Author Fatima Bhutto was tired of always feeling “like our stories were not THE stories” and this is what gave her the idea to write her new book, New Kings of the World.
Speaking at the book launch at Liberty Books in Karachi on Monday evening, Bhutto said that there was a sense that the West was the centre of the world.
“I do think that the West’s moment — if we do use those terminologies — is coming to a close and I don’t say this with any kind of glee because moments come and moments go,” she said in conversation with her friend and lawyer Sabeen Jatoi .
“We have seen empires fall and rise but I think it’s time that a new wave comes forward and I think we are seeing that from the Global South,” Bhutto added.
She gave the examples of Trump and Brexit to say that they were “a sign of the anxiety and panic in the West”. “They still want to tell us that they are supreme and the height of enlightenment but I think we know that’s not true,” she added. “It doesn’t mean that we are the height of enlightenment either, but I think we are in an interesting position and I think culture is an interesting way to approach it.”
The author, who wrote her first book at the age of 15, said that her new book was similar to the others as it was also a political book at its core. New Kings of the World is about power, neoliberalism, globalisation, all themes she has written about.
Bhutto would have loved to have included other topics such as China, Nigeria and the franchising of cricket, but her publisher had given her a strict 50,000 word limit.
In New Kings of the World, Bhutto looks at Peru’s obsession with Bollywood, Turkish dramas and South Korea’s music industry.
Bhutto started writing this book’s proposal back in 2016. She said that if she was writing it today, she would have chosen different things.
“I wanted to look at popular culture, I wanted to look at mass culture and it seemed like a good way to divide it through film, TV and music. I wouldn’t have chosen India if I was writing this today because I think Bollywood is going to be hit with a lot of problems. I think they are going to have difficulty going forward which did not seem apparent to me in 2016,” she explained.
The author did come clean with the fact that she was not a Bollywood fan but said that she did enjoy watching Ranvir Singh and Alia Bhatt starrer Gully Boy. She shared that Raj Kapoor’s classic Mother India was a big hit in Peru and people would go watch it on Mother’s Day and during Holy Week.
She added that it was in Peru that she met John, who was a fan of Pakistani actor Shaan.
“I was blown away that someone in Peru was keeping up with our films,” she said.
Turkey, Bhutto said, she chose because today the Turks are second only to America in terms of global television distribution. Mera Sultan, she said, at its peak had officially been watched by 200 million people. Unofficially, she said she had been told that number had increased to 500 million, but she couldn’t confirm it.
Korea, she said was interesting because it was the only non-Western country to successfully export all of it culture — music, TV shows, films and games.
The author who was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, and brought up in Syria said that at her core, she always felt connected to the continent.
“And that is why New Kings of the World was interesting to me because it may not be Pakistan that is at the forefront of this but we benefit, we are Asians…it is still our culture, our part of the world, our values, our stories that are reflected in this new movement,” she said.
“But other than that I was always Pakistani-Asian, even before I came to Pakistan, I had it in me always. My father [Murtaza Bhutto] used to play Ho Jamalo in the car…even if you are not in Sindh, Sindh is with you,” she added.
Talking about the ban on Sarmad Khoosat’s film Zindagi Tamasha, she said: “I don’t really know another country where this happens – where a film that’s been done and cleared by censor boards suddenly gets pulled aside and a group of people suddenly has sway over what people may or may not see.”
“I think we have to be more robust as a society…and we used to be able to have a difference of opinion…I agree that sentiments shouldn’t be hurt but I don’t think the film does that and they went through a lot of effort to make sure [of it] but at the same time why can’t we watch a film and disagree with it without banning it?”