27.12.09

An Animated Life: Roy Disney

Amid the clutter of today’s glittering computer-generated animation features, only Roy E. Disney stood by traditional 2D animated features.

It was Roy who guided Walt Disney Studios through its recent revival of animation, starting with 1995’s Aladdin, and going through to The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. In 2003, his association with the Disney Company came to a peak when he stepped down as vice chairman of Disney’s board and chairman of the Disney Studio’s Animation Department. Nevertheless, he continued to be part of projects, acting as a consultant on stories, simply because it was difficult to step away from a company that shared your family name and your very ideals.

Roy’s journey with the Disney Corporation began when the company itself came to life. He was only seven years old when his father, Roy Oliver, and uncle, Walter, set up Disney. Young Roy learned both from his father who was comfortable in the shadow of Walt, and at the same time he also learned from Walt himself, who used the spotlight to his own great advantage. It was only natural that Roy too take the mantle that his father and uncle had set up.

In 1952, after attending university and college, Roy landed a job as an assistant editor on the popular TV show Dragnet. Pretty soon, the family business came calling and Roy answered; he joined the Walt Disney Studios the year after and a 56-year journey with the company began.

During this time, he dedicated the first 20 years to nature films, including the Academy Award-winning True-Life Adventure features The Living Desert and The Vanishing Prairie. One of his short subject films, Mysteries of the Deep received an Oscar nomination. It would be the first of his second Oscar nods.

After the death of the founders of the company, his father and his uncle, Roy desperately tried to make his own place in the company. However, it would seem that the Disney company and Roy would have two different paths to take. Roy left the company in 1977, but remained on its board as a director, a position more to do with photo opportunities rather than actual say in the company. It was also around this time that the company dwindled down from its glory years. But Roy had different plans.

Disillusioned with the Disney management, Roy then diverted his attention and became a successful financer. Along with his partner, Stanley Gold, he invested in various businesses and not only gathered enough cash to bring in radical changes at Disney, but also the inspiration to do so. Roy allied himself with the billionaire Bass family of Texas, returned to Disney’s board and forced out the studio management, paving the way for the hiring of a new team led by Michael Eisner, Frank Wells and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Katzenberg would later on be forced out by Eisner, and would form his own studio along with David Geffen and Steven Spielberg under the name DreamWorks.

As the chief executive, Roy set out to revive the company as an animation giant. One of the first steps included a $10 million investment in a in a digital ink and paint system developed by Pixar. Thought it seemed like the right thing to do, and a minor decision, the investment in Pixar would not only pay off, but also come to compete with Disney on equal terms as an animation goliath.

There would be more upheavals for Roy as tensions between him and Michael Eisner also rose. Eisner, already experienced once with the disillusionment of Disney in the past, had enough of it. He resigned from Disney in 2003 (with Eisner following in 2005) and stayed on as director emeritus and a consultant, titles he held until his death.

Roy E. Disney died on December 16, after a long battle with stomach cancer.

Originally published here.

27.11.09

The Golden Globe nominations are here

Every year Hollywood is abuzz with awards fever. The season culminates in the Academy Awards but ultimately begins with the Golden Globes held by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. It honours the best of cinema and television from around the world.


The 67th Annual Golden Globes are slated to be held in January 2010, but the nominations that were recently announced have started to create buzz not only for the winners of the awards but also the eventual nominees for the Academy Awards. Take for instance the Best Picture (Drama) category. Though traditionally an honour bestowed upon heavy dramas, this year however there is a complete outsider in the group: James Cameron’s Avatar. A CGI heavy action adventure that tells the story of a clash between humanity and an alien race, Avatar seems completely out of place when you consider its competitors in this category; Inglorious Basterds, The Hurt Locker, Up in the Air, and Precious.


Whereas Avatar seems to be the complete outsider, it is Up in the Air and Precious that are clearly the favorites for the critics. Up in the Air stars George Clooney and Vera Farmiga, and is directed and co-written by Jason Reitman, son of director Ivan Reitman. Precious stars Gabourey Sidibe, Mariah Carey, Mo’Nique and Lenny Kravitz and tells the story of a young single mother whose life drastically changes with her second pregnancy. Both Precious and Up in the Air have characters that have their lives changed because of a single moment or decision. It’s that kind of conflict, both inner and outer that the Golden Globes, and even the Oscars, love to see.


Reitman, Cameron and Tarantino have also earned nods for Best Director, along with Eastwood for Invictus, and Kathrine Bigelow for The Hurt Locker. As always, the Best Screenplay category produces some of the finest collections of script writers, and this year it is no different. Another nod for Quentin Tarantino and Jason Reitman, who now have two nominations each, along with Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell for District 9, another surprise that caught almost everyone off guard. Besides Reitman and Tarantino earning multiple nods, Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep are heating things up in the Best Actress category. Both actresses have been nominated twice and if anything, it will be the most hyped about award of the night. Matt Damon also enjoys two nominations, one for Invictus, the story about how Rugby united South Africa and the other a comedy called The Informant!


The Best Animated Feature nominations include some of the highest grossing movies of the year. Both Up and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs have enjoyed tremendous box office success. More recent releases include Fantastic Mr Fox and The Princess and the Frog, which is the only traditionally 2D animated feature in the awards. Finally, there is Coraline, another surprise hit that may have not stirred much at the box office but definitely did well with DVD sales.


Over at television, things are as equally — if not more — exciting. Best Drama nominees include some of the year’s finest dramas, which include the highly popular Mad Men and Big Love. Also included here are two equally gory and fantastic dramas, Dexter and True Blood. Finally, what would drama be without House? The Hugh Laurie drama about a doctor inspired by Sherlock Holmes is also nominated.


Over in the Best Comedic TV show, awards include 30 Rock, Entourage, Glee, Modern Family and The Office. The favourite is 30 Rock, a TV show which has already been nominated 79 times and has won 29 awards out of which five have been Golden Globes. New shows Glee and Modern Family — while outsiders to the group of previous winners (30 Rock, Entourage and The Office) just might tip the balance in their own favour with their unique show formats.


Finally, after all the nominations, the Cecil B. DeMille Award; an award presented for lifetime achievement in motion pictures. This year this honour will be bestowed upon Martin Scorsese. After being avoided by the Academy Awards, Scorsese finally earns the highest honour from the Hollywood Foreign Press after an epic career in Hollywood. His critics have not accepted this quietly, stating that Scorsese had to sell out with films like The Departure and The Aviator; a considerable deviation from the man that showed us films like Raging Bull, Goodfellas and Casino. Nevertheless, his achievements cannot be ignored and hence him receiving the Cecil B. DeMille award this year. Robert DeNiro and Leonardo DiCaprio will be presenting the director with the award. Both DiCaprio and DeNiro have made landmark movies with Scorsese and it seems only fitting that they honour the man who gave them those opportunities.


All in all, this year at the Golden Globes will prove to be riveting, thanks in part to the inclusion of Avatar. Critics question the film, which has swept more than $73 million at its opening weekend, for its nomination. If such a film — which is clearly more hype that substance — can be allowed to get a nomination, then why not films like, for example, New Moon be nominated as well? The answer of course is not that simple, however it is the right of the Hollywood Foreign Press to nominate whom they choose to be the best of the year.


The Golden Globes will be held in January 2010 with comedian Ricky Gervais set to host the ceremony.

22.11.09

Aqua Luna

It's official: Nasa has declared our moon ‘alive’. Thanks to the Lcross impact satellite last month, results now pouring in have detected ‘significant’ amounts of water in a crater at the moon's South Pole. This is a major discovery that will dramatically alter how we view the moon as a barren world. In turn, it makes it a more viable option as an off world outpost for interplanetary travel.

“Indeed yes, we found water. And we didn’t find just a little bit. We found a significant amount,” said Anthony Colaprete, the principal investigator for Nasa’s Lcross, in a news conference.

On October 9 this year, the Lcross disengaged from a large bus-sized section which eventually crashed in Cabeus, a crater 60 miles wide and two miles deep, located near the South Pole of the moon. At that exact moment of impact, Lcross was tuned to the location. Not only was it looking, it was also sensing and it picked up a plume—elements of the surface expunged upwards from the impact.

However, the satellite was not tuned properly to pick up the photograph. But what Lcross did do was sense water. An analysis of slight shifts in colour after the impact illuminated water molecules emerging from the impact crater. These water molecules, hydroxyls, absorbed specific colours of light which emerged as specific wavelengths.

Scientists also saw colours of ultraviolet light associated with molecules of hydroxyl, consisting of one hydrogen and one oxygen molecule, presumably water molecules that had broken apart by the impact and then glowed like neon signs.

This becomes an exciting discovery for the scientists who have always theorised that water would be present below the moon’s surface, in craters located in the South Pole which is not exposed to a lot of sun rays or any sun rays at all. In addition to the water molecules, there were spikes in the data indicating the possibility of carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, methane or more complex carbon-based molecules. But these readings take a backseat compared to the discovery of water.

The possibilities by which the water can be harnessed are actually plentiful, and the news of such information gives hope to some of us, while it makes for an interesting business opportunity for others.

Ever since man first landed on the moon, mankind has envisioned a home for itself there. Moreover, some have even ventured to turn that vision into a business proposition. Lunar real estate has slowly seen an increase in popularity. Thanks to the worldwide web, thousands of websites have cropped up, apparently selling land on the moon, Mars and even Venus. These are all, of course, bogus sites. Nevertheless, people have shown great interest, some so far as purchasing land on the moon and obtaining a certificate from these bogus sites.

