Friday, October 18, 2013

[Social Eye] Dissecting TV Show Titles

Today we’re going to take a look at how some of these idiomatic phrases were used before we came to associate them with binge-watching and Walter 'Heisenberg' White, and explore the insights they offer about these critically acclaimed shows.

Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad is the greatest show I have ever seen. Its 5 years of TV at its pinnacle, meandering through. The plot twists are so brilliant, resilient and unexpected, you can literally taste the fumes coming off of this wild thing. Plus, it will also be the blackest comedy you will ever see.
Break the ice means “start conversation,” break bread means “share food,” break a heart means “cause Dictionary of American Slang notes 'break bad' as a Southern regionalism dating back to the 1970s that means “to become hostile and menacing.” Time magazine recently unearthed an example from 1919 with less violent undertones meaning "to go bad." The sense of it seems to be fleeting or transitory, implying a sudden and temporary shift into darkness, but the show’s plot, which chronicles the gradual transformation of a family-man-turned-drug-kingpin, brings to mind other uses of the word break, such as breaking a horse, in which an animal is trained into a certain kind of behavior.
The dichotomy of Walt's character in Breaking Bad.
great sorrow,” and break a story means “publish it first.” But what does breaking bad mean? The mastermind behind Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan, chose this title because he thought the phrase was widely used to mean “raising hell.”

In my opinion though, the title of the show alludes towards the fact that everyone has both inherent good and evil, it is just the matter of which one of these two gets stronger and breaks out first. In other words, which of these two conflicting character ingredients takes its toll. For instance, Walter White is sort of like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; he is a caring family guy when he is all gentle and Walt while he can be the face of doom in his unforgiving alter ego of Heisenberg.

Mad Men

Mad Men is synonymous with class. This show does so many things right. Things that many of today's TV shows overlook - the dialogue crackles with brilliance, the cinematography is so great that you can enjoy the show even on mute, the characters are very well done and the music is true to the show. Plus you won't see the 1960s done any better than this.
Many viewers of Mad Men might appreciate the show’s title because it invites speculation about the sanity of its characters and about the mores of an industry in its heyday along with the fact that how sexist the men were back in the 1960s. They were madly treated the women as their inferiors. Of course it also sounds like “ad men,” which is fun. Lesser known is the fact that the phrase is a shortened version of the term Madison Avenue men, referencing the ad executives of that street, which emerged as the hub of the advertising industry in the sexist 1920s (which explains the lack of any reference to Mad Women). Madison Avenue, along with New York landmark Madison Square, was named after the fourth president of the United States and father of the constitution, James Madison. There’s no telling what President Madison would have thought of Don Draper and his coterie.

Arrested Development

Arrested Development is the highest rated comedy on IMDB. It takes a comical look at a dysfunctional family plagued by financial woes. The family is held together by its only mature member, Michael, who tries to rid it of its troubles. I myself didn't like it consistently, some episodes were great, others mediocre.
Prior to the Bluth family’s debut in 2003, the phrase arrested development most often referred to an abnormal state in which development has stopped prematurely, often in the context of psychology or evolutionary biology. Charles Darwin used it in his book Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex: “Arrested development differs from arrested growth, as parts in the former state still continue to grow, whilst still retaining their early condition.” In the television series, the phrase references both abrupt halting of the family business due to allegations of fraud and the stunted maturity levels of the characters. The abrupt cancellation of the show in 2006 lends the title a self-referential sense as well. Fortunately for fans, the show returned this summer on Netflix.

House of Cards

The brilliant Kevin Spacey is in this show! That speaks volumes about its quality alone. It is great and unpredictable with superb writing and a healthy peppering of sarcasm, psychomanipulation along with the power of technology. However you won't like being bombarded consistently by Apple products.
The phrase house of cards is commonly used to refer to a structure or plan that is insubstantial and subject to imminent collapse, as a structure made by balancing cards against each other. Much like the fickle yet strong nature of castles in the sands. Stonehenge is said to be made with “house of cards architecture” because it relies on balance and friction to stay upright. The main character of the television show House of Cards, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), also relies on balance and friction in his wildly intricate scheme to gain political power. The breadth of Frank’s machinations echo an insight from professional card stacker Bryan Berg, whose structures have been tested to support more than 660 pounds per square foot: the more cards placed on a tower, the stronger it becomes.

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The show descriptions are from my list of top TV shows on IMDB.
The original post appeared on the Dictionary.com blog. You can read the unedited version here.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

[In Review] The Man in the Blue Suit




During an attempted coup by General Zod (Michael Shannon) on a dying planet, Krypton, chief scientist Jor-El (Russel Crowe) sends his son Kal-El (Henry Cavill) in a rocket to space. Kal is the first child in centuries to be born on the planet in a natural way. Kal's ship crashes on Earth, where he is found by the Kent couple and raised as a human child. Kal, now named Clark Kent, leads an anonymous life and tries his best to hide his otherworldly strength and psychic powers from the prying eyes of the world. However, it all changes when General Zod manages to arrive on Earth. Kent can't remain latent anymore for the fate of a planet rests in his hands.


"You are weak, Son of El, unsure of yourself. The fact that you possess a sense of morality, and we do not, gives us an evolutionary advantage. And if history has proven anything...it is that evolution always wins." - Faora-Ul


Superman is one of the oldest in the history of comic book superheroes. His first forays onto screens have been very successful but during the late 80s, starting from the third film in the franchise, it all started going downhill. An attempt was made to resurrect the franchise, twenty years later, which resulted in an average film that barely covered its production costs.

Come 2013, and Warner Bros tried to revive the Man in Blue once again. This time the ship was piloted by a star-studded team with Zack Snyder as director and Christopher Nolan as one of the writers. The film had an approximate budget of $225 million which is way more than what Snyder ever had to work with before (it is $2 million greater than the combined budget of his earlier works 300, Watchmen and Dawn of the Dead). He put this money to good use by seamlessly blending CGI with live action and no breaks in linearity. It is some feat when you regard the fact that Superman's is one of the most CGI-reliant action in cinema at the moment.

