A Pakistani Sex Scene – Critique
nothing works better on the internet than a title with sex in it. i have experimented several times with this idea of using popular words in blog posts, and they always work like a charm.
this time though, it’s not exactly a gimmick. this short film explicitly attempts to talk about sex on the pakistani screen. but the conversation itself is a strange one. so before anything else, have a look at the video itself.
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thus, everyone is familiar with the ubiquitous cinematic convention of the hero and heroine in a tight embrace, their lips edging towards one another, their breathing hot and heavy – and just when the hero lunges forward, the heroine turns away her face.
but in an increasingly sexualized world, those cultural conventions are being stretched in our part of the world for some time now and the logic of suggesting without showing has been radically transformed. one example being the song referenced in the film – Pyar Di Ganderi. i mean, come on!
this song wraps itself around the pillars of showing & suggesting, and pole dances on them. and the visual interpretation of this Naseebo Lal song by Khusbo really leaves you wondering if there is anything left to suggest.
but if we start to blame the song here, then we are really missing the point. its not about the song, or the dancer – it’s about the society. too often art is blamed for creating immorality within society. what people fail to appreciate that art’s purpose is to act as a mirror, as well as a guide. when we see ourselves in the mirror held up by art, we are able to break and change what we are. and then, we are able to form new thoughts and ideas, guided by the spirit of art.
whew… that got a bit heavy there.
my point was that the song and these attitudes of suggestiveness reflect our own society. the crucial thing here is the relationship between shame and lust – each seems to inform the other. this is because we get ashamed of something when our morals condemn it, but our desires don’t. but if we keep reacting to shame by suppressing our desires, our lust continues to grow. and so we try and keep that in check through shame… and the cycle continues.
this was where my original idea finally arrived at. i wanted to show the irony of how an average pakistani male can be so sexualized and yet feel ashamed of that sexual lust. thus one of the earliest drafts of a script had envisioned the scene where the man would rush into the shower straight after the act.
i was unsure of where else to go from there though. i wanted to say something about the woman, but couldn’t find any thing suitably authentic without being melodramatic. so i turned to the woman in my life – my wife. she was the one who came up with the aftermath of that scene, specifically because she realised that the casualty from this conflict between shame and lust is intimacy.
it made a lovely resonance with my own ideas. i have always felt that taking an interest in pakistani politics is futile. because everything in pakistan is extremely politicized, from choice of hospital to etiquette of urdu grammar, but the politics themselves follow a depressingly familiar, monotonous pattern. and just like we have politics everywhere other than in politics itself, we seem to have sex everywhere, other than in sex itself.
thus the film’s body took shape.
it begins with a man who attacks his food with relish and passion, which he eats alone before entering the house. at home, he rejects the meal his wife had brought for the two of them to share. while she is away, he turns to watch an overtly sexual song, but switches to the news (which is always about politics :) ) when she comes back. he then leads her to the bedroom, and the camera doesn’t show what happens. but he soon rushes out, covered in shame rather than lust, and washes it off in the shower. the woman is alone, bereft of all passion, or even motivation to clear up the room. she tries to eat, perhaps to partake in that pleasure her husband had alone, but she can’t bring herself to do it.
but then came the actual shoot. and let me tell you, doing a single-take is probably the hardest thing to do. it works well in a live situation, but in a narrative it really wears down on your flow. and i think this is where the film’s greatest challenge arose – it was not conceived as a single shot. it was conceived as a story that was then tacked onto a single shot. and so the story’s pace and pivots did not account for the demands made by the single shot. this issue was further compounded by the fact that i am someone whose strength as a filmmaker lies within the edit. to be stripped of all editing abilities was something i was distinctly uncomfortable with, and so i didn’t take to the idea of a single-take at all.
i made that even more challenging with my decision to have both actors only visible from the waist down. it was meant to further accentuate the ubiquity of this situation (so that it was a man and a woman, rather than this person and that person) as well as play up the idea of how everything about sex itself is so shrouded. and to make matters worse, i did away with all dialogue – there are only two grunts and one sigh which make up the entire film’s dialogue. keeping all of that in mind, the actors did a wonderful job. their only tools were their lower bodies and yet they managed to convey their roles admirably. it could’ve been better though had i rehearsed with them, but then that is how student projects, and my own laziness, goes.
the day before i began my edit, i came across a bizarre and wonderful thing. in my audio-vision class, our professor made us watch an entire film, which was highly unusual since we always watch clips instead. it was 87 minutes of overwhelming cinema – its disturbing how difficult it is to view despite its stellar beauty. the film was called Koyaanisqatsi. Check out this stunning single take shot from the film – i can’t believe this is real.
what influenced me with regards to this film was its soundtrack. check out the trailer below, and listen to the initial chanting, or just go up to 1:48 in the above clip.
i was convinced – i needed to score my film. but i wanted it to be haunting, and preferably bereft of lyrics because they could get too distracting, and impose their own meaning on the film. my wife suggested i check out rohail hyatt‘s work, and that was where i chose the song, Jaag Musafir.
when i had started the audio editing, i realised that the youtube page for the song also had an explanation for the lyrics and the song’s message, which i later put on at the end of the film.
looking back at the choice of the song i have mixed emotions. on one hand i feel that it didn’t help with regard to its intended purpose – which was to give life to the parts of the film where the one-shot parameters had left it dragging.
but then again, i was astounded by the happy coincidence that the song i had chosen had taken on the irony and cynicism of my views, and injected it with hope for salvation, for this wretched cycle to be broken. while my other two films were made with a sort of flippancy towards “messages” and “big ideas” this one was taking these things on. and i think that the song really challenged the sincerity of the film.
at the end, i feel that the critique of the film, and its ideas, were a lot more powerful than the actual film itself. still, i am happy with it, especially because of the visual style i managed to achieve with the editing. i didn’t want to look like yet another student film, and while the camera lets that down, the lack of annoying sound jumps and the boldness of the scene’s colors and boundaries take it beyond completely amateur stuff.
please let me know what you think of the film.