‘Prince Charming’ Speaks For The Housewife

Little girls are told they are princesses and thus, they grow up having their ideal prince charming always in their minds. Is it a harmful dream to indulge in? Yes, and no, is the answer to this question in Sheheryar Munawar’s directorial debut, Prince Charming. Yes – because it can turn out to be a deadend if the feelings are not reciprocated. No – because it carries with it a certain beauty and romanticism.

In our society, the ultimate day in a girl’s life is her wedding day. The hype created of this day and the subsequent marriage is an emotional extremity in our culture. It is even considered to be a solution for all problems. If a girl is rebellious – get her married, if she is a bit too inspired, get her married and all will turn out tamed and suitable at the end. The soap ad that plays on the radio in Prince Charming hints at this: “Prince Charming soap sub daagh dho daalei ga.” (Prince Charming soap will clean out all stains.) 

It makes you think of how young girls romanticize the day of their wedding for years and it is the single most celebrated event of their entire lives. How is securing a wedding such an achievement? Why not celebrate the day of their graduation instead? When this ‘dream’ does not materialize in the way they had imagined since they were little girls, what do they do? How do they face the stark difference between the imagined and the actual? “Prince Charming” delves into this very conundrum. 
On the romantic side, the short film portrays the delicate details of the life and mind of a Pakistani housewife. Written and directed by Sheheryar Munawar, it is an initiative of a male gaze observing the interiority of the world of a woman, post-marriage.  

Some would argue that art should be viewed for the construct itself, and not with the gendered lens of its creator. However, for this particular film, I would have to say that the very fact that it is created by a man, is crucial and adds mystique to this film. It betrays a certain sensitivity to the opposite gender, as well as a helpless curiosity. It reminds me of the treatment of a Turkish house-wife by Orhan Pamuk in The Black Book. 

At once stunned by the impossibility to imagine the ordinary day of a house-wife – the thoughts that flit across her mind, her daydreams, her daily occupation – Pamuk’s narrator confesses his feelings towards his wife Ruya’s mind-world as follows: 

“But he would never know the strange herbs and ghastly flowers that engulfed this world; like the garden of Ruya’s memories, it was closed to him.”

For the writer-director of Prince Charming, these questions seem to be relevant. He portrays the archetype of the Pakistani housewife, at once embellishing her with the beauty of a romantic imagination as well as a woman who keeps her desires and thoughts to herself. Like Pamuk’s narrator in The Black Book, the film Prince Charming also wants to ask the wife: “What did you do all day, what did you do?”

The music in the film follows the wife, Sheherzade, and contrasts with the silent depiction of the world of Akbar, the husband. This enhances the colorful aspect of her outlook to life, as well as her hopeful feelings towards the present dry state of their marriage. It is also interesting to note that this is not a newlywed couple, as their daughter is old enough to go to school. Thus the film portrays the time of a marriage after the initial ‘honeymoon’ period has passed. The married woman can still have dreams! 

 In a society, where the housewife becomes a mechanical attribute of the patriarchy – doing house chores, providing the family their needs, playing dutifully the sacrificial role of the mother – Prince Charming’s Sheherzade raises the question of the dreams and desires of the house-wife: has anyone ever asked her what she wants? 

Sheherzade imagines romantic exchanges with her own husband in a dreamlike parallel life. She imagines his interest in her to be a thing of the poet’s fervor and the lover’s sigh. The film is keenly punctuated between the two worlds of dream and the actual. This sheds light on the fact that thoughts of the mind have an independence and go on despite the circumstances that a character finds herself in. 

In a climactic scene, as Sheherzade finally comes to sit beside her working, mentally unavailable husband, she finds herself in a whirl of thoughts, images and words coming at her all together at once. This is a maddened state and as if to break its hold on her, and as a last hope, she speaks up and asks Akbar if they can go to see a movie together that evening. 

The husband, of course, is too busy and instead is telling her to not miss her doctor’s appointment and to take the ‘dum vala panee’ (water which has been prayed upon) indicating that he feels she is not well. His feeling also echoes a crude remark referred to a little earlier: “She’s sick in the head.” Here the film turns very dark and wraps the viewers with the concern for the mental health of house-wives. The film even ends with the statement: “Post marital depression is real. You’re not alone. It’s ok to talk about it.” 

In one of the final scenes, as Sheherzade is lost in her own world, Akbar is irritated by her lack of presence and asks her to at least close the door, as he is leaving. His expectation of her throughout is that she should know all about his shoes, his meetings, his food, when he leaves – but he himself gives her merely a cursory glance and is quick to put her in the category of being ‘unwell.’ If marriage is a two-way street, Akbar, as husband, clearly does not seem to think so. He even forgets his own child’s name, and is not seen to interact with the child at all. The daughter is mysteriously named, Wafa (Loyalty) and the film brings to light new ways of addressing the question of ‘loyalty’ in a marriage. Is Akbar, then, romantically disloyal to Sheherzade?

The feminist concern for the economic independence of women, should also be highlighted. Had Sheherzade her own job, in which she too would be involved in – would her daydreams still lead her to this kind of desire and depression? 

At a time when Sadaf Kanwal has claimed that her husband is ‘her culture,’ and it is her duty to know where his socks are, whereas her domestic needs are not her husband’s concern at all, Prince Charming is a welcome distraction. There were hundreds of tweets, defending Sadaf Kanwal’s statement on twitter, and I hope that the same following will consider the important concerns raised in Sheheryar Munawar’s work as well. The house-wife is not to be discerned as a doormat, and has her own ‘immortal longings.’ Her mental well-being is important and her dreams, hopes and desires need to be acknowledged by her husband. She is not just an insensate beautiful object he has acquired. 


The writer can be reached at fatimaijaz412@gmail.com