Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Battle of the Sexes - fascinating story, uneven execution

movie review 
 
Battle of the Sexes 

Starring: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, and Eric Christian Olsen
Directed by: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Tagline: He made a bet. She made history. 

Even nearly 45 years after it took place, the famous showdown between women’s tennis star Billie Jean King and former men’s champion Bobby Riggs remains one of the most well-known fixtures in tennis history. Fans of the sport who are old enough to have witnessed the 1973 match are certain to remember the hoopla around the encounter, but even those of us born years or even decades after it actually took place are likely to be familiar with at least the bare basics of the contest and how it went down.

It’s this sporting event, the circumstances leading up to it, and the people at its heart that are the subject of the film Battle of the Sexes.

The movie is primarily centred on the life of American tennis legend Billie Jean King (portrayed by Emma Stone) and her role in inspiring changes in women’s tennis during the 1970s.

When a tournament decides to offer women eight times less than the men’s prize money despite equal ticket sales, King – who is dissatisfied with both the compensation and respect that is being given to sportswomen – takes matters into her own hands and sets up her own tournament for female players.

Meanwhile, Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) – a retired former champion who had been one of the world’s top tennis players in the 1940s – tries to make his way back into the limelight by challenging 29-year-old King to a match, claiming that he could beat any top female player even at age 55 since the women’s game is inferior to the men’s game.

King refuses to play the match, but after Margaret Court accepts the offer and then loses the contest, King is prompted to accept the challenge in the hopes that she will be able to defeat the male chauvinist and earn female players the respect they rightfully deserve.

Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris do a fine job defining the personal and cultural stakes of the event. Yet they fail to make the narrative sufficiently gripping and suspenseful.

There is too much going on in Battle of the Sexes, and not all of it is equally fascinating. The filmmakers not only explore King’s passion for tennis, her struggle for women’s rights and equality, her life off the court, her relationship with her husband (Austin Stowell), and her extramarital affair with a hairdresser (Andrea Riseborough) which distractingly gets a lot of emphasis in the movie, but they also take a look at Riggs’ personal life, his relationship with his wife (Elisabeth Shue), and the impact of his gambling addiction on their marriage. The execution starts to feel unfocused as less compelling storylines are explored at length while more vital topics and interesting characters only get a perfunctory treatment. Coupled with the uneven tone, the results are less than dazzling.

The cast, however, is very impressive. The acting of the leads, especially, is top notch. Stone is terrific as the protagonist and does a good job relaying her character’s societal struggles and inner conflicts. In the role of King’s nemesis, Carell also does a great job portraying the colourful, controversial, self-promoting Riggs. In the supporting roles, Sarah Silverman – who plays King’s supporter and co-founder of the women’s team – gives a memorable performance in an otherwise unmemorable project, but Bill Pullman (in the role of Jack Kramer, whose refusal to pay the women equally spurs King’s actions), Stowell, and McNamee’s characters leave you wishing the actors had been given more to do and had a better chance to make an impact.

Its execution could have been less predictable, the camerawork could have been better, the storytelling could have been cleaner, and the direction could have been more focused. On the whole, while Battle of the Sexes benefits from its fascinating story inspired by real events and a terrific roster of actors who bring their characters to vivid cinematic life, the film suffers because of its overlong running time (2 hours) and its desire to check too many narrative and ideological boxes.

Rating: 3 out of 5

- Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune Blogs - 21st February, 2018 *

Friday, February 16, 2018

Winter Olympic odyssey

quiz whiz

With the Pyeongchang Games in full swing, it’s time to test your Winter Olympic knowledge with our sporty little quiz.

1. The Winter Olympics are being held in Pyeongchang County, South Korea, this year from 9th February to 25th February. Which edition of the Winter Olympic Games is this?
A. 13th
B. 23rd
C. 33rd
D. 43rd

2. Where were the first Winter Olympics held?
A. France
B. Canada
C. United States
D. Greece

3. The Winter Olympics, like the Summer Olympics, take place every four years, with the winter games and summer games alternating at a two year gap. But until when were the Winter and Summer Olympics held in the same year?
A. 1936
B. 1942
C. 1976
D. 1992

4. Which country has won the most Winter Olympic medals ever?
A. United States
B. United Kingdom
C. Norway
D. China

5. Who is the most medalled athlete of all time in Winter Olympic history?
A. Ole Einar Bjørndalen
B. Raisa Smetanina
C. Stefania Belmondo
D. Claudia Pechstein

6. Soohorang, a white tiger, is the mascot of the 2018 Winter Olympics. What does his name mean?
A. Smart tiger
B. Protection tiger
C. Fierce tiger
D. Peace tiger

7. Which new discipline has been added to the Winter Olympics this year?
A. Big air snowboarding
B. Mixed doubles curling
C. Mass start speed skating
D. Mixed team alpine skiing

8. Which country has been banned from this year’s Olympics by the International Olympic Committee (IOC)?
A. North Korea
B. Ukraine
C. Russia
D. Myanmar

9. How many medals has Pakistan won at the Winter Olympics?
A. 0
B. 0
C. 0
D. 0

10. Muhammad Abbas was Pakistani’s first athlete to compete in the Winter Olympics. Which sport did he compete in?
A. Alpine skiing
B. Freestyle skiing
C. Figure skating
D. Speed skating

11. How many Pakistani athletes are competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics?
A. 0
B. 2
C. 4
D. 8

12. Where will the next Winter Olympics be held?
A. Istanbul, Turkey
B. Tokyo, Japan
C. Beijing, China
D. Madrid, Spain


*****

Answers:

1. B
This year, the Winter Olympics are being held for the 23rd time. The 2018 Winter Olympics are, in fact, officially known as the XXIII Olympic Winter Games. 2,952 athletes from 92 National Olympic Committees are slated to compete in 102 events in 15 sports discipline altogether in the 2018 Games.

2. A
The Games were first held in Chamonix, France in 1924, and were held every four years from 1924 to 1936, before being interrupted in 1940 and 1944 by World War II, and subsequently resumed in 1948.

3. D
The Summer and Winter Olympics were held in the same year until quite recently: the 1992 Games were the last to be held in the same year. In 1986, the International Olympic Committee voted to separate the Summer and Winter Games and place them in alternating even-numbered years. This change became effective from the 1994 Games, held in Lillehammer, Norway, which became the first Winter Olympics to be held separately from the Summer Games.

4. C
Over 40 countries have won medals at the Winter Olympics, but the country topping the all-time Winter medal count is Norway. Out of the more than 2800 medals awarded since 1924, Norway has won 329 of them.
The U.S. is second in the tally (282 medals) and Germany is third (228 medals).

5. A
Norwegian biathlon champion Ole Einar Bjørndalen (born in 1974), the most successful biathlete of all time, is also the most medalled Olympian in the history of the Winter Olympic Games. He competed in six Olympics from 1994 to 2014, and won 13 medals – 8 gold, 4 silver, and 1 bronze.

6. B
Soohorang (수호랑), a white tiger, gets his name from the Korean words “sooho” which means “protection” and “horangi” which means tiger.
The mascot of this year’s Winter Paralympics is Bandabi (반다비), an Asiatic black bear. His name is derived from the Korean words “bandal” which mean “half-moon” and “bi” which connotes commemoration to celebrate the games.
The Games motto is “Passion. Connected.”

7. A, B, C, and D
All four of these disciplines have been added to the Winter Olympics this year

8. C
In December 2017, the IOC suspended the Russian Olympic Committee due to the state-sponsored doping scandal. Russian athletes whitelisted by the IOC were allowed to compete neutrally in Pyeongchang, but not under the Russian flag.

9. 0
Sigh.

10. A
Alpine skier Muhammad Abbas (born in 1986) was Pakistan’s first competitor at the Winter Olympic Games in 2010. He finished in 79th place out of the 103 skiers in the men’s giant slalom event.

11. B
Skier Muhammad Karim has qualified for the Alpine skiing men’s giant slalom event, and Syed Haman Shah has qualified for cross-country skiing, men’s 15km freestyle event.

