Monday, August 31, 2015

Call reunited: our friendship is stronger than ever, says bandmate Xulfi


Differences in opinion split them up, but their fans brought them together again

Whenever bands announce that they are parting ways with a prominent member, splitting up, or simply retiring and calling it a day, it’s hard not to cynically start the countdown to their inevitable reunion.

So it wasn't exactly shocking when Junaid Khan, who left pop rock group Call amidst a burgeoning acting career in 2012, announced the band's comeback. Call is back to its pre-split line-up, with Junaid on vocals, Xulfi on guitars, and Sultan on rhythm guitars. Also accompanying the trio are session musicians Farhan Ali and Ken Zeerick on bass and drums respectively.

“A band is a relationship between individuals with opinions and differences. At times, when these differences go beyond a certain level, the relationships break,” says the vocalist, explaining why he parted ways with the group three years ago.

“No relationship is ever [always] smooth,” Xulfi elaborates. “There are ups and downs. And that moment in 2012 was one of the down moments. Our personal busy schedules didn’t help, but that is not what matters anymore. What matters is that the friendship amongst the three of us is stronger than any number of infinite moments that can bring us down.”

So what prompted the reunion? Junaid says their decision to reconnect came about because of one main factor: their fans. “The love from our fans made me come back [to the band]. Everywhere I used to go, people would ask me where Call was and why [nothing new was] happening. The fans used to request that we keep our differences aside and come back for the love of music. It was then that I realized how much the fans wanted our music, thus the reunion,” he says.

Call hadn’t been very active since Junaid left the group and didn’t do anything of note in his absence. An attempt to revive the band with Yasir Jaswal as the vocalist also didn’t pan out. “Yasir Jaswal is a great friend, has an amazing voice, and he’s an extremely talented songwriter and now, as you would know, a movie director too,” says Xulfi. “Since he got busy with his debut dream project, Jalaibee, it became very difficult to carve out time to jam.”

The trio now seems excited to be back together. Their issues and differences are behind them, the group assures us. They have all grown as individuals and have a better understanding of what a partnership means, and they plan to make the most of this second chance. “Music bridges distances between people,” says the guitarist. “Once you share the melody, the music in you with like-minded people, there is a connection that is formed. And that connection makes people remember each other. So we could never forget our great journey together and hence today we are more pumped up than ever to give the biggest reason of our reunion, the fans, our heart and soul through our music once again.”

Along with working as a band, the entertainers are still going to continue pursuing their individual endeavours and passions. Junaid is busy with several acting projects; he currently has two dramas on air – Yeh Mera Deewanapan Hai on A-Plus and Dua on Geo – with a third serial, Kuch Ishq Tha Kuch Majboori, set to be released next month on Hum TV. His solo album, meanwhile, is “parked till Call gets back on its feet”. Xulfi, too, has a number of projects on his plate, including the talent show Nescafe Basement and the score of the upcoming film Yalghaar. “Call is my soul, Nescafe Basement is my mission, and I love doing scores,” he says. “I can’t be unfair to any of them. Music is my priority.”

As for the band itself, “loads of exciting stuff will be revealed with time,” Junaid promises. Among this will be Call’s cover of a popular ‘90s English track. “We are jamming regularly now and you’re going to hear a lot from us,” Xulfi reveals. “In fact, the first day we jammed, we reinvented an iconic English song in our own flavour and you are going to get to hear that very soon!”

- Sameen Amer - 31st August, 2015 *

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ant-Man - a superhero slips through the cracks

movie review

Ant-Man is an entertaining but forgettable member of the Marvel franchise


Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Peña, Tip "T.I." Harris, Anthony Mackie, Wood Harris, Judy Greer, David Dastmalchian, and Michael Douglas
Director: Peyton Reed
Tagline: Heroes don't get any bigger.

Marvel’s Cinematic Universe has been expanding with each passing year, thanks to the massive success of the franchise’s big-screen offerings. The latest addition to the multi-billion dollar mega-franchise is Ant-Man, the origin story of the Avengers cohort who makes his cinematic debut in this eponymous outing.

After former S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) discovers that his ex-protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is working on a shrinking technology similar to his Ant-Man super-suit, he is left horrified at the prospect of the invention falling into the wrong hands. To avert a catastrophe, Pym recruits cat-burglar Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to embrace the Ant-Man persona and steal Cross’ Yellowjacket suit with the help of his semi-estranged daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly).

