Thursday, February 6, 2014

Culture of Confusion

January 31, 2014

The singular thread that runs through every genre of creativity in today’s Pakistan is derivation. Coke Studio and Nescafe Basement are the epitome of this culture of derivative creativity. Repackage an old song with a saxophone solo here, a taan there – and voila, you have something ‘new’! This is the well-worn formula for all forms of mainstream art in Pakistan. Our drama is an unceasing parade of social melodrama so similar in form and content that cutting whole scenes from one play and pasting onto the other would leave its anesthetized audiences none the wiser. Even our theatrical productions are lifted straight from Broadway and planted in Karachi without so much as a cosmetic attempt at adapting for local sensibilities.
It might be argued that a country clawing for its very survival does not have the luxury to produce art, let alone original one. Confronted with a 24/7 cycle of bomb blasts and target killings just the fact that artists still exist here is an achievement of sorts. In a social setup where arguments can still be had on whether music is haram or halaal, perhaps expectations of originality aren’t just fanciful, they’re unfair.
Under such circumstances Amir Liaquat Husain’s rise to the mantle of Pakistan’s biggest star is not a coincidence but an inevitability. Liaquat is as much a deliberate construct, put together piece by piece for maximum effect and impact, as say, Lady Gaga. Designing herself with equal parts shock value and infectious pop hooks, Gaga upped the ante on her lukewarm career with an algorithm for super stardom pieced together with nudity, raw meat dresses and plumage that would dazzle a male peacock into submission. If that is the blueprint for breakaway success in the West, then a mixed-plate of quranic recitations, Raakhi ka Swayamwar; religious stories of dubious origin, Masterchef, Kaun Banega Crorepati and The Crystal Maze with a thick topping of Neelam Ghar shot through with sleaze borrowed from 80s Hindi cinema is the baara masala formula for success in Pakistan. Amir Liaquat has cracked the code, and judging by the wild applause and the cash rolling in, Pakistan is lapping it up.
Tariq Aziz’s wide repertoire of couplets, Naeem Bukhari’s spontaneity and Moin Akhtar’s sense of humour seem archaic in the face of the one quality more Pakistani than Nihari – the projection of piety.
Starting off as an impassioned host of a religious call-in show, Husain first cornered the religious market in the country through a groundbreaking attempt at putting a Shia and a Sunni aalim together on stage. When that became too passé, he soon flexed his muscles through passing fatwas on Ahmedis, a sect so hapless and beleaguered, only the suicidal would choose to defend its followers in public. When his repertoire of colourful abuses was leaked online, the resourceful Amir decided to leverage this notoriety to break out of his ishq-e-rasool mould, switching seamlessly between his faux-sincere Ramzan transmission face, flirtatious frolickings with women and a thick layer of Jazakallahs, to finally emerge as the host of Pakistan’s most watched game show-cum-iftaari langar, Aman Ramzan, the apotheosis of which was handing over a new born as a jackpot prize. Islam, babies, hijabs and cooking; could there be a mix more Pakistani? During Ramzan, maybe, but the rest of the year the awaam is amenable to added dozes of sexual titillation, children’s birthdays and wedding celebrations as well as the replacement of bearded clerics with celebrities. Enter Inaam Ghar! Whatever else you may say about it, you cannot fault the honesty of its title that doesn’t even make an attempt at originality.
If popular culture is the most honest representation of a society’s desires and aspirations, then there is nothing more reflective of the mass confusion in Pakistan – as witnessed in overt religious posturings and its status as the leading consumer of porn in the world – than Inaam Ghar and Amir Liaqat Husain.


Published in The Nation

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