Sunday, June 23, 2013

ART REVIEW: Flying solo with ‘the artist presently known as Omar Farid’

First Published in Daily Times (Pakistan) / 23 June 2013 - Sunday Edition


A small gathering of connoisseurs and curiosity seekers get a personalised tour of the show, their ‘oohs’ and ‘ahas’ broken by an occasional ‘o my that is disturbing’, at which the artist bows and looks pleased. Omar Farid’s ‘Flying Solo’ exhibition promises a delightful getaway to a spruced up wonderland. A few days earlier at another gallery, he was seen airing his views on real art, which must be unforgettable — leave lasting imprints, make one think and blink — or words to that effect.
We see what he means at his opening held the very next week at the Art Chowk in Karachi.




A wily feline in ochre/burgundy tones looms into view, oozing malevolence and doom for some unsuspecting bird, mercifully out of frame. There is no need to overanalyse the creature. In this case, a cat is just a cat. The experience will get ‘curiouser’ as a macabre, ink and acrylic induced haze envelops the quaint backdrop.




What do you see?” he asks. We have stopped in front of ‘Postscript; Vicki Baum’, 2012, inspired by the author of Menschen im Hotel. It is a novel Farid read when he was too young to appreciate its complexity. That is clearly a couple on the steps of Grand Hotel, who may be coming or going and both are missing a leg. This sets the tone for coming attractions; most come dressed in varying shades of eerie.






Stud’, 2012, is a dazzling exception. To him this is “unmistakably a stallion” invited to be a part of this collection because horses are the rage apparently. Some of us continue to see a mare and an exquisite one at that.


The artist’s flamboyant vision is carefully ensconced in a layer of unsettling illusions. “I am an extrovert in an introvert’s world,” he will admit later, making him a walking contradiction. The prepared narrative heads into a custom-made rabbit-hole where a tempest brews in the distance. It is an invitation to gaze upon rocky shores where logic has been cast adrift, an inexplicable urge to descend to levels of human consciousness follows.


There is a sprinkling of social commentary (of a kind) visible amid the emotional debris. ‘Dialogue’ shows two people talking, neither listening to the other, both convinced they are having a conversation. As our guide reminisces about his favourite time of the year — the 1960s — the little tour group has come to a halt in front of ‘Montmartre’, (1982-2012), which took him around 30 years to make. The stopover in Paris introduces us to an artist (a doppelganger?), cheerfully doffing his cap to the passing ladies while his friends help him shift his paintings over to another studio. Unlike the mischievous ‘Catstalk’, 2012, that shimmers with Farid’s droll sense of humour, or Montmartre, which is a simple, joyful little number, one of the few unburdened by bleak overtones, the collection sets out to redefine the parameters of imagination. Deft brush strokes seek to free idle thoughts from their morbid tethers, unleashing a parade of elusive metaphors and along the way evoke genius at play.


Fruition’, where lady luck wickedly toys with a four-eyed creature and ‘eye candy climb’; a strange concoction of snakes & ladder and mysterious figures in need of clothing, harbour similar sounding themes, an unattainable daydream perhaps?


An unfettered imagination can be liberating but it also tends to roam the universe leaving unanswered questions in its wake. The appearance of celestial, anatomical or subterranean motifs confound; the Egyptian mummy cameo in ‘Fruition’ mystifies. ‘Axis’ is abundant in what may or may not be Masonic imagery. He is not a Mason, Farid assures us.






Two pieces on opposite sides of the wall have been painted back to back. His friend could not believe both were done by the same person. Neither can we. ‘Epicycles’, 2011, and ‘Jackbox’ couldn’t be more different, one for all its vibrancy is tightly bound in grim hues. Not every piece is driven by a jet-stream of convoluted logic however; white is not considered a colour, he muses and has a field day with the neglected members of the spectrum in ‘Who’s afraid of white’.






Daytrip’, his idea of happy art depicts a family outing courtesy three carefree looking deer. “...one of my softer paintings,’ he announces. ‘Black Sun’ reverts to the darkness barely concealing its haunting echoes underneath that distorted architecture; ‘Chaos early model’ bids adieu to order, showing the early stages of a breakdown, inadvertently triggering fond memories of the recent elections.



The maddening imagery evokes a range of conflicting emotions and we are free to intercept the subtext (unpleasant or otherwise) and craft our own context from their cerebral outlines. Flying Solo feels like an emotional rollercoaster hurtling towards a vortex of fantasy, dreams and nightmares. The trail ends in front of a little glass box populated by two captive lighters in conversation and a mini sketch. Lighter one, apparently is Omar Farid. It is all very meta-ish.

