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Border-less Love

In 1991, Rishi Kapoor fell head over heels for Zeba Bahktiar in the movie Henna. In 2004 Shahrukh Khan swept Preiti Zinta off her feet in Veer Zaara. Along the way came other inspiring real-life couples like Mohsin Khan and Reena Roy; Zaheer Abbas and Sam Abbas; Sonya Jehan and Vivek Narain, Aly Khan and Chandini Saigol, and most recently, Sania Mirza and Shoaib Malik – all of who contributed in their own small way to established that fact that the power of love does in fact take precedence over political borders and cultural norms.
Today, we introduce you to Kiran Chaudhry and Riyaaz Amlani – another young, beautiful couple that tied the knot this December in a larger-than-life wedding that gave all of Lahore and Mumbai a little something to think about. With hearty celebrations spanning more than ten days on both sides of the great divide, these lovebirds have given new meaning to the famous “Aman Ki Asha” campaign, bringing Pakistanis and Indians closer still, making them the obvious focus of our grand Valentine’s Day edition…

An exclusive with Kiran Chaudhry
Born in Pakistan and schooled at the Convent of Jesus & Mary in Islamabad, and the Lahore Grammar School (Kabana branch) in Lahore, before getting a scholarship to attend an international boarding school in the UK, Kiran finally ended up at Oxford University, where she did her undergraduate in Philosophy, Politics & Economics and finished off with a post-graduate degree in Law. She then practiced corporate law in London for several years before returning to Pakistan, where she decided to put vocal prowess to good use and teamed up with Adnan Sarwar to form a band called Caramel in 2006. Even though Caramel started off as a cover act, it has now evolved into a manifestly unique pop/rock/fusion band that goes by the name Club Caramel, has a respectable fan following, and continues to release acclaimed singles that warrant Kiran’s position as one of the contemporary voices to watch out in Pakistan and beyond…

Tell me a bit about your family. What do your parents do?
My family is based in Lahore, but my father’s parents migrated to Pakistan from Patiala in India and my mother’s parents were from Kashmir and the Punjab. My father spent most of his career in government service (the Police), so we moved around a fair bit as I was growing up. My family is also in the textile business, so that is something I became involved with upon my return to Pakistan. My mother is primarily a homemaker, but does a fair bit of charitable work with several women’s organizations in Lahore.

You studied philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford and then became a solicitor in London before moving to Pakistan to become a singer. What was the deciding point? How hard or easy was the transition for you?
I had always been quite academically inclined throughout school, so getting a higher education and a professional degree had been one of my goals. I was also determined to stand on my own feet and become financially independent, so becoming a lawyer was a stepping-stone on that journey. But at the end of the day, it was just a job – a means to an end. It was not my passion. I realized, early on, that to truly excel at your work, it had to be something you felt really passionate about. So after four years as a lawyer, and some cash saved up, I did some soul-searching and realized that I was first and foremost an
artist. Once I knew that, the decision was not hard. I think everyone is born knowing who they were meant to be. Somewhere along the line, they forget or become confused with other peoples’ opinions and expectations. The transition was not necessarily easy, as I changed careers and moved countries, but it felt exhilarating to follow my heart.

You’re also doing some work in textiles? Tell me about that.
My family has been in the textile industry for many decades. We manufacture cotton yarn for the weaving and knitwear industry. Textiles forms the largest industry sector in Pakistan and contributes the most to national GDP, exports and plays a vital role in employment. It is also unique in that it has a very strong industry organization (APTMA), which I was quite involved with as a member of the management. It was an amazing learning experience for me, with my slightly Western education and work experience, to sell yarn in ‘suter-mandi’ in Faisalabad! It was a real insight into Pakistan and our business culture. It was also amazing to be surrounded by some of the top entrepreneurs in the country – just to be in their presence and see how their minds work. I learned a lot about business in these past 6 years.

Do you consider yourself to be one of those do-it-all restless souls or have you found your calling and are content with what all you’re doing right now?
I have definitely found my calling. Nothing gives me more joy than singing live on stage. It is the biggest high and I am fortunate to have been able to make it my livelihood. I could not be happier and more grateful.

You must have been very young when you received your training from Ustad Fateh Ali Khan. Tell me a bit about your relationship with him. Have you trained with anyone after him?
I was at school – about 14 years old when I started training with Ustad Fateh Ali Khan. He told me then to drop out of school and become his ‘shagird’ full-time. He said I would one day be ‘on top of the world’. He was the most loving and kind teacher: so gentle, and such a master of his craft. He would work with us tirelessly. He really wanted to pass on his knowledge to the younger generation. He was so devoted to music it was infectious. And he taught me the power of ‘soul’ in music – how you must feel each and every emotion in order to translate it effectively. I have trained with many teachers after him, most notably Ustad Javed Bashir (lead singer of the Mekaal Hassan Band) and also done several courses at London’s esteemed ‘Voxbox’ school for voice training. But there was never anyone like Ustad Fateh Ali Khan.

Caramel, Club Caramel and Adnan Sarwar – the three names that obviously hold a very high significance in your life. Tell me a bit about each.
Caramel and Club Caramel are one and the same – we started our band with the name Caramel and our club nights called ‘Club Caramel’ are what made us really popular. So people just started calling us Club Caramel and the name stuck. I like that we were named by our fans!
Adnan Sarwar and I have been friends and band-mates for many years and he is one of the most creative and talented people I know. His vision for the band has helped create a brand that has come a long way over the last few years and I think we have both grown tremendously in the process, both creatively and professionally.

What (and who) has been your biggest inspiration as a singer, composer and songwriter? Why?
I am inspired by lots of artists. But some of the top in that list are Madonna (an amazing all-round performer), Nazia Hassan (for modernizing south Asian music), Norah Jones (for her soulful vocals), Ella Fitzgerald (for incredible vocal control), Amy Winehouse (for the personality in her voice), Adele (for bringing the music business back to the basics), Whitney Houston (for showing what it means to have powerhouse vocals), Jewel (for brilliant songwriting), Jeff Buckley (amazing songwriting).

You’ve done some theatre as well. Was it a fulfilling experience? What kind of theatre would you like to do in the future?
I played the lead in the hit West End musical ‘Mamma Mia!’ as part of Nida Butt’s Made for Stage productions. It was an amazing experience because I got the chance to sing and act on stage for the first time. There is no greater high than the discovery of latent talents that you experience and develop for the first time when you try something new. I would love to do some more acting in the future, given the right role.

Do you feel Pakistan is an ideal place for artistes like yourself? Would you ever consider moving back to London?
I have always said that Pakistan is a magical place. It allows you to reinvent yourself however you choose. You can make things happen in Pakistan that you could not anywhere else in the world. This also applies to artists. It’s a great ‘nursery’ for the young artist to develop her craft and gain some experience. But, to grow, the young ‘seedling’ needs to be re-planted into the field, where it can grow into a tall tree. You catch my drift…

Which Pakistani singer(s) do you admire and enjoy listening to most? What makes them so special?
I love Strings for their soul and Noori for their upbeat and fun tunes, and all the Coke Studio sessions. There is so much soul in Pakistani music… I feel it’s in our blood.

