Going into 2011
Dear All,
Happy new year!
Don’t know how it is with you, but I am still rather dazed by the speed with which 2010 seemed to have whizzed by. I suppose a lot happened, but I’m not really sure what...
But anyway, just as one had started to get the hang of writing 2010 on cheques and letters, one now has to the change gear to 2011. Such is life...

TNS picks 15 newsmakers of the year 2010 we believe could do better…

Resign as chairman

Kashmir Committee

This year Maulana Sahib must say what he means and mean what he says. JUI under the leadership of Maulana Fazlur Rehman should support all necessary amendments to the blasphemy laws, condemn every terrorist attack within Pakistan, support all fatwas that declare suicide bombings unIslamic, resign as Chairman of the Kashmir Committee and withdraw his man as chairman Islamic Ideology Council. He must plan to spend the entire 2011 in Pakistan -- except perhaps a tour or two to the US. He should deny all rumours to the effect that he is eyeing the slot of the country’s chief executive and declare he has full faith in the leadership of Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. Nothing, of course, to stop him from launching a campaign against the export of diesel to Afghanistan.

Destination Bollywood

If Bollywood doesn’t come to her, she should go to Bollywood! That’s what we’d advise Veena Malik ji, the ‘born-again’ star of Pakistan showbiz whose career recently hit an all-time high when she stepped into the Bigg Boss house on the heels of a scandal involving her and cricketer Mohammad Asif. Soon the telly audiences were to see a much bolder Veena strut her stuff on the Indian turf, confident as a queen, and flit from one (on-screen?) relationship to another, without even caring for a single hoot. What’s more, her dare-bare act on the show even had Bollywood superstar Salman Khan visibly bedazzled. Even though she has had an eviction recently, and there are mixed reports in Indian media about film producers (chiefly the Bhatts) talking about shunning her already, we believe Veena should not give up on Bollywood just yet. Armed with her (newfound?) confidence level and riding on the Bigg Boss popularity wave, we are sure she can fight all odds and manage to do what even a bigger-star-than-herself-back-home Meera could not -- do at least one decent film role! She deserves it; like it or not.


TI distinct from JI

2011 has to be a year of reflection for Imran Khan. Fifteen years is long time in politics which is not just about making the right noises. It is about the aspiration for power and a realistic assessment of problems and their solutions. Imran Khan may do well if he declares that the boycott of 2007 election was a mistake, that the Tekrik-e-Insaaf (TI) and the Jamaat Islami (JI) are two separate entities and that the disadvantaged sections including women and minorities do figure in the party manifesto -- and their rights shall be protected. He must acknowledge that the problems of Pakistan are indeed more complex than a mere lack of justice. He must consider his fortunes in politics reversed the day his public meetings are attended by the real sons of the soil, the poor people and not just the white-collared sections of society. A tough year ahead for the great Khan.

We’re not the best

Syed Noor likes to play the last man standing; it’s a good role, a "moral, unrighteous" stance against the wickedness of the world. On the other hand, it’s a wall of mirrors, shrouded in jingoistic fog. We hope this year Shahjee, you wake up to the unmistakable fact that we don’t make "better" movies than the Indians; in fact we don’t make films because we don’t have a film industry. We would like you to bury the hatchet, try your hand at collaborating and let Bacchan Sr keep the title of the "Angry young man."

Something of the scale of Moth Smoke

For all its political correctness, superb understatement, clever use of literary tools and perfect timing, The Reluctant Fundamentalist could not satisfy the critical reader the way Moth Smoke did. As Mohsin Hamid works to produce another engaging work of fiction, he may still be wondering at the readers’ discretion and guessing if he will be able to produce something of the scale of Moth Smoke again. Going by the golden seven year rule, which has worked in his case, he still has three years but 2011 must see it take a decisive shape. While in Pakistan, he must engage more with college and university students and get them started on how to write. And tell them about how Moth Smoke came about. The newspaper readers would like him to write more on life and literature and not just politics.

Decision-making in the cabinet

Nothing works like a good night’s sleep. A workout that leads to good sleep is strongly recommended to the chief minister in the next year. Shahbaz Sharif must resolve to attend the assembly proceedings regularly to get a sense of the house he is supposed to lead. People speak about their issues through their representatives, at least theoretically. Therefore decision-making must be done in the cabinet. Good governance lies in making the system work and not in bypassing the system. If the people can’t deliver between 9-5, they won’t deliver from 5-9. All people working with the chief minister must be relieved every six months or so to allow them a breathing space. And all socialising with the army chief in daytime henceforth!


