Last week, the trailer for the upcoming comedic film Maan Jao Na was released. I wasn’t impressed, because the film seemed to be regurgitating every Pakistani comedy that preceded it. But the film also showcased Ali Gul Pir, regurgitating the role of the hapless Sindhi feudal.
Some of you may know that the first Sunday of December is celebrated as a Sindhi cultural day in Pakistan. I have heard many complains about the way some choose to celebrate this day. But before we take offence at a handful of people dancing on the street, let me direct your cannons towards something that it a bit more problematic.
A caricature of the alleged Sindhi feudal has been part of Pakistan’s pop-culture before I was even around. And to be fair, some of the renditions have definitely worked. But as per local tradition; when something works we work it until it doesn’t anymore. This film is the latest culprit in this charade.
In part, it isn’t surprising that Ali Gul Pir is donning this avatar again. This after all is what made him a star. Since then, he has released a number of ambitious songs. Many of them have been really good. But people are still not over the Waderai Ka Beta.
But the latest versions of this trite character lack the punch of their earlier counterparts. I’m even willing to argue that at this point, they’re not even funny anymore.
Because of the trend of stage shows, it is perhaps impossible to know who first came up with this idea. But I think it is fair to say that veteran comedians like Moin Akhtar perfected it. The one rendition that really worked was aired as a part of an early Loose Talk episode.
Of course this was in large part due to Anwar Maqsood’s writing. The thing about satire is that it has to be commenting on the set up that it is making fun of. And the pointed political commentary is what saved this version. Yes, the gestures are over the top and the accent thicker than any Sindhi I’ve ever met (and I’m a Sindhi myself!)
But the humour isn’t bawdy. This joke isn’t the accent or the moustache. The performance compels you to laugh, but also highlights societal ills.
A Sindhi Sensation
Perhaps because of its viral success, Ali Gul Pir’s performance isn’t seen as intelligent comedy. But it is. Kind of like the Moin Akhtar version, he too is poking fun at the practice rather than the appearance.
Strangely, it is also kind of subtle.
Now, wait. Before you disagree, let me explain. There is obviously nothing subtle about the lyrics. It wouldn’t have been so very effective if there was. But the stylistic elements are subtle. They resisted the urge to put a Sindhi topi on his head and an ajrak around his neck.
Yes, they make an appearance. But it is a blink and miss appearance. Even his gestures are relatively understated (relatively) making this marginally more thought out.
When it Started Going Downhill
As I said, it isn’t possible to decide who came up with the Sindhi feudal stereotype first. Similarly, it isn’t really possible to pin point who dropped the ball first. But, for me things started looking bleak with a single Pakistani comedy film.
Karachi Se Lahore, a loud, brash, mostly unfunny movie that for some reason everybody liked. Except me of course. We don’t have time to go over everything I hated about this film, but let me just highlight what was wrong with its take on the Sindhi feudal.
Remember how I said that the joke for the two aforementioned performances isn’t the Sindhi accent or the appearance? Will it’s the exact opposite here. This film is brimming with stereotypes, with very little intelligent humour to back them up. And these aren’t limited to one ethnic group. But for this post let’s focus on the one.
This version of a Sindhi feudal is the most exaggerated thing since a Sharukh Khan parody. He isn’t even a character; he is a buddle of stereotypical elements. Sindhi topi? Check. Ajrak? Check. Lack of originality? All of the checks!
Seriously; We’re Still Doing This?
All of this brings us to the upcoming film. A film that I have very little hope for honestly. But to be fair, if this film fails it won’t be because of this character. But in 2017, are we seriously still doing this?
A lot of you may feel that as someone who hails from said ethnic group, I find this comedy offensive. And you’re not wrong.
But the bigger problem isn’t the fact that this is offensive, but that it is lazy. Satire, as I’ve mentioned, only works when it is insightful. When it pokes at something you hadn’t even noticed before. But twenty million Sindhi feudal versions later, we have seen it all. And the newer versions are not insightful. They are just stupid.