Pashto films are destroying Pashtun culture

Published: December 23, 2013
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The Pashtun lifestyle does not accommodate such fantasy depictions of love and bravery. ILLUSTRATION: JAMAL KHURSHEED

“Khandani Badmaash, Bewaqoof, Sharabi, Wehshi BadmaashUjratiCharsiDamaMastay Jenakai, Gandagir!”

No, I am not abusing you. I am only naming a few of the famous films Pashto cinema has produced over the year.

What is even more astonishing is that Pashtuns are known for their distinct code of conduct called the Pakhtunwali, which is quite different from what these movies depict.

The Pashtun culture is an amalgamation of different elements which include the family structure or joint family system, the melmastia or hospitality, the jirga or tribal council which makes all important decisions, ghairat or the concepts of honour and courage and the satar or area of the body that can be uncovered only in the presence of the spouse.

Pashtuns have their own language – Pashto – which is spoken in a number of dialects. They have distinct dresses, colourful music and a form of group dance known as the Attan. Pashtuns take a lot of pride in their culture and boast about the elements which make them distinct from all other nations and ethnic groups.

It is true that awareness and modernity is leading to immense progress and development in the Pashtun mindset, particularly in empowering women to be educated, active and become a productive part of society.

Modernity has however had an unnatural impact on Pashtun cinema. Pashto dramas and movies now pose a challenge to cultural norms and values in a way that is not only unacceptable but also downright shameful.

Almost all of these dramas and movies revolve around a hero and the woman he loves. He fights for her against all odds, by firing a Kalashnikov in rooms, from balconies, or by yelling from the top of mountains, while the heroine sneaks out of her house at intervals and dances around.

These ‘dances’ seem to be no-to-subtle reminders of what the hero is actually struggling for. Meanwhile, the plot is embellished with suggestive and indecent dialogue from the crudest elements of the Pashto language. We see couples making love in the middle of fields or dancing among the cattle. We see mujras as commonplacewhere the old and young alike indulge in drinking.

Anyone who lives in, or has at least gotten a chance to visit Attock, would be well aware that the Pashtun lifestyle does not accommodate such fantasy depictions of love and bravery. What is shown in these dramas and movies does not happen in real life, but watching such movies (and some dramas) leaves the audience spellbound and they begin to mistake fantasy for reality.

Youngsters are influenced the most, impacting their ability to differentiate between right and wrong, good and bad. Inevitably, they develop bad habits such as smoking, drinking and frequenting dodgy places.

For one, these dramas and movies expose our youngsters to extreme violence, aggression and flamboyant use of weapons, leaving them confused about whether to despise them or want them. Over time, these youngsters find a cure to all their troubles by using weapons rather than solving issues through peaceful negotiations. Exposure to the more violent elements of such content might even encourage terrorism, given how violence is idealised in the films.

However, what disturbs me the most is that such movies depict all women as mere objects, existing only for the pleasure of men. Women are shown as possessing low moral character and being promiscuous, putting the very idea of respecting women at stake.

Both these depictions are unacceptable in any decent society. While such films could simply be looked down upon and ignored if it was just one segment of a diverse film industry, the truth is that this narrative is the only one that is being churned out again and again and again.

Such a negative and false depiction of men and women raises fears among the families of girls who are struggling for their rights and status in an already conservative Pashtun society. Although the aware and educated class of society has raised this issue several times and asked the concerned authorities to take steps to ban such movies, little has actually been done to curb the menace.

It is about time we recognise and address this matter collectively, before this social disease becomes incurable.

