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How to be bad-ass: a guide from desi stars 

The entertainment industry is rife with glorious contradictions. It celebrates beauty that cannot survive without cosmetic enhancements. It highlights star-kids that have the fortune to be born with great genes and already-famous parents – and then it calls this magnificent display of nepotism art. But my favorite contradiction, perhaps, is ‘the false feminist icon’. It is my favorite because the entertainment industry thrives on the objectification of the women more than anything else.

What’s the easiest way to sell anything? Use a beautiful woman.

Yet within this industry sometimes a true feminist emerges. It goes without saying that Kangana Ranaut is at the top of the list right now. In a recent hour long interview with Rajat Sharma on a popular program Aap Ki Adaalat, she opened up about her past like never before. The abuse. The stalking. The legal notices. The ‘email’ story. She bared it all.

Why does it matter? Because Kangana breaks many barriers and continues to surprise – not out of design but just because of who she is. She doesn’t do fairness cream ads. She plays the lead in  her films. She takes the Bollywood machine on fearlessly.  “I’m not afraid of Karan Johar,” she said and Bollywood collectively gasped.


As much as we love Kangana (and it is A LOT) – there are also many tough as nails Pakistani actresses who inspire us to push against the haters. Being a female star in South Asia is like having a target painted on your back and we love how these women respond to the criticism that they receive – by facing it head on.

Perhaps Pakistani actresses suffer more from this than their counterparts in India, where society has had more time to accept women in public roles. Kangana Ranaut shows us that misogyny is present in an industry we may think of as progressive, while our own stars fight on in a community that looks down on them for the tiniest infraction.

Recently Ushna Shah attended the premiere of the film Punjab Nahi Jaungi wearing a pretty ZuriaDor dress and inspired the wrath of the moral police. Her Instagram was filled with hateful diatribes about how the dress was too revealing. Ushna took a stand and called out all the haters, giving them a stern reality check about whose business her legs were. Hers and hers alone.

Agency: the term is alien for most of us. Especially when it used in context for a woman.

When Hareem Farooq and Osman Khalid Butt were posing cutely together on Instagram (indeed, a vortex of the ugliest and the most attractive of humanity) and the moral brigade descended upon the comment section parroting their oft-repeated rants about respect and ethics and how the world would end with such shamelessness. Osman Khalid Butt, in classic Osman Khalid Butt fashion, gave them a ‘virtual laanat’ and Hareem responded similarly as well.

Canadian-Pakistani actress, Armeena Rana Khan, is also often siege by trolls who tell her what she should and shouldn’t be wearing. Armeena asked on her social media, “Why is it that Pakistani females wish to attack Pakistani actresses in a vicious manner?” raising the issue of internalized misogyny.

“Why is it that Pakistani females wish to attack Pakistani actresses in such a vicious manner. What have we done to you except entertain and create an industry that will benefit the economy, culture and arts of Pakistan. How is that a crime?”

– Armeena Khan

Even Mahira Khan – who is generally considered the apple of the public’s eye is not immune from the wrath of haters. She was targeted for her choice of gown at the Beirut International Awards Festival (where she bagged two awards). Mahira looked beautiful – and one of the awards she received was for ‘best dressed’. Though she did not address the comments Khan did take on online bullies when politician PTI Ayesha Gulalai was threatened with an acid attack after accusing him of harassment.


Mainstream, popular, influential female personalities speaking out in an industry that merely expects them to be props to a male-privilege carnival fascinate, delights and worries me.

What worries me is how important it is for their voices to keep ringing true. It worries me because seeing them as empowered women in control of their own destinies often produces an unforgiving, unrelenting negativity that can crash their careers.

The unspoken rule for women is, stay in line, enjoy your freedom and don’t make a fuss.  The South Asian strain of patriarchy is a strange one indeed. The concepts of honor and ‘crossing a line’ are imposed even on a woman who shows disregard for social convention and defies these principles.

This is why voices like Kangana’s and Ushna’s are important and why they need to keep speaking out. Any actress who has any influence needs to stand together and this is why more women in the industry need to identify as feminists. Because we are watching them and if they don’t, no one will.

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