The Crown, Humayun Saeed, and Why We Should Celebrate Our People

Perhaps there is something poetic about Humayun Saeed’s performance in The Crown, and the criticism surrounding it. Maybe we have learnt nothing from unnecessarily sensationalising every aspect of a public figure’s life, while they try to simply do their job. Perhaps the inability to appreciate and humanise someone with a camera on them has persisted beyond the decades.

Humayun Saeed has joined the ranks of Pakistani actors that have broken through to Hollywood, creating a foothold for future actors and industry members. Yet, right from the announcement, his casting has been embroiled in controversy. It did not take long for opinions to pop up that other actors would be better for the role. Pakistan has no shortage of talented, capable actors, yet there is no doubt that we would manage to find some objection towards any of them.

Saeed plays the late Princess Diana’s partner, Dr Hasnat Khan, a British-Pakistani surgeon.  This season of The Crown focuses on the latter part of Diana and Charles’ 15-year marriage. The show depicts the grim realities of the royal couple’s divorce, Charles cheating with Camilla, and the growing paranoia of Diana, as she feels increasingly watched towards the last few years of her life.

Similar to 2021’s Spencer starring Kristen Stewart in the Oscar-nominated lead role, a significant theme in this season is how the Princess felt constant eyes on her every movement. These eyes came from behind the lenses of paparazzi cameras, from the public that was obsessed with her, and even from within the walls of the castle itself. Amid these unfortunate events and the season’s dour tone, Humayun’s character is the only ray of sunshine.

We are shown a side of the Princess that is rarely depicted in her tragic tale– that of a smitten young woman, giddy with the joys of a new relationship, in her brief moments of reprieve with Humayun’s character. In turn, Dr Hasnat is charming, yet practical and tragic in his own right. The bond between the two is admirable.

Humayun’s Dr Hasnat and Elizabeth Debicki’s Diana share good on-screen chemistry, engrossing the audience in their romance, the foundation of which lies upon their mutual kindness. Before her untimely passing, the Princess of Wales was often quoted that the doctor had been her soul mate, and the audience gets a true sense of this through the pair’s performance in the episodes. 

Scriptwriter, Peter Morgan, does a fantastic job paying homage to Pakistani culture, as Dr Khan guides Diana through its intricacies. Perhaps one of the best conversations between the couple takes place during their first date when the Princess draws perfect parallels between conservative Pakistani culture that is so often looked down upon and the Royal traditions that are looked up to. From arranged marriages, dressing modestly, and following her husband’s lead, she becomes instantly relatable to us all. Highlighting this hypocrisy in how the world views the contrasting but similar cultures is not only an ode to Diana’s consistent ability to look past differences, but is a tribute to our nation as well.

Humayun Saeed’s performance as Dr Hasnat Khan is impressive and authentic. He can interpret a figure about whom little is known and bring him to life. It is unfortunate that our nation is unable to appreciate his contributions to our media industry, and is instead overshadowing it with a debate about the morality of an intimate scene between the couple. 

Instead of feeling a right over individuals and their morality, Pakistan needs to make more of an effort to support local artists. This is an issue that has prevailed over the decades, and yet again, rather than focusing on craft, our public has concerned itself only with the morality of these artists. As more and more artists pave the way to the industry’s future, it is essential that we, before all else, extend support to our people as they make strides to support us.

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