Humaima Malik bursts onto the scene as a flashy, flamboyant bride, decked in blazing red with lips to match, in the stark daylight.
Her shaadi jora does all the blushing for her, for her character Annie talks fast and without a filter. “I can make you do anything,” is her catchphrase (will it eclipse her previous one in Bol?), and piling into Sikander aka Sikki’s (Sikander Rizvi) rickshaw, she sets him off on a life-altering journey.
Presenting the anti-baechari
If there’s one thing that Dekh Magar Pyaar Say has achieved (apart from its groovy soundtrack, Lahore’s pretty portrayal and the launch of Sikander Rizvi’s promising movie career), it’s the presentation of a protagonist who is a woman.
A woman who is neither somebody’s mother nor someone’s love interest, but a person with her own set of goals, motives, aspirations. A woman whose action drives the plot and whose absence is glossed over with time jumps and musical interludes. Not much happens without her in a scene; in fact, her disappearance is the subject of most scenes in which she’s not there.
DMPS turns the Bechdel test on its head and wins — here, the men rarely talk about anything other than Annie. This is a rarity for commercial cinema.
The film may have left audiences confused about its storyline (which only begins to make sense halfway through the film). Its choppy structure that flits from scene to song and back again may have added to their disorientation. But Humaima’s character may be a breakthrough as far as writing female characters is concerned.
She may have put off people with her OTT acting, but is it because we like our women baechari, not bold? Her character is a refreshing departure from the moms, sisters and wannabe wives we’ve seen this summer and all year round on TV.
[Spoilers follow] Here’s how Annie does it:
1. She toys with the baechari trope
Playing on the emotions of the men around her, Annie wriggles out of every tricky situation that her misdemeanours land her in.
She bawls for her kidnapped beloved (to convince Sikki to help rescue him), pulls at Sikki’s heartstrings to fend off his accusations of fraud, feigns fear of rape (“Main moon dikhanay ke laik nahi rahoo gi!”) to fluster Sikki, but then brings up his attraction to her herself.
By the sheer contrast between her real personality and the one she assumes, her character mocks every sniffling heroine, but ends up getting her own way in the process: at one point, a famous movie director plays into her pitiful ‘my-boyfriend-left-me-and-I-don’t-have-money-to-fly-home’ act and gives her a role in his film. Of course, she dupes him too.
2. She has the guts and gumption to get what she wants
She’s just making the best of a sticky situation.
DMPS draws an interesting parallel between the lives of Annie and Sikki.
Both are orphans, but while Sikki is reduced to driving his Chacha’s rickshaw after his dreams of becoming an actor are dashed, it’s Humaima who devises one get-rich-quick scheme after another and blows off the millions she swindles. She’s the one who’s making the best of her life situation instead of giving up her dreams and taking shelter with a well-meaning relative.
3. Love shmove: she’s no slave to Cupid
She’s always a step ahead in the love game.
We’ve seen enough women passively waiting around to get married to last us several lifetimes.
DMPS, on the other hand, shows us male characters who pine away for their loves: the Chacha as a jilted groom and Sikki as a heartbroken romantic. In contrast, Annie chooses to stick it out on her own even after falling for Sikki. In fact, she spends the first half of the film shutting down Sikki’s wistful glances.
4. She lives by her own rules
Her sense of propriety isn’t shaped by what society thinks is fit for girls.
Humaima’s unscrupulous misuse of the law may ruffle feathers (she threatens to frame Chacha for harassment and blackmail if he files a case against her for fraud and brandishes the Women’s Protection Act in the police’s face when it’s unclear if they’ve violated it).
With her unconventional childhood and less than legal means of survival, she’s developed her own sense of justice, and even metes it out as she sees fit. At one point, she says that she chose to swindle Chacha because he’s atharki who was hoping to marry a girl half his age. In other words, she thought he deserved it.
Can we blame her?
Not really, it turns out. Her sense of propriety isn’t shaped by what society thinks is fit for girls, but rather by the difficult card life has dealt her. Far from a shrinking violet, she initiates most of the intimacy we see on screen, and it’s Sikander who repeatedly lights her cigarette, not the other way around.
5. DMPS keeps it real
While Annie may have money on her mind, she’s not operating from a place of cold calculation.
She eventually does fall for Sikki, and wonders if she’ll ever get over him. Her final monologue betrays guilt about breaking Sikki’s heart again, which shows us that Annie is not a fanciful character created for the film, but a very real, very human character, the likes of which should also be given room in films and TV.
Annie is outwitted by Sikki near the film’s close, but the final scene reveals that she’s bounced back. It’s a relief to know that the ‘bold’ woman wasn’t undone at the hands of the man; they just got even in the end.
Humaima has gone on record saying that she’s fed up with baechari characters, but is her feisty DMPS avatar an effective antidote? While Annie is no more a role model than the excess of baecharis on the big screen, she does bring diversity to the roster of female characters — and that is a start.