is yet another walkout... Usman
are made of these Pakistani
Censorshuda Ganay Vol: I & II: Various Artists
ask a number of questions on their album and in their own way, they also
provide an answer…
takes to shake fashion up is a great new idea and Nomi Ansari has a lot of
bright, vibrant ideas up his sleeve. Instep talks to the blazing young gun of
A look at Nomi and you
can tell that he is every inch a designer; surprising people every now and
then with his unique sense of dressing and the way he carries his look. For
the moment he seems inspired by Jamie Oliver, Nomi sports long blonde spikes,
his earlobes are studded with metal rings and his wrists cuffed in thick
leather bands. He usually wears a floral shirt, embroidered at times in
signature Nomi style, on his lanky frame. All of this makes him stand out,
but that is the idea.
Nomi features regularly
in social magazines often with any one or two or more of his many model
friends accompanying him on that night out. Ranging from Tooba to supermodel
Vinny, the girls swear by Nomi Ansari's talent. And models are very picky
when it comes to designers. After all, who knows the feel of a designer
outfit better than the woman who models them?
And Nomi Ansari has
that other great quality - he makes great copy. Be it print or waxing
eloquent on television, he has the chops that separate a
designer from a darzi. It is no wonder that Nomi Ansari is everywhere - he
may not have a retail outlet but he is 'out there' in every sense of the
term. In five short years, Nomi has carved a niche for himself in Pakistan's
Rewind five years in time; the fourth batch of PSFD came out
introducing a fresh crop of locally harvested fashion designers. There were
many names in that particular PSFD batch - Kamiyar Rokni and Maheen Kardar of
Karma, Hasan Sheheryar Yasin and Maria B - all of whom would go on to become
highly valued labels. What sets Nomi apart from his contemporaries is that he
went all the way up the ladder solo, that is without any financial backing
"I didn't have
anyone supporting me - and it feels better to be who you are solely with your
own efforts," he says. "I don't believe in investors, actually I
have never believed in them," hinting that there were a lot of people
who wanted to invest in his growing business but he always had a dream of
making it on his own. "I started with a very small budget and it just
grew and I am happy that I went on my own," he says with a meaningful
Nomi's start in the fashion world was with the right people
and at quite the right time. From being associated with names like Maheen,
Frieha Altaf and Tariq Amin right at the start of his career, Nomi ended up
in the right crowd and only someone who is in fashion can tell why is it so
important to have a start with people who matter. He did an internship with
ace designer Maheen, went on to teach fashion drawing at AIFD and coordinated
shoots for Mag for a period of six months. This was all training that has
contributed immensely to Nomi's success.
Nomi opened his own studio three years ago. Before that he
operated from a workshop, which he started in 2001 (right after he
graduated), studio came as an extension of the workshop and then he ventured
into high street shops which stock designer labels. Nomi is smart with his
approach towards fashion, which he definitely treats as business; he knows
what would sell in the local market and he provides just that. Most of his
work is through orders - just like any other designer but at the same time,
he understands the importance of retail, prêt clothing and the high street
availability of a designer brand. He thinks business almost as much as thinks
fashion and that has worked
amazingly well for this young designer.
Via these outlets Nomi Ansari has one foot in Karachi and the
other in Lahore, stocking both at Labels and The Designers - the only two
stores that offer space to fashion labels. And if he had two more feet, one
of them is in Dubai and the other across the border in Delhi. That is what
one calls expansion, Nomi Ansari is already available in three countries!
After striking a deal with Kimaya - India-based chain of
stores stocking designer labels from India, Bangladesh and now Pakistan -
Nomi first started stocking in Kimaya, Dubai and then in Kimaya and Ayamik,
Delhi - which is his latest venture. That is a smart way of reaching out to
the masses locally and internationally, taking your designs right to the
streets. If you don't have enough budgets to open your own store, start
spreading your clothing lines to fashion stores. That being said, Nomi
certainly has a well thought out strategy for his business ahead, which
includes opening his own stores not just locally but internationally as well.
As a designer, Nomi he is excited about his opening in Delhi,
just as much as he was when he went to The Designers in Lahore or his first
effort to stock in Labels, Karachi. Nomi is extremely realistic about his
plans for expansion
and that is a positive sign for any designer. "It started from Dubai, I
was offered to come and stock in Dubai, when I was introduced to Pradeep and
Neha Hirani, the owners of Kimaya, by Andaleeb Rana," says Nomi.
"After that, they were very keen on stocking my label in Delhi as well,
which I did in Kimaya and now I also stock luxury prêt in the newly opened
Ayamik," he adds.
To Nomi, the idea of stocking at stores is an important one.
He thinks that these outlets make inroads for most designers to the retail
market. And that accessibility to the retail market is vital in Nomi's eyes,
"Everything leads to mass retail, all designers labels all over the
world follow the same strategy and that is why prêt is so important,"
says the designer who is well aware of the market shifts in fashion. When
asked what is he doing to cater to that huge segment of the market, he
unveils his plans of opening an exclusively prêt outlet, "Hopefully by
the beginning of next year, I should be able to open my own outlet and it
would just be about prêt clothing," says the designer whose definition
of prêt clothing includes embellished garments - which he specializes in.
"It's not that
embellished pieces are not prêt. They should not be very heavy or shaadi
wear. Prêt is good off the rack clothing that you can wear during the day,
anytime, occasion or no occasion," he adds.
Another aspect that
Nomi emphasizes on is the move away from traditional clothing to enter prêt,
"Prêt is not about designing dresses or western clothing, it should not
be only about western clothes. The idea is of separates of what we wear. This
is why I have always experimented with shalwar kameezes and came up with my
versions of it. We have to remember that we can only sell what we wear in the
local market," Nomi explains his theory of ready to wear clothing.
Nomi has capitalized on
the market which is looking for good quality designer wear, embellishments
are a part and parcel of Nomi's clothing lines - which are primarily
traditional - his USP is the cuts and use of colour and funk in his clothes.
His clothes are daring, even if they are veiled in traditional
Having said that, Nomi has been equally experimental with
western clothing. If he is known to revive Patiala shalwars (which became
quite a rage in the past couple of years) he can also be credited for coming
up with stunning western clothing. And he has shown his creative fling with
dresses in many adverts and shows. Take the segment of the first Lux Style
Awards as an example and his recent stint with Lux where he dressed Vinny,
Aaminah Haq, Iman Ali and Meera - the Lux girls - for the fifty year
celebration of the brand. Be it his dress for Frieha Altaf at Jazz Awards or
the lime one for Vinny, Nomi has that east and west balance going on in his
work that would make any of his outfits stand out on the most glamourous red
It is clear that he
loves to design both, "I want to do good work regardless of designing
western or eastern outfits. Both excite me as long as I am satisfied with
them," Nomi says.
