Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s latest short film Bebaak is an angry portrayal of conservative religious restrictions on women
Starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Vipin Sharma and Saba Hashmi, Bebaak first premiered last year at Los Angeles Film Festival.Updated: Apr 04, 2020 17:36 IST
With the discussion around current Covid-19 pandemic turning communal following the discovery of a meeting of thousands of Tablighi jamat in a Nizamuddin mosque that has led to more than 9,000 people being quarantined in fear of having been infected with the coronavirus, Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s new short film is the perfect film to watch. Titled Bebaak (Defiance), the film is an angry outburst of a common man bearing the brunt of communal religious heads and the hardliner thoughts of the conservative.Written and directed by Shazia Iqbal, the film also features Saba Hashmi in the lead role of Fatin.
The short film opens with the lines ‘birds born in a cage think flying is an illness - Alejandro Jodorowsky’. We meet a regular middle class family of three sisters and a brother living with their parents. It begins with a normal morning in their routine as the girls get ready for their school, while the eldest one gets ready for an interview. The mother is helping everyone get ready and the father is all set to take the daughter, Fatin, for her interview.
Fatin is a young architectural student who needs scholarship for her term fees but the family cannot afford it so they approach a Muslim conservative who funds the education of children in their community. However, once Fatin reaches there, we realize the cleric (Nawazuddin) only funds girls’ education if they want to pursue medicine. The cleric enjoys making Fatin uncomfortable with his words and accusations of how she can be called a “naked woman” because her head is not covered, because her dupatta does not cover her chest, and similar allegations.
As she listens to the cleric preach about the limitations women should be restricted to, the freedom they get in Islam and how women should not explore professions not suited for them, Fatin fumes with anger but keeps quiet as she needs the money. Once out of the cleric’s office, she even questions her own father and asks him, “Jab paise nahi the to itne sare bacche kyu paida kiye? Aap in baaton me believe karte hain? Nahin na? Fir chup chap sun kyu rahe the? (Why did you have so many children if you didn’t have the money to support them? You don’t believe in all this, why were you listening to all that he said?)?”
Later, during a discussion at her home, her mom asks her not to wear hijab in order to get the scholarship while the father suggests she should. Fatin again questions her parents and asks them, “When nana was here, why did you say Nusrat can wear her jeans? You said every family has a culture of its own, what changed now?” Vipin Sharma, who plays the father, tells her that grandpa is family but the cleric is not, adding that they need money from the cleric and hence should do as he says.
Shazia has used small incidences to show how defiance works - her protagonist is a one with liberal thoughts, living in a rather conservative environment and society. Chatting with a friend over messages, she first types “Bhendi Bazaar” and then deletes it and writes “town” - perhaps to avoid the geographical orthodox stereotype of the area - when talking about the place she would go for her interview.
One of the most powerful scenes is when we see Fatin in a hijab, at the cleric’s. During her earlier visit, Fatin met a young girl who said she wanted to be like Fatin because she didn’t like wearing hijab. The fear and disappointment we see in the eyes of the young girl when Fatin visits her, wearing a hijab, is shocking and almost scary. It is this look that perhaps makes Fatin change her mind eventually.
Every actor - Saba as Fatin, Vipin as her father, Nawaz as the cleric and Sheeba Chadha as the mother, everyone embodied the script’s anger and rustic milleu of the film. The actors completely vanish into their characters in this film, making it a memorable experience.
Bebaak premiered at Indian Film Festival Of Los Angeles IFFLA last year and is produced by Anurag Kashyap.
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