“You know there are many men in Pakistan, whom this media is not showing. They would rather show the men who are beating the women, having affairs or not working …We don’t talk about the men who stand behind the women. If I had a different father or was married to a different guy, I would not be able to do all of this.”
Atiya Zaidi, Creative Director by day and Movie Scriptwriter by night, can’t help herself from pointing out how different people in her life have made her success possible – her father, her mother, her husband, her friends, her son. While we are being blown away by her strength and determination, she keeps crediting it to those journeying with her. Her resilience she credits to the inspiration she got from her father in the face of an accident that had him hospitalized two years for second- and third-degree burns.
“He is the bravest man I know; he not only came so near to death, he made a promise to himself that if he lives, no one should pity him … and he made something of his life.”
She also recounts the impact of her mother’s words.
“I was walking in the streets of UK, and saw this statue made of stone, and I remembered my mom used to tell me that if you turn and look behind, you will turn into stone. That, I think, was a big turning point for me as it made me think if I look back, or run away now… I will turn into stone. So, just take it one day at a time, and see how it goes.”
She reminisces fondly how her husband has always been a “patron of my stupidity, letting me do whatever I wanted,” even in reassuring her parents during their engagement years that her workplace is a good one. She also claims she wouldn’t have gotten through her tough years of study in UK had it not been for supportive friends, and the motivation she received from the presence of her infant son.
Atiya may have had loads of support, no doubt, but she has also faced her fair share of trials and tribulations. At the age of 22 years, fresh into her marriage and expecting her first child, she made the brave decision, with her husband’s consent, to move to UK for 3 years of further studies.
“I came back to Pakistan after a year, taking a gap year to have my baby, and then took him back (to UK) with me, where I completed my second and third years with the help of two very close friends.”
Juggling different priorities did not end there for Atiya. She wrote CTS while juggling a full-time job as Creative Director and full-time role as mother and wife, writing on planes and through nights while travelling to Hunza for 2 of the 6 weeks of shoot there. Talking about the array of challenges thrown at her through CTS – nasty critics, unsupportive distributors, tight timelines, working long-distance with her team – Atiya is honest and humble.
“The criticism about dialogues is valid, I could have worked more on it; then … the nuances of characters not coming through; some of the things I was slow in developing them in my writing style.”
Don’t mistake her for a bully-able walkover, though.
“You get all these bloggers who have never created a single thing in their lives, and they are saying ‘this is bad’, ‘don’t watch’, ‘it falls apart’ or ‘going nowhere’. I mean, just because you run a blog, that doesn’t mean that you can be mean. Be honest, but not mean.”
So why would someone willingly, proactively take on a suite of such challenges?
“Life is short, and you are going to die; I am searching to do something in my own field or in writing or creativity where I am remembered for something. Like, after 200 years … somebody has a book written by me, or there is a movie on Netflix written by me. I am not looking for a lot of money, I am happy with what I have in life, which is MashAllah, a lot more than what many others have. I just want to be remembered through my work; simple to say but very difficult to do.”
Atiya opines that creative expression like writing can play an influential role in societies like Pakistan. The concept of an idea having an impact of changing the perceptions of people and the things they do, excites her tremendously. She sees this in TV series like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Modern Family, which affected perceptions of the Black-American community and same-sex marriages respectively, more than any political or social campaigns could.
To reach the immense potential that we acknowledge the Pakistani film industry has, we cannot help but feel that it is individuals like Atiya Zaidi – grounded dreamers – who can make the difference. Not only is she hopeful about the future of the industry, she finds it her duty to contribute to it. Nonetheless, she sees that much needs to change for things to move.
“Unfortunately, as Pakistanis, we don’t have faith in ideas, we don’t believe in ideas. Our Oscar winner, our Nobel prize winner, they are both women, but when you ask people, they say, oh, she shows the negative image of Pakistan that’s why she got it.”
While recognizing the role of popular Western media in creating an image of Pakistan and its women, she is quick to point out that we Pakistanis have not done enough to change the perception.
“What I see on TV nowadays is that every woman is either crying, getting beaten up or getting thrown out of home by a husband who is having an affair, but the Pakistani woman is not just that … even in our rural areas, it’s the women who are working, farming the land, while the men sit around.”
Atiya Zaidi also calls out to industry members to see the bigger picture, and be supportive of each other’s efforts. She points out that producers are mindful of the country’s tax laws when deciding where to invest their money. In addition, cinema owners and distributors reserve better time-slots for Bollywood movies, leaving the less popular ones for local films. In her opinion, Pakistan needs to have patrons of its arts come out in full force to ensure that the voices of the artists and their stories reach all Pakistanis.
“Nothing is going to kill this industry faster than the money moving on, and this goes for any industry. If the money moves on, there will be no Pakistani cinema left. It is easy for the cinema distributors to take other countries’ content because there is nothing involved in doing so; but then these fantastic stories of people from Pakistan will never see light of day if the money moves on, and that’s my biggest fear.”
What inspired us most, was that when Atiya Zaidi talked about it all, it was with a resolve and a motivation to make it better.
When we clicked CALL on Skype, we were all set to interview the Pakistani scriptwriter of the recently-released film, Chalay Thay Saath. What we did not expect was an inspiring 2-hour conversation with a socially-conscious Pakistani woman, driven by the desire to make a real difference to the world through her writing. What we did not expect was a reminder of the power of humility, faith, perseverance, hard work and the courage to dream.
We at FUCHSIA are excited to see the impact that forward-thinking, grounded artists like Atiya Zaidi have on our entertainment industry and, eventually, on Pakistan. With a hearty laugh, Atiya wraps up our conversation in a nicely-coloured ribbon bow:
“I would love to write more and do more of this, I don’t mind the heartache or the criticism. If they are trying to discourage me … they are not getting through my thick skin, it is not working … they have to work harder.”