Zulfiqar Mirza is continuing his strange demolition campaign. The number of victims of his targeted malignity is increasing and they are finding it impossible to ignore his accusations. His specific charges against a couple of permanent targets apart, the affair has already exposed much that is rotten in Pakistan’s politics.

Some of Mirza’s allegations against his main targets, MQM chief Altaf Husain and Interior Minister Rehman Malik, are not new. MQM has often been accused of entertaining ideas of Sindh’s division, especially of plans for taking Karachi away from Sindh, charges it has hotly contested. What is new from Mirza’s arsenal is a letter Altaf Husain is alleged to have written to Tony Blair and references to the ISI in it, which should embarrass the author and the addressee both. The promptness with which the media has confirmed the authenticity of Mirza’s charge raises quite a few questions as to who is backing whom.

Likewise, stories of release of men arrested for serious crime as a result of intervention by political satraps have been going the rounds for years. What is new is that Mirza is claiming the role of the good cop for himself and names the Interior Minister as the arch villain.

To what extent Mirza’s charges attract the provisions of Pakistan’s penal laws is a matter for law experts to decide. Mr Mirza has been asking the Supreme Court to give him a chance to make a clean breast of it all and the request sounds interesting. He could have presented his whole case at any of the press conferences he has been holding or he could have appended all the documentary evidence to a letter to the Chief Justice. Perhaps he has been prevented from doing so by the expectation or lure of a demonstration of his histrionic skills before the highest judicial forum.

Only time will tell whether Mirza’s allegations will lead to action against anyone named by him. One does, however, feel that the threshold of acceptance of things that are not accepted anywhere in the civilized world is quite high in Pakistan, and the possibility of Mirza’s ‘disclosures’ proving to be as inconsequential as Wikileaks cannot be ruled out. What might not easily be swept under the carpet is the political fallout of the affair.

The first question is: why did Mirza choose to bring his party’s dirty linen to the public dhobi-ghat? He has not claimed that he had brought his grievances before the party high command — and one supposes he is still a member of the PPP’s executive body. Whether he raised the matter at the party level and did not receive satisfaction or whether he ignored the party forum in the belief that this would be a waste of time, the only possible explanation is that the party executive has ceased to be the body that can lead the rank and file and can also maintain intra-party discipline.

This finding will cause disappointment among the people who believe democracy cannot take roots in the country without the existence of dynamic, responsible and effective political parties. Unfortunately, no major political party has been free from the virus Mirza has exposed in his party. Discontented leaders of other parties too have been airing their grievances in public instead of approaching party forums. In some political parties, disagreement is not possible because of the prohibitive cost it carries and religious parties should not be brought into a political discussion because their members are united by belief and cannot have opinions of their own.

Thus, Zulfiqar Mirza, knowingly or unwittingly, has exposed the principal weakness of Pakistan’s pseudo democratic system and drawn the democratic elements’ attention to a task they must not ignore — the task of reviving democratic politics.

The fact that Zulfiqar Mirza has been getting away with a lot has generated some debate about his safety umbrella. Some of the traditional PPP baiters see him as Zardari’s secret weapon that is being used to scare MQM and also to placate the Sindhis whose unhappiness over concessions to MQM is hurting the party. Such speculation has too many gaps in it to be credible. From the very start of Mirza’s sensational act, it was clear that he was harming the PPP and Zardari more than anyone else. An alternative explanation could be that political parties are degenerating into loose alliances of electoral lords. Mr Mirza may be one of those politicians who believe (rightly or wrongly) in their ability to carry their constituencies regardless of the party tag on their robe or cap. Aware of this phenomenon, party leaders have been seen bending over backwards to win back the loyalty of angry lieutenants. That this did not happen in the case of Shah Mahmud Qureshi only indicates the unusual strength of the forces that were determined to maul him. The rise of electoral lords in parties will also weaken the democratic framework.

An even greater factor in Mirza’s favour could be the well-known reality of Sindhi people’s anger towards MQM. Unfortunately both PPP and MQM are responsible for widening the gulf between the old and the new Sindhis. Zulfiqar Mirza seems to have increased the period of this mutually destructive confrontation and made it more intense.

