by Chitra Nagarajan
Bol, the newest film from Shoaib Mansor, was released in Pakistan in June this year and in India, the UK and the USA on 31st August. I just returned from seeing it tonight, on the fervent recommendation of a friend who urged me to spread the word.
South Asian cinema remains dominated by films of the singing/ dancing romance/ thriller variety but there is a growing number of films of a more political nature. Bol is a welcome addition to Pakistani cinema. The director has stated, 'Having been so blessed in life, I often think of the things that I should be grateful for. The list always seems to be never ending, but invariably it ends at one thing... that I was born a MAN. Nothing in the world scares me more than the thought of being born a woman or a eunuch...'
She starts with 'I am not innocent. I am a killer not a criminal.' She goes on to tell the story of growing up in a patriarchal household with a controlling, tyrannical and abusive father and a mother made ill by repeated pregnancies in the quest for a son. Even prayers during an India-Pakistan cricket match cause tension. 'In my house, father's absence was celebrated as a festival,' Zainab says at one point. The film addresses issues including poverty, Shia/ Sunni dynamics, the need for women's education, intersexuality, religion, homosexuality, prostitution, the perceived 'burden' of having daughters, as well as the realities of living in a household controlled by a non-benevolent patriarch. It also celebrates women's resistance and sisterhood. 'Like a man, you raise your hand when you are speechless,' Zainab says to her father just before he is about to beat her. At another point, she exclaims, 'I wish I was God; I would make every man give birth to a child,' when trying to explain to her father why he shouldn't impregnate her mother again.
The story unfolds in ways that I am not going to mention - needless to say that at around 2 1/2 hours, quite a lot happens. Zainab ends by asking, Why is only taking life a crime and not giving it as well? Why is having illegitimate children only wrong but not having children and making their life hell? Why isn't it a crime to produce children if you can't feed them?
It's received largely rave reviews (although one TV host has said 'filmmakers should realise that the masses want entertainment and not social messages') with many calling it 'a courageous film that has the guts to expose issues plaguing the society. It raises questions, challenges the age-old customs and mirrors a reality most convincingly.'
Hunt down a cinema showing the film (there aren't many of them around in the UK I'm afraid) and go and watch it if you can.