However, the only authority on the moon, which is recognised officially by all states around the world, is the United Nation. In the "1979 United Nations moon treaty" which was discussed during the 89th plenary meeting, on December 5, 1979, the treaty states, "... to promote on the basis of equality the further development of co-operation among states in the exploration and use of the moon and other celestial bodies,". It further states under Article 3 that, "The moon shall be used by all States Parties exclusively for peaceful purposes."

The treary continues in Article 4 that, “the exploration and use of the moon shall be the province of all mankind and shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development. Due regard shall be paid to the interests of present and future generations as well as to the need to promote higher standards of living and conditions of economic and social progress and development in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations."

All these points and more, make it absolutely clear that the moon does indeed belong to the humans, but they should learn to use it wisely and within cooperation.

When Eugene Cernan, the last man on the moon was about to leave, his last words foretold of this time when man's destiny to return to the moon is about to be realised: "As we leave the moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came, and God willing, we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind."

Originally published here.

8.11.09

The Phantom Rickshaw and Other Eerie Tales

Rudyard Kipling is best known for the story of Mowgli from the aptly titled novel, The Jungle Book. It was Kipling’s fascination with the Indian subcontinent during the height of the British Raj that truly set him apart from his peers.

The Phantom Rickshaw and Other Eerie Tales comprises seven short stories which were originally published nearly 125 years ago but remain timeless, for readers of the subcontinent in parti-cular.

Kipling was one of the great subcontinent romanticists of his time. Born in Bombay, and returning to British India after his education in the United Kingdom, Kipling joined The Civil and Military Gazette as an assistant editor at the age of 17. It was these times, during the 1880s, that the British Raj was at the peak of its glory and splendour. The Indian subcontinent was part of the British Empire and for an Englishman like Kipling the cultural stories of this exotic land made him feel more at home than the newspaper headlines he was printing.

It is because he drew so heavily from his own experiences that nearly all of Kipling’s stories are told in the first person. And because of this writing style, the reader is automatically drawn in and mesmerised with the adventures narrated.

The short stories collected in the book include ‘The Phantom Rickshaw’, ‘The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes’, ‘The Return of Imray’, ‘My Own True Ghost Story’, ‘At the end of the passage’, ‘The Man who would be King’ and ‘Without benefit of Clergy’. All of these are set in and around exotic lands and times; from the exciting journey across the Khyber Pass into what was known as Kafiristan to the many colourful characters that come across the reader’s way.

There are fakirs, princesses, soldiers, sepoys and other fantastical yet real characters that populate his stories.

In the preface Kipling makes it clear that the book ‘is not exactly a book of downright ghost stories’. He admits that ‘it is rather a collection of facts that never quite explain themselves.’ Out of all the stories, the most notable is ‘The Man Who Would Be King’, which tells the daring tale of two Masonic conmen who venture upto the Khyber Pass and beyond it in search of the elusive Kafiristan.

The story was eventually adapted for the big screen in 1975, in a film directed by John Houston and starring Michael Caine and Sean Connery.

Critics refer to Kipling as being classist, racist and even sexist at times. Most if not all of his stories do have a tinge of these elements, but then such were the times in general. Nowhere in literature does the British attitude towards the people of the subcontinent, and the region itself, become more apparent. Fellow British author Eric Arthur Blair (better known as George Orwell) called him the champion of British imperialism.

There are no close comparisons to the works of Kipling, though many authors have written about various cultures. What separates him from the rest is his total dedication and devotion to the form of short story.

In fact, Andrew Rutherford called Kipling ‘an innovator in the art of the short story’, a fact that would be recognised by the Nobel Foundation which awarded him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907.

The Phantom Rickshaw and Other Eerie Tales makes for a gripping read, especially for children. It features an introduction by another English author born in India, Ruskin Bond.

Bond writes ‘It is Kipling’s brilliance as a storyteller and stylist that carries the reader along and obscures some of his faults.’ And concludes with: ‘At times his own heart may have remained hidden, but he looked closely into the heart of others. And the rest was genius.’ This book proves Bond right.

The Phantom Rickshaw and other Eerie Tales
By Rudyard Kipling
Introduction by Ruskin Bond
Penguin Books, India
ISBN 0-143-06790-0
170pp. Indian Rs199

Originally posted here

4.10.09

Shiraz Uppal presents Ankahi

To say that Shiraz Uppal is a musician of diverse talent would be an understatement — he’s composed, mixed, recorded and mastered his latest album, Ankahi, all by himself. He’s also had the privilege of working with A.R. Rehman, not once but twice.

Before all this, he delivered Roya Re, a song dripping with the blues and melancholy that propelled him into the limelight, thanks to Mahesh Bhatt’s film, Dhoka (2007). Now, Uppal has returned with his third album which features the likes of Zeb and Haniya, Baqir Abbas, Kami and Ali Hamza of Noori, to name a few.

His first two albums, Tu Hai Meri (2001) and Tera Te Mera (2003), did well, but it was Jhuki Jhuki (2005) whose title track and Man Ja Ve made people sit up and take notice of Uppal’s music-making. And now on Eid-ul-Fitr, Uppal released Ankahi through Fire Records.

Ankahi starts off slow for a title track, showcasing that Uppal doesn’t want to follow a formula for opening an album. He’s joined on backing vocals by Zeb and Haniya, which adds a pleasant mix to the number.

Next, Rabba sounds like it’s been taken from or is part of an Indian movie soundtrack — you can almost picture the lovelorn hero scouring the landscape for his lady love. It is strangely melodic and its melancholy lyrics are accompanied by amazing flute play.

Munn Laga is where Uppal brings in the organic sound and mixes it delicately with the modern. Amir Azhar and Asif Ali carefully serenade with Uppal’s singing on bass and tabla and dholak, respectively. It’s a familiar track — not that it feels lifted or borrowed — as the composition pays respect to heritage and culture. Munn Laga is particularly refreshing in the sense that in an age where more and more Pakistani musicians jump on the guitar, drum and trance bandwagon, Uppal mixes the old with the new and keeps it focused at the same time.

There are two Roya Re tracks here with the first one from the film (the fact that Uppal put it on the album shows that he wasn’t afraid of it overshadowing the other tracks). The second subtitled Original Version is a stripped down, basic version of the original. Whereas the film version required the track to be big, the other one starts slow and then picks up at the chorus. It’s the same yet different because of Uppal’s careful composition. He did the original to prove he could withstand the Bollywood test and now with the original he’s out to prove that he can compose and sing on another level, too.

If there was anybody on this album who could overshadow Uppal it would be Baqir Abbas’ flute on Tere Bina. Abbas’ flute is like an undercurrent to the song, flowing through it in the background. And just when you think it’s gone, it’s back again. The only slightly annoying part is where Uppal interjects and sings a few verses in English. Clearly the song could’ve done without it.

Pehla Pehla Pyar is particularly well-composed. It has just the right beat and the mixture of backing vocals and guitars. Kami’s guitar here is particularly noteworthy, not too much and not too little, always there helping to carry the song ahead.

Kabhi Kabhi is a happy-go-lucky song where Uppal sings about all the positive things in life. It’s not him singing “don’t worry, be happy” but that’s the essential message we get to hear. It could’ve been much better but ends up sounding like a filler at best.

In Nadaan written by Noori’s Ali Hamza, the guitars and bass are all over the place, but in a good way. The track stands out as being the most jumpy on the album and it’s nice to hear Uppal taking this change of pace. Fareeha Pervaiz joins in on the vocals in Tum He To Ho and like Munn Laga, it is the old school sound of music in terms of arrangement and composition.

Shiraz Uppal is one of the underrated musicians in Pakistan and if you haven’t heard him before, well it’s about time you got started.

27.9.09

Nickelback: Dark Horse

You either really love Nickelback or you really love to hate them, but six albums later, they must be doing something right to have lasted for this long.

That something right could very well probably be one of the most commercial sounds to hit rock n roll (or metal even) since Bob Rock produced The Black Album for Metallica in 1991. The said sound is composed of repetitive chords, monotonous drum beats, and constant mentions to 'paperback novels' in the lyrics. If you don't mind any of the above, you'll be glad to know Dark Horse, the latest offering from the Canadian rock band is more of the same-but taken up a notch.

Produced by legendary superstar producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange - whose previous productions include the albums of Foreigner, AC/DC, Bryan Adams, Def Leppard and Shania Twain - give an almost clear indication that everything on Dark Horse will be radio friendly and as geared to the mainstream as heavy guitar rock gets.

The grizzly sound of post grunge is given a jump start with first track, 'Something in Your Mouth'. The guitars are raw, almost like nails on a chalkboard, with a continuous wail in the background. The riff is interspersed with a groovy middle but the combination seems to be too crammed and you feel like you've listened to two different songs at the same time. 'Burn it to the Ground' was featured on the Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen soundtrack and is characteristic of a Nickelback filler song because it shares the same structure to the track before it, but with just enough tweaks to make it sound slightly different. Unfortunately, this is probably one of the lesser lyrical songs of the band, making it sound more of an anthem for drunkards than anything. The saving grace for the song is the solo which albeit very short is could've been very interesting if explored further.

'Gotta Be Somebody' was the first single released from the album, and features another one of Nickelback's staple songs, the rock ballad. Chad Kroeger, the front man for the band, is at his true element here. After all he also sang the song 'Hero' for the Spiderman soundtrack. 'Hero' and 'Gotta Be Somebody' do share some similarities, but thankfully they aren't that much. This song proves that behind the grunge and behind the melodic rock, Nickelback can do so much better than it already is doing.

