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Zara Noor Abbas in 'Badshah Begum' Image Credit: Daniyal Naqvi and Khizer Idrees

With a title like ‘Badshah Begum’ (or ‘King’s Consort’), the TV show is sure to conjure up images of grand costumes, palace intrigue, bloody swordfights and subterfuge at every turn. But the producer of Hum TV’s new Pakistani drama series, Rafay Rashidi, promises to confound audience’s expectations.

“It’s not a period drama or costume play; it’s very contemporary,” he tells Gulf News, a few days ahead of the show’s premiere.

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A still from 'Badshah Begum' Image Credit: Hum TV

Set in the fictional town of Peeranpur somewhere in the interiors of Sindh — Pakistan’s south-eastern province — the series navigates the region’s deep-rooted socio-political and cultural mores that are centered on the strict male-dominated tradition of ‘gaddi nasheen’ or dynastic leaders of the spiritual seat and the much-revered pirs and murshids (mentors and disciples). ‘Badshah Begum’ takes an aim at the patriarchy by placing the show’s female protagonist, Jahan Ara, to become the seat’s first matriarchal occupant.

“The idea was to introduce a woman on the gaddi (seat), which is actually not practised or believed in,” Rashidi says. “As such, it’s about women empowerment.”

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A still from 'Badshah Begum' Image Credit: Daniyal Naqvi and Khizer Idrees

A joint production of Rashidi and the talented Momina Duraid, ‘Badshah Begum’ is directed by Khizer Idrees, who has most notably worked as the Director of Photography, while the script is written by Saji Gul, whose earlier credits include ‘O Rangreza’ and ‘Dour’.

It’s an ensemble series fronted by Zara Noor Abbas, Ali Rehman Khan, Farhan Saeed, and Yasir Hussain. Abbas plays the titular character who admits this is her most challenging screen role yet.

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Saman Ansari also stars in Badshah Begum Image Credit: Daniyal Naqvi and Khizer Idrees

“I think I am still figuring out what Jahan Ara is,” the actress says about her character in the serial. “She isn’t your girl next door; she has a very dark space to her interior where only she goes to find clues. […] I am honoured to be playing her....”

Rafay Rashidi (L) and Khizer Idrees (R) on location of Badshah Begum — Photo by Kamran Jawaid-1646045898390
Rafay Rashidi and Khizer Idrees Image Credit: Kamran Jawaid

Prior to her casting, the role was offered to Saba Qamar and then to Iman Ali, but neither of them came onboard. Rashidi says that he “always wanted someone who’s very regal and pure, and who’d exude the aura of nobility. Zara fits the bill.” However, he is quick to add that most of the casting wasn’t done by him but by the TV network supervising the production.

He further reveals that the script came to him sometime in 2017 and he approached Duraid to come on board.

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A still from 'Badshah Begum' Image Credit: Hum TV

“I read it and thought it deserved to be made. Her (Duraid) feedback was incorporated, and the story was reconstructed to make it more appealing to the mass audiences,” he adds. “Without her support and vision, it wouldn’t have gotten off the ground.”

He also calls it “a risk,” which they took with “this kind of content.” Explaining his point, he says: “It’s not your usual saas-bahu [mother-in-law and daughter-in-law] drama; it’s about sibling rivalry, but it also talks of education for all, the equality of sexes, and the concept of inheritance — things you wouldn’t normally see on our primetime television.”

Duraid seconds him by saying that masses “don’t usually digest anything other than mainstream stories, but I see it… as a challenge.”

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Farhan Saeed is one of the leads in 'Badshah Begum' Image Credit: Daniyal Naqvi and Khizer Idrees

A major, 70-day shooting spell was recently finished at Rashidi’s ancestral estate in Larkana, where the entire cast and crew also stayed. The faraway location, which also served as their accommodation, resulted in a potential ‘bio bubble’ amid the pandemic as no one went out, and we received no outsiders, says Rashidi.

Quiz him if it was tough dealing with so many egos on the set, especially since it’s an ensemble, and he says that was never the case. “In fact, all the cast members, because they were located at one place and well looked after, had the chance to mingle with each other and develop an affinity that’s rarely witnessed on set. For me this was very important because the comfort level and camaraderie would reflect in their performance on screen,” he adds.

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Komal Meer also stars in 'Badshah Begum' Image Credit: Daniyal Naqvi and Khizer Idrees

Farhan Saeed, one of the male leads, echoes the same sentiment: “This is one set I was sad leaving. We were all like family. After returning to Karachi we’ve kept in touch, which says a lot about our chemistry.”

The musician turned actor admits that Pir Shahzeb, his character in ‘Badshah Begum’, is unlike any he’s portrayed on screen before. “It has grey shades. The minute I read the script I knew I had to do it.”

Saeed makes a special mention of director Idrees who he would love to work with again.

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A still from 'Badshah Begum' Image Credit: Hum TV

Ali Rehman Khan also speaks highly of the director with whom he’s previously worked on ‘Laapata’.

“He’s a quiet guy, but [he is] somebody who knows his craft like the back of his hand and is in complete command of things on set,” says Khan.

Roundly considered by his peers as well as his critics to be the most versatile actor of his generation, Khan is hopeful that ‘Badshah Begum ‘will contribute to his career trajectory.

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Actor Yasir Hussain Image Credit: Daniyal Naqvi and Khizer Idrees

“My character, Bakhtiar, provides the romantic angle [to the story],” he declares. “He’s an educated boy from a big city, who is raised by a single parent. He’s also a deep thinker. But that’s just one side of his story; his life takes a dramatic turn as the play goes on, and he ends up a changed person.”

Among ‘Badshah Begum’s’ other starry highlights is Yasir Hussain, who the audience identifies best with the numerous comic characters he’s played on screen. But here he appears in a completely dark avatar, complemented by his kohl-lined eyes and a sinister smile. It’s an enigmatic character that is sure to grab eyeballs.

Likewise, Abul Hassan as Pir Murad appears menacing, what with his long mane and garish wardrobe.

(L-R) Hibba Aziz, Tanya Hussain, Abul Hasan, Shahzad Nawaz, Zara Noor Abbas, Komal Meer, Ali Rehman Khan and Hamza Sohail chill on location of Badshah Begum — Group photo by Owi Photography-1646045908770
Image Credit: Owi Photography

The series has a formidable supporting line-up that includes Shahzad Nawaz, Saman Ansari, Komal Meer and Hamza Sohail.

Rashidi strongly believes that stars propel ratings. “[There’s] no two ways about that! I learnt this the hard way, after I had made a feature film with seven absolute newcomers.”

He’s referring to 2017’s ‘Thora Jee Le’, which bombed at the box office. It is obvious that he has put that failure way behind him. ‘Badshah Begum’ is a labour of love for him. The opening lines of the play’s OST — composed by Suhaib Rashidi and sung by Ali Pervez Mehdi — express it aptly: ‘Yeh ishq hai daadha’ (this is tough love).

Don’t miss it!

‘Badshah Begum’ will air on Hum TV from March 1