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VIEW: The Lost Art of Music Video Making (2007)

Published in the POST Aug 16, 2007

2011: All Pakistani/Foreign Music Channels have been removed from the local TV cable

If, through some science fiction miracle, my past self happened to glance at the present, the me of the 90s would wonder why I tinker with the radio of an obviously non-functional music player in 2007. It is wiser not to let on that though we can carry 1,000 songs in our pocket, getting just one from the 'telly' is practically impossible. I am afraid the Taliban do not get credit for this though. No, the disappearance of English music from TV falls in the jurisdiction of the oft-cited cable provider's monopoly on this particular genre. Two articles on their antics are quite enough and hence, this is not a commentary on these folks.

Still, before we go any further, PEMRA officials need to check what one particular distributor is up to in Karachi. Meanwhile, back in the future without any English videos/music to preview, one can still flip over to MTV Pakistan, till it gets scrambled too. Far from being discouraged, however, this seems like the perfect opportunity to observe the evolving Pakistani music video scene through the remaining five local music channels. Several days of channel surfing later, the evolution is not very discernible and video-making appears to be suffering from a sad case of identity crisis instead. The quality of music, however, has somehow escaped degeneration.

One would imagine that as the video-making business comes of age, it must have built itself up on an established standard, fostered by liberated media policies, superior technical expertise, rising avenues of expression and the ensuing healthy competition. Branded as Pakistani, a good many videos jazzed up as they are, also exhibit an unmistakable streak of an alternate way of life. Whether that is good or bad is entirely a matter of taste. However, beyond the idolised West lies another culture once confined to the Indian cinema and now emulated by the local music video industry. The new generation of musicians either takes refuge behind the Indian film footage they have lent their music to or get a posse of females in (er!) costumes to swing to the beat, or both.

As it gets more difficult to identify with the detour music videos seem to be taking, artists unwittingly gamble with their individuality while endorsing a lifestyle more customary to Indian films than Pakistani television. Barring a few videos, the creative spark is seldom seen as unimaginative templates keep cropping up. Past videos where Yasir Akhtar pranced around as an officer wearing a rank higher than his years allowed is admittedly a minor faux pas compared to the outlandish cultural flaws that routinely show up nowadays. As cowboys perched on train tracks in backwater village/townships and lonely gas stations on a fabricated Route 66 incongruously form the backdrop of an emergent music scene, the landscape dressed up as the 'Wild West' is neither picturesque enough to inspire awe nor befitting for the perfectly coiffed Desi fella.

Video-making is a tricky business where the line between an amusing fantasy and absurd reality is already stretched thin. It can also be a very expensive business, but as the band Noori proved years ago, a handheld camera can just as easily give a good concept the right form. I suppose we should be grateful that the era of 'move while singing in the PTV studio and incur the wrath' is over. One would assume that the presence of so many different venues to showcase musical talents and extraordinarily fine songs must have created a bigger market for video directors/producers. That is the not case where 'classic' has given way to 'risque' on the music video front.

Even though the primary purpose of music videos is merely to entertain while peddling the song, how they go about it is equally important. Singer Abrar-ul-Haq, on a TV appearance claimed that the dearth of good directors makes our singers cross over. That partly explains why a highly talented singer, who also became a commercial success across the border, hesitated to release a Pakistani version of his videos. A Pakistani song featured on an Indian film still needs to have its own video made for home audiences, regardless of the director deficit. To those who ask why spend twice when the product is more marketable with an Indian flavour, the answer would be that since this is not a permanent cultural exchange vaudeville, Pakistanis need to see their own selves represented in some way, however fantastic or mundane that might be.

A popular band won the 2005 MTV music award in an Indian category, which raises the question, how long can our talented musicians distinguish themselves as great Pakistani artists if they continue to be proffered as Indian merchandise? As Indians grow in stature on the world stage, what will be left to promote if artistic merit gets lost in transformation as well? Can we not bridge the cultural divide without assimilating the two identities and alienating our own people?

The local music channels have been remiss in covering the golden oldies of Pakistani music and continually promote the past and present of Indian cinema. The sheer amount of Indian music that comes through would make Indians jump up with glee while our own music maestros neither get the level of recognition nor the extent of exposure enjoyed by the other side. It is not my intention to open a discussion on the alleged popularity of old/new Indian cinema among the masses. It would be nice, however, to set the bar higher for our music directors so that they make videos worthy of our music and aspire for an established international presence in the future.

60 years later, the film industry has expired for all intent and purposes; its revival by the new Shoaib Mansoor film 'In the name of God' has raised hopes. Many believe that the drama scene is also on life support. The present trend indicates an ominous slump in the quality of music videos and unless the video business is properly overhauled, what another 60 years will bring for the music industry will not be that difficult to predict.

Images Courtesy of:,xcitefun-pic1.jpg


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