Aamina Sheikh

Snooze Fest Karachi

This review originally appeared here.

1

Impressed by Sabiha Sumar’s earlier film Khamosh Pani with its strong script and poignant take on Pakistani politics, although admittedly sometime sketchy direction, I was intrigued enough to want to see Good Morning Karachi at the 3rdi film festival despite its rather predictable plot.

(more…)

Jackson Heights Episodes 6-7

Jackson_Heights_Poster

So much for hopes of creating fire – this is more like trying to strike two wet sticks together to get a spark going.

Permit me to race along the developments over the last two episodes: they would have to be Jamshed’s ping ponging from shared digs to Mamu’s house, to the basement and out into the cold and back into warmer digs closer to his object of perplexed interest Michelle. Salma’s clash with her Tai ji cum mother in law as well as revelation of her status as step mom and a hint of some violence in her past. Also poor Rizwan’s friend zoning all over again.

Unfortunately, all of this is reading very predictable. Everything is playing out schematically as opposed to seamlessly. We can tell that Salma and Bhatti sahib will encounter each other on a ‘break’ and that their family situations ( hello teenage step daughters!) and families that bleed them dry will bind them together, that Jamshed will cross paths with load bearing Michelle and that Kathy will turn all shades of blue and purple, and those kids will be out of control.

All the Americans- the goras at any rate- are given one shade to play which disappointing since these kinds of marriages exist and they are more complicated that this is making them out to be – not just with conversations on halal sausages (for that go here) or dishing out the word terrorist with a side of orange juice.

There are hints of a lot of ideas but hinting at is not a substitution for exploration. While there is value in revealing layers of the characters but this is like watching paint peel off the wall.

The fault is not, as they say, in our stars because the acting is (mostly) on point. It’s in the writing and direction. If channels are demanding a certain set of episodes that is the framework in which you have to produce a show but that is no excuse nor should it be. Jackson Heights has a great premise, and a gold mine of stories and Vasay’s one-liners are enjoyable and we all appreciate Mehreen Jabbar’s subtle signature but a sharper telling of the tale would help.

Jamshed is dealing with his own tarnished image of the US of A. Given that and the need to project an ‘all is well’ attitude it’s no wonder he’s posturing with his friend (who by the by is quite the cutie himself) and fails to grasp the gravity of Asma’s (who also btw is very very good) situation.

Mamu and his staged run ins with Salma are getting old and stale as a day old bagel. Well at least he met up with Emaan and is being a purveyor of all things sweet and Emaan is taking advantage of that. Though to be fair if someone bought me donuts who am I to refuse even if I know that it’s only the middle of the donut that is fat free.

Salma’s Tai Ji reflects the age old prejudices and her phrasing – gora ki bacchi hai kya khoodti phire, nacchne wali – reflects her notions  of the big, bad West. Other assorted threatening characters have been introduced and are possibly smoking something pretty strong if they think beauticians – even ones as hard working as Salma- are rolling in stacks of cash.

The only person I truly felt bad for was poor Rizwan. Though I must say this was a missed opportunity to get some insight into Michelle’s character by having her explain her reaction. Instead Rizwan, good guy that he is, takes the onus on himself. Also his dejection was really blah in its portrayal.  What happened to using visuals to tell the story instead of just relying on dialogue? Pity really because Adnan Jaffer can deliver.

So while am yawning my way into a coma (ok maybe I should not have eaten those doughnuts) I am still watching because am really truly hoping that this mix produces something fantastic, or at the very least thought provoking.

MM(aka A musing Muslim)

Jackson Heights episode 4 – 5

Jackson_Heights_Poster

Now I am officially bored.

I am not against slowing things down and taking time to establish your characters and even their evolution is a slow process but Move. It. Along. People!

These epiodes focused on the foursome’s woes and troubles. Jamshed’s ups and downs post visa woes – his elation and a mami making parathas, to his nani who dreads his departure to the deflating reality of soaring ticket troubles. His sense of elation and bright lights of America beckoning dims everything else around them – a grandmother who gives up her savings, a loving (if unacknowledged) girlfriend whose sadness and heartbreak he doesn’t register.

