I studied Film and TV at the National College of Arts (NCA), one of the premiere arts institution of Pakistan. While NCA allowed me to become an artist, it was Beaconhouse National University (BNU) which taught me the skills of marketing and promotion. Both are important in this, nay any field. While NCA allowed me to understand fundamental concepts, at BNU, I learnt how to market them. Eventually, it was in this field that I truly learnt how to truly harness my talents. It was in the field, where in 6 months I learnt more than all my years of studying combined. What is strikingly amusing to me, is the fact that while the world over, the rank of ‘Assistant Professor’ and ‘Professor’ is given to highly accomplished teachers and masters in their own respective fields, here I was being taught by former students, just a few years senior to myself. Now NCA has come under provincial government control, whereas previously during the PPP tenure it used to be part of the federal. As a result, class timings have been split into two and students are admitted without merits. During my time however, there were still some who actually taught me and helped me grow. From classes on Psychology to Theory of Film to trips to Anarkali bazaar, it was a beautiful journey. However, some of the more creative students still felt suffocated. A friend, a very talented artist once actually burnt his beautiful paintings on a campus rooftop, frustrated by the lack of freedom even in arts. I also got discouraged, but fought back, overcoming the challenges to continue my journey as an artist, actor and filmmaker. I remember asking one friend studying Film at BNU, what he wanted to be after he graduated. He proudly replied, ‘a police officer’ But the point I am trying to make is regarding the motivation of the students enrolling in arts institutions and their future course. I remember asking one friend studying Film at BNU, what he wanted to be after he graduated. He proudly replied, “a police officer”. No wonder he used to pay other people to make class assignments for him. Yet another ex-BNU student now shoots wedding videos, his thesis incomplete and without graduating. He also used to pay other students to do the work for him. Another of my classmates at the Film& TV department is a small time landlord, while yet another runs a shaadi hall. A city auto shop is run by another Film &TV graduate from the university. The students from the Film & TV department at NCA are relatively better off, depending on what ‘better off’ means to you. Some of them benefitted from travel. One of my class fellows there is now in Brazil, making fantastic and interesting works of art, while another works in a local news channel. But in both institutions a majority is there to ‘have a good time’ or ‘just get a degree’. I remember during my time at the NCA, the Punjab University Jamaati’s would frequently be threatening the authorities, without much effect. My batch mates and I, including my juniors, carried on having fun and experimenting. NCA was an island of liberal values and freedom of expression. But there has been a decline since then due to the security situation. The island is now surrounded by barbed wires, security gates, finger scanners and ever-rising walls. Anyway, the question is do we get the money’s worth (government or the parents money) from teaching fine and visual arts? What are the motives of students joining these institutions where the state and society invests huge amounts on them? Do they really learn the arts they enrol for, do they really find the arts education useful in their future careers? My understanding is that a vast majority do not even adopt a relevant career and their years in the arts colleges are of no consequence to them. What a waste! Especially now that the film and TV industry is growing fast and offering good job prospects. Is it poor planning, bad selection of academic staff or poorly thought out syllabi? And what about non-existent career counselling? Our policy makers must give this serious thought. In many cases, the successful TV and Film professionals are self-taught. You will find medical doctors, engineering graduates, MBAs or college drop outs doing well in the field. One can conclude that fields such as cameraman, director, and writer or post production professionals can learn the skills on the job. This has been the case in the old-fashioned Film and TV careers. Ace cameramen remained under the tutelage of master cameramen for years and assistants to big directors waited for decades to get a chance to become directors. But the modern day electronic media and the new film industry cannot afford such archaic practices. These industries need modern and efficient education and practical training. While you may learn the skills through practice, you cannot develop social and artistic insight on the job. These self-taught professionals lack two vital components. Firstly they know little about the history of the field. Nor are they aware of the latest developments in the field. Secondly they mostly lack a deep understanding of their society, its culture, social issues and a sensitivity towards the downtrodden. Such insight cannot be learned on the sets or editing tables. It can only be imbibed through long-term interaction and engagement with various sections of society and goading by the teachers. This lack of social insight is obvious from the thematic content of most of our TV plays and films. If you look at the stories and treatment of most of TV and film productions, you will be disappointed at the non-existence of any meaningful social content or in case the story addresses sensitive social issues, the treatment is superficial or simplistic. I am not saying that the showbiz should be a tool of propaganda. I have seen at Ajoka, how socially relevant art can also be entertaining and popular. Some popular series or movies show that it is possible to have a successful combination of entertainment and social insight. The ‘Homeland’ series tackles issues of extremism, portraying women as part of the fight. ‘Hindi Medium’ talks about the concept of how Hindi Medium schools are looked down upon, while ‘Pink’ addresses issues of sexual assault. The movie has been specially screened for the police to sensitise officers about women’s rights and dignity. Compare these to disasters like ‘Chambeli’, ‘Dukhtar’ and ‘Malik’ which have damaged the cause of social film-making due to poor scripts and inexperienced directors. Even with movies made by competent professionals such as Bol and Moor, good cinematography or soundtrack cannot compensate for lack of depth and sensitivity of the issues being tackled. We are churning out movies which is not a bad thing, but we need to develop an identity for Pakistani movies which is different from Bollywood, an identity which takes into account the social issues of Pakistani society and a truly Pakistani idiom. Our educational institutions must get together with stakeholders in showbiz to develop an education and training policy which can provide the industry with competent and socially aware professionals. Auto-shop owners and wedding photographers can go elsewhere to have a good time. The writer is a director/actor; and a core member of Ajoka Theatre Pakistan. He has been involved in spreading awareness on socio-political issues through theatre Published in Daily Times, May 22nd 2018.