Posted in Hollywood

Insidious: The Last Key

It was my birthday in 2011 when I had all my friends gather in my home theater to watch Insidious. No doubt, that was one scary movie and everyone had a rollicking good time. Flash forward two sequels later, and a third sequel screened in the cinema in 2018, I feel like the Insidious series has to be wrapped and shut down, never to be visited again. The Last Key should be The Last Insidious Movie Ever!

With none of the original cast from the first movie (except for a quick flashback scene, which basically sets up this movie as a lead up to Insidious the first part), The Last Key primarily focuses on Elise, the woman who helped the family sort out the demonic haunting that affected the family’s son. We get to see Elise’s childhood– with one actually very horrifying scene with her father disciplining Elise in a traumatic manner- and how she learns she has a gift to see into The Further. It is only her mother who understands Elise’s predicament but is helpless from controlling her husband from abusing their daughter.

After one extremely disturbing incident, Elise runs away from home, abandoning her younger brother and father.

The movie is set in 2010. Elise receives a call from a man who claims his house is haunted. Elise initially refuses to take on the job but when she hears that the house is her childhood home, she decides to take up the job to finish the matter for once and for all, and to spare us viewers from watching yet another installment.

While searching out for the ghost in the house, it turns out the man who made a call is hiding another secret, which Elise and her Spectral Sightings team member, Imogen and Specs, uncover, leading to a resolution of the so-called haunting. However, all is not well, as Elise discover the ghosts are still there and she needs to venture into The Further.

Things get complicated when her brother arrives on the scene, and he’s pretty mad at his sister for abandoning her. However, Elise tries to patch things up by giving him a picture of a whistle which he used to use to scare away the demons as a child. Things get nasty when Elise’s brother and daughters go to the house to look for the whistle, where one daughter is tempted by the demon and is taken, hostage. Elise has a vision of this moment and rushes to the house to rescue her niece.

What follows is Elise’s adventure into The Further and attempts to rescue her niece, seek forgiveness from her mother and battle the demon, who uses the ‘keys’ to lock up his victim’s throats and all. As the movie tagline says: ‘scream before it silences you.’ Instead, we wanted to scream to stop making such movies.

Unfortunately, the movie relies a little bit too much on jump scares. It’s fine the first few times, but after a while, it’s like a meh moment. We get used to it and the scare factor goes way down. Secondly, the minute we see the monster, we lose all element of fear and horror and it just becomes very schlocky. By the end of the movie, our collective reaction was: why did they even make this movie? I remember when The Conjuring Part 2 came out, and that was indeed a very solid sequel, which surpassed its original part. Same case with Annabelle: Creation. The Last Key, being part 4, is sadly a not-needed sequel.

I would recommend to go watch the first part or watch The Conjuring. Or if you don’t have time, just watch the trailer for this movie and that should suffice.

Sigh. When will they start making decent horror movies that don’t rely on unnecessary back stories and jump scares?

 

Posted in Restaurant

The Balcony- Sorry Excuse for a Restaurant

Several months ago, I noticed a new restaurant had opened up in the now very popular Mall 1 area (which is overcrowded with a plethora of restaurants now) called The Balcony. From the outside, the eatery looked gorgeous, with diners sitting on the balcony.

However, when we ended up here last night, it was a decision we regretted badly. Our initial plan was to go to Bamboo Union, but the waiting list was rather long so we opted to go to a place which has no waiting list, and The Balcony was unusually empty. We did question as to why this would be the case? Is the food bad? Why aren’t there people here like there are other neighboring restaurants. Against better judgment, we still went ahead.

The interior of the eatery didn’t really do anything to entice the diners. We didn’t feel welcome, and the cold greetings from the waiter wasn’t welcoming at all. Since the entire balcony was empty (this was at 9pm), we found a place at the edge, overlooking the main road below (bad idea– the car traffic, constant honking didn’t allow us to have a normal conversation!)

Anyways, so the menu came and on the specials menu was Balcony’s Shakshuka, which when we attempted to order were told that it’s not available as it’s a breakfast item. We questioned as to why it’s mentioned on the Specials and the two waiters just stood there dumbfounded. “Yes, sir, it shouldn’t be on the Specials menu.” We didn’t make an issue out of it and proceeded to order Mozzarella Sticks, Chicken with Honey Sauce and Herb Chicken.

 

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Shakshuka isn’t available for dinner, and you will have to squint your eyes to read the prices. Sigh. 

