Films are an important prism for viewing society’s cultural norms and beliefs, especially those that are rooted in our social fabric.

In the past decade or two, films such as Bol and Khuda Ke Liye, have pushed audiences to look beyond the flashy item numbers and ponder upon social issues and change. Luckily, with the passage of time, Pakistan has produced several films that critically examine taboos in our country.

Trigger Warning!

1. Verna

Verna, a Shoaib Mansoor directorial revolves around the vices of rape, political corruption, and the stigma associated with survivors. The film was released in 2017, after a long struggle with the censor board which had objected over the film’s ‘controversial’ theme. 

The film narrates the plight of Sara (Mahira Khan), a married woman who is abducted and assaulted by a political figure who uses his social position to instil fear and control over others. He uses his presence in power corridors to influence the evidence and the courtroom. 

In an interview with DW, Mansoor also shared that the murder of Shahzeb Khan inspired him to make this film. He said, “Due to this incident, I was able to show how illicit power is used in Pakistan against the public. I added rape to the story because it is the most common form of power against women. Like many other people, I also think that rape is showing power, not just sexual lust.”

2. Khuda Kay Liye

Khuda Kay Liye was a film that was dubbed far ahead of its time. It also played a pivotal role in the revival of Pakistan’s cinema. Another Mansoor helmed-classic highlighted Islamaphobia in the post-9/11 world. The film also triggered important conversations about music and religion,

The film not only vividly established the torture and injustice against Muslims in the West, but it also illustrated the trauma of forced marriages and marital rape.

The star-studded film also garnered much attention due to Sarmad’s (Fawad Khan) controversial relationship with an extremist religious preacher who guides him to commit acts of crime and justify it under the label of faith. 

3. Zinda Bhaag

Zinda Bhaag, co-directed by Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi focuses on illegal immigration, with Punjab serving as the film’s “epicenter.” Its storyline revolves around three young fellows, Khaldi, Taambi, and Chitta who want to get away from their mundane lives and end up succeeding in ways they never imagined. 

Although presented in a comical manner, the film is actually based on quite a dark theme: the horrifying methods of illegal immigration and the various challenges faced by people who wish to escape to foreign countries, in search of a better life. It is also centered around men, therefore it creates space for them to voice and open up about their trauma as well.

The film was also curated as part of the UN initiative to reduce violence against women and girls called Let’s Talk Men.

4. Bol

The film delves into Zainab’s (Humaima Mallick) life and the pressure of having a male child in the family. Eventually when their son, grows up to be rather effeminate. The film doesn’t really explain whether he is born intersex or grows up effeminate. The son is shunned by society and later killed for the way he exists. Zainab’s household mirrors the many untold stories in Pakistan that are full of gender discrimination, violence, and prejudice against non-binary individuals.

5. Dukhtar

Afia Nathaniel’s drama-thriller Dukhtar is an apt depiction of child marriages in Pakistan. It tells the story of Allah Rakhi (Samiya Mumtaz) who was given in marriage to the considerably older tribal leader Daulat Khan (Asif Khan),. 

Years later, she abducts and runs away with her ten-year-old daughter Zainab (Saleha Aref), terrified that her daughter may have a similar fate. In doing so, she encounters many woes and friends on the way to getting her daughter back to Lahore.

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