Man of Steel has some great CGI, especially in how the atmosphere of Krypton is replicated.
Meanwhile Snyder himself has not changed his style for the big film; the movie came out disjointed, fragmented, very simple yet too convoluted at times. Watching this film is very similar to sifting through a photo album; bright flashes of individual scenes, randomly mixed together and strung on a very conventionally designated common core. Along the way, it transforms into a deep and controversial (for the Superman aficionados who have read the comics) film that does become black and white with patriotic morality, something that has always been associated with Superman - love the country that gave you shelter, and defend it to the last drop of your blood while enduring its quirks. The film can also be kind of taxing on people who don't know about Superman beforehand because of its matter-of-fact style. The dialogues in the film are short and concise, and the basic information is embedded in the rhetorical monologues, something reminiscent of teenage cartoons.

The story is weak though, with just too many loopholes. I just sat through wondering about them not even the least bit impressed with where the film was going. The only scene that elicited some real emotion from me was when Clarke comes in to save his mother from General Zod. It was brilliant. Elsewhere it was just monotony. Nolan is a perfectionist but in Man of Steel he looked far from it - he left too many loose ends. For example, Clarke is supposed to loose his powers whenever he is away from the Earth's atmosphere. He does so on General Zod's ship but has no problem fighting in the vacuum of space? Or for that matter amid the Kryptonic beams of the World Engine? These are just a few of some of the major plot-holes that I spotted.

Scenes involving Clarke Kent and his human mum, Martha Kent (Diane Lane) are some of the best in the movie as they drip with raw emotion.
The action scenes are intense and full of hyper-realism as Superman blasts or gets blasted through asphalt, fighter jets, skyscrapers, aircrafts and what not. These sequences really leave your head spinning but the effect is almost cancelled as you see the ubiquitous Lois Lane (Amy Adams) popping up soon after. Hers is the most perfunctory main character in the movie. She seems to share no chemistry with the Superman and has a tendency of following him unrealistically (for example, right after the final heat vision scene).

There is nothing to complain in the music department as the great Hans Zimmer doesn't disappoint. He is a magician with his instruments and gives a very dark, yet uplifting score to the film. The Man of Steel theme is out-of-this-world kind of awesome.

Shannon plays Zod with impressive ferocity. Spiked with a goatee he looks like a Roman dictator or a survivor from David Lynch's epic Dune.
In the end, the movie is entertaining yet nonsensical, has some adrenaline-pumping action and heralds the reincarnation of the cinema Superman (à la Superman vs. Batman which is set to release in 2015). This movie is still, however, nothing compared to the Batman trilogy but despite that has its own moments of greatness.


[In Review] The Epic Monsters




Diminutive, one-eyed monster, Mike Wazowski's childhood dream is to be a 'scarer' that frightens kids to produce energy for the monster world. To realize his dream, Mike made his way to the prestigious Monsters University. However, despite his genius, the first semester proved to be the last for Wazowski. The despotic Dean Hardscrabble refused to let him sit for a final exam on the grounds of 'apparent mediocrity'. Mike now has to win the hotly contested Scare Games with a band of eccentric monsters to stand a chance.


"Mr Wazzowksky, what you lack simply cannot be taught. You're just not scary." - Dean Hardscrabble

This film is a prequel to the hugely successful Monster Inc. that came out back in 2000. It follows the future scarer stars, Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan in their endeavor for recognition. Mike is a nerd who reads all the great books on scaring kids from cover-to-cover with no practical scaring skills. James, on the other hand, comes from the Sullivan family which is known to produce auspicious scarers. He is abundant in talent but flunks every test. In a sense, Mike and James are polar opposites of each other and start-off as bitter enemies.

This film is not about how James and Mike came to work at Monsters, Inc. and even not quite how they became friends. As in The Incredibles, which taught viewers that not everyone can be special, and that there is nothing wrong with showing who you actually are, Monsters University has a clear and realistic basic idea: that what you end up doing oftentimes isn't what you intended. These words should be at the core of any person going for talent hunt shows like X Factor and Britain's Got Talent. This movie, on a very rudimentary level, teaches you to accept your shortcomings and work around them. There's always another pathway for you to follow which may even lead, though indirectly, to what you set out to achieve in the first place.

Dean Hardscrabbles is the darkest character in the movie with a very weird nombre.
Among other things, the movie also successfully takes a dig at the embedded, but not entirely obvious, humor in our university lives. From that boring class which has everyone drowsing to how people react to an impending exam. It is all there along with some exclusively US university stuff like fraternities and the abundance of misplaced Greek symbols in their names. This movie is bound to excite current university students while making past enrollees quite nostalgic.

The monsters throw a hellova dance party until they can't take the awesomness anymore.
The story-line is quite good but a classic losers-win-at-the-end type. In that sense, it can get quite predictable but that doesn't stop you from rooting and cheering for the underdogs. I know I did. Hell, at one point the movie succeeded in prodding me into some lower state of euphoria! However, I believe the writers really stretched the movie during the final stages which resulted in a crammed ending.

The music of the movie is good and nothing special. It is the typical, jovial animated movie score with a lot of upbeat instruments playing around. However, during a couple of a somber scenes there were some really poignant violin concertos which I loved.

The glow urchin run was the funniest scene in the movie.
All in all, Monsters University is quite a straight-forward and morally correct movie though not quite good as the first one which mixed in some outstanding humor. It is not to say that MU didn't have any, it had quite a few joke but they were lost in the film's glowing message and I am not complaining about that.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

[In Review] Monsters from the Abyss



Having transformed a cleft at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean into a passage between dimensions, the inhabitants of a parallel world send to Earth giant monsters, known as "Kaiju". In order to protect the Earth, governments pool in resources to build giant robots, Jägers, to counter the monstrous onslaught. At first, these towering combat vehicles successfully deter the Kaijus, but then the aliens begin to mutate and grow rapidly. Jägers can't fight them anymore. Finally, top governments pull the plug on the project as the last four robots (American, Australian, Chinese and Russian), along with their gifted pilots gather in Hong Kong for one final fight.


