Setting boundaries or being disrepectful? Alizeh Shah gets called out for 'questioning' senior artists
Naveed Raza was in the mood to name-and-shame celebrities on a television talkshow or rather one celebrity in particular, someone who has also been called out by director Yasir Nawaz as well — you guessed it, actor Alizeh Shah. Raza unabashedly called the actor out for her lack of decorum when it comes to respecting senior artists in the industry. While we're all for giving respect where respect is due, this whole issue has us wondering what is so terribly wrong with setting boundaries as a young artist in Pakistan?
Raza — who has starred in dramas such as Yeh Zindagi Hai and Mera Dil Mera Dushman — appeared on Express TV's Time Out With Ahsan Khan alongside actor Maham Aamir on November 20 and brought up the contentious topic of Shah's (mis)behaviour with Nawaz on the set of their drama Mera Dil Mera Dushman.
When Ahsan asked Raza about a "certain celebrity" who was called out by Yasir Nawaz for being difficult to work with, Raza had no qualms in calling out that celebrity by name. "Why don't we name-and-shame? Let's go for the name," he said.
For the actor, there was no excusing Shah's behaviour with senior artists such as Nawaz. "No matter how famous or talented you are, you should never overlook someone's seniority and respect," he said. "What's happening in your personal life should not be brought to the sets. It is a workplace.
"Yasir Nawaz is a friend amongst friends and has a certain profile. He's done work and has established a name for himself. He's a director. Who has given you the right to refuse certain things, cut his lines in the script and say 'you won't say these sort of things to me' or 'I do not want to do this scene'. If he's using a hair dryer and the hot air is coming your way, she'd say please shift his seat a bit, the hot air is coming onto my face. This is is called being disrespectful. "
For Raza, this wasn't just about Nawaz, it was about giving all institutional actors they respect they deserve, period, "Even in friendship, I don't think I will be able to say these sort of things to you or Yasir Nawaz or Faysal Quraishi or Aijaz Aslam," he said. "So how can you when you are much younger than they are? You still have to do so much work. How can you give him your opinions when it is time for you to learn from him? It is a big deal that an actor of such a high calibre has agreed to share screen with you in the first place.
"Whatever Yasir Nawaz said on your show was correct. No one should let go of giving respect to others. We should always remember one thing, a big actor who's established a name for himself, if he shares a screen with you then that's a blessing."
It looks like Nawaz wasn't the only one who didn't like Shah's attitude. Actor Humayun Saeed seemingly wasn't pleased with her as well. "The drama was a Humayun Saeed production, and he requested everyone, including Yasir Nawaz and Alizeh Shah, to please cooperate when it comes to the dates. She was very disrespectful to Humayun Saeed even. He asked her 'don't you want to get work further on, why are you acting like this?' and she responded with a 'will you guys be giving me work?' Is that how you talk to Humayun Saeed? Is that how you talk to Yasir Nawaz?"
Raza's opinions aren't a far cry from what Nawaz said about Shah when he appeared on Time Out With Ahsan Khan alongside wife Nida Yasir in June. Speaking on behalf of her husband, Nida revealed that her husband faced some difficulties while working with Shah. He felt the chemistry between the two was difficult to build, though as a director, she said he had never really had a problem working with anyone before.
"I was disturbed during acting," Nawaz said. When asked, he said there were a number of reasons for this, and he just didn't enjoy it. He went as far to say that at one stage, he regretted working on the project. "I went to that limit," he said.
The common prevalence of nepotism within Pakistan's entertainment industry is an open secret known by all, making it pretty difficult for up and coming outsiders to create a niche for themselves as established artists without appeasing the right people here and there. Given this reality, there might be a very fine thin line that junior artists have to toe when it comes to being respectful and keeping your head down in subservience.
Popular Instagram account Khabees Phuppo wondered whether "setting boundaries" is an act worthy of being 'named-and-shamed' for. "Hurt trying to have boundaries hurt their ego?" they wrote on their Instagram Stories.
"They had such a wide age gap and it is normal to feel awkward and a bit bummed out in few scenes. [Her response] may not be a completely professional response but it is still okay and these older actors need to cut her some slack instead of questioning her etiquettes and work ethic.
"Seniority is worthless if you're unkind to your juniors," they added.
Other users also strongly questioned Raza's opinions in the Instagram comment section of Diva Magazine's Instagram post about Raza's comments on Shah. "Not a fan of Alizeh Shah but how is it being disrespectful if you say no to doing a scene you are not comfortable doing?" a user wrote.
"This is such a weird and funny thing about Pakistan's entertainment industry," another user wrote. "Does a junior artist have to put up with everything just because someone is senior? Shah must not have been comfortable with those things [in the script], that's why she spoke up. What is wrong with that? These senior artists just want to be the dons of the industry and everyone should just appease them."
"Saying no should be respected," wrote one user. "Up till now only men have placed their demands to amend the script. if a female actor demanded this for once then suddenly everyone is angry. To hell with Naveed Raza and Yasir Nawaz if they are unable to work alongside female actors claiming their rights."
Khuda Aur Muhabbat actor Feroze Khan, who has shared the screen with the young Shah in a commercial in the past, wasn't a fan of the criticism directed towards her at the time Nawaz's comments on Shah aired either. "I've worked with Alizeh Shah. It was great working with her, she is a very young girl with no media handling [or] schooling from the family or friends of the industry," he had said, adding that it takes time for one to "stand on their own" and "learn their way" in such an environment. Speaking about his own experience as a newbie, Feroze said he too was subjected to bullying by "many in the industry," even though he had family in the entertainment industry.
He slammed Nawaz for making such careless remarks, saying, "Such well grown artists naming and shaming such a new kid who could be dealing with any emotional low — not cool."
Perhaps senior artists in Pakistan's entertainment industry would do well to create an environment that allows junior artists to express themselves freely without it becoming a question of poor behaviour and work ethic. Artists having the space to offer their opinions on a project they are working on or call out something that's making them uncomfortable as a person are foundational rights that are expected in every professional industry, and entertainment isn't an exception to this.
Actors such as Yasir Nawaz and Humayun Saeed are indeed an institution unto themselves, which gives them the leeway to influence the industry in whichever way they please, good or bad. So perhaps Shah is a lesson for our industry's torchbearers on how to invite and accommodate young talent and everything they have to offer without resorting to a "name-and-shame" session.