Art may have no borders – except when those borders are barbed and contentious, running through the divide between Pakistan and India. While it is undeniable that both countries have a shared love for various genres of art, an exchange of ideas often becomes impossible, thwarted by aggressive cross-border politics.
Should Indo-Pak relations improve, would it lead to greater diversity in film, fashion, music, art or literature? Certainly. But it remains to be seen whether relations ever will take a turn for the better.
Shaan e Pakistan, an ambitious project by Huma Nassr, has been trying to sidestep this cross-border strife since 2015. Successive events have tried to merge Pakistani culture with that of India, showcasing fashion, music, food and film from both sides of the border. Zeenat Aman and Rekha Bhardwaj, among others, had crossed over the Wagah back in 2016.
Last year, Indian designers Rimple and Harpreet Narula brought their collection from the movie Padmaavat to a show in Karachi. And for the first ever event, Huma had miraculously managed to navigate through enough red tape to be able to orchestrate an event in Delhi which had included a fashion show featuring the work of Umar Sayeed, Ali Xeeshan and Zainab Chottani.
Coming up this March, Huma’s planning an event focusing on musical exchange. The Shaan e Pakistan Musical Achievements (SEPMA) event is going to be taking place in Lahore on the 21st and 22nd of March and so far, the guest list looks quite illustrious. Singers Harshdeep Kaur, Rekha Bhardwaj and film director Vishal Bhardwaj will be performing alongside Pakistan’s Shafqat Amanat Ali, Sanam Marvi, Amanat Ali and Javed Bashir on a concert scheduled for the second day.
A musical summit on the first day will focus on talks on topics relevant to the music industries of the subcontinent. Huma informs, “Some of the topics being discussed include ‘The future of the music business in a world ruled by the Internet’, ‘Sur aur Kahani – the role of music in performing arts’, ‘Music beyond borders’, ‘Evolution of music production’, ‘Activism through music’ and ‘Music in brands and marketing’. Shahzad Nawaz, Faisal Qureshi, Saadan Peerzada, Simi Raheel, Amanat Ali, Rekha Bhardwaj, Tina Sani, Harshdeep Kaur, Ali Zafar, Yousuf Salahuddin, Frieha Altaf and Nusrat Jamil are going to be amongst the moderators and guests at the summit.
Also in the offing are awards that will be given out for musical achievements in different genres of the field, ranging from singing to the playing of different instruments. “It is very important to acknowledge and encourage the musicians that form the backbone of the industry,” points out Huma.
“We also have veteran musician Javed Bashir joining us as music producer,” she continues. “He has always been very supportive of our work and has composed a special song for Shaan e Pakistan which will be releasing on the night of the concert, on the eve of 23rd March.”
The event sounds intriguing and if all goes well, the concert will be a veritable highlight and yet, it is a ticketed event. How does Huma plan to ensure security and retain exclusivity with the event open to public? “The ticket price will ensure that exclusivity is retained and we will be taking the requisite security measures,” she says. “We have been planning this event for a year and a half now and I want a lot of people to experience it. Of course, the ticket sales will be helpful. We operate on our own muscle, without government support, and it helps if we gain profits.”
“A lot of effort is going to be made for the Indian guests. They will cross into Pakistan by road, via the Wagah border, like Zeenat Aman and Rekha Bhardwaj did when we invited them last time. Just the symbolism of this journey is so beautiful. And then, on the first day of the event, they will be invited to a very exclusive dinner and musical evening at Mian Yousuf Salahuddin’s haveli in interior Lahore. We want this trip to be special for them and for the event to hold special meaning in the Shaan e Pakistan omnibus.”
It all sounds great on paper but one hopes that Huma’s plans truly do formulate into something impressive. Shaan e Pakistan, after all, has had a hit and miss history, starting out well enough but winning mixed reviews quite often. One remembers Ek Shaam Pakistan Ke Naam from back in 2016 where vendors, enlisted to be part of a cross-cultural exhibition, were very dissatisfied, complaining of delays and general disorganization.
However, we’re a nation that loves Bollywood and the event did make headlines for having brought Rekha Bhardwaj and Zeenat Aman to Pakistan. A year was skipped due to cross-border tensions and then, last year, a badly put together fashion show took place in Karachi. Even to the most detached observer, the fashion show had seemed like a rush job, rustling together only a few designer names from India and Pakistan and disregarding basic details like the construction of a high-end catwalk, model selection and good styling.
“We all learn from our experiences,” says Huma, without quite acknowledging last year’s blunder. “I am happy that the fashion show at least generated a lot of business for our visiting Indian designers, Rimple and Harpreet Narula. A joint Indo-Pak event is very difficult to orchestrate and we are trying hard. The upcoming musical event, we hope, is going to be very refined and an absolute experience for anyone who attends.”
An Indo-Pak event also particularly needs to deliver because it is an international representation of Pakistan. Regardless of how difficult it is, an organizer who chooses to shoulder the burden of such an event needs to make sure that both countries are showcased in the best possible light. It is imperative that the best makeup, style, music, et al is brought on board the platform. A ramshackle representation of Pakistan just won’t do.
Hopefully, the upcoming SEPMA will truly deliver. Hopefully, Shaan e Pakistan has progressed beyond its teething phase. For now, it all looks great on paper.