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Fruit Chaat, Disability & Comedy in Pakistan

Short film Fruit Chaat is written by Tanzila Khan. She also plays the main role of Shabana, who navigates her life in Pakistan with a disability. Funny and irreverent, her talent and creativity shines through. Like the real Fruit Chaat, you will want a second helping.

By Valerie Grove

Fruit Chaat was written and produced by Tanzila Khan, who also played the lead role of Shabana, and it was directed by Moiz Abbas. What this dynamic duo have created is eleven minutes of sweet, serious and comic wonderfulness.

Its brilliance is that it condenses a huge, multi-faceted story into a very short space of time and manages to tell that story in a way that is thoughtful, illuminating, serious and utterly comical all at once. It’s so disappointing when the credits roll because you have been pulled into the story and really wish there was more to come. As a consequence I watched it twice in succession and have zero doubt that those twenty two minutes of my life were totally worthwhile, especially because of clever little details in the second viewing that went unnoticed in the first. 

Woman In Wheelchair Receiving A Diploma

The film opens with Shabana and two of her good friends on their graduation day. The friends have just carried Shabana in her wheelchair down the university steps for the final time and their conversation sets the scene both for the comedy and her character. We next see her at a job interview in which a whole terrain of personal, social and practical observation is communicated with an inspired combination of dialogue, music and hilariously stylised comedic devices and camera work. In fact, several scenes and the way they are shot definitely provide laughs at the expense of mainstream film and TV techniques.  Music is also very effectively used to add humour and drama throughout.

In the third and final scene, Shabana has set up on her own and is now running a fruit stall from which she also produces the Pakistani culinary icon of fruit chaat, a mixed fruit salad that has its own unique masala or spice blend. Here we get a hint of romance along with the comedy.

Last month, Pakistan Today’s Daily Paperazzi interviewed Tanzila and Moiz and asked them why they chose this title for the film. Tanzila said that like fruit chaat, Shabana’s character was so much more complex than how the world perceived her, while Moiz noted that the film, like the dish, has many underlying flavours.

The character of Shabana in Fruit Chaat is a woman born with disabilities, meaning a wheelchair has always been a part of her life. This is the reality of Tanzila Khan herself and the situations in the film are drawn directly from her own experiences. She wanted the film to highlight that Shabana is a normal girl with the same desires and wishes as any other, and also to draw attention to the difficulties faced by disabled people in Pakistan and other South Asian countries.

Although this may be Tanzila’s first creative film project she is already a renowned disability rights activist, equality campaigner, author and social entrepreneur. She is also widely referred to as a ‘motivational speaker’ but having read the forthright and varied blog posts on her website ‘inspirational truth-teller’ seems a more accurate description. Her company Girlythings was founded to inform and to make reproductive and monthly hygiene products more easily available to women and girls throughout Pakistan. It also unashamedly challenged the taboos around public discussion of women’s reproductive health. 

Moiz Abbas is an independent filmmaker with a direction and production background in short film, TV and video. He is commercial media manager for Girlythings and, in his own words, is also a ‘Human, Women, Minority and Animal Rights Advocate’. 

This awesome creative partnership began when Moiz contacted Tanzila offering to support Girlythings. Their first ‘film’ together was actually a short, brilliant and characteristically direct promo video for Girlythings called Every Woman’s Nightmare. This little promo managed to illustrate the whole issue and its dissonant and embedded social context in only forty two seconds. Just as in Fruit Chaat not a millisecond is wasted. 

After working together on this promo, Tanzila shared with Moiz her idea for Fruit Chaat and the character of Shabana. They decided to make the film and as Tanzila herself says, ‘…the rest is history.’ 

After a year of planning and fundraising, the film was shot in one day at three locations in Lahore. All the funds to make it were raised by Tanzila and Moiz themselves because none of the big film production companies they approached for support assigned any value to the script or the story. Their loss, our gain. Fruit Chaat is another confirmation that there are currently some really good independent filmmakers working in Pakistan.

Given the fact that I watched Fruit Chaat twice, I am delighted to say that a little social media research meant that I discovered the following from Moiz: 

“Happy to announce that we are turning Fruit Chaat, the Short Film, into the Web Series. A web series which will not only fall in the comedy genre but will also have action, suspense, thrill and romance all together. We also decided to cast top notch Pakistani Actors. Details will be shared soon. I promise it will surprise you.”

Tanzila confirmed that they are indeed working on the script of the Fruit Chaat web series. She said it will highlight many aspects of disability in a light hearted way and they are hoping to launch the series this summer. 

I for one am rooting for them all the way and I really believe that anyone who sees Fruit Chaat will be too. It is an eleven minute reminder of the absolute necessity of humour in navigating life’s absurdity and pain. It is also a concise and skilful statement of defiance that makes you think change is not only possible but inevitable. 

Research Acknowledgements 

Pakistan Today – Daily Paperazzi – March 2021, Tanzilakhan.com, Girlythings.pk 

Promo video – Every Woman’s Nightmare

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