 

Since my friend who was treating me for dinner was visiting from London, we got caught up in our conversations over art, movies, culture, music, blogging to not let the outside noise bother us (yes, we could have gone in, but they didn’t allow smoking inside!).

First up: Mozzarella Sticks. I strongly felt that The Balcony shares their chef with Eataly Ristorante, which is right around the corner, because they tasted exactly the same: not good. I mean, I’ve had better mozzarella sticks from Burger King in Dubai! The sticks tonight just didn’t do well with us for the cheese was not warm, not cheesy and certainly not edible. It was getting stuck in my throat.

 

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These looked and tasted the sticks at Eataly Ristorante– perhaps they are sharing their chefs! 

 

So when we were served the mozzarella sticks, the waiters didn’t bother serving us plates and cutlery and so I wasn’t sure how they were expecting us to eat the sticks. It was after five minutes they a waiter was flagged down and reminded to serve the plates and cutlery as well.

My main course, Chicken with Honey Sauce, was honestly just about average. It was a breaded fillet chicken with a huge dollop of honey mustard sauce. The chicken was edible but the sauce was overwhelming. I had to remove a large portion of the sauce to maintain just the right amount of sauce to go with the chicken.

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My friend’s meal, Herb Chicken was exactly like my chicken, except they put another sauce with a dash of herbs. His comment to me was: you know what, usually they put the herb inside the sauce to give it an even flavor, and what I see here is no herbs in the sauce, but just a sprinkling of herbs on top. His chicken meal did look sad. Mine looked sad too. Which is why we both left our meals.

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By this time, we were totally ready to leave. Our waiter, Rohail, who served us got a handsome tip from us and we left him a great comment card. We didn’t want to fault the waiter at all, they were merely doing their job. However, we did want to fault the management running The Balcony. I am not sure who is checking the quality of food, or even the training of the waiters.

The Balcony is a sorry excuse for a restaurant and I am not sure if it will survive in the long run.

[A meal for two with drinks, 1 starter, and 2 main courses cost my friend Rs. 2911/-]

Posted in Food, Restaurant, Review

Patli Galli – Awesome Location, Average Food

Any new restaurant opening gets us Lahoris excited. After all, we are the food capital of Pakistan. The new restaurant becomes the must-place to visit, and social media is abuzz with reviews- whether good or bad- and everyone jumps on the bandwagon to try out the new place. They become the be seen and be heard kind of place Only time defines how long the restaurant will stay open or survive in a tough market out there.
Of late, there’ve been a bunch of restaurants that have opened up, and Patli Galli is one of the latest ones.

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MANSOUR A

Patli Galli

Located in Phase 8, DHA, which is opposite the airport, the drive up to the restaurant was a fun one (thanks to the great company in the car). The first thing that hit us as we got out of the car was how chilly it was tonight. “Let’s hope there are enough heaters here.”

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MANSOUR A

The Entrance to main dining area

The entrance was very welcoming, and on the left side, you get to witness the chefs preparing fresh food before your eyes. With flames roaring from the woks, to the chopping up of the veggies, to the spices being put in the Pakistani dishes, our appetites increased on our way to the table.

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MANSOUR A

Main Dining area with a central bonfire

With a central bonfire, which turned out to be more of a decorative element rather than warming up guests, we seated ourselves inside one of the wooden benches covered with tents. With ample lighting, the location felt magical, as if we’re sitting somewhere outside of Lahore.
Before anything else, we were served with a small cup of soup broth- yakhni- which really hit the spot for us. The yakhni did a perfect job of warming up our hands as we held the small glasses, as well as warming up our insides as we slurped on it.

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MANSOUR A

Menu- with a shot of Yakhni!

Basanti is Pakistani

WokStar is Chinese

Project TK is Burgers etc

The menu is basically split up in three parts: Pakistani (Basanti), Chinese (WokStar) and Burgers (Project TK). Since we felt like having Pakistani food, we opted out of ordering anything from the Chinese and Burgers. After much debate, we settled for Chicken Handi, Chicken Malai Boti and Palak Paneer, along with Roghni Naan and Saada Naan.

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MANSOUR A

Chicken Handi

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MANSOUR A

Chicken Malai Boti

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MANSOUR A

Palak Paneer

The food, in all honesty, wasn’t all that great. I have personally have had better Pakistani food at other places such as Spice Bazaar, BBQ Tonight and Andaaz. Of the three dishes, my favorite has to be the Chicken Malai Boti. The naan were wonderful, served to us warm, so no complaints there.
I really wanted to like the food but found it rather average. It’s not that it’s bad or anything, but it’s just not anything new. We’ve tasted this food before, and so it made us wonder whether we would make a trip out here again and again for this kind of food. I can easily go down to BBQ Tonight, which is closer to my home.
Perhaps we didn’t order the right food, and so I am not willing to write them off. They are a new establishment and every chance should be given to them to prove themselves as a strong contender in the food market of Lahore. We have decided to try out the Chinese and Burgers on our next trip.
Having said that, we totally fell in love with the location, despite the fact that there weren’t enough heaters and stray cats enjoying our meals with us under the table, and would be happy to come back in a less chilly climate. So full marks to Patli Gall for giving us an awesome ambiance.
Patli Galli can become the go-to place in Lahore if it maintains to keep the quality of its food consistent because the location will definitely draw the people in. I am not sure though how they will manage in the scorching summer season.
Since this was a treat, the host paid for our meals, but I guestimated that it was Rs. 1000/- per person (main course, drinks, and tea).
Posted in featured, Food, Restaurant

Amu- A Unique Fine Dining Experience

Upon the special invitation of Chef Shahnawaz, we headed down to Amu for our Sunday brunch. Having heard so much about Amu from others, we were told that special consideration will be taken for our dining experience. “We’ve even imported specific ingredients just for your meal,” Chef Shahnawaz told us.

01 Exterior

With that in mind, the anticipation of eating out at a restaurant that is run by a Michelin-trained chef, who’s worked in New York, our palates were already developing hunger pangs.
Amu is located in a gorgeous house from the 70s that’s located in the posh locality of Gulberg. The entrance is from the side, with a cute main door, upon which is written Amu in gold-plated plaque.

02 Main Door

The first thing that hits us when we enter through the door is the aroma of the apples that have been stacked on the white shelves. This is a very clever move on the part of the restaurant design, as the whiffs of the apple’s aroma transports us to apple orchards, thereby preparing our senses for the upcoming meal.

04. The apple entrance

Walking through the steps up to the first floor, we were immediately brought to ease and comfort with the feeling that we are entering their own house. There is none of that fancy element that is often seen at other fine dining establishments in Lahore.

08 Center Table with the hedgehog

At 1130am on a Sunday morning, there were only a handful of people in the dining hall, which meant we had enough peace and quiet to have great conversations at the table. The younger brother of Chef Shahnawaz, chef Shah Ali waited us at the table and ran us through our different options. We chose Eggs Royale and the Omelet as they came highly recommended. Along with that, we ordered fruit lemonade, orange juice and I ordered passion fruit.

09 Our Table

The ambiance was rather relaxed with enough sunlight pouring in from the front of the hall. We were seated on the right side of the hall which allowed us to get an overview. With carpeted floors, paintings on the all and potted plants around the room, we literally felt as if we were dining out at a friend’s house instead of a posh restaurant.

10. Menu

The first thing to arrive on our table was the fruit platter, which chef Shah Ali mentioned were outsourced from their farm in Muridke, as well as specific fruits imported from world over (they also outsource their dairy products from their farm).

I cannot tell you enough, but taking a bite from the passion fruit at the center of the plate took me back to the time when I had passion fruit every day in Phuket. That is how good it was! The rest of the fruits had that succulent, smooth juicy taste to them, which made it a delight to devour (If only my own cook would prepare fruits for me like, I would be eating them more regularly!)

11. Imported Fruit Platter

As we were served our fruit drinks, Chef Shah Ali shared how his elder brother was preparing our meals himself in the kitchen, and we were just delighted to hear, for this is something which is very rare for Lahore restaurants. It is commendable to see how a young man takes this much interest in the preparation of the guests’ meals.

The fruit lemonade, in a glass that was clear at the bottom but full of color fruits at the top, was a real thirst quencher, but it was my passion fruit that I totally fell in love with. Hands down, Amu serves the best passion fruit drink in town (I can’t help but think how inferior passion fruit at other restaurants have been!).

12. fruit Lemonade

13. passionfruit

The wait surprisingly wasn’t long for our main course to arrive. The Omelet was made just the way I would have liked them, fluffy, consistent and utterly appetizing. Eggs Royale consisted of eggs on a sourdough bread with salmon and hollandaise sauce, with a side helping of potatoes and salad leaves. According to Chef Shah Ali, Eggs Royale has a slight twist to the traditional Eggs Benedict.

15. Eggs Royale

14. Eggs Royale

The highlight for me was most definitely the sourdough bread, which I developed a fascination for when I was in London this past summer. Sourdough is a much lighter bread, which works perfectly for me as I don’t develop that heaviness in my stomach, which regular bread does.

