I am giving myself ( and you!) a much needed 'Anna Break.' But this much i can't resist adding: bring media into the Bill, as well. If the P.M. is to be included, why not the media? Media must be accountable, too.
This appeared in Bombay Times today...
For God’s sake – open your mouth. Bol!
Something wonderful is going on in Pakistan’s ( Pollywood?) movie industry. There is a name attached to this phenomenon – Director Shoaib Mansoor. Yes, the same man who gave international audiences the much-discussed, much-awarded ‘Khuda Ke Liye’ ( a far, far superior take on terrorism than our own super-hyped but essentially shallow efforts). His latest film ‘Bol’ speaks about the unspeakable ( the birth of a eunuch in a traditional Hakim’s female dominated family) and raises several touchy, super sensitive social issues without turning preachy. It’s really pretty remarkable how Mansoor manages to negotiate political and cultural barriers in his country and tackle such bold themes which expose the terrifyingly regressive attitude towards women that still pulverises society. He does so within the framework of a poor family struggling to hang in there, emotionally and physically , unable to come to terms with the ‘indignity’ of producing a string of daughters who are virtual prisoners inside a joyless, dark hovel. The oppressive atmosphere is heightened by the presence of a powerless mother made to feel guilty by her autocratic husband ( Manzer Sehbai) for not giving birth to a son. The women cower inside the bare walls of the shabby home, living from one meal to the next, while the world outside is throbbing with opportunity and adventure. Saifi (Amr Kashmiri), plays the last child, born with ambiguous genitals and a simple, trusting mind. Afraid that this terrible secret will be discovered by neighbours, Saifi leads a sheltered , claustrophobic existence within the four walls of his home, playing with his sisters and being molly coddled by his mother. It is the father who cruelly shuns him even at meal times.
The tragedy that unfolds once Saifi is smuggled out of his home and exposed to the savage world outside, defines the rest of the film ( Shoaib has written the story and screenplay as well). It’s a relentlessly grim narrative, plus, a tad too extended ( over 2 hours), but it had me riveted, more for the searing, brutal glimpses it offered into the ‘ordinary’ lives of our neighbours. The scenes of mundane domesticity involving the lovely young girls of the family dreaming of a world they may never experience, were very poignant. The fiery portrayal of the rebellious daughter ( tv star Humaima Malick ) who takes on her sadistic father and pays a huge price for her daring, was nuanced, convincing and astonishingly moving. As for Iman Ali ( the heroine of ‘Khuda….’) as the courtesan from Lahore’s notorious Heera Mandi, with a touching Meena Kumari fixation ( She constantly quotes ‘Pakeezah’ dialogues), her fine featured, luminous beauty would make anybody go weak in the knees ( who can blame the Hakim for succumbing?). Definitely worth a watch. And Shoaib’s message about the pathetic state of women who are denied an education gets through loud and clear – it detonates as powerfully as kilos of rdx. Let’s call ‘Bol’ a cinematic exploration of another form of terrorism – against women in ultra conservative societies.
Compare the powerful telling of ‘Bol’ to the disappointingly tepid narrative of ‘Aarakshan’. Both can be called ‘message’ films. ‘Bol’ gets it across forcefully, while ‘Aarakshan’ flounders and flops with its heavy handed treatment and clumsy approach. Amitabh, Saif and Manoj soldier on… but even these three seasoned actors couldn’t save the film.And hello! The Nawab playing an oppressed Dalit? You got to be kidding!