Kashf Foundation, Pakistanâ€™s premier wealth management company for low income households, was created with the aim to alleviate poverty by providing a suite of high quality affordable financial and non-financial services to low income households, especially women, to build their capacity and enhance their economic role. Under the leadership of founder Roshaneh Zafar, it has gone from strength to strength and has now branched out into television production for social change. Udaari (To Fly) is their latest Pakistani drama serial that airs on Hum TV. It is written by Farhat Ishtiaq, and co-created and co-produced by Momina Duraid under the production banner of Momina Duraid Productions and Kashf Foundation. It stars Urwa Hocane, Farhan Saeed, Bushra Ansari, Samiya Mumtaz, Maryam Fatima, Rehan Sheikh and Ahsan Khan. Udaari focuses on the social and economic marginalization of women in Pakistani society, while also highlighting deeply rooted problems such as child labour and rape, in order to break the myths and taboos around these issues by providing solutions. Roshaneh and Bushra tell Afshan Shafi more about their deeply impactful initiative
Please tell us more aboutÂ Udaari and your ideas behind this initiative.
Kashf has been working for the empowerment of women from low-income households for the past two decades and social advocacy is a major component of our work. Using television to change mind-sets and promote behavior change has proven to be very effective across the world, especially in Latin America and Africa.
UdaariÂ is actually our second television production, in 2012 we collaborated with MD Productions to produce and airÂ RehaiiÂ which was also an issue based drama tackling the sensitive issue of child marriage and violence against women. The idea forÂ UdaariÂ came to me after the tragic incident on mass scale child abuse in Kasur in November last year. Child sexual abuse is unfortunately a rampant problem across the world, but in Pakistan the situation is much worse since talking about it is a social taboo and such cases are generally brushed under the carpet. I discussed my ideas withÂ Momina DuraidÂ from MD Productions and we were lucky to have the Government of Canada support us in this venture. Momina and I then gotÂ Farhat [Ishtiaq] Sultana [Siddiqui] ApaÂ andÂ Ehtisham [Uddin]Â on board, fast forward a few months and Udaari was ready to go on air.
The idea for Udaari came to me after the tragic incident, mass scale child abuse in Kasur in November last year
I thinkÂ Sultana ApaÂ is doing a great job promoting womensâ€™ issues and giving programming space to women on Hum TV. Ehtisham has also expertly directed the show and all the elements have come together very well.
What impact do televised narratives on social issues have for the public at large? How does this method of creating awareness improve upon existing measures?
Televised narratives can be key in influencing changes in society, take for example our first television production Rehaii. Rehaii received a lot of critical acclaim and encouraged more discussions and debate on the issues we took up in the show related to child marriage, almost 30% of marriages in Pakistan are below the age of 15 years. These debates helped put in place legislation at the provincial level in Sindh and a provincial law was introduced in 2013, which has set the legal age of marriage at 18.
What issues highlighted in the play are particularly moving for you?
As I mentioned earlier, I was aghast when I heard about the Kasur incident of mass scale child sexual abuse. I have been involved in creating awareness about child sexual abuse (CSA) for the past two decades, so for me child sexual abuse is not a new topic. Data tells us that 44% of CSA cases happen indoors, of which 32% take place in the victimâ€™s own home and 41% at residences of known individuals. For me that statistic alone is a complete shock, for it identifies that children are not safe in their own homes or from their own relatives or acquaintances. In Udaari we have raised this point, in order to educate parents across the country that they need to teach children about their own safety. Most importantly parents need to have a trust based relationship with their children, while preparing them to identify potentially dangerous situations.Â For example, not only have I talked to my 3 Â½ year old about parts of the body that no one can touch, but I have also inculcated in her the concept of playing with children her own age. These are simple steps that can go a long way in helping the child be more prepared.
What attitudes amongst the urban populace in particular impede the progress of women across the board?
