Why not Pakistan?

Why not Pakistan?
Thus tweeted Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, our redoubtable Minister for Science and Technology,  “Must congratulate @ARYVideos for showing epic drama serial #MereyPassTumHo. Writer n whole team deserves big applause. I yet again ask @amazon and @Netflix invest in Pak drama n film #Pakistan has far better minds than India our music is far superior, you guys wont regret.” So why aren’t Netflix and Amazon investing in Pakistan in a big way like they have in India?

It’s true that the drama serial in question was a roaring success in Pakistan. While husband-adulterers with good-natured housewives (good woman) are par for the course, the drama’s novelty in conservative Pakistani society stemmed from a wife-adulteress (bad woman) with a good-natured husband. Significantly, the serial underscored the writer’s views on issues of women’s loyalty, morality and betrayal that find a resounding echo in state and society: “Like it or not, I don’t call every woman a woman. To me, the only beautiful trait a woman can possess is her loyalty [to her husband] and her haya/modesty. If a woman isn’t loyal then she is not a woman…A man leaves all his honour, his self-esteem with his wife when he goes out to earn a living. And I curse those women who violate that trust. That was the concept behind Mere Pass Tum Ho and so I’m fighting for the ‘good women’.” As one reviewer noted, this is a “frighteningly common mindset that the burden of guilt in moral lapses lies on the woman’s shoulders, not the man’s.” Another explained: “The pietist turn in Pakistani pulp fiction-turned-drama serials in the last 20 years is quite distinct from their ascetic bent of the 1980s. But the turn is not towards some feminist challenging of the unjust male dominant societal system. Instead, the current trope of these popular women-authored scripts urge that injustices can be overcome through Muslim women’s religious agency, education, pietist practice and eventually, by forgiveness for those who have been unjust to the unwitting woman.”

Here, in a nutshell, are clear reasons why Netflix and Amazon aren’t interested in commissioning Pakistani dramas like #MereyPassTumHo and why Indian serials (like Sacred Games, Made in Heaven, etc.) and films (like Dangal) are such global blockbusters. In Pakistan, the reactionary gender and societal status quo is confirmed while in India it is constantly challenged at the altar of women’s liberation, human rights including gay rights, and secular agency, all buzz words for the modern world. A world in which demographic change is tilted towards the youth, and globalizing “anti-stigma” ideas dominate the discourse on the internet.

In India, the mainstream media, the political class, the higher courts are all agreed on promoting and projecting a “modern”, West-compatible image of their country; filmmakers and content-creators who contribute to a cutting-edge, au courant discourse are embraced. And not just in India: a gritty, no-holds-barred web series like Sacred Games, with its “realistic” display of local cusswords and sexual intimacy, has been avidly watched in territories like Japan and Latin America and earned nods at the American Emmy Awards, adding many feathers to Netflix India’s flagship project. It’s a win-win for all involved. Today Melbet is a bookmaker that provides for the game a wide list of more than 250 events in Live daily and 1000 matches on the line. A lot of bonuses await registered users on the official Melbet website , which you can use at any time, even from your phone.

Can we imagine such a project being given the green light in Pakistan? On the contrary, the prospect of a truly candid depiction of our society, of anything that violates the conformist, “pious-moral” style of Urdu drama serials, immediately conjures up a specter of protesting mullahs, reactionary bureaucrats and sanctimonious trolls. In fact, we need not imagine anything at all; just look at the fate of Sarmad Khoosat’s film Zindagi Tamasha, which has been stalled because of rabid threats from religious extremists.

Much the same sort of problems bedevil the promotion of Pakistan as a tourist destination. Majestic mountains, shimmering seas and sandy beaches without the key elements of leisure and relaxation – physical security, five star luxuries, refreshments to uplift the spirit and a public that doesn’t stand and stare – will not attract foreign tourists. Muslim UAE recognized this fact of life and tourism flourished. Now arch conservative Saudi Arabia is waking up to emulate this global standard. If Pakistan is to get a slice of this $10,000 billion per year industry, its people, artists and service providers must supply the social and cultural environment demanded by the global tourist. But we cannot even hold a Basant kite flying festival in Lahore, our so-called cultural capital.

The potential foreign investor is also put off by other such red lines. Political instability, policy discontinuities, ill-informed court injunctions, worthless sovereign guarantees, arbitrary NAB interventions and banking infirmities are forbidding roadblocks that raise the risk quotient to unacceptable levels (that’s why Paypal and eBay aren’t yet in Pakistan). Foreign power producers suffered on this count in the 1990s and mineral prospectors in the 2000s, and attendant costs to Pakistan for unfulfilled contracts in foreign litigations have risen astronomically.

The fact is that despite self-serving rhetoric, political leaders, intellectuals, artists, and state institutions are not ready to educate Pakistanis in some of the ways of the modern world that bring wealth and prosperity.

Najam Aziz Sethi is a Pakistani journalist, businessman who is also the founder of The Friday Times and Vanguard Books. Previously, as an administrator, he served as Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board, caretaker Federal Minister of Pakistan and Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan.