Old actors, new worries

Published: August 5, 2019
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Firdous Jamal and Mahira Khan. PHOTO: FILE

Firdous Jamal and Mahira Khan. PHOTO: FILE

Firdous Jamal and Mahira Khan. PHOTO: FILE The writer is a former editor of The Express Tribune. He tweets @tribunian

It is sad when one Pakistani professional pulls down another. It is one thing to criticise on matters of principle another to attack and ridicule for no rhyme or reason. There is also a generational gap at play here. Many a time I have seen people of my age and above making comments that those younger to us find unacceptable and abusive. The world is changing, and we need to change with it.

In my opinion, the comments made by veteran TV actor Firdous Jamal, who told TV host Faisal Qureshi in a morning show that film star Mahira Khan looks old on screen and should play the role of a mother, not a lead actor, were wrong on many levels.

First, his suggestion that she looks old was meant in a negative light. That old is bad – which is ageist. To say that she should play the role of a mother suggests an element of sexism – that female lead actors must be young and pretty. But to be fair to Firdous Jamal, he does not seem to understand the connotations of what he said. Otherwise he would have apologised. Which he hasn’t so far.

What he did know and could not plead ignorance to was that he was making unkind remarks about a fellow actor. While these comments were given as his opinion, one can only wonder what prompted such remarks. It did not behoove the man of the standing of Firdous Jamal. Senior actors need to be supportive of their junior colleagues and not try and bring them down.

Mahira Khan has been most mature in the way she did not react to any of this. The 34-year-old took to Instagram to pen down a note regarding the issue. She urged her followers, the industry and the world to love and be tolerant of other people and their opinions. She added that she wanted people to fight the mindset, not other people. More importantly, in a post on Instagram, Mahira also said that Pakistan’s film fraternity needs to break regressive notions about strong women.

Mahira’s comments suggest that the problem is not Firdous Jamal. It is with attitudes in the industry as well as in our society in general. I can only wonder what the reaction would have been if Firdous Jamal had made similar comments about some young male actor.

In all this, the controversy developed a life of its own over the next few days. Jamal and Mahira were compared – which is like comparing apples to oranges. Their careers were commented on. People from all walks of life became acting experts. Others were happy to play the role of moral police while, yet others decided that this was either a man versus woman situation or a Karachi versus Lahore saga.

The matter should have ended there had it not been for the latest salvo fired by leading entertainment content producer Momina Duraid who says her company will not work with Firdous Jamal. Her post, which has now been deleted, suggested that she was ashamed that Jamal was part of the acting fraternity.

Not to be outdone, Jamal’s son Hamza Firdous released a video message in response to Duraid’s statement. In it, he said that while he respected the decision of not wanting to work with his father again, he was disappointed at her statement of being ashamed that Jamal was part of the industry. This observation is fair, and his disappointment is not without merit.

In his defense, Faisal Qureshi, who hosted Jamal on the show, told the media that Firdous Jamal had also praised many actors in the same segment. When asked why he didn’t stop Jamal from making the objectionable comments, Qureshi said that he could not speak before Firdous Jamal because “he is like a teacher to all of us.”

The attention this segment received has helped ratings for this morning show. But for the host to not challenge someone making offensive remarks needs to be questioned. The broadcast media plays an important part in shaping attitudes for our society. Morning shows have a wide audience and are extremely popular in different sections of society. We should use these shows to raise awareness on social issues, not to perpetuate stereotypes.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 5th, 2019.

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