of the script, production and some of the performances cannot be ignored. But all that said, I do have to admit, the telefilm had the courage to give it an appropriate bleak ending. This is undoubtedly a bold move that I cannot ever imagine happening in the television of our present day.

+ Low Points

i – Clocking in at an hour’s length, Pehli Chori is a hard watch for sure. Tonal inconsistencies, terrible production work, some fairly oddball performances from the supporting cast makes Pehli Chori a difficult time to sit through. And it’s a shame because even back then, it was fairly obvious that Sania Saeed and Nauman Ijaz work so well together onscreen. Their pairing makes the telefilm almost worth a watch.

ii – It is by no means an exaggeration when I say that Pehli Chori has terrible production (even for its time!). The camerawork seems completely amateurish as there are multiple scenes with overexposed backgrounds, the music is at times overlapping on spoken dialogues, scenes purposefully shot in a single take in order to save time and budget, odd music choices that misrepresent the tone of the scene and I could just go on. Technically, this telefilm should have never been allowed to air on national television with this quality of production.

Whenever I watch a classic Pakistani drama, I always try to keep in mind the budgetary/ skill limitations of the production as well as the censorship but unfortunately, Pehli Chori was fairly outdated even back then.

iii – On one hand, Bushra accuses her husband Ali of infidelity and it is always played for laughs for some reason. But as Bushra confronts her employer regarding the cash she needs for her son’s treatment, the topic of infidelity is now all of a sudden supposed to be taken with utmost seriousness. You cannot have your cake and eat it too, one needs to establish a tone for their show in the first 5 minutes and follow through with it.

iv – Firdous Jamal as Doctor Daud Kazmi was arguably the most absurd performance I have seen in all of my classic reviews. While the other actors’ performances imitated reality, Firdous Jamal went for a more “Shakespearean” route for some reason. The inner monologues, the random emphasizes on certain phrases, the absurd dialogue delivery which felt so out of place for the telefilm; I can just imagine the director was nervous enough not to fill in Jamal sahib that this is a telefilm replicating reality and not a punjabi stage play.

+ Overall

Pehli Chori has a lot of heart behind its shoestring budget and terrible production quality but ultimately, it is a tough gig to sit through. Only recommended for diehard Nauman Ijaz/ Sania Saeed fans who would like to witness the genesis of their onscreen chemistry together.

Rate: out of 5 stars 


Mr. Khan’s Review on Neeli Dhoop (1994)

A review on Pakistani longplay Drama, Neeli Dhoop (1994). The PTV classic longplay is directed by Nariman and is written/ starring the veteran actress of Pakistani Industry, Bushra Ansari. The longplay also stars Sajid Hasan and Nighat Chodhri. This telefilm was aired on Pakistan Television in 1994.

+ Crew

  • Directed by Nariman
  • Written by Bushra Ansari
  • Edited by Fakhar-ul-Hasnain Zaidi
  • DOP by Salman Naji, Ibnul-Hashim and Mohammad Moiz Khan
  • Music Composed by Javed Allah Ditta
  • Produced by Meera

+ Note

Neeli Dhoop is the debut of Bushra Ansari as a writer for Pakistani Television. The longplay deals with such heavy themes like late marriage and the societal complications that come with it. Just by viewing the longplay, one could tell how personal the project of Neeli Dhoop was for the veteran actress. With the direction of the elder daughter of Bushra herself, Nariman brings the camera up close and personal, challenging the norms of a society and misperception regarding customs and religion. According to a DAWN newspaper interview of Dec 19 2010, Bushra Ansari came up with the script after she met a woman in a similar situation about 12 years ago before the release of the longplay. Upon release, Neeli Dhoop was relatively a critical and commercial success.

