In a committee hosted by Mr Shehryar Afridi, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Kashmir, key members of the entertainment industry were gathered to discuss a roadmap for creating value-added and inspirational content on Pakistan and on Kashmir in particular
Ertugul, it appears, has inspired the government in more than one way.
This unfolded at a meeting, held earlier this week at the Sindh Governor House in Karachi, where a number of stakeholders from the entertainment industry were gathered to discuss a roadmap for creating value-added and inspirational content on Pakistan and on Kashmir in particular. The meeting was hosted by Mr Shehryar Afridi, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Kashmir, and industry big-wigs such as Fahad Mustafa, Humayun Saeed, Adnan Siddiqui, Shehzad Roy, Sarwat Gilani, Ali Rehman Khan, Bilal Ashraf and squash champion Jahangir Khan, amongst others, were invited to be part of the discussion. This troupe had gathered to discuss how Kashmir could be made part of the narrative when it came to story telling.
“Our Kashmir policy is straightforward and all of the state’s institutions are on the same page regarding that,” Mr Afridi said, outlining the agenda. “We believe that neither India nor Pakistan should decide what happens in Kashmir. It is only the right of Kashmiris to determine the fate of Kashmir and its people.” He added that it was not stories of war and gore that he wanted focus on but the everyday lives of people, their families and their love stories, for example. “We want every day, human stories,” he added.
Ertugrul was quoted as an example whereby content was so powerful and engaging that it had inspired the youth and a massive cross-section of people in Pakistan, to watch and walk away motivated.
“We all assembled today, at the Sindh Governor House in Karachi, for the first meeting of the Cultural Front of the Kashmir Parliamentary Body,” Mr Afridi spoke to me, summing up the purpose of the meeting once it had concluded. “Karachi’s key performing artists and sports and culture related stakeholders were invited with the sole objective that a cultural front needs to be established, whereby Pakistan’s core cultural values should be portrayed for a national and international audience. We want to engage the youth, we want to raise awareness on social issues, on national concerns especially on promoting Kashmir’s real culture. We want to promote that culture and help preserve it and globally highlight it. We have invited Pakistan’s stalwarts and legendary figures to help take this narrative to the next level.”
Shahid Afridi and Wasim Akram were also invited as part of the committee but they could not make it due to personal reasons.
There’s no denying the fact that Pakistan’s culture needs strong branding and that has become the need of the hour, something that has been part of discussions before. You only need to look at the content offered on platforms such as Netflix or Prime Video to see countless series and movies streaming in from India, many of them agenda-driven and directional. From war epics to heroic bio-pics, from love stories and culturally rich wedding sagas, India has its branding down to perfection. Pakistan, unfortunately, falls far, far behind when it comes to meaningful content, which is why it makes sense that the government is now seeking the entertainment industry’s help in order to rebrand Pakistan and the way it is perceived regionally, globally and internationally.
State funded films can do well and Parwaaz Hai Junoon, starring Ahad Raza Mir, Hamza Ali Abbasi and Hania Amir, is one good example. TV serial Ehd e Wafa, which was also very well-received, is another example of state-driven content done right.
There’s absolutely no harm in purpose-driven movies and TV dramas being made, but this would also be a good time to request the government to facilitate the arts beyond motivational content. One asked Mr Afridi how artists were expected to support the state when the state did so little to support them; one of the country’s finest filmmakers – Sarmad Khoosat – was still awaiting clearance for his film, Zindagi Tamasha. Sarwat Gilani, also at the meeting, pointed out that ZEE5, the platform that had commissioned original work from Pakistan, had been blocked for subscription in Pakistan. How were artists to proceed with the constant fear of one unknown ban or the other. There needed to be a little more transparency and tolerance or even a rule book on what was allowed and what not, to make things simpler and clearer.
Mr Afridi assured that he would look into all of this.
Who would finance this venture, another important question was put to the minister. While the example of Ertugrul was given for quality content, it was also pointed out that the Turkish motivational series was state-funded and had a lot of government support. Mr Afridi was very clear in reassuring the stakeholders that the government was also willing to invest billions towards this cause.
In the meeting, Humayun Saeed also pointed out that Pakistan should have its own OTT platform because there are restrictions on television that can be avoided using a digital medium.
It’s good that the government has opened doors to communication with artists and the entertainment industry, which can do wonders with a little more creative liberty and financial aid. A similar meeting was held, a few weeks ago, in Islamabad and this by no means is a standalone attempt. Pakistan does need better branding and marketing, a focus on its rich culture and heritage; inspirational stories of success and brilliance do need to be told and one hopes that the government will ensure they are told fairly, transparently and inclusively, not forgetting heroes and heroic ventures coming from men and women from all over the country.