Monday, September 15, 2014

Made (for India) in Pakistan

....Our actors work there...our musicians have been popular there.....does that mean we have to modify our content to suit their tastes?....If only the answer was a simple binary choice.....One cannot peel away all the layers of history within a single article....money is as real today as it was in 1947.....
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Adi Abdurab (head screenwriter for the TV series Burka Avenger) has raised an important question which has implications on cross-border cultural exchanges (and the impact thereof).
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[ref. Wiki] Burka Avenger is a multi-award winning Pakistani animated television series created and directed by famous Pakistani rock star and social activist, Aaron Haroon Rashid. The show features Jiya, an "inspirational teacher" whose alter ego is a burka-wearing superheroine. Jiya uses "Takht Kabaddi", a special martial art that incorporates books and pens, to fight crime. The Urdu language series first aired on 28 July 2013. 
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Our feeling is that Adi Sahib is unduly worried about Pakistani culture losing its way and getting merged with India, though we agree that Pakistanis have the right to be paranoid.  

The PTV serials which are making waves in India are doing so because of fascination with a conservative culture and old-fashioned Punjabi, which appeals to an older generation in North India (and may also appeal to youngsters looking for something different). As such these productions already meet the "something different to digest instead of the same drudgery" standard that Adi claims to be aspiring for.
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That said some cross-border no-no-s do exist. Pakistani movies that depict a thumping victory over evil Indians on (or off) the battlefield will not work in India (and vice versa). As to the critique that an excess of rona-dhona is necessary to melt Indian hearts, we are not convinced. There have been a number of Indian movies of late starring Vidya Balan which are not tear-jerkers (Bobby Jasoos, Kahani) and which have been fairly successful.

How about a Hindu boy - Muslim girl romance (or the other way around)? That formula has been made to work in India of the past, though we are not so sure about today (see Love Jihad). Perhaps this is what Adi means by the "peeling away layers of history" - the fading history of Hindus and Muslims living side by side in imperfect harmony.

We may be wrong but the impression we get about Pakistan today is that any show that highlights minority-majority community bonding (for example, Shia boy - Sunni girl) will not be popular. If true, this points to the nature of the threat(s) facing Pakistan (and the cultural scene): the enemy inside is way more formidable than the one across the border.

There are also places where Adi contradicts himself: if we accept that 10% of India (market wise) will be more sizable than Pakistan (his words), then it is not just a secondary market (his words again) anymore. Indeed this is exactly the logic which enthuses the cited producer and (as we see it) it is a cause for alarm for Adi.  

Also his analogy of Turkey vs. Pakistan with Pakistan vs. India is not credible - the cultural distance between Pakistan and India is less than that which exists between Pakistan and Turkey. Then again this IS the root cause of paranoia. In a few decades Pakistanis will stop worrying about Indian cultural imperialism (while embracing Arabic cultural imperialism).

Finally, back to the Burka Avenger. As we understand it, this serial has been appreciated internationally. It is a smart way to undermine the patriarchy that permeates all of South Asia. Adi Sahib should just continue the good work and make movies/shows about strong women (who of course will not cry even under the most trying circumstances). We are sure that such a product will be a success in Pakistan, India and beyond. Best of luck!!!
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I was once approached by a producer for making a movie. The prevailing notion was that we need to make something that sells well in India. The producers were willing to go to any lengths to ensure that outcome; from hiring Indian actors to outsourcing key production tasks. This got me thinking:

Bollywood already makes their own blockbusters, so why would they patronise what would, at best, be our tribute to them? We already have such talented individuals in our own country; why outsource?

Waar is the most lucrative movie in Pakistani history and not a Bollywood blockbuster. Why not try to replicate that success instead?

To be clear, this is about introspection, not hate. It's about learning, and to that end, I ask you: should Pakistan be making entertainment primarily for Indian audiences? 

Our content is slowly becoming India-centric with each passing iteration, simply because we are gaining traction there.
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Zindagi Gulzar Hai was picked up for regular telecast. Our actors work there frequently, our musicians have been popular there for decades now. So, does that mean we have to modify our content to suit their seasoned tastes? Should we not be giving them something different to digest instead of the same drudgery they can just source locally?

If only the answer was a simple binary choice. One cannot peel away all the layers of history within a single article, so I won't even try. However, money is as real today as it was in 1947, so let us look at it from a strictly business perspective.

India has a population of just over 1.25 billion. For such a massive audience, even 10 per cent penetration generates more business than the Pakistani average. It makes perfect sense to market (even pander) to that region.

For the same outcome, we should put serious efforts in making our content more commonly available in China, even a tiny portion of those accumulated eyes on our product will be more than what Game of Thrones does on a good day.

The cardinal rule of business is that you don’t turn away a paying customer. If any country wants our content, it should be sold happily — there can’t be any limitations there.

However, they remain a secondary market. Our primary market is Pakistan. If we prioritise the secondary market, our content will lose traction in the primary market. To simplify, we cannot hope to sell a product in any international market if it fails to succeed locally.

But what's happening is that producers and writers are creating bipolar content: content that has shifted focus to generic situations that translate well across the border featuring the likes of atypical relationships and oh so much crying; trumping content pertinent to Pakistanis on a personal level.

To put it into perspective, imagine the immensely popular Turkish dramas turning into something akin to Humsafar and Bulbulay. That is very unlikely because these shows are designed to generate business in Turkey. Whatever business they do here is a bonus. India might be a huge market, but it is still just that — a bonus.

In recent times, everyone from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Adnan Sami Khan, Junoon and Ali Zafar built their personal brands first. They did not start out by creating music specifically for India. They created original content that made such a huge impact it was felt over the border.

With regards to cinema, our films are rapidly anchoring themselves to what are rather disjointedly named as “item songs”.

In the meeting with the aforementioned producer, there was talk of hiring an international studio for CG work, even though there are studios in Pakistan which had successfully worked for illustrious projects like Spiderman 3, Tomb Raider, Discovery Channel, Audi Ad campaigns to quote a few examples.

One’s identity should be a matter of pride, especially when catering to the whims of Pakistani audiences has proven profitable in the past. Content creators should not water at the mouth so voraciously at the prospect of taking it across the border that they end up trampling our own audiences to get there.

We have spent a lifetime cultivating our own identity, and fickle as it's often made out to be, it does exist. When we refuse to take ownership of it, others impose their presumptions. If we work harder at pleasing the world over ourselves, we risk losing both. And that would be really bad for business.
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Link: dawn.com/should-pakistani-entertainment-cater-to-india

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regards