12. C
Beijing will be the host city for the XXIV Olympic Winter Games, and will become the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 16th February, 2018

Friday, February 02, 2018

Food fluster

quiz whiz

Food – it’s an essential part of your life, but how much do you know about what you eat? Test your foody knowledge and satiate your craving for some scrumptious trivia with our delectable little quiz.

1. In which country was chicken tikka masala invented?
A. India
B. Pakistan
C. Bangladesh
D. United Kingdom

2. What is the world’s favourite fast food item?
A. Burger
B. Sandwich
C. Pizza
D. Fries

3. Which of these is not a variety (cultivar) of mangoes?
A. Neelam
B. Zafran
C. Dopehri
D. Langra

4. How many flowers must honeybees visit to produce 1 pound of honey?
A. 2 thousand
B. 20 thousand
C. 2 million
D. 20 million

5. What is Pakistan’s largest food crop?
A. Rice
B. Wheat
C. Sugarcane
D. Onion

6. In which country did pasta originate?
A. Italy
B. Greece
C. France
D. China

7. What is the main ingredient in cotton candy?
A. Flour
B. Milk
C. Sugar
D. Eggs

8. “Curry”, the term used to refer to the popular South Asian cuisine, was derived from the Tamil word “kaṟi”, which means:
A. Spices
B. Sauce
C. Savoury
D. Southern

9. When you put it in a bowl of cold water, a fresh egg will:
A. Spin
B. Float
C. Sink
D. Stand on one end at the bottom of the bowl

10. On average, how many animals are killed every day in the world for food?
A. 20 thousand
B. 550 thousand
C. 60 million
D. 400 million

11. Approximately how many teaspoons of sugar are in a can – which is usually 355 ml (12 oz) – of soft drink?
A. 3
B. 5
C. 9
D. 13

12. Paddington 2 is currently busy amusing critics and audiences alike. Which food item is Paddington Bear particularly fond of?
A. Marmite
B. Marmalade
C. Meringue
D. Macarons

*****

Answers:

1. D
While its origin is disputed and there are multiple differing claims about its invention, chicken tikka masala is believed to have originated in Glasgow, Scotland at an Indian restaurant by a chef of Bangladeshi or Pakistani origin.

2. D
Fries – French-fried potatoes or chips – are the most ordered fast food item in the world. Their origin is also disputed – both the French and the Belgians claim it was them who created the dish, but whoever it was … thank you!

3. C
There are hundreds of mango cultivars in the world. Dopehri isn’t one of them; however, Dusehri is.
The varieties of mangoes in Pakistan include: Alphonso, Anmol, Anwar Ratole, Chaunsa, Langra, Neelam, Sindhri, and Zafran.

4. C
To produce a pound of honey, honeybees must visit around 2 million flowers and fly nearly 55,000 miles. A bee goes to around 50 to 100 flowers during one collection trip and can visit up to 5,000 flowers in a single day, but produces only about 1/12 teaspoon of honey in its lifetime. Collectively though, a bee colony can make 60 to 100 pounds of honey per year.

5. B
Wheat – the most widely grown crop in the world – is also Pakistan’s largest food crop. Pakistan ranks among the top 10 largest producers and suppliers of the crop globally with roughly 25 million metric tons produced yearly.
The most important crops of the country are wheat, sugarcane, cotton, and rice, which together account for around 75% of the total crop output.

6. A
Pasta, a staple of traditional Italian cuisine that is basically dried wheat dough, originated in Italy, with early reference dating as far back as the 1150s in Sicily.

7. C
Cotton candy is made entirely of sugar, sometimes with a bit of food colour or flavouring added. The sugar is heated, liquefied, and spun into cotton candy. The final product is lightweight and contains mostly air – about 1 ounce (30 grams) of sugar is used to make a typical serving of the confection.

8. B
Curry – the subcontinental cuisine that is popular worldwide in its many variations – probably got its name from the word “kari” which means sauce.

9. C
The easiest way to check if an egg is fresh without cracking it? Put it in a bowl of cold water.
A fresh egg will sink to the bottom and rest on its side.
An older, less fresh egg will stand in an upright position at the bottom of the bowl.
A stale egg will float to the surface and may no longer be suitable for consumption.

