When someone questions religion, they also challenge patriarchy, says director Shazia Iqbal, whose short film ”Bebaak” is an attempt to initiate a nuanced discussion about hijab.
The acclaimed short, inspired by true events, follows the life of an aspiring architecture student Fatin Khalidi, played by Sarah Hashmi, who is reprimanded by a religious leader (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) for not wearing a hijab (headscarf) during a scholarship interview.
”We live in a patriarchal society and there’s a 1,000 year old ‘jugalbandi’ between patriarchy and religion. It’s still happening, they work in tandem. ”Some people evolve and become progressive. When they question religion, they question patriarchy also, and vice versa. Those who don’t question either, they don’t question at all. The idea of (treating women like) property is part of that ‘jugalbandi’. Just viewing them as sisters, mother, wife is all ownership,” Iqbal told PTI in an interview.
”Bebaak”, produced by Anurag Kashyap, will start streaming on JioCinema as part of a film festival from October 1. It also stars Sheeba Chadha and Vipin Sharma.
Even as women are cornered in the name of tradition and culture, no one wants to question this ”coordination” between patriarchy and religion, Iqbal added.
”I don’t understand why there are no stories in films that question this everyday patriarchy. When we talk about rape culture, we ask what was she wearing, what time was it, was she drunk.
”You question the victim or survivor instead of the person who violated her. This rape culture is inherent in a patriarchal society. Wearing a hijab doesn’t help in controlling violence against women. So why are they covering up so that they seem more modest?” she asked.
The Bihar-born director said the story of ”Bebaak” is somewhat close to what she experienced in college and later decided to make it the subject of her 20-minute film.
”The issue of women covering up and religion asking them to do that is something that has been in my head (for a while now)… What I experienced in college stayed with me long enough that I wanted to release myself from the story. It had to be told and there was no one who was talking about hijab in a more nuanced and meaningful discussion,” she said.
When France banned face veils in 2011, Iqbal said the conversation became all about the ”binary” of right wing versus left wing.
”It was not about hijab, it was more about which side you’re taking. Everything on the internet is divided into this binary, whether it is India, US or anywhere in the world. I thought if we can make a film that could start a conversation.” Gaze of the director becomes important when the filmmaker is part of the narrative they are trying to present, she added.
”When something that’s bothering you so much that you write or talk about it in a story form, whether it’s a book, play or a film, you carry your gaze. Minorities suffer on a larger scale but I saw this (hijab) as an issue troubling the women in my community…
”Identity is a struggle for a lot of minorities. Being a Muslim, you are constantly on an edge… If I’m coming from a Muslim background because of which I’ve seen my family closely discussing things about hijab, I just have more personal experience about it,” she said.
If one can empathise on a ”deep level”, they can still tell the story even when it doesn’t stem from their lived-in experience, according to Iqbal.
Citing the example of ”The Great Indian Kitchen”, the filmmaker said the 2021 hit was ”one of the most feminist films” to have come out in the last two years. And it was written and helmed by a man. In the critically-acclaimed Malayalam film, director Jeo Baby explores the nature of patriarchy that chains women to backbreaking and thankless routine of household chores.
”The film was so well-written and came across as such an internal experience that if someone tells you it was written by a man, you won’t believe it,” she said. (PTI)