Friday, July 31, 2015

My Teen Years: Humayun Saeed


Humayun Saeed 

Date of birth
27th July.

The best thing about being a teenager was
Having no responsibilities.

I was always listening to
‘Careless Whisper’ by George Michael. I loved the rhythm of the song which was incredibly catchy. George Michael’s smooth vocals made it an outstanding number.

I was glued to the T.V. for
A lot of serials.

My favourite movie was
The Rambo series. Sylvester Stallone’s amazing performance makes it one of the best action movies series ever made. The storyline was very gripping and the action sequences were unforgettable. Needless to say, I never got bored of watching the movies repeatedly.

My favourite actor was
Sylvester Stallone.

My favourite book was
Imran Series by Mazhar Kaleem. I don’t really enjoy reading that much, but the Imran Series books were so well written that I lived with each character. It was very engaging, and the storylines were always unpredictable in a good way.

My room was full of

My room walls carried the posters of
Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Sylvester Stallone.

My friends were
My best friends were Ather Rasheed and Tanveer Bukhari who are still among my closest friends.

My first crush was
My teacher.

What hurt me the most
When my father used to go out to watch movies with my siblings and leave me behind.

My dream was to become
I wanted to be a pilot.

I wish I had known then
No matter what you do, you’ll make enemies (so learn from them).

Relations with siblings
It was a good, healthy relationship.

Relations with parents
It was a beautiful relationship.

My school was
Nasra School. Like most other people, my school life remains to be the most cherished years of my life.

Ragging at college/university
It never happened to me thankfully.

I couldn’t stand
Liars. Still can’t.

My favourite hangout place was
There were a lot of places I used to enjoy going to with my friends.

My favourite sport was

My favourite pastime was
Watching movies.

- By Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 31st July, 2015 *

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Go Set a Watchman - a great literary find

book review

Harper Lee's 'sequel' to her Pulitzer Prize winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird isn't as good as her masterpiece but it still gives important insight into the author's writing process

Book: Go Set a Watchman
Author: Harper Lee

There is an age-old adage that advises artists to always leave their audience wanting more. This maxim was clearly taken to heart by author Harper Lee, who seemed to adhere to this philosophy for over five decades after first coming to the world’s attention by publishing an extraordinary debut novel and then resolutely refusing to publish another book again. But now that one of her early works has almost unexpectedly made its way to bookshelves, many of the same readers who spent half a century insisting they wanted more have decided that they would have been happier with less. Turns out, another adage also holds true: you simply cannot please everyone.

Lee’s first novel was, of course, the much celebrated To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), a rare literary gem that has taught generations of teenagers to fall in love with the written word. It’s warm, often amusing take on dark, difficult subjects has made it affecting and timeless, and its treatise on the racial inequality of the Deep South in the 1930s, delivered beautifully by employing a child’s perspective to dissect society’s prejudices and shortcomings, continues to highlight the importance and power of empathy. Its so-called sequel, however, started courting controversy even before its publication.

Go Set a Watchman was written in the 1950s and submitted to the publisher who told the author to instead refocus the narrative on the protagonist’s childhood and thereby work on what would eventually become To Kill a Mockingbird. The manuscript was thought to be lost for many years until it was supposedly rediscovered in 2011. But the circumstances in which the book subsequently resurfaced last year and the timing of its publication immediately came under scrutiny, with the writer’s old age and declining health leading to suspicions of elder abuse. Then its content started to cause a furore, and before you knew it, commentators had reduced it to a novel that — spoiler alerts be damned — turned everyone’s favourite fictional legal crusader into a racist. While that may be a valid observation, focus on that singular aspect is detracting attention from the fact that the book actually has significantly more inherent value for literature enthusiasts.

Set two decades after Mockingbird, Watchman reunites us with a number of familiar characters. Young Scout, the former “juvenile desperado, hellraiser extraordinary”, is now the grown up Jean Louise Finch, a 26-year-old woman who calls New York her new home. But when she makes her “fifth annual trip” back to Maycomb on a two-week vacation, she is confronted with a reality that leaves her dumbfounded. To her shock, she finds her now-72-year-old arthritic father, Atticus Finch, as well as her beau, Henry Clinton, attending a meeting of the town’s citizen council, a gathering of white supremacists who support the preservation of segregation. Her world is shattered as her idol — the man who valiantly defended a black man charged with the rape of a white girl — is reduced to a flawed human.

It’s a novel about disillusionment, about seeing people for who they are instead of worshipping idealised heroes, and Jean Louise isn’t the only one who has to suffer the dismay of losing an idol; her sentiments will be shared by many bookworms who peruse the novel. Readers who hold him dear are likely to be upset about any development that would besmirch Atticus’s name. But even though Watchman has added an appallingly unflattering dimension to the character of Lee’s famed hero, the more complex Atticus is no less interesting, and is perhaps even more realistic, than the saintly, gallant warrior we met in Mockingbird.

