Indian cinema is far from flawless, one of its biggest issues being blatant sexism and objectification of women.
From movies of the 90s like Hum Saath Saath Hain and Hum Aapke Hain Koun, to the item numbers that dominate television screens today, women have been, and continue to be ‘displayed’ and portrayed in a regressive light. The success of films like Queen and English Vinglish, although encouraging, doesn’t take away from the fact that there is still a long way to go, for Indian cinema, and Indian society, before women get the respect and credit they deserve, on screen and in the real world.
Sexism and misogyny is as much an issue across the border, in Pakistan, as it is in India, a fact reiterated by a video that recently appeared on my Facebook news feed.
The video was created by a Pakistani television actor, Faisal Qureshi, in response to Saif Ali Khan’s claim that he had “lost faith in Pakistan, generally”. The latter’s statement was incited by the ban inflicted upon his upcoming film, ‘Phantom‘, in Pakistan.
In the twelve minute video, Qureshi argues against Saif Ali Khan’s statement, and criticises the trailer of Phantom almost frame by frame, unintentionally also revealing his inability to distinguish between a movie and reality by directing his arguments against dialogues mouthed by Khan’s character to the actor himself.
The issue with the video, however, isn’t the fact that Qureshi contradicts the Indian actor, but has more to do with the inherent sexism and apparent hostility that characterises it.
From repeated references to Khan as ‘Sahiba’ and ‘Beti’ that reek of misogyny, to ridiculous justifications for piracy in Pakistan (in a nutshell, Pakistanis only watch Indian movies through piracy so that they can get entertainment without contributing to the Indian economy), the video is crude and senseless.
The saddest part, though, is the fact that all the arguments that are made in the video are based on the philosophy that two wrongs make a right – piracy in Pakistan is okay because Indians do it too, banning Indian films in Pakistan is okay since Pakistani films are banned in India as well- Qureshi goes as far as to deny any similarity between the two countries, comparing their relationship to a fight over property between two brothers, later adding that ‘ched chad’ with India is justified on several grounds.
India is far from a faultless country – we have issues of corruption, sexism, religious extremism, bans themselves are not an alien concept in India. Why talk about Pakistani films when Bollywood movies themselves are often banned in parts of the country, as was the case with Fanna in Gujarat, and more critical productions like India’s Daughter often meet the same fate as well.
But acknowledging a problem, recognising its existence, is a crucial step towards rectifying it.
And that’s exactly what Qureshi fails to do. He ignores the issue of bans on creative productions entirely, and instead picks up the trailer of Phantom, and quickly begins to divert attention from any issues through which it portrays Pakistan in even a remotely negative light by declaring India has the same, and many other problems.
A lot of the statements Qureshi makes in the video are facts – what he says about the existence of cases against Modi, the reality of piracy in India- but the tone it adopts only offends and does little to further his stand.
The continuous prevalence of bans on cinematic and literary productions, because they portray the nation or a particular religious community in a negative light, is the sad reality in both India and Pakistan. It’s one of many problems that plague both the nations, but pointing fingers isn’t going to solve the issue – your mistake isn’t justified just because your neighbour made it too.
Qureshi’s video is easily one of the most sexist, misogynistic, disturbing ( in terms of what it reveals regarding his views on the relationship between Indians and Pakistanis) videos I’ve seen in a while, and I can only hope a small minority of the people in his country, or any country for that matter, support an argument when it is made in so offensive a manner.