The other day I was able to see a very powerful film at our local film festival. The film was ‘Bol’, the Pakistani film directed by Shoib Manzoor. I have not seen his acclaimed ‘Khuda kay liye’ and was not sure what to except of ‘Bol’, but was overwhelmed.
The story unfolds as Zainab (Humaima Malick) tells her life history to the media, minutes before being sentenced to death. Zainab’s father is Hakim Saab (Manzar Zehbai), a traditional Physician and a very stubborn, proud, conservative and devout Sunni Muslim. Zainab is the eldest amongst half a dozen daughters of Hakim Saab. The father badly needed a son as successor, but the son he finally gets was a eunuch. As the son Saifee (Amr Kashmiri) grows up with his sisters, the father tries his best to ignore his ‘shameful’ presence in the family.
Independent thinking Zainab could not digest the fact that her father refuses birth control and girls continued to be born to the impoverished family. When she was married off to another poor family, she was adamant about not having children until the family could afford to feed them. Her husband’s family was not progressive enough for that and she had to return to her house.
With the decline of feudal system, the role of traditional physician became less and less in the society and Hakim Saab became more and more poor. But his vanity and pride only became stronger, especially in relation to women of the house and family honour. He never allows women of the house to study or work.
Though a devout follower of religion, Hakim Saab did not have qualms in killing his eunuch son to save the ‘honour’ of his family. Also to save his skin from Police he was ‘sinful’ enough to give a big bribe, the money coming from the fund given to him for safe keeping for building a mosque. Unemployed, he was forced to get a job of teaching Quran to kids of a brothel run by Shia Muslims, whom he detested.
When the Mosque building Committee asked for the funds, Hakim Saab had to approach the Brothel owner. He was ready to give the sum, but in return he wanted Hakim Saab to sire a girl child through one of the courtesan.
Thus the devout and proud Sunni Hakim is ‘marrying’ a Shia sex worker younger than his daughter. At the same time he was stubborn enough to refuse a marriage proposal from a doctor who was in love with one of his daughters, just because the groom was Shia. Zainab helps her sister to elope with her lover.
When a girl child was born to him via the courtesan, the issue of family ‘honour’ again begin to haunt Hakim. Not wanting the child to be left at the brothel he unsuccessfully tries to rescue her. Later when the child was brought to his house by her mother herself, he accepts it, but tries to kill it when the owner of the brothel comes with thugs to take it away.
The film shows how religion and patriarchy combine together to make the life of women a hell. Whether it is the wife of Hakim Saab, or the daughters, or the eunuch son, or the women in the brothel, or the new born girl child, each one of them is severely exploited by the male dominated society. Religion gives the philosophical basis for such exploitation. At the same time, for the old patriarch of the film, the devout Hakim Saab, religion was not a barrier to kill, to bribe, to steal money from public fund, to be on the pay roll of a Shia brothel owner and even to marry a young courtesan.
The film ends deliberately in a fairy tale way, showing how easily women can empower and look after themselves when the patriarchal control is removed.
Though technically the film is not perfect, its powerful script more than compensates for the deficiencies.
The loud and clear message from this film is that the fight against patriarchy can never be won without fighting its religious props.