The novel isn’t searching for the best in people; nor does it concern itself with crafting pleasant ever-afters. Be it the betrayal Jean Louise feels, or how things turn out for beloved characters like Jem, Calpurnia, and Dill (all three of whom deserve more attention than they get in this volume), there doesn’t seem to be much happiness in the Watchman universe. The book is nonetheless peppered with some delightful flashbacks which are a joy to read. There are occasional flashes of the humour and warmth that made Lee’s first novel so charming, but the prose isn’t as crisp and refined as it was in her previous effort, nor should anyone expect it to be. Is it really a surprise that a rejected, unrevised draft isn’t as good as a Pulitzer Prizewinning masterpiece?

Watchman chooses to tell us things that a better novel would have shown us, and its tendency to overindulge in exposition — detailing Maycomb’s history, appearance, demographics, and politics, and ultimately even turning into a tedious sociopolitical lecture that the protagonist herself refers to as an “elaborate runaround” — weighs down its narrative and makes it less compelling than it should have been. We also lose the intimacy of Scout’s voice because of the overall third-person narrative. Plus there are a few inconsistencies that are at odds with the former book — most prominently the outcome of the Mockingbird trial, which is presented here as an acquittal instead of the original guilty verdict — and the effect of this can be a tad distracting.

Yet despite all its flaws, the novel still remains intriguing. More blunt and more difficult to read than the book that made Lee famous, Watchman exposes the bitter reality of the time in which it was written. If the mere idea that a much loved character has been turned into a racist makes you cringe, then you might want to give this book a miss. And if you want a strong story, driven by a riveting narrative and delivered through polished prose, then you’d be wise to look elsewhere, because ultimately, if you want the next great American novel, then this isn’t it. Watchman is an interesting companion to an iconic book, and the origin story of a classic. Expecting it to function as a fully polished novel is counterintuitive, but appreciate its importance as a literary find and you won’t be disappointed.

Would it have been better for Lee’s legacy if the book had never resurfaced? Perhaps, but it shouldn’t tarnish her image or diminish the power of her previous tome either. She may not have written the best novel on her first try, but you can still see what the ambitious writer was trying to accomplish. Without this volume we wouldn’t have been able to discover how the idea behind Mockingbird took shape and evolved into one of the most prominent books of the last century; and as a bibliophile, it is hard not to appreciate the fact that we’ve been given this chance.

- Sameen Amer

Books & Authors, Dawn - 26th July, 2015 *

Nescafe Basement - space and time


Mentor and producer Xulfi, the force behind Nescafe Basement

As preparations for Nescafe Basement’s fourth season pick up steam, the show’s creator Zulfiqar Jabbar Khan, a.k.a. Xulfi, talks to Instep about the show’s evolution, successes, and future plans.

Instep: How has Nescafe Basement evolved since it first aired in 2012?
It has evolved in many ways but the core vision hasn’t changed, which is to create a future for the Pakistani music scene. Encouraging and mentoring young musicians is the most important aspect of that vision.
In the first season, the aim was that underground musicians, not just vocalists, of Pakistan get to know there is hope for them in the form of a music platform. Back then, we had a set of artists who were dominantly from Lahore, except two who were from Khanewal and Chitral respectively. But as time has gone on, our audition drive has expanded and talent scouting has become more intense. Moreover, my Facebook fan page is always loaded with auditions. All of this has resulted in a more diverse group of artists, season after season. Till today, Nescafe Basement has unearthed 45 diverse young musicians hailing from all corners of the country – Karachi, Rawalpindi, Rahim Yar Khan, Quetta, Islamabad, Lahore, Khanewal and Chitral.
From 100 auditions in season 1 to over 2000 in season 2 to 5000 plus in season 3, the initiative has kept growing and has kept infusing our music industry with young, raw, and brilliant talent.

Instep: What impact has the show had on the Pakistani music industry in the last three years?
During the early 2000s, so many musicians surfaced on the scene and are still part of it in one way or the other. But when we couldn’t capitalize on this amazing beginning, the industry spiralled downwards. Record labels disappeared, most of the music channels were gone, and the ones that remained played Bollywood music. The established artists were discouraged. The new ones didn’t know what to do. And that’s where music shows like Coke Studio and Nescafe Basement have played their highly crucial part in saving the industry. The audience’s lost interest in music has awakened again. The record labels are reassembling, knowing that Pakistani music is on the rise once again. New music portals like Taazi and Patari now exist, not only giving the audience a lot of great Pakistani music to hear but helping the artist legitimately earn through his music. All of this wasn’t possible when there wasn’t any new music coming up.
Talent scouting all the year round and honest mentoring are needed to help the next generation of musicians be better than us. After all, that should be the aim if a music scene has to evolve.
It makes me proud to know that today, NB artists are working in the industry as singers, music producers, composers, and songwriters for dramas, movies, and commercials. Some of them have formed bands. Some of them are playing as session musicians for renowned mainstream bands and artists. The most important mission here is that the dream should never die for these young talented performers.

