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, who has been very popular for his super-hit drama serial Dhuaan; and secondly the tagline of the film ‘Main Pakistan ka shehri, Pakistan ka Maalik hun’ (I’m the citizen of Pakistan; the owner of Pakistan) which made me realize that this movie was definitely going to have some substance and might be different than the typical masala movies. So I decided to watch it at a local cinema.
After few days of its release, the film was being reported by the media as a controversial one leading to complete ban across the country; although KPK government decided not to ban it. I was quite surprised by the news and therefore, was curious to know what really had triggered the ban. And what I found out was that the reasons which the defenders of the ban had come up with were 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, places politicians in a negative light.
(Picture showing poster of Maalik displayed in a cinema of Lahore – Photo By Kiran Wali)
Now let me address each and every point of criticism in context of the film’s plot.
About racism, one really has to be racist himself to detect racism in the film. I, by the end of the film, did not start stereotyping any particular race based on anything depicted in it. I did not even find any reason to do so. Critics claim that the Sindhis are shown as the bad people. What they conveniently forget to highlight is the fact that from the same Sindh, they show a middle class family whose head believes in girls’ education and encourages his daughter to become a lawyer against all odds. He also believes in lawfully challenging the corrupt system and struggles to join politics and bring about a ‘change’ in the rotten system.
Talking about ‘inciting violence’ they refer to the plot where a security guard (basically not the guard himself but the owner of the private security firm, played by Ashir Azeem) shoots the very political figure he was supposed to protect. Correct. But the tricky part is the context. The same killer turns himself into 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 fictitious film for God sake. Nothing more.
Interestingly, if Maalik incites any violence, it also condemns it where it shows a father stopping his son and reporting him to the security personnel when he finds out that his son plans to murder the minister to avenge his sister’s rape and brutal killing. 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’ of the film who, when attempt to shoot the Chief Minister, are killed by the aforementioned guard in order to protect the minister.
About depiction of the corrupt police, I think it is a widely known fact that this very faction of law enforcement has had sporadically embodied elements that actually aide crime and let corruption to prevail in our society. The film 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 that we have all but Sadiq aur Ameen members sitting in our parliaments. More than illegal money-making, the film shows how the politicians use their authorities and power to suppress the voices that are raised against injustice. It shows how the feudal do the same and exploit and threaten people around them to facilitate their crimes.
What no one has talked about is how the film shows a non-Pashtun guy and a Pashtun girl falling for one another and accepting each other despite their cultural and lingual differences. Does that not promote harmony?
No one has even slightly mentioned – let alone appreciated – the fact that the film also shows a Sikh belonging to a private security firm where he works wholeheartedly alongside his 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 label the film as instigating 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 Pakistanis live in. Even film Dukhtar highlighted the early marriage issues and the patriarchy imposed by the Pashtuns but that film never hailed 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 though it is their job to object anything remotely linked to ISPR. 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 interest and now people really want to watch the film to see if all the criticism is really 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 be a cause of trouble either. Maybe we can learn from our neighbouring country’s Bollywood which has always been openly showing the ugly side of the business of politics in its films.
We need to view Maalik as a film based on fiction only. It cannot hurt the position of any of our politicians out there. If the Panama Leaks could not shake anything in Pakistani politics, a mere film can’t do any harm either. And if item numbers in our movies do not incite any vulgarity in our society, then one killing scene also should not be taken as a cause of inciting violence.