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I am currently watching a new drama, titled Qaid e Tanhai (Imprisoning Solitude). Now, bearing in mind, that I do not have formal knowledge of Urdu, I understand the title to mean that each of the characters are imprisoned in their own solitude (be it by choice or circumstances). The drama is currently showing on HumTV, and stars Sawaira Nadeem (playing Aisha) and Faisal Qureshi (playing Mois). The drama is written by Umera Ahmed and directed by Baber Javed, who also directed Meri Zaat Zara-e-Benishan. I see this drama as an alternate universe version of Meri Zaat Zara-e-Benishan, except in this drama, the hapless, easily manipulated son and husband did not divorce his wife (either of his wives).
The drama is being revealed on two separate tracks. The viewer gets to see what happened 14 years ago and what is happening in the present, simultaneously. I have to admit, I am much more interested in what will happen now, rather than what may or may have not happened 14 years ago.
The Past –
Aisha and Mois are maternal cousins and are in love. Aisha’s family is better off financially, and this makes Mois’ mother bitter, who wants to see her children stand on the same level as Aisha’s family. Mois’ mother is against their match, but Mois is able to convince her. Aisha and Mois get married. They have a baby daughter.
Mois also has two sisters, Maliha and Madiha. Neither one is married, most likely because Mois’ mother (played by Saba Parvaiz) is known for her sharp tongue and no one wants to risk getting a daughter-in-law like the mother. Maliha is exactly like her mother, full of bitterness and guile, and a person who takes pleasure in making others bow under her demands. In order to ensure his sister’s happiness, Aisha’s brother sacrifices his love to marry Maliha. This leads to a “wata sata” situation; if the husband angers his wife, his sister will suffer in the other household. Despite all of that, Mois and Aisha are living happily, because Mois does not allow himself to be manipulated into hurting his wife whenever his sister decides to have a temper tantrum.
On another track, Madiha (Mois’ younger sister) is in love with Jawad, Mois’ best friend. When Mois refuses to ask his friend to marry Madiha, Aisha approaches him in Mois’ stead. Jawad turns down Madiha’s proposal, and Madiha is heartbroken.
Eventually, after getting tired of working at a failing business, Mois insists on going abroad so that he can earn a better life for his family (immediate and extended). Aisha is against it, because she knows that she will lose the only support she has in her sasural if her husband leaves. She begs him not to leave her, but Mois does not listen. She then tells him to choose. She reminds him that she only wants him, and not any wealth he may bring. She knows that Mois is going abroad so he can fulfill his family’s over-the-top wishes. Aisha tells him to choose between his family and her. Mois chooses to go to England, leaving Aisha behind.
In the beginning, Mois struggles, but hides the reality of his stay in England from his family. Mois’ mother begins to pressure him to marry a citizen of England so that he can get his papers. Mois refuses, but teases Aisha about a girlfriend he has in England named, Anila. As time goes by, we see that Aisha is getting more and more frustrated about Mois’s teasing because she does not know whether she should be taking him seriously or not. Mois is shown as being conflicted, because he may say that he is only friends with Anila, but he also hides his marital status from Anila.
The more time Mois spends in England and around a stress-free Anila, the more alienated Mois becomes from his family (especially Aisha). Mois becomes frustrated with the constant complaints he has to hear from his wife and mother, and stops calling home. Despite being warned by concerned friends, he blames Aisha for everything, and seeks out Anila every chance he gets.
As years go by, Mois is unable to return home, and Aisha comes to rely on Jawad for everything. Where Mois’ family treat her like an unpaid servant, Jawad compliments her, takes her daughter to the doctor, and is willing to talk to her. Where Mois’ mother has her doing chores even when she is sick, Jawad brings her medicine and tells her to stop working. One day, Jawad confesses to Aisha that he loves her and wants to marry her. He tells her that even is they do not marry, he will not marry Madiha. Aisha is horrified and walks away, telling him to never talk to her again.
Aisha tries to stay away from Jawad, wanting nothing to do with him. When he finally forces her to talk to him, she demands to know what he was thinking and tells him that she is in love with her husband. Jawad asks, “Even if he doesn’t love you?” Aisha, even at this point responds, “Even than.” Aisha’s mother in law notices Aisha’s behavior toward Jawad, and complains to Mois. Mois calls Aisha and demands that she be nice to Jawad or else. When Aisha asks whether he will divorce her over this issue, he responds that he just might. When Aisha says that he couldn’t live without her, Mois reminds her that he has been living without her for 4 years and has been happy without her. Aisha is shocked and heartbroken to hear this, and when she learns that Mois is completely under Anila’s spell from Mois’ roommate, Aisha gives up on Mois and makes the decision to be with Jawad. From her behavior and her thoughts, one can see she is in love with Mois, but sees no reason to stay when he no longer loves her.
One day Mois’ mother overhears Aisha telling Jawad that she will marry him and plans on getting a divorce from Mois. One by one, everyone begins to berate Aisha for being a “scarlet” woman, when she dared to take another woman’s man and betrayed her own husband. When Mois finds out, he refuses to believe it, thinking his mother is only being malicious. When Aisha refuses to talk to him over the phone, he decides to come home. It is only when he is distraught over Aisha’s supposed betrayal does he reveal to Anila that he is already married.
When Mois returns, he demands to know what has been happening, refusing to believe that his best friend and wife could betray him. Aisha resolutely confirms it, telling him that she wants a divorce and will marry Jawad. Once Aisha has confessed all, Jawad backs off, saying that he cannot marry her because “mommy will not agree”. Aisha then leaves her in-laws home, going back to her brother’s house. When her brother realizes what Aisha has done, he demands that Aisha apologize to Mois and go back to her real home. When Mois is leaving, Mois’ mother says that she will make Aisha suffer for what she has done and Mois says he doesn’t care what happens to Aisha, he just wants to go back to England.
When Mois returns to England, he asks Anila to marry him. Anila agrees, but only on the condition that he divorce Aisha. Mois lies and says that he has divorced Aisha and the two marry. When Anila finds out, years later, that Mois is still married to Aisha, Anila separates from Mois. When Mois asks her to return to him, Anila says she will only do so if he divorces Aisha. Anila dies soon after, when the two are on the cusp of divorce.
Mois has a son, named Farhan, with Anila. Mois returns to Pakistan for the first time since he left after his last conversation with Aisha. Mois still keeps a picture of Aisha in his wallet, but he is still angry at her for what she did.
Mois has sent money to his family in Pakistan, but Aisha did not get any of the money. Aisha has had no contact with Mois for the past 14 years; she has spent the last 14 years living like a servant, tending to her in-laws’ needs. We know that Maliha now has a son, whom she wants to marry to Aisha and Mois’ daughter, named Noor. Madiha did not marry Jawad, and blames Aisha for this. None of Mois’ family want Aisha and Mois to be reunited, because they do not want to put an end to their gravy train. They believe that if Aisha went to the UK with Mois he would stop sending money to Pakistan and no one wants to see that happen.
Aisha has been broken by her losses. She doesn’t engage with anyone and has no complaints. She quietly listens to everything she is told to do and acts accordingly. Her passiveness angers her daughter, who wants her to fight back. Noor hates and pities her mother’s life of drudgery, and wants nothing more than to be free of her father’s family. But she does not want to gain that freedom alone; she wants to free her mother, as well. Noor has grown up in a household whose members relish reminding her of her mother’s betrayal and weakness. They tell her to be thankful that Maliha’s son is willing to marry her. And Noor not only hates them for their hypocrisies, but she hates her father for leaving her in this hell hole and forging a new life for himself in the UK.
When Mois and Farhan return to Pakistan, Mois sees his daughter for the first time in over a decade. It is only then that he realizes how much Noor hates him for his abandonment. She is bitter about all of the attention that her half-brother got, and is hateful to Farhan because of that bitterness. Mois, seeing Noor’s behavior, accuses Aisha of turning his daughter against him. Aisha simply walks away. In the three or four conversations they have during Mois’ visit, she reminds him that she knows how unimportant she is to him. She knows that he can easily live without her. In their conversations, we also find out that Aisha hasn’t been to the beach since the last time he brought her. We know that Aisha never went out, at all.
