“Bhai jaan, yeh Punjab Assembly ki footage aisi hee hai. Lekin story bohat funny hai. Kya karein?”

In my days as a mindless young producer at one of our premier private TV news channels, concussions were an occupational hazard. Mostly from banging my head against the (thankfully soundproofed) walls of the cozy bureau office, located in the new heart of Lahore, our very own Speaker’s Corner – Liberty Roundabout. It was a rollercoaster ride, punctuated by much screaming at irate and sweaty reporters via a hapless cellphone and thumping of chests while simultaneously cursing at the competitor’s screen for daring to run a ticker I had just relayed to the Central Assignment Desk. This would be followed by another growling call to the MCR in Karachi, involving gratuitous amounts of colourful Punjabi metaphors and the word “bhund”, which loosely translates to ‘you lazy b******s’. There was also a lot of gesturing and facepalming; through the glass windows of the bureau chief’s office, it must’ve looked like a proper pantomime: The Barber of Seville, nay, Sattukatla.

But through all the high-blood pressure-inducing times spent as an adrenaline junky in a TV newsroom, I most enjoyed my time in the Edit Suites. Non-Linear Editors (or NLEs for short) are some of the most fun people you will ever meet. Yes, these are the same people that cut footage into hilariously out-of-context loops, just so they and you can have a laugh. From sleeping ministers to slap-happy parliamentarians and the ad nauseum loops they are sliced into and paraded on your TV screens, the NLEs are behind it all. Amir Liaquat’s Greatest Hits were the work of an NLE, as I am sure was the leak of Meher Bokhari and Mubasher Lucman’s finest hour. All those YouTube videos of people doing hilarious things and the compilation videos of people picking their noses or men releasing their Shalwars from the prison of their buttocks post-prostration, were labored over by an NLE. Someone added music, effects, transitions and theatricality to all these videos. That someone was an NLE.

These men, then, are the gatekeepers of modern civilization and hold chaos and anarchy at bay, each day. This is because they hold the power, the power to make you look silly on national television. This is no small responsibility and there are very few who realize the sanctity of the task at hand. Think little boys drawing moustaches on photographs, and replace their clumsy markers with state-of-the-art Apple and Adobe software.

Therefore, you can imagine the consequences of working with a humourless NLE. It is a curse I would not wish upon my worst enemy. Well, maybe definitely my worst enemy, but not anyone I’m even remotely fond of. Humourless NLEs are like comedians who can’t make you laugh; things get awkward real fast and downright intolerable a few minutes later. By the time a 90-second news report is voiced-over, edited and the soundbytes fitted in, you wish for death by asphyxiation over another minute in that glass aquarium. Because Edit Suites aren’t as swanky as they sound. Instead of soundproofing, you get a layer of asbestos on everything, including the priceless Mac edit machines and the voiceover Mic, which is often similar to ones used by teenage delinquents for their sex-chats on the Internet. Also, it’s as claustrophobic in there as a goldfish’s stomach, and my name isn’t Jonah.

But I digest. It was the time of Jhankar-Studio style news packaging and if you turned on the news at any time in those days, 9 times out of 10 you would hear “Munni Badnaam” or “Sheila Ki Jawani” as the background score for absolutely straight-faced news reports. These were dark times for journalists, when the size of your raise was directly linked to your repertoire of cheeky, double-entendresque Bollywood and Lollywood music. Now, while I can boast an impressive array of MP3s on my laptop, telling a Lata song from an Asha song isn’t really my forte. But one thing I did have in my arsenal, classical music. The dulcet tones of Liszt, the delicate harmonies of Beethoven, Mozart’s magnificent overtures and the joyous bars of Strauss; all occupied space on my hard drive.

The one my editors most treasured, though, was Rossini’s ‘The Barber of Seville’. Partly of course, because they had impeccable taste, but mostly because it would become the template for all Punjab Assembly stories. That distinctive grainy green-tinted video looks that way because except for the state broadcaster, no one is allowed to bring cameras into the assembly hall itself. Everyone else, therefore, ends up recording off the monitor placed in the gallery. Not exactly 1080p, but the content is beyond hilarious. Who can forget the lovable gaffes of Rana Mashood, the misogynist antics of Chaudhry Abdul Ghafoor or the mustachioed mannerisms of Rana Sanaullah’s facial hair. With the helpless Rana Muhammad Iqbal presiding over this barbershop, and Seemal Kamran playing lota-football in the wings, it was the perfect setting for a Bugs Bunny cartoon. And we brought it to your TV screens, fast forwarded the video for comic effect and cut it to the crests and troughs of ‘Figaro’.

Ah, they sure don’t make them news packages like they used to anymore.

 The writer is a former journalist currently working in the development sector.

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