Pakistani actress Mehwish Hayat, who slammed Hollywood and Bollywood of demonising her countrymen in their films, claims that her polarising remarks made at an awards ceremony in Oslo were a plea to the artistic community to do greater good.
“We have a voice which is even greater than a lot of politicians. We can reach the hearts and minds of the masses in a way that they can’t,” said Hayat over an exclusive e-mail interview.
Two days ago, Hayat while receiving the 'Pride Of Performance' award threw her weight behind ending stereotypical misrepresentation of Pakistani as ‘gun-toting’ villains. Her speech evoked mixed reactions and was hailed and blasted with equal fervour. Her words were scrutinised more amid worsening tensions between India and Pakistan.
Gulf News tracked Hayat down in Norway to understand why this rising star — who has featured in glossy films such as 'Load Wedding' — chose to speak about misrepresentation of Pakistanis on a global stage.
“Art without that social conscience is gutless and soulless. It is through entertainment that we can make the greatest change in our society,” believes Hayat.
For those asking, she isn’t done bringing attention to this issue.
Excerpts from the interview with Hayat
Q: What prompted you to speak about representation of Pakistanis in cinema – especially in Bollywood and Hollywood? Was it sparked by a particular episode or do you think it’s dominant narrative in most films?
A: These are subjects that I have been speaking about for some time now and something I feel strongly about. I spoke about the misrepresentation of Muslims in Hollywood and how that is fuelling Islamophobia at the UN last year. I spoke about Bollywood at the Filmfare ME event in Dubai calling on India to release our films as a first step to creating a greater understanding between our countries. The Oslo event gave me the opportunity to bring these strands together and put them in the context of peace. For me, it is something that I have been talking a lot about for some time now.
Q: Were you worried that your speech and its content would polarise your audience and what has been the reaction so far?
A: Given the history between India and Pakistan and the level of nationalistic fervour that exists, it was inevitable that anything I said would have had a polarising effect — especially in the light of the on-going Kashmir crisis. At the heart, what I said was a plea to the artistic fraternity to use the power that we have to enable a more peaceful future. We have a voice which is even greater than a lot of politicians. We can reach the hearts and minds of the masses in a way that they can’t. At this juncture, we have a choice how we use that power – we can either carry on feeding the hatred or we can draw a line in the sand and work towards guiding our nations towards a more peaceful co-existence. I am so pleased that the majority on both sides of the border seemed to get what it was I was saying. Yes, there were the dissenters who didn’t like what I’d said – but that was to be expected.
Q: As an artist, do you think that art should be politicised? Or should art not know any boundaries?
A: Art and politics have been intertwined for as long as art has existed. Even the plays of Shakespeare were very political in their time. Art should reflect society as a whole and should always be challenging and thought provoking. We have to question, we have to provide a mirror, we have to praise when we see something good and condemn when we see something wrong. Art without that social conscience is gutless and soulless. It is through entertainment that we can make the greatest change in our society.
Q: If you lived in an ideal world, how would you like films to represent Pakistanis?
A: I am going to be the first to admit that like any other country, Pakistan is not without its faults. All I ask is that any portrayal be fair and representative – we are not all bad, we do have a lot of positives that are always being overlooked. What I am saying is that don’t be in a rush to demonise us all the time, we are complex nation please make an effort to reflect those complexities.
Q: In the current tense scenario between India and Pakistan, will your remarks be taken in the right spirit?
A: The role that media is playing in aggravating the situation between the two countries had to be openly discussed. And, if my comments have started that debate, then I have succeeded in what I had set out to do.
Q: You are receiving a lot of hate and admiration for your speech, what would you like to tell your fans?
A: I would like to thank the fans for all the support that I have received in response to the speech. I would like them to know that this is something that I feel very strongly about and will continue to talk about.