OTT sites such as ZEE5 have consistently provided Pakistani performers, filmmakers, artists, and technicians with the opportunity to go beyond what is permitted and otherwise on local cable channels, as well as PEMRA-imposed laws. And these rules are as flexible as your mood on any given day. In such an unpredictable situation, choosing a streaming platform that allows for a broader audience and more creative freedom is a good option. This is something that Pakistani actors in the entertainment industry have clearly understood. After hosting web series such as Qatil Haseenaon Kay Naam and Churails, Zee5 is now hosting the recently published (but not in Pakistan) web series Mrs. and Mr. Shameem. It features superstars Nauman Ijaz and Saba Qamar, and it gives a nod to the queer community with the kind of complexity we’ve come to expect from Zee5’s online series, by defying gender norms.
Shameem (Nauman Ijaz), a tender ‘tender’ man, living in modern society, along Lahore streets, fell for local rebel Umaina (Saba Qamar). They’re frequently referred to as “bros,” yet one of them is quietly wrinkling under the weight of unsaid love. Guessing who gets you no idea!
There was a rush of films portraying domineering (or not) husbands as objects of ridicule between the 1990s and early 2000s, especially in the South Asian countries’ cinema circuit—’ Gharwali Baharwali,’ ‘Biwi No 1,’ among others. Despite their dismissive tone and apparent snark, those films went on to become sleeper blockbusters. The reasons were that was a different era, toxic masculinity was very common, and all men, in general, were finally dethroned. Take that identical shtick and put it in a modern environment, with a splash of headache-inducing selfless love frequency thrown in for good measure. In a nutshell, that’s ‘Mrs. & Mr. Shameem,’ a Zee Zindagi original series.
Given the strong and omnipresent undercurrents of unpleasantness, a few episodes into the series, one is reminded of how difficult it is to engage and keep viewers interest when presenting tales surrounding societal evils and issues. Despite the contributing talent and craft, it would not be difficult to make such a production tiring for the audience by dragging it down with its commentary on all the injustices and wrongs. ‘Mrs. and Mr. Shameem’ almost fall short in their quest for the ideal balance.
Umaina, a bright young woman who displays her emotions and temperamental outbursts for all to see, is expecting a child, and her partner has abandoned her. Shameem, an effeminate man and the only male in his household, chooses to marry his friend to assist her in her dilemma. Shameem, or Shammo, is a kind, insightful man with a golden heart who is taunted and bullied by the rest of society, including his own family, for his odd characteristics. His decision to marry Umaina sets them on a journey that will take them through a succession of (extra) trials throughout twenty episodes. The narrative does have a redemptive arc, with the lead pair constantly battling against the odds, and eventually finding salvation amidst their dark circumstances, despite being bogged down with stereotypes associated with certain community members, e.g. the outwardly religious or those with a certain orientation.
At the risk of sounding hypocritical, we’ll admit that the series tries—however hastily or weakly shatter stereotypes around a variety of issues: a sensitive man is chastised for being ‘gay-ish,’ and other ancient ideologies such as a woman’s duty to bow and bend to the patriarch are questioned. ‘Mrs. & Mr. Shameem’ relies on big actress Saba Qamar to do all the creative heavy lifting, but there’s only so much she can do with a script that’s obsolete and drags on beyond explanation. For all of the physical beating Nauman Ijaz takes during the performance, he deserves special recognition. He usually expresses himself through his deep-set, sympathetic eyes, but the idea of an unorthodox classical love story must have been a trap laid for them, and unfortunately, both of these established actors fell for it.
Mrs. and Mr. Shameem took a risk, not only with the plot but also with the music. The legendary qawwali ‘Dillagi’ by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan has been reproduced for the web series. This version is rather good in what has become a saturated industry when it comes to television or even online series OSTs due to an excess of musical content. This rendition of ‘Dillagi,’ co-composed by Sami Khan and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, has a list of well-known singers including Fariha Pervez, Sahir Ali Bagga, Zain Ali, and Zohaib Ali, with lyrics by Purnam Allahabadi and Sami Khan.
The act is supported by some outstanding supporting performances, with Gul-e-Rana and Uzma Hassan standing out in particular. The show’s production values which include photography, scenery, and background sounds, are all fitting for the show’s sad tone. Indeed, the filmmakers portrayed Lahore’s unique surroundings as a separate character.
There are a lot of blacks and whites in ‘Mrs. and Mr. Shameem,’ with a lot more blacks than whites. The characters described might have used a little more nuance. While the web series isn’t exactly binge-worthy, it does have an original plot and tells a story that has never been told before. That alone should be enough to convince you to watch it – assuming Saba Qamar and Nouman Ijaz’s outstanding performances haven’t already convinced you.