Brave, bold and beautiful: the female warrior fighting to save Karachi

KARACHI: When Shahan Zaidi picked up his sketch pencil almost a decade ago, his imagination gave birth to a young woman — a fictional antihero on a mission to salvage her violence-prone city. Although the story unfolds in Pakistan’s volatile commercial capital in 2030, the backdrop resembles DC Comics’ Gotham City, where Batman lives.
Zaidi decided to call this extraordinary character “Bloody Nasreen.” He armed her with guns, a yakuza sword and a ruthless attitude, though he didn’t give her superpowers. And his depiction of the city is not too far removed from the reality of Pakistan’s commercial hub, which has been home to violence and turmoil at the hands of political and criminal elements. The work is fiction, but location names are real.
The story arc isn’t complicated, Zaidi says. It is sprinkled with terrorism, corruption, human trafficking, extortion, gang violence and bloodshed. These are some of the things the creator of the story has witnessed since the 1990s and which led him to create Nasreen.
“It’s the inner loss that I am trying to showcase,” Zaidi said. “It’s not a ‘Beauty and the Beast’ kind of story.
“You can relate to her, I can relate to her,” he said.
Nasreen is so attractive that Zaidi’s artwork could be viewed as sexually provocative by the conservative-minded. In Zaidi’s comic realm, Nasreen depicts a woman’s vengeance, a female warrior trying to right wrongs in a male-dominated society. He wants to take female empowerment to a new level.
“I made her a bold girl because she’s fighting the most vicious criminals in Karachi,” said Zaidi.
“There is a rich and a poor Karachi that we are already seeing. The crime ratio is so high that it has triggered a chaotic situation in the metropolis. There’s no order, making it a perfect place for her to rise,” he said.
Film producer Faisal Rafi, who holds the screen rights, has described Nasreen as “the product of her environment.” She will also “drive the narrative, showing the darker side of the city,” he said.
The film, however, is yet to gain funding. Rafi said that investors had approached him, but his unwillingness to compromise on even the slightest element had narrowed the range of opportunities.
If they do appear, Zaidi’s English graphic novel and Rafi’s film would be the first of their kind in Pakistan. Unlike the award-winning “Burka Avenger,” a Pakistani cartoon series for children that Zaidi had also been involved in, “Bloody Nasreen” is for a mature audiences.
“She isn’t fighting for education,” he said. “She’s fighting for basic rights.”
Nasreen has a major fan following. “Her persona and rebellious” character attracts many people, though her haters strongly oppose “her looks, smoking, name and use of foul language,” said Zaidi.
“There are good characters and bad characters,” he said, “but I make characters in the gray areas.”
Zaidi is optimistic about positive change, and cautiously hopeful that his novel and the film will not face too much of a backlash from conservatives.
“When I started making the concept art of ‘Bloody Nasreen’, I got many negative comments on my social media page,” he said. “Now positive comments outnumber the negative ones. I believe that we are progressing.”

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