“I’m afraid.” “Of what?” “Of Happiness.”
The fear of happiness, also known as cherophobia, is what the Imran Khan-led Pakistan government suffers from. Though, in their case, it is the happiness of the citizens that scares them the most. So if you are in Pakistan and there is anything on the internet that makes you happy or is a source of entertainment to you, then beware — it will soon be taken away from you, all in the name of vulgarity, obscenity and lack of religious conformity.
The most recent ban on social media app TikTok is a convergence of censorship and muzzling political dissent in the garb of ‘fahashi (obscenity)’. The ‘ban’ campaign is led by Prime Minister Imran Khan himself who believes that the apps such as TikTok harm society’s values and should be blocked. Although the research and data linking the ‘harm’ caused and the app remains missing, people are held hostage to the State’s idea of becoming a pious human being. And having TikTok in your cell phone doesn’t make you pious. Wonder how people went ‘astray’ in the non-TikTok days.
TikTok’s not fun for religion
With the ban, Pakistan has joined the US and India against its iron-best friend China. The ban came as no surprise because in the past few months TikTok was in the eye of the storm — while one petition in the Lahore High Court said that the app was promoting pornography, another complained that the ByteDance-owned Chinese social media app was spreading vulgarity. A Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf MP even submitted a resolution in the Punjab Assembly to ban TikTok, for it ridiculed religion. TikTok star Saud Butt who often criticises the Imran Khan government with his scathing commentary was once arrested and beaten up by the police in Lahore. He continues to face harassment.
During the dictatorship of Zia-ul-Haq, the media that was placed under strict censorship took refuge in humour and political satire to comment on what is remembered as the darkest times for the country. Angan Terha, a satirical serial aired on Pakistan television followed one such theme. The leading characters mocked the military rule, its election process and the varied socio-political issues during the 1980s. All sounds too familiar? Like then, even now, the rulers are triggered by criticism dipped in wit.
Prime minister Imran Khan believes that it was Hollywood’s influence on Bollywood that destroyed family system in India and gave birth to rape culture. But, Indian films are banned in Pakistan for the last two years now — what then explains the surge in rape cases across the country? Especially when the national drama serial of Pakistan is Ertugrul, as recommended by the PM himself. These questions go unanswered because answering them would require fixing a system where the conviction rate in rape cases is as low as 3 per cent. But to flow with popular sentiments of public hangings and castrating rapists is easy, particularly for the establishment. For now, 14 seconds of TikToking is curtailed — again, the easy option.
The truth is that a biscuit advertisement with a dance number or a woman in yoga pants exercising on PTV irks people more than rampant cases of rape in the country. A Pakistani web series named Churails bothers everyone for starting a conversation around subjects of patriarchal violence and homosexuality — it makes Pakistan uncomfortable. The foundations of the republic are shaken with one viral scene from the show where a female CEO talks about rising to the top and giving sexual favours. Proving the Churails right when they had said “Mard ko dard hoga.”
The SRKs, the Salmans go jobless
PM Khan has been an ardent admirer of Bollywood of 30 years ago, but this is 2020, and Pakistani audiences who grew up on Bollywood find TikTok to showcase their filmy talents. Their inner Shah Rukh Khans, the Khalnayaks and the Salman Khans of Tere Naam are some of the popular themes with Pakistani TikTokers.
Chota King, also known as the Shah Rukh Khan of TikTok impersonates SRK exclusively. His acts range from Don to Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaynge, to Pardes, to Baazigar, and all the way back to Dewana. We watched Chota King being the versatile actor that even SRK would wish he was.
Sanjay Dutt and Madhuri Dixit starrer Khalnayak has a separate fan base. The dialogues and songs of the 1993 film now make young and old TikTokers dance to the famous numbers: Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai, Nayak Nahi Khalnayak Hoon Main and Paalkhi Mein Hoke Sawar Chali Main. Emulating a near-perfect Sanjay Dutt look and Madhuri’s dance moves is no mean task.
Sporting Salman Khan’s middle-parting hairstyle from Tere Naam with a nakam-ashiq-appearance and singing sad songs isn’t a job for the faint-hearted. The TikTokers and their lovers saw no vulgarity in these short video skits. But one should ask the government which doesn’t want to see the people being happy.
The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.
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