As with most superhero adventures, Ant-Man does not leave viewers in any doubt about who will eventually come out on top. The plot unfolds in a fairly predictable manner as the movie turns into a heist caper. However, Ant-Man still does a solid job introducing us to its main characters and getting us invested in their fate. The credit largely goes to Rudd and his seemingly infinite charisma as well as his chemistry with the supporting cast — Michael Douglas and Michael Pena in particular. Rudd is endearing as the protagonist and easily succeeds in making Lang relatable. The film’s premise also gives director Peyton Reed a chance to indulge in some visual inventiveness, which usually comes as a delight.

Even so, a solid cast and exciting visual sequences can’t make up for the fact that the script could have been sharper. Ant-Man doesn’t succeed in creating a seamless blend between its sci-fi, action, and drama elements. At times the movie is pleasantly quirky, while at other moments, it feels needlessly clichéd. The humour doesn’t always work and the film seems desperate to flaunt its connection to the Avengers, usually to its detriment.

Ant-Man isn’t as well-crafted as it should have been and leaves you with the sense that it could have been significantly better (perhaps if original director Edgar Wright had stayed at the helm of the project). Still, despite the fact that its treatment needed more polish, Ant-Man is a fairly enjoyable popcorn flick. Its storyline and underlying themes don’t offer anything particularly creative but the playful execution of the narrative and an impressive performance by Rudd keeps you entertained.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

- By Sameen Amer

Sunday Magazine, The Express Tribune - 23rd August 2015 *

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The resurrection of Mizmaar

interview: music mix

Kashan Admani talks to Instep about the group’s new single and working with multiple vocalists

Ever since they resurrected the band earlier this year, members of Mizmaar have been busy mounting a comeback. After releasing two new songs – ‘Jee Loonga’ and ‘Dur’ – in the last few months, the Karachi based pop rock group has now unveiled their latest track ‘Yeh Dil’, a melodic, soft rock tune that features Indian band Euphoria’s frontman Palash Sen on vocals.

New song 

“‘Yeh Dil’ is a song about love, peace, and the search for truth,” says Mizmaar guitarist Kashan Admani. The single was launched on the eve of Pakistan and India’s Independence Days with the aim of promoting harmony and bridging the divide between the neighbouring countries. “We hope that this song will send out the same message [of peace] on both sides of the border,” the group’s frontman reiterates. “We surely believe that only music alone can bring about peace and harmony between the two countries.” 

So how did the chance to collaborate with the Indian singer come about? The opportunity presented itself thanks to a now-scrapped television show. “The song was initially recorded as part of a reality TV show that we had produced,” reveals Kashan. “Due to plagiarism of the concept by a renowned TV show and producer, the program did not see the light of the day. On the relaunch of Mizmaar, we thought ‘Yeh Dil’ would be a great addition to the album.” After being further queried about the detailed of the defunct television project, Kashan replies, “it was about international music collaborations in recording studios around the world and the name of the show was Dream Music. Coke Studio season 6 stole the concept, and we have a lawsuit going against Coke Studio and Rohail Hyatt.” 

As for the song itself, ‘Yeh Dil’ was composed by Kashan along with Mizmaar drummer Alfred D’Mello, while the lyrics werewritten by lyricist and poet Sabir Zafar. “The idea was to get the right voice to complement the composition, and Palash Sen seemed to be the only choice, given his ability to sing high and low notes with complete command. We are glad that he showed interest in being a part of this song,” says the guitarist, who clearly cherished the experience of working with the Euphoria singer. “Palash Sen is the most humble and friendly musician one can come across. With him it never felt like this was a cross-border collaboration. Working with him was one of the best experiences we’ve had so far.” The video for the track was shot in both Pakistan and India “in the environment of a recording studio” and was directed by the Mizmaar duo themselves.

