Zeba Bakhtiar – A Constant Struggle

From a cherubic face in “Anarkali” to “The Best Newcomer Female” at the famous FilmFare Awards. From one broken marriage to another. From the director of a Nigar Award nominee for Best Film (Babu) to a normal human being who hates to school in this unbearable heat. Zeba Bakhtiar is a multi faceted personality. Coming from a politically know family, with passion running in her blood. It is no wonder that Zeba is a name to be reckoned with in the world of showbiz. She is one of the few members of this elite world of glamour who realize the power of the media and are constantly struggling to make a difference through it. Let’s heat what the charming lady has to say about some of the issues that confront each of us on a daily basis:

Zeba, let’s start with what projects you are involved in at present?
That’s difficult to answer because I don’t like talking about projects that I’m working on, I’d rather talk about them after they are complete. I can only tell you that since the past few weeks I have been developing a script for TV which I’m directing and I’m working on it full time because after a long time I’ve found a subject which I really want to do. It’s basically a love story but it’s got certain historical and literary references which make it special and memorable. I guess you can know more about it by September, when the project is almost halfway through. I’ve finalized my cast and the play will be shot half in Pakistan and half abroad. I’m producing it myself along with other partners.

Do you see yourself as a future director?
Production is what I plan to do but direction is always there as an option if a subject really touches my heart. Since, production is the work of the mind but direction is something which involves the mind and the heart so you should really love the subject you are tackling to be able to do justice to it. If I’m not emotionally involved in a story I would rather just provide the best possible facilities for its making but not make it myself.

What about acting?
I don’t think I will act any longer simply because there’s no challenge in it for me. It’s boring. I’ve been acting for almost 16yrs now and it’s very tragic that each time I’ve been cast in the same role with a few exceptions. Now that I look back there are very few projects that I really enjoyed. For example the work I did with Najam. He knew the other side of me, so the role catered to my talents. There was one drama that was an adaptation of “May Fair Lady” and another one, which was “Pehli si Mohabbat” where I played a very obnoxious lady. Both these roles were very different from the roles I’m usually offered so I had a great time performing them.

How come there are so many people who are ambitious about becoming actors if the same roles are being chalked out by the writer today?
Zeba: There’s a certain glamour attached to it. Very few come in for the sake of acting, for the sake of wanting to do something in the field of creative arts. Perhaps a meager five percent! The rest are just here for the glamour.

And the money?
I don’t know how much of it is actually there you see glamour is a big attraction. They want to be famous. If you go 30 or 40 years back when people like Talat Hussein, Uzma Gillani, Khalida Riasat, Shoaib Hashmi and Salima Hashmi came in, those were people who just wanted to act with a passion. They were spiritually involved in their work. Their work had a certain quality. Now the work doesn’t have a soul! Now the work is very pretty: all the girls and even guys have perfect Depilex makeup on and most of them look plastic and larger than life all the time. This is why the normal person can not identify with them and even people who are making it are making it because for them its fast money. They produce trash, pick up the money and produce more trash! It’s just like the difference between and food made with heart, by a mother at home and the burger you get at a fast food restaurant.

But fame itself is not something easy to handle? It has its own cost attached to it…?
People hardly realize that. They realize the price only once they have to pay it! Especially younger people don’t consider these points. They want to be known. The way the showbiz is idealized, children grow up thinking that it’s the ideal life which is obviously not true.

For example in your case, how does Azaan feel about the way people treat him? Even people on a daily basis would always meet him with a prejudice either for or against him because he is your son.
It annoys me more than it annoys him. He’s pretty young right now and does not realize it, but when I get to know things like half the boys play cricket with him because he’s my son, it really saddens me. I know that my real friends are people who’ve been with me since grade one or since the first day of college and I look at him and pray that may he find the same kind of true friends. Because those are the people who know the real me. In showbiz there are hardly two or three people who know my real self. Otherwise, I don’t socialize because I’m a very low profile person and don’t like to hang around with people just to be in the “in” crowd.