As regards the impact of Zulfiqar Mirza’s quixotic adventures, one may begin by noting the heavy odds he faces in gaining whatever objectives he had in mind. The MQM chief is out of his reach and whatever the effect of Mirza’s tirade on elements already opposed to MQM it is unlikely to make any breach in that party’s fortress. Equally unlikely is his success in persuading Zardari to give up wooing MQM. And if Rehman Malik’s survival in the cabinet becomes impossible, this will be attributed more to the invisible hands than to Mirza’s manoeuvre.

An important issue is whether Rehman Malik’s ouster will bring peace to Karachi, if that can at all be taken as a priority in Mirza’s eyes. Thus the only victim of his labours can be the ramshackle coalition government at the centre.

The government has one factor in its favour though Zulfiqar Mirza has been treated with extraordinary generosity by almost the entire media. The time given to his lengthy perorations by the TV channels has no precedent for this kind of story. He has not attracted many adverse comments. By and large, the media has tended to back his call for action against his targets. Yet, there is no sign of outrage either in the media or among the people, the kind of outrage that could galvanise the masses into a movement capable of overthrowing an order only a few are prepared to support. One reason of the people’s indifference to political tamasha could be their reluctance to replace Tweedledum with Tweedledee.

Another reason could be that all the actors on the political stage fear a popular upsurge more than their political rivals. Every day responsible leaders warn the people of the danger of a revolution, which in effect is a plea against upsetting the status quo. That is the essence of the anti-people consensus among the incorrigibly selfish factions of Pakistan’s elite. Zulfiqar Mirza does not seem to have the mind and the temperament to destroy this consensus.


Ten years have passed since the incident that changed the shape of the globe, altered international politics, transformed relationships between nations, and amended the concept of freedom of expression, communication and movement. The world is not the same as it was before that mournful morning of Tuesday September 9, 2011.

The impact of this incident was felt in the entire world; for example, in the difficulties one faces while travelling to other countries, and how the safety within one's own homeland has been jeopardised in the last decade. Also, after this atrocious happening, the perception of certain nations, societies and religious groups has evolved into a peculiar type.

The consequences for us have been the chain of suicide attacks, explosions at public and religious places and killing of innocent people - continuing till this date. Alongside are reports of suppression of women, cruelties against minorities and targeting of Muslims on sectarian basis that are as much a baggage of the past as they are a direct consequence of 9/11. Although the World Trade Centre was quite far from our pious land, the impact of this tragedy in our surroundings is huge (considering that most of al-Qaeda's masterminds have been arrested from our soil).

Hence for an ordinary person in Pakistan, 9/11 was like reality next door, experienced intimately. All these ten years, practically every day, people in this country have been debating whether the war on terror (initiated after/due to 9/11) is "our war or we are caught in it by serving the United States".

If the war on terror has changed our social scenario, it has equally altered the pictorial practices of our artists. Like everyone else, creative personalities are also conscious of the post 9/11 world; some of them had the experience of travelling to European and North American states and having encountered the humiliating behaviour of authorities at the airports, the vision of destruction of Twin Towers turned into a tangible and terrible reality for them. Thus a number of artists have remained engaged with this issue and have addressed it in different ways.

However, it would not be surprising to know that artists belonging to particular generations and mediums are more visible in their reaction and response to 9/11 in our art. Even though one finds canvases by artists like Ijaz ul Hassan referring to Twin Towers, but by and large the older generation of artists, mostly working in somehow conventional mediums of oil and watercolour, were not much keen on these themes. So one does not find a painting by Jamil Naqsh, Gulgee or A.R.Nagori (the latter two are no more among us, but they witnessed 9/11 and lived several years after) or a sculpture of Shahid Sajjad that relates to the most important act of our times. On the other hand, a relatively younger generation addressed this incident in several of their works.

So it is not unusual to find digital prints, Lenticular prints, video installations and sculpture installations as well as modern miniatures by artists under fifty that focus on the war on terror and the attacks on America. The artists using traditional mediums (of painting and print making which, in comparison to modern miniature, are still considered conventional modes of expression!) are happy rendering the city scenes, landscapes, figure compositions, and works based upon issues of gender, identity, tradition and technique.

It may be crucial to note that only a particular group of artists are concerned with the subject of terror in the twenty first century. Although some of them had created works with images of missiles and planes before 9/11 (one artist almost in a premonition foresaw the burning of skyscrapers and aeroplanes) but it was only after 9/11 that the views of terror started to appear in their works in a conscious and deliberate scheme.

