Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

The Pink Warrior: Asma Nabeel (1979-2021)

Published 13 Aug, 2021 03:52pm
Atiya Zaidi remembers Asma Nabeel.

A legacy is etched into the minds of other people and the stories they share about you. This is the story of a remarkable woman who impacted the lives of everyone she touched; be they loved ones or strangers.

Asma Nabeel was a writer, a creative director, a producer and a poet. She was also an encourager, a mentor, a mother and a friend. With an MA in Mass Communications, Asma was Creative Director at JWT, Creative Head at Orient McCann, Chief Creative Officer at Walters, COO and Head writer at The Crew Films, a screenplay and song writer and finally CEO, The Pink Warrior – the production house she founded.

When I asked some of the people who had worked with her to share their memories of Asma, there were so many anecdotes about how she stayed calm in the face of rejection, how she mentored her juniors and responded with her signature wisdom – and most importantly, how she rarely lost her cool in a business filled with panic and chaos.

“I was in awe of her courage. Her heartfelt urging of people, reaching out to them individually and asking them to take care of their health and have regular mammograms. This was not something she did for social media popularity, there was a rare genuineness in her efforts to raise awareness about breast cancer,” says Farahnaz Haider Shaikh, one of the most esteemed creatives of the industry. “Adab, lehaz, respect, courage and grace. These are the words I associate with Asma,” continues Shaikh. “She did everything with grace and respect for the work and people involved in it.”

Another former colleague, Asad Rizvi, a respected and senior advertising professional had this to say, “I have seen Asma in boardroom meetings, facing clients who were butchering and dissecting her work, exercising utmost patience, absorbing it all and then replying with balanced arguments to defend the work and winning over the client – and then walking out of the boardroom with a sense of pride and a million-dollar smile. This is just a glimpse of Asma’s personality as a creative adwoman.”

A mentee of Asma’s told a story that seemed like a typical advertising one. He (the client) came, he saw and he destroyed the work and the team who worked on it. Yet with Asma in the room, this proverbial ‘Caesar’ had no idea about how logic can be applied to the most illogical of arguments – and in this way the day was saved by someone who listened, acknowledged and then used her own words to win the day.

We can write volumes about her professional contributions, such as the Naya Nazimabad campaign; her work on EBM, Indus Motors, National Foods, Pepsi, Unilever and countless other brands, in a career that was cut short due to cancer. Here are a few of her contributions to the people she knew professionally.

A couple she knew professionally went through a heart-breaking tragedy. Before that, the couple knew Asma as someone you met on shoots or in meetings. Yet, after tragedy struck, she was constantly around them. She would come to their house to just sit and talk. Talk about grieving, fighting and facing each day as it came. She spent hours selflessly empathising and encouraging them with stories about her own battles.

It is a well-known fact that Asma was the writer behind many hit plays, films and songs; what is not so commonly know is the fact that she co-founded the Screenwriter’s Association of Pakistan. Her vision was to negotiate better compensation and royalties for fellow writers. Unlike the rest of the world, such organisations are non-existent in Pakistan and even while battling cancer, she chose to pit herself against the Goliaths of the industry on behalf of strangers.

Three months ago, Asma returned from the hospital to learn about the illness of a fellow screenwriter’s sister. In a fragile voice, she sent a voice note with duaas and advice to the screenwriter. They had never met in person.

In 2018, I invited Asma to See It Be It, an event which focused on women leadership in advertising. I was very nervous about asking her to share her experiences on a public stage. Eventually I plucked up the courage – and her answer was a simple “Yes, I will do it. Let me know the time and place.” This was just a glimpse of her courage. To bare her wounds in front of a fraternity that frowns upon weakness, and show how her vulnerability made her invincible.

At BBDO we collaborated with her on Parday Mein Parwa (Veil of Care), her last project for Breast Cancer Awareness. Part of the project involved her wearing a customised dupatta designed by Ali Xeeshan and which included a poem she had written. The purpose was to remind women about self-examination. She had recently lost all her hair, yet she stood proud and beautiful for a fashion shoot. She wasn’t worried about how she looked, her focus was making an appearance on behalf of women impacted by breast cancer.

Thornton Wilder said: “The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.” Asma Nabeel, that is all we have for you. Gratitude that you made time for us – knowing your time was limited. Gratitude for your candour, your endless encouragement and your infectious laughter. May the halls of heaven forever echo with your laughter. Ameen.

Atiya Zaidi is MD & ECD, BBDO Pakistan, and co-Founder, Shero Space. The views in this article are her own and do not reflect the views of any organisation.