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March 9, 2011

More than a year ago, when I first started mulling over my proposed thesis for my Film Studies degree, I was interested in creating something “Pakistani.” Around that time, I started researching on films being made by yuppies and burgers like myself, to get an idea of both what topics were being pursued as well as the scale of production that was being achieved.

During that time, I ran into two films – Freedom Sound and Slackistan. The former, despite being advertised several years ago, never seemed to make it beyond a trailer. The latter gained a lot more fame, and a lot more notoriety, hailed for being the renaissance of a new idea of Pakistani cinema, and derided for being another piece of elitist trash.

For me, as a future filmmaker, it was exceedingly difficult to have an objective opinion. When I viewed them as my peers, I felt the need to support them, as their efforts were brave cries in the oppressive barrenness of independent Pakistani cinema. When I viewed them as competitors, or an arm-chair critic, I sneered at their English-medium, insular, trying-too-hard to be hip demeanor. I was struggling however to come to terms with what was wrong about these films without allowing my own insecurities or biases to filter through.

Now if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might have heard me go on about intertextuality. One of the concepts that I came across while reading on this idea was how texts and ideas traveled from the core to the preiphery, or to put it crudely, west to east.

…the first step in this process as one where “the foreign texts which become known in the original language are perceived as “strange” and as belonging to the elite by the domestic audience.” Lotman argues that once the periphery becomes saturated with texts from the center it begins to master the language, create its own adaptations and translations until it begins to “bombard” its own texts at other structures, including the former center.

This was the point the metaphorical penny dropped for me. The problem with Slackistan and Freedom Sound wasn’t entirely that they were in English, or catered only to the elite. It was that they were being presented in genres and visual styles which were as yet alien and foreign to the native audiences, and thus became associated with the elite.

On a personal level, this realisation was critical in conceiving both the plot and style for my own film.

But on a more general level, I felt the need to return to this idea recently. It happened after a chance discovery by @Shahidsaeed sparked a viral epidemic of the youtube kind, and after a little over 500 views in more than two weeks, Asif Khan’s epic “Boom Boom World Cup Song” hit over 3000+ views and counting literally overnight.

When I first started tweeting this enthusiastically, a few people complained that I was taking the piss out of what was an innocent and earnest effort. A trip to the song’s youtube page shows a combination of either condescending reactions, or outright abuse. When the discussion of this song entered the Elite/Almost Elite strata, there were mournful observations of how our population felt the need to make sounds in English. Although I did not come across it personally, I am sure a lot of people would have also despaired about where our proud heritage is going now that the poor/middleclass/masses believe that they need to make such songs in English.

All the reactions betray certain chutyapay (for lack of a better word) amongst us all.

For starters, a vast majority of us consume such fluffy, trivial and low-brow entertainment by the busload, be it Shakira’s songs or Kim Kardarshian’s life. Those who don’t do so, believe that unless it is to do with revolutions and poverty, ANY low-brow art is worthy of derision. Thus when there is a local version of low-brow tripe such as Mr. Asif’s entry, there is a coalescing of opinion seeking to condemn it.

What such condemnation obfuscates is the real value of this song.

Cricket is a colonial sport, and its adoption, assimilation and transformation by the colonised is well documented. Young boys on Pakistani streets don’t yell “Howzat” they yell “Awutzayyy!” They have changed “Well played” to “Well shot” “Well Ball” or simply, just “Well.” The sport’s commentary, regulations, jargon are all in English, and are (at least in pakistan’s case) not translated into local languages, but taken as is. Cricket is also one of the few cross-cutting, hierarchy defying features of Pakistani life.

Which means that Asif’s song is written in English not because it is an attempt to enter the Billboard 100, but because it seeks to speak in the language of cricket as it is understood in Pakistan.

More importantly, it is a great example of the periphery ‘bombarding’ the center with its own texts, returned after an attempt to master them. In that context, we can’t start judging this song against Faiz’s poetry or Beethoven’s Fifth, because that would be comparing high-brow apples with low-brow oranges. Instead, this song has to be viewed within the genre of the “Official Tournament Song” which are pop ditties created for every major sporting event. By and large, these songs are nothing special. The greatest cricket world cup song is perhaps Jazba Junoon, which perhaps because of its overuse, generally ranks as one of Junoon’s worst songs for me. But that is only when I judge that song against the rest of Junoon’s output.

Tournament songs are not meant to be works of art, they are meant to be a celebration of the event, a condiment to the meal, an extension to the emotions, expectations and excitement surrounding the tournament itself. It is for that reason that most Pakistanis still weep at the opening chords of Europe’s “It’s the final countdown” something which even the genius expropriation of the song by Gob does not diminish.

