THROWBACK 2020 - IT’S A WOMAN’S WORLD - MEHWISH HAYAT - LEADS THE VANGUARD AT THE ADVENT OF A NEW DECADE
Mehwish Hayat is definitely the actor of the moment as we find ourselves at the advent of a new decade! We decided to photograph Mehwish wearing the outfits designed by another woman of substance, Sonya Battla, a fashion leader who is now celebrating 20 years in the business of fashion. Mehwish’s makeup was done by one of the original makeup mavens, a pioneer in her own right, Nighat Mesbah of Depilex. The photoshoot took place at the home of Ronak Lakhani, Chairperson of Special Olympics Pakistan, an iconic female leader in Pakistan, who is exemplary as a philanthropist and changemaker.
Besides box office success in the past few years, Mehwish has emerged as a spokesperson for some of the most burning issues faced by Pakistanis - from social media harassment to child sexual abuse, she has put her words and her support behind many things She is a supporter of the arts, she is immensely patriotic and simultaneously a citizen of the world. Her desire to put Pakistan on the map of successful nations is immensely contagious – after all don’t we all wish the same! Here is what she had to say about so many things:
The year 2019 could be called a year of new definitions for you — socially woke is one phrase you’ve been described as. Do you agree?
It is not a question of redefining at all, I think that I have been socially and politically aware for as long as I can remember. What happened in 2019 was that I was no longer scared to share my thoughts – no matter how controversial – with my Social Media followers. There are so many issues that I am passionate about and could not stay quiet anymore. I will speak out against anything I see as an injustice, be it Kashmir or the way that Pakistan is vilified in Bollywood. I am not saying that I have answers for these issues but if I can generate a debate and get people talking, that has to be a good thing.
You took up causes in a big way in 2019. Tell us the ones that have been top of your list and will continue to be in 2020?
All of the causes that I have taken up matter to me equally. I will continue to promote anything that is for the good of our country and challenge anything that threatens or degrades Pakistan. Education will continue to be high on my agenda as I fundraise for the schools I am rebuilding in Sukkur; as will the misrepresentation of Pakistan and Muslims in the Indian and Western media. I am also passionate about the human rights abuses in Indian Occupied Kashmir and am looking at what I can continue to do to highlight that on global platforms.
This year the Ministry of Human Rights Pakistan chose you as their Goodwill Ambassador for their Rights of the Girl Child campaign. ‘Girls have a right to education, health, nutrition, freedom, and no discrimination and abuse so that girls can reach their full potential’ is the information you need to share as Ambassador. Tell us more.
These rights are nothing new, they are enshrined in the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child which is ratified by all nations. The ‘girl child’ however, was one of the critical areas of the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action especially highlighted in the UN Women’s Conference. It is distressing to see that 25 years on nothing much has changed for the girl child. This new initiative is to bring peoples’ attention to the issues and problems faced by the girl child and see what positive steps can be taken to rectify the situation. I think that the Minister, by launching this campaign, has acknowledged that more needs to be done in Pakistan for the rights of the girl child and that can only be positive.
In which other representational position would you like to see yourself? Who are the women and men making a difference in Pakistan who inspire you?
I think that I am very content being in the position that I am. As myself, I am free to talk about and take up any issue that matters to me. I would not be able to be as outspoken especially on certain international issues if I was to take on certain representational roles. As for someone making a difference in Pakistan, we need look no further than our Prime Minister, Imran Khan. In his short tenure, he has emerged as a true statesman. The challenges he faces are immense and there is no magic wand that he can wave, but on the whole his leadership is inspiring. After a long time, we have a no nonsense leader who can represent us on the world stage and command respect.
You also went to the US Open finals this year in New York. How did it feel to represent Pakistan on that stage? What inspired your outfit choices on this trip?
Of course, it was a real privilege to be the only Pakistani celebrity to be invited to the US Open. Even though it was a social event, it gave me an opportunity to interact with celebrities from around the world and hopefully give them a better impression of our wonderful country. Outfits for the event had to be smart casual but for me the key was that they were comfortable to wear. My choices were basic yet fun.
If you had the opportunity to further clarify your position on your following Tweets below, what would like to say now that we are in a new decade?
’How can potential ‘shagability’ - and that is what it is- be a criterion for comparison?! Judge people on talent, on merit, on intellect, on wit ... but not on physical attributes.’
I know that there has been a lot of noise about the fact that the ‘sexy list’ is about women empowerment and not based on looks alone. If that really is the case let’s lose the word ‘sexy’ and call it something else. Let’s talk about ‘powerful women’ or ‘influential women’. No matter what anybody says the definition of ‘sexy’ according to the dictionary remains ‘sexually alluring’ and that is what I object to. No amount of justification to the contrary will change that basic fact.
