Interview: Samiya Mumtaz
Q. Do you find Pakistani dramas rife with jaded themes and featuring women in discriminatory roles? To what extent have female roles moved beyond the stereotype?
A. Yes, Pakistani dramas are, on the whole, certainly repeating and reinforcing retrogressive and jaded attitudes and themes. And yes, female characters have very few and very definite moulds, outside of which you almost never see them. Female characters have moved beyond the stereotype only in a very superficial manner – the roles are inherently the same, but the women in those roles are now reborn in upperclass, ‘independent’ and ‘liberal’ skins.
I find this rebirth much more insidious and damaging than its previous avatars. Here, you have women who have all the characteristics, opportunities and bravado of independent-minded, educated, balanced individuals and, yet, they too follow the predictable path of their predecessors, in the way they lose their sense of balance and are swept off their feet by charming, controlling men, or the way in which they become helpless victims of social pressure, or the manner in which they inevitably follow the stereotypical role of obedient-but-cheated wife and sacrificing mother.
Q. You have been a woman activist for years now, yet we see you in roles where the woman is long-suffering and hard done by fate? How do you reconcile the two positions? Would you turn down a controversial role if it conflicts with your personal credo?
A. I have been very wary of accepting any role where I feel that the woman is spineless and silently complies with whatever others decide for her. Even in roles where she is hard done by fate, I have taken on the role only if she has strength of character, a set of principles that she lives by, and the resilience to snub societal expectations and take independent decisions, whatever the cost.
I have repeatedly, turned down roles which conflict with my personal beliefs. These include roles where the woman is supposed to be a mindless or glamorous object, who is coveted, fought over or acquired as a trophy by male characters; a malicious, selfish, conniving, manipulative character; a silent spectator to her own life. I am happy to say, though, that on occasion directors have been willing to discuss and change their scripts to accommodate a different personality for the women in their plays.
Q. Can the media assist in changing perceptions about how women see themselves? If so, how?
A. Absolutely. Not only can the media assist in changing women’s perceptions about themselves, it can also lead the way. By providing role models of strong, independent-minded and decisive women, and showing them in a positive light, the media can show female audiences that they too can proudly uphold all these traits in their own personalities. It can also reassure them that there is nothing wrong in acquiring these characteristics for themselves. In fact, these are the kind of women they could aspire to become themselves.
Q. What kind of roles should writers conceive for women and how would you like to see the Pakistani television serial evolve?
A. I think we need to see women who are outspoken, bold and unapologetically honest. We need to see women who take unconventional decisions in their lives, and are proud of their actions.
I feel that Pakistani TV serials are more concerned about letting the status quo remain (so that their sponsors’ products continue to sell more and more), than they are about becoming agents of positive change (which could unsettle consumer trends).
Pakistani serials need to be a little less risk-averse. They need to be more proactive about changing attitudes towards women, consumerism and the environment – all of which might seem like disconnected concerns, but are actually part of the same worldview.
Q. Do you think morning shows, mostly conducted by women, need to be revamped. How?
A. I do not watch any morning shows, women-anchored or otherwise, but from the few shows I have been on, I feel the emphasis on how women look and what they wear, needs to shift to who they are and what they do. Also, if I had any say in the matter, I would do away with cooking and beauty segments in women-anchored shows.
This interview was originally published in the June issue of Newsline.
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