Farhan meets his stepmother and half-sister for the first time when he comes to Pakistan. No matter how much he tries to befriend Noor, he is rejected. He instantly attaches himself to Aisha, and, the viewer can see, worships her. He talks to her, engages with her, buys her clothes, wants to take her out, and worries about her. No matter how much the family tries to separate them, Farhan finds a way to be with his stepmother.
Mois suggests the idea of taking Noor with him to the UK. Noor absolutely refuses, unless her mother goes with her. Noor sees that this might be the only way to help her mother escape her poisonous in-laws. Mois tells Aisha that she has to go with them; Aisha agrees only if she can come back in six months. When the family leaves, no one comes to say goodbye to Noor and Aisha. When the family arrives in Mois’ UK home, Aisha is shocked to be told that she will be sharing a room with Mois.
Aisha and Mois struggle to get comfortable with each other, all without discussing what happened in the past. Mois takes Aisha out to buy some clothes, and realizes that Aisha has not had coffee in 15 years, which makes him think about other things that Aisha may have been forced to give up. Noor acts out by scribbling on Farhan’s family pictures, because she does not like sharing her mother or being around the father she felt abandoned by.
When Mois and Aisha go to a friend’s house for dinner, Mois is called out for his bad behavior toward Aisha. When Mois demands what stories she has been telling people, Aisha denies the charge and tells him that it was a mistake for him to bring her to the UK. Noor once again acts out by going out late at night. When Mois shouts at her for her irresponsible behavior, this becomes an opportunity for Noor to bond with her brother, Farhan. Aisha also points out that he shouldn’t have behaved this way toward their daughter, because Noor is all she has in the world.
Farhan is curious about why his father married Aisha, and when Aisha tells him that it was probably because Mois fell in love with Anila, Farhan asks about whether Mois ever loved Aisha. Aisha tells him that Mois might have loved her once, but he no longer does. Mois angrily tells Aisha not to tell such things to Farhan and demands to know why he should be the one at fault for their separation, when she was the one that fell in love with another.
While reflecting on all that has happened in the past, and the part that his behavior may have played in Aisha’s actions, Mois apologizes to Aisha. He tells her that he is sorry for leaving and for putting such a burden on her. He then asks her why she didn’t ever apologize to him. He was waiting for her apology, so that he could forgive her. When Aisha asks if that is what he wants 18 years later, at his assent, she says the words. When Mois expresses that his anger was at her replacing him with Jawad in her heart, Aisha is quick to point out that she never loved Jawad. She reminds Mois that he was a man, he could have the female companionship that he was missing in his life and be open about it, but she couldn’t do that. She had to marry Jawad in order to make their relationship respected in society’s eyes. Mois admits that he realized a part of that, but that he only realized years into his marriage with Anila when the anger faded. At the time, it was too late to go back to Aisha. Mois asks Aisha to stay, and Aisha rests her head on his shoulder, tacitly agreeing to stay. Noor and Farhan watch their parents from afar, and Farhan smilingly calls Aisha mom. The drama ends with the shot of the entire family walking home, with big smiles on their faces.
I am still wondering why Aisha stayed. Part of the reason might be that she did not want to ruin her brother’s marriage, but I still don’t get why she stayed in this hell hole. The Aisha of the past was strong and fiery. She spoke her mind. She told Mois to choose. But in the end, she remained in her sasural and suffered for years, making her daughter suffer with her. This was an educated woman, but she chose to live the life of a servant, dependent on others for everything. Why couldn’t she go out and get a job? From what I understand of the ending, it is because she felt she deserved the punishment. She still loved Mois. She betrayed him. So this was her atonement. I don’t agree, but that is apparently what was supposed to happen to her for her to make up for what she did.
