Set in Lahore and moving from 1948 to present day, this
ambitious film by Pakistani filmmaker Shoaib Mansoor is a brave
exposition of the issues surrounding gender in Pakistan.
The film begins with the imminent execution of Zainab, a young
woman who has summoned the media in order to tell her tale. And so,
amidst camera flashes and impatient reporters the sprawling plot
unravels, as Zainab starts with her family's migration from Delhi
during the partition of India, and journeys through to her present
One of seven daughters born to a religious patriarch, Zainab
narrates their domestic life - her father's misogyny and dogmatic
teachings, the abuse inflicted on her mother at the hands of such a
tyrant, and the economic hardship suffered by large families -
brought about by the religious zealot's refusal to use birth
control and a burning desire for a son.
Thankfully, it's not all doom and gloom though, as Mansoor is
careful to insert snippets of joy; Zainab and her sisters steal
moments of guilty pleasure - singing, dancing and, most
sacrilegious of all, fraternising with the sexy boy next door,
played by Pakistani pop sensation and heart throb Atif Aslam.
The main reason that this film is included in this year's London
Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, however, is the subplot of Zainab's
brother Saifi - the youngest in the ill-fated family - who is born
Saifi is cloistered away as a shameful family secret and not even
permitted to go to school. He lives life in the company of his
sisters who adore and try to protect him from his father's disdain.
As he grows up, he realises and confesses his desire for
sexy-boy-next-door, who responds with kindness and admirable
maturity. Later, as Saifi leaves the confines of his sheltered
home, he experiences the abuse and ridicule endured by much of
Pakistan's significantly large Hijra community, to tragic
Major credit is due to Mansoor in his handling of this plot line -
not for a moment does the film stoop to a cheap laugh at the hands
of Saifi's intersexuality. Instead it is portrayed with the utmost
empathy and compassion. Even more credit goes to actor Amr Kashmiri
in his heartbreaking portrayal of the teenage boy.
The film would have done well to begin and end with Saifi's story;
instead, and much to his disservice, Mansoor attempts to cram the
entirety of Pakistan's social woes into one feature length film.
Bol spirals somewhat ineffectively between each plot twist. After
Mansoor slightly unsatisfactorily retires the story of Saifi, we
travel from the patriarch's desperate economic situation which
leads him to strike a deal with a pimp and his prized prostitute -
played by the striking and talented Pakistani model Iman Ai - to
Zainab's ultimate crime.
While it is certainly entertaining viewing - the pimp being
gloriously despicable while Ali's performance is both seductive and
comical - the plot is uncentered and occasionally verges on
But the bravery of the film and its unapologetic critique of
Pakistani society wills an audience to overlook its structural
weakness or thematic forays. Reportedly the highest grossing film
to come out of Pakistan, the hope is that this empathetic portrayal
of hijras and strong condemnation of the oppression of women and
tyranny of religion will filter into a vast number of conservative
households and make a lasting impression.
Perhaps even more importantly though, Bol is vital for an
international audience who might only know Pakistan through
mainstream headlines of terrorists, fundamentalism and drone
attacks. This brave and moving film is true to its name which
translates as "speak" - it gives a voice to Pakistanis who have
long been eclipsed or silenced by the mainstream media, and gives
humanity back to an unjustly demonised nation; we can only hope
this is the start of many to come.
Bol screens at the LLGFF on Sunday 1 April at 1pm.