dead film comes to life
What good is the A-bomb?
As the country celebrates another Youm-e-Takbeer holding its 'national asset' of nuclear capability no less dear than the 'ideology of Pakistan' itself, as the strategists hold forth on the virtues of doctrine of nuclear deterrence, as the peaceniks sit aside and watch the country celebrate its capacity to annihilate the enemy, TNS tries to understand what the fuss is all about…
By Farrukh Saleem
If you have the A-bomb you cannot be beaten. True or false? Here's the record: On 16 July 1945, the US Army Corps of Engineers under the command of General Leslie Groves -- directed by a professor of theoretical physics, J. Robert Oppenheimer -- undertook "Trinity," the first-ever, human-engineered, controlled nuclear explosion. From 1959 till 1975, the US military with all its service branches, including the US Army, US Air Force, US Marine Corps and US Navy, fought with the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, the Vietcong. Fatalities: Anywhere from 3 million to 4 million Vietnamese; at least 2 million Cambodians and Laotians and more than 58,000 US soldiers.
President Harry S. Truman, the 33rd President of the United States, had the A-bomb but President Richard Nixon, the 37th President of the United States, was beaten back by Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh and Pham Hung. America had the A-bomb but it was beaten by a hotchpotch, rag-tag Vietcong, Khmer Rouge and the North Vietnamese.
If you have the A-bomb you cannot be beaten. True or false? Here's the record: In August 1949, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) under the administrative supervision of Lavrentii Beria, the head of People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, Russia's secret police organisation, and under the scientific supervision of physicist Igor Kurchatov, detonated its first nuclear device. From 1979 to 1989, KGB's Independent Special-Purpose Motorised Brigade, Russia's foreign military intelligence directorate along with the 40th Army of the Soviet Union's Red Army fought with rag-tag Afghan militias.
Josef Stalin, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, had the A-bomb. More than 40 years later, Sergei Leonidovich Sokolov, Marshal of the Soviet Union, General Valentin Varennikov, Commander-in-Chief of the land forces, and General Boris Gromov, Commander of the 40th Army, fought with Ahmad Shah Masoud, Jalaluddin Haqqani, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Ismail Khan and Abdul Haq. Eventually, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, lost and the Taliban won. Once again, the A-bomb was beaten.
If you have the A-bomb then no country will dare invade you. True or false? Here's the record: Medinat Yisra'el, or the State of Israel, began building the Negev Nuclear Research Center -- with French help -- back in 1958. According to Mordechai Vanunu, a nuclear technician at the Negev Nuclear Research Center, Israel had built its first nuclear weapon in 1967-68.
In 1973, Muhammad Anwar Al Sadat ordered General Saad El Shazly, the Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Army (350,000 plus 400,000 reservists) to invade Sinai. The Egyptian Air Force with 200 of its low-flying aircraft, including MiG-21s, attacked Israeli airbases. The Egyptian land assault with some 30,000 soldiers captured each and every one of the Israeli fortifications (except for the one called Budapest). Israel had the A-bomb but the Egyptian Army invaded Israeli-controlled territory. Israel had the A-bomb but Egyptian MiG-21s attacked Israeli airbases.
In 1973, Hafez al-Assad ordered General Mustafa Tlass, the Chief of Staff of the Syrian Army (conscripted 400,000), to invade the Golan Heights. General Mustafa sent in 5 divisions along with 1,300 tanks to capture Mount Hermon, the Israeli stronghold. Remember, Israel had the A-bomb but the Syrian Army invaded the Golan Heights. General Moshe Dayan, Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, had the A-bomb but General Mustafa sent his soldiers into Israeli controlled terrain.
If you have the A-bomb then no country will dare invade you. True or false? Here's the record: India had begun its nuclear programme back in 1967 (the origin of the nuclear weapons programme was the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre). Seven years later, nuclear scientists led by Dr Raja Ramanna detonated the Smiling Buddha at Pokhran test range; plutonium for the detonation came from the Canada-India-Research-US, or CIRUS, research reactor while the implosion system was developed under the supervision of Dr Satish Kumar at the Terminal Ballistics Research Laboratory in Chandigarh. According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, India began work on a thermonuclear weapon in the 1980s.
