Once again, the Pakistani entertainment industry is stirring up reminders of why people should stop viewing their content because even they don’t want to own up to the material they work on.
Actor Danish Taimoor appeared on a celebrity talk show yesterday where he was questioned about his choice of dramas for the past few years, and the criticism his characters are subjected to. Taimoor firmly responded to the rumors by saying that he was an actor, not a teacher. ‘It’s not my job to educate an audience,” he said.
These kind of statements are usually used to reject society’s expectations. It is not a person’s responsibility to dress the way society wants or to keep imposing restrictions on themselves that hinders their creativity, just so that society remains happy. But when it comes to filmmakers, the line is rather crooked.
Sorry Mr Taimoor, but when you chose to become an actor and get involved in dramas, you inadvertently become an educator. Films are a platform that educates our audience on issues, and as a person with a public position, the onus does fall on you to be mindful that the kind of message your dramas are sending not harmful.
Perhaps we should widen the screen to remember what was the kind of content that Taimoor was being questioned on. His past few dramas like Kaisi Teri Khudgarzi and Ishq Hai had attracted widespread criticism for featuring abusive, toxic male leads who were projected as romantic heroes regardless of the way they stalked, coerced and pressurized the female characters to marry him. One of the most memorable examples was a scene in Ishq Hai, where Taimoor’s character holds a gun to his head and starts counting down from 10, threatening the girl that he would shoot himself unless she agrees to marry him.
Can we allow our actors and other members of the entertainment industry to dissuade their responsibility while depicting such triggering scenes that show a woman being kidnapped, threatened and pressurized in to marriage? Especially in a country like Pakistan where the rape conviction rate is less than 5%, and a recent report that was presented to the National Assembly of Pakistan showed that between 2019 to 2021, more than 3,987 women were killed because of domestic violence? More women in Pakistan are turned away from their families, and the courts in order to bring their abusers to justice because they’re told by public officials, including our own entertainment bretheren, that their wounds don’t matter. Because our screen writers and actors have pushed the narrative through their work that belittles and demoralizes women who aren’t passive or submissive.
But Taimoor isn’t the first person to respond to criticism with this statement, as so have other members of the acting fraternity as a complete justification to their choice of dramas. When Fahad Mustafa was questioned about his choice to produce Dunk, a drama that revolved around fake sexual harassment allegations, he had responded with the same remark. “I don’t run a school, I am an actor so it’s not my job to educate audiences.” Even another roundabout way to defend the choice of drama was from Yasra Rizvi who had outshone with her brilliant performance in the web series ‘Churails’ but then was one of the main performers in ‘Dunk’. Defending her decisions on her Instagram page, the actor stressed that “Actors who play rapists and murderers are not ACTUALLY rapists and murderers and they are not condoning or justifying such actions in real life by playing said characters.”
Any sane person watching Akshay Kumar play a broke man in Hera Pheri knows that he actually doesn’t live in a crammed room with three other people, but is playing a character. Your audiences aren’t dumb and they aren’t here to just be entertained, but they are absorbing the message you are sending through playing that characters on screen. Because the reason why the entertainment industry is being held responsible for the kind of material they are churning out is because theirs’ is a powerful medium through which we educate our audiences. Films have the power to reach out across countries and to the masses who are sitting at home and watching it on screens. Actors are not merely just entertainers who get to perform in front of an audience, but they are powerful individuals with platforms that have the power to change and influence ideals that no politician or public official can do so. When our entertainment industry consistently put drama after drama where women are being beaten, and churning out regressive messages, they don’t get to wonder in shock that why is the there a never ending rape pandemic in Pakistan, and how more women are posing a threat to their lives if a video of them dancing on Tik Tok goes viral. It’s because our dramas and filmmakers need to realize that they have a social responsibility to be mindful of the message they are sending out to their audiences.
Especially for celebrities like Mansha Pasha who had said in defense of Rizvi, that “Actor’s aren’t echo chambers”, then there won’t really be any point of the entire profession. Activism is not a toy you can pick and drop when it pleases your image. Despite public appearances at marches and protests for women’s rights, it is ultimately your films and dramas that define what kind of social issues you are advocating for. So regardless of how you may protest how much of a feminist you are, it is the women from backgrounds less privileged than yours who suffer more because of your stance. The reason why the rise of the right wing government BJP is able to cement their stance and consolidate their anti-Muslim stance was through peddling their narrative with the power of films and influential celebrities.
Actor Sania Saeed reflected on why more drama creators need to remember that their content isn’t just providing entertainment, but it is also projecting out messages that the audience will follow. In an interview with Something Haute, she spoke about why art has an essential political role in society:
“Television shows want dense topics they feel can be understood by audiences quickly and will also be easily made and accepted by the people. I feel that this has become a business formula now to write television series, and we have started pressurizing our artists and writers to adjust to this….I do believe that art has a role beyond entertainment which is to help expand our mindsets.”
The responsibility to educate the masses isn’t something that an actor gets to avoid, but it is attached with every form of entertainment they are sending out to their audience. So to Danish Taimoor, Fahad Mustafa, and other members of the acting industry, it is your responsibility to ensure that your films are not peddling dangerous narratives that hinder the efforts being made by women, transgenders and other minorities to regain their humanity within Pakistan.
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