Perched atop a majestic vantage point overlooking the Arabian Sea, there are minds at work, creating programmes for the idiot box that stand out from the usual sex and violence themes. This is the nerve centre of the company, a crew hell-bent on tempting the bourgeoisie with their avant-garde productions. At the head of the totem pole is the collective's Kommisaar, Nasir Tehrany, a talented young director with a vision bound to make waves in the media. You might have already caught glimpses of his work, with shows such as Karachi Waley, Rock Music Show (RMS) and Music Enjoy (ME) doing rounds on Indus Vision.
The U-Penn educated Tehrany started off in advertising after returning to Pakistan in 1996, and had somewhat of a rough re-entry into Pakistani aerospace as various agencies tried to take him for a ride. Tehrany values his freedom; thus he quickly got frustrated and did not want to be pinned down by any one concern.
"After three years I was like, what's next? I don't want to get stuck. Even now with Manduck Collective, I don't want to remain stagnant and run it all my life. I don't want to be answerable to anybody. I like my working style."
As things developed, he started consultation work for Combine Production house, and eventually the owner asked Nasir to help set up the yet unborn Indus Vision. Tehrany gathered a battalion of 20 shock-troops who helped set up the channel, specifically its "packaging, logos and animation." The results of their efforts are available for all to see. It's possible that the unique style of work that the company is churning out is due to it's driven ethos and dedication, for as Tehrany puts it, "everyone who works here is passionate."
What makes a lot of Tehrany's work stand out is that despite its neon glare - pulsating electric backgrounds and slick editing - the stuff produced has great substance and quality. One is surely struck when viewing his programmes for the first time, for whatever the opinions of the subject or the person being aired, the productions beat most of the shoddy competition, hands down. Apart from receiving critical raves, the shows seem to be flexing their commercial muscle as well. ME is about to be sponsored by a giant cola conglomerate, as is the case with Rock Music Show, which surprisingly is being branded in reruns. Describing the Cinderella story behind RMS's success, Nasir says: "Initially when we did RMS it was hard to find guests because the guest who knew he would be smashed to bits wouldn't want to come. By the end of the day, people were calling us wanting to appear on the same RMS. It is the most loved and hated of all my shows. The dividing line is the more staid older lot's hesitation and the rabid devotion of the young as well as the young at heart."
Another standout performer from Tehrany's bag of tricks is Music Enjoy. It's an alternative countdown show with warped competitions and even a salute to the pioneers of Paki-pop. A regular visitor to the show is Aks' Neela Aasman video, directed by Tehrany himself. The song is brilliant in itself, with simple, airy vocals and a Greenwich Village vibe to the music. The addition of Nasir's stunning, tripped out tie-dye visuals make it pure lucidity. The video is heavily inspired by Spanish surrealist painter Dali.
"Whenever you take a look at (music) videos, you look at Jami, Asim Reza or Saqib. They're brilliant. I like their work. But come on guys, do something different," is his comment on the local music scene. Aks, which reminds him of the Milestones, is being put out on Manduck's own imprint. "The inspiration for shows like RMS and ME comes from late night shows like Leno and Saturday Night Live. It's about taking criticism in a positive way. I think the biggest problem in Pakistan is that we can't take criticism," says Nasir pointing out the reasons for launching such vessels. Another steady feature of RMS was the Naya Sitara segment where raw, unpolished talent (for what's its worth) is given five minutes or so of airtime to prove their calibre.
"Imagine giving a chance to 40 kids to come up with quality music, which might be good or bad but at least there is now an outlet. And that is the biggest frustration upcoming kids are facing today. These kids with great stuff don't get a chance because of the 'oh ji, there's no market for this' attitude. If you don't encourage them, how do you expect to create a market, at all?" Tehrany asks rhetorically.
Nasir predicts Pakistani alternative music still has about five to ten years to go before gaining mainstream acceptance, though he is pleased with his efforts as he has gotten calls from bands as far afield as Peshawar. So lets just hope that when and if the alternarock scene does break big here, the bands hang on to their integrity and remember their roots, not milking trends or abusing Sufism in exchange for the sweet smell of legal tender.
Nasir points out that the relationship between him and the bands is truly symbiotic as when he gives them a voice, tomorrow, when some of them may break big, they'll look back and remember who gave 'em that break.
On the thorny subject of corporate interference in music, a subject surprisingly covered by ME, Nasir is candid. "How can you abuse Pakistan by sticking a cola slogan in front of your song? But you're tied in with the corporate structure. The flip side is, your industry would not be half the size it is if they were not there." Maybe. As long as they keep their grubby mitts off the creative aspect and keep the cash flowing, we don't think we'll be hearing too many complaints.
Summing up the session, Tehrany notes that "Whenever we do a show, we want to do slightly more then anybody else. Or else why should Manduck Collective do that show." Interesting to note is that Nasir's spectrum is quite expansive. From the shiny rock'n'shock feel good party shows, to the upcoming travelling troubadour concept of Jinnah Ka Pakistan, to the sombre documentary on Afghanistan's abject misery and blood drenched recent history, Tehrany has shown commendable range.
One is glad to see a welcome change in the level of productions and with a work ethic based on the maxim "We don't want monotony in our lives," Nasir Tehrany's big show is just getting started.Qasim Abdallah Moini