Wednesday, October 15, 2014

MOVIE REVIEW: O21 in the House


Published in Daily Times (Entertainment section) / 15 Oct 2014

O21 takes a shot at cerebral cinema and sets out to explore the only genre left standing - espionage. It goes on to pair American / Afghan, Pakistani CIA assets embroiled in a game of global deception with corporate interests that govern the region. There will be sky high stakes that go so well with super spy tropes. And a ticking clock to send viewers into paroxysms.

The events take place in a span of 21 hours hopping from Washington (shabby looking CIA offices), Afghanistan (dreary cafes) to Pakistan (darkened halls & melancholy train tracks). The darkness is literal and metaphorical. It is conceptually strong, and viscerally claustrophobic. A moving soundtrack (Alfonso Gonzalez Aguilar) echoes in the background. The grandiose vision beckons from a distance.

Despite these intriguing parameters - it is not an edge of the seat drama. The build up is excruciatingly slow. The urgency is MIA. Then again, it is about good old fashioned tradecraft that is monotonous and deadly, set in a hostile part of the world seen in the throes of a silent revolution. As ‘O21’ sallies forth into the unknown, fancy technology (Dolby Atmos) in tow, a micro-chip that should not fall into the wrong hands comes in play almost immediately. The hook is also the McGuffin. A mineral reserve that puts Afghanistan on the corporate radar and the potential blowback on Pakistan becomes the lynchpin.

It should have worked. That NATO truck sequence ripped from headlines – the spy-craft – Shaan. With rogue operatives running to and fro, there are moral quandaries aplenty – a viper’s nest where loyalties are divided, and people flawed. A wonderful curve ball arrives in the finale but fails to make much impact - let down by the pacing, and script. The only resemblance it has with the ‘Syriana’ which it admires, is the amoral universe embedded with those nicely blurred lines. But it will not trigger the debate it probably hoped for. ‘O21’ has a sketch albeit a damning one, that merely skims the surface of the Af-Pak-NATO equation.

Jami & Summer Nicks man the director’s chair, flanked by a team of producers (Zeba Bakhtiar and Azaan Sami Khan). The ensemble cast includes Ayub Khoso who shines as the Afghan warlord. Shaan with his world weary view has been pegged as the lead, but feels like an afterthought. One of the more enigmatic characters – the female Afghan journalist remains on the periphery. And Sun Tzu is unrecognizable after his ‘enemy of my enemy…..my friend’, decree gets a sappy makeover. Hameed Sheikh however, dons the persona of the conflicted Dost with ease while a handful of American actors pop in and out of the frame.


Since its opening it has received mixed reviews. The premier show attendees issued a verdict - ‘dark, brooding, and intense’ and appeared reluctant to add more. IMDB had 4 user reviews in the first week – all glowing - a few from abroad which is odd. Capri and Bambino (Karachi) reportedly removed shows after a rowdy crowd reacted violently; Nueplex added more. The print media cheered (mostly) while the social media took a hatchet. Opinion was divided, but the filmmaker’s should be lauded for their passion - for daring to dream, and for taking that leap of faith. ‘O21’ is poised to be a game changer that challenges the palate and forges its own identity from a fragmented landscape. It’s a start.

PR: Phegency
Refreshments: Espresso



Monday, October 6, 2014

Na Maloom Afraad Press Show


Published in Daily Times / 6 Oct 2014




There are two Pakistani films geared to open on Eid, both with female producers at the helm - one of them recently held a premier show for the media. ‘Na Maloom Afraad’ is a term synonymous with Karachi – a sly reference to the ‘persons unknown’ who terrorize the city already on knife’s edge, and vanish without a trace. It takes skill to conjure comedy from such a bleak premise. ‘Na Maloom Afraad’ finds a way.



The three leads – film veteran Javed Sheikh, Fahad Mustafa, and up and coming stars like Mohsin Abbas Haider, are in perfect sync as the upright small business man, eager beaver / insurance sales agent, and down on his luck Moon making his debut as their rent buddy in Karachi while dreaming of living large in Dubai.

Their transformation takes place in the backdrop of Karachi’s gritty streets, and as their lives unravel, the wreckage provides plenty of merriment, and some surprisingly insightful commentary about the state of the world we inhabit. Shot in old Karachi – the metropolis takes centre-stage; its resilient nature and cold, unforgiving heart get top billing. There are no real heroes – the villains come with inept henchmen in tow, the dialogue is crisp, and the women - perfectly cast.

For the producer, the opening day would be like the ‘T20 of cinema’ and she hoped for a win since the movie will have stiff competition from a Shaan led spy-thriller – ‘O21’, and a couple of Indian flicks opening the same day. A film that pins gallows humour to the city’s distinctive skyline, and takes advantage of the anarchy ridden landscape to craft its punch line is a worthy adversary. It could, however do without the few instances of crudity possibly added to give it ‘street cred’.

