“It’s easy to go places on the government’s expense but I’m thankful to you all for making the effort at your own expense.”
Earlier this week Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi addressed around two dozen delegates, who his team had curated from all over Pakistan, representing segments of art, culture and entertainment; needless to say he welcomed them with characteristic flair, charm and a twang of good humour when he hinted at the government’s “austerity measures.”
Assembled that day was an extremely diverse and inclusive group of veterans like Jamal Shah, Usman Peerzada, Muneeza Hashmi and Nadeem Mandviwalla as well as upcoming powerhouses like Saif Samejo (Lahooti Melo) and Natasha Noorani (Lahore Music Meet). Festival frontrunners, biennale organizers, internationally acclaimed actors like Faran Tahir as well as Ali Rehman Khan and musicians like Xulfi (Zulfiqar Jabbar Khan) and Sparlay Rawail (Khumariyaan) all added to the flavor of this troupe that had assembled at the Sahibzada Yaqub Khan library in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss and promote the exchange of ideas.
Bandied as FM Connect, this was the fourth meeting in this initiative that hoped to serve the purpose of building ‘Brand Pakistan’. In the first three meetings the FM had met international correspondents based in Pakistan, the business community and academia respectively.
“Look at the depth in our culture, the colours of Pakistan, the seasons and the regions, the music and poetry and the literature. Look at the amazing qawals,” he said, pointing towards Abu Mohammad qawal, with utmost respect and admiration. “It is your talent, and your talent elevates Pakistan, benefits Pakistan. The connection between people and country is strong, which is why I want to open up the Foreign Office with FM Connect and gather people from different segments of society; I request them to come here and help us, guide us and support us.”
After giving a detailed introduction, he opened the floor to questions and observations and as expected, almost everyone had something to say. Jamal Shah spoke about the National Culture Policy that existed but needed to be reworked. “We don’t need a soft image but need to project our real image,” he said. “We just need facilitation.” Festival runners spoke about the facilitation of NOCs and security measures for their events. They all clearly stated that no one was looking for state funding, thus risking the inevitable and formidable state interference, but everyone wanted relief from additional taxation, security threats and red tape. When speaking of digital content creation to project ‘Brand Pakistan,’ the 5 and 10 million ‘proposed’ licensing fee was brought up as a major obstacle.
Don’t fund us but at least don’t overcharge or create problems for those of us who are already working on projecting the attractive side of Pakistan, many people echoed. FM Connect, as a government body working in alliance with stakeholders from the entertainment industry, was asked to intervene and facilitate the release of Sarmad Khoosat’s Zindagi Tamasha, to begin with.
“What I would want from this meeting,” Sparlay Rawail said on the sidelines of the meeting, “is that while it is important for us to look outward and see what other countries are doing, it is just as important to look inward and see what we can do.” He was referring to the comparisons being drawn with our neighbours and how they had managed to create an illusion of being ‘incredible’. “All those countries being talked about – the US, Iran and India – listen to their own music. We have one Coke Studio but where are the state-run programs? We don’t have a state-run program to lift dead bodies; we rely on Edhi for that. Then how are we expecting a state-run program for music? The state should absorb Lahooti. I want the state to take initiative and not pull the plug when we do something radical. I want the state to allow us to release films we make (referring to Zindagi Tamasha). When we do Lahooti in Jamshero, we want the state to give us female constables; last time we asked they were attached to some VIP. We are already playing for Pakistanis; when I go abroad I don’t want to play for Pakistanis. I want to play for the world; the state needs to send artists to play abroad. We need to impress the world and send out these people.”
Every single person in the group had similar concerns about their brands; they spoke about the facilitation and support the state needed to give. They pressed for security and the freedom of expression that the state needed to give. While it did seem like a lot of rhetoric, good thing is that the dialogue had started and it appeared that the state was listening. Ideas for a core committee (for the lack of a better word) were pitched so that individual queries and concerns could be raised, registered and addressed with the hope that they be resolved. One hope that this wasn’t just a good will gesture and would lead to concrete measures for the facilitation of the arts and the artisans. Immediate release of Sarmad Khoosat’s Zindagi Tamashi would be a good place to start, one felt.
- The writer is Editor Instep and Editor/Co-publisher of Something Haute and the only Fashion & Lifestyle journalist invited to be part of this delegation.