Cast:Atif Aslam, Iman Ali, Mahira Khan and Humaima Malick
High drama is clearly Pakistani television veteran Shoaib Mansoor’s preferred mode. In his sophomore big screen outing, he carries on pretty much from where the widely lauded Khuda Kay Liye had ended.
That was all of four years ago and matters have only got worse. So the writer-director is still seething at what the loony fringe appears to be doing to his nation. In Bol, he pours his indignation out in no uncertain terms.
It is strident, melodramatic and unmistakably out for the jugular. But in the end, it drives home its point in a manner that is compelling enough for all the effort not to be dismissed as much ado about nothing.
Mansoor sets the tone and tenor at the very outset. A young Lahore woman, having defiantly refrained from defending herself in court, is sentenced to death. The President of Pakistan summarily rejects her mercy plea. The convict is, however, granted a last wish: she is allowed to tell her side of the story to the media before she is led to the gallows.
The camera crews and pen-pushers take up their positions and the stern jailor sets a firm 4 am deadline. The hangman won’t wait a minute more, he thunders. The girl breaks her silence and takes us back into her benighted life in a conservative household that is more prison than home. And thus begins Bol.
As far as style and substance go, this indictment of religious orthodoxy and patriarchal tyranny speaks the same language as Khuda Kay Liye, the film with which Mansoor burst upon the Pakistani cinema scene in 2007, triggering hopes of a revival of a moribund movie industry.
But the impact of Bol isn’t quite as dramatic. It seems, at least in parts, to unduly overreach itself, meandering desultorily through a maze of narrative contrivances before it gets down to delivering its predictable climactic you-have-nothing-to-lose-but-your-shackles exhortation to women scorned.
Be that as it may, Bol has much going for it. It is an undoubtedly gutsy film that touches upon sensitive social issues with exemplary courage.
The principal narrative focuses on the sorry plight of those that exist on the margins of a male-dominated society while laying bare the gender inequities that are perpetuated by religiously imposed values.
Aided by a clutch of strong performances, Bol manages to say enough to be heard above the din.
A middle-aged, morally upright traditional medicine man (Manzar Sehbai), who is prone to frequent fits of rage as he grapples with a dwindling practice and grinding poverty, treats his wife and daughters like a load of garbage.
While the family unquestioningly submits to his unreasonable ways, his eldest daughter, Zainab (TV star Humaima Malik in her first film role), stands up to the oppressive patriarch and does much to repeatedly get his goat.
Zainab’s only male sibling, Saifullah (Amr Kashmiri), is really a girl trapped in a boy’s body. Hidden from the public eye, his sexual orientation makes him fair game for ridicule and exploitation in a society that looks askance at anyone who does not conform to dominant socio-religious norms.
An empathetic neighbour, Mustafa (singer-turned-actor Atif Aslam), a guitar-strumming musician who is studying to be a doctor and is in love with Ayesha, another of the Hakim Saab’s many daughters, finds the boy a job as a banner painter, but with terribly tragic consequences.
With every ill-advised move that the father makes, he digs a deeper hole for himself and his brood. And one of these holes has no bottom and it culminates in a disastrous a secret covenant with a Heera Mandi courtesan Safina (Iman Ali, light years away from the westernised Maryam in Khuda Kay Liye), who calls herself Meena after the legendary leading lady of Kamal Amrohi’s Pakeezah.
The roots of Bol lie firmly in Pakistan’s contemporary reality, but its heart seems to be more in consonance with the traditions of commercial Mumbai movies than with the cinema of protest that it aspires to be. But that isn’t necessarily undesirable especially because the message that the film delivers is urgent, heartfelt and of considerable import.