Interview: Nadia Jamil
Have female roles moved beyond the stereotype in Pakistani dramas?
Female roles are going backwards at the speed of light. Women weep, plot, foil each other’s plans, plot some more, weep more, never have fun and can’t balance a decent career with a healthy family life on our screens.
Marina Khan playing the doctor in Dhoop Kinaray or Shahnaz Sheikh rejecting two suitors at a time to stand on her own feet – those days are gone. Welcome to the ‘will I stay in this marriage/or find marriage in my lifetime’ era. Women wonder whether they should opt for a man or a book, or whether they should be part of a harem of weeping wives. Star Plus has broken the resolve of the best channels and now, in order to hit the ratings chart and make money, it is misery and men dominating women’s lives till the next turnaround happens.
We don’t need to make post-feminist plays but we could think of themes other than a woman’s need to cling onto a bad marriage and find other ways for her to emote than by sobbing and/or shedding the silent tear – that is if she is not pure evil and out to ruin all other women.
Do you believe that the current milieu of the Pakistani television serial is progressive in terms of its depiction of women? What, if any, have been some of the more retrogressive serials?
Although some projects in the pipeline are quite exciting and will be a refreshing change, a lot of them are regressive. I feel Mehreen Jabbar’s Daam and Kahaniyaan tried to move away from the ordinary. Similary, Dastaan was about the fallout of Partition so it also had a theme other than marriage and misery. But, mostly, our channels like to feed into the stereotype of emotionally incapacitated men and women. It makes them money so one can’t blame them, but I would like someone to take the occasional intelligent risk.
Who will make intelligent plays about sports? Maybe, even films about the women in the national cricket team, Naseem Akhtar, or even Abida Parveen? Who is inspired by the success of the countless women from ordinary middle- class backgrounds?
Amid all the romance and chemical spine-tingling looks, surely a woman can have dreams, ambitions and the desire to achieve. Today in Pakistan, women scale heights in politics, business, banking, sports and the arts, but our TV doggedly keeps them sobbing and clutching onto the dream of some mediocre sour-faced man. We need to build a soft image of our women here before we talk of projecting a soft image abroad.
It’s time we recognised television’s power to change and influence, besides making us rich. Thankfully, some of the directors and producers I’ve met recently are doing just that! I think this is going to be a very exciting time for film and television in Pakistan. Filmmakers like Hasan Zaidi, Mehreen Jabbar and Haissam Hussain are all working on projects with strong, marvellous female protagonists, and that will affect the kind of stories writers write in the future as well. Producers and directors who want a ready made story rely on the sad saas-bahu misery being doled out nowadays. I have a strong feeling more exciting stories are around the corner again.
What would aid young Pakistani actresses to raise the bar and develop professionally?
Exposing their minds to literature wouldn’t hurt, and if they can’t bear the thought of reading, then exposing themselves to interesting experiences, travelling, meeting a diverse section of people from all backgrounds would help them emote more convincingly and in a more versatile manner.
Also, one must understand the importance of changing the tone and quality of one’s voice, playing with it. I feel the audio aspect is sadly neglected here by actors, producers and directors alike.
However, I am happy to say that there is a huge powerhouse of acting talent in Pakistani women. Most young actors I meet are focused and hardworking, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the bar raises itself.
What kind of roles attract you? Are you disappointed by the way women project themselves in the media?
I love theatre, totally, truly, madly and deeply. Any role in a well-written script can be exciting, if I’m working with the right director and co-actors. I do find the constant reinforcing of a woman’s vulnerability in her relationships irksome. Women are strong and can be resilient while still being nurturing in their own capacity. I try to avoid roles where the woman takes endless BS and then …dies.
Disappointing women in the media are those who stupidly allow their choices to harm and affect the environment more than it is already damaged, who make downright dangerous choices out of stupidity or some false hypocritical modesty, thus making the lives of other women tougher. They annoy me.
The media is a powerful tool and whether one has five minutes or five hundred, one should use it responsibly and always be conscious of one’s choices. One can never know who might be reading what one writes or watching what one acts, and how their choices could be affected by one’s briefest appearance. More than one woman on our news media, recently, has sadly misused that power and caused irreparable damage.
Having said all that, I find it incredibly inspirational how far women have come in the media. From pioneers like Razia Bhatti, Khaleda Riyasat and Sultana Siddiqui, to Munizae Jehangir’s fearless and honest reporting, filmmakers like Mehreen Jabbar and producers like Momina Duraid – their success is pegged on the strong content they create vis-à-vis women – actors like Saania Saeed and Sanam Baloch who raise the bar every day, the brilliant RJs one hears on various radio channels, the strength of fashion TV and, of course, now the fantastic, international acclaim garnered by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy.
Women have a strong presence in the media. Our pioneers did a grand job of opening the doors and now women are flooding the field. Online, on paper, on screen – their strength is awesome and it’s fantastic to be a part it.
Do you find that the public, especially women’s response to your characters intelligent? Do they catch the subtle nuances?
I’m afraid I have no idea how the public reacts to my characters. I do what I think is true to the character. If I’m stuck with my character’s choices then I attempt to focus on the woman whose life I’m entering, to portray her as honestly as I can. Sometimes her choices turn me off, but I still get used to her and miss her when the shoot’s over, and at other times I’m in awe of her from the beginning.
You have been a morning show host. Do you think morning shows conducted recently by women need to be revamped. How?
Such an exhausting memory! I don’t really watch morning shows any more, they are pretty sad. Women need to take more responsibility for their environment, for children, the elderly, minorities, animals. Surely there is a world beyond the inane chatter or gross sentimentalising that so brazenly goes on in these shows. It may be wishful thinking but maybe one day a woman will appear who can be emotional and hit a raw nerve with the public, while being intelligent and concerned and yet fun at the same time. If Oprah and Ellen Degeneres can do it, if Tina Fey can do it, then maybe somewhere along the evolutionary ladder we will produce a woman who can listen, as well chatter and be passionately engaged with the world at large. What will be tougher, however, will be to find a good producer who can conceive such a show properly.
I hesitate to go back to morning shows because the general production quality is nauseating. They should be fun, informative and packed with feeling and energy and should preferably not enter the money/ratings gig, by projecting the poverty and plight and the death and disease of our public. I am relieved to get off the bandwagon of empty chatter and return to my true love – acting and the theatre.
This interview was originally published in the June issue of Newsline.
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