It’s rare that a Pakistani drama manages to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together, wrapping up the final episode in a way that’s not “neat” – rather, in a manner that is befitting of the tale they have been trying to tell. “Badshah Begum,” from the beginning, did not seek to highlight a social message. It did not seek to present facts. It did not seek to create a romantic tale. This story has been one that focuses on a feudal family set in a fictional world (that could very well exist in small areas in Pakistan) with high voltage drama between the Pir family. Starring Farhan Saeed, Zara Noor Abbas, Hamza Sohail, Ali Rehman Khan, Komal Meer, Yasir Hussain, Saman Ansari, Abul Hassan, Shahzad Nawaz, Tanya Hussain, Hiba Aziz and others, the story has been written by Saji Gul and directed by Khizer Idrees.
As one would hope, “Badshah Begum” does not shy away from allowing this ruthless story of power to play out in a violent manner. The episode begins with Jahan Ara (Zara Noor Abbas) at Kaiser’s (Yasir Hussain) haveli, held hostage, when Shahzaib (Farhan Saeed) comes to her rescue. And while Jahan Ara is released to attend Bakhtiyar’s (Ali Rehman Khan) funeral, she has set a plan in motion unknown to both Kaiser and Shahzaib. An emotional moment ensues as Bakhtiyar’s mother mourns the loss of her son, making Jahan Ara promise to not let his sacrifice go to waste – and, in a shocking turn of events, she doesn’t. A bloodbath ensues in the coming scenes. Kaiser shoots Hakim Bi, putting an end to her claim as Badshah Begum. Jahan Ara stands before an audience with Kaiser and the two have a face-off, killing one another. Meanwhile, back at home, Roshan Ara (Komal Meer) falls victim to her own actions and her poor mental health, committing suicide in grief after Bakhtiyar’s death. Shahzaib is the last man left standing and, when his daughter is born, he names her Jahan Ara and raises her to take over the throne of Badshah Begum.
Let’s begin with the characters in the finale itself. Gulnaar (Hiba Aziz) was content as Shahmir’s wife, but now that she has lost both Tara and Shahmir, she sets out to the city to continue her education, vowing to care for Tara’s mother and reunite her with her lost son. This is a fitting, optimistic end for Gulnaar, a member of Peeran Pur’s society who escapes its darkness despite enduring the worst of it and moving towards the light. Roshan Ara’s end is tragic, much like her life. Roshan Ara has always been unstable. Growing up with Jahan Ara and Shahmir, raised to be Badshah Begum and her Wali, Roshan Ara has always felt inferior. Giving rise to this complex were visibly hereditary mental illness in the bloodline (which we also saw in Hakim Bi, Murad, Kaiser and, in small moments, even in Jahan Ara). Roshan Ara’s “love” for Bakhtiyar was always fixation, something born out of jealousy for her older sister and with his death, Roshan Ara finally hit her breaking point. Roshan Ara has always been a character meant to fall – but it doesn’t make it any less tragic, especially seeing her chained to her bed like an animal in the end.
And, of course, we must now come to Shahzaib. Shahzaib has been a complex character from the beginning. As an audience, we sympathized with his upbringing, essentially raising himself and Murad after the death of their mother, abandoned by their father. Shahzaib grew up in Peeran Pur, a world not fit for a child and so, he grew up learning those backwards rituals. We watched Shahzaib fight for his right before ultimately giving up his claim to the “gaddi,” taking a backseat and allowing his city-bred siblings to rule. And yet, in the end, the only one left standing is Shahzaib, there to claim what he has always wanted all along – but at the cost of the only other thing he ever wanted….family. There are many ways to perceive this ending. Did Shahzaib plan this all along, biding his time and waiting? Or was this just divine intervention (from his point of view) with Shahzaib getting what he felt was his right all along by chance? Or, is Shahzaib just waiting, taking claim of the throne and gaining trust before he will eventually make the changes Shahmir and Jahan Ara died for? The open-endedness of this final shot is what makes it so intriguing -and such a perfect ending.
Was there a real message in Badshah Begum? Not exactly, but there is a statement being made here. Those who come from a different background and do not assimilate with those they rule generally cannot bring about any change. Change comes from within, from those who belong to that land. Would Shahzaib be the one to make that change? Or we could look at things from this perspective – those in our society who fight to create change always find themselves being held back by society which continues to harbor old thoughts. In such a society, those who hold true to those ideals are the ones who will remain successful – and it’s the wealthy in such societies who continue to amass wealth and tread upon the poor.
While outwardly, one may look at this finale and say “what was the point?”…..hasn’t this always been the ending this show was gearing towards? “Badshah Begum” has never claimed to be anything other than a grim show about sinister characters. Did this show ever promise romance or happy endings? Certainly not! And so, this finale arrives like a breath of fresh air. It doesn’t promise reform or change, rather it depicts a tragic reality, a societal truth that the cycle of power continues and does not let go of those who enter its lair. While Shahzaib may have gone through many emotions through his life and even harbored love and affection for his sisters, in the end, corruption seized control once again and led him down the tried and tested path. Or did he use his daughter to carry out Jahan Ara’s wishes? That is up to the audience to decide. As a show, “Badshah Begum” has been a joy to watch and a few editing issues notwithstanding, this has been an underrated gem for those looking for Pakistani television removed from saas-bahu and romance tales. From Zara Noor Abbas to Hamza Sohail to Farhan Saeed to Komal Meer to Yasir Hussain…..the entire cast has done a phenomenal job and played their roles to the best of their abilities. The entire team deserves a bow! “Badshah Begum” will not only be missed, but will be remembered – and while it may not have been a TRP success, this is one that will gain appreciation with time.