Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the sharpest of them all? With stand-up comedian Saad Haroon, political satirist Nadeem Farooq Paracha and Ali Aftab Saeed of Beygairat Brigade in one place, it was clear that this Sunday morning at the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) would be heavily soaked in vinegar. And if the duel of jibes is to be the test for the crown for caustic humour in this session titled ‘Satire/Comedy, Ali Aftab Saeed of Beygairat Brigade, Saad Haroon and Banana News Network (BNN)’, then Saeed deserves to share Paracha’s pack of sharp nibs. The overall experience of watching Haroon, Paracha and Saeed in a battle of wits made for an exciting episode of social satire.
“Pakistanis have always gravitated towards political satire right before ‘Humsafar’ started. Till then we all lived in this world of infotainment where the gossip was always ‘what’s happening in the country’,” quipped Haroon at the outset of the session delineating the significance that political satire holds at large for the populace. However, Haroon performs in English, a language few have command over, and fewer still grasp the nuances of. Therefore Saeed who chose to speak entirely in Urdu clipped with a rustic Punjabi undertone, made greater head way with the audiences, despite being a one hit wonder thus far owing to his song “Aloo Anday”.
“Comedy is made through contradiction and we as a nation are full of them,” said Saeed, giving due credit to the Pakistani politicians who have shown immense toleration towards their public lampooning on television, in songs and on shows. When he took on, what Paracha termed as ‘sacred cows’, the military and the intelligentsia, is when he really touched a raw nerve. Even his video crew deserted him and although he did not get blatant threats, he admits that he “received a lot of friendly advice.” In this light, what was even more amusing was a female audience member offering sincere advice and telling Saeed to be careful lest he incur wrath for his bold views or be sold to a media agency. To this Saeed cleverly responded that he was indeed fearful for the former, but hopeful for the latter.
The question of how much a satirist can push the envelope about a particularly sensitive subject like the establishment proved to be highly entertaining. In this regard, Haroon spoke of his infamous “Burqa Woman” song. Soon enough, the conversation led to Maya Khan and Veena Malik and finally settled on Saeed’s narration of how certain members of his team fled whilst shooting his song as they were convinced that the army could do no wrong — a far more worrying notion.
Coming back the discussion on satire, Haroon was of the opinion that Pakistanis feel very guilty about upsetting the apple cart which is why they do not want to be associated with someone who takes audacious steps. He added, “The whole idea behind satire is to question and push people to come out of their comfort zone and take a look within.”
Judging from the hall which was bursting at its seams, it looks as if Pakistanis may be very interested in learning how to laugh at themselves. As Saeed concluded, “It is the artist’s job to create that space for expression. It’s a huge deal that our politicians are even managing to complete their entire term, which, in itself, is a blow to establishment.” Paracha, being the satire sire, jibed in with a remark that punctuated the essence of this festival: “And so we shall start calling the Karachi Literature Festival the Karachi Liberation Front.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 13th, 2012.