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 Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines More

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.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid