KARACHI: Mehwish Hayat was recently spotted (Well, she posted it stoutly on her Insta!) at Queen Mary's University in London to address issues that ruthlessly envelop Pakistani women – or so I thought - but turns out, the platform that was generously lent to her was utilised to delve into her own odyssey of sorts – which is okay, provided you ultimately and considerately return to the subject at hand. Nope. That. Did. Not. Happen.
1. She very much still had her acting shoes on
Or at least it felt like it. Not trying to hurt sentiments here but that speech felt like a non-open-ended monologue from a sitcom that was so yesterday that it probably got cancelled. I understand you’re an actor but technically speaking, you’re not supposed to be ‘performing’ on a podium of this calibre.
Every statement she uttered felt like a dialogue. Each layer of her life she narrated reeked of a drama rehearsal. There was not even a nano-ounce of emotion in what was supposed to be an emotionally-charged, fervently-driven women empowerment speech. Not a single goosebump alert. If I had to describe this discourse in a statement, it would probably read: We just don’t - and can’t relate.
2. She was stiff and theatrical (and a half)
When I think theatre, I think lines, gestures and expressions that are slightly exaggerated as compared to film. Seems like the Punjab Nahi Jaungi actor was auditioning for a children’s pantomime (Mind you, I didn’t say stage play!) at Queen’s – and trust me, she would’ve made the cut! Her expressions were a concoction of mock-up frolic and overstated - almost inflated gusto. What’s usual or natural about that? Yes, exactly. Nothing.
3. And why was she constantly reading off her page again?
Flash cards make sense when one has a bevy of themes to touch upon but reading off a whole written script on full A4 size pages does not. Especially when you’re only chitchatting about yourself. No pun intended. And all those awkward pauses and that hint of insincere poise she was channelling didn’t help her case. It only made her presentation an unforgiving quicksand, you never want to ever even hover around (in fear of callously being sucked in), not even for entertainment or thrill!
Let’s just put it directly: The taut verses floating out her lips were all being meticulously read off of paper. The end result? Icy, cold and superficial. There you go, I said it. Somebody had to!
4. She looked super affected
From her unhinged posture (that one would normally bring into play during elaborate photoshoots) to her lack of eye contact, Mehwish was completely devoid of passion or dynamism. That deeply embedded connection and delicately personal association one marks with the eager audiences who have borrowed time to listen to you speak were downright missing. Hearing her speak was cumbersome because it evoked nothing in you. Zilch.
I’m not taking sides here but when I heard Mahira Khan speak at the AKU Global platform, she arrested attention and gripped gazes – all because she was ‘normal’ – as opposed to putting on a show. She wasn’t standing stiff, delivering her ‘speech’ but rather, engaging. The Raees star moved around, spoke like a regular person and wasn’t reading off a dense script. She was spontaneous and most importantly, herself. Outcome: Major dose of a sentimental spine-tingling experience that was undoubtedly relatable.
One free tip for Mehwish: Let go a little. Be free when you speak and if your hair strands get slightly ruffled in the process, it’s totally okay. More than okay, in fact. You’re not on a set for a high-profile shoot all the time, remember?
5. She wasn’t original
First things first – all she talked about was Mehwish Hayat – in other words, herself. I guess that was original huh? Coming back to what wasn’t original… she spoke about how her mum helped her sail through life and her career. No offence to mums globally but we’ve been there, done that – and heard that – repeatedly and incessantly and then some. Mums are a gift to mankind, and of course, they ultimately play a major hand in shaping us – but that’s not what this ‘speech’ was supposed to be about.
When a person attends a talk on women empowerment and women-centric concerns plaguing Pakistan, they don’t want to hear about your familial aids but all the disturbing scenarios lurking Pakistani women – and how we, as a society, must evolve to ensure that gender equality isn’t just a pipe dream.
Why didn’t Mehwish discuss menstruation hygiene problems that are killing women in the rural areas at an alarming rate? Why did she not focus on the fact that young Pakistani girls are being robbed of their right to be educated? Why didn’t she speak in detail about sexual assault and child marriages? Why didn't she bring up discrepancies within our judicial system? Why didn't she suggest law-enforcement reforms? Why didn't she urge governments globally to take an initiative (She was, after all, given the honour to speak in one of the capital cities of Europe)?
I'm tired of asking questions but wait, I'm not done yet.
Why didn’t she bring up disparities in salaries of men and women? Why didn’t she talk at length about harassment at the workplace – especially when she belongs to the media industry – a place where harassment is rampant?
Why didn’t she bring up catcalling or on how mothers must raise their sons in a manner that doesn’t demean women instead of asking their girls to ‘be careful or dress modestly’?
Women empowerment, in my opinion, can only occur if both men and women team up to trigger a change. But Mehwish didn't even mention men - and when she did, it was distasteful. That's no feminism. That's not women empowerment. You know what that is? Problematic. Now that's a whole other can of worms and a pandora's box that must be de-lidded another time. As in must.
Why didn’t we hear her encouraging women to unshackle themselves and be more independent? Why didn’t she bring up all the Zainabs and Asmas that were only recently molested and maliciously killed at the hands of brutish villains? Why didn’t she advise us - as to, if we, as humanity joined forces to battle all of the above-mentioned dilemmas by initiating various programmes for women – and men, women empowerment wouldn’t just seem like an inaccessible faraway ivory tower? Why Mehwish why? How are you promoting women empowerment if you’re not addressing any of this?
Sorry, not sorry, but I can’t relate.
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