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In Conversation with the Heartthrob; Usman Mukhtar.

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We all have been drooling over this IT couple of Altamash and Izzah. Now that Anaa has come to an end, we got a chance to talk to Usman about his character, his upcoming projects, his take on harassment and women empowerment and that’s what we found out.

How is Usman in real life? Is he just like Altamash or totally opposite to him? 

I’m not like Altamash in real life, but I’m not totally opposite to him. Altamash is always dressed up, I’m not. I’m very comfortable wearing my shorts and my T-shirt, I love dressing up casually. Altamash is a big businessman, I’m not. I’m a struggling actor. He’s very serious; I’m not that serious in real life. There are not a lot of similarities between me and Altamash.

According to you, what is wrong with directions and directors these days? 

I feel like directors here don’t direct the actor, that’s one thing that they need to do. They need to work with the actors. Directors here think they can just sit on a chair, speak on the big microphone the word “ACTION!” and everything is going to take care of itself, that’s not how it works. Especially in advertisements, I think the director of photography is considered the director. Having said that, there are also some good directors in Pakistan as well but yes the director is basically the captain of the ship, he needs to be involved in everything from the sound design to costume design to the set design and also he needs to work with the actors and help the actors which unfortunately most directors here don’t do.

Name one movie that you think would have been better had it been directed by you.

I don’t think I would have done a better job at directing it but I would have really liked to direct Laal Kabootar, that’s the kind of genre I would like to direct but again I’m in no way saying that I would have directed it better. Kamal has done an amazing job and I really respect him as a director.

If it wasn’t acting or directing, what would have been your choice? 

Well, my grandfather wanted me to become a lawyer and I wanted to become a cricketer. So either or.

we saw someone calling you “JOEY”, how true is that statement?

Yes, my friends call me JOEY, which is based on Joey Tribbiani from the television series “Friends”, because I have eating habits like Joey. I love food and I don’t share my food, I get really possessive about my food and I get really pissed off if somebody takes food from my plate.

Movies or Dramas, what would you prefer? 

In an ideal world, I would love to do movies but right now the movies that the Pakistani film industry is producing does not have that standard and the audience has not been developed. There’s a lot that needs to happen in the film industry. Stories and script writers are very amateur, and sound is not up to par. So right now, I’d like to do dramas. If a good script comes my way I’d love to do it.

Cheesiest fan moment? 

It’s not a cheesiest moment but a bit scary and creepy. Somebody dropped off a letter at my house and that letter started off with “Usman, I have been stalking you” so I don’t know if it’s cheesiest but I’m sure it’s very creepy.

One male and female actor that you really look forward to work with? 

I think Bilal Abbas and Imran Ashraf are great actors and I would love to work with them because you feed off each other’s energy and if you have a great performer in front of you, you can also give a decent performance so I’d love to work with them. In females, I think Sajal Ali is a great actor and so is Sanam Saeed, they both are amazing actors and I would love to work with either one of them.

 

Any drama from the past that you would have loved working in? 

Yes. Yes. Yes. There are two dramas that I would have loved working in. One of them is Dhoop Kinaray and the other one is Alpha Bravo Charlie.

After researching a lot, we still couldn’t find your relationship status. Would you like to comment on it? 

It’s complicated, that’s all I can say.

Define feminism from your perspective. 

 

From my perspective, I think anything that a man does; a woman should be allowed to do as well and anything that a man is not allowed to do, a woman shouldn’t be allowed to do it either. We need to be equals and we are equals as human beings and I’m a strict believer of equality and that is feminism to me.

What’s your take on sexual harassment in media/entertainment industry. 

 

I think sexual harassment is a very serious issue and I think a lot of women go through that and it is the most horrible thing to go through. But, I also feel that we very blindly believe anybody and everybody and that shouldn’t happen. I think there needs to be a strict check and balance that if somebody is saying something it needs to be credible. I know it’s a little difficult but there are a lot of spiteful people out there and also there are a lot of sleazeballs and creepy people out there who harass women but I do feel there needs to be a strict check and balance.

What’s the reason/idea behind your witty captions? (Even if it doesn’t make sense to you, say something about that) 

I don’t like putting quotes under my pictures, I like to believe I’m a funny person so I tend to write a caption that is funny and bring a smile to my followers, that’s why.

Tell us about your future projects? 

I cannot tell you about my future projects right now but some interesting stuff is coming up so please hold your horses and be patient with me.

One person you secretly stalk on Insta but don’t follow?

If I like somebody I follow them, I don’t stalk people. I mean yes I do, I stalk the people I follow and it’s not stalking you just go through their profile but I don’t really stalk people I don’t follow.

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Raaz-e-Ulfat Very Well Relates to a Pakistani Girl Living in a Strict Household

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Raaz-e-Ulfat is one of the latest dramas that has instantly struck a chord with masses owing to its relatable story-line and amazing performances by the remarkable cast. For the uninitiated, what exactly is the plot?

