Her days of purdah are peculiarly her own. You won't see her, you won't hear from here. Phone calls. queries, everything draws a blank. And just when a TV scribe is beginning to get used to life without Ms Khalida Riyasat, she hits you like a tornado in a teleplay, at a party.
This time it was the PTV Awards '86 in Islamabad. Ms Riyasat arrived bag, bachcha and maidservant and dropped a bombshell — that she was no longer single. She had married a feudal politician from Jhang nearly three years ago (his name she would not reveal for purely political reasons) and was the mother of his two sons, Raza (three months) and Ali (two years). And while Ali stayed at home in Lahore and Raza in the hotel room with his ayah, mama did the rounds.
She seemed like the Khalida of old - casual to the point of being sloppy, giggly to the point of being hysterical, animated to the point of being loud, and friendly to the point of being chummy with everyone - from Khushbakht Shujaat to Kamal Ahmed Rizvi to Ashfaque Ahmed.
But interview time (with the Herald) was a different ball game altogether. Khalida was calm, cautious. Delivered the right lines. Dwelt mainly on home, hearth and husband. A total volte face from her last Herald interview (October '83) in which she shot down the idea of marriage: "it's legalised prostitution." Has Ms Riyasat finally come home to roost?
Rehana Hakim. You have been maintaining a low profile for a while now. Why do you go into hiding from time to time?
Khalida Riyasat. As you know, I am a very controversial artist. It's not that I go into hiding. It's just that I go to work when they call me to work. I don't do stage plays anymore, so I don't hang around Alhamra anymore. And then people start saying, "Khalida is missing, Khalida is lying low." It is not that I'm missing. I'm very much in Lahore. It's just that I'm busy with my kids at home.
Rehana. Now that you are respectably married why haven't you announced your marriage and your husband's name as yet?
Khalida. There is a slight domestic problem. I will announce my marriage later. I cannot give you my husband's name rightaway. For very political reasons. It's difficult.
Rehana. What do you mean "political reasons"?
Khalida. Well, political reasons. Please do not print his name.
"I don't mind being boring as long as I am happy with my husband. When you have kids, you have a home, you have to compromise somewhere, you have to give up a few things. You have to settle down. I can't afford to be here, there, everywhere now."
Rehana. Do your sympathies lie with your husband's party?
Khalida. Definitely. I think I should follow in his footsteps.
Rehana. Beg your pardon, was that Khalida speaking?
Khalida . Oh, but I've changed!
Rehana. What has brought on this change?
Khalida. I guess marriage.
Rehana. Some people are going to find you very boring henceforth?
Khalida. I don't mind being boring as long as I am happy with my husband. When you have kids, you have a home, you have to compromise somewhere, you have to give up a few things. You have to settle down. I can't afford to be here, there, everywhere now.
Rehana. Are you jealous of the other woman (Benazir Bhutto) in his life?
Khalida. No, I'm not.
Rehana. And why not?
Khalida. Because I know he cannot make it.
Rehana. Is that why you are so confident?
Khalida. Yes. No matter how hard he tries, I know he cannot make it.
Rehana. So he's stuck with you for better or worse?
Khalida. Yes, for better or worse, that's it.
Rehana. How long have you been married to him?
Khalida. It's been ... how many many, three years now?
Rehana. Is the baby boy you've brought along your only child from your husband?
Khalida. Both my sons are my husband's sons. Raza is now three months old, while Ali (the older one) is two. Shocked?
Rehana. People feel that you generally do things for shock effect?
Khalida. I don't think that is quite correct. I shock people? How?
Rehana. People often find your behaviour, your utterances, outrageous?
Khalida. I have a certain style which is a very different style. It is not outrageous. It is not out of character, out of line. It's just my style.
Rehana. Was it the sin of being single that made you decide to settle down finally?
Khalida. Yes. I still hold that it is a sin to be single in this society. And then what does a woman need basically? Security?
Rehana. You have that finally?
Rehana. Does TV figure in your future scheme of things?
