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Review: ‘Swipe’ — Short Film About The Widening Definitions Of Blasphemy

Spoiler alert

Dystopia is meant to be an interrogation of our present circumstances, re-examined from a distance that allows us to see things that we may get used to in the everyday light. But what happens when a would-be dystopian world becomes nearly indistinguishable from reality?

One feels this unease watching ‘Swipe’, Puffball Studios second offering after Shehr-e-Tabassum, hitting much too close to home for comfort. In the world of ‘Swipe’, an app called iFatwa allows users to vote on whether or not a fellow human being deserves to be killed for a religious or social transgression. Swipe right for wajib-ul-qatl and left for maafi — a digital optimization of our growing online and offline mobs. The film ends with a nod to these blurred lines between fiction and reality with a clip of small children enacting a faux hanging of Aasia Bibi — a Pakistani Christian woman who spent over a decade in jail after a blasphemy allegation was levelled against her in 2009. With this clip the viewer is unceremoniously jerked out of any notions of fiction or absurdism, to the stark and unpleasant reality of the world we live in.

This short film is about our widening definitions of blasphemy, our narrowing space for expression, the normalization of violently policing difference, and the thoughtlessness with which we inflict harm on our fellow human beings –unaware of how it slowly creeps into our own homes, turns against our own loved ones, against us. But ‘Swipe’ is also, at its core, a film about our children, their corrupted childhoods, their loss of innocence, their narrowing possibilities. For how can a child taught to hate and hurt his whole life grow up to be anything else?

‘Swipe’ is an incredibly heavy film, beautifully animated under the guidance of Haseeb Rehman who has brought Pakistan to life in this medium in a way that’s never been done before. When you watch ‘Swipe’ you feel as though someone has crept into your life and captured the essence of your surroundings. This is the bathroom in your chacha’s home, your razzai on the floor when the whole khandaan sleeps in one room, your galiyan on the way to school, your jumbled telephone wires, even the sabzi wala from your mohalla — all are here, making sure you know that this is your world. Which, again, is why it hits home all the harder at the end — it is, after all, the destruction of your home, the loss of your children.

The animation is accompanied by an incredible score, composed by the film’s talented director, Arafat Mazhar. If the story and animation were not enough, one is absolutely gutted by Shorbanoor’s rendition of Ahmad Faraz’s ‘Hum Log Mohabbat Walay Hain’ — a cry for nothing more and nothing less than life itself. The song plays over the destruction of Jugnu’s home — the young protagonist of the film who has inadvertently swiped right on his own father. And so we watch as Jugnu destroys his own world, a child helpless against a society that taught him to judge the lives of others, a technology designed to be addicting for kids, and a world in which he is rewarded and encouraged for nothing except hate and violence.

Once it dawns on you, what this film is saying, and what a film like this means in our country, the makers of ‘Swipe’ are once again one step ahead of you. The sobering credit sequence seems to be a metacommentary on how the film may be received as each member of the team is ‘swiped right’ for their part in the film. Over which Arafat sings a quietly heartbroken condemnation, a condemnation not of the extremists or purveyors of violence, but a condemnation of me and you.

Inhe dekh ke chup jo behtay hain, ye main houn, ye tum ho, ye hum hai

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