"Today. Today... At the edge of our hope, at the end of our time, we have chosen not only to believe in ourselves, but in each other. Today there is not a man nor woman in here that shall stand alone. Not today. Today we face the monsters that are at our door and bring the fight to them. Today, we are cancelling the apocalypse!" - Stacker Pentecoste

When the Japanese started the Second World War, they believed that the spirit of the Samurai will overcome all. They were wrong. American aircraft carriers and Soviet tanks did not care how the relentless the Samurai were in their past lives and inflicted massive damages upon the Land of the Rising Sun. When defeated in the war became imminent, the Japanese comic book artists came up with a weapons of retaliation - giant war machines that would simply trample enemies. This is how, after the war, the genre of "huge stuff", became a hallmark of Japanese mass culture. Over time, these Eastern giants pervaded through and started springing up everywhere. 70 years after the first comic-book "giant" Warner Bros. issued acclaimed director, Guillermo del Toro almost $ 200 million to create sci-fi blockbuster, inspired by the "big robot" in general.

Kaijus get bigger and badder as the movie progresses.
Pacific Rim isn't a great movie. It is just a high-calorie, combustible thriller kind that helps you get rid of two boring ours of your live. It is clearly noticeable that in the Pacific Rim, Del Toro follows the logic of marketing: a little Samurai romance, a healthy dose of Transformers-esque robots which are piloted by a pair of neurally connected pilots a la Real Steel , striking resemblance of the Kaiju and their destruction to Godzilla's, a set of symbols from Lovecraft's books, plus, of course, a fashionable topic of geopolitics.

The story of Pacific Rim is a materialization of the phantoms of our subconscious as their hues and cries comes from the depths of the ocean of consciousness to realize that this image of otherness won't last long. There would come a global crisis whose underlying fear will unite all the inhabitants of the earth - from San Francisco to Islamabad - into a single integrative culture in which only humanity could find salvation.

Badass robots piloted by neurally connected pilots are the world's answer to Kaijus.
The film is beautifully shot and the action scenes are very well choreographed. The 3D technology is really making us realize new frontiers in the movie-making. You can almost feel the Jäger and Kaiju fight as if they were real and not a figment of the writer's imagination. Talking about the writer, the story gets a bit weak in the second half (right after the big fight scene near Hong Kong) as its predictability comes to focus. Also, the character of Mako Mori (Rinko Kekuchi) is also a very forced and threadbare one. She just springs up at the audience and a single flashback scene doesn't make up for that. The ending was far-fetched and unrealistic as well but then again what is far-fetched in a movie with robots wrestling each other!

The pilots of Gipsy Danger; Raleigh and Mako. Mako's character is the weak-link in an otherwise fine line-up of characters.
I, personally found Ramin Djawadi's score on this film epic. It complimented every scene very well - may it be Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam) collapsing on Alaskan ice or Stacker Pentecoste (Idris Alba) saying an emotional goodbye. Not to mention the theme music of the film is addictive, I have the remixed version (the one that plays at the start of ending credits) as my ringtone!

Guillermo's dark humor peeking through - people move about and chat as a Kaiju moves in to destroy the Sydney opera house. In another scene, a guy nonchalantly films a Kaiju onslaught on his cellphone as debris falls around him.
Conclusively, this films discharges that signature, peculiar style of Guillermo del Toro's dark, techno-gothic humor that makes the film a comic pair of eccentric geeks fighting against one another in their dreams. While the film also makes us viewers realize our inherent worst eschatological expectations. In the end, Pacific Rim is great film to burn some time with.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

[Social Eye] Clarity: The rector answers back...

As I came out of the auditorium, where only a few moments ago the rector of NUST Dr. Muhammad Asghar had addressed the student body of the troubled university, my previous post seemed eerily out of place. In that post, I had talked about how NUST is sinking into the mire of gender segregation and talibanization. As it turned out. I was wrong, along with many other students like me who were covertly coerced into making a whole lot of fuss about nothing. Pakistan's media didn't help either.

Throughout the address, Dr. Asghar, struck me as a man who knows what he is doing. He is ideologically similar to most of us youngsters in the aspect of weaving quite intricate conspiracy theories. Apart from that he is concise and talks sense.

The awesome rector of NUST who is a proponent of quite appealing conspiracy theories
like 5th Generation Warfare and pseudo-revolutions.
In a well-crafted speech, he let the facts do the talking and did an excellent job in quelling rumors and suppressing all the anti-NUST sentiment around.

The decision of separating cafeterias beyond dusk was (although not totally as evidenced by the hell load of CCTV cameras around which gives the cafes a semblance of Splinter Cell) an administrative one. Due to the large influx of students this year, the girls themselves had requested the rector to do something about the acute shortage of seating space in the cafetieres. So, the rector responded and reserved C1 for females and C2 for males beyond 5:00 p.m. A decision which was painted in the wrong light by both the student body and the media.

The hullabaloo that followed a viral notice was also dealt with by the rector. The notice, which originated from NUST Business School (NBS), had a listing of students fined for certain offenses: from not wearing a dupatta to wearing jeans or eating in the lab. It instigated quite a storm of verbal retaliation from the students as they feared NUST turning into a despotic monster which would fine you for wearing what you desired. This news was picked up and reported by esteemed dailies like Dawn and The Express Tribune, bloggers went crazy, tweeters couldn't control themselves and Facebook was studded with NUST memes. The result? NUST started losing repute as the clothing fiasco boiled over in the furnace of a nationwide, heated debate.

The notice that caused all this furor.
Ironically, everyone got it wrong. NBS is the only school in NUST which enforces a dress code, since its inception, for its student's own corporate presentability. The students of NBS, when they signed up, were made aware of this both in the prospectus and on orientation. The dress code was to be: a shirt, dress pants and tie for boys and shalwar-kameez with dupatta for girls. Meanwhile, people in the rest of the schools dress as they please with no restrictions whatsoever. Except for, as the rector pointed out in the address, clothing bearing offensive material.

