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The heinous motorway incident—where a woman was gang-raped in front of her children when her car stalled on the Lahore-Sialkot highway at night—has ripped the bandaid off a wound festered with gender violence, misogyny and oppressive social structures.

Women have now had enough of archaic paternalistic attitudes that plague every stratum and every institution of our society.

Recently, a woman approached a government office in Karachi to procure a car/bike license, which was a cost-effective transport option for her—but was not only given a blunt refusal but also harshly told off; the reason being, women were not "allowed" those licenses.

Taking to her social media, Shireen Ferozepurwalla, said, "Got bike riding classes last month. Was literally so relieved to be able to ride a bike. You see, I can’t really afford a car right now and with the surging rates of other transport services, it was getting a little difficult for me to stay within my budget. Imagine paying 600PKR (Sometimes even 900PKR at peak times) for a one-way ride of 7.3km. That is roughly 1200PKR every single day (to and from office)."

According to her, all was going well while the man behind the counter entered her details into the system. When she reminded him that she also needed a motorbike license, the man "lost it" and became angry.

The post continued, "He told me and I quote “Aap nikal jaye yahan se. Bike ka license nahi dete hum larkiyo ko. Aap aurat he aap gaari chalaye”. I asked him the reason for this absurd rule but obviously he gave me no response other than continuously telling me to get out."

She then proceeded to confirm this with a contact at another branch of the office, which he did.

The post ended with a million-dollar why? and asked, "Exactly what kind of law is this? Have these people decided themselves as to who should and who shouldn’t be allowed to ride a bike? Where do I complaint about this? Is anyone in this country accountable for anything at all?"

Speaking to Images, Ferozpurwalla says, "After my post, I've found out that many girls got their bike license because they pressurised the staff at the license office and stood their ground when they were refused. I'm planning to go and try again. This time I won't leave till I get one."

"However, my concern is this: Why are these people operating these offices according to their own will? Does this mean that if a man sitting behind the counter is someone who doesn't believe that women should step out of the house, will he refuse to issue licenses to women?”

“Are they not hired to do their job and not bring their personal opinions to the table? Or now are women expected to first check the officer's mood and then decide whether to ask for a motorbike license? Where are the authorities? Why are these people policing women like this? A girl even commented on my post that the officer tore up her form when she ticked on 'motorbike'. Does the officer have the right to decide what women are allowed to drive?"

She asks, "Why is everything so difficult for a woman in this country? The women who got their licenses easily were just plain lucky that they did not run into a misogynistic man. So are we women now supposed to first gauge what kind of a person the officer is and then talk about a bike license?"

The recent PEMRA notices banning repeat showings of Hum Tv’s serial Pyar Kay Sadqay, Ary Digital’s Ishqiya and now Jalan seems like a blunt instrument for a deeper problem.

Neither Pyar Kay Sadqay nor Ishqiya showed anything which was beyond the realms of public decency.

The sight of Feroze Khan standing threateningly close to his ex-girlfriend, turned sister-in-law, may have disturbed some but is nothing new. Such scenes are now part of Khan’s USP and not very different to his scenes standing up close and threatening to another heroine he is obsessed with in the drama Khaani (now on Netflix), or his scenes standing near another heroine he is (surprise) obsessed with and threatening in Gul-e-Rana.

Khan’s ability to infuse sex appeal into the equation is a tribute to his screen presence and to be fair something the situations in the story might reasonably require.

While Pyar Kay Sadqay lacked the Feroze Khan quotient, it made up for it with the equally capable Omair Rana standing up close to the heroine, his one-sided love interest turned daughter-in-law and threatening her to agree to “his terms”.

 

However disturbing to watch, no one can deny that such harassment does occur. If the purpose of the shows was to challenge viewers and open up difficult conversations on these subjects then both despite meeting with limited success, did get producer ratings.

Many boxes of soap, packets of tea and canisters of cooking oil were sold on the back of these tantalising vignettes. However as is often the case with any successful campaign, there was some collateral damage.

Social media was abuzz with criticism, questions and debates.

