Hollywood films stereotype Pakistan’s Pathans as the bad guys, says Janaan director


Add a Pakistani terrorist and you’ve got the perfect, on-trend addition to any Hollywood film on terrorism.

In the past it was Russia, but now Pakistan is the adversary of choice in western films. While the west keeps pumping stereotypes through their films, how many local films have been or are being produced to eradicate that standpoint?

Based on Pakhtoon culture, Janaan features a love triangle between leads Armeena Khan, Ali Rehman Khan and Bilal Ashraf. The film is predominantly a rom-com, but the narrative focuses on altering the bias people hold against Pakhtoons.

“We’re proud of breaking stereotypes,” says co-producer Hareem Farooq to Images. “When we thought of Janaan initially, we thought we had to break a lot of stereotypes — we want to change the image of Pakistan on the international map. Yes, it’s a rom-com, but we’ve explored Pakhtoon culture, because it’s a misperceived part of our country, even within our country. You can’t stereotype Pakhtoons based on one label. We’ve shown [the community] in a lighter way, who they actually are.”

Director Azfar Jafri chimes in, “If you see Hollywood movies, when they want to show an antagonist from our region, it’s usually a Pathan. Which is wrong.” And Hareem nods in agreement.


Still from Janaan

By portraying a positive outlook of Pakistan and shifting perspectives on Pakhtoons on a global scale, the Janaan team hopes to eradicate the extrinsic connection created between Pakistan, Pakhtoons and terrorism through its upcoming venture.

Although the film is primarily based around Pakhtoons, the director and producer claim that it is highly relatable and will resonate with the audience. The director adds, “Yes, the film revolves around Pashtuns and Pakhtoon culture, but everyone can relate to it, even people abroad because it’s based on humans, human relations, the love connections, which is universal.”

The film promises to be a family entertainer without any objectionable material, but at the same time Hareem points out that the media has a duty to uphold, one which is powerful and should be used responsibly.

“It’s not completely about comedy, it’s not completely about romance. Yes, it’s entertaining with an extremely feel good factor, but it has a subtext to it. Media is a responsibility, film is a responsibility, TV is a responsibility: it’s a responsibility to your audience, people follow you, people get inspired by you. When you watch a good film, your thought process gets provoked. So even if we manage to provoke one individual’s thought process, we’d consider our job done,” says the co-producer.

But will the film manage to grab the audience without any star power? Hareem says it was a conscious decision on their part to cast relatively new faces.

“When this whole film revival [in Pakistan] started, people thought that by using stars who have a large following, the film would be a hit, but after the last few attempts at that approach, this proved flawed. What is more important for a film is the story, the way it’s been told, the way it’s been executed and it needs to have good actors,” she says.

She explains, “Star power doesn’t matter as much anymore that the audience will go watch a movie because of them. Plus, we wanted fresh people, all the stars in our country are from TV, TV is something that’s in every household, and people do get tired of seeing them [the same actors] again and again. So it’s a debate, why would anyone want to pay Rs500 or Rs1000 to watch the same stars you see on TV. Plus, we have a really good cast!”

Adding to what Hareem said, Imran Kazmi empahsises that the film is not about the stars, it’s about the storyline.

“We are here to tell the story, we are not selling our film on the fact that we have bigger stars or we have smaller stars or fresh faces, we are selling our film on our story, its direction, its technicalities,” he adds.

One of the lead actors, Ali Rehman Khan, who is Pakhtoon, explains that while the film is based on the Pakhtoon community, it is constructed around a certain class and is not entirely reflective of the community.

We can’t represent a whole segment of society, but we’re targeting a certain segment in the film and it focuses on an upper class Pakhtoon family. We’re showing a regular family, but the general image of a Pakhtoon family is that they’re terrorists, they’re looked at in a negative way, they’re made fun of, they’re either akhrots, they’re not very smart, that’s what we’re trying to break, that we’re normal and as dysfunctional as any other Punjabi, Sindhi family,” says Ali.

The actor adds, “We’re very proud people and we’re very proud of our culture, but that doesn’t make us any different, we’re very proud to be Pakistani.”