Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Let the Games Begin…



Originally intended for the Good Times (magazine), posting it here.

VENUE: The Second Floor (T2F)

Sporting sagas could always use a rag-tag team to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. Shifting the lens towards female players posed against a conservative backdrop who defy gravity and dare to dream puts an empowering spin on the chosen narrative. While underdogs make trusty hooks, women with gumption never go out of style.

Finding them is not that difficult. Mashal Hussain and Khadija Kazmi are the face of KU women’s football. The Karachi United FC – Women’s Squad was launched in 2010. Mashal, who is the ‘Youth Program Coordinator – Women Division Lead’ defines it as a dream job. She is aware of the irony that in most circles it wouldn’t be classified as a career. Her steely determination to push the conversation about women’s sports into development territory based on time spent in the field gives her words an added poignancy.

Mashal and Khadija appear poised to step into their role as potential change-agents and visionaries. They have been involved in arranging championships, training youth, community uplift and welfare projects. Their chosen path is littered with cultural landmines that threaten to derail the growth and development process.

They use an inventive way to sum up their personal experiences by screening a documentary about Zanzibar’s female football team. ‘The New Generation Queens – Football Beyond the Pitch’ directed by Megan Shutzer has been selected because of the similarity of challenges faced by both sides and the regional roadblocks carved from chauvinism and religious bigotry on display. Zanzibar’s spectacular losses somehow become irrelevant to the storyline. Their indefatigable spirit is the showstopper.

Politics cause added stress fractures on the local front. Despite these hurdles the Pakistani women have preserved and made inroads. There are rough patches and dark days. A scene where the Zanzibar team, seen in Coca Cola sponsored T-shirts is expected to play without water or soda raises eyebrows. The local payers can relate to their plight including the water deprivation part. That this happened at a national level and not in a backwater township is clearly a source of concern.

Mashal was introduced to the game at 19. She was too old by football standards and remembers her first match against a team of boys on a cricket pitch and being wiped out by their opponents. Fortunately, setbacks or grim statistics are not the final word in their playbook. A select few have embarked on a lonely trek and soldier on, braced for resistance. They relate cautionary tales of parents who support their daughters’ life choices and are dismayed by the limits set that prevent girls from exploring their true potential. Of corporate sponsorships that exist but are targeted at competitions and not, as should be the case, sports development. That development is not driven by tournaments alone is obvious to the players – they can just look on as the pursuit of careers or marriage inevitably pushes athletic ambitions on the back burner.

The lack of proper support on a State level also holds them back. They have introduced the first national ‘Under 12’ and ‘Under 10’ girls’ academy in the region and bear witness to the social impact on disenfranchised youth hailing from rough neighborhoods like Golimar, Lyari or Manghpir. Both women have a vision of the future where football is not regarded as a summer fling to be cast aside when real life comes a calling. Mashal sees a love of sports opening up new vistas leading to infrastructure development, apparel design, or ground maintenance. She insists that this is an investment worth making and points to the array of rewards that come along with it – like the wonderful camaraderie, self-belief, or support networks. The two are living proof of the transformative power of sports and share their wish-list which includes widening the net and an athlete pool to choose from, for starters.

They now come forward in a bid to sway opinions in their favor. Khadija, who represented Pakistan in the Generation Amazing Program (Qatar) in Brazil 2014 remains a passionate advocate for social change and for platforms that can harness the power of football and bend perceptions. Awareness is needed to counter the state of apathy that exists on every level. The duo is pragmatic. Change doesn’t happen overnight – and they are willing to wait. They realize that they are at the first rung and there are many more to go. Football was their passion and they are in it for the long haul.
For Mashal, Sports Development is next step and she is now headed to Harvard University to pursue a degree that will prepare her for the next chapter of her life.

Casting female footballers from the third world as stakeholders in the art of nation building may be a radical notion. Since they are not just aiming for shelves lined with trophies – success from their vantage point offers a picturesque view of an arena that raises champions and cultivates a culture of sports innovation on the side. It’s a fascinating spectacle.




PEPSI UNPLUGGED - Anniversary Edition


..couldn't wait any longer, had to post it here. Miss the Daily Times of yore.

There is nothing to announce the arrival of Fall in Karachi; leaves do not change color, temperatures stay constant and billboards of chilled coffees lurk in the rearview. Nothing, except the ‘Pepsi Unplugged – Fall Edition’.

It is a series of invite only events designed around live singing and dynamic playlists. They recently held a show in Lahore and rounded off the year by adding some inter-continental flavor to the mix for their anniversary celebrations in Karachi.

The names were a highly guarded secret revealed just a few days before the event. Their presence underscored the growing scope of the ‘Unplugged’ series and the enterprising spirit of its creators. And, if the press releases are to be believed, such visits were to be the first of many, offering Karachiwalas a mixed platter of Sufism, Folk and Bhangra that kept the crowd going till 2 in the morning.

Josh, an Indo-Pak band that flew in from Canada, reminisced about the past and their first encounter with the song ‘Aye Mausam’ in 50/50 (PTV comedy) before paying homage to the original with a retouched version. Komal Rizvi opened the show with a medley of her famous hits, throwing in some ‘Set Fire to the Rain’ to change the tempo. Together they unveiled a cover version of a 1950’s classic as part of their collaborative venture.