Pakistani music tends to have a very melancholic sound to it, with little or no happy, feel-good music coming out at all. What might the reason for that be? Do you think it’s something to be worried about?
I don’t think that’s necessarily true – there is all kinds of music coming out. But music usually reflects the environment it’s created in and the personal experiences of the artist. So, if people are sad, they will express that… There’s nothing wrong with expressing yourself however you choose to so.

Now that you’re India’s “bahu” (daughter-in-law), do you plan on performing there or exploring your potential in the highly sought and lucrative world of Bollywood playback singing?
I will most definitely keep working. Music is what I do – and the beauty of it is that it has no boundaries – especially when it comes to India and Pakistan. Whether it will be playback singing or doing something more independent, time will tell.

What’s next on Kiran Chaudhry’s list of things-to-do?
You’ll have to wait for this one…

An exclusive with Riyaaz Amlani
Born and raised in Mumbai, Riyaaz Amlani was brought up with strong middle-class values by his parents. His father owns a chemicals trading business for the textile and petro-chemical industries and his mother was a house wife with her hands full raising Riyaaz and then his baby brother who was born when Riyaaz was 12. Riyaaz recalls his childhood being a simple and happy time, full of wonder and curiosity. He studied in a convent school and grew up in a very cosmopolitan part of Mumbai, so he was exposed to a lot of different cultures and religions and embraced them all. As a side business, Riyaaz’s father owned a restaurant called Berry’s which he turned it into a Mumbai landmark with his love and dedication. It was Berry’s that inspired in Riyaaz a love for good food and hospitality, propelling him to team up with friends Kiran Salaskar and Varun Sahni to open Mocha, a café modeled on the Quahveh Khannehs of Turkey and Morocco in 2001. Today, he is the owner of 30 odd restaurants & cafés across India and is considered to be one of India’s top 50 corporate leaders…
Berry’s obviously had a major influence on you. When did you first realize you wanted to follow in your dad’s footsteps and get into the hospitality and restaurant business?

Growing up, I had very fond memories of Berry’s. I remember going there every Saturday. I was fascinated by the live band that used to perform there every night. But being a restaurateur was never on my mind. I did many things before I stumbled into the restaurant business. I was a shoe salesman, traded in safety equipment for industries, became an entertainment consultant, and then an executive producer in Bollywood before I got involved in the restaurant business.
How did it all begin (when you decided to turn your dream into a reality)? Did you face any hurdles in bringing together Impresario Entertainment and Hospitality Private Limited back in 2001? Was it your own brain child or did you receive any help from family or friends?

I have yet to meet someone who at some point of time has not considered having their own restaurant. My closest friends, Kiran Salaskar and Varun Sahni, and I, would always chat about how one day we would open up a restaurant and how it would be. I had an idea to have a space which served coffee from all around the world with Panini sandwiches and desserts. But it was just a pipe dream. Kiran was in the furniture business and Varun worked in the NGO space. Back then, I was working for a company in the movie business, but I was growing steadily disenchanted by the movie business, and one particularly bad day, I decided I couldn’t stand to do it anymore. I called up Kiran and Varun and asked them if they would consider it seriously. When they agreed, I typed out my resignation letter, and ‘boom’, we were in the restaurant business!
From the outset we were clear that we didn’t want our coffee shop to be a Starbucks rip-off. Instead we modeled ourselves on the Quahveh Khannehs of Turkey and Morocco, where a portion of a home was opened up to travelers and traders, and only coffee and shisha was served. This Quahveh Khanneh was the ancestor of all restaurants and existed long before French cafes and English inns. When we started off, people really enjoyed the variety of coffees and desserts that we offered. We were also the first to introduce shisha in the country – in an atmosphere that looked more like a living room rather than a restaurant. This first restaurant was called Mocha, and it was a roaring success – partly because it was so different from anything else on the market at the time. Today I see restaurants and cafes all over India and Pakistan modeled on these lines. It feels good to have started a trend.

You now own more than 30 restaurants/cafes across India. Could you tell me a bit about the history, food, ambiance and philosophy behind the first, and also your personal top 5?

I think the success of Mocha set the tone for the next few restaurants. We figured out that a restaurant must have a personality which is very individualistic – it can’t be a copy. Therefore, we bring a lot of research and creativity to our spaces – attention is paid to every little detail and I think people can see that. We like to think of restaurants as ”handmade labours of love. My favourites are Mocha of course, along with Smoke House Deli, Tasting Room, Smoke House Room and Stone Water Grill.

I’ve often heard the term “handmade restaurant” being associated with you and IEHPL. What does the phrase mean to you?

By definition, “handmade” refers to something that is created lovingly, by hand, and by a skilled artisan – with attention to detail, and with individual flaws and eccentricities which make it unique. This is the opposite of mass-produced assembly-line products, which are made with little care and attention but just turned out in mass numbers, as clones, devoid of any personality. We like all of our restaurants to receive painstaking attention to detail – where everything from the lamps, the crockery, the cutlery and the fixtures, have been handpicked to give each restaurant a unique personality of its own. I think customers can feel the difference this makes and it is my belief that this has been the secret of our success.

As a restaurateur, how much importance do you give to the ambiance? Do you have a special go-to decorator for your restaurants? Do you think the ambiance is sometimes more, if not equally important as the food, for a restaurant’s success?

Perhaps the easiest way to describe a restaurant is a space where food and drinks are served and sold. Nothing can be further than the truth. A restaurant is a multi-sensory environment – a feast for the 5 senses – taste, smell, sight, sound, and touch. When all these senses are in harmony, there is a great sense of wellbeing. I believe that customers just don’t come to eat or be in a good ambiance – they come to have all their senses elevated. Just ensuring that the food is good and that the ambiance is great is no longer good enough. A lot of thought has to be given to branding, tone of voice, the choice of music, the quality of cutlery and crockery, the lighting, the mood, the staff training, the list is endless. A great restaurant is where every little detail is meticulously thought through. Food and ambiance are just two of the many things that goes into making a restaurant special.

You’ve won the ‘Best Restaurateur’ by Time Out Food Awards 2011. Any other award aspirations?

It’s always wonderful to be recognized and appreciated for what one has chosen to dedicate their professional lives to. However, that has never been a driving force. I am driven by the need to brighten my customers’ day – by delighting them every time they visit one of our hand-made restaurants. Having said that, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to be awarded the ‘Three Michelin Stars’ or be listed in San Pellegrino’s ‘Top 10 restaurants in the world’.

What kind of food do you personally enjoy most? What’s your favourite ingredient? What’s the one dish or ingredient you just can’t swallow? Why?

I actually enjoy food in all its glorious forms, from the subtle beauty of Japanese to bold Desi flavours, great roadside grub to high-end French Haute Cuisine. I enjoy Thai spices, like kaffir lime, basil and galangal. But I just can’t bring myself to eat spare parts or offal, such as kidneys, brain, tripe, etc. This stuff makes me shudder.

What’s the latest cuisine craze in India? Also, what Indian food would you like to introduce to the world so people could move on from the ever famous chicken tikka masala?

European Cuisine is the fastest growing cuisine in India, and is set to rival the popularity of Indian and Chinese restaurants in the next year or two. I think cuisine from the South of India is extremely versatile and tasty. Its every bit as good as the more conspicuous North Indian fare which now represents Indian cuisine

As a customer, what restaurants do you always enjoy visiting in Pakistan? What makes them so special?

