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‘I am at the best possible place in my life right now,” says Frieha Altaf, “working on projects that I particularly feel strongly about.”

This is a declaration that should make people sit up and take notice, given that Frieha, over a career that spans more than three decades, has worked on a staggeringly large number of high-profile projects. She has been one of the all-important cogs of Pakistani entertainment and fashion since in its fledgling years, starting off as one of local fashion’s earliest models and easily switching gears to choreography, show direction, PR and recently, social activism.

Way back in 1989, she had organised designer Maheen Khan’s solo fashion show, one of the first of its kind in the country. She was the brains behind the fashion-based reality show Lux Style ki Dunya that ruled TV airwaves back in the early ’90s. She helmed the Lux Style Awards when they first began and continued to do so for the next 15 years. She also conceptualised the Veet Miss SuperModel contest and continues to orchestrate a plethora of other events. It’s quite a hefty repertoire of work and, yet, Frieha feels that she is achieving so much more now.

“I am being more particular about the work that I take on because I feel that I can do so, after so many years in the industry,” she explains. “It has changed me and made me a stronger person. I want to give back now, to raise awareness about issues that matter, to work on projects that are close to my heart.”

Despite a career spanning over three decades, the workaholic event organiser-turned-activist feels her best work is still in front of her

Two of these projects have already been trending on social media this past week — the APPNA (Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America) convention that took place in Dallas this year and, currently underway, the second Pakistan Film Festival (PFF) in New York, organised by Pakistan’s Mission to the UN and headed by ambassador Maleeha Lodhi. The APPNA event included a fashion segment that had a large delegation of the design fraternity head off to the US but Frieha, along with Angeline Malik and Masarrat Misbah, was part of the social forum, discussing what she calls ‘the elephant in the room’.

“Child sexual abuse is a very pertinent problem and I spoke about it, referring to my own experiences as well as citing statistical data that I had collated. Some of North America’s best doctors attend the APPNA convention, including psychiatrists, and my hope is that some of them get convinced to make visits to Pakistan and offer psychiatric help to victims of child abuse,” she says.

Earlier this year, Frieha herself had opened up about having been abused during her childhood and the psychological consequences it had had on the rest of her life. She has since taken it upon herself to spearhead the #MeinBhi movement, advocating against the violation of human rights. “Zainab’s case was not alone. It went viral but there are many, many more such cases that happen every day and get ignored. With the #MeinBhi movement, I have taken it upon myself to help garner attention for causes that matter, to create PR for them and to enlist celebrities to extend their support to some cause or the other. We need to keep raising our voices even if they don’t initially get heard. I believe that, one day, if we keep fighting, we will be able to bring about change.”

Following the APPNA convention, Frieha has proceeded to the PFF in New York where, for the second year in a row, she is working with Lodhi to showcase Pakistan’s emerging film industry to the world at large. “Our film industry is still in its initial stages and it needs encouragement,” says Frieha. “It’s fortunate that someone like Maleeha Lodhi understands the need to promote Pakistan’s creative arts and she makes sure that she does it in a very upscale way. This year’s festival has so many of the country’s foremost celebrities and filmmakers in attendance, including Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Mehreen Jabbar, Nadeem Baig, Aamina Sheikh, Urwa Hocane, Ayesha Omar, Sheheryar Munawar, Mikaal Zulfiqar, Mahira Khan, Mehwish Hayat, Asim Azhar, Ali Kazmi and Zeb Bangash, who is performing at the event.”

I am more particular about the work that I take on because I can do so, after so many years in the industry.”

Showcasing at the festival, which is taking place this weekend, are movies that include Verna, 7 Din Mohabbat In, Na Band Na Baraati, Cake, Lala Begum, Parchi and Punjab Nahi Jaungi. “We need to celebrate and to extend our support through festivals like these,” Frieha says and then, switching gears, she mentions another event that she is planning. “Later this year, I will also be planning an event in Karachi with musician Arieb Azhar. We’ll be calling it ‘Art Langar’, fusing art and music together.”

“This is how I want to work now — I want to create content and allow creative freedom to artists on innovative new platforms. I have always worked with corporate sponsors and it’s given me insight on how to incorporate a brand on to a platform without losing content value.”

But restraining corporate egos is a task easier said than done and one that Frieha may be hard-pressed to achieve in a very ambitious event that she has planned for early next year. “I have been researching and building the framework for a major beauty expo called ‘Beyond Beautiful’. I am going to be orchestrating it with the help of an international partner and it’s going to feature local make-up, hair brands, skincare and wellness brands as well as some prestigious global ones. We’re going to have demonstrations, a grand gala night, kiosks and hair and make-up shows. I feel that there is a dire need for such shows. There are so many very talented stylists who are working very hard and they need a platform where they are showcased with their peers and given a chance to demonstrate their creativity.”

The event will have business-to-consumer interactions as well as facilitate business-to-business dealings, where brands can meet up with potential distributors and business partners. If things work out right, we’re going to have some major corporate sponsors on board and it’s all going to be very exciting.”

These are, then, exciting times for Frieha Altaf. But if that were not enough already, there’s also an ambitious film project that she’s working on, a clothing brand that she’s hoping to launch with a partner, and a concert, celebrating Pakistani talent, set to take place at the Governor House in Karachi this August. And we’re not even broaching the odd small event here and there that she takes on in between. Other people may well get overwhelmed by the frenetic pace of it all. But for Frieha Altaf, a hectic schedule has long been part of a day’s work.

Published in Dawn, ICON, July 8th, 2018