age of music
world of personal problems
It so happens that
I am tired of being a man.It so happens I enter clothes shops and theaters,
– Pablo Neruda
With his slight frame,
mild-mannered expression and rounded eyeglasses, the innocuous looking young
man in the deep blue uniform who speaks with immense dignity — upholding
the dignity of life everywhere without racial or religious bigotry —
Bradley Manning, renamed Chelsea, has become not an American folk hero but
an international one.
His revelations about the
role of the biggest bully in the world in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,
which he thought would generate reflection and punitive action within the US
establishment against those who overstepped any ethics of war, earned him
the stiffest sentence from a military court in history. This 25-year-old has
already spent three-and-a-half years in prison without being charged, one
year in solitary where he was kept without clothes to break his mind, and
has now been slapped with a 35-year jail sentence that is likely to eat up
the remainder of his life.
‘I realised in our
efforts to meet this risk posed to us by the enemy, we have forgotten our
humanity,’ Manning told the court in his apology. What the war diaries of
Manning revealed was nothing particularly new about occupation forces in
foreign countries…the extent of civilian casualties, illegal detention of
anti war activists and journalists, the joy and the thrill of killing
expressed by soldiers…They upturned, however, the many lies used to dupe
the American public by the administration about the necessity of such wars
and the behaviour of occupation troops.
denouement lent texture and credence to what the wars were like: one-sided
brutality of the kind we thought was no longer possible after the world wide
castigation of the American involvement in Vietnam.
Working as an intelligence
analyst, Manning first tried to reach his senior officers for a response and
then approached the Washington Post and New York Times in desperation. It
was only when his efforts were stonewalled that he approached Wikileaks.
“The diplomatic cables
he exposed demonstrated the high-level corruption and bribery rampant in
governments around the world, and helped ignite the spark of the Arab Spring
in Tunisia. The Afghanistan and Iraq war logs painted a picture of a
Vietnam-style quagmire in the Middle East, replete with waste, fraud, abuse,
and violations of international law,” writes Kate Epstein in Counterpunch,
one of the few independent news magazines in the US to cover the case.
Epstein goes on to say, “A Pentagon memo Manning is also believed to have
leaked details the administration’s strategy for delegitimizing Wikileaks
long before any of the most devastating leaks surfaced. And the Collateral
Murder video showed the intentional murder of civilians and Reuters
journalists—a crime for which the US government found no evidence of
A most unlikely American
idol, the popular media has parsed what he said by making short shrift of
his life by pscychologising and pathologising his childhood, his parents,
the poverty of the household and his dreams of joining the military to be
able to afford a college scholarship. His openly declared homosexuality was
made the target of attack, painting him as a “troubled” and “lonely”
young man, who found it hard to “adjust” to social mores, including the
machismo of the military.
What is excluded from
these accounts is that he was an ace student, a computer wizard, his early
interest in following global politics and the depth of his intelligence and
compassion. Manning was the experiment of the military in opening
recruitment to people of alternate sexuality instead of keeping it under the
covers which has been standard practice. It now appears that the experiment
may have been a failure, for people of alternate sexuality may also come
with altered consciousness, being more attuned to social injustice having
suffered it most of their lives.
But Manning didn’t stop
there in challenging social codes of behaviour. He checks the threshold of
what we think may be loved and respected. Right after the trial and
sentencing, his lawyers declared that he wished to undergo hormone therapy
to live henceforth as a woman under the name of Chelsea Manning. This may
have no bearing on his revelations but it was used to ridicule and malign
him in the public eye, invalidating his courageous standing up to the lie.
Some people speculated that it was because of the inherent bias against
transgendered people that this came out after the trial. Others argued that
it was a disingenuous appeal for mitigation in the asperity of the sentence.
It seems that Manning was
being tried as much for being a man as he was for the moral stand he took
against the wars.