 + Main Cast

  1. Bushra Ansari as Nasira
  2. Sajid Hasan as Mansoor
  3. Nighat Chodhri as Rani
  4. Shahood Alvi as Shahood
  5. Arjumand Rahim as Naveeda
  6. Faryal Ali as Mano
  7. Mubassir Khan as Mrs. Barki
  8. Shahzad as Pervez
  9. Nilofar Khan as Shaila

+ Plot

Nasira (Bushra Ansari) is content with her life or at least she thinks she is. Although she became a widow some decades ago, she is happy to see their daughter start a family of her own. But with each passing day, the solitude of old age creeps upon her. After a marriage proposal from her cousin Mansoor (Sajid Hasan), Nasira reluctantly accepts it but ends up being mocked and ridiculed by the society and people around her. 

+ High Points

i – I don’t think anyone can start this review without addressing the controversial subject matter of Neeli Dhoop. Back in 1994, this was such a daring topic to engulf upon the Pakistani audience. Although the concept of late marriage is approved by Islam, it is still a controversial subject to bring upon the dinner tables of all Pakistani households. If a woman lost her husband at an early age and decided to not remarry right away, she is forever damned to remain lonely and unhappy for the rest of her life rather than finding happiness on her own later on in Life. High Art is a concept which is supposed to challenge the viewer’s perception on life and his/ her surroundings and Neeli Dhoop’s unapologetic wallop with the face of truth makes it such an engaging watch. Personally, I miss 90s Pakistani Television where they dared to be bold and different, where the only subject for each drama wasn’t a “love triangle” between three handsome co-stars. The content made you think, left a lingering thought long after the show was over. And Neeli Dhoop does exactly that.

ii – While also serving as the writer for the longplay, Bushra Ansari is enigmatic and fully in control of her performance as always. It is admirable how easily she could mold her acting skills with each passing scene, creating a concucment of happiness and despair. Perhaps an obvious statement but a longplay like this would’ve never worked if not for Bushra Ansari’s meticulously calculated performance.

iii – But all is not gloomy and dark, Sajid Hasan brings a much needed levity and comedic relief to the longplay. Whenever onscreen, Sajjid is fun to watch but most importantly, the quips and jokes never overstay their welcome. They are pretty much timed according to where the script could serve best. Watching two veterans of Pakistani television; Bushra and Sajjid on screen together is always a delight for the viewers.

iv – It is hard to imagine that this was Bushra Ansari’s first ever debut script for Pakistani television. The scenes blend well with each other, creating a perfect narrative flow throughout its 90 min runtime. But most importantly, it is the dialogues that are incredibly down to earth, giving the viewer a sense of “familiarity” and a certain attachment to its characters. They transcend beyond “written literature” and are casual enough for the audience to undoubtedly relate to the characters they are witnessing onscreen. Some of the off-hand jokes and observations of Sajjid Khan genuinely made me chuckle. 

v– The interactions between characters feel real. They never come off staged or exaggerated to enhance the audience’s perception of the emotions that the longplay is conveying. It never insults your intelligence nor does it look down upon you. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of Neeli Dhoop is that it encourages you to elevate yourself and look at the longplay straight in its eyes and choose to either admire it or hate it.

vi– While giving away no spoilers, the ending pulls no punches. The longplay ends exactly how it was meant to be; bold and uncompromising. With all honestly, I really admire Bushra Ansari to take the high route and not succumb to false, unrealistic resolutions.

 + Low Points

i – Since Neeli Dhoop is a 90s production, it does have the obvious 90s production tropes. The camerawork is insipid, mainly working with mid close to close ups of actors, music is forgettable, sound design is non-existent. Neeli Dhoop solely works as a longplay solely due to its tight script and performances. 

ii – While I did praise the conclusion for its boldness, it does admittedly feel a bit abrupt with many threads left tangled. But I suppose that’s how real life is. A minor complaint but perhaps a better resolution was needed between characters that we grew to love and care about. I wasn’t expecting them to ride together into the sunset but I suppose some vital questions were deliberately left unanswered, mainly the daughter and mother relationship at the end.

+ Overall

“They don’t make them like they used to!”. Nope they sure don’t. With so much monotony and insipid TV shows of today, Neeli Dhoop blows all of them out of the water with its bold and courageous storyline and characters. It is a hidden gem that every Pakistani drama lover should watch.