India has so far conducted six nuclear tests; the last one conducted on May 13, 1998. Of the six, the largest yield was 250 kilotons and that was for the test undertaken on May 11, 1998 (the "Little Boy" that was dropped on Hiroshima was a 15 kiloton bomb).
In May 1999, around 5 battalions of Pakistan's Northern Light Infantry (HQ: Skardu) along with Kashmiri guerrillas entered Indian-controlled territories and captured areas of lower Mushkoh Valley, Kaksar, Dras and Chorbatla. India's inventory of A-bombs could not stop Pakistan's Northern Light Infantry.
If you have the A-bomb then you need not spend much on your conventional weaponry. True or false? Here's the record: India's defense allocation when India didn't have an A-bomb was around $5 billion. India's defense budget has since reached a colossal $35 billion. Pakistan's defense allocation when Pakistan didn't have an A-bomb was under Rs100 billion. Pakistan's defense budget has since reached a colossal Rs400 billion.
What good is the A-bomb? The A-bomb's 64-year history shows that the doctrine of nuclear deterrence belongs to the dustbin. Countries with large inventories of A-bombs have lost wars. Moreover, A-bombs have failed to stop invading armies.
Moulded to perfection
Adeela Suleman, along with seven artists, makes it to a prestigious museum of Italy with her sculptures in steel
By Quddus Mirza
Six months ago, at Triennale di Milano, the prestigious museum of Italy, to see the retrospective exhibition of Alberto Burri (1915-1995), I could not have imagined that I would view the work of a Pakistani artist on my next visit. Art, like life and love, takes unprecedented turns. Today, sculptures of Adeela Suleman are being displayed in the grand galleries of this museum situated in the middle of Milan.
The exhibition 'Steel Art' (May 26-Aug 26, 2009) comprises works of eight artists from various parts of the world in the same medium -- steel. Artists from China, Japan, Venezuela, India, Pakistan and Europe have been selected for this show, organised by Marcegaglia, the Italian steel company. The company has supported Italian curator Elisabetta Pozzetti for materialising her concept -- of contacting artists from across continents and showing their works.
Besides being a testimony of how industry can contribute towards art, the show is a remarkable example of curatorial adventure. The curator selected artists on the basis of their works transported to Italy from public collections, galleries, artists' studios around the world, along with a few pieces, executed at the Marcegaglia steel factory in the city of Montova.
The common element in all the artists is their choice of material, yet each individual has approached it in a different manner and with a different scale and technique. The multiplicity of ideas and imagery is reflected in the way the same substance has been moulded, converted and 'recreated' (literally) by eight artists. Some of them utilised it to construct large scale and complicated works, while other opted for simple and conceptual solutions. A number of participants created complex works with multiple functions, such as rotating parts or composed a variety of imagery.
On the other hand, a number of works impress with their simple imagery and visual solutions. Venezuelan artist, Magdalena Fernandez Arriage, used steel in an elementary, yet unexpected scheme. She has built a room of slanting ceiling with the help of metal sheets, which reveal bits of light through the gaps in their joints. Flickering light that penetrates from the ridges between steel plates enhances a sense of displacement and disorientation in the tiny and enclosed space. Hence the experience of a person who comes from a Third World country with a feeling of detachment from one's physical environment can be shared. Besides the formal aspects, the conceptual connection can also be established in that overpowering installation.
Zhang Huan from China addresses the subject of oriental wisdom and industrial growth. The figure of Buddha in a calm pose is resting on the rolling sheet of steel which in dimension and appearance reminds one of a newsprint role. The juxtaposition of Buddha and the metal sheet (that may represent industry or print media) brings forth two parts of our existence, East and West, in a complementing yet confronting relationship. Interestingly, the similarity of material enhances the difference between the two worlds/worldviews.
