Hamza Waqas, Balach Khan
Puffball studio’s new short animated film, titled Swipe, is being screened in collaboration with universities and schools around the country. The film comes after the massive success of their previous work, Shehr e Tabassum (The city of smiles).
Both films mark the rise of an important emerging genre in Pakistani art. While our lives have been a dystopia for long, it is only recently that our art has started emulating it. As fans of cyberpunk, seeing art that merges the quintessentially Pakistani with the generic dystopian is truly a delight. In Shehr e Tabassum ,this included things like the corporation Muskan and in Swipe it was the mobile application iFatwa. These ideas also seem to draw from the best in the genre. Muskan’s “HusMukh” device brings to mind the screen suit from Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly. The city skyline in the film reminds us of Blade Runner, Akira, and even features a tall ominous structure that resembles Hal 9000 from 2001 Space Odyssey.
Continuing on this emerging sub-genre, where the former dystopia was premised upon nationalism, Swipe explores themes of democracy, intolerance and violent fanaticism.
Before reviewing the themes and narrative construction of the work, the animation and music deserve to be discussed. This work comes as one of the finest works of recent animation in Pakistan, in terms of artistic style and the quality of it. We have recently seen a rise in animated Pakistani films, such as 3 Bahadur, Allahyar, Donkey Raja or the Burka Avenger or the in-progress Sheeshagar, but Swipe’s style of animation is artistically original and attentive towards details that work as ester eggs in each frame. This attention to detail really urges one to pause and go through each frame, such as the chalkings on the wall or random adverts on the street.
There is a charm that is unspeakable about seeing ourselves represented on screen with such sensitivity and nuance that brown postcolonial subjects like ourselves have not experienced in mediums that are particularly modern. Each frame was a delight of a bittersweet kind, where it accurately depicts us, with all our towering inglorious bigotry and our carelessness.
The use of sound and music was interestingly done; after the opening few scenes the narrative employs very few dialogues and most of the tone of the narrative is expressed through music. This reaches its crescendo with the climax of the short film with a beautiful rendition of Ahmed Faraz’s Hum log Muhabbat Waley Hein rendered by Shorbanoor. A particularly admirable quality of the film is how it falls back upon an indigenous cultural heritage of progressive tolerance in our language/literature that is often overlooked and underutilized in building counternarratives against the religious fanaticism and intolerance.
The film was a culturally poignant critique of democracy in a world where intolerance is rising not only from the state machinery towards the society, but from society itself. Across the globe, we have seen a rise of the conservative right, and that too within the mechanisms of democracies. The film uses the iFatwa app as a power symbol for a consumerist religious fundamentalism as well as an instrument of collective hate; an interesting intersection of the two concepts. It is important to mention here that one can not divorce the themes and their particular representation from the creator of this film. Arafat Mazhar has extensively written and complied reports on the blasphemy law. Through his work, instead of deepening the divide between the religious right and those that wish to reform the law, he uses islamic sources to suggest reforms accordingly, without antagonising those who feel so strongly about it. Similarly, Swipe in no way means to unnecessarily offend or dehumanize those who wish to protect the law in its current form. The film shows the effect of the increasingly political, blasphemy accusation epidemic, on the lives of ordinary citizens, children in particular. It shows us how by weaponizing our love for our faith, we have perhaps inadvertently desentized our fellow citizens to violence. People deciding what is and what isn’t an insult to religion,and using it to settle petty personal matters, is not a new concept for those aware of the rampant misuse of the blasphemy law in Pakistan. This short movie is a nuanced, emotional and sensitive portrayal of that.
Love and faith, that are meant to be something beautiful, have turned into something deeply saddening and violent. Faith is turned into a commodity, exploited for reasons that are far from holy, while those who exploit it are reassured with a promise of heaven. This is truly one of the biggest tragedies of our time, for to be a Ghazi in Pakistan, means to have tainted ones hands with blood.