Zindagi Gulzar Hai (2012-2013)

In the two years I spent in India, I did my best to avoid becoming re-acquainted with Indian TV. From interminably boring soap operas and reality shows to horrendously banal “breaking news”, and “music channels” that play the same three songs on an endless loop, it was mostly bad. The only tiny little ray of sunshine on this dark horizon was was Zindagi – a new channel that telecast Pakistani series. I have very fond memories of old Pakistani TV series and was delighted to see some new ones. (They’re not a patch on my favourite dramas of yore, but that is a gripe for another day.) Today, I want to talk about one of the few new Pakistani series that I liked quite a lot. Zindagi Gulzar Hai is an interesting romantic series starring the oh-so-good-looking Fawad Khan (yes, I admit that that was my main motivation for watching!). It is very well made, with a strong female character, lots of believable drama and a happily-ever-after end. It does have some major flaws (more on that later) but on the whole, it is a lovely series and, more importantly, way better than anything else I saw on Indian TV.

The story traces the lives of two very different people. The first is Kashaf Murtaza (Sanam Saeed) a conservative, lower middle class girl struggling to complete her education. The second is Zaroon Junaid (Fawad Khan), the scion of a wealthy, upper class business family. These two very different people meet up at university, fight and dislike each other, go their separate ways, meet again and start an unlikely relationship. Interwoven with this are the stories of their families and their ups and downs. Like classic PTV dramas, this one starts out slowly, giving us time to get acquainted with the characters. The story gradually builds up and draws you in. And when the end comes, you wonder why it couldn’t go on longer!

Kashaf is the eldest of three sisters, all intelligent and hard working young women, trying to get through college and school. Their mother, Rafia (Sameena Peerzada) is the principal of a school, but her salary is not enough to pay the bills. So the older girls – Kashaf and Sidra (Mansha Pasha) – tutor students in their free time to ease the financial burden. Their father, Mohammed Murtaza (Waseem Abbas), lives with his second wife Nigar (Shazia Afghan) separately. He likes to play the patriarch to Rafia and his three daughters, but has effectively abandoned them. It emerges that he remarried in order to have a son, and is happy with his second wife and their three children. Of the abandoned daughters, Kashaf, his first-born child, feels his rejection most deeply, and resents him most strongly. The fact that he does not help them financially, and more often than not, belittles their struggle to better themselves, just adds fuel to her anger. Her deep anger against her father and her own feeling of inferiority through being abandoned by him, shape her character and her perspective on life. She is always angry and has a perpetual chip on her shoulder about not being lovable enough, pretty enough or rich enough.

Zaroon comes from the other end of the social spectrum. His father, Junaid (Javed Shaikh) is a rich businessman, his mother Ghazala (Hina Khwaja Bayat) is a career woman (you never get to know what career, exactly, but it involves lots of international travel and urgent meetings that take her away from home all the time). They live in a huge, luxurious mansion, and none of them ever seems to soil their hands with housework. Zaroon drives to college in a Mercedes. Both he and his sister, Sara (Ayesha Omar) live in the lap of luxury and seem to be a very loving, happy and prosperous family. But this is soon seen to be a facade. Ghazala is very busy with her career and Junaid resents not having a stay-at-home wife who is “there for him” all the time. Zaroon too, resents his mother’s career. (Naturally, a woman’s first duty is to minister to her husband and son!) And Sara is a very spoilt and inconsiderate person who is unable to adjust in a relationship. (It all comes of being modern – women start wearing western clothes, hanging out with friends of the opposite sex and become incredibly selfish!)

When the story begins, both Kashaf and Zaroon have been accepted in the masters program at an elite business school in Karachi. Kashaf, as usual, has come first and will get a scholarship that will help her financially. Zaroon, who is miffed at losing out on the first position, is overheard saying, “Kashaf Murtaza must be a chudail (witch)”. That remark, and his entitled attitude, fix him in Kashaf’s mind as a spoilt, upper-class, twit. On the first day of class, when he civilly introduces himself to Kashaf, she retorts that her name is “Chudail”. The battle lines are drawn and nothing over the next two years occurs to change their mutual antipathy.

