Sammi teaches us that saying no is an important step towards freedom

Hum TV’s drama Sammi ended last week after 21 episodes with a lot of easy answers for some very difficult questions.

Sammi tells the story of a young girl whose life is turned upside down when her brother Waqas kills her husband-to-be Pervez in a fit of rage in an argument over Mehr (a gift given to brides by the groom/groom’s father on their wedding, according to Islamic custom). In order to save their son Waqas, Sammi’s parents agree to give their daughter as a vani or exchange bride to the powerful and wealthy Chaudhry family whose son was murdered.

The story started off on a strong note, highlighting the way women in certain rural areas are used to settle disputes according to the convenience of their menfolk. Despite having done absolutely nothing wrong Sammi (Mawra Hocane) somehow becomes the victim of powerful Chaudhry Rabnawaz’s (Rehan Shaikh) quest for retribution and the target of her own brother’s attempts to save his ‘ghairat‘.

After a long torturous journey, writer Noor Ul Huda Shah seems unable to bring the story to a strong climax and gives Sammi a breezy happy ending, more suited to a rom-com than a serious drama.

While the leader of the Chaudhry’s ‘biradari‘ points out that women like Sammi are used by men to escape their own responsibilities; it still leaves Sammi’s future in the hands of the same men who condemned her earlier.

After one jirga ruins Sammi’s life by declaring her a vani, another jirga is called this time with a ‘true’ community leader as its head who lectures the others on Sammi’s rights and a lesson at who really is at fault, before ordering her release. Suddenly the vicious Chaudhry Rabnawaz squirms in his seat looking more like a guilty schoolboy than the formidable zamindarhe had been for the last 20 episodes and returns Sammi to her family without so much as a parting snarl.

Mawra Hocane plays the role of the obedient Sammi, one who is too scared for her future.
Mawra Hocane plays the role of the obedient Sammi, one who is too scared for her future.

Meanwhile Sammi, who has had ample opportunity to escape (including regular visitors and ‘outings’ from her supposed prison), sits and waits to be rescued or married, depending on which comes first. While the leader of the Chaudhry’s ‘biradari‘ provides a good voice of reason, pointing out the way women like Sammi are basically used by men to escape their own responsibilities; it still leaves Sammi’s future in the hands of the same men who condemned her earlier.

Luckily for Sammi, this time they are in a better mood. Unfortunately, the problem with such ‘saviours’ is that they don’t always appear when you need them, and this facile plot point seems to bolster the authority of community jirgas. Too often these jirgas are full of wealthy, influential men who care more about an “efficient” way to clean up any dispute, with the least amount of disruption to them and their economic power bases than any actual justice.

Mawra Hocane knows how to win the audience’s empathy and carries the mantle of victim with just the right level of helpless pathos Pakistan seems to love.

Till the end, Sammi remains a poorly defined character with little to no personality except the ability to cry beautifully (courtesy of Miss Hocane) and a fervent wish to please everyone. Every time Sammi has the opportunity to, at the very least, acknowledge her own intrinsic rights as a human being, she is made to spout dialogues about being useful and obedient instead. A woman demanding justice or the right not to be married against her will, or simply the right to live is presumed to be far too aggressive for the audience to bear. Instead Sammi is reduced to passive aggressive taunts by her family.

However, Hocane works hard with the material she gets and lends this poor village girl much of her own charm and personality. This entire serial is predicated on the wrong done to Sammi and would fall apart if the audience could not relate to her situation. Mawra Hocane knows how to win the audience’s empathy and carries the mantle of victim with just the right level of helpless pathos Pakistan seems to love.

Adnan Siddiqui plays Rashid Chand, Chaudhry's conflicted slave/enforcer
Adnan Siddiqui plays Rashid Chand, Chaudhry’s conflicted slave/enforcer

Sammi had a string of solid performances that have kept the serial from sinking to mediocrity. Adnan Siddiqui gave a simply outstanding portrayal as Chaudhry’s conflicted slave/enforcer, Rashid Chand. The slow, subtle change in Rashid Chand’s perspective was completely believable and brought much needed depth to this story.

His change of heart towards his daughters was one of the true strengths of this serial. Sania Saeed gave yet another memorable, nuanced performance as the heart broken Chandi, but what purpose her death served in the overall narrative remains a mystery. It’s a harsh reality that despite heartbreak and loss, people just go on living; poetically dying is not as easy as it looks on screen.

Sania Saeed gave yet another memorable as Chandi, but what purpose her death served in the overall narrative remains a mystery.
Sania Saeed gave yet another memorable as Chandi, but what purpose her death served in the overall narrative remains a mystery.

Salaar’s role is pivotal in trying to awaken Sammi to her own self-worth and Ahad Raza Mir portrays this role with a lot of genuine sweetness and charm. Salaar and Aliyaan’s respectful and gentle behaviour towards the women in their lives provides an important contrast to the uncaring machismo and images of toxic masculinity epitomised by Sammi’s brother, father and Chaudhry Rabnawaz.

Overall this has been a good serial to watch, raising awareness about women’s obsession with sons, the low status of daughters in certain strata of society and health issues constant child birth gives women.

To Noor Ul Huda Shah’s credit she shows us that simply learning to saying no to negative and regressive ideas is the first and perhaps most important step towards freedom. The relationship between the schoolteacher Aliyaan and Chaudhry Rabnawaz’s son was a delight to watch. Both Bilal Khan and the young child actor did complete justice to their roles and brought home the fact that a lot of these deeply entrenched attitudes are sometimes just a matter of ignorance and lack of understanding.

The other standouts were the always reliably brilliant Rehan Shaikh and Haris Waheed, whose screen presence and earnest performances make a strong impact with every role he plays. Despite the way both these villains were turned into paper tigers by the end of the story, their single minded self-absorption and lack of self-awareness are perfect illustrations of the way supposedly normal people can be turned into pitiless monsters in the pursuit of so called honour.

Haris Waheed who plays Waqas, the murderer in the drama.
Haris Waheed who plays Waqas, the murderer in the drama.

Overall this has been a good serial to watch, raising awareness about women’s obsession with sons, the low status of daughters in certain strata of society and women’s health issues pertaining to constant child birth. The writer specifically focused on the way sisters are automatically supposed to sacrifice their rights and lives in favour of their brothers, putting the spotlight on abuse that often flies under the radar.

Among the minus points of this serial were a few underdeveloped, one dimensional characterisations of pivotal roles. While needless tracks like nurse Nahid’s tiresome romance, and Amma Zarina’s dead end maa /betadynamic with Chaudhry Rabnawaz only served as annoying distractions.

With kidnappings, escapes and murders, Sammi had a gripping story with all the potential to be a memorable action/ adventure thriller, but director Saife Hassan couldn’t maintain the suspense required in same way he did with the spellbinding Sange Mar Mar.

The last episode in particular felt like a quick tie up of various loose odds and ends, with too many sudden changes of heart rather than the intense finale that such a dramatic story demanded. So there were definitely a few missed opportunities in what was generally an entertaining serial for the masses.

 

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