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Owning Apnay Ullo

January 15, 2012

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A corrupt peon calls the shots with Vasu in the background.

It’s quite interesting and goes something like this: Shehzad Roy’s mother-in-law showed him a video on YouTube in which a Balochi man narrates a rundown of Pakistan’s political history in just four minutes.

It got Roy thinking and before you know it he was making efforts to locate the man called Vasu and get him on-board for a song. This interesting journey was documented from day one and is soon to be telecast as Vasu Aur Mein.

Images on Sunday caught up with Shehzad Roy for a chit chat about tracking down Vasu, Apnay Ullo and Vasu Aur Mein, the first episode of which goes on air on January 20. Here is what he had to say.

Q. After Laga Reh, how challenging is it to come up with a song like Apnay Ullo?

S.R. As you know, whenever you change the paradigm, you are bound to face opposition. In this case, my old music was an obstacle in itself. It would have been very easy for me to have come out with a modern rap number. But we came up with a guitar riff instead.

Shani Haider, Imran Akhund and I sat down and made Vasu sing on a beat because he couldn’t sing properly which was perhaps our biggest challenge. So we made the melody on a guitar riff. With this song, we have also changed the mindset that rap is not restricted to hip-hop only.

Let me explain the basic idea of the song, which was the major issue with Laga Reh, because people couldn’t comprehend the basic idea of the track. Also, our media didn’t get the right meaning of the track.

The term Laga Reh didn’t mean that I was motivating them to be strong; it actually meant that we are wandering about without proper direction.

Coming back to Apnay Ullo, it starts off with me playing an office peon followed by bureaucratic red-tapism and the clerk.

With it, we are not saying that corruption is our only problem; incompetent officers are also major obstacles in the smooth running of our day-to-day business affairs. Next, a lawyer takes up the case and exploits the common man and sends him away after he has achieved his objective.

Finally, he seeks help from the media but meets the same fate. He is exploited on a satirical channel we have named Anything for Rating TV.

In the end Vasu says “Shehzad Roy ne gana banaya kisi ko samajh nahin aaya, Angelina Jolie aya baba sub ko samajha aaya.”

It means that here we are struggling to garner help for the flood affectees and cope with the devastation caused by them but hardly anybody pays heed.

On the contrary, in comes Angelina Jolie and says the same thing, and suddenly everyone sits up and takes notice. Also, the peek bar is a meter which is shown every time someone spits paan in a government-run office.

Q. What impact do you think Apnay Ullo will have on society in general?

S.R. The impact of any message requires time because people listen to, understand and then feel it. I think what we had expected has been achieved somewhat: we wanted to showcase how strong the political understanding of a rural man can be. I think Vasu’s narration in the song has been documented in such a manner that any child would question his/her teacher regarding these facts. The problem lies in our education system as we don’t pose questions. I hope this song counters that.

Also, I recently met an elderly man at a concert in a remote area who mentioned that his grandchildren enjoy the song whenever they hear it but he feels sad because he has personally witnessed the events mentioned in the lyrics. It’s two extreme audience reactions.

Q. Saali was a commercial hit but then you switched to the socio-political genre. How did the change come about?

S.R. When Saali came out, it became hugely popular in India. But I couldn’t travel to India because I was busy in the government school reform through Zindagi Trust.

I had major corporate sponsors after me to come out with a sequel to Saali but by then my thoughts had shifted to other issues and I was writing lines like Naik woh hai jisse mauqa nahin mila, I am allergic to bulls***, etc. When the album got ready, it went in a completely different direction although it had tracks such as Aik Baar Kehdo.

People started saying that this kind of music won’t click with the audience—it starts for a minute and dialogues come in. It was never a business decision but an emotional one. Ahsan Rahim is witness to the fact that we came across many obstacles. We were also advised to edit the video so that we could get sponsors.

We went ahead and released the video without a sponsor which was a major risk. The response was mixed in the beginning. However, it gradually began to click with the audience and the experiment was a success. I was even suggested that I should come out with a sequel to Laga Reh.

Apnay Ullo came naturally to me as I wanted to portray how a common man looks at Pakistan’s history. Hence, I made the song and documented how I tracked down Vasu and engaged him for a show.

Q. Tell us about the show which you have recorded with Vasu.

S.R. It’s called Vasu Aur Mein and it was a mutual decision to record and document the journey to Balochistan and how we brought him to Karachi. However, when I met and interacted with him, I realised that it was not a single episode. We had different ways of looking at things.

I come from an urban area while he is from the rural setup where there is a very real sense of being deprived and other complexities. Our journey is very interesting and consists of eight episodes.

The main idea behind it is to seek out the questions left unanswered over all these years. Throughout the show, we discuss why Pakistan has encountered the problems we are facing nowadays.

It is a journey in which we’ll be talking about politics, interviewing critically acclaimed national and international, world-renowned figures. We have been to unbelievable places both in and outside Pakistan.

Each episode comes as a surprise. During the process, Vasu pointed to things in our society which remain invisible to us. For example, when we visited a shopping mall, he asked me what a mannequin is for.

I told him to which his reply was, “You people clothe non-living things while in Balochistan a common man lives without proper clothing!”

Q. Do you have any political aspirations?

S.R. I have not joined politics. I have known Imran Khan for a long time, have supported his cause and performed at PTI rallies. He has also been in one of my music videos. All I want is to reform the educational system and create positive vibes through my music. I will also continue to perform at PTI rallies whenever Imran Khan invites me.