Keeping the idea of
spreading out to the masses in mind, Nomi has done several assignments apart
from working on his clothing lines and taking them to high street stores. He
designed for Vinny's V9 lawn line and before that, he had designed clothes
for Gul Ahmed fabrics. He links this idea to exports, which Nomi feels are
the road to progress for a designer and the industry as a whole, "We
need Pakistani labels to be seen at Harrods and Saks. I would love to export
abroad to big fashion stores under my label. Sadly, EPB has never helped me
with exports, it needs to start assisting young designers," complains
Nomi. Now the idea of exports and international buying with Pakistan Fashion
Week has been reinforced by IMG tying up with the Jang Group and Geo to do a world class event in Pakistan.
looking forward to showing my pret collection. It will be a Pakistani line
for international buyers. That doesn't mean shalwar kameez but I will
incorporate Pakistani tradition into contemporary clothing," says Nomi
excitedly. What started as
one council talk has given birth to two bodies, Fashion Pakistan which
operates from Karachi under Maheen's supervision and Pakistan Fashion Design
Council (PFDC) from Lahore under Hasan Shehryar Yasin. Nomi, since the
formation of the two, has been quite controversial figure between the two
councils. His fall out with Maheen while working there might have been a
strong reason from preventing him to join the Karachi based council. He took
a long time in making a choice between the two and has tentatively decided to
go with PFDC. That is understandable. Because of the shared PSFD history, his
loyalties remain with designers like HSY, Maria B and Kamiyar Rokni. "I
feel that one must be with people who they are comfortable with. I also feel
that PFDC suits me better," says Nomi but stresses that he hasn't joined
either council yet.
Nomi has also been
nominated for the Lux Style Awards for the fourth time, this time his name is
in the Couture Designer category and he is excited, "I am very happy.
They nominate me each time and every time I get happy," he says with a
smile. There has been much brouhaha about the Lux Style Awards about
impartiality but Nomi has no such complains, "I am very positive, I
think it's the biggest event of the year and everyone wants to be a part of
it." Nomi can be accused of many things, but being a spoilsport isn't
one of them. He realises he is in a competitive business and is ready,
willing and able to play ball – people who know they have it in them to win
never shirk from playing the game.
Following the footsteps of...
Nadya Mistry may never have made headlines for her design sensibility but she has made news with her dramatic walk out from Fashion Pakistan (the 'Karachi Council'). She has a retail outlet and the will to spring board on the international arena via Pakistan Fashion Week. Instep probes...
Instep: Why have you decided to withdraw membership from Fashion Pakistan?
Nadya Mistry: I never joined them in the first place. As far as I know, nobody has joined the council except for the directors and a few of their friends. I was asked to join and was given the memorandum and was asked to pay.
Instep: How much did you pay?
NM: I have not paid anything.
Instep: But you were inclined to. What caused the sudden change?
NM: When I got back from India I was being asked to join over and over again. When I read the memorandum I discovered that this is not a council they have started, not a non-profit body but it's a company in the true sense of the world. I read the clauses which were perfect but for a private limited corporation. It was started as a business, to make money and will have nothing to do with an association promoting people. The directors are acting on a personal, not national level.
Instep: What you're implying is that seven very credible designers, who are the founding members, are willing to put their reputation at risk to make a little money through the council.
NM: Yes, that seems the case. That's why one starts a business isn't it. Read the memorandum – the entire premise of it is wrong. These founding members are actually owners, or directors of the company. They can take loans against it; they can travel and pay their bills with this money. We are the ones funding it so what are we getting in return? And it's not a little money. Other than the membership fee, they are asking for two hundred thousand rupees to show at Fashion Week and they are also asking the event managers for money. Do the math – that's a huge sum.
Instep: They obviously need these funds to set up an operative infrastructure. Don't you think these funds are required to serve that purpose? Shouldn't you trust them?
NM: There cannot be any trust, you see. They are all designers. What makes you think that they're going to look out for us and/or give us opportunity. The other designers are not going to be promoted. Let me give you an example. Many of us were taken to the PM House for the AHAN project. One by one we were all cut off from the deal which was entirely dominated by most of the founding members. I was even told by a certain member that he wouldn't work on the project if I were part of it. Then executive body meetings were called without calling us. How can these people be trusted? When I complained and called for a meeting to discuss these issues, the company secretary misbehaved and I hung up. I was told that they didn't have time for all this.
Instep: How have other Fashion Pakistan members reacted to this?
NM: They are all concerned. Why do you think they aren't joining? What's taking them so long? They all have doubts about the credibility of the council. The founding members cannot be active designers. It's a conflict of interest. They have to be neutral. Elections cannot happen now. The board has established itself for three years. I know at least 30 designers who are not joining.
Instep: Didn't your fall out also involve a "tailor" problem?
NM: That wasn't the main issue. I was upset about it. I mean how could they do this to me when I was in need of their help?
Instep: Don't you think this issue was too trivial and petty to be blown out of proportion?
NM: No it wasn't trivial, especially as it was one of the issues discussed in the preliminary meeting. That's my point. Maheen made it very clear that issues with tailors, embroiderers and workers would be discussed and solved by the council. That included wages and tailors leaving one designer for another. Maheen quoted how she had suffered because of these situations and that they needed to be controlled. For a director to take my tailor after this was a breach of trust. I'm not saying the tailor could not take up a better opportunity but that designer should have simply given me a call for my clearance. It required a simple ethic. There was a way to do it. It's the principle I'm fighting for. My tailor was offered a job as a designer, stolen from me, after I had spent so much time training him. The workers need to be controlled and this is one thing you expect from a council. Now how can I be trust these directors to work in my interest? These are practical problems and I was made a complete fool of.
Instep: So will you be joining PFDC now?
NM: No I'm not interested. And I won't even be approached since I've been vocal against them too. I'll be working as an independent designer.
Instep: Do you think that'll benefit you when Fashion Week happens?
NM: Sure, why not. There are many designers who have decided to operate on an independent basis. And IMG will judge us for what we're worth, not for joining a council. What do they care about the politics? These councils have no credibility; no history of performance. Fashion councils are primarily meant to facilitate the growth of new designers anyway. I see no purpose in joining them; Fashion Week can't be the reason to join a council. And we should not be asked to join at gunpoint.
Usman Dittu, a qualified fashion designer and an accomplished teacher stood with Fashion Pakistan (Karachi fashion council) since its inception. But now as fashion week seems to be getting closer, Usman Dittu has withdrawn from this council. Instep spoke to the designer to find out why he suddenly decided to pull out of a council that involves some of the biggest names of the fashion industry…
Instep: Is it true that you have withdrawn from Fashion Pakistan?
Usman Dittu: I had never joined it in the first place. I was going to but a lot has happened and I felt that I could not be a part of it.
Instep: Why did you change your mind?
UD: I read the memorandum for FP and it was for a private limited company with directors. A company aims for profits, benefits for its directors. To call it a council is wrong because a council isn't about a few people and what they can accomplish through it. It is about the rights of all the members involved. My first issue came with transparency of accounts. The founding members told me, along with many others, that once you become a member and obtain a membership card, you can take a look at the books (accounts). However, in the memo it was stated that all seven directors had to be present in order for one member to take a look. Two of the seven directors (Nilofer Shahid and Honey Waqar) reside in Lahore. Even if they fly down, a written application has to be filed by a member before he can take a look.
Secondly, if one of the seven members for any reason was not working towards the common goal, he or she cannot be disqualified for minimum three years. If one third of the directors feel that he should stay, he will and none of the other members can do anything.
Thirdly, according to the memorandum, all directors, if traveling abroad have a right to the company account. That means, the council will pay their ticketing, lodging, traveling and any other expense that they incur. There is nothing wrong with it but there has to be a limit. They can spend a million dollars and again, no one can say anything.
Moreover, executive members had no role to play. We were told one thing and something else was happening. This was a mockery.
Instep: Did you talk to them about your problems?