Shanaz Ramzi referred to it as purely commercial venture, made for entertainment that is not aiming for the stars. ‘Na Maloom Afraad’ is an irreverent take on life, which scans the chaos and infuses a typical looking screwball comedy with soul. It does so by blending the varying shades of grey that drive men with integrity to the edge of reason.

Fizza Ali Meerza produces, Nabeel Qureshi directs - it is their first production. Rana Kamran was hailed for his photography.





Javed Sheikh sees this as a lethal combo predicting a bright future for the trio. HUM TV partners with Eveready to distribute the film across Pakistan. ‘Na Maloom Afraad’ is in cinemas now.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

021 vs. Press


Published (sans my name) in Daily Times / Karachi pages 28 Sep 2014. Hope someone fixes the mistake in their online edition.

Thank you Pheby Haroon for the invite.


NY Times casts Afghanistan in a new role as the ‘Saudi Arabia of Lithium’. A spy thriller that views the discovery of mineral wealth as a double edged sword is coming soon. ‘O21’ reserves this backdrop, and envisions the regional implications from the resultant tug of war between powerbrokers / allies clamoring for their share.
While the premise spawns endless conspiracy theories, espionage appears to be a logical extension of the counter-terrorism angle. The Af-Pak / US trinity becomes the perfect foil for those driven by a desire to put events on this side of Durand line in context. Before ‘O21’ makes its official debut, the press were invited to Nueplex Cinemas (Karachi) to meet the cast.


Among them was Azaan Sami Khan – CEO, ‘One Motion Pictures’. It is his first undertaking as a producer. The mantle of executive producer is worn by Zeba Bakhtiar. This is not her first rodeo. She had tried her hand at filmmaking once before, but was forced to retreat. Her timing had been off. A film industry seen riding the crest of success of recent box office hits, is amenable to experimentation, and beckons to a new crop of filmmakers. An opportunity to take back narrative control seems to inspire the creators.

The talented cast led by Shaan and Ayub Khoso includes 3 Americans - James Hallet, Wendy Haines, and Joe Towne. Award winning filmmaker Summer Nicks, who shares directing credit with Jami is also listed as a scriptwriter. Alfonso Gonzalez Aguilar provides the score, and Jami explains how the music wasn’t tacked on as an afterthought but painstakingly mapped out frame by frame, which can be added to the list of milestones. The briefing would continue with a sly little comedy bit by Gohar Rasheed and Bilal Ashraf, who traipsed down memory lane with young Azaan who practically grew up on the set, followed by Jami’s charming little improvised speech.

The final theatrical trailer was screened and applauded - twice. The cast shared their experiences, and a short clip that captured the behind the scenes drama was added. Invitees were then treated to the first 7 minutes of the movie, which was the ‘surprise’ part of the evening, and got a chance to grill the makers. The plot was dissected, choice of language questioned, use of Dolby Atmos surround sound appreciated, and the title misdiagnosed as Karachi’s calling code 021 The heroic lead last seen playing a disillusioned, yet chivalrous military man was hailed for his comeback, and his casting as a disillusioned yet chivalrous ‘Paackistani’ field officer that places him in danger of being type-cast viewed with unease. Their concerns would be seen as premature, and press-walas were asked to reserve judgment, till after the official premier.


Previous films that sought to elevate Pakistan’s role in the GWOT fell into the trap of taking a RAW-centric route which invariably ends up absolving the domestic enemy of its crimes. One hopes the next one can venture further into the geo-political minefield, without having its objectivity questioned, and be able to critique, without having its patriotism doubted. ‘Oh 21’ is due out in early October 2014.

PR: Phegency (Pheby Haroon)
Refreshments: Espresso


Images Subject to Copyright

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

KARACHI DIARIES: Know Thy Ally


Published in Economic Affairs / August 2014

Till 1989, the average Pakistani is better off than the average Chinese or Indian for that matter, in terms of GDP / Capita. The graph would change. By 2012, the Chinese would be 6 times better off than their Pakistani counterparts. Their GDP would rise by 30% - the economic reforms in the 1980’s would leave everyone behind; and a talk on China’s exponential growth and towering skyline would trigger an inadvertent comparison with its trusty ally.

Adil Husain, originally from Karachi, and later found in Washington eventually ended up spending 7 year in China, and was recently seen waving a disclaimer in T2F (The Second Floor). The views, he will share are his own. The contrasts he witnesses will be dramatic. And the China from his vantage point would appear in the form of a well mapped chessboard.

As he winds his way back in time, he will be struck by the entrepreneurial spirit of its people, their strong work ethic and the high % of female participation. China is his home away from home and he takes a moment to examine the Chinese blueprint for success that makes it a veritable magnet for foreign investment. Notwithstanding its difficult relationships with Taiwan, HK, Japan, or Korea, trade continues, as does investment.

