If I had a rupee for every time a man called one of my friends an”achee bachee” I would be rich. What made made us so ‘achee‘ according to traditional Eastern patriarchal standards – we didn’t smoke, drink or flirt.
But what if we did?
Mahira Khan is answering that question. What happens if the binary of the ‘good’ girl is disturbed? Spotted by a photographer in a white sundress, taking a drag on a cigarette next to Bollywood star Ranbir Kapoor her ‘leaked’ photos are challenging fans notions of her as the sweet Khirad who they thought they knew so well. She betrayed their vision of Mahira the ‘saint’ and was quickly declared a sinner. The tenor of the trolls was not merely one of the usual ‘ghairat brigade’ but of horror – “How could she?” they asked “She was different.”
THE TROLLS AMONG US
I used to think that the internet troll exists on certain forums more than the others. Most of the political forums and discussions are often filled with vile language and abusive conversations that would have many decent people running away from the very thought of political discourse. Little did I know, when I ventured into entertainment writing a few years ago, that the dominion of entertainment social media and celebrity internet is far darker than any world I have ever known. I used to think, “Hey, this is the entertainment industry. Everyone knows what stars do. They sing, dance, wear flashy clothes, the very basis of this industry is rooted in freedom and expression. Right?”
Once I began going through social media feeds of various A-listers and their fan pages I saw the same old slut-shaming, misogynist, angry, abusive trolls. “This isn’t our culture!” one would yell in all caps. “Where is her Islam!” one demanded. “No wonder she is not married yet!” “No wonder her husband left her!” “She looks like a [slur for transgender/homosexual/part of the female anatomy]!”
AND THEN THERE WAS MAHIRA KHAN
Some female stars are more often targeted than others. This time Mahira Khan is being slut-shamed and targeted for wearing ‘revealing’ clothes and – gasp – in the proximity of a Bollywood superstar.
God forbid, we consider Mahira or Ranbir living breathing humans with friends and family and good days and bad days and, most unfathomable of all: possessors of free will.
The problem isn’t at all what Mahira was doing or what she was wearing or who she was photographed with. The issue is how the Pakistani moral brigade responds to issues such as these when it becomes a flashpoint. Female celebrities are always shamed and hated with a passion much greater than their male counterparts.
There has been a long list of male celebrities that work for people across the border and no one questions their morals or their love for their land. Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Atif Aslam, Fawad Khan and Ali Zafar – each of them have enjoyed a hero’s welcome in India and in Pakistan for their work in films and music. The same love and courtesy has not been extended to Mahira Khan or Mawra Hocane or Saba Qamar who have performed in Indian films. Their behavior was seen as transgressive whereas all the male actors were seen as conquerors. Another element to the fauxtrage (my pet word for outrage by the moral brigade that is often so silent on various crimes against women but first to yell foul when they see a woman wearing a sundress) against these photos was how Pakistani celebrities have viewed Mahira.
She was their darling, their Khirad, their protected princess.
This is the same reason why she was hated when she appeared in Beirut International Awards Festival in an off-shoulder gown. How could the girl who was dressed with a dupatta on her head in a drama years ago show up in a gown? This is how limited our vision is about female celebrities. How dare they break the mirage we lovingly create out of their dramatic representations.
A GOOD GIRL OR A BAD-ASS
If there is a silver lining to this cloud of righteous indignation it is the unparalleled support that the entertainment industry offered the star. Whether it be Rishi Kapoor from across the border or funny man Osman Khalid Butt there has been an outpouring of love for the celebrity.
Every Pakistani woman should have the same kind of support network when she is ‘caught’ -experimenting, exploring pushing her boundaries – because in real life there are no Khirads. There are only Mahiras – who can be both good and pure and smoke a cigarette on the sidewalk if they want to. She answers to no one.
WE STAND BY YOU
Not only do I stand by you I believe in the power of all the love you have given your fans and I believe in the love you have given those who have connected with you in even the smallest of ways. I am so very proud of the work you have done in Raees, representing Pakistani talent in a confident, charismatic, refreshing way. There will be haters, there will be madness and there will be love.
I know how difficult it is to be a woman in the public eye at your level because some of the hate you get is so disturbing, so vicious, so uncalled for.
I want to tell you that for every moment of hate, you will find a moment of love and for every troll you will find a friend. I know you will brave this with grace and a smile, the same way you have braved other storms. I hope that you will keep rocking on, that you will remain unstoppable and that you will continue to shine on wherever you are and with whatever you do.