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Review: Teri Meri Kahaniyaan ~ An Anthology Series Of Three Short Films

by mh musings


Catering to current habits in content consumption that favors short, punchy stories over rambling narratives, Urdu film Teri Meri Kahaniyaan is an anthology series of three short films, presenting completely disparate genres tied together with a single thread: concise and precise storytelling in each one, through impeccable cinematography. Each and every director, Nabeel Qureshi for Sajin Mahal, Marina Khan in her directorial debut for Pasoori and Nadeem Baig for Aik Sau Taeeswan, are accomplished visual narrators.

The range of genres starts with a horror-comedy (Sajin Mahal, written by Ali Abbas Naqvi and Basit Naqvi) based on a rag tag family still reeling from the realities of poverty imposed by the covid pandemic and who take refuge in an abandoned ‘haunted’ house; to a bright rom-com (Pasoori, written by Vasay Chaudhry) which questions stereotypes within the modern constructs of reality shows, a boisterous wedding and a woman’s right to having ambitions; and finally ends on a soulful drama (Aik Sau Taeeswaan, written by Khalil-Ur-Rehman Qamar) that articulates love, loyalty and the meaning of commitment when in a war between the heart and the mind.

All three are excellent installments in their respective genres, with each successive story becoming tighter in its narrative. Sometimes, less is more and the one that proves it most eloquently is Aik Sau Taeeswaan (AST). As a part of the audience that resonates most strongly with the study of relationship dynamics and thoughtful, mature, dialogue driven drama, the depth of message brought to life by Mehwish Hayat, Wahaj Ali, Zahid Ahmed & cast of AST spoke to me the most. Hence, the rest of this review is my musings on this last story.

Mehwish Hayat & Wahaj Ali in Aik Sau Taeeswan

If you are intrigued and do not want spoilers, please stop reading now and go watch the movie. The following sections will delve deeply into AST.

Being Alone Is Not Equal To Being Lonely

Sadaf (Mehwish Hayat) is traveling alone on a long, overnight train journey heading towards her hometown of Karachi. She is a beautiful, self-possessed woman and seems happy to be in her corner, reading Forty Rules of Love by Turkish novelist Elif Shafak. In her compartment is an older couple. An early conversation reveals that the elderly man married this much younger woman after his first wife dies, to whom she is related. Despite the age difference and a perceived injustice in the pairing, the woman is complacent with her lot in life. Sadaf absorbs this information with a quizzical look on her face while she glibly tells this stranger how her husband’s concerned, inquisitive texts are his cover for understanding how long he has to be out on his date. While in a car with his girlfriend, Afaq (Zahid Ahmed) even asks Sadaf to describe her fellow passengers and confirms that she has no one seated across from her.

Sadaf is no wronged wallflower, resigned to her marriage. There is no unresolved hurt in her eyes. Instead, she displays a full acceptance and deep understanding of her circumstances, playing with her husband as he plays with her. Filling her texts with romantic platitudes as he fills his. Within minutes, the viewer is in Sadaf’s corner with no impending judgment on her character if she indulges in a fling with Asad (Wahaj Ali), the handsome young man who takes the berth across from her later in the evening. A banker who also likes to draw, Asad embodies the free spirit of an expressive artist, dressed in a flowing white kurta and a beaded bracelet on his wrist. One immediately understands that he is internally conflicted about his desired identity. Escapism from real life can be joyful as he settles in to admire Sadaf.

Presumptions Lead to Surprises

Asad is immediately intrigued by Sadaf and her choice of reading. He has also read the book and begins to assume that he can have a dialogue with Sadaf that explores love and life. After all, the fictional story is about an unhappily married housewife Ella, who embarks on a path of self-discovery through her correspondence with a Turkish writer named Aziz. Ella comes to know him while doing the first reading of his unpublished novel in her new part-time job at a literary agency. In a parallel story woven through Ella’s narrative, we also get a fictitious recount of the legendary friendship between poet and philosopher Rumi and his beloved companion and mentor Shams of Tabriz. On the verge of what he thinks can be an engaging dialogue, Asad is stumped when he is proven wrong in his presumption that he can impress Sadaf with his philosophical understanding of the book.

Both equally flirtatious with each other, Sadaf and Asad become more comfortable in each other’s company as their journey wears on. Asad sketches a striking likelihood of Sadaf, proclaiming her chiseled beauty through his art and words. Simultaneously, underneath the veneer of a torrid affair, we see the toxic relationship Afaq has with his girlfriend, made worse by the self-loathing he has for himself.

Sadaf is as bright as Afaq is dark and one begins to hope that Asad and Sadaf find themselves in the kind of romance they deserve.

Missed Chances And Active Choices

At a long transit stop a few hours later, Asad and Sadaf both discover that the other is married, both to a partner of their choice. Asad is preparing for a divorce even though he has a young child. He lacks excitement in his marriage. To this, Sadaf says, “at least I have no children.”

When Asad understands the depth of Sadaf’s acceptance of her husband’s infidelity and how she still chooses to stay without any guilt or contempt about her choice, he begins to question his own desires. As the train is nearing Karachi, he takes the sketch he had made of her and crumbles it by saying, “My intention was not right.” As they are leaving the compartment, Sadaf’s words give meaning to the title of the story (Aik Sau Taeeswan means 123rd). As a woman, she will have 200 men who will come to her and court her. Asad is her 123rd; but loyalty is about not choosing disloyalty when given the chance to do so.

On the platform, where Afaq has arrived to pick up Sadaf, Asad and Sadaf stare at each other for a long time before bidding goodbye. Maybe both ponder the missed chances with each other, or maybe they value this brief interlude that awakens them to the possibilities in this universe, but they also appreciate the strength of the choices they have already made in their lives.