Societal attitudes are influenced by long term patriarchal values and gender stereotyping, which affect womens lives in multiple ways; even in educated elite circles of our society the birth of a son is celebrated more than the birth of a daughter, while choosing educational institutes and careers there are pre-conceived ideas regarding what is â€˜rightâ€™ for women. Those who make it to the workplace often have to face harassment and hit glass ceilings beyond which they cannot grow. Overall, I feel as a society we are not teaching our children the right values of respect, tolerance and space whether it is in the context of womenâ€™s development or other disadvantaged groups. The need now is to put mentorship programs, public service messages, and support networks in place so that these girls can actually enter (and stay) within the work-force.
In your experience do you think that rural attitudes towards woman orientated issues are changing or do you think that there isÂ still an unwillingness?
There is always an unwillingness to change the status quo â€“ in the case of womenâ€™s empowerment there is a large paradox because you are asking those in control (the men) to give up their power and promote women. In both the urban and rural areas, large scale systemic changes are needed to give women more space and voice which do not seem to be happening at the required pace. That said, small efforts and single institutions are making large impact at a limited level. Take for example Kashf, which has empowered over 1,200,000 women through microcredit and capacity building interventions to set up their own small businesses and change their lives, earn higher incomes, become more mobile, build their social and physical capital.Â Â Not only that, once these women become major contributors to the income in their families, they are able to extend their economic agency and able to invest in the future of their families by educating their children.
Who is your favorite character from the show and why?
My favorite character in the show isÂ SheedanÂ who is played byÂ Bushra Ansari.Â I like this character because sheâ€™s a fierce and strong woman who is a go-getter. Despite being born in a poor household, she is proud of her family and heritage and works hard to provide for her family. She is also always ready to support others. Moreover, she is very direct and calls it like she sees it.Â When the character was conceived I was convinced onlyÂ Bushra [Ansari]Â Apa could do justice to it and she has proved us right a million times over.Â Bushra ApaÂ is a versatile and phenomenal actor and has done a stupendous job playingÂ Sheedan.
I am also very fond ofÂ Iqbal, her brother, I am not sure if you have noticed his character is supposed to be trans-gender. Unfortunately in our society we have now relegated transgender people to begging, while traditionally they were the entertainers, the singers and the stand up comedians of our society.Â The purpose of Udaari is also to emphasize dignity of work, the importance of self-worth and the need to be tolerant of those who donâ€™t fit pre-defined social constructs.
Please tell us more about the writers behind the show and how you communicated your vision to them.
The TV show is written byÂ Farhat IshtiaqÂ who needs no introduction. Having penned down many famous novels she became very popular after the success ofÂ Hum Safar, which she also wrote. Farhat also worked on the script forÂ Rehaii, and there was just no question in our minds about who to ask to pen down our second TV show. She is a bold and sensitive writer who captures emotions and struggles very well. ForÂ UdaariÂ we collected stories of child sexual abuse from our clients and shared them withÂ FarhatÂ so she could use them for inspiration and character development, whileÂ Momina DuraidÂ who is our co-creator par excellence and who brings oodles of experience in drama and plot development put together the entire canvas of the play for us. In other words, we had Kashfâ€™s real life experience and contextual understanding,Â Farhatâ€™sÂ sensitivity and keen understanding of human emotions andÂ Mominaâ€™sÂ creativity and ingenuity, which led to the final concept and script for Udaari.
What feedback have you received from viewers about the show and how do you think it will benefit Kashfâ€™s future projects?
The response has been phenomenal! Everyone who has seen the show has loved it and praised the actors, story-line, direction, and contextualization. The TRP ratings have also showed that Udaari is outperforming other shows by as significant margin till now. We are hopeful the social messages in the show will also be taken well and will help change peopleâ€™s mind-sets and behaviors.
Please tell us more initial involvement with Kashf and its initiative Udaari in particular.
Like any other sensible Pakistani who wants Pakistan to progress I support Kashf Foundation and its work. In fact I had heard about the work being done in Bangladesh on micro-banking and had always wished that some one would start it in Pakistan; I was very glad to have found out very soon afterÂ that Kashf was offering similar services to the women of Pakistan.
Do you think that film and television have the power to affect real change? why do you think these are such effective mediums?
