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‘The Married Woman’ Review: A Moving Story Of A Woman’s Self-Discovery, Powered By Good Performances

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I turn 30 in less than five days. And the prospects of marriage weigh heavily on me, an Indian girl who writes woke but lives a life of limited freedom in a society that does not understand its women. So when I saw on screen Ridhi Dogra’s Aastha go through a passionless marriage where her husband doesn’t ‘see’ her, I saw my own fears about a possible future manifest on screen. And when I saw the all-consuming, and unwavering love shared by Monica Dogra’s Peeplika and Imaad Shah’s Aijaz, I instantly realised how potent its allure was for someone like Aastha. Directed by Sahir Raza, presented by ALTBalaji and Zee5, and based on the book A Married Woman by Manju Kapur, The Married Woman is a show that can evoke a lot of strong emotions, particularly love.

And depending on whom you see yourself in, can help you discover so much about yourself.

 

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The Married Woman is produced by Ekta Kapoor, who is bringing author Manju Kapur’s works to screen for the second time, the first being the TV show Yeh Hai Mohabbatein, which was based off her novel, Custody. The show has quite the cast too. Apart from its leads, Ridhi Dogra and Monica Dogra, it stars Imaad Shah, Suhaas Ahuja, Nadira Babbar (who I always enjoy watching on screen), Rahul Vohra, Ayesha Raza, Divya Seth, Nabeel Ahmed and Samridhi Dewan.

I love that the show has quite a few women behind he scene too. It has been adapted by women writers (Jaya Misra and Surabhi Saral, with dialogues by Misra and Aparna Nadig) which IMO, gives Aastha’s frustrations a very relatable voice. The title track, ‘Bematlab’ is soulful, originally written, composed, and sung by Amrita Bagchi. Another song, ‘Dil Ki Shaakh Pe’ is composed by Sneha Bose and Muskaan Tomar. (The background score is by Soutrik Chakraborty and ‘Khwaabon Ka Aashiyan’ is by Siddhant and Rickraj.) A special mention for costume designer, Pampa Biswas for Aastha’s lovely sarees and Peepli’s statement outfits. And the production design team for everything from the cosy, lived in decor of Aastha’s home and those eclectic toilet seats to the artistic entrapments in Peeplika’s.

The story of this show is quite straightforward, A woman in a lacklustre marriage begins an extra-marital affair with the widow of a man she fell in love with. Now, I am usually very wary of shows from ALTBalaji, and after the disaster that has been Paurashpur, you cannot blame me for it. The same-sex relationship that is central to this show, and the background of political unrest considering the show begins in the 80s and goes through the 90s, needed to be handled deftly. But something told me this time would be different. And four episodes into it, I was proven right.

The Married Woman actually starts off on a fun note, almost making you think this is a desi version of Fleabag. And you’re reminded of the Emmy-winning show because Ridhi Dogra’s Aastha frequently breaks the Fourth Wall to talk directly to us, the audience. This adds a very refreshing quality to the same old story of a marriage that starts off with passionate fire that the lack of privacy in an Indian household can’t contain, but eventually fizzles out as the wife bears two children and the husband travels often for work. The dialogues add to this light tone, which is helped amply by the performances of Ridhi Dogra and Suhaas Ahuja, who plays her husband, the toilet-seat-king Hemant.

Imaad Shah’s entry as Aijaz is breezy, and I could see so much of that irresistible charm of a young Naseer sahab every time Shah mouthed some Urdu poetry or spoke heavy dialogues. Forget Aastha, he made me feel like someone who deserved all that his love promised to bring. Imaad’s chemistry with Monica Dogra is pretty good too, although I did feel that as simple and clear as Aastha and Hemant’s conversations were, Peeplika and Aijaz’s were too vague for poetic effect.

 

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While I could see why someone like Aastha would fall for Aijaz, the ‘how’ and ‘when’ of it was elusive in the execution. It just happens. Similarly, while my heart reasoned that what happened between Peeplika and Aastha was because Aastha was so transformed by her love for Aijaz and Peeplika saw the essence of it in her, my mind couldn’t process what it was that triggered their attraction for each other. What also didn’t help were the dialogues that, once again, substituted with couplets and shayaris, dazzled more than showed substantial character development. So both actors looked stunning as the camera panned across their lit faces and billowing hair, but perhaps, words were needed? That being said, I think these ladies brought some fire chemistry to their characters’ relationship.

 

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Also Read: Bombay Begums Review: Flawed But Real, Just Like Women. And Ruled By Strong Performances.

Having watched the first four episodes at a stretch made The Married Woman quite an immersive experience. The emotional depth is felt strongly, and I was quite moved by Aastha’s resignation to her life and Peeplika’s numbing grief. But even then, there were a few discrepancies that threatened to break the allure. If I weren’t told specifically what time period the story was set in, I honestly wouldn’t have realised. It looks too contemporary, and Peeplika and Aijaz’s brazen living doesn’t exactly match the time period either. The political unrest that was the framing device for the first two episodes but then dies down by the time we reach the fourth feels loose ended. I understand that it made Aastha’s decision to love Aijaz all the more of a risk, but I am hoping the future episodes bring in more elements that stay relevant to the story.

Another narrative tool, the fourth wall breaking, is frequent at first, and quite enjoyable, but eventually becomes too sporadic as the show takes on a serious tone. We could’ve either done away with it completely, or found a way for the character to have serious conversations with herself and the audience through it. What’s more, I think Ridhi Dogra is excellent in those scenes, and in the show’s lighthearted moments, so I do want to see more of her talking directly to us.

And finally, I felt like the amount of detail and attention that was paid to establishing Aastha’s life, her emotions and her journey seem to be lacking when it comes to depicting Peeplika’s mental state. A lot of her behaviour is erratic, which I am assuming is her personality type, but something seems to be missing in rooting her reactions to triggers.

Also, umm, where are Aastha’s children and why don’t we see more of how motherhood is impacting her life decisions in the first four episodes?

 

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Verdict

The Married Woman has an interesting story on its hands, and I am quite excited to see where it goes, particularly how it portrays the same-sex relationship which is all poised to turn Aastha’s world upside down. So watch this space for more. But of the four episodes that I have watched, I really liked what I’ve seen. Both its leads—Ridhi Dogra and Monica Dogra—and Imaad Shah and Suhaas Ahuja, elevate the show with their performances. The other actors support well too, while some like Ayesha Raza and Divya Sheth, I have yet to see do their thing in the next episodes.

All in all, The Married Woman gets a thumbs up.

The show is currently streaming on ALTBalaji and Zee5.

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