Despite having risen from the same soil and sharing a common heritage, Pakistan and India have distinct identities. Pakistan, though, suffers from a dilemma – where should it draw its cultural identity from? Historically, it would connect us to the ancient civilisation of Mohenjo Daro, built around 3,000 BC, however, that coincides with India. Geographically, it should derive from individual pieces of land whose culture is a by-product of different invaders and survivors like the Persians and Assyrians to name a few. Religiously, our history dates back as long as the advent of Islam in the subcontinent which is somewhere around 1,200 years ago. With so many aspects to consider, the ‘culture’ is bound to be an amalgamation.
While we are struggling to strike a balance between “Pakistani” and “religious” when it comes to culture, our neighbours have taken their culture seriously and built upon it. So much that their culture has become their biggest export and identity. Ironically, our contributions to their culture are considered “imports” from Pakistan.
Bollywood is the major reason why our artists haven’t switched to office jobs. With India opening its doors for our talent, the number of artistic imports has surely increased but the overall quality has deteriorated.
While a myriad of musicians and actors have traveled to India, only a few succeeded in making an impact. Acting for films has never been our forte. Be it the likes of Zeba Bakhtiar and Talat Hussain or Pakistan’s version of a chocolate hero Ali Zafar, we haven’t been able to leave a memorable mark. Although Zafar is trying hard to make things work with his multiple talents, but so far he has failed to impress with his acting skills which is probably the reason no major production has featured him in a lead role.
Joining the list of imports is Meesha Shafi, who has recently acted in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. We are aware of Shafi’s raw voice but her work as an actor for TV or even a film like The Reluctant Fundamentalist has been below average. Humaima’s performance in Sher with Sanjay Dutt is yet to be seen. While she did a good job in Bol, we can only wonder how she will fare across the border. The less that said about Meera, Veena and Sarah Loren’s performances in Bollywood, the better.
Music, however, is a domain where our real power lies. Our artists no longer have the vision or impact that our legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan had, who made a Bollywood debut with his music for the film Aur Pyar Ho Gaya and never looked back. From the critically-acclaimed album Sangam with lyricist Javed Akhtar to other various projects including one with Oscar-winning composer AR Rahman, Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan went there to prove his mettle and did so with utmost style. His so-called successor Rahat Fateh Ali Khan has lost his charm and is living entirely on catchy compositions by Bollywood composers. Though, he might be getting more popular with every track and minting money, it seems he has lost his finesse as a raw performer.
While Shafqat Amanat Ali is playing it safe, Zafar hasn’t produced music that will be remembered. As for Atif Aslam, fame came to him a little earlier than expected and this may be the reason he couldn’t refine his talent. Regardless of that, the range he demonstrated in Mori Araj Suno from The Reluctant Fundamentalist, speaks volumes about his resilience as an artist. After Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, he is probably the most influential artist from Pakistan in Bollywood and if he carries on his solo projects simultaneously, he will do wonders.
So should we expect more talent budding from within Pakistan? Yes. But will it be better? No. That’s because artists such as Meesha Shafi are more or less residues of our raw musical talent. These budding stars are so focused on making it to Bollywood that they are unable to produce something different and remarkable.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2013.
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