Instep: Looking back at season 3, what were the salient features of the latest installment of the show?
This season saw the biggest recruited group yet. 26 artists! We jammed for two months, working on seven originals and nine covers. The best part of this initiative is that it is very free flowing and dynamic in nature and that’s why everyone gets a chance to shine. There is no set plan for the music that we do; it is created in long yet extremely fun jams, and with every new set of artists, there is a new breed of music that evolves every season. For me, that’s the true spirit of music. Artists meeting each other for the first time and then start connecting through music and finally, from being individual musicians, evolve into a band. My aim every year is to help achieve that. And when that happens, it’s magic.
The biggest positive out of this season was the listeners’ overwhelming response to the original songs, which was very heartening. It gives me a lot of hope for the future of our industry.

Instep: Which originals stood out? And what, in your opinion, made these original songs special?
It was amazing, in a way a relief, to see our audience falling in love with the original songs of these young future stars. ‘Bhangi’ by Rizwan Butt, ‘Sajna’ by Sibtain, and ‘Out of My Mind’ by Ikra were some of the originals that made quite a few waves.
Also, I feel the covers are as important as the originals. For a young artist who is learning, sometimes working on someone else’s song in a new light helps the artist figure out ways to reinvent melodies, arrangements, and in that process, learn how to think differently and creatively. Moreover, it’s always a big challenge to cover an iconic song, something that people relate to very religiously and still end up being highly appreciated and loved by those same people. The icing on the cake is when the artists whose covers we performed share our versions with nothing but praise.

Instep: How did it feel when Roxette shared the Nescafe Basement cover of ‘She’s Got the Look’ on their Facebook page?
Out of the world! To know that the music crossed continents to reach Roxette who not only just heard it, but shared our version, it puts a big smile on my face whenever I think of it! It’s an amazing achievement for all of us at NB that we are able to present such a positive outlook of our country to these music legends and then through them, to their followers all over the world.
And Roxette weren’t the only one who shared our cover of their song. Noori shared Nescafe Basement’s version of their ‘Nishaan’. Overload shared NB’s rendition of their song ‘Dhol Bajay Ga’. I think it is important to acknowledge our great musicians. Paying them tribute by reinventing their songs is the young musicians’ way to express their love and respect for our country’s amazing musicians.

Instep: Who are some of the successful alumni of NB so far? Who are the faces that have made a name for themselves in the music industry since being a part of the show?
There are many. Adnan and Rabi’s song ‘Awari’ from season 1 opened a lot of doors for them, one of which was Bollywood. The guys just returned from IIFA Awards in Malaysia where they were nominated for the Best Music Composers award. Now they are doing songs for a Pakistani movie, Dekh Magar Pyar Se. Adrian, a flutist and keyboardist from season 1 and 2 now operates his own studio and has been giving music for television dramas for a year now. Asfar Hussain, season 1 and 2 vocalist, has been drafted in to compose and sing two songs for a Pakistani movie that I can’t disclose the name of at the moment. Bilawal, one of the drummers from season 2 and 3, had his wish of playing alongside Gumby, one of Pakistan’s best drummers, come true post the last season. They played together in drum duels across the country. Sharoon, the season 3 violinist has been contacted by an extremely respected and famous music composer (can’t disclose at the moment) from India, who wants to draft him in his group of musicians.

In addition to all of this, some of the musicians are now performing countrywide with seasoned artists as session musicians. What makes me happy is that all of them are continuing to follow their dream with faith, and I believe that’s the most important part of an artist’s journey.

Instep: Soch, the most successful name associated with the show, already had some recognition when they joined NB. Do you plan to work with other relatively lesser known bands who are already striving to make a name for themselves in the industry, and help them get noticed? Or do you want to primarily focus on undiscovered musicians?
Yes, Soch did have recognition, but mostly in the underground circle. These immensely talented lads had the talent to pass through all hurdles and cross over into the mainstream and I do believe Nescafe Basement helped them achieve that.
Now coming to your question, I feel, at the moment, it is important to mentor individual artists. Why? Because usually when a band is made, a lot of the times, all musicians are not at par with each other skill-wise. I think if the musicians are better skilled in playing and writing music and hence, arranging parts, they stand a better chance of carving a name for themselves and contributing more in the band in their respective department. Every now and then, there are bands that have a united aim and musical direction and every member stands for that.  This philosophy is exactly what I try to instil in all individual artists at NB so that they become a band and they understand the nitty-gritty of working alongside other musicians in a team.
One very evident truth is that you don’t see a lot of bands survive in our country. Duos work better in Pakistan and we have ample proof of that. Noori has evolved into a duo from a band. Strings have always been a duo. Hence when I audition bands (and I audition them every season), sometimes, I recruit two out of a band or a single person out of them, whoever I feel has got it in them. And then once they are back in their bands after NB, they are able to contribute much better in every way.

