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Mild-mannered teacher by day, masked superhero by night.
Mild-mannered teacher by day, masked superhero by night.

Lady in black

The burqa-clad superhero who flings and swings her books and fountain pens to defeat the evil one

A couple of years ago, I took my daughter to watch a Chhota Bheem film. The lounge where we waited for the movie hall to open was a fascinating study in moods: The children were bouncing in excitement, while the parents, without exception, wore pained expressions. Central to this was the disbelief that instead of weaning their children off this terrible TV show, they had been forced to take them for a 2-hour-long Chhota Bheem film.

There’s hope for children’s television in India though, and help has come from across the border. If nothing else, the Emmy-nominated Burka Avenger, a Pakistani animated series on a female superheroine “covered from head to toe/in a one-piece invisibility cloak", at least protects our eardrums from the piercing shrillness of the voice-overs in the cartoon TV that our children unfortunately favour.

To be honest, Burka Avenger is no state-of-the-art animation. And, sometimes, one wishes that it would just concentrate on telling a great story than on cloaking a social message in it. But one must love a female superhero who flings and swings her books and fountain pens to defeat the evil one, in this case Baba Bandook. Contrast this with the Betty-Veronica substitutes in the contemporary Indian TV series Chhota Bheem: Chutki, whose role is to pop laddoos in Chhota Bheem’s mouth, and Indumati, who sits pretty while the boys have all the fun fights.

The protagonist in Burka Avenger is “Jiya miss", a school- teacher in the Pakistani town of Halwapur, who, one must note, is clad in a simple salwar-kameez and does not wear a burqa in this avatar. Orphaned as a child, her adoptive father taught her the secret martial arts form, takht kabaddi, which uses kitaab (book) and kalam (pen) as potent weapons to fight extremism and corruption. For instance, in the very first episode, Jiya’s alter ego Burka Avenger makes a Batman-like appearance in the sky, her black cape spread out like wings, to prevent the local girls’ school from being shut down. Considering that this show first aired in Pakistan in 2013, just a year after Malala Yousafzai was shot for promoting the girl child’s right to education in Swat valley, just underlines its importance in this country. But Indian television is misogynistic enough for Burka Avenger to come as a breath of fresh air.

The music is refreshing too. The show is produced by the singer Haroon, and he brings in Pakistani talent Ali Zafar, Ali Azmat and rapper Adil Omar to lend their voices. See if you don’t end up bobbing your head to Lady In Black, sung by Haroon and Adil Omar: “Don’t mess with the lady in black/When she’s on the attack."

Burka Avenger can be viewed on the Zee Q channel, Monday-Thursday, 4 pm.

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