For these artists, terror is not a temporary trouble but rooted in multiple factors; so they show the tip in order to concentrate on the iceberg. But more than that, they are interested in the way their art will be viewed by the outsiders. So if they are adopting a language that is either comprehensible or desirable in the contemporary art world (like the modern miniature painting), their subjects are also tuned for a foreign audience. Because, in today's world, one cannot be isolated in a cultural or exotic bubble; a person is a part of the global society as much as he is a citizen of a specific state. So one's creative acts cannot be detached from whatever is taking place in his immediate physical environment or in his intimate virtual surroundings (in the form of TV channels around the world). Now the world is not permanently or visibly split into separate units with independent and unique identities, but it is a large arena to which everyone subscribes (through the WWW too) while keeping their local characteristics intact.

This phenomenon was witnessed on September 11, 2001, when televisions around the world became one by simultaneously showing live footage of attacks on the Twin Towers. It happens in other areas and times too, especially in our daily existence, when we see majority of our populations wearing identical T shirts and trousers - from Cape Town to Copenhagen and from Buenos Aires to Bangkok - despite their local fabric, design, pattern, colour, cut and fashion.

The first talkie in the subcontinent ‘Alam Ara’ made in 1931 was packed with songs. Though no prints of the film have survived and with it the musical score too has been lost to history but it was evident that the music in its sung form made a major, if not the major component of this new genre.

But who were the music composers who readily lent their talent in the making of this new form of music — the film song. The first decade of the 1930s is a fertile hunting ground to pick on names and their contribution. Many of the names have survived, their work though lost to history and it can only be counted as an act of justice to recall and recount their names and achievements.

The trinity of music, dance and drama in this area goes back to the earliest days as evident from the Natshastra and when drama/theatre was resurrected with the influence of European civilisation in the 18th century, and then as it flourished in the 19th and 20th century, the genre that emerged retained in many ways the features of this trinity. When technology made films possible it was only natural that the trinity was recast and reinvented according to the technical compulsions of the new medium.

The new medium needed new forms, though singing had been part of the theatre for centuries but it had to be tailored according to the opportunities available. The opening had to be exploited, reinvented, so to say, to meet with the aesthetic and more importantly popular taste, which is the eventual litmus test of a medium so reliant on people’s acceptance.

But who were the music composers who made this transition possible and laid the groundwork for the next generation of composers to grapple with greater confidence the opportunity provided by this new medium. They were all pioneers who were brave enough to explore the opportunities and limitations of this new medium. Some succeeded and many did not succeed and are not remembered in the same breath but nevertheless composed music and contributed to the growing body of music from which later composers benefited hugely.

These days when we think of the pioneers or the early composers R.C Boral, Anil Biswas and Ghulam Haider come readily to mind while there was a whole bevy of composers tilling the soil for others to sow. The true pioneers were Feroze Shah Mistri and B. Irani as they composed for ‘Alam Ara’. Little is known about them and their music. Feroze Shah again composed music for the third film that was made by Anang Sena, and the two teamed-up again for ‘Dharomadi’, the same year.

While S.P Rane composed the music of the second talkie and released ‘Abul Hasan’ the same year. Master Jhande Khan, one of the early composers, the same year composed for ‘Devyani’. The most prolific composer of the year was Brij Lal Verma while Master Muhammed and Master Madhu Lal and S.P Hogan too composed for more than one film.

In the first year, that is 1931, 24 films were released while the number went up to 60 the next year. As film business galloped forward many more composers joined in to test their abilities on the altar of this new medium. Amomg them were H.C. Bali, P.M Mistry, Brij Lal Varma and David Joseph.

The name of R.C Boral figured when he made a film called ‘Bengal’ which was directed by Barwa in 1932. The others who appeared in the second year of talkies were Govind Rao Tambe, Badri Pardad, Balraj Sinha, Nagar Das Naik, Rafiq Ghaznavi, B.P Misra, K.Bhole, Paran Sukh Naik, Bashir Khan Dehlavi, Bane Khan, and Babo Rao Kitakar. The name of K.C Dey appeared in the third year of filmmaking

As R.C Boral and Master Jhande Khan were becoming progressively more active, Rafiq Ghaznavi too was signing in films. The first film of Pankaj Mallick was ‘Yahoodi Ki Larki’ which was made in 1933. A total of 73 films were made that year.

