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What happens when a show like ‘Dunk’ – an ode to rape apologists – airs on television

What happens when a show like ‘Dunk’ – an ode to rape apologists – airs on television

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Fahad Mustafa’s recent production, Dunk, starring Bilal Abbas Khan, Noman Ijaz, Sana Javed, and Yasra Rizvi aired this week on ARY Digital. From promotional interviews and the first episode itself, it is clear that this is yet another drama whose sole intent and purpose is to further degrade and justify violence against Pakistani women.

‘Should Dunk even be allowed to air in a country that is stubbornly tightening its grip around a woman’s neck?’

The drama will revolve around a fake sexual abuse allegations lodged against a professor because Mustafa feels that it is necessary to show all sides of a narrative and he conceded that while 95% of allegations are true, the 5% deserve a tribute too (these statistics are inaccurate if anyone was wondering). This statement came days after he admitted that his dramas are money-making machines and that he does not necessarily care about driving cultural change despite how powerful his company is in mainstream media. 

In classic Pakistani mard fashion, Mustafa – and the rest of the Dunk team – are not only pushing an extremely insensitive, false, and disgusting narrative about the #MeToo movement in Pakistan but actively pushing to capitalize from it. 

Hiba Sohail, author

What are the facts?

At least eleven incidents of rape are reported every single day of Pakistan – and countless more go unreported due to the unwillingness of Pakistani society to believe survivors.

Only 41% of all rapes are reported and 0.3% of cases result in convictions. Almost half of all female murders in Pakistan in 2009 were in the name of “honour” – not counting those that were passed off as “suicides” to the police. 90% of Pakistani women have born the brunt of some form of domestic violence. Should Dunk even be allowed to air in a country that is stubbornly tightening its grip around a woman’s neck? PEMRA is infamous for trying to ban dramas calling for societal change – how did Dunk manage to escape its radar? Or is PEMRA’s power reserved for dramas such as Udaari, Churails, and Pyar Ke Sadqay? PEMRA prides itself on protecting Pakistan’s cultural values and threatens to take off any indecent content without prior notice. This begs the question what is Pakistan’s culture then? Giving awards to alleged harassers? Refusing to believe women? Blaming every flaw in our society on India? 

This year saw an unprecedented uproar both for and against feminist grassroots movements in the country, including the Aurat March. The March was attacked and baseless slander was smeared against it in order to invalidate its manifesto – by maulvis, celebrities such as Ahmed Ali Butt, and trolls online. Churails was banned for being too provocative and vulgar – or was it banned because the fragile masculinity that Pakistan breeds couldn’t handle being exposed?

Just a mere five days after the horrific gang rape on the Lahore-Sialkot Motorway, a five-year-old was raped and set on fire. The culmination of all of this resulted in an extremely frustrating discourse about violence against Pakistani women by males in all settings, slut-shaming, and victim-blaming.

‘It often feels like we’re going in circles, taking two steps forward to lurch three backward in every sense.’

Take the Meesha Shafi-Ali Zafar case: Shafi bearing the brunt of the hate Zafar should be getting. Mustafa has an answer for that too: “Ali has suffered a lot at [a] professional front … brands should set an example by working with people who have been falsely accused …”

Mustafa, as a prominent producer and actor, should be setting an example by showcasing strong heroines in his work; his work should be empowering and set a standard for achieving equity at least on screen. Instead, he chooses to embolden misogyny in Pakistan by the one medium everyone partakes in – more than 80% of Pakistanis watch television with their families. He has and continues to project regressive values that will only harm Pakistani women.

Pakistani women deal with the patriarchy every step of their life: we are taught how to cover up during childhood, we are told our education doesn’t matter during adolescence, and there is a ticking time bomb of shaadi over our heads once we turn 18. We have ambitions, dreams, and have every right to autonomy too – why must we sacrifice so much to get so little in return? 

It is impossible to be sexist towards men – if one can understand how you cannot be racist against whites, one should be able to realise that this world is built for men by men.

It curated a specific role for women in and outside the domestic sphere and if a woman does not subscribe to its standards, she is shamed. Frankly, to air Dunk is a disservice to all women in Pakistan whose voice runs hoarse trying to speak up. This recent obsession that Pakistani dramas have (Nand, Jalan, Meray Pass Tum Ho, etc) with making sure ‘evil’ women are punished is atrocious. Pakistani male leads – and Pakistani men off-screen – do far worse, and they are not only forgiven but given a chance at redemption.

Why is this courtesy not extended to a cheating woman on-screen?

Shehnaz Sheikh from drama ‘Ankahi‘ by Haseena Moin

ARY has consistently produced highly sensationalized serials in which women are shown as liars and cheaters who weaponize Pakistan’s alleged respect for women for their own materialistic gain. The number of dramas that have deviated from revolutionary dramas in the 70s-80s is a reflection of the regression of our society. Haseena Moin’s female characters were undoubtedly feminist and icons that generations look back on. Her serials are reaired and her depiction of women was humanizing and realistic. Even if her female leads were materialistic, they were never shunned – their actions were justified via the state of the lead and society itself. Her characters were afforded the luxury to grow. Our female characters today are not: they are fitted neatly into a box of the evil vs. good dichotomy. Pakistan’s response to Moin’s dramas are indicative that it is not audiences that want serials like Dunk, it is more so that the media and elites of our society view the public as small-minded. If they were to make dramas reminiscent of Tanhaiyaan, they would still generate as much attention and rupees as Meray Pass Tum Ho

Aizah Khan as Mehwish from MPTH

The question then becomes why are production companies today hesitant to do so?

