I was glad for once to see a female superhero being introduced in Pakistan. I am always a big believer that media can do their share in bringing in change to a culture, especially when it comes to children’s cartoons. I’m sure we all fondly remember the Disney films and various other cartoons that we grew up with. So when news about Burka Avenger came out, I had my reservations about the choice of Burka as a costume like many, as in a very conservative society, especially when it is worn by a child, it could be problematic. I won’t get into that because that is not the topic of my post here, and here is a post that I mostly agree with regarding the choice of burka as a superhero costume.
Finally, I decided to watch Burka Avenger after a long time, as the series is uploaded on YouTube by the makers. Seeing that sites like Huffington Post had good thing to say about it and claimed that Disney could learn a thing or two from the portrayal of female character in Burka Avenger, one would expect it to be really good, right? Wrong.
*Spoilers ahead, if you consider it that*
So the series starts with the prologue, of how an orphaned Jiya was raised by a ‘kind man’ who taught her ‘Takht Kabaddi’ which involves fighting with books and pens, and she uses her skills to fight tyranny and ignorance. She leads her ‘normal’ life as the teacher in a village school (and always wears a pink salwar with even pink chappals – god forbid she gets gets any less womanly, right?), and worries about ‘Baba Bandook’, the villain, preventing a girl’s school from getting opened (segregation much?), and rightly so. Him and Vadero Pajero, believes that women should have nothing to do with education and should just stay at home. Burka Avenger manages to throw books at his goons and save her kids from them meanwhile in a sub plot – and it’s boring. I mean, what’s the point? Yeah books and pens are probably supposed to be a metaphor (and in my opinion, it doesn’t work at all), but if you are supposed to land blows using them, what’s wrong with fighting goons like any other superheros? It’s not as if it’s non violent attack, it does hurt them, but no – a female superhero kicking ass would be too bad?
But that is the least of the problems with this atrocious show. This is where it all crashed down beyond redemption. Baba Bandook and his goons block kids from entering the school. Then this conversation takes place between kids and him – where he asks “Do these girls want to become modern? What will these girls do with education?” A girl just comes running into the scene screaming (Nahiiiiiiiiiiin, Bollywood ishtyle!) and says these gems that would just made my want to stick needles in my eyes.
Yup, that’s the reason why girls should be educated, because they are mothers of tomorrow, and if mothers remain illiterate, the kids too will remain illiterate. Really? And the whole scene was so bad, with background maudlin background music and everything (think bad Bollywood movies from the 50’s) and the girl pleading in a very (fake) sad voice. And this was a child who was mouthing these dialogues – and they actually thought it was good to put in a children’s cartoon? Ugh.
That’s not to say the whole thing is really bad, but even the good portions (that were the fight scenes in my opinion) were itself not so great, if you exclude the end credits – which was really cool.
Why this is so disappointing is because this was a good opportunity for them to push the envelope for all the media attention it got – and they completely grassed it. This could have been so much more. Production values when it comes to animation and such are really good for a Pakistani cartoon, and only if they had hired some good writers to make this at least a little better without. I shouldn’t have expected much better when the co-writer is apparently the guy who is behind this comic.
The whole point of me writing this brief critique is in some vain hope that the creators would notice this and at least try to stay away from reinforcing gender roles, ending up doing more harm than good.