Whenever I am in a Pakistan I love visiting Andaaz in Lahore. The view overlooking the Badshahi Masjid coupled with excellent food and service makes it my favourite. I also think Cosa Nostra and Aylanto are quality restaurants and would hold their own in India.

Now that you’re Pakistan’s “daamaad” (son-in-law), do you plan on bringing your business here by opening branches of your restaurants/cafes in Lahore and Karachi?

No concrete plans as of now, but there is tremendous opportunity in Pakistan – people are natural born foodies. I think that Pakistan is most definitely a market that we would evaluate in the not too distant future.
What’s next on Riyaaz Amlani’s list of things-to-do?
The last year I have to say that my focus was tilted towards my personal life. Now with Kiran by my side, I plan to roll up my sleeves, and double the size of our company in the next two years.
Kiran & Riyaaz: The Big Fat Wedding Interview

Tell me, both in your own words, the story of how and when you first met. What was the first thing you noticed about each other?
Kiran: I was in India on a girlie ‘hen’ trip as part of my friend Sulema Jahangir’s impending nuptials, and was also there for the wedding of an old friend from boarding school. The plan was to spend some time in Bombay and Goa. Earlier that year I had met Avantika Sujan whilst doing a photo-shoot for Samina Khan’s Paper magazine. Avantika was from Delhi, but had known Samina at college in Canada. Avantika and I started chatting while I was waiting for my next shot, and instantly hit it off when we realized that we had both been lawyers in London before quitting our jobs to follow our dreams – I became a singer and she was now an art dealer. Following our meeting, I introduced her to some friends of mine that were gallery owners in Pakistan while she was in Lahore. When I went to India, we touched base and she insisted that I meet her friend Riyaaz Amlani, as he was also in the events and entertainment industry in India, and might be a good person for me to meet, work-wise. She put us in touch over Facebook, but neither of us responded! Finally, she called us both up personally and urged us to meet up. So, Riyaaz finally called and asked if I wanted to catch some live music. That did the trick and we met up with a bunch of friends over dinner. The first thing I noticed about him was his wit and rather dry sense of humour. I don’t think I realized that I had fallen for him, until much later.
Riyaaz: Like Kiran just said, I met her through a common friend called Avantika Sujjan. She called me up and said a friend of hers was coming in from Lahore and would find it useful to chat with me about the music scene in India (as I was in the Nighclub and Restaurant business). She introduced us on Facebook, but being caught up with work I didn’t respond for a few days. Strangely, Avantika did not stop calling me to find out if I had called Kiran to fix up a meeting. After a few polite reminders, Avantika decided it was time to threaten me with dire consequences if I didn’t take out time to meet with Kiran and her band-members. Finally I relented, and almost towards the last couple of days of her trip to India, I invited her and her friends to join a bunch of my friends at a restaurant that was playing live music.
It was great fun hanging out with her. She was comfortable in her own skin and pretended politely to laugh at my terrible cheesy jokes. I was amazed at how easily she got along with everyone, taking the time to talk to everyone in equal measure. She was unpretentious and charming. The first thing I noticed about her was how graceful she was and how elegantly she carried herself. And of course, her dazzling smile, which never fails to light up her eyes.

Was it love at first sight or did it take a few meetings to realize you were meant to be together?
K: It was not love at first sight but I did warm to him instantly. Riyaaz has a very disarming and charismatic personality. It’s hard not to fall under his spell. We met up several times before I left for Pakistan, but it was all very proper. He is a complete gentleman. It was only after I came back to Pakistan that I realized that I could not stop thinking of him. Fortunately, as I discovered, he was feeling the same way.
R: During our first meeting we hardly spoke. There were about eight or nine people at the restaurant, and Kiran, like me, has great social skills. With so many people around, we were taking turns to talk to everyone. So, we didn’t get far beyond polite conversations and light-hearted banter. It took a couple more meetings for me to realize that she was a very special woman, far above the ordinary. It was just so much fun hanging around with her that I always thought of her to be a new ‘old’ friend. But then she left soon after for Pakistan, and I thought that was that. But she stuck in my head and started making frequent appearances in my thoughts. I didn’t understand it at first. It took me a while to realize that there was a real connection here.

Did Pakistan & India’s overpowering history ever overwhelm you? Did the thought that the relationship might not work just because one of you is from India and the other from Pakistan ever cross your mind?
K: Nope, I am not one to think too much about practical matters once my heart is set on something. I knew the visa issue would need to be figured out, but that never made me think twice. If you want to be with someone bad enough, you always find a way. We both felt so strongly about each other that we would have made it work even if we had to both go and live in some third country!
R: Not even for a moment. It was never an important consideration. We got along so well that it never occurred to me that she was from another country or culture. Honestly, the more I visit Pakistan, the more amazed I am at how similar Indians and Pakistanis are. This whole border thing is just so unnecessary. We are the same people. Our need to be together overcame any obstacles that may have been there.

How supportive has your family been about the relationship? How and when did you break the news to them?
K: My whole family loves Riyaaz. They all fell in love with him straight away. It’s uncanny how well we both blend into each other’s families. Once I was sure that I wanted to be with him, I told my parents. They were initially a little concerned that I would be moving to India and that there might be visa issues for me and for them, etc. but when they met Riyaaz, all of those concerns fell away. They are so happy that I have found someone who is so right for me.
R: I simply told them that I would like them to meet someone. Both my parents were overjoyed because I think, somewhere along the line, they had given up on me. They thought I would never get married – being so involved with my work and all. But when they met Kiran, they were just over the moon. She is so likable – I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t instantly warm to her. And I think that in turn comes from the fact that Kiran genuinely likes people and never stands in judgment of them.

You belong to a hip, young, enlightened generation of your country – how exposed were you to each other’s countries and its people before visiting for the first time?
K: I wish I had been more exposed to India sooner in my life. It’s the most fascinating country for us, as Pakistanis, to visit – because we were one country not so long ago. It’s like discovering you have a long lost sibling and meeting them for the first time. Fortunately, I am a bit of an adventurer and love travelling, so I had made it a point to travel to India with friends many times. I met Riyaaz on my third trip to India.
R: I had a few friends in Pakistan like Ali Azmat and Andleeb, whom I met when they were visiting India. I got along really well with them and stayed in touch with them. I have always wanted to visit Pakistan, and had heard about their warmth and legendary hospitality. When I came to visit for the first time to meet Kiran’s parents, I was blown away by the warmth, generosity and love of the people in Pakistan. In fact I can confidently say that Pakistan is my second home.

How did the proposal ensue? Tell me the whole story.
K: I was visiting India to meet his friends and family, and one night when we were coming back from a party, he asked me if I wanted to go for a walk. I thought it was a bit late to be going for a stroll and I was wearing stilettos, so was a bit hesitant, but there was an urgency about him that made me agree. He said he wanted to show me something. We parked and walked a short distance into this very pretty Christian quarter of Bandra, with an almost a medieval village feel. There he showed me a sign on an old, deserted building with a sign on it that said ‘St. Jude’s Bakery’. He asked if I knew that St. Jude was the patron saint of lost souls, and told me that this was where he was planning to build a home. And while I was mulling all this over, he suddenly went down on one knee and took out a little box… It was the most magical night of my life.
R: Exactly how Kiran told you!

