Banning ‘Pad Man’

By: Raza Rumi

Pakistan is a hard country for women. Long have the men here preferred to see and not hear them. But now it seems that listening to their stories — even if told by a man — is too much for those sensitive folk at the Punjab Censor Board. The latter, of course, have effectively banned an Indian film focusing on the need for women to have access to hygienic and low-cost sanitary napkins. And they have done so without watching it; meaning that no NOC can be forthcoming. Indeed, the Federal Censor Board has also decided not to issue a release certificate. Though its members are being coy as to whether or not they had a sneaky peek. Film distributors, however, have come under fire for trying to promote films that are “ruining Islamic traditions, history and culture”. And all because of women and their biology. Who now dares say that the latter cannot multitask?

At the heart of this man-made controversy is Bollywood flick Pad Man. And rather than being an Indian conspiracy to see Muslim Pakistan come undone — it is based upon a true story. That of a poor college drop-out from South India who developed a machine to manufacture low-cost but environmentally friendly sanitary pads. He is said to have happened upon the idea when he realised that his wife was resorting to dirty rags since that was all they could afford. The film opened in India over the weekend and initial reports suggest that audiences were receptive of the subject matter. It might also have helped that a Bollywood heartthrob (for some) was cast as the protagonist.

And this is where India has us beat. Its film industry — not in terms of capacity — but in terms of subject matters that it is willing to tackle; albeit it with a customary dose of its own version of tinsel town sparkle. That being said, Bollywood has over the years tackled ‘taboos’ such as out-of-wedlock pregnancy, homosexuality and most poignantly child sex abuse amid political cover-ups. Yet even here, it has taken the world’s largest democracy until 2018 to tackle women’s biology. But at least they got there.

We are not suggesting that Pakistan’s film industry can compete on equal footing with that of its eastern neighbour; especially given that the latter is far more lucrative than even Hollywood in terms of turnover and profit. But where this country can come into its own is with its television dramas. These, after all, are known for taking sensitive subjects out of the closet and into peoples’ living rooms. Indeed, many shows consult women’s rights activists or family lawyers at the scriptwriting stage when particular episodes are set to address delicate topics.

This is more imperative than ever before as the horror of the Zainab rape-murder slowly begins to fade from the national consciousness. And, in fact, the sheer chutzpah on the part of the Punjab Censor Board doesn’t sit well with the provincial government’s plans to publish a booklet on sexual child abuse and have it distributed in schools everywhere. We therefore urge the political set-up to take a look at its left hand. For it clearly doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.