Saba Qamar and Naumaan Ijaz in 'Mrs and Mr Shameem' Image Credit: Zee5

The pun in the title of Zee5’s latest original series from Pakistan — ‘Mrs and Mr Shameem’ — is intended. You figure that out once you have a glimpse of the show’s first trailer that dropped recently, featuring Saba Qamar and Naumaan Ijaz, two of Pakistan’s most renowned actors today in a kind of a role reversal.

The trailer ushers you into the carefree world of Umeena (played by Qamar), a feisty and independent-minded working woman who may be borderline tomboyish; and her dutiful friend, the overtly effeminate Shameem (Ijaz), who proves to be her biggest support when the circumstances break her, putting to shame the manliest of men going around. In an emotionally charged clip from the trailer, Umeena warns a bunch of men: “You so-called men don’t even compare to Shameem.”

A still from 'Mrs and Mr Shameem' Image Credit: Zee5

‘Mrs and Mr Shameem’, thus, challenges social stereotypes, especially those related to gender. Though, there’s a price that its protagonists have to pay because they don’t fit the slots the society pushes at them — Umeena, because she’s just come out of an abusive marriage with the man she had a crush on, but now she is done with girlhood fantasies about love and romance and is ready to take the most unconventional path to happiness; and Shameem, for the very slurs that seem to follow him to the end of the world.

When Umeena’s son from her previous marriage, whom Shameem has been an equally doting parent to, mocks him as “sissy,” Shameem is heart-broken to the point where he can’t even know if he has any self-worth left in him.

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Naumaan Ijaz in 'Mrs and Mr Shameem' Image Credit: Zee5

The trailer, which runs well over three minutes, has you rooting for the lead characters. It also leaves you wondering whether they will find redemption down the road, and if redemption is worth seeking at all.

The show’s core message, according to scriptwriter Saji Gul, is that true love transcends all worldly standards and expectations, and that it’s a reward in itself. Both Umeena and Shameem may be social misfits, but their essential goodness of heart and their compassion form the basis for their newfound relationship. It’s a relationship that does not rest on physical attraction or grand illusions about each other, so there is little chance of it becoming jaded.

Saba Qamar and Agha Mustafa on the set-1647173667058

Gul reveals that the show’s original title was ‘Shameem’. “Then it was changed to ‘Apna Mann Jogi’, which was later shortened to ‘Mann Jogi’. I personally liked it [‘Mann Jogi’] better,” he says. “But if you want to reach out to a global audience, ‘Mrs and Mr Shameem’ is more suitable.”

Bait him about the trailer giving a lot of story away, and Gul says, “Oh, wait for the most important twist in the story! The main plotline is yet to unfold.”

Lead performer Ijaz, on the other hand, says that the plot twist has to do with “the mysterious ailment” that his character is shown to suffer in the second half of the play. Speaking exclusively to Gulf News from Canada, the actor says that the disease and its mental and physical repercussions on the sufferer were well researched for the web series.

A still from 'Mrs and Mr Shameem' Image Credit: Zee5

One interesting fact about ‘Mrs and Mr Shameem’ is that it was ideated “some 13 years back,” to quote Ijaz. “It began with a sketch of Shameem’s character in my mind. I discussed it with Kashif Nisar [the director], and he loved the idea. We felt that characters like him [Shameem] are often not faithfully presented on screen, and they end up being caricatures or are meant for comic relief. We wanted to change that.”

He says that the series took long to complete because “back then we didn’t find any takers on TV. Everyone said it couldn’t fetch good ratings. But when Zee5 approached us, and we proposed the idea [of ‘Mrs and Mr Shameem’], they loved it. So we began to develop it into a full-fledged script. And the rest is history.”

Saba Qamar and Nauman Ijaz on the set-1647173668349

Ijaz, who is popularly associated with the chauvinistic patriarch he’s often played on screen, agrees that Shameem is a departure for him. “I believe that an actor is like water that will take the shape of whatever mould you put it in,” he adds.

For his portrayal of Shameem, Ijaz says he borrowed from life, “We’ve all known or come across such people in our lives, haven’t we?”

Naumaan Ijaz and Saba Qamar on the set of Mrs and Mr Shameem -P1-1647173658875
Naumaan Ijaz and Saba Qamar in 'Mrs and Mr Shameem' Image Credit: Zee5

Ijaz is all praise for his co-star, Qamar, with whom he has earlier made a number of TV serials. “We wanted someone with a strong screen presence, who could understand the many layers and shades of this [Umeena’s] character, and who could effortlessly play young to old. It’s also a bold character which not many actresses would’ve been willing to take up. Saba is one actor who gets into the skin of her character, and takes the performance level to fresh heights every time.”

It is obvious that Qamar, who was last seen in ARY’s successful courtroom drama, ‘Cheekh’ (2019), and won plaudits from critics and fans alike, has another winner on hand. Not only does she look utterly believable in the serious parts, but she sparkles in lighter moments — and that is judging from the trailers alone. The ‘Hindi Medium’ star proves yet again that she has a funny bone in her.

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Saba Qamar Image Credit: Supplied

Does she identify herself with Umeena? Qamar says she did once. “If I was to look back on the Saba Qamar of 10 or 15 years ago, I might be able to identify myself better with Umeena, especially in terms of her aspirations, her motivations, and her idealism — but not today. I believe I’m a far more practical person now.”

She contends that it’s a fallacy to call someone beautiful based on their outer beauty. “It’s our behaviour and values that define u]. But it’s also a fact that you only learn this the hard way. And that’s the point [‘Mrs and Mr Shameem’] is trying to make. The show reminds us how very often we take for granted some of the most faithful and loving people around us.”

She concludes by saying that the web series is very close to her heart. “I’ve given it my sweat and blood. You can call me a workaholic. You know, even at the end of a hectic shoot, I wouldn’t want to quit. My director would jokingly say, ‘Is ki batteries nikal do!’ [Take her batteries out].”

(L-R) Director Kashif Nisar, Naumaan Ijaz and Uzma Hasan-1647173644956
Diretcor Kashif Nisar, Naumaan Ijaz and Uzma Hasan Image Credit: Supplied

‘Mrs and Mr Shameem’ also boasts an impressive supporting cast that includes Uzma Hassan, Agha Mustafa, and Gul e Rana. Hassan is an acclaimed theatre and TV actress who has also worked in Shaan Shahid’s remake of Bollywood movie, Arth. Mustafa is relatively new in the industry but has a credible body of work on his resume. Here he plays Umeena’s toxic husband.

The play’s OST, ‘Ishq Bina,’ out now, is a soulful melody composed by Sami Khan in the tradition of qawwali, and rendered by Abeer Hassan, Zain Ali and Zohaib Ali. It sums up the theme of the show beautifully: “Ishq bina kya bashar kya Khuda… [There’s nothing without true love, neither man nor God.]”

Don’t miss it!

‘Mrs and Mr Shameem’ starts streaming on Zee5 from March 11.