by mh musings
Jurm, meaning Crime, is a thought-provoking Pakistani crime thriller limited series, written by Shah Yasir and directed by the award-winning Mehreen Jabbar. Starring Wahaj Ali, Dur-e-Fishan Saleem, Tooba Siddiqui, Atiqa Odho, Ehtashamuddin, Zhalay Sarhadi, Kashif Hussain, Maha Hasan and more, it features a dual narrative film noir, blending seamlessly in and out of the past and present as the mystery slowly unfolds.
The series opens with a young couple, Daniyal (Wahaj Ali) and Aila (Dur-e-Fishan) who go out on a special date. After their dinner, their car gets hijacked during a stop at a remote tea stall. Daniyal tries to protect Aila but is beaten and left on the street while Aila is abducted by the hooligans. The driver has been taken behind a bush, presumably shot to death. By the time Daniyal comes to, the car and all traces of Aila are gone.
There is more to this crime than meets the eye as Daniyal is detained, questioned and eventually arrested. Simultaneously, a popular vlogger with aspirations to be a journalist, is publishing salacious details of the story, implicating more people than one might have originally thought.
Is Daniyal an aggrieved husband or the mastermind behind the crime against his wife? Is he a psychologically oppressed son using his marriage to take a stand or an innocent victim? Is Aila’s estranged father somehow involved? Is Daniyal’s flighty mother acting on her disappointment in her son’s choice for a wife?
There are many plausible theories for this whodunit and in a tight pace of storytelling, color graded in sepia overtones in its filtering effects, the makers force the audience to focus on the intriguing narrative, the characters and their contexts. It is almost as though by muting the vibrant color contrasts customary in prime-time TV series, any aesthetic distractions have been removed.
Similarly, sets and costumes serve their purpose but they remain non-descript and in the background. Director Mehreen focuses more on the characters and the spaces they consume over any other extraneous details. And the actors deliver to their roles, with standout performances from Wahaj Ali as the mild-mannered and sensitive Daniyal, Kashif Hussain as the nonchalant but relentless inspector, Maha Hasan as the aggravating journalist wannabe, and Zhalay Sarhadi as the morally incorruptible Zakia. Each character has depth and their own history, making it a multi-dimensional presentation even though it very easily could have been monolithic and boring.
If you are intrigued and wish to watch, you can do so here. It is available with English subtitles.
This ends the spoiler-free portion of this review. In the next sections, I wish to explore the themes in the script that made it a worthy watch for me, especially in how it pushes the boundaries for what is meant by a ‘crime’.
SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF LIFE’S LONGING FOR ITSELF ~
Kahlil Gibran on Children in The Prophet
Kahlil Gibran also says, “(Children…) They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.” So often parents forget this and treat the children as the means to fulfill their own aspirations, whether it fits the child or not.
Daniyal, the only son and an artist at heart, is often belittled by his business tycoon father who runs an ad agency. His mother uses all sorts of meditations and tarot card reading as her coping mechanism, seemingly detached from the practicalities of life. Daniyal, who feels misunderstood and underappreciated, escapes into his art. He cannot do anything right. As the only son, he is under pressure to step up to business responsibilities and to be married, and yet his father constantly undermines his capabilities and choices. He is a very unhappy young man and it is at this junction in his life that he meets the older Samiya, who is a competent businesswoman in charge of running operations at the company.
When Daniyal is brought into the company to start learning the ropes, Samiya takes him under her wing, sees the potential in him and gently coaxes the best out of him as a creative director. Feeling valued for the first time, Daniyal gravitates towards Samiya.
A divorcee and a career driven woman, Samiya is self-assured in who she is and what she wants. She doesn’t want the messiness of a relationship nor take her focus off her ambitions. Whatever she feels for Daniyal doesn’t outweigh her need for her independence. Even though Daniyal professes deep love, she forces them apart with no apparent sense of regret.
Late in his relationship with Aila, he doubts his ability to move on from Samiya, tells Aila the truth and he tries to come back to Samiya. However, she still remains firm. Part of the reason is the ageism and social intolerance for a relationship like theirs, even though within Islamic principles this is perfectly acceptable as Prophet Muhammad (pbh) was happily married to Khadijah, the first believer of Islam, who was a widow 15 years his senior at the time of their marriage.
Aila, even though a product of a broken home, is raised by her single mother with a lot of love, who enabled her sense of confidence and ambition. Aila pursues Daniyal in college and after Samiya’s rejection, he entertains Aila’s advances and chooses to marry her. A part of him remains in love with Samiya but he decides to move on with Aila.