'I'd Come for You' is another ballad and the entire pace of the album slows down. The only thing that holds down this song are the cheesy lyrics: "I was blindfolded, but now I'm seeing, my mind was closing, now I'm believing." The song would make a befitting soundtrack to the next cheesy love story Hollywood throws our way.

The band makes it a point to pick up the pace after the previous track and 'Next Go Round' starts to hit the ground running. The harsh guitars and the throbbing drums sound like a freight train charging down at full speed. Again, like the previous songs, there isn't much lyrical substance going around here which is a shame really since the song has a very head banging thing going on for itself.

Just to prove that the band can do songs with proper substance and lyrical matter, 'Just to Get High' is just that. The story of a young man spiraling into a life of drugs and desperation, the tone and motif of the song equally desperate and melancholy. This is probably one of the few tracks on the album that save it.

'Never Gonna Be Alone' is what 'Photograph' was to the last album, the almost obligatory western track that the band feels that they have to do on each and every album. It's the kind of track that you'd expect from Shania Twain or LeAnn Rhimes, but Nickelback? On the plus side, it shows that the band wants to be diverse and not pigeon holed as a rock band.
About ten seconds into 'Shakin' Hands' you find yourself tapping your feet to it. The track sinks you in with its groovy beat but for some reason it never really takes off. The repetitiveness kills it.

The opening riff of 'S.E.X.', like the previous two tracks, are powerful and grab the listener in by the collar and demand to be heard. This is Nickelback's strength and why they're such a radio friendly band. Their music is simple and easy to listen to even if you don't appreciate or like rock music.

'If Today Was Your Last Day' sings the same tune as 'Gotta Be Somebody' or 'I'd come for you' but this one is considerably more feel good than the two. Also, much like 'Just to get high' this track saves the album from what would be a repetitive and monotonous demise.
The album finishes with 'This Afternoon' and it seems that keeping the best for last was probably a good idea for the band. This is a no-nonsense, easy going, feel good track about taking matters as they come and not have a worry in the world. It's almost like Nickleback saying they'll continue to making music the way they want to and won't give in to their critics.

All the Right Reasons was the band's previous release and spawned a plethora of singles, but this seems to be not for all the right reasons. The New York Times wrote about Dark Horse: "Nickelback's real crime isn't one of form. Rather it is that lurking beneath the band's undeniably pretty melodies are literal, wildly unimaginative and often insipid lyrics. Unlike, say, Hinder, which flaunts its brute sensibilities, Nickelback is quietly crass." And that was one of the better reviews they've gotten for Dark Horse.

That said, Nickelback has a very strong fan base, particularly among the listeners of bands like Creed (who are now defunct) or Alter Bridge or even Theory of a Deadman. These bands, along with Nickelback represent the new rock n roll sound, rising from the ashes of grunge and metal of the 90s and making a sound of their own for a generation of their own.

Hail Caesar!

Salads have always been the primary bastion of the dieter. Though if you’ve never had to diet (you lucky so and so!) chances are your idea of a salad is limited to a bunch of leaves scattered around vegetables amid a sea of bland taste. Well, you would be wrong. Salads can be exciting, tasty and nutritious, and all at once too.

One such case is the Caesar salad. Contrary to what you might think the salad wasn’t named after the Roman emperor. In fact, it was named after Caesar Cardini, an Italian-born chef living in California. According to legend, Cardini devised the recipe for the salad on a busy July the Fourth in the 1920s when he threw together some leftover ingredients from his depleted stocks to serve his hungry customers. The light but delicious salad caught the fancy of some film stars and soon became a celebrity in its own right. Since then the recipe for the salad has travelled around the world and has seen countless incarnations — but the salad remains as regal as ever in its taste and presentation.

A freshly served Caesar salad is a refreshing meal; light yet filling at the same time. The main ingredients include romaine lettuce, crushed garlic, raw or coddled, i.e. very lightly cooked egg yolks, Parmesan cheese and freshly prepared croutons.

This is then seasoned with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and often Worcestershire sauce. If one wishes to avoid the salt, they can sprinkle extra lemon juice — blood pressure patients should particularly take note here. The lime brings out the taste of the romaine lettuce; combine that with garlic and Parmesan cheese and you’ve got an exciting blend going. If you dislike lime and can’t use salt, then vinegar is the next best thing for you. The mix between the cheese and vinegar makes for a particularly interesting flavour, though some might call it an acquired taste.

One of the best things about Caesar salad is that it allows great flexibility — in fact you can do just about anything with it. If there is no romaine lettuce, substitute with any lettce you have on hand. Similarly, if you’re avoiding the salt and adding more lime, then you’re better off using Romano cheese rather than Parmesan. It’ll give you a slightly saltish tinge without having to use salt.

If your palate craves spice you can drizzle some hot sauce over the salad or add some sliced green chillies to the mix. For seasoning you can use ground pepper. If you’re not too concerned about your weight you can add mayonnaise as a dressing to give it a rich, creamy flavour.

For vegetarians this is definitely one of the best meals out there, but you meat lovers shouldn’t worry, because Caesar salad is also served with strips of chicken, beef, mutton and even fish such as ground up anchovies or even boiled shrimp. For those of you who think of salad as limp and soggy, the croutons provide a crunchy texture and will have you munching for more.

Caesar salad for lunch keeps you feeling alert and active through your workday; for dinner it’s the ideal meal for weight watchers. So, though it isn’t named for the famed Roman emperor, Caesar Salad will make even a commoner feel like royalty because it can be anything you want it to be.

Earth to Discovery!

On September 11, residents of the state of California thought they had experienced an earthquake. In reality, it was a dual sonic boom of the space shuttle Discovery returning to Earth that caused the rattling of windows in homes.

The space shuttle’s landing on Edwards Air Force Base was the result of a diverted landing plan that had the Kennedy Space Centre as its original landing area. This is not unusual for a space shuttle mission, but bad weather prevented the shuttle from landing at Kennedy, so Edwards was the next best choice.

This mission makes Discovery one of the oldest space faring vehicles as far as space shuttles are concerned. This mission, titled STS-128, has dealt with a variety of matters, mostly part of the International Space Station. The latest mission lasted for fourteen days and covered more than five million miles in space.

Discovery’s mission delivered two refrigerator-sized science racks to the International Space Station. These racks house sophisticated experimental equipment that will be used to research better material development on earth. They are also used for fluid physics research, to understand behavior of fluids in micro gravity. These could lead to improved designs for fuel tanks, water systems and other fluid-based systems. These experiments are vital to the International Space Station which continues to rely heavily on Nasa to re-supply and build it through its space shuttles.

Discovery also delivered a sleeping compartment, air purification and a treadmill to the space station. The mission included three spacewalks that replaced experiments outside the European Space Agency's Columbus laboratory and an empty ammonia storage tank. Ammonia is used a coolant because of its liquid nature in the sub zero temperatures of space.

All in all, Discovery dropped off more than eight tons of supplies, life support gear and scientific equipment at the space station, leaving the space outpost better equipped to house crews of six astronauts. That figure alone goes to show you the importance of shuttle missions to the space station.

The mission was led by Commander Rick Sturckow who was joined on the mission by Pilot Kevin Ford, mission specialists Pat Forrester, Jose Hernandez, Danny Olivas and European Space Agency astronaut Christer Fuglesang. Struckow served as pilot on the first International Space Station assembly mission in 1998, and again in 2001.

Sturckow’s first command was on the STS-117 mission. Nasa astronaut Nicole Stott flew to the complex aboard Discovery to begin a nearly three-month mission as a station resident, replacing Tim Kopra, who returned home on Discovery.

A special crew member also returned during this mission. Disney’s toy astronaut Buzz Lightyear, from the Toy story animated movies, initially flew to the station in May 2008 on shuttle Discovery's STS-124 mission. He has now officially served as the longest tenured ‘crew member’ in space. While on the station, Buzz supported Nasa's education outreach by creating a series of online educational outreach programmes designed aseptically for children and young adults.

So far, Discovery has flown 35 of those flights, completed 4,888 orbits, and flown 117,433,618 miles in total, as of June 2008. Discovery is the orbiter fleet leader, having flown more flights than any other orbiter in the fleet, including four in 1985 alone. This mission also marked the 25th anniversary of its first launch on August 30, 1984.

And although it has just returned, plans for the next flight sometime in March 2010 are already underway. Discovery will be hoisted atop a Boeing 747 jumbo jet and flown back to Kennedy Space Station in Florida, where it will be recalibrated and fixed up for the 2010 mission.

Though the future of the International Space Station remains uncertain, Nasa is determined to continue missions to the station for as long as the space shuttle fleet remains in usage. The Space Shuttle Programme itself will be terminated in late 2010 or early 2011. This marks an era of space shuttle flights which has seen disasters such as the Challenger and Columbia, and as well as great feats such as the launch of the Space Telescope Hubble or the building of the International Space Station.

Even though the space shuttle will fold its wings and retire, Nasa will continue to expand its space programme, which includes a return mission to the moon and a planned mission to Mars.

First steps of both missions have started to take form in the proposed Orion spacecraft which is the replacement for the space shuttle and will come into service sometime in 2015.

Discovery’s journey might be coming to an end, but mankind’s journey of discovery is just about to begin.

13.9.09

Nouman Javaid: Expect the Unexpected!

“I’ve been a struggling musician for nearly nine years now,” reflected Nouman Javaid. “I’m a self-taught musician with no professional training whatsoever.”

