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‘Showgirls of Pakistan’ review: Sensuality and violence follows three mujra dancers

Know it when you see it.

Showgirls of Pakistan is a something of a celebrity documentary. Similar films look at an improbable rise or an infamous fall. Director Saad Khan examines three mujra dancers whose popularity flirts with censorship.  Mujra is a dance performance that emerged during the Mughal rule in India. It was criminalized by the British Empire in the 19th century. Showgirls of Pakistan follows three Mujra dancers in present day Pakistan. They have their fans, but they are also the targets of violence and threats.

A common tactic in documentaries with different subjects is to have their stories connect in some way. Aside from shared themes, this is not the case in Showgirls of Pakistan. This is a nice touch as it provides a larger view of what the women are facing. It is not just about one group, but an entire movement. Conversely, it showcases the power of each individual.

Showgirls of Pakistan is essentially split into three parts. Each woman deals with their own struggles. (This is on top of the normal patriarchal hypocrisy.) Dividing the film into separate stories provides more personal insight. This makes things more engaging while showing how widespread the problem is. There is a chaotic feel to what is happening that can be disorienting at times.

'Showgirls of Pakistan' review: Sensuality and violence follows three mujra dancers

Social media is an important part of the dancers’ lives and is woven into Showgirls of Pakistan. Much of the footage is from smart phones and live vlogs. Much of this is out of necessity, but it is a welcome change from the usual talking heads. When Showgirls of Pakistan is not resorting to modern technology for its footage, news reports and television interviews full in. This is more par for the course and it also fits into the style of the documentary.

The bravery of the dancers comes across well. This is in part because there are few sit down interview segments. Instead, Showgirls of Pakistan takes a fly on the wall approach. This highlights the personality and strength of the women. It is a wild and engaging watch that takes audiences to a world that is seldom seen.

Showgirls of Pakistan is available to screen for for free here

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