Mathira on why Pakistani entertainers don't talk about harassment

The VJ, actress, singer and now mother talks about harassment in Pakistan's entertainment industry

Natasha Mohammad Zai

Up till a few years ago, barely a week would pass without Mathira grabbing the top entertainment headlines in Pakistan. Then, the sultry television host, and later singer and actress, was controversy’s favourite child. Relentlessly opposed by the conservative circles, Mathira had a way of always bouncing back, refusing to cower regardless of the ire directed at her. But of late, the former model tied the knot, became a mother of a three-year-old and freed up her schedule for a more domestic life. We caught up with the actress recently to talk about her future projects and life in the industry: Has motherhood mellowed you down?

Mathira: It’s not only motherhood; sometimes you just have to slow down. These days I am concentrating more on my child, which has led me to put off many projects for later. It was a tough choice. Not working was definitely hard, but domestication has its benefits too. You have to be a tough mom for your little ones. One of your projects right now is Nagin, a supernatural thriller. What else are you working on?

Mathira: I have two songs coming out later this year or next. There is another project starting in January, a drama serial which is very exciting. Actually, Nagin has been very lucky for me, as it has opened more doors for future ventures. At one point there was much talk about you signing up projects in Bollywood. What became of that?

Mathira: What happened was that I became pregnant right around the time my first Bollywood project was to begin. Hence, I had to drop out. As for collaborations, an Indian company is releasing my songs as well. Also, I am expecting my second child now, so I guess Bollywood would have to wait. The Harvey Weinstein scandal has brought to light so many instances of sexual harassment in the entertainment industry. Bollywood is speaking out too. Why do you think no one has come forward in Pakistan?

Mathira: There are instances of sexual harassment here as well. But in most cases, the perpetrators are not the established, well-known names. Those who have a reputation of professionalism, of getting the job done, don’t indulge in such things. The problem is people who talk big. If you meet someone who is boasting about starting a fifty million rupees project, then beware. There is something not right. Another reason why actresses in Pakistan are reluctant to speak up is that such predatory men only target young actors, who are new in the field and can later be scared into silence. Their family system might be such that they are discouraged to voice their experience publicly. But you know, I do believe that times have changed. More and more people are speaking up. So these dubious characters are slowly being thrown out of the industry. Did you ever experience any form of harassment while working in Pakistan?

Mathira: Well, I started off with a small TV channel, and I realized that this is where I should stick it out for a while. Even though the set up was relatively small as compared to some other channels, the environment was safe. Hence, I stayed there till I got to know more people in the industry. Yes, I have encountered many shady men in the industry. But thankfully, I was protected by my organization. I would give the same advise to young girls starting off. They should begin work with an established network before freelancing, for the sake of safety. Finally, have you said goodbye to films?

Mathira: I am only 26-years-old. Abhi zindagi bahut baaki hai. I have come to realise that running after many things at the same time is wrong. It is better to pursue meaningful things. I want to get out of this ‘item girl’ image. I want meaningful roles. The role of the bimbo no longer interests me. So, I can wait till something more worthy comes my way.