Will ‘Mera Naam Yusuf Hai’ be better than ‘Pyare Afzal’?
Mera Naam Yusuf Hai (MNYH) is the latest offering from the famous pen of Khalilur Rehman Qamar and A Plus – a channel which is fast making a name for itself against the top three rival drama channels Geo, ARY and Hum TV.
MNYH’s first episode has all the ingredients of a typical love story: a chance meeting between two strangers on a train amongst a lot of ‘mohabbat-key-dushman’ type relatives, a male protagonist with little or no career prospects except his music and a female protagonist caught in the middle of a war with her parents, who are ready to marry her off to the nearest uninteresting relative as soon as possible.
If this sounds familiar, you are not wrong; superficially, at least, this story seems to pick up a lot of elements from the writer’s previous works like Pyare Afzal and Sadqay Tumhare but, hopefully, as the story will unfold, we shall see more than just old wine in new bottles.
Director Mehreen Jabbar has taken a firm hand with this story, resolutely brushing off all the glitter and pixie dust and grounding it firmly in the day-to-day realities of normal people. This has given what might have been ‘a run of the mill melodrama’ a fresh, young and dynamic spin – something we have not seen since her project Daam and it certainly makes up for the disappointment of Jackson Heights.
She is the ideal director to take an edge off the emotionally overcharged predicaments the writer is famous for. The cool and calm shades of everyday life, depicted by the director of photography (DOP), Qasim Mureed Ali, may make the beautiful but sometimes extravagant dialogues more relatable for us ordinary mortals.
In fact, this juxtaposition gives both the script and the scenes even more depth and meaning. This entire episode was a delight to watch, avoiding the usual, narrow look of such dramas without sacrificing the intimacy required for such a story. Add to this the rise and fall of, at times wistful, at times powerful, OST sung by Rizwan Anwar and Saad Sultan, and the stage is set for all the twists and turns of fate required for star-crossed lovers.
Just like history has told us before, perhaps the writer is aiming at recreating the story of Yusuf and Zulekha. The fact that Yusuf glances up when he hears Zulekha’s name, to look at the girl he has just met, hints at that.
As Yusuf, Imran Abbas does not disappoint on any level. Burdened with good looks, charm and intelligence, we don’t often want to credit actors like him with actual acting abilities as well. In MNYH, we see the talented actor of Mera Naseeb, Dil-e-Muzter and Khuda aur Mohabbat making wonders again. By downplaying Abbas’s undoubtedly amazing looks and presenting him as a scruffy, lower-middle income group, boy-next-door type character, this drama has allowed his performance to take centre-stage while he lends this simple story some of his undeniable (film) star presence.
Abbas makes for a very enigmatic Yusuf, very unlike Afzal (Rahman’s recent super hit creation). He is a quiet, sensitive, an almost reticent sort who forces his friend to ask a lot of questions before he can tease out the details of the meeting with Zulekha.
I have always been a great fan of Rahman’s female characters; they are always very strong-willed and independent, very different from the weeping victims we are told constitute Pakistani womanhood in many television dramas.
Zulekha’s mother, the fabulous Afia, is played to perfection by the no less fabulous Hina Bayat. Afia is so magnificently fearless that she refuses to visit her sister-in-law because she lied and tricked Afia into marrying Zulekha’s dry, domineering, maulvi of a father and is not afraid of challenging her husband at any point.
With a mother like that, how can her daughter be any less fascinating?
Zulekha is played with authenticity and charm by Maya Ali. Maya has become the go-to actress for many premium projects after her memorable roles in Aunn Zara and Aik Nayee Cinderella. She is a competent actress who can deliver a great performance with a strong director. My only worry is that she may mangle some of the dialogues – as was evident from the promos. Having said that, she is pretty and manages to look good with Abbas, which is not an easy feat as his strong screen presence usually requires an equal opposite him, someone like Sanam Saeed or Humaima Malik.
The essential charm of this story is its utter simplicity combined with aspiration for something more in life than just the expected. The hope that even when we live lives that are less than ordinary, perhaps we too can have a chance at something as wonderful and genuine as true love.
From the first episode, at least, MNYH has raised great expectations as an entertaining and well-crafted serial that should be on everyone’s watch list. Hopefully, it will manage to avoid the two pitfalls of many highly anticipated serials: stretching episodes beyond the story’s limits and a director afraid of doing their job by effectively translating the writer’s work on screen instead of just filming the story that is written.
Jabbar is, by reputation, a fearless director and I hope that A Plus can balance commercial concerns with aesthetic ones, making this a product viable in both ways.
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