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Smokers’ Corner: Projecting the bizarre

Published Jun 09, 2012 11:45pm


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One of the most ubiquitous scenes in Pakistani films of the 1970s was that of a nightclub where more often than not the villain used to get girls drunk just so he could rape them.

And it usually took just a sip or two of imported whisky for the girls to not only get drunk enough to perform a voluptuous item number, but to also end up on the sleazy villain’s bed.

Apart from this, nightclub scenes were also used to show the behavioural contrasts between the rich, immoral brats and the not-so-rich, very moral heroes.

The 1970s were a time when alcohol and nightclubs were a norm in Pakistan. But, no, they weren’t quite the dens of immorality and raping sprees as depicted in most Urdu films of the era.

During an extensive interview I conducted (for a weekly) with one of Pakistan’s leading film theoreticians, authors and archivists, late Mushtaq Gazdar (in 1992), I asked him why, in the 1970s, Urdu films were putting nightclubs at the centre of immorality when in reality these clubs were also being frequented by pretty normal middle-class folks?

Having a Marxist background, Gazdar offered a very interesting class-based observation. According to him a majority of Pakistani filmmakers used to come from petty-bourgeoisie/lower middle-class backgrounds to whom class conflict between the haves and have-nots was first and foremost a battle of morals.

“These filmmakers (who were operating when the local film industry was at its peak and Pakistan was being ruled by a ‘socialist’ regime [Z A. Bhutto]), were not religious fanatics,” Gazdar had said. “But even though most of the filmmakers were Bhutto supporters, in an era where the regime was propagating class warfare against the urban business elites, these men and women, due to their petty-bourgeoisie backgrounds, had imagined class-conflict as a tussle between social decency and deviancy.”

In other words, what Gazdar was suggesting was that most of these filmmakers were busy imagining a reality which they were not necessarily accustomed to.

To the class that they belonged the reality of nightclubs and bars — if not alcohol, because most film personalities loved their whiskey and vodka — were seen and then represented as decadent symbols of the rich man’s oppression of the poor.

Till they were closed down in April 1977, nightclubs were places where men and women went to have dinner, a drink and watch a house band play the latest pop covers, or watch a Lebanese or Turkish belly dancer do her thing.

But on film the clubs became figments of a myopic petty-bourgeoisie imagination or glimmering, gaudy dens of zombie alcoholics who spent all their time getting drunk, poking fun at the poor, dancing in the most archaic manner and, of course, indulging in obsessive raping sprees!

I had asked Gazdar about the impact such imagined scenarios had on the large film audiences of the era, most of whom, too, belonged to the same petty-bourgeoisie class as the filmmakers.

Answering this, Gazdar had pointed at the dynamics of the right-wing protest movement that took place against the Bhutto regime in 1977: “When the mullah parties united against Bhutto in 1977, they accused him of being a drunk and his regime un-Islamic,” Gazdar explained.

“During the riots, what did the people attack?” he asked. “Liquor shops, bars and nightclubs. In their minds it wasn’t the feudals, the monopolist capitalists, the bureaucracy, the military or Bhutto’s own hypocrisy of being secular and yet throwing the Ahmadis out of Islam’s orbit that were the sources of the people’s economic and political exploitation. It was the bars and the nightclubs!”

The reactionary Ziaul Haq dictatorship that toppled Bhutto was quick to pick this up. With the collapse of the local film industry under Zia's strict ‘Islamisation’ project, state-owned media (especially PTV) became tools of the imaginary petty- bourgeoisie outlooks and projections of ‘obscenity’ and ‘un-Islamic behaviour’ that were explained as fruits of secularism and democracy and the reason why Allah was angry with Pakistan.

Of course, once again, things like economic gaps, governmental corruption, military adventurism and the stark exploitation of faith to meet some rather discriminatory ends were never talked about.

Today, constructing and using moral panics to shade the truth about economic and political failures and associate divine reasons for our social failings are not the prerogatives of the state or governments anymore. And the Pakistani film industry is simply too minuscule in size now as an influencer.

