- 25 Jul - 31 Jul, 2020
FAIZA SALEEM - Real & relatable
- 31 Aug - 06 Sep, 2019
One fine day the legal eagle fled her nest to pursue a much-dreamt-about career in comedy, at a time when comedy was not acknowledged as a career. Of massive online fame and following, is our very own Faiza Saleem, who pioneered the trend of social media entertainment by women and went on to accredit films, TV and theatre to her name. Warm, friendly and a great conversationalist, with no snobbery impinging, Faiza presses on the importance of being herself over and over again, in an industry that demands otherwise. Amid the vibrancy and fixtures oozing quirkiness in her home, I share a cosy chat with the first social media entertainer – not the first female comedian, she corrects – with Faiza about comedy and career.
What do people not know about you?
I’m not as tough as I look, I’m not as bossy as I look and I’m genuine. One thing chat I am not is artificial. I can’t fake it.
Law to comedy – how did this transition happen?
I did want to go to acting school but family was obviously not okay with it, hence I pursued law, which I also found very interesting. I was doing theatre and other things alongside law and I realised, comedy was a preference. Post graduation and on the job, I decided I have to choose it as a career. I got up from my desk one day and I quit. I was heading the law department and had to give a three months’ notice. I was destined to be one of the most brilliant lawyers, I’d like to say that [laughs]. I was thought of as someone who’d go places as a lawyer.
Are you always expected to funny?
YES! YES! It’s annoying. I feel like its taken a toll on the person that I used to be. Now if I say something in social gatherings, people would be like “itna funny nahi tha.” There’s an underlying competition and that translates into demeaning this profession.
How do you deal with criticism, be it your comedy, your activism or your acting?
It takes time. I used to be really bothered by it, thinking “is this all worth it?” but it has gotten better once I started personally responding to trollers/haters. I will have to acknowledge the fact that the things that people say to me are affecting my personal life and my mental health. I decipher whether it is constructive or destructive. In case of the prior, I do take it on board. For the latter, I sometimes try to speak to people and find out why. Dialogue is important.
Girls aren’t funny! How do you deal with those that are still chanting this draconian stereotype?
I just keep going. The moment I decide to let this get to me is the minute it will all be over.
What socio-cultural challenges did you face as a female comedian?
The field was so male dominated that my male colleagues would sometimes not maintain boundaries like “oh hum batayenge”. The whole damsel in distress is so deeply inculcated that they would come to my rescue. One ongoing challenge I face is that I am not a social media person and not a mainstream media person; I’m split in two different directions. I meet all sorts of people; the struggling newcomes and the divas, it’s difficult to identify which side of the spectrum I belong to. Also as a woman, I get scrutinised more than a man would be for the same joke or not be forgiven as easily for offending someone.
You seem to have broken a few stereotypes. Which one was your favourite?
There are so many things that I’m very proud of and I am not going to lie about it, I’m going to own it. My whole life has been such a challenge to societal norms; left law to be a comedian and made an all-girl improv troupe, The Khawatoons. Then there is facing the whole “she won’t look good dressed up, won’t find love, won’t get married,” because overweight people are simply written off.
Stereotypes that you still want to break?
That female comedians cannot do good mainstream work. I get a lot of maa ka role or gangster roles; I thought it was me but my female colleagues in the same field face the same problems. It’s a comedy stereotype that female comedians can only do specific types of roles which is why I’ve done very little TV and film, I’m very particular about the work that I do. I have very limited options on TV and film because these stereotypes, they make you the butt of all jokes, the comedian becomes the joke as opposed to the maker of the joke.
In context of your acting career, does Faiza ever want to be the unfunny girl?
Sometimes yes, I have more to offer. I do think I’m a decent actor. I’ve had scripts come my way but I have a lot of dos and don’ts. I want it to be within my limits and my values.
As an influencer, are there things that you assume are your responsibility?
I am relatable and real, I get messages saying I helped people be more confident. I do feel that some kid may watch something I make and take it to be the truth, keeping that in mind, I stay away from a lot of things. But at the end of the day, it is comedy and it will offend somebody.
Your favourite moment in the limelight?
The Parco ad I did with Sheheryar Munawar because I wasn’t the comedian in it and I wasn’t a bechari, I was myself.
What makes a good comedian?
Consistency. People need to choose this field because they are passionate about it and not only because the want to make some quick money or get quick fame. I hadn’t dreamt of becoming big when I first started out but I think consistency is what has brought me this far.
What does the future look like for you?
The day people realise the difference between stand-up and improv will be a big day for me (laughs). Improv is a grueling art form. The Khawatoons still has to make it big. The world over, there aren’t many all-female improv troupes. I tell my performers that our world doesn’t know it yet, but they will eventually.
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