What reacting do you get when you go out?
Sometimes when I meet fans I get to hear things which really touch me. Only recently, I met a lady who actually confided what when she saw “Anarkali” she was going through terrible marital problems and my acting inspired her to write and that really helped her. I’ve been through similar things myself because a lot of roles that I’ve done are about things which I’ve recently been through or situations which I’m about to face in life so it’s been a learning experience more than everything else. And what I’ve learnt from all of it has helped me give strength to people around me when they start failing apart because my personal life has been so turbulent. Actually I’ve been raised in a very different environment. None of my family members liked what I did, none of them approved of it. They put up with it because I was a much pampered, youngest baby of the family. But no one took it seriously. For me, when I used to come back from work, their attitude was more like ‘ok, so now that you are done with your stupidity of the day, lets come back to earth and move on with normal life”. My mother was the more tolerant and loving one throughout and my father supported me because he understood that I needed something concrete to keep me busy and to keep my mind away from everything that I’d been through… he knew it would give me some consolation and happiness. It must’ve been very difficult for him because being a political figure and petty-minded. Each step I think of now I’ve seen it all and then another eye-opening incident happens and I’m totally taken aback. Had I known all of this before I would have never entered showbiz. It’s a world which looks beautiful the more you stand away from it, the closer you come you start seeing the ugliness of it all. I always tell him if u ever idealize a star, don’t ever meet them because all your ideals are going to be shattered!

If everyone’s problems in the industry are the same then how come the industry itself is not united? Why are there so many factions always facing each other with daggers drawn?
You tell me, what industry or department is not divided in our society? Our whole nation is divided unfortunately. The provinces are divided according to races, our religion is divided, and our government is divided. Similarly showbiz is just another job, another industry. There’s nothing different about it except the fact that it has longer hours and some absurd demands which people really don’t understand. A person going to office can not ever imagine going to work one morning and being asked to climb up a tree or to stand half immersed in water to shoot a scene. You’re asked to hit a person you’ve never seen in a life before or worse still say romantic dialogues to a man whose face you can not stand! So it’s an absurd job! Unfortunately, our nation is heading towards a point where every household is divided.

But what prevents the showbiz from becoming something that people look up to?
Zeba: Because the main creators of it do not let it prosper in a positive direction. In our society, first there was PTV than the satellite channels came along and now if you look at the larger picture, the countries that are dominating the media are the United States and India and they have progressed only because they have not been controlled by their governments. There’s a certain attitude and mindset behind their work. They have freedom of speech. I’ve tried to talk to the higher-ups about this issue because sadly enough they don’t realize the strength of the media. And it is high time that they realize the potential of this medium since it plays such a huge role in people’s life. It’s the strongest psychological tool that anyone could have. Its social, its moral, its religious… it affects our lives on a hundred different levels. The right message is not being conveyed because the people who are making it don’t’ have a target. They don’t have a thought behind what they want to say to the audience. The writers don’t consider themselves as morally responsible for what stories they chalk out. They don’t realize that they are in a position which can really help them create a difference in the society.

If you find younger people who are willing to train with you? Younger people with a fresh mind and the eagerness to learn?
The problem is that every person who has been on the sets twice starts thinking he is an asst, director and every asst director who’s worked on one project, wants to move onto the post of a director. They look for a financer who has got lots of black money somewhere and who wants an entry into the glamour world. So no one wants to learn! They all want to take the short cut. What they don’t realize is that this kind of fame goes as fast as it comes because it is based on whimsical projects and not on a substantial contribution towards the national media.
As a senior you don’t want to put anyone down. You want them to grow and learn because at the end of the day it’s your country and your work that improves. Even if you want to help the younger people by giving those tips on how to improvise, they take it as a personal offense! And it’s so unfortunate since the regard and mutual respect that should be there is not there any more. You won’t believe it but now when I go to sets I’m actually afraid of interacting with new people because you don’t what they are going to turn around and say. They upbringing is missing. The whole social setup is deteriorating very rapidly.

How can you not become part of problem and create a solution?
You know my niece is interning at an Ad agency and I thought that when young people work it should be a team effort but I was pretty sad to learn that no one hesitates to steal another idea just to get the credit for it. Why can’t you do it together? There is hardly anything that you can do alone… you always need other people who are better at the job so that you come up with a more finished and product. In such a case, everyone can share the credit and be proud of their production.

Do you talk to your son about his daily problems?
Yeah, we talk about everything. When he’s done with his homework, he hands around with me at the sets at times, even though he’s not really inclined towards this profession. Last year he wanted to be a lawyer and now he wants to be a bone surgeon. Maybe it’s a combination of the fact that his Mamu is a surgeon and he loves to watch WWF. I really don’t believe in imposing anything on him. As long as he loves his career and is able to make a respectful living for himself, I’ll be proud of him.

