Some superheroes use soap instead. That’s the message behind Peshawar-based animation studio, Studio Rokhan’s latest video that focuses on the precautions people need to take in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The clip opens with a new character, Pabboo Badmaash (Pabboo the thug), valiantly and dramatically claiming to defeat his and the village’s new enemy — the coronavirus. He’s offered a wooden bat by the children, which is loudly refused. He’s then offered a licensed (they are particular about mentioning this) pistol, which he refuses just as dramatically. He’s then offered a homemade sword and even, a rocket launcher! “Nahin!” [No] is his response to these offerings.

If not these, then what will work? “Iss corona ke liye meray gunahgaar haath hi kaafi hain,” he says in the Urdu version of the clip; his hands are enough to defeat this corona. And then quite suddenly, he bends down and starts washing his hands while another person pours water from a lota over him. He even checks that he’s lathered and washed his hands for 20 seconds at least.

“Saboon, mera qanoon,” [The soap is my law] he says very dramatically. It’s a play on the popular Pashto film phrase, Topak zama qanoon de [My gun is my law].

First there was Sabir Lala, now in Studio Rokhan’s latest offering, there is Pabboo Badmaash, and he’s going to help you defeat Covid-19

The rest of the video sees the introduction of other characters, as they explain how the virus spreads, and what not to do — one hapless character that’s become a popularly shared meme was about to touch his face before he is abruptly and urgently warned with the line ‘Shakeela makawa!’ [Don’t do it, Shakeel!]

The Urdu translation lacks a bit of the punch Pashto has (I have been told), but it’s still very good and reaches out to audiences that aren’t native Pashto speakers.

The video has been animated and directed by Zeeshan Parwez. He’s collaborated with his cousin Fasi Zaka (both of them previously worked on a reality show for Indus Music called On the Fringe which had quickly amassed a cult audience) who provided the concept for the video while Humayoon Khan has provided the narration.

Humayoon Khan is also the voice of the character of Sabir Lala in Studio Rokhan’s previous videos on traffic jams and aerial firing. The aerial firing clip came out a day before the Pakistan vs India World Cup match, and exhorts people not to resort to aerial firing to celebrate as it can result in damage to property and the loss of lives.

The voice-overs for the characters in the Covid-19 awareness clip have been provided by Sarmad Ghafoor (who voiced Pabboo Badmaash), Sajid Ghafoor, Salar Sarmad and Usman Ghani. The stills used in the background are by Abubakar Siddiqui and the script is by Abdullah Khan and Fasi Zaka.

The director and animator behind the clip, Zeeshan Parwez, had resolved to make a Covid-19 awareness video. “But my resolve was further strengthened after I was invited by Taimur Khan Jhagra saheb, the health minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, for a chat about the virus,” he says. Taimur saheb spoke about how people need to take precautions and be prepared in the days to come and that everyone would have to do their part in spreading awareness.

The Rokhan team worked very quickly to put this out in just over a week, with minimum resources and during a lockdown. “Time was a luxury that we just did not have,” Parwez says. They released an Urdu version the day after the Pashto version came out.

Not only has the video gone viral after its release, it’s also been mentioned in quite a few places in the foreign press. But best of all, are the little videos being shared with Studio Rokhan — of children who are mimicking Pabboo Badmaash’s dialogues and ‘fighting’ the coronavirus by washing their own hands. If the objective was to make taking these precautions cool for children (and adults) I think it’s worked.

Studio Rokhan is currently working on releasing the video in other regional languages as well. They’re currently collaborating with Ali Gul Pir on a Sindhi version which should be out very soon.

Published in Dawn, ICON, April 5th, 2020