It is interesting that due to the stereotypical expectations from children, Daniyal lost his self-expression under his father’s glare and his mother did not compensate. Instead of confronting the status quo, she hid in her lavish comfort and let her mind escape. As a result, even though a man, Daniyal struggled to establish a sense of self in a patriarchal world. There seems no understanding for his artistic sensibilities. Isn’t it a crime when parents forget that children are entrusted to them to nurture and to cherish, helping them become the best version of themselves?
In contrast, we have both Samiya and Aila as bold and progressive. In Aila’s case we are shown that her mental strength, confidence and liberated thoughts are rooted in her loving upbringing. One can surmise that Samiya probably had similar.
In a lower socio-economic strata, we see Zakia be the disciplinarian and the moral compass in her poverty-stricken household, trying to give her son a better view of the world than what he learns from his crook of a father. Even though less educated and surrounded by the filth her husband has become, the approach to raising her son remains rooted in Islamic values, strict but loving. Comparatively, Daniyal’s family is a failed system despite the social stamp of approval they have of being a ‘respectable family’.
Through these thematic presentations, the choices and stereotypes unleashed by the injustices in parenting styles are a subtle but important message.
CLICK BAIT ISN’T NEWS
Ashley is the poster child for new age media, where journalistic integrity is compromised for increasing follower numbers and account engagement. She doesn’t verify sources of her news and just publishes them. She shrugs off culpability by believing that she is doing a public service by bringing people the truth. However, half-truths are just as harmful as lies and fake news is worse.
She inadvertently destroys the credibility and the lives of people with her insinuations. Her irresponsible approach to journalism is an example of one of the worst, persistent social crimes in modern history. By abusing the power of media and social media platforms, lives get changed and people are treated as guilty until proven innocent. Sometimes the burden of proof is too high and grave injustice gets meted out to the innocent, such as Daniyal who remained incarcerated until the true criminal confessed.
In this crime, just as these so-called journalists are to blame, so are the gullible consumers who choose to sensationalize the fake news instead of taking the time to verify it.
THE BANALITY OF MISOGYNY
In 1961, when covering the end of the trial for Holocaust perpetrator and Nazi operative Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt coined the phrase ‘the banality of evil’ when interpreting Eichmann. He ‘performed evil deeds without evil intentions’, almost detached ‘from the reality of his evil acts’. Professor Judith Butler of University of California, Berkeley, explains well in this 2011 article in The Guardian. “…if a crime against humanity had become in some sense "banal" it was precisely because it was committed in a daily way, systematically, without being adequately named and opposed. In a sense, by calling a crime against humanity "banal", she was trying to point to the way in which the crime had become for the criminals accepted, routinised, and implemented without moral revulsion and political indignation and resistance.”
Drawing a similar parallel to the systematic misogyny in patriarchal societies, I propose that men (and many times women) carry out misogynistic acts without misogynistic intentions. It has become accepted and embedded without provoking any moral checkpoints on the justice of such practices. I pick on a couple of subtle examples in Jurm.
While Daniyal is being held at the police station, his mother Shahana wants to go to the station. Father Mujib shuts her down disdainfully, years worth of his arrogance in his voice when he questions how she can possibly be helpful. Shahana does not visibly flinch. He is willing to take Aila’s mother, who is a working woman and a teacher, but he disrespects his own homemaker wife. Doesn’t he feed the assumption that unless one is a professional woman, her voice doesn’t count? He is obviously not threatened by women in power since his chosen CEO is a woman but he is clear about the established pecking order in his home. And so is Shahana.
It is poetic justice then that, later in the show, she is the one who masterminds the prisoner’s dilemma that makes Hamid confess to the crime. She focuses on the human element and understands that Hamid’s wife was the key to this problem.
Another thread of note is how Samiya chooses to end her relationship with Daniyal because she knew their age difference and her divorcee status would make things difficult. This misogynistic belief makes it easier for her to turn away from her emotions and focus on herself and her career. The prior Islamic reference to the Prophet Muhammad’s life aside, which sets precedence for such an arrangement being completely acceptable from a religious standpoint, would the same moral standard be applicable if it is a much older divorced man who is in love with an unmarried, eligible, young girl? Would he be judged the same?
No, mostly likely it is the young girl who will be judged for loving a divorced man.
The double standards are deafening. The way systemic misogyny shapes how women are treated is just as tragic as how women have internalized it and either accept it or arm themselves to bend around it. Samiya chooses to let Daniyal go rather than to take on the uphill fight of establishing a relationship she cannot dignify. Isn’t this kind of social prejudice a crime?
