A common Pakistani’s response to Happy Bhag Jayegi director’s open letter

This narrative sells in India. You want to assume the worst about us. It makes you feel better about yourselves.

Yasser Latif Hamdani August 27, 2016
Mr Mudassir Aziz,

Proud Indian,

Director of Happy Bhag Jayegi.

Dear Mr Mudassir Aziz,

I just read your open letter to Pakistan on The Quint regarding the unfortunate ban on your film Happy Bhag Jayegi in Pakistan. I am not the person in charge but merely a common Pakistani, for whose benefit you want to get the film unbanned.

Let me say at the outset, that having successfully fought against the YouTube ban as a lawyer in the Lahore High Court, I am absolutely opposed to censorship of any kind. I believe any speech, no matter how offensive, should be allowed unconditionally.

I recognise that this position has often put me at odds with “whoever is in charge” in Pakistan.  Therefore I am on your side on this. Your film should not have been banned.

I believe this for two reasons.

One is the principle that I uphold as aforesaid. Secondly I believe, to quote Mr Jinnah, who you attempted to subtly belittle in the film, no power on earth can undo Pakistan, let alone a low budget comedy which has probably benefitted more from this ban than had it been allowed to run freely in Pakistan’s cinemas.

What I thought was extraordinary though, is the language you used in your open letter. I can quite understand that you were upset but I think there was more to your indignant letter than any real hurt at losing business in Pakistan. You were grandstanding, once again attempting to do what you did with your film: prove that India is right and Pakistan is wrong, India is great and Pakistan is not, India is heaven and Pakistan is hell.

This narrative sells in India, we all know that. You want to assume the worst about us. It makes you feel better about yourselves. Therefore, Pakistan must be hell on earth, because without it, India cannot be the land of milk and honey not to mention unfettered freedoms, including freedom of speech and expression.

Now I think that is quite rich coming from a country that banned India’s daughter and routinely bans films and books for the most inane reasons imaginable. Not to mention what your country recently did in the occupied territory of Kashmir, depriving an entire population of mobile internet because it feared the use of technology in the freedom movement there.

I think you, as an Indian, are quite familiar with the state of freedom of speech and expression in your country and I certainly do not wish to rub it in like you did in your letter. But have you seen the list of films and books banned by your India? It is a long and daunting list.

Your letter made me look at it and I am frankly not sure where to start. Neel Akasher Neechay was banned all the way back in 1959 because of “overt political overtones.” Gokul Shankar was banned for exploring the psychological motivations of Gandhi’s murder. Garam Hawa was banned because it depicted the plight of a Muslim family during partition. Aandhi and Kissa Kursi Ka were banned for being critical of the Congress Party. In 1984 Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was banned by India because it showed Indians eating monkey brains.

The list goes on and becomes more ridiculous with every passing year. Do you remember what happened to Deepa Mehta’s Water? It dared to expose the misogyny rampant in your culture. It was banned. And of course the banning of India’s daughter takes the cake. It seems that India hates being shown the mirror, even when it is about a rape victim who lost her life in those most tragic of circumstances. There are hundreds of films banned by India but I think I have made the point.

Suffice to say if a Pakistani film denigrated Gandhi and venerated Jinnah at his expense, it would not pass the censors in India either. What happened with Jaswant Singh’s book Jinnah, India, Independence, Partition in many parts of India is not that far back in the past. For the record, India has banned more books critical of Gandhi than Pakistan has banned books critical of Jinnah. So it would be too much to expect that a Pakistani film insulting Gandhi would see the light of day in your country.

Your film did not deserve to be banned but it does not mean it is not offensive. I wonder, as a common Pakistani whose sensibilities you wish to appeal to, why you were driven to include deliberately offensive scenes in a film which otherwise seems to be a light hearted comedy? Are you trying to perhaps give us your version of what an acceptable Pakistani to you might be? One who salutes Gandhi and insults Jinnah? One who is devoid of any self-respect as a Pakistani? One who accepts the Indian point of view on all things including, and this is directly from your film, Kashmir?

Pakistan has many faults. I will not pretend to deny them. These faults we want to rectify. Yes Pakistan has not always upheld freedom of expression and speech, and yes whoever is in charge on many occasions acts like an insecure and overhearing parent.

However, your letter and the condescending manner in which you addressed it to Pakistani authorities is equally unacceptable to me as a common Pakistani. Excuse me but how dare you address them in my name?

If you were so concerned, as you profess, about presenting Pakistanis in a positive light, could you not have done it without those scenes which are likely to offend most, though not all, Pakistanis? Or are only those Pakistanis worth your friendships who agree with your point of view on partition, India and Pakistan, Gandhi and Jinnah? Of course there are those who would agree with you because Pakistan is a diverse country with a multitude of views on history and politics, but then there are those like me who disagree with you.

Can we not be friends because I disagree with you?

I will end this with another quote from Mr Jinnah,
“I am not speaking as a Musalman but as an Indian. We are all sons of land. We have to live together. We have to work together and whatever our differences may be, let us at any rate agree to differ, but let us part as friends.”

Yours sincerely,

Yasser Latif Hamdani

A common Pakistani not afflicted with the certitude of being unquestioningly proud.

Lawyer, activist, and the one who called your bluff.
Yasser Latif Hamdani The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Mr Jinnah: Myth and Reality. He tweets as @theRealYLH (https://twitter.com/therealylh)
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

Facebook Conversations


Sunny | 2 years ago | Reply | Recommend It’s a good article but the author doesn’t say whether he watched the movie and if so how if the movie is banned in Pakistan. I just watched the movie. I believe we South Asians are unable to take us bit lightly and laugh at a good movie. It was so nice to see Abhay Deol as Bilal Ahmed and Momal SheIkh as Joya opposite him. References to Jinna and Gandhi and Kashmir....cool it guys. There are more things to do in life.
Charmdiganta | 2 years ago | Reply | Recommend Its the high time to move from our old political game plan and to release ourselves towards developing countries. Yes, old political game plan, so called religious leaders are running their businesses to create tensions and all. I have just one question, are indian and pakistan's common peoples benefitted from them. Think all practically , long live people of both countries.
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