Film and Drama Industry as a Component of Perception and Soft Power

It is quite fashionable to talk about movies and dramas. May it be cinema or home theatre, laptop or a hand gadget, movies and drama platforms are readily available for end users with minimum costs. Netflix, an online movie and drama series platform is in trending among the youth. Amazon also has its own platform – Amazon Prime – for nearly 15 years. What is really important to mention here is that on Pakistani channels, the promotion of Amazon Prime is showing one of the Indian war dramas. To many, it sounds quite normal. Fewer see such platforms as tools for making perception and crafting or debating different future simulations. In the context of South Asia, it is not a new game – the perception management and propaganda are being used for manipulating the hearts and minds. The said subject matter in its essence is used as a part and parcel of soft power.

It would be quite interesting to mention that the very first presidential order related to the realm of cyber space, in terms of national security and threat perception, was actually learned from a movie. War Games, a movie released in 1983, showed that a rag tag hacker remotely accessed the codes and launched combinations for the missiles while attempting to find a game. It would eventually start World War III. The movie was seen by the then President Ronald Reagan. Upon his directive, a meeting was convened at the highest level and the movie was discussed followed by making a report as to its relation to the actual reality. The answer that came was horrifying. The generals said movie had a direct relevance with the vulnerabilities of their systems and at the time there was no response strategy at all.

This was the story of cyber space. Perception management and propaganda are the tools used by traditional means as well. Examples can be evident from the psychological operations and tactics of World War II. PSYOPS, an abbreviation for psychological operations has taken prominence since the last world war. Hollywood and Bollywood have equally produced movies and drama serials for domestic as well as international audiences. The aim was to depict oneself legitimate and upright while the adversary, evil and demeaning. Against these two industries, the Lollywood of Pakistan lagged far behind. However, the recent wave of the revival of the cinema and movie industry in Pakistan is an action in the right direction. Nonetheless, the efforts are very naïve owing to the sensitivity and delicacy of using such tools of media as a soft power projection or perception management. Quite conversely, the surveillance programmes in the West, particularly the United States, came to surface after the actions of the whistle blowers. The drama series “Person of Interest” portrayed into the hearts and minds of individuals that government is running a mass surveillance programme on its own people. However, the misuse of such power is also depicted in the said drama and subsequent reports that surfaced in the media afterwards.

Where does Pakistan stand in such a scenario? The answer is not quite clear at the moment. And there are obvious reasons as well. First is that movie and drama industry in itself is a daunting task requiring technical and equally creative skills. It is equally another thing as to how it should be presented in a way so as to be used as perception management and soft power tool. Secondly, the current prime lot in the media industry is too oblivious of the contours of soft power, let alone how perception is being managed. For them, it is the agenda or the narrative which usually revolves around a media company. The third generation of Pakistan, which is in their late 20s and early 30s, knows the tricks of the trade when it comes to creativity as well as soft power and perception management. Thirdly, even if there is some sense in making such projects and affecting the hearts and minds, the narratives are quite rhetorical and vague that their ultimate effect is either criticised or they only become prey to the glamour of the entertainment industry, further pushing the youth towards the dark tendencies of digital technologies. The fact remains that the art of script writing and storytelling has eroded even from TV dramas in Pakistan. The recent example to put here is the Urdu drama serial “Mere Paas Tum Ho” (I have you). The name itself will render the readers with either a laughter or a reaction in a critic’s manner. In tandem with glamour, the industry has huge incentives for those who are working in it. This pushes the content creators towards creating content that is usually commercial in nature irrespective of the right skills of a right person for a right role.

BBC is airing Rhythms of India, a series that deals with Indian music culture and diversity. Unfortunately, no such programmes are seen on international airwaves that can depict the soft image of Pakistan. How would the soft image and perception management by Pakistan can be effectively done if the presentations on screen only presents rhetoric about a narrative rather than presenting the art of discourse in the form of storytelling.

Syed Ali Hadi

Syed Ali Hadi formerly worked as a Research Assistant at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research.

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