Khalil Ur Rehman Qamar's Misogyny: How It Reflects Deeper Problems in the Pakistani Entertainment Industry
Khalil ur Rehman Qamar's recent interview sent shockwaves through social media. Sadaf Haider points out to the deeper problems displayed in the interview
To those shocked by one of Pakistan’s most successful script writers Khalil Ur Rehman Qamar’s latest interview, please don’t be. His ideas, his voice is a dark vein of arrogance combined with an astounding degree of willful ignorance that runs through not just our entertainment industry but the subcontinental culture as a whole. Anyone who has the patience to sit through this interview will notice that straight after making his misogynist comments that say women alone hold the responsibility for keeping marriages intact by a) refusing advances form married men, b) keeping their husbands satisfied so they don’t wander, he moves on to the ultimate refuge of any scoundrel, patriotism.
This is rape culture, and it's a part of Bollywood, part of Pakistani films and dramas too because a large subsection of the subcontinent fight out their ideological battles over the bodies of women.
How Khalil ur Rehman Qamar's Views Have Support in Our Culture:
It would be easy enough to rebut Qamar’s arguments word for word but what is really significant is the amount of support his words have in our culture. Let’s start with why this writer is getting so much attention lately: his media appearances are all to promote a newly released and rather badly made film of his called Kaaf Kangana, from which people are staying away in droves, and his new drama serial Mere Paas Tum Ho.
When I say new it is “new” I am being polite. The serial was apparently a telefilm at one point, and on closer inspection both the plot and characters are very familiar to regular drama watchers. Mere Paas Tum Ho is about an unfaithful, greedy, materialistic woman who leaves her devoted but poor husband for his mega rich friend.
Mere Paas Tum Ho title card, courtesy screengrab
There is absolutely nothing innovative or extraordinary about this done to death story which resurfaces every drama season in some form. Dramas like Zara Yaad Kar, Tou Dil Ka Kiya Huwa by Khalil ur Rehman Qamar are obvious; but this topic is as old as the hills with stories like Mere Khawab Reza Reza, the recent Khasara and even the classic Anch are obvious examples.
Just like men, women can be unfaithful, cruel and materialistic, for most people with an actual moral compass that would mean both the avaricious wife, Mehwish and Shahwar, the man who tempts her into an illicit relationship, are to blame.
However if you listen to actor Adnan Siddiqui, who plays Shahwar, he subtly backed up Khalil Ur Rehman Qamar’s way of thinking in an earlier interview. “Harr mard ki tarha iss admi Shahwar neh bhi chance leeya." (Like everyman Shahwar is on the look out for a chance). So apparently Shahwar is not the villain of the piece but Mehwish is. Siddiqui went further, explaining how surprised he was when on a recent visit to the USA, women came up to him saying how boring their lives were and how fun it would be to have a sophisticated man like Shahwar flirt with them. The idea that the woman Mehwish is a temptress, men have no self-control, and the entire act of adultery is the woman’s responsibility come out loud and clear.
Art Vs Commerce:
The majority of these misogynistic comments are aimed at hyping up a regressively, cliched script like Mere Paas Tum Ho, which is in competition with the much better serial, Alif. Alif has a good script from Umera Ahmad, and star power in the form of Hamza Ali Abbasi and Sajal Aly.
Sajal Aly, Hamza Ali Abbasi and Kubra Khan star in tv show Alif
While Qamar’s motivations are clear, what gives this surge of publicity a curious twist is the fact that both serials come from Humayun Saeed’s production house. Why would an intelligent producer like Humayun Saeed pit two of his shows against each other? One reason might be the rumor that Alif maybe Abbasi’s swan song before leaving the industry and, what a coup if the smaller, weaker production like Mere Paas Tum Ho beats it in the ratings? Even more of a coup if Saeed manages to bag accolades for a role like Danish right in front of Abbasi top notch performance in Alif, while this maybe speculation, the hype and momentum is certainly building.
The Darker Malaise:
Putting commercial considerations to one side, the sentiments that Siddiqui and Qamar have voiced are also part of a darker malaise infecting the entertainment industry. Just look at the way dramas and films from the subcontinent treat rape and sexual violence. Apart from the rare exceptions like Roag and Udaari, without fail stories about rape do not focus on the victim or survivor instead the majority of the script is spent on the reactions of family and male love interest, whether husband or fiancé.
Take, for example the now playing Ruswai, a girl returns after being gang raped, her mental and physical well being are completely ignored while her younger sister cringes in a corner unable to touch her abused sister. Similarly, her brother steps back from her in horror, even her mother is shown taking her own good time to finally embrace and welcome her bruised and battered daughter. Her in laws of course immediately wish the girl had died than come back and her husband refuses to visit her. Meanwhile social media is full of praises over the amazing acting and “reactions” from the cast.
Sana Javed in Ruswai, picture courtesy screengrab
Its almost as if the rape is the victim’s fault or responsibility for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The empathy level for her is zero, and as soon as she returns from her assault , the doors of every relationship in which she was once a valued partner are creaking shut.
Men Are Rarely Held Accountable for Their Actions in Pakistani TV Shows:
This is an endless theme in dramas whether about rape or not, men are depicted as helpless fools, while cunning women manipulate them into affairs, kicking their family and or first wives out. Men are very rarely held accountable for their actions in Pakistani dramas.
In the recent Haiwan (which currently is on repeat on ARY), a man brutally rapes and murders his daughter’s nine-year-old daughter, by the end the rapist escapes any legal punishment, and is left at a mazaar where empathetic people take care of him. In Kankar the violent abusive husband gets a new wife and offers to go to counselling , exposer being his only punishment. While real life perpetrator Shah Hussain languishes in jail, the drama serial based on the Khadija Siddiqui stabbing case, Inkaar, allows the villain to get away with a scolding.
A still from the tv show Inkaar
The empathy in our writers and producer’s hearts for rapists, kidnappers and abusive husbands is endless, but the same cannot be said for females who cross the lines of morality. Just look at dramas like Khudparast, Dil Mom Ka Deeya, Khasara and Ishq Tamasha and Ghamand. The male protagonist may find redemption but not the female , despite being equally guilty. Popular culture is often a reflection of societal attitudes and aspirations. Dramas and movies show us the way men are too often absolved of any breach in behavior and it is fast becoming part of our culture. If these claims sound outlandish listen to the way Qamar invokes religion to normalize and add moral authority to his views. The inexperienced young interviewer is giggles and smiles through this entire uncomfortable episode because she has nothing to counter him with.
Self-Control is Possible, Men.
Although religion can be a minefield of interpretations, such claims must be countered at every point because they are damaging our collective morallity and can lead to real life harm.
Qamar asks us to read the passage in the Quran which gives men a slight advantage over women because men are providers or maintainers of women . Firstly, having an advantage also means a higher level of accountability especially before Allah as is mentioned in the Prophet Mohammad’s (Peace Be Upon Him) last sermon. I would also like to encourage Khalil Ur Rehman Qamar, Adnan Siddiqui and Humayun Saeed to read Surah Yusuf, where the man is shown as the one resisting and successfully avoiding temptation even at the cost of imprisonment.
So, there is no Quranic basis for the view that men are wild animals waiting for a chance to rape, we all have it in us to use self-control. These ideas actually have their roots in Darwinism, where a gladiatorial view of nature is emphasized and the idea that males have a deep genetic drive to make sure their DNA survives another generation is paramount. In finality, a plea to drama makers, writers and actors: please do not use incendiary language and sensational statements to promote a piece of entertainment that will be digested and forgotten in a couple of months while your words may seriously affect real people’s lives.