Review: In Mera Naam Yousuf Hai, even a kidnapping can't hide sexism

Published May 11, 2015
Is getting married the only option for leading ladies in love stories?
Is getting married the only option for leading ladies in love stories?

Proposals, meetings, rejections, confessions and a kidnapping — the last few action-packed episodes of Mera Naam Yousuf Hai had it all, complete with a love-soaked soundtrack, the terrifying innards of a police thaana and well-timed comic relief.

It is quite a feat to pull together all these elements and still keep the story on track.

The story so far

For those who came in late, we left off with Yousuf (Imran Abbas) confessing his love for Zulaikha (Maya Ali) and though she makes all the appropriate noises that any ‘good’ girl would, she can’t help but be drawn to him. But first, she must deal with the impending nuptials her parents have arranged for her.

Maya Ali as Zulaikha.
Maya Ali as Zulaikha.

In quick succession, Zulaikha meets and refuses to marry Imran Mugeez (Taqi Ahmed), who promptly gets into a scuffle with Yousuf and his friend Taji (Mizna Waqas), which leads Zulaikha's father, Maulvi Noor Mohammed (Waseem Abbas), to drag them to the police station.

A badly beaten up Yousuf and his confession video do the rounds of Zulaikha’s household and finally cause her to examine her feelings for Yousuf.

Read also: Review: Mera Naam Yousuf Hai is a one-sided love story so far

Does Zulaikha actually stand up for what she believes in?

We're led to believe Zulaikha is coming into her own. She makes grandstanding speeches about the idea of democracy and her right to vote on the candidate of her choice.

However, in contrast to most of writer Khalil Ur Rehman Qamar’s self-assured female characters, her actions reinforce all that patriarchy holds dear.

Zulaikha as the bride-to-be.
Zulaikha as the bride-to-be.

Although she meets her groom-to-be and refuses to marry him, her refusal was not so point-blank since she has actually been doing the run around the very 'will and won't' question in the last few episodes.

And then, when her father sticks to his guns and appoints his son as a watchguard over his daughters — both father and son taking heart in the fact that 'jab democracy mulk mein toh hai nahin family mein kahan se aayegi?' — Zulaikha ultimately falls in line, choosing her wedding outfit and acquiescing to a preponed wedding date without so much as a whimper of protest (about turn much?)

Although she still wants a love marriage, the thought of a court marriage is quickly shot down so that 'baap ki sar ke topi reh jaye'. This balancing act of upholding her family’s honour while choosing her life partner feeds into the PG-13 loop that all decisions are to be met with the stamp of parental approval. So much for living life on your own terms.

Is getting married the only option for leading ladies in love stories?

Despite the questionable nature of the schemes that leading characters Farah and Lubna cooked up in a previous Khalil Ur Rehman Qamar drama, Pyarey Afzal, these schemes came of their own doing, so in a sense they had agency and made their own choices. In Mera Naam Yousuf Hai, Zulaikha claims to hold her ground but then happily plays dress up waiting, no, daring Yousuf to be her knight in shining armour and rescue her, which doesn't say much for her character's independence.

Hina Bayat Khan as Zulaikha's mother.
Hina Bayat Khan as Zulaikha's mother.

It is such a pity that all these heroines display so little spunk in matters of the heart.

I would like to reorient them to other pursuits in life, you know, such as further studies, or a job, perhaps. Heck, I’d even settle for one with an NGO.

Anyway, what ends up happening is that come wedding day, Zulaikha's groom in a no-show. Mother and daughter both rejoice and congratulate themselves on not becoming sacrificial lambs. Never mind that they were dressed to the nines and willingly walked to the altar. They still end up patting themselves on the back, but for what exactly though — waiting for events to take their course?

Much needed comic relief

Meanwhile Yousuf complies with his mashooq’s request by kidnapping the groom, hence the no-show. This is a farcical master stroke and is played to that lighthearted effect, which provides some comic relief. Taqi Ahmed carries the comic moments with aplomb while Imran Abbas and Mizna Waqas pull off the naïve and harebrained kidnappers.

Imran Abbas as Yousuf
Imran Abbas as Yousuf

They believe in taking care of their victim with good food and an early release in exchange for a promise as ransom. With such benevolent kidnappers, I wouldn't mind getting picked up either!

Acting, direction and screenplay:

In fact, the entire cast gives strong performances, even if some of the script is walking on thin air. Lead actors Maya Ali and Imran Abbas share good screen chemistry. Imran Abbas impresses with his love-struck looks and unfinished thoughts; he also shows growth in his character through nuance and body language.

Maya Ali, though a familiar face in outspoken roles like in Zidd, shows restraint in her moments of bravado as well as confusion in the face of a love she doesn’t quite know how to experience.

Mehreen Jabbar’s astute use of space and little details — the girls walking over a pathway of bricks and using windows and grates to frame the actors makes for a more layered visual experience.

In an age when most writers skip the falling-in-love piece, with easy 'cousins who know each other forever' scenarios (I second Zulaikha’s views on cousin marriages) it is refreshing to find a show that doesn’t skimp on the romance. In true Khalil Ur Rehman Qamar’s old-fashioned and filmi style, love is equated to ibaadat and true love with purity and innocence.

He also focuses a lot on the peripheral relationships — between parents, siblings and families. The interactions between Taji and Madiha (Yousuf's friend's sister) are lovely as are the family dynamics in Appa’s and Yousuf’s household.

Given his last outing with Sadqay Tumhare, it’s easy now to see where his inspirations stem from, but tread carefully Khalil sahib — your patriarchal bias is showing its true colours.

Sadaf Siddique is freelance writer, film and drama enthusiast and sometime drama queen not necessarily in that order.



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