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Monday, February 25, 2013

Now What For The KopKat Copy Act?

It began recently on the 8th of Feb, Islamabad based Kopy Kat productions returned to the city by the sea, this time with their next theaterical production venture 'Aangan Terha'. Written by the legendary veteren of television Anwar Maqsood, it is the re-enactment of a very famous comedy satire from Pakistan television from the 1980's. The story revolves around a retired Urdu Speaking civil service personell and the people in his life, including his wife Jahan Aara, his borderline bisexual servant Akbar, and his overly jolly Punjabi neighbor Choudhary Saab. Anwar Maqsood once again proves that he is quite the magician with the pen, managing to do a spectacular job of re-writting his television show for the stage and getting it ready for today's audiences including the youth which came out in large numbers. Sold out shows have been the norm since the show debuted. The production quality and the acting that has gone onto this theaterical production is no doubt excellent, but the management of services that has gone into this production by the young team behind this play has been a cause of frustration and anger for audiences and those that are regular patrons to the vibrant theaterical scene in the city by the sea.

As Kopy Kat production had previously  done so with the epic 'Pawnay 14 August', they had once again over sold tickets for the performances of Aangan Terha. When I went to see Pawnay 14 August last March, it was unlike anything I had experienced in my years as being a regular attendee of theater in Karachi. As brilliant and legendary as Pawnay 14 August was, even weeknight shows were sold well and truly beyond capacity. If I remember correctly it was a wednesday night, and they had sold easily about 20-25% more seats than the capacity of the main auditorium at the Arts Council of Pakistan in Karachi. It was chaos, though me and my friends we managed to get reasonable seats, there were dozens of people sitting on the steps, on the floor right in front of the stage and standing around the aisle's and exits creating a very clausterphobic environment of sorts. 

Even last night, they had managed to do the same, they sold more tickets then the venue capacity. The crowd I am guessing till now had been fairly patient with them, as most people attending this play were those that had also attended Pawnay 14 August. Last night finally the crowd raised up in protest to the mis management of the event over the state of affairs with seating. Dozens of paying audience members had to go through the performance without having a seat to sit on, what made matters worse were the excuses being made by one of the organizers, the gentlemen with the long hair as opposed to apologizing to the audiences. The delayed apology and the excuses I am guessing is what further aggrevated the crowd, one gentlemen in the audience got up and started questioning why they did not consider audience safety as a priority, since the over selling of tickets meant that not only were they more people in the auditorium beyond capacity, but those who were not fortunate to get seats found themselves sitting on aisles, steps and blocking the main exit as well as the emergency exit of the auditorium, should a fire or some other unfortunate mishap takes places, its a stampede disaster in the making.

It wasn't until Anwar Maqsood finally came on stage and apologized on behalf of the production company that the crowd relatively calmed down, however by then a fair few audience members who had failed to find seats had also walked out demanding refunds. My best guess is that the reason why Kopy Kats production persisted with this policy of selling as many tickets as they can for each performance because till now the audience had yet to speak up. It was truly refreshing to see the audience finally speak up against unfair customer service practices, which are not uncommon in the hospitality and entertainment sector of Pakistan. There is just no excusing customer exploitation, no body here is questioning the business practices and business model of Kopy Kats production, we patrons of the theater are just concerned about being treated unfairly in a country like Pakistan where fair play is rarely part and parcel of the life of millions. It would be unfair to assume whether this was done out of pure greed, public pressure or plain carelessness, we may never know the truth. With this I sincerely hope Kopy Kat Productions takes this criticism in good spirit and has some food for thought for the remainder of its performances. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Recap and Lessons from KLF 2013

This past weekend saw the conclusion of yet another hugely successful annual Karachi Literature Festival which was staged at the Beach Luxury hotel. This was the fourth year that this event took place in the city by the sea and it has created a road map for other cities to follow. Very soon the city of Lahore will be having it's first literary festival, we can hope it will also transform into a regularly held annual event. This year's Karachi Literature Festival was not as good as the ones held during the previous year, even though this year the choice of venue for staging the event was far more spacious and accessible to a greater number of people. Reason being a lot of writers, poets and intellects cancelled on the very last minute, especially from across the border. I did get to meet one of India's most famous female journalists Barkha Dutt from NDTV. Apparently I didn't have an idea of how famous she was in India, I just recognised her from a few random political talk. Also present at the festival from the journalism community were veterens Nadeem F Paracha, Javed Jabbar as well as the young business desk editor of the Express Tribune Farooq Tirmizi.

