Bol: Speaking silence

Published: June 21, 2011

Shoaib Mansoor’s Bol is brutally honest and there are only so many words in the English language for brilliance.

Shoaib Mansoor’s Bol is brutally honest. Based on the stories of Hakeem Sahib’s Sunni-Syed household of seven daughters, the movie adeptly focuses on gender issues at large, dwelling on tensions between fossilised cultural practices and new ones, speaking well to tensions underlying many South Asian households.

With reports on the status of women’s rights in Pakistan doing rounds, Mansoor’s social commentary is timely for villages, towns and cities across the country. Before the screening for human rights activists and politicians at a small non-commercial setting in Islamabad on June 11, Mansoor told his female audience that this was every Pakistani woman’s story – resonating with it at some level was inevitable. And sure enough, tangibly confirming Mansoor’s claim the audience was teary eyed a few minutes into the movie, with some weeping more than others.

Problems including rape and domestic violence, and attitudes towards transgendered people, contraception, prostitution, art, music, and girls’ education featured in Mansoor’s kaleidoscopic film perfectly harmoniously. With near flawless acting by Atif Aslam, Mahira Khan, Iman Ali, Humaima Abbasi and others, Bol’s nearly three hour long drama gripped with unforgiving intensity. Questioning the wisdom of condemning children to living death, Zainab, a leading character, unforgettably asks:

Agar zindagi leyna jurm hai, tou zindagi deyna jurm kyoun nahin? Agar khila nahin saktay, toh paida kyun kartay ho?”

(If taking a life is a crime, why is giving a life not a crime? If you cannot feed, why do you give birth?)

Perhaps Mansoor’s claim that every Pakistani woman can connect with Bol may not hold true. The inevitable crowd of naysayers will cry foul over its emotional intensity, content and characterisation. But Bol speaks with profound clarity to those who have to deal with cultural calculus that prioritises the lashkar’s population over the mother’s well-being.

Sitting in the theatre, I could not help thinking to the number of times I’ve met women in rural Sindh – too insignificant to even be named by their families – with jaam (many, or countless) children, suffering rape, domestic violence, psychological abuse, or obstetric fistula related social exclusion, unable to describe any of these human rights violations as violations, speaking only silence.

Walking out of the screening with Bol induced stunned speechlessness, for a few moments, I couldn’t do the one thing Bol wanted me to do: speak. And there was no need to. Bol already said everything, and there are only so many words in the English language for brilliance.


Morial Shah

A student of International Politics and Security at the Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University She tweets at @MoruShah.

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