In Ishqiya there were elements of forced marriage due to emotional blackmail, but the main plot point was unrelenting blackmail, abuse and threats from an ex-boyfriend who marries into the family of the morally weak protagonist, Hamna, very effectively played by Ramsha Khan.

 

Hamna is not a noble character and even sacrifices her sister to hide her past from her conservative husband. Many tense episodes were spent building up the villain’s menacing presence till the ultimate collapse of his house of cards, when the truth is revealed.

Powerful lines were narrated by Rumi, the braver sister, who pointed out that women alone carry the burden of family honour, all of which works in the predator’s favour. However, most of the impact of that message was lost by stretching the story and making it little too sensational to keep viewers glued.

Pyar Kay Sadqay had more to offer in terms of messaging and impact, but that too, had a second wife track worked into it. This time when the naïve young heroine exposed the inappropriate behaviour of her father-in-law, no one believed her and her simple-minded husband threw her out of the house.

 

This is not an extraordinary scenario and yet there is a ban.

Similar notices have been sent to serials that explored sensitive issues of pedophilia, coercion and sexual assault within the family setting of drama. Dar Si Jati Hai Sila and Udaari both managed to survive, with latter in particular raising awareness of this insidious problem with a huge public campaign.

In all cases, it is incredibly disheartening to note that outrage is less over sufferings of victims and actual problems illustrated; and more about upsetting sensitivities.

Another drama which has been sent a notice from PEMRA is Jalan, which is about an affair between a girl and her older sister’s husband. It has been gaining both audiences and disapproval.

There is nothing new about such a story, but fast-paced direction, lavish production values and suggestive scenes between the illicit couple have given it a lot of shock value.

 

By international standards, the sight of a childlike Minal Khan fighting like a five-year-old over a TV remote with a distracted Emaad Irfani trying to watch a cricket match should have dampened anyone’s excitement - but combined with another, a scene of them caught together while Irfani wears a blue bathrobe, caused many complaints.

Just like the Pink Night gown in the recent hit Mere Pass Tum Ho (which also covered open adultery), the blue robe was a visual trigger.

Censorship is a slippery slope, and the idea that an Urdu drama is somehow causing a collapse of public morals is outdated in a digital world were the worst kind of content is available at the touch of a mobile phone screen.

It is also true that adultery is a fact of life, and simply disapproving of something will not stop it happening. As Sadat Hassan Manto put it, “If you cannot bear these stories then the society is unbearable. Who am I to remove the clothes of society, which is itself naked? “

However, it is also legitimate to question producers who either overreact to some issues, or ignore major criticism comlpetely.

Scenes of a relationship between a doctor and a patient have been removed from the drama Sabaat, making it look incomplete at times, but could easily have been addressed with a few conversations within the drama.

 

On the flip-side, producers have completely ignored complaints about the overwhelming use of two themes in dramas this year; two sisters competing for the same man and infidelity leading to a second wife.

As of writing, thirteen dramas are using this plot point, so viewers have the luxury of picking roughly two affairs a day to watch.

 that his productions cannot all be message-based,

“TV is not a book, I’m not your teacher, it is entertainment,” ignoring that as with any industry, a balance must be maintained between values and commercial viability.

Whether it is Europe, India, Turkey or North America; the media industry enforces codes of ethics that fit the norms of the societies producing them - and Pakistani media is no different. If channels do not want state interference perhaps, they too need to take a long look in the mirror.

While no one is asking them to stop making money, they should understand the power of their medium and use strong quality control before the script reaches the floors. The argument that such sensational content is popular, therefore this is all they will make, is completely false and intellectually lazy.

Dramas without these themes such as Prem Gali, Mushk and satire such as Ghissi Pitti Mohabbat also succeed.

 

A good step would be more stringent quality control to ensure a diversity of content and weed out plot points that might cause issues later.

Another equally important step might be for the Pakistani government to appreciate and understand the strategic importance of the media. The ban on the Pakistani film industry led to a vacuum, which was filled by bootleg copies of Bollywood movies, silencing our storytellers and stunting our cultural growth.

While we may complain about Pakistani drama content, if it disappears or is handicapped by overt censorship, audiences will quietly switch to foreign content and what societal values will we be indirectly promoting then?

