Thursday, August 09, 2007

What politicians have failed to do, a universal love for music has been able to accomplish

Home > Boston Globe > A musical bridge for India and Pakistan By Swati Gauri Sharma August 6, 2007 SONGS ABOUT broken hearts and lovers lost are moving across the borders of India and Pakistan and taking the edge off the two nations' bitter history of three wars and a continuing nuclear standoff.
Because of the modern day blend of Hindi and Urdu spoken in both countries, songs sung by Pakistani artists and listened to by millions of Indians and Pakistanis have connected the two countries in a way they have never been able to before. The younger Indian generation's love of Pakistani bands has done what politicians find difficult -- reduced tension between the two countries.
Although some Pakistani artists have been extremely popular in India in the past, their popularity came and went and remained mostly among a limited group -- either intellectuals or older people. This is the first time that a number of different Pakistani artists have made such an immense mark on the Indian music scene within such a short period of time, and have been popular with people of all ages and classes. Pakistani musicians are topping the charts and winning both awards and hearts of youngsters in India.
In Bollywood, India's most popular film industry, directors have started featuring popular Pakistani rock bands and artists in their film soundtracks. Unlike Hollywood, almost every Bollywood movie has many songs featured and picturized in the film. Often, the popularity of the original soundtrack can determine the box office sales for a film. The songs are favorites both in Pakistan and in India. Some songs are remixed and are frequently played in clubs. In some cases, like the film "Kalyug," the movie wasn't very successful, but a song from it became a super-hit.
This type of collaboration between the countries is unprecedented. Tensions between India and Pakistan have existed since the Partition in 1947, when riots and massacres occurred throughout the subcontinent. The two countries are still at odds over Kashmir, a region both claim. Just last year, tensions boiled over when a series of train bombs in Mumbai, India, resulting in more than 200 deaths, was thought to be the work of terrorist groups who were said to be hiding in Pakistan.
Despite this, India's younger generations look past this unhappy history and have overwhelmingly accepted Pakistani music. Rekha Malhotra, who has been called the "pioneer of the South Asian music community" by The Washington Post, says that, although there have been Pakistani performers in India in the past, "Indians don't even know who they were." But now, this cultural exchange is possible because "there is a thriving music scene in Pakistan and it only makes sense because of the current political situation. A lot of it has to do with the liberalization between borders." Nevertheless, said Malhotra, who is also known as DJ Rekha, "it took a long time for this to happen."
In Pakistan, politicians have done little to help the countries connect culturally. But the people have spoken. Through pirated films and cable television, a large majority of the Pakistani population watches Indian films, even though the country has its own film industry, Lollywood.
In 2004, a Bollywood film featured a song by an extremely popular Pakistani singer, Atif Aslam. The song was remixed, giving it a more upbeat tone for clubs. As a result of its popularity, the song was made into a music video, featuring Aslam. After this song, Aslam went on to sing many other songs for film soundtracks. Although in some cases the movies Aslam sang for failed, his songs still were wildly successful in India and were most often requested on radio channels and television shows.
What politicians have failed to do, a universal love for music has been able to accomplish. Granted, it took 60 years for countries to be able to accept and share their music and culture, but younger generations are more independent, and more disconnected from the horrors of the partition, so this acceptance and celebration of Pakistani artists is possible. Although Pakistanis have long watched Indian films, never before has there been such a successful exchange in music between the two countries.
The future of relations between Pakistan and India depends on the younger generations. Although politically the countries are far from being friends, a conscious effort is being made for their people to connect on a cultural platform. The success of this effort shows the constructive relationship that Pakistan and India could have. Swati Gauri Sharma is a Northeastern student and intern at The Nation.

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