Pakistanis, Slackistanis & Gossip Girl

“No more news, please. No more news.” That’s been my early-morning refrain while checking news websites ever since 9/11. But inevitably, there is news from Pakistan. This past year, very few mornings have gone by without Americans waking up to read “Ten Taliban Members Killed in Pakistan” or “Militants Take Over Swat Valley, Close Girls’ Schools.” There is always news and it is always bad.

A new movie, Slackistan, wants to change that perception of Pakistan. Directed by British-based Hammad Khan, Slackistan is about a bunch of bored rich kids in Islamabad. And that’s it. That’s the plot. But that’s okay because they’re all hot. Oh yeah, and there’s probably an existential crisis or two thrown in for good measure. So basically your average American stoner movie sans the weed. At least that’s the impression I get. Watch the trailer for yourself and tell me if you see anything other than glamorous side-profiles of perturbed-looking young adults.

According to an article in The Guardian by Riazat Butt, that’s just the point.

“It’s a countercultural film, one that rejects the stereotypical western view of Pakistan, as well as one that rejects the prevailing establishment of older cultures and traditions.”

“Islamabad is quite dead but it has a lot of young people. It feels like smalltown America. The kids are living in a bubble. It’s chaotic outside but the two worlds don’t meet.

The Slackistan story – if it can be called that considering the absence of a hard and fast plot – is about the lives of young people in Islamabad. Khan cast locals – Islooites – with no acting experience, who were essentially playing themselves on screen. “Every Islooite is talking or listening to stories of other people. It is a small town and the mentality is that of characters from Gossip Girl. Who was seen with whom, what car they were in and what happened at the last party are typical concerns for the Islooite. This town isn’t big enough to get away with much.”

I have mixed feelings about this film. On one hand, it’s nice to see something that doesn’t take itself too seriously and doesn’t involve random terrorist plots. Seeing random Pakistani kids live their lives is refreshing. On the other hand, it’s rich kids doing nothing. Why should I care? Why should my middle-class relatives in Pakistan, or even my middle-class relatives in America care? The director explains.

“They are the kids of businessmen, politicians or professionals,” explains Khan. “They are the future of Pakistan. They will inherit Islamabad and it is more interesting to look at what they might do with it, rather than look at the poor or the radicalised who have very little real power. The film is about growing up, too. It asks, can we really do this for the rest of our lives?”

So an insight into the inner workings of Pakistan’s high society will give us a paradigm to understanding its future? And radicals have very little real power? Okay, sure.

“This is the anti-Slumdog,” proclaims Aisha [female lead in the film]. “That was a good film but highly overrated. It wasn’t anything new. It didn’t show people a side they didn’t already know. This will be a film people talk about.”

Ah, back to the familiar protests, the whole we’re-not-just-a-third-world-country-with-poor-people game. Either way, ‘Slackistani’ is a great word. I’m totally including it in my vocabulary from now on. Just call me Slackistani-American from now one. Want to learn more? Join the Facebook group for Slakistan-related news.

Hat tip to Anil, who discovered the movia via Chapati Mystery’s Manan.

36 thoughts on “Pakistanis, Slackistanis & Gossip Girl

  1. mr x, i remember that movie! i loved it!! my bro djs and used to sample the part where the momz says “zafar, there is no such thing as a pakistani cowboy!”

    slackistan movie looks shot well. but the trailer is too long. was interested in the beginning, but deathly bored by the end.

  2. “That was a good film but highly overrated. It wasn’t anything new. It didn’t show people a side they didn’t already know. This will be a film people talk about.”

    Sounds like princess was a little embarrassed by white people watching a movie about poor brown people.

  3. “They are the kids of businessmen, politicians or professionals,” explains Khan. “They are the future of Pakistan. They will inherit Islamabad and it is more interesting to look at what they might do with it, rather than look at the poor or the radicalised who have very little real power. The film is about growing up, too. It asks, can we really do this for the rest of our lives?”

    I can’t tell if this boastful elitism and seeming lack of self-awareness is satire or not. Whatever it is, it’s annoying and I think I’ll skip the film.

  4. “They will inherit Islamabad…” – I didn’t realize that Pakistan has a hereditary rule-of-law system in place like medieval Europe?

    Also, it sounds like Aisha [female lead in the film] is bitterly jealous of Slumdog Millionaire.

    On a side note, it seems that Pakistanis, like Aisha, seem to use India and Indian things as a pivot point for everything regarding their culture, but at the same time, they distance themselves from India(i.e. “India and Pakistani Restaurant”). Good luck trying to compete with India and with catching some terrorists.

