Presenting Qandeel Baloch as ‘a mazloom aurat’ might be Baaghi’s biggest flaw

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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.

Explore: 5 key developments in Baaghi that you should know about

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.

Fozia's only friend is Rehan, played by Khalid Malik, who grooms her and helps her learn English
Fozia’s only friend is Rehan, played by Khalid Malik, who grooms her and helps her learn English

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.

What works

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 shows us every facet of Kanwal’s personality with skill and charm, while Mani shines in his role as Waqar Zaka
Saba Qamar shows us every facet of Kanwal’s personality with skill and charm, while Mani shines in his role as Waqar Zaka

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.

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