This wonderful article by Paromita Vohra was originally published here
Like many who work in films, I often get emails or messages from aspiring actors. I find this a saddening experience, because the desperation is so palpable. But it’s also interesting because it often reveals the kind of stereotypes that society and media feed back into each other. To give an example, one gentleman told me he looked “bilkul kameena” and so, would make an excellent villain.
More recently I received a message from a female actor who, laying out proof of her versatility said she’d done an ‘arty’ film in which her character was absolutely de-glam. So de-glam was the character, that she wore only salwar kameez throughout the film. Another young actor had called this look “ekdum simpal normal.” A man once described an old girlfriend to me as “very regular, salwar kameez type.” Continue reading
In the media portrayals, the actual popular religion is sometimes reduced to a caricature of the colorful diversity it exhibits in actual reality. Many times representations of the what is passed off as popular religion or the ‘religion of the masses’ are in reality popular entertainment using the religious idiom to enhance credibility and viewership at the same time, being misrepresentations as such. Such entertainment entails indulgence in frivolous activities such as public conversions to Islam, adoptions of babies as an act of piety  or talking to spirits on live television  etc . A common refrain that is publicly articulated and presented as a justification for such ‘religious entertainment’ is the need to introduce quotidian narratives in the media in order to wrest Islam back from the orthodox, extremists who have gained excessive visibility over the past few decades. This is consequently done by showcasing choreographed so-called ‘religious’ narratives, often seen as an antidote to extremist agenda. Continue reading
The media in Pakistan is clearly the primary staging ground over which the all ‘religious aspirations’ (Khan 2012) are played out. Needless to say the media in Pakistan is also a presently a site of contestations that is thoroughly entangled in the contest over the creation of the ‘Islamic ideal’. In many ways the electronic media as a forces that ‘compels the work of imagination’, has also emerged as a site of contestation because ‘the work of imagination is neither purely emancipatory nor entirely disciplined but is a space of contestation’ (Appadurai 1996 : 4). The media has been used incessantly by the religious elite to promote a unitary form of Islam but the media also uses religion for its own ends. Over the past two decades it has turned into ‘ a powerful and moderate middle class political force’ dominated by an educated ‘conservative middle-class sensibility’ (Lieven 2011: 230-233). In many ways the rationalized narratives that have been promoted by such conservative sensibility through ‘religious’ content have influenced that ways in which Islam is practiced, with people being exposed to various narratives and practices that may seem quite alien to many in Pakistan because they have been purposefully kept out of the official national narratives. We now see religious scholars from all spheres of Islamic outlooks such as Shia, Sunni, Deobandi, Barelvi spokespersons in open public debates and discussions over Islamic law or history etc. Continue reading