“Indus Blues” Premiere Held at PNCA Islamabad

Source: facebook.com/IndusBluesfilm

The feature documentary “Indus Blues” was finally premiered in Islamabad on June 14. I have had the good fortune of collaborating as a screenwriter and associate producer with director/producer Jawad Sharif and creative producer Arieb Azhar on this project, including many friends and colleagues from FACE including Zeejah Fazli and Mehnaz Parveen, and Asmat Bashir, Asif Ali, and Muhammad Qadeer from Bipolar Films.

All of those team members were there, with the exception of Arieb who is off for a tour to Europe and North America. The main guest who made the event possible was the German Charge d’Affaires Dr. Jens Jokisch, who is also the acting ambassador. He expressed his fondness for Pakistan and its culture and was glad to be the partner for the event. Senator Faisal Javed Khan and PNCA Director of Film Aijaz Gul also attended the event.

Source: facebook.com/IndusBluesfilm

The highlight of the event was the presence of one of the cast members, Boreendo metro Faqeer Zulfikar, who also appears on the poster of the film. He initiated the mood of the film with a couple of folk tunes on Boreendo and Damburi, but it somewhat took away the surprise and the marvel of the discovery of the Boreendo in the film.

I was anticipating a far bigger turnout but the fact remains that the general public does not care as much about the subject as you would like them to. But still, it was good to see people who value folk music and independent cinema turn up in fairly good numbers.

Being a part of the “Indus Blues” team, I would like to thank all friends who came to the event. We would continue to take the message of the film to all corners of the country so the neglected voices of our folk musicians and craftsmen can be highlighted the way they ought to be.

I would like to thank the audiences in Pakistan and around the world. Please keep on supporting Indus Blues.

Art Langar: The Inception of a Ritual Festival

Source: Art Langar

Something extraordinary happened in Islamabad for the last two nights. A quiet city briefly came alive, and even though it has before, never like this. Never in such a grand Sufi manner. All thanks to Islamabad’s very own, and I am proud to call him that, Arieb Azhar.

Arieb Azhar is a very special person. He is sensitive about the society around him, mindful of the injustices, and somehow shockingly focused on positivity and bringing people together. There is enough hate to go around over here anyway, especially after weeks of a hateful sit-in protest by a religious party. Islamabad surely needed a break.

Art Langar, the new ritual festival of the artists of Pakistan, especially with a Sufi, spiritual and humanistic inclination, provided just that. Langar refers to the holy token food offered for free at a Sufi shrine, which primarily serves as enough for the day for the poor of the town. But it is not just reserved for the poor. A Sufi does not see class, caste, creed or color of the skin. The doors are open for everyone. And so were those of Art Langar.

I can’t say if loads of crowd visited the Art Langar but those who did were in for a treat. Art Langar mixes art with music performances, with a section reserved for art installations as well as the main auditorium serving as the venue for the musical performances of the featured stars. And they had quite a lineup.

Art Langar, the idea still being in its infancy is yet to achieve perfection in execution but more importantly, it seeks to initiate the trend of a gift economy in Pakistan, as well as the culture of buying tickets to support art as opposed to freeloading as is the norm.

The performing acts included the Shah Jo Raag Faqeers of Bhittai, Krishan Lal Bheel and his troupe, Mai Nimaani, Qawalistan, Farhad Humayun and the Overload, Khumarian, The Sketches, Akhtar Chanal Zehri, Makrani Lewa dancers, and the Mekaal Hassan Band, apart from Arieb Azhar himself.

But most appropriately, the festival concluded with the Dhamaal at the beat of the dhol of Pappu Saeen of the Shah Jamal Shrine, considering the theme of the festival and the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar chants just about after every act in a very non-religious way.

The purpose behind this festival was much deeper than the lineup of musical acts performing in it but I think we are going to take a few years, if the Art Langar team remains steadfast, to get there. All I hope is for Arieb Azhar to get encouraged enough to continue this journey.

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.

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.