Why You Should Never Stop Watching Films

Source: Universal Pictures/Working Title Films/Mike Zoss Productions

In this past year, I have kept myself busy with a lot of work after a shattering episode of depression just about this time of the year last year. But while you are at work every day, especially in full employment where you leave your place to spend time in an office, you tend to lose perspective. You tend to forget about your mental growth, about your physical well being, and even your perspective about the bigger picture. About life.

While there are things that you are never going to fix, or can fix, which are lost with time. Second by second. There is no turning back from there. You could at least get your focus right. You could at least slap your face and wake yourself up from the slumber and start paying attention to the things that matter. Now there are plenty, not just limited to human relations. But one of them is your appreciation of art, literature, and cinema.

And especially when you are put off by the sort of films that are coming out. So while I cannot believe that audiences have rejected “Hail Caeser! (2016)” of the ever-magnificent Coen Brothers and rather watched X:Men Apocalypse and Deadpool, it only increases my appreciation for things that I admire. It tells you that cinema is still alive.

Haha, there was a time when I said to my friend Faheem Zafar who had introduced me to such great cinema that I was afraid one day we would run out of films to watch. He laughed off my comment and rightly so as I hardly watch a film anymore until in the recent days. But it is true in a way because I am pretty much out of anymore Bunuel or Fellini films to watch. That is all what matters.

Now these works of art (if you can call them that) inspired you to be a filmmaker when you were young. When you grow up and enter the industry one way or another, you wonder if you are really all that into it. Even if you don’t want to, or cannot, do anything else.  And you wonder if you can really keep up.

But what we forget at those times is that it is telling your personal expression which was once the dearest to us. We are here because we wanted to tell our -stories, even when we are not able to. Because we are telling stories in some form. Even if it is someone else’s story.

So when you are putting on thick armor around your skin to survive, it is important not to forget to live the way you did when those moments of inspiration struck you. Those moments of inspiration that set your sail this way.

It is very important that you should not stop watching films. Or even reading books.

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India-Pakistan Conflict: Boycott the Boycott

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

Ah, the season of war is back. Time to deal with completely needless inconveniences because of the bloated egos of the leaderships of the two countries, if you are unfortunate enough to live in one of them.

War hysteria is at an all-time high in recent years in India, especially fueled by the Fuhrer and the warmongering media. Similar roles have been taken up by the military leadership on this side as well as warmongering news anchors on warmongering channels.

In the wake of the national mood, the association of Indian film producers considered it necessary to take action against Pakistani artists from appearing in Indian films. This tells us a lot about the Indian film producers and their version of patriotism.

Now India has been known to do this before and considering that it was not always exactly a fan of free trade and has even had some love for trade protectionism in the past, old habits creeping into the new Indian age of economic freedom is not a surprise.

But what is even worse is that the Pakistani film distributors and theater owners felt the need to emulate the Indian version of patriotism. They have responded by taking off Indian films from Pakistani theaters. I know Pakistanis have been at it before, but is this really the right way to act? Even PEMRA is pressing to eliminate Indian television content in Pakistan and to suspend the guilty TV channels. This is completely nonsensical, especially in the age of the internet.

Regardless of the quality of Indian films, it is a well-known fact that these productions are awfully popular in Pakistan. Has our hate for India really exceeded the love of the free market and freedom of access?

Why do we have to punish the local consumer to make a point about nothing to the Indian producers or the government of India?

And if we say that India started it, then why do we have to act in kind? Are we trying to harm India or our local consumer?

While a good number of both Indian artists and public are maintaining their sanity, sadly their public debate is dominated by people who are inciting an emotional reaction. Likewise, there is no shortage of such idiots on this side of the border.

However, it is easy to see that the India-Pakistan conflict has been reduced to the words and actions of brawling, irresponsible, and mentally impaired high school bullies who don’t know any better but to resort to juvenile antics to score cheap points.

As two of the largest nations of the world, the people must pause and reflect. Have we really lost our minds? Is this who we really are?