There goes the explanation of two of the major issues trending around NUST and Pakistan's universities as a whole. NUST, is and will remain Pakistan's top university with a great student environment, excellent campus and facilities. Despite the fact that this media campaign to malign NUST's name and some quite abysmal professors drag it down. More on the latter part later.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

[Social Eye] What they didn't tell you about NUST...


When I got into NUST's sprawling H12 campus, a couple of years back, in my mind there was this lavish place full of opportunities and unbridled promises of success. Well, it didn't turn out the way everyone sees it from the outside but it was still good enough to be labelled Pakistan's premier engineering and sciences institution.

Come the fall semester of 2013, everything started changing at breakneck speed. The university started curtailing student freedom and the administration got extremely autocratic overnight. Rules were implemented to cut down on 'immoral activities' and bring in 'more discipline'. It was as if someone from the dusty, Taliban-infested region of Islamic Emirate of Waziristan has taken ahold of NUST's reins.

Students are to be locked in their hostels post 7:30 p.m. and anyone seen roaming around after this cut-off time will face probable suspension along with a hefty fine. The university's cafeterias are off-limit for guys after 5:00 p.m., to deal with the gender inter-mingling beyond the class room. Guys and girls are not allowed to sit together on pavements and in lawns after this time as well. The girls living in hostels will have to acquire guardian permission to leave university premises.

The Taliban would sure love NUST now.
If these restrictions were not enough, the despotic NUST administration have banned students from expressing themselves through or enjoying entertainment. Loud music in cars is banned. Concerts are banned. Torrents can't be accessed. Websites pertaining to movies and games have been filtered-off. In short, the life in NUST is mostly a grayscale prison wall that you have stare at all day with a few flashes of the azure sky here and there.

Talking about the net, it is pathetic. When I first came into NUST, the internet speed was like a dream. Touching 40 Mbps at times but now, due to an unresolved feud with the service provider, the speed barely crosses 0.60 Mbps during peak-times. Even Google opens laboriously.

Only recently, a rumor has started circulating that the NUST admin wants to impose uniform on the students, in order for them to dress 'morally'. This would be the final nail in the coffin for this NUST campus whose student body is already reeling with unforeseen constraints. It is like they think we are academic robots who should check into classrooms each day, check-out, go to the hostels and sleep soundly. No substantial fun and stuff in between.

K.
People give various reasons for this sudden onslaught. Some say that this is all because of E&ME, an army-run campus of NUST, which is dethroned for the first time in 34 years as the top merit electrical and mechanical engineering university in Pakistan. This might be so because student life in E&ME is close to non-existent, the administration is nothing short of a dictatorship. So naturally more and more students opted for the more lax SEECS and SMME (both NUST H12 schools) and E&ME's merit fell. In order to nip the problem in the bud, E&ME's representatives, who are believed to have considerable clout in NUST's governing board are for a uniform autocratic environment across all schools of NUST. This might bring back E&ME's recently lost glory but at the expense of student freedom, here at H12.

All these moves are questionable as they tend to force people to change their way of living much like Kim
Jong Il had altered the way North Koreans live. But the most acrimonious of these all is putting red-tape across the whole idea of co-education which permits male and female students from communicating as they please. This is the whole problem with the Pakistan society that it has put males and females into separate boxes. Women are just seen as sexual objects and need to be hidden way in some basement for their whole life. If, by any chance, they tend to get out of that basement, they have restrictions and constraints forced upon them thus stigmatizing their existence. Universities are from where the society gets its cream. If this cream isn't open minded and lives in a box of seclusion then how can we curtail the rampant gender disparity in the country? This is why I am vehemently against this rule which has been forced into effect in Pakistan's top ranked engineering university.

Student liberty is an essential part for a university. After all beyond the flash and glitter of universities lies the monotonous corporate life. This is why I hope that NUST administration rolls back on these new laws. If not then I sure as hell hope that they have their ranking shaved so that this new authoritarian admin (which I picture with a knee-length beard and a shalwar rolled up to mid-shin) is fired for good.

THERE IS A FOLLOW-UP POST TO THIS HERE. DO GIVE IT A READ, ITS IMPORTANT FOR CLARIFICATION.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Making Sacrifices: Enter, Movies. Exit, MVs

In recent times Pakistani music videos have become a shadow of their former selves. This can mostly be attributed to the fact that Pakistan's cinema is finally coming out of dormancy. Celebrated music video directors like Jami, Saqib Malik and Bilal Lashari seem to have given up on music videos and taken up directorial jobs for feature films. This is both good and bad. Good in the sense that Pakistan's struggling cinema needed them as much as lungs need air and bad in the way that they leave behind an expansive void in Pakistan's music scene which shows no signs of filling up.

Gone are the days when audiences used to relish exquisite music videos like Chal Bulleya, Na Re Na, Sajini, Ankhon ko Ankhon ne, Mehbooba, Piyareya and Garaj Baras. These videos were a viewing pleasure with well-crafted stories that relate with the lyrics impeccably. Now we are treated to unpolished and crass crap featuring a make-up laden, Prada-clad girl swaying about and an over-styled singer trying his best at lip-syncing.

In fact, Ali Azmat's Garaj Baras, was the video that sent me down this spiral of reflection. I was just browsing through some old Coke Studio videos on YouTube (CS withdrawal syndrome, I didn't get my expected summer fix this time) when all of a sudden this video popped-up in the suggestions list. I clicked on it and despite the potato-quality of the upload, was thrown down the memory lane. I miss videos like these which engross you and make you think.

For instance, my interpretation of Garaj Baras goes like this: the video basically deals with the magical effect of rain - how it brings about our dormant selves. Monks for instance are very tranquil normally but as heavens pour they seem to let go of the wild beast chained inside of them and become polar opposites of what they were before. They go about swinging chained kettle-balls and splashing water at each other. Ali Azmat, dressed as a monk, screams the lyrics with a rosary strapped to his hand. The rock, belligerent feel of the track goes in perfect sync with this notion. Also, you see Ali Azmat sink back to his former monk-state of oblivious stupor as the rain recedes.


How many Pakistani music videos have you seen of late that ask for your interpretations and inferences? Not many, I suppose. Simply put, Pakistan's golden age of music videos is behind us. However, this heralds the revival of Pakistan's cinema. As Pakistan's acclaimed cadre of music directors step into the big boots and take up the mammoth task of breathing nueva vida into what remains of the once iconic Pakistan motion picture scene. With releases like Waar, Morqaye, Downward Dog, Dastaan and Operation 021 (all directed by former music video directors) lined up, I am sure as hell expecting a lot. On the other hand I am also hoping for a fresh crop of MV directors that can hold aloft the passed flame that is flickering somewhere down on the ground.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

[Social Eye] Sona Chahta Hoon


I never thought that the Pakistani music industry had such an insightful song until I came across a news report featuring it. It goes by the name of Sona Chahta Hoon (I want to rest) and is a single from acclaimed pop singer Najam Sheraz's 1996, debut album Khazana (Treasure).



Well this song is anything but pop. It is four minutes of shrill screams coupled with soothing alaaps. It represents the dichotomy that exists within our society; those who are comfortable and those who can never find ease.

تیرے خوابوں میں، کھونا چاہتا ہوں
Tere khwabon mey khona chahta hun.
Getting absorbed in your dreams is what I want.

میں لمبی نیند، سونا چاہتا ہوں
Mey lambi neend sona chahta hun.
A good night's sleep is what I want.

دیے جلتے ہیں
Diye jalte hain,
Lights, there are everywhere,

سائے بولتے ہیں
saye bolte hain,
shadows, they speak to me,

ہوا چلتی ہے
hawa chalti hai,
the air, it whistles about,

رونا چاہتا ہوں
rona chahta hun.
crying my eyes out is what I want to.

کوئی نغمہ کہیں
Koi naghma kahi
Give me an anthem,

کوئی بارگاہ
Koi barigah.
give me a presence.

دے میں آزاد، ہونا چاہتا ہوں
De mey azaad hona chahta hun
For I want to be set free. 

The lyrics of the song are very deep. This is where the beauty (read: inherent ugliness) lies. Sheraz screams about needing to sleep in a beseeching and tormented way, such that the society doesn't let him sleep, that it is too full of distractions, torture and pain. He further sings about getting engrossed in your dreams, which can be interpreted as a dig at the elite. The elite who have everything and sleep soundly at night with soothing dreams aplenty. In these lyrics lie the crux of the song.


I find it hard to believe that this song is languishing in obscurity in times like these. While, when it got released in '95 (as a single), things might haven't been as bad as they are now. Nowadays, we have insecurity, inflation, terrorism and rampant corruption; the perfect tools for the psychological Inquisition of a common man. This song fits like a glove to today's Pakistan.

On a more casual note, it can be termed as an insomniac's anthem. Which, I know Pakistan's nocturnal youth will take up quite readily. It's popularity will only increase once the people learn that it was actually banned by the government for being too wild. Yeah you read it right.

Whichever way it is, this song needs to make a comeback and I see no better platform for it than the famed Coke Studio. For something so minimalistic, yet so powerful can't be created everyday.



Thursday, August 22, 2013

[Elections 2013] By-elections, what to expect?

Today are the by-elections for 41 constituencies. Here is a list of how the results might look like. Note that whenever there are two or more probably winners, they are displayed in the order of decreasing likelihood. For example PTI/PML-N/PPP would mean that PTI is most likely to win the said seat while PPP the least, however chance remains for all three and will be dependent upon voter swing. Also the percentage of color coding on a seat name represents the probability of a said party winning that seat.

Personally, I believe there should be no by-elections. The ECP should lay down a rule that doesn't allow a candidate to run for two or more seats whether national assembly or provincial assembly or a combination of the two. By-elections are waste of tax payers' money and government resources which could easily have been avoided had this extraneous rule of multiple runnings been aborted..

Anyway:

National (16)

NA 1 (Peshawer)       PTI
NA 5 (Noweshera)      PTI
NA 13 (Swabi)       PTI
NA 25 (D. I. Khan)       PTI/PPP  -postponed-
NA 27 (Lakki Marwat)       PML-N
NA 48 (Islamabad)       PTI
NA 68 (Sargodha)       PTI/PML-N
NA 71 (Mianwali)       PTI/PML-N
NA 83 (Faisalabad)        PML-N
NA 103 (Hafizabad)        PML-N
NA 129 (Lahore)       PML-N
NA 177 (Muzaffargarh)       Indp.
NA 235 (Sanghar)       PML-F/PPP
NA 237 (Thatta)       PPP/PML-N
NA 254 (Karachi)       MQM/PTI
NA 262 (Killa Abdullah)        PkMAP

Punjab (15)

PP 6 (Rawalpindi)       PTI
PP 51 (Faisalabad)       PML-N
PP 118 (Mandi Bhauddin)       PML-Q
PP 123 (Sialkot)       PTI
PP 142 (Lahore)       PML-N
PP 150 (Lahore)       PTI
PP 161 (Lahore)       PML-N
PP 193 (Okara)       PML-N
PP 210 (Lodhran)       PML-N/Indp.
PP 217 (Khanewal)       PPP/PML-N
PP 243 (D. G. Khan)       PML-N
PP 247 (Rajanpur)       PML-N/Indp.
PP 254 (Muzaffargarh)       PML-N/PTI
PP 289 (Rahim Yar Khan)      PPP
PP 292 (Rahim Yar Khan)      PPP

Sindh (4)

PS 12 (Shikarpur)       NPP/PPP
PS 64 (Mirpurkhas)       PPP
PS 95 (Karachi)       MQM/PPP/PTI
PS 103 (Karachi)       MQM/PTI

KPK (4)

PK 23 (Mardan)       PTI
PK 27 (Mardan)       PTI
PK 42 (Hangu)       JUI-F/PTI
PK 70 (Bannu)       JUI-F/PTI

Balochistan (3)

PB 29 (Nasirabad)       PML-N
PB 32 (Jhal Magsi)      JUI-F/Indp.
PB 44 (Lasbela)       Indp.

Friday, May 17, 2013

[Elections 2013] PTI Won These Elections, How?

