Ganda banda, two girls and a guitar.

With their album and video being talk of the town, musicians Zeb and Haniya are hardly staying quiet. Teaming up with director / musician Babar Shaikh they’re already working on a follow up video to Aitebaar.

“The girls approached me because they had seen what I had done with Paheliyan (by Mauj). It was something different, very vibrant and colourful.”

The director has a knack of envisioning unique and stylistic videos, while his last offering was taking Mauj for a haircut; he has a very interesting idea up his sleeve for the dynamic girl duo. “I’m going to be directing the video to Chup. It’s going to be quirky, funny and different. A sort of sarcastic look on the materialistic views society has these days.”

Babar went on to say that they’re hoping to shoot first week of August — with Muneeb Nawaz doing the details on styling and wardrobe — and then roll out the video soon after

Lost in Khayal

The boundary between fashion and music has been blurred once again, and this time round it’s fashion designer Saadia Mirza who has caused the phenomenon.

Khayal is not a music video per se, and it doesn’t try to be one. If one happens to stumble upon the video midway, it would seem as if they’ve stumbled on to a commercial. The music itself is quite refreshing with Beenish Mehmood at the vocals and music by Ali Sher. But this isn’t about music. It’s the showcase of Saadia’s collection is what’s that matters. Both designer and director emphatically state that this is just a music video to promote Saadia’s line — which Beenish’s vocals and Ali’s composition does quite nicely.

Like a small jigsaw piece, this music video was part of a larger project called Kashf: The Lifting of the Veil. Kashf is a motion picture recently made by New York-based Pakistani writer and director, Ayesha Khan. At the same time, Saadia Mirza was keen to break out from the fashion norm but to also to celebrate the life of a departed loved one, “I wanted to make a music video about my five lines and accessories … but I wanted it to be special so I chose the poetry from my sister who has passed away.”

Khan (a friend of Mirza’s) then recommended director Nasir Khan to the designer for the project. Nasir had taken part in many award-nominated productions, including Kashf, which was previewed at the Berlin and Cannes film festivals.

The director speaks of his involvement, “It’s not what people usually hear or see in Pakistan, it’s different. We had a discussion with Saadia and she wanted to display her line, plus we had poetry from her late sister — which was quite special to her. So we divided her line into four pieces, chose four different models and four different locations.”

The models are Tooba, Gia Ali, Neha and Aleena, and were handpicked by Saadia. The video was shot at three majestic and grand locations the Punjab, including the historic Katas Ruins and the century-old Church of St. Andrews. The locations add to the sheer scale of the shoot, which also stars four different models in Saadia’s collection.

But the focus, of course, is still the designer, “We grasped the essence of the line, the essence of Saadia’s work, but at the same time since this would portray not just the designer but also the country, which is why we chose these locations.”

And what does the designer think of all this? “It’s interesting because in the video you see all of my collection and my sister’s poetry.” With such diverse input it is pretty clear that the project holds a special place in her heart. “The shoot itself was very tiring but great fun. Coming from a print medium to a video-based medium was tricky, because we have to be very careful with what we do. Once it’s done it’s done, there’s no going back.”

She speaks of course about getting things right the first time and then being able to get noticed. And people have taken notice, “Well, Ayesha then used the video. It was bought by her for her film and because of that we’ve been approached by an established Indian jeweller and they’d like to do something with us and an Indian superstar.”

Its pretty clear that that what was once a music video about Khayal is becoming more than just that.


Battlestar Galactica (2004)

Battlestar Galactica (2004 TV series)Image via WikipediaOriginally developed by producer / writer extraordinaire Glen A Larson in 1978 (as an answer to Star Wars), Battlestar Galactica, a science fiction TV show, was revived in 2003 by ex-Star Trek producer and writer, Ronald D Moore.

First broadcast as a mini-series which sets up the series that follows, the show’s main premise is still the same. The Cylons were a robotic race created by man; they rebelled and after a hiatus of many years, they have returned and they wish to extract their revenge on humanity.

The show is a science fiction metaphor for the war on terror with the terrorists being the Cylons who have sleeper cells and even look like humans. Issues like civil liberties, the fundamental right of human beings and the pros and cons of democracy are touched upon; there’s even an episode dedicated to the ethics of torture.

