Published in Jan-Feb 2020
A cheating wife, a devoted husband and a rich man – even if you have had only fleeting exposure to pop culture, you will, in all likelihood, have come across this dynamic. In 2012, writer Umera Ahmed ruminated on the sorry end of a cheating wife in the drama serial Maat. So what made Mere Paas Tum Ho (MPTH), with its tired storyline, the blockbuster that busted through the TRP ceiling?
On the surface, there are a lot of problems with the series. For starters, it is written from a very male perspective for a female audience. Secondly, the pace is excruciatingly slow and recently, they have lost the plot. Despite these flaws, MPTH caught the nation’s imagination and how? You would have to be dead to have missed the MPTH outbreak on social media. Thousands of posts, memes, blogs and vlogs happily piggybacked on the serial to grab eyeballs. Was this the male #MeToo I wondered as a man appeared on a vlog to talk about his own real-life now former cheating wife?
So what is the MPTH X-Factor?
Firstly, the serial stars beautiful people. If there is any actor that conforms to all of Pakistan’s impossible beauty standards, it is the gorgeous Ayeza Khan who plays Mehwish. Then, there is the lean, mean Adnan Siddiqui, looking leaner and meaner as Shehwar and totally worthy of a couple of thousand heart eye emojis. Finally, there is the wide-eyed child actor Shees Sajjad Gul who plays Rumi and whose cuteness is fast eroding, thanks to the scary mature lines he has been given. Sadly, the protagonist Humayun Saeed needs work. But he is the producer so who is to argue about his casting? Secondly, every self-respecting drama serial needs a victim and in this case it is a man, which has helped MPTH gain a male following and given the writer a public platform to vent against women. Thirdly, and most importantly, it is how a bold premise has been fleshed out into a plot that confirms patriarchal stereotypes.
Which brings us to the most important character in MPTH: larger-than-life writer Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar. A divisive figure, Qamar is brash and misogynistic. Speaking about gender equality, he faced a lot of flak when he said in an interview: “If you wish to strive for equality, then kidnap men as well. Rob a bus, gang rape a man, so that I can understand what you (women) mean by equality.” And if that wasn’t enough, when Danish’s friend asks him to forgive Mehwish, he reminds her that “shirk toh khuda bhi maaf nahi karta.” Surely, there is law against whatever KRQ was trying to say? Any lawyers reading this?
So MPTH is what you get when Pakistan’s most vocal and chauvinistic TV writer expounds on his personal nightmare: a cheating wife. Is it any surprise that the man who is touted to be the best dialogue writer in Pakistan, wrote the loaded ‘Do takkey kee larki’ line? With that one line, he touched a raw nerve or your pulse, and undid a couple of years’ progress made by Pakistani women.
With a slow screenplay replete with lazy stereotypes about the poor, the rich, men and women, the saving grace is ace director Nadeem Baig, who captivates the audience by generating regular fodder for pop culture references. There was the pink nightie Mehwish wore on a business trip with her boss which sparked the ‘did they, didn’t they?’ debate. The do takkey wala dialogue. Not to forget two smartly inserted thappars, one by Danish to Shehwar and the other by a vengeful Maham to Mehwish. Baig makes KRQ palatable. But only just. The plot is still unfolding.
The serial wins mainly because it appeals to our inner do takka that loves everything bad, non PC and immoral. The writer revealed that the last episode will be over an hour long and has issued caution specifically for weak-hearted men: keep your medicines close at hand.
Shahrezad Samiuddin is a pop culture junkie and a scriptwriter. firstname.lastname@example.org