Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Things That Go Bump In The Night

Welcome to Things That Go Bump In the Night – a Halloween special on my usually cutesy blog. But Halloween is one of my favorite non-desi holidays. This one's dedicated to my favorite monster - the evergreen, vampire.


 Starting out in the dim and obscure recesses of Eastern European folk tales and legends, the vampire has reached center stage in modern pop culture. Vampires are beings who subsist by feeding on the life essence (generally in the form of blood) of living creatures. The Eastern European vampires had wide range of appearances ranging from nearly human to bloated rotting corpses but it was popular literature that created the archetype of charismatic and sophisticated vampire – with Bram Stoker’s Dracula being the most prominent piece of literature that brought the Vampire into the light…..

Is your barber using an old-fashioned razor? You might want to carry some garlic just in case.

Vampires are mythological creatures, the existence of which science has not yet been able to prove.  But there is a large amount of untested evidence directed towards the fact that vampire tendencies are a possibility among humans. There are certain features that put vampires into a class of their own. Blood, either human or animal, is a major part of a vampire’s diet. Sunlight will make a vampire’s skin burn. This is one of the main reasons most of them prefer to be indoors during the day and become more active at night. All vampires have fangs or large canines, whether you can see them or not.  Their main purpose is to dig deep into human flesh and make precise puncture wounds needed to start the blood flow. Vampires are thought to be immortal and only a ritual killing with a stake through the heart or decapitation can truly kill a vampire…..

Whether vampires are walking amongst or merely a figment of our imagination – they are powerful, beautiful and you would not want to bump into one…especially on Halloween…

Hear the audio version of this post  here


Another, female version of the vampire myth takes us to other side of the world – Malaysia. The Pontianak is a type of vampire in Malay folklore. Pontianak are women who died during childbirth  and became undead, seeking revenge and terrorizing villages. a  Pontianak usually announces its presence through baby cries or assumes the form of a beautiful lady and frightens or kills those unlucky enough to come too close. It disguises itself as a beautiful young woman mainly to attract its victim (usually male). Its presence can sometimes be detected by a nice floral fragrance, followed by an awful stench afterward.  The distance of a pontianaks cries are very tricky. The Malays believe that if the cry is soft means that the pontianak is near and if it is loud then it must be far. A Pontianak kills its victims by digging into their stomachs with its sharp fingernails and devouring their organs. Pontianaks must feed in this manner in order to survive.  It is believed that Pontianaks locate prey by sniffing out clothes left outside to dry. For this reason, some Malays refuse to leave any article of clothing outside of their residences overnight.

Not a bad looking girl, eh? Wait till she rips your guts out. Literally

Some believe that having a sharp object like a nail helps them fend off potential attacks by Pontianaks, the nail being used to plunge a hole at the back of the her neck. The Pontianak is associated with banana trees, and its spirit is said to reside in them during the day….
It might be a good idea not to leave any dirty laundry out this Halloween….
Hear the audio version of this post  here 
The basic idea of a blood sucking, demonic being can also be found in Chinese culture. In Chinese belief, each person has two souls, a superior or rational soul and an inferior irrational soul. The superior soul could leave a sleeping body and appear as the body's double as it roamed about. It could also possess and speak through the body of another.

The inferior soul, on the other hand, was called p'ai and was that which inhabited the body of a fetus during pregnancy and often lingered in the bodies of the dead. If the p'ai was strong enough, it could preserve and inhabit a corpse for a length of time, using the body to serve its needs. The body animated by the p'ai was called a chiang-shih.

A bloody sucking, kung-fu kicking, undead being? Doesn't get anymore terrifying than this!
Usually chiang-shih were created after a particularly violent death, such as a suicide, hanging, drowning, or smothering. It could also be a result of an improper burial, as it was thought that the dead would become restless if their burial was postponed after their death. The chiang-shih are not known to rise from the grave, so their transformation had to take place prior to burial.

Chiang-shihs are nocturnal creatures and have difficulties crossing running water. It was said that they were particularly vicious and ripped the head or limbs off their victims, feeding on their life essence or blood. After a period of growing stronger, chiang-shihs would gain the ability to fly, grow long white hair, and possibly change into wolves. Popularized beliefs about the chiang-shih include their form of movement, which is hopping while arms are stretched forward straight, due to rigidity of the dead body….

