There was a lot that I couldn’t fit into the 7 Din Mohabbat In review, but fret not as we will dive into it in separate posts. Nusair has already gone into his anticipated dirge about sub-plots. Today, let’s talk about Ghazala; the angry female out to destroy masculinity, and men.
Now I love Amna Ilyas. And if there was ever a famous Pakistani woman who could play a badass feminist, it is her. But, Ghazala is not that badass feminist. She is a regurgitation of masculine fears and biases. I want to applaud the attempted intertextuality, but I can’t. Also, I know I said that I wouldn’t go into Ghazala’s alleged activism, but I must.
The Women in 7 Din Mohabbat In
To say that this film cares about empowerment is an understatement. Every one of the umpteen sub-plots is related to societal issues. Forced marriages get not one, but two love triangles. The leading man actually cares about, and cares for the women in his life (mostly). Neeli is a truly crackling leading lady; equal parts endearing and enterprising.
And, it tries, albeit half-heartedly, to present an unabashedly feminist female.
All of this ought to be commended. But Ghazala is ultimately a half-hearted attempt. I don’t want to question the intentions of the writer. But I do wonder what his vision of a women’s rights activist is.
In Ghazala, we get someone who tosses hunting knives at statues of men. Someone who welds metal, just because. Someone who is more upset about Tipu dumping her, than the fact that he left her to rot in jail. She is also the pioneer of the conveniently stylized ‘gulabi gas’. That is, pink gas that, and I quote, “turns men into women”. Or, convinces men to don drag and speak like a Star Plus parody. (I feel slightly dirty having just typed that).
Now, this movie is very cine-literate. The references are not lost. I mean, hey, I just wrote a book about pop-culture references and cinema, so I don’t not appreciate it. But, intentions and executions have to work in tandem. Not against each other.
Aurat Raaj Remembered
In 1979, the ever elusive Rangeela brought Pakistan its most bizarre attempt at feminist cinema. Aurat Raaj is, arguably, his best film. It is also something that you have to see to believe. Spoiler alert though, because I have to reveal the plot of this classic to make a point.
So, Waheed Murad and Rani are married (please don’t look up the names of their characters. I mean, it is Waheed Murad and Rani. Do you really want to call them by any other name?) Waheed Murad is a capital ass. Rani is a devoted wife. That is until his philandering goes on for too long. Rani then gathers all the women of the country, and they go on a literal man bashing spree. And, give us some of the best physical comedy in film history, as women and men engage in karate chops.
The police intervenes, and convinces the men and women to hold an election. The caveat being that the winning party will rule, and set the rules. The women win, and so begins ‘aurat raaj’, a government of women seeking to overturn the status quo. But hardly content with an electoral victory, Rani sells half the country for a gender role reversing bomb. Yes, you read that right. Once it is detonated, the men turn into sexist female tropes, and the women begin bowling in baritones.
Seemingly, this early film is the source material for a playful little nod to our cinematic tradition. But, if only it were that black and white. For you see, Aurat Raaj was not a simple movie. For three reasons.
Playing Against Type
Firstly, this movie is comedy gold, because of what it let its actors do. Remember, at this point the stars were at the height of their respective cinematic personas. Waheed Murad was the chocolate heartthrob, Rani was the tragic beauty queen, Sultan Rahi was masculinity personified. So, allowing them to slip into the shoes of characters that were their respective opposites was genius.
And, it commented on their presence. It demonstrated their talents, and cemented itself as a self-aware piece of Pakistani cinema.
‘Main Sultan Rahi say Saira Bano kaisay ban gaya?’ is the funniest sentence I didn’t know I needed to hear.
And Waheed Murad performing on ‘Akhri Geet’ as Rani looks on is meta-cinema before meta-cinema was a thought. (‘Akhri Geet’ from Umrao Jan Ada is still one of Rani’s most iconic dance performances).
Putting Sexism On Blast
Despite its subject matter, the film doesn’t use sexism as a gimmick. In fact, it uses comedy to call out the sexism, both in Pakistani society and Pakistani film. Once the gender roles are subverted, the film treats its men as most Pakistani films at the time treated women. Consider this would-be item number, where Sultan Rahi is subjected to the infamous close-up shots of his hips.
And yes, these are still a thing. But, by inverting the object-subject relationship, where Mr. Rahi is performing for Rani, it forces you to consider the inherent ridiculousness. The role reversal serves a purpose.
One that is hammered in even further during the movie’s most no-holds-barred sequences. Using rape scenes, and attempted rape scenes, as a mode of excitement was unfortunately rampant at this time. And rather than turning away from this trope, this film dives in. These scenes are decidedly and deliberately uncomfortable. And showcase how violence against women was often used as a McGuffin.
Also, while the gimmick is that these men have now ‘turned into women’, the film is also quick to call itself out. While the newly effeminate men quiver and hide, the women, prior to the role reversal, do the exact opposite. They are intelligent to the point of deviance. When the men refuse to vote for them, for example, they actually put on a dance performance to seduce them. Essentially, using whatever they can to get what they want.
They are also rather formidable. I have already mentioned the karate chops, but the ending also adds to this. Even when the bomb’s effects have been reversed, Rani still picks up a rifle and takes down tons of baddies.
In a way, the movie is saying that this fearsome bomb turns men into their own expectations of women. Rather than what women really are. Yes, it gave us a subtle ‘expectation versus reality’. Do you see why I love it so much?
The Perfect End
And perhaps most importantly, Aurat Raaj ties up all its loose ends. 7 Din Mohabbat In, as Nusair elaborated in his article, doesn’t.
When the film ends, it cements the role reversal angle as a masculine nightmare, rather than a feminine desire. Turns out, spoiler again, that Waheed Murad had dreamt up the whole thing. The bomb that reduces men to their own biases isn’t real. And, he has a shot at being a, semi-decent, husband after all.
What is interesting here is that the film also begins with a nightmare. In that dream, Rani is subjected to humiliation. As, despite being a loyal companion, she isn’t fancy enough for him. What the film seems to be saying is that the woman wants respect, while the man fears that she wants his throne. Perhaps underhandedly, it seems to be suggesting that the patriarchal system is entirely flawed. So, women don’t want to replace them, but challenge the very insistence on a hierarchy.
I will let you decide whether this is your personal goal. But you have to admit that it adds another dimension to the ‘men versus women’ trope. And, it gives this incredibly complex film a suitably complex ending.
What Exactly Are We Saying?
In contrast, 7 Din Mohabbat In has none of this nuance. Here, the weapon of male destruction is in fact, a gimmick. It has no context, and operates as a convenient plot device. What’s more, it adds to the many problems encompassing Ghazala’s character. When she uses the gas to stop Neeli’s forced marriage is the only time that she actually helps another woman. And no, the hackneyed parody of a self-defence class does not count.
Also, this is the only point in the movie where she actually acknowledges a wider societal issue. The only time when her activism does not equal to, ‘hey, by the way; boys are stupid. And oh yeah, aurat raaj…”
Perhaps most importantly, when all the context is removed, the weaponized femininity itself becomes a problem. Films are not reality, I accept. Nor do they have a responsibility to do anything, I accept this too. But, films rely on imagery and insinuation. Hence, the minutia matters. So, when your defence against a man is ‘turning him into a woman’ what exactly are you insinuating?