The show stars Edward James Olmos (from TV’s Miami Vice) as Commander Odama who has been thrust with the responsibility of leading the last survivors of human civilisation to a lost refuge known as Earth. The characters of Boomer (Grace Park) and Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) were re-imagined as female roles for the new series, something the producers deliberately decided on doing. That’s probably what also sets BSG apart from other science fiction dramas, the presence of a spectrum of strong female characters.

Mary McDonnell (President Laura Roslin), Katee Sackhoff (Captain Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace), Tricia Helfer (Number Six) and Grace Park (Lt. Sharon 'Boomer' Valerii) all play diverse characters with diverse goals, but each is determined, strong-willed and driven by her own ambitions. Whether it’s Roslin’s Presidency, Starbuck’s career, Boomer’s inner demons or the maliciousness of Number six, BSG proves that science fiction isn’t about stereotypes.

The first season of Battlestar Galactica, along with the mini-series is now available in box set.

(Originally published in the July 24th, 2008 edition of The Review)
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Wall-E: The Little Robot that Could.

There are very few films that have the ability to move people. We hear all kinds of different stories now sweetened with spectacular visuals and topped with a flicker and hint of a plot, but every once in a while something comes up that truly stirs our emotions.

This isn’t some heavy drama written by an award-winning playwright nor is it based on a true story: It is about a robot who discovers that not only does he have a heart but also the courage and determination to follow it.

Wall-E is Pixar’s latest animated outing and the premise was actually thought of long before Toy Story was made. Writer/director Andrew Stanton mused, “What if mankind left earth and forgot to switch off the last robot?” He shared the idea with his contemporaries but was unable to pay it any attention due to his involvement in projects such as Finding Nemo, Toy Story, Monsters Inc., et al. Having freed himself from all commitments, Stanton dived head-first into the future and the world of Wall-E.

Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth class (aka Wall-E) toils each day, properly setting aside garbage and waste, having been forgotten by humanity as it departed Earth. They left because after all this time their effect on the environment was too much for the planet to handle. In fact, when we’re first introduced to Wall-E, if you look past the cuteness and the funny moments, you’ll notice that the surroundings — Earth — has been reduced to a planet-size garbage dump. The message is pretty clear: If we don’t take care of our planet and act responsibly we’ll have to work on inventing someone as smart and complicated as Wall-E to help clean up the mess after us.

As the story goes, Wall-E thinks he is the only life form (artificial and/or otherwise) on Earth until he discovers Eve. It turns out that humans haven’t abandoned Earth at all, instead they constantly send robots to keep Earth’s climate in check — and Eve is one of them. Upon a routine patrol of Earth, Eve makes the startling discovery and returns to the humans orbiting in space stations with the shocking revelation. It is then that Wall-E’s journey of comedy, heartache and adventure begins.

But it’s not as simple as that. Stanton explains his vision of the film, “What really interested me was the idea of the most human thing in the universe being a machine because it has more interest in finding out what the point of living is than actual people. The greatest commandment (we have) is to love, but that’s not always our priority. So I came up with this premise that could demonstrate what I was trying to say — that irrational love defeats the world’s programming. You’ve got these two robots that are trying to go above their basest directives, literally their programming, to experience love.”

The film in its entirety animated because that’s the only way it could work. Says executive producer John Lasseter, “The art of animation is about what the character does, not what it says. It all depends on how you tell the story, whether it has a lot of dialogue or not.” And that’s when Andrew Stanton and his team got to work. If you look closely, the director takes a lot of cues from various sources, Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, to George Lucas’s Star Wars to Kubrick’s magnum opus, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Stanton developed the film with the help of special effects guru Dennis Muren, and worked with him on how to replicate the sci-fi look of the ’60s and the ’70s. Muren, of course, is an alumnus of that particular sci-fi era, having developed Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. Everything in the Wall-E has that era’s particular look and feel such as the colours and textures. These things aren’t from the future, they’re from the films about the future — and that’s what makes it so fun to look at, because subliminally we’ve seen them before. Even Wall-E looks like a cross between Johnny Five (from Short Circuit) and ET. But no matter what he looks like or how the other robots looked like, what’s important is how they act.

