When Gurmeher Kaur, whose father died in the Kargil War, noted on a placard, "Pakistan did not kill my dad, war killed him", all of the right-wing military industrial complex raised hell and havoc. She got a book deal with Penguin Random House, they were left panting on Facebook. The lesson was, wars fought on social media are never won. If you think you won, think again.
Dhoop Ki Deewar situates itself on many of these borders — first is the 74-year old border between India and Pakistan. In the first episode, Vishal Malhotra (Ahad Raza Mir) from India and Sara Sher Ali (Sajal Aly) from Pakistan, both in high school, both the eldest of their siblings, lose their fathers who fought each other at the battlefront, attempting to trade lives for territory. The kids, in the hazy insolence of grief, helplessness, and anger, initially turn militant, verbose, exchanging the choicest of vitriol on national television — which eggs them on — and social media — which also eggs them on. The arc, thus, given to them is to realize the futility of violence — on social media, on the battlefield, the similarity of their situations, and ultimately, that it is probably love that can scrape at the inherited hate.
The problem is the time the show takes to set this up. The first episode is entirely about an India-Pakistan match, where family members on both sides of the border pray for a win. There is so much mirroring in the first two episodes — whatever is happening in India, the same thing takes place in Pakistan — that after a point it feels like you are watching the same things play out twice. For every Indian contribution to Pakistan, a Pakistani contribution to India is stated — for every Atif Aslam, there is an Anushka Sharma lehenga reference, for every compliment thrown at Pakistani theater, there is the joy of Naagin. (Granted, they are not the same, but the sentiment holds)
Fatigue sets in early on because Dhoop Ki Deewar doesn't have stated drama, preferring the acoustic lightness of life as a background score, much like Zindagi Gulzar Hai. When the families find out about the death of their respective men, there are no dialogues, no loud music, just a concoction of deep confusion, betrayal, and even denial in the eyes. This is something you get used to — a lot of the acting is located in the eyes, stewing in silence.
This slowness grates initially because nothing seems to grease the passage of time, and none of the characters feel worthy of this kind of prolonged attention. The narrative feels amoebic, without a holding center.
It is only after the funerals, when the family politics brew, and the Facebook comment war gives in to sweet night chatters between Vishal and Sara that the story picks up, immersing you in their respective aftermaths. Vishal's mother, Sunanda (Samia Mumtaz), self-medicates with high doses of sedatives, and her relationship to her mother-in-law is caustic at best. Some difference of class is hinted at until Sunanda proclaims that she is Dalit, and that her Dalit-ness had caused her mother-in-law to be hostile to her during her marriage. The hostility of youth in the mother-in-law has now given in to ageing, turning quiet, almost apologetic for the years of verbal violence. Can she be forgiven? Vishal is at the center of this acrobatics trying to elude the stains of past pain.
Sarah's mother, Amna (Savera Abbas) suddenly finds herself unmoored, with no man in the house, and her brother and sister-in-laws descend like scavengers to dole advice and get Sarah married to their sons. Property disputes are central to both houses, as is the enduring love between grandchildren and grandparents. Sara astutely notes, "Yeh jo tumhare mere mulk ki jang hai na, isne bohut se logo ki jaane li hogi. Par usse zyada khooni rishton ko safed kiya hai." The unraveling of family remains to be seen, even as budding romance rears its head. Ahad Raza Mir and Sajal Aly, married in real life, share an excised, distanced, yet palpable love that reminds us that beauty matters, even as talent does too.
The India-Pakistan acrimony begins to feel like an overarching frame as opposed to the central drama. It is here that the story really shines, when the narrative tameness is paired with characters you want to reach out to. In my opinion Zee5 made a terrible mistake by releasing the show two episodes at a time. The first two episodes are a rather dry reiteration of cross-border animosities, the generic framework that gets filled in with the family drama only later. It took a while for me to claw in.
Dhoop Ki Deewar will premiere 2 episodes every week on Friday at 12 noon IST on ZEE5 starting 25th June, culminating in a finale on Independence Day weekend.