For a very long time, I used to only watch Hindi movies that were entertaining. This was the result of a very simple thought process – there were enough challenges in my life and in the lives of those around me. Hence I really didn’t need to pay money and go through someones pathos on screen! The trials and tribulations faced by Yash Chopra style characters (ably succeeded by those in Karan Johar’s films) were so simple that I did not mind sitting through them, knowing fully well that the ending would be bright and happy. These films were so much fun! Loads of good looking people in trendy designerwear, parading in London or Switzerland or New York City; dreaming of the mustard fields back home. A little bit of tension between leading man and leading lady caused by feuding families, evil uncles with incredibly evil sons; and ultimately the triumph of good over evil and love over hatred. Exiting the theatre with a smile and thinking – Oh this was well worth the money spent.
But in the past few years, I have watched and LOVED films that just cannot be slotted in this category. In fact these films are so real and so hard hitting, that I have sat with my heart in my mouth almost through the entire duration. Bol is one such film. Directed by Shoaib Mansoor who was also the creator of Khuda Kay Liye, this Pakistani film raises questions that have relevance in India as well as in Pakistan and for that matter in all countries that have feudal societies.
The film opens with the image of gaunt woman in jail. And a man telling her that she must speak because telling the truth would help not only her but thousands of other women who go through the same plight. She did not say a word to defend herself in court, but somewhere within the dismal jail walls, she makes up her mind. You realise she is a death row inmate whose appeal for mercy is rejected by the President. But her last wish, of being allowed to tell her story to the media just before she is hanged, is granted. Thus begins Zainab’s story.
The eldest of a series of girls born to a hakim and his wife whose only talents (according to the hakim) are cooking great food and bearing girl children; Zainab is clearly the strongest and most free spirited in the family. She is intelligent and questions norms that do not make sense. She adores her little brother, indulgently called Saifu. This little boy born after many girls should have been the apple of his father’s eyes, but is hated because he was ‘different’ and would never be a man. So Saifu is hidden away from everyone and is not allowed to step out of the house, in order to protect the hakim’s ‘izzat’ in the community. Bol takes you on a journey through days and months and years of the life of this family that can barely make ends meet but somehow survive. The prejudices, atrocities and archaic customs, peppered by some laughter and happiness when the hakim is away. Some hilarious moments when you see the contradictions in the patriarch’s thoughts and values and how he manages to stifle his conscience when absolutely necessary. And some heart wrenching moments when you see Saifu’s confusion at his inner desires that steer him towards womanhood and not towards being a ‘mard’.
I was stupidly surprised to see potrayals of nightclubs and rock concerts and the usual teen and youth hangouts. I guess my mental image of Pakistan is a strife and terror torn country with very little normalcy. But seeing the beautiful roads, markets, mosques and the chaat on the roadside in Lahore, I felt I was watching a replica of Delhi. The women take your breath away make you rethink your own benchmark of beauty. Whether it is Zainab with her intelligent good looks or Ayesha with her shy charm or Meena who is surely too gorgeous to be real, the women are the ones who keep the story going.
The storyline does not spare you for long and the heart wrenching moments keep coming at you every few minutes till your clenched muscles cannot take it any more. And then….suddenly there is peace and freedom and you manage to take a few deep breaths. I left the theatre with tears in my eyes but a ray of hope somewhere in my heart.
What did this movie do for me? I think I grew up somewhere during the film. How else was I able to understand the hakim and his values when my heart lay with Saifu and the girls? How did I feel a twinge of sympathy for him at the end when his actions through the tale made me want to throw something heavy at his head? What will it do for you? Well you have to watch it to know it. Those of you who have read and liked/loved ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hosseini, you should not miss this film. And for the ladies who feel this may be too much, watch it for Atif Aslam who has a sizable role. He looks as good as he sounds and that should be incentive enough! I genuinely feel that each person needs to watch this film, just to understand how much most of us take for granted in our own lives.
It is playing in all major metros and definitely deserves a lot more audience than it is getting at the moment. So while you queue up for tickets to watch ‘Bodyguard’, spare a few moments to buy some for Bol too.
Copyright © Tara Verma September 2011
All Rights Reserved