CultureCinema A Feminist Reading Of Bol: Sexuality, Politics And Violence

A Feminist Reading Of Bol: Sexuality, Politics And Violence

Bol acts as a critique to patriarchy, raising questions on sexuality, power and violence, topics which are important for society to answer.

As the title of the movie suggests, Bol speaks about the hushed voices of the women in a patriarchal society, conforming to societal norms of patriarchy and then finally raising the voice against the persisting injustices of the patriarchal system. It is a Pakistani movie which was released on 2011. The movie was directed, produced and written by Shoaib Mansoor.

Bol is the story of a patriarchal male-headed family from Lahore, Pakistan. The patriarch Hakim, is a traditional medicine seller. The movie is a perfect concoction of violence based on sexuality and power that is inflicted upon women by society. Although overt forms of violence like rape (including marital rape), child sexual abuse, domestic violence and murder are quite rampant throughout the film, but covert forms of violence are also quite prevalent.

There are some movies which stay with you for a long time, well Bol is one of them. Bol manages to move you, or stir you from your position. The movie depicts the atrocities of patriarchy with such precision that it covered almost all the aspects of gender-based violence.

Zainab (the protagonist and the eldest daughter of the family) is the epitome of the phrase, ‘Where there’s power, there’s resistance‘. In the entire film she is seen to raise her voice constantly against all the injustices inflicted by the patriarch of the household. She left her conjugal home when her husband disapproves her decision to not conceive. She decides so because of the instability in the financial condition of her house. She accompanies her mother to the gynaecologist and helps herself get a tubal litigation, in order to protect her from further unwanted pregnancies.

Zainab is also the fierce fighter who, unable to take the everyday torture and physical violence meted out by her father on the family, kills him. But the question which Zainab asks at the end of the film, is what stirs us to the core, ‘If killing is a sin, why is giving birth without family planning not a sin?’ The question is a form of insidious resistance against the patriarchal system of the society.

That patriarchy normalises heterosexuality, is a fact. Patriarchy portrays heterosexuality as the norm and hence everyone should follow that and only that. This aspect is explained quite beautifully in this movie. Saifi, the seventh child conceived by Suraiya (Hakim’s wife), is an intersex individual. Saifi’s gender identity hence becomes unacceptable to his father because his gender identity is considered to bring shame to the family. When Saifi goes missing, a dialogue by their father, ‘Maine usko kaha kaha nahi dhunda…Khuda karein who marr gaya ho’ (I have been searching for him… I hope he is dead’) explains the exact emotions that Hakim has for Saifi. It was not much of a shock then that Saifi was subsequently murdered by him, thereby reinstating that any gender identity which is a deterrent to the societal standards, poses a threat to the cis heteronormative norms of the society.

Also Read: Young and Trans In Pakistan: A Trans Man’s Coming Out Story

All instances of violence, the rape of Saifi, the continuous marital rape of Suraiya, domestic violence on the women of the household by the patriarch, the attempt to kill the eighth sister, restricting women within the house and so on, all distinctly point out the power differentiation between men and other genders, within the society.

All the women in the film are shown to practise hijab, an act which Zainab protests against, thereby asking for freedom. The two mothers Suraiya and Meena are portrayed as mere reproducers. Meena, who is a sex-worker is seen as an immoral woman because she earns for herself which is looked down upon by Hakim. Even Zainab is called a harafa (prostitute) by her father when she aspires to go after her career.

In the movie, it’s quite evident that women who want to attract the male gaze must look beautiful. Meena, who is a sex-worker, is always dressed to arouse male attention. Meena’s character is also pitched as the immoral woman, as being a sex-worker her sexuality is not controlled by a single man, she has her own voice. She is loud and abusive and her position is further degraded as she’s the second wife of Zainab’s father.

Zainab’s father stands as the true patriarch as he enjoys all the male privileges. He has the ultimate authority within the household and listens to no one. He thinks that anything which poses a threat to the conventional patriarchal system needs to be barred. He tries to kill the eighth daughter (borne by Meena) in order to save himself from death, as, if the goons knew that she is with him, they would kill him.

The good part of the movie was that they tried portraying a progressive family in neighbourhood who send both their children (a boy and a girl) to school. But this made me wonder that if the life of the daughter of their neighbour is shown in bits and pieces, it’s difficult to say whether she faces any insidious forms of control. Even after marriage, Aisha’s life is shown to be that of a happily married woman. But the question of whether her career as a singer blossomed or not, was not shown, which makes me little skeptical on whether her role as a wife and daughter-in-law triumphed over her personal goals to become a singer.

Bol ends with the question ‘If killing is a sin, why is giving birth without family planning not a sin?’ which makes everyone ponder upon. There are many instances of empowered gender performance and discrimination by patriarchy which are highlighted in the film. The film was rightfully a part of The Pakistan Initiatives for Mothers and Newborn (PAIMAN), because of it’s elements of maternal health. Bol acts as a critique to patriarchy and hence becomes a must watch for all of us.

Also Read: Sexism In The Classroom: 7 Examples From Indian & Pakistani Textbooks That Reinforce Regressive Gender Stereotypes

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  1. I watched the movie today after reading your post. And I must say it raises such an important issue that I have not seen dealt with in such a blatant and magnificent manner. Kudos to the makers of this film. Thanks for writing about it and sharing wisdom about society’s important but hidden secrets.

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