After Ehd-e-Wafa ended last week, I kept thinking it didn’t come close to those other haloed ISPR productions that have gained a mythical quality in our minds: Alpha Bravo Charlie and Sunehray Din. So I carried out a very scientific experiment and watched the dramas again (#socialdistancing). And now I can report back the results of my experiment: No, it is not nostalgia. Those dramas really were a class apart. So where did Ehd-e-Wafa fall short?
More than two decades later, Shoaib Mansoor’s script still feels fresh and original and the characters – Faraz, Kashif, Gulsher and Shahnaz – are as real as ever. On the other hand, Ehd-e-Wafa’s characters came across as caricatures. Of the four male leads, Saad was the most fleshed-out. Ahad Raza Mir’s performance (and insanely good looks!) kept us hooked, but it was still not a coherent character. For most of the drama, Saad was heartlessly unforgiving of his friends and while there is nothing wrong with having a dark side, it almost bordered on a split
The other male leads did the most with what was offered to them. Shariq’s anger and a quest for justice shined through, Shehryar’s single-minded focus on his career was believable and then there was Shahzain. Perhaps the most interesting character because he was equal parts dark and endearing, but again we didn’t see the full character arc. Shahzain does some pretty morally reprehensible stuff- lying, cheating, mercilessly killing a horse to name a few – but is absolved of all wrong-doing, the consequences never more than the reproach of his family and friends. In fact, in the last episode Rani stops him from making amends by saying, “Balance baby, balance…Allah sai maafi kaafi hai, baaqi sab izaafi hai.”
The whole point of having Faraz (now a General) in the show, one would think, would be to play on the nostalgia and sentiments of fans. However, it’s hard to believe this was the same Faraz who had endeared viewers with his performances in Alpha Bravo Charlie and Sunehray Din. Here, he came across as a stiff robot with possibly the worst dialogues in the entire serial.
My two absolute favourite characters though were Malik Allahyar (Shahzain’s grandfather) played by Syed Muhammad Ahmed and Gulzar, played by newcomer Adnan Samad Khan (who shined in his first TV role!). They both had some of the best and funniest dialogue and superb acting.
As far as the female characters are concerned, I have to give Ehd-e-Wafa credit for showing strong women. We had Dua, a medical student and later army doctor, fighting for her rights. Maimoona, insulted for being a doormat, went and made something of herself. Ramsha, a media producer, was a breath of fresh air in a very small role. Vaneeza Ahmed, a doctor and Saad’s mother, was a role model. My only gripe was with Rani’s character. I liked her spunk and humour, but what I didn’t like was how cheating in exams, buying her certificate and being in genuine were depicted as cute quirks. Without any reckoning, we then saw her develop a moral backbone and advocate for girls’ education. Perhaps re-sitting her exams and honestly earning her certificate could’ve been a start?
The scenes in the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) should have been funny and uplifting, instead they came across as stale and rhetorical. Very similar scenes in Sunehray Din didn’t seem so. This segment needed freshness and originality so that the institution and its practices, like ragging and a no-mobile-phone policy, didn’t come across as archaic.
This originality was also missing in the last episode. Instead of relying on good storytelling, the excitement was drummed up by appealing to people’s base emotions and hyper-nationalism. The recent trend of producing the last episode for cinema viewing may also have contributed to this. The writer and director of Ehd-e-Wafa said in interviews that the episode was written with feedback from all stakeholders, which explains the hodge podge produced.
The ‘mission’ where Saad supposedly died had no build up, any excitement. A few soldiers go into the night on a rescue mission, tell their Indian counterparts to surrender which they easily agree to, then while retreating Saad gets shot. Nobody was expecting a Hollywood thriller, but we needed some depth. Director Saife Hassan noted that the mission was shot in one night, and it showed. That cringe worthy tearjerker where Vaneeza cried, “mein haath bataana chahti hoon, lekin uss nai kaha tum bachon ki doctor ho. Woh bhi tau mera bacha hai” was totally out of character and unnecessary. Full marks to the army and the government for how the Abhinandan case was handled in real life, but its superimposition on the drama was a cheap jibe for mass appeal. Compare this to how Alpha Bravo Charlie played up patriotic sentiments by beautifully telling the stories of the officers and jawans. We still can’t forget those touching scenes from Siachen.
In an interview Shoaib Mansoor admitted that he had made Alpha Bravo Charlie for the educated class. He said, “Although it is important to produce something that has mass appeal, at times one must do something for a certain class alone.” We could fault Mansoor for his elitist views, but the success of Alpha Bravo Charlie actually proved the opposite: audiences are more intelligent than given credit for.
Overall Ehd-e-Wafa was good family viewing and a welcome break from all the sob-fests on TV. It tackled contemporary social issues and there was merit to the messaging that the army can’t be at the forefront of everything; major institutions, including the civil bureaucracy, politicians and the media have to responsibly work together. What remained amiss were the intertwining of these strands more coherently, real dialogue and stronger character arcs. If we can learn one thing from cult classics like Alpha Bravo Charlie it is that good storytelling never goes out of date.