By Sonya Rehman
When someone walks into a crowded room, it doesn’t take a psychic to make a few instinctive guesses about what the person’s attributes may be.
I mean, hey, it’s easy to read someone by the way they walk in – if their head’s held high, or if they’re slouched, if they make eye contact or if they shuffle in and search the room with shifty, nervous eyes.
Similarly, a lot can be said and ‘read’ about the way a ‘newcomer’ enters into an industry.
It can either be with an ear-drum damaging – ‘Woohoo, lookie here! I HAVE ARRIVED! Yes, say helloooooo to competition boys and girls’ – insecure bang, or, it can be a sleeker, refined and more poised entry.
And the latter of which, is the way Maram and Aabroo – two thorough-bred and professional photographers – stepped into Pakistan’s lucrative fashion ballroom. Not with the slightest bit of trepidation, mind you.
Their story is an interesting one. Both friends completed their degrees in Public Administration from Punjab University in Lahore eight years ago. But prior to throwing off their graduation hats into the sky with reckless abandon, it was whilst at Kinnaird College – during their Bachelors – that Maram and Aabroo realized their aptitude and true zeal for photography.
While studying, the girls would do photo shoots (“rishta pictures” as Maram puts it) and wedding photography for some of the girls at their college, and in this way they began earning some money on the side as well.
But coming back to their graduation from Punjab University, both Maram and Aabroo thought they were heading full-force into thoroughly corporate jobs. But fate works in mysterious ways. It always does. And when they arrived in Abu Dhabi – with their CV’s in hand – hoping to land jobs in the corporate sector, they overheard two men (known to Abroo’s father) at a dinner, discussing that a particular Arab lady was looking for a photographer.
And as clichéd as this may read, but the rest was history! Maram and Aabroo did the unexpected. They made photography their livelihood – their very bread and butter.
Adverse reactions from their families, were, undoubtedly expected. “We had a lot of arguments with our families”, Maram puts it matter-of-factly, “they were never okay with it”, implying that they still aren’t.
“Our parents think this is a step down”, Aabroo pipes in, “Why are you doing this, they’d say, you could be working in a multinational or a bank…”
Given that the girls have been true to their work for the past eleven years (since 1995), the local industry – has been welcoming – but only on the face of it. No surprise, that.
When they came onto the scene four years ago, “everyone was very encouraging”, says Aabroo, “but they’re hypocrites”, she finishes off disgustedly. “It’s very tough”, Aabroo continues – her tone now less angry – “it’s like we’re going through an emotional breakdown almost every week, but then we have to get ourselves together and start again.” But the hypocrisy, Aabroo reiterates, “mentally drains us”.
In a country like Pakistan where there’s quite a bit of mediocre pie to go around in the media and fashion circuit – it comes as no surprise when certain ‘higher-ups’ begin to get heavy-duty bouts of stress disorders whenever fresh talent enters into ‘their’ so-called ‘territory’.
And just like animals who will fight till death – tails up in a tizzy, teeth clenched and snarling, like alley cats in the night – these yahoos will verbally poke, jab, victimize, and threaten in whichever way possible…to oust the competition which is giving them a run for their money. And a jolly good run for their money I say.
“People in the industry perceived that we’d fizzle out, but we’ve proved them wrong”, Aabroo states, “We’ve made our own space. We don’t believe in mediocrity. ‘Kal ki bachiyan’ today, are a pain in your neck”, Aabroo finishes off passionately, referring to the hypocritical facets of the local fashion fraternity.
While in conversation with the girls, I realized something – those that comprised of the fashion scene have never stopped addressing and treating Maram and Aabroo as ‘newcomers’. Funny thing. How can one still be labeled a ‘newbie’ when one’s been an active and prolific part of the scene for a couple of years? Do ‘they’ mean to belittle, the girls and their work? Both Maram and Aabroo are as equally confounded as I.
Man’s ego, knows no bounds.
But coming back to the spineless fashion ‘mafia’ which has been regularly threatening the girls (in every way possible), one recent incident comes as a disgusting reminder of the utter smut and mediocrity present in the local fashion scene – which has (unfortunately) been written about too rarely.
Maram and Aabroo of late got 3-4 shoots done with an extremely pretty, unconventional and educated young model who, prior to the recent shoots, infrequently got work nor encouragement from the fashion scene.
Now once the model’s shoots were published in the glossies, a tornado of offers landed right on the model’s doorstep. But being the sensible and loyal young lady that she was – the model turned the offers down and stated that for now, she was keen on working with Maram and Aabroo solely.
And this was when “everyone turned on us” (as Aabroo put it). And that’s when the threats began.
“You know we’ve done it without any male support”, Aabroo says, “Both Maram and I, we’re able to stick together and fight it. But it’s sad that we constantly have to fight against it. You know since ’95, we’ve worked really hard”, she emphasizes, “We were never encouraged to go to an art school. Now that we’ve made it, we’re at time treated badly, even downright ignored. But we don’t kiss up to anyone. We stick to our guns. We may lack PR skills, but we don’t believe in makhan lagana – we only focus on the quality of our work”.
In retrospect, “it’s the support of our immediate friends which keep us going”, Maram says. And frankly, by the end of the day, in this frenzied dog-eat-dog media circuit, that’s really all that matters.