Aaron Haroon Rashid, creator of the the animated television series - Burka Avenger, begun his session on day one of Spikes Asia 2015, by talking about the origins of the Burka.
He said, "It's linked to Islamic religion and is essentially about hiding a woman. But if you look at the history of it, Burkas existed even before Islam came about. So, it's not a religion, it's a culture. All Pakistanis don't need to wear that. One would think women are forced to wear that, but it's not the case. Some women wear it as they believe it's their identity. So, it's a choice for some."
The session also featured Grey Group's chief creative officer, Ali Shabaz. He asked Rashid about any backlash received by him considering how the situation of women's education was in the country and about (any) issues the sensor board had. Rashid said, "The idea was borne out of frustration. In 2011, hundreds of school were shut down. I was outraged. I was imagining a teacher who was standing up against this. The character I created fights violence with books. It has the message that the pen is mightier than the sword. I didn't share it with a lot of people and silently worked on it. I was worried about the sensor board. I approached the board only after creating 13 videos. The channel that broadcasted it (Nickelodeon) asked me to change the name. I didn't. It's a cartoon is what I said. We didn't end up changing a thing. We passed all the sensor boards and it was passed unanimously. In the initial stages my friends asked me to go ahead with it. I have felt strongly about gender equality. When I heard schools were shutting down I was outraged. I didn't do entertainment for the sake of entertainment."
Rashid then spoke about how some media started writing negatively about the show even before watching it. The creator of the show, who is also a singer, stated that he called for press conferences and got people to sample it to change their opinion. He said, "With my music background I got people like Ali Zafar, Josh etc to do a whole Burka Avenger album."
Shabaz's next question was about whether Rashid had a PR, advertising team on board. He responded, "I didn't have a PR team. I work with a very small team. We have Facebook, Twitter pages for the usual posts. The message of the show was so strong and that's what helped."
Rashid added that brands have got involved looking for in-show placements, but he's steered clear. "A beverage brand wanted to advertise, but we didn't go ahead with that. The show has done so well on Nickelodeon in Pakistan and we're also able to sell it globally. Later this month we'll also launch merchandise after several inquiries for it."
He also revealed that there have been Bollywood offers, but at this stage he wasn't comfortable into making it a full commercial movie. He added, "The show has been launched in India on ZeeQ in Hindi and Telugu. We've launched in Afghanistan too. Each show ends with a message - one addressed India-Pakistan ties. Then we've also taken on issues like polio and child labour."
Responding to a compliment from Sonal Dabral, chairman and chief creative officer, DDB Mudra Group, (who was part of the audience), Haroon surmised, "Pakistanis love Indians and the movies. We are all huge fans of all the actors and singers. It was an honour for us that the Indian media with high standards could take this and feature it. Such initiatives can help ties. We can't leave it up to the government - it'll take forever (for peace between the countries). It's about building bridges by civilians and media."
Watch Campaign India in conversation with Rashid in the video below: