Creative license

February 16, 2020

What differentiates creative endeavour from propaganda?

On Kashmir Day a song was released by the Inter Services Public Relations to serve a definite policy purpose. If it were not so what would have been the purpose of releasing this song?

What that purpose was is anybody’s guess. But going by what is considered to be the function of a verse or song, it is to communicate to people, particularly those who cannot read or write, only hear and listen, a message about the country’s righteous position on a political issue.

The best way would have been to issue policy directives about the stance and back it by creating conditions in our country that are different from of treatment meted to people by the enemy across the border. This can be the best way of highlighting the excesses on by the other side. It appears however that there is an undue stress on releasing songs and videos.

It has been noticed that the agency has taken upon itself the role of releasing songs, films and television plays on foreign policy issues. Why are free individuals or organizations not affiliated to an official body not releasing songs, making films and producing plays and why is a state institutions involved in it? The desire to create, if it is the right cause, should be internalized and then it should come out as a work without it being pushed into being one. The best creative output from an artistic point of view it is generally agree was during the 1965 war. It was a spontaneous outpouring which made possible many songs that remain exemplar of this category. Probably because these were not being made to order.

If the Kashmir cause is close to one official body and not that close to others in the country, then there is a serious issue with the cause itself. In other words, the society is lagging behind the core issue and the institution (or institutions) are taking lead. This does not augur well for the cause. It should the other way around. Government agencies should merely be reflecting the cause which is the aspiration of the people of the country. The impression given is that people are not that keen and it is the official version that makes it appear that way.

Some films made over the past few years too have been financed by government agencies and press reaction, most of it highly favourable, was seen to be the outcome of an engineered effort. The films may have been very good but the fact that these are sponsored, takes the gloss away from the entire enterprise. These appear to be command performances and that reduces the impact for being the government’s official position which is always less than that of the people.

This is not to take anything away from the effort but it has to rise above and beyond propaganda. Even if the film is brilliant and on top of its creative game, the fact that it was produced by a government agency, takes away its autonomous character and places it squarely in line with official propaganda. And there can be no ambivalence about propaganda. What distinguishes human activity from propaganda is nothing more than certainty and ambivalence.

In a country that is forever strapped for cash if one organization is spending money or has an investment portfolio then it means that it has the cash while the others do not. The question is whether these funds should be spent on one time efforts as it seems to have been the case so far or that it should be spent on institutions or the logistical infrastructure to build institutions where creative talent is nourished and allowed to flourish. The establishment of institutions appears to be the better option, as creative output too would not be that top-down as it may appear in cases where things are made to order.

A few months ago a film, Foxtrot, by an Israeli director made headlines across the world. It was publicly denounced by the Israeli culture minister as being intolerable and disgraceful especially in the light of the favourable response that it received (going on to win the Grand Jury Prize at Venice Film Festival and pick up thirteen nominations at the domestic Ophir Awards).

The director and writer of the film Samuel Maoz had focused his film solely on the human cost of war and conflict. The plot revolved round the character of a renowned architect who was very successful, self-satisfied and seemed to have done well in life till he suddenly heard the news of his son’s death in combat. The rest of the film was about the unfolding of parental grief and attempts at coping. It was a succession of both mourning and raging.

One finds many parallels with the situation in Pakistan and the mindset of many Pakistanis. In the recent past some films have been made which have glorified the value of patriotism and these have been greatly acclaimed among certain circles. When films were made solely as a private enterprise it was the box office that determined the fate of the film. If it did well at the box office, even though it had been decried by the critics in the beginning, it was treated as a success and the critics were seen as out-of-tune; if a film was landed by critics and flopped at the box office there was nothing to it. 

ISPR's 2020 Kashmir Day song: What differentiates creative endeavour from propaganda?