Javaid is the unsung Pakistani star of the Indian movie just out, Jashnn (The Music Within), whose music score has everybody talking these days. The film produced by Mahesh Bhatt and also starring Humayun Saeed recently had a select showing in Karachi. While they many not have liked the film overall, critics and audiences are nothing short of praises for both Sayeed and Javaid.

Originally from Lahore, Javaid’s journey has been long, tedious and at times frustrating as door after door was shut on him. His disappointment at not being able to find work locally echoes the frustrations of the many struggling musicians of Pakistan who are not given the chance or trust to make their mark. Finding no luck locally, he was advised to set his sights abroad. His first reaction was, “Why should I work abroad when I can work for and within Pakistan?” Then through a chance conversation with a friend he got his hands on Mukesh Bhatt’s phone number. He placed a call to the producer who told the young singer to email his song to him. A week later, Javaid got a call from the Indian producer, telling him that he loved it. When Mahesh Bhatt next came to Pakistan to promote his film Jannat, he met the young singer of the song Dard-i-Tanhai.

“When I met Mahesh, he asked me if I had any other songs and I told him about Mein Challa. He asked me to sing it to him right there and then. I sang it maybe six or seven times as each time he asked me to sing it again. Then he called up his brother right there and then and told him that he was taking my songs for Jashnn.”

Having struggled for nine years, Javaid was overwhelmed with Bhatt’s response. The floodgates had literally opened for him and he traveled to India where the songs were recorded. “They trusted me, they believed in me,” gushed Javaid, adding, “I just went in and recorded the songs as they were.”

He couldn’t believe how open and trusting they were, “I wasn’t taught by them, I wasn’t told how to record the songs, I just went in and did my thing and that’s very different from the reaction that I got in Pakistan where every single record company wanted me to record a particular song in a particular manner — something I’m not ready to do even now.”

Having delivered two popular songs — and that too across the border — he has now recently recorded his debut album. “I’m just waiting for the right deal,” he says about the complete change of attitude of record label executives. “They’re all now calling me up for a change, asking me to come over and bring my album to them.” For the moment, he hasn’t made up his mind who will release it, which by the way might or might not feature Dard-i-Tahnai and Mein Challa.

The once struggling Nouman Javaid is now well on his way to what might be the pinnacle of his career. He is open to collaborating on music, starring in movies and even appearing in commercials. “I have a few offers, but I’m not going to talk about them just yet.”

The one thing that I’ve also learned about him is that you can expect anything from Nouman Javaid. His initial songs reflect the hardship he felt upon the constant rejection of being a struggling musician in Pakistan. Now, since his luck has changed, what can we expect from his music? “To be honest, I don’t know. What I do know is that you’ll be hearing my album very soon and my fans can judge it.”

Speaking of fans and criticism in particular, Nouman is quite particular about both topics. “I always ask my fans to tell me what they think of my songs, of my singing.” And of criticism, “I appreciate well thought out criticism, to help me become a better singer. I don’t think anybody appreciates unfounded criticism.” Whatever the case may be — criticism or not — Nouman has fans on both sides of the border and even beyond. Through the course of his career he has struggled a lot, but now that he’s finally arrived on the scene, Nouman’s determined to stay.

6.9.09

Going Kostal: Omran Shafique

A member of Co-Ven, frontman for the band Mauj, a guitarist for Ali Azmat, guest musician on Coke Studio (and part of the house band, a year later as well), and member of a musical collaboration known as Kostal. No, these aren’t a group of people, in fact, all of these musicians are actually one and the same; Omran Shafique.

When not playing music, Omran is laid-back and the epitome of comfort. Playing on stage, he is a beacon of raw musical energy, channeling it through his guitar. There’s absolutely no denying his musical talent, some of his fans have gone on to say he is the next Salman Ahmad, though musically they are worlds apart.

Omran, or Momo as he is called, started off with Mauj sometime in 2000 in Houston, Texas. In 2004, they released their first music video with Khushfehmi and soon after recorded an album which seems to be stuck in limbo. It’s a stigma that has attached itself with Omran, whose hard work is now buried somewhere in the annals of a record label company. “The point is that the label isn’t even telling me what the release status is, whether they will release it or not,” says Omran, “and that is incredibly frustrating.”

He refers to Mauj’s first album, Mauj in Technicolor, which so far has only seen the light of day on the internet through Amazon and iTunes, but has yet to see any form of release in Pakistan. “That’s the way it’ll be in the future,” says Omran, “more and more musicians will end up going through Amazon and iTunes, simply because it gives the control and the profit to musicians rather than record labels.” He quickly adds, “Being a musician in Pakistan is not about making money, you do it to make music and that’s about it.”

And that’s been the aim with Co-Ven, a true underground band that makes music for the sake of making music, and is in no way limited to Pakistan. But how does Omran balance his music between Mauj and Co-Ven? “I’m sort of an honorary member of the band, I don’t have to be there all the time, but when I do get the time, I’m always there.” Talking about Co-Ven’s new direction he said, “I’m loving the sound of the new songs they’ve been doing, and I hope to perform with them sometime soon.”

As if Co-Ven wasn’t enough, and the fact to deal and coordinate with a band in another city, Omran is now working hard on bringing Kostal, a band on another continent altogether, to our coast. Kostal began when Omran received an email from a producer/DJ in Texas who wanted to work with him. Omran replied and the two of them met up.

What followed was a small meeting where they decided that they should work together, but for Omran, Mauj was a priority. “I remember I was moving to Pakistan to try and get Mauj off of the ground,” he said.

Taha Malik (the producer/DJ) added, “And I was just about to get my set up off the ground, making my own personal studio. But once that was done, I started to work with other musicians to get Kostal off the ground.” These other musicians included the likes of Labh Janjua (Mundian Tuh Bachke-Punjabi MC feat Jay-Z), RDB, Punjabi Outlawz, Tehseen Javed, Sukhbir and others.

In 2005, they finally met up and recorded their first track together as Kostal. Jaan Jaye, which has also been made into a video recently (directed by Uns Mufti), was the result of that first recording. So what makes Kostal different from Mauj or even Co-Ven? “It’s more hip-hop based stuff, it has a very electronic sound,” says Taha. “I’d ask Omran to play a chord or he’d play me this progression and then I’d just mix it up.”

The experience for Omran was also surprising, “Normally, while recording music, I would play stuff and jam, but this was different. Whatever I played with Taha he’d just twist it around and place it in a different sequence entirely.” The resulting music is an elaborate mix of rock and hip hop, a genre of music unheard of locally thereby making it a breath of fresh air.

Once the song was recorded, Kostal finally took a form of its own. “We want to collaborate with everybody from around the world,” says Taha, and once they start listing down their recent collaborations one might think they already have done so. With collaborations with such diverse artistes such as Samy Elmousif, a French Morrocan rapper based in Canada; Shab Malih a Ra musician (a form of folk music mixed with Spanish, French, African-American and Arabic) and even the likes of Stereo Nation, whom they have recently worked with. “It was an exciting experience,” says Taha, “I mean, I was dancing to their music at weddings and now I’m working with him.” The track which will appear in a Gurinder Chadha film will bring Kostal to the global playground of musicians, one which has always been the goal of the band. “We want to work with as many different local and international musicians,” says Omran, “and that’s what Kostal is all about.”

The band is finishing up on their debut album and will most likely be released electronically, worldwide, through Amazon and iTunes later this year. Jaan Jaye’s music video has already been shot, and according to Omran and Taha it’s a video that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. “It was Uns’ concept and it’s just me and Taha acting like a bunch of rappers,” Omran said about the video.

Although now that even Kostal is seeing some sort of finality, what about Omran himself? According to the musician, he is on the fence as to whether he stays in Pakistan or relocates back to Houston. It all depends on the fact whether or not he still enjoys being a musician. “It’s just so different now. I’m finding myself picking up the guitar for reasons other than just playing music and having fun.” Granted, extra frustration must come from an album which he worked on so hard to release, and is now stuck nowhere. “I’m actually sick of the album, I’ve heard it so many times,” he says, which is naturally true. Omran isn’t the kind of musician that sticks around with one kind of sound for long. It would seem that the status of the album is no deterrent for Omran who already has started to work on another Mauj album. “I have about five demos ready and waiting,” he said. “I just need to take some time out for this and start work on it. And naturally, we want to be doing more shows.”

More seems to be a key word with Omran. Whatever the format, whatever the band, he is continuously looking forward to making more music. And although an unreleased album might be an anchor of frustration for him, Omran’s not the kind of musician that is deterred by such an anchor. In fact, more than anything, it’s given him more and more opportunities as a musician. Let’s just hope he sticks around in Pakistan and continues to explore more music opportunities, so that his audience has a chance to see and hear him.

Hadiqa: The Sky's The Limit

Hadiqa Kiyani’s latest album, Aasmaan, is aptly titled. If you think about it, the sky’s really the limit as far as she’s concerned simply because of the amount of distance she has covered musically in her career.

Her music may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but then again, how many Pakistani female musicians have actually performed abroad and alongside international artistes, won accolades, and have had a consistent career for the past 14 years?

Her first album Raaz was released in 1995 to much fanfare but she was quickly shrouded under the shadow of the late Nazia Hasan, who herself had only just stopped singing two years prior. Kiyani persevered and went on to appear on TV channels abroad, work with the likes of Bally Sagoo and appear on stage with stars such as Lisa Stansfield, Wet Wet Wet, Michael Learns to Rock, All 4 One and The Brand New Heavies.