It is interesting to note
here that in recent times, the few men, people gay or straight, who have
spoken for freedom of information and against the US State Department’s
wars of terror, have all been pilloried for offensive sexual behaviour
because that is the most potent manner of discrediting them. Generally
referred to as “information anarchists”, such people of conscience have
been sexualised and criminalised by the media houses. The founder of
Wikileaks, Julian Assange, is charged with two rapes: Edward Snowden was
taken on for his American girlfriend dancing in a bar; Guardian journalist,
Greenwald’s male partner was detained at the airport in the UK, and now it
is Manning the tranny, whose sexuality has been no secret all along.
Maybe if the muttheads of
the world won’t stand up to tyranny — the muscular marines evident
everywhere in Manning file photos while he was escorted from the military
prison to the military court — the world is left for the trannies to save.
If Bradley — now Chelsea — has a woman’s heart, that would be saying a
lot for women, although history is witness to plenty of women in politics
with as cold a conscience as any militarist man: Hillary Clinton and
Condoliza Rice come immediately to the mind, women who have celebrated the
sentencing. Man or woman, Manning has suborned the image of irresponsible
frivolity generally associated with gay men.
Perhaps, after all that
Manning has gone through — the years in military service as an IT expert,
the years in custody without trial, harsh treatment in prison and frequent
abuse, the year in solitary for the past year — he has had enough of
wanting to be a man. The hypermasculine nationalism and patriotism that will
not allow questioning the rules of the game — certainly not the US
military interventions in foreign countries — a system that has chosen to
make an example of him, thereby exposed itself as being about anything but
justice and democratic values.
This is a classic case of
shooting the messenger, while the people indicted in the atrocities in Iraq
and Afghanistan by Manning are now in the process of planning the next
occupation war in Syria.
(Bradley Manning now
wishes to be addressed only as Chelsea Elizabeth Manning and to be referred
to in the feminine gender).
On screen, you see them as a young, enthusiastic bunch of amateur cricketers, right off the street and ready to storm the stadium ground with the swagger of a champion. But in reality, they are only a part of a small but ambitious team of actors and technicians from the television who are able to give to the Pakistani cinema what most ‘Lollywood’ stalwarts have failed to do in recent years — a critical as well as box office success. ‘Main Hoon Shahid Afridi’ is sure to change the way we tend to separate the big-screen ‘men’ from the TV ‘boys’.
This isn’t the first time, though, that TV has lent its talent to cinema. In fact, we have had an easy exchange of actors between the two mediums, ever since PTV was born in 1964. The technical and creative hands were late to join. In 1981, actor turned producer Usman Peerzada made use of Hasina Moin’s writing skills famously for ‘Yeh Nazdikiyan.’ (The film also marked his actor-wife Samina Peerzada’s 35-mm debut.) Earlier, Javed Jabbar produced as well as scripted Beyond the Last Mountain (’76), Pakistan’s first English language film. In the late eighties, noted playwright Yunus Javed was roped in by the Lollywoodwallahs to recreate his Andhera Ujala magic on the big screen. More recently, we saw the iconic producer of TV shows Shoaib Mansoor getting into film direction with Khuda Ke Liye and Bol.
Interestingly, not many of these people were successful in their film stints. Shoaib Mansoor is a glorious exception but even he had certain film quarters calling him as “so very TV” in his conception of shots. With Main Hoon Shahid Afridi, at least, this kind of criticism is gone.
Made under the banner of Six Sigma, one of the most prolific production houses of our TV industry today, headed by actor turned producer Humayun Saeed, Main Hoon... serves up an engaging — not to forget, commercially viable — cinematic fare despite a mostly non-film cast and crew. To Humayun’s credit, not only does the ‘gamble’ pay off, it actually becomes the movie’s USP, and how.
Here we have popular sitcom writer Vasay Chaudhry, a Dolly Ki Ayegi Baraat veteran(!), scripting for cinema for the first time (if we must count out his work on two of the Geo-Tarang Housefull’s major telefilms earlier this year) and succeeding, obviously. Not only does Vasay bring to the script a flavour of ‘Punjabi’ humour — in the form of witty one-liners and funny situations et al — he retains his flair for a natural, everyday dialogue, something he has mastered on television.