Away from peoples’ eyes

We hope that you start wearing a green cap instead of a red one and then disappear forever.


Music together

It would be a musical coup of sorts. Both Ali Zafar and Atif Aslam have wowed their fans individually and they’ve also made a splash every time they performed on the same show (remember the grand LUX Style Awards 2007 that were held famously in Malaysia?), but the audiences have somehow always been deprived of a musical coming-together of the two young princes of pop -- something they crave. So, in 2011, it is strongly recommended that Ali and Atif -- who have officially denied being each other’s competitors, least of all ‘rivals’ -- shed whatever inhibitions they have regarding a joint venture and surprise everybody by featuring in a music video, if not a film; together. Lately, both of them have treaded similar territories -- they’ve gotten into acting and playback for films -- and it would be tempting to see them create, if not something new, maybe a Channo-club version (featuring Atif Aslam!) or a Hungami Halaat-remix (featuring Ali Zafar!). After all, if crooners as dissimilar as Arif Lohar and Meesha can come together and also create magic, Ali and Atif have to only sign on one such music deal and money and magic will follow in plenty.

No truck with politics

The army chief should announce the withdrawal of the remaining military personnel from the civilian institutions. Gen Kayani must declare in 2011 that the Inter Services Intelligence agency will only have a military function and will fall under the ministry of interior in 2011. He should announce that all intelligence agencies will be answerable to the parliament, ours will be a professional military having no truck with politics, there will be no press statements following unusual corps commanders meetings, a freeze on defence budget, no extensions, not even for the army chief. Welcome to a new Pakistan!

Butt, of course

If there were an award for a lifetime achievement (in one lifetime) it would have gone to Pakistan’s Ijaz Butt.

Last year he kept us on our toes from life bans to punishments to spot fixing allegations to the cricketer going missing -- there was not a single dull moment in 2010.

In 2011, we suggest, Mr Chairman keeps the ball rolling. The upcoming World Cup will be an event of sorts... so, he should start his own television show.

The Butt show may have two guests every day -- be it Asif or Shoaib, Sania or Malik, Wasim or Sush -- giving the tips on how to improve life with exercise!

TRPs are forecast to be skyrocketing if Zardari wasn’t to remove him from chairmanship…

Back to real drama

In this game of 2011 forecasts, we predict the best for PPP Information Secretary Fauzia Wahab. We wish her success, in getting the RGST smoothly imposed; in amicably resolving her differences with Kashmala Tariq, and once that done we wish she retires from prime-time tv talk shows and takes up acting in dramas – perhaps in one of those saas bhi kabhi bahoo thi type series as a mother in law, bullying daughters in law and ordering around a fleet of servants.

So if our predictions do come true, what will prime time tv minus Ms Wahab sound like? Just imagine.


Knock opponents down

One website says Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is a black belt in taekwondo. If that is true, one would expect him to pack a befitting punch, knock down his political opponents in a jiffy, and cause them to be on their guard in 2011. Bilawal should be able to make his mark in Pakistan’s politics from day one since he has all the attributes to prove himself a crowd-puller -- tall, handsome, single, and chairman of arguably Pakistan’s most-popular political party, the PPP. But politics is certainly a different ballgame altogether. (Who would know that in black and white than the son of President Zardari?) Keep your fingers crossed, what goes around in Pakistan’s politics will not let him rest on his laurels.

Fashion diva

or what

Pakistan’s answer to America’s Janice Dickinson(?), Frieha Altaf should take a cue from the no-success of local reality shows on television and simply give up the idea to promote herself as modeling industry’s self-styled (read self-proclaimed) diva -- or godmother, if you like. Besides, seeing her howl at her agency’s staff members, not to mention the awe-struck wannabes, in the promos of her due-soon show, is not going to help her ‘wicked queen’ status in the industry.



Are the ordinary people of this country listening? Please take note: endure the tough times. One day we will change our destiny. Or will destiny change us? Time will tell.


Tree within

For a viewer of Talha Rathore’s new work on display at Rohtas 2, the tree stands for the displaced artist who is searching for her roots

By Quddus Mirza

"Fact may not be truth, and truth may not be factual" -- Haruki Murakami


Like birds, trees are not restricted to one boundary. Though firmly rooted in soil, trees do not possess national affinity, regional identity or a passport. Plants have always been taken from one place to another and, as soon as a species is able to take roots, that area turns into its homeland.

It was astonishing to hear comments such as "This tree belongs to the Turkish painting" or "This tree is from Persian manuscripts" or "This one comes from Mughal miniatures" etc. at the opening of Talha Rathore’s exhibition at the Rohtas 2, Lahore. These remarks suggested plants’ association with a culture just like human beings. For instance, Palm and Eucalyptus trees and vegetables like potato and tomato initially did not belong to our surroundings but since these were planted in this soil have become our trees and our vegetables.

Throughout history, trees have been identified with different regions as much as with their place of origin. Same can be said about humans who, once relocated, assume a new personality and feel at home in an alien country: Like Talha Rathore who used to live in Lahore, studied at NCA and exhibited here but has now been residing in New York and producing her work there.

In the body of work created away from her homeland, the image of tree dominates. In a way the emergence of tree in her paintings can be seen as a metaphor for the artist since the tree -- originally from Indian miniature painting -- has been composed or superimposed into plans of New York City, of its streets and avenues along with its subway system. In the most recent paintings (displayed from Dec 23, 2010, to Jan 1, 2011, at Rohtas 2) trees are not put on the NYC maps but their trunks were made from those maps.

This shift from tree pasted upon the subway map of an American city to one partially fabricated with the map itself may have little importance for some (and interestingly, that includes the artist too!) but it indicates a change in the artist’s approach. Perhaps the new formation of tree reveals the transitory phase in adopting a foreign homeland. In her miniatures, trees of different kinds are rendered with details of petals and foliage constructed with numerous tiny organic forms and composed against vertical lines of threads. The top of these trees, instead of leaves, is filled with little amoebae-like shapes, which resemble eyes as well as the reproductive organ of a female.

The artist explains the choice of this motif because of her interest in the subject of botany from her school days and this motif is the elementary particles of life that can not be divided further. Rathore’s statement might have revealed the fact but it may not have been the whole truth: because anyone looking at her miniatures and knowing her context would arrive at a different conclusion. For a spectator, the tree stands for the displaced artist, who is searching for her roots, both in her original homeland as well as in her adopted country. The elliptical shapes signify the artist’s gender. The two readings can be supported by examining the work of other artists in her situation. For instance, Anwar Jalal Shemza, another Pakistani painter who moved from Lahore to London, chose tree with its branches and roots visible as the symbol of his migrant-state. Likewise, a few other artists (including Anita Dube from India) have been using eye-like form to represent womanhood.

In that sense, the question arises about how to deal with an art work -- any art work -- while locating its content. Should it be seen and understood according to the testimony of its maker or so should it be perceived and comprehended according to someone who had nothing to do with its creation but enjoys the position of an outsider? If one believes in the maker’s words then most art, both visual and otherwise, would have limited scope. Often the author’s or the artist’s immediate justifications and background information contain banal factors and insufficient reasoning. It is only after some time that the viewer or the reader -- and in some instances the creator himself -- discovers the truth beyond the initial explanation. In more ways than one, the readers or the viewers comprehend a creative work more thoroughly. Books and treatises on poetry, fiction and paintings of past masters discover fresh meanings in older works.

It may sound strange and contradictory giving weight to a stranger’s attempt to decipher meaning in a work of art rather than accepting the maker’s account. Only if one is not familiar with what Haruki Murakami writes in one of his novels The Wind-up Bird Chronicle about human perception: "One cannot look directly at one’s own face with one’s eyes, for example. One has no choice but to look at one’s reflection in the mirror. Through experience we come to believe that the image is correct, but that is all."

In art, as well as life, others serve as reflection!

The Punjab Council of the Arts hosted a folk theatre festival in Lahore involving groups representing a tradition under threat

By Sarwat Ali

Like the previous years, the Punjab Council of the Arts organised a folk theatre festival at the Bagh-e-Jinnah Open Air Theatre in which eight groups from various parts of Punjab took part.

These groups represent a tradition that is under the threat of extinction. Due to television and internet, the rural areas of the country are also undergoing a change, more invisible than visible as the people’s taste is changing. This exposure to the wider world makes them question the life around them.

The life around them, till a few years ago, was represented by theatre that was staged in Lahore in the festivals. Remnant of a tradition more vibrant till a few decades ago was a mixture of the traditional folk theatre that was basically of a touring variety and the theatre that was established in the length and breath of the subcontinent by the name of Parsi Theatre. The latter was very grand and the former relatively modest, yet it carried the same format of song and dance to uplift the traditional/mythological narrative.

