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Are actors still looked down upon?

It appears to be an archaic concept but truth is that actors face social discrimination even today. Faysal Qureshi, Mehwish Hayat, Gohar Rasheed and Sania Saeed weigh in…

Are actors still looked down upon?
“Change is very superficial,” says veteran actor Sania Saeed. “In reality, there are still problems.”

Instep comment

Would you believe that actors in Pakistan, despite the apparent glory they seem to be reveling in, have to deal with social discrimination at various levels even today? While the world’s stars are fighting for diversity, gender equality and perhaps even world peace, ours are still stuck dealing with an identity crisis. Actors in Pakistan, believe it or not, are still looked down upon for their choice of career.

They are the stars of the reel world, inspiring millions of fans across the country and beyond. In reality, however, a marriage proposal from an actor raises eyebrows and many of them face obstacles when doing something as simple as renting a room. It’s as if we are living by Katherine Hepburn’s quote that “acting is the perfect idiot’s profession… and not a very high class way to earn a living”.  In simpler words, it’s not just an older generation that thinks that one only becomes an actor when they have failed in everything else worthwhile in life; it’s the entire society that echoes the same belief.

Instep got in touch with a few actors, experienced and new, to find out how society was treating them and whether acting, as a profession, is still looked down upon.

“Though society’s perception has changed considerably, there are people who don’t find it a stable job and still ask me what else I do apart from acting,” Faysal Qureshi, whose acting career spans over two decades, told Instep. “However compared to the past, a lot of people consider acting a recognized profession now. Students are receiving a proper education from film schools. Earlier actors weren’t allowed to attend a lot of shows due to which their exposure to the masses was limited to the screen or either newspapers in some cases. There were hardly any interviews on television. Viewers used to create a perception of actors on the basis of roles they played onscreen but now there are ways to connect to us. We’re almost always available on different social media platforms apart from appearing on TV shows that allow viewers to connect more than ever before. They know how we spend our weekends, what food we have and a lot more, that make them understand that actors are just like any other person (non actor) they see around.”

Faysal Qureshi admits that things are improving for actors; social media has made it possible for fans to connect with stars.

Faysal Qureshi admits that things are improving for actors; social media has made it possible for fans to connect with stars.

Mehwish Hayat, who is gearing up for the release of Punjab Nahi Jaungi this Eid-ul-Azha also feels that the situation isn’t the same anymore.

She said, “The whole media environment has changed in Pakistan over the past few years and it is now considered to be a career choice for many. Even the government has granted film production industry status. Acting is of course unstable but should be treated like any other freelance profession where people go from one job to another. We have all had our fair share of prejudice in renting accommodation and other financial matters. In other countries, annual accounts and tax returns are accepted as proof of income, maybe that could be seen as a way of alleviating the problem here as well.”

Mehwish Hayat believes that the whole media environment has changed in Pakistan over the past few years and it [acting] is now considered to be a career choice for many.

Mehwish Hayat believes that the whole media environment has changed in Pakistan over the past few years and it [acting] is now considered to be a career choice for many.

Gohar Rasheed, on the other hand, is of a different view. The actor, who has always been very vocal about his views, had a strong opinion on the matter.

“Our society and we as a nation are confused and to a certain level we’re hypocritical as well. We love to hang out and party with celebrities, we like to date them, associate ourselves with them, take selfies with them but when it comes to marriage, we say, ‘unse shadi nahi kar sakte’ (we can’t marry them). Aren’t they human beings? We’re still stuck in the mindset that used to prevail in the 70s and 80s: People from respectable families don’t indulge in this profession and those who are a part of the field are indecent.”

Gohar also pointed out that no industry is free of such allegations. In every field there are people who indulge in inappropriate activities and contaminate the entire environment, whether it is banking sector, politics, construction companies or even media personnel. It’s just that actors are always in the limelight which is why they are judged and sidelined.

Gohar Rasheed says that there is a hypocrisy with which actors are viewed. The mindset, notes Rasheed, is that people from respectable families don’t indulge in this profession.

Gohar Rasheed says that there is a hypocrisy with which actors are viewed. The mindset, notes Rasheed, is that people from respectable families don’t indulge in this profession.

“You can’t open a bank account, you can’t rent a house or apply for loan if you are an actor and the reason they give is, ‘you don’t have a stable job’,” sighs Gohar. “A newcomer in the industry earns more than a bank manager. How is that not a stable job? And if there are any doubts, why don’t they check our bank statement before assuming that we won’t be able to comply with the bank’s requirements just because we are actors? Do people from other fields not break rules?”

Veteran actor Sania Saeed, who recently picked up an award for her performance in Sang e Mar Mar, reiterates similar views on the subject. She too feels that the change we see today compared to the past is superficial and society is hypocritical.

“Change is very superficial,” she asserts. “In reality, there are still problems. The assumptions about actors are the same, even worse than what they used to be earlier. People were more liberal then. If you party all night, you will not be allowed to rent a house but is it just actors who party with their friends? This prejudice against us does exist. Running behind artists and taking autographs is fine but when a young girl or guy wishes to make a career in acting, the ‘so-called’ respectable families don’t allow them. And this is not just limited to women; men too face the same reaction. It is assumed that actors follow a certain kind of lifestyle; thanks to their journalist and blogger friends. On the basis of how some actors behave, society looks at all others with the same eye.”

In a nutshell, the fame and fortune actors enjoy isn’t earned overnight. It requires a lot of hard work as well as a strong mind to deal with criticism and biases that come their way, not just from their families but from society at large. We do see winds of change blowing in; most actors today are educated and qualified. They are in the profession by choice and passion for the art, not for the lack of something better. There was a time when acting wasn’t considered a decent man (or woman’s) profession because very few men and women from good, educated and established families would step in but that has changed now. It’s time society’s attitude towards them changes as well.

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