All the News Fit to Sing

An interview with the man behind Pakistan's musical news cartoons

American coverage of Pakistan tends not to focus on its role as a media laboratory, but a sudden growth of private television channels there has created fierce competition and an almost desperate need to innovate. One channel, Express News, has launched an animated news segment that is quickly gaining popularity. Called “Bankay Mian,” the cartoon features four characters who relate the day’s events in qawwali, a traditional singing style. Ayesha Akram spoke to creator Kamran Wajih.

What inspired the creation of “Bankay Mian”?

In our heterogeneous society, divided by fault lines of creed, caste, ideology, and belief, we felt there was a need for a platform where unbiased, open, direct, and dispassionate news could be delivered in a palatable format. This animated character is a post-modern version of patriotism, since Mian is always speaking about the people and for the people. We wanted to give birth to a format through which the concerns of ordinary citizens could be aired.

Does the format make news more appealing?

Comedy and satire are age-old techniques of relaying messages that may otherwise be difficult to hear. In a society where laughter has been obliterated, “Bankay Mian” was welcomed as a much-needed relief from run-of-the-mill news shows.

Does “Bankay Mian” give news a longer shelf life?

News, by its very nature, is transitory. We only take the news of the day, and the rendition of news in a qawwali multiple times during the day leads people to memorize the words and sing along.

Is news satire finally coming to Pakistan?

Satire is not new to our society. But it will take us a long time to develop the degree of tolerance required to allow shows like The Daily Show. Fear of persecution remains the main reason why TV shows are reluctant to poke fun at politicians.

What are the benefits of narrating news this way?

“Bankay Mian” represents New Journalism, in which literary techniques are used to write a reported piece. It also adheres to the techniques and traditions of literary fiction, such as narrating the story by describing scenes and opting for conversational speech rather than quotations.

Could “Bankay Mian” replace the newscast?

The qawwalis are in fact editorials. An editorial always supports and supplements the regular broadcasts but will never replace them.

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Ayesha Akram is a journalist living in Pakistan.