Dining out at Amu reminded me heavily of my dining experiences at other Michelin-star chef’s restaurants such as Nuno Mendes’ Chiltern Firehouse in London and Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen and Bar at Atlantis Palm Island, Dubai. It became obvious as to how much effort has been put in the creation of our meals. It’s the details that count, as was obvious in the presentation, selection of food products and maintaining the right flavours.

Amu simply believes in the less is more policy, where it’s all about the food.

As were leaving, Chef Shahnawaz came out and thanked us personally for dining at Amu. I mentioned how I write for Huffington Post and am getting into restaurant reviews, he immediately invited me dinner at Amu. Chef Shahnawaz is a man who has made his dream come true, and it’s a sheer pleasure to see how his passion has brought him this far. He shared with us of his future plans, and mentioned how his brother, who is a pastry chef, is getting into bread-making and all.

16. Chef Shahnawaz

Amu is that fine dining restaurant that Lahore can proudly boast off and one that is on par with fine dining establishments around the world. It has created a bit of a problem for me personally, as the standard for great food has been set so high, other restaurants pale in comparison.

As for me, I’ve already decided to take my friends out to Amu for my birthday in May. Yes, that’s how good Amu is!

 

 

Posted in Articles

The Man in the Black Boots: Remembering APS Tragedy

[The world was a witness to the massacre that took place at the army school in the city of Peshawar in Pakistan. 140 children were mercilessly killed  by militants. These young children had to face death in such a cruel manner, that we are still reeling in from shock. There were some survivors too and some of the stories they shared with the media became unbearable to read. There is a 16 year old survivor, Shahrukh, who recounted his episode. His story jolted me intensely, and for someone like me, who just lost his own  father in 2014, I felt like as if I lost 140 children of my own. I cannot even begin to think of how 140 families have been devastated. The following is something I wrote from Shahrukh’s perspective what I thought would be like  in his mind. The original article is published in Express Tribune, upon which I based the following account. I felt very strongly with Shahrukh’s experience, hence I developed and expanded on his account of the tragedy. It’s one thing to merely read a survivor’s account, and it’s another to empathize and feel that pain.]

In remembrance of the children who were martyed on Dec 16th, 2014.

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My name is Shahrukh and I am 16 years old. Today I am going to tell you about the day when I faced death head on. It is not easy to recount what I went through but I must share. You need to know the kind of horror I went through, only because until and unless we don’t confront with the reality, we will not change things around here.

I was born in the north-Western Pakistani city of Peshawar, in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. Peshawar is a city that is still riddled with conservatism: women are covered and men grow beards. However, times are changing with modern developments and advanced infrastructure.

I go to a school that is run by the Army. My parents decided to send me here because they said schools that are run by the Army are the safest. “Son, the Army will protect you and other children. You need not worry about safety. We trust the Army.” I’ve been going to this school ever since I was a little kid. Today I am sixteen and doing my O’Levels. I want to carry on and do my A’Levels and go to university. I have dreams to become someone big and serve my country.

16th December 2014 was just like any other regular day at school. Actually, to be honest, this day was sort of special because my teacher said we will have a special demonstration of first aid in the auditorium. In this day and age, especially in my hometown, it’s a must to know basics of first aid.

Excitedly we all pour into the auditorium. There must be about 100 children in the room. The younger lot is excitedly chatting away with one another as they settle down in their seats. I sit down along with my friends. The teachers come in the auditorium and welcomed everyone and proceed to tell us the basics of first aid. There is also some dummy models to practice CPR on.

I don’t know who screamed but someone in the room screamed out loud, “Get down and hide below the desks!” There is so much fear and intensity in the voice that my friends and I don’t know how to react. I see some students quickly fall down on their knees and hide below the desks. In reflex action, I do just the same. As I am getting down below the desk, I see a few men at the rear end of the auditorium, in paramilitary uniform. I am confused as to what is happening. Is this a fire drill? Is there an earthquake? There is a silence in the room as a lot of us are scared. I can’t hear anything, excepts for the boots walking. The voice definitely shook us all up. I am shaking on the inside. I also see that the teachers at the front are also lying down on the floor.

The voice spoke up again, this time much louder and angrier. “Recite your kalma!!” (Islamic creed) Out of fear, I started to recite the kalma: there is no God but Allah, there is no God but Allah. My ear drums nearly burst as I hear loud firing. Machine guns. They are firing guns like maniacs and all the children in the room start to scream, breaking the silence.

