Imran Khan is the latest product placement trend in Pakistan.
That Imran Khan is a popular Prime Minister in Pakistan is well known. But the unbelievable level of mass gushing is staggering.
I recently turned on Pakistan’s Hum TV one evening with a cup of tea to watch drama serials. An old mother with her daughter appeared on the screen, and they asked their cleaning lady about her ailing kid. She replied that her boy has cancer and that the family has lost all hope. The boss lady and her daughter calmly told the cleaner not to worry. The daughter spoke ardently about “a big cancer hospital in Lahore that treats cancer patients, and, that too, without asking for money”.
Her mother quickly added that this hospital is the best in the country and was built by a famous cricketer (Imran Khan). The aggrieved cleaner wiped tears, thanked God and prayed for the long life of the ‘one’ who built this lifesaving hospital.
A short break followed a few minutes later with a public service message conveyed in a song: “Hum Yeh Dam Banain Ge (We will make this Dam)”. Composed in a ridiculously galling tune with silly poetry, the song urged the people of Pakistan to donate money in Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief Justice Saqib Nisar’s common fund for the construction of the Diamer Bhasha dam.
Another channel that airs the dam song so frequently is the country’s only state-run sports channel, PTV Sports. The channel is criticised for poor programme scheduling and uses a good part of transmission to just air the dam song. With the new government in place, PTV Sports’ management has apparently found this way to feed new content and fill airtime and simultaneously please the Prime Minister.
That is not all. Imran Khan, who captained the Pakistani team and was among top cricket all-rounders of his time, now gets significant airtime through short, medium, long and frequent TV documentaries, popping up on screen. Other sporting legends get tiny amounts of screen time on PTV Sports. Imran Khan never got this much coverage earlier either. The message of these films is simple: Through his leadership skills, Imran Khan led the underperforming team in 1992, which eventually returned home with the glittery World Cup trophy. And that now, it would be Imran Khan again who would take floundering Pakistan to new heights, using his leadership skills.
Historically, this much coverage to a ruling leader has never been witnessed, not even during the controlled democracy under Gen. Zia ul-Haq and Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
In the most successful film in Pakistan this year, Jawani Phir Nahi Ani 2, a Pakistani man falls in love with the daughter of an Indian ambassador. In the climactic scene, the troubled Indian father is shown receiving a call from someone who speaks just like Imran Khan and identifies himself as “Khan”. He offers the father a “bouncer” of advice, and even mentions “Naya Pakistan”.
Some days ago, I stopped at a traffic signal on the busy Mall Road of Lahore. I gazed at a banner hanging on the light pole advertising a new play “Tabdeeli Aa Gayi (Change has come)”. I wasn’t very familiar with the actors, but the name caught my attention.
On the weekend, I reached the theatre well ahead of time to get the desired seat. The hall was packed. As the curtain lifted, a group of drummers and desi singers appeared on stage singing “Hum Yeh Dam Banain Ge”. For a moment, I thought I am watching Hum TV. The drummers and singers involved the audience in the song and begged for applause.
Then the other actors came on stage and the play started. During half the play time, three comedians occupied stage and frequently inserted ‘Tabdeeli’ (change) jokes — astutely signalling Imran Khan’s ruling regime and the ‘handsome PM’ as the most appropriate one, and calling the former government the mother of all evils. I decided to leave during the break. I had already learned enough.
As I drove away at 11:30 pm on Mall Road, the FM radio in my car got on my nerves. It was a simple news update, and the newscaster read out fervently: “Kaptaan ka bara eilan, ab murgian ghareebon ki qismat badalain gi (Captain announces big; chickens would now help ease poor people’s fate)”.
Most TV talk shows, which passionately depicted earlier governments as incompetent, are now cheering the Imran Khan regime even over its silly decisions, such as Khan’s new found solution to fix Pakistan’s fledgeling economy: Eggs and chickens. Impolite TV anchors, who previously would term the PM’s approach of seeking financial help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or friendly countries as begging, are now seen clapping over Khan’s wise decision of pursuing loans from the same sources.
Logging on to YouTube these days also takes us to a new world where trending videos are no more related to Amir Liaquat, Mathira or Veena Malik (all of them are known for controversies and bold statements), but to the PTI and Imran Khan.
So many times, when I click on a video to watch Coke Studio music, a flurry of suggested videos appear on the side with captions such as “Cheen main Khan ka sada andaz, Cheeni wazeer ke dil jeet lia (A simple act of Khan in China won the heart of a Chinese minister)” or “Khan ki saadgi batate hue unka driver ro para (Khan’s driver started weeping while talking about his austerity)”.
When Pakistan is reeling with a range of issues including bad governance, corruption, crumbling economy and diplomatic isolation, nearly all modes of information are busy hailing Imran Khan. This approach predates the recent elections when Imran Khan was projected as the Messiah for all woes. But he is now in power. Khan and his vibrant social media team must realise that the honeymoon period is over now. It is time to deliver on the revolutionary promises he made.
The author is a PhD scholar at Punjab University at the Center of South Asian Studies. She was former Vice President of Peoples Party Women Wing, Punjab.
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