A cryptic message arrives as the show draws to a close. “I am here to live out-loud” . Emile Zola does sum up “the artist presently known as Omar” perfectly.


Click Here to see the rest of the album


Saturday, June 8, 2013

TELEPLAY (Early Bird) REVIEW: BEHADD (HUM Tv)


First Published in Daily Times (Pakistan) / 08 June 2013

Congratulations Asim Raza on winning the 2014 Hum Award for best Teleplay


Asim Raza (Director Behadd)

The lights dim, and a warning is issued. There will be no gloss in Asim Raza’s presentation. The audience braces itself. This is not a film per se, Asim clarifies, adding that “a long play with substance will be at par with a telefilm.” The audience relaxes.

The directorial debut of Raza’s latest venture took place at the newly opened Cinepax, Ocean Mall (Karachi) towards the end of May. Behadd (Unlimited), which will be aired on Saturday, June 8, 2013 on HUM TV, is a nuanced family drama that mines a (single) mother-(spoiled) daughter relationship for spectacle. Raza, hailed as an ace commercial/music video director, did it in a short span of time, with his small support system and a lot of help from friends. For him this was a challenge taken on to counter the flurry of insinuations hurled his way of propping up visuals with the requisite gloss and glamour and always missing the mark when it came to infusing soul. Raza wanted to see if there were any grounds for such harsh assessments. “Are we really this incompetent and if so then I can retreat?” he calmly announces. Behadd, he added, has everything one would expect from a teleplay minus the gloss.

A powerhouse cast has been enlisted for the job: Nadia Jamil, Fawad Khan (Khuda Ke Liye, Humsafar, Zindagi Gulzar Hai), Nadia Afgan, Sajjal Ali, and Adnan Siddiqui, who has been relegated to a flashback. It has been scripted by Umera Ahmed and produced by Momina Duraid. The screening was attended by the cast of Zindagi Gulzar Hai, of Dhaani, and of famous plays/movies over the years.

The narrative is character-driven, furnished by beautiful leads, some just one step away from becoming cautionary tales. The dilemma of a possessive single mother and an equally possessive 15-year-old Maha forms the emotional core of this psychological drama. The voice of reason played by a handy best friend provides the feisty foil. The story goes into high gear when Poppy’s (another friend from yore) canny younger brother strolls into the frame and plops himself in the centre, forming a complicated triangle. It is a fairly straightforward set up, one that will resonate with the average viewer.

Behadd’s crisp repartee fits well with layers of social drama, morality, manipulation and pathos. The characters, called Mo or Jo, crib about lawn prices (atrocious), give away unsolicited parenting advice and share traffic woes, as the territorial daughter watches from the sidelines.

Since Behadd is not constricted by a traditional set-up, it can experiment with mature themes and explore the stark shades of jealousy, teen angst, mothers who smother, or fear of abandonment, with ease. There are times when the veil of realism wears thin around the edges. There is no interaction with well meaning elders and no cultural markers that can tie the storyline to its roots. The sterile setting is faintly reminiscent of the western rom-com universe made up of a handful of characters, out to weather the storm and claw their way to ‘happily ever afters’. But the resemblance ends here.

Raza is not in favour of providing escapism but there is an inherent optimism in his vision that filters through. Fantasy makes a guest appearance in this version, the harsh outlines of reality never leave the rearview and the intentional sacrifice of gloss does not detract from its entertainment value. There is a nice little twist at the end, but the origins of strife between mother and child are hardly surprising. Behadd deftly navigates the morose landscape, helped along by some solid acting. While this cannot be categorised as groundbreaking cinema (play), it also avoids being labelled as standard run-of-the-mill fare.

Asim Raza can shelve his retreat contingency. The end credits rolled to the sound of a standing ovation. The time for intelligent cinema that has the ability to engage its audience may have come. “I do not have much to say,” he had declared at the beginning. Behadd proves that he has a lot to offer.

Friday, June 7, 2013

OP-ED: Fashion Week – More Than A Pretty Footnote


First Published in Economic Affairs June 2013 Issue

‘Artists are the gatekeeper of truth. We are civilizations radical voice’. Paul Robeson

There was a conference on counter-terrorism underway in Hyderabad as fashion week was winding down in Lahore. One of the presenters, a Dutch with a Phd and a thesis on the effects of fear on social behavior had indicated resilience as part of the counter-terrorism strategy. ‘We had a fashion show, does that count?’ I later asked Dr. Mark Dechesne who was in town recently. If he was startled, he did not show it.



Two things have been trending on twitter since April 2013. Fashion week finds itself in the same time slot as politics and as politicians perfect their strut on the political ramp, the fashionistas have taken to the red carpet and designer-wear floods the catwalk. Though fear overshadows both events, people refuse to let the claustrophobic environment dictate their social calendar.



The famed fashion week which started from Karachi and concluded in Lahore represents the beautiful bubble that exists in the midst of madness and mayhem and mirrors the resilient core of a nation. The existence of this oasis when every sector has suffered set-backs from tourism and film to sports is an encouraging sign.

As designers gathered to put their best foot forward, their elegant statements and edgy vision define their region’s stylish new trajectory. The industry is young and to go from being a mere blip on the local map to a substantial presence in the international arena, it needs a well designed roadmap and a proper platform.

Pantene’s Bridal Couture Week (BCW) runs for three days, has six shows and comes twice a year. For a city like Karachi, a hairs trigger away from violence, prolonged outages and shutter down strikes, putting together a show of this magnitude is a major achievement. For the fashion industry that gets a chance to honor Pakistan’s contribution to couture while keeping the dazzling spotlight on the best and the brightest from its ranks, it is an iconic victory.



This year the Bridal Couture Week featured 18 designers and 14 Haute Couturiers. The parade of models floating by included cricketing legends, film/stage performers, TV actors and a news anchor; their presence was hailed by cheers and gave the show some added pizzazz. Sumptuous designs by seasoned players like Deepak Perwani, HSY, Lajwanti or Nadya Mistry graced the walkway. For some, like Zaheer Abbas, this would be a first.


Day 1

For others like Tabassum Mughal whose majestic creation got to take not one but two turns down the runway – the second time because her model Ayaan Ali snagged ‘best dressed on red carpet award’, it is a chance to be part of an ensemble cast of trailblazers out to take on the design world by storm.


Tabassum Mughal (L) with Ayaan Ali


Nadda

They included Nadda S. Aadamjee, Imraan Rajput, Mussarat Bushra and 10 others chosen to feature one piece in a special segment. The resident social media team was required to be on their toes ready to spin the few designer faux pas into 140 characters or less. But there weren’t many misses. Earlier, a models predicament on the ramp had been skillfully covered up by an impromptu dance routine by her partner Tipu, giving chivalry a memorable little cameo.


Tipu dances

But for a society, dealing with a spiraling economy and escalating extremism – where does such pageantry fit in especially given the deeply conservative roots? There are many reasons for enlisting vanity-fair in the counter-narrative.




Shanaz Ramzi

Bridals, according to Shanaz Ramzi – GM Publications & PR at HUM Network Ltd, falls into neither prĂȘt nor couture. The ramps were not willing to give it a place. More than three years have passed since BCW introduced bridal couture to the mainstream. Since then there has been a waiting line for designers and openings for make-up artists, choreographers and entertainers. The event is beamed to thirty or so countries. This time it was available online via the magic of live streaming.




Day 3


Faisal Qureshi (L) Aijaz Aslam Day 3

An international clientele awaits beyond the gates who can now avail the cyber services (style360labelestore) to view and/or order. Pakistan ranks among the top 10 textile exporters of the world and as sales skyrocket, the increased visibility ensure that its vibrant fashion scene gets global recognition. These are promising indicators of growth and a step towards prosperity – if only in select sectors.


Waseem Akhtar (L) Zeba Bakhtiar (R)

A portion of the show was dedicated to Nadia Chottani’s jewelry collection out to showcase the ‘lost splendours of Empress Noor Jehan’s Haveli’ alongside the debut of Maliha Sheikh’s designs known for incorporating trace elements of ‘Sindhi heritage’ with a contemporary twist.

Fuzon

Pakistan reportedly lacks gem cutting/polishing facilities and is forced to export gems in raw form, losing revenue. On the bright side, the gem/jewelry export business has spiked to “16.99 percent and 138.73 percent respectively during first eight months of current financial year....” (Asad Naeem – Business Recorder)


Furrukh Mughal here to cheer for his sister Tabassum?


National Anthem at BCW

Tending to the cultural roots helps in building up the Pakistani brand. The infusion of patriotic fervor came in the form of the national anthem that made a sudden appearance from the second day onwards. It continued when Fuzon – a popular band took the stage driving the shrieking volunteers wild. That many were later overheard wondering who they were just cheering for underscores the importance of promoting local talent above all else lest their voices get lost in the din of cultural invasion.



