By Iram Salim
Thanks God! Madaris time is over and our media is back to ‘normalcy’. Aamir Liaquat Hussain, Sanam Baloch and Wasim Badami will be selling their other products from Eid on wards.
Certain private TV channels had declared Ramzan programmes a success and claimed that these were widely viewed. In fact their rating was “fake”, sources informed Pak Destiny. They said the channels had to create the impression of success in order to attract the viewership. The people of the country are happy to rid of madaris today.
THE FRIDAY TIMES also writes – The TV industry has some new superstars this Ramadan, with marathon shows that combine religion with quiz shows, gifts that include rickshaws for the poor and babies for adoption, and anchors playing with wild animals like a lion and a boa constrictor.
The most popular among this league of extraordinary ladies and gentleman is Dr Aamir Liaquat Hussain, a former politician and MQM parliamentarian. A combination of Oprah Winfrey and Glen Beck, he is the new pioneer of religious entertainment in Pakistan. His critics call him a narcissist and accuse him of selling religion. But despite a past tainted with an expulsion from MQM, questions about his university degree, a leaked video that shows him swearing at clerics behind the scenes, and concerns about hate speech against minorities, his strategy has worked. His show is among the highest rated in Pakistan, is making a fortune for him and his channel, and has set a new trend.
For years, religious TV shows in Ramadan involved a bunch of bearded clerics who delivered long boring speeches and had no appeal for the masses, a marketing expert said. The revenue generated by entertainment-based Ramadan transmissions runs into billions of rupees, and the ratings of the otherwise popular talk shows drop. “The exact figure will be ascertained after the holy month is over, but every television channel has earned much more money in Ramadan than in other months.”
But concerns about Dr Aamir Liaquat’s controversial practices and comments have brought him critics from both liberals and conservatives. A columnist in Karachi’s conservative daily Ummat called him a Madari, or a street performer, criticizing him especially for throwing prizes at the deprived ( tarsay huay) audience and watching them fight over them. Dr Ziauddin Khan questioned his religious credentials and asked if ratings were the true indicator of what people want to watch.
“I have never seen a man worse than Dr Ziauddin,” the anchor responded on air. “He wants to deprive people of their happiness.” Accusing the columnist of insolence towards Ramadan, he said if he were compelled to retort, the people of Karachi would be with him. Hundreds of his fans cheered and clapped.
“TV channels have forgotten their true responsibility,” said Tahira Abdullah, a rights activist who also appears on TV regularly. “We have stooped to the level of selling our religion.” She said such shows violated the sanctity of the holy month, and a daily lottery in the name of religion is “a blatant display of hypocrisy”.
She was referring to a quiz segment in which Dr Aaamir Liaquat gives away automobiles, electronic and air tickets, bringing back memories of the once popular Tariq Aziz, who hosted the flagship PTV quiz show Neelam Ghar in the 1980s and 1990s.
The massive popularity of his show makes it hard to express concerns that he must adhere to certain parameters of responsibility. “Don’t come home if you are writing against Aamir Liaquat Hussain,” a family member said to me.
“These are not religious programs,” said Tahir Ashrafi, a member of the Council of Islamic Ideology. “This is entertainment in the name of Islam. I cannot approve of this.”
“Islam does not stop us from entertainment,” the popular anchor responded. “And we have the entertainment segment after Iftar to ensure that the sanctity of the fast is not violated. There is nothing un-Islamic or immoral in the entire program, but I just want to be careful.”
He also rejected allegations of bigotry. “I am the only one in Pakistan who speaks against the Taliban with courage and with reason,” he said. “I call them the Kharjis. I stood by Malala Yousafzai. And I am facing serious threats to my life. I am on Taliban’s hit list.”
Although the most controversial, Dr Aamir Liaquat Hussain is not the only host who runs such a show.
Singer-turned-cleric Junaid Jamshed also gives away prizes while spreading religious knowledge in his own Ramadan show that he co-hosts with anchorperson Wasim Badami. But he is struggling with ratings.
Actor Adnan Siddiqui has also jumped into the fray in his own style. Maya Khan, who became notorious for harassing young couples in parks in her morning show, also has her own Ramadan show.
The television industry, liberalized a little more than a decade ago, is still experimenting. Some of these experiments have worked for them financially, despite being controversial. The recent crime shows, full of re-enactments, stole big chunk of viewership from the popular soaps.
The success of Ramadan shows has compelled some to think about continuing them after Ramadan. Dr Aamir Liaquat Hussain is one of them.