Punjab struggles to revive its cultural economy

Lahore: Punjab’s economy and the culture of tolerance and religious harmony seriously suffered because of massive diminution of cultural and traditional festivities that had maintained a balance in the society and supported the province’s economy simultaneously, say experts and artists.

In a small room, a young boy in his early 20s is rendering verses of the Sufi poet Shah Hussain, while a mesmerised group bunch basks in his performance.

Punjab has always been known as the mystical land of transcendent poets, art, culture, literature and music. There were times when all expressions of art and culture were linked to the economic structure of the area but with the passage of time, the situation began to change.

Historian Mudassir Bashir can recall the days when Punjabis used to celebrate Basant, the kite flying festival. It has been a decade since Basant was last celebrated, bringing 7 billion to Lahore in just one day. Festivals celebrating saints and mystic poets such as Shah Hussain, Data Hajveri and Mian Mir lead to wealth trickling from the elite to the underprivileged.

He said, “Feudal-lords and capitalists of Pakistan have always turned a blind eye to the happiness of the general public. Basant brought foreign exchange to the country; women used to make kites and earn money; twines makers were in business until it was all banned.” Presently, Basant is celebrated in posh areas with blatant disregard for the law, he added.

Bashir said, “We have literary festivals, but only for a certain class, we have musical festivals in big malls that are accessible to the upper strata of society as the poor cannot afford to attend them.”

Punjab still has the All Pakistan Music Conference which takes place every year as well as Faiz Mela and other literary festivals, but only those with an invitation from the organisers are able to attend.

Ali Aftab Saeed, a young singer, famous for mostly singing satire, wants to make more money but it will only happen if the law and order situation of Pakistan settles in a positive way. He says, “Nowadays music can only be distributed through a brand due to the law and order instability in the country. If you want to do a ticketed concert independently, you need to seek a no objection certificate (NOC) from the excise and the police. The tax on entertainment is so high, it only discourages artists.”

It does not matter if it is a corporate concert arranged by some school or any state agency, at least it will create an avenue for artists to make money. If singers are encouraged, private entities and fans have the permission to arrange a ticketed concert, thus increasing the number of shows as well as the income of singers. The music industry can only grow and prosper if the law and order situation of the country is stable, Ali believes.

Pakistan’s film industry has seen a revival in its position after facing two decades of decline. Film director and owner of Ever new pictures, Sajjad Gul, tells about two major Punjabi films releasing next year that will change the dynamics of Punjabi cinema

“Today we have over 50 films under production, we are evolving once again and we will get to see some fresh blood in new writers, actors and directors. However, it will take us another 5 years to break into the global market. Recently, jawani phir nai ani crossed 500 million rupees in business and 60 percent of it came from Punjab. Teefa in Trouble made 400 million and 60 percent of the revenue came from Punjab,” said Gul.

In Punjab, during the last three decades, comedy theatre based on foul language and vulgar dances has replaced serious theatre. Surprisingly, the comedy theatre is injecting huge money into the national exchequers. Iram Sana’s media company does serious thematic theatre, and they have been striving for the revival of serious theatre for the past five years. She says, “The major  theatre which is happening for the  masses and which is story based like Ajoka, Lok Rahas make us hopeful that several people creating new spaces developing such kind of narrative but the irony is that the money is coming from outside more like international organizations who fund these cultural hubs but they also give you a certain kind of narrative a premise to play around with.” It restricts artists and production houses to stick to certain kind of stories and not tell all kind of stories which we feel are important at this point of time, she added.

Ali Gul, founder of Mangobaaz Infotainment believes that the younger generation ranging from 16 to 35 years of age want entertainment on the go, and his company is producing sitcoms that get millions of hits on all sorts of social media platforms, which is a form of modern art in itself. He believes, “We are heading towards the creative economy of Pakistan because creativity is somewhat lacking because maybe it was our education system or maybe people don’t look at creativity the way it is seen in the west.” He said, “When they see such bold ideas and thoughts on such a public forum, I have a belief that does change perspectives and impact that brings to the economy you cannot calculate that but it’s definitely very immense.”

After facing a 17-year long Era of terror, Punjab is struggling hard to revive its art and culture that would help it create a deradicalized society with a strong economy

(Courtesy: BBC Radio)


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