Certain aspects of Maalik do aim to unsettle, or perhaps unseat
There are several things wrong with the banning of Ashir Azeem’s film ‘Maalik’ and the furore surrounding it. The film clearly bears a message (that its authorship has several question marks surrounding it is another matter, but we can come to that later). Maalik is a film dealing with the subject of corruption; it also portrays a fictitious and corrupt chief minister (coincidentally enough, of Sindh). Predictably, none of this appears to have gone down well with a government that provided the inspiration for the movie: a government that has many forces bearing on it and which is beset by controversy.
The details of the ban are confusing. ‘Maalik’ was apparently cleared for viewing by the censor board and has been across the country since the 8th of April this year, but the film’s message was perceived as threatening by the federal government, which decided to ban it via the Ministry of Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage – in spite of the censor board’s clearance. They cited various reasons for their decision: that various aspects of the film would incite unrest; that it portrayed the police, the government, and certain ethnic groups in a negative light and a biased manner.
Whatever its reasons, the federal government’s action smacks of ‘chor ki dari main tinka’ (a guilty conscience), and exposes the readiness of the various components of the State to resort to overbearing tactics, ironically bearing out the movie’s message. That certain aspects of the movie do aim to unsettle, or perhaps unseat, is another matter altogether.
Banning things invariably rebounds upon the ones who ban them, it rarely achieves anything else, but it is a lesson we have still to learn. Remember the ‘Satanic Verses’ which became a best seller not because of its literary merit but because it was banned? Almost every Pakistani heard of the book then, and a few even read it. Customs officials were known to pounce with triumphant yelps upon copies of the bestseller in travellers’ luggage ignoring genuinely threatening material.
Following the ban on Maalik, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government jumped into the fray announcing that it would be willing to screen the movie in the KP. The KP Information Adviser Mushtaq Ghani declared sanctimoniously that since the theme of the movie was corruption and the government in KP was against corruption it believed the film ought to be screened.
Yes, Mr Ghani and PTI, we hear you saying you’re against corruption which is presumably meant to convey that your government – unlike the rest – is not corrupt. We also heard you’re willing to screen a movie that has been banned by the federal government, however questionable that ban may be. You are therefore attempting to right one wrong by committing another yourself. It is something your party chief appears to do often – which is surprising for a sportsperson – what with his repeated threats to ‘come out on the streets’, a threat that smacks of Donald Trump who has threatened riots if he doesn’t win the GOP nomination. It is a similarity many people have noticed, since over the years Imran has threatened to take to the streets and riot for various reasons: if the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) did not answer his questions, if the PM did not resign, if the government did not accede to his five point demands, etc.
There are lessons to be learned from this small incident. Institutions are formed in the hope that they may thrive and be allowed to do so. If they are constantly overridden by an overbearing government, or by politicians and other officials careless of their remit, no institution will ever get off the ground. If therefore the censor board allows a movie to be screened it is in the best interests of a government to go along with it, never mind what the movie contains. If a politician feels that the government is not cooperating with him he is advised to find and use constitutional means to get the government to cooperate. If the military feels it does not see eye to eye with the civilian government on certain matters it would be advised to remember that constitutionally it…and its intelligence agencies…are subservient to the government, and are answerable to it, not the other way around. The armed forces and their related agencies cannot subvert the civilian government and attempts to do so may be viewed as treason – constitutionally.
If the civilian government subverts the country it is meant to serve, it would be wise to remember that the public is not completely foolish, appearances notwithstanding. Unlike a movie the public cannot be banned. A government on the other hand may be removed constitutionally.