Sometimes, it feels impossible to take stock of the world we live in. In 2007, when I was doing a degree of assorted topics referred to as social sciences, one of our professors brought a wanted ad to class one day. It asked for the sort of skills we were meant to have, and according to him, the ad was an intelligence agency looking for recruits.
Point being, at that time in Pakistan it was very difficult to imagine a lot of avenues for gainful employment available to people studying the sort of courses we were. And yet, just seven years later I have had a chance to read a novel that in one way serves as a catharsis for a raft of young upper class people who had joined the media industry.
Back in ’07, the allure of the media had just kicked off. My interview for my first job at a news channel was on May 12th. The week I was hired, the Lal Masjid operation took place. My confirmation as a permanent employee happened when the CJ was briefly restored for the first time. By about six months into the job the entire industry was forcibly blocked by the military government which imposed emergency and a month later BB was killed.
In many ways, 2007 to 2009 established the media as one of the most powerful, influential and destructive forces in Pakistani society. This was partly because of how our society had lived with one state-run channel forever, and were tired of the North Korean style 9 o’ clock Khabarnama. The media’s arrival began with the 2005 earthquake, but it was the dismissal of the CJ in 2007 which began its entry into decisively make its presence felt in national politics.
Yet while all that is apparent in hindsight, in early 2007 the media was not yet an obvious choice for Social Science majors to gravitate to. In 2014, it has already gone past its golden era and entered the realm of the intractable institutions which our country needs and yet are also very destructive.
But what this also means is that society has begun developing its own responses to the media. It began with the ubiquity of the Geo logo which became part of bus and truck art as well as motorcycle seats and bumpers. I viewed that development as more of a celebration or at least an acknowledgement of respect. But an equally interesting response has emerged in the aftermath of the various scandals/gaffes that began to emerge as the media became a part of the scene.
There are four iconic incidents (that I can think of) which have been converted into remixed songs, and while more than one remix exists for several of these, here is a look at the four best ones.
- Sapuri’s “Inquilaabi Music with Dr. Toru, Qaddafi and Amanpour (Kraak and Smaak)”
Much like the media, the PTI has been an enigma whose public perception has underwent a similarly roller-coaster journey. To quickly recap, the party went from a laughing stock to looking to sweep the elections to becoming rabid to becoming third in the race to becoming pro-peace apologists and facing TTPTI jibes. But when Zohair Toru’s infamous Garmi Mei Kharab moment happened, it was quite difficult to foresee the dramatic turns the party was about to take. Toru was a protester who was part of a PTI pro-CJ rally when a channel asked him for his views. Toru launched on a long rant which seemed to epitomise everything about the party – well-meaning and yet hopelessly aloof of how politics were done as a consequence of their privilege. Toru complained that it was impossible to bring about inquilaab (revolution) if the police were going to try and push and shove the people from good families out in the streets. He then pointed to a reedy looking man and described him in the epic term “garmi mei kharab”. The video was picked up by the cult media blog Café Pyala who unleashed it onto the vibrant blogging scene. Toru and particularly the phrase Garmi Mei Kharab entered Pakistani pop culture and history.The moment is fascinating since it would ostensibly signal the final whimper of a party that had spent 15 years doing jack-all. But this is Pakistan, and Toru was soon coming on talk shows, and within a few years the PTI was attracting 1000s of Torus to its jalasas, which embodied the sort of family-friendly, well-organised outings that Toru’s politics demanded.The remix to his moment of infamy is done by Sapuri, who is perhaps better known for his radio show Sapuri Sessions and his brilliant reworkings of Vital Signs tracks. For example, in one of his songs he has the Signs’ Chehra remixed with dialogues from the Hollywood films Network and Good Night and Good Luck. In this song, he brings a similar cross-cultural set of references by ending the track with snippets from CNN anchor Christine Amanpour’s interview of the late Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddhafi. The song itself shows the accomplished skills of Sapuri, with Toru’s snippets reduced to their most essential bits, and the various layers of sounds taking the lead in creating the sort of incredulous response that Toru’s drawing-room demands create.At one point, the music stops to a halt while Toru yells out “Kyun? Mei jhoot bol raha huun? Mei sahih bol raha huun na? Saara banda nikal aata hai Sir aap dekhein humay apni Police maar rahi hai hum Inquilaab kaisay laayein ge?” Right then, you hear Gaddafi’s condescending laugh, and Sapuri sets it up so that the dictator is channelling your own reaction to the young politico. It is a deft and evocative touch, working at both the basic context free level of providing a good comedic foil to Toru’s wailings, but also reminding us of the cost of politics. Gaddhafi himself had ruled for four decades and died after being caught hiding in a sewage pipe and his death recorded on a rebel’s cell phone.
