It was reported that a person who saw the film ‘Veere Di Wedding’ was shocked and ashamed because he was watching it with his grandmother. She too was duly shocked and cursed the direction that society and the films in it are taking, denouncing it true and proper. Last year ‘Lipstick Under my Burkha’ too created a furore and there were calls to stop the films from being screened for the public. Similarly, ‘The Rajputs’ were ashamed as to what those of their kind had been up to so ‘Padmaavati’ went through paroxysms of change and censorial pruning, so much so that its name was also clipped.
Recently, for a television show in the United States ‘Quantico’, Priyanka Chopra had to apologise because the terrorists in the film operating in Kashmir were shown as Hindus and not Muslims. How could terrorism be financed by the Indian government or how could terrorists be Hindus, yelled millions of Indians. After this outcry an apology was extended by the actor meant to assuage the sentiments of the holier than thou Indians.
The question is what if the gentleman had not been watching the film with his grandmother, would it have been then less objectionable or not objectionable at all? Does everything we do need to have the sanction of our mothers and grandmothers? Or is it crucial for mothers, grandmothers, daughters and sons to be on the same aesthetic page. Rebellion is dead and crossing the dotted line is forbidden. Period. Long live conformity.
Another characteristic of the present age is apologising. The Canadian prime minister has specialised in apologising just to bolster his goody goody image. Everyone seems to be apologising for the acts which they have not committed. They have been apologising for the acts committed by others, their ancestors long time ago, and it seems that as sins of the elders visit the sons or daughters, the apologies all round have been unending.
In Pakistan, too, from time to time such concerns are raised and it appears that for many the true benchmark of seeing a film or a television play is if it can be seen with other members of the family. It usually gets high approval ratings if it can be seen with the children and grandparents, and is usually decried if members of the family feel uncomfortable.
It appears that we are in the middle of a puritanical wave. The entire world under one pretext or the other is for denunciation and rejection. These could be many reasons for it like race, ethnicity, gender, religion or national allegiance. Every now and then, even in the most advanced or liberal societies a cry is raised, a storm brews as fingers are pointed at some tendentious view of gender, race or religion. And the justification is sought in fair treatment to all and lack of prejudicial content. It is generally assumed that the slight or the insult embedded in the work betrays a bias. After the World War, the Germans were typecast as inhuman and ghastly murderers while with the rise of Soviet Union the communists were always the bad guys. Even the purges under McCarthyism in Hollywood turned one against the other.
In Pakistan, a society in any case that is extremely sanctimonious, the feathers are often ruffled by any work that has sexual content, or pointing towards a critical view of religion or any institution of the state. In our country, along with race, religion and gender there are a number of state institutions that are supposed to be above criticism and castigation. If so, it is followed by vicious charges levied on the person, or the institution for working against the interests of the state and hence being on the payroll of the enemy.
Perhaps the same debate has been obstructing free expression since times immemorial. The difference that has always existed between individualistic understanding of artistes and the way the public receives or assesses it. Should it be that this difference be preserved and guarded, or that the dominance of the acceptable norms thrown up by society – generally lame, docile and innocuous – be upheld?
But obviously it all filters down to the level of tolerance that the society has developed to appreciate the other point of view. It could be of an individual or a group or a nation or a religious denomination or gender. It is always so that one man’s food is another man’s poison.
It has also been witnessed that what was once seen as extremely disruptive or insidious or rebellious, with the passage of time becomes acceptable, with the society treating it as a norm. Looking back then, one wonders what the entire furore was about.
For centuries there have been many who have wanted to find a middle ground between the two extreme views, of the individual and the tame docility that discourages any difference. The happy middle ground is the cherished dream of those who want order and peace, do not want any disruption even if it is in the arts. It is no wonder that in all ages the artistes and the artists have been hounded and looked at with suspicion and are generally distrusted by this thick middle. They have been denounced in religious and political ideologies for being too unpredictable and in love for being dull and unimaginative.