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By Sher Khan

Published: May 18, 2012

 

Noori’s live album, the first of its kind in Pakistan, also features musician Zeeshan Parwez and rocker Faraz Anwar. PHOTO: SHER ALI KHAN

LAHORE: Noori is one band in Pakistan that promises to give their fans a new flavour each time they come back to music. The band has certainly come a long way since the success of Suno Ke Main Houn Jawan, their debut album which was released in 2003. Despite their on-and-off internal dynamics, Noori is still together and continue to charm the audiences with their tugging-at-the-heartstrings songs and power-packed performances. Living up to their promise of bringing something fresh, the band’s latest venture is the release of a first of its kind live album today (May 19).

The album titled Noori Live at the Rock Musicarium, which was recorded during their concert at the Rock Musicarium, a concert venue in Islamabad, revisits the classics while also bringing the formal launch of their latest track “Taaron Se Aagay”. Live albums, despite their long tradition in rock music in the West, are rare in Pakistan. When asked how they came up with the idea, lead member Ali Noor says, “It’s just one of those wacky ideas that we came up with randomly.”

Recording an album live is certainly not a piece of cake as concert spaces are sporadic and sound systems are mostly average or below average. “We worked harder on this than we worked on any other album. It was actually a lot of responsibility,” states Noor to which Ali Hamza adds, “We were up working for three nights.” Recording at the Musicarium in Islamabad required a certain set environment in which the sound, video and other recording-related things could be perfected. “It’s a venue built for rock music by a rock musician,” adds Hamza.

The concert, which took place in February, was a great success but had its fair deal of travails. Noor explains that issues with the sound recording meant that they were considering axing the project altogether. This is when Kashif Ejaz, a sound engineer, came to their rescue. “When you put out an album, people want to listen to it again and again and if it’s raw, it has to sound good enough to make people want to listen to it,” says Noor, crediting Ejaz with a ‘critical role’ in making the album possible.

One of the best parts of the concert was the inclusion of Sajid and Zeeshan’s Zeeshan Parwez as well as famed rocker Faraz Anwar in the line-up. “There is a lot of tolerance and maturity; we are learning to understand each other and to respect each other,” explains Noor. He further adds, “The lines are really blurring. Noori has become very different, now we don’t know who does what and we don’t separate it that way anymore.”

The album consists of 11 tracks, each of them redone with a totally different take from the originals such as “Meray Log”, “Kuttay Te Tho Uttay” and so on. Noori Live at the Rock Musicarium is the band’s second production with the Believe in You records, and will be distributed throughout the country so that it’s available to the Noori fans at all the main urban centers of the major cities.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 19th, 2012.

 

About a month ago, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told the world that there are no political prisoners in Pakistan. But allow me to bring to notice the case of a political prisoner who is close to me and one whom our government repeatedly tries to silence. His name is Baba Jan Hunzai. He is an activist for the Labour Party Pakistan and a leader of the Progressive Youth Front.

Baba Jan, along with four fellow activists, spent the greater part of last year languishing inside various jails throughout Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B). His story is not told in mainstream media but has slowly gained attention due to a concerted effort by activist groups on global and local levels.

In January 2010, when landslide debris blocked the flow of the Hunza River, thousands of people were displaced and over 25,000 were cut off from the country due to the sudden formation of a lake, now known as Attabad Lake. As the affected people protested the negligence of the state authorities, the government offered stipends to displaced residents. However, because over 100 of the 457 families did not receive any compensation, allegations of nepotism and favouritism swirled.

On August 11, around 200 residents carried out protests and it was during this period that the first reports of police aggression against protesters came to light. A 22-year-old protester, Afzal Baig, was killed alongside his father, Sherullah Baig, who also died while trying to retrieve his son’s body.

In the ensuing chaos and outpouring of public anger, Baba Jan later arrived to organise and direct the protests. Following assurances from the authorities, people refrained from further demonstrations.

But a week later, the authorities arrested Baba Jan and many other protesters and since then, Baba Jan, who is booked under section 780-A of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), has been subjected to cruel torture and unbearable conditions in prison.

In the backdrop of this case is the growing trend in which the ATA is specifically being used to target labour leaders and political activists. This has led to a deplorable situation where people campaigning for social justice are subject to counter-terror laws while militants committing heinous crimes roam free.