Unsafe while they're marching, unsafe while they're walking on the streets, unsafe while they're driving, unsafe when accompanied - women in this country are unsafe, and the gang-rape of a woman travelling from Lahore to Gujranwala, has sparked this concern in the entire nation.

Raped at gunpoint while she was waiting for help after her car developed fault; citizens are outraged at the heinous crime committed in front of her children.

Further adding fuel to the fire were the vile comments from the Lahore CCPO, a man in authority blaming the victim without remorse. While the nation demanded to hold him accountable; celebrities too, raised a voice against the safety of women in this country.

Stop victim blaming, said Mansha Pasha

 

 

Why are men surprised? questioned a distraught Ayesha Omar

 

 

Publicly shame the abusers, demanded Mahira Khan

 

 

Osman Khalid Butt called out all the gross victim-blamers and hypocrites

 

Mehwish Hayat wants to know are we even a civilised society?

 

 

Castrate the harassers, voiced Sanam Saeed

 

And raise your boys well, reiterated Sarwat Gillani

 

 

We have failed as a nation, said Adnan Siddiqui

 

Faysal Qureshi is just as angry as we are

 

On our 73rd Independence Day, Pakistan's government has announced civil awards for 184 Pakistanis and foreigners in recognition of their services to the country and showing excellence in their respective fields.

The awards will be handed out by President Dr Arif Alvi in a ceremony scheduled for Pakistan Day, March 23, 2021.

Actors Bushra Ansari and Talat Hussain will be receiving the Sitara-i-Imtiaz award whereas the Pride of Performance accolade will be given to actors to Humayun Saeed and Sakina Samo, singer Ali Zafar and religious scholar Maulana Tariq Jameel.

Singer Abida Parveen, painter Sadequain Naqvi and poet Ahmed Faraz have been awarded a Nishan-i-Imtiaz.

Last year's honoured entertainment figures included actors Babra Sharif, Mehwish Hayat, Reema Khan, Iftikhar Thakur, Shabbir Jan, singers Attaullah Essakhelvi, Sajjad Ali and Sardar Ali Takkar.

Not only has Dirilis Ertugrul made a huge impact in Pakistan, but Pakistani fans have made a huge impact on the show's cast and crew.

Many actors from the show have thanked their Pakistani audience for the love and record-smashing views, and now producer Mehmet Bozdag is wondering why the two countries haven't worked together on projects.

"I am surprised that we did not make any collaborations till this day because we call each other brother countries,” said Bozdag to Anadolu Agency.

“However, we have never signed a deal in the field of culture and arts. So then where is the fellowship?”

He went on to say, "When one of us is in trouble, both countries are mobilized. But we should also do this act on better days and organize days of culture not only in the cinema but also in the field of cuisine, museums and history."

"We shall share our experiences with Pakistan and they should share theirs with us, and together we will sign world-shaking deals," he said.

According to Bozdag, "Even if Turkey and Pakistan have separate borders, the souls are of one nation."

Bozdag also shared the story behind creating the popular Turkish drama, revealing, "When we started this project, we were not able to find trained horses that ran at the same time, tents were not produced and what people ate during the 13th century was a dilemma."

"When writing the story, I was 30 years old, the company was new and nobody believed in the project. After I wrote down the story, we invited a painter from Mongolia, and he depicted the story, and so the actors saw the project and had faith in it."

"While imagining, we never forgot about the reality of the period and the spirit of Islam. All of the historical dramas around the world do the same thing. We are not the first ones to come up with this method," he said.

Bozdag also revealed that the story of Ertugrul "will continue as [next drama] Kurulus: Osman," which will continue for five to six more years so it looks like fans will be getting their fix for a long time.

A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) passenger plane, with an estimated 98 people onboard, crashed in Karachi's Model Colony near Jinnah International Airport earlier today.

As news of the crash along with videos and images, started circulating on social media, a rumour also started spreading that celeb couple Ayeza Khan and Danish Taimoor were on PK 8303.

However, the two were quick to rubbish the rumours and call out people for blatantly sharing fake news without any verification.

