I went to watch a documentary on woman abuse at MISAAF 2019, but stayed on to watch with absolutely no expectations, the Pakistani commercial film BAAJI.
And to my utter surprise, I came back extremely impressed by three components of the film:
- Saqib Malik, the Producer Director
- Meera ji, the actor
- BAAJI the film in toto.
And exactly in that increasing order.
The film is a bold and beautiful portrayal of the ugly truth that exists in deeply conservative and patriarchal socieites.
This film does not have a single hero. This feminist film has both its leads charaters as fiercely independent women, Shameera & Neha. Both are extremely hardworking breadwinners for their families, and with dreams to make it big in their lives.
They are hounded by parasitic men, either through relationships ( Rammy, Ajji), as family ( Neha’s pious brother) or proffessionally (Chaand Kamal or Rohail Khan) who have no credentials except being manipulative and being men. None of them earn or contribute financially ( as is expected to be caregivers in patriarchy), yet consider it their preprogative to exercise control over these women.
Shameera represents a female superstar from the desi showbiz industry who is surrounded by patriarchs like her Aapi( yes she is a female patriarch), Chaand Kamal and Goshi Butt, who control her life, her finances and her decision-making.
“Yeh time hai theatre ka, theatre wich apne jalwe dikhane kaa.”
“Market wich rolla paa deyo, ke Shameera ne theatre da tee lakh(30 lakhs) leya ayy.”
Rammy, loves Shameera, but also wants her to be fiercely loyal to him, or else this good-for-nothing beau will put her in her place:
“Woh time chala gaya tumhara bibi.”
Neha is a reality from the working middle class, who toils hard in a beauty parlour, to support her family financially. Yet the person clearly in control in the house is her conservative nincompoop brother, who cannot even pay the installments of his own loaned rickshaw, but has the authority to be the moral police at home. She also represents a middle class struggling girl who dreams bigger than her capacity, is intelligent enough to take risks and grab opportunities, yet staying sincere to help the people who trust her- both Shameera and Rohail Khan.
Pardon me, but her third class boyfriend Ajji was an eyesore to me personally, because of being the abusive husband in real life, Mohsin Abbas Naqvi. However, his character isnt any better on screen as he backstabs the two ladies (How?- You need to see the movie) in connivance with the other two predators in the film- Rammy and Chaand Kamal.
A lot has been said about it being a comeback of the 70s & 80s Lollywood cinema. Pardon my ignorance on Lollywood, and hence will refrain to comment. However, I could relate the story to personal lives of powerful Indian actresses of 50s like Meena Kumari, Madhubala who had to endure a lot of control, betrayal and abuse from their male relationships and families.
Meera’s body language and expressions were incredibly skillful.
For example: He expression of shock & insecurity while noticing her wrinkles in the mirror in contrast to a young Neha’s flawless skin.
So did her dialogues speak in volumes of her powerful acting skills.
For example: Her desperation in her assertion: “Love me or hate me, but you can never replace me.”
This is the first ever Meera ji film that I have seen, and I came out of the film with a changed perception of hers. There is a lot more to her than the petty image of her english jokes by elitist Pakistanis. Just because of her humble background, poor english and B films offered to her, we have judged her long enough. She has delivered a masterful performance in #BAAJI now, thanks to its director who remarked in the comments after the film, “Either it was Meera Ji or there was no film Baaji.”
I found Rohail Khan’s character a bit suspicious from the beginning, wondering how could someone be so nice and caring, all of a sudden?
I donot want to give out any spoilers, and hence will restrain myself to talk further about the charaters or the plot.
I loved one specific song from the film, which metaphorically relates a kite to a powerful woman, with strings in the hands of her men. They want her to soar high for their matierial benefits, but remain with their control.
The other good song, which perhaps relates the film to the 70s is this
All in all, I loved the plot, the way it unfloded, including the romance, the tragedy and the suspense that followed.
Probably those who find this story of the film ghatiya, are reflecting their internalized misogyny.
I give the following credits to the producer, director Saqib Malik:
- Taking upon him a powerfully feminist story and telling it the way it is in a patriarchal society- full of barriers and blackmails for successful women.
- Throwing in a queer character in a very subtle, unoffending way( I am not giving out the details).
- His bravado to have chosen Meera Ji for a serious and complex role like Shameera. Meera is popularly mocked more for her english than acknowledged for her acting skills or personal struggles. Few know she began her acting career at the age of 10.
- Showing things that may be taboo in Pakistan, but taking away vulgarity from them. The bedroom conversation rather than ‘the sex scene’, showbiz party with local Murree beer.
- Remaining very cuturally appropriate to Pakistan, and with no attempts to copy the neighboring Bollywood.
- Not just directing his debut film, but producing it with his own 6 crores.
It is so heartening to know that the film is doing extremely well and has crossed 12 crores of earning so far.
Congratulations Team Baaji !
Special Thanks to MISAFF 2019 and Arshad Khan for enabling us to watch this and other beautiful films in Mississauga, Canada.
PS: I am not technical film critic, so my blog is purely based on my view of the stories and films with social justice lens.