Upon being observed from a foreign lens and according to a recent reflection, Pakistan is an “ultra-conservative country with a thriving entertainment industry,” which, beyond its glitz and glamour has a dark side.
Over the years, several female and certain male artists in Pakistan have said #MeToo, alleging they were sexually harassed by people within the entertainment fraternity. And what most of them recalled were events from their early days, when they experienced the casting couch or were offered professional favours in return for sexual ones. Despite being tightlipped about their experiences for years due to the patriarchal restrictions of society, the global #MeToo movement inspired many to speak their truth.
In a recent interview with DW, part of a recollection of their experiences, some stars spoke up about what the #MeToo movement means to them.
“It happened to me and I opened up about it after years and years of never speaking to anyone,” remarked Ayesha Omar. “Most victims, actually, rarely find the courage to speak up about what’s happened to them. I definitely decided to speak about it because I wanted to bring about a change,” said the celebrity, who also received flak after coming out with her experience years later. “I want for other women to be able to relate to me if they’ve going through something like that,” she added.
The outlet notes that “Pakistan’s largely religious and conservative society makes it difficult for females to enter the world of entertainment.” With respect to the notoriety attached to the field, actor Zara Noor Abbas expressed that the issue of exploitation and abuse is not restricted to Pakistan’s entertainment industry.
“This issue is not restricted to our showbiz. It is experienced around the country and the globe. I will not say that as a woman, men don’t like to hear me out, no. A lot of men also feel upset that women don’t want to hear them out. It is a universal problem. Women, yes, have more to suffer in the Pakistani society,” she said.
Director Angeline Malik, who started her own ‘Say No’ movement, discussed the increasing concerns towards the safety of women within the media industry. “Because I belong to this industry and because I am a female producer and a director, many girls come to me crying, because they have been exploited. They tell me they were offered roles in exchange for certain [favours]. But they don’t have the confidence or they’re scared to say ‘no’. But they’re gifted, right. So, I thought that it is best to speak up about it.”
In a country with more than 210 million people, most Pakistanis rely on TV for entertainment. But many are still unaware that the popular medium is tainted with allegations of sexual harassment.
Most recently, Dil Nah Umeed Toh Nahi actor Saba Bukhari opened up about her experience with the casting couch and revealed all the friendly [false] advice she received from various ‘men’, and ‘directors’ in the industry. She said their words “broke her from inside.”
Posting a picture of herself on Instagram, Saba wrote, “He said that: Tum may itna confidence toh hai nahi k tum is media may agay ja sako (Not like you have enough confidence to prosper in this media industry on your own).” She continued, “He said that: Masla yay hai tum good girl ho aur iss field may good girl nahi chalti (The problem is that you are a good girl, and in this occupation, good girls can’t survive).”
She went on, “Aisa kaisay ho sakta kisi nay tum par attempt na kia ho (How is it possible that no one made a move on you). Hum tumhay he kaam or paisay kiun dain jab yaha larkian kaam ke liye sonay ko tayar hain (Why should we give you work and money when girls are ready to sleep for work here).” Saba concluded with, “All these lines, words from different men and directors broke me inside and my dreams.”
Starring Yumna Zaidi, Omair Rana, Yasra Rizvi among others, Dil Na Umeed Toh Nahi is a haunting tale of child abuse and human trafficking in Pakistan. It was also served a notice by Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) over its content.
But prior to this, in an interview on By The Way, actor Azfar Rehman had also confessed that he received similar offers and was harassed by female artists during the early days of his career. However, he later clarified that the nature of harassment was not sexual. "It has been happening for years now and will continue for years to come. It is wrong, but even some people in my position exploit others. When I had started out, I had a lot of such 'offers'. But it depended on how I responded."
About his thoughts on Pakistan’s #MeToo movement, he said, “Being a male artist, there were even times I was harassed by a few female artists. I would not like to name them, since I have ignored it. But women cannot always be right.”
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