A child is being shouted at in the witness box, but will not speak. “Why don’t you speak up, murderer?” Sarmad Khoosat, a lawyer, owes an answer to the journalists badgering him. There is disbelief in the air, contempt, fear, answers lying deep undug, but there’s still faith in the child’s innocence.
This is the story of BeGunah.
BeGunah is a mini web series, and its trailer was released on January 18. It grabbed everyone’s attention because it has Sarmad Khoosat in it and because the abuse suspect is a child.
We spoke with the writers in an online interview, and discussed how the series came into production. Writers Ezza and Elia Rathore are sisters. Ezza is a filmmaker and Elia is a journalist.
With BeGunah, the Rathore sisters take up child sexual abuse, as well as the dynamics between adults and children, exploring themes of justice and responsibility. It explores how much of the responsibility falls on children in certain situations.
When asked about how the story for BeGunah was conceived, Ezza said she took inspiration from her own story written long ago. “I had written a story a long while ago about children who get into a violent act. So I had the idea already.”
Was it difficult to write a character like this? Ezza and Elia said that they write stories, not yet published, habitually on themes exploring grave social issues. So, this was no different.
They were approached by Group Development Pakistan, an NGO that works for the protection and promotion of child rights in Pakistan for a documentary. “They wanted a documentary to highlight the issue,” said Elia. “One of our friends, who works with GDP, suggested we fictionalise it.”
The initial story was extremely dark. But it was the gradual collaborative input that reshaped the story.
The topic of child sexual abuse needs to be handled in a sensitive way on the screen. Elia said that they made sure it was not entertaining or stimulating. “It has to be horrifying.”
She believes the Pakistani drama industry is not open to experimenting with content. Ezza said that the makers want to stay on the safe side, and produce content mostly on domestic issues and love stories. “I think our current content is very safe,” said Ezza Rathore.
Elia thinks it is not the audiences that decide what sells, but the makers. “The industry has created a certain template which it thinks works and sells best to the people, and the makers are fitting every single show onto that template. It is the industry that’s lowering its standard.”
Talking about aspiring young filmmakers who have to cut down on their creativity and turn to the basic formula, Ezza said your originality will get saturated if you don’t have your own voice. “You need to learn from others and find the right people to work with. But always know your voice.”
The advent of digital space has heralded a change. It is allowing artists to experiment with content and different narratives. Elia is hopeful about fresh young voices being mainstreamed in future. “When we get to the point where young filmmakers own the media houses, we will see resurgence [of different projects].”
BeGunah is directed by Sikandar Vincent Khan and Shehryar Ali. The main cast includes Sarmad Khoosat, Iman Shahid and Naveed Anjum.