Well, apparently. Because it seems like we have been waiting for an opportunity to pounce on each other for quite a while. But in all fairness, you cannot blame the hysteria among the people. The political and military leadership, in both India and Pakistan, need to get their heads examined.

With Pakistan threatening nuclear warfare and India threatening to block Pakistan’s water supply, it is clear that the welfare of the common people is the last thing on their minds. Just imagine countries issuing such threats lecturing others on terrorism.

The ban on the art from across the border by private entities, who we very well know are pressured by government authorities and public opinion shaped by propaganda, are also reflective of the disregard of the public opinion. The regulatory authorities and film business bodies on both sides have only shown how much they regard the audiences. Shameful to say the least.

So should we move ahead likewise and boycott these film producers and theater owners as well? I guess not because that is not who we are, even if their terrible business sense makes them a deserving party.

Let us not respond to a boycott with a boycott.

Let us not respond to a ban with a ban.

If some business entities and government in India have decided to punish their people, why should we react to punish ours?

Pakistan had embraced the free market way earlier in its history than India and must keep that tradition alive. At least the Pakistani people remain very libertarian and pro-free market when it comes to their freedom of access, and will remain so despite the government bans.

The government should get out of their way when it comes to ridiculous regulations. Or the citizens know very well how to go out of their way to get around them.

And let’s face it, many people in Pakistan love Indian movies. So let them watch in peace.

When it comes to the India-Pakistan conflict, let’s boycott the boycott.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Thank You for the Music, David Bowie

Source: David Bowie/urbanmilwaukee

Source: David Bowie/urbanmilwaukee

So what if that distant star in the sky that you love dies out?

And here we are, with grief thrust on us, numb-minded trying to make sense of the incomprehensible emotional torrent in our electric bags of fluids.

The only consolation perhaps is that I am not alone in this moment, yet everyone grieving this moment in their own private way. Probably that is how it is meant to be.

Everyone has their own journey of Bowie’s music, as is the case with all greatness. And everyone is saying that it is his music what will live on.

I would not talk about how great David Bowie was an artist, as a singer and songwriter and an actor. That he was a genius showman and a renaissance man, as an artist should be. That there was probably no parallel of his talent and career. There are plenty of other tributes to make the case, but you can only talk about the fingerprints of an artist on your heart, and on your life.

I have never connected with most music the way I did with Outside, which has a curious theme, and some of the most mesmerizing tracks you would ever hear. With just the subtlety and darkness to give a voice to the passing moments of your life. Hours of mental miles covered in the mesmerizing, magical, warping wormhole of “I’m Deranged.”

All this music coming from a man who understood that he had limited time, that we had limited time. Despite a career spanning five decades. What it meant to cease to exist, and to give up everything you have ever worked for, and everyone you ever loved. And that probably art is just one small but significant human effort to express existence in a senseless void.

A void that is only intensified by a sea of other souls.

Source: ISO/RCA/Columbia

Source: ISO/RCA/Columbia

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03f5cyt/player

So what do we miss about David Bowie?

He was pretty much reclusive for the final years of his life anyway, and was hardly seen in public events or media. It’s not that we saw him on TV everyday.

However, we always had the hope of hearing more from him, and seeing more of him, as in Prestige (2006), if not as in Labyrinth (1986) as Jareth the Goblin King. There probably was so much more, decades of audio and visual art in that wonderful mind and we never thought it would ever end.

His latest album Blackstar (2015) is proof he never quit until his last breath. But probably it was meant to be like this, a final gift. A final goodbye.

That’s what stars do. They shine for a while, and then fade away.

Thank you for the music, David Bowie.

Thank you for your  life. RIP.

The Heer Waris Shah Sessions by Paraga

Waris Shah - Source: maati.tv

Waris Shah – Source: maati.tv

My friend Sohail Abid, who also happens to be the founder of Folk Punjab and the Folk Punjab Fund for Punjabi Books, was leaving town so I thought I should see him. He invited me to come over to the Academy of Letters and introduced me to a remarkable treasure for which I would remain grateful to him.

Every Wednesday evening, a calm but captivating session of reading is held in the common room of the Writer’s House in the Academy of Letters, Islamabad.

