We’ve all grown up with a certain amount of propaganda, given the place in history we are right now. Information overload is driving many political and social machineries: stakeholders rely on certain narratives and tailored, customized facts to present to unwitting audiences who think they’re consuming the whole truth. Perhaps that is why academics and scholars and thought leaders encourage questioning. Question everything. Remember that Socrates quote? All I know is that I don’t know anything. There’s always more to a story than what has been told. There’s always another side that has possibly stayed hidden or concealed because it may not have been for the best interests of those telling the stories. Victors dictate history. Hasn’t it always been the case? In all through human history?
The fall of Dacca or the ‘lost war of 1971’ is another such distorted story that we have been given and have had no say in. A war that many conservative/liberal Pakistanis alike accept that we’d lost. Of course, we lost. We lost half the country. We lost lives. We surrendered.
But did we have a choice? Did our story ever make the headlines? The leftists blame Yahya, the rightists blame Bhutto. You can take your pick, depending on what side of the ideological spectrum you choose to live on. But the truth is … in a war like this and in conflict of such a magnificent scale, the blame is as widely spread as the bloodshed itself.
Jo Bichar Gaye is based on telling our story. How many West Pakistanis were slaughtered, attacked, assaulted, kidnapped and tortured only for supporting the cause of Pakistan and going against Awaami League, how many soldiers were butchered and what was the scale of the attack by the Mukti Bahini forces on West Pakistan and West Pakistanis, and just the sheer human impact of the fall of Dacca on Pakistan is a story that absolutely should have been told many ages ago. But as the Persian adage goes der aayad durust aayad (you’ve arrived late but you’ve come to the right destination). Props to Haissam Hussain for actually choosing to tell this story because everyone else is living in the fear of being canceled by the wokesters: writing about your own peoples’ story? Gasp. How could he commit such a sin while being an artist? Isn’t an artist only supposed to hate themselves, their identity and everything that they are?
According to Qutubuddin Aziz’s book, Blood and Tears, many of the instances of the plight of West Pakistanis were not covered by Western or local media because West Pakistani government wanted to play down the bloodshed and level of mutiny in East Pakistan. This went in the favor of everyone fighting against a United Pakistan’s interest: propaganda against Pakistani government could easily fly and be absorbed by anyone and everyone. The irony today is that this is still happening: anything that comes out of Pakistani government or military’s platforms is negated by ‘patriotic dissenters’ whereas those insisting on violent mutinies and taking arms against the state are taken as liberal-progressive flag bearers of truth and justice.
And that is what makes Jo Bichar Gaye not just a brave feat but also a much-awaited voice for many who have been silenced for far too long. The way in which the show is executed, the kind of finesse and craftsmanship witnessed in each and every scene – easily cements it within the top-most list of the best features/serials to be produced out of Pakistan. Writer Ali Moeen has crafted an air-tight screenplay with no scene out of place and no dialog which is unessential or ill-timed. Haissam Hussain’s narrative and initiative is visible: he is not aiming to reform anyone. Jo Bichar Gaye is merely an appeal to humanity: have you forgotten us, ask the families who were slaughtered in the name of a ‘revolution’?
There is not one false note in the performances: Wahaj Ali as Rumi has gone through many vicissitudes as a character. His ferocious speeches to his panicked search for his brother, his eyes say so much and his subtle expressions as he listens and watches everything around him quietly make Wahaj a force to be reckoned with. So much so that I’m left wondering why do I not see him in other primetime shows when a lot less talented ‘newbies’ seem to be taking centre stage. But that’s a rant for another day.
Talha Chahour, as Captain Farrukh, depicts our state: soft, romantic and just not someone who wants a war. A look into any of Col Z I Farrukh’s interviews would tell you how reminiscent his soft-spoken demeanour is of Chahour. Haissam Hussain’s casting is superb: he has taken two gentlemen with beautifully expressive eyes who have been ‘pitted’ against each other. Each of them are in their own right, correct and upright men. Good men. Men we don’t want to lose and men who should win. But since both are at the opposite ends of a bloody, deadly conflict, both will lose. Chahour’s dialogue delivery is lyrical yet natural, his bashful conversations and unspoken communications with Sonia are enough to turn any girl’s heart around. Chahour is a gem of a find for Pakistani drama and film industry and one can only hope that we see more of him after the show ends.
Maya Ali as Sonia is earnest and fiesty. She isn’t going to be a victim even if a horrible fate may await her. She stands up for what she believes in and has no hypocrisy about it. She is the confident, powerful, well-spoken, beautiful woman you want to aspire to be, who you want your daughters or friends to emulate: she’s all that and more. Often as the voice of reason Rumi wants to ignore and often the path Farrukh wants to walk, Sonia is still her own person and has her own ideologies she defends with logic and well-rounded principles.
The supporting cast is no less brilliant. Usman Zia as Professor Ajit will raise the hair on your arms with his chilling expressions and sweeping movements. Adnan Jaffar as Col. Fakhruddin brings the plot together and takes it forward with gravitas being the immaculate thespian that he is. Fazal Hussain as Haroon and Rana Majid Khan as Captain Salahuddin as well as Fahad Hashmi as Union Leader all bring the necessary tension to the plot. Nadia Jamil as Shabnum provides comic relief, humanity and the outsider view of the conflict.
Haissam’s trysts with light and shadows tell so much of the story itself. His camerawork is impeccable and the show’s colours go darker and gloomier as the descent into chaos begins with riots and deaths escalating in West Pakistan.
As Operation Searchlight begins in Episode 10, not a moment goes by when your heart isn’t stuck in your throat and your mind isn’t heavy with the horrified expectation of what’s about to come. Jo Bichar Gaye isn’t a history lesson. It’s a decades-old wound festering in the hearts of many Pakistanis who paid the price of being simply ‘in the way’ of those who wanted what they wanted, whether by hook or by crook. As it moves towards its ill-fated end, the story is only going to get darker and grislier as everything we have loved or have come to love will slowly be taken by those who have claimed to fight a ‘just’ war. Perhaps they did not know… or maybe they did… that no war is ever won. And no war is ever just.