The result is a kind of an idiom Pakistani cinema has traditionally not known; it is free from the typical filmi cliches and mercifully devoid of melodramatic rants and hollers. (Maulvi Majeed’s character is a tad loud but even it fits into the scheme of things well enough.)
The best part is that the film works, without looking like it is coming from the pen of a film novice or, for that matter, a TV-trained. Put in a word, ‘Main Hoon...’s script is quite refreshing. And, so is the work of first-time film director Syed Ali Raza (“Usama” to his TV colleagues and friends) who displays a very contemporary sense of shots division and duration, despite having cut his teeth on drama serials that require an altogether different understanding of frames and editing.
Usama was Humayun’s best bet even before they came together on ‘Main Hoon...,’ when the former was directing a serial for Six Sigma. Humayun says he always thought Usama was cut out for the silver screen. So much so that “we pulled him out, mid-serial, and asked him to concentrate on the film.”
Cinema, it appears, is no longer the domain (read monopoly) of the film-only lot. Humayun’s argument that Usama’s vision and sensibility are perfectly suited to a film’s narrative should find many believers in the industry. This is precisely the ‘yardstick’ that has earlier seen TV drama producers like Faheem Burney (‘Pehla Pehla Pyar’) and Samina Peerzada (‘Inteha,’ ‘Shararat’) as falling miserably short. When ‘Inteha’ was released, back in ’99, the critics were quick to tell the huge difference between the way Samina had directed the film and how the songs were shot by ace Bollywood choreographer Ahmed Khan. The song sequences seemed to stand alone in the film, by virtue of their finesse, even though Ahmed had recorded them in Lahore on the same age-old cameras everyone else was using at that time.
Finally, a word about casting. ‘Main Hoon Shahid Afridi’ should bust another myth for most Lollywood people who still think there are ‘faces’ that are ‘made for cinema,’ so to say. Of course, if that was the case Doordarshan’s ‘Fauji’ Shah Rukh Khan would not have made it big on cinema.
The casting lineup of ‘Main Hoon...’ is an all-TV bunch — from the relatively senior Mahnoor Baloch to up-and-coming actors like Noman Habib (currently starring in Geo TV’s popular soap ‘Yeh Zindagi Hai’), Annie Jaffri (recent credits include ‘Dreamers’ and ‘Meri Behen Maya’), Gohar Rasheed (‘Shehryar Shehzadi’), Hamza Ali Khan (‘Mere Dard Ko Jo Zuban Milay’ and a few music videos) and Shahzad Sheikh (‘Dreamers’). Glamorous VJ turned actors Mathira and Ayesha Omar also make a glamorous, though brief, appearance in a song.
That all these film-firsts — Gohar alone was coming with some experience in film, having worked on the award-winning Lamha — perform famously well and hold their own formidably in the presence of veterans like Javed Sheikh, Nadeem, Shafqat Cheema and Humayun Saeed goes to show that the dynamics of cinema are beyond any lame calculations of what sells and what doesn’t and whether a cast/crew member is coming from the small screen or not. It’s about having the right sensibility to make a movie.
An age of
When an earlier book on
music and musicians by Maqsood Saqib, ‘Sur Sangeet Dey Herey’, was
published it was felt that it needed a sequel. That book covered the first
half of the 20th century, mostly the period when India was under colonial
rule, but the period that followed, the partition and the years after
independence, was mostly left unattended.
In the colonial-era, a
kind a two tiered system of governance operated where some of the functions
were delegated to the princely states. The patronage of the arts,
particularly the classical arts, was left to these provincial courts which
were more sensitive and responsive to the traditional arts than the colonial
masters as well as the new class of the native educated elite. They appeared
to be more impatient in emulating the formal structures laid down by the
colonialists and wanted to bring about some drastic change in consonance
with what they said were changing times.
The patent criticism of
the traditional or the classical forms that these appeared to be timeless
and unchanging was to be redressed by the Young Turks of the Arts who were
keen to contemporise them in accordance with the theories and ideas that
they had imbibed from a system that was mostly western oriented.