Yousra Javaid

Yousra Javaid

A Masters in English literature with distinction, Lecturer, living in an era where being normal is probably the most special thing one can do. The usual beliefs, contradictions and complications to follow. She tweets @YousJavaid twitter.com/YousJavaid

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Ali Rahman

    If they are made, watched, welcomed, such movies cannot be ousted as not being part of the culture. Just like the writer believes otherwise and mentions that the educated have raised this issue, there may be very many others who do think and can relate to what is being shown in these movies. It may be damaging for the cause of those who are trying to progress and change the image at the grassroots level, but disowning this as not being culture is like playing ostrich.Recommend

  • Naseer Muhammad

    very true… ANP is responsible for all this.. they did not do any thing for pashto culture, pashto literature, pashto dramas, poetry.. they are the so called pashtoon`s party… they just allow every one to make any thing… no rules and regulations or constraints..Recommend

  • Naseer Muhammad

    and most of the people working in pashto showbiz are not even pashto speaking… they came here from the other side of Pakistan to cash their luckRecommend

  • Imkan Batt

    It is the same for punjabi movies and stage dramas mujras etc., none of which represents the cultural ideals of the vast majority of punjabi muslims. But the problem in our case is that everything is based in lahore whose culture is entirely different from the highly conservative culture of the rest of the punjab so non-lahori punjabis dont have a say how punjabi muslims should be represented in movies dramas etc. It is lahori kanjar culture that is showcased as punjabi culture in punjabi stage dramas and movies etc.Recommend

  • Kamran

    Totally agreeRecommend

  • Ajmal

    I’ve always had trouble understanding even the business perspective to making such crude pashto films. Why make them if nobody watches them? I believe it’s time the producers of such films recognize they can gain a lot more money by coming up with more decent pashto drama films. Families would sit around to watch them and it wouldn’t be such a taboo to even go near a copy of such indecent films.Recommend

  • Reaper

    Ok you have this all wrong. This movies might be really crude and disgusting but they offer an escape for an average person. Your are conjuring up the same rehtoric people use for violent video games and how they are responsible for all the ills in the society. Pakistan didnot have any films made for 30 years after Zia destroyed them. And we have had the worst levels of violence and societal ills take hold of us in that vacuum. Arts and sports keep a society sane and these films might just be the 1st step towards that. Remember Bolllywood some odd years ago and how the same exact films were being made there too and now they have reached a point in their evolution where they are making educated films like Black(Amitabh Bachan) etc. As much as people might want to agree with you, people shouldnt be allowed to censor expression through any means like Speech,Films and/or arts. We must become more tolerant.Recommend

  • Reaper

    What does that have to do with anything and highly doubt the validity of that statement.Recommend

  • faisal afridi

    An issue; which was long over due, to be discussed in the social media. These sleazy Pashto movies have been depicting a negative image of Pashtun culture and society. Where Pashtun society has been struggling hard in the recent times to cope with the prevailing situations, these movies are exacerbating the situation further. kalashnikov culture has been promoted through these movies and penchant for kill or be killed is the hallmark of these movies. Gory scenes are presented in a proud way. Vulgarity is promoted and presented in a way as if it is a part of Pashtun culture. Now, the new tele-films, which are made on weekly basis in galore, are plaguing our vulnerable and impressionable society further.
    There are several dimensions involved in all this saga. This situation become more entrenched when during the MMA Government in the then NWFP, all the activities were banned in the Nishtar Hall; a place where one could go with the family and enjoy the live performance. But, after the ban, several artists were deprived of their earnings. They were pushed to the extreme end of the poverty line. Those artists who were already well-off have started their own low-budgeted production. so, such low budgeted and low quality production have their target-audience from the low strata of our society. These Pashto movies and tele-films have never attracted a vast audience which include people from the upper strata of our society. And here, where the issue becomes more problematic.
    Th people involved in Pashto film industry know nothing about the rich Pashtun culture and history. They are mostly hired from other provinces and cannot speak Pashto properly and they don’t have any rudimentary knowledge of Pashtun culture and history. I believe, if the rich Pashtun culture and history is depicted in the true sense of the word; then it can be recognized internationally and nominated for Oscar, to say the least.
    The other major problem is that the state is either impervious or non-serious. I haven’t heard or read anywhere about the Pashto film industry’s censor board. It seems there is no such thing exist in the first place. The film-makers have a free hand because there is no check from the government side. They have blatant disregard for Pashtun culture.Recommend

  • millitant

    It is true that awareness and modernity is leading to immense progress and development in the Pashtun mindset, particularly in empowering women to be educated, active and become a productive part of society.Recommend