Though truly, this track would be the one to be most easily resolved. Though Jamshed is an orphan child he still has the safety net of family and a loving nani to smooth things over.

His grand expectations come to a grinding halt once he reaches New York. His shared digs instead of his mamu’s grand home, the truth about his mamu’s cab company, the slights and his mamu’s position at home all begin to crack and crumble the façade that Bhatti sahib had carefully built from miles away.

Jamshed discovered truths unveil all those built up lies. I suspect the shine will wear thin and Jamshed despite his pharpahr angrezi is going to see the his grand crown of desi male entitlement and swagger crack with the wear and tear in times to come.

Not so much for Bhatti sahib, the family he has isn’t as easily won over and he finds himself in the unenviable position of begging and pleading with both his immigration lawyer as well as Kathy who by the way just seems to be a one note or really a blazing fireball of anger and resentment. Even if he has Jamshed in the door for now, it’s not going to be for long.

The unfolding friendship between Bhatti and Salma was probably the only thing that inched forward here.

As for Salma, the whole domestic violence angle really felt forced even if was meant to throw light into Salma’s past. Domestic violence is a serious issue in the desi community one that gets brushed under the carpet even as it rears its ugly head on occasion and not just in extreme case of acid attacks.

We are introduced to her daughter this time around so there is space for opening up of her story. Somehow Aamina Sheikh doesn’t look like mom to a teenage girl and this circles back to my point about her just not looking the part.

Michelle and Rizwan aren’t moving along despite sister Tania’s attempts to bridge the gap and get them to talk clearly to one another. Michelle for her part is pretty clear but Rizwan still hurt from earlier rejection is relying more on the unsaid but Tania seems, as sisters are wont to do, to push him towards the light in the shape of a diamond ring. Well at least someone got the memo.

As a diehard Marina Khan fan, I can’t believe I am about to say this – cute-sy was done with Ankahi and Tanhaiyaan. It’s not working here. The whole forgetting his birthday, the birthday celebration, gift conversation – there was nothing new here, even if was supposed to be romantic it sort of bombed but maybe that was the point.

Also that note about making your dreams come true was really about  elitist privilege that propels people from one position of privilege to another. There is no arguing about the hard work that most desis dedicate to their work and lives in America, but I am hoping both the writer and director showcase this with a lot more finesse in episodes to come.

So really despite sort of cliffhanger moment, it fizzed out. The only sparklers here were Vasay’s one liners – left hand man, personal bhanja, denting, painting – were delightful. Only a few bright sparks though, lets see if they can create some fire.

MM(aka A musing Muslim)

Jackson Heights Episode 3

Jackson_Heights_PosterSo there is slow paced and then there is crawling at the speed of a snail on heroin. And things were going so well!

There is a need to establish characters and situations and inner lives and strives, but having spent time on this the narrative needs to move on. Today was sluggish and more of the same and relying solely on the Bhatti factor for laughs and levity.

Some trends continue from last time nicely tying in and expanding on the idea of being in limbo over ones visa status, to Bhatti sahib’s immigration interview, to the disheartened visa rejects and very real threat of xenophobic violence that cabdrivers (and really all of us) face on the streets of New York and elsewhere in this land of the free and lets impose it elsewhere.

The narrative so far has touched on interesting themes, whether they are going to explore them with any depth however, remains to be seen.

For now, it is Bhatti sahib who is the glue that’s holding Jackson Heights together. He’s at ease taking on the relationship of “do number wala kaam” and I suspect his respect for Alia and Salma shot up a few notches by their underhand suggestions. Also good to note that Salma is challenging Bhatti sahib’s ideas of what goes on in a beauty salon which involves hair in well, lets say quite a different way than he imagines.