A college story cannot be complete without a gang of friends! While Kashaf stubbornly refuses to socialise much with her classmates, Zaroon has his “gang” of friends – Osama (Sheheryar Munawar Siddiqui) and Asmara (Mehreen Raheel) – both rich kids who tend to agree with Zaroon’s assessment of Kashaf. But as time goes by, Osama comes to admire Kashaf’s intelligence and appreciate how often she leaves Zaroon speechless with rage. Asmara’s dislike, however, increases with every point Kashaf scores over Zaroon!

Kashaf routinely outscores Zaroon in tests and assignments and defeats him in classroom arguments. And their teacher, Abrar (Behroze Sabzwari) – who happens to be Zaroon’s father’s friend – also considers Kashaf his best student. Zaroon is not used to being outsmarted, especially by a mere girl, and takes it very personally. But all this would be forgiven if Kashaf would only have the decency to appreciate his manly charms. Sadly, she appears quite impervious. So when Maria (Maheen Rizvi) – Kashaf’s one friend in class – tells Zaroon that there is no way Kashaf will ever fall for him, Zaroon immediately decides that he will make her fall for him and humiliate her. (Charming guy, isn’t he?)

The self-appointed Prince Charming then embarks on Operation Charm Kashaf. He spends several weeks showering her with attention that she clearly does not want, and gifts that she spurns. He even apologises for offending her – all to no avail. Kashaf is convinced that he is playing games with her and is determined not to give in. Asmara isn’t best pleased to see Zaroon expending all his time and attention over someone else, but she does not really have much control over Zaroon’s actions. Things come to a head when Kashaf accidently overhears Zaroon’s plans to make her fall for him and humiliate her. That Zaroon hasn’t succeeded and will not succeed, has no bearing on her sense of humiliation. She angrily confronts Zaroon and he, unable to defend the indefensible, reacts with a blaze of anger. Only Osama’s timely intervention saves Kashaf from Zaroon’s fists!

It is soon time to leave college, and our hero and heroine part on terms of mutual dislike, hoping never to see each other. Life moves on. Zaroon enters the Pakistani foreign service and bows to family pressure and gets engaged to Asmara. The engagement soon breaks down over his efforts to control all aspects of Asmara’s life – she is expected to dress according to his wishes, never socialise with her guy friends, and indeed, never go contrary to his wishes. His wife won’t be an independent woman like his mother or sister, or wear the kind of clothes that  are “an open invitation to harassment”! No “liberated female” nonsense for him!!

A couple of years after college, Zaroon runs into Kashaf again – she is now a member of Pakistan’s elite Superior Civil Service. While the years have softened his dislike of Kashaf into reluctant respect for her steadfast character, she hasn’t changed her opinion of him one iota. So it makes things very awkward when he decides that Kashaf is the only woman for him. He is the last man on earth she would ever consider marrying! He manages to convince his family and even hers, but it takes a great deal to convince her. For once, though, he manages to convince her of his sincere admiration for her and his strong desire to marry her – probably because this time he is sincere in seeking her good opinion.

So, the wedding bells ring out and Kashaf and Zaroon embark on their married life. Their path to marital bliss is not smooth. Kashaf doesn’t quite believe that she can be happy and truly loved. In trying to maintain her independence, she often shuts Zaroon out of her life, refusing to share her problems and thoughts with him. Zaroon, for his part, expects a traditional “allah-miyan ki gaye” (Holy cow!) kind of wife – one who not only bows to his will, but also puts up with his tantrums and spoils him! How do these two finally get to their happily-ever-after? Does Zaroon ever grow out of his man-child-ness? Can Kashaf learn to be happy? More importantly, will she get brighter make-up and will the dupatta on her head come off?