10. D
Estimates differ and the number certainly varies, but it is believed that 56 billion farmed animals – not including fish – are killed every year for human consumption, and as many as 150 billion animals are killed altogether in the world per year by the meat, dairy, egg, and fish industries. That roughly comes down to 410 million per day, or over 4700 per second.

11. C
Most soft drinks – including colas and lemon flavoured beverages – contain around 39 grams of sugar, which is roughly nine teaspoons of sugar. That’s nearly 150 calories per can!

12. B
The beloved character from deepest, darkest Peru famously loves marmalade. British author Michael Bond (1926 – 2017) was inspired to write the Paddington stories after finding a lone teddy bear on a shelf in a store near Paddington Station in London on Christmas Eve 1956. The series eventually became massively popular around the world, and now Paddington has his own film series. 2014’s Paddington and 2017’s Paddington 2 are both delightful and highly recommended to everyone everywhere.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 2nd February, 2018

Friday, January 26, 2018

Entertainment entanglement

quiz whiz

Movie buffs, music aficionados, television enthusiasts … how much do you know about the world of entertainment? Test your showbiz knowledge with our nifty little quiz.

Movies

1. Which film won the first ever Best Picture award at the 1st Academy Awards in 1929?
A. Gone with the Wind
B. Ben-Hur
C. Wings
D. The Broadway Melody

2. In The Avengers series, what is J.A.R.V.I.S. the acronym of?
A. Just A Really Valuable Integrated System
B. Just A Realistically Voiced Integrated System
C. Just A Robust Veracious Intelligent System
D. Just A Rather Very Intelligent System

3. Since the studio’s inception in 1986, how many animated feature films has Pixar released?
A. 9
B. 19
C. 29
D. 39

Music

4. Who is the best-selling music artist of all time?
A. The Beatles
B. Elvis Presley
C. Michael Jackson
D. Taylor Swift

5. Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s ‘Despacito’ is the most viewed video on YouTube. But what does ‘Despacito’ actually mean?
A. Desperately
B. Slowly
C. Gently
D. Despairingly

6. What was the first song played on the moon?
A. ‘Walking on the Moon’ by The Police
B. ‘Everyone’s Gone to the Moon’ by Jonathan King
C. ‘Moon in the Mirror’ by Joni Mitchell
D. ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ by Frank Sinatra

Television

7. Before Bryan Cranston was cast as Walter White in Breaking Bad, which actor was offered the role but turned it down?
A. Jon Hamm
B. Alec Baldwin
C. John Cusack
D. Matthew Broderick

8. The main cast members of which show are the highest paid actors and actresses in television history, making more than $2 million each per episode?
A. Game of Thrones
B. The Big Bang Theory
C. Two and a Half Men
D. Friends

9. Around how many episodes have aired of the long-running animated series The Simpsons?
A. 200
B. 400
C. 600
D. 800

Local
 
10. In what year was ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’ released?
A. 1985
B. 1987
C. 1989
D. 1991

11. Which singer featured on a song by British-Norwegian boy band A1 in 2012?
A. Hadiqa Kiani
B. Annie Khalid
C. Fariha Pervez
D. Zebunnisa Bangash

12. What is the highest grossing Pakistani film series?
A. Maula Jatt
B. 3 Bahadur
C. Karachi Lahore
D. Na Maloom Afraad

*****

Answers:

1. C

1927’s silent war film Wings, starring Clara Bow and Charles Rogers and directed by William A. Wellman, was the first recipient of the Best Picture award; the category was titled Outstanding Picture in 1929.
The musical The Broadway Melody (1929) won the award in 1930 at the 2nd Academy Awards ceremony, while Gone with the Wind (1939) and Ben-Hur (1959) won the trophy in 1940 (12th Academy Awards) and 1960 (32nd Academy Awards) respectively.

2. D
The acronym for the artificial intelligence personality J.A.R.V.I.S. in The Avengers universe stands for Just A (alternatively: Another) Rather Very Intelligent System and is adapted from the name of the Stark family butler, Edwin Jarvis.