To some the results of last week's elections were a total disappointment. Especially after how Imran Khan looked all optimistic about a clean-sweep and how he passed on this optimisim to his followers. I mean here, we are looking for Naya Pakistan where PTI has a simple majority at 136 seats and what did it end up achieving? A mere 29 seats. Thats disappointment for you.

But you have to force yourself to look beyond the numbers. 29 seats are not so much for forming a government but they sure are a hell-of-a-lot on so many other levels. PTI has won these elections, we just don't know it yet. Despite strong set backs from Machiavellian politics and rigging from rival political parties, PTI prevailed as a national political force with votebanks in each of the four provinces and a potential government in the KPK province.

Here is the boil-down of what PTI accomplished in these elections:

  • PTI came out of the Colosseum of these hard-fought elections as a mature political force. Something it
    wasn't before. It received 17.8% (8.7 million) of the popular vote which effectively makes it the second most popular party of the country after, PML-N.
  • It has come out of its home-ground of Mianwali and pervaded across the nation. Previously, the only seat the party won was that of Khan's home constituency in Mianwali. Now it has been able to win seats from some major constituencies in Rawalpindi, Peshawer, Lahore, Karachi, Multan, Sahiwal and Mardan. It has also come runner-up in most of the other constituencies it fought in sometimes by a margin of less than 500 votes. Which is a win in my opinion.
  • If you look at these election results analytically, you will see that PTI has impressive votebanks across Punjab and KPK. The influx of new voters in the 2018 elections will definitely help PTI secure more seats at the center. Considering most of the people I know that were barred from participating by age limitations in these elections are fervent supporters of PTI. This is just a hypothesis and PTI's performance in the upcoming elections depends heavily on how well it runs KPK and how does the PML-N performs at the center.
  • These elections grant PTI an opportunity to administer one of the most difficult-to-govern provinces in the country, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. This province is a hotbed of the menace of terrorism which will sure be taxing on the coming government. Plus this provincial government will help PTI implement its plan of Naya Pakistan on a smaller scale while the rest of the nation observes.
  • PTI has upgraded from something non-existent to a political giant in Karachi. Not many parties can boast of that, coming out of the electoral furnace of Karachi, since the inception of MQM in 1988. PTI managed to grab more than 20,000 votes in Lyari (stonghold of PPP since 1968) and MQM's bastion of Azizabad. Here is a breakdown of PTI's results in Karachi, for the constituency it finished 2nd in:
240 14% Naz Baloch 21094 2nd
241 17% Dr Saeed Ahmad Afridi 27537 2nd
242 5% Akram Khan 10800 2nd
243 12% Zahid Hussain Hashmi 30001 2nd
244 15% Khalid Masood Khan 26252 2nd
245 28% Muhmmad Raza Haider 54751 2nd
246 17% Amir Sharjeel 31048 2nd
247 21% Rashid Siddiqi 35240 2nd
248 20% Subhan Ali 26348 2nd
251 24% Raja Azhar Khan 39766 2nd
252 30% Syed Ali Haider Zaidi 49324 2nd
253 30% Muhammad Ashraf Jabbar Qureshi 58989 2nd
255 11% Khalid Mehmood Ali 19032 2nd
256 28% Muhammad Zubair Khan 67797 2nd 
  • Not to mention that PTI won the NA-250 re-elections by a considerable margin. These re-elections were conducted under the supervision of the army in the light of the heavy rigging allegations on the original poll-day. Such results have given more credence to the fact that a band of thugs and goons who consider themselves a secular political party ruthlessly sidelined the people’s mandate on May 11.
  • Possibly PTI's biggest achievement is to bring back the youth of Pakistan into the process of
    electioneering and subsequently forcing the election fever to spread across the nation. The elections before PTI were banal affairs, comparatively speaking, the youth wasn't that involved in them and the results showed in the turnout figures which hovered from late-thirties to mid-fourties. This time around, all thanks to PTI, the youth, the elite class, the elderly, the former spectators and even the bed-ridden, all came out to vote and the election turnout touched the figure of 60% for the first time since the mesmerizing speeches of Bhutto lured the public out in 1977.
  • PTI also made the breakthrough of social media into the whole process of elections; from campaigns to results to reporting rigging. Following the footsteps of PTI, other parties also made their social media cells and tried to vie for public's attention on online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. This will help in the elections being fairer and more actively contested.
  • PTI, if not conquered, then seriously dented PML-N's bastion of Rawalpindi which is affectionately called as mini-Raiwind by the latter party. It won 6 out of the 14 provincial assembly seats here (PML-N won 7 with one being won by an independent candidate) and 3 out of the 7 National Assembly seats. The results in NA-54 and PP-6 were subject to serious rigging allegations by PTI where the winning margins were less than 2000 and the results were considerably delayed. Subsequently, PML-N is nearly razed from the urban areas of the city and is merely clinging on to the outskirts. This shows that if it doesn't perform this time around then the people of Rawalpindi along with PML-N's other urban strongholds of Punjab are going to reject them completely.
  • PTI's 28 seats in the parliament means that the party can take its strong opposition skills from the jalsa grounds to the great hall of the National Assembly itself. With acrid speakers like Sheikh Rasheed, Imran Khan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Jawed Hashmi in its ranks it can prove to be the strong opposition that Pakistan has been craving for since the recent times. A good show on the opposition benches will not only help PTI steer the government but also boost its chances in the next elections.
  • PTI has been a trend-setter and has transformed itself into a truly democratic party by conducting the largest intra-party elections in the 66 year political history of Pakistan. Teachers, shop-keepers, lumberjacks and carpenters swept away important posts prior to these elections and PTI has truly become the party of the people.
  • Last but not the least, the massive, voluntary demonstrations and sit-downs in Karachi (Teen Talwar),
    Lahore (Lalick Chowk), Islamabad (D-Chowk), Rawalpindi (Kacheri) and elsewhere in Pakistan against the alleged rigging in these elections perpetuate that the people have come to realize the power of their vote and aim to curtail its misuse. This is probably also a first in Pakistan's electoral history since the mandate of Mujib-ur-Rehman was neglected in the 1970 general elections.