Multiple vocalists 

Conspicuously absent from this whole endeavour is Mashhad Sharyar, the youngster who was revealed as Mizmaar’s new vocalist just a couple of months ago but is now no longer listed as a member of the band on their social media profiles. So is the singer no longer a part of the group? “At present Mashhad is not the official vocalist for Mizmaar as he is in the U.S.,” Kashan divulges, “but he may return depending on his immigration status. He is currently in the U.S. for his immigration process, so he cannot come back to Pakistan for some time and therefore cannot carry on his activities with the band.” Kashan, however, maintains that the group always intended to work with multiple vocalists. “Mizmaar was always going to be a multisinger venture as we had already recorded a lot of material with various artists before Mashhad became a part of the band. As Mizmaar we want to make music which is not limited to a particular genre, and only having multiple singers can help us achieve the right sound. Mashhad has recorded quite a few songs with the band like many other artists and some of those songs will surely be a part of the album which we hope to release by the end of this year.” 

Among the other singers who have been working with Mizmaar is Nescafe Basement participant Hamza Tanveer who served as a guest vocalist for the band’s I Am Karachi performance. “It was a great experience to work with Hamza Tanveer for our live performance at the I Am Karachi Music Festival,” Kashan remarks. “He is a great talent and Mizmaar wants to work with the best talent available. His voice will surely be a part of our upcoming album but we have not recorded with him as yet.” The guitarist also has nothing but good things to say about the festival itself “It was great to be a part of an event that had such a huge line up of artists. Similar festivals should happen more frequently in the future.” 

“Music has always been a tough career to pursue in Pakistan,” he continues, “but we are hopeful that things will and have become more conducive for new and existing artists.” Mizmaar plan to be a part of this hopefully brighter future of the industry and promise that they will unveil “more collaborations and great music” in the coming months.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 19th August, 2015 *

Sunday, August 16, 2015

In conversation with author Robert Glancy


If anyone enumerates the most exasperatingly dull things ever produced by humankind, then terms and conditions documents will definitely rank highly on this list. Yet author Robert Glancy took this topic and somehow transformed it into one of the most amusing and poignant debuts of 2014. The story of a man who loses his memory and gains the chance to rethink his life, Terms & Conditions has earned the author praise and delighted readers all over the world. In an interview with Books & Authors, the writer talks about his literary journey, the inspiration behind his first tome, and what we can expect from his next novel.

You have lived in many different countries. Would you like to share a bit about why you have travelled and how the experience of living in different places has influenced your writing? Is there a place in particular that you call home?
I was born in Zambia and raised in Malawi — a country known as the ‘warm heart of Africa’ but made famous as the place where Madonna adopts children. At 15, I moved from the warm heart of Africa to the cold bones of Edinburgh, where I discovered what a real winter was and came to truly appreciate the term ‘culture shock’. After Edinburgh I studied history at Cambridge. Then [I went] off to London where I lived for many years until the weather started to get me down. In my search to return to warmer weather, I moved to beautiful New Zealand in 2003, where I’ve lived ever since, except for 2014 when I moved to France and divided my time unevenly between cat-sitting and writing my second book. The cat just about survived and I finished my second book, Please Do Not Disturb. I am now back in New Zealand writing book three. In my heart New Zealand is home.
Travelling has had a huge influence on my writing. When I left Malawi as a blond-haired boy, I thought the whole world was like Malawi, that everyone had photographs of a dictator staring down from the walls of shops and offices, that everyone had to sing and line up along the road whenever the dictator toured the country. So when I got to Edinburgh, I realised that where I’d been living was different to the rest of the world. From that moment on, I started to try and capture the experience of the different places I’d lived. And when you sit down and try to capture experiences, to trap moments on a page, you become a writer.

How did you go from working at a PR firm to becoming a full-time writer? What inspired you to become a writer?
My communications career sort of found me before I had time to find out what I really wanted to do. In truth, all I’ve ever wanted to do is write. Whenever I’m asked when I ‘started writing’, I always say I never ‘stopped writing’. Most people leave school and stop writing because they don’t have a teacher encouraging them. I never stopped, I just kept writing. So I’ve always been a writer but it just took me a while to convince other people that I was one. Like most writers, I was inspired to become a writer by other writers, by that magical moment when you’re sucked into a book, into a new world. My parents are big readers and though we lived in Malawi — where many books were banned by the dictator — we still had full bookshelves packed with everyone from Paul Theroux and Joseph Heller to Chinua Achebe and Dickens.

