News / Asia

    Young Pakistani Satirists Test Boundaries

    The Beygairat Brigade sing 'Dhinak Dhinak,' offering a satirical view of the powerful Pakistani military.
    The Beygairat Brigade sing 'Dhinak Dhinak,' offering a satirical view of the powerful Pakistani military.

    Pakistan’s thriving news industry  faces challenges in covering military influence, religious intolerance and other sensitive issues,  analysts say.

    But a growing number of young Pakistani satirists – from comedian Danish Ali to the Beygairat (Dishonorable) Brigade music group – are adding pointed laughter to the conversation by using satire to address political and social issues.

    And to test boundaries and maybe change perceptions of, and prospects for, the conservative nation.

    Members of the Beygairat Brigade in the last clip of “Dhinak Dhinak”Members of the Beygairat Brigade in the last clip of “Dhinak Dhinak”
    x
    Members of the Beygairat Brigade in the last clip of “Dhinak Dhinak”
    Members of the Beygairat Brigade in the last clip of “Dhinak Dhinak”

    “There is too much seriousness in Pakistani society now; the violence, the political instability, the economic fragility,” said Ammara Durrani, executive director at Search for Common Ground Pakistan, a peace-building organization.

    Pakistan’s golden age of satire, in the 1980s, saw the rise of artists such as Anwar Maqsood, whose popular comedy show “Fifty Fifty” skewered the country’s Islamist turn under President Zia-ul-Haq, Durrani said.

    Today’s satire, much of it based on the tension between 1980's Islamism and conservatism and liberal social attitudes, “could start the process of social healing and cultural revival that Pakistan has missed out [on] for three decades,” she added.

    Ali, a 31-year-old doctor turned comedian, promotes laughter as the best medicine. He hosted Pakistan’s first English-language comedy show, “The Real News,” which aired in 2006 and 2007.

    “The Real News” played off actual news events. For instance, it parodied how drivers of diplomatic or “protocol” cars frequently ignore traffic signals, ordering civilians’ cars out of the way. In one clip, the driver of a protocol car, incessantly using its horn, demands that a hapless driver give way to a cow or put the car in reverse and go backward.

    Danish Ali with a prop used in his video "Super Chittar"Danish Ali with a prop used in his video "Super Chittar"
    x
    Danish Ali with a prop used in his video "Super Chittar"
    Danish Ali with a prop used in his video "Super Chittar"

    “Because there are a lot of things you can’t talk about in Pakistan, that’s the most natural place to go to. You say it in a satirical way, so you’re saying it but you’re not really saying it,” Ali said.

    Ali, who has switched his comedic rap from English to Urdu to broaden his audience, is building an audience on social media. His Facebook page has more than 87,000 “likes.”

    For Ali, the goal is to foster better understanding of Pakistan both at home and abroad: “If I can portray Pakistan in a normal light like the way it is – it’s just a normal country, with regular people – I’ve done my job.”

    While Ali focuses on social themes, the Beygairat (Dishonorable) Brigade takes aim at the political arena.

    The band’s name itself pokes fun at pro-military analysts known as the Ghairat (Honorable) Brigade, said lead singer Ali Aftab Saeed.

    “Political analysts, those who get all the newspaper and the TV space… believe you can’t criticize the military because it is against our national agenda and equal to being a traitor,” said Saeed, who notes the Lahore trio’s “point of view is the antithesis of the Ghairat (Honorable) Brigade.”

    The band has a hit with its latest song, “Dhinak Dhinak,” which satirizes the military and challenges the notion of its birthright to power. It’s a reasonable question in Pakistan, which spends 20 percent of its budget on defense and less than 2 percent on education.

    In a video set at a wedding, band members perform a qawwali – traditional South Asian music praising the Prophet Muhammad and Sufi saints. The trio – Saeed, Hamza Malik and Daniyal Malik-- jokes that the military can solve the country’s problems through coups, proxy wars and bribing journalists. 

    “Who will check these merry men? Who dares to stop them?” they sing.

    “People actually believe that a general … can do no wrong,” Saeed said.

    Beygairat Brigade formed in 2011 and had a hit that year with its first release, “Aalu Anday.”  It critiqued the assassination of Salman Taseer, the Punjabi provincial governor killed by his own bodyguard for speaking out against the country’s blasphemy law.

    “What moved us was not just that he stood for a cause ... but actually the fact that Mumtaz Qadri, the person who killed Taseer, was made a hero,” Saeed said.

    In the “Aalu Anday” video, the band mocks how people like Qadri are celebrated in Pakistan, while Abdus Salam, the country’s only Nobel Prize winner, is shunned because of his religion.

    Anonymous threats

    Beygairat Brigade’s satire comes at a cost.

    The band has received anonymous threatening phone calls, Saeed said, and studios refused to record “Dhinak Dhinak” because of its military content. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority repeated has taken down its video clip, whose final scene shows the three band members holding a sign that reads, “No Need to Like This Video, We’ll be Dead Anyway!”

    Saeed said the band releases its work on social media and has overcome Pakistan’s ban on YouTube distribution. “By the time it gets picked up [in] the traditional media, I think we manage to have such an audience that they spare us,” he said.

    He estimates the video has had more than a million views, though accurate numbers are not possible to obtain.

    Beygairat (Dishonorable) Brigade’s popularity stems from its ability to relate to its audiences, said Huma Yusuf, a media researcher and fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington-based think tank.

    “Anyone who knows Pakistanis well knows that if you get enough of them in a room together, they will first talk about politics, and then inevitably they will imitate and mock the politicians,” she said.

    “Humor is a big thing,” agreed Sonya Rehman, a Pakistani journalist who has written about the Beygairat Brigade. “It’s very, very important, and [it’s] how you package it.”

    “As the space for debate opens up in Pakistan and we are able to, in critical and more transparent ways, start having conversations about no-go issues,” the Wilson Center’s Yusuf said, “… there will be more confidence amongst younger generations to also then satirize those tensions.”

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: 1worldnow from: Earth
    July 13, 2014 8:05 AM
    The only chance that humanity has is with the youth of today. The youth that has to struggle because rhino leaders who hang on violence in the name of religion have made their dreams impossible. Glad to see this. Even if they rip on America, that's fine. We are definitely used to that. When you use entertainment to help people open their eyes, in order to bring about a better future for all, then kudos to these guys!

    by: Nabeeha from: Karachi
    July 12, 2014 2:29 PM
    Satire perhaps is a better enabler of the 'social healing' than the oft occuring violence that accompanies any major socio-political changes in Pakistan. Here's hope that more people adopt humor as a coping mechanism in Pakistan.

    by: Adil from: Toronto
    July 12, 2014 1:02 PM
    Well written article I must say. It's good that you integrated the viewpoints of individuals from various backgrounds without delving too much into them. I find it interesting that even though the space for debate in Pakistan has opened up with regards to certain topics in the past decade or so but criticism of the all-powerful military still remains a taboo subject. I guess it's a part of the evolution process that most security states go through.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora