KARACHI: For a night of insight and humour, Shafaat Ali arrived at Media Baithak to a room jam packed with an anticipating audience. Due to being severely under the weather and at the hospital he was regrettably half an hour late, however there was nothing missing in his zeal and wit. Moderator and president of Media Baithak Najia Ashar asked him how comedy is being used as a way to counter extremist elements in society. For Shafaat Ali, outrage is what is in vogue nowadays and on the flipside criticism is becoming intolerable. This results in an uneasy mix in the community as everyone wishes to lash out but no one is willing to listen to constructive criticism.
Shafaat also said that this is also in part due to the comedians themselves, as they are not creating a sustainable and consistent narrative on pragmatic and sensible topics. There needs to be a collective effort by comedians from all genres to raise the standard of comedy and move beyond pranks and childish gimmicks and use their platform and humour to speak about human rights issues as well.
Another poignant issue that he raised in terms of curbing the ill in society through humour was to give the example of showing a woman’s lack of consent in a romantic pursuit as normal, eve teasing and cat calling and harassment in Bollywood and Lollywood movies was commonplace in film and television. Today we are seeing the results of this in real life as sexual harassment is seen as something to laugh about. This is how normalizing dehumanizing practices in humour is what makes them commonplace in society. Intolerance exists because we are too unaccepting of another point of view; we are too sensitive about our identities, when we start giving importance to our humanity instead of our identity we can inculcate acceptance and harmony into our people.
On the topic of the lack of women in the sphere of comedy, he said that people are just not ready to stop objectifying women. When we stop expecting women to simply be glamorous objects, we will start accepting them as humorists and comedians. Ali also added that this is felt much more in Pakistan and India where women are already not visible in the public eye but the phenomenon is global and should change.
The dialogue and performance ended on some heartfelt and hilarious anecdotes and impressions by the legendary comedian and the audience was eager to ask him questions about his craft.
Media Baithak serves as a community space for the cultural engagement of media and civil society representatives. It gives a platform to distinguished voices from the fields of journalism, politics, academia and other fields to discuss contemporary issues of the society.
The organization has previously conducted dialogue and performances on the significance of Sufism, poetry, theatre and storytelling in preventing and countering extremist elements in society. Media Baithak also focused on the role of freedom of speech and social media when it comes to a cohesive and collective society.