When are we going to cancel Ali Zafar for good?

Meesha Shafi (L) and Ali Zafar (R). Images via Twitter and Instagram, respectively

It has been over two months since Meesha first spoke up about the sexual harassment she was allegedly subjected to at the hands of the ‘widely popular’ Ali Zafar, someone apparently so loved by the public that celebrities are dying to take selfies with him and media outlets are spending a lot time in his presence.

It has also been two months since at least two other women came forward, supporting Meesha in her accusations against Zafar and sharing their own stories of abuse at the hands of the Pakistani heartthrob.

Allow me to digress briefly to discuss what happened back in October 2017 when Rose McGowan and a slew of other women accused Hollywood’s movie mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment and abuse, as well as rape.

Although Weinstein “unequivocally denied any allegations of non-consensual sex” and threatened to sue the publication that initially reported the exposé, his fall from his position of power was spectacular.

From the Television Academy and The Weinstein Company to the boards of BAFTA, Producers Guild of America, and the Oscars — you name it and he was thrown off from that platform. His Du Bois medal was retracted by the Harvard University and his BFI Fellowship revoked.

Even a president got involved when Emmanuel Macron of France had said he had decided to take “steps to revoke the Legion d’Honneur [Legion of Honour]” from Weinstein.

This was the kind of solidarity the world showed with those who braved their fears of facing character assassination and being ostracized to stand up against the power factory of patriarchy and toxic masculinity. Those who could not find the courage to do so supported the women who did through social and mainstream media. And this was how organisations proved that they did not and would not stand behind an alleged rapist and harasser.

With January’s Time’s Up movement, survivors of sexual assault took to court their alleged harassers and by the end of May 2018, Weinstein was indicted on charges of rape and a criminal sexual act.

In contrast, what did Pakistan do about Ali Zafar, a celebrity who stands accused of harassing at least two women multiple times, another on one occasion, and many others on social media who have backed claims of his inappropriate behavior?

Almost every media outlet is singing songs of praise, with tonnes of advertisements running to promote his upcoming film “Teefa in Trouble”— which, by the way, boasts nothing new and follows the extremely beaten-about, clichéd storyline of romance clubbed with comedy.

The Pakistani entertainment industry’s ‘veteran’ reporters are running hither and thither to cover the “Teefa” events, including its premieres and music launches. Some outlets have churned out pieces on how the flick will be different (not really!), how it has been endorsed by someone in Bollywood (need for validation much?), and how it has crossed some million or so views on YouTube (as if that statistic precisely measures success).

It is very disappointing to see a huge majority of notable people, especially those with the power to change the narrative, going about their lives as if nothing has happened. Actors, actresses, singers, hosts, and journalists are sucking up to him as if a stamp of patriarchy and toxic masculinity from Zafar would perhaps endorse their careers for life.

While some reporters spent time with the alleged predator to give the world ‘his side of the story’ — painting, in reality, a picture of how he is a family man, a decent person with ethics, morals, and a couple of kids, all of which combined could somehow absolve him of his wrongdoing — others said he looked “awesome” and called him an “incredible entertainer”.

In one TV interview, the alleged harasser said he really loves a Rumi quote that goes as follows: “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

I think even irony would be hiding its face in shame right now!

Did you know that Weinstein attempted to — and succeeded many times — silence his victims? He had them sign NDAs, paid off some others, and hired investigators and intelligence companies to stalk and threaten whistleblowers?

Italian actress Asia Argento, one of Weinstein’s accusers, termed the report — which initially broke news of the involvement of Black Cube, an enterprise run by intelligence officers — “terrifying” but quite true to the facts.

Weinstein, who held power in the industry mainly due to the fact that he founded production studio Miramax and introduced numerous names to Hollywood, used to send “reports” — to media about the brave ones who did dare to speak out — to discredit them.

“He has crushed a lot of people before,” Argento had said.

Credible sources have informed me that Zafar is walking the same path as Weinstein by stalking the social media of his accusers and forcing them to take down anything that could possibly dent the public image or shift the public opinion in favour of the survivors of sexual assault.

Further, a report published in Dawn.com today proved exactly how low Zafar can go when the publication revealed that the alleged sexual abuser and Patari collaboratively attempted to undermine the latest track of Faris Shafi — Meesha’s brother.

Asked in a TV programme about the ongoing case of sexual harassment against him, Zafar had the audacity to say that Meesha “is a woman, and I do not want to get involved in character assassination”.

Haseem uz Zaman