We are living in a very radical and polarising world. Society today is more sensitive than ever before. Artists and creators are on tenterhooks as they try to carefully narrate stories of dissent and courage. But with the current ecosystem, such stories seem to be few and far apart. It is precisely why we need powerful short films such as Bebaak that not only raise pertinent questions, but also provoke our thoughts and conscience.
Bebaak is the story of a Muslim architecture student, Fatin, and her middle-class family, as they try to secure funding from an Islamic Organisation for her studies. However, at its core, Bebaak is about much larger and much more important themes. Fatin is in a claustrophobic environment that constantly suffocates her and judges her for her choices. Right from her overcrowded home to her bustling city, Fatin is surrounded by cacophony. Amidst this chaos, she tries to preserve her ideologies and her opinions about religion, family and society.
It is the brilliant writing of Bebaak that makes it a stand-out short film. Unlike most stories, here the parents do not have a typically ‘conservative’ outlook. Their thoughts and views are not myopic: they are fine with their daughter not covering her head. However, they are still mindful of the community/society in which they function and do not want to be in the bad books of anyone. Additionally, another striking aspect of the short film is that it doesn’t vilify any particular sect or religion. Instead, it prods and questions, and that is a mark of some skilful writing. The brilliance of Bebaak’s writing lies in the fact that, at its core, the film resonates with every community, sect or religion. Through the film, we see the official at the Islamic organisation say that all religions/communities do have a certain restriction placed on women, but unfortunately, Muslims are always the ones that fall under the scanner. It is a refreshing change to see that here, Fatin is not placed amidst a stereotypical narrow-minded upbringing. Instead, her parents purposely choose to stay in a non-Muslim area and let their children (men or women) have opinions. Never once do they taunt Fatin or her siblings for not wearing a veil. They have never questioned their practices and nor have they defied them beyond acceptable norms.
Most of us have been brought up in a society that discourages questions and the process of questioning. We are often obliged to believe what we see and hear in a sacrosanct manner and we seldom try to dissect and find the reason. Ranging from religion and tradition to culture and social norms, we rarely raise questions. Bebaak (meaning defiance) seeds this very thought in our minds. It nudges us to question our beliefs, our faith and even our value systems. Do we practice what we preach? Why do we preach certain things in a certain way? Is it necessary that what we believe blindly in the name of religion must never be questioned?
Director Shazia Iqbal successfully manages to provoke our thoughts and question the existing norms. She very intricately and cleverly portrays a neutral picture. As mentioned earlier, the brilliance of Bebaak lies in the fact that it does not vilify or target any specific sect. By the end of the 20-minute film, the story and the theme transcend the religious lens and hit us at a more deeper level. The experience of watching Bebaak is elevated to a different level because of the brilliant acting performances. Sara Hashmi, Vipin Sharma and Sheeba Chadha pitch in earnest and brilliant performances. Sara portrays Fatin’s fierceness as well as her helplessness with equal finesse. Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the official at the Islamic Organisation is as incredible as always.
Our world today is becoming increasingly intolerant. With censorship invading every form of media and journalism, there is an increasing need to preserve democracy. In such a chaotic world, films such as Bebaak give us the impetus to be brave and courageous and question or defy the norms. Much like Alejandra Jodorowsky’s quote mentioned in the beginning of the film, “Birds born in a cage think flying is an illness”, how would we know what true freedom is if we don’t try to escape the cages of society and pre-conceived norms?
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.