  • IAbdussamad

    What will happen when these “innocent” pashtun younsters go online for the first time and find that there are no limits whatsoever to content on the Internet? Everything good, bad and amazing is “out there”. Censorship does not work in the modern world. It is time to get rid of these mental shackles and grow the hell up. Learn to accept some and reject some.Recommend

  • Parvez

    I have to date not seen a Pushto movie, though have heard much the same as what you say about them.
    In my mind, movies are made by people ( in this case men ) and if one sees a cheap inferior product, it is most likely because the man making it knows no better. So the answer should be to have a more responsible, more enlightened person make the movie so that he balances entertainment and culture so that it is acceptable.
    The industry blaming the public for poor taste is simply lame and contrived to cover their own shortcomings.Recommend

  • Randomstranger

    “Anyone who lives in, or has at least gotten a chance to visit Attock, would be well aware that the Pashtun lifestyle does not accommodate such fantasy depictions of love and bravery”.
    Sorry to burst your bubble, but it turns out that majority of people in Attock are actually Punjabi/Pothwari, and the so called “pashtuns” there speak in Hindko. Other than that, a well written article.Recommend

  • Sami

    Well i dont belong from Lahore but your last sentence used very offensive words and i could not understand the policy of express tribune who tolerate such comments.?. Where are moderator policies actually.?. It seems ET is happy when some certain region is pointed out and even abusing is allowed in this regard as well.Recommend

  • naeem khan Manhattan, Kansas

    As a Pukhtun from Mardan, your depiction of these sub-class movies made me laugh but it is not laughing matter. We always depend on authorities to remedy any adverse situation, why not depend on our selves and boycott these vulgar movies and make an effort to educate the populace how degrading these movies are to our culture and see to it who are the people financing these kind of trash. Their names should be publicized and let the community know that they are the enemies of our culture and they are doing it to make money and don’t care about our society’s well being. I think you have written an article which should demand some soul searching from our pukhtun leaders., and they should be ones to talk about it openly in the community. Thank you for highlighing the problems in and for the Pukhtun society.Recommend

  • Muhammad Idrees Idrees

    all rich cultures have both good and bad. look at french literature it has both bt still v rich and vibrant. i dnt see reasons for such criticism as we all including the writer watch English and Indian movies bt criticize unnecessarily pashto films. pl let the pashtun writers and actors do vt they know to do and time to decide. pl dnt do criticism for sake of criticism. i think it s right time we write good for those produce pashto films as now kabul cinemas dnt show Indian movies bt pashto films. idrees asarRecommend

  • Aphtab

    Is it not true for all films in all cultures. Films are mostly fantasies helping people to be distracted from the usual vagaries of life. Even movies made across the border are far removed from the actual culture. No one likes to watch films which are based on real life or are true depiction of the culture.Recommend

  • Liberal

    I would agree with Ali Rahman. People like this writer want Pushtoon to live in a backward era and are equally responsible for the plight of Pushtoon nation in addition to Taliban. It is only ANP which served Pushtoon people through promoting liberal practices in the province. Most of the cinema houses are owned by ANP leaders which shows that ANP can only safeguard Pushto culture from religious bigots.Recommend

  • Kapt Slim

    Living in KPK for the last 3 years …. I used to wonder that why no one writes on pushtu films … finally I found an article … well done writer …Recommend

  • Kapt Slim

    Pushtu cinema and pushtu drama industry can only grow if educated people come forward and start making quality films and dramas.
    While making quality films is a dream even in our national language … efforts can be made to produce quality pushtu dramas with subtitles in urdu.Recommend

  • sane

    Vulgarity and Pukhtoon do not go together. Pukhtoons are basically people of high moral.Recommend

  • AB

    Thats what I have seen most pashtuns saying. Instead of ever accepting that these movies are absurd they start accusing others. Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    Well is it proper to blame just the producers ? They are only supplying for the demand . Blame the audience who goes to watch these movies by paying hard earned money for tickets.Recommend

