So, we’ve been having a bit of a ball on Instagram. Reminiscing over iconic Pakistani television characters, and dissecting all that went wrong (there is a ton to dissect, obviously). Because nothing helps one deal with collective trauma like nostalgia (cue pandemic jokes). Most recently, me and Tamania of Urdumom fame, were gushing about Sana Murad. For those of you as yet unfamiliar with this golden-age heroine, I implore you to binge-watch Ankahi.
Now more than ever, all that Haseena Moin was able to accomplish with her pen ought to be remembered. Pakistanis are busy marvelling over the well-choreographed stunts exhibited by foreign productions. Ignoring the fact that the real magic precedes cast and crew by months. Television is another form of storytelling. A compelling story, competently told, will always resonate; even without glamorous locations, wardrobe budgets and stunt doubles.
Ankahi all but exemplifies this, and Sana Murad in particular personifies it. Tamania and I were convinced that Sana’s appeal boiled down to her characterisation. The nuance with which she was written and portrayed. A nuance that modern Pakistani productions have all but lost.
In fact, any comparison between Pakistani television’s golden-age and what we have to settle for today, would be comical. So comical in fact, that Aamna Isani, of Something Haute couldn’t help herself. Reimagining another Haseena Moin classic, Tanhaiyan, as a modern production, she laid the faults of contemporary television bare. In doing so, she, along with Tamania, inspired me to embark on a similar journey with Ankahi.
So, get a snack my people, because we are about to answer a question that nobody ever asked. This is what would happen if Ankahi was remade in 2020.
What’s In A Name: Ankahi No More
As Aamna Isani hinted in her piece, a subtle title will not do. We have sponsors to worry about people, so let’s get to the point quickly. Let’s settle instead for an obvious name, like Hamari Ankahi Dastan which highlights all the major themes. Namely, unrequited love, tragedy and melodrama.
Now, Haseena Moin and vintage PTV productions are widely acknowledged as trailblazers. This isn’t just because they gave us some memorable characters. It is also down to how they worked with, fostered and propped up creative talent. Case in point, how the production teams for many PTV serials collaborated with Tanveer Jamshed (affectionately known as Teejay). Together, they created the contemporary Pakistani female; a vision in crisp shalwar kameez.
Haseena Moin heroines followed the Teejays trend of effortless elegance. As a designer, and visionary, Teejay wanted to ensure that his designs were both aspirational and attainable. Thus, his muses always looked elegant and yet understated, wearing even their imperfections like badges of honour.
This also meant that Shehnaz Sheikh’s Sana would leave room for the actress’ talents to shine through. As Tamania pointed out during our live, Shehnaz Sheikh of yore carried this character without any external assistance. She was memorable first and foremost because of her acting prowess.
New age Sana, however, doesn’t get out of bed without a full face of makeup. And rather than keeping the colour palette muted, expect to see the full spectrum across her eyes. Basically, her countenance will be a canvas for the unhinged inhibitions of an overzealous makeup artist. Simultaneously, her physique shall also be adorned with any and every colour imaginable. Remember, the styling isn’t meant to add anything to her character.
The Prodigal Daughter
Speaking of Sana. This modern rendition will have an exceedingly tense relationship with her mother. In the 2020 version, her waywardness won’t be a playful quirk; it would be a character flaw. For which she will ultimately be punished by the plot. Because the idea that a slightly coquettish, even clumsy girl could also care for her family is simply ludicrous.
So, instead expect long, drawn-out arguments between mother and daughter. Expect Sana to be harsh, to the point of being cruel. Expect her to torment poor, defenceless Apa Bi, who is struggling to make ends meet. And of course, expect Sana to be selfish, and take no responsibility for anyone, including herself.
This of course, brings us to the rest of the merrily dysfunctional Murad family. Or rather, that is what they were in time gone by. Such nuance has no place in the New Normal. So instead, Shehryar is no longer Sana’s comedic partner in crime. Instead, he is the evil, conniving mamu, leaching off of his innocent older sister, and enabling Sana’s tormenting ways.
Any class difference also, is no longer a means to achieve more fleshed out characters. In this new, black-and-white world, we will forgo nuance in favour of narcissism. Thus, Zakia and Moby no longer have character arcs. Instead, Zakia will be the eternally elitist biddy, while Moby will be the lustful and manipulative foreign-return. Zakia will occupy her time judging all that is wrong with contemporary Pakistani society, and exposing her sizeable colonial hangover. Moby, will meanwhile lust after and attempt to seduce Sana.
Also, Side Note…
Maryam isn’t a part of the show. Because the idea that a financially insecure girl can escape a marriage that she doesn’t like, is preposterous. Instead, she’ll get a spin-off series titled Pyari Maryam. Where we follow her tumultuous post-marriage life, courtesy some letters that she exchanges with Apa Bi. Who, as the ‘good mother’, is of course, the only person in the world who actually cares about her.
And lest we forget the heart of the story, let’s talk about Jibran. He will no longer be the Shakespeare spewing pre-teen with a razor sharp wit. Instead, we’ll get a sullen child, who insists on referring to himself in third person.
We will also need to hammer home his helplessness. Because the fact that he is a child, struggling with a potentially fatal health concern isn’t endearing enough. Instead, expect at least a dozen flashbacks per episode. Accompanied by Jibran lamenting about how he cannot be like other boys.
The Moral Brigade
Timmy and Faraz would have to be merged into one character. Because having more than one well-rounded, nuanced male character is a waste of space. And this new character, let’s call him Farhat, is not an effervescent young man, living life on his own terms. Rather, this will be the quintessential dutiful son, whose morality will form a sharp contrast with Sana’s brazen actions.
Basically, this is our moral compass. And his many lectures and laments will remind us of this in every episode.
The Other Woman
This is where I must borrow from Tamania again. Because you see, the wonderfully mature unrequited love from the original Ankahi simply won’t do. Instead, Sana and Taimoor will in fact get together. Because new-age Sana, as the ‘characterless’ woman, manipulates and seduces a married man and becomes the sneaky second wife.
The Dutiful Wife
Abeer on the other hand is the second half of this Madonna-whore complex. As the ailing, first wife, she concedes to her husband marrying again because all she wants is for him to be happy. Her own happiness be damned.
Except woe is her, for she must suffer indignation at the hands of this evil other woman. But because she is the naik parveen, fate is on her side. And, to bring the Madonna-whore complex full circle, Sana will contract a mysterious illness (known simply as a ‘bemari). And it will be she, not the character who has been terminally ill for the runtime of the entire series, who will die. Because morality.
And after what feels like an eternity of moral aggrandising, this thinly veiled sermon will come to an end. At which point, as Aamna Isani pointed out in her piece, Haseena Moin will sue the production. And the rest of us will write another think piece, about the state of Pakistani television. And on, and on, it goes, until Haseena Moin decides to re-enter the arena.