By Sadaf Haider/Dawn
Pakistani channel Hum TV’s Sang-e-Marmar ended with a finale as gripping and thought provoking as the entire serial. It gave audiences a fine critique on the nature of revenge and what honor culture ultimately leads to.
Writer Mustafa Afridi leads his characters through a maze of moral dilemmas, teasing the audience’s expectations with the familiar motifs of love triangles, manipulating villains and innocent victims but avoids an easy romantic ending, giving us a surprising twist instead.
Sang-e-Marmar has been an entertaining and engaging drama from start to finish, proving once again that the ratings game can be won with quality productions that don’t wallow in clichés.
Superficially the Gulistan Khan family is one of the most respected and influential in the village, but theirs is a house built on sand. Their wealth is based on interest and money-lending, their middle son is not only a thug but a rapist who preys on innocent women, while Khan himself is the unrepentant murderer of his own sister-in-law Rakshika.
Director Saife Hassan translates this story through the restrained lens of cold reality, minus any frills or distracting colours. Given a brilliant script, Hassan has maintained the suspense and thrill of this story till the last episode. Sang-e-Marmar is jam-packed with stellar performances from a cast that has done complete justice to some difficult roles.
Noman Ejaz is a masterful actor and his performance as Gulistan Khan is an authentic portrait of the complexity of human nature. A man of contradictions, Khan despises petty cruelties and although the authoritarian can be quite kind and forgiving to those who don’t break his moral code, he is unrepentant about beating his sister-in-law to death for her “behaya” dancing in the rain
Sania Saeed is simply outstanding as Gulistan Khan’s wife Shamim and owns the finale with understated power. Similarly Tipu Sharif, Omair Rana, Uzma Hassan, Najib Faiz, Kaif Ghazanavi, Sharmeen Ali and Beenish Raja have made each of their characters uniquely memorable and indispensable pieces of the main narrative.
Mikaal Zulfikar brought a lot of star power to the show even though Aurang was not quite the romantic hero the audience expected. A weak man, Aurang was strong enough to destroy his father’s ledgers (that detailed the debts owed to him) but not strong enough to stand up to Palwasha or his sister Bano.
The breakout stars of this serial and perhaps this season may well be Masroor Paras and Kubra Khan. Kubra Khan has given us a beautifully controlled performance as Shireen, endearing this character to millions. Shireen is no bholi larki nor is she the typical mazloom aurat wronged by society, although trapped by circumstance she is stubbornly determined to be the master of her own destiny.
Afridi is one of those rare male writers who understand the female psyche: from the bonds of sisterhood to the desperation of woman completely alone. Shireen is willing to endure a beating to the death to protect her friend Durkhaney but her patience finally gives way, and she allows herself to be blinded by anger and jealousy to accept Tora Khan’s proposal.
Tora Khan is arguably one of the most fascinating characters created by Afridi and Masroor Paras has done complete justice to this flawed, sad man. There is no denying Tora is a villain; directly or indirectly he is responsible for much of the murder and mayhem, but Paras shows us his pain as well as his anger.
Thankfully, unlike the current fashion for empathizing with rapists and villains to the point where their ‘suffering’ becomes equivalent to the victims, Afridi does not hesitate in calling a spade a spade and does not allow Tora to escape his own responsibility in choosing the course of revenge.
Haya (modesty) and ghairat (honour) are constant themes in this story and the words pepper every other conversation between the characters because these concepts lie at the root of the brutality they inflict on each other.
Unlike personal dignity which is maintained by individuals through restraint and self-control, honour culture is about reputation and is always backed up by threat of immediate violence if disrespected. All of the murders depicted and the domino effect of retribution are deeply rooted in the concept of maintaining an image of public ‘honour’. Sang-e-Marmar unflinchingly appraises the insidious nature of a system that controls women forcing them to pay for the mistakes of others.
Apart from Sang-e-Marmar, there are two more dramas on air dealing with the issue of vani: A-Plus TV’s Pinjara and another Hum TV serial Sammi. While each story differs, one striking feature they share is the way sisters are bartered to save a brother. In each case, formal law enforcement and state authorities are undermined by local and tribal authorities and decisions are made are according to what is most convenient to the men involved. Such message oriented dramas are a welcome change and may well serve to educate and hopefully raise awareness.