All the great
musicians/vocalists mentioned in ‘Sur Sangeet Dey Herey’ had passed
away, many before independence and some after. Though much has been written
about the post-independence vocalists and instrumentalists in India, there
is hardly any information or analysis regarding the vocalists and
instrumentalists in Pakistan.
Music is one of the most
heard and participated activity but the stress has wholly been on its
performance and it lasts as long as that performance. The backup to any
artistic activity in the shape of written material, biographies, analysis is
To meet this demand to
produce exhaustive material on the Pakistani musicians and their music has
been undertaken by Maqsood Saqib, as he has concentrated on writing about
Pakistani music and musicians in his cherished Punjabi language — and the
book has been published by a house that specialises in publishing books in
Punjabi, Suchet Kitab Ghar.
It appears that ‘Sangeet
Karaan Diyaan Gallan’ is the first with more volumes to follow. It says
that it is the first part, “pehla hisaa”, and many more are in the
pipeline and rightly so if full measure of musical activity is to be taken
circumstances, the music produced in the area called Pakistan is
considerable and calls for a systematic cataloguing and analysis. Such
scholarship is essential for the growing body of musical expression because
it keeps the lines to the resource bank open and functional.
Music has had indifferent
patronage in Pakistan. The princely states system collapsed and the state
was confused then as it is now about how to deal with the arts. Music had to
survive on the changing tastes of the people. Classical music suffered
immensely because of that and it could not survive on the capricious market
for the producers and the people wanted a musical expression that was
different and less arcane.
Except for Master Madan,
who died early, and Hari Prasad Chaurasia, who is an Indian, other
instrumentalists, composers and vocalists that have been written about all
saw and lived through the thick and thin of life in this country. Most of
them branched out into a comparatively more lucrative form of musical
expression which with certainty was found in films in the subcontinent.
It must be noted though
that most of the composers and vocalists were properly trained in the
classical tradition. Many had music in their blood as they were hereditary
musicians while the others took pains to properly learn from an ustad or
guru before venturing out into the uncertain world of musical arts.
Most of the articles in
the book are actually interviews taken from time to time. Noor Jehan,
Shahida Parveen, Farida Khanum, Master Inayat Hussain, Tufail Farooqi,
Ustads Saleem Hussain, Muhammed Hafeez Khan, Ghulam Haider, Parvez Paras,
Muhammed Tufail Khan, Talib Hussain Khan, Khadim Hussain Khan, Syed Arif
Hussain Shah, Ramzan Khan and Sara Zaman are the artistes written about and
It is obvious that the
region which is now divided into India, Pakistan and Bangladesh was quite
integrated musically before 1947. Most of the musicians, vocalists and
composers frequently travelled from the Punjab to the two centres of Bombay
and Calcutta, and pooled in their resources for the vibrant worlds of
initially theatre and then films.
Since most of the articles
are in the form of interviews, the first person exposure has opened up much
of the ethos of pre-partition Punjab, the linkages between musicians and
other artistes and the times which were quite productive in terms of output.
Places, events and persons have been mentioned who were important or
significant in terms of their contribution or mere presence but are now
guarantees excellence. As excellent only shines at the top, underneath it
all is a whole middle and lower thrust that makes the sustainability of the
shining top possible. In many of the interviews of these famous people, they
have talked about their formative years and influences, mentioning many
names and events which make this into an important archival document.
Most of the articles it
appears have been carried earlier in the two publications in Punjabi, ‘Maa
Boli’ and ‘Pancham’, and it is good that these have been compiled in
one place. It is easier for the readers to access the material if it is in
one place and also it is a better way of preservation.
Suchet Kitab Ghar under
the tutelage of Maqsood Saqib has published many good and useful books. It
is not an easy task because people in the Punjab especially in the Pakistani
Punjab have adopted Urdu as their first language and sadly left their mother
tongue to wither on the vine.
