Misogyny and sleaze — how JPNA heralds a 'naya' Pakistan

Misogyny and sleaze — how JPNA heralds a 'naya' Pakistan

The women of JPNA are relegated to a footnote in the film designed only to interact with and support their men.
Updated 08 Oct, 2015

Since its release, Jawani Phir Nahi Aani (JPNA) has broken several box office records. Momentarily disengaging from intellectualising; isn’t it nice that a Pakistani film came out, and South Asians from all across the planet are loving it?

Men, women, filmmakers, filmgoers, Lollywood, Bollywood – just positivity all around with just a bit of the usual controversy. It’s just nice to know that can still happen.

Now, with that out of the way, on to the intellectualising bit.

It’s 2015. It’s not unheard of for women to have careers, be the sole breadwinners, stay out all night partying, or choose a one-night stand over commitment.

Before you come at me wielding pitchforks, hear me out.

Pakistanis are one of Bollywood’s largest consumer markets. And what does our mass audience want? Looking at the films from across the border that have done well at our box offices, it seems that Pakistanis are okay with and routinely watch sexually charged rom-coms, laden with onscreen chemistry and item numbers, which Bollywood so notoriously is able to churn out on an annual, grand scale.

So control your pitchforks, fatwas, and moral grandstanding and accept that films like JPNA are the 'naya Pakistan'.

But, if you must, like the average Pakistani consumer, find something to be outraged over, then join me in redirecting your frustrations towards something that is far more subversive and damaging to our film industry than a Lollywood film that is ‘too liberal’.

The only real injustice the creators and cast of JPNA have committed upon us, the audience, is belittling our sensibilities by subjecting us to three hours of the overdone mantra of ‘sex sells’ and an overdrawn film plot premised on misogynistic practices.

I’m not offended because I’m having a kneejerk reaction to sexism and misogyny. I’m offended because that dynamic is so tired.

And, no, you no longer get a cop out with the rundown excuse of ‘this is what audiences expect’ because that is simply and demonstrably untrue.

Women like Aisha Khan, Mehwish Hayat, Sarwat Gillani, Uzma Khan and Sohai Ali are talented forces of nature and powerhouses in their own right

Pigeonholing these women, who act as role models and inspiration for women like me nationwide, into the ‘dressed up in designer wear, dull, dissatisfying and distracted wife’ trope not only second guesses their abilities as talented, veteran actresses of the industry, but unapologetically erodes at an already fragile state of womanhood in a society that remains shamefully patriarchal.

JPNA’s misogyny does not build a narrative. Nor does it make the male cast interesting. It’s just there because it’s so normalised.

This whole ‘guy gets girl, gets bored of girl, has to roam the world with many other girls to remember the good he has in the first girl’ is a pervasive issue, as old as cinema itself.

Also read: Jawani Phir Nahin Aani is a drunk desi uncle on the dance floor

Too often, films rely on a character arc in which the male lead gets to disrespect, disown and demean women yet walk away with both his dignity and romantic relationships intact.

Pretty much every film industry is guilty of this. Think Tony Stark of Ironman fame.

It only took a three-film franchise for Stark to stop womanising (always followed by forgetting the name of aforementioned woman the next morning). Stark’s reward for growing up? The smoking hot, conveniently ever-present, and forever loyal personal assistant.

Girls like me grew up watching Aisha Khan and Sarwat Gillani play strong female characters on screen. Unfortunately, JPNA will not be remembered as one of those moments.

The JPNA female cast had all the ability to dominate the screen in a way that would have been brave and impossible not to care about (i.e. Sarwat Gillani’s ‘Pashto-gun-toting biwi’ role and Aisha Khan’s ‘financially, intellectually confident’ character).

Yet, unfortunately, they all fail the test for one reason or another by failing to be independent characters in their own right; instead, the women of JPNA are relegated to a footnote in the film designed only to interact with and support their men.

Mehwish Hayat and Sohai Ali in JPNA. —Publicity photos
Mehwish Hayat and Sohai Ali in JPNA. —Publicity photos

Initially, the audience hopes the women are going to promote some form of groundbreaking gender performance when the jilted wives show up in Thailand to break up the boys’ boozy, bikini fest.

But, alas, the female cast succumbs to the (surely, male) scriptwriter’s pen.

Sarwat Gillani opts to put her gun down and take back her clueless, philandering husband because, hey, there’s a second kid coming, and how on earth could a woman possibly parent alone, right?

Uzma Khan finally comes to her senses and realises that, oops, of course, it was her fault all along that her husband fled to Bangkok for physical affection in the form of ‘Thai massages’.

Despite initially being portrayed as an independent, modern-day Pakistani living abroad, Mehwish Hayat turns into a wedding-crazed, daddy-issues toting lost cause because of one rather mediocre encounter with Humayun Saeed.

