‘Dhoop ki Deewar’ makes you cry but you can’t stop watching

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By Maliha Rehman

‘Dhoop ki Deewar’ is not for the weak at heart.

The web-series is not your typical desi TV drama. Four episodes in, the story moves fluidly from scene to scene without unnecessary drags or controversial dialogues. It is, however, a story that is heavily laced with grief, knitted together by a series of heartbreaking scenes. The initial few scenes of the first episode may have been happy go lucky but then, with tragedy careening into the lives of the characters, the sadness swoops in; deeply moving, so real that it tears into you.

You can’t help but cry but you also can’t stop watching.

It is inevitable that any story revolving around an Indo-Pak theme and cross-border military sacrifices will always be a heavily emotional one. Dhoop ki Deewar’s trailer indicates as much, introducing the two main leads Sajal Ahad Mir and Ahad Raza Mir as the children of soldiers who have been martyred. It is expected to be a painful story. But this story’s strength is the exceptionally talented ensemble that carries it forward and gives it life.

Umera Ahmed proves her mettle with realistic, poignant dialogues and Haseeb Hasan directs with acute sensitivity, the camera capturing changing emotions, shadows, light and the two homes, one in India and the other in Pakistan. The two main leads, Ahad and Sajal, may have been instrumental in drawing eyeballs towards the series but the rest of the cast is just as powerful: Zaib Rehman, Samina Ahmed, Manzar Sehbai, Samiya Mumtaz and Savera Nadeem. Hollow-eyed, perplexed, they fumble their way after the men in their lives are martyred in war.

Herein, also, lies the difference between Dhoop ki Deewar and the many other stories of cross-border war that one has seen. Most such stories culminate with a soldier getting martyred and being honored by his country. Dhoop ki Deewar, though, starts from this very point, once the state funeral and news headlines fade out and broken families are left trying to make sense of the tragedy that has hit them.

In one particular scene, Zaib Rehman stares listlessly at the picture of her martyred son and her daughter consoles her by making the generic statement that martyrs never truly die. Zeb breaks into tears and sobs out hysterically, “Kon kehta hai keh shaheed nahin martay? Koi maa say poochhay who batayegi (Who says martyrs don’t die? Ask a martyr’s mother and she will tell you that they die!)”

In another scene, it is uttered, “‘Shaheed toh ek hua hai, baqi sub toh zinda hain’ (one person has been martyred but the rest of the family is alive).”

On either side of the border, both the families of martyred soldiers writhe in pain. Sobs resonate through their homes at night and depression settles in. It is in this scenario that Vishal, played by Ahad, and Sara, played by Sajal, connect as kindred spirits. They first get to know of each other when they fight online, following their fathers’ deaths, bolstered by patriotism and the pride they feel for their fathers’ sacrifices. Later, once the dust settles and life fails to resume to normalcy, they connect online in melancholic nights, trying to make sense of a mother getting addicted to anti-depressants, grandparents clinging towards them for strength, siblings left uncared for and the sheer weight of responsibility that now rests on their young shoulders.

It’s interesting how a number of side-plots connect with the main one. There are relatives who make demands for their share of the inheritance now that the only male son has passed away. A young widow is pressurized to continue living with her in-laws because their daughters refuse to take responsibility for them despite their brother’s death. A mother-in-law and daughter-in-law vent against each other as they stare into a dark, dismal future where they may always have to live together.

Ahad and Sajal, incidentally, play very young characters – both Vishal and Sara are studying in A-levels, I believe. The actors are, of course, much older but it is ingenious how they transform into their roles. The awkward speech, confused movements and innocence is so clearly that of two teenagers.

If there is something missing in the drama, it is lighter moments. Dhoop ki Deewar is unrelentingly sad. But then again, four episodes in and portraying the aftermath of a tragedy, light, humorous scenes perhaps can’t be injected.

Given its exceptional storytelling, it is a pity that Dhoop ki Deewar cannot be easily seen in Pakistan. Zee5, the OTT platform where the series is airing, cannot be subscribed to via Pakistani credit cards and I only managed to see the episodes because they have been pirated on to a number of online sites.

It is also a pity that prior to the series’ airing, the trailer triggered an outpouring of vitriol on social media. The series was accused to be going against the Two-Nation Theory which lead to the founding of Pakistan, stating that Hindus and Muslims are two completely different communities that need to have separate countries of their own. In retrospect, perhaps sentiments were bound to get riled. Relations between India and Pakistan remain tense and with Kashmir in the equation, they probably will continue to be so.

There is, as of yet,  no indication of a romance blossoming between Vishal and Sara – another criticism that had been leveled against the drama on the pretext that it encourages inter-religion romantic relationships. If the story does veer towards the two of them falling in love, it is hopefully going to be handled intelligently, given Umera Ahmed and Haseeb Hasan’s expertise.

For now, Dhoop ki Deewar doesn’t refute the Two-Nation Theory. It may be showing the similarities on both sides of the border – a love for cricket, a love for dramas and movies from either side of the border, a similar language – but it also subtly shows some of the differences, particularly of religion. The grandmother in India does her puja while in Pakistan, the Quran is read out loud in the early hours of the morning.

The pain of war and of losing a loved one is, however, the same on a very human level. Dhoop ki Deewar, from these first few episodes, isn’t trying to reconcile India and Pakistan. It’s just telling a story of pain and loss and telling it so well that it seems real. In many ways, it is real. This suffering must be endured by the families of so many martyrs in both India and Pakistan, with the line of control crossfire never really ceasing

It’s not for the weak at heart. But it’s a beautiful series.

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‘Dhoop ki Deewar’ makes you cry but you can’t stop watching