Last year drama serial Dar Si Jati Hai Sila stood out for highlighting sexual harassment within the confines of a household. This year Inkaar, which is presently on-air, is getting rave reviews for exploring the subject of consent in our society where ‘no’ doesn’t always necessarily mean ‘no’. A common thread between the two projects is actor Yumna Zaidi, who essayed the titular role of Sila in DSJHS while she is presently playing the audacious Hajra in Inkaar. Yumna, at the top of her game these days, is also handling a very complex character in Mehreen Jabbar’s Dil Kya Karey.
Instep got in touch with the actor to talk about her take on sexual harassment, how it is handled in the entertainment industry and whether there was a reason why she agreed to the roles she had undertaken.
“In our society it is very common that if a girl, who was involved with a guy on any level at a certain point refuses to comply with something at a later stage, it becomes a big issue for the guy,” Yumna Zaidi shared in an exclusive interview with Instep. “Men are mostly offended when a girl says ‘no’; this hurts their ego and they can’t handle it. No matter what social class they belong to, they have a similar, rather intense, reaction to such situations.”
Referring to Episode 9 of Inkaar that went on-air earlier this week, Yumna added that Rehan Chaudhry (Imran Ashraf) was unable to take it when Hajra (Yumna) told him she hates him. He couldn’t handle his rejection and stabbed her multiple times. “Zafar Mairaj (writer of Inkaar) has very subtly highlighted the issue,” Yumna said, adding that guys do threaten girls over such issues.
“Inkaar is very realistic as well as relatable,” the actor continued, informing that the play was a result of the Khadija stabbing case in Lahore. “I get so many messages from young girls who study in a co-education system from a young age. It is very common to be flattered by someone or give in at such an age; hence, many young women experience similar feelings and go through a similar trauma.”
We also spoke about sexual harassment at the workplace, particularly in the entertainment industry. Associated with the TV industry for seven years now, Yumna noted that she has been lucky to not have experienced any such incident. However, she admitted that harassment is very common in the industry.
“My makeup artists often share their experiences and I try to take some action against it so that the female staff isn’t harassed,” she maintained. “Speaking of the Ali Zafar and Meesha Shafi controversy, I am not sure who is right and who is wrong but I wonder why a mature and strong woman like Meesha Shafi would bring this up if there was no truth to it.”
Sadly however, according to Yumna, there is no clause referring to protection against sexual harassment in any of her contracts. “There isn’t one in my contract but there should definitely be one. Why not?” she asserted.
Aside from Inkaar, Yumna is also featured in Mehreen Jabbar’s Dil Kiya Karey that is tackling not one but multiple progressive themes, explored through a diverse set of characters. She is essaying the role of Aiman, who first lost her parents in a plane crash and then lost her husband in an incident in one of the recent episodes.
When asked about the development of her character, Yumna responded, “When you lose some of the most precious things in life, you become fearless after a certain point. Aiman will move forward very strongly now that she doesn’t have anyone to lose. She will take care of herself and her son.”
Speaking of roles she takes up, particularly some that she portrayed in the last couple of years, the actor shared, “I pick and choose characters based on how they can help raise some awareness in society and convey the right message to viewers; whether they generate ratings or not, I want to take up such roles that help women in our society. I don’t worry about how I look but the impact I am able to make with a character that should be convincing and relatable.”
One can’t forget the character of Sila in Dar Si Jati Hai Sila (2018) that Yumna portrayed effortlessly and received immense praise for. Unfortunately, she has not been nominated for the role at the Lux Style Awards 2019 and she is pretty upset about it too.
“When I got to know about the nominations, I was actually very sad to see that Dar Si Jati Hai Sila has been nominated in all the categories except Sila, for which I wasn’t nominated even though I put my heart and soul into the character,” Yumna didn’t shy away from expressing how she felt about it. “It was actually a very strong character and a very unusual one. I found it totally unfair. The amount of love and appreciation I received on Sila and the play was massive and I was an integral part of it, so not being nominated for it was difficult for me to digest.”
“But I think it is a journey and this is a part of it. I try to be honest with my work always and the rest will follow, I suppose,” she concluded optimistically, revealing that she is gearing up for two more plays that will highlight some important social issues.