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The frustrating lack of entertainment in Pakistan

The radicalization of society has led to the sidelining of arts, culture and sports in the Islamic republic

The frustrating lack of entertainment in Pakistan

Shallum Xavier, the Christian guitarist of pop Rock band Fuzon, performs at a live concert in Pakistan. (Photo supplied)

A Pakistani drama caused a storm on social media last month after one of its teasers showed a married couple as foster siblings. Juda Huay Kuch Is Tarah (That's How We Separated), whose last episode was aired on Oct. 8, was condemned for violating an Islamic edict.

“It’s disgusting how incest is being mentioned every 10 minutes in the ad for this drama. No one wants to see this on their living room screen with their family,” said Muhammad Ahabb on Twitter while tagging the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority.

Amid the Covid-imposed closure of cinema halls and the absence of concerts, Pakistan's entertainment industry generally relies on its 100 TV channels, most of them news platforms. Five music channels that used to operate from Karachi have been closed since the nineties.

In February 2019, Pakistan banned the screening of Indian films in retaliation for the revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir by the Indian government. The country’s 70 cinemas have been shut altogether since the pandemic hit the country in March.  

According to Google’s annual Year in Search report for 2020, Turkish drama series Dirilis: Ertugrul, dubbed the “Muslim Game of Thrones,” featured in the top 10 list. Pakistani Christian activists have condemned the drama series that depicted Ottoman soldiers killing Christians and desecrating the Holy Cross.

Shallum Xavier, the Christian guitarist of pop-rock band Fuzon, dislikes it for another reason: “I want a local hero. Our media imports them. The narrative must change.”

There are no concerts, record labels or TV channels for music, science or education in Pakistan. The whole country is running on a single sentiment

He regrets that food is the only entertainment left in a time of suppression where one is afraid to speak. Even the National Academy of Performing Arts had to stop dance classes for fear of reprisals. 

“There are no concerts, record labels or TV channels for music, science or education in Pakistan. The whole country is running on a single sentiment. For the past 15 years, local music has come to a halt. Music, as well as arts and culture, have been sidelined to sever intellectual ties with India. People don’t invest in music anymore. We shot all the music videos without a sponsor. No brand was involved,” Xavier said. 

“Many asked me to recite the Kalma [the Islamic proclamation of faith], become Muslim and change my name. It is becoming extremely difficult for people who do not follow the faith of the majority. Everything we watch on TV has a religious angle. I am also planning to move to Canada. The kids are already there,” he said in a recent podcast.

Xavier was among more than 50 stars of Karachi who performed at the Shamrock Eat & Musical Festival held at St. Patrick's Cathedral courtyard in 2019 to raise funds for the restoration of its 53 stained-glass windows.

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He used to teach at Iqra University as a mentor of sound design and music before the pandemic closed educational institutes countrywide last year.

The winner of the best South Asian band and best composer award is presently holding music lessons and workshops, guitar classes, audio-video production, live jam sessions and unplugged live performances at his studio.

The award-winning documentary Indus Blues, which premiered last year at Karachi Literature Festival, shared his concerns.

Indus Blues is a musical feature documentary highlighting the plight of the folk musicians and craftsmen of Pakistan and the state of their dying art. The film … initiated the much-needed debate about the radicalization of society in Pakistan,” states its description on YouTube.

In June, the deputy commissioner of Hunza Valley in northern Pakistan ordered a ban on all kinds of musical and cultural festivals after a youth organization lodged a complaint alleging that partygoers used drugs during an event and some women were seen in indecent clothes in violation of local traditions.

Christian youth are especially exploited wherever they go. They find escapism in drugs, alcohol and sexual abuse. Our slums are known for these plagues

In 2012, the Punjab Assembly banned "objectionable" music concerts in private and public education institutions. A decade of Talibanization and extremism has also affected the music and film industry; several celebrities, including pop singers and cricketers, turned into religious preachers.

The Taliban campaign against music and culture was worst in northwest Pakistan and the tribal areas. Militants bombed or torched music shops and cinemas, threatened musicians and burned music CDs and cassettes. Public concerts declined with the deterioration of the political situation in the country.

Much before the Taliban, Pakistan’s former military ruler Zia-ul-Haq started the program of Islamization in the eighties by prohibiting pop music, entertainment and dancing. All obscene advertisements were banned on television, radio and in newspapers.

Father Sarfraz Simon, director of the Catholic bishops' National Commission for Justice and Peace in Islamabad-Rawalpindi Diocese, is concerned that the lack of healthy entertainment is causing frustration among the youth. He also highlighted the shortage of playgrounds as another challenge.

“The news channels focus on national politics while dramas depict domestic politics. Christian youth are especially exploited wherever they go. They find escapism in drugs, alcohol and sexual abuse. Our slums are known for these plagues,” he told UCA News.

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