The Tragic Story of a Rule Breaker – Review of Pakistani Drama Baaghi

Title: Baaghi
Based on: True Story, Qandeel Baloch’s life, Honor Killing
Key Performances: Saba Qamar, Khalid Malik, Sarmad Khoosat, Osman Khalid Butt, Ali Kazmi
Developed by: Urdu1

Qandeel Baloch, a wannabe diva who made waves with her unconventional viral videos and bold statements was murdered by her brother one evening in 2016. Qandeel was “news”while she was alive and she continued to leave a trail of opinions and facebook posts even after her untimely death. People had questions, some thought of her as a champion of feminism, a hero who stood up for her beliefs and some labelled her as a cheap attention-seeking loser. Regardless of what anyone thought about her, she was a sensation because everyone did have an opinion about her, and that for Qandeel was enough of an accomplishment!

The reason Qandeel’s brother gave for his homicidal behavior was honour. He strangled Qandeel to death on grounds of offending “family honour”. There are many voices that were never heard before Qandeel and were silenced in Pakistan for the very same reason. But Qandeel was a trail-blazer, and after her we hope no more voices would be silenced without a trial.

Baaghi is a drama inspired from Qandeel’s life. Saba Qamar, a seasoned actress who has the uncanny ability to personify every character she plays took up Qandeel’s role. Baaghi has recently won many accolades at the Lux-Style Awards, an award-show that celebrates Pakistani entertainment. And very well deserved ones too! There are exceptional acting performances by Osman Khalid Butt, Ali Kazmi, Khalid Malik, Sarmad Khoosat and Saba Qamar. It has an extremely catchy and soulful original soundtrack by Shuja Haider. Powerful story-telling and dialogues by Umaira Ahmed, the Queen of Urdu novel writing. Baaghi is the full-package that beckoned me to watch it from the very first trailer!

The writer has chosen to call her protagonist Kanwal Baloch. Kanwal is desperately poor, less educated, been forced into a violent marriage but has some career aspirations. Anyone with that formula plugged into their lives in Pakistan is bound to be invisible! Kanwal wanted the exact opposite- Stardom! So with just the clothes on her back she begins to chase this dream. She escapes the marriage and moves to Karachi. She becomes friends with Rehaan (Khalid Malik), who helps her put her life back on track. Kanwal faces many failures and makes some questionable decisions in order to pursue her career as a model. Earlier on Abid (her ex-husband) tries to discourage her from taking up modelling as a career.

Abid: They say these people are bad

Kanwal: You tell me what is good or bad. Have you ever seen a gun fire itself. On its own?

Abid: No

Kanwal: Who shoots then

Abid: Human?

Kanwal: Then who would be bad? Gun or the Human. Work is never bad, it is the people who are. And those who are bad will do bad weather they work or stay at home.

It is the magic of Umaira Ahmed’s pen that spins a tale around each of Kanwal’s unconventional decisions and the viewer cannot help but sympathize with her. There are reasons behind every irrational choice she appears to make. Saba Qamar plays the role with exceptional realism, her village-girl Punjabi is flawless which slips off from the modern city-girl Kanwal all too frequently. Kanwal family’s latches onto her money like parasites and she supports all of them, which is unfair but maybe expected from the “man-of-the-house” in Pakistani society. Yet not only do they refuse to acknowledge her contribution as a daughter but her lecherous brother strangles her to death on the basis of offending their honor because her means of providing that life and money suddenly seem grotesque. Baaghi makes one question: if honor is subjective and mostly based on agendas too?

Baaghi enabled me to empathize with a person who belonged to a completely different stratum of the Pakistani population. It will make a viewer like me question their judgments about a person who is trying to break barriers inspite of cultural and financial restraints. The haunting lines delivered by Saba Qamar in the last episode will stay with me for a long time (a translation):

You took my God-given right to redemption or improving myself.

I was bad for the society, bad for people’s sanity

Whatever I was. I have left your world

Without giving any explanations, I would just like to ask you

Has all evil left now?

People have managed to preserve their piety?

And the society, what about that?

Society has become perfect right?

Since Baaghi is based on a true story, that too a rather popular one, the viewer already knows the plot and the outcome. But the drama is par-excellence not because of the story but because of its message! I would recommend everyone to watch it, get acquainted with someone you judge but don’t know the circumstances of, and get a reflection of the unfairness and ugliness of the society. Baaghi was aired on Urdu1 in Pakistan last year, it is available on Youtube and I hope it becomes available on Netflix soon. So whether you would like to watch it again or missed it, you can still catch it online and let me know what you thought.


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