Writer Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar’s pen aspires to the tragic, the epic, and the unusual, and as his previous drama Pyare Afzal has shown, in some cases it succeeds.
It's true that Pyare Afzal swept the nation with its lovable, earnest protagonist, its heartbreaking love story and a hint of that filmi touch.
In his latest serial Mera Naam Yousuf Hai, which aired yesterday, Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar tackles honour and the idea of fate — whether one has control over one's destiny or not.
The opening sequence:
As Mera Naam Yousuf Hai begins we're introduced straight away to the main leads — Yousuf (Imran Abbas) a young, aspiring, dreamy musician, who is taken in at first glance by Zulekha (Maya Ali), the daughter of a somewhat stern and humourless Moulvi (Waseem Abbas). So far, no slacker pacing in this drama! Fingers crossed that continues.
We begin with Yousuf clambering onto a train with only minutes to spare — he manages to leap into the last train carriage, where, as fate would have it, Zulekha's family's bridal party is seated as they're returning from a family wedding. Hats off to cinematographer Qasim Ali Mureed for these great shots.
In the train sequence, his lens captured controlled chaos perfectly. After all, who hasn’t experienced the crush of fellow passengers and the lull of blissful rocking of a rail gaddi? The vérité footage of the railway station was also a nice touch.
The love connection:
Zulekha and Yousuf’s chance meeting throws our dreamy hero into a reverie at just the mention of her name, and he's off on his blue scooter to stalk, sorry, I mean track her down. Meanwhile, the heroine prepares to fight off marriage proposals from both the paternal and maternal sides of her warring (or maybe just hostile) clan.
As far as first episodes go, this one had the right mix of placing us in the thick of the action, introducing multiple characters and leaving us hanging on an enticing hook. There is a hint of star-crossed lovers with the strict and disciplined Moulvi in direct contrast with Yousuf’s supportive father Wajeed Ahmed (Behroze Sabzwari). The begums of the household, however, are a different matter altogether.
Moulvi’s sahib’s Afia begum (Hina Khwaja Bayata) appears to be simmering on the slow fires of revenge, now and then showering sparks on her in-laws. Meanwhile, Ahmed sahib’s wife can't see good prospects for her husband, son Yousuf and daughter Mahruk.
Does the director make the cut?
Director Mehreen Jabbar managed to keep Khalil sahib’s flair for drama under her subtle control. She hasn't let the dialogue overpower the narrative. It helps that the drama's production values are excellent as is the visual story telling with hints at the character's inner lives — an image of Zulekha feeding caged pigeons being the highlight.
Though the drama has similarities with Pyare Afzal and Sadqay Tumhare — sharing a Moluvi albeit with a different set of leanings as well as a lovable loser of a protagonist — with a badle ki aag stoking mother, sympathetic siblings, and a tale of star crossed lovers, here Khalil sahib plays up the tropes and themes that he favours.
We keep coming back to the women...
Khalil Ur Rehman Qamar’s heroines are spunky and fairly independent thinkers. Though it's still too early to judge, one wonders why then he must always confine them to the home and chain them to ideas of love and marriage? When will we see another Rakhi — the hardworking and hard-as-nails bricklayer/kiln worker of Mein Mar Gai Shaukat Ali who can take that verve outside the home?
For now, as it stands, Mera Naam Yousuf Hai has the makings of an interesting drama backed by Khalil sahib’s solid writing chops, Mehreen Jabbar’s able direction and a cast that makes each of the characters shine.
Maya Ali’s restrained performance as Zulekha proves she's a director’s actor and so far Mehreen Jabbar has guided her well. Imran Abbas, who seems perennially youthful, also, pardon the pun, strikes a chord as the dreamer Yousuf. But if there was an actor who stole the spotlight today, it has to be Hina Khwaja Bayat.
Her Afia Begum was all shades of calcified bitter disappointment with her lot in life, complete with sharp barbs and calculated motives in what seems to be revenge with high stakes. That she could convey all this with one raised eyebrow and a stern expression is something to look forward to in future episodes.
While Zulekha and Yousuf are set to take center stage, the characters also can’t escape the historical pairing of their names though it remains to be seen if that theme will be explored.
In the meantime, we're left waiting in anticipation at the plight of the young lovers.
Sadaf Siddique is freelance writer, film and drama enthusiast and sometime drama queen not necessarily in that order.