The world as a field of conflicting path is seen in the work of Julia Bornefeld too. Originally from Germany and residing in northern Italy, Bornefeld's sculpture addresses the nature of competition: Something that, in its innocent level, can be witnessed during the football matches among participating nations, and in its cruel stage can be glimpsed when two or more countries are at war. Large scale replicas of knives of different designs are inserted in a huge model of football already ripped from one side. Bornefeld seems to be indicating how the modern world has combined or compromised atrocities of war and sports activities.
Sports activity, especially the sports car, such as Ferrari (made in Italy) is the source of inspiration for another participant, Tetsuya Nakamura, from Japan. He has captured the essence of speed in his steel sculpture, shaped like the car, but consists of parts which convey the previous presence of a fast-moving machine. The skeletal form of the car or its mirage evokes a sense of motion, otherwise difficult to be translated in a material as hard as steel. In addition, the work of Nakamura can be about the disappearance of a precious object, or an attempt to cherish its illusion.
Apart from these unusual ideas, the Milan show is significant due to the presence of two artists from the Indian subcontinent. A scooter with milk containers by Subodh Gupta deals with the urbanisation of an agrarian culture. The way vehicle and utensils, even though used for traditional purpose (to store and distribute milk), shift their appearance. Thus change in cultural attributes is imperceptible but has longer effect in transforming the psyche and social relations of inhabitants of an area. Milk, with its religious connotation in the Hindu (Krishna) myths, adds another dimension to the otherwise ordinary arrangement of Vespa and metal containers.
Likewise, Adeela Suleman discovers a new side and meaning of her materials which are used for many other purposes. Bathroom fixtures, domestic utensils, kitchen objects and images from popular art shape a narrative that reveals the artist's interest in two realms. Her imagery travels from the reality of object to the fantasy of art and ideas. However, in most of her works, the seam between functionality and aesthetics is imperceptible. The exhibition includes works which refer to the experience of woman in an environment that may have been hard, but familiar -- just like the domestic environment.
With its diverse approaches and handling of material, 'Steel Art' confirms a basic concept: That despite the difference of location, culture and variation in technique, artists in our global village are coming closer. Hence the presence of two artists from South Asia in a museum of mainstream art should be considered a normal occurrence, because in today's art world the country connections have become an extraneous liability -- at least in some cases. Now the origin of the artist is not as important as it was perceived say even a decade ago.
A positive aspect of globalisation is that now artists do not have to claim a place owing to their domicile. Like their internet and email Ids, they belong to a wider world where it is the work that counts and not the passport.
Perhaps this is the reason why nationalities of the artists are not mentioned anywhere in 'Steel Life', an unprecedented omission but a significant addition.
The first horror film attempted by Lollywood turns out to be a worthy interpretation of Stoker's classic Dracula
By Ali Sultan
Every cinephile is a sucker for film trivia and it's a sad fact that every true horror film fan has a perverse internal rating metre -- the higher the discomfort for the general audience, the more the chances of the film gaining respect by the horror fan. If trivia such as "the first movie in Pakistan to be rated-X, was almost banned from its original release because the censors felt that the movie was too vulgar and was so shocking in its time that a woman had a heart attack in the movie theatre," is to be believed then Zinda Laash is a respectable horror film.
But it's much more.
Recently shown at LUMS to gather funds for IDPs, Zinda Laash is also an oddity. A vampire film from Pakistan, released in 1967, it is one of the few horror films ever attempted in the country, and certainly the first and most famous. Adapted from Bram Stoker's Dracula, this one tells the story of the scientist Professor Tabani (Rehan) who discovers the secret of eternal life but has to pay a terrible price, as it turns him into a blood-lusting vampire. A young man named Dr Aqil (who represents the role of Jonathan Harker from Bram Stoker's novel) happens to foolishly spend a night at Tabani's mansion where the vampire bride (Nasreen) bites him and turns him into a vampire. When Aqil's concerned brother (Habib) subsequently finds him sleeping in a coffin in the mansion's cellar he promptly kills him. It transpires that Tabani has designs on Aqil's fiancee, Shabnam (Deeba), but her brother Parvez (Ala-ud-Din) and his wife Shirin (Yasmeen) refuse to listen to Aqil's brother's warnings. Tabani soon succeeds in transforming Shabnam into a vampire, his next target being Shirin. Parvez and the concerned brother then face the horrible vampire in a final confrontation.
