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Why do we obliterate our own culture for another?

Once while performing at a school in Islamabad on a Friday afternoon, I stopped the concert as Azaan began. A little girl came up to me and asked, “Shehzad bhai, why did you stop singing?” I smiled and said, “If I sing now, God will send me to hell.” She was spontaneous in her response, “Shehzad bhai. Please sing. You are not going to heaven anyway!”

You guessed it right; “Shehzad Bhai” of the preceding paragraph is one of the leading singers of Pakistan, Shehzad Roy. The reason for quoting that paragraph is not to spur a debate about religious teachings regarding music but to explain the hypocritical mindset we have towards performing arts. In our society acting, singing, dancing etc is not considered respectable professions (especially for females) but we do appreciate and enjoy them. We never owned our entertainment industry, neither at societal nor at governmental level. It will not be erroneous to say that our successive governments never considered it an industry.

Debates on this issue in prime time shows of news channels are rare. Those rare occurrences are also marred by fears of invasion by the Indian culture. It is imperative to discuss the adverse effects of Indian media and entertainment industry on our society but the core issue is why we allowed space to their entertainment industry for penetration. During the golden era of our film industry we produced many greats like Waheed Murad, Mohammad Ali, and Nadeem. Why they have not been celebrated as superstars and haven’t had as much fame as Amitabh Bachan or Dilip Kumar is worth questioning. These are the questions to be raised in order to find suitable solution to the threat of a potential cultural invasion.

On June 1st a Google Doodle was dedicated to the Indian actress Nargis Dutt. I had to ask myself why Shamim Ara, Zeba, Babra Sharif have not been celebrated? We have to admit that we have failed miserably in promoting our stars locally, let alone globally. One of the most powerful medium in the modern world is cinema but we never recognized the power it possesses. The main culprit no doubt is the government who failed to understand that in today’s world there is no better medium than cinema to portray the image of your country.  Log on to the “ministry of culture” website of Pakistan and India. You will understand which out of the two governments take this ministry more seriously.

Our youth idealizes Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan because there are no idols of our own or we have never let some emerge. We have no home grown stars to be portrayed as heroic, never have we let a star become a giant. The best we do is criticize people who work their way to stardom based on whatever crooked normative beliefs we may hold. This, followed by the hue and cry once youngsters find stars from other cultures as their heroes. When Mahesh Bhatt came to Pakistan with all his sugar talks to capitalize on 20 million plus market he was asked what we would get in return if we allowed their movies in our country. Surely it’s the government who devises such policies which make sure no harm comes to the local industry. But then our government never considered it to be an industry.

We can’t rule out the role of media in the making of a star. When the entertainment section of our news channel runs stories such as: “Saif Ali Khan’s kids are not happy after his remarriage”, it just sums up the whole situation. However there is a silver lining in this doom and gloom. In last couple of years the quality of Pakistani movies has improved immensely and there are number of projects in the pipeline as well. Not mentioning the role of ARY in this revival will be a grave injustice. But we have to understand that Pakistan’s film industry does not belong solely to ARY. It will take a collective effort of the Government and the whole media to elevate it to the level where it can compete with the world. We will have to give this industry its due respect both at governmental and societal level. We have some good prospects in the form of Fawad Khan, Fahad Mustafa, Mahira Khan and many others. Now we have to make sure not to waste them. We have to make them the face of Pakistan’s entertainment industry at global level. ۔

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