Watch out for any hoppers in the dark tonight….or make sure you have some garlic handy……

Hear the audio version of this post here 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Bollywood Bindas: 1930s to 60s

 The article below was originally written as a radio documentary for CityFM89 - as a three part series on the music of Bollywood - Bollywood Bindas. This is part one: 

March 14th 1931: The Imperial Film Company’s Alam Ara was released. The Indian film song was born – the first Indian talkie - didn’t just talk it sang. The plot was just a tool to string together a dozen songs The centuries of song, dance and music in Indian theatre found its way to the silver screen……

Alam Ara opened the flood gates for the Indian musical and there has been no looking back since then. We follow the evolution of the mega industry through song. Indian cinema has always been about the song. When there is overwhelming emotion – love, hatred, heartbreak or desire – spoken word is not enough. It has to be sung….

Kundan Lal Saigal sang for and starred in P C Barua’s original Devdas. Possibly, India’s first superstar -  Saigal - worked exclusively for New Theatres Studio. Early Bollywood was much like present day Hollywood – with each studio employing its own directors, stars and music directors. Early film songs were very simple in terms of music, lyrics and orchestration. Artists sang their own songs – picturized in a single shot, live. A harmonium and tabla were used out of the camera with a cleverly hidden microphone…….Timeless melodies were still created….

 Sometime during the 40s - the studio system collapsed  and freelancers took over. Music production became more specialized. The industry opened its doors to professional musicians and singers. We saw the rise of truly great singers like  Noor Jehan, Talat Mehmood and Shamshad Begum. Possibly the greatest movie of the 40s was Andaz – produced by Mehboob Khan, starring Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Nargis…..and music by Naushad….was the first of many dark, super star studded,  love triangles to follow in the story of Indian film…

During the 1950s, the number of film makers increased while the number of cinema houses remained the same. The days when exhibitors worried about not having enough films to show were now gone. Power shifted from the producer to the distributor and exhibitor and they knew exactly what they wanted – star power… stars like Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Nargis achieved demi-god status. It was at this time that we saw the rise of the nightingale of India  – Lata Mangeshkar - often pairing up with soulful men like Hemant Kumar, Manna Dey and Mukesh – singing the tunes of SD Burman, OP Nayyar and Shankar Jaikishen. Movies were now bigger than ever – beautiful leading men and women, sensational singers and magical music directors. 1952’s swashbuckling epic Aan featured a dashing Dilip Kumar taming an unruly princess…in fact Mehboob Khan’s Aan was the first movie to make it to international cinemas

Peshawar born Raj Kapoor continued to charm audiences across the world with his tramp like image – (start with ‘awara hoon’) film historians speak of him as the Charlie Chaplin of the East – with endearingly memorable roles in Shree 420, Chori Chori and Awara…

On the other hand, Dilip Kumar – born Yusuf Khan in Peshawar – was crowned the ‘tragedy king.’ He is considered to be one of the greatest actors of Indian cinema – with his performances being the epitome of emotion. When talking about the Indian tragedy Dilip Kumar’s Devdas and Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa cannot be ignored. Pyaasa is the only Indian film to be featured on the Time magazine’s list of 100 greatest movies of all time.

Indian cinema continued to create waves with  critically acclaimed masterpiece by Satyajit Ray and Mehboob Khan’s Mother India. It is rumored that the then Iraqi Prime Minister Abdul Karim Kassim made his way to the cinema the day the movie was released in Baghdad. It was truly the Golden Age of Indian cinema and it was  truly endearing – with coy romances, soulful tragedies and stirring patriotism – which are the mainstay of Indian cinema to date.

 The 60s changed the sound of Indian cinema. The greatest male playback singers to date – Kishore Kumar and Rafi ruled supreme – as did Lata and Asha. Rahul Dev Burman was unstoppable – producing hit after hit. The 60s literally exploded on to the screen with brightly colored romances ­– with funky tunes and some crazy moves….by the likes of Shammi Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor, Asha Parekh and Mumtaz…

During the 60s, Bollywood concentrated on light entertainment using powerhouse actors and singers to bring to fill up the cinema halls. In 1964, film maker and actor Raj Kapoor visited Switzerland for the first time to film Sangam – while the movie was not a novel idea – the trend of shooting in exotic locales had now begun…and it was here to stay....

It was an age when people were truly in love with the silver screen – it was everything we wanted to be – beautiful, in love and dancing.  The logical conclusion to this devotion was a love affair of many young girls with the one and only Rajesh Khanna….

