Pakistanis are miffed that it took an Indian filmmaker — Sanjay Leela Bhansali — to team up with Netflix to make a series on Lahore’s Heera Mandi.
“This [Heera Mandi] is in Lahore but the movie is being produced by Indians. Then we will criticise how they [Indians] showed a false narrative. God knows when we will talk about such issues, when we will tell our stories,” Pakistani screenwriter, actor and playwright Yasir Hussain said in his Instagram story.
But actress Anoushey Ashraf was quick to point out what the country’s legal system would rather fight. “Watch the courts and lawyers of ours efficiently ban this but not serve justice to murderers yet,” she said in her Instagram story.
Meanwhile, model and actress Hira Tareen spoke of a possible fatwa: “Had we made a film on such (a) topic, a fatwa and a ban would have been imposed on it promptly. Producers would have lost their money. Do you really think people in Pakistan (PEMRA) can tolerate telling the real stories of Heera Mandi or any other subject?”
Earlier this year, when the cast of the series was yet to be decided, Pakistani actress Mansha Pasha had expressed her disappointment: “Because we live in a country where fictional narrative is often censored and everyone keeps arguing about what is or isn’t “morally acceptable” fiction, others make (the) most of the opportunity (by) taking up the stories that are native to our country, brand them and sell them to the rest of the world. In the end what will be left will be our stories told from someone else’s mouth.”
India is making a film on Lahore and the infamous Heera Mandi of yesteryears. Because we live in a country where fictional narrative is often censored and everyone keeps arguing about what is or isnt "morally acceptable" fiction, others make most of the opportunity taking up the
— Mansha Pasha (@manshapasha) January 10, 2021
Bhansali’s yet another magnum-opus, 14 years in the making, aims to capture the lives of courtesans while weaving in themes of love, betrayal, succession and politics. “Heera Mandi is an important milestone in my journey as a filmmaker. It is an ambitious, grand and all-encompassing series; therefore I am nervous yet excited about making it,” the filmmaker said about what will be his debut on the web space.
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About Heera Mandi
Located within the walled city of Lahore, Heera Mandi was earlier known as Shahi Mohalla, for it housed several attendants and servants of the Mughal Empire as it spread across north India. But it wasn’t long before courtesans, or tawaifs, began occupying these spaces as they practised mujra — “the sensual royal dance of the medieval Indian court” — which they would then perform for the royalty as a form of entertainment. Trained in dance, music and etiquette, several families would send their children to courtesans to learn these skills.
History enthusiast and Jamia Millia Islamia student Aashish Kochhar writes how the invasion by Iran’s Nader Shah and by the Afghans under Ahmed Shah Abdali marked the end of their royal patronage and the beginning of their downfall. While not all courtesans indulged in sex work, brothels began coming up as the Afghans took over but were briefly closed in 1762 when the Afghan army destroyed Sri Harmandir Sahab in Amritsar, one of the holiest shrines in Sikhism.
The tawaif culture was revived under the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh when he captured the city in 1799, Kochhar writes, but the area was still known as Shahi Mohalla. Only after Singh passed away in 1839 was the area renamed Heera Mandi – after the prime minister of the Sikh empire, Hira Singh Dogra, who built a grains market there.