People passionate about Punjabi classical literature gather to recite the epic love story Heer Waris Shah, which is considered the most famous literal masterpiece of the civilization in Punjab. Written by renowned Sufi poet Waris Shah in late eighteenth century in Central Punjab, this romantic tragedy epic is surpassed by very few works of art, if any, in terms of its eloquence.

But what is so significant about reading Waris Shah in this forum when you can do so at home, you would ask.

Not only is the language difficult to grasp for even the more experienced readers, but the discussion in the sessions offers the right historical, etymological and cultural context for the passage. And every single session is an education.

The session is regularly attended by some of the renowned Punjabi and Urdu poets and writers. A regular is Punjabi short story writer Malik Mehr Ali, who is known for his mastery of the language and exploring rare interpretations. The likes of Punjabi poet and vocalist Hazrat Shaam also attend the sessions, who keep alive the age old tradition of reciting this piece of poetry in a melodious tune.

I have personally learned a lot from these sessions, which have ignited a renewed interest in Punjabi classical literature, but more than anything else, in Heer Warish Shah. The lyrical quality and the folk wisdom of this fascinating work of art really gets you hooked. And add the intellectual orgasm the discourse offers you and there is little else that you can ask for.

The sessions are organized by Tariq Bhatti, a civil servant by profession and a man of refined taste in literature. He founded Paraga in 2013 for the development and promotion of literature and arts in Punjabi language.

“I always had this urge to establish a forum where friends with a common interest could gather to read Punjabi classical literature.” Tariq Bhatti said while explaining his aims behind Paraga and these sessions. “Since the times of the Mogul, Punjabi has largely been a verbal language. Even today people cannot read or write the language because of the lack of familiarity with the script. Paraga is a humble effort to bridge this gap.”

Bhatti also said that the forum plans to recite literature from other classical Punjabi poets such as Shah Hussein, Baba Farid and Bulleh Shah. The forum also plans to offer a platform to budding poets.

You can join the Paraga.org facebook page for updates pertaining to the sessions. The recordings of the previous sessions can be found at paraga.org.

The session will not be held in the last Wednesday of Ramadan. However, it has the last session of July tomorrow right after Iftaar at the same venue. After the fasting month, the sessions will be regularly held at the usual time of 7 in the evening at the usual venue.

It is an excellent opportunity for those who want to learn about classical Punjabi literature and want to increase their Punjabi vocabulary.

In any case, I always look forward to the event and there is hardly a better way to spend the evening.

Paraga welcomes everyone.

———-

Note: The edited version of this post was published here

Not Glorifying Guns Anymore

Source: The Guardian

Source: The Guardian

It has been a couple of weeks, but I have been meaning to write this about Harvey Weinstein’s interview with my most favorite radio personality on Earth, Howard Stern. Now Howard has this way which makes it comfortable for people to talk to him. I mean if you are looking for a person who you would have Hillary Clinton talk to about her first orgasm, he is what you are looking for.

I am not going to put down the transcript, you can listen to the interview embedded below, but here is what he said. He said that he should not be saying this (rightly so), but he was going to do a film after which the NRA would wish they were not alive. Now curiously, Howard asked him, is it a documentary, which to me, makes the entire point of this post, that I am going to make rather more vulgarly and explicitly.

In another absolutely stupid, and even worse statement later, he claimed that he would not be producing films glorifying guns anymore. Even worse he agreed with his right wing critics. (Oh, there goes the Warsaw ghetto uprising project out of the window, not!)

What?

What does a film producer look like when he turns into a political activist?

A lot of conservative pro-gun commentators have criticized him for this statement, which I respect, with Sen. Ted Cruz even calling him a hypocrite (a bit too harsh in my opinion), but my problem with it is for a different reason.

It does not matter to me if Harvey is pro or anti gun. I don’t give a fuck about that. My problem is that he is making a film to send out this anti gun message. I am just curious how he would do that.

And I am a little disappointed because I am a huge fan of the wonderful films he has produced over the years. I wouldn’t write this if I were not. I have tremendous respect for Weinstein and I know my opinion probably does not even matter here, but here is what I think about it.