  5. Definitely something I will watch out for.

    Have to voice a protest about Khan’s statement that these kids will “inherit” Pakistan and therefore decide its future. I doubt Pakistan’s present (as described in the first few lines of the post) was decided by these kids’ parents.

  6. I am looking forward to it! I have to admit I love me some brainless stuff every now and then after a hard day at work (including Gossip Girl! ). How much worse stuff is there on Indian television about rich people doing absolutely nothing but plotting against their saas, devar, duraani, etc.. About time that Pakistan got on this The Hills-esque genre of extremely boring rich people! Plus, I don’t think they are really taking themselves too seriously.

  7. To the writer of this review: Its funny how you just came out of nowhere( I have never seen you post before) and just completely admire something that I feel is not only fake but crap.

    Take your peers into account when writing the next review about something from your “Modaland”

  8. What a bizarre thing the actress says at the end of the article.

    “This is the anti–Slumdog,” proclaims Aisha. “That was a good film but highly overrated. It wasn’t anything new. It didn’t show people a side they didn’t already know. This will be a film people talk about.”

    First of all, why is she comparing the movie with Slumdog, which is set in India, and in a milieu a world away from the background of her film? Secondly, far from not being ‘anything new’, Slumdog had a fairy tale structure and yet represented a world that is rarely seen in mainstream Indian cinema, the lives and experiences of the shanty town poor of modern urban India. And thirdly, Slumdog Millionaire was possibly the most discussed movie in the world in the last twelve months. Is she really saying a movie about a bunch of overpriveliged navel gazing rich people is going to create more discussion than Danny Boyle’s movie? Sorry, but that is just delusional.

  9. The trailer looks like the kind of indie movie that was made in America in the late 1990′s, a bunch of people, you know, just, like, hanging around, and, like, sighing and stuff. If such a movie got made in America today it wouldn’t be taken seriously, in fact it would be parodied and laughed at a little. I think the novelty of it being set in Pakistan is what the supposed appeal is. Alright, we get it, there are spoilt, overpriveliged rich kids in Pakistan, same as elsewhere.

  10. Suzy: I’m not sure you realize how much of a rage “a bunch of people, you know, just, like, hanging around, and, like, sighing and stuff” is in American culture right now due to reality tv. Have you never seen an episode of The Hills, Laguna Beach, One Tree Hill or any of that crap? Yes people laugh at it but everyone eats it up. I think it’s an expected part of our society but not of Pakistani society. We’re used to it…they’re not. It might be nice for people there to catch a break from seeing everything they do and experiencing it first hand to watch a movie like this. Will it be good for their brain cells? Probably not.

  11. The trailer looks alright, but do they really have discotheques in Pak? Are the girls allowed to drink & dance?

  12. Give the guys a break. Nothing wrong with some existential angst so long as it doesn’t devolve into self-pity. Camus published The Stranger in 1942 and got away with it though his country was overrun by fricking nazis. Why can’t these guys.

  13. They are the kids of businessmen, politicians or professionals,” explains Khan. “They are the future of Pakistan. They will inherit Islamabad

    What thoughts! Does it, by any chance, mean that ONLY kids of businessmen, politicians or professionals are the future of Pakistan? This is scary. Even scarier than the fact they don’t do anything.

  14. “Akash on October 28, 2009 1:15 AM · Direct link

    The trailer looks alright, but do they really have discotheques in Pak? Are the girls allowed to drink & dance?”

    Is that how we define progress?

    ” sakshi on October 28, 2009 2:35 AM · Direct link

    Give the guys a break. Nothing wrong with some existential angst so long as it doesn’t devolve into self-pity. Camus published The Stranger in 1942 and got away with it though his country was overrun by fricking nazis. Why can’t these guys.”

    Tsk..tsk. Reminded me of Indian middle class living in their la la land where India is going to be the next superpower.

  15. Secondly, far from not being ‘anything new’, Slumdog had a fairy tale structure and yet represented a world that is rarely seen in mainstream Indian cinema, the lives and experiences of the shanty town poor of modern urban India.

    I am being a bit off-topic (and maybe a bit pedantic too) but this is something I keep hearing and just don’t agree with. Its only post-1991 (read: when the malls started replacing the bazaars) mainstream cinema that has had Shahrukh making helicopter entrances. Bachchan for eg, made his career in the 70′s playing the fairy-tale, virtuous, dirt-poor but determined slum-kid who rises despite odds.

