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First Published in Daily Times (Pakistan) / 08 June 2013

Congratulations Asim Raza on winning the 2014 Hum Award for best Teleplay

Asim Raza (Director Behadd)

The lights dim, and a warning is issued. There will be no gloss in Asim Raza’s presentation. The audience braces itself. This is not a film per se, Asim clarifies, adding that “a long play with substance will be at par with a telefilm.” The audience relaxes.

The directorial debut of Raza’s latest venture took place at the newly opened Cinepax, Ocean Mall (Karachi) towards the end of May. Behadd (Unlimited), which will be aired on Saturday, June 8, 2013 on HUM TV, is a nuanced family drama that mines a (single) mother-(spoiled) daughter relationship for spectacle. Raza, hailed as an ace commercial/music video director, did it in a short span of time, with his small support system and a lot of help from friends. For him this was a challenge taken on to counter the flurry of insinuations hurled his way of propping up visuals with the requisite gloss and glamour and always missing the mark when it came to infusing soul. Raza wanted to see if there were any grounds for such harsh assessments. “Are we really this incompetent and if so then I can retreat?” he calmly announces. Behadd, he added, has everything one would expect from a teleplay minus the gloss.

A powerhouse cast has been enlisted for the job: Nadia Jamil, Fawad Khan (Khuda Ke Liye, Humsafar, Zindagi Gulzar Hai), Nadia Afgan, Sajjal Ali, and Adnan Siddiqui, who has been relegated to a flashback. It has been scripted by Umera Ahmed and produced by Momina Duraid. The screening was attended by the cast of Zindagi Gulzar Hai, of Dhaani, and of famous plays/movies over the years.

The narrative is character-driven, furnished by beautiful leads, some just one step away from becoming cautionary tales. The dilemma of a possessive single mother and an equally possessive 15-year-old Maha forms the emotional core of this psychological drama. The voice of reason played by a handy best friend provides the feisty foil. The story goes into high gear when Poppy’s (another friend from yore) canny younger brother strolls into the frame and plops himself in the centre, forming a complicated triangle. It is a fairly straightforward set up, one that will resonate with the average viewer.

Behadd’s crisp repartee fits well with layers of social drama, morality, manipulation and pathos. The characters, called Mo or Jo, crib about lawn prices (atrocious), give away unsolicited parenting advice and share traffic woes, as the territorial daughter watches from the sidelines.

Since Behadd is not constricted by a traditional set-up, it can experiment with mature themes and explore the stark shades of jealousy, teen angst, mothers who smother, or fear of abandonment, with ease. There are times when the veil of realism wears thin around the edges. There is no interaction with well meaning elders and no cultural markers that can tie the storyline to its roots. The sterile setting is faintly reminiscent of the western rom-com universe made up of a handful of characters, out to weather the storm and claw their way to ‘happily ever afters’. But the resemblance ends here.

Raza is not in favour of providing escapism but there is an inherent optimism in his vision that filters through. Fantasy makes a guest appearance in this version, the harsh outlines of reality never leave the rearview and the intentional sacrifice of gloss does not detract from its entertainment value. There is a nice little twist at the end, but the origins of strife between mother and child are hardly surprising. Behadd deftly navigates the morose landscape, helped along by some solid acting. While this cannot be categorised as groundbreaking cinema (play), it also avoids being labelled as standard run-of-the-mill fare.

Asim Raza can shelve his retreat contingency. The end credits rolled to the sound of a standing ovation. The time for intelligent cinema that has the ability to engage its audience may have come. “I do not have much to say,” he had declared at the beginning. Behadd proves that he has a lot to offer.


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