I was coerced into watching Khuda Kay Liye back in 2008, a year after its release by one of my friends. “It’s a brilliant movie,” she had said. “I’m telling you… this is the revival of the Pakistani film industry.” Needless to say, I was practically glued to the television screen for the next three hours or so. It was, as my friend had said, brilliant.
Shaan Shahid, the protagonist, wasn’t running around in fields bearing a gandassa for once. He played a Pakistani in America, facing the very real challenges almost all immigrants have had to face after 9/11.
Shoaib Mansoor was the brains behind this stellar watch. After Khuda Kay Liye, I anxiously waited three long years for his next directorial, Bol. The Humaima Malick-starrer, like Khuda Kay Liye, tacked topics like honour killing, financial difficulties, chauvinism and transgenderism and went on to become one of the highest grossing Pakistani movies of all time.
Now, after a six year gap, Masoor is finally back with Verna, a dream project starring none other than Mahira Khan. Like the rest of his work, Verna also covers social issues and that too, very pertinent ones.
For instance, it is the story of a girl who is raped by someone in power and how she refuses to play the victim and fights back for justice. With such an intriguing storyline, a stellar trailer and Khan’s star power working in its favour, Verna has probably been one of the most anticipated projects ever until one fine day last week, when the local censor boards decided to ban it over “indecent content.”
And that left me baffled. Literally all of Pakistan has been excited for the upcoming film but it had been held back. But why?
Verna’s Lahore premiere was cancelled earlier this week due to non-issuance of the censor board certificate. A statement provided by a senior board member of the Islamabad Film and Censor Board read, “There are many reasons as to why the objections have ascended. Firstly, it shows a governor’s son involved in a rape case – which was the biggest objection. Secondly, it includes many bold dialogues and scenes. The general plot of the movie revolves around rape, which we consider to be unacceptable.”
Here’s why I find that problematic. The board decided to review the movie for the second time and now, it has fortunately been cleared for release in Sindh and the Federal Capital. But it still awaits the final verdict for screening in Punjab.
My question is, when the male protagonist in Syed Noor’s Chain Aye Naa slapped his female love interest not once, but thrice, no one said anything. Similarly, when Humayun Saeed’s Fawad Kagga slapped his wife in Punjab Nahi Jaungi, the censor board was apparently okay with it. If violence against women is “unacceptable” to the board, why were these two films given the green light? Couldn’t the two scenes depicting the violence have been cut, at least?
It just makes me wonder why Verna, which portrays women in a strong light, has deemed indecent due to the nature of its content? Is rape not an ‘unacceptable” enough for us to talk about?
One cannot deny that social media has played a vital part in highlighting this double standard. Twitter was livid after the censor board’s decision to ban the movie and many, like me, have come forward to oppose the decision.
Khan’s Sadqay Tumhare co-star, Adnan Malik also voiced his concern. “What a shame when it comes to discussing real issues, censor board has no teeth. Rape is real, misogyny is real, power corrupts
#Verna.” he said.
“Jes Mulk Mai Ek Movie Ban Hujai Kyun Kay Wo Elite Ruling Class Ko Expose Karay, Us Mulk Mai Insaaf Kahan Milta Huga? (A country where a movie exposing the elite is banned, how would you expect justice to be prevailed?)
#Verna @TheMahiraKhan” questioned one Twitter user.
Khan, on the other hand, has remained hopeful that justice will prevail. “May the power of the voices of the people be stronger than a few in positions of power.
#verna,” she wrote. That, ladies and gentleman, to me is the power of the internet.
Of course, there were some who called the ban a publicity stunt. To them, Verna’s male protagonist, Haroon Shahid wrote, “For those who believe this ‘ban’ saga is a publicity stunt, you must realise that no director or actor would want a single frame to be cut out from his/her work. Please think beyond these senseless conspiracy theories! #ThinkBeforeYouTweet #Verna”
The latest on the ban is that Verna has finally been cleared for screening in Sindh and Islamabad starting November 17. “Today is a very big day for our film industry
#verna #releasing #today Best of luck @fifiharoon @TheMahiraKhan,” wrote a fan.
Another one said, “So
#Verna is releasing after all? Congrats Pakistan. Shoaib Mansoor is a world class director. More power!”
Khan also expressed her gratitude and thanked everyone for their support. “Thank you to all those who supported
#verna – the people, the media, those at the censor board.. thank you so much! Hoping for Punjab to clear Verna today as well.”
Speaking of social media, the first reviews of the film have already started to come in. Music journalist, Fifi Haroon wrote:
BBC journalist, Haroon Shahid said:
Another journalist, Umair Sandhu wasn’t impressed at all.
Of course, I have yet to see the film but if nothing else, Verna has certainly made a quite a buzz in the media even before its release. I hope Mansoor saab’s magnum opus gets to see the light of day in Punjab soon as well.
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