Romantic dramas, where two misfits accidently meet online and pretend to be ‘seemingly perfect’ individuals, are not novel themes for cinema. We have seen it at the advent of internet in 1998 in Tom Hank’s starrer You’ve Got Mail, we again saw it in Bollywood’s Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge (2011) which was more about catfishing and now at the turn of another decade, Zee5 is currently streaming a slice-of-life and comic take on the same theme in Mehreen Jabbar’s latest web series, Ek Jhoothi Love Story (EJLS).
However, what makes it different, poignant and relevant in today’s day and age? Honestly, the series doesn’t strive to achieve this goal. Unlike its predecessor — Churails – the first Pakistani original on Zee5, which aimed to bust a myriad of social taboos and give patriarchy a hard blow, ELJS is only heart and humane. This is perhaps its USP that in a world feasting on Game of Thrones, Mirzapur, Money Heist and Ertugrul, the series aims to highlight how we undervalue the simple joys and problems of life.
Mehreen, along with writer Umera Ahmed, has taken a new leap with ELJS because unlike their previous collabs (dramas like Doraha and Daam), this one is not another tragedy with purpose. ELJS is a hackneyed love story which is brewed with fresh pairings, quirky characters and an interesting exploration of relationships.
The two lead characters, Salma and Sohail, are in quest for love and gratification that they are not able to get in real life. Salma aka choti (Madiha Imam) is a bespectacled, not-so-studious girl who is addicted to her hand-me-down computer. Why? Because in the virtual world, she impersonates Natalia, a rich, supermodel like social butterfly who enjoys every luxury of life. Sohail (Bilal Abbas) is a world-weary computer technician, who is sick of being known as the UPS wala, so he pretends to be his accomplished childhood friend, Nofil on Facebook in order to talk to his crush, Natalia. Confusing? Wait… there is more. Who will befriend who through these fake profiles, how it will turn into a heartbreak, and how the two actually face each other in real life, all will be explored with a lot of teasing, taunting, admiration, I-can’t-stand-you and two-quick-to-fathom I love you moments… till they eventually let go of the phony visage.
What stands out?
If Ek Jhoothi Love Story had been limited to this track, it could’ve been a blink and miss title in this period. However, the dynamics of Salma and Sohail’s families is what makes it more interesting and in fact, distinctive. Beo Raana Zafar, who plays Salma’s eccentric mother Nusrat, is hell bent on finding suitors for her children – two elder daughters and a son. She is demanding and so are her daughters. The problem is that in the pursuit of an ‘ideal’ partner, they are stuck in the same vicious rut of rishta-hunting that they are a victim of and equally despise.
Madiha and Bilal are television’s fresh catch and a delight to watch here. I wish to see more of them on screen in scripts where their talent can be explored to their fullest potential. Other actors including Kiran Haq, Mariam Saleem, Fawad Khan, Ali Sheikh, Furqan Qureshi, Rabya Kulsoom also fit their personas like a glove. I also want to thank Mehreen Jabbar for letting Mohammed Ahmed’s character live for once during the entire course of the show. Beo Zafar is instrumental in making EJLS enjoyable. Umera Ahmed has done a great job by giving her the most humourous dialogues and banters with relevant pop culture references. This, along with Beo ji’s impeccable coming timing and Nusrat’s blunt persona, makes you love her and laugh with her even in the most awkward scenes.
Srha Asghar, who played the feisty Washma in Pyar Ke Sadqay, reappears as Bilal’s on-screen sister along with Hina Bayat as their loving mom. Sohail, who belongs to a lower middle class family, has a blissful bond with his mother and sister. The characters are progressive, uplifting and inspirational, yet they are not far from reality, a trait that we yearn to see on our TV screens. There is a special guest appearance and you can even spot Mehreen, if you look closely.
Shortcomings – *Spoiler Alert*
EJLS smartly comments on social taboos related to marriage and the idea of a perfect life partner. It is an honest and clean comic take on social practices that we’ve normalized without much thought. However, at times it seems over-simplified even in its simple-minded universe. Some tracks in the story are too hard to digest: it is quite mind-boggling to see that neither Salma or Sohail, nor Nofil (who works at Silicon Valley) or Natalia come across each other’s fake IDs ever. It is also irrational to expect Natalia to fall for random flowers, jewellery and cake from a gift shop. Also, despite the writer’s best intentions, professor Jehangir’s incessant advances seem stalker-ish. I wasn’t able to establish any emotional connection with the ‘jhoothi love story’ part of the game as the overabundance of I-love-yous in their small talk stirred no passion.
EJLS is 18-episode long which is equal to a crisply edited TV drama (that is extinct). For a web series, which is not even a murder mystery or a crime thriller, it is lengthy and time-consuming. It seems the show is structured in a manner that is more appropriate for a long-format telefilm. Most of the episodes are less than 30-minute long, while the last few exceed 40 minutes. This makes the duration over 9 hours and that too with storytelling at a slow pace. It is highly unlikely to expect people to watch it in one go.
The song sequences look abrupt as they appear out of nowhere. I spotted repetition of a shot which doesn’t stick out as much as the inconsistent amount of mehr quoted during a nikkah. Some may not agree, but I liked Bollywood songs in the background – Naina Da Kya Kasoor from AndhaDhun and Gilehriyaan from Dangal – as they are pretty much part of our lives as well.
Ek Jhoothi Love Story is ideal for family entertainment that people crave for in our films. However, the edgy characters will only hold your interest during the first viewing experience.