Instep: Do you think the musicians/performers would get more individual attention and see more success post-NB if you worked with a smaller number of artists each season?
(Smiles) You know I always begin with this aim when I start auditioning. But as I keep listening to these young artists’ talent, I don’t feel like letting any deserving candidate go. Hence the number increases. It’s a very emotional journey for me, every phase of Nescafe Basement. And sometimes, I let my emotions decide. Even with this large group, if you talk to any of the NB artists, they are going to tell you that none of them felt neglected.

Instep: How far along is the preparation for season 4?
This time around, we have started very early. We are done with the planning and are now at the most important phase of the season, the auditions, which are going to start next month. The artists will also be able to audition online so that no one misses out on the chance of being a part of Pakistan’s music initiative for the young.

Instep: Any specific plans for season 4 that will make it different from the previous seasons?
We’ll be telling the story in more detail. From the auditions to the jams to the recording, the journey that Nescafe Basement is for us – we will make the audience experience, this story, and journey more detailed than they have been in the previous seasons. From the visual direction to the overall theme that the initiative stands for, things will be more evident. One thing’s not going to change though and that is fearless music. If I tell you more, then I’ll be taking surprise element away. But be assured, this is going to be a joyride for everyone tuned in. Nescafe Basement is always full of surprises for the audience, and these surprises are not going to stop this time around too. In fact they’ll be more and better.

Instep: How soon can we expect to see the fourth season on television? When will it start airing?
Very early next year! The reason for the slight delay is that we are working harder than ever to bring out the best of everything this season!

- Sameen Amer 

Instep, The News on Sunday - 26th July , 2015 *

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Shaun the Sheep Movie - she[a]r delight

movie review

Shaun the Sheep Movie will make you flock to the cinema

Shaun the Sheep Movie

Starring: Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, and Omid Djalili
Directed by: Richard Starzak and Mark Burton
Tagline: Catch them if ewe can!

Even though talkies may have revolutionized the film industry, the charm of silent movies still remains undeniable. The creativity and aesthetics of silent films also seem to have inspired the dialogue-free animated feature Shaun the Sheep Movie, a terrific outing that relies on visuals and sound effects to relay its comical story.

Based on Aardman Animations’ popular Shaun the Sheep television series, which is itself a spin-off from the Wallace and Gromit franchise, the movie follows the adventures of its eponymous hoofed protagonist, as his attempts to escape the mundanity of life’s routine leads everyone on an unexpected adventure.

Bored of the daily grind, Shaun (voiced wordlessly by Justin Fletcher) hatches a plot so that he and his flock can have a day off. But the scheme goes awry, accidentally sending the Farmer (John Sparkes) to the Big City in a runaway caravan, with a concerned Bitzer (also voiced by Sparkes) in tow, and eventually leaving the Farmer with amnesia. Shaun and his woolly chums must then mount a rescue and restore order to their world.

Written and directed by Richard Starzak and Mark Burton, the stop-motion comedy is winningly sweet and delightfully amusing, populated by adorable characters that are instantly lovable. Its plot isn’t very complex, but the narrative never lose their momentum, seamlessly going from one visual gag to the next oddball turn with dexterity. The filmmakers make perfect use of expressions, gestures, and sound effects to deliver everything from broad storyline details to nuanced emotional minutiae; the absence of dialogues adds to the film’s copious charm, making its execution seem all the more clever.

Overall, it may be a little padded and perhaps it could have been a tad shorter, but Shaun the Sheep Movie never feels tiresome as it continuously impresses with its creativity and humour. The film effortlessly captures the joys of classic cinematic ingenuity, and will delight Shaun the Sheep fans, although being familiar with the television series that preceded it is not a requisite to appreciate the film; the project works well as a self-contained feature and you can enjoy it even if you haven’t seen the series. Its continuous supply of slapstick humour and touching moments make it a delight to watch, and while it may be primarily aimed at a younger audience, the movie is amusing enough to keep adults entertained and is likely to leave all its viewers with a smile on their face.

Rating: 4 out of 5

- By Sameen Amer

Sunday Magazine, The Express Tribune - 19th July, 2015 *

The third coming of Jal


Goher Mumtaz talks to Instep about the future of his band, Jal

It’s been over a decade since Jal released their song ‘Aadat’, the success of which propelled its creators to stardom. And even though a lot has changed in the intervening years, the group’s front-man Goher Mumtaz has made sure that the band continues its musical journey. The guitarist-turned-singer has been working on new material with the revamped line-up of Jal, and is planning to unveil their new single ‘Bhanwray’ soon.

