This is a time capsule and I am taking you lot way, way back. Back to a world without instant connectivity and other newfangled nonsense that made life easy and consequently dull(!).
I am talking about discovering new films and actors through antiquated means like newspapers or the grapevine; about waiting with bated breath for the latest Angry Young Man flick to hit the video shops in all its pirated, boxy video cassette glory; about stalking the video store and arguing whose turn it was to rent out the three available copies of said boxy cassette (believe me, queues and fistfights were equally common). Such heroics to finally clutch the prize, dash home and watch a lanky Amitabh chase a suitably coy Rekha, glug a vat of orange whiskey in a single breath and dispatch villains through a series of Mister Fantastic-level kicks— all in a murky, obviously pirated print.
Fun times, right? Flash forward to a more informed age: an age where we suddenly had access to Pulse Global! That’s right, I went there. How many of you are ancient mature enough to remember those censored-yet-clear-and-watchable English films? Unexpectedly, we had variety and didn’t need to wait years to watch what the rest of the world was talking about.
Let’s speed up at this point because: LDs, CDs, DVDs and most crucially, the internet! Now we could read about ‘Friends’ and other cultural phenomena dominating the West. From there, it was a tiny step to harnessing native ingenuity and thus accessing an entire world of entertainment… usually for free. Video stores started this trend (called straight out piracy in most circles), and the rest of us followed. From waiting in line for Devdas to clicking through thousands of choices in the comfort of your home: how’s that for progress!
It’s fair to say that along with the gradual opening up of Pakistan – a range of home grown channels, Indian films in cinemas and Turkish dramas on telly – there has been a parallel growth in the trend of accessing content through less-than-legal means. After all, we also wish to know whether Jon Snow is dead or alive (spoiler: he’s likely a resurrected mix of both), or if the Walking Dead will ever stop walking (quiz: Rick’s beard or Carl’s hat?). We want to be relevant along with the rest of the world because let’s face it, irrelevance=invisibility.
And that is why Netflix in Pakistan is such fantastic news, despite some reservations:
Streaming requires good connectivity and here we have regular disruptions due to power outages among other factors. Still, the option of 3G/streaming on phones is now available and which should offset erratic electricity to an extent.
Sure, it isn’t free, unlike the methods I mentioned above. But I would venture that it’s far more satisfying to consume pop culture while retaining a semblance of ethics. For one, you can discuss the last episode with mates living abroad without squirming.
There are other elements too. Content, for one, which I guess would be largely Western/English, whereas the vast majority may prefer Urdu. Would there be subtitles, for instance? What about Pakistani content? I would love to watch Ankahi (a genuine classic) again, for instance.
Connectivity is key as well. Streaming requires good connectivity and here we have regular disruptions due to power outages among other factors. Still, the option of 3G/streaming on phones is now available and which should offset erratic electricity to an extent.
Overall, then, this is good news. We have a huge young population, and that is reason enough for Netflix to include Pakistan in its expansion. It is useful to be in step with the rest of the world, and not isolated. I will even admit to relief when reading about excluded markets (hello, North Korea!) because we were not one of them. It signals more openness in our government than I would have imagined; a case where I am always glad to be wrong.
Besides, I think it’s beneficial for young people to be exposed to international culture, rather than restricted to local ideas only. Pop culture is invaluable in smoothing differences, building bridges and increasing empathy; it helps see each other as human beings, and not ‘other’. I’m not suggesting everyone subscribe and drown themselves in Americana, before some readers jump down my throat (as they love doing!). I’m simply suggesting we make use of entertainment to amuse ourselves and beyond that, broaden our perspectives a bit.
So how will Netflix change us? Not drastically, I reckon. We will have access to more content, for one. We will have the option to avoid piracy and pay for our entertainment. We will be a part of the Netflix ‘community’, if there is such a thing.
And of course, we will be able to use the phrase ‘Netflix and chill’ with impunity!