“Ab tou burai khatam ho gai na?"
"Logon kay ikhlaq bhi bach gae."
"Mashra? Uss ka kya hua? Mashra teekh hogaya?"
The ending to Urdu1’s drama Baaghi shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone because the murder of Qandeel Baloch (on whose life the serial is loosely based) was an international headline. Still, that doesn't dilute the shock or horror of her tragic end.
Kanwal Baloch began her life as Fozia Azeem, a fun-loving, vivacious girl from a very poor family living in a small provincial village. Lack of resources and opportunities denied her the education or awareness that might have allowed her a better life but she was never one to settle on the fate that others had decided for her.
Fozia had different expectations of life than those allowed for women from her social strata. She was neither willing to put up with her husband’s neglect and infidelity nor was she content to sit at home and cook. When Abid divorces her and takes away her child, Fozia heads to the city to pursue her dream of modelling, only to find herself trapped in a cycle of exploitation common for girls with no support and no skills to fall back on.
A strong will combined with a lot of perseverance and a little luck transform the poverty-stricken Fozia into YouTube sensation Kanwal Baloch. Kanwal is reviled by respectable society but rides a wave of popularity that gives her a certain celebrity that she tries to cash in on to support herself and her family.
Ultimately it isn’t her bad behaviour that causes her death but her good intentions to help her relatives. Despite the disclaimer at the beginning of each Baaghi episode, it is fair to say that most of the story followed the rise and fall of YouTube star Qandeel Baloch, and it was her persona that produced so much interest in a drama that could so easily have been just another mazloom aurat story.
Before Baaghi was aired accusations of “glorifying” Qandeel’s behaviour were thrown, as if somehow, even in death this one young woman was a threat to public morality.
As I have said in my previous reviews, Qandeel was an unlikely heroine for a Pakistani drama. When producer Nina Kashif announced that Urdu1 was making her biopic, there was an uproar.
Accusations of “glorifying” Qandeel’s behaviour were thrown, as if somehow, even in death this one young woman was a threat to public morality. Even as the producers moved forward, the morally outraged needed to be placated with interviews from the writers, Umera Ahmed and Shazia Khan, who told the public that Qandeel’s life would be used as an example to deter other young girls from this path.
While the jury is out on what this drama deters, it did achieve the near-impossible task of giving Qandeel her humanity back, a humanity she lost in many eyes when she started to shake her body suggestively across our computer screens.
The backbone of this drama has always been the outstanding performances from its well-chosen cast. The first accolade must be laid at Saba Qamar’s feet. Although she was a little unconvincing in the first few episodes due to the obvious age difference between her and the rebellious teenager she was portraying, she owned this role, avoiding the self-pitying brittleness that often marks many dramas about long-suffering females. Her portrayal of Kanwal’s grit and sheer refusal to be suppressed by any circumstance is a study in excellence, making this one of her most memorable performances to date.
Ali Kazmi was outstanding as the womanising Abid, a tricky, mutating personality: charming but selfish, friendly but cruel, he is the embodiment of male privilege and arrogance that represents a lot of what is wrong with our culture and Kazmi played him brilliantly. Khalid Malik was perfect as Kanwal’s gay best friend and deserves credit for giving a restrained performance to a character that might have easily been turned into a caricature.
Of all the men in Kanwal’s life, the one that treated her with the most love and respect was Sheheryar, a man just as broken as her.
Osman Khalid Butt played his character with depth and maturity, investing it with touches of his own self-deprecating humour and checking back some of the inherent melodrama that would come with a man who has faced so much tragedy. The chemistry between Saba Qamar and Osman Khalid Butt was surprisingly fresh and took the bitter edge off the build-up to Kanwal’s inevitable demise, making those episodes much more watchable.
The best surprise gift of this serial had to be Sarmad Khoosat and Nadia Afghan. Irritating and villainous in equal measure, this was surely the Bhai and Bhabhi from hell.
Anyone else playing them might have been a cliché but Khoosat’s constantly discontented, sneering, resentful face gave a subtle new flavour to an old mix. Afghan and Khoosat make a great team and often provided a little black humour to the proceedings.
By focusing on her personal relationships rather than going into too many details about her line of work, the makers made a clear choice to focus on Kanwal and by extension Qandeel’s more private side rather than risk complaints that they were celebrating her choices.
Director Farooq Rind has elicited some fine performances from his team and apart from a few detours into melodrama, kept the concept of this story firmly in view. The tension and grip in the final episode goes to his credit.
While this drama has always been entertaining, it has at times missed the mark and played up Kanwal’s 'majbooriyan'.
The writer’s dilemma was obvious; a more accurate depiction of Kanwal’s life may have stirred up even more public indignation and could have been difficult to get past censors. By focusing on her personal relationships rather than going into too many details about her line of work, the makers made a clear choice to focus on Kanwal and by extension Qandeel’s more private side rather than risk complaints that they were celebrating her choices.
Writers Umera Ahmed and Shazia Khan have managed to give a good picture of the life of a working class woman, who rose from extreme poverty and managed to make a name for HERSELF out of literally nothing.
Baaghi’s final episode was a haunting journey into darkness that brought home the full horror to its heroine’s untimely end.
Syed Tabriz's characterisation of Munna is all the more chilling for his lack of emotion as he slowly suffocates his once much loved sister to death. The writers deserve a round of applause for going straight to the heart of the matter, without giving Munna any dialogues that might allow some sort of justification to creep in.
Munna is angry because the free ride that he had gotten used to was leaving. This was not a crime of passion; it was premeditated murder, where greed and the arrogance of entitlement lit the fires of so called ghairat in Munna.
However, while Munna was ultimately responsible, the makers chose to exclude one important figure in Qandeel’s last days, that of Mufti Qavi.
The mufti who visited Qandeel to discuss “spiritual matters” became the butt of public ridicule and humiliation after Qandeel exposed him. The makers probably chose not to make him a part of Kanwal’s narrative in an attempt to avoid more controversy but his absence is a glaring omission that reduces the impact and clarity of this serial.
There are other missing figures, like all those men and women who took advantage of Fozia, who wouldn’t allow her and many other young women to earn their living without exacting a pound of flesh at each interaction.
Those missing figures are the ones that we need to remember the most each time we sit in judgment over women like Kanwal or Qandeel.