So, after reading this I hope all Insafians will understand that things can only look up for PTI from here. These elections are a series of Twenty-20 games; if PML-N has managed to win the first game the series is still alive and PTI can come back stronger and sharper and hit its opponent like a boomerang in the next game. So don't give up hope yet, there is a long wait ahead but I am sure the game will surely be worth the wait.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

[Elections 2013] The Establishment's Game



Establishment is a dreaded word in the political arena of Pakistan. Politicians equate it with something of an all-powerful and beyond reproach ghost that sits up top and runs the puppet show that is our government. Critical things like the budget and international relations are controlled by this ghost and the politicians dread its wrath.

For an average Pakistani, establishment is just a word. They listen to talk-shows and TV bulletins - wherever this word is mentioned, they take it superficially, without knowing what is behind it.

Officially and briefly, establishment is meant for continuation of policies and to keep the transitions smooth between the policies with changing government structures. It is comprised of bureaucracy (civil or military) and its siblings. It is independent of political influence.

Traditionally, across the world, they also try to manipulate the country politics besides their assigned
responsibility. It is a natural tussle between politicians and establishment. There are multiple factions of establishment. In some countries, civil establishment dominates and in some countries, military establishment dominates. Pakistan is perceived as a military dominant country. But the fact is that it is a civil bureaucracy setup and feudal system which actually strengthens the military influence and allow generals to rule when they take over. Another interesting fact is that there has never been a totally anti-establishment political party yet. Every political party opposes one faction of establishment while enjoys the support of other faction.

The military of Pakistan enjoys a popular public image. It is perceived as messiah thanks to the soft (read: paid) media. This is why after every other coup d'état with which it overthrows an elected government, it faces minimal resistance from the general public. These coups are frequent, bloodless and successful for this very reason.

Political satirists, Begherat Brigade, after their hugely successful song Aluu Anday took a bold step and targeted the powerful oligarchic establishment of Pakistan in a new release. The song titled Dhinak Dhinak hits hard at the establishment of Pakistan and its unwelcomed role in the politics and interests of Pakistan.

The song faced considerable set-backs because of it targeting an influential division of Pakistan and it may never be released on mainstream television but it is a step in the right direction. It will make an average person more aware and circumspect of the shadow games being played in Pakistan.

On another note, if the song was powerful then the ending was even more powerful. It showed the group holding a placard reading: No need to like this video, we will be dead anyway. Powerful indeed.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Game of Thrones: Pre-Season 3 Boil-down


The 3rd season of HBO's epic saga, Game of Thrones, premieres in a few hours. And there is a fair chance that you people would have forgotten some of the main things that happened in the previous two seasons because GoT's plot is as intricate as they get. It is a multi-layered concoction of betrayal, revenge, magic, passion and otherworldly beings and remembering everything about it is a tad too tall a task. So here we present to you a terse refresher of all the major happenings in the Westeros during the past seasons:

Stannis Baratheon is defeated in the Battle of Blackwater thanks to the ingenuity of Tyrion Lannister and the timely arrival of the allies: The Lannisters and The Tyrells.

Lannister, on the other hand, is nearly assassinated on the battlefield by one of his own. Had it not been for his faithful squire Pod, he would have to deal with a lot more than a mere, facial scar.

Tyrion's father Tywin, in a bold move, replaces his son at the influential position of the Hand of the King.

The duplicitous widow of Renly Beratheon, Margery Tyrell, is
all set to become the Queen of the Realm.
Sansa Stark, promised to the sadistic King of the Realm, Joffrey Baratheon has finally wriggled free of the clutches of the latter. Clutches of impending matrimony that is. She is still held hostage by the queen, Cersei Lannister, at the King's Landing despite the fact that Joffrey ditched her for the influential Margery Tyrell.

Meanwhile, the sly Lord Peter Baelish after his surreptitious heroics in the Battle of Blackwater hinted to his interest in his one-time-lover's daughter, Sansa, as he offered to help her escape from King's Landing.

The eunuch Varys reignites his rivalry with Baelish when the latter gets a promotion. To attain an inside scoop on things he befriends one of Bealish's main prostitute, Ros.

The wicked sorceress Melisandre, who worships a certain 
God of Light, makes Stannis sea ominous visions in the fire.
Back in the island fortress of Dragonstone, Stannis Baratheon falls deeper into the clutches of the red sorceress Melisandre. His has his doubting after the horrific defeat at Blackwater but it is put to rest when the Melisandre shows him some vision in the fire; a vision that probably reinforces the sorceress' claim of Stannis being the savior of Westeros.

On the other hand, Robb Stark, the self-proclaimed King in the North, is facing internal afflictions after giving the Lannisters every bit as much trouble as he is getting. He was doing well until his mother Lady Catelyn, in a moment of madness, released his trump-card: Jamie "The Kingslayer" Lannister, without his consent. The Kingslayer, is notorious among the Northerners after he attempted to kill Bran Stark when the little kid found out about his incestuous love-affair with Cersei Lannister. His release dealt a heavy blow to the Northern forces' morale.

Jamie Lannister is enroute to the King's Landing under the
guard of Brienne of Tarth.
After freedom from the Northerner's camp, Jamie Lannister, makes his way to King's Landing under the stern watch of Brienne of Tarth. The gigantic woman knight who pledged allegiance to Lady Catelyn after her master, Renly Baratheon was assassinated by Melisandre's black magic. She showed unwavering resolve in fulfilling Catelyn's wish of exchanging Lannister for the Stark girls. So much so that she didn't even stop at killing other Northerners that stood in her way.

Unbeknown to the the fighting Starks, one of their girls they assumed to be captive at King's Landing is actually quite free. Arya Stark was never really hostage as she escaped with one of her father's associate, Baelor, soon after the beheading. But she didn't go far and was taken in by the Lannister forces to work at the extensive ruins of Harrenhal which work as a makeshift prison and torture area for the Lannisters. However, later she escaped with help of a weird guy named Jaqen H'ghar who, at parting, gave her a coin a phraseValar Morghulis which were to be used if she wanted to summon him again. At the moment she is roaming the Riverlands with Robert's bastard son, Gendry and a fat kid.

