It took me 24 hours to absorb and process the first episode of Akhri Station and two days on, it still weighs heavy on my soul. It was not light or easy viewing by any standard, but then entertaining the viewer was not its objective in any way either. Simple and yet extremely effective, it spun a web of dark emotion around the people – 7 women and their children – in this one train carriage, rattling between Lahore and Karachi. Akhri Station’s Episode One unraveled, word by word, like a deeply depressing albeit lyrical verse dedicated to the plight of one woman. Her story was coloured with shades of Manto.
This episode shared the story of Yasmin (Eeman Suleman), married to Waqar (Adnan Sarwar) who is wasted to an ugly life of addiction. They live in the congested, old walled city of Lahore, with Waqar’s parents and their daughter, Mano. Food is a luxury they can’t afford and it becomes a metaphor for the woman, who is likened to ‘tikka boti’ to satiate the men that her husband serves her to. There is no apparent violence or resistance on the screen but it’s the sound of silence that is deafening as she is thrown to an unsavory fate.
Sarmad Khoosat’s direction is all about imagery. The flickering red lights from a nearby billboard cast an ominous red light on the room that becomes her brothel. The black dupatta Yasmin wears in the confines of her house is covered up by a white chadder as she steps out; one sees the white as a sign of freedom as well as purity. The soundtrack is also minimal, with one instrument strumming in the background like a painful heart beat.
The characters are real and raw and are stripped of any aesthetic veneer. Right from the beginning, from the khwaja sira who is scoffed in the train to the milkman, who’d rather throw a cup of milk down the gutter than grant it to a helpless mother for her starving child. As callous as he is, he is judgmental enough to label the money she brings to him as ‘puleed’ or impure as it has been earned by immoral means. And yet his gaze is just as lecherous.
The story is set in a male-dominated society but there is a conscious effort to not generalize all men as bad and women as victims; Waqar’s mother is the one who nitpicks while his father supports Yasmin in her struggles.
As simply and nonchalantly as the story starts does it end.
“Don’t worry,” Waqar tells Yasmin shamelessly, as he’s painting her nails an odd shade of blue. “Your misery will be over soon as people are waiting for Mano to come of age. Then she’ll earn and we’ll enjoy!”
She doesn’t react to his comment but slips out, with her daughter, in the dark of the night.
Produced by Kashf Foundation, Akhri Station was promised as a serial with hope and one just hopes that it is conclusive and gives some encouraging closure to all the characters, women who are victims of their fate.