I apologize Armeena Rana Khan, but you misunderstood, I am a rooting fan, not troll!

Hi Armeena Rana Khan,

Couple of weeks back, you posted a collage of derogatory comments you received on Instagram with a deeply moving message. You spoke against cyber bullying and called out people for their hypocrisy. Your heartfelt message resonated with many, as hundreds of people poured out their appreciation on Instagram and Twitter. The world is rooting for you, including me, for speaking out against hate. But, unfortunately, I also made it to that unfortunate collage (twice actually), with my comment which you misunderstood.

First of all, I want to apologize to you for my comment which hurt your sentiments. When I saw that collage, I immediately posted an apology in the comment box under your post. You might have missed it among other comments by people applauding you, so I sent a DM to you as well. It is hard to read each and every message in the inbox, I understand that as well, so, now, I am writing this open letter to extend my apology to you and clear the air. I hope it’s not too late for holding out an olive branch.

I want to not only clarify myself, but to also talk about my position in this situation. Believe it or not, but I am not a part of the vicious crowd, howling down a woman, the reality, instead, is that I stand by your side. It was extremely saddening for me to discover myself tagged among those who see others through prism of certain ideologies. I am not a purveyor of hate like some of them.

It is difficult to understand anyone’s intention through few sporadic comments on social media. So, I want you to know in what light I put that comment on a picture of you and your costar Ayesha Omar’s, attending Yalghaar premiere in UK. I put following comment on the post shared by Galaxy Lollywood on its Instagram profile, “They have roles in films much smaller than the scale of premieres ?”. (I have deleted that comment from the post).

Screenshot of Instagram post by Armeena Rana Khan.

Discrediting you or belittling your work was never the intention. It was actually meant to be a sarcastic comment, probably a poor attempt at it, not to criticize you or your costar, however, but calling out the norm of not giving central roles to female actresses in most of our films and using them as mere eye candies in promotions. I realize that it was a carelessly crafted comment, prone to be taken out of context and misunderstood, and I apologize for that.

As an aficionado of Pakistani cinema, it is distressing to see the misrepresentation and under-representation of the 51% of our nation on screen. Our TV is already replete with the stereotypical portrayal of women as wailing, complaining or scheming beings. The situation is no less different with cinema as well, where women are merely used as props mostly. The plague of sexism has taken over the cinema not only in the subcontinent but it has become a clarion call in Hollywood as well.

The social scientist and activist Stacy Smith shed light on the inclusion crisis in Hollywood in her shocking TED talk. She shared the analysis of 800 top grossing movies from the year 2007 to 2015. According to her study, women got only one third of the characters to play in those movies. The percentage of women working behind the camera is even worse, as only 4.1% directors of the films were female. More shockingly, the state of gender disparity in Hollywood has not changed over half a century.

It will not be hard to perform similar analysis on handful of our films released in last few years since the revival of cinema. Even today, several actresses are signed to perform just “dance numbers” in movies. If women are not “items girls” in films, then they are mostly given non-central characters to just propel the story. Case in point is recently released ‘Mehrunisa V Lub U’, in which the overprotective husband loves his eponymous wife so much that she is hardly given a chance to speak for herself. Mehrunisa could utter hardly a dozen sentences in two hours.

This is the common case with on-screen representation of women in our films. Whereas, when it comes to the film release, the actresses are included in the promotional campaigns by the producers and PR consultants, just to add to the candy floss factor and to continue looking pretty. We all are responsible for this plight as we have accepted this frivolous portrayal of women as a norm, which is nothing less than misogyny.

Armeena, we are on the same page against cyber abuse and setting different rules for women. We are living in difficult time, where blatant misogyny is swept under the rug as locker room talk and society puts its honor in the way a woman lives or dresses. I possibly cannot answer the questions you asked in your post with complete honesty, but I believe that we can change few people’s thoughts by engaging them in constructive discourse.

As a society, we have to fight at many fronts, but most importantly we have to take a stand for what we think right. Your raising of the voice against cyber bullying and abuse is a collective cause of us. We all need to join hands to speak and act against it.

In the end, I would say that there is always the light at the end of the tunnel. As the world is reeling from the roaring success of Wonder Woman, highest grossing film ever made by a female director, and our very own Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy brings home two Oscars, there is no stopping to the women making wonders in the world. Despite our actresses keep getting insignificant roles to play on the silver screen, we are hopeful to see more of the likes of Meena (Janaan), Zainab (Dobara Phir Se) and Zara (Project Ghazi) in coming years. It won’t be much long before we have a Wonder Woman of our own as well, making us prouder than ever.

I probably cannot remove myself from that collage on Instagram, but I don’t belong there. I am one among cheering voices, applauding a headstrong woman for speaking her mind and taking a stance against hate. I am a rooting fan, not troll.

More power to you.

Zeeshan Mahmood


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