‘Dhoop Ki Deewaar’, which literally translates into a ‘wall of sunlight’, is a piercing tale of the barriers erected across borders that rarely hold strong against the forces of nature.
The Pakistani drama series, which premiered on Zee5 on June 25, tells the stories of soldiers and their families across two nations and how their commonalities act as a conduit between them.
‘Dhoop Ki Deewar’ comes at an important time during India and Pakistan’s diplomatic relations. In February 2021, Pakistan and India reaffirmed their commitment to the 2003 ceasefire agreement along the Line of Control with talks to revive trade at a later stage. Yet, screenwriter Umera Ahmed says ‘Dhoop Ki Deewar’ isn’t propagandist in nature. She says the series is only endorsing the fact that the loss of a dear one feels the same, whichever side of the border you’re on, and that grief is an emotion that isn’t native to a particular region or territory. And this fact alone has the capacity to connect us all.
“It’s not a love story,” warns Ahmed, best known for penning the script of ‘Zindagi Gulzar Hai’, while talking to Gulf News. “It doesn’t follow the trajectory that most cross-border [love] stories we’ve seen on Indian and Pakistani screens do. It doesn’t become preachy or pander to hate mongers.”
The series follows Sara (Sajal Aly), a young college student in Lahore and the Amritsar-based Vishal (Ahad Raza Mir), both of whom have just lost their respective fathers in a border clash. As the bereaved families bid farewell to their respective martyrs, Sara and Vishal are drawn into an ugly spat on a social media group. The noise around their stories grows bigger and becomes fodder for mainstream news channels. Ironically, what begins as a faceoff soon transitions into the unlikeliest of bonds where our protagonists are ready to question societal prejudices and also, perhaps, border politics.
The idea of ‘Dhoop Ki Deewar’ was “born out of my brief but eye-opening encounter with a few families of martyred soldiers while I was researching for a book,” she says.
“I saw that the mother of a martyred soul will never curse the enemy country’s soldiers, because she understands the pain; she knows the price of being a soldier’s mother,” Ahmed says.
She insists that the story isn’t necessarily set in the present-day India and Pakistan, but because “there’s a mention of Pulwama [city in Jammu and Kashmir that was at the centre of a terror attack in 2019) towards the end [of the series],” it may be assumed that the action takes place sometime after that.
Lead pair Ali and Mir are two of Pakistan’s most popular actors who are also a real-life couple. They are supported by a stellar line-up that includes Manzar Sehbai, Samina Ahmed, Sawera Nadeem, Zaib Rehman, Aly Khan and Samiya Mumtaz. Award-winning director Haseeb Hasan has helmed the project.
Interestingly, Hasan’s previous few projects — the long play ‘Laal’ (2019), the war movie ‘Parwaz Hai Junoon’ (2018) and ARY’s ‘Sherdil’ (2007) — were all themed around the armed forces. Last year, he was scheduled to direct Fawad Khan and Sanam Saeed in their first film together ‘Aan’, which was about Pakistan Navy, but the project was put on hold due to the pandemic.
Ask him if he’s mastered the ‘war’ genre, and he says: “It’s my favourite [genre]. We designed its look accordingly — it’s quite raw, the colours are desaturated, and the camera moves in a free-flow sort of a way.”
The series is shot on ARRI Alexa, one of the best movie cameras used in Hollywood, in 4K. The sound is designed by Haniya Aslam (of the erstwhile Zeb & Haniya female pop band).
Hasan says his biggest challenge while filming ‘Dhoop Ki Deewar’ was to have “the actors, who’d be dressed up as Indian soldiers, shoot on the Pakistani side of the border without creating a ruffle. Mercifully, we were able to pull it off!”
Some stock photography was done in Amritsar, courtesy of the Zee5 team.
Talking about ‘Dhoop Ki Deewar’s peace narrative, he says: “It’s a very balanced script; there’s no self-glorification or bashing.”
Actor Samiya Mumtaz seconds Hasan: “There’s no jingoism [in the web series]. In fact, when I first read the script, I was very grateful that somebody was talking about peace without being biased.”
She agrees that cross-border stories tend to oversimplify things or gloss over the hard facts, but ‘Dhoop Ki Deewar’ is telling the hard facts. “It’s not pedantic, though; it just takes you into the lives of people in a very organic way.”
Mir calls it “a very character-driven story. It’s about pain and healing.”
While he essays the role of an Indian officer, Mir is of the view that the story isn’t about officers per se. “When people will watch the show, they’ll realise that it’s not about nationalities, it’s about the [characters’] emotional journey — what happens after you lose a blood relation.”
A few days ahead of its release, ‘Dhoop Ki Deewar’ sparked public outcry, predominantly on Twitter, with several people calling the show irresponsible and inciting hatred. #BanDhoopKiDeewar was trending on social media, prompting writer Ahmed to release a lengthy statement where she declared that the script of the series had been duly evaluated and approved by the ISPR, the public relations’ wing of the Pakistan armed forces, and so no one should have any objections on that account.
Replying to a query about the kind of counter-checks Zee5 had on the project, Hasan says: “The entire process went very smooth, we had everything sorted at the scripting level itself. The series took two years in the making. Umera [Ahmed] was very clear from day one that no one’s sentiments should be hurt. Also, the Zee5 management placed complete trust in us. They’re thorough professionals. Eventually, we were able to work together, as if without borders, towards a common goal.”
Hasan rubbishes the rumour that Zee5 re-edited the final product: “Not at all. I and my editor, Bilal Ghauri, worked with complete freedom, and the final product was released from our end only. There isn’t a single insertion by them [Zee5]. Of course, they are in charge of publicity, and they’ve designed a wonderful campaign.”
When asked as to what kind of an audience response she is expecting, actress Mumtaz says: “I think a lot of people will definitely watch it for curiosity’s sake, but also for Sajal and Ahad, and then they’ll be drawn into the story and be able to identify with the characters. I also hope that it will help to change attitudes.”
Mir is also hopeful that at the end of the day the show connects people. “I don’t know if this is going to be a hit or critically acclaimed, I just hope that people understand the story that we’re trying to tell, for that alone.”
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'Dhoop Ki Deewar' is now streaming in the UAE on Zee5