It is why the otherwise supremely annoying Mr. jeem has a special place in my heart when he sings his World Cup 2009 song. And it is here where BHOOM BHOOM WORLD CUP fits in. Because it is an intimate expression of world cup joy.

But, and this is my final point, where this song truly makes its mark is its very existence. This is not some corporate paid, heartless single composed by nameless autobots and sung by some global superstar who couldn’t give two fucks about the sport. This isn’t some soulless exercise aimed at brand exposure and cheap publicity. (ok maybe a little cheap publicity) This isn’t some super-slick, super-fine production churned out by the machine.

This is an awkward guy, surrounded by endearingly earnest men, performing this whole scene in a rather dilapidated wedding hall with little to no hope of any financial gains, of any fifteen-minute fame, of any recognition or awards.

This, my friends, is art.

It might not be art for its lyrics, its production, its idea or execution. Its art for its heart. (see what i did there)

In a country where the only people capable of affording to create culture are forever aching for foreign acclaim and validation, in a culture where artistic endeavors are routinely dismissed and disparaged for not providing social security, in a country where batshit crazy archaic ideas are blowing up in maidans and marketplaces, BHOOM BHOOM WORLD CUP is not just extraordinary, its miraculous.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. Shahid permalink
    March 9, 2011 21:28

    At some level the Urdu version cuts down on your explanation/critique and explains his desire to get noticed far more than sticking to english b/c it’s what cricket is done in argument

    Not that I disagree that it’s art or with any of your rather awesome surgical cuts on the art of the song.

    • March 9, 2011 21:30

      you’re right – the urdu version at the very least deserves its own analysis. however, my greater point remains that we shouldn’t start dismissing it as meaningless, because even if it is done for fame and kiran khan’s pants, it is still a valid example of what was once foreign being made into something totally local.

  2. March 9, 2011 21:36


  3. March 9, 2011 21:45

    In all seriousness, though, you’ve better articulated the point I was making about why it was done in English, or why the need is even felt for doing it in English, i.e. the intertextuality of the whole facade.

    After hearing the Urdu version, I’m just going to hold my head in despair. I don’t care about elite/middle-class/low-class/high-brow/low-brow/eyebrow/unibrow divisions, but it really winds me up when people who don’t legitimately have talent still have the courage and self-confidence to…well…have the audacity to publish materials which are, objectively speaking, devoid of any artistic worth whatsoever.

    I realize this makes me sound like a choot/snob/elitist (in another sense of the word), but this is one principle I’m sticking to. Making an effort should be commended, but knowing how good that effort is on a scale of 1-10, and knowing what the threshold should be for an effort to be “good enough to publish” should be something every self-aware “artist” has to know.

    */end non-sequitur rant*

    • March 9, 2011 22:09

      You’re right, but maybe if Pakistanis learnt more of “Practice Makes Perfect”, then maybe they would produce better and better material. As an example I want to segue into what happened with Ali Zafar’s official World Cup song; it was so schmaltzy and preachy that I had to actually force myslef to watch it. Then, Ali Azmat trotted out into the ground, limbered up, ate his designated LU biscuits and smashed it out of the field for a six, producing a sound worth listening to.

      Josh-e-Junoon proved that Pakistanis can do their best if they stick to what they know best. And you forgot the who-was-the-band-that-sang-it question about the World is Coming Down?

      Oh, and full disclosure, I’m one degree of separation from the guy who produced the trailer Freedom Sound.

    • March 9, 2011 22:26

      i have to admit a bias here, which you rightfully point out. if Dino had made this song, I would’ve hated it with a passion. Asif Shah’s background and class makes me an apologist for him in some ways.

      But at the same time, i don’t think that this is devoid of any artistic merit whatsoever. Wedding songs (the traditional kind) are also pretty lame, but they have a cultural function and role. Moreover, Godard said that the best way to critique a film is to make one yourself. Well, all of us who hate this song should make on ourselves. Again, in a world where X-factor rejects put out bestselling books and Dr. Shahid Masood is considered an intellect, why stop this guy from putting out his work?

      • March 9, 2011 22:44

        I’m definitely not saying there should be some sort of censorship board that should prevent people like Asif Shah from putting out their stuff. All I’m saying is, as a musician, and I’d like to think a discerning one, there has to be some level of self-awareness, of quality, of artistic merit involved in making decisions in an artistic sense. Even as a writer (in which respect I think I am not even a quarter of the “artist” I am as a musician) I’m discerning, and when I’m writing something that reads like shit, I check myself, and stash it to see if I can work on it later. It’s just appalling to think other artists don’t have that gauge, and if they don’t, I fail to see how they’re artists at all.