There were a fair few book launches as well. I had the fortune of attending a few, one of which was Aquilla Ismail's book 'Of Martyrs and Marigold'. Coincidentially I have already had the book on my Kindle for quite some time, it was only launched in Pakistan at the fair. The book is from a mainly Bihari speaking Urdu narrative, its a fictional account of what the writer's family and people they knew had to endure in post 71 Bangladesh. How they became soft targets for the nationalists because they were civilians and because they were not natives, could easily occupy the blame.

Even with all the cancellations, there were some outstanding events at the Karachi Literature Festival. For me  personally the highlights were 'Aapas ki Baat, Najam Sethi ke Saath live', it wa sort of like watching Najam Sethi's 11 pm show from GEO TV live. He did end up making analytical comments of the type also which he  would normally not make on live TV, I am guessing due to the policy of the Jang Group and Geo TV. Mohsin Hamid, the writer of 'Moth Smoke' and 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist', along with other Pakistani writers Nadeem Aslam (writer of Maps for Lost Lovers) and Kamila Shamsi the writer of Kartography were part of a panel discussing the role of politics in modern South Asian Literature. In the panel they pointed out that major global political events such as the Cold War and 9/11 has had a profound effect on the world, and hence they are used as back drops for fictional writers even from developing nations. They argued for any writer, be it a fictional or non fictional writer, it is very difficult keep politics completely independent of their writing, citing it is natural for any good writer to write politically or think politically while executing their writing. Mohsin went on to add that politics in novelization is not just about what your government is upto, but it extends to include politics of class, politics of gender and also a socioeconomic divide.

For me, other than personally getting the opportunity to chat with Mohsin Hamid and Najam Sethi, what really stood out in the event was the talk on Satire in Media which featured Bushra Ansari and Ali Gul Pir on the panel with Nadeem Farooq Paracha (NFP). During the talk, they talked about how most of our society and television audiences are not mature enough to entirely understand or appreciate satire and it will be a while before it is properly understood. They did give a lot of credit to Dr Younis Butt for his work in taking on current affairs in Pakistani politics and producing satire for cable television. For those unfamiliar with Dr Younis Butt, he is the man behind 'Hum Sub Umeed Se Hain' on Geo Television hosted by Saba Qamar. NFP jokingly also said, maybe Dr Butt is afraid of Altaf Bhai, he gets the least amount of Satire dedicated to him.

The talk concluded with a lot of members in the audience were repeatedly raising Questions as to why Religious Issues, sectarianism and lack of harmony in our society isn't discussed through satire, since a lot of political solutions are achievable through Satire, why not religious ones. To this Bushra and NFP replied that it is because of the extremely sensitive religious nature of our society, even the fairly educated lot (some of whom can be labeled as parhe likhe jahils) that it is at this point even remotely unthinkable of discussing religious issues or sectarianism through satire or through any form of humour. Even though in reality religion is a personal affair, in a society like Pakistan it has become a public spectacle. One can not disagree with them, a good example right in front of us was the back lash media outlets got for promoting even the smallest of stories relating to Valentines day, an event which many on the religious right and this conservative society find immoral and distasteful. I feel particularly bad for those two young people who carried Urdu language banners stating let the love flow. Our society might not be very open minded and ready for humour or satire with respect to religion, but the Question we need to ask is, how do we change all that? Every one talks about the direction our society is headed, but let's start asking Questions now what can we do?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

So where's the V-Day Haram happening again?