I just don’t like hearing those words from a man who knows so much about making films. But perhaps he just went with it in the whim of the moment though his later statement suggested otherwise, but as much as I respect him, my respect for him as an artist has gone way down. Though I hate to even admit it to myself.

Let’s just say I disagree. He said he should not be saying this, but now I am rather glad he did. Things like these should ruin a filmmaker’s reputation, but people don’t pay attention.

Now here is this fine line. Telling a story does not necessarily exclude it from being propaganda. And full of reinforcement of political views. You know, 12 Angry Men, To Kill a Mocking Bird, Dead Man Walking, All Quiet on the Western Front, Lincoln, Delta Force, the list goes on and on. And I admit, that film has historically always been at the heart of political propaganda, but I deeply despise and detest that. I simply cannot respect that as someone who writes stories myself, no mater how much I persuade myself.

Making anti Nazi films is a political view too. But you can just tell the story. You cannot expect people to adopt your political views by hearing them.

I mean I know a lot of people who would still hate Jews and love the Nazis after watching a Holocaust film. Why? Because they are assholes. But all you can do is tell a story.

Some of you may not be able to separate art from propaganda, but you can. Art cannot be neutral, nothing is neutral. But art is open. You are telling a story, you are not telling people what to do.

Martin Scorsese tells the story of Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street. He is not Michael Moore and it is not his business to tell people that capitalism is evil. He only tells them how this guy ended up. The End. You fade the fuck out.

Here is the problem.

Why is it that Weinstein thinks that people would really have any change of heart after watching this film? Because really, it is their own fucking business.

Has he conducted a survey of how many people disapproved of slavery after watching Django Unchained, or how many people have changed their minds about how much organized religion can mess a person’s life after watching Philomena, or maybe that George VI was not such an idiot after all after watching The King’s Speech?

OK, a lot of people must have stopped hating people with AIDS after watching Philadelphia or Dallas Buyers Club, or would have started sympathizing with Hitler after watching Der Untergang? But what does that even prove?

Then maybe people pissed at Django Unchained were right. though I don’t even recall what their outrage was about, it was so stupid.

Really, is this his concept of what film is meant to do and what filmmaking and telling stories is about? That sounds to me like Republicans saying that people become violent due to video games when explaining mass shootings.

Who knows. Maybe both of them are right. Maybe I am wrong on this.

Maybe we should go back to the time when the films were censored and cut out  and not rated. Maybe there really are things that people are supposed to see and those that they are not supposed to see.

Maybe moral conservatism and moral policing have all the answers to the problems of the world.

Maybe there should be a department of enforcing righteousness and forbidding evil as the Islamic Sharia prescribes.

Yes, I would twist this statement to this point, because this is precisely what it is about, whether you admit it or not. That is up to you.

I just think Harvey Weinstein should have been the last person saying that. Someone like Cher or Mia Farrow or Meryl Streep or Jon Stewart would make more sense.

I mean, sure you can make a film telling the story of the Aurora shooting incident in Colorado. That would make a great and moving film actually, but doing it specifically to destroy the NRA or achieve some other political goal or lobbying leverage would not help your cause as an artist. Why not make a fucking documentary about it?

Or perhaps that kind of lobbying content is just a repulsive idea for a storyteller, no strings attached.

People know shootings are terrible. They know what happened. They know it is a bad thing. They saw it on the news. They are not stupid. The pro-gun folks will still remain pro-gun. The anti-gun folks will remain anti-gun.

Those who think killing people is a good idea would most likely still think it is a good idea. Mass shootings will still take place. But taking guns away to prevent them is not a bad argument.

It may sound like making too much fuss about nothing to some, but hey, if I rubbed shoulders with him, I would break his balls real time for that. I read somewhere that Louis B. Mayer was upset with Billy Wilder for making Sunset Blvd, one of the best films ever made in history or at least Hollywood’s best, because it showed Hollywood in a bad light (what an idiot), but someone should be genuinely upset at Harvey for this statement. Sadly, only pro gun conservatives were.

