Monday Nov 27, 2017
Have you heard about Saeed Akhtar Mirza?
Well, the college students I teach had not. They have no idea who the 1980s Indian director and screenwriter was. They also did not know why Albert Pinto would get angry? Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai is the title of Mirza’s seminal biopic starring Naseeruddin Shah, Smita Patil and Shabana Azmi. The story, which won the Filmfare Critics Award in 1981, explores the angst of the working class in a capitalist society.
Mirza’s other cinematic gems include, Jaanay Bhee Do Yaaron, Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho and Saleem Langray Pay Mut Ro. The director later quit filmmaking in 1995.
So, what brings up Mirza and Albert Pinto today? Last week, a much-anticipated Pakistani film, Verna, was gearing up for a release when the censor board threw a spanner in the works. The Sohaib Mansoor film, stated the board, depicted the government institutions in a bad light. But the real concern was with the portrayal of a rape scene in the thriller. There was much outrage. After which the board reluctantly stepped back and let the film go through to the screens. It is moments like these when it is apparent why women right activist like Fouzia Saeed get angry.
In her career, Saeed has seen many such instances, when issues of grave importance to women are too uncomfortable to handle for men. And since men populate most of our decision-making bodies, such issues are swept under the rug.
Mansoor’s film is an expression of anger against such privileged individuals and institutions that are stacked against women.
If you haven’t seen Verna, it is the story of an ordinary girl with an ordinary life, thrust into extraordinary and daunting circumstances after a powerful man kidnaps and sexually assaults her. Women rights organizations in the country are hailing the film as a monumental effort in creating awareness against sexual harassment and rape.
There is nothing new in Mansoor’s storytelling. There is nothing new in the subject matter. We have grown up hearing, reading or watching stories about women raped and discarded by society. We have all heard stories of powerful men who sway the system whichever way they want. And we have heard of women, too many to count, who never got justice. And yet, here is another movie about it. Why? Because we have not done much to address the physical threat women face in Pakistan.
There was a time when people believed that for a society to prosper the media must make social issues its personal mission. Messages against such injustices should be regularly broadcasted so state institutions are forced to take notice. Urdu writer Mushtaq Ahmed Yousafi once wrote about this while in England:
“When a young child of a poor and unemployed man, in a remote district in England, got lost, everybody got together to look for the child, paying no heed to their own matters. For two days, the matter was given supreme importance in national newspapers and TV channels. In another instance, the surgery of a child in the ICU of a hospital was delayed due to a shortage of nurses. The national dailies and the BBC, itself a government department, raised awareness about the child’s plight. The matter reached the courts. Parliament held a debate. Eventually, as the pressure built the child was operated upon. Nobody asked whether the child was Roman Catholic or Protestant, spoke English or Scottish, was Irish or not. Compare that with what we do here in Pakistan, where after reading of terrible tragedies, we go back to our daily activities.”
Let’s be honest, our society has become apathetic. But our media, whose job it was to get the society to rise from slumber, is even less interested in such issues. One reason for this apathy is the public itself. Maybe because our education systems are failing us? This year, a local university had to cancel admissions for PhD and MPhil programs because all the students that applied for the aforementioned programs failed in the admission tests. Then there was a Mass Communications department that fraudulently gave each PhD candidate extra marks just so they do not fail.
In the media and in the public, the conversation should never end. Women rights are human rights after all.
The writer is the Group Director of Infotainment in Geo TV.
Note: The views expressed in the article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Geo News or the Jang Group.