Ek Jhoothi Love Story review: New offering from writer of Zindagi Gulzar Hai works strictly within the soap opera template

Definitely a league above Indian television, but the ZEE5, Zindagi show cannot shed its skin of a daily soap opera.

Tatsam Mukherjee November 06, 2020 10:59:26 IST
Ek Jhoothi Love Story review: New offering from writer of Zindagi Gulzar Hai works strictly within the soap opera template

A still from Ek Jhoothi Love Story. Twitter

Language: Urdu

Featuring 18 episodes in total, it's only in the 13th episode that Mehreen Jabbar's Ek Jhoothi Love Story leaps off the ledge. A standard rom-com set around fake Facebook profiles and mistaken identities till then, the show dares to go beyond what is expected of it.

Nursing their respective heartbreaks, Sohail (Bilal Abbas Khan) and Salma (Madiha Imam) are pressured into an arranged marriage. Sohail and Salma do not know it yet, but they have been talking to each other on Facebook pretending to be Nofil (Ahmed Zeb) and Natalia (Kinza Razzak) respectively, who happen to be their upper-class friends living fancy lives.

Ashamed of their average looks, both Sohail and Salma want to escape their middle-class upbringing in an orthodox Karachi mohalla. Once they are married to each other, even though they are both unaware of their attempt to deceive one another, the show unceremoniously plunges them into a happily-ever-after. And that is when the lead pair is forced to reject their ideas of a fairy-tale future, and experience their mundane present.

It is an exciting prospect, where the entire build-up is towards a glorious pay-off for the star-crossed lovers. This show plays with the audience expectation by thrusting its lovers into it, and studies them navigating their way through a clearly underwhelming happily-ever-after. 

Written by Umera Ahmed (Zindagi Gulzar Hai), Ek Jhooti Si Love Story is not novel in its treatment of love in the time of social media.

It is a tried and tested trope since Nora Ephron's films in the '90s, and even direct Bollywood counterparts like Nupur Asthana's Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge (2011). Youngsters hiding behind a 'cool' online facade, will always remain a fertile premise. But Ek Jhoothi Love Story strives to do a little more with its ensemble.

The Sajjad family, like most soap opera families in the subcontinent, only deliberate about one thing - finding suitable rishtas for their more-than-suitable daughters. Blessed with three daughters and a son, Mrs Sajjad's (Beo Rana Zaffar) days are spent networking with matchmakers and inquiring about well-settled (read: rich, settled abroad) men for her qualified daughters. She bemoans the fate of her two elder daughters — Shabana (Kiran Haq), a college lecturer, and Shazia (Mariam Saleem), an adjunct faculty member at the local school. The youngest of them is Salma aka Chhoti, who gets ordered around for the tiniest of chores, and whose time spent on the computer is closely monitored. Mr Sajjad (Mohammad Ahmad) is nearing retirement, and the stigma of 'unwed daughters' is slowly causing the family to unravel. Both Shabana and Shazia spend every other weekend making kebabs for families who come looking for prospects like a chef might go looking for early morning produce. They are supposed to look a certain way, conduct themselves properly, be qualified (but not a Master's degree!). Arranged marriages, after all, is a dehumanising ritual most girls in the subcontinent are made to go through without fail.

It is not too different in the Ahmad household, where Sohail lives with his widowed mother and younger sister. As the usual 'vidhwa maa',' Sohail's mother (Hina Khawaja Bayat) is a breath of fresh air. She is jolly friendly with both her children, and never once plays a sorry, helpless figure. Taking over his father's shop after his sudden demise, Sohail's life is that of many unfulfilled wishes. Not being able to complete his studies to secure a job in Silicon Valley like his peers, not being refined enough because of his middle-class existence, and his dreams of courting a 'princess' — Sohail's dreams are boundless. He is fed up of his mind-numbing life built around being a dutiful son, a responsible brother, and the local 'UPS wala.' He looks at Natalia as his ticket out of this dull life. 

The Sajjads and the Ahmads invariably end up meeting, and Sohail's mother ends up proposing marriage to Salma on her son's behalf. Too much time is spent setting this up, and we go through numerous (frankly, avoidable) detours before the two leads get prematurely sucked into a family-approved marriage. The early Facebook scenes feature an annoying voiceover from either side, telling us what is really going on in the heads of these harmless but intentionally-dubious leads.

There is the occasional detour to the other Sajjad sisters — Shabana's admirer in college, and Shazia's activism on the streets of Karachi. Shazia's track features a disarming performance by (the other!) Fawad Khan, as Tanzeel Ur Rehman Siddiqui, a rough-around-the-edges fruit seller, who is hopelessly in love with Shazia. His character is beneath Shazia's 'ideal' husband, but he keeps at it through sheer persistence. He brings fruits to her house every few days, while maintaining safe distance from the family's personal matters. Much like his character in Churails, Khan is an unexpected ally for a women's movement in the show.

The performances are great all-round. Zaffar and Ahmad play the bickering couple like they did in the 2018 film Cake, but Zaffar clearly gets the author-backed part in this one. Doing her own version of Mrs Bennet, Zaffar's nearly-senile, without-filter character, is a hoot each time she comes on screen. Bilal Abbas Khan shows remarkable poise as the underachieving Sohail, longing for a better life. Mariam Saleem as Shazia is the motor (with a little help from Tanzeel Ur Rehman Siddiqui) for the Sajjad family, propelling them from their primitive societal mindset to the current times.

It is definitely a league above Indian television, but Ek Jhoothi Love Story (for better, or for worse) cannot shed its skin of a daily soap opera. Despite its progressive politics, the show appears acutely contrived and hare-brained while complicating its wafer-thin central conflict. The show goes into uncharted territory in the last few episodes, but it becomes too late to whole-heartedly endorse by then. However, it definitely needs to be said that if our saas-bahu sagas were to be overridden by such shows, it would be an improvement.

Ek Jhoothi Love Story is streaming on ZEE5.

 

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