Chhote Ustaad, Bigg Boss and reality of Indo-Pak relations

Published: October 22, 2010
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Veena Malik is a Pakistani celebrity who is appearing on the fourth season of an Indian reality show

Indian television has suddenly seen a surge of Indo-Pak bonding in the last month. What started off as a peace-building initiative through music, by singers Sonu Nigam and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan in the form of Chhote Ustaad, seemed to set a trend. Bigg Boss 4 had two Pakistani artists on its show soon afterward.

However, while the first was a novel, brilliant idea, the second I have a problem with.

Chhote Ustaad, as we all know, had one Indian and one Pakistani singer team up and compete with 11 other such pairs of children. While Sonu Nigam and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan played mentors, special guests on the show ranged from Abida Parveen, Shankar Mahadevan, Shafqat Amanat Ali, Sonam Kapoor, Shaan, Priyanka Chopra and Mahesh Bhatt, who lauded the effort.

Building peace through music

The show was unique in many ways. Firstly, it made Indians and Pakistanis team up, rather than compete. Secondly, many Pakistani families managed to accomplish things they had only dreamt of, like visiting the Ajmer Sharif Dargah, watching their children share the same platform with big names like Asha Bhosle and meeting stars like Rishi Kapoor, which otherwise they would only have seen on screen. Thirdly, it propagated peace and promoted talent. Finally, it was a show which ran on talent and a message, rather than on controversy, drama and sleaze. Yes, it was high on emotion, but in the right way.

Chhote Ustad not only gave a great opportunity to the young singers to showcase their talent, it also portrayed Pakistanis in a good light in India. For a change, Pakistanis weren’t looked down upon. Most Indians realised that people across the border are not terrorists or fundamentalists like they are made out to be-they can be nice, they too have emotions, they are friendly and talented and basically, they are the same as Indians. Also, when the voices of contestants from both countries met in unison, the songs just sounded more soulful and melodious.

Scandals and sleaze

On the other hand, you have Veena Malik and Begum Nawazish Ali entering Bigg Boss. Firstly, Veena Malik has had a scandal-ridden career. I hope they realise that they are putting an entire country’s reputation at stake. Unlike the other contestants who are just representing themselves, these two have an extra burden of representing their country. Yes, for two weeks, it’s easy playing Mother Teresa, but putting up a farce for ninety days is kind of difficult. And to top it all off, one small mistake of theirs will be lapped up by the media like there is no tomorrow.

Unfortunately, thanks to the relations between both the countries, not many Indians get to visit Pakistan and vice-versa; hence the level of misconceptions about both the countries is quite high. Shows like Bigg Boss cater to the masses, who will believe everything they see. At the end of the show, most people will turn around and say that Veena Malika and Begum Nawazish Ali represent the average Pakistani. Well, I don’t know how they or any ordinary Pakistani would take that, but as an Indian who has visited friends and relatives in Pakistan, I know it’s not true.

Less than noble motives

For once I would like to suggest that the Colors channel should listen to Shiv Sena and get those two out of the show as soon as possible. Okay, maybe that’s going a bit too far, because I don’t actually support Shiv Sena. The reason I want them out of there is not because they are Pakistani, but because Colors’ editing skills and sensationalism might just end up straining relations-not on a diplomatic level, but on a people to people level. I agree the two are there for their personal gains, like maybe getting into the Indian television industry and so on but hello, you are kind of maligning the image of your country in return.

On one hand, you have people like Wasim Akram, Ali Zafar, Atif Aslam, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and so many Pakistani children creating a positive image. On the other hand, you have two people in Bigg Boss, which is known for sleaze and controversies. Until now, nobody one has exited the show with a positive image, not even the winner, so what makes them think they will?

So, kudos to shows like Chhote Ustaad. Let’s hope many more such shows are introduced to build healthy relations between the people of our countries.

zoha.tapia

Zoha Tapia

A freelance journalist who lives in Bombay

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.