Until I watched Syed Noor's latest production Chain Aye Na last night I'd never truly been ashamed of Pakistani cinema.
Yes, over the past few years we've produced films that are corny, tacky and flawed. But we've also come away with movies that are original, entertaining and full of promise, and as such, until a day ago I could say I was proud of Pakistani cinema's halting achievements.
To sit through the film is to endure two-plus hours of pure unadulterated misogyny, sexism and classism. The film promotes violence against women, glorifies abusive relationships, encourages stalking and emotional manipulation and normalises a culture of non-consent.
It is relentless in its portrayal of women as being deserving of whatever violence is done to them, to the extent that I can only conclude Syed Noor harbours a previously latent and now entirely obvious resentment against the female sex.
Regressive in both its politics and its aesthetics, Chain Aye Na is the most deeply irresponsible act of filmmaking I've had the misfortune to experience.
At the outset we're introduced to female lead Ruba (played by Sarish Khan) who bumps into young musician Rayan (played by Shahroze Sabzwari) at a wedding.
A mere glance and one dance is enough to convince Rayan that he's madly in love with Ruba. When he confesses his love to her she brushes him off. She's very pointed in her dismissal but crucially, she frames her disinterest as a product of being engaged to another man, Murad (played by Adil Murad), rather than as her exercising her own free will to accept or reject a suitor. More on this later.
Rayan refuses to accept this state of affairs. He exhibits classic stalker behaviour -- he tracks down her phone number, shows up uninvited at her home and repeatedly invades her personal space. All this despite knowing barely anything about Ruba, who again is adamant that he should leave her alone.
At this point Rayan's near-pathological obsession with Ruba makes for deeply uncomfortable viewing. Without a backstory or any character development to prop him up, Rayan is the embodiment of male entitlement.
He cannot fathom that no means no. To him Ruba is little more than an object he can demand to own just because he desires this to be so. This notion that women are objects, little more than collectible items to be traded or discarded by men at will, is reinforced throughout the movie -- for example, at one point Rayan's friend ogles a picture of Ruba and says "Jis ko pehlay mili us ki."
I had the distinct and discomfiting sense that I was witnessing the prelude to violence, because as we all know, in a world where men feel entitled to receive a woman's attention or affection there is usually only one way rejection plays out - with murder.