If you meet Mahira Khan once, you can’t forget her. The porcelain beauty exudes a certain chutzpah that is hard to find in an industry that expects its women to be diplomatic and play by the rules. Rules framed by men, of course. Except that Mahira, while playing by the rules, also loves to break them once in a while. She is the quintessential ‘no-filter’ girl, candid and articulate, once she opens up.
Unfortunately, the woman who has a mind of her own often has a heavy price to pay as Mahira Khan found out last week after pictures of her smoking with Bollywood heart throb Ranbir Kapoor at a New York street hit the internet and, for all purposes, broke it. Indeed, the weekend gone by must have been a challenging one (to put it mildly) for Mahira who was at the brunt of a severe backlash from ‘fans’ in Pakistan.
These were the pictures that millions found ‘offensive’:
Fans are strange. On one day, they celebrate a star, the next, they are waiting to pull him or her down in the most ruthless and savage manner. Once the images went viral, there was no stopping the outrage which essentially stemmed from four reasons: A) She was a woman B) She was smoking C) She was wearing a wispy white dress that showed a little skin and D) She was in the company of a man who was from another country and religion.
Some of the messages on Instagram and twitter were so abusive that they cannot be reproduced here. So why did Mahira evoke such a strong response for what should ideally be, just a report on the entertainment gossip pages of newspapers and websites?
Indeed, much of the Indian media (that went to town with the pics) reported it purely as a juicy bit of film gossip. Considering the man in question was Ranbir Kapoor, scion of the Kapoor family and one of the most popular young stars of the industry with a scandalous list of relationships behind him, this was quite a big scoop.
But Mahira was under scrutiny for different reasons altogether. Insiders say it was partly her image to blame. Mahira has been Lollywood’s sweetheart for a long time and enjoyed the ‘perfect Pakistani girl’ image. Her entry into Bollywood last year with Raees with none other than Shah Rukh Khan put her in another league – a league that some of her contemporaries have been desperately trying to enter. Somehow her so-called fans couldn’t digest the fact she was like any normal young woman in any other part of the world who liked to have a good time with a male friend. According to observers of the Pakistani film industry, had it been any other actress – with a slightly bolder on-screen image – the reaction wouldn’t have been so extreme. But Mahira, in her fans’ conservative minds, had to embody the ‘good girl’ roles she had played so far. “Hopefully her next film should not suffer because of this,” says an observer.
Talking of which, the reaction of the Pakistani film industry has been disappointing to say the least. Save for a few stars, Lollywood failed to come out strongly for one of their own.
Ali Zafar put up a brave twitter post and Osman Khalid Butt posted a strong tweet calling out the misogyny and double standards. Humima Malick retweeted a strong post by Momina Mustehsan and wrote one of her own as did Mawra and Urwa Hocane. But Hamza Ali Abbasi, an influential figure on social media and a close friend of Mahira put up a flimsy post on Facebook informing people that what was being reported as a love bite was a scar left by surgery (note, no condemnation of the trolling and the abuse). Comparatively, at least some Bollywood actors stood by her, notably Varun Dhawan, Parineeti Chopra and Taapsee Pannu. The biggest voice of support came from Ranbir himself who made a strong statement and also called out the inequality of the criticism.
Mahira herself has been very quiet and is probably waiting for the storm to die out. Her next film with Shoaib Mansoor is up for release and in an image-conscious industry, this controversy might just harm its prospects at the box office. While in Bollywood, a Kangana Ranaut can scream about her personal life, admit to having affairs with married men and still be applauded by the media and her fans, Lollywood still operates in a world where rules of the game are far different for men and women.
One can only hope that the controversy does not take a toll on her career too much and like every other social media scandal, this one dies a natural death too. The beautiful and free-spirited Humsafar actress deserves much, much better.