Raba: Video Review

Song: "Raba"
Artist: Mekaal Hasan Band
Director: Maryam Rahman
D.O.P: Kasim Ali at TV2

Finally a video that makes you not want to flick the channel. "Raba" made everyone sit up and take notice despite being shot in black and white without any filmstars. The video is as unexpected and thought provoking as "Sampooran", Mekaal's debut on the Pakistan music scene.

A bubblehead in a shalwar kameez, his head one round ball of news print; goes through all the motions of life, walking on the street, sitting on a tree and even eating food in poignant slow motion. At first I laughed out loud at the absurd imagery. But the song reeled me in like a fish on a hook.

"Rabba meray haal da mehram tu." Only God knows everything, why is everything the way it is, even though life makes no sense at all to mortal man. There are no high tech effects, but "Raba" is strong on concept. It is theatrical and relies on imagery rather than sweeping vistas, supermodels and over the top styling and graphic wizardry that are often used to make up for content that is rarely extraordinary. Directed by Maryam Rahman, who came back last year after studying at the Slade School of Fine Art, "Raba" is a revelation as to how effective cheap, but well thought out videos can be. This is five minutes of introspection that anyone can identify with.

Maryam drew her inspiration from the theatre of the absurd. The use of what is absurd is used as a metaphor for human existence. The dictionary definition of 'absurd' is that which is plainly opposed to reason. Many authors and playwrights used this tool to heighten human awareness. Kafka used it as early as the 1920s in stories like Metamorphosis, but absurdism reached its peak in the 1950s after the second World War, compounded by the advent of existentialism with Jean Paul Sartre. Traces of this can be found in the films of the two Davids Lynch and Cronenberg, especially the latter's The Naked Lunch based on the book by William Burroughs that largely reprised the theme of Metamorphosis in the '60s context on drug addiction.

To further define where Rabba comes from, get Albert Camus' seminal work The Myth of Sisyphus if you can where Camus uses a man with the rock, trying to roll it up a hill a metaphor for human life. In that he says: "In a universe that is suddenly deprived of illusions and of light, man feels a stranger. His is an irremediable exile . . . This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting, truly constitutes the feeling of Absurdity."

The theatre of the absurd is simple, in that nothing really happens. It just defines the dilemma and seeming futility of the human condition. In the "Raba" video, the man with the newspaper ball for a head (NCA mime student Saad Qureshi) tells of the alienation consistent with globalisation. We live in a world where we are aware of anything and close to no one. All the concerts and parties and balls and raves, at the end of the day and leave us exactly where we were before we attended them, perhaps only a tad bit lonelier than we were before. This is not to say that "Raba" has rivalled Camus, Kafka or Beckett, but the spark that it has reaches out to their burning world view.

The simple concept seeps into your consciousness as the song undulates. The shots of the Mekaal Hasan Band singing in a corridor have been made starker with the use of black and white. How many videos are capable of doing that? This is what music is about. Mekaal's album was the best thing one could buy at my age. Recently, only Sajjad Ali's "Rangeen" matches up. When it comes to rock, our musicians remain adolescent. Noori and EP would be right up my street if I was still bedevilled by the angst of adolescent delinquency. Yes, once upon a time I was what they call a Junooni, but "Pappu Yaar Tang Na Kar" bored me after I watched the video twice. "Suno Ke Main Hun Jawan" lasted a week of listening. "Channo" was cute and that's about it. High energy, a lot of ranting, but what the hell is everyone ranting about? Sadly, most of our musicians haven't grown up with their listeners.

The trickle of videos on chart shows has turned into a round-the-clock flood on music channels. It makes me think of an erstwhile stall keeper in Mangal Bazaar when I was a kid. He had around five massive tables overloaded with eyecatching but cheap commodities: mirrors, combs, baubles, earrings, and everything imaginable in cheap plastic. He would stand on a table gesticulating wildly and screaming: "Yahan sey le kar wahan tak, aur wahan se ley kar yahan tak, har cheez do do ropay mein."

What is happening on the music channels? Couples exchange lovelorn glances. Youth goes wild at a concert with screaming rockstars on the stage. In real life, most shows aren't live anyway. What is the development? That we shoot videos on 35mm? That girls wearing jeans and long haired men are no longer taboo? Though music channels are an exciting phenomenon, the visual cintent is largely rubbish. Made on a shoestring budget, "Raba" proves that not having enough money is no longer an excuse.

Mekaal Hasan Band just doesn't have the musical chops but also has enough vision to understand and approve the concept suggested by Maryam Rahman.

Muniba Kamal
March, 2004
The News International, Pakistan