A Woman Of Substance

Even though Asad had assumed that he would be the one lecturing Sadaf about love, it is he who gets schooled by an introspective and articulate woman. The prejudice that only a weak woman chooses to stay with a habitual cheater is questionable. She is not staying because she feels it is her fault and she deserves his infidelity. She is staying because she saw the beauty in Afaq’s artistic soul; understands his insecurities; recognizes his perverse, self-destructive inclinations; and hopes that someday he will return to her from feeling so lost. He will value what she represents and understand that the sanctity of their marriage is worth fighting for.

Sadaf’s journey is contrary to that of Ella in Forty Rules of Love. Unhappy and unfulfilled in her perfunctory marriage with her unfaithful husband, Ella gravitates to the mysticism of love where ego has no place. She is willing to walk away from her family and focus on her self-actualization, even though a future with Aziz may not be possible.

If one believes in the need for companionship and trusts in a sense of fulfillment by the other person, one is willing to work through ebbs and flows of marriage because there is no guarantee that the next relationship will fare any better. Both Sadaf and Asad had love marriages, but when the heady part of a young relationship tapered off, they had different reactions. It is easy to get itchy feet, at which point one can decide to change their circumstances to appease their boredom. It is much harder and takes more courage to work on one’s inner self, nurture self-love and slowly let go of ego, so that two souls can co-exist comfortably.

As Rumi has said, “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

Sadaf had already completed this self-journey and it is through her wisdom that we see both Asad and Afaq look beyond what is seemingly within reach.

Beyond the Words

Mehwish, Wahaj and Zahid are well cast in their roles as all of them have to portray many more dimensions than what is captured in their dialogue. They all emote through their eyes, facial and muscular movements, gestures, posture and gait.

Mehwish’s Sadaf doesn’t need to describe her sense of self-pride and mental discipline. It is evident in her erect posture, practiced movements, sometimes a small, well timed smirk. She knows she is glamorous but she chooses not to be defined by it. Sadaf personifies the actualization of the words spoken by Shams of Tabriz in the book she is reading, “Intellect and love are made of two different materials. Intellect ties people in knots and risks nothing, but love dissolves all tangles and risks everything.” She is certain in herself and as she utters her given dialogue, it is as though Mehwish herself believes in the same.

Wahaj is a master at portraying Asad’s awakening throughout the journey from the carefree flirt to the reality of his life. Through subtle expressions captured in his smiling eyes to his thoughtful ones to when he begins to falter, the transitions are beautifully comprehensible as he listens to Sadaf’s words, remembers his commitments, feels exposed about his callousness, and makes decisions about his future. He has an innate confidence and gentleness that flows into his actions and expressions. From when he first sees Sadaf to when he bids goodbye, his eyes tell his story most eloquently. In his silver screen debut, Wahaj proves why his current wave of popularity is well deserved. This man is no flash in the pan and is one to watch in his coming projects.

Zahid is the embodiment of a tortured soul who tries to seem arrogant but is the most fractured within. He hides his vulnerability by trying to dominate situations that he can but realizes that he is not as immune to needing validation as he would like to think. He runs from love because he knows the pain that can come with it. He wants to objectify Sadaf but deep within his soul, he cannot easily do so. These are not explicitly explained but the way Zahid is shown to ponder, react, submit, and eventually confess, one can surmise the journey he wanted Afaq to show.

Excellent leads with an excellent script can portray in 35 minutes what excellent leads with a bad script cannot do in 58 episodes. Such is the power of good cinema.

Oh, The Places You Can Go!

I am not a great aficionado of Pakistani entertainment. I have watched a few TV series, a couple of films, have casually read about the industry over the years and am familiar with some of the better known names of artistes and writers. I have been following Wahaj Ali’s impressively nuanced work in Tere Bin and have also watched a couple of his other series, which showcases his thoughtful versatility as an actor. I have watched Mehwish Hayat in Dil Lagi, where I found her character and characterization to be excellent. Very few female leads have left such an impression on me. And I have watched the result of a prior Nadeem Baig and Khalil-Ur-Rehman Qamar pairing in Pyare Afzal, which I found to be one of the most intelligent bits of cinema anywhere. This dream team and their praiseworthy work in AST is a testament to the potential of Pakistani cinema. I hope the industry will pay heed and nurture this kind of talent and projects with more vigor.

The disconnected anthology series is an interesting concept for a theater release and kudos to See Prime Productions for conceptualizing such a project. The stories are not thematically tied in any way; it just appears as a showcase of well-made short films. The one unifying factor was a cameo of all three directors in Pasoori, where they played roles of judges in a musical talent show. The media campaign for the movie seems to have brought the acting fraternity together, with many actors unrelated to the production encouraging movie goers to give it a try. This kind of respectful camaraderie is a joy to watch, especially in a country that is often in the news for its political turmoil and party rivalries.

To me, the Arts is the gold for our fractured lives, as in the Japanese art of Kintsugi, which repairs broken pottery by mending the areas of the breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold. Due to uncountable reasons, our societies, psyches and moralities are fractured and broken. The Arts, which includes literature, the visual medium, and various branches of creative activity, is our God given gift of self-expression that can help heal our fractures. It is a joyous event when I find bits of cinema that create a healing experience, through its simplicity, thoughtfulness, ingenuity or authenticity of effort. Teri Meri Kayaniyaan, and Aik Sau Taeeswan in particular, leaves me with such a feeling.

It dignifies many aspects of my own life’s meandering journey.

(c) mh musings 2023


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@ Article Copyright by mh./ [@entrespire, twitter]. Follow me on Instagram: @soul_phoems

* All pictures and video clips belong to their original owners. Screenshots of the movie taken from various released teasers released by See Prime Productions. No Copyright infringement intended.

* * Please ask permission for any reprints.


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