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Spotlight: Black with a vengeance

August 04, 2013

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Burqa Avenger.
Burqa Avenger.

Don’t mess with the lady in black is a phrase that has caught viewers’ attention ever since promos of the Burqa Avenger aired on the electronic media. Nothing to do with MIB (Men in Black); rather it deals with a plethora of social issues concerning Pakistan.

Burqa Avenger has become somewhat of an international phenomenon due to its content. Plus, it’s “100pc Pakistani” claims its founder, singer-composer Haroon. He had discussed the project with this writer last year along with the Burqa Avenger iPhone and android game launched through his house, Unicorn Black.

The plot

Halwapur is a peaceful town which is threatened by bad guys Baba Bandook the Taliban-ish villain and his henchmen, the evil Munna, devious Khamba, and the ever-corrupt mayor Vadero Pajero.

The plot of the 13-episode animated series features no natural superhero or bodybuilder individual but a simple school teacher known as Jiya who uses the pervasive burka as her disguise to fight the baddies threatening to close down the school. Plus, she doesn’t use traditional weapons (guns, bombs or any type of radiation) but pens and books to fend off attacks in a symbolic gesture of the importance of education and power of the pen.

Jiya is determined to keep the school open for her students and others in the cast include the twins Ashu and Immu, their bespectacled best friend Mooli and his pet goat Golu, and since every mad scientist has to have an evil creature, Mr. Bandook has Robaat Zalimnator inserted with an evil chip that makes him do bad things.

The Malala factor and other criticism

On the issue of whether the series draws inspiration from the Malala Yousafzai issue of last year, Haroon says, “Although I greatly admire Malala, the answer is ‘no’. It was in 2010 that I decided I wanted to produce and direct a film in Pakistan.

I short-listed some ideas with local themes and one of them was about a burka-clad young woman who protects a girls’ school from extremists who are trying to shut it down. Reports about girls’ school being blown up and shut down by the Taliban were in the news a lot then and such events disturbed me a lot.”

He goes on to add that as a singer/songwriter he has repeatedly highlighted social issues in his songs such as Mr Fraudiyay (corruption), the music video of Ghoom Ghoom (inter-faith peace), Dil Se (patriotism), etc.

There has also been criticism of the fact that that the burka-clad Jiya would cast a negative impact on children’s mind, as it would instill the image in their young, impressionable minds.

Haroon defends, “Some steps such as the banning of the hijab in schools reeks of discrimination. Everyone should have a right to dress as they choose whether it be as a punk rocker or wearing the hijab. It is taken by choice by school-going girls and this fact shouldn’t be misunderstood.”

And finally, the issue that the TV series has a fundamentalist Taliban touch. “Interestingly the only character in the show with a beard is a good guy called Kabbadi Jan. He is Jiya’s adopted father and a master of Takht Kabbadi (a fictional martial art technique of fighting with books and pens). So, the beard here has no negative image, it portrays a local environment and is perfectly normal,” adds Haroon.

Each episode of Burqa Avenger addresses relevant social issues in Pakistan such as girls’ education, child labour, discrimination, environment protection, etc, presented in an entertaining manner and full of action, comedy, adventure and fun. Particularly attention-grabbing is the art of Takht Kabadi. The TV series also has a game on iOS and android, making it more accessible to the public.

The music score

Haroon puts his music skills to good use here. Set to launch simultaneously with the TV series, the Burka Avenger music album features original songs composed for the series by some of the biggest stars from across South Asia: Ali Azmat, Josh, Haroon, Adil Omar, Qayaas, Arieb Azhar and many others.

The top songs will also be accompanied by a music video. Some of these include the Burka Avenger Theme Song, Baba Bandook by Ali Azmat and Haroon, Jeet Mein Haar Mein by Josh, Lady in Black by Adil Omar (feat) Haroon, Avenger by Jarar and Haroon, and Je Avay Dum by Haroon.

The show targets kids between the ages of six-14. The quality of animation remains classic which is probably why The Huffington Post in its article, 6 Lessons Disney Could Learn From Pakistan’s ‘Burka Avenger’, has compared the show to the likes of Disney cartoons.

Finally, here’s hoping that Burqa Avenger turns out to be a beginning of the digital animation industry in Pakistan, and eventually leads us to compete at a global level in the field.