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A perfectly cooked biryani brings China and Pakistan even closer

Reuters/Faisal Mahmood
By Maria Thomas
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Call it the biryani bonhomie.

A Pakistani masala brand is celebrating that nation’s long-standing and deepening ties with China. A new campaign for Shan Foods, which sells spice mixes in 65 countries, including India, shows how taste-buds could foster good-neighbourliness.

The campaign features a young and lonely Chinese expat trying to adjust to life in Lahore. Not knowing how to make friends in her neighbourhood, she hits on the idea of preparing biryani—that quintessential Mughlai dish of rice and meat. Her steamer full of perfectly-cooked biryani wins over the folks next door, overcoming language and cultural barriers, not without a little help from one of Shan’s popular masalas.

Bowled over by her halting Arabic greeting, and of course the delicious dish, the neighbours finally tell the emotional expat, “This is your home too.” And a Punjabi jingle on “relationships beyond language” garnishes the campaign’s warm message.

The ad comes at a time when the already close Sino-Pak relations—often described as “higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, sweeter than honey, and stronger than steel”—have intensified. The former has committed billions of dollars to large-scale energy and infrastructure projects in Pakistan. The most talked-about of these is the $46 billion China Pakistan Economic Cooridor (CPEC), a network of roads, railways, and pipelines that will connect the Gwadar port in Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province to the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, boosting China’s regional reach and influence.

Over the years, a Chinese revolution is said to have spread through Pakistan as the two countries have stepped up efforts for economic and social cooperation, launching collaborative projects in science & technology, among other fields. In 2015, a Pew Research Center survey found that 82% of Pakistanis had a favourable view of China; in comparison, only 16% had a favourable view of India.

All along, a wary India and the US, among others, have watched on with curiosity.

Yet, even though thousands of Chinese expats now live in Pakistan, cultural connections have been harder to solidify. That makes Shan Foods’ heartwarming campaign particularly effective, depicting how two very different cultures can share in the love of great food.

And it’s ironic then that the campaign was conceptualised by advertising agency Ogilvy’s branches in Pakistan and India.

“It was a nice concept to bring back in today’s busy world that we live in,” Sukesh Nayak, executive creative director at Ogilvy in Mumbai, explained to the Mint newspaper. “There are many Chinese expats living in Lahore. Hence, we decided to tell the story from their perspective.”

This isn’t the first time Ogilvy has based a commercial on human relationships with geopolitics in the subtext. In 2013, the agency produced an emotional but effective campaign for Google. It showed two thick childhood friends—one a Hindu in India and the other a Muslim in Pakistan—torn apart by the bloody Partition of British India in 1947, being reunited by their grandchildren who use Google for the purpose. That video struck a chord with viewers in both India and Pakistan.

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