Watching the show will help a lot of people recognize how their surroundings are impacting them. Even a simple minded woman from a village or an innocent young girl can be cautious and aware that even a close relative can harm her. The strength of the show is that it takes up these important but taboo subjects in an approachable and relatable manner.
What issues highlighted in the show do you think concern women across Pakistan?
Udaari takes on multiple issues: one of the main issues is child sexual abuse, another is that of disrespect forÂ miraasi (singing and dancing) communities. Musicians and performers at weddings are working very hard to entertain and amuse people and it makes sense to remunerate them for their work. It is very wrong of people to think that they are dishonorable people; itâ€™s a big misconception. Udaari shows these performers in a very positive light and propagates respect for them.
I would very much like to take up the issues of Christian and Hindu communities and propagate messages of inter-faith harmony and tolerance
UdaariÂ shows the life and struggles of a simple village woman and her vulnerability, but what is different is that it also shows how the simple village woman can get empowered and raise her voice in the face of exploitation. The drama very beautifully brings all these factors together. Itâ€™s a good shift for dramas also to go beyond the mundane saas/bahu (mother in law/daughter in law) storylines to content that can actually influence societal change.
What attitudes amongst the urban populace in particular impede the progress of women across the board?
Unfortunately we cannot talk about minorities, which is another very sensitive issue, but due to security threats/constraints we cannot take up these issues even if we want to take them up. I would very much like to take up the issues of Christian and Hindu communities and propagate messages of inter-faith harmony and tolerance.
Please tell us more about your character Sheedan in the show and why you find her interesting?
PlayingÂ SheedanÂ has been a very fulfilling experience for me since it is a unique and interesting character. Contrary to a lot of women on TV today,Â SheedanÂ is a brave woman and a fighter. Sheâ€™s a sensitive and loving woman, but she is also very blunt and straightforward, frankly saying things the way she sees them. She is also helpful to others around her and is ready to lend a helping hand when needed. I canâ€™t really reveal the story but playingÂ SheedanÂ was a really good experience because of the character. Moreover, music is very close my heart so any story that allows me to perform and sing while in character is always very enjoyable for me.
Which other character in the show is your favorite or someone you find particularly thought provoking?
Everyone has done a good job inÂ Udaari,Â I thinkÂ Ahsan KhanÂ has really taken a bold step by taking on a negative character in the play. He has always worked more as the â€˜chocolate heroâ€™ on TV and films and I think this was not an easy decision for him.Â Sammiya MumtazÂ who is also in the drama has as usual given a stellar performance and made her acting look completely effort-less.
The show has also brought forward lots of young and new talent;Â Urwa HocaneÂ is playing a completely different character from her previous roles and it has been a big change for Urwa who is a complete city girl. UrwaÂ has really come out of her comfort zone to playÂ Meeranâ€™sÂ character and gone and lived in the village for days during the shooting. Farhan Saeed has also done a good job, heâ€™s more known as a singer but he is now also proving himself as an actor. Another new face isÂ MalikaÂ who has also done a very good work and her acting is very natural.Â AqeelÂ who plays my brother has also done a good job, especially with his dialect.
Do you think wider change is afloat for women in Pakistan? Please elaborate on why you agree or disagree with this statement.
In the context of improving womenâ€™s conditions, the need of the hour is to change the mindsets of society at large, including both men and women. Educating and making women aware is very important because as mothers women can give better values to their sons. Women have a big role in shaping their sonâ€™s mindsets and thinking and women need to make them more gender sensitized, to encourage them to help out inside the house and respect women. This is pivotal in changing the future of this country.
InÂ Udaari,Â we have touched on only a few issues there are much more dreadful issues in society which need to be taken up. In the context of women there are many other issues such asÂ watta satta (inter-family marriage), waani, inheritance issues, second marriages, rape and acid attacks that need to be taken up. And while these issues are not Pakistan specific, we need to bring them forward to create debate and discussion and change mind-sets around these issues. We need to continue to stay involved and bring issues to the fore to play our part in augmenting change around us.