“Hey, what’s goin on over here? Something’s just not right; my head is spinning with questions,” says a line from Daniyal Noorani’s single “Find Heaven”.
Unlike many artists who shy away from overt socio-political commentary, 27-year-old Daniyal Noorani’s lyrics and animations question Pakistan’s current state of affairs — he asks the big questions of religion, identity and politics that weigh heavily on us all. Currently pursuing a graduate degree in France, Noorani set-up a Skype date with The Express Tribune and discusses his music, talks anime and puts his beliefs into perspective.
Noorani started playing the guitar four years ago when he took time off from his studies. He was in Lahore and had a guitar hanging around — he ended up learning the craft in a slightly unorthodox manner. He struggled initially; “I’m left-handed so it was difficult learning at first,” Noorani explained, alluding to the sad fact that guitars in the left-handed variety don’t come easy. So what does he do? He started playing his acoustic upside down and played all the chords he couldn’t hit before. Noorani adds that other musicians commented on this impressive feat with a mixture of awe and shock. “It’s definitely something you won’t find a teacher for,” he says.
Noorani released his first video, “Find Heaven” in 2009. “My friends pushed my lyrical content,” he explains. Noorani modestly claims that has no drawing skills, which is why he reached out to National College of Arts (NCA) animator Marria Khan for all the animation work. “The lyrics come first, then the imagery. Once we’ve got the lyrics down, we come up with a story board for the animation.”
The religious implications in “Find Heaven” are the video’s most overt hallmark. Yet, the commentary is subtle and objective; Noorani isn’t interested in harsh invective. “I went with a ‘fly on the wall’ effect. Its social commentary that’s delivered to provoke dialogue,’ he says. Noorani believes that a lot of the religious problems in Pakistan stem from a ‘societal failing’. He qualifies this by stating that the nation’s children looking for answers have no one to reach out to other than their close peers and family who can potentially indoctrinate them into a troubled religiosity. This is a key problem that the socially conscious video addresses.
Noorani tried getting local television channels to air the videos, but they refused — they couldn’t risk negative repercussions and ‘people picketing outside the studios’. So Noorani stuck to YouTube; yet the repercussions of the video were anything but negative. In fact, “Find Heaven” made it to respected film festivals like the London Independent Film Festival and the Boston International Film Festival. Additionally, Noorani was invited to join a panel with Tony Blair to discuss his own point of view. “It was great to be on stage and share my perspective.”
On his own feet
Noorani’s sophomore video, “Own2Feet”, which casts US-Pak relations as a combative, combusting husband-wife duo, was released a year-and-a-half later. It’s a video Nooarni catered specifically to western audiences. “Pakistan was being depicted as a delusional country. I wanted to use pop culture music to spur American interest. For Pakistanis, I wanted to show that we have a defeatist mentality; I wanted to challenge that by sending out a positive message.” This is increasingly evident in the animation: the wife (Pakistan) is feisty and uncompromising; she slaps her husband’s offers away and even runs away from him.
Role model for the young
Noorani released the first pilot of his Japanese-style anime series (a first for Pak) a few months ago — a mash-up of Lollywood’s ‘Jutt’ films. “Anime is very popular in Pakistan and there’s a demand for it here.” Noorani explains that as a child he used to treat Superman as his moral compass and thinks that there’s no such local equivalent for Pakistani children to look up to. “The youth need a character for guidance to spur the intellectual process.” Noorani stresses that Chota Jutt is only a pilot; he’s testing the market’s fickle waters.
“I want more people to watch my videos because it’s my aim to change minds and to provoke the imagination.’
Published in The Express Tribune, January 16th, 2012.
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