While tickets to Thailand, Tissot watches, Diamond Rings and TPL Trakkers were up for grabs, selfies and hashtags became the key to winning. Waiting is the hardest part and sponsors kept the impatient room apprised of the singers’ progress using the Trakker technology to monitor their movements. It was an amusing bit and a welcome diversion. By opening the doors to foreign acts, the unplugged machine enters a new phase in its musical odyssey.

Previous session’s featured heavy weights like Ali Azmat, Noori, Fuzon etc and ‘Pepsi Unplugged’ has already begun toying with the idea of making a global statement. Hasan Rizvi (CEO Body Beat) - the man behind the vision charges ahead undaunted by the shaky politics and alarming fluctuations in the Defcon levels. He now intends to surf the sun & sand dunes of Dubai and keep Pakistani artists trending all through 2016.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

MOVIE REVIEW: JURASSIC WORLD


The Lost Wonderland

Rolling back extinction has its moments.

22 years ago, ‘Jurassic Park’ made landfall in Pakistan nearly a year after official release, back when multiplexes were a myth and 3D - a distant dream. Ground breaking tech, enlisted to salvage relics of the past was counted upon to cast a spell. A couple of decades later, the big screen extravaganza stopped by for an encore. The enchantment hadn’t worn off.

The arrival of ‘Jurassic World’, in not so glorious 3D, aims to reignite the passion, on the same day, and in superior cinemascope. It also ups the ante and the filmmakers slyly refer to the sky high expectations and shrinking attention spans as they, along with the corporate machine in charge of the imaginary realm fret about the complexities of cloning the shock & awe-factor.

This version comes with a brand new director at the helm and has been set in the same universe as the first installment. ‘Jurassic World’ has widened the playing field by developing the animal reserve and opening the grounds to visitors. The cast features Chris Pratt as the resident wildlife trainer with Bryce Dallas Howard as the stiff corporate exec / frosty aunt trying to juggle work, dinosaurs and her visiting nephews – all in one go. Irfan Khan is the man in charge who wants to up the stakes by cooking up more fearsome monsters in the lab to keep visitor interest from flagging. Chaos comes a calling when their short sighted approach misfires and the animals turn the tables on their creators as they are wont to do.

Wooing a pack of jaded audience members back to a prehistoric ecosystem can be tricky. Bigger, better, more bite is the revised motto leading to amped up mayhem and madness. The bold looking premise strives to keep its thriving amusement park relevant; the meta-commentary underscores the creative vision chosen to jumpstart the franchise.

The latest offering pays homage to the original and recycles the iconic score, John Hammond’s jeep and BD Wong as the mad scientist. Those who answer the summons for a chance to indulge in fossil sightings, stumble across charismatic leading men, and oodles of hubris strewn among the debris of gene splicing. It makes for a compelling arc and offers incentive to glide over memory lane for a panoramic view of Hammond’s failed enterprise. While the previous occupants of the ill-fated mission gave up the notion of taming nature – their modern day counterparts dusted off the beautiful illusion of control for a closer look. The CGI behemoth is expected to slake mankind’s insatiable thirst for spectacle. To that end, it unveils unholy alliances forged between man and beast, as a pair of uninteresting kids in peril vies for sympathy. It delivers on the action / adventure front, complete with the requisite carnage to bolster the cautionary tale aspect.

Unleashing centuries old primal instinct upon the world may be a trusty hook but it still needs to be wielded with caution. When Spielberg first opened the gateway of his one of a kind wildlife preserve, he dazzled his fictional team of expert witnesses and green viewers in one masterstroke and let them relish the wonders of the lost world before survival became the dominant theme. Both experienced the heady rush of excitement amid numbing waves of crippling fear and came away moved by the event. The element of surprise may be gone but the very idea of a fully functional park held great promise for moviegoers. Instead it was introduced through the eyes of a bored teen and consequently lost much of its impact.

Colin Trevorrow’s slick looking flight of fantasy grounds to a halt by failing to harvest the emotional core central to its success. That lack of investment robs the narrative of its soul. Also, the suspension of disbelief required is jaw-dropping. Ms. Howard’s unwieldy high heels are the foot-ware of choice in a park overrun by super-charged predators. Moody lab specimens are impervious to deadly firepower. And special effect wizardry takes precedence over character development. One stops to marvel at the NASA-esque mission control and then searches for the mislaid contingency plans to evacuate the hordes of tourists and save them from becoming appetizers should things go South. A few anxiety filled moments stand in for simmering tension and creeping dread. Tropes run amok. Damsels look distressed.

One is then tempted to write this off as an ungainly beast living off the glory of yesteryears. But some of the magic survived the journey. Raptors get a delightful makeover that allows them to scale the evolutionary ladder, adding to their mystique. Stocking the playground with fresh attractions that recast the pecking order never fails to amuse. And the idea of reality playing catch up with Sci-Fi adds a cozy new dimension to the experience.

Despite all its failings ‘Jurassic World’ is a box-office juggernaut and now reigns comfortably at the top as the 3rd highest grossing movie of all time. Nostalgia is its biggest ally; the monster themed catwalk remains its greatest asset. Now with a sequel in the works, it intends to extend its hold to 2018 and beyond.

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