Bodies are being shot at and I can see the young ones jerk their bodies. Some are even being shot more than once, while others are being shot in the head to completely finish them off. There is a lull in firing, till that voice speaks up again: “There are so many children beneath the benches. Go get them!!” More firing and I now start to panic. Will I die too? How can I escape from here?

I see my friends next to me get shot. I am lying down still, not knowing what to do. I can’t see my friend who was just shot to death. I want to revive him, but I also realize I need to stay put. I see these big black boots walk towards me. It feels like as if Death is walking towards me, as if to come and take me away. The boots are now close to me, staring directly in my face. This man is probably looking for more students to kill.

I don’t feel the pain initially, but when I do feel it later, it is extreme and intense. The man in the black boots actually shoots me in my legs, precisely below my knees. I am shot in my both my legs. I can’t tell you what that feels like. The pain is excruciating and I want to scream my lungs out. But I can’t. All I can do is fold the tie I am wearing and put it in my mouth. I bite down on my tie as hard as I can. I think I am also in shock. I don’t want death to come take me away just yet. I want to live.

The man in the black boots keeps on firing and killing the children around me. He is looking for children to kill. He doesn’t want to spare a single life. It’s as if it was his mission to kill every single person. I simply close my eyes, start to shiver like crazy again and recite the kalma, waiting to get shot so I die. I lay still completely. I don’t move an inch. Subconsciously, I think to myself that if I lay still and pretend to be dead, I may just be lucky to stay alive.

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The next few minutes seem like eternity to me. There is again silence in the room. Seems like the man in black boots and his friends are done from here. I continue to lay still. I hear the door open and close and complete silence, save for a few moans that emanate from some parts of the room. I can still feel the intense pain in my legs. I want to leave the room and escape. As I push myself up with my arms and drag myself across the room to the door, I can simply not take in all the bodies around me. I recognize some of them from other classes. Familiar faces from the cafeteria and playground, all dead. I finally make it to the door and push it open.

There is heat in this room. I assume it is the heater left running. As I turn my head to see where the heat is coming from, I see something that completely startles me to the core. I want to die. There is thick smoke in the air. I can’t breathe. But along with the thick smoke, I can smell something pungent. I don’t know what burnt skin smells like. Now I do.

The office assistant is on fire. She is sitting on her chair and is burning to death. I can see the flesh burning. The smell is horrible and I want to throw up. I don’t know how she caught fire, but the skin is melting away and blood is dripping from her. The plastic armrest from her chair is infusing with her own skin. I don’t hear her scream and I quickly say to God: Please let her be dead so she isn’t suffering from any pain. It is getting too much for me to see her burning away like this; I become exhausted now. I lose all energy. As much as I want to get up and run away, I simply pass out with my own leg pain rendering me unconscious.

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Posted in Book Fiction, Hollywood

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks is one of my all-time favorite actors. When Big came out, I was in love with him. I followed his acting trajectory over the years and with each movie, he excelled. From Sleepless in Seattle to Forrest Gump to Cast Away to Saving Private Ryan, Hanks has outdone himself, including winning an Oscar for Philadelphia. He’s just one of those actors who has always had a clean image, never let fame get to his head, down to earth and yes, his marriage is still surviving the pressures of Hollywood.

Which is why I was all the more excited when my favorite actor was coming out with his book Uncommon Type. I just finished reading the book last week, and my reaction at the end of it all was: is that it? As much as I am fond of Hanks the Actor, I am not too sure if I am fond of Hanks the Author.

Uncommon Type is a collection of 17 short stories, and they are all connected with a common theme: a typewriter. Each story has the presence of a typewriter, whether it’s a central character of its own, or it’s relegated to the background where you have to figure out the importance of it. Hanks has gone on record to mention how much he admires typewriters and is an ardent collector.

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Some of the stories stand out more than the others, while others seem a little lackadaisical.

The first one, about two best friends who embark on a sexual affair sets the tone right with its wry humor and cheekiness (you can almost picture Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks). The ending brought a smile to my face and so I was prepared for the rest of the book. This tone is similar to another story where a son and his father go surfing, and thanks to an accident on the waters, the son stumbles upon his father’s little secret. The tone of these stories can be seen through Hanks brand of humor.

The other stories that stood out were the ones where four friends take a trip to the moon from their backyard, the story of a billionaire who time travels to 1939 and the recurring story of Hank Fiset, a newspaper reporter with an old-fashioned view of the world.

