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Spotlight: Shoaib Mansoor

Hailed as a breakthrough film by critics and hoards of people who are still lining up for it outside cinema halls, Khuda Kay Liye unfortunately is not a very timely event. It is in fact a vivid example of how liberals (even the more intelligent ones like Shoaib Mansoor), though quick to predict cultural the trends and fads, are always slightly late in recognising social and political undercurrents.

The plague and trend of misinterpreting religion for political and commercial gains (a theme prominent in the film), is not such a new phenomenon in Pakistan. It was very much a growing part of society even before 9/11. Everybody knows how it was used politically by the Zia dictatorship and then by various intelligence agencies, but what most liberals missed out on was the creeping social fallout of this clandestine political act. People like Junaid Jamshed are a reflection of this social meltdown.

In a short director’s statement in the promotional booklet for the film, Mansoor briefly unravels one of the reasons that pushed him to making the film. He says that one day when he turned to TV and saw his former Vital Signs protégée, Juniad Jamshed, with a huge beard and preaching that music was not allowed in Islam, he was extremely disturbed, thinking that this former pop star who had gathered such fame and fortune from singing pop songs (penned by Mansoor), had no right to impose his “confused state of mind” over impressionable young listeners.

Mansoor complained that he had worked really hard in helping to shape Junaid’s pop career but was angered after watching the same man now using his new-found status as a preacher to condemn music.

Mansoor is well within his right and mind to be disappointed in this respect, but my question is, even though he is well known for being an observant and intelligent man with meticulous talents as a film and TV director, how come it took him such a long time in coming to this logical and obvious conclusion about Junaid?

Even though I, as a culture buff, spend a fair amount of time documenting the Vital Signs’ creative career in the early 1990s, Shoaib was, of course, far closer to the band, especially to Junaid. The point being that, to me, Junaid’s topsy-turvy journey towards a complete and at times apathetic submission to the fundamentalist strains had actually begun way back in 1996.

Soon after the release of the Vital Signs’ fourth and last album, Hum Tum, in 1995, Junaid had started to send letters to various newspapers complaining that their music pages were promoting and glorifying “druggie music” and bands whose members were “Satan worshippers.” This was long before there was any Tableeghi Jamaat in his life. I am absolutely sure Shoaib Mansoor knew about these letters.

Many years later, looking back I have no hesitation in also suggesting that Junaid’s band mates, Rohail Hyatt and Shahzad Hassan, and mentor, Shoaib Mansoor, did absolutely nothing to help him tackle the existentialist crisis plaguing him and whose solution he ultimately found in the shape of the Tableeghi Jamaat.

There was nothing wrong with him finding solace in the Jamaat, but the problem was that since Junaid had already tasted the fruit of success and fame as a pop star, his need for attention did not evaporate even when he decided to bid farewell to music.

On the contrary, his rather obvious desire to remain in the picture saw him continue to make news by first dipping in and out of music, varying the length of his beard according to where he stood on the subject of music and Islam, and then ultimately announcing that music was not allowed in Islam.

This is what apparently took both Shoaib and Rohail by surprise and also caused disappointment because both had planned important future projects with Junaid. Junaid was always supposed to be Shoaib’s leading man in a film and Rohail was contemplating a reformation of the band. But again, I am surprised that both these gentlemen who were so close to Junaid were so shocked by his final fatwa on music.

Because Junaid’s conversion was not sudden. It was a gradual, slow and rather painful process, unfolding piece by piece right in front of his band mates and Shoaib Mansoor. Were they ever really noticing?

Even during the early days of Vital Signs, Junaid was a tricky business. He was always a volatile character, as emotionally impressionable and contradictory as he is today as a tableeghi. He went about like a man tormented by a sense of burdensome guilt; a guilt about something no one, not even he himself, was able to define.

Ironically, he was also the hungriest for success and stardom, not only in pop music but also in film and television. This made him one of the hardest working members of the band who actually wanted to continue playing beyond Hum Tum. He is on record as saying that music was his life as he went on to release two impressive post-Signs solo albums.

But more and more he was falling rather willingly to his existentialist frusterations, as his desire to work again with Vital Signs got no serious response from Rohail and his dream to star in a Shoaib Manoor film only got him lazy chuckles from the director.

Though his two closest allies in the music business had by now become aware of the growing conservatism in the religious and social ideas held by Junaid, they still couldn’t see through the obvious fact that in front of them was a man spiralling downwards towards a situation in which he would ultimately start questioning their faith.

Even though Rohail’s liberal mindset, tastes and lifestyle always clashed with Junaid’s idea of being an artiste (even though he himself was leading a rather posh and lavish life), this undercurrent eventually turned into open resentment by the time Rohail did come around and agreed to reform the band in 2002 for a special Nazia Hassan tribute concert.

It was interesting to note how Junaid responded to Rohail’s call. Only a few days prior to the concert, Junaid had already announced to the press that he was joining the Jamaat full time and would quit making music. In fact he had been spending his time preaching and being preached at a congregation in Raiwind, when he suddenly reappeared on the day of the concert flanked by two members of the Jamaat but with his long, flowing beard now trimmed into a neat, stylish goatee.

When asked by the press about his earlier statement regarding his retirement from music, Junaid said that after consulting with some elders in the Jamaat, he has been assured that there was nothing wrong with playing music.

Wearing a T-shirt, denims and with a stylised goatee, Junaid played an excellent set with Rohail, Shahzad and the original VS guitarist, Salman Ahmed. However, by the end of the concert he looked anguished as he started making his way towards his two tableeghi comrades waiting in the wings to gather him back.

A common acquaintance of Salman and Junaid told me that Junaid boiled when Salman Ahmed declined his offer to join the Jamaat and he was never happy with the kind of band Rohail wanted Vital Signs to become. He said Junaid thought that Rohail, who was trying to ring in bands like Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac as influences in the Signs’ music, was trying to turn VS into a “druggie” band. Junaid even shared these views with Shoaib as well, and yet the latter saw nothing wrong with the way his prodigy was turning out to be.

Junaid has publicly criticised the way Mansoor has portrayed jihadis and Islamic evangelists in Khuda Kay Liye. He has alluded that it is Shoaib who is confusing the youth about Islam and not him. But of course, Junaid’s own confusion regarding the subject is now well documented and his lectures and statements never fail to sound contradictory as he goes about denouncing the material and the ungodly nature of music and showbiz, but continuing his long-standing stint as an expensive clothes’ designer and a naat-reciter. He releases his naat albums through exactly the same immoral promotional and distribution channels used by the pop music counterparts.

After finally deciding to let go of his need for fame and attention through music, he has found almost an equal amount of fame and fortune as a naatkhuaan, televangelist and designer. It was here that he finally came to the concerning attention of Shaoib Mansoor, but maybe ten years too late?

Thus, the time for the sensitive and informed liberals to culturally and artistically address a reactionary political act that was fast becoming a social phenomenon came and went a long time ago. Long before 9/11. That’s why maybe Khuda Kay Liye might now only be preaching to the already converted, as the rest let out ecstatic nods of Subhanallah every time an evangelist like Junaid contradicts his way through preachy rhetoric.

Perhaps Shoaib would have been better off making Khuda Kay Liye a decade ago instead of trying to resurrect Anarkali for a multinational.

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