The one year milestone of The Khawatoons
Pakistan’s first all-female comedy improv troupe, spearheaded by Faiza Saleem, is celebrating its first anniversary this weekend.
It has been a little over a year since Pakistan’s first all-female comedy improv troupe made its presence felt with a hilarious show. Founded by Faiza Saleem, The Khawatoons consists of a bunch of madcap and talented women who have managed to carve a niche for themselves in a fairly short period of time.
Saleem sees it as an accomplishment and she has no qualms about saying it out loud. Running a troupe is not easy and neither is performing regularly. However, with a shared vision, The Khawatoons have successfully managed to achieve what may have seemed impossible at first.
Considering just how gender-biased the comic scene is in our part of the world, Faiza and her colleagues have also broken several stereotypes along the way. A glimpse of their humour can be witnessed this weekend as Saleem and her troupe – celebrating their first anniversary as The Khawatoons – take the stage in Karachi.
We begin our conversation with the question of bigotry and how Saleem, who spearheads this troupe, responds to it particularly when it’s coming from within industry ranks.
“Sometimes when I’m really angry I’ll give someone a piece of my mind but mostly I don’t let it get to me or come in my way,” Saleem tells Instep over a telephonic conversation. “When I started doing comedy there were no other women doing standup or videos on social media. Even improv was mostly male-dominated. I thought I should bring forward more women into comedy so there’s a fairer representation of us. To be honest, I was sick of the ‘wife jokes’ and the ‘girls do this’ and ‘girls do that’ jokes.”
Patriachy is also ubiquitous and Faiza shares incidents of men trying to undermine her success. However, Saleem remains committed to the cause of women in comedy.
With the introduction of platforms like the Auratnaak Show, women too have begun pursuing careers in comedy. “It feels great,” Saleem says of this development. “Some people used to say I’m creating competition for myself, but I realized that either I can be the only one, and let it all die with me or I can create a legacy and I chose the latter. God has been kind though otherwise my choices wouldn’t have mattered to be honest.”
Though The Khawatoons is an improve troupe, they do practice and prepare extensively before hitting the stage. “There’s months of training involved. The girls were trained for six months before we launched. Although scenes are improvised, improv is an art, a skill that is developed with training and show practice. We still rehearse twice, sometimes thrice a week for two to three hours each.”
Reflecting on how Saleem has managed to avoid creative conflicts, she tells Instep about her working philosophy. “I’ve made rules and I make sure those rules are followed. People can address their concerns but in an appropriate manner. They can come to me and share their problems and I will always listen. There’s a system wherein we are disciplined but also have a culture of love and mutual respect for each other.”
Aaprt from providing terrific comic moments, Saleem also has an altruistic streak to her. “Girls come up to us and tell us they are inspired by us to walk the road less travelled. We talk about subjects like patriarchy and body shaming in our shows. Women in our society don’t usually talk about these issues. Besides, I’m proud to say that we are helping build a more progressive and positive image of Pakistan.”
Saleem also works solo on projects as well and has collaborated with artists such as Mooroo and Mira Sethi. She also made waves at this year’s Lux Style Awards when she shared the stage with the likes of Mahira Khan and Osman Khalid Butt and is playing the antagonist in Hareem Farooq’s forthcoming film, Parchi.
“I don’t think The Khawatoons is a separate brand from ‘Faiza Saleem’. To me the two are synonymous with each other,” explains Saleem. “I try to do my best when it comes to all my work. I juggle hard and even compromise on my sleep and health to make sure everything is done smoothly.”