It becomes evident in the book that Hanks has relied a lot on his diverse movie roles to flesh out the characters. In one story, about a WW 2 veteran, reminded me a lot of Band of Brothers. While another, about space travel, reminded me a lot of Apollo 13. Hanks has also been a scriptwriter in Hollywood and that influence is seen in another story. He has put to good use his vast knowledge of acting and fleshing out characters in creating the stories. There is no doubt that Hanks is an accomplished storyteller, as accomplished as he is a great actor.

However, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book to everyone, but those who are fond of Hanks will enjoy reading it. It will not win any major prizes or anything, and at the end of the day, the book is about stories that have been vividly created with memorable characters and moments, that will charm and delight you, and eventually bring a smile to your face. Now that’s the kind of magic only Hanks can conjure up.

We can be assured that just in case if Hanks movie career finishes, he can always fall back on his writing!

 

Posted in Articles

Digital Detox

I will be the first to admit (just because no one else will) that I became an addict to my phone (don’t blame me, the iPhone X is too gorgeous!). More than the phone, I’ve become an addict to the social media, namely Instagram and Facebook.

I remember back in 2014, around the time when my father had fallen very ill, I deactivated my Facebook account for six months. It was a scary step for me at the time as I felt I would be totally disconnected from everyone. Little did I know how much happier I would become. Friends who merely messaged me online now started to call me. Instead of meeting each other virtually, we would meet up in person for coffee or dinner. If anything, friends living abroad started to reach out to me and I actually had live phone conversations. I reveled in the “human” touch to my relationships with everyone.

I also remember when I had created my Instagram account back in 2012. It was a new platform where seasoned photographers showed mind-numbingly awesome photographs (I would spend a lot of time admiring these photos!). However, since I didn’t have that top-notch photo taking skills, I abandoned my Instagram account.

Fast forward to 2016, Facebook is out and Instagram is all the rage. Instead of witnessing some awesome photographs, we get to witness into the lives of every account holders. It’s also all about the number of followers– which is no true benchmark to assess how many are organic and how many are fake. There was a huge outcry when Instagram did a huge purge and celebrities literally lost 1000s of followers overnight.

I had restarted my Instagram account as I was trying to minimize my Facebook usage. I have to admit that Facebook is an excellent tool to keep in touch with friends who are abroad. However, I was allowing these two social media platform to control me when it should have been me taking control.

Instagram was quick and easier to manage, as all I had to do was post a picture. I took it as an online journal of mine, to document my life in Lahore and abroad, which included where I eat, what book I read, what movie I saw and where I am traveling to. It started to become addictive when more and more people started to comment and making it an interactive session for me. I enjoyed connecting up with different people from different parts of the world. Soon enough, I was sucked into it, as I started following my favorite authors and actors. In short, I became an addict.

Of late, there is news going around of how a lot of people, especially the younger generation, are leaving the social media. A recent statement by an ex-Facebook VP shared the dangers of using Facebook and takes the blame for messing up people’s lives.  He shared:

“Bad actors can now manipulate large swaths of people to do anything you want,” he told the audience. “And we compound the problem. We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection, because we get rewarded in these short-term signals — hearts, likes, thumbs up — and we conflate that with value and we conflate it with truth. And instead, what it is is fake, brittle popularity that’s short-term and leaves you even more, admit it, vacant and empty before you did it . . . Think about that, compounded by 2 billion people.”

Time Magazine says that Facebook is about to lose 80% of its user in its report. While another study has explored into why more and more people are leaving social media platforms. Funnily enough, the number one resolution of 2018 among users is to quit social media. 

There are numerous studies online that has shown excessive use of Facebook and Instagram are causing depression, low self-esteem, jealousy, envy among its user. Everyone seems to be living the perfect life. There is ample reason for anyone to feel jealous of other people’s holidays, dining, shopping and cool experiences, all the while watching the pictures from their dreary office space.  What one realizes is that everything is fake– no one has the perfect life the way they do on Facebook and Instagram. Instead, the way I see it, these people are seeking validation from others out there, and get a kick out from the number of likes and comments they get.

There have been reports of users who’ve been depressed because they don’t get a certain number of likes, and so they remove their posts. There have been reports of users using techniques to garner fake likes and followers to increase their fan following. In short, everything is fake online.

As I am delving myself more and more into reading, one common thing pops up among a lot of the influential leaders and CEOs: don’t use social media unless it’s absolutely necessary. They instead talk about reading more books, discussing ideas with others, indulging in creativity and innovation, and focusing on self-growth- mind, body, and soul. Sleep is another important element a lot of these CEOS talk about: those 8 hours sleep is a must!