    I agree Slumdog might have been in a different league in terms of sheer competent film-making relative to 70′s mainstream hindi cinema. But as for the plot and issues – it seemed very-much stale to regular Hindi movie watchers.

  16. “They are the kids of businessmen, politicians or professionals,” explains Khan. “They are the future of Pakistan. They will inherit Islamabad and it is more interesting to look at what they might do with it, rather than look at the poor or the radicalised who have very little real power.

    That’s the problem. Pak society is top heavy like a bee colony and middle-age feudal. I doubt if ‘professional’ was added for good measure next to businessman and politician because the Pakistani middle class is disproportionately small for its population and I doubt the kind of upward mobility the kids will enjoy given the lack of opportunities (forget inheriting Isloo)

  17. The trailer looks alright, but do they really have discotheques in Pak? Are the girls allowed to drink & dance?

    Some of the liberated Karachi girls (Graphic content warning)

  18. This film’s angle reminds me a lot of a couple BBC documentaries on Pakistan I have seen recently. Both basically had the same plot: Brit who grew up in Britian goes back to visit Pakistan (and make a documentary, of course) and discovers that Pakistan isn’t the “backwards, unmodernized” nation of salwaar suits and head scarfs, but that actually there are rich people, famous people, models, etc in Pakistan too. This opens up the young Brit’s eyes and they suddenly realize that Pakistan isn’t just the boring conservative poor country with nothing to do that they once thought.

    It was interesting watching these from my viewpoint, as I didn’t really know anything about Pakistan (hence, the most of my preconceived notions were, it’s probably a lot like India, but with more Muslims (India, being a place I have lived, so I hopefully don’t stereotype it too much) Basically the documentaries were preaching to me to leave behind stereotypes I didn’t have in the first place!

    But I guess, growing up with Pakistani heritage in Gr. Br. is probably different, anyone with that experience?

  19. The documentaries I referred to are called “Karachi Uncovered” and “Saira Khan’s Pakistan Adventure”, both on the BBC, in case anyone was curious.

  20. kolaNutTechie, what was the graphic content warning for? Was it the language? I only understood bits and pieces of Hindi/Urdu whatever they were speaking. There was definitely nothing graphic about the visuals.

    But thanks for that link bevcause I found another related hilarious link where some guy tries to act like he is Shah Rukh Khan on that same show.

    As far as this topic is concerned, slackers in Pakistan seem more like a Pakistani lazier version of our yuppies with slacker lingo.

  21. One thing I’m proud of the Pakistanis for is that they finally have a film which the can be proud of. Too bad Indian movies are oficially banned in Pakistan. They should definitley focus their time in a stoner video of Pashtun heroin addicts or of stonings for the poor adulterous people.

  22. ” sakshi on October 28, 2009 2:35 AM · Direct link Give the guys a break. Nothing wrong with some existential angst so long as it doesn’t devolve into self-pity. Camus published The Stranger in 1942 and got away with it though his country was overrun by fricking nazis. Why can’t these guys.” Tsk..tsk. Reminded me of Indian middle class living in their la la land where India is going to be the next superpower.

    Dude, I am Indian. Or maybe in Indian middle class la la land Pakistan is going to be the next superpower as well ;) .

  23. The trailer looks like the kind of indie movie that was made in America in the late 1990′s, a bunch of people, you know, just, like, hanging around, and, like, sighing and stuff. If such a movie got made in America today it wouldn’t be taken seriously, in fact it would be parodied and laughed at a little.

    Guess you’re referring to faux indie ones like Reality Bites? The talky, almost plotless films are alive and well in low-fi corners of American filmmaking. Mumblecore, the kids call it. Slackistan’s trailer looks interesting. Re boastful and elitist: He was just talking about the rich kids who eventually grow up and take over the family empire. And business empires with large political influence are not exactly unique.

  24. Guess you’re referring to faux indie ones like Reality Bites? The talky, almost plotless films are alive and well in low-fi corners of American filmmaking. Mumblecore, the kids call it. Slackistan’s trailer looks interesting.

    I was responding to the remarks about the movie by the actress called Aisha who seemed to think it was some kind of revolutionary movie that would set the world on fire and quite stupidly, meanglessly and irrelevantly compared it to Slumdog Millionaire.

    I’m not sure how alive ‘mumblecore’ is – it is a worn out template more ripe for parody than for saying anything new, its been done.