Putting it briefly, Mushk Iftikhar dreams of exploring the world outside her conservative house. She accomplishes her dream life to some extent when she comes across a friend in her university who introduces her to the colours of life. Though, little does Mushk know that Sehba secretly envies her simplicity and innocence and wishes to ruin her life.

Mushk’s life is somewhat a true depiction of most Pakistani girls belonging to strict households, and hence the show has become more interesting and connecting for the younger lot in Pakistan.

You can’t move a bone without your parent’s permission

Yes! Parent’s approval is mandatory in everything you do. You can’t study, sleep, eat, choose a career, go out, come late, etc. as per your own will. You can only breathe on your own… rest will depend on your parents’ will. Poor Mushk is in the same boat.

Privacy is a luxury you can never afford.

Mushk has got no private space in her house. She shares a room with her sister, like how it is usually in most households. Even when she is on a call with a friend, someone comes to inquire about the whereabouts of the caller. Privacy is indeed an out of the world thing for Mushk and others like her.

You have to be responsible like a grown-up, but you can never act like one.

Like Mushk, most Pakistani youth, particularly girls, are expected to grow up and take responsibilities but are not allowed to think that they have grown up in a literal way. Hence, you are always a bachi/ bacha who is bound to live by what your parents say.

Marriage is your ultimate goal in life

You dream about marriage and your khuwabon ka shehzada because that’s what your parents aim for you on completing your studies.

 

Modern Friends Are A Big No!

You cannot stay in touch with rich and modern friends as they are supposedly some spoilt kids who will definitely leave a bad influence on you.

 

 Dating someone is a big struggle!

Going out on a date is a real struggle yet you want to experience it despite knowing that if your parents find out, you are gone for life.

 

Since the very first episode, Raaz e Ulfat has turned every local TV drama trope on its head to offer a refreshingly new insight by subverting all the typical clichéd plot-lines of most local dramas, bringing forth such nuances that make the entire watching experience oh so relatable and befitting for people around us.

 

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Bunyad Foundation: Countering cerebral health issues with Mindcamp

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Mental health, despite holding paramount significance, is largely ignored in third world countries. With societal progression, the rise of the middle class, and a certain ‘tilt’ or ‘shift’ towards westernization, issues associated with mental health have started to exacerbate. According to recent studies, one of the biggest reasons behind suicidal tendencies or suicide itself is mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD and other traumas, different phobias, bipolar disorder, personality disorder and other related disorders.

If we travel a few years back in time, mental health issues were unheard of in Pakistan, in fact, someone found complaining or discussing a mental health issue was either given a particular look or called out for being ‘overly-sensitive’. But over the past few years, things have changed drastically. Now, there are more and more people suffering from mental disorders and psychiatric consultations have increased considerably over time, but even now, a certain amount of people hesitate to seek psychiatric consultation.

The onslaught of Covid-19 has further aggravated the situation throughout the country, with people reporting severe cases of depression and anxiety amid continued lockdowns. It is pertinent to mention here that, although, the issues mentioned are usually associated with urban areas, but the situation in rural areas of Pakistan isn’t much different. Alarmingly, unlike popular opinion, that villages are happy-go-lucky people, even the village dwellers are unknowingly harnessing several mental disorders in this modern age.

In order to facilitate the underprivileged living in less developed, far-flung areas, the Bunyad Foundation in collaboration with Mind organization, has started organizing bi-monthly mind-camps in Hafizabad. The purpose of these camps is to provide free-of-cost facilities to underserved communities. Under these free camps, patients are provided free consultation, medicine and an intervention plan; that too free of cost.

Shaheen Attiq-ur-Rahman, Project Lead and founder of Mind Camp Bunyad, told us that, ‘rural folk suffers from the same mental disorders as more privileged people but often the intensity is greater. Most of the people do not have access to basic medication for relief. Since a lot of unhealed psychiatric disorders can lead to physical ill-health, rural folk face a double burden. At Mindcamp Bunyad, our mission is to give suffering villagers a chance at peace and to ease their task in life’.

It took some time, the involvement of Key Opinion leaders and sustained efforts to convince people to seek help for mental disorders and now there’s better awareness about these issues. In addition, the organization has been carrying out these activities for the past 9 years, by engaging experienced and trained mental health professionals, even in extreme weather, just for the betterment of the society. However, now, the number of mental health professionals offering services has dwindled, in fact, the patient-to-doctor/mental health professional ratio is discouraging.

In order for the unabated and unrestricted continuation of these services, and in order for better, sustained facility provision to the patients; financial backing is imminent, without which such a great initiative gradually might have to retreat. To facilitate the imperative service, Bunyad Foundation is playing a major role.

Get in touch with them to see how you can help.

For donations, please donate here.

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Quiet Women: on Surrealism, Beauty and the Female Voice

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Lahore based poet, editor and columnist, Afshan Shafi launched her first full-length poetry collection, ‘Quiet Women’ last month. Stocked at Readings, the collection is a unique all-female collaboration featuring the illustrations of acclaimed artists, Samya Arif (Pakistan), Marjan Baniasadi (Iran) and Ishita Basu Mallik (India).