Could it be because men are in high profile positions within such companies? They are well aware that pointing fingers at women saves them from confronting the accountability they have to take regarding perpetuating such unfounded notions of women. Dunk and dramas like it enable our societal mindset of a woman being inherently bad. We allow ourselves to harbor such vicious contempt against women and simultaneously force them to uphold the standards of the patriarchy. Pakistan is a country where rape is rampant and actively used as a weapon. A council can pass down gang rape as a punishment for a woman – and when that woman speaks out, she is swiftly called a foreign agent. 

How is it then morally sound to write, produce, and air Dunk? Dunk will let victim blaming and shaming thrive.

Airing the serial and the dozens like it will rip apart the little respect we give to survivors when the law fails them. Pakistan finds cis-het male denial more believable. We already question survivors to a traumatic extent and Dunk’s success hinges entirely on how misogynistic our society is willing to be. And clearly, we are on the edge of our seats waiting to prove ourselves. 

ARY Digital and Big Bang Entertainment are certainly a match made in heaven and they’ve found their brand: ‘evil’ women.

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Out of the five current dramas that fit this description (Meray Pass Tum Ho, Jalan, Nand, Jhooti, and now Dunk), Mustafa has produced three of them, all for ARY. And it’s because he knows misogyny will bring him commercial success. The men in these dramas are righteous, God-fearing, and have integrity; the women, on the other hand, make calculated moves against them out of spite. Mustafa can try and pretend all he wants that his creativity, as a producer, is not hindered because of the threat of controversy but that’s simply not true.

He wants to pay a “tribute” to “victims” of false allegations because he is a rape apologist. His sympathy for Ali Zafar says as much.

Mustafa has the audacity to star in challenging movies such as Load Wedding but produces dramas that do the opposite. He would never dare to produce a serial on sectarian issues because he knows that will bring an onslaught of fatwas against him. He has no problem portraying unabashed violence against women, showing them as conniving, jealous beings, as homewreckers. He cannot continue to villainize women under the false pretense of artistic choices. His refusal to even concede screen space to show the lived realities of women is in itself an abuse of his power. 

Celebrities have increasingly started taking on the mantle of social justice warriors as of late (a recent hijacking of a trans-led protest comes to mind).

Not only does this split the new wave of feminism and pull the spotlight towards elitism and privilege, but it has also allowed celebrities to take charge of the narrative. They often add their own warped understanding of what the Aurat March demands (Ahmed Ali Butt equated the March with prostitution and even Mahira Khan questioned why its slogans were so ‘vulgar’) and in doing so, they commodify feminism with no real knowledge of the intersectional feminist praxis. 

If Churails was so groundbreaking, Dunk will undo its impact – and Yasra Rizvi stubbornly refuses to realize this. Rizvi, still high on the success of her role in Churails, curated her interviews and Instagram posts to fit the profile. She seemed to understand well enough that her character was important because it would nudge society to have a different perspective. Suddenly, with Dunk the tables have turned. She now says, “The only job of an actor is to do justice to the character they are playing and depict it with authenticity. Not to justify the politics or the morality of the character to [the] general public or take responsibility for a fictional performance in the real world.”

It is painstakingly clear that Pakistani actors have dropped the facade of caring about the impact of their choices but will rush to monetize social issues.

Rizvi publicly claims to hold feminist views but her reaction to Pakistani viewers questioning her decision to star in Dunk (blocking them and replying rudely) lays bare her hypocrisy. Actors do answer to the public, just as politicians do. The content that is produced, acted in, and then aired is a means of social conditioning – it can be utilized for good or worse and Dunk will do the latter. A writer, producer, director, and actor are responsible for the ideals and values they seek to promote in a serial – at a time of heightened tension and violence against women, this is not merely an expression of creativity. 

Bilal Abbas Khan usually is quiet about politics, focusing on his work and he has delivered. His roles are staunchly different and bring greater awareness off-screen. Ek Jhooti Love Story and Cheekh were defiantly feminist, and Khan played the role of a rapist in Cheekh to show how the very institutions of our country fail to hold men accountable. The system that promises to protect women finds itself standing on shaky foundations built and run by corrupt men. Not much is known about Khan’s role in Dunk as of yet but it is surprising for an actor like Khan to partake in such a serial.

Sana Javed herself played a survivor in Ruswai, which featured a cameo from Mukhtar Mai: the aforementioned survivor of a gang-rape ordered by a council.

For Javed to flip the script completely warrants a vicious whiplash – how could she stand up for survivors and then star in a drama that will further discredit those same survivors? Noman Ijaz’s decision to play the innocent professor falsely accused is typical and we must give him credit where it’s due. He is the only person who stayed relatively on-brand. In the past, he has made a mockery of the #MeToo Movement, saying, “yeh sab deen say doori hai” and admitted to seemingly cheating on his wife in the same interview. For him to star in Dunk is unsurprising, but for the rest of the leads, it is downright shameful that they agreed to do so. 

As a society, we have come to realise that celebrities don’t really care as long as they retain their positions of wealth and privilege.

Feminism cannot be capitalized, it will forever be pushed for by the ordinary women of Pakistan who fight a silent battle every day. Dunk is a disservice to survivors everywhere and celebrates the men that do the bare minimum. Perhaps Mustafa was inspired by Khalil-ur-Rahman’s infamous line challenging feminists to rape men if they want equality. Serials such as Dunk come at the price of a woman’s safety, autonomy and respect; women are easy targets in our country so what difference will one more drama make, right?

Opinion piece submitted by Hiba Sohail. If you would like to submit an article to ProperGaanda, email us at info@propergaanda.com

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