A local actor seems to be stricken by conscience (again) these days. His initials are essentially “HA”, which is more than appropriate for most of his public statements. Recently he has been reported to have expressed great shame at being in a film with actors in bikinis, presumably shooting scenes on a beach. There may have been frolicking demanded of the characters, and a show of romantic interest. Poor HA. He obviously wasn’t allowed to read the script, discuss what was required of his character with the director or had any idea that he would have to wear a swimsuit himself on the beach, no less. He probably expected to be shooting in picturesque Siberia, wearing a balaclava as he lived in a monastery. Classic rom-com, “Dr Zhivago” style. And then those ladies! In bikinis! Not even a one-piece, or at least wearing black tights with said one-piece! Chee! So shameful, to have to be in character and wear what the character needs to wear in a particular context. None of the actors shooting with him have expressed their shame and humiliation at having to see HA in his bathing suit, much less wonder why he is emerging from a swimming pool wearing sunglasses. That’s the funny thing about being an actor, you see: your job is to be other people all the time. Your character will probably do all kinds of things you personally wouldn’t, but the difference between a truly creative artist and a silly old chump with a pretty face is knowing that. The annoying thing about HA is that he has taken creative license and turned it into a publicity-fuelled morality stunt.

Now he’s the nice boy who was forced to shoot those scenes. He didn’t have creative control over the shooting. He’s probably right to an extent, but he committed to a project, and is part of a team of actors, and actors do all kinds of things regular people (or even themselves personally) don’t. Particularly desi films, most of which aren’t particularly driven by a compulsion to project reality. Most films are exercises in storytelling, with the resulting suspension of disbelief required to think someone like HA actually gets paid to squint meaningfully at a camera whilst girls swoon. What personally cheeses me off is how HA makes acting sound licentious, but in doing so is also trying to exempt himself of it. It is incredibly difficult to pursue one’s creative impulse in Pakistan, whatever form that takes. Boys who want to paint, girls who want to act, anyone who wants to sing or write or do street theatre or become a puppeteer; one is perpetually surrounded by people saying haw hai, and log kya kahengey, and you’ll starve in the gutter. Being creative is also about having the courage to access your emotions and your thoughts in a way that automatically puts them on display for others to look at, assess, have an opinion about. It’s at once terrifying and exhilarating, and nobody needs a fellow practitioner to come and pull that all down by saying he’s ashamed of his work. I can’t imagine how his co-stars feel about him talking about their film like that, a film that is the result of a lot of people coming together to create something they believe in. HA is saying they are all essentially the cheapsters people think actors are, which is utter rubbish. It also implies that the people who will pay money to see a film featuring said cheapsters share some of those characteristics. I’m insulted on many levels.

It’s also problematic that HA keeps talking about his actions being against Pakistani ‘culture’. I have never understood what that means. ‘Culture’ is a broad term to begin with, and a country as culturally diverse as ours should have the luxury—indeed, pleasure—of not having a homogenous cultural identity. It means freedom for everyone to do their thing without being forced to conform to one central version of what culture should or must be. From polo playing to dancing around a campfire, nobody should be sermonized about ethics and morals when it comes to self-expression. If one is selective about the films one makes, then the assumption is that the ones you do make will be ones you can be behind fully. If one has genuine philosophical concerns about how one should be and what constitutes ethical behaviour, then it is probably ill-advised to be a public figure. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. But don’t be in said kitchen wearing a big chef’s hat and impeccably groomed eyebrows, making puddings that you then light on fire and then worry about how you look, or whether it’s ok to be making flammable desserts at all. Everyone has moments when they doubt what they are doing, or where they’re going in life. That’s all right. But sometimes it’s better to keep your inner monologue to yourself.