Pakistani writer Umera Ahmed scored a hit with her series Jannat Se Aagay, with which she puts her finger on some sore wounds in society. StampMedia spoke to screenwriter Umera Ahmed, director Haseeb Hasan and lead actor Talha Chahour about the success of the series.
MMore than three million Pakistanis, both at home and abroad, are ready for a new episode of the web series every Friday and Saturday evening Jannat Se Aagay (“Beyond Paradise”). The series tells the story of Tabassum and Jannat.
Both represent a certain class in Pakistani society. Tabassum is a naive girl who looks up to upper class influencers. Jannat is an influencer and morning show host. Tabassum lives with the ideal image that influencers and famous people from the upper class lead the best lives.
With her series, Umera Ahmed holds up a mirror to the Pakistani viewers who are glued to the TV every morning. Tabassum belongs to the middle class and is someone who, like an average viewer, admires public figures and wants to go far to become part of the upper class. At one point she is hired as the house help of her idol Jannat with whom she develops a love-hate relationship. She realizes that the grass is not always greener on the other side. The story is not just about the ‘us’ and ‘them’ group, it is also about human behavior and how our emotions are stimulated to sensationalize people’s minor or major misfortunes on TV.
In an interview with StampMedia lighting director Haseeb Hasan a glimpse of the veil. He tells what the core of the story is: ‘Is it Tabassums fangirlmoment for Jannat, which we, middle class people, feel represents us deep down? Or is it Jannat’s cold view of human emotions that defines us as human beings?’
“For Jannat, everything revolves around clicks and views these days,” he continues. ‘She doesn’t know her limits and is able to do anything to reach the highest number of viewers for her show. She holds a goat wedding reception, puts a python around her neck and invites people with compelling stories. The two characters are mirror images of each other. From Tabassum to Jannat, like an echo from two sides.’
According to Umera Ahmed the viewers are the ones who make the stars so famous. ‘We give the stars that space, that respect, that attention, love and obsession to make it great. Or do the stars make themselves popular by working hard, with their perseverance, ruthlessness and a competitive spirit that knows no bounds? That is a question I would like to answer in the series.’
‘If there is no concept of it fandoms there would be no stars, right? Tabassum, Jannat, … Jannat, Tabassum: it is like the chicken and the egg. I have not depicted Jannat as a black character. She is kind and thoughtful in her private life. I have deliberately not depicted any character in black or white.’
Jannat Ali Khan (played by Kubra Khan) is Pakistan’s Oprah Winfrey and gives an insight into the world behind the popular morning shows. Jannat’s show throws the spotlight on social issues that no one would really care about if it weren’t for her show. She is positioned in such a way that as a talk show host she seems to have little regard for the feelings of her miserable guests and induces tears from them to increase the emotional quotient of the show.
‘Jannat Ali Khan invites powerless people belonging to the lower class to her show. They give her insights that she then milks into sensation,’ says Ahmed. ‘This is how she forces rape victims to come on her show and cry out loud for more views.’
It is the viewers who give her that power, the writer points out. ‘The power to go viral, but also to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate. She is not uneducated or bad in character. She has unknowingly placed herself in the vicious cycle of toxicity, money and fame. The entertainment industry no longer succeeds in taking up their social responsibility because they are so blinded by money.’
Talha Chahour, who plays Tabassum’s fiancé Farooq in the series, is overwhelmed by the feedback from the viewers. “I am very happy to see that the audience is liking Farooq. To see Farooq’s character development, you have to watch the entire series as there is so much to explore along with the highs and lows. I hope the series will continue to do so well until the end.”
‘I just hope that all our hard work will pay off. And I really hope that audiences learn from this series. Jannat Se Aagay gives some hard lessons as it draws a lot of comparisons between contrasting topics. Between rich and poor—good and evil.”
Chahour wants to convey the message that the grass is not always greener on the other side and hard work is needed to go far. ‘Stay true to who you are. Work hard and follow your dreams.’
© 2023 StampMedia / Noreen Muhammad