Khalida. I never gave up television. I disappeared from the TV screen for a while because I was pregnant. My two-year-old and my three-month-old were a handful. But now I will be doing a play with Rana (Sherwani) in December. I am very much into showbiz.
There is also another good offer. But as you know, I always space out my appearances on television. If I start picking up every role that was offered me, people would say "Kiya, every time you switch on the TV, you see one goddamn face." I don't want them to say that about me. At least I know that people are curious about me. Why isn't she appearing on TV? So when they are curious and they want me, that is the right time to appear.
Rehana. Surprisingly, senior actresses like you have never raised a voice against the way women are projected in PTV plays. Why?
Khalida. I cannot speak for the others, they might feel that what they are doing is the best. I am not a judge of their choice of scripts. Regarding women's roles, I have always played a very strong and very staunch women, a woman who has never given in. And I am the only woman (and perhaps Sahira), who has done those strong-woman roles. Maybe it's because I have that kind of face or maybe I am strong otherwise too and perhaps there are certain traits about my character that are very strong.
I don't know why artistes have never taken a stand and I would like to ask them but people here are very diplomatic, no one gives an honest answer.
"Somewhere, sometimes, every woman has to change because, basically what a woman needs in this society or anywhere in the world is security — and the security of a man definitely. No matter how blunt or straight forward or honest you are, you cannot survive in this world without a man. That is a fact that should be accepted by every liberal woman. If I have accepted it, I think every woman should accept it."
Rehana. You have been nominated for the PTV awards thrice, but managed to get it only once. Do you think the jury has ever been unfair to you?
Khalida. Yes, once. When Roohi was nominated for a long play, I was nominated for Ankahi. And I think I deserved the award because it was a straight role, whereas Roohi had the help of props like make-up, jewellery, language. What people don't understand in this part of the world is that a straight role is the most difficult to perform. Give me the role of a blind girl, I'll walk away with all the sympathy. Give me the role of a wife or housewife whose husband doesn't treat her well, who's heartbroken, I'll take the sympathy. Give me a Karwan type of role which has the aid of language, make-up and dress. What am I contributing? Very little. A straight role is a very difficult role. Going back to my nomination for Dhoop Deewar, it was a straight role where I played first a young girl, and then a widow. It was a fabulous play and well-performed.
But they have the award to Roohi. I think that was my award and the award they gave me the following year, I did not deserve. Naveed deserved the award that year. I did perform well in Wadi-e-Purkhar, but Naveed was better in Daur-e-Junoon.
Rehana. But Naveed had the help of make-up etc — props by your definition?
Khalida. I did a young to old role. I also had the help of make-up, gray hair.
Rehana. After her recent performance in Gardish, most critics feel that Roohi is sliding downhill. Do you agree?
Khalida. I think that Roohi made the most fatal mistake by accepting Gardish. She could not handle the role — it was the role of a very strong woman. But I assure you that if Roohi were to do a 25 minute play now, people will forget Gardish because she is undoubtedly a great actress, a great performer, I am a great admirer of hers.
Rehana. Who, among the new breed, would you rate as good performers?
Khalida. This young girl Rubina Ashraf is competent. Arifa is competent. Basically, whatever Roohi, Uzma and myself are today is because of hard work, not because of glamour. I have always said that they should concentrate on the roles and less on glamour. And believe you me, once you enter the TV station, there is no glamour at all. People don't seem to understand that.
Rehana. How serious are you about television?
Khalida. I've survived 14-15 years now. I'm trying to keep myself young, younger.
Khalida. Various creams and night creams and Clinique.
Rehana. That's all?
Khalida. That's all, believe you me. And a good diet and milk and juices and all that. So that I can still survive another five years. Not only to do young roles but to perform.
Rehana. Are you on the lookout for a certain type of role?
Khalida. My idea of a good role is when you take a script and you read it and you say to yourself and to your producer, "God, I don't think I will be able to do it. It's too difficult . I'm sorry, I will not be able to live upto the role." Because then it becomes a challenge. Any role which is challenging irrespective of whether it is a docile role or a strong woman's role, is my kind of role.