        Re: Wedding songs; you seem to concede that, in terms of “art”, they’re questionable at best. I don’t contest that they are culturally and socially significant, but that doesn’t mean that they’re worthy of artistic acclaim.

        I support anyone’s right to put out anything. I just wish there was a self-awareness present in any “artist” to consider whether their material is artistically worth anything or not. A lot of X-factor rejects etc. I’m sure do it for the commercial aspect of the deals you mention, because that’s an avenue afforded to them by their societies, something that doesn’t exist in Pakistan on a lucrative-enough scale to entice people to sell out, so I don’t think that comparison’s a fair one.

        To condense this in a nutshell, I defend anyone’s right to attempt their chosen brand of art, but their has to be some level of discernment insofar as their “artistry” is concerned. Social/cultural context may make music/literature/film/art relevant, but it doesn’t exempt it from critique and objective standards (or as objective as standards can be).

  4. March 9, 2011 22:51

    @ Mani

    Most artists have a self-check gauge, just depends on where its placed. A lot of talented people I knew would not put out their stuff because they felt it wasn’t good enough, but part of it was also the fear of being judged and dissected. point being that no matter how shit the stuff you put out, its ultimately a brave brave act because you are putting yourself out there. as a musician/writer yourself, you would know that feeling.

    and the X-factor analogy may not be fair, but it certainly puts this issue into greater perspective. at least the X-factor guy stands to make money. what is this guy hoping for? sure he is going for some intangible, and hardly lofty ideals (fame,money,chicks etc) but have to give him credit for doing so.

    finally, artistic critique is important, and relevant. but at the end of the day, the primary method of critique depends on whether it makes you feel anything. it might be anger, or joy, or sadness or whatever, but it has to make you feel something. it’s all well and good to make something that is ticking all the boxes of what passes as Art, but it matters little if it doesn’t provoke something within you.

  5. Qazi permalink
    March 9, 2011 23:27

    “Young boys on Pakistani streets don’t yell “Howzat” they yell “Awutzayyy!” ”

    This is utterly beautiful. Explaining the nuances and the intricacies of the most important linguistics for a Pakistani in such a detailed manner. Quite some justice done to an work of art (art for heart, as you put it) that must have had all honest intentions but somehow wouldn’t still cut it for the generic public for the reasons you mention above.

    Asif Khan needs to read this.

    • rangarh permalink
      March 10, 2011 04:29

      totally agree … “Awutzayyyyy!!!” .. hahaha … great insight … i remember going to a mechanic shop once to get some engine oil for my bicycle chain … commonly called “mublayl” … which as a 12 year or so old i figured came from “mobil oil” .. engine oil made by mobil .. so i realized that the guy selling it must feel that the entire country is chotia for not knowing the right name of the product he sells … so being a smarty pants i went to the garage with my bicycle and asked for mobil oil .. however the mechanic he refused to acknowledge the existence of any such thing … when i pointed to it it he clarified that that was mublayl .. and i came home feeling dumb and confused .. lolz

      but great article … the points by mani abt there being a realization of effort and aesthetic value maybe right … but wht if the connoisseur has the same taste and aesthetics as the artist ?? .. for example joe satriani will not really be that popular with fans of naseebo lal … the place that produces any form of art also produce people to consume it … Art is only relevant to experience … and talking high and mighty about generally acclaimed(or to be acclaimed by pop culture – even art has one) and ‘safe’ pieces of work is getting old and out of tune … just like kamaran akmal and fake politics of the team … I can look at “the last supper” for hours and not feel as excited about it as i would for some sultan rahi posters … Same goes for music … of course I am not trying to deny the geniuses of great masters and artists of the past .. The point is that i understand their work because being westernized/elitized i understand their language and share similar sensory experiences … And it is sad to say my aesthetic culture probably borrows more from the west than my own people … and its not a overnight thing which u can prevent happening or reverse either … So as for Mr. Asif and his friends … if you sing this song with a perfect british accent and great oprah vocal harmonies … i am sure they will no longer be able to understand it and will effectively be excluded from it … and the whole point of it being their piece of work gets defeated

      Asif certainly appeals to something in me .. not because of his background or anything … but as a rhyme and a jingle … and I would like to think that my ears are sensitive enough to understand when something outrightly offensive is coming through them .. point being its a world cup and I want people to be running in the streets going crazy and shouting singing and dancing to express our support for our team … because i want to do that too .. and if we had the general level of festivity that should surround such events … if these were happy times … i would have liked to see a lot more like Asif singing karaoke not given a toss because they loved the game and they loved their team … we forget that having a pleasant experience is at the end of the day called ‘fun’ … no matter how much we try to pretend that our feeling is exquisitely more refined higher and accentuated … the fact remains that you are trying to have fun – BIOLOGICALLY!!! … that is purpose of art … I would take fun over redundant and boring ‘efforts’ any day.

