Airing on Urdu1, the drama Baaghi stars Saba Qamar, Sarmad Khoosat, Osman Khalid Butt, Khalid Malik, Saba Faisal and Ali Kazmi.
Based on the story of slain social media star Qandeel Baloch, drama serial “Baaghi” talks about a fictionalized version of this story while embodying many elements from her real life. Saba Qamar plays “Fouzia Batool” or “Kanwal Baloch”, a girl from a small town in Punjab who goes to the big city to make it big, half out of ambition and half out of circumstance.
The story begins in a small village where Fouzia Batool is a sparky, confident, intelligent girl who doesn’t let anyone bully her or humiliate her in any way. Fouzia is a fresh change from the casual stereotype we see of women in these circumstances: she’s bright and chirpy and full of joi de vivre, she has great ambitions and she loves Madam Noor Jehan. She also wants to be famous one day and prove to the world that she’s much more than just a girl from a small town. Fouzia also loves her family very much, though her brother (played by Sarmad Khoosat) is someone who is not someone very likeable or tolerable. He and his wife (Nadia Afghan) are hell bent on wanting Fouzia to marry his wife’s brother, much to Fouzia’s chagrin. Fouzia likes another man named Abid (Ali Kazmi) who runs a shop nearby. After much ado, Fouzia and Abid get married and Fouzia discovers that Abid is a womanizer and after she has had one child with him, she attempts to leave him but it doesn’t happen that way at all. He takes away his child from Fouzia and throws her out of the house. Fouzia faces much ignominy from her family and from everyone else in ‘letting another woman take hold of her ‘mard’’ by simply not forgiving Abid for his transgressions. Fouzia runs away to the city, in order to become someone famous or important and here she faces many obstacles as well. Fouzia starts to dress up in western attire, learns English and becomes “Kanwal Baloch”. She faces exploitation at the hands of reality tv hosts, corporate honchos and seths. In the recent episodes, she finally gives in and becomes an expensive escort, so to speak, and attempts suicide at seeing the humiliation and the life she has come to live.
Qandeel Baloch and Kanwal Baloch’s stories are similar in many ways. In reality, Qandeel faced similar situations. Many people called her the Kim Kardashian of Pakistan but Qandeel was a poor girl, with no socio-economic privilege so the comparison held little water. What she was – was a girl with no support and no help from anyone around her. She grew to achieve fame through her provocative social media posts for which she was shamed relentlessly by the same men who went to her Facebook page to watch her and send her hateful or lewd comments. Qandeel was murdered by her brother who said she was ‘tarnishing the Baloch name’ and of late Mufti Qavi, an ex-member of the moon-sighting committee was also booked under the charges of Qandeel’s murder. Qandeel’s father insisted that it was Qavi who had instigated Qandeel’s murder.
Qandeel’s story and Baaghi:
One of the many things that Baaghi gets right is the depiction of low socioeconomic strata and the pressures women from that strata have to face to get through in the entertainment industry. These women don’t have important fathers who can introduce them to important showrunners nor are they rich enough to socialize with enough people with branded accessories and clothing to make an impression. These women are often the biggest victims of casting couches and harassment. As we see in “Kanwal’s” story, she eventually realizes that she has nothing going in her favour; she had tried everything from being a bus hostess to living in a women’s shelter to doing an honest job as an actor – but all had been exploitative. Frustrated with everything, she decides to become what they all expected her to become. But unfortunately, the story doesn’t end here. It ends in a far more brutal, in a far more chilling way than any of us could have imagined.
The performances, writing and direction of Baaghi:
The story is created by Shazia Khan, penned down by Umera Ahmed and directed by Farooq Rind. Saba Qamar portrays Qandeel’s ethos beautifully. The spark, the spunk, the grief, the pain, the frustration is all depicted beautifully by Saba in Baaghi and she has taken a big risk in doing this role considering the amount of controversy that surrounded Qandeel’s life. Mad props to her, first and foremost, even before lauding her performance, it is immensely wonderful of her to take on this role and create it in a humane, powerful way. This would help in many people seeing Qandeel as a human and an underprivileged victim of society instead of the caricature everyone had turned her out to be.
Sarmad Khoosat and Ali Kazmi are too lovable therefore hard to hate but the lines are strong enough and the storylines are important enough to create that revulsion in their characters. Saba Faisal, Irfan Khoosat, Khalid Malik and Yasir Nawaz are compelling and convincing in their supportive roles.
The writing falters when it seems to want to paint too much of a victim in “Kanwal” but regroups when it picks up on the nuances of harassment and exploitation in the entertainment industry. So far the story is going strong and gaining momentum but it still takes a hiccup or two when it comes to repetitions and perhaps the cinematography suffers as well from a static feel.
So far, since the play is halfway through, the most critical verdict that can be awarded is that it has some stellar performances and a really important subject matter. We can say more when the play ends, we can ask more – will they include the Mufti Qavi angle? How will they emphasize on the concept of ‘honor’ that is responsible for killing so many women in Pakistan every year and also lead to Qandeel’s death? How would the audience respond to this and would it bring a change? The play is halfway through and perhaps in a few more weeks, we’ll find out more about these answers.
The play airs on Urdu1 on Thursdays at 8 pm in Pakistan – all its episodes are available on YouTube if you want to catch them. A detailed review and recap of them is available on Patari Music by The Review with Mahwash.