Clearly inspired by Terence Fisher's Horror of Dracula (1958), Zinda Laash under the direction of Khwaja Sarfraz is a worthy Lollywood interpretation of Bram Stokers classic with an excellent performance by Rehan in the title role who creates an impressively untamed and aggressive vampire. Deeba's role is memorable too as she transforms from loveable playful girl to a haunted, craving, blood-lusting creature of the night. She has a great, almost Frankenstein-like scene with a young niece upon whom she is planning to feast having already left the corpse of another child lying in the local graveyard, drained of every last drop of blood. Habib cuts a dashing figure well aided by his baritone voice and Asad does a fair job in the Harker role.
The lighting and camerawork by Raza Mir, Nabi Ahmed and Irshad is interesting; its almost 1930s German expressionistic feel in places, enhances many scenes and is well-matched by Shahab's art direction that gives Tabani's haunted mansion a kind of Gothic dressing of local architecture and its dark, dusty and cobweb-strewn cellars provide a suitably spooky atmosphere.
While some of the film's music by Tassadaque Hussain does play extremely inappropriately, there are some really good cues too and it's fascinating to hear the Lollywood musicians performing their own take on horror film music.
The best thing about Zinda Laash is that it isn't padded out for hours with unnecessary songs and fight sequences. Also there isn't any comedy on evidence either. The film gets down to business from the very opening scene and doesn't stray off course. The screenplay by Khwaja Sarfraz and Naseem Rizwani is dialogue thin, most scenes play out in complete silence except for musical cues and sound effects, giving them an almost hypnotic feel which evokes both Munarau's Nosferatu (1922) and Dreyer's Vampyr (1932). Another interesting aspect is that the word Dracula or vampire is never mentioned in the film; this is a very intelligent decision as there is no local equivalent of a vampire; instead Khabees rooh (evil spirit) is used.
The most exciting quality about Zinda Laash (and a reason that it should be viewed at least once) is the total absence of religious imagery. Most vampire literature and films subtext is the puritan view of the eternal fight between good and evil, because the vampire is eternally evil -- amplified by the desire for human blood and interpreted by many as subverted sexuality -- it can only be defeated by God's help i.e the cross, holy water and a stake through the heart. Zinda Laash does not have such a subtext; vampires are killed by knives, there are no religious artifacts and God is called upon only once, at the very end. There are dabs of sexuality, especially in a dance sequence where the vampire bride entices Dr Aqil and when Tabani visits Shabnam but the scenes where teeth puncture soft flesh are 'appropriately' faded out.
The history of the film is fascinating. It was withdrawn after a week of exhibition when the censors found it too "corruptive and evil" for the innocent audiences of the nation. The film was restored to cinemas after the producer-hero and director promised that they'd never ever make such a film again. And sure enough, they never did, despite the film becoming an unexpected hit. It was saved and restored years later, in 2003, by B movie connoisseur and film critic Omar Khan.
Uzra Butt's appearances may be rare but her zest for the performing arts remains just as much
By Sarwat Ali
Uzra Butt's contribution to the performing arts was conjoined with the celebration of Ajoka's silver jubilee.
Uzra Butt had migrated to Pakistan in the 1960s from India and except for a television play, that ironically was never televised, did precious little till she was chosen by Ajoka in 1984 to be a part of their team. She has since been a regular member, almost part and parcel of most of their productions.