Sangeet Karaan Diyaan
Suchet Kitab Ghar2013
Price Rs 350
In a recent
interview with the Hindustan Times,
renowned Pakistani artist, Nausheen Saeed stated: “Men are the problem in
Pakistan”. No one can disagree with the comment. On the other hand, men in
this country see women as the problem. This attitude is most commonly
manifested in their attitude towards women drivers on the roads.
One wonders about these
male notions of in/capability of women. This is not peculiar to our culture
because all societies have some forms of prejudice against a particular
race, ethnicity, gender or profession. These are often expressed without any
sound basis. In our context, the prejudice has affected many women in more
ways than one.
The most obvious example
came about during the Zia period when women were subjugated through several
decrees imposed by the state. By and large, the philosophy of that regime
revolved around woman as an entity that must abide by religious rules — by
covering her body, remaining indoors, and not being visible and active in
the world alongside men.
This legacy still lingers
on. We often hear reformers’ regular sermons and columns about vulgarity
on the media. Underneath this lies the desire to keep women under covers and
exclude them from society — in short, to keep them away from the male’s
gaze, since they can arouse desires in men and invoke obscenity leading to
Interestingly, none of
these born-again zealots comment upon matters of male sexuality, for
instance intimate relation between two men or on the practice of men dressed
up like women and working as beggars on traffic signals. For them, female
flesh is the most problematic form that must be hidden to keep the society
safe and sane.
No wonder, women are perceived as objects of pleasure and embodiments of
attraction. Hence they are visually and physically harassed. No woman
considers herself safe when she steps out in the public space, and no shape
of veil, purdah
can divert men’s attention from her.
In her interview, Nausheen
Saeed has indicated that aspect of our behaviour. But there could be other
responses too. For instance, in the art works, women have used drapery as a
symbol to comment on the schemes/devices to eliminate the person inside the
dress. In our short art history, artists like Salima Hashmi, Mehr Afroz,
Nahid Raza and Naiza Khan have employed this metaphor to suggest the
condition of gender. They are joined now by a young artist Annem Zaidi whose
paintings deal with a similar sort of subject but from a different position.
Annem Zaidi showed her paintings in her exhibition ‘Being Natural is
Simply a Pose’
held from Aug 19-28, 2013 at the Taseer Art Gallery (the new name for
Drawing Room Art Gallery), Lahore.
The first solo show of an artist graduating from the National College of
Arts in 2012 comprised a total of ten paintings with similar imagery and
identical content. On dark surfaces, white dresses are drawn in thin coats
of colours, next to broken outlines of limbs, neck and head. In some works,
a single character appears while in others two or three figures are
composed. However, the change of models’ number, shift in scale and
modification in composition does not produce anything new from one work to
the next. In every painting, one could find the same character entrapped in
a similar situation, except the folds, direction and design of the white
garb which are different in these canvases on display.
The artist has focused on a specific type of female in her work. A girl usually
wearing a long dress (skirt or nighty) is devoid of any features or form.
Despite the garment’s connection with a certain class (upper) or culture
(Western), one understands how the artist feels about being a woman — at
home, in actual and public places and in virtual space like the media etc.
One could question or
critique her decision for choosing the attire which is associated with the
elite section of society. This section hardly faces the problems that a
majority of our female population encounters.
But this raises another
aesthetic issue. That if an artist chooses to comment upon a certain
practice in society, should she concentrate on a wider perspective and
accepted framework or should she have the freedom to focus on her limited
personal experience in order to portray universal concepts. In some cases,
the private world may be different and detached from or paradoxical to the
more shared and familiar situation. Like Annem Zaidi’s imagery which,
despite its link to the affluent class of society, still indicates the
condition of women at large.
It is the privilege of a
creative person — or duty — to be able to concentrate on things in his
immediate environment in order to expand them for a wider public/meaning.
Writers often do this by inventing small towns such as Malgudi (R. K Narayan),
Macadono (Garcia Marquez) and
Yoknapatawpha County (William Faulkner). Despite being imaginary, these
towns are versions
of their immediate reality. Or like a visual artist who, looking at
himself and portraying his own body, room, city squares, creates a world
that can convince of a different content with each new contact.