Rehana. Why haven't you ever considered acting in films?
Khalida. I did consider it at one time. I was offered a role and I accepted it. As usual, once again, being Khalida Riyasat. last moment I said, "I'm sorry, I am very sleepy, I can't go for the shooting. That's it. Here's your make-up, here's your cheque." The movie was Dehleez, starring Shabnam and Nadeem in the lead.
The thing I have against the film people is that when they come up to me very apologetically and say, "Ji, it's a role tailormade for you. Nobody else on earth can do it except you. We've been thinking about you. We've been trying to locate you." You can tell its all crap. You ask, "Ji, what is the role about?" Pat comes the reply, "It's tailormade for you. Paisay di koi gal nahin (money is no consideration). Please say yes." "Is it a leading role?" I ask. "Haanji, it's a very strong role." "Is it a leading role?" I ask again. "Haanji, Shabnam is there. And x.y.z., is there. Aur aap." Why Shabnam and x.y.z., why not just Khalida Riyasat and Nadeem? Why not Asif Raza Mir and Shahnaz Sheikh, we are more capable than they are. So fine, come up with a good film, give me the leading role and I'll do it for you. Free, if you want. But don't say, 'Second pair aap ka hai.' Why? Maybe at one time, I needed the money, but not now, thank you very much. If I am compromising, it has to be for something. Either give me a very good role or very good money. If you are not willing to do both, then go find somebody else.
Rehana. Are you temperamentally suited to doing film roles?
Khalida. If it's a good role, the leading role, I'd do it. And, of course, if I have my husband's permission.
Rehana. You can't do your own thing anymore?
Khalida. No, but don't you think all women have to compromise somewhere.
Rehana. A lot of people are going to be very disappointed with this docile housewife and mother called Khalida?
Khalida. Somewhere, sometimes, every woman has to change because, basically what a woman needs in this society or anywhere in the world is security — and the security of a man definitely. No matter how blunt or straight forward or honest you are, you cannot survive in this world without a man. That is a fact that should be accepted by every liberal woman. If I have accepted it, I think every woman should accept it.
Rehana. And you are to announce your marriage shortly?
Khalida. Oh yes, within three to four weeks, or maybe a month-and-a half. Maximum two months, not more than that.
Rehana. How are you faring in the role of a mother?
Khalida. I feel, rather well.
Rehana. People feel you are not cut out to be a mother?
Khalida. I think every woman is basically cut out to be a mother.
"Come up with a good film, give me the leading role and I'll do it for you. Free, if you want. But don't say, 'Second pair aap ka hai.' Why Shabnam and x, y, z? Why not just Khalida Riyasat and Nadeem? Why not Asif Raza Mir and Shahnaz Sheikh? We are more capable than they are."
Rehana. Was it sensible marrying a politician?
Khalida. Maybe, I can answer that question five years hence but right now, I don't know.
Rehana. How often do you get to see him?
Khalida. At least four to five times a month, maybe more. And sometimes I don't get to see him at all for a month.
Rehana. Why don't you enter politics yourself to be with him?
Khalida. Not at the moment. I might at some point in time.
Rehana. Do you still believe in platonic relationships?
Khalida. I used to. No more. They don't survive. So what is the use of having a relationship which cannot survive.
Rehana. What sort of people have you vibed well with?
Khalida. People who are basically honest, who do not have double standards, people who have a bit of gray matter, people who have their kidneys in the right place. And people who are slightly well read, who can talk and converse well.
Rehana. You are contended?
Khalida. Very happy with life.
Rehana. Learnt it the hard way?
Khalida. Definitely. And I am still learning. One never stops learning. Every moment, every day, you learn. Every book, good or bad, you learn. The moment you stop learning, your life is finished. It's a dead end. It's a fungus on your life and your brains and that's what I don't want. The only thing I have are brains, I think. And maybe, a wee bit of talent. That's about all.
This article was originally published in the Herald's January 1987 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.
The writer is the Editor of Newsline and was a staffer at the Herald.