Photo: Faasla na rakhain. Pyaar honay dayn. Say YES to Love! #Karachi
Another year, another month of Feb, another Valentines day graces our calender. Another year where the religious right aka the mullah brigade is at it again condemning it as an act of immorality that will result in all hell breaking loose on the moral fabric of our society. Regardless of what one thinks of Valentines day, hate it, love it or our indifferent, it is still going to happen, there is now law in Pakistan that forbids it's celebration. And it seem's plausible that this trend will continue on for years, Valentines day will come, the mullah brigade with make its usual fuss, people wanting to celebrate it will celebrate by exercising their God given free will and on the next day life will resume as it was before the V day fever came in.

On this day (V-day), thousands of couples are going to be going out for dinner, exchanging gifts, spending time together and exchange moments of intimacy, and in the case of Pakistan since public displays of affection are frowned upon, all that will happen in complete privacy. Sure Valentines day is an overly commercialised day courtesy of the Hallmark Card culture and is drowning in Red, but that's a different story altogether, its a good kind of red by the way, not the red that represents spilled blood. For those bitterly opposed to Valentines day, here are some things you guys should know, majority of couples likely to celebrate it in Pakistan would be married couples, so yeah husbands buying flowers and gifts for their wives, and wives buying gifts for their husbands. They can celebrate their love all year long, a commercialised event just gives them another excuse to do it and enjoy in the process. Now what is more Halal than the love between a married couple, between a man and his wife? There is nothing Non Shariah about it.

I am curious, those of you guys bitterly opposed to the even mention of this day in Pakistan, is it because you  men do not want to spoil your wives by showering them with flowers and gifts, and you ladies, are you just upset that your husbands did not spoil you with gifts. We all know everybody likes getting gifts, if you really dislike gifts, shun the gifts that come your way on wedding anniversaries, birthdays and even your own wedding. Yes, I know what you are thinking, what about all the millions of high school, college and university students. Well most of them, their not full fledged mature age adults, their just looking to have some innocent fun, enjoy life and experience the joys that come with it. A lot of our youth appreciates life and what comes with it, hence their very proactive when it comes to festivities. Don't demonise this youth, their also fairly active on Eid-Milad-Nabi, you will find Milad celebrations across schools, colleges and universities so yeah there goes the excuse of religious insensitivity out the window. Their also very active on Independance day, so yeah you can not even accuse them of being overly westernised and insensitive to local culture. We live in a globalised world, certain set of events, cultural attributes or trends go beyond geographic borders.

If anything according to your individual definitions of shamefulness is happening, very very high probability that it is probably happening behind cloosed doors and what happens in the privacy of some one's home behind closed doors is of no course to any of us. What will happen on the surface level is nothing out of the ordinary, people will be going out for dinner, going out for a movie, spending time with one another like they usually do, the only difference is there will be a lot of RED going around and florists are going to make a killer buck today. Now what is so HARAM about an honest hard working florist who may be a devout Muslim selling flowers? He sells flowers every day, only difference is he is selling a huge lot more especially the roses.

So tell me again, where are the countless of shamelessness happening in public eye again? Please enlighten me as I am mighty curious to know. If nothing immoral or shameful is happening, keep your attitudes to your self and let the love flow.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sawal-e-Coexistance

While reviewing the morning news online across various websites both Pakistani and Non Pakistani, the usual bit of events and columns ends up making the front page. If your in Pakistan, your quite likely to find columns and news stories with respect to the growing war of words or the so called growing divide between the religious right and those that are advocates of a secular state. This is particularly relevant in Pakistan's liberal left leaning media outlets where there is an abundant presence of advocates of secularism and the seperation of religion from legislation. The religious right as well as the secularists have been in the news again over the upcoming issue over Valentines day. As millions of rupees are being spent by major brands on Valentines day dedicated marketing, money is also being spent on advertising defaming Valentines day as an act of utter immorality and one which will lead the destruction of the moral fabric of society. Such advertisements which can be found in the form of large hoardings as well as Vehicle mounted advertising are also making claims that the wrath of hell fire awaits a society that tolerates vulgarity and indecency etc. First things first, who are the religious right and their organizations to label what is moral or immoral, what is decent or indecent, what will or what won't break down the fabric of society. These people and their organizations have no legal authority to enforce their school of thought or their way of life upon others. Their usual claims for doing that is that this is all God's will and it is mandatory for them to make sure the world lives in accordance with Islamic law or the Islamic way of life. Our society's move towards moral and religious policy by unofficial unsanctioned non state actors as well as individuals with that school of thought are making coexistance a difficult proposition. It is also further pushing the liberal secularists towards the other extreme, further widening this divide.

