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Frieha Altaf on the PR machine and how “Qandeel became eternal”

Thirty years of public relations experience and Frieha Altaf says she never saw a young woman quite like Qandeel Baloch. The former model and CEO of Catwalk Productions and Events looks back at how an ambitious girl from Multan captured the collective imaginations of an entire nation by rebelling against accepted norms eventually resulting in her tragic death.

We ask Frieha about the modern nature of fame, ambition in the digital era and how Qandeel was unique.

How did people within the showbiz or modeling industry view Qandeel? Was she talked about/judged/critiqued? And did this change at all after her death? Did people within the industry sympathize or judge her? 

Of course people were talking about her. Anyone who is that controversial will be talked about. She was controversial because she was bold.

I think to get noticed sometimes, especially when you’re coming from a middle class background, like Qandeel did, that too from out of Multan, you need to make a substantial amount of noise to be noticed in the first place.

I actually came across her because of my daughter because the kids these days are so heavily invested in social media that they have always have their feelers up and frequently come and show you what’s the latest viral thing doing the rounds.

The thing about the industry is that people will always be snobs about certain things.

They will go out of their way to look down their noses at others; at least most of the elite definitely like to do that. There are some, who are envious, some are in awe, while others are simply flabbergasted.

To be honest, there is no one homogenous reaction that you can get out of the industry. With that being said, I do think after her Mufti stunt, there was a lot of respect for her, especially from my colleagues who believe in the distinction between religion and state.

Personally, I think for her to have even coaxed him into appearing on her video, let alone what transpired afterwards was an incredibly brave move on her part.

Qandeel had alleged that she was on Pakistan Idol as part of a ‘planned stunt’ by the organizers. As someone who was part of Pakistan Idol, what is your response to this? 

To be quite honest I didn’t even know she was on Pakistan Idol, I’m a CEO and I wasn’t involved in the day to day activities. I think she became famous after Pakistan Idol as opposed to when she was actually in Pakistan Idol.

She had gone onto allege, that she was an upcoming model, but I really did not know her that way.  A lot of girls do message me where modeling avenues are concerned but I never came across her in that capacity either. I only found out about her when people started talking and she had started showing up in the newspapers.

ALSO READ: Will Baaghi have the courage to tell all of Qandeel’s stories?

 Within the modeling industry: how has the increased use of Facebook/Instagram changed the game for girls who want to enter the industry? How has it impacted girls like Qandeel? 

The thing about modeling is that its excessively boring. I mean, how many beautiful pictures of yourself can you see and feel just as excited every single time? Apart from that, safe for the small pockets of experiences, which include traveling abroad for a show or meeting new people and learning new things, there’s little excitement otherwise.

Facebook and Instagram have obviously changed the landscape for the girls who wish to enter the modeling industry now. First of all, we never had the good fortune of photoshopping when I was modeling, or for that matter any scope of modeling at all. In the 80’s the fashion industry as we know it today, was simply a cottage industry. There was no real agency; nothing.

A throwback to Frieha Altaf’s modelling days

Don’t get me wrong it was a brilliant time, a simpler time. The only thing that counted back then, was passion.

Now, it’s all about social media. It was not about Qandeel’s online presence, girls from all over the country are plastered across social media because that is what they intend on making their social media accounts; personal billboards to advertise their lives.

Once a girl gains enough momentum online, then others aim to emulate her example, and the cycle continues.

Gone are the days when elements of ‘celebrity’ and ‘stardom’ were synonymous with reclusiveness and exclusivity. Nowadays it’s all about being out there.

Unless you’re openly, visibly seen by a large amount of people, you’re a nobody.

I do personally think that this dynamic has an expiration date; that with its accelerated growth there will be a decline as well. Take Justin Beiber or Kim Kardashian for example, two of the most celebrated social media personalities in the world who took a break from their online presence just because of how volatile their personal lives had become because of it. This self advertisement trend will definitely change.

But as most things, in Pakistan, world trends are slightly latent, so social media and its utility in this part of the world is still on the rise.

For girls today, who want to be models, it is a very important tool. It makes them visible to the masses with the least amount of effort. But with the changing times, these girls have an awful lot of setbacks to traverse as well.

Did Qandeel’s murder affect the industry at all – are girls likely to be more cautious about what they do or post online? 

You know, till now, no one really knows what happened to Qandeel; the narrative is one which keeps on changing. Initially it was a cold blooded murder, then it became an honor killing conducted by the brother, then the parents at some point came up and said there was a lot of pressure from external agents that pushed their son to commit this act. What really happened, and why, or exactly did it transpire, is at this moment, a moot point.

We all know that when you hail from a lower socio economic background you are the most susceptible to manipulation from various sources to act, behave and say things that are in other peoples’ interests.

As far as honour killings are concerned, they’re a byproduct of an insecure society. These paralyzing values where, “Hamari izzat nahi kharaab ho.”

“Log kya kaheingay?” is the most widespread sentiment in our society today.

When you are exposed to this pathology, you start owning it, and internalize it to the point that the thought process becomes your own.

The brother in this case insisted that he killed Qandeel because of honour, but then there were various elements that suggested that he was paid to do this, and others where Qandeel had put her foot down to financially supporting his lax lifestyle. It’s a vice associated with economics; those most deprived will do almost anything for money.

Brave people, most of all girls, will always have to be cautious in our society.

Change, or your perception of it, will always have to be gradual and slow, you can not push down the proverbial ‘wall’ with such a drastic force.

In all honesty, the modeling and celebrity world is still looked down upon by most people because this profession is still too forward according to them.

This is 2017 and we still live in a country where showbiz is something people would never want to have their kids involved in. People who sing are still viewed as gypsies, celebrated actors are merely ‘performers’ and high powered businesswomen, owners and CEO’s women are often viewed with pity and disdain.

This is because majority of our society are aimlessly living out their unfulfilled lives and this is their frustration that comes out.

Why did her story make news around the world and why do we continue to talk about her? 

Controversy always sparks conversation. That is a fact. The sad thing about Pakistan is that only when you achieve “martyrdom” do people perk their heads up and take notice.

Take people like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan for example, I mean, of course we knew who he was and his plethora of achievements but it was only after his demise that the entire country really stood up and took notice of the fallen legend. The same exact thing happened to Qandeel; she had created the shock value that she needed to. She had publicly abused people, she had bemused them as well more than anything else, but it was only after her death that she cemented her persona into the minds of her audience.

It was in her death, that Qandeel became eternal.

 

What did you personally think of Qandeel? When did she first get on your radar? As Qandeel continued to push the envelope on what was acceptable, did you ever think that something would happen to her? 

I didn’t really know her but from what I did, I always thought she was a very bold girl. Her whole situation with Mufti Qavi was definitely caught my attention, just because I was amazed that someone had the guts to do what she did. Not everyone has that kind of courage.

I think a lot of people think she deserved what she got. But I don’t agree.

No one deserves to be murdered as result of a conflicting point of view.

It’s a well-known saying, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” and if you decide to make your life a testament to not conform then you should be ready for the consequences that you create. Boundaries are expanded gradually, over a period of time. Anyone who has chosen to do this by more drastic means has always been met with criticism, if not blunt opposition.

To me, Qandeel was not an anomaly; her only fault was that she stemmed from a society that is still unsupportive of ambitious, strong women.  

Her only fault was that she was born in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

 

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