A first trailer has been unveiled for Pakistani-U.S. director Iram Parveen Bilal‘s Pakistan-set “Wakhri: One of a Kind,” which will have its world premiere at the upcoming Red Sea Film Festival.
Bilal was named one of the directors to watch by the Alliance of Women Directors in 2020. Her previous film, “I’ll Meet You There,” was in the Grand Jury competition at SXSW in 2020 and was banned on its release in Pakistan.
“Wakhri” follows a widowed school teacher in Pakistan who becomes a viral sensation overnight when she accidentally unleashes her unabashed opinions on social media. This newfound fame as an unlikely influencer comes with its own challenges as she has to navigate archaic mindsets and secret identities while raising her 10-year-old son in a world where women’s rights to having a voice and owning space, physical or online, are a constant challenge.
The film is inspired by Pakistani social media star Qandeel Baloch who was murdered in 2016. “Qandeel Baloch was a raunchy social media star from the poorer masses of Pakistan. Unleashing the brave and provocative; wildly popular and wildly hated. We learned of her exactly a week before she was brutally murdered… by her brother. It was an atypical honor killing because the family was well aware of her ‘ways’ and were also financially gaining from it. It was a new way of experiencing ‘shame.’ It was a new kind of ‘lynching.’ It was an incredibly horrific perfect storm brewing, in huge part, by immense social media trolling and in part by the indefatigable patriarchal society we live in,” Bilal says in an artistic statement about “Wakhri.”
“What triggered the writing of this story was her resilient and irreverent spirit. We strangely couldn’t stop thinking about her. It was severely personal – this feeling of defeat and the brewing anger that was simmering in our hearts. Any woman who owned her story and dared to occupy a public figure avatar in Pakistan, even if online, was hated and silenced. All that she would be defined as was in correlation to her father, brother or husband. She did not dare speak up or be defined as her own person. Further, we observed that while acknowledging Qandeel’s death, some self-identifying feminists shockingly lacked empathy towards her. It made us realize that the flawed understanding of ‘honor’ ran far deeper in our culture than we cared to admit. We’d already lost friends to this narrative,” Bilal said.
“However, the militant optimist zeitgeist in us did not want to write a story without hope. We don’t want to glorify an honor killing. We want to make a film where we gave the Pakistani audience, the world’s audience, a second chance to possibly save her. This is the genesis of ‘Wakhri,’ a fictional story inspired by Qandeel’s story but also not limited to her fight, a study to track the correlation between hate crimes and social media wildfires. This film is an ode to all those women in the shadows who were inspired by her bravery. We wish to blow wind beneath the wings of all the women who want to be seen and heard.”
The production journey of “Wakhri” included participating at the Locarno Film Festival’s Open Doors Hub in 2018, the Cannes Cinefondation L’Atelier in 2019, the Busan Asian Project Market in 2022 and receipt of a production grant from CAPE (The Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) and the CAA Foundation.
The film is produced by Abid Aziz Merchant (“I’ll Meet You There”) for Sanat Initiative and “Delhi Crime” producer Apoorva Bakshi as part of the Awedacious Originals slate. The companies collaborated on “Madina,” which premiered at Tokyo recently.
The cast includes Faryal Mehmood (“Raqeeb Se”) as Wakhri and Gulshan Majeed.
Watch the trailer here: