The saieen of saieens and the man behind the mooch, Ali Gul Pir talks to Images on Sunday about music, terrorism, YouTube and having a sense of humour in a place sometimes jokingly referred to as 'Ban-istan'.

“I’m sorry I didn’t take your call earlier,” said Ali Gul Pir over the phone. “I’ve been getting calls from a woman who wants me to make a tasbeeh for her for something!” he laughed at the absurdity of the suggestion. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that this man likes to make people laugh.

Take away the black shalwar kameezes, shades and the sass you often see in his on-screen persona and Ali Gul Pir is almost unrecognisable. He enjoys this relative anonymity and related an anecdote in which a gas station attendant mistook him for somebody who simply looked like Ali Gul Pir, and even suggested he audition at a local TV station. “You can make a lot of money parodying him!” he was told. He never bothered to tell the attendant that he was, in fact, the ‘real’ Ali Gul Pir.

In person, he initially appeared almost shy and quietly watched while my crew and I set our equipment up for the interview. He was listening to everything we said with a very amused twinkle in his eyes — preferring, it seemed, to observe rather than participate.

But when it was time for him to talk, he literally sprang to life.

Everybody wants to be a VIP

“Back in the day, there was Chief Saab (by Awaz) and Ehtesaab by Junoon. In this day and age, in Pakistan, there hasn’t been a bigger phenomenon than Saieen. That’s my baby. I’m proud of it. That’s me.

“It’s not entirely me, but obviously in all of these songs, I’m making fun of myself as well. There is a wadera in all of us. Jahan hamari parchi chalti hai, hum chalatey hain. We all want to be a VIP and get our ‘VIP passes’. We might not have enough money to buy a meal, but everyone wants to walk like a VIP.

“That’s been the message of my music to Pakistan: learn to laugh at yourself and maybe if we do, one day we’ll change. Maybe. But we also have to understand that what all this that we’re doing is wrong.”

On being the butt of your own joke

Feudal lords love this song. Even though he’s poking fun at them! “Pakistanis are funny people. We have a good sense of humour as a nation. A lot of people thought that after Waderai Ka Beta, ‘yeh banda to mar jaey ga’. But I’m still here.

“They understood that it’s humour and secondly, I’m Sindhi so I can make fun of myself. Being a Sindhi, if I had made a song about Punjabis, then I wouldn’t be here.

“The easiest thing, as well as the hardest thing, to do is to make fun of yourself. If you do, that’s the best thing ever because nobody is the butt of your jokes — you are.”

“Yesterday it was our friends’ friend who got killed, today it’s our friends and tomorrow it will be us.”

“For me the biggest fight for Pakistan is terrorism. A couple of weeks ago, I lost a friend I had known for nine years in the Islamabad terrorist attack. She was religious and the kindest person I knew but they shot her in the chest three times.

“So this fight is important. I can understand why people might perceive that I ‘joined the system’ by lending or making a song for the Sindh Culture Festival.

“When I met Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, I said ‘I’m not a PPP supporter. I’m not going to say Jeay Bhutto or Jeay PPP’. He responded, ‘You don’t have to. Sing a song about being a proud Sindhi and Pakistani. Just make a song about a Super Saieen who is proud of his country.’ That’s why if anyone actually reads the lyrics, it mentions all of the provinces. It promotes harmony and oneness.

“If a politician isn’t spending money on arms or funding terrorists and he wants to do something positive (whether he spent too much or too little is besides the point), if he’s getting up and being vocal about it and he’s the only one around, I think we need to support him. For that one thing only: that he continues to be vocal against terrorism.

“I’m not being biased. I got hired by the Sindh government to write a song about Pakistan. So, why not?”

Putting the ‘You’ in YouTube

“Making a song in Rs12,000 (Waderai Ka Beta) and uploading it online made my career. I’m a living example of how YouTube works. That’s what you’ve taken away from people.

“Now I have to upload a song on Daily Motion, Vimeo, Facebook, etc. All of my views are divided and you can’t keep a track of your viral-ity. YouTube was the single most effective, reliable medium where everyone could access it. You could even try to profit from it. But now you can’t because it’s banned. That’s what they want right?

“Google has put the video (the one due to which the Pakistani government imposed the band on YouTube) down. Now there is no reason to keep YouTube banned. But we still do because the people in power don’t want to un-ban it.

“Their daughters get bakers beaten up and a video of that is uploaded online, when they engage in any acts of corruption, a video is uploaded showing that. All of their activities come out into the open. It’s a medium that is free and there is no censorship. That hurts them. That’s why they’d like to keep it banned.”

What difference will one song make?

“When Noorjehan sang Ay Watan Kay Sajeelay Jawano, nobody said to her ‘What are you doing? You should take up arms. Your singing won’t make a difference.’ Everyone has to do their bit through their own discipline. Artists have to give inspiration through their songs. If I can change even one mind, convince people that this is necessary, it will achieve that purpose.

“(The song) Kholo BC is not just about YouTube, it’s about this culture of banning. Jibran Nasir came up to me a couple of months ago and said ‘You have to make a song about the YouTube ban’. I spoke to Adil who told me he was going to be a part of the song. Then Talal sent me the music for the song and as soon as I heard it, I loved it. I wrote the lyrics in one day, did a rough recording and sent it.

“I went to Islamabad, recorded it. The next day we shot the video. Shahbaz Shigri and Ayesha Linnea Akhtar did a great job. Everyone came together and did their bit. There was no financial incentive involved.

“If we don’t do it, then who will? We’re being kept in a corner. No leader is going to come and save you. You have to do it yourself. So just nudge, push or shove and get out of it.”

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