Adil reminds the audience that these are nations that do not have direct flights, consulates, or even recognize each other’s sovereignty for that matter yet business dealings remain unaffected. A cold pragmatism drives China’s core, and he notes that it is clearly not averse to doing business with former enemies, unlike Pakistan. Maybe the allure of ‘Hello Kitty’ is hard to resist, he quips.

In his expereince, things get done there and quickly. He goes on to talk about a China that always been an important player in global economy. Where crime is non existent; and no one owns a gun. Where there is no ethnic, sectarian or religious tension - not really. Whose citizens feel they have direction, and ensuring a steady inflow of Yaun is the objective. A sense of nationhood, shared purpose and firm belief that they are headed the same way propels society forward.

The Chinese are frugal by nature but are encouraged to spend. Even their factory workers make up to 60G a month. Their bottom up economic reforms meant some cities got richer before others he explains. The luxury goods market would be lost without China in Adil’s view. Today, it has 800 Starbucks - 10 years ago there were none; there is a Cartier every 2 blocks. Both the Chinese Government & its Communist Party prioritize economic growth to stay in power; having stifled political rights / free speech, they must deliver on the economic front, he adds, else their ability to govern could be challenged. The state is therefore ready to act in times of economic downturn, manage crisis, regulate prices, and earn it’s keep.

Then there is the literacy rate - 95% (China): 55% (Pakistan) and policies that prioritize investments in infrastructure, ports, bridges, subways etc. China also boasts an impressive power generation capacity (I million MW) vs. Pakistan (20,000) and has the largest in-store capacity of wind power; and they keep adding to that capacity.

The rosy picture starts to change gradually when it factors in it zero legal, political accountability, rubberstamped courts, loose environmental regulations, a controversial one child policy (which never applied to rural areas) and social media curbs, (Facebook, You Tube, Twitter are banned, & Google products don’t work well). The state, in their defence would proffer a list of home-made alternates to silence any protests. One still needs a visa to visit Tibet (despite a residents permit) and every now and then it is allegedly made off-limits to foreigners. Pollution is a serious concern and face masks are trending. Also, land is state property which can be leased, but that he insists is no different from Defence (Karachi).

According to reports, the Communist Party is still going strong but has wisely let go of rhetoric and vilification of the wealthy. While Adil cannot be a member, and probably wouldn’t want to be either, the average Chinese joins them for practical reasons - university students reportedly earn academic points, businesses can network and form social connections. They meet once in a while and Adil sees it as a club where members gather for coke & pizza. There is nothing afoot, sinister or otherwise in his view. Not everyone joins the Party and there are no compulsions. Most members are pragmatic Chinese businessmen hoping to get an edge over the competition.

He decides to make some predictions about China’s domestic oriented sectors which are likely do well in the foreseeable future. Retail, healthcare, & education drive growth and are the ones to watch out for in his estimation. Though China is not in manufacturing anymore, it is not feasible to relocate the global supply chain from its backyard, and so there it will stay, for a while at least. As for the low quality ‘Made in China’ goods strewn across town - they are apparently for people seeking cheap, bad stuff – here you get what you pay for.

His sketch adjusts for the shifting sands of time and changing priorities when it depicts the famed Pak – China bond that has endured for over six decades. The Chinese people don’t hold Pakistan in high regard, in Adil’s opinion - to them she behaves like North Korea, in need of constant bail outs, weapons, aid, nuclear reactors……forever asking for help to sort out messes of her own creation. He concedes that there are historical ties that bind both nations but most Chinese don’t remember the Pak-Nixon-Mao diplomatic dance circa 1972, or would care about the outdated back room channels used in shaping “the week that changed the world”. To them, the partnership appears largely one-sided, what have you done for me now seems to be the question on their collective minds. This China has more trade with India. There are humiliating visa restrictions on Pakistanis, tourist visas are a no-no, only business ones are granted. And Adil’s cabbie waves a pretend gun and provides helpful sound effects - ‘boom boom’ (not Afridi) to show how well versed he is in all things Pakistani.

The winds of change sweeping through Chinese mainland force it to keep updating its profile. Adil Husain leaves the revised image pinned to the wall.


‘Adil Husain is the President and founder of the Emerging Asia Group, the leading provider of “primary research” based business to business (B2B) market intelligence in Asia’


China Image Source: Jpg

Images Subject to Copyright

Sunday, July 20, 2014

E-Book Review: Heritage / Author: S.M Boyce


Received an ARC from the lovely Boyce last year, couldn't review it then, by the time I did, Daily Times (my paper) had decided YA wasn't suitable for it OP-ED Pages. This Blog is only for my published work but I promised the author a review, so here it is. Apologies for the delay S.M.

P.S: I am looking forward to Illusion.


Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

Heritage’ which was to mark the grand finale of the Grimoire trilogy is now the third installment in a series of four. The YA fantasy still hurtles towards the end but the adventure is far from over. And former rookie Kara Magari is busy trying to balance two thankless jobs as the wise Vagabond, and her true nature revealed at the end of ‘Treason’. Change is in the air for both realms and newcomers vie for Ourea - the fictional land envisaged by S.M. Boyce and brought to life in ‘Lichgates’ - Book I.

Book III that was supposed to wind up our heroines arc, marks the continuation of the same journey that began when Kara, a human fell off the grid. That her new address says Ourea, a treacherous terrain stocked with magical creatures of known and unknown origin with an ‘abandon hope sign, all ye who tumble through here’ probably lying somewhere makes her a constant target. Readers rediscover the restive heart of the land which holds many attractions and features familiar faces alongside conniving Bloods (ruling faction), conniving Heirs (Bloods in waiting) and Kingdoms under siege geared for the mother of all battles. Duplicity runs in their collective blood-line.

Though the vibrant landscape remains the same, and fleet-footed muses or soul sucking Isens darken the horizon, wonderland’s seething underbelly, and complex politics continue to fascinate. The components used to propel its supernatural core come in outlandish gear, and churn out promised twists, a rising body count and some family melodrama. This is escapism, littered with emotional debris where magic, mayhem and monsters come and go, and matters of the state override potential rides into the sunset.

The Grimoire Saga, which has a collection of genres at its beck & call links those two pretty leads, and has readers rooting for their future. There is a lot of ground to cover and many loose ends to tie up. The story was too big, according to Boyce, and could not be compressed in a trilogy but she promises ‘Illusion’ will be the final chapter.

‘Heritage’ is where Kara – an ordinary girl turned Vagabond becomes the lynchpin though nothing on the protagonists resume spells savior. Kara & Braeden (resident Ourean with secret past) are otherwise typical teens, busy battling an identity crisis or two as things go sideways. Ourea, is as unwelcoming as ever, a viper’s nest of brittle alliances, exquisite cultures and toxic relationships, leaving its residents chasing the elusive mirage of peace. The spotlight is on Kara’s training as she comes to terms with her family’s troubling history while Braeden’s personal demon hunting quest gains traction. The evolving tapestry gives one a chance to test her new-fangled diplomatic skills in full on warrior mode and the other to get comfortable in the role of a spy.

This time around there is a more grounded feel to the layout and Boyce can be counted on to pull mandatory rabbits out of Ourean hats towards the end responsible for those major seismic shifts in plot. The storyline operates on two levels – one uses lightweight caricatures of magical critters to liven the tension, and the other left to create a whole new playfield filled with enticing visions and opaque agendas that deepen the mystery. The series hums with intrigue; there will be political entanglements and revenge fantasies aplenty as readers become reacclimatized to the shiny new dimension. This version is more involved with the turning point in Ms. Magari’s life and therefore less consumed with the domestic feuds and complex inter-Kingdom rivalries, though glimmers of intrigue do filter through. The characters are all headed in the same general direction, different agendas in tow - the end game, however remains hazy.

‘Heritage’ mercifully dials down the torture but keeps the double dealing coming. Kara & co. are no longer on an exploratory mission and neither are the readers. The author leaves room for guest perspectives in each book that provide valuable insight allowing readers to break away for a bit and explore the countryside under the guidance of eager stakeholders. The side trips are meant to enlighten, even as the inherent cruelty keeps testing the limits. Despite its elaborate set-pieces, the latest chronicles of Ourea retain the look and feel of a primer before the finale kicks off. The ultimate showdown presumably arrives in Fall (2014), via ‘Illusion’. It is available in Paperback & Kindle edition.

• Paperback: 296 pages
• Publisher: Caffeinated Books Publishing, LLC; 1 edition (October 27, 2013)
• ISBN-10: 1939997127
• ISBN-13: 978-1939997128

Friday, July 18, 2014

LADIESFUND Speed networking comes to Karachi


Published in Daily Times / 18 July 2014

The myth of the subjugated woman made one person laugh mirthlessly. ‘…subjugated, really…where then did all these ladies come from? And why, o why is the foreign press not covering this side of Pakistan.’ It was a valid observation. The senior journalist, one of the few men invited to cover the event, appeared overwhelmed by the sight of so much enlightened moderation milling around the British High Commission that January afternoon.

The first LADIESFUND® speed networking luncheon (Karachi), which is the result of a partnership between Dawood Global Foundation and British Deputy High Commission had recently added some Harvard style networking to the menu. The intimidating sounding concept was simply a chance for enterprising women from all over to come together, explore avenues of possible collaboration, update the client list, strengthen corporate connections, and be amazed by sheer number of talent gathered under one shady tree (it was an out-door event).