  • Sami

    I belong from Attock region and the writer somehow added Attock in KPK . Let me tell you one thing that more than 90 percent people in Attock are Potoharis / Hindkos / Punjabis and i could not understand why the Author picked up Attock to depict the Pushtoon culture. ???
    Also I have many Pushtoon friends and somehow they always tell me the same stories that they are superior with high moral grounds while depicting the negative traits of other people.
    Every ethnicity of Pakistan have positive and negative traits and I am a Punjabi and I could tell you that somehow the definition of Morality is not universal but it is Relative and no one is below any moral ground or above it. Also no one is superior to anyone.
    Pushtunwali consists of Primitive tribal rules of So called Revenge , Honor and Asylum that does not conform to Modern Human Values. Every Tajik, Uzbek, Arabian and other fighter is found in KPK and so called Honor and Asylum is not only destroying them but the repercussions are felt in the whole of Pakistan of this Archaic mindset in KPK..Also recently my car was Stolen and Proud Wazirs have given asylum to Car Jackers of the whole of Pakistan and in Punjab we all know where every kidnapper went for when he do the crime in Punjab to follow Pushtunwali code of Honoring and Asylum to everyone.Recommend

  • Nisha

    Batt are usually Jahil. Author is talking about Pashto films and you are trying to drag Punjab and Lahore into it. Recommend

  • Oats

    While I agree that typical Punjabi films do not represent Pakistani Punjabi culture the same way that Pashtu films do not represent Pashtun culture, no one can deny that the films fill a void and reflect the wishes of a group of people who delight in these films. Similarly many Hollywood films are vulgar, crass and indecent but we don’t worry about saying London Kanjar culture or Los Angeles kanjar culture or Bollywood kanjar culture? Meanwhile the biggest brothels in our part of the world are in Bombay and Kabul but not in Lahore so the last bit of your comment was unecessary.Recommend

  • Nizam Uddin Raiyan

    What else entertainment is available? The movies are not there to tell Pashton code of conduct,their purpose is entertainment.The Pashton code of conduct is practiced in real life not in fiction. People come to the cinemas to such type of stories otherwise the cinemas would have not been full of movie goers in Peshawar.Recommend

  • Umar

    Pushto movies are the closest I can compare to pornography. These stupid movies are so disgusting. All these fat women dancing around with fat men like it’s eid. Along with that the gore scenes. There’s nothing liberal or tolerance related in this. It’s just pure filth. It’s like smoking. Kills your mind. The target audience alone, which are all men by the way who are even sexually stimulated by 90 year old women, come from very low sects of society. People like drivers or chaukidaars. Atleast those are the only people I’ve seen this material with. Recommend

  • Pratap Singh

    All that is written in this piece of writing is correct from the common culture point of view but there is also a other side of the coin. In a film acts are projected not from the view of representing common culture; its the viewer who assumes it in that way. Scenes are depicted on screen from the perspective of the nature of the characters like a filthy rich feudal war lord with a promiscuous behavior watches ”mujra” or ogles
    over heros’ love interest. How one can expect the villain behave docile in a revenge based drama? There a need to understand that such people do exist in society and villain in the movies are the quintessential representative of this section of society likewise the hero represents the “good ones”.
    Movies are the mirror of the society, by saying it I don’t means they comprehend the entire spectrum of culture but yes, the current nature of movies underscores the prevalent dominant aspects among all the different aspects of cultures;having said it I mean its hard to deny that presently, blood,gore and lewd behavior are at the fore in Pastun society and these very characteristics are reflected by present crop of movies.Recommend

  • hasnain

    This is only hacktivism or inception which is building or inserting your ideas in the minds of others in away to control them, destroy or confuse them. similarly, these movies are inception in which they(secret hands) are trying to build wrong ideas in minds of the youth and the women to destroy the pashtun culture and cause immodesty and violence which leads to terrorism and tribal battles and causing bitter enemity between the local pashtuns. their main aim is to destroy the modest society of pashtuns. As salah uddin ayubii had said “if you want to destroy a nation then create immodesty in their youth”Recommend

  • KB

    majority Attock is Pashtoon along indus river- chach area to be exact , the rest are punjabis.of lower castes.Recommend

