There’s an inherent sincerity in Khuda Ke Liye director Shoaib Mansoor’s new film Bol, that compels you to look beyond its shortcomings. This film raises important questions about the terrifyingly regressive attitude towards women in Pakistan’s patriarchal society, and casts a critical eye on various prejudices perpetuated in the name of religion.
At the centre of this bleak drama is a middle-aged, God-fearing medicine man Hakeem (played by Manzar Sehbai), who has fallen on hard times. He lives in a crumbling house in Lahore with his wife and seven daughters, and a eunuch ‘son’ he has been ashamed of since birth.
Hakeem is prone to angry outbursts, and he uses religion to control his family. His daughters were only allowed to attend school till fifth grade, and the ‘son’ can never step out of the house. Bullied by their tyrant father, the children rebel behind his back. One of his daughters has fallen in love with the neighbor’s son, a part-time musician (played by Atif Aslam) with whom she performs at a concert on the sly. The other girls break into dance the moment their father steps out of the house. The eldest daughter (played by Humaima Khan), who has returned home after a failed marriage, clashes with her father on virtually everything – from interpretations of the holy book, to the injustice he metes out to their eunuch brother. Hakeem’s misguided commitment to doing what he thinks is right, lands himself and his family in a mess that proves hard to come out of, and one that eventually results a secret liaison with a prostitute-courtesan.
Much like the director’s previous film, Bol has its heart in the right place, but resorts to melodrama and over-the-top histrionics to make its point. The film’s uneven pace and its relentlessly dark tone will tire you out in places, and the filmmaking itself is shoddy. But despite the script holes and the sloppy storytelling, Bol is an important film that deserves your time. Director Shoaib Mansoor never shies away from revealing uncomfortable truths, and does an earnest job of addressing prickly issues like homosexuality, contraception, education for women, and Islam’s attitude to music.
I’m going with a generous three out of five for Pakistani director Shoaib Mansoor’s Bol. Look beyond its kitchen-sink drama treatment, and you’ll notice it’s a brave film with an urgent message at its heart.