Rajesh Khanna formed a playback partnership with none other than the great Kishore Kumar. Many of the biggest hits of 60s and 70s were sung by Kishore and picturised on Rajesh Khanna. Kishore remains unmatched in his range and style. He is possibly the greatest male voice of India. (sound clip where he says he knows nothing about the ragas) It is unimaginable to think of Indian film music without Kishore – he created timeless moments for many of us – and continues to do so. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Best of Pakistani Pop

Here's my list of 10 favorite Pakistani pop songs of all time - in no particular order of preference. What do you guys think? Let me know with comments or stones.

1. Ahmed Rushdie's Coco Koreena - a catchy melody and easy to sing-a-long lyrics paired with the good looks of the quintessential Pakistani hero - Waheed  Murad

2. Noor Jehan's Munda Shehr Lahore Da - sisters started doin' it for themselves with Naghma telling Ijaz exactly what she wants - wooing him with suggestive lyrics and aggressive dance moves. Noor Jehan's vocals keep it raunchy. Delicious!

3. Alamgir's Dekha Na Tha - Alamgir was Pakistan's earliest pop stars in the true sense of the word. Earlier, music from the movies was popular music. With Alamgir, we saw an independent pop singer - complete with colorful shirts and some dancing

4. Nazia & Zohaib Hassan - Disco Deewane - to pick just ONE song by the sibling duo is blasphemy - with gems like Pyar Ka Jadoo, Ankhane Milane Wale, Telephone Pyar and more, this is just a representation of their contribution to Pakistani pop.

5. Vital Signs - Dil Dil Pakistan - It doesn't get bigger than this in Pakistani pop! Vital Signs took us by storm and the best part is their melodies still ring close to our hearts. Kids still sing Dil Dil Pakistan on 14th August - our second national anthem.

6. Sajjad Ali - Babiya Although the song was a complete rip-off of Didi by Khaled, the song was still hugely popular! Of course, it's initial political incorrectness makes it even better. The song also brought Sajjad Ali to the pop consciousness for the first time.
7. Jazba-e-Junoon by Junoon - it's hard to choose just one Junoon song, but since I have to - this is my  favorite Junoon  song. I remember being so sure that the 96 World Cup was in the bag for us every time I heard this song. We didn't win the World Cup but this song is a winner for sure!

8. Duur by Strings - the comeback singles by the dynamic duo came at a time when local music channels were growing and we started looking locally for our music instead of across the border.

9. Bheegi Yaadein by Atif Aslam - because who doesn't love a song about rain and an ex you really miss


10. Mojambo by Bumbu Sauce - THIS is what a Pakistani pop song should be all about and yet make no sense at all in the end. As long it makes you scream Mojambo randomly, the song has done the job.

Let me know what you guys think of the list. and enjoy!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Dynamic Duo - Strings

The late 80s and early 90s were the golden age of Pakistani pop. There was a new found political and cultural freedom. Shoaib Mansoor’s Music 89 propelled The Vital Signs, Junoon, Ali Haider and Sajjad Ali to stardom. The Music Channel Charts on STN gave a platform to new and upcoming artists from around the country. It was at this time that four young men from Karachi came together in a rag tag way to become one of South Asia’s most  successful and long lasting  pop rock bands

                                                     Strings and I in the CityFM89 studios

Faisal Kapadia, Bilal Maqsood, Rafiq Wazir Ali and Kareem Basheer Bhoy formed the initial Strings line up – all classmates at the Government College of Commerce and Economics. In a recent interview, the boys credited Vital Signs as their inspiration.

The band performed to the lyrics of Bilal’s father – Anwer Maqsood at college events and soon they were offered a record deal by Mansoor Bukhari of EMI Group. They released their first self-titled album Strings  in 1990. The sound of the album was heavily synthesized and the public response was no more than lukewarm, simply for its novelty. Without the conventional boy band good looks of Vital Signs and an unappealing music video – their first single ‘Jab Se Tumko Dekha’ went mostly unnoticed.

The slow response to their first album forced the boys to pursue their day-job careers. With all four heading off in different directions. In 1992, Strings tried to give it another shot – this time with better luck and released the album Strings 2 under the Shalimar label. With their music careers getting increasingly hectic, the boys decided to call it quits and pursue their day-job careers. The single Sar Kiye Yeh Pahar was meant to be a parting gift to their fans. 