3. B
Pixar has released 19 feature films so far: Toy Story (1995), A Bug’s Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Cars (2006), Ratatouille (2007), WALL-E (2008), Up (2009), Toy Story 3 (2010), Cars 2 (2011), Brave (2012), Monsters University (2013), Inside Out (2015), The Good Dinosaur (2015), Finding Dory (2016), Cars 3 (2017), and Coco (2017).

4. A
The Beatles are considered the highest-selling artists of all time, with sales of 271.1 million total available certified units and estimated sales of as many as 500 to 600 million records.
Elvis (212.4 million certified, 500 to 600 million estimated) and MJ (184.6 million, 300 to 350 million estimated) are considered the second and third best-selling artists respectively. Taylor Swift (181.6 million certified) hasn’t cracked the top ten yet and is even trailing behind Rihanna (229.4 million certified).

5. B
“Despacito” is Spanish for “slowly”.

6. D
Originally titled ‘In Other Words’, ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ was written by Bart Howard and recorded by Kaye Ballard in 1954. The 1964 cover of the track by Sinatra became closely associated with the Apollo missions to the Moon; a recording of the song was played on the 1969 Apollo 10 mission which orbited the Moon, and the track was then played on the Moon on a portable cassette player by Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin after he stepped onto the lunar surface in 1969.

7. C and D
Both John Cusack and Matthew Broderick turned down the part (and thank heavens for that!) before Cranston was cast in the by-now-iconic role.

8. A
The primary cast of HBO’s fantasy drama Game of Thrones – Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, and Kit Harington – are reportedly making £2,000,000 per episode for the show’s 2017 to 2018 run.
The cast of Friends made $1 million per episode from 2002 to 2004; several cast members of The Big Bang Theory are getting $900,000 per episode (2017 – 2019); while Charlie Sheen earned $1.8 million per episode for his final season of Two and a Half Men (2010 – 2011).

9. C
There have been 629 episodes over 29 seasons of The Simpsons, the longest-running sitcom and animated program in American television history. Created by Matt Groening, the series stared in 1989 and has been renewed for a thirtieth season, extending the show to 2019.

10. B
Pop band Vital Signs’ patriotic song ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’ was released in 1987 before appearing on the group’s debut album, Vital Signs 1, in 1989.

11. B
English-Pakistani singer Annie Khalid featured on A1’s single ‘Just 3 Words’ in 2012. The song served as the first single from the band’s fifth album, Rediscovered (2012).

12. D
Based on estimates, comedy thrillers Na Maloom Afraad (2014) and Na Maloom Afraad 2 (2017) are thought to have grossed around PKR34 crore collectively; road comedies Karachi Se Lahore (2015) and Lahore Se Aagey (2016) have made around PKR 31.9 crore; and animated children’s movies 3 Bahadur (2015) and 3 Bahadur: The Revenge of Baba Balaam (2016) have earned nearly PKR13.4 crore.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 26th January, 2018 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Paddington 2 - silly, zany, and utterly delightful

movie review

Paddington 2

Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, Hugh Grant, and Ben Whishaw
Directed by: Paul King
Tagline: Small bear. Big trouble.

It has been over half a century – 61 years to be precise – since Michael Bond found a lone teddy bear on a shelf in a store near Paddington Station on Christmas Eve in 1956. The lovable stuffed toy went on to inspire one of the most celebrated children’s book series of all time (starting with a volume in 1958 and ending in 2017 with the author’s death). His stories have now led to a delightful film series that proves Paddington’s adventures remain as relevant as ever.

The latest big screen instalment in the series, Paddington 2 – the sequel to 2014’s Paddington – finds the marmalade-loving bear from darkest Peru in yet another pickle.

Since the events of the previous film, Paddington (voiced with gentle elegance by Ben Whishaw) has settled down with the Brown family in London and become a popular member of the diverse community, beloved by everyone except the grumpy Mr. Curry (Peter Capaldi) who’d rather the bear not reside in his neighbourhood.

With his Aunt Lucy’s (voiced by Imelda Staunton) 100th birthday looming, Paddington sets out to find and send her a present. When he chances upon a popup book about London – the city his aunt always dreamed of seeing but never got a chance to visit – he decides it would be the perfect gift for her.

But to buy the pricey antique, the little bear must get a job and save money … hence presenting the filmmakers an opportunity to delve into a series of amusing visual gags.

Things take a more sinister turn, however, when the popup book is stolen and Paddington is wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for the crime.

It is then up to the Browns – a very enthusiastic Mary (Sally Hawkins) and a much more reluctant Henry (Hugh Bonneville) as well as their children Judy (Madeleine Harris) and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) and their housekeeper Mrs. Bird (Julie Walters) – to find the real culprit and clear Paddington’s name.

It is all silly and zany and utterly delightful. Paddington 2 is a masterclass in filmmaking for children, and a brilliant example of what filmmakers can achieve with relative simplicity without overloading the viewers’ senses with gaudy outfits and excessive visual effects (a la Disney’s upcoming fantasy projects).

The moral lessons and messages of embracing diversity may be front and centre in the film, but despite being clearly stated and often repeated, they never feel like they’re being shoehorned into the proceedings or forced upon the viewers. There is a quiet beauty in Paddington’s gentleness, and director Paul King and his team have put together the perfect escapade around this beloved character that highlights his lessons of kindness while being consistently entertaining.

The cast is absolutely terrific. From Whishaw’s tender voice to Hawkins’ all-round effervescence, the performers are perfect in their respective parts. And there’s a wonderful list of some great British actors – including Brendan Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Jessica Hynes, Ben Miller, Richard Ayoade, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal, and the aforementioned Capaldi – who make enjoyable appearances in smaller roles.

But the thespian who clearly steals the show is the remarkable Hugh Grant as Phoenix Buchanan, a down-on-his-luck actor who is the film’s primary antagonist. Paddington 2 serves as a sturdy vehicle for displaying Grant’s comedic skills in all his many guises throughout the movie, and if there’s any justice in the world, the role should earn the actor a few Best Supporting Actor trophies in the coming weeks.

All in all, Paddington’s second adventure is a fantastic cinematic offering that gives you a brief reprieve from reality as you escape into a world where kindness and marmalade fixes everything.
The gags and humour are bound to keep children entertained, and its messages of love and inclusivity will resonate with viewers both young and old. Best of all, Paddington 2 will make you actually feel things, and you are likely to leave the cinema with a big smile on your face while simultaneously dabbing a few tears from your eyes.

If you are a movie buff and appreciate well made films, then make sure you don’t miss this one.

Oh and do yourself a favour and buy a jar of marmalade before you watch the movie. Trust me, you are going to need it!

Rating: 5 out of 5

- Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune Blogs - 20th January, 2018 *

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Haroon returns with another animated adventure

interview

After the massive international success of the animated series Burka Avenger, singer Haroon Rashid recently launched another animated show, Teetoo and Tania. Aimed at children, the new series showcases some of Pakistan’s most prominent personalities and highlights social messages along the way.

We chatted with the artist – who is the founder and CEO of Unicorn Black, the production company behind these animated programs – about his latest venture.

Instep: Tell us about your new animated television series, Teetoo and Tania.
Haroon:
I am very excited about this new show.  The quality of animation is on par with top international animation productions, and the episodes themselves are highly entertaining and have strong, positive social messages.
The premise is a lot of fun. Teetoo is an alien bureaucrat that works for the Galactic Council. The Council has identified Earthlings as a threat to the very existence of the Universe due to their penchant for aggression and war. Teetoo surveys planet Earth and determines that it should be exterminated. Pakistan is the only country left to survey. He crash lands in the backyard of Tania, a 16 year old Pakistan girl, who rushes out to help him. Touched by her kindness, he advises her to leave Earth.
Tania is shocked and takes it upon herself to change Teetoo’s mind. And so begins Tania’s stories. In each episode, Tania tells Teetoo about a different Pakistani hero or role model. As Teetoo listens to these stories, he is forced to reconsider his assessment of planet Earth.