Stantons instructions to his designers were: “See it as an appliance first, and then read character into it.” Of course the writer would develop the story and characteristics, but these robots don’t speak. For a major portion of the film the robots speak in ‘voices’ created specially by sound designer Ben Burtt. Darth Vader, the Light Saber, Body Snatchers, ET and now Wall-E all owe their sounds to him.

The sound designer created dialogue by taking various mechanical sounds and jumbling them up so that they’d enounce the characters. And every robot presented in the film has a distinct voice of its own. But does that help the story? Can a film be done without dialogue and only through gestures? Well, people like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton didn’t have a hard time, and so Wall-E takes cues from them.

For Stanton and his team it was imperative that they be able to animate the gestures required for the story to progress. But because Wall-E is mostly robots gesticulating and having a cute and funny moment in between, the story itself can be a bit too strong or even dark for younger children. Though Finding Nemo was probably the most ‘adult’ movie out of Pixar’s lot with The Incredibles not that far behind, Wall-E definitely takes it further. As stated before, there are very few films that actually move people and this film has definitely lined itself with them.


Kung-Fu Panda(monium)!

Pandas aren't known for their dexterity and they surely aren't known for their prowess in martial arts. But Po isn't just any panda, he's the star of DreamWork's latest animation venture, aptly titled, Kung Fu Panda.

Real life panda lookalike Jack Black plays Po, the enthusiastic, big and a little clumsy martial arts obsessed panda. His obsession leads him to constant daydreams during his job as a waiter in the village noodle shop, run by his father, who happens to be a goose, Mr Ping (voiced by James Hong).

Po is a big fan of Kung Fu, but working at a noodle shop doesn't exactly allow him to practice his growing desire of becoming a Kung Fu expert. His interest is piqued when he hears that Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), the thousand-year-old turtle, will be choosing a Dragon Warrior at a prestigious ceremoney. Abandoning his day job, Po stumbles and disrupts his way into the ceremony where one of the Furious Five will be chosen as the savior from an approaching evil.

The Furious Five are the champions of Valley of Peace (the setting of the movie, modeled after the ) and under the tutelage of Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), it is hoped that one of them will become the Dragon Warrior and defend the valley from the evil snow leopard warrior Tai-Lung (Ian McShane), a former pupil of Shifu, gone rogue.

The Furious Five could have been named the Famous Five – and not because they solve any mysteries – it's because they're all famous actors. From the Crane (David Cross), Viper (Lucy Liu), Mantis (Seth Rogen from Knocked Up and Superbad), Tigress (Angelina Jolie) and Monkey (Jackie Chan) these five characters/actors are more or less help Po along on his hero's journey, a journey that will teach him much about life and more importantly that he needs to be their own hero.

It was a theme that was very important to the directors (John Stevenson and Mark Osborne) and the producer (Melissa Cobb) of Kung Fu Panda, right from the start. "We wanted the film to have something children could take away: 'Be your own hero,' which means don’t look outside of yourself for the answer. You are empowered to achieve anything you want, if you set your mind to it," says director John Stevenson. And to shape that message they needed the right kind of writer, or writers in this case. TV writing duo Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger helped shape the world of Kung Fu Panda and brought its characters to life.

It was obvious from the very beginning that title character would be voiced by Jack Black. Black's previous outing as a shark in Shark Tale, impressed DreamWork's executive Jeffery Katzenberg . "One day, Jeffrey came to me and basically said, 'Hey, let's make another one.' I had done a character voice, more of a nebbishy, New Yorker, kind of a Woody Allen-type of voice as Lenny (from Shark Tale). So I assumed I’d be getting back into the character voice thing. But Jeffrey said, 'This time you're the big cheese, and it's called Kung Fu Panda," states Black.

Dustin Hoffman as Shifu (Po's teacher) was not such an obvious choice but it was the right choice. Hoffman found Osborne and Stevenson's direction to be quite liberating, "They promised me at the beginning that anything I didn't like I could re-do — which you can't do on a regular film. These guys have spent four years on this, and they've always said that it's constantly something you can change, you can re-animate. I allowed myself to be guided by them. Because otherwise, I would come in with some kind of predetermined idea that would be nowhere near as good as theirs."

