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Monday, December 17, 2007

Profile:Fasi Zaka

The Saturday Post.
Fasi zaka
Admittedly, we knew little about Fasi Zaka when he was first nominated for a Rendezvous by our friend Sameer. As we set out to study why Fasi Zaka is such a famous name in Pakistan, we discovered one of the top talk show hosts, op-ed writers, and a persona that is fast becoming one of the most listened to (not just 'heard'), people on radio, TV, and the press.

Fasi hosts "On The Fringe" for MTV Pakistan, "The Fasi Zaka Show" for FM91, and writes for Aurora, The Friday Times, Instep, and The News. On top of it, he works full time as the "Head of Ideas" at Adcom for the advertising of the Swedish cellular company Telenor.

While there is much to be learned from and about Fasi, here is a start with an exclusive Rendezvous. Pay heed, for he may well become the strongest public opinion maker in the not too distant future!

1. Give us a brief introduction of yourself, where you grew up, education, family, etc.

I grew up in Peshawar, but am from Charsadda and am a Pakhtun. My paternal family is into politics and bureaucracy (my grandfather was a senator in the 80s). My maternal family comes primarily from an agricultural background of farmers. I was schooled in Peshawar, went to Peshawar University, before getting elected as a Rhodes Scholar to Oxford University.

2. You went to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar; why did you choose TV as a career over more traditional careers?

TV is not my career, media is. I work full time as the Head of Ideas at Adcom for the advertising of Telenor (a Scandinavian multinational cellular firm in Pakistan), and previously was an academic specializing in advertising and marketing at the University of Peshawar. I do radio as well for FM91 on a program called The Fasi Zaka Show, which is an anarchic call-in show, which has become more successful than anything else I have done.

3. Tell us about your show, “On the fringe”; what is this show about and how long have you been hosting it?

On The Fringe has now been on television for nearly three years; it’s the only show MTV Pakistan kept as it was when they came to Pakistan and took over the helm of Indus Music. OTF is an interview based program that targets popular culture. It is based on Guerilla Filming techniques on a single camera and is a collaboration with my cousin Zeeshan Parwez, a gifted media polymath. The aim of the program has always been to use absurd Pythonesque humor, bring back social reality into the vapidity of consumer culture and very aggressive interviewing of pop stars. It’s a political show that masks itself as entertainment. The name On The Fringe is a reference to how me and my cousin felt as people on the periphery of the mainstream and aimed to give others a voice, especially unsigned bands. Although, ironically, I seem to have mainstreamed in the process. We tend to take up issues of minority rights in the program, the erosion of civilian institutions giving way to the military, how corporatism is running wild and somehow manage to bring humor into this context..

4. You also script the show; where do you get your inspiration for topics you choose for each show?

I am a voracious reader and have multiple interests. It seems to become a smorgasbord of topics that I can choose from in an adlib manner. The jokes we script and do in post production are primarily a process of me and Zeeshan feeding off one another. My intellectual grounding is in postmodernism, which usually reflects in the script by asking questions that usually get nationalistic and stock responses, and then slowly exposing the shallowness of the opinion by presenting multiple perspectives.

5. How has the experience of working on television been for you and what are some of the challenges that you came across?

I have enjoyed it, TV opened avenues for me that I wanted more, like getting published and finding a space on radio. But, the flip side is the sudden public persona one develops in which people feel very close to you, and when they discover your opinions on things they feel personally betrayed. It’s the extreme adulation and virulent hatred I find disturbing.

6. You are also a writer – what do you write about and for what publication(s)?

I write for Aurora on Branding and Branding Strategy, for The Friday Times I write the “Man Friday” Column, for Instep I write “His Bigness” and for The News my opinion editorial column is called “The Pakistan Report Card.

7. What changes have you seen in the Pakistani media in the last 5 years and what do you see in the future?

The media is exploding; there are new outlets every so often. The growth has been marked by the inability of the market to keep pace by providing talent, so it’s stretching thin those who have the ability to deliver. Quality has gone down, and in other areas it has given chances to the untested that are helping in changing the aesthetic of convention in the country; which is a good thing! But part of the boom is attributed to the introduction of consumer credit in the country; the moment it’s time for people to pay off their debt, the economy will contract. The future will have a media shakedown where only the best channels will remain in business once the downturn in the economic cycle curtails advertising spending.

8. Finally, any message for your fans reading this interview?

Difficult question, don’t really have fans in the traditional sense, just people who agree with the thinking. If I were to formulate something half coherent, I think I would just like to suggest for everyone to believe that people around the world, no matter how deceivingly appearing different, are much the same under the skin.

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