Our society had managed to make some progress towards a return to liberalisation in the early 90's in the years following the demise of Zia, who played a very big role in Islamization of society. Too much emphasis was given to following Islam literally, too much focus was placed on symbolic rituals and practices and Islamicc spirituality which goes hand in hand with the sub continent version of Sufi Islam, got replaced by a Wahabi influenced version of Islam. Islam maybe a complete way of life, but those advocating an Islamic way of life are only able to imagine a literal 7th century version of it instead of realizing that the religion itself stands the test of time and it has its place in society in every century, decade or year. Let's just look at the recent Hoo Hah this lot has raised against Valentines day, what is so shameful about it if I might ask? Considering the nature of our culture and society, most couples celebrating it are likely to be married one's, secondly, where are these same voices when injustices are happening in our society, where are these very voices when human rights violation happens, exploitation of people happens at times at the hand of the some of the religious right.

Before any one starts labeling me as a secularist or an apologist for their cause, let me make it clear to you, I do not associate my self either school of the schools of thought and I am just a simple guy who believes religion is a very personal affair, and not something that should be made a public spectacle out of, there is absolutely no need for moral policing by the religious right or even people who are religious. Religious policing is becoming way too common for comfort levels on an every day basis. Last I checked God has mentioned His own Holy Book that is there no compulsion in religion, so does not that make every form of moral and religious policing and the need for it as null and void? It would not be unfair to conclude, that maybe religious people do not have a problem with different cultural symbols, rather they have a problem with people living a life that is different from the one that they have chosen for themselves. Is it possible, they want other people around them to live lifestyle as them, or does the way of life of others around them remind them of the other life they could have had or one they left behind.

A lot of now really orthodox conservative religious lot have come from non religious back grounds and have only recently been roped in through the help of TV evangelical types for example Dr Aamir Liaquat, who is known to have a huge following and a huge influence on people's thinking ability. What more proof do u need when he made a large audience cry on live television by talking about the Hell Fire, or the fact that he Ahmed's infidels and the next day a few got shot. Just how exactly will we manage coexistance when the religiously sensitive lot is so hell bent on making others adopt their way of life for themselves also. For a lay person, it is almost like 'since they live dull uninteresting and inactive lives, so should everyone else'

On a personal level I have lost count of the number of times I have encountered religious who have tried to make me carbon copies of themselves by either claiming to get offended by me not praying or fasting, or by using scare tactics. For one I can not understand how can you get offended if some one doesn't pray or fast, what is there to get offended about, how is blasphamy as some claim it to be? Scare tactics are particularly very common these days, they usually involve un natural inducement of fear for the Hell Fire and the Grave and the Questions we will asked about our slackey attitude towards important ritualistic practices etc. News flash for you guys, you are not answerable for my deeds, you will not be the one lowered into my grave, I will be, so the responsibility is fully with me over what destiny holds for me in the after life, and just how confident are you about bright prospects in the after life, ever thought about that? Seriously not a big deal if some people are not religious get used to it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ad spending on V-Day Bashing.







So Valentines day is coming. Yes that's right the 14th of Feb is just around the corner, and signs of the day to come are all around the city of Karachi. To cash in, so many companies big and small are spending good money on getting their advertising message across to the audience they hope would be celebrating the day. Whether their huge outdoor hoardings, print adverts or those appearing on prime time television, the spirit of Valentines day is definitely in the air, especially for the marketers. Among the campaigns dished out through different mediums this year, one that marketing campaign that really stands out is the one done by Cadbury for their signature flagship Dairy Milk chocolate brand. In the advertisement on television they show a young man who manages to get his message across to the girl he seeks by passing the chocolate with a Valentines day message across the class room, in the process, all but one piece of the chocolate gets eaten up. The last piece manages to get the job done, the boy's message gets communicated to the girl, and the marketing agency behind this advertisement is successful in getting their message across to their target audience. This TV advert has been brilliantly complimented by outdoor and print advertisements. Cadbury Pakistan has also redone its packaging on its range of Dairy Milk products. Whether its your brilliantly made television advertisement by Cadbury for their flagship dairy or some other brand, no escaping Valentines Day. There is also no escaping the other kind of attention this day manages to attract.

Not that I was totally surprised to see what I saw, especially considering the route that society in Pakistan is taking. I did manage to take a snap of what I saw at a very busy Chowrangi (Roundabout) in the Bahadrabad area of Karachi. For those on the other side of the bridge, its about 7 odd KM's from you all live, rest of Karachi probably knows how busy this chowrangi is. It is not uncommon for one to find hoardings, sponsored TV shows or advertisements (both print and broadcast) aimed at getting a certain message across at a certain time of the year. This advertising message was aimed for the purpose of defaming and demonizing Valentines day with carefully selected extracts and references from religious sources. Do not be surprised people if on the actual day, you seen tens of thousands of both men and women out on the streets burning symbols of Valentines Day like Teddy Bears, Flowers and other various trinkets.. It has happened before and I suspect it will happen again.

Photo: Parked at Bahadrabad Chowrangi, Can't believe some one paid for this, lol

The pic above I snapped with my cell phone camera as I was passing by Bahadrabad Chowrangi in my car.

Not that I have a particular opinion on Valentines day etc, rather to point out to those in opposition to the celebration of the day  that make it sound as if all hell will break loose if this day is celebrated. The apocalypse will descend upon us immediately as a grave act of shameless sinfulness is being committed in a country occasionally titled land of the pure. I wrote a blog early on a similar line in which I referred how the religious right and the growing conservative lot (especially the new lot) in our urban societies go paranoid crazy about the thought of any communication of any sorts between members of the opposite sex who are either not related or married to one another. They believe any contact of any kind between genders is a sin waiting to happen and hence it should be prevented. Same reaction to Valentines Day, reactions suggest delusions on similar lines that a catastrophe is waiting to happen should this occasion be celebrated. Frankly speaking, those who wish to celebrate it should be free to do so, and those who do not want to celebrate it should be free to keep their distance from it. I how ever do not see the point of paying good amounts of cash on advertisements meant to demonize the day. A lot of it stems from our culture of moral policing which goes hand in hand with widespread hypocritical attitudes not uncommon to people of Pakistan. The same religious right who demonizes Valentines day, among so many of them you will also find people who do not even blink an eye when violation of human rights or abuse of some sort or the other is common in our society

I do not want sound like I am judgmental prick, but what I am about to communicate can not be done without sounding atleast borderline judgmental. It is this very same right wing religious lot in our society that has started demonizing everything and anything, and everyone and anyone who does not adhere to their ultra conservative Wahabi influenced school of thought. They argue its not their school of thought, rather it is the will of God to look down upon people and discriminate people based on how rigidly people practice religion or not, too much emphasis on symbolic rituals and practices. Do not be surprised, if you also come across people who will get offended because you turned down an invitation to offer Salat (prayer) in congregation with them, because trust me I have and that too on multiple occasions. In a nutshell it is very difficult for such people to come to terms with the reality not everyone is religious, people by not being religious are just exercising their God given FREE WILL. I could be wrong but part of me believes that  for the religious conservative lot, especially those new to that way of life, it is very difficult to come to terms with leaving a life behind for the pursuit of religious devotion while others around them are still living their lives business as usual. In other words, people are experiencing worldly life (their choice of words) while they have left everything behind for spirituality. If they had truly left everything behind, their not would be this feeling of missing out on life by seeing others pick and choose how they deem fit to live. Just look at the image above and read the words, they have openly declared Valentines day as something evil and immoral and that this celebration is insensitive to Islamic values and followers of Islam. If that isn't also judgmental, please correct me if I am wrong. I for the time being have said what I wanted to say, they have a right to their opinion but no right to enforce it on others or even demonize millions based on personal sentiments. I would probably get a lot of votes from secularists for saying that those opposed to it are not really against it for cultural or religious reasons, rather cause their not part of the whole festivities and celebrations, only time will tell.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Vanishing Blog



Oh yes, you read the title right, 'the vanishing blog', it is about a blog that was suddenly taken off the internet, hence my labeling it the vanishing blog. It wasn't just on any random Word Press or Blog Spot URL, rather it was one of the blog's of Express Tribune, one of the most widely read English Language news websites in Pakistan. I do not know the exact amount of time the blog was made available on Tribune blogs (blogs.tribune.com.pk), but it could not have been more than a few hours at the very most. Many issues come to mind, is removal an attack on free speech, was the initial publication of the blog irresponsible content gathering on part of the web editor or a whole host of other things, we may not know for a while. The reality stands though that Express Tribune published a blog today on the 6th of Feb 2013 which openly attacked one of their more well known reporters, some one with a television show of her own. Express Tribune's very own Maria Khan, who was given the ultimate insult in media of being labeled the next Maya Khan.

Now we all remember Maya Khan, don't we? For those who can't remember who Maya Khan was, long story short, she was a former morning show show host that chased an unmarried couple through a public park in Karachi with a small army of women and camera crew, and thanks to social media, we all took notice of that. However this isn't about Maya Khan or what she is up to now, rather about Maria Khan and this blog that gotten taken off. Mostly about the blog. If you Google this blog, you can still find online, it is just not there on public viewing on Express Tribune's website. For those interested, the following is the URL.

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/15947/vigilante-exposed-meet-maria-khan-the-second-maya-khan/

If the blog URL does not work, this is what you will see..



For those not interested in reading the whole story and the interesting comments that follow the original blog. The gentlemen who wrote it labeled Maria Khan as the next Maya Khan for a gutsy initiative that she took in investigative journalism. For the liberal left, their still sitting on the line, this was intrusive and a pathetic excuse of moral policing that a medical graduate turned journalist should not have done blah blah blah. I happen to see the show myself on Express Tribune's Urdu language news channel, and this was a program about a raid on a brothel in an up market neighborhood of Lahore, where a Chinese woman was running it under the disguise of a massage parlor, which too coincidentally itself was operating unlicensed i.e. without permission from the proper authorities. Last I checked, this was called investigative journalism, and the journalist in Question Miss Khan was accompanied by Punjab police and not an army of middle aged women. If the police was involved, chances are they might have had a search warrant off sorts or even if they did not, you do not risk damaging a raid by going through slow corrupt bureaucratic channels of this country.

The bungalow in Lahore, even if it was not a brothel and a massage parlor was still operating illegally and needed to be investigated. During the course of the television program which also aired on Tuesday the 5th of Feb, some young women found in the premises admitted that the house was a sex shop and sexual activities were going on, the servants outside such as a chowkidar and sweeper claimed it was a massage parlor visited by Shoqeen men. These counter claims were not helped by the fact, that this place had an abundant supply of condoms, enough to fill a pharmacy, as well as alcohol among other things that one would find in a souped up brothel frequented by the gentry. To make matters, men started phoning the premises and the journalists claiming their MPA's and want the raid to end immediately. Considering all that we saw, if anything, we should give kudos to Maria Khan for taking this initiative and risking her well being in the back drop of threats from provincial ministers against sexual exploitation that some girls claimed they were facing. Instead what do we do, start attacking Maria Khan and label her as the next Maya Khan, just the level of that insult makes me sick. This was probably not the only brothel of its kind operating in Lahore or any other major city in Pakistan, but in order to bring an end to such places requires gutsy moves to bring them down one by one, and any young women saved from the sex trade are valuable lives. Each place shut makes a difference, and the fact that such places exist in the first place, reflects our mentality as a society, where everything goes as long as we do not know about it.