All this has today become part of the explosive private electronic media whose operative stuff too, largely belongs to the urban petty-bourgeoisie classes. But projected moral panics now have little to do with nightclubs, bars or belly dancers.

The paranoid prospect of a ‘Khooni inquilab’ (bloody revolution) due to corruption and energy crises, and a clash between religious extremists and ‘liberal fascists’, has become the new moral ground which a more assertive middle-class and petty- bourgeoisie are grounding their new moral flags on.

Though the projected ‘fahashi’ of nightclubs and alcohol of 1970s films and moralistic convolutions of the state under Zia were almost entirely based on exaggerations, concerns like corruption, extremism and energy crises are not.

However, they are again largely being seen through conservative petty-bourgeoisie lenses.

For example, corruption among politicians is angrily denounced, but not among state institutions like the military that (at least to the said class), still symbolises a Nietzschean kind of super manhood.

Religious extremism is bizarrely being explained away as a reaction to ‘liberal extremism’. Of course, the latter is nothing more than the convoluted and equally bizarre concept of nightclubs in the films of the 1970s, but even if it’s there, it has absolutely no influence in the media or the state. It’s a bogey.

Just like the projected moral panics created by cinema in the 1970s became ammunition for a reactionary dictatorship in the 1980s, I wonder what the moral panic being created against so-called ‘liberal extremists’ is going to produce.

One thing’s for sure though, it will have absolutely nothing to do with tolerance, peace or equitable distribution of wealth.


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Author Image

Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and He is also the author of two books on the social history of Pakistan, End of the Past and The Pakistan Anti-Hero.

