Reel Review: Short films in Sexuality in Pakistan - Azeema Faizunissa

Azeema Faizunissa

In November 2006 the Urdu service of the the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) commissioned a series of films under the Baat to Karni Padegi (We will have to talk) series on issues of sexuality in Pakistan. Three of the films from the series are reviewed here. Please note that the review includes spoilers. All the films are in Urdu. 

Mardangi Tere Kai Roop (Many Faces of Masculinity) 
Fareeda Batool /6 mins 

In general Pakistani men are more empowered and have greater mobility in terms of access to services and information compared to their female counterparts, be it access to schooling, health care or general recreation including commercial and casual sexual. There is enough data to show that a large proportion of men do engage in extra marital sex, but when it comes to an open discussion and acceptance of it they just plainly deny its existence in our society. 

There is a huge market for mujras (a style of dance) and sexually explicit stage shows with crude dialogues, dances and lots of skin, all performed for male audiences. Women are objectified in these stage plays and in the mujras they dance to sexually explicit songs to the gratification of male fantasies. In some instances these dances form a strip show that is adapted to the local culture. These shows which are also marketed through CDs and DVDs are produced by men for the benefit of an all male audience and are marketed through the video shops and internet cafes where they are in demand like hot cakes. Though the men appear free in seeking to feed their sexual fantasies through these shows and plays, they do not have the courage to talk about their sexual desires openly.

Mardangi Tere Kai Roop is a documentary with brave and clever camera work and dialogues. The production team was able to interview and shoot the men who frequent these net cafes/shows and the men who work behind the scenes for these shows. One producer of the videos proudly told the interviewers about his innovative idea of bringing in males with the females to add extra excitement which turned out to be really successful. A net cafe owner told the interviewer that he was losing business in the initial phase, but since the day he introduced the idea of showing sexy films in the cafes, his clientele increased substantially. They felt that the strict gender segregation in Pakistan leads to such a high level of demand for these kinds of videos. 

Darvaze (Doors) 
Sharjeel Baoch / 6 mins 

This film is a tale about the coming of age of a child who has grown up observing the contradictions of character in his elders. The film focusses on sexual behaviour. In a country where sex and sexuality do not exist outside the bedroom of a married couple and where sex education is considered useless and a Western imposition, the film draws attention to the fact that the young people are left basically on their own to learn from pornographic movies, peers and elders. The idea of doors has been used as a metaphor to symbolise the different thresholds of perception as one gains experience in life with age. 

The opening shot shows a close up of an adolescent boy who invites the camera to follow him towards a window where he watches the housemaid, mopping the floor while surfing television channels. The camera stops at her cleavage which is the focus of the boy’s gaze as well. At the point when she stops at the song of her choice, the audience can see the legs of a man coming out of the bathroom with a towel tied around his belly. There is a clear sexual tension between him and the maid and there is very little to guess when we see – through a keyhole – the maid following the man, their feet touching and the towel dropping. Suddenly, there is a loud bang on the door and it appears that the neighbours are trying to break into the house. But the next scene shows that it was in another apartment. The same man, now dressed, walks towards the mob banging frantically at the door. Once the door is opened you get to know that this empty flat was being used by a young couple for their sexual escapades. The couple is seriously rebuked for their ‘morally loose’ ways and for ‘corrupting’ the neighbourhood, the man who was with the maid has the loudest voice and suggests sending the couple to the police. As they leave the flat, he notices the boy (who appears to be his son) looking out from his window and admonishes him to get back to his studies. This is a classic film about double standards in our society and leaves us with uneasy questions about what children would learn after observing their elders’ public and private behaviour. 

Ek Pakistani Love Story (A Pakistani Love Story)
Maheen Zia /4 mins 

This is a love story of a college girl who is involved with a married businessman. They are shown to be playing the ‘love of convenience’ as the man needs sex without strings attached and the girl needs favours in the form of gifts and a good time. The film opens with a shot of a window and the rising smoke from a burning cigarette. The background sound indicates a phone call which appears to be from the male character’s office. He seems to be out of the office on the pretext of some work. Then in the next few minutes, the dialogue with the girl tells us that the she is the beautiful college girl who is going out with him for gifts and parties. There are no characters on screen but the voices and the cigarette fumes with the moving curtain provide a natural interface. 

The lack of a ‘human face’ also allows the filmmaker to get away with the problem of showing a man and a young woman in intimate positions, which otherwise may not be approved by the censor board and the cultural sensibilities prevailing in Pakistan. The dialogues are cleverly written to show a new trend of a ‘sugar daddy’ kind of relationship that is increasing in our society. The introduction of the movie says that ‘that love is not a new or unique emotion but the way it is expressed changes over time’. 

This movie is a commentary on the commercialisation of love in our society. This new façade of love looks like ‘commercial sex,’ on the surface but since the sexual act is exchanged for monetary gifts, and the price is not negotiated in a businesslike manner, it enjoys more legitimacy and is equated with ‘love’. Because extra marital sex is illegal according to the Sharia Law of Pakistan and society in general does not approve of casual relationships, labelling it as a love package at least gives some air of legitimacy to the relationship. The film neither condones nor condemns the behaviour, but shows how this new form of love allows for sexual adventures for men who can afford this financially and women who can afford it socially. 

Azeema Faizunissa is a doctoral student in the department of Sociology at the University of Hawaii with a Fellowship from the East West Center, Hawaii, USA. The main focus of her dissertation is the youth of Pakistan as a potential for economic and social development. She is particularly interested in the intersections of health outcomes with poverty (class), gender and the interplay of the issue of access to services.