The government should release Baba Jan and other political prisoners if its efforts to democratise the state and society are to succeed.

Read more by Sher here.

Published: February 19, 2012

Advocates of rule of law in the US have also come to realise that too much judicial independence can be a bad thing. PHOTO: AFP

Recently in the backdrop of the ‘memogate’ controversy, the honourable apex court hearing a petition regarding the possible removal of the ISI chief and the army chief sought “assurances” from the government that the two would not be removed. Some would think that this is an example of one pillar of state, the judiciary, overstepping its boundaries and encroaching on the mandate of the executive.

In Yale Law Professor Owen M Fiss’s essay The Right Degree of Independence, which deals with the idea of political insularity for the judiciary, an independent judiciary acts as a “countervailing force within a larger governmental system”.

The professor’s argument boils down to this: In a dictatorship, this force can be seen as something positive but issues arise when such a judiciary functions in a democracy. Since the judiciary is insulated from the “popularly-controlled” institutions of government, the judiciary has the power to interfere with the actions and decisions of those institutions thus obstructing the overall conception of popular rule.

The fundamental conflict between popular institutions and the judiciary, according to him, becomes a problem when the latter extends itself past the ambit of the “electoral process or personal freedoms” and branches into the realm of governance. It is important to understand that democratic governance is complicated and requires trials and adaptability.

Globally advocates of rule of law in the US have also come to realise that too much judicial independence can be a bad thing in some cases. Judicial institutions, like other pillars of state, are not perfect and can make mistakes. Striking a balance between maintaining an impartial judiciary while also enhancing government structures, is important for the enhancement of democratic traditions in a state.

The culture of criticising the government has not yet been complemented with the ability in Pakistani public discourse to dispassionately analyse the state. This is not good for democracy because it tends to single out the elected civilian representatives but leaves other institutions such as the military or the judiciary out of public criticism/scrutiny.

Judicial activism will foster democratic traditions particularly if it seeks to build on the capacity of elected civilian governments and if it does not chip away at their writ.

By Sher Khan

Published: February 18, 2012

Junaid Khan’s latest single “So Close So Distant” features American singer Jennifer Jandis. PHOTOS: PUBLICITY

LAHORE: 

One look at the Pakistani band Call’s frontman Junaid Khan — It’s pretty obvious that the man was born a performer. With his recent song release “So Close So Distant”, an English rock ballad featuring American singer Jennifer Jandis, Khan has demonstrated vocal versatility. Recently he’s been seen foraying into acting as well.

Speaking about the newly released single, Khan explained that the concept was based on the powerful emotions felt by couples in long-distant relationships. The idea of a duet clicked in his mind in October 2011 when he was going to New York to shoot Mehreen Jabbar’s upcoming drama serial “Mata-e-Jaan Hai Tu” on Hum TV.

While in New York, he asked Jandis who happens to be his friend, about doing a duet. Khan composed the music and wrote the lyrics for the song. While the song was arranged in Lahore, the video was shot in Washington DC. The sound was inspired by 1980s rock ballads which have come to define that generation.

“I always wanted to write something in English,” says Khan who has previously recorded two English covers for Stage Monks. “It’s always interesting to collaborate with other artists, an artist gets to learn so much more. I have always believed that when two artists think alike and complement each other, they create magic and this song is magical for me.”

Various bands like Sajid and Zeeshan or even Junoon have tried creating English songs. Whether such songs are viable in the Pakistani or international market is still undecided. “People in the West really appreciate Pakistani classical music even if they don’t understand a word as it touches the soul. I believe music is about expression and not language,” explains Khan who plans on releasing more music in English but has not thought about doing an entire English album yet.

Meanwhile, Khan says he will continue to balance both his band and his solo career. He explains that the band has always given space for each member to pursue solo projects. For instance, Call bandmember Xulfi has also been launching his solo tracks for Indian films. Khan also has a solo album in the works, which is still “under construction”. On his musical inclinations and influences, he says vocalist Bryan Adams, Linkin Park, Incubus, Creed and Pearl Jam have influenced him.

The other place where Khan is starting to get noticed is on the small screen with aspirations of someday featuring in film. The latest drama in which he has made an appearance is “Mujhay Roothnay Na Dena” on Hum TV. His soon to be released project “Mata e Jaan” is being directed by Mehreen Jabbar and will premiere in March while another project “Madiha aur Maliha” is expected to be released in April.