 

 

"We are safe and at our home," confirmed Danish Taimoor.

"May Allah grant an eternal peace to the departed souls and strength and patience to bereaved families to bear this irreparable loss."

 

 

Added Ayeza Khan in her own post, "Please act sensible, stop spreading fake news!"

Saba Qamar’s life has been racing away for the past few years. I know so, because she and I have been trying to coordinate for this interview for just as long.

Saba is a superstar and an acting powerhouse and, as her career shifts gears from one project to the other, I knew that an interview with her would be very, very interesting. But Saba has perpetually been busy.

Sometimes she would be ensconced in the picturesque Soon Valley, shooting for Sarmad Khoosat’s Kamli, and the next week, she’d be roaming the winding alleys of androon shehr Lahore for the filming of the upcoming web-series Mann Jogi.

In the midst of all this, she’d also find time to shoot an ad in a foreign locale or dance at a major awards show. Life was hurtling on, full throttle, and so, our quest to find time to sit down for an interview continued.

 

Until, suddenly, everything came to a halt and we were all locked down in our homes with the coronavirus pandemic upon us. At least, we could finally plan out our interview.

“I’m enjoying the peace,” Saba had told me in the initial days of the lockdown, “it had been a while since I had just sat down at home and relaxed.”

But Saba Qamar isn’t one to sit back and chill. A few days later, she started working on a YouTube channel of her own.

“I’m writing the content myself, figuring out how to film it, and I’m working with a team of young people. We’re all having virtual sessions and trying to figure out how to go about it,” she told me.

The first YouTube video came out a few days later and teasers of the next one followed soon afterwards.

 

 

You can’t just sit around and do nothing at home, can you, I ask her now. She laughs. “No, I can’t! I’m having so much fun working on this project and the response has been great so far. This is my latest project and I love projects — the more complicated, the better!”

Looking back at her career trajectory, her words ring true. Saba Qamar loves challenges, more so because she is extremely talented and is able to rise to them brilliantly. Last year, for instance, she danced in the grand finale at the Lux Style Awards. She was experiencing extreme back pain — a condition that she occasionally has to endure, ever since she picked up some very heavy weights on her back while shooting for a past project.

But as she danced with complete synchronisation in a tribute to veteran actress Shabnam, you couldn’t tell that she was in pain. It was a tough challenge to take on — but then, Saba’s never been one to give up.

Was she always like this, even when she first started out? “I always had the energy to learn new things and achieve more,” she says, “but I wasn’t as tough as I’m now.”

Then and now

She recalls past memories, experiences that may sound familiar to many young actresses who have had to weather the vicissitudes of an industry where power players can often be unfair. Back when she started out, she slogged hard as part of a prominent awards show, playing a part in several segments and coming to work even if she had a fever.

After the show, when she asked for her pay, however, the event organiser told her that it wasn’t their practice to pay a first-timer. Another time, she worked in a drama for 15 days but the director only paid her for two, telling her that he didn’t have more money.

“Back then, there weren’t any contracts, and since I had already shot the drama, there was nothing that I could do.”

Do payment issues still arise?

“No one would dare to trick me now!” she laughs. “I make sure that the contracts and legal issues are all sorted.”

She’s definitely wiser now. “There is a lot that I have learnt through experience,” Saba muses.

“I do a lot of yoga and it’s made me positive. I don’t get jealous or insecure. I barely pay attention to awards and nominations, and whether they are fair or unfair. If someone trolls me on social media, I’m not bothered. I don’t care if someone says something behind my back, or gets a role for which I was being considered. There will be other, better things that will come my way. Sometimes, I see memes made about a shoot that I’ve done and honestly, I usually find them very funny.”

Does she think that working in a major international project, 2017’s Bollywood movie Hindi Medium, opposite actor Irrfan Khan, helped make her more self-assured?

“It definitely did. I was suddenly working with new people, in a different world, away from all these small politics. I was acting with a major star, Irrfan Khan, and being appreciated for my work. It made a huge difference.”

Our discussion naturally diverts to her recollections from the Hindi Medium days, and of the recently deceased Irrfan Khan.

