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Tuesday December 06, 2022

Don’t think, don’t dream

November 20, 2022

Imagine the government of Pakistan exhorting the youth of the country to not only go and watch ‘Joyland’ but also offer them money to buy the ticket? A forbidding thought, isn’t it? In fact, we have been witness to a bewildering hesitation on the part of the higher authorities on whether to allow the public screening of a Pakistani film that has won unprecedented global appreciation as a cinematic achievement.

We have a story here that is itself worthy of becoming the subject of a film that would explore the struggle of a society to liberate itself from the shackles of bigotry and somehow break into the modern world – and not being able to do so.

I need not tell this sad story of ‘Joyland’ in any detail because the mainstream and social media have covered it rather well, though the focus, as always, has remained on politics and there is another blockbuster in that domain to distract the nation’s attention. And the casting in this political thriller is superb: a charismatic leader of the country’s youth, a priceless wrist-watch and an Arab prince.

But let me begin with a film that has already been made. The idea I have broached at the outset would appear to be outlandish in our circumstances. Why would a government dole out money to young people to spend on watching an artistically acclaimed movie and, for that matter, buying books or going to the theatre?

Well, that happens in some advanced countries and the peg I have for this column is a news story published in ‘The Guardian’ on Tuesday. The government of Germany is offering a voucher of 200 euros to the young to spend on their choice of cultural offerings. Similar schemes have already been introduced in Italy, Spain and France.

This ‘Kultur pass’, which will be made available to all 18-year-olds, has two aims: to encourage young adults to experience live culture after the isolation that was dictated by the pandemic and to give a boost to the arts scene. But Italy had started giving this ‘culture bonus’ before the pandemic, in 2016, and the bonus was worth 500 euros. Make your own assessment of how much this would be in our currency, the fall of which is one aspect of what has happened to us.

Germany’s minister of culture has described the cultural passport as the equivalent of a birthday present. Its recipients can use this money for everything from theatre or concert tickets to books or music. There is an emphasis on live culture. If successful, this scheme is likely to be extended to the youth of 15 years and above.

A similar scheme was announced in Spain last year that offered 400 euros to the youth when they turn 18. France’s youth culture pass was also launched last year, though it was an election promise of the president. This app-based pass gives every 18-year-old 300 euros to spend on cinema, museums, theatre tickets as well as on books and art materials.

Italy introduced its ‘culture bonus’ of 500 euros for every 18-year-old in 2016 and it has continued despite various changes of governments. What is particularly relevant for us is that the Italian government was hoping that this programme would help combat extremism among the young and suppress radical ideologies.

Because of my long-standing concern for cultural and intellectual degradation that we have suffered, one measure of which is our poor reading habits, I am very encouraged by the fact that in Italy, more than 80 per cent of the allowance was spent on books, followed by music products and concert tickets.

Now, I find my attention divided between a rather specific reference to the saga of ‘Joyland’ and the wider perspective of the state of the Pakistani youth and the direction in which our official policies are pushing them. Much that I am tempted to turn my gaze towards the ‘Youthia’ culture that Imran Khan’s politics has nurtured and to explore the meaning of how the leader himself has behaved, ‘Joyland’ episode has my preference at the moment.

One reason is of a rather personal nature. ‘Joyland’ had already made its splash at Cannes and how it would raise the spirits of a Pakistani was conveyed to me by my elder daughter who lives in southern California. On November 5, she went to a screening of the film at the American Film Institute Festival in Los Angeles at the Chinese Theatre, the venue of the Oscars, which was followed by a question and answer session with director Saim Sadiq. The tickets were sold out and two additional shows were hurriedly scheduled to cater to the high demand.

My daughter excitedly told me about how proud she felt as a Pakistani to see such applause for a film made by our young talent. It is interesting that the audience overwhelmingly consisted of non-Pakistanis. But why is this film being resisted in Pakistan and why do those who stand against the liberation of the Pakistani spirit appear to be so powerful?

These and many other questions bring up the enigma of what our young people are living through. Where should they seek expression, be inspired by those gifted amongst them and celebrate the excellence of our own? Essentially, what is it that engages the attention of our youth and inspires their thoughts?

Imran Khan professes to be a leader of the youth and has sought to mobilize them for his mission of ‘haqiqi azadi’. But he and his party have not made their views known about culture, literature and other intellectual pursuits. It is the same with other political parties.

There is little concern about the potential that exists in the youth bulge of this country for progressive social change through education and the arts. Our young are denied the opportunity to think new thoughts and live new experiences. There seems to be a conspiracy to restrict the imagination of the young – and their capacity to dream.

The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached at: ghazi_salahuddin@hotmail.com

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