Instep: What inspired you to create this show?
Haroon: With Burka Avenger I was highlighting a fictional role model.  I thought it would be great to do a show about real life Pakistani heroes and role models.
At a time where there is much negativity about Pakistan in the media and press, this show aims to highlight Pakistani heroes and role models to inspire the youth of Pakistan. Furthermore, the series projects a positive image of Pakistan to the world. The show highlights heroes such as Edhi, who is considered one of the world’s greatest humanitarians, and Aitzaz Hasan, a school boy who sacrificed his life to prevent a suicide bomber attacking a school. Other well-known heroes include Muniba Mazari, Mushtaq Chappra (founder TCF), and many others.

Instep: Could you please tell us about the making of the show?
Haroon: The show was made at Unicorn Black, the animation production company I founded in 2012. The team had a lot of fun working on the show. Ali Safina was the voice of Teetoo, the alien. And Sara Rubab, who voiced Ashu in Burka Avenger, was the voice for Tania.
I have been a fan of Ali Safina’s work for a number of years especially his Milk Sheikh caricature. I wanted someone who can really create a character which sounds and acts from another world and he did that. So grateful for the amazing job he did.
Sara Rubab was also just brilliant as Tania. She is very smart and when we gave her the briefing, she went home and practised overnight and then next day just nailed it.
Animation is a collaborative effort. It takes a huge team to put together such a project. Nida Rehman was our production manager, Maryam Arqem our art director along with Yousuf Ejaz. Arif was our lead animator, and Zeeshan was our editor. Ommer was one of our key scriptwriters. This just a few of the 20 or so talented people that worked on Teetoo and Tania.
The quality of Teetoo and Tania is far superior to Burka Avenger. We set out to do that and we successfully achieved that. We actually animated the first episode twice. We spent a couple of months animating it and then we were like, you know what, we can do way better, let’s not compromise.  And the only way to improve it was for us to build the 3D models of the characters from scratch. So we went and did that. It was a long and arduous journey but one we thoroughly enjoyed.

Instep: Burka Avenger was a huge success and was broadcast locally and internationally.  Has it been difficult or easy to sell Pakistani animated kids shows to channels in Pakistan? Abroad?
Haroon: Burka Avenger won multiple awards and received press accolades worldwide and in Pakistan. The show aired on multiple TV channels in Pakistan and abroad; the show was dubbed into over 10 languages. When the show was released in Indonesia on ANTV last year it was the number one watched show in the 5 to 14 age demographic. For me this is a testament to Pakistani talent that the show was loved by people all over the world.
Teetoo and Tania is a project which is very Pakistani centric because each episode highlights real life Pakistani heroes and role models. However we have subtitled all the episodes in English and are uploading them online. This will give the rest of the world the ability to see all the wonderful work and sacrifices these real life Pakistani heroes have made. Pakistan suffers an image problem and it is up to all of us in our media to show the rest of the world a more balanced picture of Pakistan. The show is airing on PTV and all the episodes are available to view online as well to reach a world-wide audience.
If you have a quality production, then it is always easy to sell your show locally and abroad.

Instep: Unicorn Black is focusing on creating entertainment for children at the moment. Are there any projects – animated or otherwise – aimed at adults that are also in the works?
Haroon: I am very interested in working on projects for an older audience. I am full of ideas and stories for movies. At this point, we have just completed Teetoo and Tania so now we are deciding whether we should plan a full length animated feature film or dive into live action.

Instep: Is there a reason you have gravitated towards television instead of going for the big screen, like Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy has done with her 3 Bahadur series?
Haroon: I think with the success of Burka Avenger, it just made sense to do another animated TV series. It certainly was challenging. I directed and produced 52 episodes of 22 minutes each of Burka Avenger with my team at Unicorn Black. No animated project like this has ever been attempted before in Pakistan. This was over 1,100 minutes of animation. Most animated movies are not longer than 100 minutes.

Instep: You had a great run with Burka Avenger. What does the future hold for that character?
Haroon: I am super excited to announce we are working on a new Burka Avenger related project. No, not the movie. Something else that I am very excited about. I will reveal more details in the coming months.

