Badshah Begum: Is this Pakistan’s version of Game of Thrones?

The director Khizer Idrees believes it’s inspired from various shows including Tandav and Mirzapur

By Mahwash Ajaz

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Published: Thu 17 Mar 2022, 6:47 PM

Last updated: Thu 22 Jun 2023, 3:29 PM

In the mysterious town of Peeranpur, a fiefdom is ruled by a woman. The throne or gaddi is where the majestic Saman Ansari sits as Badshah Begum and her warring family (Pir Shahzaib played by Farhan Saeed and Pir Qaiser played by Yasir Hussein) is vying to have someone from their ‘side’ take their place. The throne is ruled by a woman who is also considered to have mystic, healing powers. Many women come to her and beg for her blessings and kiss her hands. Men are not allowed.

Is this television series a Pakistani take on a modern Game of Thrones?

Khizer Idrees, in a detailed conversation with Khaleej Times, stated that he did not even particularly like Game of Thrones. “During the lockdown, I saw three seasons of GoT and I didn’t really like it,” he says. “Badshah Begum is about power. Game of Thrones is about power, Tandav is about power and Mirzapur is about power. These stories have a common DNA, that’s why you see some claims of similarity there. Honestly speaking, there’s no reference in my mind for this.

The mood, the treatment and the way characters look and progress, that was inspired by some Indian web series like Tandav, Mirzapur and Paatal Lok. But again, I may have picked up on these elements subconsciously. The only active decision I made was that this should not look like a Pakistani drama. For example, Qaiser wears a heavy eyeliner. You don’t see that on our tv.”

Farhan Saeed, who plays Pir Shahzaib, is happy with the feedback he’s receiving so far, given that only two episodes have aired so far. “The feedback is surprisingly good. I didn’t know people would like me in negative shades – maybe gray is a better word. I knew it when I was reading the script that this is something I wanted to do during my career. It’s like a breather I got as an actor.” Farhan Saeed’s character is reigned in and is a ‘man of few words’ according to Farhan’s interpretation. Shahzaib is a privileged young man fighting for a slice of power in Peeranpur and he faces multiple rivalries within the family. “Peeranpur is like a fantasy world for me in so many ways. I’ve never really known characters like this or a world like this. I’m not like this in real life! What matters to me is that people connect to the story because it’s not about me or Qaiser or one person – it’s about us as a family and the story itself.”

Zara Noor Abbas, who plays Jahan Ara, a young quiet girl possibly poised to sit on the throne eventually, appreciates having a very strong director on board. “I’m a director’s actor,” she says. “In real life I’m not similar to Jahan Ara. Jahan Ara is an introvert, she doesn’t speak about what she feels, she’s not expressive.”

Is Zara lucky that such roles have come to Zara? She previously impressed audiences with her performance in Phaans, a woman who plays a rape victim fighting for justice. “No, no, I’m not lucky! I make these choices deliberately and I make sure that I am doing things that are out of the box and it’s very difficult to find these roles. You won’t always have such projects and you often have to do the ‘regular’ roles. There was a time when everyone was calling me a ‘bubbly girl’ so now I deliberately try and do different roles.” Does Zara believe that women are beginning to be taken seriously as strong characters on our television? “I think that began happening after Cheekh,” says Zara referring to a show about Saba Qamar a few years ago where Saba played a strong woman fighting for her innocence and her struggle to expose a murderer and a rapist. “People are ready to look at strong women. They’ve seen that in O Rangreza too.” O Rangreza was also a successful television show starring Sajal Aly and Bilal Abbas and Nauman Ijaz which was written by Badshah Begum’s writer, Saji Gul. Saji’s protagonists are fiercely feminist and his take on social duplicities are complex and incisive. “There is no hero or heroine in Badshah Begum though,” Zara explains. “The real hero is the story.”

Rafay Rashdi, who has produced Badshah Begum with Momina Duraid, spoke about how and why he decided to take on the show. Given the fact that it’s a ‘different’ show, creating it is a business risk. Rafay says he wanted to take on the script because of its various elements. “Badshah Begum is not just about sibling rivalry but also about class divide such as rural and urban system. There are themes of gender wars, inheritance, accessibility of mechanism in rural areas.”

Rafay believes in having faith in his director and looks up to Sultana Siddiqui, who set up Hum TV originally, and he hopes that the audiences also loves the effort that the team has put in to create this show. He hopes it inspires channels and production houses to take more risks and encourages young filmmakers.

Momina Duraid adds, "It has always been about the story, yes there is no saas bahu which also is part of the narrative generally exhibited on television. However every story has its unique arc and like that Badshah Begum has its own plot line. As a producer and under my supervision the ingredients required for commercial viability exist.

"Generally speaking masses don't usually digest anything other than mainstream stories, and that I believe is a thin line which can be taken upon as a challenge."

Badshah Begum airs Tuesdays on Hum TV and all episodes are currently available on YouTube. The show also stars Yasir Hussein, Ali Rehman Khan, Komal Meer and Abul Hasan in key roles and the show has amassed over 7 million views on YouTube so far. Here is the lyrical original soundtrack below that gives a glimpse of the story.

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