So, I took the plunge today morning and decided to go for a digital detox from Instagram. Instagram was not serving me any good, or enhancing my life, or giving me an opportunity for self-actualization. Instead, it just made me into a defunct vegetable just scrolling through the pictures to see what other people are up to. It was NOT doing me any good at all.

I have also minimized my use of Facebook (earlier I would be posting/ checking in almost everywhere) and now I have limited my use. I use it to keep in touch with friends abroad and to share my articles. I have un-liked a lot of the celebrities pages and focus on my interests only- books, literature, movies, culture and self-growth.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think there is anything wrong with both these platforms. Some people are thriving with their business, while others are making loads of money on it by endorsing products. Others use this platform to share their passion, while some use it to share their breath-taking pictures. But these types of users are far and few in between. It’s just that it wasn’t doing me any good. Technology can be useful and harmful at the same time, and it all depends on how we use it.

So I am off Instagram, in the hope that I get rid of my addiction. I am using Facebook minimally. Instead, I am focusing on my real life, meeting up with real people, creating new friendships, polishing up on old friendships and live a more meaningful real life. I will be able to declutter my life, keep it more productive and healthy, and ultimately happier. Keep in mind, a digital detox doesn’t mean one abandons the social media altogether. It merely means one is taking a break for a time defined by oneself.

Note: If you feel you are in the same boat as me, I encourage you to read Arianna Huffington’s Thrive (she talks brilliantly about getting 8 hours of sleep, and prioritising life- means, less social media, and more human interaction) as well as Russell Brand’s Recovery (his 12 steps to break addictive habits is staggeringly amazing!).

 

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Posted in Hollywood

Justice League

Yes yes, I know, I am very late and probably one of the last person to watch Justice League. I wasn’t too excited about it since the reviews were very mixed, with more and more critics bashing the movie for various reasons. On the other hands, die hard fans were up in arms about how great the movie it, and to ignore the critics.

So I honestly went into the movie with no expectations, and came out of the movie having enjoyed it– just about. Of course it helps that there is a die hard super-hero friend sitting next to you to keep you abreast of all the characters.

Justice League, first things first, belongs to the DC Universe. Which means you will NOT see X-Men or Iron Man in this movie. Instead, you will see Superman and Batman. Ok, so that’s out of the way (sorry, I had to say that as I often get confused between all these superhero movies and which league will be joining which league to fight which evil villain from whatever universe!)

So Justice League (which is one of the most expensive DC movies ever made) is basically about the group of superhero- Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash and Cyborg- who form a team to honour the dead Superman (he died in the Batman v Superman movie) by fighting off a menacing villain called Steppenwolf and his parademons.

So here’s my take:

  1. Batman, played by Ben Affleck, needs to have a new actor. While I like Affleck a lot, he just didn’t do it for me. His brooding, deep-throat voice was getting a tad but annoying. Of course, he had to show his guilt over the death of Superman and we get that. But, goodness, Ben Affleck needs to move on.
  2. Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot, was the only highlight of the movie. She has screen presences, the style and the acting skills to convince us she is really Wonder Woman. Goes without saying she has excellent action skills too.
  3. Aquaman was the only other superhero I was excited about. The concept of a big bulky man (Jason Momoa from Games of Thrones) sounded like a great concept. His  introduction was fun, but very soon, he was relegated to the background because we have two more characters coming up.
  4. Flash, layer by Ezra Miller, was fun initially but then started to get annoying. We get that he’s to play a cute, teenager who’s getting a kick from playing sidekick to Batman. His action sequences are fun and worthwhile, but then that’s about it.
  5. Cyborg, played by Ray Fisher, had a cool concept and body armour, and then that was about it. Unfortunately, Cyborg and Flash don’t have a solid backstory to make us feel the least bit connected to them.

Then we have Superman, whose body is exhumed, and he comes back as a mean Superman, only for Lois Lane to show him her love to enable him to cool down. Finally, the Justice League is assembled as Superman joins the team. Yay.

The villain was the biggest disappointment. I don’t know what possessed the makers of the film to create the villain entirely out of CGI. It looked shoddy at places while other times he was devoid of that human touch.

The movie had the villain wanting to secure the three boxes, which if joined together will grant him superpower and control over the world. Our superhero want to get hold of those boxes and destroy the villain. Hence begin the battle between good and evil. No points in guessing who wins.

