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Feminist critique in a Pakistani film, Ek Gunah Aur Sahi

FIPRESCI - World Cinema - Cinemas of the South

A hit in 1975, the Pakistani movie Ek Gunah Aur Sahi (Just One More Sin), attacked exploitative respectability patriarchy in the story of a madam, known as “Mummy” and her (real or adoptive) daughter, Afshan. The bare plotlines are familiar: the deeply spiritual madam and the prostitute with a heart of gold seek respectability but they are defeated by male lust on the one hand and misogynistic respectability on the other. Once I can gather my emotional energy to do so, I’ll write a feminist analysis of the entire film.

One of the songs in this film, Aa dekh Mohenjodaro mein, rendered powerfully by Noor Jahan is, for its time and place, quite radical in its feminist critique of patriarchy. I have been trying unsuccessfully for some days to add translations to the youtube videos (they will not allow it), so I decided to just post my translation here.

In the scene, the respectable man who is besotted with Afshan, the prostitute, encounters her and her madam at the ruins of Mohenjodaro. In this song, Afshan confronts the man with the history of patriarchy and female exploitation and degradation. The song makes use of the Pakistani Muslim assumption of superiority to an idolatrous past. In the past, Afshan says, the priesthood used and abused women for profit and pleasure. Yet what has changed today, in an enlightened Islamic society? Here too, women are both consumed and slandered. So objectified and valueless are women that even respectable families sell their daughters by advertising their beauty for the sake of a marriage proposal. In Muslim Pakistan, the birth of a girl is greeted with sorrow and anger, while the birth of a boy grants honor and pride to the father. Men hold the keys to respectability, honor, religion, social mores, and status; how is their humanity superior to that of women? The song closes with a ringing call for freedom from these chains of patriarchy and submission.

Where have I come from, who am I?
Maybe you might know me
The curtain rises from history
See if you can recognize me

Come and see in Mohenjodaro
This distorted image of mine
On this weak hope I live on still
Some day perhaps my fate will change

With a sandalwood mark on my forehead
And bracelets of flowers on my arms
You called me devadasi
Made me dance in temples of worship
Lustful priests lived off my blood for centuries
Their god was pleased with my service
And humanity’s tavern flourished as well

How will you erase my tale?
It is written in the stone of history

Come and see in Mohenjodaro
This distorted image of mine

She who is sold in the markets
She wanders lost in the streets
She is an eclipsed moon
A star fallen from the heavens  
Every evening she changes into this form
Lying in your bed
Yet she may be someone’s mother
She is someone’s daughter too

Disrepute is my destiny
So go on, and enjoy slandering my name

Come and see in Mohenjodaro
This distorted image of mine

What happened, has happened to us in dark ignorant times  
But sadly, even today in respectable families
By custom, we decorate and display our daughters
For marriage proposals, a hundred ways are devised
That this bad commodity may be sold off somehow

Such is the ‘honor,’ such is the ‘esteem’
That I am granted in the world today

Come and see in Mohenjodaro
This distorted image of mine

To you belong morality, religion is yours
Yours are the rules, yours is the law
But is your being separate from mine?
Is your blood distinct from mine?  
When a son is born, how proudly does your neck stretch high
What happens to you when a woman births a girl?

So when will the day of freedom arrive?
When will these chains of mine be shattered?

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