It’s rare on Pakistani television to find a show which is religiously driven without passing judgement, one which conveys all the positive messaging of Islam in context with kindness. “Fatima Feng” accomplishes exactly that, not only showing Jia’s journey towards Islam, but also showing her path as she asks relevant questions, challenges hypocrisy and acquaints herself with cultural vs religious practices. “Fatima Feng” has been an interesting watch, to say the least. And yet, in the final two weeks of episodes, the show did manage to falter, taking the show away from “the point” and somehow moving into cultural aspects once again. Written by Asma Wazir Gul and directed by Fahim Burney, “Fatima Feng” stars Howarah Batool, Usama Khan, Mehar Bano, Babar Ali, Munazzah Arif and Noman Kahout in prominent roles.
In the final episodes, Amaar (Usama Khan) has unnecessarily been brainwashed against Fatema (Howarah Batool) post Jahangir’s (Babar Ali) death. During this time, Natasha (Meher Bano) tries to snake her way back into Amaar’s life. This entire plot is ludicrous, because while it’s easy for misunderstandings to occur, it’s not to the extent that is shown here. While Fatema has certainly taken control of the business, it’s due to the fact that everyone else, including Amaar, is mourning and she wants to do her part. The only person on Fatema’s side through it all is either Raheel or Minaal (Rimha Ahmed). Seeing all this, Fatema finally does leave home and returns to her own house, leaves the business and slowly trains under her mentor, Usman Sahab (Farhan Ali Agha), to be a religious speaker. This aspect of the narrative is nice, but there are two points where the show falters.
First, Jia has studied Islam to convert. She is a Muslim not by birth, but by knowledge. She recognizes that religion gives one the right to divorce and, quite honestly, Amaar’s misbehavior is downright unacceptable. Not only does he emotionally isolate Fatema, but talks badly about her to his entire family and even confides in Natasha, of all people. When Fatema confronts him about it, he literally tells her to leave the house. Amaar’s character is entirely destroyed in the last bit of the show and without reason – but regardless, his character still behaves in that way and Fatema’s behavior is not justified. She becomes a doormat, saying this is a test from God and she waits for Amaar to change his mind. This is where the story, the writer and director themselves mix up religion and culture. Why should a woman tolerate this? Could there have been a better ending? Yes. What would it have been? Anything would’ve been better than this “woman tolerates emotional abuse and then forgives him, because he realizes his ex was manipulating him” trope which we’ve seen hundreds of times.
Second, the entire character of Natasha was turned into a joke. Natasha was visibly mentally ill. She was not okay and needed serious intervention. She was obsessed with Amaar and would lash out. But one thing that was never addressed, even by Amaar, was Natasha’s flat-out attempt to murder him in the car. That was never discussed between them and the families never found out the details – and this was an injustice. In the end, Amaar is happily sitting, discussing his marital problems with the woman who tried to murder him and that’s an acceptable oversight? Coming back to Natasha herself, she uses Amaar’s friend to make him jealous and then, in the end, she marries him. Yes, everyone deserves love and affection, but she used this man and was never, even for a moment, “real” with him. Why would he be in love with her? He himself is a victim of depression, so were they trying to make a statement that those with poor mental health should be together? This entire angle came across as warped and uneducated. We would have approved of a growth arc for Natasha more than a love story.
A special shout-out has to be given to Noman Kahout, who has honestly been the highlight of the show with his performance as Raheel. This is not only due to the performance itself, but also Asma Wazir Gul’s writing of this character, a man who has been a straight and arrow from the beginning, a good man who guides Fatema to the right path. However, even his story goes wayward in an attempt to show how even the good can stray – and while the message was good, the execution was not. It’s not necessarily depicted, but one would hope Raheel cut off from his emotionally abusive family in the end.
This review is full of criticism, but that’s only because the final bulk of episodes from episode 34 onwards became rather tedious to watch, as if there was a certain number of episodes the show had to be and the writer/director duo did not know how to fill that time. The show could have easily ended at Amaar and Fatema’s marriage, but by dragging it, they needlessly threw in story arcs which made the characters unlikable. Usama Khan proved he’s lead hero material, but needs to be given roles as such. Howarah Batool was uncomfortable to watch as an actress initially, but over the course of the show, she found her footing and wound up being a strong performer. “Fatema Feng” wins major points for being something new and innovative for our television screens and attempting to portray religion in a positive light. This show also cast light on other minorities in Pakistan and their struggles. While it had its share of flaws in the latter portion, it has overall been a strong show with some truly great messaging and writing. Here’s hoping that this team continues to push boundaries and create more engaging, thoughtful content like “Fatema Feng.”