UD: Every time, the council called in a meeting, I would be there. I was there since the beginning. But the one time I wanted to clear out the issues and call a meeting, it was refused. Not just that, I was being ignored.
Instep: You're talking about some of the biggest designers of this country. Who exactly is 'making money' through FP?
UD: I cannot take anyone person's name because I am not sure who is doing what and how. I am kept out of the loop alongside others. All I can tell you is that this council is fraud. No one can be disqualified, no limit on expense accounts. This council was about helping new designers and promoting them. It seems to be doing other things.
Instep: Do you agree with Nadya Mistry's statement that the council is about seven directors and profits that they will make?
UD: Again, a company and a council are not the same thing. Instead of helping fashion grow, this council is a total mockery. It is about their own gains.
Instep: Does this mean you're considering joining PFDC?
UD: No, I'm really not. They don't have a Memorandum of Association yet. Once they do, I'm pretty sure similar things will happen over there.
Instep: What are the main problems that new designers face these days?
UD: If they are coming from schools, they need at least 1-3 years to create that balance between experimentation and market demands. They learn how to improve with time. Problems come with designers who do not have any qualifications. They sometimes cheat others, they don't know how exactly is it that they can improve and learn trends of the market because they were never taught otherwise.
Instep: What is your take on the upcoming Fashion Week?
UD: Fashion Week is a huge money game that FP wants to play. I have met with IMG officials. They are interested in doing Fashion Week with designers, not councils.
I have already started working on a western line for Fashion Week – jackets, skirts, and dresses – it'll be ready to wear.
Instep: Do you also plan to go into retail?
UD: There was a time in the '90s when demand for boutiques went down. People started working from home and exclusivity was the goal. Now the demand for retail is back. People want to go to stores and buy ready to wear. So yes, I do want to venture into it.
Instep: What are you upto these days?
UD: I've moved into my new studio. I've just come back from Delhi. Apart from a range of lines for the fashion week, I'm also designing Bridal Wear.
--Usman Dittu was
talking to Maheen Sabeeh
There are very few facts in this world. One of them is that a guitar player riffing with his friends in his basement in a palatial house in Clifton is definitely decidedly not part of an "Underground" band or scene.
The other fact in this world of few undisputed facts is that the word "Underground" is not only a cliché but actually a misnomer in Pakistan. It's a term that is overused and incorrectly done so.
Underground music is music that is commercially unviable, has a cult following and very little visibility. Some of today's mainstream music like punk rock and grunge were once described as "underground" music. But change in public tastes created acceptance for these marginalised forms of music and they became legitimate genres over time.
In a way that's what underground music is, a description that is a temporary shelter for certain types of music until a word is coined to define the emerging genre.
But each time I hear a band describe themselves as "underground", I cringe. What they really mean is that they are unsigned, don't have videos or much in the way of popularity.
Plus there is a very close link between being "underground" in the real sense of the word and being anti-corporate. The reasons being underground and anti-corporate overlap is because bands that are pushing the boundaries of accepted sounds are not playing by the rules of convention, and that is something the marketplace rarely rewards. But these bands aren't concerned by that and continue with their music.
Most of the bands I know who like to think of themselves as "underground" actually are in it for mass popularity, critical kudos and money. They may be singing mainstream rock, pop-rock or even chorus friendly radio rock (all of which are the tamest forms of the genre), but see no contradiction in the description they give themselves.
Since we are talking about clichés, one of my favourite ones is "The road to hell is paved with good intentions". Well that means NFP is going to hell because he coined the word "underground" in Pakistan.
I still remember the early articles he came out with that so persuasive they spawned a whole movement that began to organise itself (that's testimony to the power of gifted writing). What's more, a feeling of disenchantment was created on the existing aesthetics of the pop scene in Pakistan. The sounds that were emerging then mimicked the rawness of grunge and the attitude of punk.
Unfortunately the reason NFP lent his active interest in the "underground" movement was also to spawn a generation of politically conscious songwriters, and that part seemed to escape the logic of the underground scene. It became a reason for bands to organise and actually become more of a DIY (do it yourself) movement. DIY is a philosophy that undercuts the whole chain of commercial music distribution and business, which bands like Corduroy have already done in Pakistan by releasing their own album themselves and organising small concerts.
Plus, some bands of that era also became afraid of the political overtones the movement had and sought to clarify that they didn't have the same politics as NFP who was pushing the movement in the press. By denying that, the movement had no legs to stand on because musically they were not pushing the envelope (they played music that was familiar alternative rock), the only true ground to be underground was to develop a genre that didn't exist, which in Pakistan would have been politically conscious music.
But, whatever the reasons, we can let by-gones be by-gones. And to the word underground – be gone!
in the jeans
One quintessential thing for any boy or girl these days is to have that right pair of jeans. It may seem like an easy task but it's not. Even in jeans, trends tend to change so quick that you've barely got your old pair into the 'most wanted, well worn, distressed look' and you have to go buy another shape. Well that's the price you pay for being fashionable. These days, darker shades in straight denims are in for the ladies and embroidery, rhinestones, sequins and colour patches and stitches are an essential addition to this item. For guys, loose-fit jeans with big pockets and the faded look are 'in' trend. This season, like everything else Black is a hot favourite even in jeans. But it should also be remembered that pairing your favourite jeans with the right top is a must. Colours like gray, olive, blue and white compliment dark shaded jeans. Denim jackets also make for a fabulous match with a dark coloured tee, thanks to rock 'n' roll influence making a comeback. For a funky mix, top jeans with graphic and tattoo-like art on tees. Good pair of jeans can be found anywhere from Zainab Market to Sunday Bazaar, Levi's and Wrangler. Mantra is always a good choice for finding the right kind of t-shirts, tunics and tops.
It's show time!
Commercials, fashion shows, music videos and image consultancy for the prestigious Lux Style Awards – Nabila has done it all. Instep talks to this style diva to find out what she's been doing these days...
By Maheen Sabeeh
2006 marks the third time the Lux Style Awards have roped Nabila in as creative stylist. This time she is responsible not only for the looks of the stars but also for the styling of the segments. It's a bigger platform to work on and as Tariq Amin steps out of the LSA loop, she has no real competition. Twenty years into the business, Nabila is an icon in herself – a diva who in fact has more star power than most of the celebrities she serves. And with Pakistan's A-class superstars on her client list – actors, actresses, musicians, cricketers, vjs and models included – that is no small feat. Nabila's success lies not only in professional excellence and hard work but also her addiction to perfection; she believes that the image she gives her clients must always be as meticulous as her own. Professional to the peak, she takes her job personally.
With the addition of Zinc and Nail Express, Nabila's empire has expanded. And with this expansion, one notices a change in her outlook. There is almost an acceptance of everything she has always lashed out against, the overindulgence in culture and tradition especially. She may still not condone it, but she is definitely more open to working with it. Which is a good thing. When someone like Nabila recognizes the potential Pakistan's entertainment industry has and helps build it up instead of cutting it down to size, she becomes a stronger force to reckon with.
Instep caught up with Nabila to find out she planned the mammoth LSA event last night and what she has been doing these days...
Instep: You came up with the idea of giving celebrities a cultivated style for LSA. How did it begin and why is it important?
Nabila: It happened about 3 years ago when I participated in the LSAs for the first time. Unilever wanted me to do a segment for them but I put my foot down. I couldn't separate my segment from others. On television, how could one tell what I had done and what others had done and I did not want to endorse someone else's bad taste. I asked for exclusivity and told them that I'd handle the whole thing no matter how hard it was. Between my Karachi and Lahore team, I had an army of people who are trained to make it happen. It was a very big challenge and I said that I wouldn't just do hair and make up.
