Alif, Episode 1: A Magnificent Opening!
TV/Streaming Reviews

Alif, Episode 1: A Magnificent Opening!

Geo’s multi-starrer with Sajal Aly, Hamza Ali Abbasi, Ahsan Khan and Kubra Khan has aired its first episode and it’s off to a spectacular start

When a project involves Umera Ahmed as a writer, the story promises depth and layered characters, characters – both lead and side – that have emotions, needs, obligations and reasoning for their actions.  Umera Ahmed’s characters are not one-dimensional.  They are not villainous without cause.  Therefore when a project is announced with Umera Ahmed’s name attached, intrigue and buzz immediately begins.  And in the case of “Alif,” this buzz began over a year ago.  While the show went through several casting changes and spent months in editing, Geo finally began trickling out promos two weeks ago, creating a lot of excitement.  With a stellar cast that includes Ahsan Khan, Kubra Khan, Sajal Ali and Hamza Ali Abbasi, as well as Saleem Mairaj and Manzar Sehbai in lead roles, Iqrar Ul Hassan’s young son Pehlaj Hassan is also making his acting debut as a young Qalb E Momin.  Directed by Haseeb Hassan, did the first episode meet expectations?  Let’s discuss!

First off, I will say straight away that I have “read” the novel – in all honesty, I’ve listened to the audiobook.  And that being said, “Alif” is the sort of story that will translate brilliantly on-screen for viewers, as it not only has the visuals and depth of emotion in it, but Umera Ahmed has also worked on the story with such dedication that the dialogues have been handed to the “Alif” team on a platter.  Watching the first episode is like watching Umera Ahmed’s story come straight off the pages and into the television set.  While it has only been episode one, this first episode has been brilliantly presented.

The story follows the lives of several characters, but the five main characters are Abdul Aala, Taaha, Husn E Jahaan, Qalb E Momin and Momina.  The story moves from the past to the present as well as switching between Turkey and Pakistan.  The story opens with Qalb E Momin, (Pehlaj Hassan) a little boy who lives with his mother (Kubra Khan), in a little house in Turkey.  He writes letters to Allah daily where he asks for material things, because they are not well off.  But he also asks for his mother’s happiness and wishes that Allah sends his father back so they can be a family again.  Momin’s mother writes letters of her own as well to her husband, who left over a year ago after a fight.  Momin lovingly describes his mother as simple, but beautiful and complains that she used to dress up for her father, but no longer does.  One day after stumbling upon Momin’s letters to Allah, Husn E Jahaan decides to write a letter of her own and sends it (along with all of Momin’s letters) to Momin’s grandfather.  The two receive a letter back from his grandfather announcing his arrival.  Momin asks if his father will come as well and his mother says yes.  The two happily prepare for Momin’s father’s return.

Switching to Pakistan (and the present), the story focuses on Qalb E Momin (Hamza Ali Abbasi) is the most popular film director in Pakistan.  He is called the hit-maker and actors and actresses know that if they work in one of his films, they will have a solid career ahead of them in films and television.  Momin is known for objectifying women in his films and the world knows his films run on item numbers and revealing clothing on his actresses.  His does have a girlfriend, Neha (Sadaf Kanwal), who works with him and he proposes to her.  The two are seemingly in love.

Momina Sultan (Sajal Ali) is a small-time drama actress.  She works in side roles, usually playing the friend of the lead actress.  Despite being talented, Momina does not have a strong body of work behind her, but her friends Aqsa and Dawood have successful behind-the-scenes positions in the industry and work to help her find roles to keep her household afloat.  Momina’s father, Sultan (Saleem Mairaj), worked as a makeup artist and confidant to yesteryear superstar Husn-e-Jahaan, while her mother Suraiyya (Lubna Aslam) worked as  singer in the industry.  With the launch of auditions for Qalb E Momins new show, Momina is optimistic that she can get a small role in the film, which will pay much more than the small roles in dramas she has been doing.  She gets to the audition and begins looking over a file of bills, quietly making calculations.  Once in the audition room, she meets Momin and the two exchange pleasantries before Momina starts her audition.  During the audition, Momina is nervous and plays with her dupatta – which Momin notices.  He angrily instructs her to throw off her dupatta, to which Momina and him debate.  Momin pushes further, telling her that women in his films do not wear dupattas anyway, so why can’t she take it off now?  Momina gives in, but her discomfort is apparent and Momin dismisses her.  Later when she comes back for a forgotten file, the two end up in a heated fight and Momin verbally thrashes Dawood for recommending her.  Once at home, Suraiyya and Aqsa both have discussions with Momina, opening her eyes to the lost opportunity.

Coming straight to the performances, it has to be said that all the actors involved are brilliant.  Sajal Ali brings this character to life, making the audience connect emotionally to Momina Sultan in her first appearance itself.  Momina is a complex character, but Sajal Ali presents her feelings and thoughts so well that viewers feel her plight as their own.  Hamza Ali Abbasi is absolutely perfect as Qalb E Momin.  His role is meant to be larger-than-life, arrogant, removed from the issues of the “real world” and yet – Momin is emotionally complicated, something which is presented in a subtle yet effective manner when he fleetingly mentions Husn E Jahaan with Neha.  The scene Sajal and Hamza share with each other lights up the screen and holds the viewers attention from start to finish, their chemistry is surprisingly very good. 
Pehlaj Hassan is adorable in his role as Momin and comes across as very natural in his scenes with Kubra Khan.  He’s a little ball of talent.  Kubra Khan is a natural in this role and while she has few lines in this episode, it’s apparent from the get-go why she was the first choice for this role.  She slips into the role of a mother with a mysterious past behind her with ease and grace.  Saleem Mairaj and Lubna Aslam are also good in their roles, while the actors who play Aqsa and Dawood come across as likable. 
Haseeb Hassan (and Umera Ahmed) get full points for direction and writing.  The effective way in which the scenes cut from past to present, Turkey to Pakistan are seamless.  When the first episode came to an end, many viewers found themselves exclaiming “That’s it?!” and were left wanting more – a winning point for any drama.  If the first episode is anything to go by, “Alif” will be a visual treat for viewers, as well as a hard-hitting show that will emotionally impact drama audiences.  A drama like this has not been seen in a long time and one hopes that it follows this path and does not falter later on.

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By Sophia Qureshi
Pakistani Drama enthusiast, Bollywood fan, elementary school teacher, writer, reader, photographer, lifelong student and mother