He tweets @NadeemfParacha

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (44) Closed

Zafar Jun 10, 2012 06:27pm
Good analysis.
Tariq K Sami Jun 10, 2012 06:38pm
Islam itself came as a revolt against the ruling class and the Superpowers of the day. What you are seeing in Western Pakistan is the rise of the lower class and they have already displaced the feudal lords. The War has just acted as a catalyst. The Pastoon is the first to revolt (not counting the MQM which had the advantage of having a educated middle class to begin with). I have a feeling the Khooni Inqilab will however stop short at the borders of Punjab and Sind the ultimate bastion of feudal power and status quo.
El Cid Jun 10, 2012 09:02am
I don't know about those movies. But while NFP feels safe not satirizing the Zardari Mafisio and Karachi gang bangers--which should be his first priority-- he seems trying his best to set himself up for a 'cleanising operation' by the very group he seems safe with but is inspiring, perhaps even instigating.
saleem Jun 10, 2012 04:44pm
El sahib; just lage raho; your high-end morality marketing give us will for what not to become! thank you
Shahid Jun 10, 2012 04:54pm
I think you are missing the point. The past is prologue, as they say. Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. NFP does in fact make a suggestion as to the present state of affairs - we are again seeing a petty bourgeoisie creating a moral panic between liberal fascism and radical conservatism - the khooni inqilab scenario. If you agree with that analysis, then the next step is to realize that the dialogue is once again being diverted away from the real issues - class conflict, rampant privatization and corruption - and into regressive fear mongering.
saleem Jun 10, 2012 05:10pm
maybe it is just you?
saleem Jun 10, 2012 05:11pm
maybe he watching disney?
Azeema Jun 10, 2012 05:36pm
i am also waiting for a book by him....
Karachi Wala Jun 10, 2012 06:16pm
One can always argue about the motives of so called liberal Z.A. Bhutto and Ameerul Momeneen Zia and their respective doings to Pakistani mindset and Pakistani culture. But it would be real hard to argue the effect it has had on the society which drank the so called Islamized Cocktail during Zia era. The intoxicated society is unable to see straight and writing on the wall.
Yemeen Zuberi Jun 11, 2012 12:33am
I agree with GKrishnan. Whatever was presented was to sell the films to the largest group of movie watchers. The group consists of low income earners. Usually the film makers tried to exploit the fantasies of this group. Everything was there that the public would like to purchase. There were logic-less episodes, rough talk, and songs with 'not that refined' poetry; on top of everything there were dances with cheap gestures, and the scenes mentioned by NFP. I think that it is more a demand and supply issue than a sociological one. I think there is no need of any Freudian type of research in this regard.
@shahi_r0me Jun 10, 2012 09:47pm
Only Nadeem sb can write such brilliant column.
Romi Jun 10, 2012 11:18am
At least in Indian films, the woman dancing in an alcohol induced trance and then getting raped by the villain was just a way to get past the censors and show some sex scenes. People were getting their dose of sex, but under the moralistic guise that "if a woman drinks too much, then she gets raped," so it seemed acceptable. But rape is not sex, it is an act of violence. And when young people watch it on TV, it influences their thinking. They feel encouraged to attack a woman who is drinking, or wearing revealing clothes (another hallmark of the women getting raped in the movies). Hollywood rarely showed rape scenes because sex through mutual consent was quite acceptable in the west. And western men don't harass women in public spaces based on their clothing or drinking.
zeeshan Jun 10, 2012 08:55am
every time i read the articles of nadeem F Paracha, I got the impression that night clubs, bars are sacred places. all those places and things like alcohol was very good for the mankind. Zia did a great and unpardonable sin by binning those sacred places.
El Cid Jun 10, 2012 08:50am
Did I perchance demolish your touchi feeli alter-ego idol worship? Moralism indeed!
Sharique Siddiqui Jun 10, 2012 08:44am
It is always convenient to blame indecency and moral deviancy as the root of all evils. When dengue epidemic was all loose in Punjab, Maulana Tariq Jameel comfortably accuse our bad deeds as the reason of god curse on us.. isn't that easy way out to avoid discussing the real problems and doing something about it.
najeeb Jun 10, 2012 08:38am
NFP is is an asset.His analysis may be thought as one dimensional,yet it is true.
Jafri676 Jun 10, 2012 06:54pm
Biggest difference between developed countries and developing countries is that how much people time spent in discussing about the past, present and future. I guess we love to remain in past and sometime discuss the current situation (present).Forget about the future. While in developed countires ppl mostly spent time in discussing today and tomorrow stuff.....just my 2cents_
Azeem Haqqani Jun 10, 2012 08:03am
