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What 'Pyaray Afzal' did right

Updated August 25, 2014

Email

Despite a few shortcomings, the show broke cliches, overacting was curbed, pacing was fair, dialogues were poignant.
Despite a few shortcomings, the show broke cliches, overacting was curbed, pacing was fair, dialogues were poignant.

In case you somehow missed it, Pyaray Afzal was quite the television phenomenon recently. Against the usual montage of formulaic TV drama series, this one certainly deserves our attention.

(If you are still planning to see the show, I should warn you of some spoilers ahead.)


Some shortcomings


As a professional screenwriter myself, I know fully well that we cannot hold the writer wholly accountable when things go wrong. There are inescapable constraints and compromises in our industry, which I believe must have factored into the final draft. There are some scenes where you can tell that the director and writer were thinking along very different lines. In the bigger picture, the plot took some unexpected, and some unnecessary turns.

The characters, though deep, are generic in ethnicity and region — they could be from Hyderabad, Bahawalpur, Lahore, Peshawar or maybe even Taiwan without any bearing on the dialogue. That is writing faux pas.

There are a few characters whose absence would have not made the slightest difference to the overall plot. There are some dialogues that just about any character could have delivered without impacting the story. Certain conversations keep being repeated between different characters in the same episode.

Read more: TV entertainment — Why doth thou sink so low?

On a personal note, I would like to meet with the writer Khalilur Rehman Qamar and discuss his incessant need to end his shows on the death of a character. To cite just one glaring problem in the script's dramatic finale: why would Afzal not ask for an ambulance — he clearly has the ability to pick up the phone and talk.

Soundtrack of 'Pyaray Afzal'

Another issue I’d like to raise in detail at another time: why is a Pakistani show starting with an Indian song? We have a vast library of excellent songs in our very own country. Overall, the sound design in Pyaray Afzal is rather poorly done; the music is louder than dialogue at times; humour is cued through campy sound effects almost exclusively.


Moments of brilliance


Now, let us focus on what made this show great.

The dialogue is intelligent and natural, even in the hands of less experienced actors, it is everything between witty, relatable, powerful and even epic at moments.

Maulvi Subhanallah, played by Firdous Jamal, is an acting class; the delivery is spot on, the character is a fully realised three-dimensional human being with all the strengths and weaknesses one expects from such a person.

His wife, played by the iconic Saba Hameed, portrays a woman torn between her husband and son so accurately that you feel it might be happening to you.

  Firdous Jamal (Molvi Subhanallah) with Sohai (Yasmeen) -Photo from Pyaray Afzal Facebook page.
Firdous Jamal (Molvi Subhanallah) with Sohai (Yasmeen) -Photo from Pyaray Afzal Facebook page.

One of my favourite aspects of the show is the sparing use of crying. It is a sign of physical and emotional collapse, and the series treats it as just that, with characters tearing up only when they have really had more than they can cope with. This is unlike other Pakistani serials where characters literally start crying if the lights get too bright. In Pyaray Afzal you can feel the sorrow.

Screen time was adequately spread over characters and no one could be said to have hogged the camera. Every scene began with a disconnected conversation before going into the crux of the story, much like everyday conversations usually do.

The best part is the honest portrayal of women.

TV has come to a point where there's an inherent sense of despair whenever it comes to women. They are either crying, or about to cry over something in every episode.

In contrast, Sohai Ali Abro’s 'Yasmeen' is a strong character who instead of becoming a victim, takes control of her situation and ends it on her own terms. She delivers without any shouting or hamming too, which is a bonus.

It's not just Yasmeen though; the entire plot revolves around strong female leads, each unique in her own right. Both Afzal and Farah’s younger sisters, and Farah herself (portrayed by Aiza Khan) all have their place, holding the story together.

Hamza Ali Abbasi is of course, brilliant. He can turn a full page of dialogue into a powerful monologue, and you will be riveted throughout.

  Hamza Abbasi with Aiza Khan
Hamza Abbasi with Aiza Khan

But I still feel Hamza was not allowed to express his full potential in Pyaray Afzal. There were sequences where I felt that he could have brought something completely unique to the show, but was held back. But he was brilliant nevertheless — just watch him read the letter Farah writes to him.

If you have not seen the show yet, you really should. I doubt you can binge-watch the entire 38-episode run, but you certainly can enjoy the experience in its original weekly episodic format.

I personally feel it should have received higher accolades than Humsafar or Zindagi Gulzar Hai.

If it weren’t for the Godfather diversion, I might even wish cult status upon it.

The big lesson we need to learn here is that this industry should be a writer-driven medium. The show broke cliches, overacting was curbed, pacing was fair, dialogues were poignant.

That’s what we need to keep doing.