Blazing eyes, flying hair, looks that could kill. The main character of Shahan Zaidi’s English-language graphic novel Bloody Nasreen is 27, smokes cigarettes and kills without pity. Pakistan’s first unveiled heroine wields a gun in her right hand and a sword in her left, but her attire – she wears a shalwar kameez and sneakers – is not the image you’d expect of a ruthless crimefighter.
But there was a strong reason for the Lahore-based Zaidi, 31, to dress the heroine of his 100-page graphic novel this way.
“I wanted my heroine to portray a regular girl-next-door from Karachi, someone every Pakistani girl could relate to,” says Zaidi. He hasn’t endowed Nasreen with any superpowers, explaining that she “picked up fighting skills along the way”.
Zaidi also wanted to keep the character away from any religious activity or implications. So he chose to name her Nasreen because “it is a very common name in Pakistan, it could belong to a girl from any region or sect”. The 100-page novel is likely to hit the stands late next month or August.
Nasreen was conceptualised long before Burka Avenger, Pakistan’s first superheroine, who appears in her own animated television series. But Nasreen languished in Zaidi’s sketch book for four years, until 2009, when he shared his illustrations with friends and noticed the growing interest.
“Men fell for her looks and women loved her nerve,” says Zaidi, who chose to set the story in the 2030s, where Nasreen fights issues such as human trafficking and corruption.
Zaidi grew up on a diet of Vertigo and Constantine comics and says he is inspired by female-focused movies such as Shekar Kapur’s Bandit Queen(1995) and Kill Bill (2003), starring Uma Thurman. He was only 17 when he published his first comic series, Blizzard, in a popular Pakistani weekly. Having found his calling, he educated himself in graphic art by signing up for online courses, as well as a stint with www.itchyfingerz.com, a leading mobile applications and game company in Lahore.
A growing fan base
Nasreen has attracted enormous attention on social media and generated plenty of debate, especially over her outfit, which does not include a dupatta (scarf).
But Zaidi is unperturbed. “How can she keep a dupatta in place when she’s running or jumping off high buildings?” he asks, saying he wanted his heroine to be as realistic as possible.
Nasreen on film
Bloody Nasreen has generated a great deal of interest among Pakistani filmmakers, and The Crew Films company of Karachi finally landed the deal. The writer and producer Faisal Rafi, who is likely to produce the film, says: “There are hardly any stories being made into films that are set in Karachi. In Nasreen, we see an opportunity to express the deeper truth and lies about our city. It is a brilliant character with a unique premise.” Pre-production is underway, but the main cast and the director of the film have not yet been announced.