The role that made people notice Pakistani actor Fawad Khan

03 February 2015

This past Sunday, at the 60th Filmfare Awards, Pakistani leading man Fawad Khan won the award for the best male debut in Bollywood for his role in Khoobsurat. In our November 2014 issue, Karanjeet Kaur explored the crossover appeal of dramas from Pakistan with the advent of Zee Zindagi. In this excerpt from that story, she reviews Zindagi Gulzar Hai, the television series that first brought Fawad Khan to the attention of his Indian fan following.

The current crop of Pakistani dramas to make their way across the border, via Zindagi, were all created over the last four or five years, in the image of the old PTV plays. They were originally telecast on private Urdu channels—such as Hum TV, Geo TV and ARY Zindagi—that launched around the time General Pervez Musharraf seized power after a coup d’etat in 1999. The influx of private money into the media and entertainment sectors during the early and mid 2000s helped revive teleserials. Before the decade ended, the industry had found a name it could bank on: Umera Ahmad.

The 37-year-old writer’s romantic novels and screenplays centre around female protagonists, and mirror middle- and upper-class anxieties about love, weddings and social mobility. Her milieus are contemporary, and her heroines, somewhat like Haseena Moin’s, appear progressive, if ultimately acquiescent. Doraha (Crossroads, 2008), an adaptation of her novel directed by Mehreen Jabbar and featuring a soundtrack by the pop sensation Jal, catapulted her to renown, paving the way for future teleplays, Meri Zaat Zarra-e-Benishan (My Existence is Meaningless, 2009) and Shehr-e-Zaat (City Unto Self, 2012).

Zee Zindagi started broadcasting on 23 June, with the flagship show Zindagi Gulzar Hai (Life is a Bed of Roses, 2012), based on Ahmad’s novel of the same name. Starring Sanam Saeed and Fawad Khan in the lead roles of Kashaf Murtaza and Zaroon Junaid, Zindagi Gulzar Hai is an intelligent update of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice; its main preoccupations, through its 26 episodes, are ideas of class and upbringing—ideas that mainstream Indian serials have often picked up, but usually subjected to notoriously melodramatic treatment.

The two lead characters’ diverging worldviews, which the narrative uses as a framing device, are a function of their respective classes. Kashaf has been moulded into a fiercely independent and strong-willed young woman by her economic and familial circumstances. Money is tight, and she frequently clashes with her father, who left her mother and two sisters to marry another woman and father a son. Kashaf meets the dreamy, upper-class chauvinist Zaroon at university. Their perspectives are so irreconcilable that you might doubt the potential for any romance between the two, even though the opening credits sequence makes clear that their love is inevitable.

Karanjeet Kaur is the former deputy editor of National Geographic Magazine (India). She writes on art, culture and travel, and has reported for Mint Lounge, Time Out, Yahoo! India, Art India and Mail Today in the past. She tweets as @kaju_katri.