By Ali Aftab Saeed –
Do we idolize our heroes for their talents or only for the free handouts they give us?
I caught a glimpse of one of the episodes of a channel program called Pakistani Idol where singer Sajjad Ali turned up as a guest judge. All contestants paid him tribute by singing his songs. One of them seemed a huge fan for he became teary eyed as he hugged him when Sajjad came on stage. That looked so contrived to me that I turned off the TV. It kept me pondering why it felt that way despite the fact that I myself like the singer. The contestant seemed humble, the background music moving, the Indian zoom in zoom out treatment effective and ,to top it all, the ever present Bushra Ansari nowhere center stage at the moment.
It is common knowledge that many people dislike Indian singing shows because they find them overly dramatic. Let it be said that they, almost to a soul, are not Bollywood fans. We, the fans, not only find them interesting but often get emotional while they dramatize the situations where a role model of contestant(s) shows up out of nowhere and people go berserk. Finally, the realization came that the Sajjad Ali episode looked fake perhaps because there is scarcely anybody in this country who would cry with joy upon meeting him.
It is no secret that he has moved to Dubai because on more than one occasion he was harassed by people from a certain clan who barged into his house and in the last instance categorically told him to move out of Karachi if he valued his life. This piece is neither about how bad that certain clan is nor how we have traditionally harassed even musical giants like Bade Ghulam Ali Khan or Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. This writing is about the fact that Sajjad, certainly having a fan base here, whether big or small, was never consoled by his fans about the issue nor ever told that he was being missed. Nobody even aired their grievances about him releasing so few songs after such long intervals.
It’s not just about musicians. One of my friends, once driving some Indian visitors around, was suddenly asked by them to stop. Their gaze of awe was in the direction of Wasim Akram jogging in Y Block Park. My friend told them it was no big deal as he jogged their daily. They were stunned and forgot to talk for a little while. Our born again cricketing hero, Shahid Afridi, when not touring, comes to his restaurant at least once a week. Only a few kids go up to him for taking pictures. This all is strange when we compare it to how Shoaib went shopping in india and they had to shut the whole locality down. The police had to caution him to inform them before going to public places.
After cricketers and musicians let’s see how our tinsel heroes fare. Last month happened to travel in the same flight as Humayun Saeed to Karachi. Nobody seemed to bother on the airport or inside the aircraft contrary to my expectations that all the aunties, who watch his TV plays with such regularity, would smother him with their oohs and aahs, if not with kisses. Not a single person of either gender even approached him for an autograph or to shake his hand.
Two men from the entertainment industry who consistently manage to attract the attention of public are Atif Aslam and Ali Zafar. You will find 10 to 15 girls huddled around them for a photograph whenever they are at a public place. I haven’t discussed Imran Khan because with political leaders there is always a bevy of staff around so that you never can tell between the workers and the fans.
I did a voxpop on this for one of my shows once and the average layman believes that Indians pay great homage to their artists and sportsperson because they are into idol worshipping. I did not know where this comes from but then I started asking them as to how come Beijing shut down due to masses pouring in to see Messi, who had to land there for a few hours on a transit flight. Chinese don’t worship anybody. To this they had no answer but they were all glad that we don’t do it.
If my memory serves me right, apart from an energetic audience at a concert, a charged crowd in a cricket stadium, an emotional gathering at a religious convention or stirring mass of people during a political event when the celebrities show up in public, I think Amir Liaquat alone gets around him the most number of people at any outing or studio show. Some praise him and his work in the hope that he might actually have a Q-mobile up his sleeve to give away. Others ask him for help in something they can’t done by themselves. Most just ask for passes to his show, which for them is an opportunity to win anything from a lawn-suit to a car.
The highest gathering of people you would see crowding a person, at anytime and anyplace, gasping for air and tearing each other’s clothes down just to be near him and get to talk to him, is Bilal Qutab. Clean shaven Bilal Qutab has a gift for repetitive, religious mumbo jumbo, called ‘wazeefas’ in Urdu. He prescribes these for all maladies that afflict us mortals and to resolve all problems mankind is prone to on phone or in his TV show. Thus, whenever seen in public, the teeming sufferers try their luck at a personalized ‘wazeefa’ session.
This isn’t a research paper nor am I a sociologist but two things come out as certain. One, we aren’t pagans. Two, a certain music piece, movie or a cricket match may be a point of reference in our life, a mood cheerer, an unforgettable experience, a nostalgic trigger and a bittersweet longing. The producer or people attached to that will never be as important to us as someone who has either some goody to give away or suggest a wazeefa to allay our real or imaginary ailments. When some Pakistani product or channel tries to sell our artists, no matter how subtly, it looks embarrassing to say the least.
The writer is a producer with a leading television network but more famous as the lead vocalist for Beyghairat Brigade. He tweets @aliaftabsaeed