The amazing messages of Ali Azmat

Published: August 20, 2011
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PHOTO: FILE

I once saw a sign in an ice cream parlor:

NO SUGAR FREE, NO FAT FREE—ONLY REAL ICE CREAM.

IF YOU WANT NUTRITION, EAT CARROTS.

This pretty much sums up how I feel about music videos/movies/poetry/novels/et cetera meant to convey messages. They are useless in terms of providing pleasure, which is what they are meant to do, and utterly rubbish for nutrition, which is what they are purporting to do.

When I first heard that Ali Azmat has released a video called Bum Phatta, and knowing what we all know about him, I laughed for about a week. Then I took the risk and heard the audio, mainly because I have been a Junoon fan going back to circa 1991 (it all ended when Salman Ahmed took up vocals). Although the song runs out of steam at the two minute mark and starts to look more like an animal chasing its own tail, it wasn’t even half as bad as I imagined; in fact, it is a nice fun number which makes bombs going off sound like something you could tap your feet to. And it gave me the courage to go for the video.

The video opens in a circus with Uncle Sam entertaining an eager audience. Uncle’s brandishing a stuffed, cuddly missile and the audience is loving it. Then pour in a slew of other stars which include a Chaudhry sahib (wink-wink), a madcap dandy in a light-blue suit (IMF/Bilderberg Group/Free Masons), a gangster swinging a pistol (now, who could this be?!), a man in black (hint: kala pani), a Che Guevara smoking a cigar (that’s our sifarishi, I mean sazishi boy, Zion Hamid), a fatso with a long thick beard who vaguely resembles the stereotype of a terrorist mullah (impossible to guess),  and then some more.

The evil men in the video dangle various essential food/household items in front of their fervent audiences. These include a roti, a boti (to go with the lyrics: sari boti kha, bura na mana), a sack of flour (labeled ‘muft aata,’ in case you still didn’t get it), and oh, a bulb (lest load shedding got left out). Just as some desperate hapless fellow from the audience reaches out for these enticing goodies and botis, they are duly pulled away. This goes on for a bit and finally, the performers manage to piss everybody off and then lo, ho: riots, mayhem, revolution: people sack the stage, shoot Uncle Sam, snatch his cuddly missile, smash heads, spill blood and accomplish the mission.

Gentle readers, I hope you’ve got the deep, amazing messages here: a) There are lots of important evil men here in this Land of the Pure and they are all out to get all of us; and b) We need a goddamn revolution, baby!

I am absolutely sure that you have never heard of this sort of thing before.

However, I want to tell you this: this video is a success. Not because of the message, but in spite of it—for the enticing, visually evocative characters, imaginative direction and editing, and the cracker of a performance by Ali Azmat in those fifteen characters he dons in less than three minutes. Here one finally sees Ali Azmat the performer—he’s a natural when it comes to delivering whacked out, over the top characters.

I’ll go a step further and say this: if Ali Azmat believes that it is his message that convinces us, then so be it. If it takes a proselytising spirit to bring out the best in our badass vocalist, then I am willing to tolerate him on the talk shows too (umm, wait… I need to think over that).  And besides, I don’t really blame him. In a country where one can make claims like Iqbal was the greatest thinker of the 20th century and get roundly applauded for it, he’s really small fish. We really have a much deeper crisis at our hands.

And dear Ali Azmat, for future reference: if you must have messages, it helps to remember that subtlety is the name of the game. We get it.

Bilal Tanweer

Bilal Tanweer

A writer and translator who teaches creative writing at LUMS.

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