Saba Qamar has become a force to be reckoned with in the entertainment industry. Through her poignant performances, sheâ€™s captured the hearts of millions and continues to be a voice for downtrodden women everywhere. Mehek Raza Rizvi speaks to the reigning queen about her upcoming projects and how sheâ€™s spending time in lockdown
â€œFortunately, criticism has never been a source of fear for me. I enjoy criticism as much as I enjoy appreciationâ€
Through the characters you portray on screen and the content of your recent YouTube channel, you echo the sentiments of many women. How important a part can female role models like yourself play in making the world a kinder place?
I believe that Iâ€™ve been blessed with the utmost responsibility of influencing. As an actor I hold the power of breathing life into stories; the characters I play not only leave a mark on screen, but they also leave a mark on the audience. Thus, itâ€™s extremely important for me to carefully choose the message Iâ€™d want to convey to my audience and how Iâ€™d want to impact their lives. Playing my role in making this world a kinder, safer and better place is a priority for me.
Do you feel gender portrayal in Pakistani media has seen a shift in recent years?
I do believe that as an industry weâ€™re breaking free from the world of gender stereotyping. The ethical value of the work Iâ€™m creating is far more important than any monetary value and I believe thatâ€™s what makes me stand where I do today. Ending gender stereotyping on screen is a cause close to my heart and I pray to continue working towards this cause.
Unlike most actors, even the biggest critics would find it challenging to typecast you due to your versatile body of work. Has this been a conscious effort from your end?
Definitely! Thereâ€™s nothing that excites me more than a challenging and out-of-the-box script. Thatâ€™s what keeps me going as an actor: the hope that Iâ€™ll get to live a new character every morning. Iâ€™ve grown both individually and professionally through the characters Iâ€™ve chosen to play over the years.
What led you to explore YouTube as a platform? Is digital media the way forward for mainstream actors too?
My underlying passion for writing and direction led me to explore YouTube as a channel. Iâ€™ve found it to be a medium which enables me to communicate with my audience through my creativity, and most importantly, my originality. People are finally getting to know Saba Qamar up close. I do believe that exploring digital media is integral in the world we live in today.
Your video titled â€œIsolationâ€, the first episode on your YouTube channel, resonated with many on Â a personal level. Howâ€™re you dealing with these strange times?
This has been a period of reflection for meâ€”these challenging circumstances have drawn me closer to myself and God. I took this time as an opportunity to reflect on all that Iâ€™ve neglected and to pay attention to the smaller things in life. I find myself to be healing as a creative and exploring new strengths every day.
â€œThereâ€™s nothing that excites me more than a challenging and out-of-the-box script. Thatâ€™s what keeps me going as an actor: the hope that Iâ€™ll get to live a new character every morningâ€
Most people are keeping busy by exploring new talentsâ€”from cooking to painting and writing. What does a typical day in quarantine look like for you?
The talent I not only explored but revealed, was the talent of writing along with the talent of direction. A typical day in quarantine is filled with the warmth and presence of my family, far away from the noise of the world, where my soul and body heals from all the exhaustion, where I find time for my creativity, where I work and hold Zoom meetings with my team, where we keep each other motivated with new ideas.
While most fans find your sincere, unfiltered and genuine spirit refreshing, there are certain disapproving parties that can subject you to criticism. Is that ever a fear?
Fortunately, criticism has never been a source of fear for me. I enjoy criticism as much as I enjoy appreciation.
Youâ€™ve been part of the industry since 2004, experiencing countless highs along the way. Whatâ€™re the biggest lessons youâ€™ve learnt?
To stay consistent and persistent despite all odds and setbacks. Itâ€™s also extremely important to stay positive and take everything in a positive manner.
Tell us about your upcoming films â€œKamliâ€Â and â€œGhabrana nai haiâ€.
The characters Iâ€™ve played in both the films are poles apart from each other. In one my role is quiet and calm, whereas in the other Iâ€™m overly enthusiastic and vibrant. I canâ€™t wait for the audience to watch both the films.
How would you like Saba Qamar to be remembered?
Iâ€™d want to be remembered as someone who was more than just a good actress. Iâ€™d want people to remember me for my soul, heart and faithâ€”for the positive change Iâ€™ve tried to bring in this world through my work.
Whatâ€™s the first thing youâ€™ll do once this global pandemic is over?
Get on the next flight and explore a country Iâ€™ve never been to before.
Whatâ€™s something youâ€™re surprised you donâ€™t miss in quarantine?
Going to the gym and working out.
Whatâ€™re some things youâ€™ve come to realise arenâ€™t as necessary as you thought earlier?
My YouTube video â€˜Isolationâ€™ is an in-depth response to this question.
If you could only eat one thing in quarantine, what would it be?
If you could only use one app during this time, which one would it be?
Are you guilty of panic buying?