“I love acting, it actually gives you a chance to be someone that you are not and that is quite exciting for any individual,” explains Khan. Working with Jabbar has been an exciting experience for him as he plays the challenging role of a negative character. “Acting is a serious thing and I have learnt a lot from it. I plan to keep acting as long as I have and challenging roles to perform.”

Published in The Express Tribune, February 19th, 2012.

Published: February 16, 2012

 

LAHORE: 

The Pashto film industry has matured into a resilient fraternity that aims to dispel preconceived notions of radicalisation and conservatism attached to the Pakhtuns. Despite the security and financial issues bolstered by the Talibans to clog its productivity, the Pashto industry managed to remain an inherent part of the culture of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P).

Around 12 to 15 films are released annually and reports, published in The News in 2009, suggested that over a period of nine years, a total of 156 films were released in the region of K-P. Studies also showed that these films were able to find a following in Kabul and in commercial centres like Dubai as well. Lahore-based Pashto film-maker and actor Ajab Gul, who remains a pivotal force in the industry, seconds this fact by stating that Pashto films have been able to compete with Indian films in the local market despite minimal resources and low quality.

While speaking about the response of the audience in K-P, the actor says, “Pakhtun society is very liberal. Every culture has tolerant and conservative groups therefore generalising Pakhtuns as backward and rigid is unfair.” Gul — who has just started shooting for his film Intikhab — says that his films’ target the younger audience that wants to be entertained and go to cinemas in the region.

The legacy of Badar Munir

Dilbar Munir, who is another film-maker and actor based in Lahore, continues to keep his father Badar Munir’s cinematic legacy alive. Badar Munir was considered by many as the veteran Bollywood actor Dilip Kumar of Pashto cinema. During the peak of his glorious career, Badar is said to have appeared in around 70 per cent of all Pashto films made up till the late 1980s.

Dilbar explains that most Pashto films revolve around the action genre, with an average of seven to eight songs in each project. A typical Pashto film is shot in a month and is usually ready to be screened in cinemas within two month’s time. While projecting a softer image of the region, film-makers have also played a major role in promoting local recording artists such as Rahim Shah, who has now become a well-known name in Pakistani music industry.

According to Dilbar, there used to be five cinemas in Mardan but now there is only one, while Kohat and Bannu had three cinemas each and now they only have one cinema each. The overall economic circumstances and security issues are considered as the main reason behind the low-budget films that come out of the Pashto film industry. Still, there is a market for these ventures and most of the work for the industry is done in the two months that fall between Eidul Fitr and Eidul Azha.

Art under attack

Veteran director Mumtaz Ali, who found Pashto film icon Gul, says that Talibanisation has been a constant threat to the industry. According to Ali, the Talibans kidnapped famed actor Lala Sardar Khan five years ago and since then, sporadic kidnappings of film actors have been taking place.

“The Taliban have never really liked the industry. Many local gangsters joined the Talibans and participated in kidnappings and as a result many artists moved to places such as Pindi, Murree and Lahore,” says Ali who himself moved to Lahore 45 years ago. “There was a huge following of Pashto films and even now the industry has the potential to play a huge role in promoting harmony.”

Ali, who was recently in Peshawar, says that he tried to persuade several government functionaries to use film as a medium to promote the positive aspects of culture and nationalism. “I spoke with one Awami National Party (ANP) minister and told him that with the reading culture declining rapidly, films are the only tool of change left.”

Published in The Express Tribune, February 17th, 2012.

Published: February 15, 2012
LAHORE: 

Ajoka Theatre’s latest play, “Rozan-e-Zindan Se”, which premiered on February 13, paid tribute to the legendary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz as part of their centennial celebrations that are taking place across the country to remember the poet. With their 1985 play “Yah pay Sheher Ko Dehko” based on Faiz’s musings, the Ajoka Theatre group has become well-known for bringing the poet’s work on to the stage.

“It’s a good thing that people are remembering the poetic genius of Faiz, especially by reciting poems such as ‘Hum Dekhain Gay’. However, our aim for the play was to highlight the other facets of his personality,” said Madiha Gauhar, the Director of Ajoka Theatre.

