‘Girl Unbound’ Documents Squash Player Maria Wazir’s Difficult Journey from Pakistan to Canada

Posted on Sep 21 2016 - 11:33pm
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At first glance, Maria Toorpakai Wazir looks like any other Torontonian. In fact, sitting in my seat at the Toronto International Film Festival, I almost wondered if I walked passed her on the way into the theater without realizing it. And yet, it’s her story that I’m here to see—the true story of how one brave Pakistani woman squashed all the boundaries, and countless death threats, in pursuit of her dream.

“Girl Unbound: The War to Be Her” documents how Wazir went from growing up in the Taliban-controlled region of Waziristan to becoming one of the foremost squash competitors in the world. Now living and training in Toronto, the world cheers Wazir on in competition, but back home, her accomplishments are considered shameful by Islamic forces that condemn women’s participation in sports.

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As a child, Wazir first stepped onto the court disguised as a boy—however, as she rose to fame, her identity was revealed and the athlete managed to move to Canada so she could safely continue training and competing in the sport. While Wazir is the subject of the documentary, her family back in Pakistan—in particular, her father—steal the show.

“The film really started to take shape for me when I met her family,” director Erin Heidenreich said. She added that it took nearly 5 years to complete “Girl Unbound.” Heidenreich told the sold-out TIFF audience at the September 13 screening that the film is about Wazir but also about her parents and siblings, and the lengths they would go for each other.

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Speaking of her father and the unrelenting support he’s shown her, Wazir said “it’s hard to go against the flow of the river. It takes a lot of courage and you have to be ready for that.” Her family has received numerous death threats, and, as is shown in the film, every time she visits, they must travel discretely to avoid detection by the Taliban.

The story is strong, but the documentary tends to drag slightly, hitting the same points multiple times. Meanwhile, Wazir mentions that she is essentially gender fluid—but that identity and its consequences are not fully explored in the film. Personally, having never played squash, I also felt that an explanation of the sport, possibly detailing some of the subtle intricacies of the game, would have served up a more enjoyable experience. Instead, I found myself watching the clips of Wazir’s matches, trying to piece it together.

One detail that is not mentioned in the film was the story of another inspirational Pakistani woman: Malala Yousafzai. Wazir revealed during the TIFF Q&A that she had stepped away from squash to protect her safety and then she heard about Malala getting shot.

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[Read Related: “‘He Named Me Malala’ Offers an Intimate Glimpse into the Life of Malala Yousafzai”]

Wazir added that as a female who plays sports, she feared getting shot by the Taliban—but when she heard about Malala, it inspired her to persevere and she began sending out emails to squash coaches asking them to train her. That’s how she found squash champion Jonathon Power, who ultimately brought her to Canada and helped her pursue her dream.

“I brought her over here so she could be a great squash player, but over 5 and a half years, it’s been a learning experience for me too,” Power said.

If nothing else, “Girl Unbound: The War to Be Her” is worth seeing simply because between Wazir’s refusal to be confined by societal rules (or even gender-norms) and her family’s progressive outlook, there is a lot to learn.

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‘Girl Unbound’ Documents Squash Player Maria Wazir’s Difficult Journey from Pakistan to Canada was last modified: September 21st, 2016 by greendecker

This article was originally published onĀ http://www.india.com/arts-and-culture/girl-unbound-documents-squash-player-maria-wazirs-difficult-journey-from-pakistan-to-canada-1499063/