The highly sought after invites suggested that the ladies come armed with business cards, and prepared introductions. There were L shaped tables, a gong set on a 5 minute timer, a dress code and rules of engagement that directed guests to talk to the person in front and not that lady on the side, however interesting she may be. Many had already ‘slow networked’ while window shopping at the stalls, and later by the glorious buffet – the temptation to converse with the neighbours interfered with the prepared script. That, and the blazing sun streaming down dampened the ardour even though it was the middle of January. But the networking would go on unabated, even if it didn’t conform to the stated SOP’s.

The grounds of Acton House and Runnymede were a haven for little start ups seeking capital, noble causes in need of patronage, and new initiatives in search of visibility. Here the attendees could marvel at the great strides Pakistani women have made despite the hurdles conjured up by the mere mention of gender empowerment.

150 powerhouse women had been thrown into the same orbit. It was an inspiring mix that included Kehkashan Awan, who played the lovably ditzy friend from the play ‘Dhoop Kinaray’ (1980’s) and now plays a successful HR Director for EFS (Education Fund for Sind). Shah Khan (CEO KHANZ designs) passionate about promoting local artisans, and proudly wielding the ‘Made in Pakistan’ banner. And a former Scotland Yard staff member, who had a magazine, and a beauty business.

People kept circling back to the stalls that had been set up at the entrance; some offered a taste of local tradition like Munawara Sultan’s beautiful collection of Ajrak and pottery from Nawabshah. Others like ‘Alle’nora Annie Signature Salon’ promised to create that perfectly coiffed hair – on the house. One could sample ‘Isabel Landry’ product range, survey the pretty giveaways, or indulge that inner philanthropist at the ‘Educate a Girl’ corner. All proceeds reportedly would be diverted towards women’s advancement.

As the acting British Deputy High Commissioner Gillian Atkinson acknowledged these tectonic shifts that bode well for Pakistan’s future, Tara Uzra Dawood (LADIESFUND ® President) and Nazneen Tariq Khan (Fundraising Chair, owner Heavenly Regalia) brought out their ‘Invest in yourself’ playbook and helped the guests navigate the strange, new terrain.

LADIESFUND® continues to expand its reach. A few months later, the 6th LADIESFUND® Women’s Award honored a mix of trailblazers, humanitarians and valiant heroes on the frontlines. They also held a ‘Women of Influence’ power lunch at Okra, which replicated the ‘networking’ part of the equation without the ‘speed’. LADIESFUND® Speed Networking Luncheon intends to come to Islamabad later this year.

Image taken from Ladiesfund Facebook page.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Karachi Diaries: The House of GUERLAIN


Published in Economic Affairs (Islamabad) / July 2014

“….one Terracotta powder is sold somewhere in the world every 20 seconds” – GUERLAIN (Twitter)

On the last weekend of June, Karachi was invited to discover the world of French Luxury Fragrance & Beauty. GUERLAIN (1828) is a French Perfume House ranked among the oldest in the world, and has reportedly created over 300 fragrances. Its founder would go on to become His Majesty's Official Perfumer after developing a fragrance for French Emperor Napoleon III and his wife Empress Eugénie. Guerlain (pronounced Ger-lah) is also credited with inventing ‘Rouge Automatique’ (1884) - the first modern lipstick which would be re-released in 2011.



Their makeup and skincare range is now available at Debenhams at Dolmen Mall, Clifton – the signature fragrances will be carried by Scentsation Flagship stores across Pakistan. The event was managed by Tehmina Khalid (Take II) and her team and hosted by model / actress / DJ Hira Tareen sporting a Shehla Chatoor outfit. There were makeup presentations by Nabila & co., models in striking gold capes, and a fashion show in a mall thronged by curiosity seekers which made navigation challenging.

Film, social media and fashion royalty that graced the red carpet, included Maheen, Moammer Rana, Khalid Anam, Angie Marshall, Tapu Javeri, and Khurshaid Haider. The blogger community seen tweeting, instragaming and later reproducing press releases sans quotation marks, is now a permanent fixture.

Guerlain has been brought to the market by Mohsin Feroze C.E.O MULTITECH. The Parisian brand also offers the legendary ‘Shalimar’ (1925) - ‘the first oriental fragrance in history,’ reportedly inspired by the tale of Emperor Shah Jahan, & Mumtaz Mahal, and ‘Jicky’ (1889) - its first and oldest modern perfume ‘…that does not imitate a scent found in nature.’ Another called ‘Guerlain Vol de Nuit’ (1933) owes its name to the novel ‘Vol de Nuit’ (Night Flight) by French aviator, author, aristocrat - Antoine de Saint-Exupér.


The brand pays tribute to the old masters, and sculpts its Magnifique design around the needs of the modern world.

PR: Take II Client Management/PR & Media Consultants
MARKETING: MULTITECH


Karachi Diaries: Walk in Klauset


Published in Economic Affairs (Islamabad) / July 2014 P-34

Dressing well is a sign of good manners” – Tom Ford fashion designer / film director

A Canadian based clothing giant that opened the doors of its flagship store in Karachi offers custom made menswear (for now), touch screens to craft unique profiles, and a coffee bar to placate waiting customers. Klauset’s ‘Made in Pakistan’ label has to be clarified since labor is local, the cloth is imported, and standards are international. The owners try to outline the process for Sindh Education Minister Nisar Khuhro, and regale him with a lesson on texture, weight, limitations (220 gms) and material (micro light, poly wool). Tuxedos that are the rage and come with snazzy cummerbunds raise some eyebrows. It is the first taste of colonial style for those who hadn’t read P.G. Wodehouse, and were unfamiliar with Bertie Wooster’s delightful collection of alpine hats, purple socks or scarlet cummerbunds.


Later, the guest of honor will be swarmed by media-men yearning to discuss the importance of looking elegant, which he did. Having forgotten to turn the audio on the first time, they would be forced to redo the bit; the Minister grateful that no political statements were expected, happily complied. Their Kurta range was duly admired, remarks that the Party flag wasn’t represented were seemingly taken to heart; the management promptly offered to make one flag patterned Kurta within 24 hours. Mr. Khuhro was last seen getting measured for something.





There was no catwalk – some thought a fashion show would have brightened up the presentation. Also present was Mrs. Rubina Qaim Khani - Sindh Minster for Social Welfare, Women Development, & Special Education.


As the spotlight shifted to the architects of the dream, Chaudhary Mehboob Ali, remembered (late) Amir Mehboob’s legacy who supervised the project as the Director Operation, and spent his days in the proverbial trenches. Mehboob Senior now continues his son’s mission. Klauset plans to expand its base in the future and bring the joy of a perfectly tailored suit, and silken cummerbunds to the rest of the land.

Monday, June 30, 2014

What to Expect When you are an Expat


Published in Daily Times / 23 June 2014

Come, it is an opportunity to meet people – the kind you don’t get to see anymore.’

Mekel Waqar’s invitation leads to Côté Jardin located inside the French Cultural Centre. A week ago it had hosted a lovely little exhibition by Pakistani / French artists. The cosmopolitan heart of Karachi has been in retreat; it now thrives behind fortified walls, and eyes the changing landscape with increasing wariness. Mekel, the go to person for visiting / resident foreigners brings the twain together. His mission is to roll out the welcome wagon, arrange mixers, and help expats navigate the cultural divide with ease. He is an InterNations Ambassador tasked with overseeing the Karachi Chapter, while manning the bridge linking city dwellers with the invisible expat community.

InterNations was founded in 2007 by a trio of Germans (Malte Zeeck, Christian Leifeld, Philipp von Plato) and is a global network of expatriates with a presence in 190 countries and 390 cities. It is the first of its kind. Their monthly get-together held on the premises of Alliance Francaise de Karachi (AfK) was reminiscent of a speed networking experiment that took place at the British HC (High Commission) earlier this year, minus the gong, or the switch your partners waltz. Here the agenda goes beyond cultivating professional relationships over strong cups of coffee. Anything can happen. Like that impromptu tour of the newly inaugurated Resource Centre, showcasing artwork from the exhibit and the brief history lesson by Eric Touze (Culture, EFL Manager - AfK).

Mekel encourages those forced to keep a low profile to be a part of select gatherings where they can mingle with locals (676 Pakistani members & counting), connect with their kinsmen or partake of the cultural tableau. The Karachi forum, unlike the city is a bit listless. The Karachi Chapter, however is reportedly more active than Lahore and Islamabad. There were some Repats spotted that day – apparently moving back home can be just as daunting for those without a stable family network. The promised expat sighting over – the fellow who casually introduced himself as ‘the provider’ - a UAE based businessman who passed his cellphone around for a quick preview of his textile collection, and ‘the girl with the British Passport problem’ arrive on cue. The platform allows them to find their footing in regular meet ups, sports activities, or events. The online portal where members can swap war (travel) stories, build trust circles, and get some valuable insight is a glorified trip advisory of sorts. Xandria Aisha – former Ambassador and Albatross member believes that we are inherently expats. That she can drop in at InterNations events across the globe makes it easier to acclimatize.