- DJ Shahrukh’s Veena Malik remix:
How to understand Veena Malik? In the past few years, she has been an Indian Reality show contestant, posed nude on a magazine cover (and claimed it was p’shopped), hosted the most complained-against show in Pakistani history during Ramzan, became successful in one of the South Indian film industries and got married. In between, she had one of Pakistan television’s truly epic moments, and one of the rarest examples of a liberal and denial-free view being vociferously argued for in our country. Moreover, Veena took on (even if it was allegedly staged) one of the most untouchable forces in Pakistan – the clergy. The issue was Veena making out with someone on the Bigg Boss show which led to a fatwa against her. Veena came all fire and brimstone on a TV show and ripped the hapless Mufti Saab a new one in a display as awesome and destructive as an Afridi innings.DJ Shahrukh’s remix is a masterly example of the genre, and more so than any other song here succeeds in capturing the true essence of the media event it was created as a response to. It is not a linear portrayal of the incident, but DJ Shahrukh’s expert splicing of the key moments of that show create a truly wondrous moment, when Veena comes off as a vengeful goddess and the Mufti saab a symbol of patriarchy’s inherent fear of a powerful woman. The brilliant use of dialogues also overshadows the rather basic musical approach to the song, and perhaps even accentuates it. The trumpet-like melody in the song adds to the sense of masala, and the overall effect is a wonderful articulation of the socio-cultural moment in Pakistani history.
- Ya Choot’s* Mujhe Chod Do feat. Aamir Liaquat
If the previous song was remarkable for managing to perfectly present an hour long episode into a catchy song, then this one is superb for providing a layer of context which the original incident implied without properly providing. Let me explain.Aamir Liaquat is one of Pakistan’s most creative forces, having perfectly captured the media maelstrom to perfect the genre of religious entertainment. He could be called a televangelist but I think that would be incorrect since Aamir has shown himself adept at slinking the treacherous terrains of Pakistani sects. He has been responsible for the murder of Ahmedis after one episode, and another year criticised Shias before ending up reading nohas in Karachi imambargahs to repent. Like Veena and Meera, he also claimed that the video that came out was doctored, but unlike the two it was pretty obvious that he was not involved in releasing it. The video in question was a compilation of outtakes from his shows over a considerable period of time, and it showed him off as having a huge repertoire of curse words and a love for Bollywood, particularly Ghalib film. The smooth talking impresario was shown to be just a launda like everyone else. The response to the incident was also reflective of both Pakistani society and media. Legend has it that Geo wanted to get rid of him, but the mother of Geo head honcho and Jang Group matriarch had his back. Eventually, it is said that Aamir went to the marketing team and told them to look for sponsors for his upcoming show. If they didn’t generate over 1 crore (or 10 crores, I forget the details) in a week, he would himself cancel his show. The target was reached in a day, and Aamir Liaquat came back bigger than ever before, doing enough to be our choice for Winner of 2013 in Pakistan.This remix however provides a perfect response to the hypocritical hyperstar. It splices together the various clips from the leaked video as well as stuff from his regular show to create a song where we hear Aamir’s voice repeatedly saying “Mujhe chod do”. Indian readers, this is not your version of the spelling, but ours. The song has a subtle melody to it which only serves to accentuate Aamir’s salees voice asking people from across to Muslim ummah keh mujhe chod do. While Aamir’s leaked videos didn’t actually have him saying that, the fact that he had managed to shrug off the brouhaha in its aftermath and become an even bigger star felt profoundly unfair. This song goes some way in redressing that balance and gives us a catchy reminder of what a dick the man is.*It is unclear who this song was by, but this is the name often found online associated with the song.
- XeeJee’s The Navaid Song feat. Meera Ji
The Meera Jee Navaid scandal is slightly different from the other ones here so far. Firstly, unlike the sexual content of Veena and Aamir Liaquat’s scandals, Meera’s video was an actual sex tape, and the first celebrity sex tape in Pakistan. Secondly, with Youtube banned and Facebook linked into our family and friend networks, the natural home for this video was Whatsapp, which is how it spread. Even now, it is quite difficult to find the video on the internet, but everyone at one point had it in their phones.Meera famously claimed that the tape was made by someone wearing her mask, but “whoever” was involved in the making of this tape was quite comfortable and eager to be in the camera’s gaze. What made this otherwise cringefest memorable were the things Meera said to her husband during the tape, which included the timeless request (and one which the recipient never obeyed) to “TAKE AWF THIS SHIRT”. Other phrases that made it into hashtag lingo include “JUST DO DAT” and “Jaanu keru na”.Surprisingly, the song – which is a set of dialogues from the video sent to a very sasti, chichori Avicci style beat has the Meera Ji’s famously breathy voice gasping in her iconic way – does not make any reference to Take Awf This Shirt. Yet it is still a pretty hilarious version, with perhaps the best moment coming in the way the song’s climax arrives with the phrase “Navaid just do dat”. Just as hilariously, the song ends with the phrase “buss ub mei thakk gayee huun”.
Ultimately, what I love about each of these songs is that they capture something very contemporary, namely that the optimal, or desirable level of engagement with world events seems to be one where you can understand the subsequent memes. Moreover, they capture moments which briefly burst into the national consciousness before fading away just as fast. In the cases of Veena and particularly Aamir Liaquat (and even the other two) the scandals were adeptly used as stepping stones, but the songs help retain both hilarity and incredulity which those events had first generated. In fact, the only song that would be tough to enjoy without ever knowing the context would be the Navaid Song, since it comes very close to sounding like a generic club song (which is an indictment of club music rather than the song itself). All the other three are hilarious if you understand the words and doubly so if you know the context.
But what they are all definitely united by is the fact that they represent responses to the rise of the media – electronic and social – in Pakistan. The scandals that existed involved people who were products of the media, and their dissemination was a factor of the media’s own spread. The songs celebrate moments which seemed to capture both the power and the ridiculousness of this institution, and even if they don’t, they’re really fucking funny.