New music

“We recorded the song ‘Bhanwray’ six months ago,” the musician tells Instep, “and we are planning to release it in September.” The song follows Jal’s latest track ‘Tere Baajon’ which came out earlier this year, and Goher says the group is very excited about their next offering. “I think our fans and music lover will appreciate this tune as the melody is very catchy. We received great feedback after the release of ‘Tere Baajon’, and we thought we should carry on the momentum and release a new song with a strong melody, accompanied by a good quality video. We are waiting for the final mix and master of the song to send to the director.”

Set to helm the video for the track is director Azaan Sami Khan, the son of famed musician Adnan Sami Khan and actress Zeba Bakhtiar. “We want to shoot a movie, a film that goes with the song, not just a music video, and I think Azaan Sami Khan is on the same wavelength as the band regarding this.”

‘Bhanwray’ will be the second consecutive Jal video made by Azaan, who also directed the ‘Tere Baajon’ clip. The group clearly enjoys the experience of working with him and appreciates his approach to the medium. “Azaan is a great person in a way that he knows how to perceive and communicate ideas and gives importance to the artist,” Goher remarks. “Honestly, I was not expecting  that he could manage such a tough shoot for our previous song, where we had to block the main Saddar street and arrange a fire brigade for rain that would look perfect for the video, as well as handle sets, crew, and wardrobe. All together, this was something marvellous from a young man. It’s there in his genetics from his parents. No wonder!” he says in praise of the director.

Extremely pleased with Azaan’s work, Goher thinks the director did “a brilliant job” on every aspect of the ‘Tere Baajon’ video from conception to execution. He also reveals that it was Azaan’s idea to cast Goher alongside his missus in the clip. “He thought up the whole film concept for the song and wanted me to act along with my wife Anam Ahmad. He came up with a concept where people enjoy the chemistry of a real life couple, not in a tacky way but in a very subtle and classy way, so everything went well for the video. His vision helped Jal bounce back in the market with a perfect song and video. So now we want to experiment with the ‘Bhanwray’ music video, and take it to the next level.”

‘Bhanwray’ isn’t the only new track fans can expect from the group in the coming months. Jal is currently working on their next album and hope to concentrate on releasing new music videos to “fill up the vacuum of good band oriented music”. “People here in Pakistan and India love bands more than solo artists,” Goher opines, “and we want to thank our fans for embracing Jal once again by loving the new video and welcoming the new line-up – with Amir Azhar on bass and Saad Sultan on lead guitars, alongside myself. We promise that we will carry on the momentum.”

Acting projects

Music isn’t the only thing on Goher’s mind. He is also busy with his acting projects, and his latest drama, Neela Parbat, is set to air soon. “Neela Parbat revolves around the stories of families living in Kashmir as well as Kashmiris living abroad, while showing all the beauty of Azad Kashmir,” he says. “The biggest attraction about the project was the story. I always decide my roles after reading the script. The story, written by Amna Mufti, revolves around the simple way of living of Kashmiris, their happiness, and how they miss their home when they work abroad. For me, doing something of this sort was very attractive and challenging. After doing this role, I feel accomplished, and I hope that people will love this new television serial.” The drama has been directed by Adnan Wai Qureshi and will also star “Samina Peerzada, Naeem Tahir, Ushna Shah, Affan, Sumbal, and Ayub Khosa”.

A project’s story, director, channel, and cast are the main things Goher keeps in mind while choosing projects, and he makes every effort not to be typecast. “After I did Tanhai in 2012, I was flooded with the same sort of roles and scripts. I didn’t do any of them. Instead I went with Uff Yeh Mohabbat next in 2013 where I played the role of a music teacher who falls in love with a student. Then I did Bhanwar (2014) in which my character was suppressed by professional and personal problems after the death of his parents. I just tried doing different roles and do not want to repeat the roles no matter how much they pay or how famous the rest of the cast is. With Neela Parbat, I will once again explore a look that I haven’t carried off on a TV serial before. The audience appreciates the fact that I don’t appear on TV too often, and whenever I do a new project people do wait eagerly for that.”

Likewise, the actor is also very picky about his film roles, which is why we haven’t seen him in a Bollywood movie yet, despite the fact that he has been offered multiple roles. “I have been going to India for our live performances quite often for the last 10 years and have been offered three movies, but the question is, do I want to satisfy my crowd back home that I did a Bollywood movie by signing a C-class movie, or do I want to satisfy myself? So I have made a checklist for myself when it comes to selecting a project. All those three movies didn’t fulfil my checklist, mainly due to weak story and unknown cast, so I refused all three of them.”