So are you totally out of movies?
I can consider going into movies but to do something much more alternate, like direction perhaps. The writer that I’m working with right now is very talented. I’d much rather direct a script of his because to some extent we think along the same wavelength. It’s like I’d be reading the draft of the script and I’d think this should happen in the next scene and that’s already how he’s written it. So I’m very happy with the work he’s done for me right now. After this there are quite a few subjects we’ve discussed which include tele-films and ideas for an art film.

So what are your views about Indian being shown in our cinemas?
It’s all going to end up in one big mess. How do you think that the fundamentalists are going to react? What about all the people going to cinemas risking bomb blast factors? Since you know that each time an Indian performer is in town either there are bomb threats or actual blasts. I guess its time for a reality check. Certain sections of our society are not going to accept it. Period.The thing is that we completely idolize the Indians and their film industry and we’re always trying to compete with them. Whereas, we don’t realize that we’re completely different from them on the one basic point that is religion. We’re not religiously musicians or dancers. For them dance is a form of worship only place where dance is taught is for the purpose of mujras. So the creativity being churned out by such differing mentalities can not be compared. When people say that Pakistani actresses sadly enough our talent is going to waste. Most of our producers make films to fulfill their own lurid fantasies not realizing the impact it has on the public.
Why can’t you look at Iran or Egypt or Turkey for that matter, who make world class movies pertaining to their own cultures? Its like India is doing what India does best, so why can’t we create our own niche by doing what we are best at? We don’t want to work on our folk culture, our qawwals, and our own rich heritage!

What about politics?
I’ve been offered but, I’m totally not interested since it’s only a bad version of the showbiz. It’s the same acting and lying without any makeup and in terrible clothes!

But Zeba if everyone sits back thinking that nothing can be done, who is going to step ahead and shoulder the responsibility shouldn’t the people from showbiz take advantage of their popularity?
The thing is that there are too many factors operating. If I thought I could make even a small difference I would be only too happy to be in it. But I know that the amount of energy would put into showbiz to make a very small but significant difference is far more worthwhile than just screaming my lungs out in the national assembly and not getting anything done! There are too many other interests that these people have. I wanted to do a project on drugs, another on Afghanistan, but it all gets censored by the authorities. Any controversial subject that I research about goes to waste since very soon you realize huge planned scheme and you start finding out who’s actually behind it all. It’s not even about censorship it’s about whether we want to face harassments.

What about your project concerning primary education in Balochistan?
I did do lot of research and then I went ahead and asked the US for aid. An amount of $60 million came in which was distributed among the local N.G.O.’S for the purpose. However, so far they haven’t set up a single primary education institution in the area and it remains a bit question. What are they doing with the money? “Resource Development”? And what exactly is that: a nice term for eating up the money!

Don’t you sometimes think about the time when Azaan will grow up and confront you about his dad? Doesn’t the very thought of it make you feel insecure?
No, frankly enough I don’t feel insecure at all. Adnan and his family have stooped to such levels that I know my son will never falter in his judgment. I’ve never stopped Azaan from meeting his father. The five years that Azaan has been with me, I myself have put him on the phone with his father whenever he feels like talking to Adnan. On the other hand, Adnan has never called him on his birthday or on other occasions like Eid. The last time he called was two weeks back because there was a case hearing and the time before that was a year and a half ago! I’ve told him that he can come and meet him whenever he wants but the truth is that Azaan is not one of his priorities! And that’s very obvious because he hasn’t ever done anything for him, never provided for him or sent him birthday presents! I know he well try to capitalize Azaan at some point or another but I also believe that Azaan, being an individual has the complete right to choose what is best for him. I think all mothers love their children unconditionally and thus I don’t expect anything in return from Azzan. He has seen everything take place in front of him. I talk to Azaan as little as I can about this subject because don’t believe in poisoning his young mind with such brutalities own experience and then make his own decisions InshaAllah. It’s another think that Adnan goes on stage and cries about the fact that his son is being kept away from him. That’s just a way of gaining public sympathy and I have nothing to say about it except the fact that at the end of the day, he has his own conscience to face!

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