In a dynamic kickoff of the JioCinema Digital Film Festival, the short film “Bebaak” directed by Shazia Iqbal made its debut on October 1, featuring a powerhouse cast including Sarah Hashmi, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sheeba Chadha, and Vipin Sharma. This gripping narrative, produced by Anurag Kashyap’s Jar Pictures, delves into the compelling story of Fatin, a young architecture student, and how religion is weaponized to oppress women. Let’s explore this film’s multifaceted themes and outstanding performances.

“Bebaak” translates to fearless or bold in Urdu, which aptly mirrors the journey of Fatin, brilliantly portrayed by Sarah Hashmi. Raised by liberal parents who encouraged her to challenge societal norms, Fatin’s pursuit of education becomes a catalyst for her family’s financial freedom. However, seeking a scholarship from a religious leader forces Fatin to confront the patriarchal undercurrents that permeate her world. The film unfolds as she grapples with questions about her religious identity, financial constraints, and the relentless oppression of women through religious dogma.

Sarah Hashmi’s portrayal of Fatin is nothing short of exceptional. She captures the essence of a young woman who, despite her liberal upbringing, faces a society that exploits religion to subjugate her gender. Fatin’s feminist resilience is palpable, and Hashmi masterfully conveys the character’s inner turmoil as she navigates the complexities of her life.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui takes on the role of Niyaz Sheikh, a character oozing misogyny and prejudice. Siddiqui’s performance ensures that viewers instantly despise Niyaz Sheikh. From his judgmental glances to his dismissive attitude towards Fatin’s ambitions, Siddiqui’s portrayal brings to life a character emblematic of the worst aspects of patriarchal oppression.

Vipin Sharma, in the role of Fatin’s father, strikes a balance between being a likable, liberal parent and a realist who understands the challenges his family faces. His character is a testament to the delicate balance between ideals and pragmatism.

Sheeba Chadha, as Fatin’s mother, leaves a lasting impression with her limited screen time. She embodies the duality of a mother who advises her daughter to dress appropriately in a patriarchal world, yet refuses to let her be oppressed due to financial constraints. The supporting cast, featuring Sammaera Jaiswal, Afreen Khan, Sana Pathan, Nagma Pathan, and more, also delivers earnest performances that enrich the film’s authenticity.

What truly resonates in “Bebaak” is its relatability to women who confront patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism daily. Niyaz Sheikh’s character is a nightmare many women have encountered—a man threatened by a liberated woman. His condescension and ignorance regarding Fatin’s career aspirations are infuriating, making him a character one loves to hate.

On the other hand, Vipin Sharma and Sheeba Chadha’s characters serve as realists with a liberal outlook. Vipin’s pragmatic approach mirrors the compromises women often make to achieve their goals. Sheeba Chadha’s character epitomizes the balancing act women perform in a world with unspoken dress codes.

Sarah Hashmi’s Fatin is a relatable portrayal of a young woman torn between her identity, societal expectations, and her desire to empower oppressed women. Her journey to redefine freedom as a means of inspiring others is both empowering and heartwarming.

Constant identity anxiety permeates this narrative. At the film’s outset, Fatin’s mother, Sheeba Chaddha, advises her to cover her head as she’s headed to the conservative Muslim enclave of Bhendi Bazaar for an interview. Fatin initially dismisses this counsel, but as a young woman accustomed to cosmopolitan college life, she understands that her identity clings to her like a shadow – blending in becomes synonymous with concealing her true self. When Fatin’s friend inquires about the interview’s location, she initially types “Bhendi Bazaar” but promptly erases it, opting for the more neutral “Town.” Caught between traditional notions of propriety and a more liberal self-definition, Fatin’s quest for self-discovery takes on poignant significance.

One of Bebaak’s most remarkable aspects lies in its utilization of space. Fatin’s home is bustling and cacophonous, making contemplation nearly impossible. The same goes for her city, a raucous, bustling, and indifferent entity that pressures her to conform or remain silent. Much of the film unfolds amid this chaos – within a house, an office, a bus – and skillful framing and editing intensify the sensation of suffocation. Freedom in Mumbai can often feel like an enduring struggle: you ascend one level, then another, hoping that the ceaseless stairs will somehow vanish.

Despite its strengths, “Bebaak” rushes into its central theme without providing sufficient context. The characters played by Vipin Sharma and Sheeba Chadha, pivotal to the story’s core, remain unnamed, leaving their character arcs undeveloped. The film might benefit from a more gradual build-up to create suspense leading to a climactic resolution. Nevertheless, the film’s nuanced storytelling, complex character dynamics, and exceptional performances render it a must-watch.

In summary, “Bebaak” is an exploration of the fearless fight against misogyny, portrayed with remarkable depth by a talented cast. It shines a spotlight on how religion can be wielded as a tool of oppression against women. Sarah Hashmi, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, and the supporting actors deliver performances that breathe life into complex characters, making “Bebaak” a poignant and thought-provoking cinematic experience.

Written By : Indori Nerd

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