Set during the time period of 1951-1955, the play explored the correspondence that took place between Faiz and his wife Alys while he was jailed. Ajoka’s veteran writer, Shahid Nadeem, who edited and pulled selections from letters said about the play, “It highlights how progressive intellectuals and thinkers were persecuted during that time. It also details how Pakistan was sold to the American camp during the Cold War period.”

Using a rather simplistic set design, which included two small desks, a projector and spotlights on the stage, the play was defined more by the powerful narration and classical dance performances. Regarding the stage, Gauhar said, “The point of keeping it simple was so that people who may be familiar with his poetry recognise the ideological context behind his prose.”

With all the emphasis relying primarily on narration, one would have great expectations from the primary protagonists. And Naeem Tahir who plays Faiz and Yasmin Tahir who portrays Alys, did the roles justice and provided impeccable narration.

The three-hour long dialogue between the two characters, show not only Faiz’s stay in jail but the emotional context in which the poet conceived many of his major works. The discussions vary from legal matters, the solidarity of loyal friends, the political affairs of Pakistan and the world, their two daughters and the hopes of reuniting.

Everything aside, the on-stage chemistry of the two narrators brought these letters to life. The audience was able to see the romantic side of the poet which is defined by their mutual affection and courage of the couple amidst the state’s attempts at maligning the couple with “calls of public love-making”.

To add an artistic flair to the play, there were brilliantly choreographed dances from performers such as Nighat Chaudary and Wahab Shah. This came as a wonderful surprise as never before have any theatre groups paid tribute to Faiz through dance. The background score was based on the audio recordings of Faiz’s poems which were sung and recited by great artists such as Tina Sani, Zia Mohyeddin, Madam Noor Jehan and Nayyara Noor.

Despite the play moving the audience to tears, the real downer was the low turnout. It would’ve been great to see more people understand the context behind some of Faiz’s writings and get to know the woman who inspired and supported his masterpieces.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 15th, 2012.

Published: February 9, 2012
LAHORE: 

It has been less than a year that the ‘Sim Sim Hamara’ project by the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) went on air. However, plans of expanding the series into a feature film and radio show are already in place.

Given the show’s immense popularity and the desperate need for entertainment catering to children, why wouldn’t it be expanded? It has already provided young audiences with unforgettable characters such as Rani, Munna, Baily, Baji and Haseen-o-Jameel.

“Everything is finally falling into place, we started with television, now we’re branching into other areas,” said the Head of Party at Rafi Peer Theatre workshop, Faizan Peerzada who intends on making a film before the project’s four-year contract runs out. “Using different mediums like radio, television and films together actually helps in terms of raising awareness, this development is not surprising for us as we never set out to only do television.”

Peerzada, who has been a central figure in bringing the revised Pakistani edition of the 1969 classic educational television show “Sesame Street” to Pakistan, has focussed on connecting with as many children as possible.

Talking about its response, Peerzada said, “Since it’s an original Pakistani program, children can relate to the characters more. Normally children have seen the show with a foreign backdrop but with this localised instalment they find it even easier to learn.”

The TV show is proving to be instrumental in providing education by exploring different themes related to the Pakistani culture and history. The theme of every episode revolves around a certain word that people can easily relate to. For instance, in the first episode, the content revolves around the word ‘saath’ or cooperation and all the skits incorporate the theme of cooperation in some way or another.

The popularity of the show has led to it being dubbed in multiple languages as well as tours being arranged where characters from the show go on the road and connect with the audience. This programme also includes puppet shows and video screenings at communal gatherings and village festivals which can attract families with young children. Additionally, the team also aims to offer interactive computer programs to better engage with children.

As part of this outreach process, the radio component could be ready as early as this year while the film would be done by the end of two years before the USAID contract runs out.

When it comes to the plan for Sim Sim Radio, some of the characters will be voiced by famous Pakistani personalities. This may not be such a difficult task as leading artists such as Ali Azmat, Annie Khalid and Jimmy Khan have already been part of the TV show. There are several songs related to life skills, health and hygiene which have been sung by different artists.

The film based upon the show will carry on the characters seen on the big screen and will aim to sustain the educational goals of the four-year USAID project which ends in 2014. “The concept has to continue in other mediums, and the most sustainable medium is cinema. By using various creative ways, we can make sure it reaches the maximum number of schools in Pakistan,” stated Peerzada.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 10th, 2012.

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