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Taxali Gate (Movie Review): A Rare Dark Comedy On Fight Against Oppression

After the promising trailer of “Taxali Gate” which raised my expectations out of the movie manifold, I was curious to find out whether the good trailer translates into a good film, and by the time the credits rolled I could say, it very much does!

Many of us would know “Taxali Gate” as one of the many gates in the walled city of Lahore but through an introductory narration by Ayesha Omar’s character you find out that it is also a synonym for Lahore’s infamous red-light area “Heera Mandi”, and that is where the story of the film is based.

With the underlying themes of rape, consent, the stereotypes around prostitution, courage and revenge, the movie’s plot revolves around the investigation of Zainab Bint-e-Hameed’s (Mehar Bano) rape at the hands of Chaudhary Kamran (Umer Alam), son of an influential person (Babar Ali), and his friend. Zainab lives under the weight of her bad family reputation (caste Kanjar), with her father “Mooda” (played by Nayyer Ejaz) being a dholki player and her uncle Shafeeq (Yasir Hussain) being a pimp to his romantic interest who is a prostitute, “Muskaan” (Ayesha Omar).

After an initial failed attempt to seek justice from the courts and getting victim blamed in return (as happens often  in rape cases), Zainab takes the revenge course and that is where the story takes its twist and gets to the climax.

The Powerful Performances

‘Taxali Gate’ showcases finest performances by the lead and supporting actors alike. But the two stand out performances are by Ayesha Omar and Mehar Bano. Ayesha Omar aces the role of a blunt and bold prostitute, a character which is head strong in appearance but has its vulnerabilities. She surprises big time with a nuanced performance, shedding away all the stereotypes everyone had about her as an artist since the success of her sit-com ‘Bulbullay’.

Mehar Bano is the dark horse here among all the seasoned actors. She brings soul to the film with a restrained yet powerful portrayal of a wronged but courageous rape survivor. She gives performance of a lifetime in a scene where her character gets back home after the traumatic sexual abuse. With trembling hands, perplexed expressions, traumatised eyes, she struggles with a simple task of opening the lock of her house’s door.

Yasir Hussain and Nayyer Ejaz deliver natural performances in their respective roles. Umer Aalam also impresses in his role of Chaudhary Kamran. Iffat Omar and Alyy Khan in their limited roles are a treat to watch, proving why they are among the most reliable actors in the industry.

Raw, Witty and Hard-hitting Dialogues by Abu Aleeha

Another highlight of the film from the word go is its hard hitting and thought provoking dialogues. There are many instances in the film where you are left in awe of the unsparing dialogues. Of such instances the ones that stand out the most are Muskaan’s blunt courtroom conversation with the defence lawyer, Iffat Omar’s character explaining the difference of consent and harassment, and another when Zainab in one of her emotional outbursts says about her father, “Woh mujhy yahan insaaf dilany nahin le k aaya, woh mujhy yahan py zaleel hony ki training deny ly k aaya hai”.

The experience of the dialogues is however blemished a little by the censor beeps on some cuss words (which the movie has aplenty). Humour of “Taxali Gate” very much delivers, and the fans of adult humour would find themselves chuckle and chortle at many occasions. It is also commendable how intelligently Abu Aleeha has weaved humour in otherwise an intense drama.

The Not-So-Glamorous Life in Heera Mandi

‘Taxali Gate’ might also be the first movie in Pakistan’s cinema history with its story centred around “Heera Mandi” but without making it look grand, exaggerated and using it as an easy way to add Mujra numbers (there is not a single dance number in Taxali Gate) to add entertainment value to the film, a formula used, infact overused in 80’s and 90’s. It’s also nothing like Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s upcoming ‘Heera Mandi’, or even Karan Johar’s depiction of Heera Mandi in ‘Kalank’. Abu Aleeha has rather created a believable world of ‘Taxali Gate’ with raw characters living in dim-lit houses and using lots of cuss words. A world where there is nothing glamorous about prostitution, ghungroos and there is no Lucknawi Urdu at all.

Initiating Debate on Taboo Subjects Without Getting Preachy

The film offers a subtle commentary on the vulnerabilities of the prostitutes and tries to touch upon the human element of their experience and the society’s hypocrisy towards them. A poem about social sanctimonious and dominance over prostitutes, narrated by Yasir Hussain’s character, is forthright and one of the shining moments in the movie. The film also highlights the problems faced by rape survivors and how the social and judicial system wrongs them, and how resorting to revenge can sometimes be the only option left for them. Above all, this is the first time we see “consent” taking a centre stage during a court room debate. A society that still carries stone age ideas that a woman in love or relationship is characterless and should therefore be harassed by anyone, the film successfully initiates an important debate without restricting its premise to just that (unlike Bollywood movie ‘Pink’).

Music of ‘Taxali Gate’

The two songs in the movie, specially Yashal Shahid’s soulful “Akhir Jind Hai Apni” weaves magic every time it plays. Eva B’s “Mera Haq Kidhar Hai” can be your next anthem for any movement that demands rights. The song goes well with the riveting climax (which one never guesses till the end). The background music, however, at times gets loud, distracting and is over utilized.

The Shortcomings

The short runtime and fast pacing of the storyline keeps the film crisp and manages to keep your attention up until the end. However, despite the short length, a few scenes here and there don’t add anything to the storyline and could have been shortened on the editing table. For instance, the introductory scene of Judge, played by Khalid Anum, was unnecessary. While the story and dialogues are movie’s strength, the screenplay leaves much to be desired. Editing of the film is also not smooth and the transitions between scenes is abrupt at many times. The background score is also impactful at some points while it gets quite loud and distracting at many other occasions.

Final Verdict

‘Taxali Gate’ might appear as a film on struggle of rape survivor or as a courtroom drama. It is all of it but more than just that. Much like its song “Mera Haq Kidher Hai”, it is a fight against oppression not just by patriarchy but also by class subjugation. “Teeh Meriye! Ik tey tu Teeh ayn, dujaa tu Kanjran di ti ayn” (You are not just a daughter, but also a daughter from the Kanjar caste), a dialogue by Zainab sums it up aptly.

To sum up, despite some of its shortcomings, ‘Taxali Gate’ is a fun watch without having any popular commercial cinema elements. It can make you laugh, can make you shed a tear, and can make you experience many emotions, all in the runtime of 90 minutes.

You can catch ‘Taxali Gate’ as it now plays at cinemas near you.

Written by Ghulam Qadir

Ghulam Qadir an Engineer by profession , is a content writer at Pakistani Cinema who aspires to see local cinema ascent to its full potential .
Escaping to the realm of words , films , music and travel is what he does to fight the routine. (Email : [email protected])


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