Pakistani film industry, like majority of its counterparts in the rest of the world, is a pretty misogynistic industry. Movies have historically been made for men, by men and with a male gaze. Certainly a conservative society like ours doesn’t exactly come to mind when one thinks of progressive cinema. However, you’d be surprised to learn that some filmmakers have gone in the opposite direction and actually made cinema that encouraged strong female roles, consistently.
Pakistani film ‘Aurat Raj‘, which hit the theaters in 1979 is one such example of a movie that champions strong female roles
‘Aurat Raj‘ that literally translates into “Women Rule” tackled issues relating to sexism in the society, in the most comedic fashion.
The movie was produced and directed by the renowned comic Rangeela.
By self-parodying the norms of desi films at the time, the movie conveys a really powerful message. ‘Aurat Raj‘ starts off with Rangeela himself sort of breaking the fourth wall and introducing the audience to the members of the production crew. Referring to them as family members, each of them is being played by Rangeela himself. A pretty unique way to start the film, if you ask me.
The film revolves around two characters played by Rani and Waheed Murad, both of whom were two of the biggest stars of their time
Rani is introduced as the archetypal submissive wife, always willing to give her sleazebag of a husband another chance. The husband being non-other than Mr. Chocolate himself, Waheed Murad.
So Waheed’s character is the most despicable human being you can imagine. He’s always drunk, for starters. He’s rude and bitter to his wife and kids. And, of course, he cheats on his wife regularly and brings random women into his home in front of his wife. At one point he even introduces his wife as a maid to one of the women he brings home.
Seeing the trash behavior of her husband, the wife takes it upon her to fight for herself, literally
Things escalate to the point that Rani’s character gives Waheed Murad’s character a beating, Karate style and kicks her out of the house.
By her “brave” actions, she riles up angry women across the nation against men who have wronged them. Women of all ages and backgrounds are seen taking patriarchy head on. In retaliation, the menfolk stand up and actual armed clashes begin. Violence increases to the point that an election is called between the genders to settle the score.
In a twist of fate, the women’s party wins and thus ‘Aurat Raj‘ begins in Pakistan
Now the roles have been completely reversed in society. Rani who is now a leader of the country has turned into a megalomaniac. She detonates a mysterious bomb as a result of which gender roles in society are completely reversed for better and for worse. Now you see men like Waheed Murad and Sultan Rahi, the ultimate macho movie hero, dressed in drag and playing the role of damsel in distress.
Meanwhile, the women have become the opposite alphas of the town. Trash talking, smoking cigarettes and whatnot.
The film is very much ahead of it’s time both in terms of idea and treatment
The film is a type of satire which, to this day, has been hardly experimented with by modern filmmakers in Pakistan. In a country like Pakistan where the formula of a mainstream film is pretty straightforward, this is something commendable.
Also, it should be noted that this was a time when the wave of religious extremism had just begun with the Afghan War and General Zia taking over the country. A mainstream film talking about women empowerment, that too in such a manner, is truly something. The film was a financial disaster, sadly. But that had less to do with the movie having commercially viable content and more to do with censorship at the time.
Let’s just hope that now we have more inclusive laws so filmmakers can experiment more in terms of content and technique.
Cover image via: Rangeela Productions