“You know, while I was shooting the movie, I didn’t even know that he was the one who had selected me for it. It was only when I returned home and saw an interview of his that I found out that he was the one who had seen some of my work on the internet and decided to cast me. I felt bad that I had never thanked him for the opportunity.

 

 

“While shooting the movie, I would sometimes get irritated by him. Irrfan would never rehearse a scene beforehand. He would learn his lines and I would learn mine and then, we would just perform together, spontaneously. That’s just how he preferred to work and, after a few takes, we would be done. I have always been accustomed to rehearsing a scene, figuring out what pitch I should have, and I would feel anxious that, while we would spend so much time just chit-chatting, we would just never rehearse.”

Nevertheless, the scenes turned out very well, with Saba receiving accolades for her performance. I remind her that she shot the movie at a time when Indo-Pak political tensions were spiraling, and Pakistani artists working in Bollywood were quickly leaving India to return home.

During all this, Saba quietly continued to shoot Hindi Medium and only came back to Pakistan once work had wrapped up.

“In fact, even my visa expired while I was there and I still had to shoot the movie for 15 more days. So, I just went to the police station, had tea there and they gave me an extension,” she grinned.

Wasn’t she scared? “No, I don’t get scared easily,” she confesses.

No ‘pyari beti’ please!

Post Hindi Medium, it was this fearlessness that made her take on the role of Qandeel Baloch in the 2018 hit, award-winning drama Baaghi, one of her most memorable projects and also, one that pushed her through an emotional rollercoaster.

Ironically, it is because of this inherent fearlessness that she gives very few interviews. “I can’t lie,” she shrugs, “and I don’t want to hurt anyone. Also, I hate it when my comments get misconstrued.”

Unlike so many of her fellow actresses, who prefer to project typical Eastern personas of themselves to please a largely conservative audience, Saba’s Instagram feed is dictated by her moods.

 

At one point, she’ll post a picture of her silhouette against a backdrop of the Badshahi Mosque and, the next thing you know, she’ll be posing in a short dress, quipping in the caption, ‘Thorra chhota ho gaya’ [It got a bit too short]! And then, while having breakfast on the sets of Kamli with her director Sarmad Khoosat, she’ll pose with his cigarette in her hands — even though she doesn’t smoke herself.

“That was a good picture, so I posted it,” Saba shrugs. “I don’t smoke but, even if I did, I wouldn’t go to great lengths to hide it. I can’t pretend to be a ‘pyari beti’ [sweet daughter] just to please people. And I think people love the fact that I’m genuine. We are living in a time when people appreciate reality a lot more than pretence and glamour.”

Given that she doesn’t like to abide by conventions, does she also not feel the need to get married and settle down, like so many of her peers?

“I do want to get married one day, yes, but there is no desperation to rush into it,” she says. “I would want to be with someone who accepts me the way I am. And I don’t think I’d ever want to settle down and leave my career. I’ll always want to act, till my last breath!”

Covid-19 times

For all her positivity, is she now getting worried about her projects that have been left midway due to the coronavirus pandemic? Mann Jogi needs to be shot for two more weeks in order to wrap up, Kamli was tentatively scheduled to release this Eidul Fitr and, around this time — if life had proceeded normally — Saba would have had been shooting the upcoming movie Ghabrana Nahin Hai, opposite Zahid Ahmed.

 

 

With cinemas closed indefinitely, the future of Pakistan’s struggling film industry now hangs in the balance. Does this worry her?

“These are sad times,” she agrees, “but we will get through this. We just need to be careful right now and stay safe.”

And while the world outside her home may have come to a stop, life hurtles on for Saba Qamar as she bends over her laptop every day and makes more plans for her YouTube channel. “I have written a lot of scripts. This space [YouTube] can allow me to be candid, speak my mind, make jokes, talk about things that I care about. And now, some of my musician friends from across the border have reached out to me, telling me that they will provide me with any music that I may need. There’s so much to do.”

Ever busy, ever creative, Saba Qamar likes to live her life according to her own rules, paving her own way. It helps that she’s also very talented — the paths she carves out always do tend to be quite spectacular.

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