And probably the anti gun liberals would have trashed them for that. But everyone missed what the statement was about, because many of them probably believe that too anyway. Therefore, the condemnations of films like The Wolf of Wall Street, Django UnchainedLa Voie lactéeThe Last Temptation of Christ and Passion of the Christ and many many more elsewhere.

To me, it is beyond being liberal or conservative. It’s just stupid.

Also, Harvey, I am all for Jews with guns (hey, why, Germany was a peaceful country), I actually prefer them with guns, as in Israel, as it could have avoided, or at least delayed the Holocaust. And will prevent them getting attacked from all sides today. Remember Yom Kippur War? (OK, maybe my pacifism has had a little reality check)

But what I am not for is a Jewish girl avenging her family by setting a theater on fire full of a crowd of innocent German families, despite being Nazis, and having soldiers shoot the hell out of them? Alright, there were criminal Nazi generals in there too and I don’t mind interfering in her brand of justice, but what the heck.

But what is that for a message you are sending out to the audience, since you think your films have such a massive political impact. It’s a spectacular, funny climax scene, I know, gotta love Tarantino, but from your understanding, it sends out a bad message to the kids supposed to hate guns. Doesn’t it?

Did what I just said about this scene sound stupid to you?

It does? Well, I don’t blame you.

Maybe Ted Cruz was right about him after all.

Well, Harvey Weinstein is not half as close to his honesty or understanding about propaganda as Goebbels, but maybe he is getting there.

But my brother just said to me. Don’t take him seriously. He was on Howard Stern.

I just cannot.

Django Unchained & On-Screen Morality

Source: screenrant.com (Universal/Weinstein Company)

Source: screenrant.com (Universal/Weinstein Company)

Over the past months, one of the most talked about controversies in Hollywood has been director Quentin Tarantino‘s Django Unchained. A lot of people from African American and other communities objected to the depiction of slavery in the film and the franchise action figures. Director Spike Lee has refused to watch the movie out of respect for his ancestors. I respect their opinions.

For those who have not watched it yet, it is a story of a slave freed by circumstances, who embarks on an adventure to free his enslaved wife on the plantation of a racist and sadistic landlord with the help of an unlikely accomplice. It is an almost fantasy western, loaded with everything that Quentin Tarantino has a reputation for. Well, almost, if you know what I mean. But recommended.

The film has particularly come under fire for Tarantino’s excessive usage of the word “nigger” on the screen.

Of course, I can’t speak for the African American community, and I would welcome all those who would tell me to shut up on this, but I still could not understand what the problem was about after watching the film, which I would consider anti-slavery overall.

It actually seems to be a part of the incomplete trilogy of “Tarantino’s Frustration on Historical Atrocities”, starting with relatively mediocre Inglorious Basterds, in which (spoiler alert) a Jewish girl avenges the murder of her family by shooting the Nazi audience with the military leadership in a theater and setting fire to it. Django unleashes his wrath on his Caucasian “masters” in the most violent manner as well.

But what’s so new about it all? First of all, Tarantino is known to go over the top with his vivid and shocking non-linear story-telling, depiction of violence and abusive language. That’s not news. Secondly, it is a film that seeks to depict slavery, and you would think that a milder portrayal would not have done as good a job. Maybe its timing was perfect to set the audience’s mood for Spielberg’s Lincoln.

So using softer language would only have made the usual Tarantino audience die of laughing fits. Furthermore, it would have taken away the realism and believability, despite the absurd and exaggerated action sequences and fountains of blood.

While I would like to review the film separately, I am glad Tarantino won Oscar for best screenplay, his second since Pulp Fiction for the same category, though I guess movies like Amour looked like having a better choice. But it is a statement for the freedom of speech and an apt answer to the moralist critic. I would have preferred to see Samuel L. Jackson at least nominated for his part though.

Now coming over to the matter of on-screen morality, political correctness and appropriateness.

What you are showing on the screen depends on what you are talking about and it must. When storytellers mold their narrative to meet the moral standards of the audience or the critics, they cease to be storytellers in the first place.