All this and just after releasing her first album. Two more albums followed; Roshni and Rung, and during this time she also appeared on television and billboards across the country. Soon one saw her performing for international dignitaries at political and social conferences. She was also part of a rather interesting collaboration with guitarist Aamir Zaki in the form of an album titled Rough Cut. The English album for Hadiqa was yet another avenue of diversity since the singer has already sung in numerous dialects and languages.

Putting things into perspective, it would seem that her career is one of many firsts and no matter what happens, as bands break up and musicians come and go, Hadiqa has been a constant musical presence in the country and abroad.

That constant presence now takes the form of a fourth album, Aasmaan, albeit six years later. British producer JKD and Ifran Kiyani, her brother, act as producers for it. They establish a myriad of sounds, a dash of dance, a spatter of rhythm and blues, all added up to the distinctly eastern voice of Hadiqa herself with which she sings in Urdu, Punjabi, Hindko, Pushto and many other dialects. Thanks to her past experiences in the West, she can carefully blend that same voice from eastern to western effortlessly. Take Az Chashme Saqi for instance, a distinctly eastern poem penned by Allama Iqbal moulded by Hadiqa in song and a vocal performance.

There are good songs and there are songs that prove she can sing, and the same is the case with Sajna Sajna. The song proves that she can but knowing Hadiqa, we know she can do better. Sohnya features rapper Nas-T, whose sporadic interruptions make you wish Hadiqa had left him out. Nevertheless, Hadiqa is not one to shy away from experimentation which this track clearly does with it delving in funk and rap.

Tuk Tuk is a bouncy, tongue-in-cheek track all about being silly. The song will surely be a crowd-pleaser at live performances. Zara Zara shows indications of too much tinkering. It has diverse beats which rollercoaster through to being wired and techno, but it still sounds much better than its own remix which was clearly unnecessary. Baqir Abbas brings in his powerful and resonating flute on Wanjhli and Hadiqa brings her own singing up a notch to meet Abbas. Together on this track, the two of them take the album on another level. On Jab Se Tum, producer Irfan Kiyani joins in for a duet and the result is a sweet little number that also shines through the rest of the songs in the album. Could it be that Hadiqa sings best when she sings with others? These last two tracks are a clear indication of that.

This is Hadiqa’s first foray into the music scene in almost six years. Other than this, she has been around in terms of concerts and as brand spokesperson. Aasmaan is probably the most drastic image change for Hadiqa so far, and she’s taken on these changes throughout the course of her career on each of her albums.

Much like the changing of her image, her sound changes too, as this album shows that being away from making music for so long has scattered her direction on this album. It seems like she wants to go all over the place rather than concentrate on one direction or sound.

Perhaps this is yet another experiment by Hadiqa, who has crossed borders all her musical life. First by being a female musician in a predominantly male musician dominated industry and being a constant presence in it, then by performing abroad with musicians over the world and now by crossing borders within her own musical world where the sky is perhaps not the limit.

28.8.09

Calling Windows OS?

When you think about a cool mobile phone user interface, you probably think of Google Android or the more obvious Apple iPhone. Both designs are not only revolutionary in terms of technology but they’re simply easy on the eye and exceptionally user friendly.

However, if you think about the Windows Phone OS the same thought do not cross through your mind. Visually, Microsoft’s Windows phone OS get trampled by Google’s and Apple’s coolness. Likewise BlackBerry makes Microsoft Phone OS as if it’s from the Stone Age.

Just when it seems that Microsoft will lose a lot of its market share, the software giant firm decided to redesign the OS for the cellular market which can be installed on cell phones later this year and may boast a myriad of new capabilities.

Microsoft places consumers’ needs at the heart of its product design; with the Window Phone OS you can take pictures and access Facebook and Twitter, edit a Microsoft document or an Excel spreadsheet and email these files. This new OS will be particularly useful for consumers in the corporate sector.

The whole interface has had makers aimed at making the OS more intuitive and finger-friendly. In the latest OS, care has been given to the home screen.

The need to drill down to an application is eliminated. Microsoft will also initiate a series of related support products from an application store to Myphone, an online backup service that already works well in beta.

The inevitable question yet to be answered is whether Microsoft can compete with market leaders. The figures at this point suggest that it has steep catching up to do. Industry is densely competitive. Microsoft’s share of the cellphones’ OS market has fallen as the iPhone has wormed its way into corporations by licensing Microsoft Exchange so that it can handle Active Sync push notifications and calendaring.

So while users enjoy the sleekness of the iPhone or the coolness of the Android, Microsoft is brewing what it hopes to be its next big break in the mobile phone OSs market.

26.8.09

The people don't give a flying funk… but the band did!

Gumby, Omran, Khalid and Sheldon gather for a raw and wired jam session…

Once upon a time, jam sessions were all the rage. It was when The Munchkins led the pack and gigs happened almost every weekend. Those were quite the days for music. These days jam groups have coalesced and members of each often meet up and have special gigs like this one.

'I don't give a flying funk' was one such special gig held at the PACC Auditorium and featured the iconic Gumby on drums, Omran Shafique on guitars, Khalid Khan on bass and Rachel Viccaji on vocals. The line up also featured a trio of guest vocalists, namely Sheldon Emmanuel, Taimur from Lahore and Karavan's Tanseer Dar.

"I've been having these gigs on and off for about 8 to 10 years now. Every time it's something different and special. This time, after being busy with Coke Studio season two for so long, we had a couple of gigs including the 'Summer Jam' and we wanted to do it at least one more time," said Gumby to Instep.

Gumby then shared the idea with Omran Shafique, the groovy guitar man of Mauj who quickly agreed to the idea.

"All I had to do was to contact the others. Khalid is always around and is eager to jam," recalled Gumby. He also added that gigs like these give musicians like himself a chance to jam with younger musicians and at the same time, gives the young musicians a chance to perform a gig with Gumby, Omran and Khalid. "It's all about giving new people a chance to collaborate with us and if the chemistry's there, then we can collaborate on other stuff too."

Customarily, the gig started an hour late, but the crowd (that arrived late) hardly complained. Everybody was eager to check out the super jam group that was about to perform.

The gig kicked off with a cover of Kings of Leon's 'Sex on Fire'. Omran, Gumby and Khalid immediately settled into their individual instruments like hand in glove. Rachel Viccaji's vocals added an interesting twist to the alternative indie track whereas Omran's crunchy guitar drove the song ahead.

Then came Sheldon Emmanuel on stage, much to the delight of the audience. To be honest, I had only heard of Sheldon before and when I did hear him sing, I could understand what the rage was all about. His ability not to mimic a song but to emulate it is what makes him special.

'Superstitious', originally by Stevie Wonder, is one such song on which Sheldon truly let his vocals shine through.

As soon as the tune finished Omran, Gumby and Khalid steamed onto another crowd favorite, 'Foxy Lady' and Sheldon joined them without missing a single beat. Hendrix covers are very popular at such gigs, but not that many guitar players can do justice to a Hendrix performance and here Omran shows that he is not one of those many.

Sheldon made his exit with Rolling Stones' 'Satisfaction'. The crowd seemed disappointed to see Sheldon go, but he left the stage with reassuring words, "I'll be back."

The band introduced a relatively new singer to Karachi, that is Taimur. He seemed nervous as she shuffled onto the stage, but as soon as the song began, it was pretty clear why Taimur had been given the opportunity to perform along with the band.

'Come Together', a Beatles number, is probably where things slowed down a bit. Perhaps it was the previous three song rollercoaster from before, but the band's energy seemed to wane. As for Taimur's performance, though one song is too little to judge from, his singing clearly shows that the young singer does have a special spark.

The band's next track was a real oldie this time, straight out of a Motown Classic; 'Baby Love' by the Supremes with Rachel on vocals. Rachel's singing continued after with Alanis Morissette's 'Ironic'. The band seemed to pick their pace once again as Rachel channeled Alanis' irony and the crowd had joined in too!

Keeping true to his promise, Sheldon once again came back on stage and once again, the crowd applauded his presence. Sheldon is a rare breed of singer, the kind that sings for the pleasure of singing. With each performance he seems to lose himself in the song and bring out the best from it.

'One Drop' is an old Bob Marley song that Sheldon and the band made their own. A change of pace brings out an all new song altogether, something that Sheldon truly appreciates. "If it's the same song when you sing it, then why bother covering it in the first place?" he asks and rightfully so, what makes a gig like this special is that you hear familiar songs with a breath of fresh air.

Sheldon himself is a practitioner of performing songs in single takes as much as he can, "I do a song once or twice just to get the feel and then just go with the flow." With his talented vocals it's no wonder why, but will we get to hear from him outside of gigs? "I don't think so, unless I get to sing in English, because my Urdu is very weak." It's a shame that a singer has to be limited by the language barrier but here's hoping that Sheldon does get his chance soon.

Continuing with Bob Marley, the band then performed 'Get up, stand up', though more interpretive and less emulative. Having said that, not many cover groups here would perform such songs and getting to hear them being performed is quite a treat unto itself. Hot Chocolate's 'You Sexy Thing' was up next and Sheldon continued to sing to his heart's content. It didn't bother him that there weren't that many people in the crowd to begin with-what seemed to fuel him was the fact that the people that were there were enjoying his singing.

Also on the playing bill was Tanseer Dar as a special guest. While he may have caused much anxiety and ache to the soul of Michael Jackson with his singing of 'Smooth Criminal', his performance of the Foo Fighter song 'Pretender' fared much better with the crowd. Finally, the band ended the show with 'Been a Long Time, a Led Zeppelin classic.

