The first thing that struck this writer about ‘Mrs. and Mr. Shameem,’ before even beginning to watch the show, the latest from Pakistan on Zee5, is its rather impressive cast and crew credits. Kashif Nisar (‘Ranjha Ranjha Kar Di,’ ‘Dar Si Jati Hai Sila’), known for his gritty and no-holds-barred treatment of social issues otherwise considered too risqué for television, helms the show. Besides that, it features two powerhouse leads in Nouman Ijaz and Saba Qamar and is penned by Saji Gul. Grabbing the popcorn, I decided to sit down for a satisfying binge-watching session.
A few episodes into the series, one is reminded of how tricky it is to engage and maintain viewer interest when presenting narratives around societal ills and issues, given the strong and omnipresent undercurrents of unpleasantness. It would not be too difficult to make such a show exhausting for the audience by weighing it down with its commentary on all the ills and wrongs, the contributing talent and craft notwithstanding. In trying to find the right balance, ‘Mrs. and Mr. Shameem almost falters. Almost, because the show deals with quite an extensive set of issues, with literally every scene and situation revolving around one or the other. And not quite, as in the able hands of its director, and some applause-worthy writing and performances, it is able to maintain a certain tempo and appeal.
In a non-linear manner, we are introduced to the life and times of two long-time friends, Umaina (Saba Qamar) and Shameem (Nouman Ijaz). Umaina, a passionate young woman who bares her emotions and temperamental flare-ups for the world to see, is pregnant, and her boyfriend has left her. Shameem, an effeminate man and the only male member of his household, decides to help his friend out of the sticky situation by marrying her. Taunted and harassed by the rest of the society including his own family, for his unconventional mannerisms, Shameem, or Shammo, is a caring, perceptive man with a heart of gold. His decision to marry Umaina leads the two down a path, where a series of (additional) travails follows them over a series of twenty episodes.
Enlivening the somewhat somber nature of the proceedings are the truly lovable performances from the two leads, periodically punctuated by dramatic upheavals. Whether it is Saba Qamar flaring up at Shammo when she initially lands at his house, or Nouman Ejaz dancing with a dupatta at a wedding, much to the chagrin of his brothers-in-law and the wedding guests, the two own their characters and bring all the ups and downs, the joy, vivaciousness and the emotional trauma to the screen. In the latter portions when the proceedings move to scenic locales of Khanpur, we see their character arc – and relationship – maturing, with the two eventually deciding to work towards highlighting the cause of AIDS victims.
Although often bogged down with projecting stereotypes associated with certain community members, e.g. the outwardly religious or those with a certain orientation, the narrative does have a redemptive arc with the lead pair constantly battling against the odds, and eventually, finding salvation amidst their dark circumstances. Together, the Shameems raise a child, earn their livelihoods, and find happiness, as Shammo’s quiet strength and unbreakable resolve earns him much respect, and eventually love, in the eyes of Umaina. Never give up is the mantra here, and AIDS, which finds its way into the plot, is certainly not a death sentence. ‘Life is quite stubborn,’ remarks Shammo in retrospect, recounting his life’s journey in a talk show.
The show is aided by some spectacular supporting performances, with Gul-e-Rana and Uzma Hassan, in particular standing out. Production values, including the photography, sets, and the background sore, are all appropriate for the bittersweet tone of the show. Indeed, the makers cast the distinct environs of Lahore as a character in its own right.
The bottom line:
‘Mrs. and Mr. Shameem’ is punctuated by a lot of blacks and whites — and indeed a lot more black than white. One wishes there was more nuance to the characters presented. While the web-series may not exactly be binge watching material, it does deal with a unique plot and presents a story that has never been told before. That is a reason enough to watch it – that is if the terrific performances put in by Saba Qamar and Nouman Ijaz haven’t sold you the show already.