What character is complete without his idol or in this case, five of them? The animals chosen to represent Po's idol weren't randomly picked up. In fact, Kung Fu enthusiasts will note with glee that each animal represents each of the fighting styles in the martial arts technique.

Angelina Jolie plays Tigress, a play on the tiger fighting technique, and stated, "They explained to me that there are all different styles of kung fu, and hers is attack. There’s no defense. It’s just attack, attack, attack…so that makes her a very interesting character."

The monkey fighting technique is by far the most fluid moving character of the lot, he just doesn't fight with his limbs, and he's got his tail to swing around too. It was clear that only Jackie Chan would do justice to this character. Chan remarks, "I think the writers and the animators have watched my movements, my characters, my…everything! It seems like they copied me, which is nice. Monkey is acrobatic, playful and confuses the enemy very easily."

Whilst the Monkey confuses, Viper shocks through stealth and obfuscation. Lucy Liu didn't need too much convincing to take on the role of the serpent, "When I first came onto the project, they had a computer version of what they had in mind for the different characters, including Viper. When I saw the drawings of Viper, she had these two beautiful lotus flowers on top of her head. They didn’t really have to sell me hard on it, you know?"

If Viper is all about stealth, then Crane is all about grace. Comedian David Cross brought his signature dry wit to give the elegant bird a distinctive voice among the Five. His comic timing is wonderfully put to use, playing a slightly perturbed kung fu warrior. "I think Crane represents the Everyman," says Cross, "or in this case, 'Everycrane.' I would admit that Crane’s voice is distinctly similar to mine. He’s very cool. So, I guess in that way, we’re alike."

Finally, fellow comedian Seth Rogen portrays the most wound up of all the characters, the Mantis. Proving that size doesn't matter, Mantis is extremely precise and very quick, in wit and in fight. "When they called me, I thought, ‘perfect.’ I’ve always wanted to play a mantis, so I thought it was oddly coincidental that they had called," Rogen jokingly states.

And finally what cast would be complete without the villain of the story? Enter Tai Lung, menacingly voiced by Ian McShane. The Englishman played the epitome of evil on HBO's Deadwood and didn't try too hard in his portrayal of the evil snow leopard which often mimics George Sanders' portrayal of Shere Khan in Disney's Jungle Book animated movie.

The action sequences are breathtaking, intricate and initially very amusing. Though actors give voice to the characters, it is the animation that makes them spring into action, and they do a lot of that in Kung Fu Panda. Head of Character Animation Dan Wagner was charged with establishing the style of animation for each character — how they move and how they behave. "Having furry animals kick each other’s butt is a fun idea. We brought in someone with zoological training, a bio-mechanist named Stuart Sumida, who’s very knowledgeable on how animals are put together and how they move. We had a few classes with Stuart, going over each of our specific animals, just how they operate and how they behave."

And the homework clearly pays off in each of the fight sequences. But it's not just that homework that pays off, after four years of hard work, each of the movie's elements, characters and actors create a world of wonder, excitement, funny movements and genuine message.


Kung Fu Spielberg?

In February 2008, Steven Spielberg pulled out of his role as creative advisor to the 2008 Beijing Olympics in response to the Chinese government's involvement with the government of Sudan.

Spielberg issued a statement, stating "I find that my conscience will not allow me to continue business as usual ... Sudan's government bears the bulk of the responsibility for these on-going crimes, but the international community, and particularly China, should be doing more."

It was of course, Spielberg's work that would ultimately have to face the brunt of the backlash. Being a partner at DreamWorks made its latest venture Kung Fu Panda face a myriad of quick jabs and roundhouse kicks from the Chinese.

Chinese critics slammed the film and asked moviegoers to boycott it. Another group, backed by Chinese artist Zhao Bandi, who uses pandas as an inspiration for his work, also called for a boycott, saying the animated film is exploiting a national symbol.

But it's been two weeks since its release in China and already the movie has become a runaway success, generating some $12 million and becoming one this year's biggest hits. Kung Fu Panda has clearly dodged all attacks and conquered Chinese cinemagoers.

Although he isn't part of the Olympics, it's pretty clear that Spielberg has bagged the gold on this one.