Instep: Why not?
Nabila: I can do drop dead gorgeous hair and make up but if people are wearing the wrong clothes, wrong jewelry and the wrong shoes, then the hair and make up can't work on their own. The style goes head to toe. I would rather be responsible for the entire look. It was a very far fetched idea at that point because it seemed unmanageable. But I told Unilever that this is how it is done in the west. Celebrities and stars go to designers. It's good publicity for the designers, the red carpet exposes who's wearing whom and one gets a lot of backstage publicity. I'm quite flattered to see now that everybody is doing the red carpet now. I'm sure nobody remembers but thank you for asking and remembering that this was my idea.
Instep: How does it work between you, a designer and a celebrity? Do you pick out designers for a particular person or do the stars do it?
Nabila: It's almost like planning your daughter's wedding. You have to know what she wants, know what the occasion is. You have to go to the right designer and get their input and get make all the involved parties happy within your budget. Imagine I had 280 brides! What we do is firstly look at a designer's portfolio. We look at his/her work, interests, and style of designing. We ask a celebrity if he/she has any preferences. If she is flexible, I'll go back to the designer and tell him or her that this celebrity wants to wear your clothes or I'll give the star other choices and whichever designer she picks, I'll coordinate with them. We have a pool of designers who are keen on working with us. And that includes everyone from your top tier to the struggling and upcoming designers. I want to promote anyone who is showing the right design and enthusiasm. It's not about labels only.
Instep: How is this 'image consultancy' different since this is Lux's 50th year and the fifth year for the Lux Style Awards?
Nabila: I'm just a part of the team. The briefing comes from Unilever. One hopes that the awards will be smoother than last year because every year has been progressively better than the previous. This year is going to be more glamorous, festive, grand and formal. Last year was more MTV. This year, it's more like the Oscars. It will be much more regal and grand. Designers like Sana Safinaz, Sonya Battla, HSY, Karma, Nomi Ansari and Tazeen Hasan all are on our list. Maheen is not in town but I'm sure when she gets back, I'll grab her for something.
There are also new names that we are involving like Maheen Karim, Arshad Tareen, a few people from the Karachi fashion school (AIFD) as well as Lahore. There are a lot of new portfolios that I'm getting.
Instep: Have there been problems with you being incharge?
Nabila: The reason that all these designers are comfortable working with me for the third time is because I don't come across as a dictator. If you ask me to stitch something, I won't be able to. I've got aesthetics but I'm not a designer. I just sit with them and say what do you suggest and this is the girl and she would like to look like this. I give my suggestions but it's mainly teamwork.
We've got Amna from Arts and Gems who is amazing and has been the jewelry designer for LSA for the past four years. I'm talking about diamonds, pearls and platinum. Each piece is crafted to go with a particular person's outfit. Last year, Vinny was wearing red so we made her a big gorgeous ruby with a white pearl rock. My job is to mediate between the designer and the star.
Instep: IMG will do a fashion week later this year. How do you feel about them coming in?
Nabila: Well, I'll be very happy to see it. I've been hearing about it for at least 12 years now. A couple of years ago, Maheen called me up and she asked me how stylists come in. I told her she'll be very lucky if she could get 10 designers in her council and not have them bitch each other out. This is a very bitchy industry and people have egos bigger than their portfolios. And I think it's a huge challenge that we've taken on. We've already seen a breach between Lahore and Karachi so I hope that these designers can get off their high horses and work as a team and keep the bigger picture in mind. I wish them well as I know it's going to be a rough ride.
Instep: What challenge do you think the fashion industry will face when it comes to doing a fashion week?
Nabila: I met the IMG team and I had a good chat with Simon (IMG-Asia Pacific Head) and I asked him, how he was going to teach these designers aesthetics? I don't mean it in a bad way. If I want to buy a nice white shirt I would either go to Sunday Bazaar or take a flight and go somewhere else to buy it because I don't know anyone here who can do a beautiful nice white cotton shirt and that's the simplest it can get or a lovely stylish black dress with the right kind of finish.
We're into costumes and museum kind of work. For me it doesn't work. I don't have time for nostalgia. Even our trained designers have started doing shaadi clothes. I would ask the fashion council where I could buy a white shirt? Maybe if one of the members can make me a beautiful white shirt, which I enjoyed wearing, than hats off to them.
Nabila: I just found out that I've been nominated. The only thing I felt bad about was that I've been doing so much work that I never got time to put together my portfolio but I guess they've changed the judging system. I've participated twice and I've won both times. I feel good that I've won but I'm not really proud of it. I mean, look at the people I've won against. It's no competition. It's not fun playing unless you have real players in the field. In fact, my suggestion this year to them is to make sure that dragons can't win i.e. Nabila or Ather Shahzad. Give the chance to newcomers. There are only a few people like Ather Shahzad, Tariq Amin and Saima. I think it's not fair that I compete with them or they compete with me. I'm in a league of my own so I should be left out and not compete with them. That's my point.
Nabila: I don't know why Tariq pulled out but he must have his reasons. I don't think he was nominated last year either. I haven't seen much from Tariq apart from doing a few music videos and hair and make up for fashion shows organized by Frieha Altaf. It's not like there isn't competition. Ather Shahzad, Khawar Riaz – they are good too.
Nabila: I think it's a very noble thing that Unilever has done. They could've easily made four commercials out of this budget and could've sold their soap. But what they're doing is building a brand to give the fashion and the media industry a platform and if I can help them achieve that goal in a small way, I'll be happy. I had to fight in the dark but the presence of LSAs will give new comers a chance.
Nabila: You probably won't believe it but I have no clue as to who won, who was nominated. I didn't even go last year because I have been so engrossed in delivering the work I've taken on.
Nabila: It wasn't easy but we had to get the mood right. It was very important for each of them to trust me and believe that I was going to do my best for each one of them without any bias. At the end of the day I wanted to look good, therefore I needed all of them to look good which they did. It was challenging but I had a lot of fun because I enjoyed the process. The ad came out very well. There was glamour, fun, style and an understated elegance that we wanted to show.
Nabila: I feel Immu is the brain behind Fuzon and I feel bad about the fact that his voice hasn't been heard. He's a very humble, behind-the-scene person and wouldn't aggressively push himself. He is the sound engineer and music producer for the band. I've worked with him over some projects and he's a magician. What I can do for image, he can do for sound. What we're working on now is a project called Emix. It is going to be a company, which is going to pick up singers at random and mix them in a very funky way. They can be from abroad or here, established as well as new comers.
Nabila: The idea and genius is all Immu. I will do the makeover of the involved artist. It's really exciting. I'm looking forward to it.
Nabila: The devil wears Prada!
Pakistani Censorshuda Ganay Vol: I & II: Various Artists
Forget the 'various artists' bit. They are various enough to take care of themselves. In fact enough to turn this volatile series of albums into becoming this year's biggest sellers in places like Peshawar, Quetta, Faisalabad and much of what is called Interior Sindh. Yes, you read it right. Not only are they huge in MMA lands, but that is where they originated from as well.
