A new ‘rah’ for TV dramas, in Sar-e-Rah

By Maliha Rehman

A female taxi driver, taking on the big bad world to earn for her family, and meeting some very interesting passengers on the way.

One could tell, based on the teasers, that Sar-e-Rah, produced by iDream Entertainment and airing on ARY Digital, was going to be breaking stereotypes by giving out strong, progressive statements. However, many stories seeking to be inspirational tend to drone on with long sermons. “It is not preachy,” the drama’s main lead, Saba Qamar, had asserted to me merely a few days before Sar-e-Rah was supposed to begin airing. Now, with two episodes already having released, I agree that certainly, Sar-e-Rah is not preachy.

It is, instead, thought-provoking, engaging, directed at a precise pace and written extremely intelligently. The script is laced with messages but while they hit hard, they don’t rely on tears or violence to make an impact. The successive episodes tell different stories, with Rania, played by Saba Qamar, being the unifying factor binding them together.

When her father suffers a heart attack, Rania decides to support her family by driving his taxi. It is a bold decision that is immediately met with resistance. He mother is apprehensive about what the relatives would say. Her younger brother, though unwilling to drive the taxi himself, is angry at her audacity. Her fiancé of six years feels that she is humiliating him and his family. Her phuppo – also her future mother-in-law who has been delaying the wedding because of Rania’s family’s dire finances – is livid at her behavior.

But no one else is willing to shoulder Rania’s family’s financial burdens. There is talk about what a woman should and shouldn’t do, but no constructive help from these supposedly well-meaning advisors. Saba Qamar says as much in a series of compelling scenes before she lifts her chin resolutely and steps into her ramshackle black and yellow cab.

The second episode narrates the story of a young female doctor, enacted by Sunita Marshall, who wants to adopt a baby girl. She and her husband, played by Mikaal Zulfiqar, haven’t been able to conceive a child despite having been married for six years and medical tests indicate that he has fertility issues. Nevertheless, it is she who has to bear her mother-in-law’s very vitriolic taunts on a daily basis. New obstacles come her way when she brings the baby home.

The story so far touches upon a wealth of issues; among them, dowry culture, girls being forced to wait for years after getting engaged, false societal notions of propriety, the need to educate girls, the undue preference given to sons, the opposition faced by career women, the taboos associated with a woman who hasn’t borne a child, the noxious tendency to judge and how infertility tends to be associated with women.

And yet, Sar-e-Rah doesn’t resort to lecturing. It reflects on the negativity running rampant in society while also offering glimpses of positive characters who offer support, sympathy and sound reasoning. It may be a tough world but there are also good people to be found within it and some of them step into Rania’s taxi.

Credit must be given to director Ahmed Bhatti, writer Adeel Razzaq and producer Abdullah Seja for the strong narration. Forming the backbone are the performances. The ensemble cast is a strong one and Saba Qamar is in her element. Her performance is effortless; she speaks with her eyes, modulating the tone of her voice to enact the young girl pummeled by society who finally decides to take a stand for the sake of her family and for her own identity.

‘Paison ki joi jins nahin hoti,’ she says at one point in the first episode. It’s a dialogue that stays with you long after the episode has ended. The story stays with you too.

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