This was probably one of the better shows of the year so far, though it wasn't big as the recent Independence Day gig held at Carlton. But it came with a sense of intimacy and closeness. But that wasn't inviting enough to pull in a crowd. As Gumby said after the gig, "We didn't even break even. Half the people who showed up were on the guest list." Doesn't that show that the price tag for the gig was too steep?

"600 is a reasonable amount to give for a gig like this. I mean, don't people pay that much for a meal? Some people can even afford to pay 10 to 20,000 for a table at a prestigious ball," stated Gumby.

This time people lost a chance to see some great singers and some great musicians perform. But then, knowing Gumby and the others, this wasn't the last time we'll be hearing or seeing them again and perhaps more people will be there too.

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23.8.09

The Original Guitar Hero

Think of the name Les Paul and images and sounds of an electric guitar that bears his name comes to mind.

One of the foremost influences on 20th century rock and roll sound, and responsible for the world's most famous guitar, the Les Paul model, Les Paul's prestigious career in music and invention spans seventy years. Though he's indisputably one of America's most popular, influential, and accomplished electric guitarists, Les Paul is best known as an early innovator in the development of the solid body guitar. His groundbreaking design would become the template for Gibson's best-selling electric, the Les Paul model, introduced in 1952.

Today, countless musical legends still consider Paul's iconic guitar unmatched in sound and prowess. Were it not for his invention, guitarists like Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend, Slash, Billy Gibbons, to name a few, would never be who they are now. Their unique sound and their approach to making music was determined by the guitar and sound technologies crafted by Paul. He developed the technology that would become hallmarks of rock and pop recordings, from multitrack recording that allowed for layers and layers of "overdubs" to guitar reverb and other sound effects. His playing style, including licks, trills, chording sequences, fretting techniques and timing, which set him apart from his contemporaries and inspired many of the guitarists of the present day. Among Paul's most enduring contributions are those in the technological realm, including ingenious developments in multi-track recording, guitar effects, and the mechanics of sound in general.

Born Lester William Polsfuss, the man who would ultimately be known as Les Paul was both a musician and an inventor. This unique combination led him not only to become an innovator in the music industry in terms of performances but also creating new technologies and sounds. By age 13, Paul was performing semi-professionally as a country-music guitarist. Four years later, Paul played with Rube Tronson's Texas Cowboys, and soon after he dropped out of high school to join a traveling radio band. The year was 1931 and the sound of music would never be the same.

Paul was dissatisfied with the acoustic guitars that were sold in the mid 1930s and began experimenting at home with a few designs for an electric model on his own. Famously, he created "The Log," which was nothing more than a length of common lumber with a bridge, guitar neck, and pickup attached. He solved two main problems: feedback, as the acoustic body no longer resonated with the amplified sound, and sustain, as the energy of the strings was not dissipated in generating sound through the guitar body.

In the mid 1940s, Paul moved to Hollywood and played music with legends such as Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby. The latter would ultimately fund Paul’s experiments and the two also produced chart topping music together at the same time.

Paul initially approached the Gibson Guitar Corporation with his idea of a solid body electric guitar. The company showed no interest until their rival Fender produced a solid body guitar of their own. Gibson then immediately took Paul's suggestions and designed a guitar in the early fifties and presented it to him to try. He was sold on the guitar instantly, so much so that the model bore his name – the Les Paul – and Paul himself signed a contracted stating that he would never to be seen playing in public, or be photographed, with anything other than a Gibson guitar. The rest, as they say is history.

All over the world, musicians, guitarists, are paying their tributes to the father of the electric guitar. Keith Richards, the guitarist from the Rolling Stones and a friend, lead the tributes. “We must all own up that without Les Paul, generations of flash little punks like us would be in jail or cleaning toilets,” he said.

“All of us owe an unimaginable debt to his work and his talent.” Richie Sambora, Bon Jovi's guitarist and also a friend, said Paul was “revolutionary in the music business”.

"A legend of the guitar and a true renaissance man, Les Paul disproves the cliche that you can only be famous for one thing," said U2 guitarist The Edge. "His legacy as a musician and inventor will live on and his influence on rock and roll will never be forgotten."

Former Guns and Roses guitarist Slash said Paul was a vibrant person who was full of positive energy.

“Les Paul was a shining example of how full one's life can be,” he said. “I'm honoured and humbled to have known and played with him over the years, he was an exceptionally brilliant man.”

Paul’s influence was not limited to the international scene, even local guitarists acknowledged the influence of his invention in their music. Aunty Disco Project frontman Omar Bilal Akhtar said, "I think Les Paul was the first person to truly raise the electric guitar to the iconic status it enjoys today. Before it was a mere instrument, and after Les Paul, it became a work of art, much like a Stradivarius violin.”

Maaz Maudood, guitarist for Kaavish added, “Without him, rock and roll would have probably never sounded the way it does. Despite the fact that he went through a horrible accident, he never stopped believing in himself, and just because of that faith music is what it is today.”

Fuzon guitarist Shallum Xavier said, “I’ve never owned a Les Paul myself, but all of the musicians that I looked up to were Les Paul players; guitarists like Zakk Wylde and Randy Rhodes, were a particular influence for me as far as Rock and Roll. If they wouldn’t have played a Les Paul, they’re sounds would’ve been totally different and I don’t know if I would’ve listened to them.”

Perhaps it is Joe Satriani’s comment that best describes Paul’s contribution and musical achievements: “He was the original Guitar Hero.”

Les Paul passed away on August 13, 2009, due to complications arising from Pneumonia.

15.8.09

Don't you forget about me— The life of John Hughes

If by any chance, you were a teenager growing up during the 1980s, you've probably seen a movie or two by John Hughes. Though you would have seen many movies during that time, you probably remember Hughes' movies because they spoke your language. Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Home Alone 1 & 2, and the Breakfast Club are just some of the movies that have inspired, captured, enthralled and entertained a movie going generation. Particularly the teenagers.

Hughes was known for this shockingly frank dialogue and quirky ensemble driven comedies which was a hit with the teen crowd of the era. And it just wasn't that, many actors and actresses owe their careers to the writer director, in particular, Judd Nelson, Matthew Broderick, Macaulay Culkin, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, John Cusack, Steve Carell, and Lili Taylor, just to name a few. It wasn't that he had a talent of spotting a young actor's potential, he could literally bring the best in them shine through on the screen. It's not just actors and actresses that owe their careers to Hughes, directors like Wes Anderson and Kevin Smith have clearly been affected by Hughes' career and filmmaking.

Hughes began his career as an advertising copywriter in Chicago. He would later pen a story for Lampoon Magazine, about the adventures of his family during their vacation trips. That story would ultimately become his first movie credit as a writer and was called, National Lampoon's Vacation. Starring Chevy Chase and directed by Harold Ramis, the movie would spawn sequels and ultimately become the successful comedy of its time. That was 1983 and a movie here and there later, in 1984, he branched out into directing. His first directorial effort, Sixteen Candles, won almost unanimous praise when it was released, due in no small part to its more realistic depiction of middle-class high school life, which were attracting more audiences than the screwball and slapstick comedies being made at the time. It was also the first in a string of efforts set in or around high school, including The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Weird Science and Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Instead of continuing to make teen drama/comedies, Hughes showcased his other comedic storytelling skills by directing Planes, Trains & Automobiles starring Steve Martin and John Candy. Followed by Uncle Buck, viewers didn't appreciate these Hughes films as his previous ones, but they did laugh. It was however, a comedy adventure about a boy who was accidentally left home when his parents went on vacation that would bring John Hughes to worldwide acclaim. Home Alone made a star out of its star, Macaulay Culkin. Home Alone would be the top grossing film of 1990, and remains his most successful live-action comedy.

As a director, he has only made 8 movies. His recent movies have been through writing, rather than directing. Drillbit Taylor, Maid in Manhattan, Beethoven's 5th, were all either his scripts or stories. Even his previous movies—which had found a home in the hearts of the teen of the 80s—the teens of the 90s and the 2000s needed the edgier comedies, such as the American Pies and the Van Wilders to make them laugh.

In 1994, Hughes retired from the public eye and moved to Wisconsin, rarely granting or giving interviews or photographs to the media save a select few interviews. In the later years of his life, he was a farmer in Illinois.

At the news of John Hughes demise, his close friends paid tribute to the writer director. Culkin expressed his profound sadness at the news of Hughes' demise, "I was a fan of both his work and a fan of him as a person. The world has lost not only a quintessential filmmaker whose influence will be felt for generations, but a great and decent man."

Molly Ringwald added to the tributes. "I was stunned and incredibly sad to hear about the death of John Hughes," Ringwald said in a statement. "He was and will always be such an important part of my life. He will be missed – by me and by everyone that he has touched," she added. "My heart and all my thoughts are with his family now."

Another actor Hughes made famous, Matthew Broderick, who starred in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, also shared his condolences with the director's family. "I am truly shocked and saddened by the news about my old friend John Hughes. He was a wonderful, very talented guy and my heart goes out to his family."

Much can be said about Hughes, but it is his own writing, or the characters that he created rather, that can speak for him. Take Ferris Bueller for instance. He's the epitome of coolness in a teenager, has good friends, drives a nice car—which isn't his—and an all round decent but clever guy, and he says, "Life moves pretty fast. You don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." And there lies the essence of John Hughes.

John Hughes died suddenly of a heart attack on August 6, 2009, while walking in Manhattan, where he was visiting his family. Hughes is survived by his widow, sons and four grandchildren.

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8.8.09

What's in a tweet?

You’ve heard of Facebook, been through the days of Orkut, well now get ready for Twitter.