BEING ABLE TO CHOOSE SELF OVER IMAGE
Samiya’s portrayal of a self-aware, progressive woman who knows how to establish her boundaries is laudable. She’s worked for years as the company’s CEO and has obviously maintained her respect in Mujib’s eyes through her competence and merit. She has already taken the step of divorce once, choosing herself over living a life in misery with someone she cannot compromise with. We are also shown Naseema, Aila’s mother, as a divorcee but her story is etched in more regrets than we see in Samiya, perhaps because she had a child to raise.
Even though Dimple Kapadia’s portrayal of Tara Jaiswal remains my favorite for a middle-aged single woman who finds herself in an unnamed relationship with the young artist Siddharth by Akshay Khanna in Dil Chahta Hai (2001), this concept of choosing the self over needing to maintain a perceived image by society is so important. We women get beaten into submission to the point that most of us do not even know how to define self. We are so trained to deny our emotions that we do not fully understand what makes us truly happy. Accomplishments and self-actualization are often divergent, and the consequent unhappiness leads to greater forms of injustice as we project the holes within us on to others.
This is not only applicable to women, as we discover through the sensitive portrayal of Daniyal by Wahaj. He is an internally conflicted young man who has never had the luxury to fully define his own path. Accepting that he cannot fight for Samiya, he eventually relents to Aila, perhaps taking refuge in her decisiveness and strength. He uses her words to ask for independence post marriage. What he could not fight for in something that truly mattered to him (Samiya), he projects through a situation (the marriage the family demands), where he can articulate what he wants. Instead of trying to appease his parents’ every expectation of him, he takes a first step towards articulating a deviating desire. In this instance, he chooses his self over a predefined version of himself.
Robbing people of the dignity and privilege of being able to speak for themselves, not giving them the room to define their individual state, not letting them take pride in choosing self over a defined image, are most fundamental crimes in human existence. Everyone has a right to choose for themselves; however, interpretation of this birth right has become subjective as a fallout of imposing social structures and accepted hierarchies.
CLASSISM IS A SOCIAL DISEASE
Class Action, a US based nonprofit organization that works to end classism and extreme inequality, defines classism as: “Classism is differential treatment based on social class or perceived social class. Classism is the systematic oppression of subordinated class groups to advantage and strengthen the dominant class groups. It’s the systematic assignment of characteristics of worth and ability based on social class.”
The root of the most blatant crime – the botched kidnapping that leads to Aila’s death – is rooted in the stark difference between the rich and the poor in capitalist societies. Whereas a chauffeur struggles to make ends meet, the family he serves doesn’t spare any expense for their only son’s lavish wedding. What they spend on flowers alone can probably fund years worth of livelihood for Hamid’s family. This level of conspicuous consumption has truly become a social malaise. It tempts those who suffer from poverty, and it leads to toxic competition among the rich who often resort to ill-gotten means to acquire more wealth.
Thus, Hamid’s choice of a life of crime is no different than the corrupted rich, making them both criminals. However, due to the perceived differences in their stations in life, with classism creating layers of social inequality and discrimination at normative, cultural and institutional levels, justice is served unequally. This problem can keep festering like gangrene unless there is a concerted effort to re-align the moral compass in how society’s riches are gained and redistributed among all stakeholders.
In concept, this socialistic approach to the sharing of wealth can dilute the formation of classism but the irony in the story is that Hamid targets Daniyal, even though it was Daniyal who had given him a job despite poor references. It was also Daniyal who was concerned about Hamid’s little boy and didn’t want him harmed regardless of the father’s misdeeds. Sometimes, we bite the hands that feed us, validating the constructs and existence of classism.
Jurm is intelligent cinema that invites introspection. The short series is far more impactful than plots that are often dragged for ratings, ad dollars and more. The storytelling seems more mission driven and complete, presenting a microcosm of social injustices that can be extrapolated to analyze more widespread quandaries. Kudos to the team for exploring a rare genre for Pakistani television.
It ends on a hopeful note of possible second chances and of having the courage to break through or re-shape some of the perceived barriers. In the lives of these characters, perhaps there will be a paradigm shift in the kinds of crimes that will pervade their realities but we need to accept that injustice will never go away. In some form or another, human beings will continue to commit crimes against humanity. It is the most banal truth of all.
(c) mh musings 2023
 Taken from an essay by Thomas White, for Aeon https://aeon.co/ideas/what-did-hannah-arendt-really-mean-by-the-banality-of-evil
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