You could reject it, criticize it, condemn it and even boycott it if you want to. However, calling for bans would be inappropriate in itself. But let us move on with the assumption that disagreements about on-screen morality do not take place at such a primitive level.

A motion picture is after all, just a motion picture and nothing more. It can be used for propaganda, but I would always prefer to see it used for art and entertainment.

I am not denying that the content and visuals and sound of the motion picture do not affect people. Indeed, they do which is the entire point of their exhibition in the first place.

However, it is up to the audience what they take home with them on watching a particular motion picture.

Depicting a torture scene loaded with racist slurs from a Nazi concentration camp could be seen as both sympathetic to the Jewish people and antisemitic.

If a person with sadistic tendencies who does not consider rape wrong and sees its depiction on screen, no matter how painful, then the chances are that person will take sexual pleasure in it. However, the same scene can affect another person to be moved by the portrayal of the trauma and pain and could develop sheer disgust and contempt for rape or anyone who commits it.

Shifting the onus to film and entertainment actually diverts attention from the responsibility of the educators. You cannot really expect every entertainment oriented medium to lecture people on morality all the time, whatever be the cause. That won’t happen because not only is it unrealistic and absurd, but too authoritarian in terms of moral policing.

Such films would be propaganda, not art. I know some directors try to do that all the time and I can’t begin to tell you how bad they make it look.

The trouble with our world is that it does not constitute of just good and considerate people. The darker side of humanity is far more apparent every other day than its empathetic one. It is a rather pessimistic way of looking at things, but ignoring it altogether would be idiotic actually. Besides, hardly any moral ideology is complete without an evil to fight.

Furthermore, if you believe in the correctness of your moral stance, then you should consider it strengthened by the depiction of its violation. A war movie could always be seen as anti-war, no matter how much it is glorified in it, especially if it is a realistic depiction. Movies depicting female objectification, rape and exploitation will always support the feminist argument, not otherwise. Films with racist dialogue would only prove how wrong and illogical racism is.

Someone finding inspiration from it to commit crimes would most certainly not have a problem with these evils in the first place.

Bad people do not need films to strengthen their wickedness. Good people need not be worried about the loss of their virtue by what is depicted on the screen.

I Dreamed of Coffee Last Night… Among Other Things

Source: mastibite.com

I dreamed of coffee last night… among other things.

Things like love and friends who I’d never ever reach again. And people who I’d never ever want to see again.

I dreamed of people who I know have never existed and never will and places which I’d give anything to go to.

All this was a product of a day without caffeine, or nicotine, or any other drug. Strangely. And a product of letting yourself loose and getting lost in uninterrupted sleep by quitting a day’s work completely and without any worries…

Though only to be interrupted by a call for work, not immediate though, 12 odd hours later.

I am amazed at the power of the sub-conscious. It is something where you’d want to live forever. It is also how you’d want to live forever.

I was revisiting Terry Gilliam‘s Brazil the other day and I could not help but notice how well it has captured (coffee) dreams. I know the film is a dystopian satire, but it maintains the sensitivity of the human fantasy very delicately with the stark contrast of the reality, the sum of which actually makes our reality. The real world, whatever it is.

I consider these couple of minutes, and the brilliant film itself, a great symbolic definition of humanity, or modern humanity, at least. Just like so many other art. While a lot of people may not want to see dream sequences and fantasy in film, which is fine by the way, I would give a lot of weight to them and consider them very important parts of the cinema.

Because they are very important parts of our lives.

Considering the importance of our sub-conscious in our lives, which makes it something like a refuge to turn to, away from the horrific and the not-so-horrific realities of our world. I think it is important to extend that refuge to cinema, and not necessarily to comfort ourselves, but to get disturbed even, for catharsis, and for… what the hell, just to get lost. As in, a drug.

Well I guess in the end, it is important to let art be and not to guide it with all kinds of moral and intellectual compasses.

But there is also no harm in expressing what you would want to see.

Oh yes, and I was out of coffee last night. But I made sure that I had ample supply today.

But I might try doing that all over again some other day.