Pakistan is many things. A country where terrorists plot attacks against Europe, where a brewery founded by British soldiers produces beer, where software developers top the download charts, where tomorrow’s fast bowlers run through their paces on grass verges, where a Christian woman guilty of blasphemy waits on death row, and where supposedly educated lawyers try to ban Facebook. All countries are a mess of contradictions, but nowhere is it quite so difficult to pin down the essence of a country as Pakistan.
Maybe it comes from religion. Or maybe religion divides as much as it unites. Maybe it is cricket, albeit a team that disappoints almost as much as its politicians. Or maybe it is a country that is united only in its fear and hatred of India.
Some of these themes are on display in Shoaib Mansoor’s latest film Bol, a bold analysis of contemporary Pakistan’s relationship with religion, its attitude to women and the painful tensions that so frequently erupt in violence (just read the national newspapers).
A new baby is born into the Lahori family of daughters dominated by a pious, conservative father. As it becomes clear that the much anticipated son is actually an intersex baby, the relationship between father and family breaks down, precipitating a series of crises that escalate in a narrative told by Bol, the eldest daughter, as she stands on the gallows, a noose above her head, reciting her story all the way to its inevitable, bloody conclusion.
The daughters, already shut off from the world until the day they are married off, dream of how their lives might be in the outside world. But at each turn their domineering father, and his outdated view of respect and religion, thwarts their attempts to be free. The tension grows until it all unravels in a mess of betrayal and lies exposed, just as you know it will from the clever way the plot unfolds. Even the father’s faith collapses as he desperately, hypocritically tries to claw his way out of trouble. Or maybe he was never a man of faith – just a man who didn’t want to lose face.
This is a brave film that will spark all sorts of debate about where modern Pakistan is headed. No doubt the debates will be had by the elites educated overseas and played out in the op-ed pages of the English-language newspapers. The people who need to see this film will probably steer clear.
Some of the music was on the cheesy side, the picture could have been 30 minutes shorter and a bleaker, starker ending would have been more satisfying – but I suspect that’s not how Lollywood films are made.
A powerful examination of the trouble with Pakistan.