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looking ahead
Let the fun begin!

The greatest casualty of the events of 2007 was culture. The euphoria that has swept across the nation since elections promises to resurrect arts, entertainment, music and fashion once more! Instep takes a closer look at the new reality through a rose-tinted lens.

It may be a little too soon to be doing cart wheels of joy, but this certainly does seem like a time to rejoice and celebrate a new beginning for Pakistan. People walking around have smiles on their faces. That may seem very insignificant but considering the terrible gloom that had settled over morals like a thick, wet blanket after the evening Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, these days feel like ones of freedom and change.
Consequently, this day also hopefully looks at a new beginning for Pakistan's struggling entertainment industries, including music, fashion and theatre. Being very low on the food chain of priorities, these industries have suffered incredibly in these past few months. The industry has virtually come to a standstill and would be only too eager for a jump start back into the progressive twenty first century.
Fortunately, even with President Musharraf facing an uncertain future as a policy maker, one honestly doesn't see the new government reversing everything done in support of liberal arts, music, films, fashion and cultural activities.

"First of all this is a time to be happy that things have gone smoothly," says Hasan Zaidi, Director KaraFilm Festival a day after the elections. The Film Festival, that has become an important peg on every film aficianado's calendar, was cancelled last year due to the rise of insecurity in Karachi. One sees it returning to the picture very soon.
"Now one would only hope that whichever government comes in should support cultural activities and support the growth of the industry," says Hasan. "One would want to see films being given a bigger scope. PPP has always been supportive and though KaraFilm took off in Musharraf's time, other people like Sherry Rehman, for example, have always been benefactors on a personal level. The only reason entertainment has suffered is because it has been marginalized in the wake of political tensions. Now that they are over, one hopes to see things getting back on their feet as soon as possible."

"This is the first General who has kept his word and ensured fair and free elections in Pakistan," says film actor and producer Shan. "The new government should take films and the entertainment industry from where the last government left it, not from where Nawaz Sharif or Benazir Bhutto's governments left it.
"Politically, coalitions haven't really worked before and things were extremely unstable during PPP and PML governments. But they must realize that Pakistan is a changed place now. It's not the same as it was back then. They must realize that they've all enjoyed kingdoms but now is the time for them to work for the country. Pakistan has experienced its toughest times and they need to ensure a better future for the country. Entertainment comes as a part of over all progress. Only when people are safe and well fed will they want to step out to watch a movie. Secondly, I feel this is the time for coalitions on many levels. Film makers should join hands, whether it is Mehreen Jabbar or Omar Khan, who has shown great potential with Zibakhana. We should all work together as this is the right time to move forward."

Moving forward is the theme of the moment, and when film actor Shan, starts talking about joining hands with a whole new breed of filmmakers, you can sense the winds of change blowing through Pakistan. If is led to the revival of cinema, then Zibahkhana, though it may not have been as massive a hit, showed the potential diversity of films in Pakistan if they are allowed to evolve. In this age of extreme visual communication, times are good for entertainment and arts and indeed fashion.
Designer Maheen is relieved that the elections went well and that the people of Pakistan voted for secular parties. Now, she hopes that fashion becomes stronger and that the next government take it seriously because it can add value to textiles which are potentially big business for Pakistan, but that potential remains unrealized.

"I would like to see the governmentset up a different cell for fashion," says Maheen. She refers to the TDAP (Trade Development Association of Pakistan) and hopes that the a separate body be formed by the government that comes into power. "It should a a semi-government body with people related to fashion on board. The TDAP develops trade of all sorts, be it wheat or textiles or fertilizer. Fashion is a different creature altogether. This body should be responsible for sending people to different trade shows and events around the world. Right now, the government does send people, but decisions that are taken on who to send are taken on a very ad hoc basis."

But then this is only one small part of how Maheen would like to see the government involved. She would also like too see polytechnics set up and people trained so that fashion can take off.
"The government needs to facilitate this for us. Fashion is a very serious business and the government should treat it as such," she says. "When we went to India Fashion Week to sign the MoU, the Indian designers had to take permission from the Commerce Ministry before. That is the extent to which the government is involved in fashion there."

With government support, Maheen believes that the star of Pakistani fashion will be on the rise and she says that if the new government decides to set up something of the sort, she is all for the two fashion councils uniting.

"Naturally, the government cannot be expected to deal with both fashion councils and if the new government decides to come up with something concrete for the fashion industry, I believe that the two councils should come together to take the fashion industry forward," she says.

The general optimism that has swept though the nation after 2007, who many have termed the worst year in Pakistan's history, is inspiring the entertainment industries and the business of fashion.
Zahir Rahimtoola, the first fashion retailer in the country tells Instep that his sales went up right after elections. After the declaration of emergency, Labels sales had gone down. "When people are depressed, no one is the mood to shop," Zahir told Instep then. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto at a time which is peak party and wedding season meant that events got cancelled left right and centre and the demand for clothes went down with it. On February 18, there was an upswing as people celebrated across the country and Zahir noticed an upsurge in sales the very next day!

"What we see around is a breath of fresh air," says Zahir who has long been an optimist as far as the future of fashion in Pakistan is concerned. "Democracy has returned and fortunately it's the liberals and moderates that have come in."

The results do augur well, but Zahir wisely adds a note of caution.
"I don't see drastic changes happening over night but the fashion scene in the country will become positive. The government has to realize that fashion plays a vital role in propagating a softer image of Pakistan. The previous government should also be given credit for making way for things like fashion week."

Pakistan Fashion Week again, the event that promised to take fashion to a different level and on a wider playing field altogether, had to be postponed because of the instability in the country. And in retrospect, it was a good thing too. President Musharraf declared a state of emergency on November 3, 2007. The opening ceremony of Pakistan Fashion Week was scheduled for November 4, 2007. Had Pakistan Fashion Week not been postponed earlier, the damage done to Pakistan's image in the all-important eyes of the international media and buyers would have been irreparable. Even now, Zahir thinks it's too early for Pakistan Fashion Week to be revived .

"We can't go overboard, there are realities. Pakistan has a bad image in the world, but this election and specially NWFP's results does show that things are going to change. We are not going to roll back to dark ages. It's not appropriate to if we will have fashion week any time soon, but one does hope things get into the flow for it to take place."

The situation in Pakistan is still volatile despite the ongoing national euphoria, but one hopes that it is stability that takes the place of absolute chaos. We hope things are safe enough for Pakistan Idol auditions to roll. Strings and Ali Azmat have to come out with their albums that will tentatively be out by March or April. We hope that Rohail Hyatt's tremendous Coke Studio, which is the largest collaboration of its kind between musicians reaches fruition and does well. We hope that Pakistan becomes safe enough for internationals to come in and broaden Pakistan's horizons from national to international. Music perhaps has suffered the most. Concerts have drawn to a complete halt and so have album launches. And the ones that have been released have seen a half-hearted response as the nation has tuned into the political news. It's time for life to come back to our TV screens, for songs of freedom to play on our I-pods and for hope to reign once again in our hearts!