Is there a difference between a foreign magazine franchisee and the picture of a minister cleaning shoes? You might say, but of course. I’d say, no. Both are about an elite mindset and captive to an audience that wishes to be seen as progressive.
Who could possibly consider Hello! magazine as a yardstick of anything but managing the upper crust, a glossy with their own photographs as much of a statement as a Chihuahua nestled in the crook of the arm? So, who in Pakistan is thrilled with the idea of an indigenised version of the international publication? And why is such a move projected to drive home the point that the country is moving on to a new league, “hoping to alter that perception” of a society in turmoil?
It is in tumult that people seek escape. However, much of civilisation has grown due to how they react and create something. It tells us just how colonised a culture is when an outsider recreates that magic, that aura, that respite for them.
Zahraa Saifullah, the CEO of Hello! said:
“The side of Pakistan that is projected time and time again is negative. There is a glamorous side of Pakistan, and we want to tap into that.”
Fair enough. In fact, the glamorous side of Pakistan has been flaunted much too often. Whether it is Benazir Bhutto’s Hermes scarves, alluded to by none other than Jemima Khan, who for a few years was Pakistan’s glam import; her former husband Imran Khan is known for his dashing ways; their foreign minister Hina Rabbani got immortalised for her Birkin bag…the list seems endless and there is an emphasis on what the political leaders wear, eat, talk, and how they live and what they live off, the more leisurely their means the better for them. Take a look at their rock stars, their actors, their models, their designers. Even their activists do not shy away from smart clothes, a cigarette dangling for their lips.
The question is, must Pakistan, or any country for that matter, have only two halves? A half is by nature equal, but there is no equality in either. The dichotomy is not as tight-fisted, and it most certainly will not alter the image of the country if it shows off glamour. Not even if there is a story on the landscaped lawns of the Difa-e-Pakistan headquarters or an evening out with Hafiz Saeed discussing his cuisine preferences.
You think this is cheesy, then I am merely echoing the ridiculous explanations dished out. One report states:
Advertising one’s prosperity could be risky as well since kidnappings for ransom are on the rise and attracting attention from militants can mean death. Wajahat Khan, a consulting editor at Hello! Pakistan, said they were cognizant of the sensitivity of publishing a glamour magazine in a country where many people are struggling and planned to be “socially responsible and culturally aware. We are trying to be happy in a war zone. We are trying to celebrate what is still alive in a difficult country.”
It is sad to see Pakistanis falling into a trap laid out for them, and only so that they can be a part of some big fat fake idea of progress. It is obvious that the magazine is using militancy as its calling card. Imagine they are putting the lives of the people they feature at risk. Imagine the burden of being socially responsible and culturally aware (hello ji, have you seen the latest toosh shawl used by the Rehmans as a duster? They are cloning baby goats just for that to keep culture live and also adding bacteria in dahi bhalley). Imagine the smiles for the camera, maybe diamond encrusted teeth when the war is going on, and the world is watching these brave solitaire soldiers. Imagine celebrating lives that are anyway cocooned.
The editor said in response to the security concerns:
“I don’t think terrorist networks are going to be reading Hello! anytime soon.”
Sure. But now that you have said it, they just might. After all, it is part of the 150 country conglomerate, priced at $5.50. Hello! is known to buy the rights to exclusive pictures, but some may not play along because, yes, right, they are concerned about security. The plan is all in place. No worries about what’s happening around?
The press conference to announce the debut revealed this gem:
Unveiling plans for ‘Hello! Pakistan' with a dummy cover featuring half-Pakistani actress Nargis Fakhri in an off-shoulder attire and talking about her debut in a Bollywood film, the magazine's team was walking into a minefield. The inevitable question came soon enough: “Have you got a no-objection certificate from the Jama'at-e-Islami?''
Do these people get a NOC for living the way they do, for frittering away the country’s wealth, for corrupt deals? Indeed, this is also their Pakistan, but without positing against the dark face, it wouldn’t have much of a chance to stand in the line of fired libidos and Laliques.
But Saifullah thinks the timing is perfect to showcase Pakistan’s too often hidden treasures, citing Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who recently became the first Pakistani filmmaker to win an Oscar for a documentary about the plight of female victims of acid attacks in the country.
“We want to tap into the aesthetically beautiful, the athletic, the fashionable,” said Saifullah. “There is so much going on a daily basis that nobody ever covers. It’s totally unexplored.”
The Oscar-winning film was bound to become a part of the ceremonious narrative. An acid attack victim is being used by the magazine as a “hidden treasure”? Don’t tell me it is about the treasure of filmmaking of this nature. I know it, and also how these things work. I live just across the border. It is one smart haul.
It will be some sort of crafty citizen’s group type of fancy dress fare.
That is the reason I said in the beginning it is not much different from a well-known person cleaning shoes to clean up the image created by terrorism. He’d fit right into the lap of Hello!, as he is now on the front page of The Times of India:
Pakistan’s deputy attorney general Muhammad Khurshid Khan (62) cleans footwear as part of seva (community service) in a Delhi gurudwara. A devout Muslim and an eminent lawyer from Peshawar, Khan’s tryst with Hindu temples and Sikh gurudwaras began in 2010 to “heal the wounds of minorities in Pakistan (caused by the Taliban) by becoming their sevadar”.
This is reducing the problem of minorities and the responsibility of the state. It is scoring some points for oneself. You don’t have to be surprised. This is the awakening – the bird call from Swiss cuckoo alarm clocks that wake you to take you out in the street to gather ye a little dust while ye may.
(C) Farzana Versey