There is a lot to like in the series. From the excellent dialogues and screenplay, the superb acting, the (mostly) realistic sets, and the believable drama, the series gets so much right. I was sucked into the story from the beginning, and soon started to take a personal interest in the characters’ lives! There is Kashaf and her beleaguered Mom and sisters. I wanted them to succeed in life and get even with their father who abandoned them for a second family. I so wanted their father to live with eternal regret for every transgression against the daughters and the first wife. And I wanted Zaroon to be brought down several pegs – he fancied himself way too much and needed the full Elizabeth Bennett treatment. The script writer(s) agreed with me and Zaroon did come in for quite a bit of verbal pounding! In fact, most of what I wished for, came to pass.

I loved that Kashaf was not the typical passive-aggressive woman that passes for a “strong character” in popular media. She has strong opinions that she doesn’t hesitate to express, she confronts situations head-on, and never backs down from a confrontation. And while she may have complexes about her beauty, wealth and lovability, she is perfectly confident about her intelligence and capability. That said, she does come over as a bit abrasive at times – like when Zaroon offered her a lift home after a college party and she was horrendously rude to him even though she accepted his help!

My biggest gripe with the series was its leading man – I wish Zaroon was a nicer man, and not such a sexist prig! While Kashaf often wipes the floor with him at university, and all his friends and family acknowledge his narrow-mindedness, he still gets to eat his cake and have it, too. He gets his ideal virginal bride, who is intelligent and fairly independent, but also very domesticated and well schooled in “caring for her husband”! And what does he ever do for her? Well he lounges around looking impossibly decorative and sometimes mouths romantic nonsense at Kashaf. Unlike Mr. Darcy, he learns nothing and will always be a spoilt man-child. But Kashaf seems happy enough, so who am I to object?

The series did strike me as pretty regressive, particularly in its take on gender issues. But I still find it compelling viewing. Have you seen it? What do you think?

19 Responses to Zindagi Gulzar Hai (2012-2013)

  1. Anu Warrier says:

    You’ve not only made me laugh with your captions, but you’ve made me want to watch this serial now. I recently caught Fawad in Khubsoorat where I couldn’t understand his fascination, and in Kapoor and Sons which made me realise he’s God’s gift to women.

    And, yes! It’s available on YouTube! Blessed be! 🙂 Now I know what I’m going to be binge watching.

    • Anu Warrier says:

      You’re a bad woman – I’ve just finished watching 4 episodes at one go, and I’m on the 5th! (I have to clean the house. 😦 )

      • bollyviewer says:

        Evil grin 🙂 Mogambo khush hua. I have recommended this to you a couple of times, before. But I guess I should have shown you Fawad Khan’s pictures, instead! 😉

    • bollyviewer says:

      Pakistani series are so addictive. I have binge watched so many in the last two years, even though they are no better than Bollywood’s family dramas from the 50s and 60s – same dated attitudes and double standards, but so well done that you get sucked in.

  2. Neeru says:

    I did the first thing yesterday, read all the captions ! Loved the 007 detergents vs Agent Vinod ( thanks to memsaabstory, I would have had no idea about agent Vinod !). So after my laughs, read the review, am afraid to start it as I see Anu’s comments above, it might become marathon watching ;). I do miss the superb dramas of old ptv, so I will give in and watch.

    • bollyviewer says:

      Thanks Neeru!

      It is indeed hard not to binge-watch this, but I managed not to – mostly because I first saw it on TV in Delhi summer when there was no way I would watch on my hot laptop! Do give in and watch. I am sure you will like it. 🙂

  3. Neeru says:

    Wanted to add that I wish someone would tell these men that it’s no point marrying someone else to have a boy, it is IN YOU !

  4. Anu Warrier says:

    Phew! Finished the last episode and was quite sad it ended. 🙂 I liked it very, very much indeed. In fact, I think Zaroun too learnt to be a slightly better person. Interesting that no one is really ‘perfect’, even though Kashif’s mother is a really strong woman. What I liked most was the humanity – no one is painted black. I do wish they had been kinder to Zaroun’s mother; that was my only ‘ick’ factor in the whole thing.