I wanted to see Aisha go off on Mois for his abandonment, and for daring to say that she turned Noor against him. That didn’t happen. What I feared would happen, did. He apologized and Aisha immediately forgave him for his betrayal, his abandonment, and the degradation of the past 14 years. I wanted the focus to be on the present. I wanted to see some groveling on Mois’ part. Not the two sentences he said that had Aisha melting.
Alas, it seemed that the writer thought that was enough because Aisha did her own betraying. But the two betrayals were not equal. Mois left her in a household where he knew his mother would make Aisha’s life hell. She did. Mois befriended Anila and called her his girlfriend in front of Aisha. He refused to listen to the troubles that Aisha was having. He began to ignore her calls. He never came back. And then, when Aisha told him that she wanted a divorce, there was nothing beyond one heated argument? He knows that Jawad abandoned Aisha; he knows that Aisha has nowhere to go. He knows that he can forgive Aisha, and try to build a relationship with her, but no. He goes off and gets married. He builds a big business and house. And he has a son. And Aisha’s life is frozen at one point until Mois decides to come back.
Anila’s character was deliberately kept a mystery for the most part. In the present, she is shown as a woman who wouldn’t care for her husband or child. She didn’t cook for them, clean after them, and didn’t do all the little things that Aisha did for Farhan. In the past, we knew that she was falling in love with Mois, and she was open and up front about her interest to him. In the last episode, we see a whole new side of Anila. When they get married, we see a woman that wants to talk to her in-laws, a woman that wants to visit them in Pakistan, a woman who lovingly buys clothes for her baby and is willing to buy clothes for her stepdaughter. She worries about Mois and his relationship with his daughter. This new picture made me like her. When Mois comes crying to her about Aisha’s betrayal, Anila is more than willing to point out some truths to him. I love how she says that Desi men are the ones that betray the women, and she calls him out for not divorcing Aisha and leaving her in a state of limbo just because he feels like it. I also liked how she refuses to forgive Mois, and stay with him after his betrayal. She’s open about her lack of respect for him. The fact that she changed so much from the women she was in the early days of her marriage to what she became in the end, it made it seem that Mois’ presence in her life broke her, too.
For a drama that started out so well, it sort of just fizzled in the end. This drama would have been so much better, if they had focused on the now instead of the past. That would’ve made it different. Saying “I’m sorry” is not good enough. Aisha knew that in the story, that’s why she didn’t say it for 18 years. She atoned for her mistakes. She was a servant to her in-laws for close to two decades. But apparently, Mois says I’m sorry and that suffices. I wanted so much more, and I’m disappointed that I didn’t get the drama I was hoping to see.
Sawaira Nadeem did a wonderful job as Aisha. We get to see the impact of what happened 14 years ago on an Aisha who seems to have just switched off. She has no desires, no thoughts of her own, and is a person who works like a robot. She doesn’t get angry and she doesn’t laugh out loud. This is a direct contrast to the young Aisha; the Aisha that loved Mois, the Aisha that begged Mois not to leave, and the Aisha that argued with her mother-in-law and her husband. Nadeem’s portrayal of Aisha is a delight to watch, I just wish that we had gotten to see her growing a backbone. I do know that Nadeem is capable of portraying a confident and mature Aisha, as well.
Faisal Qureshi returns as Mois, and my impression of this drama being an alternate universe Meri Zaat … is aided by the fact that Qureshi is acting exactly as I would have expected Arfeen Abbas to act in Meri Zaat…. It’s just that we skipped all of these years in the Meri Zaat… drama. His depression, his suppressed anger, be it at fate or his mother or Aisha, is identical to the mature mien Qureshi adopted in Meri Zaat …, not to say that this is a bad thing. I always appreciate Qureshi’s acting, and he was an enjoyable watch in this drama, as well.
The actors playing the characters of Noor and Farhan are also doing a wonderful job (Noor pictured above). Neelum Munir, who plays Noor, easily portrays the anger, frustration, and pain she feels whenever she is around her parents. The child actor playing Farhan may be a little stiff in his delivery, but he is able to convey Farhan’s sincerity in all of the scenes he is in.
The drama is on Youtube, subbed and unsubbed. I’d suggest that you give it a watch and see how you like it.