      • March 10, 2011 13:23


        Absolutely brilliant! I think your comment should act as an addendum to this post, it fits perfectly.

        also, i think i’ve had a similar experience to the mubalayl story too! hahahahh smarty pant burger kids amidst the working class creates such great moments.

  6. March 12, 2011 04:13

    All of this talk about a (supposedly) self absorbed ordinary guy making something for the sole purpose of art (in my opinion, falsely) itself became all too elitist. This is the actual dilemma. We, in today’s world, don’t know how to stop behaving, feeling or looking elitist no matter what we do. Any suggestions?
    P.S. By the way, Mani said it mildly, but I will be harsh unfortunately and will say that Asif Shah should have realized himself how dumb he behaved. Being ordinary never means being devoid of any sense of symmetry.

    • rangarh permalink
      March 13, 2011 06:09

      well singing and dancing have been the most primeval forms of expression since the earlier ages .. ranging back to ritualistic religious practice and forms of tribute to deities because the power of expression of these mediums was considered the most suitable way to engage with a gods and demi-gods .. even the variations of these form that flow into the Islamic culture (sufi and brailvi for example) treat singing and dancing as a form of worship .. a surrender that demolishes the self and transcends towards ecstasy … regardless of if you have talent or not … my point here being that art holds something invaluable for the artist … that comes even before it reaches its audience .. sometimes the most sublime forms of expressions were never meant to have spectators and had more to do with the self of the creator and his need to address the drive it was generating … as an observer you have no right to judge anyone elses expression .. because you dont share his inner experience .. not even the same language if you just introduce the variable of the limitation of language – which suggests that human beings cannot even effectively communicate their feelings through word symbols (wittgenstein) … the task of judging the work then becomes even harder.

      The point of asif’s song is not to produce the most beautiful symphony in the world .. such a thing does not exist … there are no universals in art and no creative work can ever be deemed to always hold its value no matter who the observer .. art is a subjective process .. that is why its different from accounting and biology .. and it not only depends on the subjectivity of the artist but also that of the one consuming the art … what is good for you might be rubbish for another.

      And besides since when did celebrating a world cup and trying to show your love for the game become dumb ?? … nothing can be taken out of its context … especially art … for example when abu-dujana danced after receiving the prophet’s sword before battle of uhad … would there be value in criticizing his dance moves for not being symmetric or professional ?? … he did not care if they weren’t .. he wanted to express what he felt inside and he did … same goes for Asif … he thought this was what he had to do .. and i am pretty sure he had to face a lot of negativity before getting it out there … because if it was as easy and cheap as everyone is making it sound then we would have a music video coming out of every house … and maybe it should

      Asif goes perfectly well with the world cup spirit .. i dont care how my voice sounds when i scream my throat out at an afridi century that wins us a tight match .. i would not care at all abt the symmetry .. and i wold not go shouting in the streets every day either .. this song came at a specific time catering to a specific sentiment .. it is meant as a tribute .. its not abt being elite or not .. its abt loving the game enough to welcome another fan … Its like a roar in the stadium .. cacophonous yet exhilarating … judging it for musical technicalities is like watching a porn movie for its plot !! .. cheers !!

      • March 14, 2011 14:24


        ranghar’s said all there needs to be said on this. don’t think i can find anything to write that expresses what i meant any better.

  7. Taimour permalink
    March 19, 2011 12:57

    EXCELLENT article. thankyou for this! all of us really do need things like these that make us think outside our own ‘chootyapay’. amazing work once again!

  8. October 30, 2012 17:29

    Enjoyed this article as well as the heated discussion that followed. Some mutations I’ve heard: ‘Heart attack’ (architect) ‘shakkarsoobay’ (shock absorbers) ‘sewter’ (sweet earth – I’ve actually seen this in writing on a receipt from the place that sold us this soil for the garden).

    • October 31, 2012 03:47

      thank you so much 🙂

      My personal favourite these days is ‘hand stabilizer’ aka hand santizers. Love it!

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