DUBAI: The news of a drama being made on the life of Qandeel Baloch – that too, one starring Saba Qamar – raised a lot of questions, simply because essaying the slain social media celebrity would be a challenging undertaking, to say the least.
Would the character or the writers do justice to the trailblazer that was Qandeel? Would they be able to illustrate Qandeel’s murder as the travesty that it was, or in a way that depicts the horrifying symptom of gender-based violence that exists in our society? These were just some of the questions doing the rounds in the initial days of the Baaghi – the drama serial.
At the moment, the show is 20 odd episodes in and the story has taken a definitive shape. Kanwal Baloch (Saba), the character loosely based on Qandeel, is now a moderately successful media personality who is taking care of her family financially and frustrated with her brothers’ inability to do the same. In the play, Kanwal has left behind a child with his father Abid (Ali Kazmi) in the village where she came from.
Abid has remarried and refuses to let Kanwal near the child, so she is now living in the city. It is mostly unclear how she is making money but the show implies that she is a high-priced escort and model, often exploited by various men for various reasons. Her popularity graph soars, in the play, due to the outrageous antics she pulls off in her provocative Facebook videos, such as proposing to Faizan Khan (loosely based on someone of the calibre of PTI chairman Imran Khan) and fighting with girls on a reality show.
Kanwal’s love interest, Sheheryaar, is an all-around good guy who steps into her life to be her knight in shining armour. Kanwal is too proud to rely on him and t is unclear what she really wants. While the real life Qandeel was vocal and ferocious about being an independent woman and proud of being in charge of her sexual agency, Kanwal is seen as a girl who is repeatedly exploited by the many men around her.
What works in Baaghi is the depiction of the financial weaknesses that force women to become part of the sex-trade industry. Ranging from domestic abuse to workplace harassment (in one scene, Kanwal is shown as a bus-hostess harassed by male passengers), Baaghi explores the ugliness of a male-dominated society that objectifies and demeans women.
The show also gets right the ‘hadd haraam bhai’ dynamic that exists in many families that rely on their women to earn and in return, be treated like dirt. Kanwal’s brothers are unable to support their families and use her as a cash cow. In one of the recent episodes, she lashes out at them saying, “Is this why parents want sons?” when one of her brothers is found guilty of violently attacking another man.
Baaghi also shows Qandeel as a human being and surprisingly, the shaming element is kept to a minimum, considering Umera Ahmed standards. Her heroines are usually pious and ‘good’ and almost parochial, to the point of being annoying. Umera wrote Shehr e Zaat and Meri Zaat Zarra e Benishaan in which the female protagonists truly triumph by staying silent and letting God decide their fate. Qandeel was the exact opposite of this. So while Shazia Khan has penned the story, there are clear visages of Umera’s influence, as it is the latter who has written the dialogues.
That is in fact, where Baaghi loses impact and becomes a problem. Shazia, in an article written for The Express Tribune, pitted Qandeel against Mariam Mukhtar. This is exactly what is wrong with the ‘extreme mindset’ that is conveniently used by our society to view women.
Shazia also called Qandeel a ‘cautionary tale’ and it is hurtful and problematic to hear that. The only thing cautionary about her life was the men in it, who killed with impunity for their own honour. If it is anyone who deserves to be a cautionary tale, it is her brother, who is currently under arrest for her murder.
After all, it was after Qandeel’s brutal murder that Pakistan changed the Diyyat wherein the family of a honour killing victim cannot pardon the murderer and the state comes in as the primary complainant. So far in Baaghi, there is little to no talk on how Diyyat laws allow many honour killers to go scot-free since their families pardon them. There is also no focus on what constitutes ‘honour’ for men and why and how it allows them to kill their sisters, daughters and even mothers.
Adding Osman Khalid Butt’s character as Sheheryaar was also superfluous. This is Qandeel’s story…where no man had to rescue her. Men would admire the starlet from afar or shame her for her choices but in real life or onscreen, there was no one who came to save her. Adding a ‘hero’ to such a woman’s story is not always important and our writers need to learn that more than anything else.
Romance, love and a heterosexual relationship can be a part of what a woman experiences in her life but it is not all and everything that defines her. Of late, we have been seeing more female characters that became popular for being multifaceted individuals, instead of simpering heroines insipidly mooning over their love interests.
Also, there is no mention so far of Mufti Qavi, who was also indicted for Qandeel’s murder. There is no mention of how men like him also judge and shame women like her and at the same time, have no problems in using their fame to their own benefit.
Of course, there are still a few more episodes to go so there may be some reprieve as to how much of a victim Qandeel is shown to be. It’s hoped that the only victimhood that should be overplayed is her death and not her life.
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