“Phaans” was meant to tell the tale of a rape victim and her trials and tribulations that she faced in the quest for justice. Unfortunately, much of the story focused on the attempt to be a “mystery,” keeping the true culprit hidden for much longer than necessary and destroying the overall essence of the show. Throw in a sister vs. sister angle and things really took a nosedive. However, the makers seem to have crammed every bit of relevant, necessary information into the finale and manage to somehow, despite it all, put out a solid ending for an otherwise weak show. Starring Sami Khan, Zara Noor Abbas, Yashma Gill, Shahzad Sheikh, Arjumand Rahim, Ali Tahir and others, “Phaans” has been written by Samina Ijaz and directed by Syed Ahmed Kamran.
In the finale, the court case continues with Madiha Rizvi’s character conducting her cross examination – shoutout to Madiha Rizvi for playing her role convincingly, though the court room sequences have not really been praiseworthy overall with all the unrealistic outbursts and crooked tactics. Let’s discuss the negatives of the finale first. There’s a particularly ridiculous sequence with Zeba (Zara Noor Abbas) trying to extract a reaction from Saahil (Shahzad Sheikh) by claiming Hafsa (Yashma Gill) has been kidnapped by Samad (Sami Khan). The fact that this is allowed to play out comes across not only as off, but it’s also a very “low” threat. While it may “work,” it leaves an unethical feeling behind.
Another large negative is the “love story” surrounding Samad and Zeba. This is a forced angle and it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. First of all, their love story was never developed. Second, Samad broke up with Hafsa because she chose to trust her mentally stable brother over him – is this really so wrong? Samad aligned himself with Zeba, a woman Hafsa saw as the enemy. Was Hafsa really wrong to trust her own sibling, a sibling who pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes? Why would Samad move away from Hafsa and develop feelings for the woman who not only accused Saahil of rape, but also Samad himself?! Couldn’t Samad have simply helped Zeba as a friend? Why is this such a foreign concept? Yes, Hafsa came with her own baggage, her own scars, her own insecurities stemming from her parents’ relationship – trust issues. Would Samad and Hafsa have been able to move past those issues and reconnect? It’s unlikely, so the complaint is not with their breakup. Rather, it’s with the necessity to put Samad and Zeba together in a romance that never had any scope or “connection” to begin with. It never felt romantic, but at the end, we are forced to accept that a woman, however educated and independent, must have the “sahaara” of a man. This throws a wrench in the message of the show.
Now let’s move on to positives. It is Shahzad Sheikh, Arjumand Rahim and Ali Tahir who absolutely steal the show in the finale. This is their show. This is their moment to shine – and they do. Shahzad Sheikh is brilliant as Saahil breaks down, discussing his childhood, the issues surrounding his life that caused him to become this way and how trauma can affect children. Saahil declares that his father was horribly abusive, not only to his mother, but also to him. He chose to role-play a mental illness to divert attention from the abuse, realizing the abuse would stop when he was unwell. This “persona” became a part of him, a personality within his control, something he grew accustomed to playing – and yet, the true, scarred, injured, warped Saahil also continued to exist, lurking when family wasn’t around. This is reality – upbringing matters. Love matters. Nurturing matters. These are things that are important to a child’s mental health and when those things are not present, when a terrible example is out there for a young boy to see, it can definitely have a lasting, damaging effect. “Phaans” has been a real success for Shahzad Sheikh more than anyone else. While he has always been a dependable actor, this is the show that has forced audiences to sit up and take notice and realize that this man can really act.
Arjumand Rahim is phenomenal as Nadia, a mother who chooses to stand for right rather than defend her criminal son. Arjumand Rahim has always been one of those perfect character artists, a true actress, someone who has never been given her due as the powerhouse of talent she is. But “Phaans” has given her the stage to perform after a long time and she knocks it out of the park. Nadia is a sensitive woman, a woman who has endured her own share of abuse, a woman who has seen true ugliness in her marriage to Siraj. Despite this, she always tried to give her children a solid upbringing, teaching them right from wrong, setting a positive example – and so, she chooses to stand against her son and stand up for Zeba and other women who have suffered at the hands of patriarchy. She declares in court that while Siraj and Nadia may have made mistakes, they also did their best as parents and Saahil had the choice to follow her teachings. He made a choice between right and wrong, a choice between good and evil and he chose wrong. He chose to follow his father’s negativity rather than his mother’s kindness. Nadia may be a very different sort of Pakistani mother, as many would defend their sons, but Nadia stands for what women should do, a strong woman fighting for change, and Arjumand Rahim does it perfectly.
Ali Tahir is another actor who deserves praise in the finale. Siraj has been a caricature for much of the show, a man who simply seemed “too much,” a character who felt flat and cartoonish for most of the show. And yet, in the final batch of episodes, Siraj managed to create a space as a father full of regret and self-analysis. He realizes how he has torn his family apart with his own abusive behavior and how his actions have created the monster that Saahil has become. While it’s difficult to be sympathetic towards an abusive father, Ali Tahir outdoes himself in the emotional scenes and elevates this once-flat character to a different level.
Now coming back to Shahzad Sheikh’s Saahil, if there’s a negative, it’s whether the scenario presented itself is actually realistic. Could a young child really pretend for life? How young was he? When did he decide to start playing this game and how did he decide to continue it? That’s exactly where “Phaans” has been faltering this entire time. It’s been spending too much time on the mystery aspect and not enough on the important storylines. Why wasn’t more attention given to Saahil’s upbringing? Why was the abuse so vaguely described? Why wasn’t Saahil’s thought process explored more? Was that final monologue really enough for such a heavy character? This is unfair to viewers honestly, to present such a strong story, a story so promising – and then leave it half-baked, focusing on silly “mystery” angles with a stagnant plot and silly sister rivalries/jealousies (though it was nice to see Hashim and Farah supporting Zeba in the end).
With all the brutality against females in the news lately, emotions are high and the finale of “Phaans” arrives at a time when the story resonates with the audience. This works in its favor. It’s great that “Phaans” manages to end on a positive note and goes on to show Zeba as an educated woman, working to help other women in society, also showing the other “good” characters in the show progressing in their lives. This show should do a lot for Shahzad Sheikh’s career. And yet, a good finale, unfortunately, cannot make up for the weeks upon weeks of weak story and episodes that the audience has been presented with. “Phaans” ends with a bang, but did little more than fizzle through the duration of the show overall.