It is hard to tell stories in a nation where storytelling is as frequent as drinking a cup of chai. Yeah, check out the dramas on TV and you’ll know how hard it is to keep track. But It is even harder to breathe life into them, especially when the character is one that defies what we are conditioned to watch.
Yumna Zaidi in Bakhtawar is attempting to do just that.
What’s Bakhtawar’s Story
The story is about a young girl who battles patriarchy, misogyny, cob-webbed mindsets and regressive values – yeah, I know we’ve been there and done that. But perhaps, the story is now spun in a new way because Yumna’s character is telling it from a different perspective.
They often say if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! And the writer here seems to follow the same path. Men represent many things for a young woman in Pakistan. Unfortunately, many of those ‘things’ present challenges, roadblocks, obstacles, negativity and also, failure for women to do or achieve what they set out to.
Where men have also been the catalysts in facilitating change as in the Sinf e Aahan dads, or even young Ahad in Bakhtawar who helped her escape with her mom, men have also been the reason women fall behind, lag, feel conquered and defeated.
Interestingly enough though, the drama follows a real-life-to-reel-life narrative where we don’t have to look too far to find examples of Pakistani women who disguised themselves as men to follow their dreams!
1) Maria Toorpakai, Disguise Was An Escape And A Blessing
Hence Bakhtawar taking on a man’s garb is perhaps, an option that might lead to the success she craves. Sad yes, but sadly true too. Many women have vouched for the fact that when they dressed up as men in a patriarchal society, they managed to achieve things no woman could, or with more ease – hence those who feel it’s a story that’s not believable only need to go back and read about our illustrious squash player Maria Toorpakai. In her own words:
The best decision she ever made, she says, came at the age of four, when she burned her dresses, cut her hair and wore her brother’s clothes so that she could play outside. (Source: The Guardian)
2) Walk Through History With Joan Of Arc
Want to go further and take a walk through the ages? Joan of Arc was just a teenager when she led the French Army to victory!
Before she was a legend, Joan of Arc was a 15th-century French peasant girl – worried about boys, her hair, the plague – all things teen, can you relate? But one day, a handful of saints came to her in a vision, pronouncing her duty to lead France to victory over the English. Joan managed to approach the courts and was granted a military appointment, a.k.a. armour, a horse, and instructions to pretend she was a man. (Source: Ranker)
3) Khadija tul Kubra, Breaking The Traditional Boundaries
Want another story closer to home? Let’s take a trip to our very own Quetta and the story of Khadija tul Kubra.
Disguised as a boy, Khadija tul Kubra dropped her siblings to school every day, driving down the crowded alleyways & roads of her hometown.
For over five years, the 17-year-old dressed in men’s clothing to ensure that she was not restricted in her activities just because she was a woman living in a region where traditional restrictions might prevent her from going about her daily life. (Source: Arab News)
4) Noreena Shams, Taking On Her Dreams And Challenges
And last but not the least, we come to the very courageous Noreena Shams – a prominent squash player and sports activist from Pakistan’s Northwest.
Shams’ father died at a young age and hence, she was raised singlehandedly by her mother. At the age of 15, Shams disguised herself as a boy so she could play cricket.
She played an entire year on the national junior team until her identity was revealed.
Why These Stories Stand Out And How Yumna’s Bakhtawar Is Spreading The Message
The difference between these young girls who succeeded and others who might have had to give up on their dreams is, that they decided nothing’s going to stop their progress, especially if they are women inhabiting a man’s world – not even the men themselves. And that’s why, we are not only reading about them today but also lauding the stories of characters like Bakhtawar who might not be your literal biopic but we can well imagine her to be one.
Audiences are rooting for the character thanks to Yumna taking on the role – where stories are hard to tell, they are even harder to pitch onscreen and here’s one that deserves your attention. Bakhtawar is as real as it gets, so the real question is, will you be watching?