TS Eliot award nominee and winner of the Forward Prize for Poetry, Vahni Capildeo termed ‘Quiet Women’ as one of the ‘new poetries emerging in the twenty-first century which are characterized by a ferocity that spans yet exceeds love and outrage, involvement and observation’.

 

 

‘Quiet Women’ is an exploration of form and linguistic artistry, propelled by a sense of creative freedom espoused by the surrealists and abstract artists. Inspired by the creations of both Eastern and Western female artists and writers this book is a tribute to women and the power of their collective voices. Afshan Shafi has studied English Literature and International Relations at The University of Buckingham and Webster Graduate School London. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Blackbox Manifold, Poetry Wales, Flag + Void, Luna Luna, Clinic, 3 am magazine, Ala Champ Magazine, and others. Her poems have also appeared in the anthologies, Smear (edited by Greta Bellamacina), The New River Press Yearbook and Halal if you hear me ( edited by Fatima Asghar and Salma Elhilo). Her debut chapbook of poems ‘Odd Circles’ was published by Readings (Pakistan) in 2014. For her work as a poet, she has been interviewed by Arte Tv (France) and Words Without Borders. As part of the Jane Austen Society of Pakistan she has appeared on BBC (World), The Times (UK), and in The Economist’s culture magazine. She has also served as a poetry editor for “The Missing Slate” and is currently a senior contributing editor at Pakistan’s leading literary journal “The Aleph Review”. She also serves as an editor-in-chief for the online Pandemonium Journal, which is a platform for emerging creatives from Pakistan and abroad.

 

Inspiration to write this book: 

This is my first full-length collection and is a tribute to the panoply of female artists that continue to inspire me. From the creations of Iranian artist Farideh Lashai to the work of lesser-known poets like Veronica Forrest, there is a rich engagement with the work of these female trailblazers in ‘Quiet Women’. What makes the book different is its collaborative nature. Each artist I have collaborated with in ‘Quiet Women’ possesses something unique to their perspective. Samya Arif’s illustrations are defined by their bold and stylized detail. She thinks in an opulent manner. Marjan Baniasadi, hails from Iran and has studied at the NCA and her paintings are elegant, deeply intelligent and beautiful. Ishita Basu who lives in Calcutta, India, is a poet as well as an artist and there is such a yearning and melancholy to her creations. Their art complements my writing seamlessly in the book.

 

 

On how ‘Quiet Women’ came together

 

‘Quiet Women came together over a period of two years, where my poems were being frequently accepted by European magazines for publication. I decided to put together a collection of these poems with some newer verses with the intention to collaborate with artists for the final product. The titular poem of the collection ‘Quiet Women’ deals with the notion of female silence and the policing of a women’s language and her personal choices. For one reason or the other, this notion of ‘quietude’ had been drilled into me from an early age, and as I grew as a writer I started questioning all kinds of enforced silences, which in turn led me to critically examining all kinds of oppressive practices aimed at ‘containing’ the very agency of a woman. ‘Quiet Women’ as a book, functions for me as a bridge across a myriad number of fears; these verses are bridges across patriarchal structures, restrictive artistic ideologies, and perhaps purely existential concerns

 

On the collaboration with artists for ‘Quiet Women’

 

I would say that I have been a student of the Surrealists my whole life, as I have often been drawn to the interplay of artist mediums, in which they reveled. Surreal output has always been concerned with juxtapositions and techniques like ‘collage’ and ‘frottage’, and indulgence in hybridity. For example, Surrealist collaborations include films based on poems, in the way that the filmmaker Man Ray adapted poems by Robert Desnos to his medium. Since my poems are often initiated by visual ephemera, and my imaginative focus is on delineating these visuals (triggered of course by emotion or artistic curiosity), I found collaboration with these artists to be a natural progression. Each artist was sent the poem to illustrate without any instructions, the idea was for there to be a fluidity of connection, one derived purely by imaginative means, and for the artworks to be instinctual and primal.

 

Creative influences and the impact of Surrealism on my work

 

Each poem in ‘Quiet Women’ is a tribute to the marginalised, whether that figure be that of a woman or an artist or poet. Each poem aims to counter reality with the dream and to re-engineer the accepted image of the creative as ‘outlier’. Whether in terms of stylistic experimentation, influence or tribute, this book aims to upset normative modes of thought and glorify one’s creative faculty. The founder of Surrealism, Andre Breton, spoke much of how the imagination is seen as a threat to all dimensions of order, similarly, much of my work is concerned with consistently upending language, mass-perspective and received ideas.

 

On why I enjoy poetry as a genre and as my chosen form

 

A poet often writes a poem as a postscript to an emotion. ‘High tragedy’ or ‘wondrous joy’ need not compel the writing of verse, it could be a retained sense of childlike wonder for say an owl or the precise engineering of a pistol. I feel that I write primarily to escape a powerful inborn reticence. In that vein these words by the great James Joyce encapsulate perfectly the retaliatory bent of my mind as it stitches a sentence together; ‘poetry even when apparently most fantastic is always a revolt against artifice, a revolt, in a sense, against actuality’.

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