Yup! Contradictions galore in this land of the pure. But also let me tell you, ironically, such blatant "fahashi" seems to be the only thing left to stand up tall against the lingering ghosts of Zia's reactionary legacy. Because since the liberals are too busy creating their own lil' Beverly Hills in music rooms and celebrating the glorious arrival of McDonalds and KFC, it seems the only way left to distract the mullah brigade is to short–circuit their over active moral antennas into shocked submission.
The above is exactly what these two volumes have managed to do. I am sure their huge sales in the NWFP and Balochistan must certainly have created great doubts about the longevity of the mullah brigade's electoral popularity in the said provinces. Let's hope so.
People are grooving on voluptuous songs like 'Dudh Pee Lay Zalma' (drink the milk, you teaser!), and 'Main Apnee Bootie Aap Lagawaan Gi' (I'll plant my own plant).
These are songs, which the censors chopped out from such delightful sounding Punjabi and Pashtun films like Ghunda Tax, Kala Gujar, Sultan Daku and from films that were not allowed a release at all.
And I tell you, if you are able to keep away some of your refined, restrained (and repressed?) bourgeoisie habits and morals aside for a while, these albums can then be a hell of a listen. In fact, they kick ass! (Sometimes rather literally).
I like to think of them as speed–metal/thrash equivalents of Punjabi film music. Actually, this is exactly the sort of in–your–face and piss–off attitude missing in our so–called "underground rock scene." Because regarding all the bans the mullahs love to impose, and all that pretentious and amoral leakage much of our music scene is awkwardly riddled with, these albums are like saying, "if you can't join them, piss them off!"
The music is upfront, minimalist full of roughed up glitz and that '70s type over made, soft porn glam. Moreover, so are the lyrics. Purely primordial. Second degree porn meant to communicate third degree 'love'.
*ing: Bipasha Basu, Kay Kay Menon, Rajat Kapoor and Raj Babbar
Directed by Madhur Bhandarkar
Corporate is an intelligent film that explores executive relationships in a corporate world. It throws light on business giants who practically live in a corporate board game where their employees serve as mere pawns. Deals are made and smashed by the minute, whether by hook, crook or luck. It reflects upon the machinery that binds together the government and politicians, conglomerates, foreign investors, business tycoons and their families. As an Indian interpretation, it predictably throws in a romance, a couple of scandals, makes a sacrificial cow of the heroine and of course, has the requisite bad guys.
The first half of the film is boring. In taking up this theme, Madhur Bhandarkar overindulges in corporate jargon and in turn drastically reduces the entertainment value of the film. Initially Corporate seems more like a business marketing class rather than a commercial feature film. While it's refreshing to see storylines in Bollywood expanding their horizons and taking up new themes, it seems the writer of Corporate has too much information to play with and he doesn't know where to stop. Introductions to the Sehgal and Marwah empires are made with an inundation of corporate detail that serves no practical purpose. One doesn't really need to know the business lingo it painstakingly defines, to understand the story
Despite the film revolving around the two businessmen and their battles, Bhandarkar follows his self–set tradition of having a woman in the leading role (Page 3, Chandni Bar, Satta). Corporate then gradually becomes the story of Nishigandha Das Gupta, played by a gorgeous Bipasha Basu, who as vice president of SGI and betrothed of the senior vice president, gets caught between the firing. She is shown as a cut throat executive who'll go to any length to get her company a deal (except sleeping with the enemy as a Hindi film heroine her morals are always in place and she'll only sleep with the man she loves which is now an acceptable phenomena), until she sudden shifts gear and sacrifices all her principles for her lover who also happens to be Vinay Sehgal's brother–in–law. Confusing? Not at all. As the smartly dressed impressive woman turns into a pregnant, shabbily dressed convict, Corporate too turns into a run–of–the–mill Hindi formula flick.
In the second half of the film, the story picks up when the corporate deals build up towards their climaxes and it's interesting to see the corruption that seeps in, overriding ethics to the extent of releasing a soft drink that is laden with pesticides and declared unfit for human consumption by the FDA. The FDA is bribed, the cola released into the market and when the protests start mounting, Vinay Sehgal convinces Nishi to take the blame. She goes to jail leaving behind a whimpering and guilty but powerless boyfriend and the corporate games begin all over again. The story would have been more powerful had Nishi not been overridden by emotions, volunteering to give up her life. With the character she had been given, it would have been more realistic had she too been 'tricked' into the scam like everyone else. Page 3 would have lost all impact had Madhavi Sharma (Konkona Sen) voluntarily withdrawn her pivotal article.
Corporate follows a formula that Madhur Bhandarkar has chalked out as his own. As Page 3 explored the unglamorous face of high society that included homosexuality, immorality and even pedophile, Corporate looks at the business society with the same critical eyes. All successful men are cut throat devils in disguise and all women are branded as either 'public' or 'private' commodities. As a group of drivers continuously passed judgement on their bosses in Page 3, similarly the peons in the corporate offices keep interjecting this film with comments on their superiors. It's a clear demarcation between the lower and upper classes. The protagonist, in this case Bipasha, somehow comes across a representative of the middle class and it's the middle class that always suffers most.
Performances are good and the direction is certainly crisp. The only problem with the film is getting past the first half of it.
--Aamna Haider Isani
How far will Shahrukh go for a buck?
The difference between Shahrukh and Aamir isn't merely the difference of titles. King Khan has proved time and time again that his motives in Bollywood are extremely commercial whereas Aamir has proved himself a conscientious part of society – he's taken up the activist role in movies like Lagaan, Mangal Pandey and Rang De Basanti and is now actively engaging in a cause for the Narmada Dam displacement victims. Compared to that, SRK seems to be playing on a weak wicket. Not only is he playing the defendant in the cola wars but he has added fuel to fire by suggesting that these days pesticides are found in even mother's milk. Reportedly a group of about two dozen activists in Bhopal went on a rampage in a Madhya Pradesh town, demanding a ban on the screening of the Shahrukh Khan starrer Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna till the superstar apologised for endorsing the pesticide laden colas. The activists gathered near a cinema in Indore and tore posters of KANK. Police arrived soon and prevented their entry into the cinema hall but the protestors threatened not to allow the film to be screened if he fails to apologise. So Shahrukh, you may have enjoyed the crown for a long time but it's going to take a 'rising' of some sort for you to get back a lot of your adoring fans
Sushmita Sen in top Gere
Standing true to her Miss Universe title, Sushmita Sen seems bent upon proving that her crown stands for beauty as well as talent and Aishwarya Rai's enthusiasm for working in Hollywood has rubbed off on Sush as well. After having worked with Hollywood stars Naomi Campbell and Drena De Niro on her upcoming film Karma, Confessions and Holi, it was recently reported that she has signed up for a film with Richard Gere. The Miramax production called The Expat will be directed by US based film maker Sutapa Ghosh, shot in Argentina and Sush would be portraying an Indian immigrant in this film. The beauty is waiting to fully recover from a recent on–location neck injury to start shooting as her doctor has advised her a three month bed rest. It must be mentioned here that Sush is quite jinxed on the sets – she passed out when a huge overhead light fell on her head on the sets of Filhaal and her hair got caught in a fan while shooting for It Was Raining That Night. She was bedridden for a month then. And so here goes a silent prayer for Richard Gere and the producers of The Expat…
Brian Lara debuts in Bollywood
Producer Viveck Vaswami has reportedly signed up Brian Lara for his upcoming twelve million dollar film, Dulha Mil Gaya. The West Indian cricketer will be making his film debut in Bollywood and the film also promises to star Sachin Tendulkar as well as Sushmita Sen. Says a source, "The reason why Vaswani is shooting in West Indies is because he has been asked to promote the locales there through his movie, and the investors are from the Trinidad and Tobago embassy itself. Hence, it has been easy getting in Lara for the project, but it is unlikely that he will speak in Hindi." The cricketer was also in Mumbai recently to walk the ramp for designer Deepika Gehani (shown in picture). Well, well – that means more cricketers in the glamorous world of Bollywood as well as Bollywood going more global. The film's titile – Dulha Mil Gaya – may not sound like a winner but if it gets the right publicity (it's slated for release in March 2007 to coincide with the ICC World Cup hype in West Indies) it'll be a well struck deal.
