Showgirls of Pakistan, a boisterous documentary by Saad Khan delves into the mujra culture in the country. Mujra is a dance form which dates back to the earliest periods of the Mughal era. However, in modern times, it is often termed as ‘raunchy’ and ‘vulgar’.
The 2020 documentary chronicles the struggles of performers and dancers for their chosen profession regarding morality, social stigma and the safety concerns that come along with it. Showgirls of Pakistan was selected by VICE News for its non-fiction collection, The Short List. The YouTube description of the movie reads,
“Fighting the law, rogue managers, and bad boyfriends, three women on the periphery of Pakistani society risk everything to make a living dancing on stage.”
Showgirls Of Pakistan chronicles the ugly side of the ‘Mujra’ world
The protagonists of the film, narrate their stories and Saad Khan, the writer, director and producer of the film shared how he got to make a documentary out of it.
Speaking with Suroosh Alvi, the founder of VICE, the acclaimed writer revealed how he saw mujra as part of the culture in Lahore, where he grew up. Although it was working-class entertainment, local cable providers in the Pervez Musharraf era would play CDs of taped shows as well.
Shooting began in 2014, however they hadn’t planned out the whole thing.
“It was one day at a time. We would shoot, then sit at a café on the weekend and I would write what I wanted to do the next week.”
We see mix footage of traffic, crowded streets, and even the subjects themselves, sometimes dancing, sometimes speaking. The film revolves around the story of three protagonists, Afreen, Reema and Uzma.
Most of the film is shot in Punjabi, but we also see glimpses of people speaking in Urdu. ‘Showgirls of Pakistan’ depicts the blatant ‘othering’ of people based on their race, language, class, geography, gender and sexual orientation.
It took them five years to edit the movie, however we are still able to see the raw and real sense of how these performers live their lives. Mujra may be a way out of poverty for its practitioners but the film reminds us that it’s also a dangerous, unstable world.