In contrast to what your pre-conceived notions about me from the blog post’s tile alone may have you believe, I genuinely wanted to enjoy this film to my heart’s content and be able to rave about it. This was the case as the last Pakistani film I had watched happened to be Sarmad Khoosat’s brilliant Manto; inevitably, I went inside the cinema house profusely eager to witness another potential masterpiece. Much to my dismay, however, parts of the movie’s storyline proved to be quite problematic and disturbing.

Now before I go ahead and list a number of issues I had with this film in particular, I want to make it clear that I do acknowledge the fact that the Pakistani film industry is a newly revamped business, and is still finding its ground and adjusting accordingly. That is exactly why I will refrain from criticising the acting, direction, cinematography, music etc in the film, which, candidly speaking, I found to be quite enjoyable. Additionally speaking, I often found myself laughing at several running gags in the film - namely the "help me Durdana" gags - that I believed were quite smartly placed.

After giving credit where it’s due, however, I find it of insurmountable significance to pin point errors that could’ve easily been avoided.  Even if people may argue that the film is a product of an industry that still happens to be like a child newly getting acquainted with the world, I would argue that only when a child found in the wrong is corrected, can he/she grow in to a decent human being.  Similarly only when we call out errors in the films produced by the industry, can it be able to produce better quality films. However, like I stated earlier I will not shed much light on the quality of the creative aspects of the film (neither am I in any position to do so), rather I shall be talking about the toxic narratives put forth in the film.

It pretty much went downhill for me as soon as Shafiq asked the rate of the Mujra of Khusras (Erotic dance of the intersex/transgenders). The audience erupted in to laughter and I was left appalled. The row behind me even joked, "Humari tou Mehreen he kaafi hai" (Our Mehreen is enough), insinuating that belonging to such a community was ‘humorous’. It was sickening to see a community often marginalised once again being reduced to a stereotype and used as a source of comic relief. I was outraged by the audacity of the people behind the film making fun of one of the very few means of livelihood our very own society has left their community to pursue with relatively fewer restrictions. Did they forget that this was same community tortured, murdered, excommunicated by society, and driven to suicide for their very existence on a daily basis? How dare they target people of a community still unable to defend themselves without putting their own lives at risk?

On a similar note, I found elitist humour to be a recurring theme in the film. Ironically, I realise that perhaps it is quite elitist of me to say so myself. Nonetheless, I viewed this to be very problematic. Broken English and the ‘paindu’ (negatively associated with being backward and having the mentality of people from rural areas) mannerism of the people in Punjab were heavily relied on for adding ‘humor’ to the storyline. It was disheartening to see the movie stooping to that level to get some faint laughs. As if it wasn’t enough that Pakistanis have been victims of racism and ridicule abroad for not speaking impeccable English over the years that now movies in their own homeland are getting a kick out of it. Not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to have great command on the English language. Perhaps, if everyone had an equal chance at getting a quality education would I have let this joke slip by.

Another thing that I found incredibly disturbing was the movie’s ‘hero’ Fawad Khagga and how heavily romanticised the man was. First and foremost Fawad Khagga was a stalker. The man claimed to be ‘in love’ just after seeing a picture of Amal and followed her around without her consent. This led me to my second problem with him: the man failed to acknowledge the word ‘No’. Amal rejected his marriage proposal and he flew all the way to Karachi, persistent in his pursuit despite her constantly saying no.  Eventually when Fawad did get married to Amal, his male chauvinism did not take very long to come into the spotlight. On their wedding night, he boasted in front of his friends about how he tricked Amal into marrying him, upon which being caught by Amal, he cited his fragile masculinity getting the best of him as a valid reason. Moreover, despite the fact that Amal refurbished and replenished the entire dairy farm he owned on her own, when his grandfather insisted Amal be the deserving CEO of the company, he did not hesitate to manifest his displeasure. He even complained about how working exhausted Amal and did not show any interest in the bedroom as if she owed him sex and reduced her to an object for carnal pleasure only.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of the movie’s take on domestic violence either. During a fight caused by Amal witnessing Fawad potentially cheating on her with his cousin Durdana, Amal threatened Fawad’s ego by stating that if it ever came to it, she’d rip his moustache off and hand it to him which enraged Fawad to the point of slapping Amal, cutting her lip open. This scene was soon followed by Fawad’s family downstairs remarking that it seemed like ‘the slap’ had finally happened, essentially meant to unnecessarily and wrongly  joke about the pertinent issue of domestic violence often found in rural and urban households alike in Pakistan. With no surprise, the audience found this to be comical as well. Domestic violence was made light of and was shockingly not mentioned in Fawad’s eventual apology to Amal infront of his whole village. I felt nauseous as I witnessed Amal forgive Fawad, setting an incredibly toxic precedent encouraging women to return to abusive households. Had Amal gone through with the divorce, there would have been a greater chance of me being able to forgive the film for most of its sins.

The film wasn’t short on sexism either. The fact that Amal was initially emotionally blackmailed by Bibo Jee (Amal and Fawad’s grandmother to put it simply) for deciding to reject Fawad’s proposal and that her decision to marry the guy she wanted was not taken seriously by Fawad in particular, was saddening and disappointing. This furthered the notion that women are not capable of making decisions on their own. Additionally, at Vassay’s (the guy Amal wanted to marry) birthday party, Fawad’s unsolicited stalking once again made a comeback as he grabbed Amal’s arm out of the blue while she was on the dance floor. As he did this, he told her not to lose her ‘dignity’, which is rather infuriating considering how this was the same person that drank on his wedding night, potentially cheated on his wife and slapped her by that point in the film. Not to mention the amount of times the film tried to negatively portray Amal as stubborn for wanting a divorce which by the way was a result of being slapped to the point of bleeding, and completely disregards and romanticises Fawad’s perpetual stalking is mind boggling.  

Now, you may say that I am being ‘oversensitive’ or that I’m just another ‘stupid liberal feminist’ or maybe even question who am I to speak about such things?  Because I’m just your average ‘spoiled privileged brat’, right? Well, here’s what I’ve learnt over the years: only when one acknowledges their privilege, can one use it to stand up for the oppressed. Just because you may not have been trusted with their stories and struggles, does not mean they do not exist. Taking such matters lightly in the media such as in films only furthers and reinstates toxic narratives that may be potentially internalised by impressionable minds. Therefore I, Raisa Anwar, acknowledge the privilege I have to be able to watch and understand such films, and am able to speak out when issues such as domestic violence, sexism, classicism, and discrimination against disadvantaged communities are not handled with the sensitivity they deserve.

On a final note: Punjab Nahi Jaungi gets an A+ for creative efforts but a little sensitivity and mindfulness could have gone a long way.