Candid Cinema

The Vice Short List: ‘The Showgirls Of Pakistan’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

All over the world, women are treated in different ways. Majority of Western culture may not know what goes on across the world and that is why documentaries such as, The Showgirls of Pakistan are necessary. The patriarchy rules in many forms, some countries are more strict than others, which can be damaging to female expression and growth. This documentary is structured as an alternate universe with three distinct stories. Director Saad Khan takes the viewer into the universe of three mujra dancers in Pakistan, as they dodge state censorship and violence, to vie for stardom.

Throughout the decades women have found strength in self-expression and working for themselves. They are able to set their own boundaries, which can still put them in some sort of danger. In this documentary, there are three women who have entered different worlds of theatre. In their cases, you are either forced into marriage, or you choose to lead a different life. The documentary depicts female agency through dance and theatre. Afreen, Uzma, and Reema, three dancers from Pakistan’s Punjab province, have plenty of fans but the majority of people in Pakistan, regard the way they earn a living, as disgraceful.

We see that these women are mentally affected by this ideology and how men are treating the performers. It was interesting to see the versatility these women had when speaking to men versus performing for them. They were all headstrong and outspoken during the behind-the-scenes interviews. Then when they are on-stage it is like that whole world disappears and they are free from these patriarchal restraints. These women have had to endure death threats and physical assault but managed to continue working in order to make a living for themselves.

The Showgirls of Pakistan is empowering, vibrant and incredibly bold with its direction. The lives of these women are shown in the most candid way possible and it is absolutely necessary to watch. The structure of the three stories are different in regards to how the women lead their lives but one thing remains the same, how men treat each of them. There are powerful moments throughout the film, especially when the score would accompany some difficult phone calls shared between the three women and the men they were associated with.

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