Does Tom's mission seem impossible?
Tom Cruise's 14 year relationship with Paramount Pictures has come to an end following disappointing results of Mission Impossible III. The corporation claimed that Cruise's behaviour in this last one year had easily shaved 100 to 150 million dollars from the film's profits. And though Paramount has been benefiting tremendously from Tom's blockbusters for the past 14 years (around 3 billion to be exact), they decided that the ten million dollars being paid to him as retainer were too much considering his current fading popularity. Sumner Redstone, chairman of Paramount parent Viacom Inc, said Cruise's recent behavior, such as jumping on Oprah Winfrey's couch and aggressively advocating Scientology, was "creative suicide." Tom has retaliated by saying that Cruise/Wagner has 100 million dollars in private funds that can easily be boosted to 300 million. That's enough for him to continue with his film projects. But it'll take him more than money to profit from these ventures, especially since he's lost a huge fan base. Is this the real Mission Impossible?
Angelina Jolie goes to India
A mixed cast is being roped in for the production of Michael Winterbottom's A Mighty Heart, the film adaptation of the book. Angelina will be playing the role of Mariane Pearl, wife of Daniel Pearl whose story the book reveals. Aly Khan, a small time actor based in England (last seen in Meera's Nazar and currently on TV series Sharpe's Challenge and The Bill) will join her in the lead cast along with Irrfan Khan who will be seen in role of an investigating officer. The film was to be shot in Pakistan and the crew was in Karachi a couple of months ago but since Irrfan Khan has been supposedly been denied a visa, the location has been shifted to India - the country with the much 'softer' image. Our loss is India's gain. When will we learn?
The second coming of Rushk
Instep takes an inside look at Rushk – the brainchild of Uns Mufti and Ziyyad Gulzar and explores what makes these musicians tick
In a white collared shirt and black pants, Ziyyad Gulzar sits comfortably opposite Uns Mufti, who looks like a schoolboy in a light blue shirt and dark denims. Uns is at his computer that comes with keyboards and is surrounded by small Asian artifacts. The room is crammed with amplifiers and electronic gadgets. A black electric guitar stands still next to a colossal rack filled with CDs and music magazines. Welcome to the Rola office, the media facility of Uns Mufti. "We are not a label," yells Uns Mufti stroking his chin. Ziyyad looks at Uns with a quizzical look and wonders out loud, "So, what is Rola?"
"Rola is a multimedia project where anything from audio to visual to web development is done for various clients," answers Uns, stretching his legs and yawning as he speaks. Together, these two men form Rushk. Talk about opposites attracting...
Rushk came into being in 2001 when Ziyyad Gulzar and Uns Mufti decided to do a musical project together. In 2003, after recording their solo offering Sawal, Rushk went to all major record labels in Pakistan but none agreed to release it. Sawal was categorised as incomprehensible music with no potential to sell. It was released in India through BMG Crescendo but at that point as Uns puts it, "Pop music was being killed in India by Bollywood music."
Sawal was released on cassettes only in Pakistan back then but gained a cult following because it was available for download from some prominent e-zines. Now Rushk have once again taken the plunge in the local music market and have re-released their debut Sawal…
Uns Mufti and Ziyyad Gulzar are as different as chalk and cheese. Where Ziyyad is about balance, Uns is about achieving the impossible. But the binding force for these two men is their mothership – Rushk. For Uns and Ziyyad, Rushk is freedom. It is their playground and keyboards, guitars and a mélange of instruments are their toys. Passion for music connects two absolutely diverse personalities. Their goal it seems is to impress each other, rather than anyone else.
Most of the alternately heart wrenching, sarcastic and morbid word play comes from Uns Mufti. Rushk confess bluntly that they do have disagreements but it is easy for them to get past them. "Yeh (Ziyyad) mujh se editing karwata hai," laughs Uns.
But things haven't been easy. The lead vocalist on Sawal is a friend of theirs who doesn't reside in Pakistan. The two videos they did release were banned on local music channels and they don't have a single live public concert to their name. In ruffled hair that falls all the way down to his neck, Uns takes a long hard drag on a cigarette, cleans the air and says, "Nazia is a friend who is a classically trained vocalist. She lives in the U.A.E and keeps on coming and going. She was brought in to sing on the album. We may get her to sing on the next album." And Ziyyad adds, "Our videos were not banned. Someone from the channels saw it and felt that it should not get airplay. Now, our old videos will get airtime on upcoming new channels."
Rushk's reluctance in doing a concert is understandable. After all, the electronic sound of the album will not be easy to pull off, not to mention the vocalist in absentia But a musician is not fully established if he doesn't perform. "It's not like we don't want to perform. The response to our re-release has been gradual but good. We'll do a concert once we figure out how to do it. We want our performance to be visual as well. Yeh naheen ke char gaaney ga diye," says Uns.
Rushk is out to do something new. Ziyyad Gulzar is a musical veteran. He saw his first commercial success in the mid '90s with Milestones. Interestingly, Milestones also featured a female vocalist, Candy Pereira. After Milestones came Akash with Ali Tim, Ziyyad and Ali Haider. Around the same time, Rushk also happened. Ziyyad couldn't juggle both musical projects, so let Akash go. After Sawal released in 2003, Ziyyad joined Ali Azmat on his first solo venture. "I always told Ali that when you're serious, we'll do something together. It was very exciting for me because I hadn't played live since 1999. Ali did the writing and together we laid out Social Circus," Ziyyad says, reminiscing. Social Circus is a fantastic album and part of its success can be credited to Ziyyad who takes Ali's stage antics to a whole new level when they perform live. In between Rushk and playing live for Ali Azmat, Ziyyad also works at Standard Chartered. He has been working for the past 12 years. He openly admits, "I love my job. My bank is like my family. " That's a new age rocker for you!
On the other hand Uns Mufti has Rola and it's projects. Recently Uns also directed his first video for Joey – the new guy on the music scene – 'Main Nahi Hoon' for which he won an LSA nomination this year. "Yaar, Joey aaya and he said, 'Main Yeh, Yun, Aisa, Waisa Karoonga'. Main ney kaha 'theek hai' and so we did the video." Ziyyad adds laughing, "It was a one off."
Despite making music that is gloomy at the best of times, Ziyyad and Uns are both happy go lucky. Not brooding in their own sense of self-importance, they work together like a house on fire. Where Uns moves his hands and is always animated, Ziyyad sits comfortably at one place and only moves his eyes. When a phone rings, the two of them, nod their heads along like a song they know is playing.
Sawal featured Ali Haider on two tracks as well. "You have to direct people as to how to sing on each song. That is what we did with Ali and he sounds good right?" says Ziyyad who thinks anyone can sing provided he practices and is directed.