Are you an early riser or night owl?
Texts or phone calls?
Do you have a nickname?
My sister calls me â€˜Sabiâ€™, my elder brother calls me â€˜Bubniyaâ€™ and my best friend calls me â€˜SQâ€™
Out of all the characters youâ€™ve played, which one do you relate to most?
Mashal in â€˜Besharamâ€™
A dialogue from one of your projects that describes you best?
â€˜Kabhi Kabhi Kadion Ko Apnay Kaid Khanay say Mohabbat ho jati hai. Mujhay Bhi Ho Gayi Haiâ€™ (Sometimes prisoners fall in love with their prison; I too have fallen in love with mine)
Your favourite performance of yourself so far?
Photography: Rizwan Baig; MUA: Shoaib Khan; Stylist: Zahra Sarfraz; PR & Coordination: Meshal Cheema
The recent protests in the United States following the extra-judicial killing of George Floyd, an unarmed African-American man, at the hands of the police have reignited the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the conversation on race in America. Granted this conversation never really went away, as the equality and justice that was demanded of their government was never provided to the Black community.
Donald Trumpâ€™s term in office continued to see a rise in violence against coloured people in the USA, propagated by the police or white Americans, with it largely being against African-Americans. George Floydâ€™s murder, which was captured in a horrific video, is just another in a long line of murders committed at the hands of the American police. Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor and Ahmed Aubrey are all names weâ€™ve heard and read in the news and yet, the cycle just doesnâ€™t seem to stop.
Police brutality is sadly not the only culprit here, as many regular American citizens continue to condone this behaviour and in fact partake in it themselves. Every day thereâ€™s a new video floating on the Internet where a white person is using their privilege to racially profile a Black person. The â€˜Karensâ€™ or â€˜Kevinsâ€™ of the Internet, as theyâ€™re now being called, display their white supremacy and white privilege for the entire world to see, yet apart from them losing their jobs or being dragged online, nothing much happens in the way of substantial institutional change.
You might be wondering what this has got to do with us. Living tens of thousands of miles away with our own problems, why should we care about whatâ€™s happening in the USA? The simple answer is: humanity. More than that, I believe this is the right time to check our own endemic racism and colourism, in order to carve a better world for the generations to come.
Itâ€™s no secret that colourism is rampant in our society; darker skin tones have always been less desirable than their fairer counterparts. We grow up cracking jokes at the expense of those darker than us and these are invariably racist in nature. Using derogatory terms we compare darker people to Africans, as if being an African (which is not a nationality) is a bad thing. The worst part, these jokes go unchecked and unchallenged. And why wouldnâ€™t they be? Thatâ€™s what grown ups around us engage in as well: girls with duskier skin tones are told theyâ€™re undesirable and are admonished for not using the array of skin whitening products available to remedy this. While this is a lot more nuanced than this article can focus on, I bring this all up due to the inherent links with anti-blackness that the brown community, whether in South Asia or the Diaspora, continues to promulgate.
People around us continue to take from the Black community without lending support when itâ€™s required. We obsess over music produced by Black artists, think we have some innate right to use the â€˜Nâ€™ word (please donâ€™t), try to adopt African-American accents and mannerisms, but remain performative in our protection of their rights. Be honest, how many of you have heard the followingâ€”or similarâ€”from those around you:
â€œYeah, but I would never want my child to date a Black manâ€
â€œIâ€™m not going to go watch Black Panther, too many Africansâ€
â€œHabshi lag rahay hoâ€
â€œTrump is right, theyâ€™re all criminalsâ€
â€œYouâ€™re my Nâ€”â€”â€
Sadly, the above are all real conversations from people Iâ€™ve had to argue with and persuade to see their racism. The â€œIâ€™m brown I canâ€™t be racistâ€ argument is the most ignorant response ever. Now, this article doesnâ€™t mean I absolve myself of any prior racist or anti-black attitudes; Iâ€™ve had to identify my own anti-blackness over the years and methodically rid myself of it. The point is, to continue to learn and recognise oneâ€™s biases, in order to defeat them. A few steps that you can take:
It should be clear as day that racism canâ€™t exist, yet it isnâ€™t so. Recently, Iâ€™ve read a bunch of books dealing with racism and slavery, as well as watched shows and documentaries that have narrated the effects of these on the lives of modern African-Americans. Itâ€™s been an eye-opening, blood-boiling experience. Some of them that I recommend for you:
Read: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Read: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Read: Any essay of James Baldwin
Watch: When They See Us on Netflix
Watch: Selma (a movie on the life of MLK Jr.)
Weâ€™ve all heard a version of the phrase that those who turn a blind eye towards oppression are complicit and thatâ€™s true now more than ever. We might have our own problems here, but that doesnâ€™t mean we canâ€™t lend our support to others subjected to systemic violence.