  The Comeback Kids

By the year 1999, Strings had all but disappeared from the Pakistani psyche. Faisal and Bilal were working at an advertising agency when they decided they wanted to give it all up for music. It was when Bilal composed a tune for a song humming the word duur with it that Kapadia realised they should reform the band. Upon consultation amongst themselves and friends from the music industry, especially Rohail Hayat, the two re-formed the band. They tried to approach Rafiq and Kareem but they declined. Their comeback album Duur was launched with just Faisal and Bilal forming the new Strings.   

The video for Duur was directed by Jami. It was instantly picked up the recently launched Pakistani music channels, receiving heavy airplay and becoming an instant hit. The song also became a hit across the border following in the footsteps of Sar Kiye Yeh Pahar 8 years ago. This laid the foundation for India’s love affair with Strings in the coming years. The album itself was a hit with the following singles also doing the rounds on TV and radio.

When the Indian cricket team toured Pakistan for the first time 14 years in 2004, Strings were invited to collaborate with the Indian band Euphoria to record a song called Jeet Lo Dil. The song did not carry well in Pakistan but became a major hit in India.

Following the hit of Jeet Lo Dil, Strings toured India under the Channel V banner. Around this time they also started working with Indian artists on tracks for their upcoming album. They recorded singles with Sagarika and Hari Haran. Again the songs did not pick up in Pakistan but solidified their fan base in India.

The band then went on to perform at the Hard Rock Cafe for an unplugged session, which catapulted them to further fame in the South Asian community and beyond. With their rising worldwide success, the band were approached by Columbia Records to launch their new album and they accepted the offer. On September 1, 2003, the band released their fourth studio album Dhaani

What happened next remains Strings’ biggest achievements to date. Columbia Tristar approached Strings to make a song for one of the biggest movie franchise - Spiderman. The duo wrote Na Jaane Kyon for the Hindi version of Spiderman 2.The featuring of Na Jaane Kyon of on the soundtrack of Spider Man 2 opened the flood gates for Strings to be featured on a number of Bollywood soundtracks and an unprecedented fan following in the South Asian community world wide. The band made the song Zinda for a Bollywood movie of the same name. They shot their own music video featuring Sanjay Dutt and John Abraham. 

More soundtracks and concerts across India followed – but the dynamic duo stayed true of their roots, art and Pakistan when handling this unprecedented growth in fan base and offers.

In late 2007, Strings signed a deal with Gibson Guitar, becoming the first South Asian band in history to do so. It was reported that according to the deal, Strings will exclusively use Gibson guitars during concerts, studio recordings and music videos. Furthermore, Strings will act as brand ambassadors to Gibson. In return, Gibson will sponsor the band and provide concert halls and equipment as and when required. In mid 2008, Strings released their fifth studio album - Koi Aanay Wala Hai co-produced by John Abraham. The video featured John Abraham as an angel against the Kuala Lumpur skyline.

 While enjoying commercial success, Strings remained a politically and socially conscious band, supporting causes through their music. Tackling issues of national and international importance such as the unrest in Lebanon with 'Beirut'; the tensions at home with 'Ab Khud Kuch Karna Pare Ga' and 'Mein Tu Dekhonga.'

 Whether it’s their inspirational lyrics, heart warming melodies or boyish charm –  the dynamic duo of Faisal Kapadia and Bilal Maqsood have floored audiences with their talent for more than 20 years. They remain a force to reckon with in Pakistani music and an inspiration to all aspiring musicians.

*originally written as a radio documentary aired on CityFM89

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cairo Time

Whenever I think of Cairo, I find myself smiling to myself with a kind of sadness deep inside. It has been more than a year since I was last visited Egypt. Before Tahrir, and before Twitter. I don't know how it has changed now. But I do know that I left a piece of myself in Cairo.

Cairo is dusty and damp. The dust of the ages and the dampness of desire. Desire for love, companionship and sex.  As I landed at Cairo International Airport, it was crowded and clammy. Men everywhere offering everything and anything you could imagine. I had a connection to Alexandria some six hours later. I waited for my friend to come take me out for dinner. By the time he arrived, I had been told I was beautiful some 8 times. But you've never really heard that sentence enough times. Every now and then I feel like I want to pack up and move to Cairo. Watch Cairo Time the movie if you haven't done it already. Cairo is more than just the pyramids - it is a love affair with love and life.