Yours has got to be one of the most well-planned and coordinated wedding schedules I’ve ever seen. When did you start planning the wedding? How particular were you about the small details?
K: Well that’s good to know, because we planned it all in about a month and a half. Riyaaz was working and I was travelling before that so it had to be this way. But we are both pretty focused and efficient people – so getting everything done quickly was not too hard. We both are detail-driven (my lawyer background comes in handy) and Riyaaz is in the hospitality business so that helped! We only met in November 2011, he proposed in March, we were engaged in April and so there was no time to plan things out slowly!
R: Honestly, given the busy schedules that both Kiran and I have, and the amount of traveling we have both had to do in 2012, we didn’t really spend too much time planning the wedding. I really moved into gear a month before the wedding. Being in the hospitality business helps, and I delegated a lot of responsibility to my close friends who all chipped in. We wanted it to be special but never over the top, and I guess the personalized touch was what everyone appreciated. It was more fun organizing it rather than work.

How important was it for you to let each other be a part of all the major decisions. Were there any areas of the wedding planning and execution that you were not willing to compromise on at all?
K: We are almost always in agreement on most matters – it’s uncanny. Also, I completely trust his good taste. He is aesthetically sensitive and very switched on so I actually value his input a great deal.
R: Kiran and I are beautifully in sync with each other with regards to our sensibilities and aesthetics. Kiran meticulously handled the Pakistan part of the celebrations and I the India ones. We did our own things and had complete trust in each other’s judgment. The wedding was a good indicator of how our marriage will be.

Who designed your outfits for all the major functions?
K: My clothes were all made in India – some were vintage pieces that were reworked and Kamiar Rokni, who is one of my closest friends, helped me stich my Valima saree blouse and the tops for the Mehndi and Nikkah outfits. But everything was bought in India…
R: My wardrobe was put together by Manu Arya of Nine Clothing and Suneet Verma, and they both did an excellent job in less than two weeks!

Are there any last minute outfit horror stories that you’d like to share with us?
K: As a matter of fact, the zip to my Mehndi outfit broke just before we were going to leave for the venue! Luckily, Kami called ‘master sahib’ and he ran back to replace it for me (the benefits of friends in the business!). Other than that, it was all smooth sailing!
R: Just a minor one, the wedding ‘jootie’ for the Nikah was too tight and I had not checked on it before I reached Pakistan. Fortunately, Kiran had already got me a Sherwani, Turban and Jootie as a ‘back up’ which was perfect. She thinks of everything.

Any other interesting wedding-related behind-the-scenes stories that you can now look back on and laugh at for adding beautiful memories to your big day?
K: Our wedding, I have to say, was epic. Just in terms of the logistics, we had 60 friends come to Lahore across the border, and about 50 came from Pakistan to Mumbai. There was so much meeting and getting to know each other that the whole thing was like one big party. So many new friendships were forged that it’s going to be hard for people on both sides to forget about in a hurry. Of course logistics bring their fair share of challenges, especially between our two countries, but in the end, all went remarkably well.
R: Oh, and of course there was this incident where all my friends got on the plane to Amritsar, from where we were to cross the Border at Wagah, but my family and I got offloaded because the plane was overbooked! So the entire Baraat took off, leaving me behind, and this was on the day of the first function in Lahore. We all panicked a little bit, but managed to jump on a plane a few hours later and made it just in time before the border shut!

Did Riyaaz show signs of getting cold feet before the wedding? Also, even though it’s hard to imagine her turning into one, but did Kiran show signs of turning into Bridezilla?
K: Not at all. Even I expected that I would experience this phenomenon at some point, but it simply never happened. We were just so happy to finally be united after months of a long distance relationship. The wedding and the aftermath has only brought us closer.
R: Kiran has an amazing temperament, and this remarkable ability to keep her wits about her, even in the most stressful situations. To add to that, she is a meticulous planner and extremely well-organized; she was always calm and on top of things. She made me wonder about how the rumours of a Bridezilla got started in the first place.

Looking back, what was the most fun part of your whole wedding celebrations?
K: For me, the Mehndi was the most fun event. I loved the movie that the Indians had prepared using all of Riyaaz’s close friends as actors and shooting popular clips from hit movies like Sholay to tell the story of how we met.
R: Every day of the wedding was super fun, but I guess the most fun was the Mehndi, where we had a little war going on between the boy’s and the girl’s side about who would put on the best performance. We all tried to outdo each other, and were amazed by each other’s efforts. In the end we all landed up dancing together.

What was the most indulgent, so-not-necessary-but-you-just-had-to-do-it expense of the wedding?
K: The beautiful lanterns that we lit at the end of the Valima reception in India. We wanted everyone to light one and send it off into the sky with a prayer for us.
R: I think the functions were beautiful and simple, devoid of any superfluous ostentations. Imagination and creativity triumph over simply throwing money at something any day.

People who attended all the functions were really excited about the wedding happening in two countries. How easy or difficult was getting the paperwork sorted out for guests on both sides of the border?
K: Well let’s just say that we had a large part of the foreign office and government bureaucracy on both sides of the border working on our wedding! Everyone at the Indian High Commission, from the guards outside to the support staff know me now and we are famous even at the Wagah border! Last time I crossed overland, the baggage handlers were fighting over who would carry my bag and were asking how the wedding went!
R: Well, the paperwork required between our two countries is understandably quite intense, so filling out forms and checking on all documents did take up a lot of our time. Having said that, the officials at the Pakistan High Commission went out of the way to assist us. They were so kind and thoughtful, which made things easy for us. Even on the border, the officers on either side almost joined in the celebratory mood and were wonderfully helpful and hospitable. This made the border crossing a very special experience.

Did you take any special steps to ensure your guests traveling to Pakistan would have a hassle-free trip? Did you or your guests face any problems here?
K: Riyaaz is a master organizer and he thought of everything – from getting everyone prepaid sim cards to booking extra rooms in Bombay and Goa. He left nothing to chance.
R: Kiran and her family ensured that all my guests were superbly looked after. All the Indians came back raving about the warmth and hospitality they received from Pakistan.

What was the best thing about getting married in your country-in-law? And the one thing you didn’t like about getting married there?
K: The best thing about getting married in India was knowing that I am not going to be so far from home! Honestly, the commute from Bombay over land takes me as long as the commute from Karachi to Lahore and is actually cheaper! The one thing I was unhappy about was not being able to take along my favourite makeup artists with me – Maram & Aabroo!
R: I think the best thing about getting married in Pakistan was that so many like-minded people from across the border met and forged life-long friendships, together with a better understanding of each other. So much love flowed between our two countries. Bringing so many people across wiped away all the pre-conceived notions and prejudices we may have carried previously (owing to the media propaganda on both sides). The sad bit was not being able to bring all my friends to Lahore.

Now that you’re happily married, how often do you plan on visiting your country-in-law?
K: I will be living and working in India and Pakistan both – and spending some time in London as well. It’s a global world and I like it that way.
R: Like I said, Pakistan is my second home, and Kiran will still be pursuing her career there, so she will be there often. Also I have grown extremely fond of Kiran’s parents and Brother and am going to try and visit Pakistan as often as I can – I suspect at least a few times a year.

What’s the best gift you’ve both received from each other both before and after the wedding?
K: His un-fettered, un-conditional love!
R: Are you kidding me, she has given herself to me. What more can a guy ask for?

