The thin margin that separates falsehood of self from the self of aspirations runs a risk of being easily blurred in the public space of virtual identities. The question then is not of the lie anymore but that of the reason that caused the creation of these lies. The recent Zindagi-Zee5 mini series Ek Jhoothi Love Story appears to be telling the story of two people who exist in and out of this space.
In Ek Jhoothi Love Story, Salma (Madiha Imam), the youngest of the Sajjad family, slips into an alternate identity of her best friend’s affluent and beautiful cousin Natalia Sheikh (Kinza Razzak) every night to see the world from her eyes for a few hours. The vicarious pleasure of living the life she can only dream about is the only refuge she seems to have from her mundane presence of an outdated computer and numerous hand-me-downs of her elder baajis – Shabana (Kiran Haq) and Shazia (Mariam Saleem).
Sohail Ahmad (Bilal Abbas Khan), the neighbourhood boy who runs a computer repair shop, stalks fake Natalia and later creates a fake profile of his rich and handsome friend Nofil Tabbani (Ahmed Zeb) to befriend her. Nofil ticks all the boxes of a prince charming of Salma’s dreams. So, fake Natalia and Nofil talk for a few days, confess their love, propose to get married and get their hearts broken later.
This is the apparent lie that the title and also the trailer of Ek Jhoothi Love Story promises to deliver. The lie that has become too ordinary to be the pulsating heart of the show that itself has found a place on an internet enabled OTT platform. Virtual identity, much? And therefore Ek Jhoothi Love Story is in fact about several other lies we live but hardly know.
In an Austen-esque world of socially forced marriages and sanctioned marriageable age, the ‘lie’ is fed to the Sajjad siblings. They have been waiting for their ‘ideal’ to arrive and it has been too long. A dream partner with another name will be as coveted as the one that bears the word for it. The problem is that in this middle class neighbourhood of Karachi, the ideals that its inhabitants have, do not happen at all. In Ek Jhoothi Love Story, they belong to the high society of what they call ‘Defence’ area of the city. The bar is set high. Umera Ahmed, a widely popular Urdu novelists and the writer of the celebrated Zindagi Gulzar Hai, has a knack of portraying Pakistan’s middle class in a very slice of the life manner and she has repeated it for this series. The little moments of truth from the life of an average family become alive on screen through her effortless writing.
Yes, Greek yoghurt is not an everyday item and aaloo ki sabzi is the only option in the last few days of the month. ‘Love is not affordable’, as Sohail understands, but dreams of an ideal partner are certainly nurtured.
The first shot of the very first episode of Ek Jhoothi Love Story, where Salma is found to be engrossed in watching the royal wedding of Harry and Meghan, gives a glimpse of the world of dreams that the girls in the family and the muashara (society) are raised in. While in their 30s, Shabana and Shazia have been partially frustrated by the pursuit of this dream, Salma aka Choti is ready for a predictable train-wreck. She not only has an ideal of a man in her mind but also the ideal of a woman who would be a perfect match for him. Natalia is the obvious result of such idealisation.
In a dejected conversation between sisters, Shabana wonders why the writers of Digests and magazines cannot write about a suitable boy for girls like them. This seems to be a reality-check they have come to learn through numerous meetings with prospective grooms’ families. However, the next moment they disapprove of the men who have been trying to impress them for quite a long time.
Jahangir Alam, the poet and the teacher, is no Mr. Collins of what looks like a deconstructed Pride and Prejudice but he fails to meet the ideal Shabana has. Similarly, Tanzeel Ur Rehman Siddiqui, played with a perfect sense of precision by Churails fame Fawad Khan, has been in love with Shazia and despite his multiple proposals he is friend-zoned by her for not being educated enough. Fair enough! Then there is a meticulously crafted character of the pan chewing-hemstitching-nitpicking-nagging- Mrs.
Bennet Sajjad – Nusrat Jahan in Ek Jhoothi Love Story, essayed by the stellar Beo Rana Zaffar, who also has an ideal picture of her prospective son-in-laws. She wouldn’t accept anything less than a highly educated man of class who would be preferred if living abroad. So, the likes of Sohail or Tanzeel Ur Rehman Siddiqui needn’t apply. Professor Jahangir who goes on to bag a highly paid job and suddenly becomes “a man in possession of good fortune” would definitely be considered though.
Resultantly, the girls are sitting at home unmarried, as Nusrat Jahan tells – ‘sab ki sab betiyan baithi hain’- repeatedly to everyone she meets. She is the true representative of the society who steers her family to treat the necessity of getting married and that too to a particular kind of partner with utmost sincerity. Her son Salauddin is not spared as well. In Ek Jhoothi Love Story, the world these women belong to is not the world of the progressive feminists, though it may need one urgently. A story that talks about these women may not resonate with many but that does not obliterate the reality of a lot of other women for whom such stories do occur and occur frequently.
Little did Shabana, Shazia and Salma know that in a clash between Elizabeth Bennet’s ideal man and the hurried necessity of Charlotte Lucas’s marriage with an idiot, there is always a manufactured idea of an ideal that is easy to pursue but difficult to find. In Ek Jhoothi Love Story, it is only later that Shazia in her new awakening realizes the hollow inside their notion of ideal. In the novel Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte Lucas, the friend who marries Mr. Collins, tells a shocked Elizabeth, “I see what you are feeling…But when you have had time to think it all over, I hope you will be satisfied with what I have done. I am not romantic you know. I never was…”
One feels sorry for Charlotte as she submits under the societal and financial pressure of getting married but the larger purpose of her character, in a very strange way, is to hold a mirror to all the Bennet sisters. Elizabeth possesses a sharp intelligence and so do the educated and employed Shabana and Shazia in Ek Jhoothi Love Story but they could not free themselves from being judgmental when it comes to choosing a life partner for themselves. They end up repeating and doling out the same problematic treatment they had been dismally resisting throughout: both to their men and the woman their brother wishes to marry. Of course, they learn to unlearn all of that later but the large part of their problem is rooted there. The ideal is a lie and therefore the love story they are waiting for is nothing but an extended version of the same. The love story indeed is jhoothi!
Rittvika Singh teaches literature at University of Delhi and enjoys discussing films. She also writes articles, poems, stories besides her academic papers. Her writings have appeared in Lost Coast Review, Efiction India, The Quint, Feminism in India etc. She can be found on Twitter.
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