Her total inactivity was a little intriguing because she had been part of this activity when very few women dared even take the name of acting and dancing. In a way Uzra Butt and her sister Zohra Sehgal broke new ground. It was very difficult for local women ( nearly impossible for Muslim women) to break the barrier of respectability and take up acting and dancing as a career but Zohra Sehgal did so by joining Uday Shankar's group and was soon followed by her sister Uzra Butt , then Uzra Mumtaz. She did not find much to occupy her at the Queen Mary College and preferred to join the troupe while it was in London. For three years she travelled with them in Europe and the United States, took lessons in the morning and performed in the evening before the tour was cut short by the outbreak of the Second World War.
She then joined Lady Irving College and taught the few girls wanting to dance. Willing to do more, she went to Calcutta and took lessons in manipuri dance. Uday Shankar on his return then had set up a school of the performing arts in Almorah on the land donated by the government and started to revitalise his troupe. The old team of Simki, Zohra and Uzra got together again and started to perform through the length and breath of India. Much more of that era can be gleaned from the writings of Shaukat Azmi and Ravi Shanker. There are repeated references of her by Ravi Shankar in his book Raagmala who as a youngster was part of the orchestra struggling to find a niche in the world of music/performing arts under the stewardship of Ustad Allauddin Khan, the master composer handling orchestral music in Uday Shankar's troupe.
Shaukat Azmi was exposed to the world of progressive movement and its artistic wing through her future husband, and too had to struggle and juggle in maintaining a balance between high idealism and the reality of running a kitchen.
Uday Shankar was the father of contemporary dance. The dance in India was highly stylised with themes drawn from mythology, built round heroes who had legendry status in history, but Uday Shankar had made dance more contemporary, allied it with a story line and transformed it into a form that was closer to the twentieth century ballet. The themes too were chosen from the contemporary life with stresses, struggles and desires which the modern people could easily identify with. It was all very innovative work and required not only creative abilities but energy to handle the more managerial and mundane underpinnings of putting up a show.
Uzra Mumtaz had gone though the paces of many forms of dance like bharatnatyam, kathak, odyssi and was then fully involved in the experiments of Uday Shankar but the constant travelling proved to be backbreaking, got the better of her health and she had to drop out. She then joined the Indian Peoples Theatre Association (IPTA) in 1942 and started to perform on the streets of Bombay, where ordinary people were the audiences, sitting on the footpath outside their settlements and huts seeing the items of their everyday use like charpoys and bed sheets being used as sets and props. She performed Khawaja Ahmed Abbas's Zubaida in the Bhindi Bazaar Area which was a predominant Muslim locality of Bombay. The women of the area were particularly inspired and motivated by the production which depicted their backwardness, repression and poverty.
Khawaja Ahmed Abbas and Chetan Anand raised money for their productions from the audiences. The total cost was quite minimal and the effort too was to mount productions which were low cost and could be staged wherever for which the people were not supposed to pay.
IPTA due to lack of resources was not able to sustain any momentum in its productions. When it went broke, it had to stop work and sought avenues of raising money. It was during such a lull in their activity that Prithvi Raj Kapoor offered her a role in Shakuntala. Prithvi Raj then was associated with some English Theatre Company, a professional outfit that did well-known plays in established theatre halls. Seeking inspiration from that experience, he later set up the Prithvi Theatres. She was part of the Prithvi Theatres from 1942-1958. It had a repertoire of seven plays, the full week auteur, but if a play was appreciated it could be performed again. Her most impressive performance was in Dewar which ran to packed houses for weeks and was much applauded.
The actors and the rest were well-paid and the performances were in well-known halls but then Prithvi Raj lost his voice and was forced to set up a small theatre in the compound near his house in Juhu. Some plays were held there but it was much later that Shashi Kapoor, his youngest son, had a small theatre of two hundred seats built there. New plays were rehearsed and staged at a minimal ticket so as to be affordable to a larger number of people.
After her migration, she languished for decades before becoming part of the Ajoka team. Though many of the precious years from the point of view of acting were lost, she has been a regular performer and a source of inspiration to many. Her numerous performances and roles that she has done are well-known and properly documented. Her appearances may be becoming rarer but her zest for the performing arts remains just as much.