'It is pure magic': Pakistani song 'Pasoori' climbs the charts in India and beyond

The World

A catchy, toe-tapping tune about the difficulties of unrequited love and distance is making waves in Pakistan, India and across the globe. 

Since its February release, the song “Pasoori,” which translates to “difficulty” or “conflict” in Punjabi, has racked up more than 250 million views on YouTube and on Instagram. And, the audio has been remixed at least 350,000 times by fans from all over the world.

In fact, 14 seconds of the track are audible in episode 4 of the new TV show, "Miss Marvel," and The New Yorker magazine also wrote about it.

“Pasoori” is not the first Pakistani song to top India's charts on Spotify or Apple, but it was the first on Spotify's global charts. And five months after its release, it's still going strong. There are people dancing to it, working out to it, lip-synching to it, and, of course, covering it.

The song was written by Ali Sethi, a writer, musician and Harvard University alumnus from Lahore, Pakistan. The duet between Sethi and newcomer Shae Gill appears on season 14 of "Coke Studio Pakistan."

"Coke Studio" is a wildly popular show that brings together musicians from across genres and styles to collaborate and jam to new compositions. India has a "Coke Studio," too, but there are people on both sides of the border who prefer the original Pakistani series.

Sangiita Kochhar in Delhi has been "obsessed" with the song: "I love listening to ‘Pasoori,’ and the video is extremely colorful with an amalgamation of so many art forms that it's a delight to watch. Plus, the music has so many elements to it — it's a little classical, there's a little Sufi [element], a little Qawali [a form of  Sufi Islamic devotional singing] with these really modern beats that you can really move your feet to."

Singer Sethi calls this style "ragaton" — raga meets reggaeton.

Bhawna Sharma is a medical student in Jaipur and remembers when she first heard it. She subscribes to the "Coke Studio" channel and got a notification when the song was released.

"This song was a beauty," she said. "It's Shae Gill's first song and it is pure magic. It moves you."

Last week, Sharma recorded an acoustic cover, even though it's been done so much, she said — she felt compelled to make it her own, as well. She said that she loves the lyrics and was astounded to learn that the first line "aag lavaan majboori nu," which translates to “set fire to my problems,” was something that Sethi spotted on the back of a truck.

Sangiita Kochhar said that the theme of unrequited love is not new. But what she loves most about it is that "it talks about this insane desire to transcend borders, and with every stanza, the beat and the lyrics reiterate this urgency to let love win."

Sethi has said numerous times that he is amazed by the song's reach. This appeal has been analyzed by many. In an op-ed for the Indian publication Firstpost, critic Vinayak Chakravorty said there is "a socio-political context beneath the obvious interpretation, which pertains to ongoing cross-border conflict and the need to end it."

Of course, as with anything that involves both countries, there have been “ours vs. theirs” squabbles. And when anyone has said that they detected Indian influences in the song, both sides were outraged.

This is also where the song’s popularity is limited to those with internet access. A radio DJ told The World off-the-record that, although she gets requests to play it on the air daily, she has been instructed to tell callers that it will "play later." But she can't play it because none of India's radio stations have broadcast rights to the song.

It's available for streaming everywhere, and although most Indians don't speak Punjabi, the official video has subtitles in three languages: Urdu, Hindi and English.

There's also an English version by Dutch singer Emma Heesters, an instrumental version from Kashmir on the rubab by Sufiyan Malik, and one on the veena by musician Kushala and one by three siblings from Hyderabad. 

As Sharma said, "Even in India, we can connect to the song. Music has no boundaries and that is the best part I love about music."

Related: The ‘strange grace’ of singer Arooj Aftab