Music clearly remains important to Goher, and he wants to clarify that despite venturing into the acting arena, Jal remains his first priority. “It’s a general perception among people that I might have left music and diverted myself fully to acting. That’s not true! Through Instep, I want to make it clear that Jal has been performing around the world and releasing new music. The visibility and ratings may be higher for dramas, as there is no significant viewership of channels that are playing Pakistani pop music (if there are any left), but I just do one play a year, whereas whenever it comes to a query for concerts, music videos, or the group’s recording sessions, I am always available for my band. Right now, the new line up is all geared up for ‘Bhanwray’, and we hope fans will remember this catchy melody for ages.”

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday -19th July, 2015 *

Friday, July 17, 2015

Celebrities' Eid plans


How are you going to celebrate Eid this year?
  • Goher Mumtaz: I will be celebrating Eid with my family in Lahore, spending time with my parents, and visiting different relatives all day.. This Eid, I will make sure that I also spend some time with the poor, and buy them dresses and food.
  • Junaid Khan: Like always, I’ll be going back home to Lahore to spend time with my parents. Eid and such events are for family, that’s what I believe.
  • Faysal Quraishi: This year, I will offer my Eid namaz in Karachi, while the rest of my day will be spent in Lahore. I plan on spending quality time with my family for the first two days, as I have been quite caught up with work throughout this year and I want to make it up to them. I will then get back to work with the transmission of Jeet Ka Dum from the third day of Eid.
  • Humayun Saeed: My Eid will be spent doing promotions of my film Bin Roye. I will be travelling extensively to USA, UK and Dubai for premieres and press activities. It would be quite fun as Bin Roye team is also like a family. We have worked very hard on this movie, and spent so much time together that seeing the audience's response firsthand worldwide would be a very special moment. I will miss spending Eid in Pakistan as our celebrations are very special, but it will be a different experience spending Eid with fellow Pakistanis who live abroad. After all, work is work.
  • Naukhez Javed: As you know, we at Inteha are brand ambassadors of a renowned NGO called ‘Foundation for Poor Souls’. This year, I shall be spending Eid with children of a school adopted by them in Bhabra, near Gulberg, Lahore. We shall be distributing gifts and eidi amongst small children to make them feel special. The second day will be spent with ‘Voice School of Disabled’. I feel out of this world when I see these small children smiling with joy. We should all make true efforts in this regard and try not to just take selfies. And lastly, the third day will be spent with my beloved family and friends.
  • Xulfi: Like every year, I am going to be spending time with my family, friends and relatives. Due to today's fast life, we sometimes forget the importance of get togethers with liked and loved ones. So Eid is a perfect chance to rekindle those moments and realize life's not just about being in a race all the time but about helping our beloved relationships grow.
- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 17th July, 2015 *

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Chappie - brain dead

movie review


Starring: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Sigourney Weaver, and Hugh Jackman
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Tagline: Humanity's last hope isn't human.

Neill Blomkamp may have hit it out of the park with his critically acclaimed directorial debut District 9 (2009), but his subsequent projects are struggling to live up to the hype. His third film Chappie is a dithering, preposterous slog, and the South African-Canadian director’s worst offering to date.

Co-written by Blomkamp and his wife Terri Tatchell, Chappie takes us to Johannesburg in the near future, where the deployment of the world’s first robotic police force has brought down the city’s crime rate. Developed by Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) who works for weapons manufacturer Tetravaal, the scouts are governed by artificial intelligence (AI), much to the disdain of rival weapons designer Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), whose remotely-controlled Moose project is consequently sidelined and its funding reduced by company CEO Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver).

Wilson, meanwhile, aspires to create high level AI, but just when he cracks the code of consciousness, he is kidnapped by a criminal gang, led by Ninja and Yolandi (portrayed by South African rappers Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser). Desperate to steal money, they force the developer to hand over his latest creation, a stolen droid that is programmed with a new artificial intelligence that can mimic the  human mind. The robot, which they plan to use in a heist, is subsequently named Chappie (Sharlto Copley) and begins to learn and develop its personality, as each character moulds the childlike creation in a different way with the ultimate hope of using it in their nefarious scheme.

A complete disregard for logic is exhibited at every turn. Random existential quandaries are haphazardly thrown in with no attempts to flesh out any of the themes before moving on to the next random thread. The story is so infuriatingly riddled with plot holes that it’s impossible to delve into any of the supposedly thought-provoking ideas that it touches upon (and then promptly dismisses without a satisfying examination).

The characters are inconsistent and the acting dire. Both Patel and his character are unbelievable. Weaver doesn’t have a significant role and it’s hard to figure out why she signed up for the film. Even the usually dependable Jackman is boring as the clich├ęd antagonist. In a strange casting choice, two of the main roles have been given to the members of rap group Die Antwoord, Ninja and Yo-Landi, whose acting skills are lacking and characters are nothing more than cartoonish caricatures of stereotypical gangsters.

Overall, Chappie simply isn’t a very compelling project, and the “gangsta” robot persona of its titular character is downright grating. The film shamelessly borrows elements from better sci-fi adventures and gets bogged down by its own jumble of ideas. Chappie’s plot is thin, the characters dull, the acting shoddy, and its eventual outcome unconvincing.