Vasay Chaudhry wrote the script for JPNA. —Publicity photo
Vasay Chaudhry wrote the script for JPNA. —Publicity photo

And perhaps, most appalling of all the female cast’s story arcs is that of Ayesha Khan, whom I had faith in till the very last scene, in which she – the in-control, financially secure, confident leader of the pack – experiences a rare form of courtroom-induced amnesia that leads to her forgiving her cheating, lying husband.

In fact, nearly every woman we come across in JPNA is a prop – either used as a sexual object or depicted as emotionally unhinged.

The whole process is desperately sexist and misogynistic and, ironically, the only female character that does not completely annoy and let down the audience is Sohai Ali’s character whose only role in the film is to satisfy the male cast’s dream of a scantily clad, dumb, rich, and young (very young) selfie-obsessed queen.

Absurdly enough, only she gets a choice at the end. The rest of the women fulfill their prophecies by becoming the worst of cinematic tropes; given to men as rewards for growing the hell up, sending yet another reminder to our already chauvinistic society that they deserve beautiful women as a prize, no matter how flawed they are as long as they are able to succeed in the slightest, most mediocre of accomplishments (i.e. no longer cheating on your wife).

JPNA ends with a Fahad Mustafa cameo hinting at a sequel. Here's a pro tip to the future male cast of JPNA 2, on behalf of Pakistani women everywhere:

We’ll laugh at your admittedly terrific comedy and we’ll even happily watch you partying with Russian women and boozing on-screen – so long as you promise to make the next round of drinks shaken, not stirred, and with a side of gender equality.


bilal Oct 08, 2015 02:56pm
Can't we just take a movie as a movie and stop analysing it from a social perspective.
Rizwan Oct 08, 2015 03:00pm
Nicely penned down.. But, alas, the gender equality in the article succumbs to the (surely, FEmale) writer’s pen. At the end , its a comedy film and not a Public service Message.
Junaid Oct 08, 2015 03:07pm
@bilal That's what I was thinking too. The film's theme, whether we like it or not, did have resonance with a large number of married men and young people. The film's intent was just fun and stress relief I don't see why we should obsess over its social impacts (which at any rate won't be too much).
AJ Oct 08, 2015 03:09pm
The very existence of this review article makes me happy. I dont know if there are any objective markers to identify social trends. But this , right here, is objective evidence for me that we will as a society move in the "enlightened moderation" direction, which was probably the right way to go in the first place. I do lack the extra X chromosome to give my "absolute" support to you lol, but kudos.
Zuhaib Oct 08, 2015 03:20pm
This movie review is self-contradictory, what else you would expect from a chauvinistic, male clad & pseudo-intellect society we live by everyday.? The movie has perfectly exceeded expectations of the audience and they have all come out happy..!!
Apache Oct 08, 2015 03:21pm
heard positive comments about this movie, but they all say it has no story. only comedy. So I will not watch it
Farhan Oct 08, 2015 03:25pm
Agree with Bilal...its just a movie....a comedy movie...and a damn good one.....funniest desi comedy movie till date
SNA Oct 08, 2015 03:25pm
I am sick of seeing all these people in almost every drama and movies.
Zohaib Oct 08, 2015 03:48pm
the movie has hamza abbasi in it, enough reason not to watch it
timetostopthis Oct 08, 2015 04:12pm
Sadly the movie panders to the completely male dominated and male-centric culture in the country instead of trying to change it. There appears to be no cure for the MCP attitudes and mindset of the typically Pakistani male. A movie made by men, for men.
Absano Oct 08, 2015 04:18pm
The song has no tune. Video looks like a bad dream visualised :-( Not eager to watch the movie any more after watching this video. The review is awesome, we need to take further the legacy of our old Pakistani movies which always showed strong women characters. Who should know this better than Mr Nadeem himself? Time is ripe for different cinema, in my opinion, as Indians have done the song and dance rom com formula to death. Bring on a tight knit story to life and let art revive our cinema.
samir Oct 08, 2015 04:28pm
The variety of stories in movies like Moor, Waar, Khuda ke Liye, Na maloom Afraad, Karachi se Lahore define Pakistan... not one movie like JPNA. The writer has missed the point that entertainment does not reflect a society. Otherwise sexually tolerant societies in the west will be most corrupt nations in the world.
Ali Oct 08, 2015 05:19pm
My kids have watched it and they loved it. They ask me to watch it. I am planning to watch it this weekend. Great work guys. Keep it up.
haque khan Oct 08, 2015 05:55pm
So it looks to me that you guys are finally getting out of the mess that you were in since the late 70s.
The Master Oct 08, 2015 06:06pm
First time I've read about "one night stands" in Pk if we promote this kind of western culture then watch out for your 15 year olds who will experiment and be taken advantage of. I'm talking from experiance in the west where 14 ,15 year olds go to clubs and are taken advantage of sexually.
asif iffy Oct 08, 2015 06:18pm
Come on . Just relax. I'm all for the equality nay superiority of women. But this was just a masala movie to entertain you. I'm so happy we can make a movie like JPNA and take on Bollywood at it's own game. Slapstick comedy. Item numbers. Fast action. It had it all. Let us encourage both the men and women who made this movie. Not pull them down. By the way, for the first 20 minutes, my wife thought that this was a Bollywood movie,with Humayun Saeed as the hero. Now that is some compliment!!
Rashid Oct 08, 2015 06:45pm
@Absano This movie is not directed by the veteran artist Nadeem (real name Nazeer Baig). It is directed by Nadeem Baig, who is a famous director of television dramas. Nadeem Baig has directed the famous Baraat Series on Geo Tv
Rafiq Ebrahim Oct 08, 2015 08:24pm
Jawani Phir Nahi Aani is simply a 100% pure entertainment with Pakistani brand of humor, lilting songs and eye-pleasing dances. Script, direction and performances are great. TV stars have amply provided glitter. The movie is far better than any Indian drab comedy. If you are looking for an enjoyable and decent movie, see this movie. You will not be disappointed. I disagree with the reviewer.
Tariq Amir Oct 08, 2015 08:47pm
All I know that I was pleasantly surprised when my friend told me that the house is full and we shall have to change our plan. I felt even a little proud, because I am talking about a cinema not in Lahore or Karachi, but Doha.
Pakistani Oct 08, 2015 09:37pm
@bilal Because Movies do have social impact also.
Hasan ansari Oct 08, 2015 10:06pm
This movie represents the urban culture of Pakistan and this is what we actually are not what the religious fanatics want us to be.
Hasan ansari Oct 08, 2015 10:09pm
@bilal ....exactly.
Adil H Oct 08, 2015 11:32pm
The media industry shapes our values and how we see reality... It is quite unfortunate that movies like JPNA should be tolerated as reflecting the modern Pakistani society as a whole... If we choose to be identified with the worst facets of Western society -- married men enjoying themselves on some beach in the Far East -- we are unconsciously destroying the very fabric of society and our family values... if this is tolerated as normal then we can hope for much worse in the future... Societies that have their families destroyed will produce human beings who are violent, inhumane and insensitive...the choice is ours.
Omer Kayani Oct 08, 2015 11:41pm
Its desi masala mix of Bollywood Housefull and Hollywood Hangover,definitely not a family themed movie.
Raza Oct 08, 2015 11:50pm
@bilal Exactly.
Aussie Oct 09, 2015 05:26am
they are all BLOND????
Hasan Oct 09, 2015 06:12am
Good movie - just one question I have for the writer, why did you include 'Music' from Indian movie such as "Dil Wale Dulhaniya", etc? No need for it. It is a Pakistani movie.
Aussie Oct 09, 2015 07:18am
why are they all blonde??
Ahmad Oct 09, 2015 09:01am
I feminazi that coming .. All hatred aside it was a hilarious movie to watch with my wife on her birthday :)
Skeptic Oct 09, 2015 01:09pm
@Aussie Its called 'blonde envy' Some in Pakistan would like to think they are Europeans or Americans! They suffer from abject insecurity and inferiority complex.
shabbzz Oct 09, 2015 01:10pm
Come on people !!! Its just a movie and pretty good piece of 'pure' entertainment. Atleast we are now producing movies and now Pakistani people are going to cinema to watch Pakistani movies. With new techniques and ideas we have to accept that right now its in 'teething stage' ... Let it mature !!! We cant judge all 'movies' socially. Bollywood/Holywood also makes all type of movies. Some are pure 'entertainment' stuff !!!! We are making movies on diff subjects too. Like Manto etc !!! I watched it last night and thoroughly enjoyed.. It was a good time pass and 'paisa wasool' stuff. What else you need after a hectic work day ??
shabbzz Oct 09, 2015 01:14pm
@Rafiq Ebrahim yes just simple pure entertainment tht one needs after a hectic work day !!!
amd Oct 09, 2015 02:23pm
They will never show a successful ,independent ,economically sound woman (who will be an inspiration to millions of young girls and young women in society).Instead they will always show a woman who is at fault(?),which fault only God knows,and who will apologize to a man whose feelings(which feelings only God knows) they have hurt.So the woman has to bend on her knees (as if she has murdered somebody )and say sorry to a peety narrow minded male person
Juni Oct 09, 2015 06:58pm
Calling Ayesha Khan a powerhouse is a completely false statement. Luckily for the movie, she was nothing more than a guest appearance. Her acting is substandard at the most.
HUMA Oct 11, 2015 03:55pm
I know!! Even watching Karachi se Lahore was so much pain for me!