The question is will Sawaal work now, in this day and age? It is by no means a commercial album. Even today, Pakistani music's new stars are stereotypical pop stars Annie, Omer Inayat, Jimmy Attre."If we were making this album with the idea of selling like hot cakes, our sound would've changed significantly," says Uns to which Ziyyad adds, "We make music for the love of it."
In order to survive in our music industry, where new bands are coming in everyday, a band has to be media-friendly. But Rushk is termed as 'media shy' by many. Deconstructing this theory, Uns Mufti exclaims, "Hey, tomorrow if Sawal becomes a commercial hit, I'll grow my hair further long and open my buttons further down. I'm not saying that if success comes I won't take it."
These days, Ziyyad Gulzar is busy with Ali Azmat's next album. The rehearsals have already started at Ali's house and they will record it later this year at Mekaal Hasan's studio in Lahore. "Playing with Ali is fun at times and at others it's not but overall, it has been great practice doing so many shows," says Ziyyad.
Uns is busy with his other projects at Rola alongside releasing Rola songs that he and his team did for clients. Now that the number has gone up to 8-9 tracks, Uns will release it. Clearing the air about Coven, Uns says, "They are amazing and I am not doing anything for them other than introducing them to a record label."
Uns and Ziyyad seem happy now that the second Rushk record is all set to roll. And this time, it won't be this big of a battle for the duo when release time comes close. Now, they have a record label in Pakistan who released their album and hopefully will also release the next one.
Ultimately music is about being true to the realities of life – most of the times at the very least. But this phenomenon has changed all over the world. Gone are bands like Pink Floyd, The Clash, The Doors and local acts like Vital Signs and Junoon who made a point to focus (directly or indirectly) on the times that we live, the way the world is going.
An essential ingredient in music progression is experimentation. It was the experimentation of Sufi poetry and tablas against electric guitar that made Junoon a household name and it was experimentation with Michael Brook and Peter Gabriel that made Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan a legend world over. While Rushk may be no Junoon or NFAK, they are following a path that in its essence is different. Instead of concentrating on pretty, colourful videos and designer outfits, Rushk is about blending inspirations that one finds in everyday life and turning it into a thought that can be felt on an entire record. Rushk is a promise that it is not over yet. Whether this album comes out of a cult following and becomes a mass album remains to be seen but as long as musicians like Uns Mufti and Ziyyad Gulzar are experimenting with sounds and words, there will be hope!
On first hearing Sawal is a coherent piece of music. It is an album from start to finish with each track connecting the dots in a circular maze that is a reflection on the surroundings of one man. This album asks questions and in its own thrillingly strange way, it manages to answer a few of them, if not all.
The questions are predominant in almost every song: the intensely beautiful 'Behti Naar' with its jazz like feel with gorgeous saxophone solo and soft piano and intricate wordplay, "Har Ang Num Honey Laga/Haqeeqat Lagey Afsana," the sinisterly melodic 'Mushkil' where the fatigued protagonist sweeps the listener into her inner turmoil of the naivety of her love, the decisions that lie ahead as she croons, "Sochti Hoon Kya Tujh Sey Keh Doon/ Teri Nadani Ka Gala Ghot Doon," the short but effective 'Khuahish' with its ultimate questioning that sums up jealousy and revengeful notions and their aftermath in one big swoop as Nazia (Zuberi) sings, "Mile Ga Kya Tumhe Ab/ In Jali Kati Batoon Sey."
As a songwriter, Uns asks questions. This questioning continues with the retrospective 'Khoj' that asks you after lone memories, lost survivors, what else is there to fight. On a similar melancholic note, one finds the magnificent 'Inteqaam' and the lovely ballad, 'Bheegi Chandni'. Where 'Inteqaam' haunts with its indirect hints at blurring the lines between what's real and true and running from it, 'Bheegi Chandni' takes a further leap and moves from melancholy to sheer hopelessness and morbidity and points at the emptiness that sweeps into human psyche and makes one ignorant and perhaps even indifferent.
Musically, Sawal works as an architectural monument, layered with an air of slightly mournful yet sarcastic compositions. And fortunately, the album does not focus on guitar as a sole instrument. Sawal concentrates heavily on everyday 'noise' and uses it as playground to build up a song in an effective and a very personal sort of a way – the isolated footsteps in 'Khuahish', dialing of a phone and lone bell ringing in 'Khoj', flies buzzing in the opening of 'Qaed', a dial-up internet connection in 'Abhi.. Yahan' are just some examples.
There are many surprises in the album. The first one being the vocalist: Nazia, who sings in the most sonorous, often sultry and at times, sarcastic and angered way ever done by a female vocalist on a locally produced album. The second surprise comes in the form of Ali Haider who sings in just the right direction in 'Rahen' and 'Adhoora'. After a very long time, Ali Haider has sounded this good. The third and final surprise comes in the form of tablas. In an album that one could put perhaps under the category of electronica, the usage of tablas on certain tracks is simply a welcome.
Sawal surpasses all expectations. This is no riff after riff, guitar slashing rock album. Neither is it your average Bhangra pop-meets-filmi music album. Sawal has a precarious depth to it and with its sarcastic wordplay and sonically gripping sound, it remains a superlative album. Sawal is a must have album, just to affirm the fact that Pakistan does have its very own Radiohead.
*****Get the CD NOW!
****Just get it
***Maybe maybe not
**Just download the best song
*Forget that this was made
The day the shehnai died
Instep pays tribute to shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan
He brought the little known shehnai to the centre stage of Indian classical music. When he played the small strange instrument, traditionally played in wedding processions or Hindu religious rituals, it was magic. The soothing sweetness and sublime peace Ustad Bismillah Khan created with the shehnai transcended borders and beliefs.
After giving the world the sheer pleasure of hearing him make magic with his unusual instrument of choice for seven decades, Ustad Bismillah Khan passed away on August 21 in Varanasi near his beloved Ganges river. The years finally caught up with him as he died of cardiac arrest at the age of 90. A true connoisseur of all things pleasurable, Ustad Bismillah wanted to have real food – home-made halwa even on his death bed. He is survived by five sons, three daughters and many grand and great-grandchildren. His art dies with him as none of his children play the shehnai, even though the youngest does play the tabla.
Like most classical maestros Ustad Bismillah Khan was financially hard-pressed in his last years. The Indian government though was very supportive. Prime Minister Vajpayee sent him five hundred thousand rupees and the current Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh sent him two hundred and fifty thousand rupees. The government also arranged a shehnai performance in the Parliament Annex where Bismillah Khan performed for his own benefit.
Bismillah Khan was born in a small village of Behar to a family of court musicians. Spending his childhood on the bank of Ganges, Bismillah had a mystical attachment to the holy river. At six, he moved in with his grandparents, who lived across the river in Varanasi, the holy town. Growing up, his maternal uncle Ali Buksh Vilayatu, a shehnai player at Varanasi's Vishwanath Temple had a strong influence on this musical genius. His uncle was a tough teacher. He insisted that Bismillah and his elder brother get up at dawn every morning and practice playing the shehnai.
According to Bismillah, he was never interested in academics. While cousins and friends were in school, he played marbles in the streets or played around with his uncle's shehnai. He knew he would be a musician one day. Maestros feel genius in their bones; indeed this is what drives them forward.
