Firdous Jamal and Pakistan’s romance with ageism

Published: July 31, 2019
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KARACHI: Of late, it seems like even some of the most popular female actors are not immune to ageism within the Pakistani film industry.

A case in point is what Mahira Khan had to deal with over the weekend. Many of us couldn’t believe our ears when veteran actor Firdous Jamal targeted the Superstar actor for being “too old” to be a heroine and suggested she play mothers instead of female protagonists now. He made the statements whilst appearing on a talk show on Saturday. Firdous then went on to say that he finds Mahira to be a “mediocre model” and that his comments should be taken in good faith.

PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ MAHIRA KHAN

PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ MAHIRA KHAN

But that’s a separate issue altogether. What is more problematic is that all of this is a bit rich coming from a 65-year-old in the first place. Aside from the fact the Bin Roye starlet is only 34, are we really still at that stage where we cannot appreciate a woman who is not young by some people’s standards?

In case you haven’t noticed, this is a rhetorical question. And perhaps is also the reason why the Pakistani film industry has had a slow start.

Let’s take Hollywood for example. There are numerous famous female actors who are still owning the industry and not by playing mothers. Not that there is anything wrong with playing a mother but the point is, there is a lot more to us women that just that.

Mahira Khan. PHOTO: Instagram

Mahira Khan. PHOTO: Instagram

Angelina Jolie is one such star who, even at 44 years of age, is killing it with her action characters. Who can forget the 2010 hit Salt, wherein Jolie played a Russian spy-turned CIA officer. The Tomb Raider star was Mahira’s age at the time but did anyone call her out for it? Nope. If anything, Angie is now all set to play a superhero in Marvel’s upcoming The Eternals, whilst being one of Hollywood’s most highly-paid female actors as well. Talk about femme fatale!

While it is fair to say that Hollywood, compared to our nascent cinema industry, is uber developed and very ways different, the ageist rhetoric is certainly present in Bollywood, which is much more similar to us.

PHOTO: FILE

PHOTO: FILE

Earlier in the year, former Miss Asia Pacific and actor Dia Mirza spoke up against apparently not being ‘young enough’ to work with male actors her age. The 36-year old confessed she feels awkward being that age in showbiz.

“In the entertainment business, I find myself battling the age perception,” Dia had said. “I am seen to be at an age where I am not young to be cast alongside male actors who happen to be my age. At the same time, I am not mature enough to play older female characters. It’s an age conundrum.”

In Mahira’s case, we have to applaud not just the female but also the male celebrities who came rushing to her defense. Osman Khalid Butt and Humayun Saeed are just a few of those deeply disturbed by Firdous’ outburst. “It is Mahira’s dedication and passion towards her work that has led her to this position. She is a heroine and a star in every sense of these words. As far as age is concerned, an actor and their talent is not bound by it,” Humayun wrote.

PHOTO: FILE

PHOTO: FILE

But, there were many Twitter users who also agreed with Firdous. “Since when did mentioning an actor’s age become an act of sexism and misogyny?” one user tweeted. This begs the question, why are women only confined to the role of mothers once they reach a certain age in the Pakistani film industry?

Again, this is not to imply that there is anything wrong with playing the role of a mother. It only becomes a problem when women are told, if not shamed into, only doing maternal characters like they are unable to do anything else just because they are over a certain age.

Firdous’ comments pose a need for deeper insight into why women are sometimes only viewed in this way, when it’s obvious that there is so much more to them than the ability to give birth.

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