At this point, Urdu 1’s drama serial Baaghi should probably have been named Meri Mujbooriya instead.
Despite the careful disclaimers at the beginning of each episode and the writers’ assertions that this is a “fictionalised account", most people started watching this serial because of its Qandeel Baloch connection. So the producers do owe her story some level of honesty.
The writers have stated their hope not to “glorify” Qandeel but to serve the public a morality lesson about the mistakes she, and other girls like her, have made. However, so far, the storyline has followed a very predictable Pakistani drama track which relieves their heroine of much of the responsibility for her own choices in life.
By episode 14, Fozia Azeem has started a new career, she is no longer the rejected first wife, or the batameez larki that her family despairs of ever controlling. She has reinvented herself as Kanwal Baloch, pronounced with an English accent, and has managed to find her way onto two reality TV shows.
The story so far
Fozia finally arrives in the big city to take up her dream job of modelling, leaving her cheating husband and young son far behind.
The modelling agency is willing to spend money and time, grooming and polishing this rough young girl and Fozia soon learns why. Alone, with no money or backing, Fozia looks like an easy mark for the usual predators that haunt unprotected young women. There is the businessman who might consider her as a brand ambassador if she “entertains” him, then she is sold by a woman running a girl’s hostel, even her job as coach hostess is marked by sexual harassment.
Disappointed, Fozia returns home only to find her place taken by her husband’s new wife Ruby, and her son given away to her childless sister-in-law. She expects no welcome from her own family either and returns to the city determined to earn enough money to get her son back. No matter how desperate her situation gets Fozia stands her ground, refusing to sell her body or compromise to get ahead.
In all this turmoil she is always supported by her gay friend Rehan played by Khalid Malik, who grooms her and helps her learn English. Depression haunts her till she sees an escape in the Pakistani reality TV show Desi Kuriya. With absolutely no filter on her emotions and an ability to make her presence felt on screen the way few can, she is perfect for this new genre.
However, her rough, violent ways get her thrown out of Desi Kuriya and she is left with yet another shot at success in the form of Pakistani Idol. When she is rejected from the very first audition, she decides she can no longer afford to have principles and will do anything to get money.
The sexual harassment Fozia faces is sadly very real. While the writers have spared no effort in turning this character into a typical soap opera style beychari, the one thing that rings true is the constant barrage of people who want to take advantage of her.
Women in any workplace, whether it's Hollywood or Karachi, have to learn to fend off anything from casual sexism to full-fledged sexual assault . The writers must be commended in pointing out the way any woman in any public space is assumed to be fair game by a certain type of man.
“Yeh jo TV pey ati hain koi achi aurtein nahi hoti," snorts Fozia’s sister-in-law after catching a glimpse of Fozia on screen. Fozia’s family and her ex-husband recognise her but her new ‘mod’ persona keeps her identity hazy enough to give them a cover against the gossip and the judgement of their neighbours.
Saba Qamar captures this strange hybrid “for the camera” persona flawlessly, the restlessness, the ambition and the sense of mischief are all there. Saba Qamar shines in sequence after sequence showing us every facet of Kanwal’s personality with skill and charm. Khalid Malik is also very effective in a strong supporting role. He is the voice of reason in Kanwal’s rollercoaster life and most tellingly points out that with her lack of qualifications, “izzat ki roti“ is the most difficult thing to earn.
Salman Saqib, better known as Mani, is another great addition to the cast of Baaghi. His stint as Waqar Zaka, the sarcastic but friendly host of Desi Kuriya, desperate for anything to get ratings was quite funny. The taunting humour, the fake personas put on by the contestants and the cat fights aren’t just amusing, they show us something very important. This is what sells, this is what people want to see, people want to be shocked and Qandeel figured that out very early on.
While so many claims to be disgusted by reality TV and Qandeel Baloch, there were enough people watching to make her somebody who could earn money quick despite her supposed lack of real talent.
To some it may seem as if the writers are even doing Qandeel a favour by metaphorically 'cleaning up' her image; but let us ask ourselves why do we need a woman to be “mazloom” or “bholi” before we can feel sympathy for her?
Baaghi has some great performances and is a nicely put together piece of entertainment by director Farooq Rind, who has translated the story to the TV screen with great authenticity and control. Though both he and Saba Qamar seem to be laying on the melodrama rather thick in the last two episodes. However, in their quest for ratings, the makers have missed quite a few opportunities to rise beyond the level of a mass entertainer.
What doesn't work
It’s no secret that Pakistani audiences love a mazloom aurat and they love a bholi larki turning into a mazloom aurat even more.
Kanwal Baloch is presented as a tragically misunderstood figure, let down by everyone she loves. If only her brother had been nicer, if only her parents had trusted her, if only her husband had had been faithful; the script suggests she has no fault but a headstrong nature.
There is no doubt life in Pakistan for a woman with or without education can be hard but Kanwal and Qandeel’s own choices are also very much a part of the equation that mapped the course of her life not just cruel fate and other people.
In their quest for ratings, Baaghi's makers have missed quite a few opportunities to raise the TV series beyond the level of a mass entertainer
And another point to consider: the actual Qandeel didn’t consider herself a beychari at all, even a cursory reading of her interviews shows she worked hard and was proud of what she had achieved.
In her interview with Images, she explained how she finished her education despite the odds, worked her way up from small photoshoots for small ads. She herself gave up her child knowing she couldn’t take care of him on her own and had absolutely no wish to return to a husband forced on her at 17.
Unlike Kanwal who is brought low by a zalim samaj, Qandeel never wore the mantle of injured innocence till she was forced into the shroud of victimhood by her own tragic murder.
She took full responsibility for her choices saying she was disgusted with this “mardon ki dunya” but was very proud of the sexy video she had just released, and spoke about how she would have to learn to “twerk” properly.
So why has Baaghi portrayed something else entirely?
This distinction may seem a fine one, and to some it may seem as if the writers are even doing Qandeel a favour by metaphorically 'cleaning up' her image; but let us ask ourselves why to do we, as a society, need a woman to be “mazloom” or “bholi” before we can feel sympathy for her? Why can’t she just be human?
Qandeel may not have been a saint but she wasn’t the devil either. Despite the shockingly sexy avatar she used to get rich quick, she was rather traditional in other ways; helping to marry off a sister and supporting her parents and family financially.
This is where Baaghi misses the point: no one needs to approve of anyone to disapprove of murder.