Rate: 4.5 out of 5 stars

TV series

Mr. Khan’s Review on Aanch (1993)

A review on Pakistani drama TV series, Aanch (1993). The 13 Episode limited TV series is directed by Tariq Jameel and is a PTV Karachi Center production. In 1993, Aanch was broadcasted nationwide on Pakistan Television.

+ Crew

  • Directed by Tariq Jameel 
  • Written by Naheed Sultana Akhtar
  • DOP by Abdul Majib
  • Produced by PTV Karachi Center

+ Note

Aanch is a TV drama which focuses on social issues like divorce and remarriage. It asked vital questions such as “How is a woman viewed by our society if she files for a divorce from her husband?” and “How are children from a previous marriage supposed to be taken care of under such circumstances?”. For its time, Aanch touched upon a subject matter which was widely regarded as taboo from being screened on commercial television. The drama is based on a novel ‘Behtay Paani Pe Makan’ by Naheed Sultana Akhtar who also acted as the writer to the TV adaptation of it.  Aanch is a showcase of patience, perseverance and in the end, triumph of love.

 + Main Cast

  1. Shafi Muhammad Shah as Jalees
  2. Shagufta Ejaz as Khulfat
  3. Sami Saani
  4. Mehak Ali
  5. Shehla Solangi
  6. Ayesha Khan
  7. Mehmood Ali
  8. Qaisar Naqvi
  9. Farheen Nafees 
  10. Kunwar Nafees 

+ Plot

Jalees (Shafi Muhammad) is wealthy businessman who’s wife Asma recently left him and their three children to grasp the opportunity of living abroad. Worried about his children growing up without a mother, Jaless decides to remarry to a working girl named Khulfat (Shagufta Ejaz). Unfortunately things do not go as planned as the step mother and the children have a hard time accepting each other.

+ High Points

i – Aanch is a drama that just gets better with time. Not just episodically but also with the decades that have passed by. Released back in 1993, marriage and divorce were such bold subjects to explore on prime time television. It is somewhat unimaginable how this drama stood out from the rest of the shows on television at the time. And since Naheed Sultana Akhtar also serves as the writer and adapted the screenplay for television, one could just feel how personal the subject matter was to her. I think having a female writer really helped portray a “feminine” perspective to the show. Divorce has a much stronger connotation on a woman than a man and this fact has been on full display and explored on this show. Aanch steps out of the drama world and portrays a more realistic view of how characters would have adjusted in such emotional turmoil. As the name suggests, Aanch has a double meaning in Urdu. One is “feelings of great warmth and intensity” and other “an open flame”. Both when implemented, can easily ignite a happy family within a matter of seconds. And this is what the show represents.

ii – The writing of the show is superb. The emotions and motivations are brilliantly conveyed through spoken dialogues, none of the lines feel forced or out of character. It is, at times, not easy to translate written dialogue to spoken. Sometimes what sounds good on paper does not translate well spoken but Naheed Sultana Akhtar has done an outstanding job in bringing life to her novel onto the small screen. A lot of credit should go to her writing skills for the success of this classic PTV drama.

iii – It probably goes without saying that Shafi Muhammad Shah and Shagufta Ejaz are simply enigmatic whenever they share a scene together. Even with a tightly written script, I personally felt that (at times), the dialogue was improvised between the actors to bring some further “humanity” into the given predicament. Their characters were so utterly convincing at times that as a viewer, it was hard for me to separate the characters from the actors. On one hand, we see the struggle Jalees (Shafi Muhammad) goes through in order to provide his children with a stable upbringing while on the other hand, one could also sympathise with Khulfat (Shagufta Ejaz), who was somewhat forced into this marriage by her family, with children that she has no connection with, the offsprings who just plain refuse to accept her as their new mother. Through their brilliant performances, Shafi Muhammad and Shagufta Ejaz make the conflict clear for the audience to follow and empathise with both sides at the same time. And that is not a small feat to accomplish.

