There I was, grappling with the latest episode of Ghundi. Episode three, four, it really didn’t matter which one; I just wasn’t feeling it. Uroosa Siddiqui has done some good roles previously, Sooki in the Baraat series and as an insecure nund in Kankar. But thus far even she has been unable to save a drama serial in which two guys, roommates apparently, one of whom is always lying on the double bed while the other is hovering around what appears to be the door of the ensuite bathroom, have constantly sappy discussions about the women in their lives. One professes to love a girl who teaches in a school, which, as it turns out is a place where teachers are free to talk on their cellphones while facing a classroom full of students.
I shared my angst with a friend who suggested I watch ‘Bunty I love you’ instead. “Great acting”, she said, “and amazing sarees”. Despite harbouring serious reservations thanks to its title, I decided to watch episode one anyway (there is only so much that keeps one connected to ‘back home’ when you live on foreign shores). Advantages of watching online ensure I can also move on to episodes two, three, and four in rapid succession if something takes my fancy. And this one did, which was a surprise, given the excruciating opening scene of the first episode: A party is in progress in someone’s backyard with pink and blue lights flashing on the dancers. Seated across the dance floor is a group of old men cracking sexist jokes and eyeing the dancers. There you have it, your Urdu drama-writer’s idea of ‘high society’. The scene was almost as painful to watch as the one in the first episode of Zindagi Gulzar Hai, in which Rafia (Samina Peerzada) breaks her chappal while running to the bus stop with Kashaf (Sanam Saeed) and then proceeds to hobble all over town on a pair of flip-flops the poor mochi wouldn’t charge more than two rupees to fix. There you have it, your Urdu drama writer’s idea of excruciating poverty.
[quote]There you have it, your Urdu drama-writer’s idea of ‘high society'[/quote]
Back at the dance party in ‘Bunty I love you’, one old man in particular is beginning to verge on revolting. Mehtab Patel (Abid Ali) is ogling his own daughter. He watches as she half-heartedly wards off the advances of a dance partner (Azfar Rehman), but approaches menacingly when the two young people start to whisper in a corner. This is when the viewer learns that the incredibly beautiful Dania (Saba Qamar) is not Mehtab’s daughter, but rather his wife. Hmmm…that’s promising.
He is 72; she is 29. They have been married 12 years. She was in love with her cousin, but Mehtab gave her parents a large sum of money to essentially buy her. He is nasty and possessive and never lets her forget that he paid for her. She admits to him she never loved him, that she is still in love with her cousin. Heartbroken though he is by her admission, he turns on the DVD player. On the screen are (most conveniently captured) images of her beloved accepting a pay-off from Mehtab and vowing to leave the country in exchange. Distraught, Dania turns to face him but he is slumped on the sofa with his eyes wide open. The old man is dead. Melodramatic as this may all seem it has a certain morbid fascination to it. At least it isn’t the tale of yet another cruel mother-in-law doing in the delicate new bride.
After the funeral, Mehtab’s trusted friend and lawyer Chauhan (Mehmood Akhtar) tells Dania with a diabolical glint in his eye that she must give some thought to her future; she is a beautiful and still young woman with a massive fortune. Instead of doing the expected – be outraged and tell him it’s none of his business – she is amused and invites him to talk more. She admits that she is of course very beautiful and welcomes his suggestion regarding remarriage. When he gets up to leave she clasps his hand to offer thanks. He can hardly contain his joy. At this point it dawns on the viewer that given all its twists and turns, the storyline could easily pass for a Sidney Sheldon novel. It also becomes obvious to the viewer that in the universe of Bunty, I Love You there are no good men. Not even one. Unless you count the butler, who gets paid to be loyal and super-efficient.
Mehtab claims to love his much younger wife but is really a sadist. Mehtab’s grown-up sons from his first marriage care only about how much of their father’s fortune they will inherit. Chauhan the lawyer is equal parts buffoon and smooth operator who cannot help making passes at women despite his wife’s violent reaction. Dania’s ex-fiancé comes knocking, convinced that the widow will welcome him with open arms. He lords it over her servants, smugly telling them about his close relationship with their mistress. Dania’s father shows up once, after Mehtab’s funeral along with Dania’s mother, so far one of only two minor female characters (the second being Chauhan’s wife) in the serial, which proves just how male-centric it is. Bad-male-centric. This all fits into the larger scheme of Pakistani television plays where the men-are-cads variety of ‘feminism’ is really a disguise for a strange sort of misogyny which ends up punishing women for ever daring to be different from the norm.
There were many gleeful comments on Facebook about the scene is which Chauhan’s wife slaps him after catching him with another woman. The sheepish look he gave Dania when she asks about the bruise on his face was cause for even more hilarity. Why is domestic violence funny? There is absolutely no excuse for the silly man’s roaming eye, but a beating from his wife should not be used as comic relief. Just as the many matter-of-fact slaps women have taken in many Pakistani plays is inexcusable and unacceptable. I feel the serial’s writer, Khalil ur Rehman Qamar, in trying to reverse the trend overshot the mark. Why can’t we have characters just less prone to melodrama for a change? Men or women.