The action sequences were fun to watch, as well as witnessing the camaraderie between all five superhero. There were some comic moments which elicited few chuckles from he audience. These moments were the highlights of the film.

However, sitting in the cinema with other fans, who hooted and clapped at all the right moments created a buzzing atmosphere, which only heightened my experience of watching a movie like this. Not to mention my friend, a die hard comic hero fan, who enlightened me throughout the movie with excessive knowledge of the characters.

A good one time watch, but not that great.

Oh, and stay for the end, for there are TWO post credits.

3 out of 5

Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa
Rating: PG-13
Synopsis: A group of superhero form Justice League to fight of yet another villain
Running time: 120mins
Seen at: IMAX, Lahore
Approval Ratings: 40% Rotten Tomatoes

 

 

Posted in Book Fiction

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness has been published exactly 20 years after Arundhati Roy’s first novel, The God of Small Things. The first novel won the Man Booker Prize in 1997, bringing Roy into the limelight in the literary world. Every time she wrote something, people took notice. Roy deliberately steered away from fiction to talk about political events and fought for various causes. So it’s no wonder that everyone expressed excitement and an eagerness to read her new novel.

We are introduced to Anjum in the brilliant opening scene. Anjum (Aftab) is a Muslim and a eunuch. She is born as Aftab and has had a rather difficult upbringing. She now lives in Khwabgah- Dream House- with other women. On her way to a Gujrati shrine, she encounters the massacre of Hindus, which leads the government to clamp down on the Muslims. She happens to find Zainab, a three years old girl, at the steps of Jamia Mosque and takes her back to Khwabgah. Zainab grows up to be a fashion designer.

On the other end, we are introduced to S. Tillotamma, who is a student of architecture and the daughter of a Syrian Christian mother. S. Tillotamma befriends three guys- Musa, Biplab and Naga. She marries one of them, upon the request of the other, while the third secretly loves her.

The third narrative is from the Landlord’s point of view. The landlord is someone who loves S. Tillotamma but doesn’t declare his love. He recounts her journey, all the while expressing his own sentiments to towards her.

These are the three narratives in this widely complexed book that takes the readers through a lot of the political turmoil and upheavals in modern India. From the massacre of the Hindus to the land reform that disowned the poor farmers, to the Godhra train burning to the Kashmir insurgency. It’s almost as if Roy wanted to educate and enlighten the readers about the violent events of India that’s done more damage than bring out any good. The moments are so well explained that given the complexity of the entire sequences of events, one doesn’t lose track of the narrative, which in my opinion may not have been well explained in the hands of another author.

Roy has an incredible sense and magic in her hands to weave out an intricate and powerful story through all the tragic events. It’s an incredible feat to have a plethora of characters—at times I had to re-read some paragraphs to keep track of who’s who- and they all have some uniqueness to them. The beauty of it all is how well rounded the characters are- no feel they are there for the sake of being there. As a reader, I still remember something about the characters, what they did or what they said. Saddam Hussain, Major Amrik Singh, and Biplab Dasgupta stand out the most in the novel. To give away more about them would spoil the element of surprise for the readers.

Having said that, the novel can seem a little clunky at times, mainly due to the extensive, descriptive paragraphs. As a Pakistani myself, I had no issue reading the Urdu verses, or language for that matter. But I can imagine how a non-Urdu speaker may struggle to place the Urdu language, as well as the political events of India and Pakistan, in perspective. Some may find the story a bit of a drag, while others will lap up all the delicious words that sprawl all over the pages. Even though she is a brilliant storyteller, I personally felt The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a collection of different narratives. At times, it did feel like as if there is no story in motion, but just short narratives about Anjum and S. Tillotamma.

It may also put some readers of the varied perspectives in the novel. One chapter, The Landlord, is told completely in first person. Then there are some letters and Tillotamma’s notebook, and while they may seem distracting, they do allow the readers to see different perspectives to the events that unfold.

There are lots of big ideas in the novel: gender, women, parenthood, religion, life, death, war, peace, hate and love. With so many ideas, the reader will find it a delight to experience all these emotions, through various forms of narratives, that will leave a stamp on your heart as soon as you finish the novel.

One of the key element in the novel is embodied in the short poem, that sums up the lives of the main protagonists:

 

This drives home the point that the telling of the story cannot be done in parts, but through the assimilation of the parts. This is basically what the novel is all about.

To talk more about the novel would mean to give away the surprises. I, for one, loved the novel. The 20 years have definitely been worth it. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a powerful, engrossing and enriching read that deserves your time.