And lastly, where did you spend your honeymoon?
K: We stayed on in Goa. Why would you go anywhere else when you have it all there!? Beautiful beaches, amazing restaurants, fantastic private parties, wonderful people… It was a blast!
R: We went off to Goa for a week. Actually I go to Goa every New Year. It’s a ritual. I love the place and wanted to share it with Kiran. Also a lot of her friends who had come to India, for the wedding wanted to go. Also, since it was New Years’ time, and with Goa being one of the Top 5 places in the world to celebrate the New Year, it was a no brainer. So a whole bunch of our friends from both countries took off and had a blast.

The 10 day wedding itinerary, as shared with friends and family who were invited to join in on the celebrations.

20th Dec: Dinner & “Kick-Off” Party (thrown by me and my close friends – Adnan, Kami, Samina Khan, etc)

0935 – Flights from Bombay/Delhi land at Amritsar. Everyone crosses the border by 1030/1100 and should reach the hotel by 1200. Rest up.
1900 – Leave Avari hotel for Dinner at Andaaz Restaurant (the Old City).
2100 – Leave for the “Kick-Off” Party at the Haveli Baroodkhana (the Old City).

21st Dec: Mehndi

Daytime – free for shopping/sightseeing.
2030 – Leave hotel for the venue (Civil Services Academy on the Mall Road) for the Mehndi (‘Sangeet’ as you guys like to call it!).

22nd Dec: Dinner & Live Music Evening (Folk songs by Saeen Zahoor & Qawwali by Nadeem Qawaal) (thrown by my mother’s friends for me)

Daytime – free for shopping/sightseeing.
1930 – Leave for venue (farmhouse) from hotel.

23rd Dec: Baraat Reception & Nikkah (followed by Lunch)

1300 – leave for venue (the Park at Zaman Park) from hotel.
1330 – Nikkah & Dua.
1400 – Lunch is served.

23rd Dec: “Rukhsati Party” (thrown by one of my best friends, Hassan Sheheryar Yasin for me)

2030 – leave for the after-party venue (the Cigar Lounge at the Royal Palm Golf & Country Club).
Dress-code: Desi “Bridal” – everyone is encouraged to wear their ‘actual’ Bridal outfits if they have them (or borrow some if they aren’t married yet!) with full wedding bling (tikkas, mathpattis, jhoomers, etc). Boys can wear their weddings formals (suits, dinner jackets, sherwanis). This is an opportunity to get some more mileage from that outfit you spent a fortune on and never used again 😉
Saying “Al-vida” in classic Lahore OTT style!

24th Dec: departure for Bombay!

1000 – check-out of hotel.
1100 – Leave hotel for the Wagah/Attari Border… to get the party started in India!
6.10 pm Land in Mumbai (affectionately called Bombay)
7:30 pm – Check in to the Hotel and get ready
9:00 pm Leave for The Tasting Room for a Christmas Dinner and Dance
Dress Code : Black Tie with a Dash of Red (It is Christmas Eve)

25th Dec: Merry XXXmas

Daytime – free for shopping/sightseeing and mostly for resting by the sea-side pool or the Spa.
7:00 pm – Leave for Parsi* Dinner & Drinks hosted by Riyaaz’s dearest friends Kiran & Sandali Salaskar

*A note on Parsi Dinner: I (Riyaaz) am half Parsi my mother’s side belongs to the Zorashtran faith which is the world ‘s oldest monotheistic religion. It’s truly an endangered species with just 1,50,000 surviving Parsis in the world out of which 70,000 live in India and just 5,000 in Pakistan, mostly living in Karachi. I thought I would be fun to get you guys to try a traditional Parsi feast, which I, on good authority, tell you provides some of the best eating in the world.
Traditionally Dinner is served on banana leaves placed on long community tables. It’s an 8 course meal so come hungry, and the meal is best enjoyed eating with hands, so don’t be all polite. Guest are served Individually over 3 different seatings. I suggest we let our elders eat at the first seating which begins at 9pm. The Fare is strictly carnivorous so the less fortunate vegetarians please raise your wretched hands up and be counted.

26th Dec:

Daytime – free for shopping/sightseeing/ purging.
5.30pm Join us for sunset cocktails by the beach watching the sun set over the Arabian ocean and smile over our new lives together with Pina coladas and Martinis.
followed by..
8.00 pm Formal Walima Dinner and Reception
Sitting on stage and clicking pictures but we’ll be in a great mood.
Afterparty in the ‘Presidential Suite’ … More Drinking and Dancing
Transport : Elevators will be provided at the lobby.
Dress-code: Desi/ Semi-Formal Westerns venue is open air sea-side.

29th Dec:
We leave for Goa. Stay till 2nd. Big party by Riyaaz and his friend Rajeev at ‘Club Soma’ on the beach from 2pm to late. New Year’s party followed the next day.
Trivia box

Total number of guests at wedding: About 1000-1500 in both Lahore & Bombay.
Number of Pakistani guests that traveled to India: 50
Number of Indian guests that traveled to Pakistan: 60
Number of guests that
The first song Kiran & Riayaaz both danced to as a couple: ‘Deewana’ (Club Caramel) is our song. I sang it with him in my head!
How they spent their first Valentine’s Day together and how they plan on spending it this year: We wanted to get to know each other better, so we went to Ko Samui in Thailand for a week. It was the most magical trip ever and we completely fell in love there. This year we are spending it in Kerala and hopefully it’ll be even better!

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International Fashion Showcase, Pakistan Chapter – London

Last month, The British Council and British Fashion Council collaborated for a second time on the International Fashion Showcase during London Fashion Week of February 2013, where 27 countries displayed the works of over a hundred burgeoning designers that best represent their respective country’s cultural and fashion ethos.
Making its debut at London’s International Fashion Showcase, Pakistan chose to be represented by four of its youngest and brightest: Moshin Ali, Akif Mahmood, Irfan Ali and Zonia Anwaar – each of whom was given one simple theme for their collections: to make Pakistan proud. And make Pakistan proud they did. With collections as colourful, elaborate and ethicized as one could possibly expect, each of the designer, it seemed, made a point to revisit their roots and pay homage thereon – and it worked perfectly.
The fashion event, organized by the Pakistan Institute of Fashion Design (PIFD), British Council and British Fashion Council, and held inside the environs of The High Commission for Pakistan in London left much to be desired, however. The invitation by H.E. Mr Wajid Shamsul Hasan and Begum Zarina Wajid Hasan (neither of whom showed up, mind you. They were apparently held up by the Prime Minister Raja Parvez Ashraf and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar who were visiting David Cameron the day before) and read 10am on a Wednesday morning, but when I reached the venue fifteen minutes late, I was surprised to find the day’s activities running about an hour and a half behind schedule. I was perhaps the third person, other than Akif, Mohsin, Irfan and the models, to get there. The models got their hair and makeup done on the third-floor staircase as the designers looked on, clearly tired from spending way too much time at the High Commission the previous day taking care of fittings and other last minute arrangements. With only a couple of members of staff doing rounds, and a few lost-looking guests who’d made the mistake of turning up on time for an event organized by Pakistanis, the whole thing had more of a family get-together feel to it than an international fashion showcase.
With a handful of important guests including the Deputy High Commissioner Syed Zulfiqar Gardezi, Sehyr Saigol and Julian Roberts of British Council in attendance, the shows finally kicked off around 11:30am, beginning with Zonia Anwaar’s collection of flowy shirts and dresses in a variety of earthy tones and fabrics, adorned beautifully with Kashmiri embroidery. Irfan Ali’s collection came next, hinting strongly at a fusion of Western and Eastern design that was both modern and ethnic – a perfect combo for the contemporary girl about town. Akif Mahmood showed an extension of his beautiful and very well-received Kalash collection while Mohsin Ali’s “Gul-e-Mun” collection, inspired in his own words by the boldly embroidered and sequined “razaaiyan” (duvets) from Hazara, closed the day.
The collections were displayed at the Pakistani High Commission until 22nd February, allowing buyers and retailers to closely examine the outfits and interact with the designers if they so desired. And even though the international media & buyer turnout this year wasn’t as impressive as one would have hoped, the International Fashion Showcase indeed shows some potential of evolving into an exciting new platform for capable Pakistani designers to showcase their fashion prowess to an international audience – if only the management will get its act together.