One of the most told, written and enacted legend is that of Puran Bhagat and in this festival this was staged under the direction of Zeeshan Ali for the group that hailed from Faisalabad. The action of the play and the sad life of the protagonists were greatly enhanced by singing. The actors were professionals and their strongest point was music as has been the wont of traditional theatre in this part of the world.

The component of music was also quite dominant in other productions. Two were based on the story of Heer, one from the group from Rawalpindi called Heer Ranjha and the other from the group from Gujranwala called just Heer.

The action on stage of Heer cannot really be conceived fully without the great poetical works in Punjabi which have been inspired by this tragic tale. Even when not staged it is an exquisite piece of dramatic narrative.

The play from Sargodha, Kinno Waqeel Karan, was quite hyperbolic, understatement not being a virtue of this theatre, and so were Sakhi Badshah by a group from Bahawalpur and Zhanjeer by a group from Multan.

Sohna Zaini was performed by the famous Fazal Jutt in the line of Ashiq Jutt who had established the Pakistan Theatre. The play, located in a place called Hari Ka Patan, switched from Rohtaki, now officially recognised as Haryanvi in India, and the language of majha.

The variation in the two contained enough material to evoke laughter, though the play revolved round unfulfilled love with the lovers not meeting in the end. It was a good example of levity and seriousness co-existing as it has co-existed in popular theatre.

According to Balwant Gargi, the only type of rural theatre that was present in Punjab and had indigenous roots was Naqal. In his famous book the ‘Folk Theatre of India’, he recounts Jatra, Nautanki, Bhavai, Tamasha, Ramlila, Raslila, Therukoothu, Yakshagana, Chhau, Baul as the major forms in various regions of the subcontinent but does not give the credit to the area that formed Pakistan being the progenitor of any other form except the Naqal.

The Naqal has grown in Punjab and has taken a number of forms which should be seen as a genuine development of the form. But in Punjab Swaang was quite popular a few years ago and some of the companies too were busy putting up various shows.

Phaji Shah Theatre being one of the oldest folk theatres played a central role in popularising the Lok Theatre in Punjab. Owned by Syed Fazal Shah, who has become something of a legend in the field of folk theatre, was himself an actor/director and theatre manager and his wife Iqbal Begum was also a theatre actress as both of them acted as hero and heroin in plays of the theatre. In later life they contented themselves with character roles. Phaji Shah Theatre did not survive their death and was wound up soon after.

Shahjehan Theatre owned by Mian Anwar named this company after his daughter Shahjehan. She acted in the leading female roles in the theatre. Though not an actor himself he married the famous stage actress Khurshid Kuku and was a friend of Bali Jatti.

Watan Theatre run by Muhammed Ismail and his wife Firdous offered their platform for Alam Lohar who rose to fame while he was associated with them. Alam Lohar became one of the leading folk singers of the country. His performance usually consisted of the rendition of some folk tale like Sassi Pannu, Heer Ranjha, Mirza Sahibaan etc, and it was not acted out but only sung. His son Arif Lohar performed for the same theatre after his death.

Kisan Theatre of Muhammed Sharif China, popularly known as China Pehalwan, was run by him and his wife Gulzar Jatti as both acted as hero and heroin. Their daughter Bilo inherited the theatre on his death and her husband Muhammed Nasim then started to manages the company. Inayat Hussain Bhatti was associated with this theatre and it gained popularity due to him.

Gaman Theatre was initiated by Gaman who was from a village in Multan. This company became the most important and significant company, especially in the Sariaki-speaking areas. The cast of the plays was all male, and female roles were played by the males as is the wont with popular and traditional theatre. After the death of Gaman, the theatre survived and continues to perform in Southern Punjab.

Wali Shah was himself a theatre person and a hero. His sons Yaqub became a successful hero in the theatre, another son became the manager and the third a good harmonium player and theatre musician. Wali Shah Theatre usually did traditional plays not much departing from the set rules and principles. The theatre died with the demise of its owner.

Tufail Niazi after working in many theatres formed his own theatre with his relatives and friends. He rose to fame as a singer. Tufail Niazi was born in Muderaan, a village close to Sham Churasi in East Punjab. He belonged to the Rababi scion of professional musicians and the family specialised in playing the pakhawaj. His first Ustad was his grandfather Waris Ali, popularly known a Baba Barasa Khan, then his Uncle Mian Shah Din Khan.