Rating: 1 out of 5

- By Sameen Amer

Sunday Magazine, The Express Tribune - 12th July, 2015 *

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Cuckoo and the Escape of the Little Elephant - on the wrong side of the border

book review

Sajjad Haider's novella revolves around a pachyderm trying to get back home before the Pak-India boundaries are drawn on the day of the partition

Book: Cuckoo and the Escape of the Little Elephant
Author: Sajjad Haider

With the rapid increase in the number of books self-published by authors around the world every year, it is becoming fairly obvious that the boom in self-publishing has been a mixed blessing. The practice has given novice writers and emerging voices — literally anyone who has a story to tell — a chance to air their ideas while retaining their creative control and artistic independence. But the removal of filters has also resulted in works of diminished quality making their way to (both online and traditional) bookstores, swamping the market with poorly-written or badly-edited tomes.

Sajjad Haider’s novella Cuckoo and the Escape of the Little Elephant simultaneously exhibits some of the pros and cons of self-publishing.

The book that was issued in the form of a limited print edition in 2014 revolves around a group of animals, spinning a charming yarn set against the historical backdrop of the Indo-Pak Partition. The story centres on the pursuits of a notorious cuckoo, who begins by relaying a peculiar tale to a “prim-looking, stiff-necked and cheerless” myna. It’s the summer of 1947, and a varied set of animals in Lahore find themselves on an unusual adventure. A young elephant has escaped from captivity and is running for her life while being chased by her human master. Helping her evade capture is a motley posse which includes a set of sparrow quintuplets and a skinny, brown rat. Despite their efforts, the elephant eventually ends up in the custody of the Lahore Zoo. But the Karachi Zoo, which is preparing to inaugurate itself as the Capital Zoo of Pakistan on Aug 14 wants custody of the pachyderm, leaving it up to the animals to hustle and help their friend go back to where she belongs.

With an engaging plot populated by interesting characters, Cuckoo and the Escape of the Little Elephant makes for an enjoyable read. Younger readers in particular are likely to be amused by this oddball odyssey, while rooting for the animals and connecting with the mischievous protagonist of the book; the human characters, though, aren’t always cast under a positive light and won’t draw as much sympathy, as they often end up causing problems for the animals in one way or the other.

But despite being fairly well-written overall, the book also ends up highlighting the importance of editing. The occasional typos, improper syntactical choices, and other small mistakes in its text don’t leave you in any doubt that this isn’t a traditionally published work. Not proofing the manuscript thoroughly before publishing it is a common mistake among self-publishers, and Cuckoo falls prey to the same problem. The lack of finesse and refinement doesn’t make a good first impression on the readers, a problem that could have easily been avoided by getting the manuscript proofed by someone with decent editing skills.

Still, it is delightful to have a children’s novella set in Pakistan. While some of its prose could have been more elegant, this first instalment in what is expected to become a series is amusing and enjoyable. Its short length makes it a quick read, and while its story may not seem exceptional to jaded, older readers, it is quite likely to appeal to a younger audience. If the author can seek the help of an editor and come up with sharper allegories as he adds more tales to the series, Cuckoo’s adventures could potentially have a promising future. 

- By Sameen Amer

Books & Authors, Dawn - 5th July, 2015 *

5 summer binge-watch recommendations


There are several TV series that will give you a good reason to stay indoors this summer

With summer in full swing and the heat wave demanding that you stay indoors, there aren’t many entertainment options on offer at the moment. But on the bright side, now would be the perfect time to indulge in some binge-viewing, watching a couple of exciting television shows that are bound to engross you and ensure that the next few weeks just fly by. Here are several series that can help you quench your thirst for entertainment in the coming weeks:

Doctor Who
Ever since its 2005 revival, Doctor Who has been busy turning people who are indifferent to sci-fi into rabid geeks who can’t seem to shut up about screwdrivers and time machines. If you’re feeling left out from all the fun, then you can simply rectify the situation by catching up on all the adventures of the Time Lord in his various incarnations. Don’t be daunted by the almost overwhelming number of episodes of the long-running science fiction drama. Yes, the British show first premiered in 1963, but if you don’t want to go all the way back to the ‘60s, then the 2005 reboot serves as a good starting point. Make your way through the eight series since the relaunch, and follow the Doctor as he explores the universe in his TARDIS and regenerates from Christopher Eccleston to David Tennant to Matt Smith to Peter Capaldi. If the people around you are particularly unlucky, then by the end of the month, you will have morphed into one of those annoying fans who can’t stop debating who the best Doctor, companion, and showrunner are! In which case, we apologize to your loved ones in advance.