Imran Bhatti works because of Nauman Ijaz, no two ways about it. His genuine puzzlement about “maine toh ye kaam nahi seekha” is hilarious. This caring do-gooder for his desi friends, turns on the charm when he needs to – making breakfast and worming his way back into his wife’s good books. While Mehreen Jabbar too had her Hitchcockian moment, the scenes of him preying on his riders were getting a tad repetitive

Where mamu is stealing the limelight, can his bhanja be far behind? The reason this episode still worked somewhat was the limbo status of Jamshed’s visa. Caught in this no man land of little to no information, curt but polite voices refusing to divulge any information on which his – and many other- lives still hinge on – is a terrible state of being in the unknown.

It can lead to dark depressing thoughts and everything from resentment, anger, annoyance, despair, and finally resignation all notes that Adeel Husain hit. Our brash Jamshed was forced to eat his words but not for very long when that one phone call he was ready to gamble it again, cockiness back, standing a little straighter even if he didn’t know how it would pan out.

Unfortunately it would have worked better, had we not known the outcome beforehand. Previews and promos are pretty much spoilers for anyone enjoying a well told story and here too we can’t quite travel the emotional journey with Jamshed, because we already know where he will end up.

Meanwhile Rizwan (who by now has firmly chosen to say Mumbai – sigh, sheds a silent tear – come on! Team Jackson Heights! Thought you had progressive politics!) is busy sprucing up his bachelor pad for his sisters visit and who better to help than his maid and cook, um, sorry, friend with (out) benefits – Michelle.

Turns out he’s been waiting for her for 15 years. Of course, not telling her might be part of the problem. And yes, he does tell her in his own way but one, you know the direct – heart to heart conversation, or hard evidence in the form of some jewellery, would have done the trick and put them both on the straight and narrow.

I’m getting antsy about this track much as I love both Adnan Jaffer and Marina Khan. Camaraderie? Yes, they have it in droves but really something about their conversations is repetitive. Someone please answer me this – have these women not seen SRK’s eyes or abs?? Then whhyyy must you Pakistani ladies persist in this lackluster defense of a man who can make three generations of women cry along with him?? Step. It. Up. Your Indian credibility is terribly shaky at this point.

I want to love Jackson Heights because it has the right mix of ingredients – a seasoned writer, nuanced director and stellar actors. I just wonder why there is no flavor of the bustling South Asian hub that is Jackson Heights. I have to say in comparison Bilqees Kaur was far better in capturing an essence of South Asian slice of life in NY.

The camera remains distant, the atmosphere very sterile and with the exception of Rizwan’s pad which is bang on character, the rest are almost too posh. Bhatti sahib’s house seems comfortably upper middle class, the salon too neat, the restaurant too generic as are the shots of NY.

Kuch toh masala daal dein, zyaka ussi se toh hota hai.

MM(aka A musing Muslim)

Jackson Heights Episode 2

Jackson_Heights_Poster

“What a beautiful accident!”

With those four words, Nauman Ijaz just stole the show. Our cheery Imran Bhatti sahib keeps up his spirits and the lookout for new-and pretty-desis to befriend. That scene was priceless and Bhatti sahib owned it even if he was spinning the oldest line in the book.

All however, is not well on the home front and so it wasn’t our dear Jamshed, but his mamu who has the green card via marriage plan. It’s is hard to imagine any other possibility given the fractious nature of their relationship. She bulldozes him all the time and treats him with scant respect and her kids follow suit.

True to form however, Bhatti sahib takes his responsibilities seriously except when he is fraternizing (ha! not quite) with Salma. Salma, for her part is trying to rake in the cash by working the graveyard shift – what else would you call 8:30 am at a salon?! Perhaps it’s just that Aamina Sheikh is too damn pretty, but something about her conveys a very calm persona to her supposedly harried and worked to the bone working gal.

Even if the dialogues and those plain Jane shirts try to convince you otherwise, something is amiss here. Though bonus points for Nazia Hassan soundtrack!