    I didn’t even think it ‘regressive’ in that sense; yes, there were characters who were regressive, but there was also a counterpoint. And even though Zaroun is ‘rewarded’ with a working wife/great homemaker, there was no sense that she was going to be a doormat that he wanted, or that she was not going to live her own life.

    What was even better was that even the rich people were shown to be normal; I mean, their house was obviously bigger, they drove Mercs, but none of them walked around made up to the hilt, dripping jewellery like the women in the K serials. They looked like normal rich people. 🙂

    Great acting, as well. And how nice that they ended it in 26 episodes instead of 2600. (Fawad Khan was a bonus.)

    • bollyviewer says:

      That was a quick watch! Did you get any sleep at all? So glad you liked it. Just don’t get sucked into watching more Pakistani series like I did. I kept hoping that I’ll come across another one like this – took me 2 years to realise that this was a one-off.

      Zaroon’s Mom was not treated right because it was obviously her fault that her kids were not brought up right. These career women, they actually expect their husband’s to pull their weight! Tauba tauba… what has the world come to?! 😉 At least her daughter realised that a woman’s main duty is to her husband, and gave up all her own ideals to adjust in a very conservative family.

      • Anu Warrier says:

        Spread over three days. 🙂 Everything else was sacrificed to it.

        Yes, that bit about the mother was really bad – everyone, husband, son, daughter, all blame her for their issues. And of course, Kashif’s mom was exemplary – she worked, she took tuitions, she made ghar ka khana

        The sister too – I can understand learning from your mistakes. And obviously, she was something of a dolt. But swing 180 degrees to be the ideal wife was not something I expected in this serial. I agree with you that that was pretty regressive.

  5. dustedoff says:

    You are the one to blame for my not having seen this, actually. 🙂 Because, when you told me about this, at the same time, you recommended Korean dramas too. And I got so sucked into Korean dramas (I’ve seen over 40 of them since you gave me a list of recommendations) that I completely forgot about Zindagi Gulzaar Hai. Now you’ve reminded me again (and how! It sounds really good. And Fawad Khan looks even better without the facial hair, I think…), so I will watch it. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

    • bollyviewer says:

      Hehe. My sister will be very pleased to hear about your Korean drama phase. She is the one who got me started on those, though I saw this series and got side tracked into Pakistani dramas.

      Fawad Khan looks good, period! 🙂 Have you seen Kapoor & Sons yet? He is fab in that, too.

  6. Shalini says:

    So pleased you wrote about “Zindagi Gulzar Hai”, bollyviewer! I stumbled upon Fawad Khan last summer when I happened to watch “Khoobsurat” on some online site. Even though I don’t care for facial hair (men or women) Fawad caught my eye and off I went to find other things to watch him in and found…Zindagi Gulzar hai. I spent a day speed-watching the entire series on You Tube. I had my Fawad fix and got to watch a thoughtful yet entertaining story at the same time. And now all I have to do is watch “Kapoor & Sons.” 🙂

    • bollyviewer says:

      Oh you must watch Kapoor & Sons! It is really good. And no matter how much you like Fawad, do NOT watch any of his other Pakistani TV series no matter how tempting – I have tried several of them and they are all bad. You could try his telefilm Behadd, though.

  7. Neeru says:

    It is a marathon watching serial. I am glad I had other pressing things otherwise I would have been glued to youtube. So far I am liking it very much. While the story is definitely showing strong female charecters, I think they have gone too far with Zaroon’s mother in the name of independent career person. What is wrong in telling your family that you will be away to another country. She tells her don that even his father has never questioned her. There is a difference between questioning and just asking as to where she is off to. People do let their families know of their travel plans. I am glad you introduced the serial.

    • bollyviewer says:

      Finished now? Isn’t it sad when it gets over? This is one series I wouldn’t mind watching for 200 episodes – we could see the kids grow up and how they grew old together.

      And yes, they did not write the mother and sister’s characters too well. I think they were both meant to be “modern and independent” but as “modern and independent” were to be demonized, the serial came up with this version of the characters that are really a bit hard to live with.

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