  • Abid Khan

    I am a proud Pathan (not Pashtoon which is anyone who speaks Pashto be it a mochi or nai) from wealthy Chhachh valley of Attock and know the Pashtoon culture from across the river very well. Pashtoons from across Indus river are destroying our own peaceful and religious culture in the form of drugs, robberies and prostitution. Our older ones are starting to buy young Pashtoon brides for pleasure who can be bought very cheaply and younger ones are being corrupted by Pashtoon prostitutes who come in bunches late at night and spread to different hujras of the area do their thing and leave before sunrise Hazro and Ghourghushti police have made it mandatory for people of the area to register their Pashtoon and Afghan housekeepers because these women come get jobs as housekeepers and few days later inform their handlers who come and rob the house and its owner in some cases they have killed the house owners – so excuse me what Pashtoon culture?Recommend

  • Randomstranger

    Chach people are actually Hindko speaking now, and they form only a small minority. If you don’t believe me, then look at the election results for the past elections. A chachi pathaan can’t ever be an MNA, because elections in Pakistan are very demographic based. I doubt if a Pathaan can even be an MPA from anywhere in Attock.

    As regards to your low caste comment, well Malik Atta Muhammad Khan, the nawab/feudal lord of Attock is actually of Potohari/Punjabi descent. Also, the awans and khattars of Attock are actually quite influential in their own right. The ruling family of Kalabagh along the Indus is also of Awan(potohari) origin. People with large estates can hardly be classified as “lower caste”.

    Lastly. all the people of pathaan origin actually migrated to Attock during the past 100 or maximum 150 years. It is not in the nature of the general Punjabi population to be xenophobic, hence these migrants have more or less integrated into the local population by adopting the Hindko language.Recommend

  • KB

    Chachh valley is very large area consisting of some 84 towns and villages and Pathans have ownned the fertile land of chach for last four hundred plus yearsi, they came with armies of Ghaznvi and Abdali and local population made way for them they are not small minority by any means their numbers are in hundreds of thousands and chachies have always been prominent in politics , Pashto is still spoken in some villages of chach true they have adopted Hindko but that does not stop them from being Pashtoon or Pathan chach has deep Pathan culture and traditions and they dont inter marry with other races – Kalabagh its not even in Attock so no argument there no one likes to be called lower but sometimes reality sucks.Recommend

  • Randomstranger

    They never came with the armies of Abdali, as they were completely destroyed by the Sikhs under Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and were forced to flee. Majority of chach pathaans were economic migrants. Eighty four is also an exhaggeration as Chach is not a very big area. Besides, other tribes and clans are living in Chach as well. The Pashto speaking chachis are basically Afghan refugees who swarmed the entire country. Also, they are not politically strong, as they can’t win a single seat in the national assembly. I even have doubts about them winning any MPA seat. My point being; since chachis are the absolute minority, they can never win an MNA’s seat, just like a Gujjar can’t win in Swat.

    As far as Kalabagh is concerned, I was just saying that Awans are not low caste by any standard as you seem to be suggesting. Awans of Khunda and Shamsabad are socially and economically quite dominant in Attock. So are the Khattars, and the Jodhra/Ghebas under Malik Atta Muhammad Khan. Maybe in Chach the Punjabi tribes are the “lower castes” generally, but lower castes are even found among a lot of Pathans.

    As far as reality sucking, the only people who need a reality check are some pathaans I have seen.

    PS: Are you Afghan?Recommend

  • KB

    just google chach or chhachh to find out facts .Shinka,Behbodi,Sirka, Nartopa all these are pashto speaking villages of chach . just Hazro and Ghorughsti’s combined population is near 100,000 and Malik Ata types were well known “malishis” of the British and were gifted land in return as for as Abdali- read the history dont just imagine . Awan is nothing more than a fictional cast adopted by jolahs ,mochis,,nais etc when they become somebody.Recommend

  • KB

    google chhachh and google Abdali to get your facts right, malik ata types were well known servants of the british in return they got plenty of land Abdali is known as the butcher by sikhs, awans are lower cast in fact a fictional cast made of lower casts who somehow become someone finally your comments are based your naive imagination instead of factsRecommend