World – you may love Zindagi Gulzar Hai- I didn’t.

For those caught unawares, Zindagi Gulzar Hai (trans. Life is a rose garden) is a Pakistani TV show. It’s the second highest rating Pakistani TV series, and also took India by storm when it was aired in 2014. I was already a big fan of Pakistani actor Fawad Khan then, after having watched another show of his, called Humsafar (trans. Life partner) and I decided to watch this show after hearing the rave reviews about it. I liked the first 10 episodes, which I finished in 2014, but I finally managed to finish the last 15 yesterday. And my opinion about the show has changed considerably and drastically from 2014 to 2015.

Zindagi Gulzar Hai is given as an example to Indian TV makers and viewers alike, as a show that is progressive, excellent in content, gripping, emotional, logical. But when you are presenting logic to viewers, a challenge that arises is the brand of logic you want viewers to see – your own logic, the writers logic, or the viewers interpretation of the logic.

I admit the show is based on a book by Umera Ahmed, and when you base a show on a book, there is little movement that you can do away from the basic skeletal of the storyline. The show runs through two significant points of view – Zaroon (the boy) belongs to an affluent, liberal family, but doesn’t like the fact that women in his side of the society and his own household take the men for granted. His ‘conservatism’ reaches the extent that he breaks off his engagement to Asmara, his fiancée. Asmara is a liberal, free-thinking woman, who believes that her husband shouldn’t question her. Women in Zaroon’s household don’t even serve tea to their husbands or sons – Kashaf’s case is the complete opposite.

zaroon and asmara
Zaroon and Asmara

Kashaf Murtuza (the girl) on the other hand, belongs to a socially conservative society, a poor family where her mother struggles to make ends meet with her meagre income as a school teacher. Her father left the household when she was a child, because her mother couldn’t give him a son. Kashaf grows up detesting her father to the extent that she believes all men are like her father. She is a level-headed, self-made young woman, with her own set of ideals and ambitions. She can fend for herself, and doesn’t need a dozen servants to help her with everyday activities.

Now, when you pit across two completely different points of view- what do you have? An award winning show? I believe the matter seems much more complicated than that.

When two different ideologies are pitted against each other, it often happens that one point of view overpowers the other. And in the case of this show, I believed that changing Kashaf was the main point of the whole show, whether Zaroon changed himself or reformed his habits wasn’t anyone’s concern.

zaroon and kashaf
Zaroon and Kashaf

A scene that was very smartly put by the writer/director in the 15th episode was Zaroon’s argument with Asmara over her not informing him about a sudden trip to Dubai with her friends (male and female). Even though Asmara’s mother was aware of her trip and did not object, Zaroon had a problem with Asmara travelling with people he didn’t like. Zaroon faced a similar situation when he went to Islamabad and didn’t inform Kashaf (then his wife) that he had reached Islamabad and then went out with his friends.

Kashaf also has a problem with Zaroon meeting his ex-fiancé Asmara after their marriage, whereas Zaroon argues that its just a harmless meeting. But Zaroon finds it difficult to forgive Kashaf when he learns that she was once proposed by his best friend. When a director pits two such scenes against each other, and later a satirical statement by Asmara, ‘I am sorry you are facing problems in your marriage because of me‘, she is trying desperately to bring out the hypocrisy in Zaroon’s thinking.

While Zaroon makes some valid statements about his mother not giving much time to the household because she prioritised her career at the cost of her family, what I missed was the importance of creatively highlighting that issue. Many women of affluent households don’t give importance to the relationship of marriage nor honour their husband the way he should be. Ego takes the place of compromise, leading to unhappy and sometimes failed marriages. This issue was brought up again and again in the show, but it was leading to monotony, and not really creating a ripple effect in the viewer’s mind.

Overall, Zaroon’s character failed to impress me. He claimed to be confused, yet seemed resolute in his views. He married a girl from the lower strata of the society because he liked her ‘habits’, yet he could never highlight what he actually wanted – a superwoman who would take care of him, and clean the house, and work; or a working woman with a heart?

The first half of the show is great- tackling important issues about women’s rights, tackling Zaroon’s insecurity and later acceptance of Kashaf as an equal and sometimes better student. But once the college track finished, everything jumbled up. Because now you need to show domestic drama, and in the household, the woman is always the subordinate. Yes, ego shouldn’t blind a woman about the importance of family, but being head-strong or exercising your opinion shouldn’t create problems with your husband either.

The last episode cemented my dislike for the latter part of the show. Kashaf’s statement about understanding what it means to be a woman after having children made me think – is it necessary to have children, to be fully woman? Kashaf claims, Zaroon ka aadat hai mujhe flatter karna, warna mujhe wo itni easily control nahi kar pata, control karna shayad galat lafz hai, muttthi mein karna shayad ek better expression hai (trans. Zaroon loves to flatter me, if he didn’t do that, he wouldn’t have been able to control me- control is an inappropriate word, capture me in his charms is a better expression). Does that mean Kashaf finally accepts Zaroon’s control over her? That hasn’t been made clear.

While I accept that the show is monumental in showcasing liberated characters like Kashaf, Asmara and Zaroon’s sister Sara, what I faced is a dilemma I face while seeing Indian serials too- why does the household fall apart when the woman takes a stand against the man? If, for a change, the woman wants to take forth the mantle of the head of the house, it doesn’t make the man any lesser. In a relationship of equals, there needs to be understanding, not suppression.

The world may claim to love Zindagi Gulzar Hai. But I have mixed emotions about the show. I still believe Pakistan and India have a long way to go when it comes to freely showcasing liberated women as heroes of a show, without being scared about the audience reaction to it. Sorry Mahira, but your statement on your show The Lighter Side of Life about change in society and women becoming heroes of serials still has a couple of years to go!

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