A lot has been said and discussed recently about the newly released Lollywood film Maalik. For me there were two things about the film that made me want to watch it:
Firstly, the fact that it was directed and written by Ashir Azeem, popular for his super-hit drama serial Dhuwan.; and secondly the tagline of the film ‘Main Pakistan ka shehri, Pakistan ka Maalik hun’ which made me realize that the movie was definitely going to have something substantial and might be different than the typical masala movies. So I decided to watch it in a local cinema.
After few days, the movie became talk of the town leading to complete ban across the country. It was quite surprising news and then I was curious to know what really had triggered the ban. What I found was that the reasons that the defenders of the ban have come up with sound really absurd to say the least.
The prominent aspects of criticism on Maalik are that it promotes racism, incites violence, shows ‘good’ Taliban, portrays police as corrupt, and most importantly shows the politicians in a bad light.
Now let me explain each and every point of criticism in the context of the film’s plot.
About racism, one really has to be racist himself to feel the racism in the film. I, by the end of the film, did not start stereotyping any particular race based on anything depicted in the movie. I did not even find any reason to do so. Critics say that the Sindhis are shown as the bad people. What they forget to highlight is the fact that from the same Sindh they show a middle class family who’s head believes in girls’ education and encourages his daughter to become a lawyer against all odds. He himself along with his daughter believes in lawfully challenging the corrupt system and struggles to join politics and bring ‘change’ in the rotten system.
Talking about ‘inciting violence’ they refer to the fact that the security guard (basically not the guard himself but the owner of the private security firm, played by Ashir Azeem) is shown shooting the very political figure he was supposed to protect. Correct. But the tricky part is the context. The killer guard also goes to the police later to confess the extra-judicial killing he had done as his conscience did not let him ignore the fact that he had killed someone which was not ‘in the line of duty.’ Not that it justifies the killing, but then, it is only a film for God sake, only fiction. Nothing more.
In parallel, if it incites any violence, it also condemns violence where it shows a father who stops his son and reports him to the security personnel when he finds out that his son had planned to murder the CM as a revenge for raping and brutally killing his sister. No one talked about this side of the film. As I said, it’s all about what you really want to see.
Critics say that the movie shows ‘good taliban’. Well, it is the same ‘good taliban’ in the film who when tries to kill the Chief Minister is shot and killed by the same guard in order to protect the minister.
About depiction of corruption of the police, I think it is a widely known fact that this very faction of law enforcement has had, from time to time, some elements that actually help crime and corruption prevail in the societies. It does not show the entire police force involved in crimes.
They say that politicians are shown ‘in a bad light’. Now don’t tell me we have all but Sadiq aur Ameen sitting in our parliaments. More than illegal money-making, the film shows how the politicians use their authorities and power to suppress the voices raised against injustice. It shows how the feudal do the same and exploit and threaten people around them to facilitate them in their crimes.
What no one has talked about is how the film shows a non-Pashtun guy and a Pashtun girl falling in love with one another and accepting each other despite their cultural and language differences. Does that not promote harmony?
No one has even slightly mentioned – let alone appreciated – the fact that the film also shows a Sikh as part of the private security firm where he works wholeheartedly alongside other colleagues. At one point, when a father seeks help from Ashir Azeem to trace his abducted son, Ashir points towards the same Sikh and asks the father “Why do you think he should risk his life for your son?”
It’s completely absurd to say that the film creates ethnic divide where some are shown as good ones while the others are not. To me, it is a reflection of the society as a whole in which we as Pakistanis live in. The film Dukhtar too had highlighted the early marriage issues and the patriarchy imposed by the Pashtuns but that film never led to any such criticism and in fact made its way to the nomination in Oscars under the category of Best Foreign Language film.
Besides the government, there are certain other elements that seem to have a problem with Maalik. Their criticism is more or less the same. It seems as if anything having ISPR’s link is somehow their job to object on. These are the same people who kept criticising Waar when it was released. Film-maker Ashir Azeem has clearly denied having the film funded by the ISPR. In any case, it is obvious that any film using military equipment has to give due credit to the relevant agency.
The ban has only created more hype and now people really want to watch it to actually see if all the criticism is any valid or not. If we can celebrate Sharmeen Obaid’s documentaries for showing the ugly side of our society, then perhaps a film based on fiction should not create trouble for us either. Maybe we can learn from our neighboring country’s Bollywood which has always been quite openly showing the ugly side of this business of politics in its films.
Take Maalik as a film based on fiction only. It cannot hurt the position of any of our politicians out there. If Panama Leaks could not shake anything in Pakistani politics, a mere film can’t do any harm either. And if item numbers in our films do not incite any vulgarity in our society, then one killing scene also should not be taken as a cause of inciting violence.
Note: This article originally appeared in Express Tribune Blogs; here