And perhaps in time the Salma- Imran track will work better but the Rizwan-Michelle track is going smooth I have to say.  They share an easy camaraderie – thodi khatti thodi meethi and Vasay Chaudhary’s dialogues about muft ki cooking, pyar ka jaal, katal and kabza play up that underlying romantic interest though that Rizwan does seem to be breathing down her neck a bit, no?

Also minus points for the slip up on Bombay! Choose a side Ok?

There are other germs of ideas here – Michelle paying her desi staff a lesser rate than the legal norm, Hira beauty parlour undercutting their prices which hint at the lives of working desis in America, which I’m definitely looking forward to seeing that explored more.

Also the no man’s visa land of ‘in process’ and ‘clearance’, often euphemisms for security and background checks which are the bane of every desi’s immigration experience especially Muslim men in the post 9/11 era, is hinted at through Adeel’s visibly drooped shoulders and slight frustration at the process. Though was that Mehreen Jabbar’s voice herself on the other side?

Jamshed, is stuck in limbo and constantly dreaming of his brighter and better future. No doubt being at the mercies of his relatives have him longing for escape. Even his loving Nani and her protective gaze and loving parathas can only go so far.

A bit slow placed and focused on setting up the characters, all of whom have rich back stories, its nice to have that insight into what makes them tick, or holds them back.

All in all, in the words of Imran Bhatti (or should we say Vasay Chaudhary?) Impressive hai, bohut zyada impressive hai…

MM (aka A musing Muslim)

Jackson Heights Episode 1

Jackson_Heights_Poster

The telling of the immigrant tale is in a sense the journey of laboring for a better life, mostly for others and sometimes an escape from lives already etched out and paths already chosen for us.

The beginning monologue of Jackson Heights zooms into that pardesh mein chotta sa desh. The lens focuses on intersecting lives of the diasporic desi community of Imran Bhatti, an over sharing NY cabbie who shoulders the burden of others lives, to restaurateur Michele whose bitterness reflects in more ways than one, the relationship with the land she left, to her friend and admirer Rizwan who escapes the life written out for him to Salma earning her way through hard work and possibly some great threading moves, and Jamshed our gold-tinted glasses-wearing dreamer.

Behind each of their stories there is a sense of desperation –majbori chasing a behtar zindagi ya khwab and the failings of the lands and people we leave behind sprinkled with the saundi scent of nostalgia.

The introduction to all these characters, and glimpses into their lives were effortlessly woven together by the flitting pen of Vasay Chaudhry’s light and dark moments and the astute hand of Mehreen Jabbar’s direction and the characters that Nauman Ijaz, Marina Khan, Adnan Jaffer, Amina Sheikh and Adeel Husain embody rather than play.

In this unmistakable NY landscape, of skyscrapers, interiors of cabs plying people of multiple races, (500 points for mentioning my favourite African country and another 500 for reiterating that Africa is not a country) we are introduced to sprightly and a tad oily Bhatti sahib, lover of Lalaji’s gaane and ATM to his family back home.

Nauman Ijaz proves once again what a fantastic actor he is – his country bumpkin-ness balances out his annoying inquisitiveness, his literal angrezi has a Punjabi lilt, that slight downward gaze on being plied with demands for play stations and electric shavers, and that longing for Ammi were all conveyed in his stance. With his friends and in the presence of Michele he had an oily obsequiousness that no actor other than Nouman Ijaz could have pulled off.

His conversation with Salma was a delight to watch and Aamina Sheikh’s eye roll was on point even if she slipped up on the blue collar angrezi accent (though perhaps am leaping to a conclusion here about the color of her collar here). Driven by dollars and tough as nails to boot, we are yet to know her back story though as she herself says it’s not greed, it’s being opportune – heck- a beautician that makes house calls in the US? Sign me up pronto! Also, what’s with the spate of Mrs Khan’s visiting salons?