Whereas I usually enjoy NFP's provocating blogs I must say this one did hurt. I grew up with the films of 60s and 70s and the analysis NFP has presented is misleading. First of all the night club scenes were not as frequent as the blog seems to suggest and secondly the rapes were not indicated at all. Vulgar dances yes but not rapes. NFP is misusing his talents in further polarizing the society and this in not a good service to the homeland. Every sensible/patriotic citizen of Pakistan should try to find something common to bridge the ever increasing schisms. If one can not do this then the least one can do is to keep quiet.
Ashraf Jun 10, 2012 07:54am
Nice flowing rethoric again El Gestapo, but as usual it rings of hollow moralism.
GKrishnan Jun 10, 2012 10:21am
This article is good for some laughs, and that's it. NFP is reading too much into the raison d'etre of movies of the 70s. Movies in India too, had a liberal dose of what he calls "nightclub" or "cabaret" scenes, but no one found it necessary to dig into deeper motives or symptoms. Public only wanted to be entertained, a few hours of escapism from the drudgery of their daily lives, and that's all there is to it. And of course, after the movie, the by-product was one could hold a moral high ground, that one got vicarious pleasure but did not become wayward oneself.
El Cid Jun 10, 2012 07:38am
While Hawking has his own demons and "Illusion of Knowledge", the quote you have extracted most appropriately describes NFP's demons, and his confusion in differentating between ignorance, illusion, and knowledge--fact and fiction--they are all the same to him.
Omer Yusuf Jun 10, 2012 07:43am
great insight....the commonality which runs till now from then to now is a lack of any informed analysis in which this sort of writing is a rare exception.
A Rehman Jun 10, 2012 07:27am
Equitable distribution of wealth is a subject of the Almighty. And Marxists and Communists are advised to finally get out of the fools paradise. While the author is bent upon holding Zia responsible for every wrongdoing committed against mankind since Adam and Eve till doomsday, fact of the mater remains that he represents only a fraction of the populace. Every extreme will face an equal and opposite reaction whenever possible. Thats why electronic media though suppressed in Zia's regime is totally uncontrollable. So whenever time permits the conservative class will recoil back and the media representing the ultra mod scod glamorous and uncontrolled few, will finally call it a day.
qaswar Jun 10, 2012 03:27pm
what i have not seen in pakistan,as depicted by our print and other social medias and so called scholers in last 65 years, a corrupt politician as such a brutal__ feudal lords,sardar wadera,jagirdar doing a villan like role in village life a riddiculas village life as projected in our fims a patwari making life hell for commen man what i have seen in pakistan, a ruthless general playing with the fate of nation yet as innocent as a new born baby a corrupt mullah,openly creating hatred among people yet, seen as a custodian of faith a corrupt_ journalist ,newspaper editor creating dissinformation ,thus misleadind the already ill informed nation yet considerd as scholers and patriotic. a commen man of all age groupps ,gazing at every female that passes by yet a ghayur muslim now which group is at the helm of affairs is any body guess.
Ali S Jun 10, 2012 02:38pm
Is it just me or is NFP hopelessly stuck in the 80s still? I agree with most things he says but he can't seem to come up with any solution to the problems we're facing today, apart from looking back at how things used to be.
Stephen Pramod Jun 10, 2012 12:11pm
Great analysis..You have summarized 60 years of Pakistan's existence..I think of all the things, direct confrontation with US will be going to be a very costly affair and now that China is very close to Pakistan... it will become even more complex issue...The problem is that Pakistan never believed in Non-aligned movement like India and so it had to obey the orders of other super powers..There is a danger of sovereignty of Pakistan now from USA and from China in the future..
FIS Jun 10, 2012 07:29pm
Compared to 1970s, there are more Namizis and Hajis, and more masjids- just walk around any neighborhood, and you will notice an overt display of religion. Soon in Ramazan, you will see the heights of these relgious sheningans. In past 30 years, people of pakistan have become more religious than ever, in the history of India, and in those same years they have become the most corrupt too - than they were ever. Ironiclly, in their heart they sincerely believe that they are good people, and the problem always lies with that "other" person, not with them. They bash Zardari all day long for corruption, but never once stop corrupt activity of their own, if their interest is at stake. And then they naively wonder, why their leaders are corrupt? (Often try to wrongly answer, we must need more religion. It must be western values that are the cause!) So my dear pakistanis, your leaders are corrupt, because you are Corrupt! Get it!
Some Sense Jun 10, 2012 04:20am
Want NFP to write extensively on the judiciary, where battles are being fought: mostly by Don Quixotes, both above the bar/bench and below. As an excited observer of Pakistan, I find it fascinating when people across all walks of life talk about justice, but as they perceive it, and not according to the Constitution....
