Is It A Crime To Be A Woman Or Transgender? ‘Bol’ Sheds Light On Many Gender Issues

Bol, an Urdu film, was made to shed light on women's rights, to bring the focus of media and the Pakistani elite to gender issues. 

Bol, an Urdu film, was made to shed light on women’s rights, to bring the focus of media and the Pakistani elite to gender issues.

Is it a crime to be a girl? Is it a crime to be intersex or transgender? Is it the fault of a woman when she delivers a girl? Has our parochial mentality towards a woman changed? How many of you have watched the movie ‘Bol‘? The movie covers all of my questions and is also an eye opener.

Written, directed and produced by Shoaib Mansoor the movie Bol is a Pakistani Urdu language film. It was released in the year 2011 and was a part of their maternal and child health project. The primary objective of this project was to advocate for women’s rights by bringing the focus of media and the elite of Pakistan to family planning and gender issues.

The plot of Bol

The movie is about a religious Muslim family based in Lahore, Pakistan, and headed by a staunch religious fanatic father whose dreams to have a son poses a threat to the financial situation of the family. The story is shown in flashbacks where the eldest daughter Zainab who, on the night to be hanged for killing her father, expresses her desire to let the media know her story.

Eldest among six sisters, Zainab has also an transgender sibling Syed Saifullah Khan who is fondly called Saifi.

Saifi who is much loved by the rest of the family is equally detested by the father Hakim for his sexual identity. The father runs a small traditional pharmacy shop and is hell bent on having a son. He neither believes in women’s education, nor does he want the women to be financially equipped.

Zainab the eldest, was married off at a young age but had to return to her maternal home, as she could not deal with the atrocities rendered to her by her abusive husband for not bearing a child. Things here are no good either, as Hakim with this unsatiated urge to have a son keeps making his wife pregnant and she delivers all still borns. Ultimately Zainab arranges for a tubectomy for her mother which irks her father, and he becomes violent towards Zainab and her mother. In one of his rages, Hakim murders his son Saifi when he comes home after being raped by another transgender.

To hide this homicide Hakim bribes the police by stealing money from the Masjid funds. To replenish the money Hakim takes up a job as a Quran teacher for Saqa’s children. Saqa runs a brothel and asks Hakim to marry his eldest daughter Meena, a prostitute by profession. Saqa who believed that it is a man who decides the sex of the child believes that Hakim who keeps on having girls can also make Meena pregnant and bear a girl whom he can later use in his profession.

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Meena does deliver a girl. When Meena comes to give Hakim the baby, Hakim’s family comes to know about his liaison with Meena. The grieving mother narrates her tale to Zainab who proposes that she start a new life elsewhere. When Saqa comes to Hakim’s house in search of the girl child, Hakim tries to kill the newborn the same way he had killed Saifi, because he believes it is better than the baby becoming a prostitute. Zainab with the help of her mother and sister manages to save the baby but in process accidentally kills Hakim. She later tells Saqa that Hakim had murdered the child and he too is killed.

Zainab ends her heart tugging story posing the same questions which I had asked at the beginning of narration. A reporter tries to prove Zainab innocent but fails, and Zainab is ultimately hanged to death. The film ends on a positive note where Zainab’s family opens a restaurant in her honour as Zainab Café. They also raise Meena’s daughter, their new step–sister.

The discrimination, highlighted

Times of India, in its review, saysdirector Shoaib Mansoor had used this family as an exemplar to address almost every concern correlated with the community. The film primarily objects to the idea of reproducing human beings into this world (blinded by faith and self-centered intentions) without taking complete responsibility of their existence. Simultaneously it also highlights the regressive attitude of a male-dominated society that offers no liberty to woman in choosing life-partner, refusing reproduction, gaining education or working independently. And the concerns are very much contemporary with the film set in modern-day Lahore. At the same time, the film never stereotypes the state or its citizens but attempts to represent the intellectual illiteracy of a vast majority who haven’t upgraded with times. Almost all the issues are brought to light by the conformist characterization of the father figure. And with the outlook of the film focused only on domestic issues, the director refrains from giving any political overtones to Hakim’s characterization and attributes his extremism to his orthodox upbringing and bigoted beliefs. His fanatic philosophy makes him renounce his earnings from a plebeian pimp even in desperate times.

In this 2011 film, Shoaib Mansoor has brilliantly portrayed the tragic fate which Saifi had to face for being an intersex. How safe are they really, from society and family? Has anything really changed for them? They are harassed even now, and you can find a Saifi at each corner struggling for an identity, struggling for money. I ask a question – apart from seeing them begging, why can’t the Government provide education and employment? What is the big fuss on Section 377? So we have no answers but only questions.

Often women are blamed for bearing girls while we all know it is a man’s chromosomes which decide the sex of the child. Bang on! The director had hit the nail right on head. And certain men still carry this regressive belief just like Hakim, that a woman cannot earn money. It makes me laugh as Hakim had to run to a prostitute for money and it was his daughters who later flourished in their business which Hakim could not attain in his lifetime. Grow up guys; it’s time you acknowledge these facts which Shoaib Mansoor being a man had portrayed in his film.

The film Bol broke all the records of Pakistani Cinema and earned the highest revenues. Fetching all positive critic review Bol was awarded the best Hindi film award in IRDS Film awards 2011 by the Institute for Research and Documentation in Social Sciences (IRDS), a Lucknow-based civil social organization for raising many social issues, including the regressive attitude of a male-dominated society.

Watch the trailer of Bol here

Image source: Bol movie promos

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About the Author

Rimli Bhattacharya

Rimli Bhattacharya is a First class gold medalist in Mechanical Engineering from National Institute of Technology, an MBA in supply chain management and is engaged with a corporate sector. Her essay in the anthology “Book read more...

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