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Dumpukht – Aatish e Ishq, heavy on tongue and even heavier on heart. When I saw the promo of this drama I thought to myself, ‘what is the matter with these writers; why do they use such tongue twisters?’ But with each new episode I cannot imagine a more appropriate title for this gripping and intriguing love story that is shrouded in mystery and manipulation at multiple levels.

If you are familiar with the word dumpukht you would know that it is a technique used to cook on low flame with the lid tightly closed, sealing the pot so that the steam is created in the pot which helps the process of cooking. Similarly in this play you can see that the characters woven into the story are a victim of their own suppressed feelings and desires and when this steam escapes, not only does it burn but leaves scars for life.

The play starts with showing the strength of culture and blind faith that this business family of two brothers and their children have on their Pir, played by Nouman Ejaz, and his wife Bibi Sahiba who are the inheritors of the gaddi of that area. All important decisions, starting from household matters to business deals, are taken with the blessings of the Pir Sahib. The heroine’s mother, played by Asma Abbas, is the first character exposed as a victim of age old customs is shown as a strong member of the household with a holier than thou attitude towards all including her sister in law (dewarani), children and even husband. Her biggest enemy is the neighborhood teacher (Saba Faisal). The root of their rivalry goes back to her infatuation for the teacher’s husband, which is not reciprocated and leaves her dealing with the unresolved emotions for the rest of her life.

Saba Faisal portraying the role of a teacher who is a strong woman questioning the exploitative traditions and upholding her belief in God rather than bowing before the authority of the Pir family, is another baseline character. She is a single parent whose husband left her. She is a constant victim of contempt by the community and her list of sins include marrying out of her own choice, living alone as a single parent (which is not even her own choice) and not submitting to the authority of the Pir clan. Her only source of happiness is her time spent teaching the girls of the community including Kalchu (heroine) and her cousin Nimmo, who are the daughters of the neighborhood business family.

Kalchu is very attached to her teacher and respects her a lot. She cannot bear to see her teacher in agony because of her son, Bilal who lives with his father so she goes to Bibi Sahiba for a taweez to reunite Bilal with his mother. This reunion brings out suppressed childhood emotions between Bilal and Kalchu.

In all of this Bibi Sahiba emerges as Fairy Godmother for Bilal and Kalchu, scripting their love story herself, using the power of influence that she exerts on Kalchu’s family and making her husband an instrument in executing this plan.

Now comes the seemingly innocent yet mysterious Pir Habib Ullah. In the beginning he is shown as a robotic character who plays in the hands of the ever powerful Bibi Sahiba but as the story progresses different aspects of his personality are revealed. Nauman Ejaz has acted brilliantly, which is no surprise keeping in mind his acting skills and a wide range of roles to his credit. In each new episode one layer of Pir Habib Ullah’s personality comes before the audience and one keeps wondering whether to sympathize with him as a victim of circumstances and tradition himself, who had to sacrifice his love and marry Bibi Sahiba, the sole inheritor of the gaddi (who could not claim it because she is a female) or to despise him for his cunning scheme against poor Kalchu and how he exploits the faith of so many around him to achieve his goals. Another character worth mentioning here is the Khalifa of the Dargah, who is shown to be the right hand man of Pir Habib Ullah in forming the destiny of poor Kalchu. His motive since the beginning is very clear and that is to acquire a position where he can have direct access to the funds of the dargah and this is only possible if he becomes a confidant of the Pir in his dirty desires.

DAI started at a good pace, the introduction of characters, development of the plot and the topics addressed in the play were highlighted well. Viewers were also provided with dramatic relief by showing a few scenes of the budding romance between Kalchu and Bilal and more interestingly, the witty and smart Nimmo who seems to be the best judge of character and who helps the audience understand the gaps. There were still a few angles that were left to the audience to understand on their own, like why did Saba Faisal’s (teacher) husband leave her? Why was Bilal staying with his father when he could easily stay with his mother? Why did Bibi Sahiba want to take Pir habib Ullah to Kalchu’s house and it seems as if she wanted the Pir to get attracted towards the girl. And finally, how did Pir Habib Ullah all of sudden fell in love with Kalchu? But I guess the director feels that the quality of dramas that Pakistani audience is exposed to and the interest that the audience has in dramas have prepared them well to fill in these gaps.

The latest episode was a good block builder to the story but the pace of the play has slowed down a bit. I hope that DAI does not fall a victim to dragging an otherwise good script with strong cast.