Twitter is a micro blogging service that allows users to make short posts, consisting of 140 characters only. Users can post anything on their mind or even news or events as they happen. They can also follow each other, to be up-to-date on their happenings.

Compared to Facebook or Orkut, this may seem miniscule, but lately this blogging service is getting a lot of attention thanks to its ease of access and news reporting capabilities.

Because people can Twitter through SMS and their mobile phones, the service has broken many news headlines in recent times. In January 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 crashed in the Hudson River, New York. A rescue worker on one of the rescue ferries took a picture of the evacuation process and uploaded it on to Twitter before any news media did. In June 2009, following allegations of fraud in the Iranian presidential election, protesters used Twitter as a rallying tool and as a method of communication with the outside world after the government blocked several other modes of communication. These are just some of the moments where Twitter has been instrumental in getting the news out to the world and fast.

Besides the news, Twitter can also be described as “word of mouth” for the 21st century. People discuss products, TV shows, movies, music, and anything and everything that they’ve just discovered. Most of these are everyday people; however, politicians, celebrities and even government institutions are now part of Twitter.

For example, Nasa’s Lunar Observer has its own Twitter feed, which is updated with all the latest images from the Moon. The Whitehouse’s Twitter feed deals with everyday policy making to announcements being made. News channels such as BBC and CNN both have their feeds on Twitter but also rely heavily on users for their sources of information. But there is call for authentication of users as propaganda and misleading information can also spread through Twitter.

Since social networks are all the rage these days, its no wonder people are twittering around the world. It’s simple to join up and very easy to maintain, all you need are 140 characters or just a line or two to explain how your day went or what you did. It is its simplicity that makes Twitter so much easy to take on.

Facebook and Orkut might have proven that the world is getting smaller and smaller, but Twitter does the opposite. It shows you the world in under 140 characters.

The Price of Freedom

What do a lawyer, a PR manager, an editor and an aspiring politician have in common? Well, it's not the set up for a punch line, far from it. These four represent the subjects of a documentary titled Made in Pakistan.

It features a raw, unedited and a verbatim look into the lives of these four Pakistanis and how they react to the ever volatile situations around them. Volatile situations that had led Pakistan to be labelled by a magazine as "the most dangerous nation on earth."

Nasir Khan, the writer and director, recalls his reaction when he read the infamous article. "I read it from start to finish—each and every word, and I had an instant emotional reaction, and that reaction is this documentary." Immediately Nasir began to work on the documentary which would become Made in Pakistan, and Nasir is no stranger to filmmaking, especially documentaries. A graduate from McGill University in Canada, Khan started work in television at the World Affairs TV Production shortly after he returned to Pakistan and established a production house, Talking Filmain. His first documentary was Muslim Gear, which documented Muslim fashion in the western world. In Pakistan, his reality television show “Pounds” was aired on a local satellite channel in 2008 and his serial “Na Jane Kyun” is currently on air on national television channel.

In Made in Pakistan, almost immediately, one can figure out that the two men and two women show a distinct bifurcation of Pakistan as a whole. The working class man and the struggling, minority—yet growing—working woman. In this case, its two working women, Tara Mahmood, the PR manager and Rabia Aamir, the teacher and magazine editor. They represent the modern Pakistani, the glamorous elite whose worlds are either hidden from prying eyes or at the forefront of 21st century Pakistan. Tara's world is perhaps the most modern of them all. She casually admits how socially advanced the parties are but at the same time, she's dedicated to her work, which she carries through many hurdles.

Rabia is Tara's complete polar opposite—save the fact that they are both dedicated to their jobs. As a magazine editor, she carefully manages her team and as a working mother, she takes care of her young daughter. Together Rabia and Tara show that while it may not be easy being a woman in man's world, they both are quite comfortable in their shoes. Hence, their lives do not reflect the true struggle of the Pakistani woman working in a Pakistani man's world. "We went in not knowing how Rabia or Tara would be, it was by pure chance that we got two women whose lives were successful and they overcame all the obstacles," said Nasir Khan, also agreeing that the documentary missed out the opportunity to highlight the difficulties. And though the documentary does miss out on this key aspect, there are many others that it covers at the same time.

Mohsin Warriach, the aspiring politician, and Waleed Khalid, the lawyer, represent the real Pakistan—at the grass roots level. They are the struggling class and the ruling class; the two of the largest and powerful classes in Pakistan. Warriach's political aspiration is captured at every moment, from him meeting with reluctant and hesitant voters to him meeting the people living in destitute areas. The look on people's faces range from hope to hopelessness. They either trust him or do not—whatever the case, Warriach keeps his head high.

As a lawyer amidst a situation of lawlessness, Waleed is probably the most interesting of the lot. His determination shows with every scene he's in—someone truly affected by the crisis of the emergency rule on a personal level and wanting to do something about it. Waleed can best be described as the everyman who wants to make a difference. Not only is he a practicing lawyer, he also teaches law, and it is his discussions with his students that we are privy to are the some of the most interesting moments on film.

Nasir Khan captures many galvanizing moments from each of the individuals in this documentary, against the backdrop of the nation under a state of emergency. And from the start it's pretty clear that these subjects were not chosen at a random. Each of them had their purpose and each of them makes this documentary interesting to watch. As a Pakistani myself, I found myself smiling to the ironies presented here and often thinking about the all too familiar troubles faced by each of the subjects. Thankfully, Nasir steers clear from mimicking Michael Moore's guerrilla style documentary filmmaking and only lets the subjects speak for themselves.

One might think that Made in Pakistan paints a very rosy and serene picture of the country, even with all the trials and tribulation, a fact that Nasir quickly addressed. "The thing is, we wanted to portray everything, even the negativity, but our subjects were so positive, their tone was so positive, that at the end of the day, when you look at it, they really are the spirit of Pakistan—and show that no matter what, they, us, we'll all get through this."

The only downside to the whole documentary screening was perhaps the lack of enthusiasm shown by the audience. After a much hyped first day, Karachi showed a muted response to the documentary during its remaining days and missed out on a great documentary. Nasir said, "Sadly, we don't have much of a documentary culture going on here, perhaps it'll pick up because of this, at least we hope so."

The production house, Talking Filmain and Nasir's team, have had tremendous support from the production company that have released the documentary across the three cities, Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. "I can't stress enough how much Still Waters Production have helped us carry this through," said Nasir Khan. "Their support has made these shows possible—and we're looking forward to showing the film in Lahore and Islamabad."

Speaking about the release of Made in Pakistan, Head of Productions at Still Waters, Naad-e-Ali Zaidi has said, "Made in Pakistan brings forward Pakistan's upper middle class in a documentary which explores the country through four individuals. It allows us to perceive this under-represented class as a realistic part of our social fabric, which despite modern misconceptions, co-exists within the same space as the stereotypes of terror and fundamentalism with which Pakistan has come to be associated. Made in Pakistan accepts that we are living amidst social, political, religious and economic unrest from one situation to another, and shows that life goes on."

Made In Pakistan is a tremendous effort that speaks for itself in volumes. Easily one of the better if not best documentaries made, it is neither shocking or unsettling, in fact, it provokes the viewer into thinking, as a good documentary should, about what it really means to live in Pakistan and to be made in Pakistan.

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2.8.09

The Hangover

Two days before Doug Billings (Justin Bartha) is about to get married, his friends take him to Las Vegas for one last get together. Or so they think. After awaking from a drunken and drugged stupor, Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis), discover that their friend—Doug—is nowhere to be found.

As the three friends wake up, they have subtle clues as to where the groom may be and just exactly what might have happened. Stu is missing a tooth, Phil has a hospital bracelet and Alan discovers a baby in their hotel room—not to forget the wild tiger locked in their bathroom and to top it all off, their hotel room is a disaster area. What follows is a hilarious adventure across Las Vegas to try and find the Groom and to return him safely home to get married.

Directed by Todd Phillips (who also directed "Old School," "Road Trip") grabs attention right from the get-go with an edgy-funny beginning which leads into the story itself, which is set entirely in flashback. The script borders on the almost crudeness but ingeniously deters from going overboard with its comedy. Written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore provide one ludicrous moment after another as the groomsmen frantically scramble to retrace their steps so they can reconnect with the misplaced (or, quite possibly, waylaid) groom.

Piece by sordid piece, the night starts coming back to them: the hospital, the police station, the wedding chapel, and, in keeping with its theme of overindulgence, much more. Some bits are better than others, but one of the best comes when former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson enters the picture, his right hook still deadly and his version of Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" already a YouTube classic.

Another highlight of the movie is the soundtrack. The music provides its own narrative score, whether an oldie such as "It's Now or Never" that has that born-in-Vegas feel, or Kanye West whose song plays as Vegas' neon skyline unfolds in front of us.

Their humour-filled journey brings them in contact with, among others, Taser-wielding cops, angry Asian gamblers, a perky dancer (Heather Graham) with newly forged ties to Stu, and a surprise cameo by former heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson (played, in a bold stroke of casting, by Tyson himself).

The Hangover is truly a “buddy” movie, intended to be watched and enjoyed with friends. Perhaps one of the best comedies of this year so far.

Spirit of the Studio

At two more episodes than the previous season and nearly twice as many artists from last time around, the sheer awe factor of Coke Studio 2 artists is certainly undeniable. You also have to give credit to the artists for not only experimenting with their own songs but tackling new ones too. The fourth session is titled Spirit and with such acts, it's obvious why.