Also I do have to admit that the School of Acting that Rahat Kazmi or Shafi Muhammad Shah came from is unfortunately a lost Art now. Taking nothing away from the actors of today, there was a particular sense of “humanity” that was present in such performances that make these classic dramas so entertaining to revisit time and time again.

iv – Also the supporting cast plays a vital role to the success of the show, particularly Mehmood Ali. His performance really permeates throughout the show as the “voice of reason”. His performance had to be good in order for the show to work and he made every second of the show count.

v– Even the “B story” of the show was interesting and well intertwined with the overall narrative of the show. This is a problem that many episodic TV shows face to balance but Aanch is a textbook example of how it should be handled.

vi– Only 13 Episodes long! A lot of shows have a given quota to prolong the show but Aanch knew the limits of how far the story should be stretched and as a result, the narrative feels tight, responsive and no scene or episode feels dragged or out of place (with exception to one in particular). A lesson MANY television shows of today can learn from.

 + Low Points

i – Although the subject matter and the performances are arguably ahead of its time, the production of the show (unfortunately) is not. Yes, as a reviewer, I should be more forgiving for the TV shows produced in the 90s but some odd production choices did (at times) ruin a dramatic scene which sadly just came off a tad bit comical. Take for example the first episode, there is an intense dramatic scene where Jalees’ first wife is having an argument with him, Jalees blurts out “SHUT UP!”, followed by an exploding (?) building with intense lightning??? Honestly, I just had to laugh at that. Thankfully, this technique was never repeated in the latter episodes. But it is what it is. A product of its time. The camerawork is uninspired, sound is at times muddled, the budget (and the skills behind the camera) were probably not much to brag about. So if you plan on revisiting Aanch (which I wholeheartedly recommend), watch it with an open mind.

ii – The child actors were not particularly good. I’m sure Kunwar Nafees tried his best with what was given to him but none of them felt convincing to the immediate narrative of the show. When you compare their performance to shows like Ankahi (1982) and Faisal Bilal as Jibran, his performance was leaps and bounds ahead. Whenever the scene with child actors came on, I felt being taken out of the show a bit. Unfortunately the director Tariq Jameel is also at fault for not bringing out the best performances from his young actors.

iii – The dialogue is too intermingled with English. On the surface level, I realise that is an odd criticism to make since normally, Pakistanis mix the two languages (Urdu/ English) a lot but sometimes, what works in the real world doesn’t necessarily work on the Television screen. The constant switching of languages (especially by the child actors) was very distracting. A few English words sprinkled in between Urdu sentences is not an issue at all but complete English sentences during Urdu dialogues was very jarring for me as a viewer.

iv – The final episode was basically a clip show from all the previous episodes. Even though I praised the show for being concise with its number of episodes, the clip show just felt like either they ran out of story to tell or they didn’t want to spend money so the creative team decided to rerun their past scenes in between. Either way, the final episode can largely be skipped.

v – SPOILER ALERT!!! (In the next point, I will talk about the ending of the show. You can skip directly to Overall if you would like to avoid it):

For the most part, Aanch has a great balance between the two opposing sides but as the show progresses, the sympathies eagerly lean more towards the husband’s side of the story. In my opinion, both sides were at fault, why did Khulfat have to be the only one to apologize? Just because her husband gave a favorable testimony for her in court, doesn’t automatically clear him off his own mistakes.

Khulfaat was also mistreated by her step children, threatened and verbally abused and the husband did particularly nothing about it. I felt he also needed to step up and apologize for his mistakes of not handling his children well. As the conclusion of the show goes, the idea of the woman not appreciating what she had is prominent much more than the husband who was also at fault.

This conclusion is not bad by any means but it could rub the modern viewers the wrong way and some could even take the wrong “lesson” out of this story.

+ Overall

With such a bold and interesting subject matter to explore, Aanch is a show that was well and truly ahead of its time. Whenever people talk about the “golden days of Pakistani Television”, Aanch is definitely one of the shows that comes to my mind.

 Rate: 3.75 out of 5 stars