Under the strict discipline of his uncle, Bismillah became familiar with various forms of music like thumri and kajri. He also started studying khayal and became familiar with many raags. He began taking shehnai seriously. The shehnai is not an easy instrument to play. One needs the circular breathing technique to master it. Enormous breath control is needed to play sustained passages in a fast tempo.
Bismillah dropped out of school in class four to accompany his uncle on music trips. His first solo performance was in 1930 at the Allahabad Music Conference and he brought shehnai centerstage with his concert in the Calcutta All India Music Conference in 1937. That performance was powerful enough to be remembered decades later. He was invited to play on August 15 at the Red Fort in Delhi on the eve of Independence and this became a pattern for the next sixty years. Bismillah Khan's poignant shehnai resounded at the Red Fort whenever India celebrated its independence.
During the '60s his popularity soared in the West and countless offers flowed in to perform there. He rejected them one after another – he was mortally afraid of flying. On the great insistence of the Indian Government, he finally agreed to perform at the Edinburgh Festival but on condition that he and his entourage be allowed to stop over in Makkah and Madina. The government agreed and Ustad Bismillah Khan conquered his fear of flying by doing Hajj. He discovered flying wasn't all that bad and so he visited almost every capital of the world and met with dignitaries worldwide. He visited Pakistan in the late '70s and played at NAFDEC II Auditorium in Islamabad. The concert was arranged by the Pakistan Arts Council under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture. During the concert, some guests were talking among themselves. Bismillah Khan put down his shehnai and demanded pin drop silence and pin drop silence there was till the end of concert.
Bismillah Khan has received the highest and most cherished civil awards in India: Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan and Bharat Ratna. Only two other classical musicians have won these honours: Ravi Shankar and M.S. Sabbulakshmi. After the demise of his wife, Bismillah began keeping his instrument by his pillow. His modest house in Varanasi has no expensive furniture, carpets or fixtures. Just plain benches and a takht. Photographs of Ustad with world dignitaries are the only "decorations" on the bare walls. His minimal simplistic lifestyle was in sync with the maestro's character. He almost always commuted in cycle rickshaws and smoked Will's cigarettes. There was nothing highbrow about him. He was a devoted Shia Muslim who also worshipped Saraswati – the Hindu goddess of music. He belonged to a generation of abstract principles of perfectly tuned notes. His greatness was being in harmony with the composite culture that made up his country.
Bismillah Khan worked for films for a while but did not like the glamour and pretense of showbiz. He only worked with his friends. He played shehnai for the acclaimed film Sanadhi Apanna. He acted in Satyajit Ray's Jalsaghar and again played shehnai for his friends Vijay Bhatt and Shankar Bhatt for their film Goonj Uthi Shehnai (remember Lata's 'Terey Sur Aur Merey Geet'?). He also played in Shahrukh Khan's Swades (2004) in the musical number, 'Yeh Jo Des Hai Mera' and the instrumental version of the same song. Ustad Bismillah always had many offers to play in films which he almost always rejected.
Goutam Ghose directed a documentary on him, Sang-e-Meel Sey Mulaqat. Yves Billon made a 52-minute documentary in 1992 in English/French on the music of Bismillah Khan and showed him as one of the greatest shehnai players who changed the status of shehnai from a common court instrument to that of a classical solo instrument. The film was set along the banks of Ganges, in the mystical Varanasi. He was in the United States when he was offered to play and teach there. He was also offered a replica of Varanasi in the US but he questioned, "How will you be able to bring my Ganges here?" That's how deep his attachment was to the temples and the Ganges.
On his demise, Lata said he was like a father to her and his demise was a personal loss to her and the world of music. Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh said that he was the greatest musician of the country and an example of India's composite culture.
Bismillah Khan did not live in style and yet in recent years he was financially unstable. The government offered him all medical help in Delhi. He politely refused, "People come to Varanasi to spend their last days. Why would I leave Varanasi to spend my last days in Delhi?" Such was the style of Bismillah Khan.
The gentle genius of Bismillah Khan is perhaps single handedly responsible for making shehnai a famous classical instrument from being a common court prop. He believed that music has no caste and he received love and affection from everyone. Many others would think it contradictory for a devout Shia to play the shehnai in Muharram processions, the Ganges ghats and the famous Visvanath temple but Bismillah Khan thought otherwise and that made him a world celebrity. His was divine unity in shehnai. Ustad Bismillah Khan managed to captivate the audience because his music was true and it was the sound of the people. We in Pakistan heard it too and so we too bid a sad farewell to the maestro who made a rather mournful sounding instrument sing songs of joy.
Latest video on the block
After launching their debut album, Sajid and Zeeshan are back with a brand new video, 'Have to Let Go Sometime'. The fact that the song is relatively fast paced compliments the graphical nature of the video and after 'King of Self', 'Freestyle Dive' and 'My Happiness', this Peshawari duo once again impresses with another great track. Sajid Ghafoor shows that not only can he sing in English but that he has command over the language and sings in just the right key and tone with perfect authority over words. There are few directors out there who can make a simple performance into an interesting video and Zeeshan Parwez is definitely one of them. One of the unique aspects of the video is the addition of German sub titles – hey how many people do they think read German in Pakistan, anyway? Zeeshan Parwez smiles as he comments, "I don't expect anyone to understand the subtitles. I've been inspired by a lot of east European videos of the eighties. We live in a subtitles culture. There are so many times that you get a DVD and they have all sorts of weird subtitles running. That's where the idea came from." Instep also spoke to Sajid Ghafoor about the subtitles in the video and he said, "There was a time that only German films were available in the market. That inspired German subtitles for this video." Now whether or not you understand German, you only need to know your English to enjoy this track!
After 'Aadat' and 'Woh Lamhey', Atif has once again sung for Bollywood. But this time, instead of giving his own composition, Atif has sung a brand new track, 'Tere Bin'. Featured in the film Bas Ek Pal, it's a pure love ballad but unlike other Indian film songs, this song strays towards the pop genre of music. A relatively slow paced number, the song is shot on Urmila Matondkar, Sanjay Suri, Juhi Chawla, Jimmy Shergill and Atif himself. The video shows Atif crooning to his own words while clips from the flick are also featured. Singing for an Indian film is the easiest way to stay in limelight, even if one doesn't have a new album releasing any time soon. The important thing, however is to know how and for whom to sing. Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan and Strings – both have done it recently and both have carved a name for themselves in India. After all, Bolly music is more famous and popular in India than any pop group could ever hope to be. Even though Atif has already sung for other Bolly ventures (Zeher, Kalyug), it is for the first time that an Indian composer has focused on his voice more than anything else. This time, Atif has played his cards very smartly. So, until his next pop track is out, stick to 'Tere Bin'…
"Everybody sees me as this sullen and insecure little thing. Those are just the sides of me that I feel it's necessary to show because no one else seems to be showing them." --Fiona Apple
1. One Light Year at Snail Speed - Sajjad and Zeeshan
2. Sawal - Rushk
3. Jilawatan - Call
4. Mantra - Faakhir
5. Overload - Overload
1. Stadium Arcadium
- Red Hot Chilli Peppers
2. X & Y - Coldplay
3. Loose - Nelly Furtado
4. PCD - Pussy Cat Dolls
5. Back To Bedlam - James Blunt
1. Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna
2. Fanaa 3. Dil Diya Hai
4. Bas Ek Pal 5. Gangster
Laraib Music, Clifton Shopping Centre, Boating Basin, Karachi.