January Issue 2007

By | Arts & Culture | People | Q & A | Published 13 years ago

“MTV is really Pakistani”

– Wiqar Ali Khan

His is a familiar face. It can be seen on a mulitude of billboards across Pakistan in support of everything from mobile phones to a Mughal-inspired clothing line. However, it is most indelibly linked with the newest name on the local music channel block: MTV Pakistan.

Wiqar Ali Khan is more than a VJ; he is vice president of MTV and head of creative and content. “Creative and content is, basically, the programming side,” says Wiqar. “It involves coming up with new ideas, giving the channel a fresh look and all the other packaging that goes on.”

Armed with more than six years of broadcast experience, he amounts to a TV veteran in Pakistan’s young television industry. The Pakistani-born and UK-bred media man has worked in England, launching ARY Digital, and in Dubai, launching their music channel. “My job is to run TV channels. That’s what I do.” Newsline caught up with the model/broadcaster — and self-professed “style Guru” (he hosts a show by the same name on MTV) — to talk about Indus Music’s adoption of arguably the most recognised brand in music internationally, and MTV Pakistan’s vision as the ultimate ambassador for Pakistani musicians.

Q: MTV launched recently. How are things progressing there?

A: MTV is going really well. People expect a lot from us. Of course, we will play videos, but we are also here to promote Pakistan. We are supporting all Pakistani artists completely, including all the new talent that is coming up. When I travel, and especially when I’m in India, people tend to ask, “So, how many stars do you have in Pakistan?” But it is difficult to name even 10 people. That is a tragedy for Pakistan. Our main ambition is to say, “Okay, we are going to create so many stars that you’ll easily be able to count 50 from the top of your head.

Q: When you say create stars, do you mean create stars outside of Pakistan as well — not just domestically.

A: We want to create Pakistani stars that will be recognised internationally. When people say, “What is a celebrity?” it is not just about appearing in magazines or on TV. There should be a whole package that goes with that. And every celebrity that comes out of Pakistan is really an ambassador for Pakistan. We want to create those ambassadors, so when they are abroad, people automatically say, “Oh, this is a Pakistani singer.” Everyone knows what a Hollywood star looks like, we want that identity for Pakistan as well.

Q: Indus Music was the pioneer in music television in Pakistan: You’ve talked about how MTV is here to promote Pakistanis abroad. What is the biggest benefit that MTV brings to the local audience?

A: The brand itself. MTV is the number one music brand in the world. It carries that stamp, that logo on the screen. People want to be associated with it. It is recognised worldwide and opens doors for us with any MTV around the world — any award ceremony they have, Pakistan can be a part of it.

Q: There are already at least a half dozen Pakistani music channels. In terms of the local market segment, how many music channels can this country absorb?

A: It’s about creating a niche that people enjoy and is true to what the channel is meant to be. It’s not about just making another music channel… you should have backing, your team should be professional and experienced — that’s how you will stand out and that’s where you are going to sustain. Launching is very easy, it’s maintaining that channel that is the tough part.

Q: So MTV is trying to stand out among the domestic TV crowd by creating an identity that says it is a local channel with an international perspective?

A: If you look at our logo, it’s truck art — it’s local. We are as local as you are going to get. No other channel is doing that.

Q: Hence the slogan: Made in Pakistan?

A: Right. ‘Made in Pakistan.’ All our VJs are Pakistani. All of them speak in their own lingo: Punjabi, Urdu, Pushto and Sindhi. So we are using the four provinces in that way. We don’t have a Balochi segment, but we do have people who can speak the language. There is no discrimination. Obviously, we speak in English as well. The whole thing is localised for Pakistan. MTV is really Pakistani. That’s the identity of the channel.

Q: Do you believe Pakistani music can go head to head with the best music around the world?

A: Definitely. We’ve had Ustad Fateh Ali Khan in Hollywood movies. We’ve exported artists like Adnan Sami. There are so many other young guys who the west is picking up. Our mission is to prove that we are as good as anyone else.

Actually, I think we are already on the same level internationally. We have the music, the sound, the lyrics, the compositions, the producers and all the talent that comes with it. Our guys even look better than a lot of people in the world. Pakistanis are a very good looking race. So that is really helping us. We’re all-rounders.

Q: How do you find good talent in this young industry?

A: I think we are very lucky. People email us their CVs and drop by the office. That is what happens with the brand. People want to be a part of it. We’ve had employees from every single channel send their stuff to us saying that they want to be a part of MTV.

Q: What’s the response from musicians and artists themselves?

A: We get about 10 music videos every day. And that’s in a country like Pakistan where not many music videos are made. So many people give me videos saying, “It’s for you man, just keep it with you, we want to be with you.” They are not doing this with other channels. We don’t have an exclusivity policy. But when they say that to us, we feel very flattered. At MTV, we have a committee that first reviews all the material that comes in. It’s not about, “Here’s a video, stick it on the air.” We have to ensure it is of a certain standard… it’s for the benefit of the artist.

We often sit down with the artists and advise them to re-edit some shots and make their videos better. If someone is out there for the first time, it’s the first impression people will have of them, and we want them to do well.