Marina Khan is a delight to watch in a different avatar as an embittered Pakistani Christian playing Michele with sarcasm and tight whip. That ‘ji’ was razor sharp. Some of that bitterness I am guessing could be traced back to troubled relations with her home country and am looking forward to that exploration.

She’s wary of desis and their slipshod ways or is that only working desis? Though she seems a little distant from her admirer as well. It’s no secret that I heart this man, even minus muchi, Adnan Jaffer is still looking dapper, though come on, what’s with that lukewarm defense of the Little Master?! It was as bad as this lukewarm defense of Shah Rukh Khan! Come on people, even if you are playing the enemy, amp it up! Points, however, for saying Bombay.

The last entrant on the scene was Bhatti sahib’s nephew Jamshed, a graduate with dreams of the land of milk and honey. So much so that in that dreamy fog that no opportunity is good enough for him to stay – not even an almost maangetar or that muft ka ehsaan lene ka fyada step ladder of nepotism or an iota of actual hard work it would seem. Thank God Adeel has taken our (unsolicited) advice. Here’s hoping he isn’t in it for the marriage green card ticket.

Props to Mehreen Jabbar who always brings in minority representations (Coke Kahani, Ramchand Pakistani) and a look at diverse socioeconomic backgrounds (Daam). For a drama that named after a South Asian hub, I hope there is an exploration of that wonderful diversity.

There was some interesting framing of scenes –Amina Sheikh in the cab, the rooftop gate, but overall the camera work (by Nausheen Dadabhoy) felt a tad distant, almost as an outsider especially in capturing Jackson Heights though this is the first episode and hopefully we will get to see more of an insider look as we go along. Vasay’s trademark humour– lawnmower, you sit baby, rishway dene se baaz nahin aate, chubti awaz , sticker bana diya– was sprinkled everywhere.

Jackson Heights definitely impresses and this being a diasporic tale, am sure we can all relate and see ourselves in these characters and their struggles. Heck, it’s got me looking forward to rush hour, chai, and conversation with chatty cabbies!

MM (aka A musing Muslim)

Bringing Slick Back: Operation O21

 

If there’s one thing Shaan Shahid does well it’s choosing slick films. First, Khuda Kay Liye, then, Waar, now, Operation O21. Do you see a pattern…?

Exactly. And the word that describes this pattern is SLICK!

Hollywood has long drawn upon the misunderstood-fugitive-field-agent, who takes upon a corrupt system and its prejudice single-handedly. A spate of movies come to mind, but hey, this isn’t about Hollywood!

Pakistan’s obsession with the lonesome trapper-jacker (I don’t know where I got that from!) is a fairly recent phenomenon. Perhaps, a testament to the volatile and often times dangerous socio-political situation in the homeland. With the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), America’s war on terror, and an uncertain border situation with Afghanistan and India, is it any wonder that homegrown movies draw upon current scenarios for entertaining the masses(?).

This boom in action-thrillers of the terrorist-secret agent kind are an outcome of our own troubled situation. Art imitates life, as they say, and this is true of war as well. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, the Afghanis began making rugs that depicted scenes of war. Their visual culture was so thoroughly impacted by the guns and weaponry that it found pride of place in the weaving industry. Now, I know carpets are not the same as movies, but the principle remains the same. What we experience in everyday life becomes our reality, it becomes our prose and poetry, our art, and our entertainment.

Operation O21 gives us this reality, well at least for some of us, in a action-packed two hours.

Like Waar and Khuda Kay Liye, O21 straddles a harsh terrain. This is no love story for the faint-hearted nor is it an action film for the thrill seekers amongst us rather it is about having a “say” and  generating a (collective) “voice”, and I, for one, want to see what Pakistanis think of the war being waged in their background, I want to listen to their voices, and I hope they are heard. Even though this is only a preview of what we can expect in the movie, I’m concerned that in trying to answer larger questions the team might lose its vision.

Slated for an Independence Day premiere, I wonder if the timing is an apt representation of the story, but I guess we’ll find out in two months time.

Until then,

This is RB signing off.