  25. I am being a bit off-topic (and maybe a bit pedantic too) but this is something I keep hearing and just don’t agree with. Its only post-1991

    Yes, in the past, that part of society was represented in various ways in mainsteam movies. But right now, and for the last couple of decades, Indian cinema, and world cinema, has more or less ignored the urban poor of India.

  26. The documentaries I referred to are called “Karachi Uncovered” and “Saira Khan’s Pakistan Adventure”, both on the BBC, in case anyone was curious.

    I saw the Saira Khan documentary. She was a contestant on a reality show called The Apprentice and got a media career out of it. It was an interesting programme, but as you said, the underlying vibe was about raising the self-esteem of Pakistanis and challenging stereotypes and all of that kind of thing. That was kind of annoying, like someone wagging their finger in your face.

  27. I think a lot of recent Indian movies actually represent poverty India and it has always been the case…. Slumdog Millionaire was not the first! “Traffic Signal” was one of the most realistic and disturbing B-wood movies…so was “Company”…so was “Mumbai Meri Jaan”…”Billu Barber”.. My relatives and friends in Delhi were grossly underwhelmed with Slumdog. Now give them something like “Rang De Basanti” and they are up in arms nearly jumping out of their chair about change and revolution and improving the country.

    People perceive Indian Cinema to be this glitzy all about rich people wearing expensive clothes and not caring about the poor kind of industry…but they just don’t know what movies to watch.

    That’s why for the actress in this movie to say it will be something different for the Pakistani audience compared to Slumdog Millionaire she is right….for them it is different!

  28. Although like all movies made by an outsider, this one too aims to present the theory of everything, rather than a slice of life. That is OK, because this is a great start. Look forward to it.

  29. it’s interesting to see the “other” side of pakistan but it kind of pisses me off too. maybe it’s jealousy, maybe it’s bitterness but my family is just from outside of rawalpindi, in the villages, and the world we come from couldn’t be further away from that depicted in “slackistan”. nor isn’t the life of my relatives in the northwest uk. these kids are living in some totally different world than the pakistanis and pakistan that i am familiar with. these kids are more comfortable and at east with “western” culture than i ever will be, and i was born and raised here, lol. and while these kids are “slacking”, my brothers are practically slaving away as menial labour in pakistan, the middle east, and even as far away korea. even the educated ones have few prospects. but hey, it’s the luck of the draw and you play the cards that you are given…

    but putting that personal resentment aside, what really pisses me off is the fact that they represent the elites and the establishment in a country where that class has failed to anything productive for the masses. perhaps, it’s the masses fault for not forcing them to but that time will come, as things become even more desperate.

    this really does nothing for my self-esteem as a pakistani. and pakistan isn’t black/white, it isn’t the rich-liberals or the poor-radicals. personally if i want to watch that isn’t too serious and doesn’t involve random terrorist plots, i’ll watch a potwhari comedy like “miki kharo england” (take me to england) or “main vi khukar khasan” (i want to eat chicken too) – sample: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G8Qx709_L7k&feature=related

    that’s the slice of pakistan i know, down to earth, good nature people.

  30. deemz, I understand how you feel. Indian cinema is also very odd in it’s dealing with various classes– it is either about the elite rich of India, which feature fancy houses, BMWs, and designer clothes (which seems the most appealing depiction for films and t.v. serials), or it is about the utter poverty of the slums or rural areas (Salaam Bombay!, Slumdog Millionaire, etc)

    Within the two extremes, one might often wonder; where are the normal average, middle-class Indians? Not people with 5 storey glamour homes but with small but cozy homes in cities, towns and villages across India. Not with a fancy BMW, but a small hatchback, or perhaps just a bike or bicycle?

    I suppose stories about these people are not as interesting for an audience, the only time I have (sort of) seen these types of middle class families portrayed is in Historically based films like Parzannia. Though actually “taare zameen par” sort of depicts a middle-class urban family.

    But it is interesting to think, whether a film about Pakistan or India, the focus is generally on poverty, or the glamorous elite. My inlaws-to-be are all from a very nice, regular, middle class family from U.P. They are all university educated, and Naniji herself was a principal in a school long before that was common. There are teachers and professors in the family, but even with these nice jobs they cannot live these crazy glamorous lifestyles. They work hard, save their money, and live without a lot of consumer goods the elite of Indian (and the middle class of America!) take for granted.

  31. Whats the point in glorifying elitist mediocrity and living in denial when the whole of Pak is going in flames.