Why is Pakistan afraid of happy women?

Why is Pakistan afraid of happy women?

While the stoically suffering woman is embraced, the happy woman can’t even get a foot in the door.
Updated 08 Jun, 2018

Almost ten years ago, in a remarkable speech, Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talked about the danger of the single story.

Tell a single story about a group of people again and again, she warned, and that is what they will be reduced to.

Show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.

In Pakistan’s popular culture, consisting of its television dramas, its own films and the films from across the border it deems acceptable enough to be screened, there is a single story told about women over and over again:

It is the story of the suffering woman, the woman who has myriad injustices done to her but who nonetheless — and this is the important part — continues to suffer silently, stoically, patiently, with utter resignation and without any fight.

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This is the story of women that Pakistan is happy to accept. Narratives that challenge this story are met with resistance — consider Mahira Khan’s Verna, which follows this narrative of the suffering woman, but then flips it by having her take charge and fight back, and which was, therefore, initially banned in the country and only released after much fervour.

But as the recent Central Board of Film Censors ban of Bollywood film Veere Di Wedding shows, narratives that tell an entirely different story about women are deemed completely unacceptable and are rejected outright:

A story in which women party and dance with their friends, a story in which women have fun and celebrate in each other’s company, in which women are joyous and happy.

While the stoically suffering woman is embraced, the happy woman can’t even get a foot in the door.

There are other stories about women that Pakistan also rejects. The story of women who bleed, for example.

Earlier this year, the same censor board also banned Pad Man, the Akshay Kumar-starrer biopic about an Indian man who became a pioneer of menstrual health when he devised a low-cost way producing sanitary pads.

Apparently, the censor board members couldn’t even bring themselves to watch the film before refusing to issue a clearance certificate for it.

“We cannot allow a film whose name, subject and story are not acceptable yet in our society,” a board member told reporters, because even though the vast majority of Pakistani women bleed, the single story of the suffering woman does not allow room for women to bleed unless it is from a wound inflicted on them.

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As a point of contrast, at around the same time of the ban on Pad Man, Bollywood epic Padmavaat, with its scene of a large group of women stoically walking into a large fire to commit mass suicide to a score of dramatic music, was deemed completely acceptable for Pakistan and was screened in theatres across the country.

The single story of the suffering woman is not pernicious and damaging because it is untrue. Far from it:

Women suffer everyday in Pakistan, from everything from domestic abuse to lack of access to health facilities, from rape to illiteracy to harassment in the workplace and on the roads.

No, the danger of the single story, as Adichie explains, is not that it is untrue, but that it is incomplete. Of course women suffer — far too much than is comprehensible, and far too often with no justice, restitution or respite.

And art that sheds a light on the different ways in which society causes pain and trauma to women is something to be lauded.

The mini-series Akhri Station released earlier this year, for example, was celebrated for articulating the different forms of oppression of Pakistani women thoughtfully and carefully.

But to only show suffering women, and only in one way, in a way that romanticises their hurt and glorifies their pain, over and over again, across TV channels and cinema screens, to the score to maudlin and melancholy music and close-ups of tear-stricken faces, is to make suffering their only story, the only possible outcome of a woman’s life, in the popular imagination.

This is why banning a film like Veere Di Wedding is a mistake. It is a light-hearted film with a simple premise, one that has been done before by Bollywood countless times, and which is therefore not particularly revolutionary on its own:

A group of rich, beautiful childhood friends gather together when one of them is about to get married, and then shenanigans ensue (think Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara from a few years ago).

The only thing revolutionary about it is that, for the first time in Bollywood history, the group of friends is all women, as opposed to all men.

A mainstream, glitzy Bollywood film about a group of female friends, hanging out and talking to each other, should not be such a momentous occasion in South Asian cinematic history, and yet here we are.

From the film’s trailer as well as from its reviews across the border, the film certainly has its flaws. It seems to be a little frivolous, a little heavy on the mindless entertainment, a little too focused on the ultra-rich and ultra-beautiful. But so what?

Lord knows we have enough frivolous, mindless films about men and their adventures (and those films all seem to come with a heavy dose of misogyny and toxic masculinity baked right in).

What makes Veere Di Wedding — and other films like it — important is the contrast they provide to the suffering woman story.

Despite what may be a superficial, glamorous veneer, this is still a film about women living their lives, having their own fears and desires, having fraught but fulfilling friendships with one another.

It is still a film about women letting loose and talking to each other about their conflicted and complicated feelings about love, marriage and, and yes, sex.

The only people for whom the idea of women talking to each other about sex is outrageous are people who are not women.

Here is a film in which no woman gets raped or beaten up or forced into child marriage. Instead, it is a film where women have fun in each other’s company, tell dirty jokes to each other and laugh, where their clashing opinions about romance and men and careers and ambition are all hashed out.

