Mediations of the Self in Pakistan’s Popular Visual Culture




In the recent times, I had been having these wonderful conversations with various friends and academics about the media in Pakistan and I thought it maybe useful to bring everyone together for a meaningful discussion. So  on November 20th 2015, I organized this event titled ‘Mediations of the Self in Pakistan’s Popular Visual Culture’ at the New York University’s department of Media, Culture and Communication . Among the participants were various academics like S. Akbar Zaidi, Tahira Naqvi, Afiya Zia and media related personalities like Mehreen Jabbar, Saad Khan and Arooj Aftab,  who were kind enough to take their time out to join our discussion. Also attending was Sheeba Khan a reporter from Hip Pakistan, who covered the event here. Continue reading


‘Wali’ as the quintessential Pakistani hero ?

Osman Khalid Butt as Wali in Diyar-e-Dil                                     Osman Khalid Butt as Wali in ‘Diyar-e-Dil’

This article was also published  here at

As the year 2015 comes to an end, it may be relevant to ask who and what the quintessential ‘Pakistani hero’ is or should be. At this point in time, Pakistani dramas seem to have gained universal outreach and accessibility around the globe. Not only is Pakistani content being aired internationally on Pakistani media houses but also on major South Asian networks like Star Plus and Zee TV. In this context, it seems relevant to analyse the traits and qualities which stand out among popular Pakistani characters or which seem to define the arche-typical Pakistani hero in recent productions.

So at a recent event held at NYU we wanted to discuss who and what the symbolic new Pakistani hero would be, given the current assortment of popular heros that one comes across on Pakistani television. In our search for the ultimate Pakistani hero, the media bandwagon trail led us to the wildly popular character of Wali in Diyar e Dil . Given all the recent hype about Diyar-e-Dil, the play’s plot and character portrayals seem very useful and appropriate to frame the conversation about how such popular on-screen characters contribute to the notions of self hood and translate into meaning making in public culture in Pakistan.  Continue reading

‘Love, War and Other Longings’

The ‘Harvard-Brown Pakistani Film Festival 2015’ to take place at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts from Oct 16-18th. The introductory excerpt from the festival literature :

” The recent revival of cinema in Pakistan has generated excitement and captured the imagination.  Film, like the nation-state, stands at a crossroads, and is invested with hope and aspirations towards a future that leaves the seemingly unending violence and militancy of the past decades receding into the distance. The magical qualities of film with its capacity to orchestrate our emotions and sensibilities, to conjure up fictions that become part of our reality, to transform the mundane into the extraordinary symbolizes this collective yearning for a new dawn.  A new generation of filmmakers ranging from the conventional to the experimental are exploring the possibilities of re-imagining family, friendship, love, the nation, and retelling ways of injustice and suffering. Love, War and Other Longings is an invitation to come and participate in these new narrations, to explore their possibilities and examine their implications. What kind of future is envisaged and what representations of the past does it require? What is being celebrated and who is being left out? Continue reading

‘Anarkali Apnay Disco Chali’

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

Popular Religion as Entertainment

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[1], adoptions of babies as an act of piety [2] or talking to spirits on live television [3] 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

‘Love for Fawad Khan vs. Jihad against Love’

This article by Charu Gupta originally appeared here  and here

Fawad Khan, a Pakistani Muslim male, has become an endearing and enduring metaphor, a fascinating icon, the new heartthrob and fantasy of Indian girls and women. Zindagi, an Indian entertainment television channel, launched just four months ago, which telecasts cross-border serials from Pakistan, has captured our imagination. The central idiom of the channel has proven to be Fawad Khan, who besides having looks to die for and undeniable charm, portrays a sensitive, emotional and mature lover and husband in top of the charts serials Zindagi Gulzar Haiand Humsafar. He has entered Bollywood through the film Khubsoorat. Fan mails from women have poured over websites. One of them says: ‘You have to be living under a rock if you have not heard of Fawad Khan yet…. Did your mother just tell you she has a crush on Fawad Khan? Your female colleagues are probably head-over-heels in love with him too…. Women maybe have more photos of Fawad Khan in their phones than their own.’ Describing the film Khubsoorat,Shobha De articulates: ‘So, who is the real “khubsoorat” in the movie….Any guesses? You’ve got it! It’s a slim, bearded bloke from across the border…. He’s as yummy as those irresistible Lahori kebabs, and desi ladies want him.’ Continue reading

Reconstruction of Raziya Sultan’s Memory in the Indian Cinema (Part 2)


This analysis will use two reconstructions of Raziya Sultan’s history in the Indian cinema, to examine the ways in which the historical memory of her rule is invoked in the present times. The narratives of both films reveal multifarious historical inaccuracies and can be identified with the genre of ‘historical fiction’. Although Raziya’s persona is clearly being only used here as a vehicle to project fictional imaginaries, however such reformulation of Raziya’s rule can also be seen as valuable since ‘all narrative reconstructions of the past and the methodologies that they employ are historically constituted’ because they are ‘engaging with a past that is at once distant and dialectically continuous with the present’ (Flood 2009: 14). Continue reading