Films are considered to be a man’s world, whether in Bollywood, Hollywood or in Pakistan; male characters are stronger and are generally pivotal to all stories with women falling in as sidekicks. Though movies like Wonder Woman, Bridesmaids and Girls Trip defy the idea that women-centric films don’t sell, research suggests that women are still horribly underrepresented in films. According to an analysis of 900 Hollywood films from 2007 to 2016, there are on average 2.3 male characters for every woman without any meaningful change in their portrayal over the years.
It is, therefore, refreshing to see progressive female characters cropping up in recent Pakistani films, especially as opposed to television. Though men are seen leading the game in most stories, women are progressively appearing more and more dominant (Actor in Law, Balu Mahi, Punjab Nahi Jaungi, Verna) with a few exceptions (Na Maloom Afraad, Chupan Chupai). The most recent and noteworthy addition to the list is Parchi that casts Hareem Farooq as a gangster named Eman; her character is a rare and refreshing breather in a male-dominated arena.
"It was a risk for us to show a woman who is a badass and is the ‘heroine’ of the film but we thought to give it a try," Hareem Farooq, who is also the co-producer of Parchi, told Instep in an exclusive interview. "We weren’t sure if people would be able to accept it or not but we had an idea that they might like it. What we didn’t realize was that they would love it; I’m overwhelmed with the response. We wanted to break this stereotype that women are submissive. It is not necessary that in order to add masala to your film, you present a beautiful woman who wears a dupatta and fits into a certain frame. We tried to add more elements and substance to the character of Eman compared to a typical film heroine and the experience was extremely liberating."
Eman comes across as a strong, influential woman who everybody is afraid of. Though we never find out why she is what she is and what makes her so powerful in the film, she does take the lead in most of the scenes and men around her follow suit.
"You don’t always need to victimize women and tell them to not stand up for themselves; at least give some substance to their roles," Hareem asserted speaking of roles that women portray on the small screen. "I want to defy all that; I feel women shouldn’t be helpless. But, at the same time, I feel there is no such thing as black and white; it’s all grey. While we have presented Eman as a badass, we have given her shades too; she is a woman at the end of the day. She has emotions, she has a feminine side to her, she loves the one she cares for and she is sensitive but to the world she is street smart. Being empowered or being progressive doesn’t mean that you get rid of your emotions and become an insensitive person. One has to keep a certain balance."
Hareem may not have been very vocal about social issues but whenever she speaks up, she supports women empowerment and has a very liberal approach to how women should be treated. Sharing her views on the issue of sexual harassment, that has presently become a major point of debate in Hollywood, Hareem said that it exists in our part of the world as well. That said, nobody has ever come out to speak up on the subject publicly like a lot of leading Hollywood personalities have in the recent past.
"It’s not that I have seen it happen around (personally) but I am sure it happens here as well since it is a very fickle industry," Hareem, who is also one of the judges for Miss Veet 2017, observed. "However, it is not confined to this profession; it is just that we are more in the limelight. I have heard of harassment in the corporate sector and that shocked me. And it’s not just limited to women, men also go through it; I recently got to know about it. Sexual harassment is a generic thing, not confined to just one gender. I would like to say to all of them: Just stand up for yourself, don’t let it happen again and again. I am sorry for those who went through it but they don’t need to be ashamed of it or feel sorry about it."
While celebrities coming out in support of issues adds weight to a cause, given their widespread popularity, it is not always favourable to be a prominent figure in a society that is too quick to judge anyone. And with social media becoming a powerful tool, cyber bullying has become a norm in today’s time and celebrities are more prone to it.
Hareem has also been at the receiving end of such remarks on multiple occasions. A couple of months ago, she was trolled on Instagram when she posted a picture with her friend and actor Osman Khalid Butt. The two were pouting, facing each other, with their eyes closed and this was too ‘shameful’ to be accepted by our people. While this led to some harsh comments below the picture, teaching Hareem the lesson of righteousness, the actor too decided to respond to the double standards of our society.
Given that she is a public figure and she chose to put up a picture that could have generated negative remarks, one feels that Hareem should have the patience to accept any and every sort of reaction. When asked to share her thoughts on the subject, Hareem noted that people do not know what relationship she shares with Osman and that they are very close friends.
"I admit that it was very naïve of me to post that picture, given that people aren’t aware of our bond, but what bothered me at that time was people’s hypocrisy. I don’t understand that if you call yourself a Muslim, how can you point fingers on anyone’s character when you don’t know anything about them. How do you justify using abusive language for fellow Muslims and say that you are better than them? By doing so we are representing a wrong Islam. We are killing people in the name of religion and using it to our convenience. All I want to say is: stop exploiting Islam which is a beautiful religion. It teaches nothing but humanity and peace and that should be our priority," Hareem asserted on a parting note.
- Photo by Kashif Rashid