The room is strewn with an assortment of dupattas, churidars, saris and ghararas that she wore during the scores of television plays and serials that she performed in from 1968 to date.
A beautiful Himalayan cat lay sprawled on a bundle of neatly folded clothes. Bader Khalil carefully spooned sugar in her tea as she spoke.
“I am giving away all these clothes as I won’t need them now. I knew one day I would have to bid farewell to showbiz but what hurts is that I am leaving with a sense of dejection.”
“I feel that I am quite disposable and no longer wanted in the industry,” says Bader Khalil
After planning her move over a long period of time, Bader Khalil has finally packed her bags to go and live with her son in Canada. “Previously I would visit them for five or six months and then return. This time I am moving for good.”
A veteran actor who fits into just about any role she does with utmost ease; whether it is a ghost in Shahzad Khalil’s Bi Jamalo in the early ’70s, or the Aani of Tanhaiyan and Zakia of Ankahi in the ’80s, or as the more recent saucy Aqeela Bua of Qudoosi Sahib ki Bewa or the insensitive mother-in-law in Shak. Why would an actor of her calibre feel dejected after such a long tenure in showbiz?
“I feel that I am quite disposable and no longer wanted in the industry! Over the years, my crew and most costars have been good to me, but I feel that channel owners and owners of production houses don’t treat seniors like they should. Their attitude is like, ‘Bader Khalil? Put her name in and remove it after a few days’. My name doesn’t always appear in credits; even if I’m doing a strong antagonist or support role, my scene never makes it to the stills or promos. I don’t watch my plays regularly but if I do get a chance, sometimes I wonder why there were so many long shots and why some scenes never appeared on air.”
“I worked hard when Shahzad Khalil passed away. I brought my boys up; all parents do that and I don’t want to recount those days but my life wasn’t easy. Yet I did not beg, borrow or steal roles. There were days when I would look at my role and say ‘is this what I’m going to do’? But then I would think ‘let’s do it, at least it will take care of the bills’.”
Since the past three years or so, she feels she has either hit a plateau or reached a turning point in her life. “I am honest, straightforward and punctual. I have given versatility, quality and quantity in my work. I have never bargained or requested for a raise; have never been interested in who gets paid what and I accept what I get. Then I noticed that while I am doing the same kind of roles that Hina Bayat, Shamim Hilali, Samina Peerzada and others are doing; they are getting much more out of it in terms of payment and exposure. I can’t understand why? I am a much better actor and much more senior. Are they better actors than me?
“Samina Peerzada did not have much potential to begin with but got groomed after doing all kinds of roles. Just like Shabana Azmi’s talent was polished after doing good roles although I feel that Smita Patel had more talent than her. I realise that no one is irreplaceable and I am certainly not implying that I am the best; but don’t 47 years in the industry account to anything?”
Bader Khalil receives her Hum TV Lifetime Achievement Award from Duraid Siddiqui
She spoke intensely as she sipped her tea. “I worked hard when Shahzad Khalil passed away. I brought my boys up; all parents do that and I don’t want to recount those days but my life wasn’t easy. Yet I did not beg, borrow or steal roles. There were days when I would look at my role and say ‘is this what I’m going to do’? But then I would think ‘let’s do it, at least it will take care of the bills’.”
What does she think might be the reason she’s been seemingly sidelined?
“Perhaps I don’t know how to market myself; I don’t know how to do PR. I accept whatever role comes my way. I am not in the clique because I am a domestic type of woman. I prefer to be around my family and my grandchildren rather than hanging around in the offices of channel heads or producers when I am not working. Also I cannot lie, and people cannot accept truth to their face. If I don’t like something, I don’t mince my words.
“My late husband used to tell me to be diplomatic but I couldn’t then and I cannot now. On the other hand, if I like something, I praise it generously. Ayesha Khan once behaved badly with me during a shoot in Malaysia and I was upset with her. But when she performed remarkably well in a play and they asked me to comment about it on stage, I lavished praise on her because she had done well. When she met me, she asked me why I praised her when I was upset with her. I told her that I am still upset but that wouldn’t stop me from telling the truth.”
Bader says that drama today is all about glamour, young girls and boys, and has plenty to say about the new talent that is coming in from NAPA. “What are they learning there? To be over-confident and disregard seniors? Fawad Khan has a make-up artist to himself because Humsafar was a hit? These people think that since they have learnt acting, they know everything there is to know. Does experience not count at all?
“Production giants want to run episodes and serials with girls who are mere entrants in this field. These two-play wonders arrive on the sets five hours late clad in a pair of jeans. While they settle down and demand cups of coffee, they decide on what to wear and then the hanging time follows. By the time they are ready, we have missed the scheduled shoot time by almost half a day.
“People like Qavi tell me, ‘You have the whole day even if there is a delay so just hang around’. My reply is why should I hang around waiting when I can spend time doing something else or preferably be with my family?”
Reminiscing about her PTV days, she brought out photographs and stills of her work from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. “We used to work with educated people; even talking to them was a learning experience. We were trained at PTV to arrive on time, ready and dressed up for our shot. Now when drivers from various channels come to pick me up they tell me, ‘You are the only woman in the showbiz industry who never makes us wait. For some, we have to wait a good four hours’.”
Bader says that the younger lot has a treasure trove of 40 years of plays to learn from. “How did we learn? They didn’t even show films in our time. We observed the people around us, our extended family, and the people on the streets were our database. Senior I may be, but I believe that one learns with every role and every director. I always ask young directors to guide me by telling them, ‘Beta, mujhe batana and don’t be scared. Let me know how you have sketched the character in your head’.”
For Bader, our storylines are done to death with boy-girl plots and a gorgeous young pair leading the serial. “What happened to character roles and the importance of a good supporting cast? My role in Shak was a strong one and got amazing feedback. I put my heart and soul in the role, and the writer told me that my performance made people cry. But Shamim Hilali’s role was amended and she was brought back into the play.”
She says her Lifetime Achievement Award from Hum TV also came with a reality check. “I was seated next to Sultana Siddiqui in the front row; whom I have known for a very long time. Fawad Khan called her from a few rows away and said to her that he wanted to sit next to her otherwise he would leave. If the young man had requested me, it would have been different. I was so heartbroken that I decided to leave and go home.”
But doesn’t she have many friends in showbiz?
“Rubina Ashraf, Bushra Ansari, Ayesha Omar, Saba Parveiz and Maria Wasti are nice people. But generally, there are no friends in showbiz. My husband Khalil would tell me that you should draw a line even in your closest friendships so that you don’t get hurt. Behroze Subzwari, Jawaid Sheikh, Asif Reza Mir practically lived in our house and grew up with our sons. Now that they are established and have their own lives, they don’t care about someone like me. PTV is celebrating its 50th anniversary; I don’t see any remembrance for Shahzad Khalil. Are people so easily forgotten? It is hard to believe!”
At the time of this interview, Bader was busy winding up her projects. “The other day I was dealing with some pettiness over an advance payment when all of a sudden my blood sugar dropped and I had to be hospitalised. The point is I don’t want money or recognition, all I ask for is dignity and respect.”
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 6th, 2014