The expat channel comes in multiple dimensions, and follows a set of guidelines. Meetings must be in public venues, private gatherings are discouraged. Those who provide the space are generally not supposed to charge for its use. InterNations.org is an invite only site where basic membership is free. Albatross members (paid) get priority invites, an invisibility cloak for profile visits, unlimited messages (as opposed to the 5 / month) etc. All members are vetted and the site is monitored for abuse. This does not prevent eager beavers (Arabs / South Asians) from sending silly twinkles (Facebook equivalent of pokes) but there are privacy options to turn them off.

A post seen on their social media page claims ‘0.6 per cent of the world population switches their country of residence over the course of a five-year period.’ Their best guide to surviving in a sprawling metropolis can come from individuals who have already made the move, and the ones who reside here. An Ambassador then becomes the most important link to a strange new land, and provides critical ground support after visitors are done reading dire embassy warnings that restrict movement and limit interaction. Ensuring that the locals do not mistake such events for a typical meet-cute is part of the job; scouting for opportunities to lessen the gulf is part of the design. The financial capital of Pakistan offers attractive prospects but it also comes with its share of challenges. Despite secure locations and filtered guest lists, the diplomat community cannot always venture out given the city’s uncertain political / security climate. Mekel’s quest to establish a global narrative helps define Karachi’s progressive expression.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

E-BOOK REVIEW: A Newlywed’s Adventures in Married Land


Published in Daily Times (Pakistan) / 24 June 2014

Published under the title: Domestic Bliss, Displacement & Desi Wives

Thank you Indireads & Rizwan Tufail for the review copy

Happily ever after’s have not lost their appeal. But Shewta Kumar takes fairy-tale endings, with the land far away as a launch pad, and enlists a newly-wed Mythili busy trading in her journalistic credentials for ‘desperate’ housewife’ as a starter. This is Shweta’s third novel and her first e-book / novella. She is an Indian writer / travel columnist who has worked as a CNN-IBN correspondent, and authored two bestsellers - ‘Between the Headlines: The Travails of a TV Reporter’ & ’Coming up on the Show: The Travails of a News Trainee’.

Here she sets out to sketch Mythili’s new life among fellow expats using Manila as a backdrop where time weighs heavily and the walls start closing in. Having left her crime reporting days as ‘chief-ferreting-out-information-officer’ behind, the characters transformation from an independent young lady to a ‘married Carrie Bradshaw’, minus her signature Jimmy Choos and New York trappings is viewed fearfully. Siddharth, the loyal husband tends to surface as Mythili goes through the requisite stages of adjustment and braces for the unknown. The close knit circle made up of his friends and their wives are regarded with scientific curiosity; the ‘pride of clapped-out lionesses’ is a delightful nod at those cliques found at every corner. Though she ensures that her misadventures in this supposedly unchartered territory are doused with references (implicit or otherwise) to Wonderland (Aka Alice) – the exotic scenery is mapped from cultural mores, and taps into its soulful center.

Some characters like that utterly absurd creature / headhunter teeter on the edge of madness in keeping with the theme, but insular immigrant communities destined to replay the distinct regional soundtrack balance the scales. A ‘dependent visa’ tab that rankles – an eternal quest to fit in, the bored housewives – perfectly coiffed with nary “an intelligent thought between them” are just one of many reasons to stage a delicious takedown using the exclusive vantage point assigned to expats. As skeletons come tumbling out, Mythili stops to observe family photographs that “silently accommodated an invisible mistress and the unseen nanny within its frames.” The plot may toy with the grim side of isolation and crippling doubts that come with the territory, but the core stays sunny, and Mythili’s escapades provide a gateway to the expat zone, its farcical outlines and meandering roads that lead to Promised Land.

‘A Newlywed’s Adventures in Married Land’ is simple, light-hearted fare that follows its leading lady down the proverbial rabbit hole, and keeps the searing commentary flowing to keep readers entertained. While it does feel like a page out of the author’s personal diary, since she was a newlywed in a foreign land herself, her impressions make for a compelling read. In the author’s own words this is a book for everyone “who has chosen to take a leap of faith by saying yes to a proposal, yes to moving to a distant land or simply yes to meeting new people and making new friends.”

It can be found listed under the genre ‘Indilife’ - that hosts “Novellas on life, drama and the modern woman (or man).” Alice will be a recurring motif and splicing a beloved children’s fantasy with Mythili’s struggles is arguably a risky move – the symbolism is inescapable and each chapter is preceded by a quote from Lewis Carrols masterpiece. Doing so might nudge this slender little book towards YA (Young Adult) corner of the shelf and narrow the reader base. As it is the Chiklit tag is considered to be a barrier that locks out an entire demographic.

The protagonist seen going off the beaten track may be an expat but the theme of alienation has universal resonance. Shweta lets the satire brew for that perfect blend and takes the idea of domestic bliss and displacement out for a spin. Her special insight paired with self-deprecating humor lessens the tedium. The desi wives club who almost faint at ‘dhania prices’ while splurging on luxuries, are mercilessly drawn and delivered on a silver platter for readers to devour. Wrestling matches with Mythili’s inner demons, and her oddly shaped obstacle course are ladled over the derivative design.

Manila is where she feels “at home and in a ‘phoren’ land,” simultaneously noting the resemblances with her hometown but without the women “in shorts quite as short” as the ones she observes. Metaphorical white rabbits, grinning Cheshire Cats, and tea loving hatters then become window dressing to a backdrop that is both strangely familiar and, incredibly intimidating. The author does not leave readers dangling and throws in a satisfying conclusion but the possibility of a sequel hangs in the air.

‘A Newlywed’s Adventures in Married Land’ has been published by Indireads on a mission to connect South Asian writers and readers, and is available for download.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

EVENT: Alliance Francaise de Karachi Resource Centre Inauguration


First Published in Economic Affairs (Isl) / June 2014

They say it was dark - the lights had been turned off, and doors of the French Cultural Centre locked when a gentleman arrived, and bought 7 paintings – among them was a set of 4 honoring the elements which the artist had been reluctant to break.



Alliance Francaise de Karachi had invited six painters to be a part of the inaugural ceremony of their new Resource Centre. A charming Diptych by Paul Mehdi Rizvi that blended in so beautifully, and was erroneously believed to be a part of the décor was actually from the exhibit.



The Centre which has gone through several iterations over the years, and lay forgotten as a storage space, now offers combined facilities of a study section, cultural corner, a recreational area, and on May 15th - a taste of contemporary art.



Babar Moghal, Omar Farid, Henri Souffay, M. Akram Spaul, Scharjeel Sarfaraz, and Paul Mehdi Rizvi had been enlisted as their opening act. Inside, somewhere by the book shelves lay a wall that had been taken up by an extravagantly imagined psychedelic dreamscape - the hallmark of Farid.



12 offerings by French artist Henri Souffay were pen & ink on paper rendered in exquisite detail –one came imprinted by compelling visions of dark dungeons (sans dragons), another included a quick nod to the local artisans. Scharjeel’s transcendent expression marked by a touch of divine had been bookended by the stunning simplicity and sunny optimism that is Spaul.



Omar Farid lights up at the thought of Babar Moghal’s Pink Floyd inspired series exhibited earlier. Babar had left Floyd out from his luxuriant statements shrouded in ochre mist, and had gone off the beaten path – scaling monuments fused with a mythical aura and traipsing by forests under the moonlit sky.

The exhibition will be the first of many. The Centre is open for business.

KARACHI DIARIES: KOMAL RIZVI VDO Launch / Press Conference


First Published in Economic Affairs (Islamabad) / June 2014



This brother / sister duo came highly recommended. Their music video launch / press conference held at Port Grand, (Karachi) will be the talk of town. And their experimental new sound would be put up for review.



Komal Rizvi, who made her debut as a singer / actress / VJ in the 1990’s, was staging a comeback with her new single - ‘Kalli Kalli’ in April 2014. Hasan Rizvi stars in the video with his sister; Sohail Javed directs. It would be Komal’s first launch and Hasan’s umpteenth choreography.



The filming had been eventful, the storyboard toyed with the elements - water, fire,,,, etc, as did the musicians; one was scorched, the other drowned, several times over reportedly. Nothing had dampened their ardour, or kept them from bombarding Sohail with a steady stream of creative input. ‘Add a tabla’ one would say, ‘how about a sitar’ the other would suggest.


The award winning director survived, and was later hailed for his artistic vision, and fortitude. The stylists were praised for their masterful creations. Bushra Ansari played host and a Show reel of Pakistani music was screened. Zeba Bakhtiar was in the house, and a short montage of her had been added; a promo of Meher Jaffri’s internationally acclaimed film, ‘Seedlings’ (Lamha) received a well deserved ovation. It was heartening to see the spotlight trained, however briefly, on music’s brightest moments and the industry’s proudest achievements.


Hasan Rizvi, the resident choreographer who had forgotten his prepared notes at home still managed to give an eloquent speech despite Bushra Ansari’s delightfully irreverent interruptions. Video making is a labor of love, sans monetary benefits apparently. The media moguls huddled together with showbiz royalty, and a political personality, who had melted away in the background, appreciated their passion for the arts, and the shades of humility visible in their composition.



Komal finally took the stage, noting the strange new terrain, her determination to stay the course, and efforts to bring music to regions in the eye of the storm. She also performed 3 unplugged versions, including ‘Kalli Kalli’ before lifting the veil of secrecy from their latest masterpiece.


There would be no Q/A on the menu; flashbacks, celebrity cameos, and an impromptu dance routine by Hasan and his merry men however ended the evening on a high.



PR: PitchMedia