‘Cheekh’ (scream), Big Bang Entertainment’s latest drama serial, directed by Badar Mehmood, is an edgy crime thriller, a genre less explored on television in Pakistan. But this isn’t exactly why it is featured on our pages today: beneath the play’s rather hokey title, hides a well-layered tale of an urban-based, educated woman facing intimidation of all kinds in her lone fight for justice for her best friend’s murder and attempted rape apparently at the hands of her husband’s younger brother.
At one point, the culprit catches her snooping into his wardrobe; within seconds, his character transitions from being a doting, respectful brother-in-law to a shamefaced harasser who now makes the highly disturbing confession to her. The lady’s plight is exacerbated by the fact that the rest of the world deems him innocent. Despite pressure from family and the risks involved, she chooses not to hush up the matter.
Seven episodes down, the show is already trending on YouTube — last week, it was on number one, with over 2.4 million views — thanks to its engaging storyline, a taut screenplay, and stellar performances, especially by lead actors Saba Qamar and Bilal Abbas Khan. Qamar seems to completely internalise the suffering of her character, Mannat — her journey from a feisty young woman with a mind of her own, who loves the company of her two college friends, Nayab and Haya, to an angst-ridden person who suddenly finds herself defenceless and isolated from her increasingly embittered husband and in-laws that include Haya herself. It’s an author-backed role that offers the actor a diverse emotional palette to work with, and the ‘Hindi Medium’ star proves why she deserved to play this character like no one else from her contemporaries.
Consider, for instance, the scene where the victim’s aggrieved father throws ink at Mannat’s brother-in-law, Wajih; everyone else in the house is condemning the act but Mannat sits unmoved in her sofa chair, gazing into the distance, almost like a quietly amused spectator.
Commendably, Qamar summons just the right degree of smugness on her face. The hospital sequence where she breaks down, or the one in which her character confronts Wajih, are all acquitted with gratifying restraint. The award-winning actress also shines bright in the girls-day-out scenes; her crackling chemistry with her friends — played affably by Ushna Shah and Azekah Daniel — is worth a dekko.
In what is decidedly his first negative role, Bilal Abbas Khan is a revelation. This is one performance he should be proud of. Wajih affords this handsome young actor an emotional arc that goes from the conventional, boy-next-door to creepy and downright ugly.
Qamar and Khan are aided by a brilliant supporting cast, chiefly Aijjaz Aslam, Noor Hassan and Nayyar Ejaz. As the bad and mad sleuth, Ejaz is simply a joy to watch.
Scriptwriter Zanjabeel Asim Shah, best known for her mega serial, ‘Bashar Momin’ (2014), takes the more cerebral approach and moves away from the traditional whodunit, revealing the murderer’s true identity to the audiences and retaining the suspense element at the same time. (For the uninitiated, Shah is related to celebrated playwright Noor Al Huda, who has tackled gritty social subjects in her dramas.)
‘Cheekh’ is, perhaps, her most atmospheric play yet; you can actually feel the clawing of panic here and the heart-warming tenderness of true friendship there.
The show boasts an evocative background score.
Also, its soundtrack, composed by Waqar Ali and rendered by ‘Afghan jalebi’-famed Asrar, is no less haunting. Superior camera work and crispy editing lift the screenplay from commonplace to superlative, if not cutting-edge.