How did you come up with the idea for Terms & Conditions?
I was working for a computer games company and I was giving away a game as part of a competition. When I read the competition terms and conditions, I started to laugh; they were just so ridiculous, they tried to protect the company against every eventuality, and I thought about the poor lawyer having to think of all those worse-case scenarios.
Stephen King said many of his books came from combining two ideas and that happened with me. I’d had this neurotic man, Frank, in my head for a long time as a character but I was never sure what his job was and suddenly when I read the terms and conditions I realised: Of course! Frank is a corporate lawyer!
Then I read other terms and conditions and they were comedy gold, like the terms for a company that makes MP3 players, which warned that you could not use their MP3 in the ‘development or manufacture of a nuclear weapon’. So I just stretched the idea and thought: what if this neurotic man tried to write the terms and conditions of his life. And when I got the idea of breaking up the main text on the page into fine print at the bottom of the page — a sort of civil war between what Frank was saying and what he was thinking — I realised I had an interesting structure for a comedy.

How would you describe the novel?
It’s a dark comedy about a lawyer with amnesia rebuilding his memory by drafting the contract of his life, which defines all the terms and conditions that bind him to his wife, his brothers, his job, God, life, and the universe.

Were any of the events or characters in the book inspired by actual events or the people in your life? Can we see any aspects of your life and personality in any of the characters?
Frank’s main frustration is that he spends his life writing words that no one reads. That is a little in-joke between Frank and me, because I’ve also spent many years writing alone and being consistently rejected, so Frank and I share the frustration of writing words the world ignores. Thankfully that’s where the comparison ends. I’m in no way as neurotic as Frank! But I do see aspects of my life in the book — I think we live in an increasingly corporate world and Frank struggles with this, he finds himself in a difficult ethical conundrum with his job, and increasingly finds all the nice aspects of his wife being eroded as she becomes more ambitious, more corporate. I do use my experience — any author who pretends they don’t is fibbing — but I try not to use people wholesale, as it were. I use elements of them, and I know my friends and family are too clever and have too good a sense of humour to take offence if they spot a fragment of themselves [in my book]. (Well, I hope so anyway!)

After writing a whole novel based on the premise that no one reads the terms and conditions, do you actually read them now?
Ha! Good question. Well, I had to read so many for research purposes and I wish I could say I still read all my terms and conditions but sometimes I just can’t bear to. They’re so dull they make my brain dribble out of my ears. So it’s a half answer but I do read them when it’s something massive like my mortgage contract but, no, I don’t read them if it’s iTunes (though I can say, hand on heart, that I’ve never used an MP3 to build a nuclear weapon). The really funny part was when I got my book deal from Bloomsbury, my contract was called: The ‘Terms & Conditions of Terms & Conditions’.

Is a movie adaptation in the cards? What would your dream cast be? You seem to want Jim Carrey for the film …I wish. I’m open to offers. I sent Jim Carrey – or I should say: I sent the person who runs Jim Carrey’s Twitter account – a tweet because he’s made so many great movies and many of them are based on a quirky conceit like my book. My dream cast would be:
-    Director/Producer/All Round Awesome Guy: Jim Carrey
-    Frank: Jake Gyllenhaal
-    Doug: Stanley Tucci
-    Oscar: Ray Winston
-    Alice: Carey Mulligan
-    Sandra: Emily Blunt
-   Malcolm: Michael Fassbender (well, his voice anyway, as Malcolm only exists in emails.)

Is the road to getting published bumpy or smooth?
Long and bumpy. In my 20s I thought I was an awesome writer so I kept sending books out and they kept being rejected. At 30 I reread the books I’d sent out in my 20s and saw why I’d been rejected — they were terrible. So I gave myself 10 years of writing without sending anything out and after the 10 years — with my 40s looming — I sent out Terms&Conditions and I got lucky.

Is there any chance you will polish the manuscript you wrote years before Terms & Conditions for future publication? 
No, that manuscript shall remain safely buried in a drawer where it belongs. It’s a relic of my bad 20s when the creative process of writing made me feel so good that I forgot to stop and analyse if the results were actually any good.

Your second book, Please Do Not Disturb, will be released in early 2016. What can you tell us about it? 
It’s set in a small African country and it follows the lives of four people in the three days leading up to their Independence Day celebration, the only day in the year when the nation gets to see its ailing dictator. It was the book I’d wanted to write for years — since the moment I arrived in Edinburgh and realised I’d had a rather strange childhood — so when I did sit down I think a lot of it was slushing about in my subconscious ready to go.

