Where art and cinema failed Pakistan

We do not need to produce art for the sole sake of creating a national image - it is not diplomatic currency but a tool to tell the truth about our culture. Not a fake one.

Beenisch Tahir September 08, 2010
We are constantly judged as the nation that has failed. What the world fails to see is that Pakistan continues to breathe. Despite the daily risk to their lives, people still get up for work, sit in their Japanese cars, listen to Coke Studio recordings, work at multinational companies, munch on American chocolate bars and end the day with by watching channels broadcast from Hong Kong with a plate of daal chawal.

The men and women on the field continue to live on, for those who have avoided the flood wage through the day. While those who are victims of the flood, wait for the sky and land to clear, clinging on to hope, dreaming of a future much like their past.

Our previously non-existent cultural image has been tarnished - grouped with the deserts of the Arabia and the cave’s of Afghanistan, countries that Pakistan culturally shares little with.  In fact, Pakistan has more in common with India. The people share the same language, watch the same movies, and listen to the same songs. Our wedding traditions are similar, our eyes dark, our hair lusciously raven and skin’s brown. The only difference in our global cultural image, we never got our ‘Slum Dog Millionaire moment’.

We never shared the Oscar stage for the average American to see. Pakistan’s name never jumped out of the world’s breaking news. While our name flashed on the scarlet news tickers, we watched India gain the golden ticket to the A-lister’s world in Hollywood. Ash and Bachan shared an ‘aha’ moment on Oprah. Even Shilpa Shetty won the hearts of the British public in celebrity Big Brother. We watched our country’s image crumble, exploding and imploding. The world can’t see past this rubble; it has no picture to the real human faces of this country.

Despite the fact that not a single 9/11 attacker was from Pakistan, and we are a US ally fighting at the forefront, sacrificing our own people, our image is worse than the Arabs. Even we have begun downgrading ourselves, feeling abandoned, by the world, the government, and our morals.

It has become ever more imperative that Pakistan shows its softer side, especially through the universal language of film and music. Not for the sake of the world, but also for our own low national esteem. We desperately need to climb out of the unfair inhuman cultural image that is burying our reputation alive. We need our very own Slum Dog Millionaire moment.

There is some work being done to promote Pakistan’s image. Though a positive step, unfortunately, some of the efforts are devoid of the true passion that is necessary to fuel the arts. Instead, they are filled with dreams of self exaltation rather than surfacing the true creative plane.  Half hearted patriotic songs, or poor story lines shot on 35 mm cameras, with little attention to artistic details will receive little attention-locally and internationally.

Of course something is better than nothing, but we do not need to apply such low standards to our art. Why should we always settle for one step and not the entire leap? Especially when the talent is here. When the internet has opened all the doors that our media isn’t prepared to open. We do deserve more. After all, Pakistan produced Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who sang only for the love of music, creating earth shattering notes, he sang till his death. The whole world wanted a piece of his tune. Junoon, who started a fresh new genre- sufi rock-the fusion of folk and rock captivated the world’s audiences, soon they had become Pakistan’s cultural ambassadors. Not only could they sing and play, but they had something to say- and the world listened. And we stood proud.

We’ve never really had a film that made an international impact. Though, we could really use one right now. Film has the capacity to shake-up cultural divides within 90 minutes. The images, starkly opposite of the stereotype is enough of a jolt, but when the film itself is a piece of quality art it can travel further in the world. That is into the hearts of millions of people.

We do not need to produce art for the sole sake of creating a national image. We need art that should first speak truthfully to our people, by our own high standards. Breaking our own norms. Just like the Iranian New Wave Cinema Movement: movies with a story, cinematography with depth, an artistic movement that has integrity. We need to find our own integrity. We need our own people to find hope. The world will follow.

It’s time for the world to see us from our eyes.
Beenisch Tahir The author has graduated from the London School of Economics, London with an Msc in Social Policy and Development and she is a development professional in communications. Head of the LSE Alumni Chapter in Islamabad. Writing for a hobby. She tweets as @Beenisch (twitter.com/Beenisch)
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


M. SaleemRaikodi | 13 years ago | Reply Its a well introspected article. There has never been a clash of culture and tradition between India and Paksitan but a distressful political one. Artists and cultural exchages are much sought after even inspite of such institutional hatred between the two. Specially for Pakistan, it is imperative for it to go an extra mile to shake hands perhaps grudingly as both the parties have so much brimstone of bad stories to tell. This is say just because what you gain in cooperation you wont in confrontation.
Nida | 13 years ago | Reply @ritu: You got the wrong impression my friend. The writer is asking Pakistan to develop a positive image not through Indian stage but by promoting Pakistan arts and culture in the world. Basically the writer is asking to project soft image of Pakistan which the international media never captures.
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