From planted calls to an ostensibly dubious religious scholar and from Veena Malik’s incessant chants of ‘Astaghfar’; Astaghfar is a perfect embodiment of infotainment gone horrendously wrong
Much has been written and said about the dusky damsel in distress, Veena Malik, and her show Astaghfar. A not-so-surprising fact is her endearing ability to remain the center of everyone’s attention. Her only competition these days seems to be PPP's tumultuous relationship with the Supreme Court.
There were many people, like me, who were most vocal in staunchly supporting Veena Malik’s choice to do a religious show. This was at the cost of being branded a liberal; something that brings with it death in our part of the world.
Her right to host the show and discuss religious matters with an Islamic scholar was vehemently advocated. After all, if the Chief of Moral Police known for her fake conversions and Pirs can grace our screens again, why not Veena Malik?
Hero TV, finally realizing that, aired the contentious program. This has increased many voices of dissent – and rightly so. If Veena’s frequent tears and quavering voice in the show is not mind-boggling enough, its content sure is. From planted calls to an ostensibly dubious religious scholar and from Veena Malik’s incessant chants of ‘Astaghfar’ every second to her holier-than-thou attitude; Astaghfar is a perfect embodiment of infotainment gone horrendously wrong.
There was a time when only political parties and ideologies were sold in the name of religion by people sitting on a high moral horse. This was done in the hope of bagging a few supporters and votes, without realizing the country is being further pushed towards extremism and intolerance. Now another dangerous trend has started, and this time it is reaching each household through the mainstream media. Programs like Astaghfar are given the liberty to go on air.
The argument that media work on the basis of a free Market economy is often heard. Channels air programs that have a demand. But what is most surprising is that Hero TV either thinks people sitting on the other side of the ‘idiot box’ are idiots themselves who will believe everything that is shown in the program, or it thinks making the show controversial will make it sell.
In either case, the situation remains bleak.
In this video, Veena is shown preaching her chauvinistic views against men. She declares they take advantage of innocent girls and it is now time for them to repent and seek forgiveness. This kind of mind-set promotes gender segregation in the society, breeds greater distrust between the two, and in turn increases incidents where one gender takes the other for a ride.
When a caller points out not all men are like that and she has no right to judge them, Veena, in turn, has the audacity to state the caller has no right to adjudicate on anyone’s actions. This takes the show’s hypocrisy to a whole new level and it increasingly becomes obvious that the controversial host has never been advised to practice what she preaches.
In another show that discusses Islam and its teachings regarding dance and singing, a transgender’s call is received. If there are any doubts about the callers being fake, Veena Malik’s reaction to this one clears them. She is seen giggling like a little school girl when the transgender, Karishma, introduces herself. Our host then seems confused on whether the masculine or feminine pronoun should be used when talking about her.
Transgenders are the most marginalized segment of our society, facing frequent harassment by the local populace as well as law enforcement agencies. Veena’s reaction to the call and “maulana sahib’s” subsequent analysis on it gives us a glimpse of why that is. He is seen decreeing transgenders lull people into committing sins, even more than woman, implying his bigoted view that women commit more sins than men. The coincidence is, his name is Zia-ul-Haq.
The lesser said about him the better. In my research for this article, I came across videos of Astaghfar where he is seen fervently encouraging the host to appreciate a caller who proposes her. Taking cue from Mustansir Hussain Tarrar, maybe Mr. Zia-ul-Haq should start his own ‘shaadi online’ show after Ramazan. In the next video I found where the topic of discussion was ‘haraam and halaal,’ he is seen screaming, ‘.teri ghiza haraam ki, teri poti haraam ki…’
Just like Maya Khan was sacked for her 'aunty brigade' show and Mubashar Lucman was suspended for the media-gate scandal because of the negative publicity the channels received on social media platforms; newsfeeds have been running ablaze and petitions are being signed this time too. But Hero TV, in its act of running the Astaghfar program, is seen to take the saying, 'any publicity is good publicity' far too seriously.
Sabeer is a poignant social observer, an editor in a content development agency and a freelancer. He also contributes on the Express Tribune blogs and other publications.