Wednesday, March 12, 2014

KARACHI DIARIES: The ALI ZAFAR Experience


First Published in Economic Affairs (Islamabad) March 2014



A forlorn figure making portraits in hotel lobbies may not be newsworthy. The flash-forward of him wandering his old stomping grounds however can make headlines. By then he has acquired some elegant titles that go well with stardom, while retaining a measure of humility that keeps him grounded.


Renowned musician and actor Ali Zafar has been in the game for a decade. His name is listed in ‘Wall Street Money Never Sleeps’ (2010) - soundtrack section. He has an array of awards under his belt and a line-up of movies & songs to his credit.


He saunters on stage to take his place as the star of the evening but happily shares the spotlight - with a fan, randomly chosen for a photo-op, with nimble footed celebrities who waltzed in and in some cases, leapt out, and Shahbaz – the surprised looking technician who got his 5 minutes of fame in exchange for some bottled water.

The singer scores with his generosity and endears himself to listeners by doling out mini doses of philosophical musings inlaid with self deprecating humour. A string of surprise cameos follow. All this takes place in the backdrop of Hum TV’s Valentine day celebrations, aptly titled ‘Dil Jhoom Jhoom’ held on 31st January, 2014 in Pearl Continental, Karachi.


The Ali Zafar experience becomes interactive when Faisal Qureshi, of the ‘Dr. & Billa’ fame now seen in U-fone adverts, who hasn’t attended a live show in years appears onstage, full of praises, and slightly apprehensive at what the singer might say. Ali has a reputation of being blunt. But other than a humorous dig at not writing a film for him, Faisal escapes unscathed.

Occasionally Ali lapses into ‘no woman no cry’, spliced in with random political observations. He believes that enmity between 2 warring nations gets them nowhere and advocates talent exchange programs insisting that collaboration would solve many problems. His film, ‘Total Siyapaa’, due for release on 7th March is reportedly patterned after a similar theme.

Junaid Khan, with whom he performed an impromptu little duet, believes that 'there are few who have mapped their own destinies and Ali is one of them …’ An aspiring singer, sketch pad in hand with no money to record a song, and no prospects on the horizon, qualifies.


KARACHI DIARIES: 5TH KARACHI LITERATURE FESTIVAL 2014


First Published in Economic Affairs - Islamabad (March 2014)

Like Rick’s from Casablanca, people tend to gravitate towards the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF). To rendezvous with authors, (global & regional), journalists (foreign and local), diplomats, filmmakers, celebrities, publishing giants, analysts & social media pundits. To hail divergent views and forge lifelong connections while sprinting from session to session; at author signings by makeshift book stalls, in the midst of earnest discussions, during lively Q/A’s and at coffee stands.




KLF, which became a part of Karachi’s social scene in 2010, is a portal to a realm where discourse is welcome and diversity is celebrated. Where elitism gets shunned, and cultural bonds are reinforced.

Those who ventured out might have come upon beloved idols sans entourage mingling with the common folk, calmly standing by a pillar if they couldn’t find a seat; Zeb (other half of Haniya) or Tina Sani humming to the beat of something called a Shurti box under the canopy, Shanaz Ramzi by the sea-front bravely recreating recipes from her book on Pakistani cuisine or Gandhi’s gracious grandson engaged in a diplomatic dance after an awkward encounter with an audience member.


The 3 day event (7 - 9th February 2014) held at Beach Luxury Hotel welcomed an estimated 70,000 visitors, despite the strike and the perpetually grim backdrop. It comes once a year and is free. Inside it mirrors a miniaturized global village (of sorts) that uses its literary credentials to pay homage to the arts through energizing conversations, steer free flowing ideas to safe harbour and raise the stature of regional languages.

This year 11 nations were represented, 280 speakers hosted, and 28 books launched. Also, 3 Pakistani books were honored - with the KLF Coca Cola Best Non Fiction (Osama Siddique), KLF Embassy of France Prize (Uzma Aslam Khan) & the KLF Peace Prize (Akber Ahmed). KLF 2014 was sponsored by HBL, and co-sponsored by Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany & the Goethe Institute. The festival, which came to Islamabad in 2013, is the brainchild of Ameena Saiyid OBE, MD OUP (Oxford University Press) & Asif Farrukhi.

The next Islamabad Literary Festival will be held in April 2014.