Better Call Saul
He’ll fight for your rights when your back’s to the wall! The return of everyone’s favourite shady attorney Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) earlier this year in the Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul was an absolute delight, and if you haven’t seen the first season of this black comedy yet, then you have to devour these ten episodes as soon as possible and find out how James McGill became the seedy lawyer who eventually got sucked into Walter White’s world. And let’s face it, the show will basically serve as a gateway drug to Breaking Bad, because as soon as you finish watching it, you’ll find yourself seeking out the BrBa box set and binging on one of the best TV series ever made. Terrific story, terrific writing, terrific acting, terrific music, but be warned: once you press play, you won’t know where the day/week/month went!

Modern Family
Based on how often it has been showered with awards and accolades, Modern Family is clearly a favourite among the critics. What has made it such an acclaimed success? Find out by delving into all six seasons of the mockumentary comedy series which follows the lives of Jay Pritchett’s (Ed O’Neill) family. 144 episodes have aired so far, which means the show guarantees hours and hours of comedic fun and is very likely to cure all – ok, most – blues. And if nothing else then Modern Family’s crazy antics will make your family seem sane in comparison.

Mad Men
We’ve recently had to say goodbye to Don Draper (Jon Hamm), the mysterious, ruthless ad executive whose name is familiar to everyone under the sun at this point. But with the series just ending weeks ago, there can’t be a better time to watch all the 7 seasons of Mad Men from start to finish. Yes, it’s a little slow for some people’s taste, but there is general consensus that the drama is very well made. People seem to appreciate the show’s portrayal of life in the 1960s as well as its attention to detail with respect to the outfits, soundtrack, and ambience, and its multidimensional, often flawed characters. If period dramas are your thing, then Mad Men will have you hooked in no time.

Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes has been a match made in television heaven. And whether you have or haven’t seen the mystery drama before, it’s never a bad idea to have a marathon viewing session of the series that puts a modern spin on Doyle’s famous stories. While there have only been three Sherlock series with three episodes apiece so far, each of them are nearly one and a half hour long, so the show will have you engrossed for hours and is particularly suitable for intense weekend binging. If you are in the mood for some interesting mysteries executed with brilliance, then make sure you spend some time in the company of the famous sleuth and his doctor friend while basking in the awesomeness of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 5th July, 2015 *

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Grand Romantic - the ballads of Nate Ruess

album review

Singer: Nate Ruess
Album: Grand Romantic

Nate Ruess’s rise to pop stardom may have seemed sudden, but his success has been anything but overnight. Before he gained global recognition, the singer spent over a decade paying his dues in the music scene, first with indie darlings The Format and then with pop group Fun, whose slick, commercial tunes finally made him a mainstream sensation. But instead of building on the momentum by recording the follow-up to their sophomore record Some Nights (2012), the group members have chosen to capitalize on the success individually by pursuing separate projects, with Ruess releasing an album under his own name.

Grand Romantic, the vocalist’s debut solo venture, finds the singer going for a vibe that doesn’t stray too far from the melodramatic sound of Fun but ends up being significantly less, well, fun. What’s missing are the catchy hooks and exciting variations, which seem to have been replaced by a sense of complacency on this Jeff Bhasker-produced set.

A choral intro commences the proceedings (and later resurfaces at the end of the title track ‘Grand Romantic’ in the second half of the album), leading to the single ‘AhHa’ which gives a nod to Fun’s ‘Some Nights’ and could have been catchy if its instantly grating titular chant wasn’t so cloying. Aside from a few select tracks – like the standout ‘Great Big Storm’ which would fit comfortably on a fun. album, and the lively ‘You Light My Fire’ – the record is overpopulated with (mostly sleepy) ballads; some of them – like ‘Brightside’ and the terrific ‘What This World Is Coming To’,  a melodic duet with Beck which is perhaps the best song on the album, albeit also the one that is the least at home on this set – work well, while the others are initially hard to tell apart and subsequently hard to care about.

There are moments on Grand Romantic where Ruess’s vocals seem shrill, and the screech and whine in his delivery betrays the fact that the singer isn’t as aware of his voice and vocal limitations as you would expect, especially for someone with a decade of experience in the industry. Artistically too, the album doesn’t hold a candle to his previous output. The textures that made The Format’s music so interesting have been eroded because of transparent commercial ambition and overproduction, and the spark that made Fun enjoyable isn’t as palpable in these songs.

Overall, Grand Romantic comes across as affectedly grandiloquent instead of grand, offering a surface take on love and heartbreak without trying to do anything different or interesting. There isn’t much that is exciting about this material, which is why the record feels like a step down from Fun. You can’t help but miss guitarist Jack Antonoff (who is faring significantly better with his side project Bleachers) and keyboardist Andrew Dost’s presence on this set, because while there are a few good tunes on the album, they don’t make up for the fact that the outing as a whole isn’t as inspired or memorable as it should be.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 4th July, 2015 *