KARACHI: For the record, let me say that I actually enjoy watching Pakistani films even when I don’t have to write about them. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Sahir Lodhi’s Raasta even though I couldn’t find anyone to go with (and judging by the looks of the empty cinema hall, I understood why). I appreciated the questions raised by Fahad Mustafa’s Mah-e-Mir and didn’t even react when Shaan attacked me for critiquing his film Arth 2 (he shared my photos on his Facebook page and made personal remarks on my appearance in response to my film review).
So, I can safely say that I have happily enjoyed all the good, bad and ugly of Pakistani cinema’s revival these last few years. But I will absolutely not be watching Teefa in Trouble and will go out of my way to urge others to do the same.
I personally had a lot of high hopes from Ahsan Rahim’s first film because this would be the first time Zafar would be on the big screen in Pakistan after delivering lots of somewhat successful Bollywood films, and God knows that we desperately need some hits on our local turf. A film industry cannot rely on two big films a year, mainly from director Nadeem Baig and Nabeel Qureshi, who’ve both been delivering super-hit films year after year.
This was before Meesha Shafi came forward and confirmed some rumours that everyone in the industry has heard about Zafar. I know of countless female journalists who have claimed that Zafar behaved inappropriately with them. That they made the mistake of going to his house for a party and never went there again. I even had an ex-colleague come forward about her own experience with the singer, asking me to publish her story.
What further confirmed Meesha’s allegations were the scores of women who started sharing their own experiences of sexual harassment by Zafar. Any sane and reasonable person can see that these women are not connected to each other in any way, have nothing to gain by speaking up, and have only been enduring abuse and shame from hundreds of people ever since they came forward. And for those who are murmuring about Meesha asking a certain brand for more money on a project that she was supposed to do with Zafar, please read up on that brand and who they dropped from the project. Was it Meesha or Zafar? International brands wouldn’t dare to be involved in a case of sexual harassment; they know what it would do to their reputation.
But unsurprisingly, Zafar’s Teefa in Trouble isn’t getting the backlash that one would have expected because things work a little differently in Pakistan. Instead, many men, and sadly, women have been suspicious of all the women, including Meesha, that have come forward against Zafar. I can’t say much about the men, but the women defending him have either had good experiences with Zafar, have lots to gain by promoting him or are conditioned by patriarchy into believing that what these women went through wasn’t THAT bad. These are the same people who have a renewed sense of faith in Pakistan’s failed judicial system that hasn’t even been able to provide justice to a woman, Khadija Siddiqui, who was stabbed 23 times by her assailant in broad daylight. I have nothing to say to these people.
Then there are those who simply don’t want to watch the film suffer because of one man, who they aren’t completely convinced did what he’s been accused of, and here’s what I would like to say to them. There HAS to be some accountability. Our courts don’t do much for women, who are also abused on social media on a daily basis. How are women supposed to get any justice in this environment? The one way in which Zafar can be held accountable is by reminding him and all the people who continue to associate themselves with him professionally that his work will be boycotted till justice isn’t served. For all those saying, “let’s wait till the verdict is given in court”, why not delay the film till then, give it a fair chance in case Zafar is proven innocent. And if he loses, then all the better reason to delay it so that people know what they’re paying for. Do not forget, Zafar is the producer of TnT so if the film is successful, he’s the one raking in all the money.
The other message that this film’s success will send out is that there are no consequences for sexual harassers. All the other sexual predators who were being cautious following the #MeToo movement in Pakistan, in case their turn is next, will go about their harassing ways as if nothing has happened. Because other than a little bad PR, what’s the worst that can happen if they keep sexually harassing women around them?