Pakistani Actress Sohai Ali Abro On Her Definition Of Feminism & Playing Badass Women In Film

She is a household name in the world of Pakistani entertainment, having graced television screens, theater stages, and movie screens with two of the country’s highest grossing films. Sohai Ali Abro is one to watch, even internationally, as she is clocking up some impressive performances on-screen and making audiences take notice of her for what she is saying away from the cameras.

Her forthcoming feature film project is ‘Motorcycle Girl’, from director Adnan Sarwar, as part of his “Heroes” trilogy. ‘Motorcycle Girl’ is based on the real life story of 20 year-old Zenith Irfan, who is said to be the first Pakistani woman to make a solo motorcycle journey through the northern regions of the country, defying social and cultural taboos for Muslim women.

In an interview with Pakistani news site Tribune.com, Sohai talks about the impact of playing strong female characters on screen and how it fits into her definition of feminism. Having grown up without her parents (they both passed away she was 9) the tough times she experienced led her to become resilient.

“I’m very grateful for everything, because it made me this tough woman that I am today. I am a warrior! I came into this industry completely on my own…I faced my fair share of struggles and didn’t have many people around to guide me through the journey,” she said.

Although the budget and production value of ‘Motorcycle Girl’ will not be as high as her previous cinema blockbusters, the reason Sohai wanted to play the role had more to do with the real life story of the lead character.

“No matter what the budget is, I believe in this project. I also believe in Adnan’s vision, since he can see how important it is to portray empowered women in our society,” she said.

“My criteria for signing a film have always been the same. I have always looked for some kind of margin to perform in the roles that I am offered. I instantly said yes Motorcycle Girl because it allows me to explore myself as an artist,” she added.

We don’t know if ‘Motorcycle Girl’ will be shown internationally, but here’s hoping it will be. Seeing more and more films and narrative content about women breaking barriers across the world has the ability to impact and influence so many people. Especially in countries and regions where gender equality is not a given.

Of course the most famous young female to come from Pakistan in recent years is Malala Yousafzai, whose activism and passion for girls’ education, as well as her battle against a group of terrorists, have inspired countless people across the world from young to old. Award-winning documentarian Davis Guggenheim recently made a film about her journey, called ‘I Am Malala’, which we highly recommend watching.

Indian actress Priyanka Chopra portrayed real life boxer Mary Kom, the Olympic boxing champion who started a self-defense club for women after being attacked herself as a young woman. In conservative societies like India and Pakistan, the elevated presence of women in culture and entertainment will no doubt empower the next generation of girls. Sohai hopes this will happen with her portrayal of Zenith Irfan.

“I’ve always wanted to play a strong female role. I think Zenith is a true hero and her story is beyond inspiring. It’s one that needs to be told. It feels surreal since films like these don’t really get made in our country, and to get to portray the lead role in one is amazing!” she said.

The actress believes it could also have an impact on how audiences view women in general.

“Of course, art does influence societies and can definitely encourage gender equality,” she said.

Her passion for this film and role makes sense when she explains why she identifies as a feminist.

“When it comes to feminism, I feel the word is deeply misunderstood in Pakistan. Feminism has absolutely nothing to do with man-hating, playing the victim or bashing the other sex. It’s about giving women a choice, liberation, freedom and equality. Feminism, by definition is the belief that both men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. I stand for that, if that makes me a feminist, then I am proud to say that I am one,” she said.

For many of us in the Western world, this seems like a no-brainer, but apply that to what is happening culturally and in policy in Pakistan, you realize voices like Sohai’s need to be heard loud and clear. “Honor” killings, seen most notably and egregiously in the case of social media star Qandeel Baloch being killed by her brother, and gender violence incidents as seen in the Oscar-winning documentary ‘A Girl In The River‘, show there is a deeply ingrained attitude toward women that views them as second-class citizens.

It will take more than a film to change long-standing negative attitudes and perspectives, but celebrities like Sohai Ali Abro speaking out about feminism, and stories like that of Zenith Irfan play an important role in the slow cultural tide toward equality. You can learn more about the real life ‘Motorcycle Girl’ in the video below:

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