AKIF MAHMOOD:
“PIFD as a college is very responsible about their students. Today we’re here meeting with the British Fashion Council and it’s a great opportunity for all of us to be showcasing in front of people who organise such big events. I’m truly ecstatic to be one of the four designers chosen to showcase my collection in London. I feel really proud and happy that we’re representing Pakistani culture. Events like these can help change our image globally. We can let the world know that we’re actually good at arts and fashion design! Making a collection and traveling all the way to London to show it to a new audience is definitely very exciting. The collection I showed at the IFS is an extension of the collection that I’ve already shown. I redesigned my pieces to make them acceptable not only in London but the rest of the world also. It’s a global collection full of separates.
For some reason, we have a complex. We ourselves believe that we’re not good enough for the rest of the world. I say: Why? Why do we assume that we’re not good enough? Why can’t we do business on an international level as well? If we’re sure of our ideology, we can really do anything we set our minds to. Instead of trying to impress people by creating stuff that’s already being made in other parts of the world, we should focus on our strengths and show the world what we have. People don’t know what Pakistan is capable of.
Being in London is so inspiring. I’m especially inspired by places that have an influence of history, art and culture, and London’s the place where you find lots of multicultural people… and the buildings! You gotta love the buildings. They’re even more interesting for us because we’ve got the same architecture in Lahore as well. And then there’s so much fashion on the streets to help you get inspired also. In Pakistan, there are so many problems that we have to take care of that my mind just shuts down after a while and all my inspiration and creativity dies down… I feel like my mind can actually breathe here… I’m letting myself be inspired with an open mind!”
IRFAN ALI:
“I think the International Fashion Showcase is a great opportunity for emerging talent of Pakistan. It’s a good opportunity for us to promote Pakistan’s rich culture and fashion in London and ultimately the rest of the world as well.
I was very happy to be chosen as one of the four designers on merit to come to London. Unfortunately, things don’t work on merit in Pakistan, but it was nice to be chosen on merit by the British Fashion Council and PIFD. I’m thoroughly enjoying myself so far and think these events give a lot of exposure to designers like us. Pakistan has a very strong culture. In fact, it’s stronger than the Western culture. If we keep having these kinds of events, we will be able to show the world what we’re capable of. PFDC in Pakistan is an amazing platform for emerging talent… similarly; this could become a great opportunity for young Pakistani designers to showcase their work to the world. If you ask me, I think Pakistani fashion has definitely arrived! Everywhere you look- in magazines, TV channels etc., there’s Pakistani fashion. People are aware of us now. We have two fashion weeks in Pakistan and now we’ve made our way to London.”
MOHSIN ALI:
“It’s always nice to see a thing like this happen; it’s a way forward for young designers like us. There are a lot of amazing designers in Pakistan and being one of the chosen ones to represent Pakistani fashion in London is naturally a great feeling.
As far as this collection goes, I just love it! I have been wanting to create this collection for a long time but never really got a chance. When I got a call from them, I knew exactly what I’d show here! Of course there’s always room for improvement, but so far, I think this might actually be one of my personal best collection. It’s mature; to the point; well-edited, and yet it has everything that it should. I’m very happy with myself right now!
I always make it a point to go back home for inspiration. When I was a kid, I had a duvet that had those big red flowers on it. My collection is called “Gul-e-Mun” which literally means “my flower”. It’s like a flower that I’ve grown up with; it’s always been very close to my heart… and as a fashion designer, it’s amazing to be able to bring that flower to life. It’s almost like a dream come true.
We have a distinct colour palette and we use colour so differently from the rest of the world. A lot of people here take inspiration from us and use it in their designs, but they just can’t do it like us. If I talk about myself, I can strike the balance between East and West in a much more subtle, interesting way and I think that’s my strength as a designer which will set me apart.
I haven’t had a chance to see London yet and see a lot of fashion happening on the streets. It’s definitely something I’m looking forward to. One of the biggest reasons I was so happy to come to London was because I knew I’d get the opportunity to get inspired as well. The last time I was in Paris for 12 days, I went back home a different person! I want to take the time out and inspire myself in this beautiful city. You can say my next collection might be inspired by London in some way, but like I said, I can never forget my roots! “

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Moomal Sheikh: the girl with the golden name

The only consolation an ageing actor can provide his fans is perhaps in the form of his progeny—a child in whom they can trace the many shades of the star people once cherished and adored. And even though Javed Sheikh is anything but past his prime, it’s comforting to see his recently unveiled and rather talented daughter Momal Sheikh slowly and gradually take the front seat, all geared up to walk her father’s—and family’s—iconic footsteps.
Hailing from a family that is, and has worked with all that is synonymous to greatness as far as the Pakistani film and television industry goes, Momal shows great potential of maturing into a fine actress as she impresses all and sundry with her creditable poise and a set of personal boundaries that are a testimony to her fine upbringing. She already has a couple of star studded serials under her belt and a few more are on the way, along with a few prominent modeling contracts as well as one of the most highly anticipated films of the year, “Naach”, in which she stars opposite Shaan.
Here, Xpozé talks to the unapologetically talented, pretty—and very smart—Momal Sheikh about her take on Bollywood, the kind of work she’s interested in doing at the moment and, well, growing up a Sheikh…
Tell me a bit about your early years. What schools did you go to and what kind of a child were you while growing up?

I went to City School and then Lecole for my A Levels, after which I went to College of Central London and Saint Martins for further studies. As a child I was very different from what you see today, I was a complete tomboy playing outdoors with the boys all the time, I hardly ever hung out with girls. Really, most of my best childhood memories are from those days!

What’s your relationship with your parents like?
You know, I don’t get to express my gratitude towards my parents, especially my mother, as much as I would like to, but she has literally taught me everything I know and I can’t be more grateful to her for raising me the way she did. She’s the reason I’ve been able to achieve so much in such a little time and I owe all my confidence and ambition to her. She is the one who molded me into the strong, independent woman that I’ve grown up to be. She’s also my best critic, and I adore her for that. She watches my work and tells me where I need to improve.
As far as my dad goes, well, I’m still his baby girl; his one and only laadli, and he’ll do anything and everything I ask him to do for me. Sometimes I take advantage of his unconditional love for me. In fact, I’ve often had other people come up to me to get me to do something for them because everybody knows he doesn’t say no to me! Really, my dad and I are like best friends. We’re extremely close and we share everything.