BRR Jun 10, 2012 05:23am
A wonderful analysis of a reactionary section of the population, a good explanation of why certain "myths" are fostered, and propagated, despite knowing its falsehood. A narrative based on false reading and faulty analysis is fist created, and propaganda employed to browbeat any dissent into submission. And the willing believers accept the lies and even promote it. Is there an end to such darkness? How can light penetrate this fog?
Waqar Shahid Jun 10, 2012 05:25am
This is a wonderful analysis. I can't wait to read a book by NFP!
Cyrus Howell Jun 10, 2012 05:50am
"The Greatest Enemy Of Knowledge Is Not Ignorance... ...It Is The Illusion Of Knowledge" -- Stephen Hawking
Cyrus Howell Jun 10, 2012 05:52am
"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." -- H. L. Mencken US editor (1880 - 1956)
Yawar Jun 10, 2012 06:02am
NFP always has a very unique but insightful way of looking at things. In just a single article he has exposed the bogus and empty ways the more liberal 'other' is demonized by the keepers of morality and patriotism in Pakistan. Kudos.
Charminar Jun 10, 2012 06:12am
The big difference from then to now is: In that era you had a stable country, good economy and backing for a super power, Now unstable country, economy down the toilet and direct confrontation with the super power. Another big difference is the amount of information and the speed of information, that could create more confusion among masses then ever before, especially when the outlets are not doing due diligence in disseminating the information.
Shahid A. Jun 10, 2012 08:12am
Wonder what films were you watching, Azeem. Remember the great villain Aslam Pervez? As I remember almost half of his roles saw him swaggering with innocent damsels in nightclubs, getting them drunk and lootofying their izzat. Even now when I watch all those old 70s movies on channels like Filmazia, I am stunned by the way nightclubs were portrayed.
Y. Bhatti Jun 10, 2012 07:11am
Sharp, very sharp. I agree with the thesis completely. Moralism portrayed by a once popular and influential film industry was certainly the ammunition used by Zia, and taday the moralism being advocated by the privately electronic media can only give rise to a new kind of a reactionary monster.
Y. Bhatti Jun 10, 2012 07:34am
You just answered your own concern. When you say NFP is representing only a fraction of the population, this is the fraction that is being demonized and called all sorts of things by a majority who thinks it is the real keepers of moralism in Pakistan. You have obviously missed out on what Paracha is suggesting. i.e. moralists in Pakistan have always demonized minorities ( including liberals) for demagogic reasons. Get a grip.
@bilalchd Jun 10, 2012 07:19am
what kinda liberal are u .. if u r afraid of the masses ... seems like a liberal is another word for an elite reading this ... this definition of a liberal is wrong and hence the entire story u build on it
Guest Jun 10, 2012 09:32am
Pakistani films borrowed from Indian films and vice versa in those days, it would be wise to look at the Indian films of the 70's and 80's as well, the concept so simply explained away by NFP might not hold water if a thorough analysis of the cinema of both the countries are made. Frustrated labour class, college youth encouraged not to mix with the opposite gender, and cinema goers at large wanted to see some T & A if they doled out Rs.3.00 of their hard earned money. The directors simply filled a market demand, yet still remaining within the hypocritical moral values of the society, where similar to the Victorian era of the West ,and the 50's of the U.S. it was forbidden to talk about sexual pleasure outside the constraints of marital instituition.You want to see T & A, you want to show T & A, the only way to do it was to link it to the villian, because the cinema goer, no matter what class or moral values he subscribed to wanted to feel like a wholesome being, or even society at large.
A Rehman Jun 11, 2012 05:25am
You have apparently missed the crux of what I intended to highlight. A few in print media who read newspapers and fewer who write these articles are not prophets and reality is far different than just blaming a few personalities for all the wrongs in our country. Now exactly opposite is happening as the point of view of these "fewer enlightened" is being impinged upon the minds of all and sundry across the length and breadth of the country. This, and the attitude of not accepting the reality will lead us to nowhere. Peace.
A Rehman Jun 11, 2012 05:38am
May I add that today media is only propagating immoral-ism and not moral-ism. Therefore any kind of moral revolution would be quite acceptable to most of us.
Baba Sidni Jun 17, 2012 02:58am
Well said. I couldn't have said it any better.
Baba Sidni Jun 17, 2012 03:02am
Obviously, you haven't seen all, as yet.
Baba Sidni Jun 17, 2012 03:22am
The first one to point out that NFP is with the Zardari Mafioso. I realized it sometimes ago but was reluctant to write it, considering the sensitivities of his many followers. Now I know that there is at least one person, who shares my vision, and is not afraid to speak his mind. This gives me courage as well.