Mai Ni Main – Atif Aslam
I can only imagine what was going through Atif's mind as he sang this song. It would be a daunting task to be in his shoes to cover a song previously sung by maestros such as Hamid Ali Bela all the way to Reshma, and Atif flawlessly sings the classic tune. He's definitely one Coke Studio artist that continues to shatter people's perceptions of him and his musical prowess.

Bulleya – Riaz Ali Khan
This is probably the most covered Baba Bulleh Shah poem there is and rightfully so, with its poignant lyrics and its underlying tones. Like the many artists before him, Riaz Ali Khan makes Bulleya his own. His voice carries the lyrics and tones of the poem and give them a life of their own. In addition to the poem, Riaz Ali Khan brings raags of his own composition within the track, a pleasant addition indeed. One of the crimson studio's lighter tracks, definitely pleasant to the ear, whenever the time, whatever the mood.

Chup – Zeb and Haniya
This is the title track that made them famous in the first place and Zeb and Haniya once again prove why it was so. This isn't as glorious as Paimana, however it definitely is groovier, thanks to Omran Shafique's guitars. Given the house band talent at their disposal, Zeb and Haniya could've taken the song into a completely different direction, which, in the spirit of Coke Studio, would've been a pleasant surprise.

Saari Raat – Noori
Noori's the kind of band that you listen to at full volume. Their energy is at best obvious and overwhelming, in good kind of way. Coke Studio gives them a chance to show a much more mellow side to them, especially Ali Hamza, who appears at home and ease at this slow pace, his other half, Ali Noor still brings in the loudness every now and again, but that's just enough so that you know you're listening to Noori.

Mahi Ve – JoSH & Shafqat Amanat Ali
Bhangra songs are quite the acquired taste, you either love them or love to hate them. This, however, is not a bhangra track at all, and that's all thanks to Shafqat Amanat Ali's brilliant contribution to this track. His powerful raags echo and evoke a completely new feeling to the track. It's interesting to hear JoSH change their trademark pace and shift down to second gear for a change. This is definitely one of their pleasant performances yet.

Though the artists continue to put out some great music, most of the performances came out with a more 'manufactured' or 'staged' sound than the previous season. Perhaps it's because it was made for a TV audience rather than a live one—and the change felt from the first season and the second one is obvious for everyone to hear. And they are hearing it by the hordes, keeping the spirit of Coke Studio alive and well.

26.7.09

How well do yo know Harry Potter?

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has had its premiere and HP fans are flocking to the cinemas with their brooms and wizard hats in tow. Here’s come cool trivia about the movie itself; see if you can break the spell and figure out the answers.

Which director turned down the opportunity to work on Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince so that he could work on Hellboy 2? The answer is director Guillermo del Toro.

Hero Fiennes-Tiffin, who plays Tom Riddle, is actually related to one of the cast members. Who is it? Fiennes-Tiffin is Ralph Fiennes’ nephew and was specifically hired for the part because he resembled his uncle.

Who was J K Rowling’s personal favorite for directing this film but didn’t do so because of a dispute with Warner Brothers? Director Terry Gilliam, who reportedly said, "Warner Bros. had their chance the first time around, and they blew it."

Much of the movie’s ending has been changed, what was the reason the filmmakers gave? The end act was removed to avoid repetition with the forthcoming adaptation of Deathly Hallows. The funeral was removed as it was believed it did not fit with the rest of the film.

At the time of the release of the book, Half-Blood Prince, it broke the record for most books sold in 16 hours, which was three million copies, can you guess which book would break this record? The final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

This is the second Harry Potter film not to open with events involving Harry. Which was the first? Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire opened with a scene from a chapter of the fourth book, "The Riddle House".

A special event returns to this movie after making its last appearance in fourth installment? The popular wizard game Quidditch.

Which director, while in negotiations to direct the first film, wanted it to be completely animated and wanted Haley Joel Osmet for the lead role? Steven Spielberg.

Was Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe’s first screen role? No, his first role was in the Tailor of Panama, alongside Pierce Brosnan.

If you watched all of the Harry Potter films, from the first one right down to the last, how much time would it take? An astounding 903 minutes. Though this figure might change, since the last film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has not yet been films—and is scheduled to be filmed in two parts.

Which actor’s children were a fan of the series and ultimately became a hero to them and their schoolmates? Gary Oldman, who played Sirius Black.

19.7.09

Kaavish: Full Circle, at last

Kaavish are finally ready to release the album that has been in the making for about six years. Once can only imagine the efforts put in by Maaz Maudood and Jaffer Zaidi (also former member Raheel Manzar Paul) for these past years, along with their current producer, Faisal Rafi. As a producer, Rafi was the captain of the ship that is Gunkali, so why did it take so long to reach the harbour of listeners? “The album in essence was redone; the original had been done in Jaffer’s home studio. Anything that is redone usually takes twice the time so that justice can be done to the original compositions.” He also mentioned that the entire album is played live and hence, the recording of the album was dependant on the schedules of the musicians.

For one thing, straight away upon listening to the album, you can actually tell that the hard work, blood, sweat and tears, put into it have actually paid off.

The band starts the album off with Chand Taare a track that sounds nothing like the rest of the album itself — though not in a bad way. This is the sort of song that you’d have in any commercial album but it’s pretty clear that the band are not comfortable performing this song, because this is not who they are. When we last spoke to the band (Kaavish: Speaking to the soul, October 5, 2008, published in Images, Dawn), they insisted on a need for such a track, to have it as their first track and so got it over quickly, perhaps so they could get down to the ‘real business’ of their music.

Things get really moody real fast with the onset of Chaltay Rahein. But it’s not sad, it’s the sort of melancholy track that reminds you of the bittersweet things in life and how no matter what happens, life goes on. Even the poignant lyrics reflect the sound of the track, “Kaisay kahein, kissay kahein, kehna ha kya, chaltay rahain.”

Sunn Zara is where things become a bit moody. The dark undertone of the keys is only kept alight by the powerful and mesmerizing flute. As the song picks up, the darkness is gone; thanks to the beacon of light that is the vocals. Jaffer’s voice is carefully placed so when he sings the listener hangs on to every word.

When Faisal Rafi spoke about the music being performed live, one would think about how different it would make to the sound. Bachoan and Tere Pyaar Main are where one notices that difference the most. These tracks are definitely slower than the first few tracks and perhaps for obvious reasons, we’re almost half way into the album and the band is settling into itself nicely. Out of the two, Bachoan is better, simply because it seems less overdone and tinkered with, rather than Tere Pyaar Main — which, although good, it seems as if too many cooks spoiled the broth on that one.

Where Jaffer went all over the place in Tere Pyaar Main, he seems very focused in Piya Dekho Na. In fact, his voice is the star of this track as it carefully serenades the music around it.

At this point in time, starting with Moray Sayyan through to Dekho, there is a distinct lack of variety of songs on the album. Nearly all tracks so far are classical, which makes the second half of the album sound as one continuous track. These songs are all great and have their own merits on their own, but just don’t sit well with each other.

Finally Dim Main Meray and Koi Hai Toh Sahee close the album; both the mood and the pace of the album change slightly as the band says goodbye to the listener. It is indeed a sweet parting, but after listening to the album in its entirety, there’s a feeling of emptiness — or something missing. Perhaps it’s the wait and the expectations that are to blame here; after all, this album was six years in the making. It is only natural for the listener to expect more.

Those expecting to find pop or commercialism on this album will be severely disappointed. Kaavish have already made clear they are about music at its purest form. Gunkali is all about Pakistani music at its core; it celebrates its history and heritage brought into a new era.

On another aspect, Rafi notes that in the time span of six years, the band itself has improved drastically. “The band has matured immensely through the recording and production process, their true potential is becoming more and more evident.”

Indeed, if this is just the first effort of the band, Gunkali is just the beginning of their journey.

The Proposal


It seems that Hollywood is taking a page from Bollywood movies these days, because the Proposal seems to be more of the latter than the former.

The movie stars Sandra Bullock as a smart, witty and very clever book editor and Ryan Reynolds as her beleaguered assistant. One day at the office, Margaret Tate (Bullock), a Canadian whose visa expires and suddenly she finds herself scrambling for a way to stay in the United States and the big New York office where she rules with an iron fist clutching a designer bag.

The plan that she devises involves her assistant, Andrew (Ryan Reynolds), a beleaguered yet funny character who helps his boss get out of trouble—almost all the time. For her to get the promotion, she needs to stay in New York, for her to stay in New York, she needs to become an American citizen and the quickest way to do that would be to marry an American.

She bribes Andrew into marrying her, in exchange for a promotion of his own, and as the story goes, somewhere along their fallacy, they get to know each other. During a visit to his family, she realizes that Andrew is actually a good man and someone more than just an assistant. She meets his mom (Mary Steenburgen) and dad (Craig T. Nelson) who provide the odd funny moment but give her into an insight into Andrew. Similarly, Andrew sees a completely different side of his boss, a fragile woman hiding behind the guile of a controlling and overpowering boss. Hence the movie being more Bollywood than Hollywood, the plot is thin to say the least and is filled by formula moments.

The film is directed by Anne Fletcher, who also directed 27 Dresses and is written by Peter Chiarelli whose script is filled with clich├ęs and stereotypes. There are many scenes completely lifted off from other—more recent—movies.

Besides its obvious flaws the film does have moments that make it a worthwhile watch. Most of these moments belong to Ryan Reynolds. The young actor holds his own against Sandra Bullock, who may not be as charming as Julia Roberts, but she makes up for it by being very funny.

The Proposal is funny but you’ve probably seen and heard it all somewhere before, but it’s still an enjoyable watch.