Lucky Theatre was started by electricians who supplied generator and electrical equipment. It soon merged with a circus and formed the Lucky Irani Circus.

The other Theatre Companies: Shama Theatre, owned by a woman Bali Jatti, lasted for about 16 years and Bau Jan Theatre, also run by a woman, was quite popular; though not as popular as the Watan or Phaji Theatre, and also could not survive the death of their creators.


Going into 2011

Dear All,

Happy new year!


Don’t know how it is with you, but I am still rather dazed by the speed with which 2010 seemed to have whizzed by. I suppose a lot happened, but I’m not really sure what...

But anyway, just as one had started to get the hang of writing 2010 on cheques and letters, one now has to the change gear to 2011. Such is life...

But of course, every year that goes by makes me feel more and more out of date. For example, I mentioned writing cheques... a practice that has now become rather quaint in the western world. I don’t think my teenage offspring even knows how to write a cheque. Whereas, I started writing them as soon as I had a bank account, which is when I was 13. I suppose that made me feel rather important or some such thing.

Anyhow, it is all virtual stuff now... electronic money transfers is what one does these days, which I, personally, find slightly terrifying, but then I suppose I am just ‘so twentieth century’.

I am not sure if my offspring would even know how to write a ‘proper letter’ by hand, the kind which we were taught to write at school. But I suppose it is not really a skill they need as the computer can just format everything as they choose (and I suppose that even if technology breaks down some day on a massive scale, letter writing and cheque filling would be skills one could survive without).

Well the first eleven years of the millennium have gone by but if British tv drama is anything to judge the public mood by, everyone here is getting quite nostalgic -- or perhaps escapist -- as viewers now seem to have a huge appetite for early-twentieth century period dramas.

The first surprise hit this year was Downton Abbey which was filmed at Caernarfon Castle and was the story of an aristocratic family and the staff who work in their household. This is known, as a classic upstairs, downstairs ‘story as in the days when rich British people had staff; the kitchen and the separate’ staff entrance would be down some stairs at basement level.

Upstairs, Downstairs is also the name of the immensely popular 1970s tv drama, which was about both the employers and the staff in an early twentieth century household, and starring one of its original cast members Jean Marsh, a new season of this returned to UK tv screens in late December. Now set in 1936, the drama plays out against a Britain where the dreadful Edward VIII (of Wallis Simpson and abdication fame) is the king, the Nazis are ruling in Germany and Oswald Mosley’s fascist movement is on the rise in Britain...

The unexpected popularity of both these productions has led to various attempts to understand the trend. One view is that it is ‘nostalgia and escapism typical to periods of economic recession’ whereas The Guardian columnist (Kathryn Hughes) also says it is a sort of fantasy: "Just as erotic porn allows us to imagine activities which, if translated into real life, would be immoral if not downright illegal, so servant porn allows us momentarily to try on attitudes and ways of being that our best selves would blush to contemplate."

Perhaps that is true, or perhaps it is just the combination of lovely evening gowns (everybody dresses for dinner), jewels, and scandalous goings-on within these perfectly structured households that make it all so interesting. I don’t know what the attraction is, but I do know that my teenagers also got drawn into this with all the holiday season tv showings of Agatha Christie mysteries.

The whole 1930s and 1940s ambience and of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, the households they visit, the murders they solve in so civilised a fashion are a window into a slightly different world.

Oh and speaking of Agatha Christie, I must mention the latest dramatisation of Murder on the Orient Express that was shown here on Boxing Day. Many people will remember the 1974 film with its star studded cast and Albert Finney playing Hercule Poirot, and think ‘why do it again’ but the fact of the matter is that this was an excellent production with David Suchet -- the tv Poirot -- delivering yet another terrific performance and emphasizing (much more than in the early film) Poirot’s moral dilemma of whether to reveal the terrible revenge and execution nature of the murder he investigates.

There was more setting in yet another excellent TV drama shown here late last year (yes, I mean 2010! so last year...) -- Any Human Heart, based on the powerful William Boyd book. This is the story of one Logan Mountstuart, a writer who lives through the twentieth century; this is a very moving account of one man’s life and loss. It is a brilliant book, and it is a fabulous tv adaptation.

Anyway, tv nostalgia apart, I do hope that 2011 proves to be a happy and peaceful year for us all....

Best Wishes

Umber Khairi

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