Instep: What about your music career? Any development on that front?
Haroon: That is the golden question everyone keeps asking me. My music career did take a backseat as I jumped into animation production as well as working to create the Taazi music app. When I pick up my guitar and jam, I realise there is nothing else in the world that brings me as much joy as making music. But 2018 is the year I will release new music.
Last year, for August 14th, I launched a revamped version of my song ‘Dil Say Pakistan’ with Muniba Mazari and Javed Bashir. It received over 7 million views online, much to my shock and pleasant surprise. I thought the Pakistani music scene was dead. It is past the glory days, but there is still a strong demand. Pakistani TV channels and radio unfortunately mainly broadcast Indian and English content, so Pakistani artists have to turn to online avenues.

Instep: Are there any other projects you’re working on at the moment? What can we expect from you in the coming months?
Haroon: I am one of those people who is always working on something. My brain is always ticking along. Some of the crazy ideas will see the light of day; some may not. Hopefully some of them will go on to be successful and others may crash and burn. But the main idea is to passionately keep pursuing my dreams and use creativity, media, entertainment, and art as agent for positive change in this world.

- Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 14th January, 2018 *

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Most anticipated albums of 2018 (part II)

music mix

In this concluding chapter, we look at artists across genres, from pop, rock, hip hop, or indie, who have promised new records.

Cardi B
Her meteoric rise last year on the back of the surprise summer hit ‘Bodak Yellow’ turned Belcalis Almanzar – a.k.a. Cardi B – into hip hop’s most prominent newcomer. The rapper will try to prove that her debut single was no fluke and cement her place in the industry with the release of her first album this year. The record’s second single, ‘Bartier Cardi’ (featuring 21 Savage), came out a few weeks ago, with an album set to arrive later this year.

Death Cab for Cutie
“LP9 // 2018,” indie rock icons Death Cab for Cutie announced in a post on Instagram a few months ago, which means the group’s ninth album should be with us sometime soon. This will be the band’s first set without guitarist Chris Walla who announced that he was leaving the group during the production of their previous effort, Kintsugi (2015).

Father John Misty
After receiving critical acclaim for 2017’s Pure Comedy, Josh Tillman has already created its follow-up. Written over a six-week period while he was staying at a hotel and produced by Jonathan Rado, Tillman has described the forthcoming LP as “a heartache album”. Song titles for this new record reportedly include ‘Ouch, I’m Drowning’, ‘Dum Dum Blues’, ‘Mr Tillman, Please Exit The Lobby’, and ‘Well, We’re Only People And There’s Nothing Much We Can Do About It’.

Gorillaz
Fans won’t have to wait seven years this time for a new Gorillaz album. After a much-publicized fall-out led to a long break for the British group, Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett eventually reunited their virtual band to create 2017’s Humanz. And now they seem to be making up for lost time, as a follow-up to their comeback record is already in the works and slated for a 2018 release. Details may still be scant, but a “new direction” has been promised by the duo, both sonically and visually.

Nicki Minaj
For a while it seemed like Nicki Minaj could release the follow-up to The Pinkprint (2014) in 2017, especially when she dropped three singles – ‘Changed It’ featuring Lil Wayne, ‘No Frauds’ featuring Wayne and Drake, and ‘Regret In Your Tears’ – on the same day. But the Trinidadian-born American rapper’s much anticipated fourth record has yet to surface. 2018 could finally be the year the album lands in stores, and the best-selling female rapper of all time is promising an epic new era for her fans, claiming that her next record will be her best work yet.

Selena Gomez
2017 was a year of ups and downs for Selena Gomez. While the singer struggled with personal and health issues, the songs she released – ‘Bad Liar’, ‘Fetish’, and ‘Wolves’ – did signal more growth for her as an artist as she experimented with her sound and tried to make some interesting pop music. These singles are expected to lead to an album in 2018, and while there is no release date yet, the singer has confirmed that she will be coming up with more new music this year.

The 1975
Their second album, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It, was deemed by many to be one of the best releases of 2016. Now The 1975 will hope to continue their impressive streak with their third album, Music for Cars, which will come out this year. Frontman Matt Healy has hinted that the record will include songs titled ‘Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America’, ‘It’s Not Living (If It’s Not with You)’, and ‘I Always Wanna Die, Sometimes’.

- Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 13th January, 2018 *