Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a woman in a burka, and no, she isn’t meek or subservient — in fact, she’s fighting the evil Taliban, one book and pen at a time. Introducing Burka Avenger, Pakistan’s first animated superheroine, who, like her American counterparts, leads two lives. By day she’s a “mild-mannered school teacher,” but her secret avatar is the “lady in black” who is always there to save Pakistani girls from the members of the aggressively conservative, anti-literacy Taliban.
However, unlike Wonder Woman, Burka Avenger is covered head to toe in a burka, which helps her conceal her real identity while allowing for some serious crime-fighting moves. The Taliban had forced women to wear burkas in the 1990s, when they had established their control over Afghanistan.
Set in the fictional town of Halwapur in northern Pakistan, a region that has been adversely affected by the Taliban presence, Burka Avenger’s alter ego is Jiya, who teaches at the local girl’s school. Jiya had been trained in Takht Kabbadi, a martial art involving throwing pens and books, by her father, Kabbadi Jan. Jiya and three kids, Ashu, Immu, and Mooli, fight the evil Baba Bandook and gang. Burka Avenger’s weapons of choice intriguingly prove to the Taliban that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword, or gun.
The animated Urdu-language series, which premiered on July 28 on Geo Tez, was conceived by Pakistani pop star Aaron Haroon Rashid as a subversive way to generate support against the Taliban, whose rabid intolerance towards the education of girls has led them to blow up hundreds of schools, and even shoot the 15-year-old schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai (the attempt against Yousafzai’s life fortunately proved unsuccessful). Haroon explains the decision to clad the superheroine in a burka as a strategic one. “It’s not a sign of oppression,” he told the AP. “She is using the burqa to hide her identity like other superheroes. Since she is a woman, we could have dressed her up like Catwoman or Wonder Woman, but that probably wouldn’t have worked in Pakistan.”
Episode two will be aired on August 4, and like the pilot, will feature music by such artists as Ali Zafar, Ali Azmat, and JoSH, as well as Haroon. As publicity, rapper Adil Omar and Haroon have released a music video, “Don’t Mess with the Lady in Black,” which is a must-watch for its peppy soundtrack and slick animation (there’s something undeniably riveting about watching a ball-busting burka-clad woman).
Unicorn Black, the series’ production company, has also produced an iPhone game as a spin-off to the series, and will soon release a music album featuring songs from each episode.
Watch the English language trailer for “Burka Avenger”: