Cake: A Look at Pakistani Cinema

In week 3, we viewed a Pakistani film called ‘Cake’ that focused heavily on family structures and culture. I found that my attitude towards the film and what it was portraying developed over time as the story also continued to develop.

One aspect of the film that stood out to me was the importance placed on family and collectivism. Hall’s concept of high versus low context cultures forms a significant part of my understanding of Asian cultures. Cake exhibited communication through its contextual elements such as body language, social status and tone of voice. This is in contrast to low context cultures where communication is transmitted mainly through language and is explicitly spelt out. Two of the most relevant aspects of high context culture to this film were that they often place great emphasis on interpersonal relationships; the preferred way of solving problems and learning is in groups and that more often than not, the situation, people, and non-verbal elements are more important than the actual words that are communicated (Hall, 1976). Distinctive aspects of the film included the centrality of family and relationships to the plot and the influence of status and social standing. This was particularly evident in scenes like where the two sisters stated that they shouldn’t be smoking and it was positioned as being beneath them and the influence of the caste system.
See below:

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Making these distinctions was important to me as it helped to explain why I felt lost at points in the movie, or that it was slow moving and not as easily followed as typical plots in Western cinema. These factors really highlighted the influence of my own cultural norms and understanding on my ability to read and interpret texts and media. It is something that I will continue to keep in mind as I further develop my skills around media ethnography as it is always important to the process to identify bias and challenge assumptions.

The film challenged my beliefs in the way it looked at gender and the roles of women. Initially, I found it difficult to engage with as I was angered by the way certain characters referred to women or the social expectations that were presented in relation to women. Some lines included referring to a woman’s ‘expiry date’ with regards to having children, and the constant pressure of the main character to have children. This view is seen in my tweet below: 


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However, through further analysis and secondary research I found that Cake inherently challenged these concepts that it was exploring. This made me challenge my assumptions and recognise that simply exploring or portraying those types of beliefs does not meant that they are endorsing them. The overall strength of the female protagonists inherently challenged these beliefs. The Guardian called the film “expansive in its attitudes” and BBC News said it was “likely to set a trend for more diverse storytelling in the country”(McCahill, 2018, Kessler, 2019). I was intrigued by these statements as strong female leads are a trend in Western cinema, but through further research I found that movies produced in Pakistan don’t typically feature female protagonists. Pakistan is traditionally a patriarchal, hyper masculine society (Saleem, 2019). Cake challenges this norm and encourages a broader more inclusive way of looking at both society and the roles of women. Through these findings, I also found that I respected the film more as a result. This solidified the belief that it often takes personal connection to unlock our interest in another country’s nuances.From my experience in analysing and responding to ‘Cake’, I belief this to be true and will actively try to combat it in future studies and ethnographical research.

Hall, E.T. 1976. ‘Beyond Culture’, Viewed 20 August.

Kessler, S. February 2019, ‘Transcending Toxic Masculinity and Breaking All the Rules in Pakistan’s Hit Film ‘Cake’.

Saleem, S. October 2019, Patriarchy in Pakistan.

McCahill, M. March 2018. ‘Cake review – Karachi sister act ditches melodrama for real life’ in The Guardian.

#bcm320 #cake

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