Also, choreography heavily reliant on Indian music interferes with the process of crafting a distinct identity devised under that ‘Made In Pakistan’ banner. Bollywood does not need our patronage. Pakistan does. Ironically Indian designers Anjalee and Arjum Kapoor marched to the beat of X-Men First Class & Pirates of The Caribbean, though their bright looking collection stayed on the fringes of bridal wear.


Indian designers Anjalee and Arjum Kapoor

The month long festivities dedicated to fashion makes it much more than a charming little foot-note in the style directory. The brief conversation with Dr. Dechesne assigns it as part of the resilience narrative.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: INFERNO by Dan Brown


First Published in Daily Times / (Pakistan) / 1 June 2013

Reproduced in The Kashmir Moniter



Fans who have kept up with Robert Langdon, our favorite symbologist/iconologist on quests that take him to the Vatican, Paris or Washington, will willingly join the professor jogging through the picturesque streets of Florence. Even when he claims to have a sad case of amnesia, no way of telling the time (his signature time piece lost), and a wily assassin on his tail, he is a force of nature.

It is a part he was born to play. And in Dan Brown’s murky universe, it is one he reprises at the first sign of an anagram.

The author uses the sorry state of mankind as a launch pad to project his ominous design, decrypt a Renaissance painting and set a controversial debate in motion. His novel provides delicious historical context as it plumbs the depths of Dante’s tortured soul and his savage interpretation of hell, helpfully illustrated by Botticelli (and available for viewing on iPad’s Dante app). The diabolical scientist who has a flair for theatrics arrives on cue with his clever take on Dante’s Inferno and proceeds to map out his scary view of tomorrow. Brown then proceeds to enter a grey area by using a bland theme of over-population as a cover. For that he brings in his least insane looking, most dangerous villain yet. The centrepiece though controversial, is both relevant and timely. And bold. As earth reaches its tipping point, the fast changing landscape is a source of fear for earthlings, and opportunity for mischief making evil geniuses roaming the planet.



Brown is the bestselling author of Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code, and The Lost Symbol. His plot generally hinges upon a towering structure of mythology, theology, science or a mix of all three , the ‘customizable template’ complete with a famed ‘Fact’ (sinister reveals to infuse the tale with added mystique) that adorns the opening page is a gift that keeps giving. Inferno is an elaborate nightmare that assigns contemporary attributes to an ancient vision of after-life and then sets off for a head on confrontation with the future. It swaps its usual array of earth shattering revelations that will shake the very core of Christianity for some grim statistics that will shake the foundation of humanity instead. A perfect recipe for a disaster (movie).



Readers transcend nine rings of hell to get a sense on Dante’s stark reality as talk of drones, iPhones and E-books echo overhead. Langdon and his companion, she with the ‘off the Charts IQ’, grapple with an obstacle course that snakes through three cities in the course of one day. Their job is to evade capture, be clever, and stare at death (masks) in the face without pausing for espresso or scrambling for a tourist guide, which is impressive. The show stopping spectacle serves to accentuate the city’s scenic skyline and honour its most celebrated exile from yore.

While Brown’s treatment of history always invites controversy, his depiction of Islamic era art/architecture passes muster. He navigates the great (religious) divide without bias seemingly oblivious to the growing fissures. The well-researched narrative promises high octane adventure with red herrings aplenty, sprinklings of humour and twisted plot twists, lying somewhere in a maze of repetitive language.

The tables will be turned, as they are in Brown novels, albeit a little clumsily. Interest tends to flag somewhere towards the finale; the end, however when it comes, gives one pause. The author is known for taking readers on a journey through time, checking off historic artifacts and breathtaking countryside, and given that Florence offers actual codes yet to be deciphered (Vasari’s cryptic message discovered in 1970s), it could have gone in a million different directions. Population explosion may not be an obvious choice for a Langdon thriller but bringing a platter of doomsday scenarios, and disconcerting imagery with a side of medieval horrors livens up the dry landscape.

Despite the whirlwind pace and ‘Smart’ technology at our baddies’ (there is more than one) beck and call, Inferno struggles to reach the perfect configuration, maybe because its chilling backdrop interferes with the joy of being part of intricate scavenger hunts. So while the happy reunion promises a heady ride but it will not be an energising one.

Inferno, which is the fourth book in the franchise, finds a creative way to juxtapose Dante’s fiery view of hereafter with Brown’s fiery view of ‘right here, right now’. Both are equally jarring. One is in stores now.


Cover courtesy of: Link1

Dantes Image link