What are your earliest and most favorite memories of your dads work?
My personal favorite would have to be his film “Mushkil” it was his directorial debut and we were all extremely excited for him. I remember being on the sets when it was being shot, and it was an amazing experience and such a surreal feeling at that age!

What was it like growing up in a family that was constantly in the limelight?
Well, growing up in a well-known family can be fun and it definitely has its perks, like going out to big fancy events and parties and always getting to play dress up! But honestly, at home we’re all just so laid back we never really think of each other as celebrities. Especially when the entire family gets together, including all the uncles and aunts and all the kids: you should see us then!

I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, but who do you admire most as an actor: Your dad, your Chacha (Saleem Sheikh) or your uncle (Behroze Sabzwari)? What qualities about each of them do you admire most?
All three are great actors and they each have their distinctive qualities with the way they work. My mentor of course is my dad. Not only do I love all the work he’s done over the years, I also admire the way he works and his style overall. I just adore his work ethic and how he’s so very dedicated and honest to his work. If he has a 10 hour work day scheduled, he will give 12 hours regardless of whether his scenes are done or not, and that is perhaps what makes him so likable.
What I like the most about Behroze Uncle is how he is so straight up with everyone. A lot of people outside the industry might not know this, but he gives the best advice too. And it’s all really valuable considering his extensive experience! And then there’s Saleem Chacha, who’s well, Saleem Chacha. He is just so full of life and such a fun loving person it’s always great having him around!

How did you and your husband first meet? Tell me a bit about him and what he does. How supportive has he been of your work overall?
It’s actually quite a filmy story; we first met at a friend’s older sister’s wedding rehearsals, and from there is where it all began! He is great guy and has an amazing personality and more so we get along really well and that’s the key. He is an HR senior manager, and belongs to a totally different, corporate world… but he’s been there for me a hundred percent. I wouldn’t be doing the work I am doing if it wasn’t for his support and encouragement. He’s been there for me throughout and always tells me I can achieve anything I put my mind to, and so here I am!

How and when did you personally develop an interest in acting? Was it a conscious decision you made yourself or were you hurled into it by the family?
Contrary to popular belief, it was never decided that I would become an actor like the rest of my family. I always had a feeling that my dad wouldn’t be too keen on me joining the industry because while I was growing up, he always made sure that I lead a rather sheltered life. So it honestly never even really occurred to me that I could also one day be doing what I’d watched him do all my life. It was only after I got married that I started thinking that maybe I should give it a shot after all. I spoke to my husband about it and he was very supportive and said that if I felt that I had it in me I should definitely give it a shot… and like I said before, the rest is history!

Tell me about your first acting offer?
My first project was a sitcom called “Frequency FM 109” by Najaf Bilgrami and Ifran. I had gone to my friend Pheby who has started her own company called Phegency, and gave her my portfolio so she had asked if I were interested in taking up the project. I got pulled into it because my cousin Shehroze and a couple of friends like Breakhna and Komal were also a part of it and I thought it would be fun, which it actually was!

What kind of gigs have you done since then? What kind of work do you enjoy doing most?
I’m the brand ambassador for Pantene, and I’ve also done a few other ads that are in running these days. I’ve also done a couple of photoshoots for designer lawn recently that were a lot of fun. I wouldn’t mind doing fashion modeling, but my focus at the moment is still acting. I have done a couple of serials and telefilms. I recently had an incredible experience working with Adnan bhai (Adnan Siddiqui) and Sajid Hasan in “Aitraaf”. One telefilm that’s extremely close to me is the one I did with my father. It was a part of Susraal Gainda Phool, and it was an amazing experience for a young actor like me to work with a seasoned actor like my dad.
If I had to choose between modeling and acting, I’d definitely prefer acting because it’s much more expressive. I of course am still in the learning stage, which makes it all the more fun!

How accommodating has the local television industry been for you? Did you face any problems as a newcomer while trying to carve your own niche?
Well it was a little hard in the beginning as it is for everyone, but you have to prove yourself with your work and have patience and once you achieve that, I feel doors start to open for you themselves. I wouldn’t really call the small scattered issues I had problems, but yes I too had to face some hardships as a newcomer. But I guess these things come with the territory, no matter what field you’re in. The beginning is all about hard work. I don’t really think I’ve carved my niche yet I still feel I have a long way to go. This is just the beginning for me, hopefully!

Which costars have you enjoyed working most with? Why?
I’ve enjoyed working with each and every one of them. Every one I’ve had the pleasure of working with so far was spectacular in his or her own way and there is so much I’ve learnt from them all. But my best experience hands down was with Shaan. He is a brilliant actor and an amazing human being. Having to stand opposite him was so intimidating, but even though I was just a newbie, he was extremely considerate and reassuring throughout. He shared a lot of his experiences with me and gave some really good advice too, which I will always try to remember.

Our TV industry is brimming with legends. Who do you personally aspire to be more like as an actor? And who would you love to work with in the future?
Nadeem uncle, for sure. I’ve been watching him and his work ever since I was a little girl, and honestly, his is the only name, other than Babra Sharif perhaps, that comes to mind when you ask me who I aspire to be like! Both of them aren’t just amazing actors, they’re amazing people too and I’m simply in awe of them.

What’s the one thing you’ve learned from your counterparts, both young and old?

I continuously look around me try to pick up things from other people, especially their good qualities. What I’ve learnt the most from our elders is punctuality, which I feel just doesn’t exist anymore. The younger lot has taught me the importance of dedication, which also is very important no matter what you’re doing.

How helpful has your dad’s acting expertise been for you? How often do you turn to him for acting advice?
It’s definitely been a blessing! I turn to him for practically everything, be it advice on a project or tips to brush up on my acting skills. I also have my brother Shehzad and cousin Shehroze and my uncles to help me out throughout the way. So yeah, it’s a great help and I couldn’t ask for anything more!

Every actor has a dream project or a character they’d love to play. What are yours?
I haven’t really thought about my dream project, but I guess I would love to do a role that is “different,” you know… where I could prove my skill set and also my potential as an actor. I’m still in the learning stages of my career, so any such dream projects will just have to wait!

A few years ago your dad took a hiatus from work before resurfacing with some very useful connections in Bollywood. Has he asked you to, or do you have any aspirations to find work on the other side of the border as well?
Well to be honest he hasn’t asked me anything and we haven’t spoken about it. But yes, I wouldn’t mind working on a Bollywood project if a good production house approached me with a good script that has potential of turning into a nice film. You see, before “Naach”, I’d never really actively thought about doing a Lollywood movie either. But when a good project came along, which had a good director and a good cast, I agreed to do it. I feel the same way about Bollywood. If something really good comes along, then why not!? The only problem is, Bollywood’s culture is a bit different and I, as someone who believes in the importance of keeping within limits, have to take that into consideration. Generally, I feel it’s still too early for me to be thinking about Bollywood right now. My achievement would be to become a good actor and an entertainer, not an actor who’s done a Bollywood film. Think of it this way: If it’s not on my menu, I can’t order it, right!?