Timir Baran composed music for Devdas in 1935, as did Anil Biswas for ‘Dharam Ki Devi’. Master Ghulam Haider’s name appears in 1935 as well when he composed music for ‘Swarg ki Seerhi’.

It seemed that Ishrat Sultana was the first woman music director when she composed for the film ‘Adle Jahangiri’ in 1934 and then in 1937 for ‘Kzaaq Ki Larki’. The second female to compose music was Saraswati Devi when she composed music for ‘Jawani Ki Hawa’ in 1935. She also composed music for ‘Achoot Kaniaa’, ‘Janam Bhoomi’, ‘Jiwan Nayya Izzat’, ‘Prem Kahani’, ‘Sawatri’, ‘Bhabhi’, ‘Nirmila’, ‘Toofan Express’, ‘Wachan’, ‘Durga’, ‘Kangan’ and ‘Naujawan’. The third female composer that one gets to find out about was Jaddan Bai who made music for ‘Talash-e-Haq’, ‘Harde Manthan’, ‘Madam Fashion’ and ‘Jiwan Sapna’. Mukhtar Begum too composed music for ‘Prem Ki Aag’ and then in 1937 for Bhisham. The same year Gohar Bai Karnataki too composed music for ‘Chabuk Sawar’.

There was no facility to record the song and then playback to synchronise with the shots on screen. Due to the development of technology till that point, the song too had to be recorded while the film was being shot. Many of the prints of the films have been lost to history and so has its music. Many more of the prints have been discovered, reclaimed or recovered due to the advancing technology but still too much has been lost forever — or so we fear at this moment in time.

‘The Hour’ of reckoning

Dear All,

I love British television — especially the BBC (ok, I admit to a bias: I am a BBC producer, but have long been an admirer from the time when I had no professional affiliation).

The most recent production to have impressed was a six-parter called ‘‘The Hour’’. This was set in 1956 in the world of BBC TV studios and ‘The Hour’ is the name of a new current affairs show that is being launched. The person chosen to be the show’s producer is Bel Rowley (Romola Garai), who manages to get her good friend Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw) on her team despite the management’s misgivings about his outspokenness and his political views.

Freddie is Bel’s best friend and also quite in love with her and he is disappointed when he is not hired as the show’s presenter. That job goes to an outsider, the handsome Hector Madden (Dominic West), who is brought in through his father-in-law’s sifarish.

The programme itself gets off to a shaky start, its identity not clear, and its presenter uncertain on his delivery. The tension between Freddie and Hector becomes quite nasty, but somehow the team come together in their determination to produce a quality news show and the Suez crisis gives them their chance.

Even as all this is unfolding, Freddie gets caught up in a sinister series of events involving the death of an aristocratic childhood friend. So the story is a cold war espionage thriller as well as a journalistic period piece.

Journalists will probably love this show because it illustrates how despite advances of technology, the basic issues of journalism and broadcasting remain the same. These are issues of editorial judgement and censorship, of journalists versus managers, of the constant struggle to try to balance arguments appropriately, of avoiding insidious government attempts to plant or ‘steer’ stories... ‘The Hour’ might be set in the 1950s but its conflicts ring as true in today’s 21st century world as they did many decades ago.

What also resonates is the politics. The Suez ‘crisis’ played out on ‘The Hour’ at the same time as the Libyan conflict was unfolding. The parallels were clear: all the western powers allied to resist and ‘take out’ an Arab leader who was not doing their bidding, there was no moral component — just strategic profit and lucrative interests...

History just keeps repeating itself: fifty years ago during Suez many journalists and others were critical of Britain, France and Israel’s aggression. Today many are against Nato’s role in Libya.... But somehow nothing much has changed.
‘The Hour’ is a great production despite its somewhat flat ending. The period is brilliantly evoked— right down to the last detail — and the performances are excellent. And Dominic West is wonderful— even though Hector Madden is not a thoroughly likeable character, West gives him depth and humanises him. He is a brilliant actor, unafraid to take on unsympathetic roles— indeed he also plays the notorious serial killer Fred West in Channel 4’s compelling drama ‘Appropriate Adult’ being screened this month.

Best wishes,Umber Khairi


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