‘Please check my feed before making unfounded allegations. If you care to look, you will see I have raised the issue of Kashmir, Education, sports and girls’ rights both nationally and internationally. And InshaAllah I’ll continue to do so wherever I see any injustice.’
Some people tend to have selective memories. I think that it is a shame that my tweets are sometimes taken out of context. Any tweet I make brings a barrage of comments on other issues that I should be talking about. More often than not, they want me to comment about Kashmir, when a quick scan of my feed would show that I have been most vocal about human rights abuses there not only on my social media but also in speeches and interviews that I have done on global platforms.
‘Child abuse is the most heinous of crimes. Let’s use this arrest – horrific as it is – to shut down all the networks and mafias exploiting our children in this way. Perverts like this have no place in any civilised society.’
I think that every time I hear of cases of any sort of child abuse my blood literally boils. No matter how harsh, we need to have exemplary punishments that act as real deterrents to stop these sorts of crimes happening again. I am not a fan of capital punishment, but for crimes against innocent children I would change my stance very easily. I also feel that when these perverts are arrested, more should be done by the authorities to weed out and shut down the networks behind them that are fueling these crimes.
You’ve been called the reigning box office queen, especially after last year’s success in 'Load Wedding' and 'Jawani Phir Nahin Aani 2' What kind of cinema will inspire you in 2020?
I think that we are still very much in the infancy of Pakistani cinema’s so called revival. We have to give the audiences what they want in order to build our industry and if that is ‘masala’ films, then that’s what we have to deliver. Cinema is a business; investors are risk averse and will only back formulas and what will drive box office sales. Independent cinema will come once the industry has matured more. I also feel that that is where Government policy could also help in developing cinema by helping nurture a wide range of voices. For me, I have been working on a few projects that really inspire me – hopefully they will come to fruition in 2020, let’s see.
How would you rate your 2019 movie 'Chhalawa'? And what was the experience of working on a web series, ' Enaya' like? Two such diverse genres, what’s your favourite and why?
'Chhalawa' worked at the box office and people liked it – and that is what matters most. People paying their hard-earned money and buying tickets are the best judges of my work, no matter what I may think. Working on 'Enaya' and 'Chhalawa' was actually no different since the entire team was virtually the same. We sort of fell from one project into the other and by the time we were doing the film we had developed a very happy family atmosphere on set. As regards mediums, each has its own charm and appeal, but for me what matters is the character I play and the team I am working with. I am as comfortable doing a theatre play as I am a big budget feature film.
Receiving the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz. Check. Performing Umrah. Check. Which other personal and professional goals are on your list for 2020?
I think that the main personal goal for me in 2020 is to deliver on my promise to rebuild the five schools in Sindh that I have undertaken. Professionally, I think that I’d like to do a lot more to highlight Pakistan and all that we have to offer to a wider global audience. I have spoken about how we should be making films about Pakistan and not just for Pakistan. Cinema is a powerful tool and I think we need to be making more of it like our neighbours have been doing for so long. Bollywood is India’s calling card around the world, our films should be the same. We have a major opportunity that we are missing out on by being so insular in our outlook. I do have other professional goals that I have set myself for the next decade – but all will be revealed in good time.
If you won a film award in 2020, who are the people you would thank in your speech and how would you word it?
I think that award speeches are a spur of the moment thing so cannot give you the words I’d use. But suffice to say that films are a team effort and I think that everybody from spot boys and supporting artists up to the producers and directors all need to be acknowledged. Sometimes at the assistant who brings you a cup of tea at three am is the one who helps make the shot more than anything else.
Three values you feel are imperative for an actor to possess? And how do you think they aid you in your work life?
Why just actors? For me humility, hard work and faith are values that any human being should hold dear in all aspects of their lives.
Your message to our readers and your fans via this platform?
Pakistan’s youth make up over 50 percent of the population. We are the inheritors of the future and need to be more politically and socially aware of what is happening and how decisions being made now will affect our lives. Let’s seize this opportunity, put aside petty differences and work together to show the world how great we can be as a nation. To paraphrase another world leader, ‘Let’s put Pakistan first!’
Interview: Amna R. Ali
Photography: Shahbaz Shazi
Outfits: Sonya Battla Hair & Makeup: Nighat Misbah
Jewellery: Chunni Saigol
PR Coordination: Mind Map Communications
Shoot day Coordination: Saneela Swaleh