After the announcement of general amnesty by Robb Stark,
Theon Greyjoy's own men pack him into a sack and
send him to the Northerner's camp.
Meanwhile at Winterfell, things took a turn for the worst when, after the departing of most of the Starks, except for the young Bran and Rickon, Theon Greyjoy took his chance and conquered the small fortress with a handful of men from Pike. Earlier, Greyjoy had made his way to Pike to regain his place at the royal court after the Starks of Winterfell had adopted/abducted him in an earlier battle between the two houses. He is jolted when his father, Balon, doesn't accept of his arrival and treat his sister, Yara, as the son of the family. He conquered Winterfell with the intent of proving his mettle to his father but his ambitions are shattered when his own men turn on him after seeing the implausibility of the task at hand.

Bran and Rickon escape Winterfell during the siege but then return and hide in the family crypt. Greyjoy's tried to cover this up by supposedly burning the two Stark children. However they are very safe and on their way to the Wall with Osha, the wilding, Hodor, the docile giant and the two direwolves.

The dragons of Dan Targaryen will play a key role in
this season.
Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys Targaryen, the last of the royal family that once ruled Westeros, is getting desperate to take back the Iron Throne. Flanked by the astute Sir Jorah Mormont, a handful of savage Dothraki warlords and a cradling a triplet of young dragons she made her way into the elite and mystical city of Qarth hoping to get some help for in quest. Once inside she is betrayed, a good amount of her Dothraki followers are slain and her dragons are kidnapped by the mysterious warlock, Pyat Pree. But she goes to great lengths to get back her  children and is successful in retrieving them from the diabolical House of the Undying. Following this, she and her people plunder what is left of Qarth to get enough money to buy a ship.

After they are captured by a group of wildlings, Snow and
his mentor, Qorin Halfhand put on a fight that makes
Snow look like a traitor. At the end of that fight
Halfhand is killed.
Beyond the Wall, Ned Stark's bastard son, Jon Snow, is well set to infiltrate the huge, wildling army of Mance Ryder. A former member of the Night's Watch, he proclaims himself the King Beyond the Wall. But much to the Night's Watch's horror they have got a lot more to take care of than just Mance Ryder - the demonic, undead White Walkers have awoken from their deep slumber. They make their decisive march to the Wall, and what lays beyond, in humongous numbers as the long Winter falls on the Westeros.


The White Walker chief that finds the cowardly Samwell Tarly hidden behind a rock
but surprisingly doesn't kill him.

The closing shot of Season 2.



Tuesday, March 26, 2013

[In Review] PTCL Broadband




PTCL is Pakistan's biggest provider of data services. Their broadband reach spans the complete country and they are an indomitable force in ISPs with over 1 million subscribers nationwide. Despite this, they come under fire numerous times due to their lackluster customer services and rickety infrastructure.

Installation:
Installation was a hassle. I had to wait for nearly 1.5 week before the installation guy came and that too after tons of phone calls to the customer service representative. Apparently, there is zero coordination between the organization - every-time I called them they said a man was on the way.

Quality Metrics:

The speed of my connection is fairly good for a PTCL connection. Then again this might be due to the fiber availability in my area and my connection's proximity to ONU (gray boxes on the roadside with a PTCL logo on them). I normally get around 490 kbps+ for direct download and 98 kbps+ for upload. Top speeds in torrents remain the same, however they are prone to inexplicable drops but recover soon afterwards. You might need some tweaking to get to those speeds because an unoptimized P2P connection won't take you beyond 250 kbps. If you haven't forwarded a port for your torrent client then it is even worse - you will get abysmal download speeds (less than 15kbps) but superlative upload speeds (greater than or close to 100 kbps). On the other hand, the ping remains pretty excellent at between 30-50 ms within the country. (There was no good PingTest server close to my location.)

Uptime:
I used to experience a lot of downtime with PTCL. The connection sometimes suddenly goes down without any
A PTCL customer should
get used to this symbol.
 reason. I found that most of these connection drops are related to PTCL's shitty and sluggish DNS servers. Changing my default DNS servers to OpenDNS (208.67.222.222 & 208.67.220.220) fixed almost all downtime problems but still every now and then I get a "No Internet Access" logo.

Device quality:
I have the standard-issue FiberHome AN 1020-25 modem-cum-router. The device is pretty good and its WiFi signal strength is quite awesome. The coverage are is greater than my TP-Link WR740N router which impressed me.

Customer service:
PTCL's customer service is very shoddy. It seems like their is no coherence among the different levels of the organization and in general it feels like they care little about us customers. Complaints aren't resolved until you go down to your respective exchange or utilize the influence of some higher authority. Unlike Wateen, their selfcare portal is more like a framework than something functional. It has never worked for me however I have read that it was functional for some period in 2011. With the new transfer caps in effect, there is no way to check your bandwidth usage apart from calling 1236. Two years and they still can't fix a damn portal - speaks volume about PTCL's commitment to customer satisfaction.
The PTCL portal is as rudimentary as portals get. No stats or data except for account info are accessible.

Caps:
PTCL's unlimited packages from 1 mbps to 8 mbps are not unlimited in the true sense of the word. A 300 GB download+upload limit is applicable on all such connections. Exceeding this limit will incur a penalty of Rs. 5000. This fair usage limit is justifiable for low bandwidth connections like 1-2 mbps but slapping this on high-speed internet beyond 4 mbps is unwarranted. The PTCL people should at least increment it with the increasing download speed.

The Bottom Line:
PTCL's speeds vary across the consumer spectrum plus their customer service isn't all that great. So, I would recommend that before getting rid of your previous connection do a test run of PTCL. Your experience in the first week will tell you how they will shape-up for you. If you are acquiring broadband for the first time then it is advisable to ask around your neighborhood about PTCL's standard of service in your area.
All in all, PTCL will turn out great for a few but worst for many. It is, however, fairly good for me. I know many would disagree but I am giving them 4/5.