Any message for readers in Pakistan?
I really hope you enjoy the strange story of Frank Shaw and I hope someone invites me to a literary festival there one day, so I can see your beautiful country.

- By Sameen Amer

Books & Authors, Dawn - 16th August, 2015 *

Friday, August 07, 2015

My Teen Years: Faran Tahir – multi-talented and charismatic


Faran Tahir

Star and date of birth
Aquarius, February 16th.

The best thing about being a teenager
The feeling of invincibility. No worries. Sleep. Eat.

I was always listening to
I listened to anything and everything I could find. Bollywood music, western music, ghazals, qawwalis; you name it!

I was glued to the T.V. for
Star Trek.

My favourite movie was
Any James Bond movie.

My favourite actor was
Robert De Niro, Amitabh Bachchan, and Qavi Khan.

My favourite book was
The Fall by Albert Camus. Still is.

My room was full of

My room walls carried the posters of
Three men riding in a dessert on camels with an orange dusk behind them. The poster had the caption “Morocco” on it.

My closet was full of
Waddled up clothes. It was a jungle.

My friends were
Crazy and funny.

My first crush/date
First crush was so intense. First date was nerve-wracking.

What hurt me the most

My dream was to become
An actor. Shh…it was a big secret!

I wish I had known then
That you can live through a lot and be okay. Everything seems final at that age.

Relationship with siblings
My brothers have always been my best friends.

Relationship with parents
This love and respect can never die.

My school was
Widle Lake High (Maryland, USA), Divisional Public (Lahore), West House (Birmingham, UK).

Ragging at college/university
Wasn’t much into it. Really not fun. Just mean!

I couldn’t stand

My favourite hangout was
Liberty Market Lahore petrol pump’s paan shop.

My favourite superhero was
Flash and Iron Man.

My favourite sport was
Cricket and soccer.

My favourite pastime was
Going crazy with friends...of course! :)

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News -7th August, 2015 *

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Inside Out - in the right headspace

movie review

Inside Out takes viewers on an emotional rollercoaster

Inside Out

Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Richard Kind, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, and Kyle MacLachlan
Directed by: Pete Docter
Tagline: Meet the little voices inside your head.

Over the years, Pixar has taken us on many exciting animated adventures brimming with imaginative spins and heart-warming emotions. While the last few offerings from the animation powerhouse lacked the creativity and charm that made their earlier output so special, the studio is now trying to reclaim its place atop the animation throne with its latest offering Inside Out.

Directed by Pete Docter, the film takes us inside the head of 11-year-old Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias), who is abruptly uprooted after her family relocates from Minnesota to San Francisco. As she tries to adjust to her new life, her anthropomorphised emotions — Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (Lewis Black) — scuttle behind the control booth in her mind, helping her deal with each developing situation. But things go wrong after Joy and Sadness, along with Riley’s core memories, are accidentally purged from the control room. They must then find their way back to the headquarters and restore order in Riley’s universe.

With a basic premise akin to ’90s sitcom Herman’s Head, the film doesn’t exactly explore a novel idea or create something conceptually unique, but it does handle its themes competently. Its take on the effects of change, growing up, and the importance of all emotions make for an intriguing journey. The film’s underlying plot, however, is a tad thin, which is why the proceedings start to feel a bit slow and repetitive as it wanders into a labyrinth of melancholy in its second half. Depending on individual preference, some viewers may not be as invested in the drama as others; the storyline may not hold the attention of restless youngsters, and its ideas and execution may seem too reductive and literal to finicky older viewers.

The animation itself is top notch, albeit not particularly inventive. The actors who voice each character, Poehler, Smith and Black in particular, give impressive performances and are perfect for each role, but their voices can also be a bit distracting if you are a regular viewer of Parks and Recreation, The Office, or The Daily Show, respectively.

Ultimately, while it isn’t as clever or as amusing as films like Finding Nemo, Up, WALL-E, and Ratatouille and may not rank among Pixar’s best, Inside Out is practically a breath of fresh air in the studio’s sequel-saturated line-up and marks a step in the right direction for the Disney subsidiary. The movie is touching, and even though it delivers its message through what is basically just a tale of growing pains, its emotional resonance, poignant moments and intriguing setting elevate Inside Out into an interesting viewing experience.

- By Sameen Amer

Sunday Magazine, The Express Tribune - 2nd of August, 2015 *