In short, it is a film in which women are happy and joyous and celebratory. And in a sea of suffering women stories, happy women stories should not only be allowed but are in fact quite necessary in presenting a fuller, deeper picture of women and their lives.

When suffering is the default role given to women, women’s joy and depictions of this joy, has its own kind of power.

Having lots of different kinds of stories about women, stories that contradict each other, stories that add depth and nuance and contrast to each other, is a requirement in the much-needed process of recognising women in the fullness of their humanity.

Are you an artist and have had to face censorship? Share your experience with us at


byju Jun 08, 2018 03:22pm
the profanity in the film was very much on the higher side. those could have been avoided. could be the main reason it was banned in pakistan
Dipak Singham Jun 08, 2018 04:13pm
Very goods written... Thumbs Up.
Surya Kant Jun 08, 2018 04:49pm
This film Veere Di Wedding should be screened for all women show in Pakistan. This will give them a taste of freedom.
Jacob Jun 08, 2018 06:08pm
@byju Agree. But why PAD MAN banned? It is not just a matter of profanity.
Hassan Jun 08, 2018 06:15pm
Are you kidding me?
Imtiaz Ahmad Jun 08, 2018 06:33pm
Pakistan is not afraid of happy women on this film. But it doesn't reflect our culture, period.
Hamid Jun 08, 2018 06:59pm
Freedom on the behalf of our cultural and religious values. Think about it.
Sandip Jun 08, 2018 08:22pm
I can somehow understand Verre Di wedding banned in Pakistan. But what is the case with Padman? This is insane. Even in India there are some movies which are banned due to some weird reasons. Well the problem is with mindset of Censor Board. How a group of 5-6 decide whether a movie is acceptable or not. It is form of Art, let it be free. People will definitely not watch a movie if they don't like it, simple.
riz1 Jun 08, 2018 09:54pm
@Jacob "But why PAD MAN banned? It is not just a matter of profanity" When the decisions get done by sane politicians as compared to the-ones-who-cannot-be-named, we will get back to the normal, great times of the sixties and seventies. It's just a matter of ego and keeping the culture apart and "distinct", as if that is even possible.
Afiah Jun 09, 2018 12:54am
Thank you finally someone raised this question...
Shailesh Jun 09, 2018 01:13am
An article worth pondering but most men would give an immediate judgement as senseless and depicting wrong culture.
Illawarrrior Jun 09, 2018 08:38am
@Imtiaz Ahmad A film does not have to reflect your culture to be enjoyable. Take almost any Sci Fi movie, eg the Star Wars series- they aren't even set on this planet, yet have been enjoyed by hundreds of millions around the world.
Ram Jun 09, 2018 10:45am
Nice Article, thanks Nudrat ji for this. However I would like to read the title as 'Why we (people of Indian sub Continent) afraid of happy women'? Though the movie is released in India yet the mindset of our society is not much of different than Pakistan. @ Imtiaz do you really have different culture ?? What is that ???
Huma Jun 09, 2018 10:49am
well written.
Byju Jun 09, 2018 10:53am
@Jacob Banning Padman in Pakistan was certainly not correct. But the profanity in veere de wedding was not needed at all. It's very embarrassing to watch the movie with family.
Naveed Al Murtaza Jun 09, 2018 11:21am
Thumbs up for your judgment and narration Nudrat Kamal
Reader Jun 09, 2018 11:44am
Put a 'proper' rating on the movie and let adults / couples watch it. It is a good fun movie (with a bit of a message). Not sure why Padman was not allowed to screen; very unfortunate.
Roy Jun 09, 2018 12:48pm
Frankly, I did not like the title of this article.
Ayesha Jun 09, 2018 04:14pm
What a bliss would it have been if the worthy cast would’ve done something valuable without being vulgar. Breaking up relationships, if pointlessly, shouldn’t be mixed with women empowerment. But yeah, if they were building some business, creating some impact in the society and helping people fix their relationship problems - that would definitely be a depiction of sensible empowered women. Society is already affected by the filth of vulgarity spread across the young men, now we shouldn’t be preaching women to follow the same lines. If the movie is banned cuz of vulgarity, it’s a very right move. ✌
Sarah Jun 09, 2018 05:09pm
The movie has lots of unnecessary profinity. I guess that’s the reason for the ban. Other similar flicks such as Delhi Belly was banned for the same reason. To say that it was banned because Pakistan is afraid of happy women is frankly misleading
Khan Jun 09, 2018 07:01pm
Please ban all Indian movies in Pakistan . Then there would be no question as why we banned this movie and not this movie . Indians are over anxious about the money that comes from our pockets!
A. Jun 10, 2018 04:03am
This comment goes as a huge THANK YOU to the writer. You have done an amazing job with words that, I hope will resonate with more people than you or I could expect!
Bipul Jun 10, 2018 12:31pm
@Ayesha Ok ma’am. Now please justify padman ban.
SHasan Jun 10, 2018 01:00pm
