Will Qandeel Baloch’s Biopic Write a New Chapter for Pakistan?
“As a society, we are yet to decide what Qandeel Baloch meant to us”.
For some, she was the Kim Kardashian of Pakistan. For others, an out-and-out sinner.
Liberals tend to see in her the epitome of feminist strength. Conservatives, meanwhile, silenced every voice that mourned her death. As a society, we are yet to decide what Qandeel Baloch meant to us.
But one thing is for sure. Her murder gave new life to our contradictions.
Baaghi: A Biopic on Qandeel Baloch’s Life
Qandeel was the side character that ends up exposing so much about the protagonist without directly having anything to do with the plot. The protagonist that Pakistan is has sailed past another year full of highs and lows since Qandeel’s passing, and now, a biopic is set to be released on the life of the slain internet sensation.
Helmed by well-known TV director Farooq Rind with the uber talented Saba Qamar, Osman Khalid Butt and Sarmad Khoosat in lead roles, Baaghi is a starry affair. It has all the faces it takes to make Pakistani fiction work on screen – the only difference being that you are no longer dealing with fiction. You are dealing with a person about whom we barely know anything, at a time when naysayers and admirers both want to know something new about her.
That is a very tricky situation. Whether you like it or not, history is often written not to document how things were, but to record what its authors believe generations should to know.
A brilliant case in point is the Bollywood disaster Mohenjo Daro. Apart from the obvious cultural misappropriation, it equated Indic culture to Vedic culture. This made countless Indians and Pakistanis, who refuse to skim through a shelf in the public library, believe a version of history that never was.
Qandeel’s Life: A Struggle of Two Worldviews
But how do we know what the correct version of a person’s life is when her death was the climax, and the reaction to it the resolution? Speculation, only speculation, that too borrowed from the way you choose to mourn her death. It was an event that exposed the extremist tendencies within both Pakistani liberals and conservatives with no hope of moderation at all.
We are yet to choose between successfully opening up to this notion of Western modernity, something that our neighbours have embraced so aptly, or clinging onto the more conservative side.
The liberal left in Pakistan will latch onto anything to push their narrative. The way that we have reacted to Baloch’s murder, without keeping the bare facts in mind, tells us how example-starved we are.
It’s essentially a struggle of two worldviews that transpired in how Qandeel’s death was accepted by our society.
What the Left Doesn’t See
Before any of these worldviews come into play, we need to swallow the red pill and admit that Qandeel’s story is essentially a tale of poverty, class and the failure of our society to provide avenues for upward mobility.
She was someone who wanted to do anything to get out of that deprived tier of society but was at the same time as ill-equipped as you can be to do so. It had nothing to do with her sexuality or her confidence and personality. She was out to ruffle people's feathers, for good intentions or bad, but despite that, she was someone no one really cared about while she lived.
To see Qandeel's life as a reaction to, and her death as a product of just misogyny misses the point. If any A-list female celebrity acted as confrontationally as she did – and many do – she would have been lauded in life, at least by a small albeit vocal segment of Pakistani society.
Qandeel’s Death Exposed Pakistani Society’s Hypocrisy
No one liked Qandeel Baloch not because of her abrasive personality, but because she offered very little apart from that personality. She couldn't sing, dance, act or write, or else we would have seen her become another rags-to-riches story. Much like the viral One Pound Fish sensation or those rappers from Lyari. She was neither an artist nor an intellectual.
Instead, she was someone who came from such a deprived background that the only way she believed she could escape it was by becoming a caricature of the very class she wanted to belong to; without perhaps realising that she had become a caricature in the first place.
And that class, which at best ignored her and at worst disdained her while she lived, suddenly found her worth their time, and hailed her like a saint of feminine power. Why? Just because she was killed?
Perhaps by propping Qandeel up as a heroine in death, that same society is trying to assuage the guilt for its complicity in allowing the depredation she faced. Yes, Qandeel's murder is a heinous tragedy and must be vehemently condemned. But at the same time, her life and that of countless others from the same background is a tragedy too.
This, too, should be a takeaway for anyone who decides to look at Qandeel's life and death.
As it stands, Qandeel's biopic seems only to be cashing in on her fame — or infamy, depending on who you talk to. However, the only way such a biopic can truly be a service to Pakistani society is if it presents a nuanced look at her life, rather than a simplified popular narrative.
Beyond that, Baaghi is unlikely to be anything ground-breaking for Pakistan's television landscape, which has more often than not mixed societal issues with entertainment value.
One year down the line, Qandeel's saga should be for us catalyst for introspection to figure out how we marginalise people like her and her family. Like her name suggests, let Qandeel be a lantern that guides us to social awareness, instead of the flavour-of-the-day in social media rantings.
Let us ponder on the words of her father: "May no daughter be born to a poor family."
Pause. Think. Repeat.
(Rafay Mahmood is a Life and Style Editor of The Express Tribune. The Express Tribune is the publishing partner of The New York times in Pakistan. He can be reached on Twitter @Rafay_Mahmood.)
(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
(We all love to express ourselves, but how often do we do it in our mother tongue? Here's your chance! This Independence Day, khul ke bol with BOL – Love your Bhasha. Sing, write, perform, spew poetry – whatever you like – in your mother tongue. Send us your BOL email@example.com or WhatsApp it to 9910181818.)
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