Depressed? Eat Some Chocolate!

Television and the seemingly senseless pastime of channel surfing is meant to relax the mind, especially when one comes home after a long day of dealing with the whims and fancies of an eccentric boss, and the ego clashes of various colleagues. Pakistani music videos have now become a permanent feature on all Indian TV channels, which is a commendable feat. With such great success in a seemingly short period of time, and with the plethora of new Pakistani music videos that appear on one's TV screens everyday, channel surfing might appear to be an entertaining pastime.

However, amidst these moments of joy, one stops mid way, jaw dropping to the floor, wondering what on earth is wrong with the psyche of the Pakistani video directors of today.

To an outsider it might appear that every video director in Pakistan is either depressed, mentally deranged or suicidal. However, if one meets these video directors, they have happy, successful lives and are blissfully unconcerned about the world - its tsunamis, Katrinas and earthquakes.

Critics have argued that Pakistani music videos today have turned into 4–minute advertisements, where one tries to sell the rock stars better than a top advertising agency. But if the alternative is showing characters being electrocuted, cross dressing men with dubious sexual preferences shedding tears over a woman, wheel chairs and mentally deranged children, then one would really prefer the glorified artificial world that we had grown accustomed to.

Our directors would then argue that it is their moral and conscious duty to raise moral and social issues, especially ones that are prevalent in the Pakistani society of today. However, if they had paid as much attention as to how to go about this as compared to preparing their argument, the end result i.e., their videos would have been much more effective, rather than making the viewer search frantically for the remote control.

As time goes by, and the music videos on air are on the verge of making one fear for the sanity of the video director, it also appears that directors are trying to make something different, for the sake of it and to perhaps stand out in a sea of music videos. Unfortunately, their shoddy attempts at a 'meaningful' video which eventually make for great laughing material are making them stand out.

If one looks at videos like Call's "Shayad", Rubberband's "Tu Kahan Hai" and Kaavish's "Bachpan", it seems that no proper research or thinking has gone into these videos. No mentally disturbed child that this scribe has come across acts like the one in "Shayad". This scribe has also never had the fortune of seeing such well groomed mental patients as shown in Ahmed Ali Butt's directorial venture. Neither does a mental asylum's decor resemble yellow rocky walls, if that indeed was what Ahmed Butt was trying to depict. On the other hand, Umar Anwar has a duty to explain to his viewers who were subjected to the horror that was a Kaavish video as to how a Muslim burial can take place at night, since that is frowned upon in Islam, except for when in an extreme situation. Perhaps it was more dramatic to show the parents mourning the loss of their child all day, and for a more 'filmi' effect have the funeral at night, rather than get one's facts straight.

It is quite sad that great songs are thus ruined by the imagination of the video directors, who seem to be fulfilling their own whims and fancies. Whether their grand depressing plot has any relation to the theme of the song or not is of no consequence. A good example of this would be the groundbreaking number "Irtiqa III" off EP's debut album "Irtiqa". While the song, its lyrics and the delivery by lead singer Fawad were nothing short of brilliant, the video seemed to mock the passion of the song. Men covered in newspapers with their jeans clearly showing underneath the papers, characters connected by plastic wires – all this and more examples of shoddy art direction in the video had no connection whatsoever with the concept of "Irtiqa", which means evolution. Another great song bites the dust.

"Kalawati", another venture by Umar Anwar, depicts the famous personality Ali Saleem shedding tears over the loss of what, one is yet to understand. An overly made up woman is shown reading a novel, Ali Saleem stares at her longingly – and automatically the viewer is supposed to assume that there is a strong emotional connection between them.

If the new lot of Pakistani directors is looking for ways to create a great conceptual video and tackle a meaningful subject, they should perhaps take a look at the videos for Rushk's "Behti Naar" and "Khwahish", and Ali Azmat's "Na Re Na". While one does not expect them to deliver a video that matches Saqib Malik's vision as a director, one certainly expects them to deliver a video which makes sense, rather than a half baked concept that is layered with pot loads of glycerin.

Internationally, tackling subjects such as child abuse, mental illnesses, etc. have been done time and again, the difference being that they are done with a certain class and finesse to them. A great example in this respect is the video for "Just" by the British band Radiohead. If you haven't seen it, download it now, for it is a perfect example of showing how someone's world can just lose all meaning and hope. Yet, there is hardly one tear shed in the entire video.

As a music industry we are still in the infancy stage. There are only two established music channels, and the resources that a director is offered hardly meet international standards. That being said, it is certainly NO excuse to subject the viewers to a 3 – 4 minute video that is nothing less than mental torture. Perhaps what the video directors of today really need is to go back to their books, and perhaps eat some chocolate to cheer them up.

Huma Imtiaz
May, 2006
The News International, Pakistan