I happened to watch this movie in Cinemas in Singapore, and i dint find anything vulgar in it that couldn't have been avoided. The profanity people are talking about, can be easily reduced to one scene only which could have been very well censored/edited. The language that has been used is very commonly used among all sexes within their friends , and the movie could have been released with an Adult rating. The problem is the hypocrisy of our society where each n everyone will now watch the movie in their homes using pirated prints, but on their face they will become the champions of the so called torn culture that they have ruined themselves.
Gagan Jun 10, 2018 04:38pm
@Ayesha what are your views on why PADMAN was banned??
Saurabh Khanna Jun 10, 2018 07:20pm
As an Indian I just wished this movie was banned in India as well. Just check the movie's FB page to see 100's of 1 star review (0 stars are not allowed). This movie tries to equate feminism with profanity, binge drinking and loose morals. Also makes fun of culture just to look cool. Or may be it was good it wasn't banned as now people know how stupid th4 movie was!
Shaukat Jun 10, 2018 11:58pm
@Khan , I agree with you, we are Rupee 25 Crore market for this Indian filth which they earn from us, didn't one of the actresses who is in this move visited Pakistan a year or 2 back and said , she has visited America, France, England and Turkey but Pakistan is the BEST and now says "Pakistan is a failed country" one should ask her why she visited Pakistan if she thinks Pakistan is a failed country? See how hippocrate she is when it comes to hurt her pocket.
ang Jun 11, 2018 08:50am
Pakistanis don't like to watch any movie or song Now a days in this country all the entertainment is provided by the news channels
Faisal Rao Jun 11, 2018 11:05am
What an awesome article, great choice of subject. A happy woman is the answer to zillion of problems. A bold, confident , supportive , empowered , educated happy woman is the key to success. Must follow through.
kabeelakhan Jun 11, 2018 11:49am
@Surya Kant Listening women uttering extremely vulgar words will give them taste of freedom , what freedom are we talking about?
Zafar Jun 11, 2018 02:07pm
Its same as gangster fearing loss of fear in people for them
Veena.B.Pillai Jun 11, 2018 11:40pm
Happy women are scary only to misogynistic societies which includes the society to which I belong to. Iam an Indian . My society ,it is my felt reality, is certainly a far cry from a feminist one. I have always been up against gender bias almost every day.These societies remind me of Le Casa De Bernard Alba. But Bollywood films about 'Big Fat Weddings 'are not a perfect examples of feminist societies. I find Bollywood films based on weddings really annoying. I come from a place where weddings are really a few hours affair. People don't waste days on preparing to live together and fight under the same roof with each other. I would recommend the Pakistani film 'Do Bara Phir Se' directed by my favourite director Mehreen Jabbar as an argument that would soften the claim that this article makes.DBPS film portrays a wedding, broken hearts finding love , a sensitive and contemporary liberal romantic theme and above all ,it presents a modern mother -in -law who encourages her ex daughter-in law to find happiness in a second marriage. I am waiting for Bollywood to come up with a fantastic and touching theme as DBPS portrays.Going overboard and behaving in an ill mannered way ,drinking ,using foul language is certainly not recommended way to assert feminism. Art has a deep influence on culture.
WesternEast Jun 12, 2018 08:56am
I do have the same observation about Pakistani culture, even common people don't like happy women or joyful ladies. All women have to be dead serious through out their married lives. In case a girl seems happy after getting married she's considered uncultured in society. Moreover the groom's family start to disrespect her due to her joyous nature. On the other hand if a daughter-in-law is pathetically bore or depressed she would be treated as a heroic character. What a pity!
Dilawar Jun 12, 2018 11:04am
Pakistani society is a sadistic society
ABC Jun 12, 2018 02:10pm
This is due to women themselves. They portray themselves as "mazloom" everywhere and beg for favors
Saint Mercury Jun 12, 2018 09:20pm
Pakistani men can't stand an independent woman. They are bread to think that women are second class citizen and not as intelligent as a man. Till that mantra changes, nothing will change. Women will continue to suffer.
Raj Patel Jun 12, 2018 09:24pm
@Imtiaz Ahmad What is your so called culture ?? Do you even know what culture mean to ?
Aly Ercelawn Jun 13, 2018 12:06am
Liked it, Nudrat!
schali Jun 13, 2018 12:31am
@kabeelakhan Freedom to think and express what is in their minds, without any fear of backlash!
Observer Jun 13, 2018 04:08pm
Most of the males are insecure and hence don't want to treat women on equal footing or allow them to be happy unless they make them happy!
YOURSTRULY Jun 13, 2018 04:22pm
I am certainly upset that whereas I lost Rs. 1,000 (ticket for two plus popcorns) watching VDW, the Pakistanis were saved of that money. The movie is substandard - the profanity and "awe factor" will save it the blues at the box office.