Suffering From an Acute Lack of Films.
Now look, I don’t talk ads. I think the last time I did was the Pepsi Generations Campaign way back in 2018. Sometimes however, one comes along that you just can’t avoid. Shoaib Mansoor’s Dua-e-Reem (Prayer of Reem) is just that. Though, I don’t think it’s fair to call it an ad outright. They don’t show the product it’s supposedly selling, Reem Rice. The word ‘چاول’ (rice) is literally only mentioned as the video ends.
Thus, it falls in that grey, music video/short film territory, so I can talk about it without coming off as a paid, hype-mongering blogger. And no, because I know it’s going to come up, I’m not talking about it because of Mahira Khan. That may or may not have been a deciding factor. Actually it’s not (yeah my inner fanboy is crying too). It’s because the message and content is so strong, we should be writing blog posts and making videos about this, regardless of casting choices.
This has Shoaib Mansoor Written All Over It!
It is unfortunate that the last time we were blessed with his work was 2017. That alone makes the 7 minute run-time of this video criminally short. However, his attention to detail is on full display here, even in such short duration. Yes, Mahira is meant to be the centre of attention, but Shoaib’s eye includes everyone. He ensures each person in the frame has a part to play, an expression to give, no matter little screen time they may get.
Each extra is a character and each of them has a purpose. They aren’t wooden props added to the background. They interact with each other and they react to the action on screen. That tiny change makes this world, this era come to life beautifully. It also does wonders to highlight the action and message thereof that unfolds in the foreground.
A Prayer of Conditioning.
The true joy in watching and rewatching Dua-e-Reem lies in the lyrics of the song. A song which is essentially two songs played out in a ‘Shikwa, Jawab-e-Shikwa’ way, where the song that follows is in direct response to the one that was just sung. The Iqbal influence doesn’t end there though. Both songs are versions of Iqbal’s famous ‘Bachche ki Dua’, here turned in a prayer for new brides. Messing with such an iconic poem could be considered sacrilegious by some but it does illustrate a point here, so bare with me.
The first one is sung by Kajri Begum, who I’m assuming leads a troop of singers to sing at weddings. She’s here too and her song highlights one thing. It is conditioning. It describes very accurately how society has been for years, conditioning women to be subservient. To serve their husbands and suffer in silence should their husbands become abusive.
It starts off pretty tame though. The first few lines focus on serving the husband, and how that should make up part of the woman’s faith. It escalates to turning a blind eye to domestic violence very quickly until finally it culminates in this poignant yet horrifying line:
‘بیبیون کو نہیں بھاوے ہے بغاوت کرنا’
(Literally: Rebelling is not what good women do.)
The verse before this stated how a woman should just curse her fate. Thus, the message is, a woman should just accept her faith and suffer, even if the marriage is abusive. In how plainly it’s mentioned and how I’ve tried to convey it, it must come off as shocking. However, it is a reality of our society. One that we still go to amazing lengths to avoid.
Singing such a song at a wedding thus signifies what we do as a society already, normalising abuse. Normalising and further enforcing gender disparity. Thankfully, by this point, many women, including Mahira’s character had had enough.
A Defiant but Necessary Prayer
With a ‘!بس’ (enough) that would make even Yash Raichand tremble, Mahira gets up to claim her own destiny. She begins a prayer that ironically should have been sung in the first place. It shouldn’t be defiant either. It should be the norm. An equitable relationship between husband and wife where there is love but not blindness. Where each partner makes the other a better, stronger person. Where their relationship is theirs alone, free of violence and threats but full of love.
And yet it’s defiant.
Defiant because it challenges head-on, the norms set in society for generations. Norms that are enforced under the guise of keeping the peace. In actuality, those norms are designed to assert dominance. Of one gender over the other. Norms that not only distort what the roles of a woman should be but also what a man’s should be. Norms that were out of place centuries ago and still are today, yet they are the norms. Society seems unwilling to challenge them, only for Shoaib Mansoor to walk in and show us the way.
Showing us the way.
I mean, casting Mahira was enough to show me the way, you didn’t have to tug at my heartstrings too. But it does. It mirrors the conversation happening in the country now to a tee as well, though maybe in a more digestible way. It highlights a need to be defiant. A need to at least start a conversation that may eventually lead to a more balanced and nurturing society, not one that breeds toxicity as ours does today.
Oh, I almost forgot the rice! Yes, this is an ad, it reminds us of that in the end but it is still so much more. The line it ends with highlights both these aspects beautifully. Shoaib manages to end it with a prayer for an equitable, understanding relationship between spouses while simultaneously selling rice. That one line I still can’t annoyingly get out of my head. I guess that’s the beauty of it.
‘ایسی اُلفت ہو کہ ہم روٹی سے کھاوے چاول’
(Literally) Our love should be such that we eat bread with rice.