Ayeza Khan, Humayun Saeed, and childstar Shees Sajji Gul aka Rumi in a still from MERAY PAAS TUM HO-1578896971637
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Noted playwright, poet and director Khalil ur Rahman Qamar’s public image is a study in paradoxes. How else do you explain the fact that he is the Pakistani entertainment industry’s best loved and, at the same time, most reviled man today?

Though he has been in the industry for more than two decades, with successful TV dramas such as ‘Landa Bazaar’, ‘Love Life and Lahore’, ‘Pyare Afzal’ and ‘Sadqay Tumharay’ to his credit, it wasn’t until his latest, ARY Digital’s ‘Meray Paas Tum Ho’, that he saw phenomenal public adulation while also becoming the pet hate of some feminist groups.

The TV show, which stars Humayun Saeed, Ayeza Khan and Adnan Siddiqui, continues to mint TRPs, setting new popularity benchmarks with every new episode aired. The show is being hailed for its didactic plot, top-notch performances, evocative soundtrack by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and, above all, its dramatic dialogues.

Ironically, the same lines that the masses can’t stop raving about — judging especially from social media trends — have fallen out of favour with certain sections of society, particularly proponents of gender equality who have rejected the show as misogynistic.

Ayeza Khan in a still from MERAY PAAS TUM HO-1578896969859

It began with Saeed’s middle-class, average-looking but submissive and doting husband, Danish, passing a strongly-worded comment against his beautiful wife, Mehwish (played by Khan), whose greed for a better lifestyle led her to walk out on him — she even leaves their child behind, having fallen for the charms of a rich businessman Shehwaar (Siddiqui), who pretends to be a lonely man devastated by an unhappy marriage.

Twitter users got into a kerfuffle over Danish calling his wife “dou takay ki aurat” (a woman who is worth two pennies). Some rational voices were heard too, that insisted that the dialogue ought not to be reviewed out of context. When a man as loyal and kind as Danish is wronged by his wife, he is justified in venting his hurt and humiliation in at least these many words, they reasoned.

Further, in his defence, this isn’t Danish’s spontaneous reaction; he is someone who’s never been abusive or even intolerant. In one of the play’s emotionally charged moments, he is deeply anguished but constantly denying the painful reality, hoping that Mehwish won’t leave him, and holding on to her, even though he has discovered that she had a fling with her beau. He is somebody the audience can’t help sympathise with. Consequently, Mehwish becomes the object of hate — unsurprisingly, more than even the scheming Shehwaar.

Writer Qamar has received flak, albeit from similar quarters, for what they call a negative depiction of the play’s female protagonist. Much to their horror, Qamar said in an interview some highly contentious things about how women aren’t men’s equals. He recently explained his point of view, in an effort to pacify the antagonised groups, but in vain.

As for ‘Meray Paas Tum Ho’, criticism has been directed also at the fact that Mehwish is shown to suffer for her sin through the later episodes. In a stroke of karma, she is ejected from Shehwaar’s bungalow — and her much-cherished reverie — as Shehwaar’s wife (Sawera Nadeem, in a special appearance) steps in.

Danish, on the other hand, has struck gold in a chance investment in the stock exchange. He has also found sincere company in friends from his college days — played by Rahmat Ajmal and Furqan Qureshi — and (unrequited?) love in his son Rumi’s schoolteacher Miss Hania (Hira Mani), a sari-clad young lady with a heart of gold who not only humours Danish but also almost indulges his sense of isolation.

The show more than deals with ‘reciprocity’ as a theme, for it is not just life’s situations that are shown to dramatically change for Mehwish and Danish, but now every character on screen has at least one long-winded sermon to give on how infidelity is a sin that no amount of penitence can undo. Mehwish, in fact, has reached a near-ascetic state of remorse, where she wouldn’t settle for anything less than forgiveness from her ex-husband (Danish). As the play progresses, it descends further into oversentimentality.

Qamar is often dubbed the “king of romantic dialogues,” when it comes to his writings; and ‘Meray Paas Tum Ho’ is no different. Here he is helped by ace director Nadeem Baig who adds first-rate production values to the project and never lets it become a melodramatic bore.