Tell me a bit about the “Naach” experience. Had you ever thought you’d find yourself working in a Pakistani movie?
Well, yes, I never thought I would but when I got the offer for “Naach” by Nasir Tehrany, I just couldn’t say no. It had so many pluses: it had an amazing story, my dad was a part of the film and I was being cast opposite Shaan! It was so surreal and brilliant; I would have been stupid to pass up on it! I was obviously very scared and nervous. I didn’t know if I’d be able to pull it off, but everyone around me made it extremely easy for me. Everyone including the director, my dad, my good friend Hasan Rizvi, as well as Shaan, were extremely supportive throughout the filming.
I worked with Pappu Samrat in Lahore for the dance sequence I did with Shaan, and I had a blast. It was a huge, huge challenge, and even though I got hurt pretty bad while shooting, I’m really glad I took the chance because the end product is just amazing and I’m sure everyone will love it too. Now I’m really looking forward to the rest of the shoot now which is due to begin soon. The only thing that saddens me is that people still associate Pakistani movies with the rubbish that was being made until a few years ago, and I don’t blame them, but “Naach” is very different. I would encourage our youth to definitely show their support because that’s the only way we can bring about a change, a much needed change!

And what was working with Javed Sheikh—the actor—like? Was it easy play or totally intimidating?
This is the second time I’m working with my dad and it’s really unnerving at times. I like to rehearse my lines before shooting, and I would do the same with my dad, and everything would be perfect. But once the cameras started rolling, I’d have a private panic attack because it would suddenly hit me that I’m sharing screen space with Javed Sheikh-the actor. He wasn’t my dad then, and it got a little intimidating. At the same time though, I got to learn a lot from him. He has taught me so much, and he gives me advice about everything, right from how I should stand and move to how I should deliver my dialogue, and it’s all priceless not only as his daughter but also as a young actor who’s still trying to learn as much as she can from her co-stars.

I’m sure you’re well aware that your swift success has raised a few questions as well as eyebrows, with people automatically assuming you’re simply reaping the benefit of your dad’s name and influence. How do you defend your position in the face of such unabashed presumption?
First of all, I’d like to tell everyone that my father didn’t even make a single phone call to get me work. Of course he’s been there for me throughout, but everything that I have done so far has been out of my own initiative, and I’m very proud of that fact. A lot of people might not understand this, but it’s quite hard for me to make my own name in the industry. This is not just something I’m doing for myself. I’m sure people think it’s easy for the children of superstars and that we don’t really have to work hard to prove ourselves but they’re very wrong. On the contrary, I have to function under the constant pressure of doing my dad and my family proud, and making sure nothing I do threatens to damage the family’s name.

What are you working on these days?
I’m currently working on three huge projects. One of the serials has Zainab Qayuum and Farhan Ali Agha playing my and Shehroze’s parents. We recently wrapped this one up and I had a lot of fun filming it. The second serial I’m working on is also a lot of fun too because it has a huge cast of youngsters, including Aamina Sheikh, Meekal, Ahsan, Mehwish Hayat etc.
The third one is a project of Momal Productions, and it has a very unique story. The cast includes Angeline Malik and Deepak Perwani as parents, me and Imran Aslam as siblings and Sanam Saeed as our evil step-sister, and Junaid Khan as my love interest. I’ve also been busy with some photo-shoots recently. I’m also into hosting because I just love talking. I recently did a Eid show for ARY Digital with Aijazz Aslam which was pretty exciting.

Do you consider yourself to be a fashionable person?
Yes! I’m definitely a very fashion conscious person. But I will not take any favorites’ names because I’d rather be diplomatic than piss someone off! As far as international brands go; I like Mango and Zara because I feel really comfortable in their clothes. On the higher-end, I like Gucci, Dior, Roberto Cavalli and Chanel—even though I don’t have Chanel in my wardrobe—yet! I wouldn’t mind getting a Chanel handbag someday soon though!

Momal in a Box
• Birthday: 15th May
• Birthplace: Lahore
• Current home: Karachi
• Marital status: Married
• The last good movie I saw was: Ice Age
• I stay home to watch: Good comedy, like The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men etc. I’m also an all-time fan of Friends. Star World helps me get my mind off things after a hard day’s work.
• The book I’ve been reading is: None! I’m not a big reader at all.
• Favorite pig-out food: Xanders, Aylanto and late night runs to Crepe Factory!
• I can’t stand: People who lie
• Personal hero: My mother
• Every New Year’s I resolve: To start saying my prayers regularly
• Nobody knows I’m: Nobody knows for a reason, let’s keep it that way!
• I wish I could stop: The nonsense that’s prevalent in our country these days!
• I’m better than anyone else when it comes to: Driving and giving directions! I believe—know, rather—that I’m better than anyone when it comes to driving, and can easily challenge anyone living in Karachi!
• I’d give anything to meet: Quaid-e-Azam, but unfortunately that’s not possible
• If I could change one thing about myself, it would be: My anger
• People who knew me in high school thought I was: A tomboy
• I knew I was a grown-up when I: Took the car out all by myself on my 16th birthday!
• If I wasn’t a model and an actor, I’d be: A fashion designer
• Handbags or heels: Heels, definitely!
• Three words that best describe me: Loud, hyper and honest

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10 Minutes with MEHREEN JABBAR- Pakistani Consultant for ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’

 

What does the work of a ‘Pakistani Consultant’ on an international project like The Reluctant Fundamentalist involve?
Basically, as a Pakistani Consultant, I organized the first casting for Mira Nair in Pakistan last year. She met a lot of actors for various roles. I also periodically kept sending her music from Pakistan to keep her abreast with what’s current in Pakistan these days. Mira is a very well read person herself, but to her credit, she really wanted to have some a Pakistani voice around to interpret the book which is set in Pakistan. Apart from that, once the production started, I helped her get in touch with local designers, coordinated with musicians and actors

You were initially rumored to be the film’s second unit director. Could you tell me why there was a change of plans?
Well, I was going to be the second unit director but I requested them to go easy on me because my own shoot dates were conflicting with the film’s shoot. I’m currently shooting a serial in New York, and I was busy with that when they shot the Lahore bit, which they had to cut short because of some logistical issues. As you already know, the film’s set in Lahore, but now they’re shooting most of it in Delhi and making it look like Lahore. Mira still wanted some original shots of Lahore to put in the film to keep it authentic, so I introduced her to Saqib Malik who then did a day’s worth of shooting for her.

Have you been traveling with the crew during the film’s shooting or are you carrying on with your consultancy from NY?
No traveling for me. I’ve been coordinating everything over phone and via emails. I visited the set when they were shooting in New York.

You’ve garnered immense accolade over the years for making intelligent dramas and telefilms that try to send out a positive message. Have you read the book? How appealing was the story of TRF for you? Would you have considered making the movie yourself?
I would have considered making the film myself if I had the budget! It’s a very ambitious film. Taking place over three countries. It’s not an easy film to make. I know the kind of struggle that went on for Mira to make it as well. The protagonist is a Pakistani character; it’s not easy to get funding for these kind of projects.
I think I read the book several years ago when it first came out. What Mira’s done with the film is really amazing. I’ve read the script, which I think is very compelling and quite appropriate for its time. I hope it resonates with the audiences as well because it’s a voice coming from this region which is usually not heard or portrayed in Hollywood or other Western productions. It’s a very authentic voice from our part of the world. It’s very exciting that we have all these big actors on board who will help secure the film a good audience and therefore, eventually also get the message across. It’s a good idea with marketable actors, which is a good idea over all.

Pakistani to Pakistani, how proud are you of Mohsin?
Very proud! I think it’s a fantastic achievement because we have some excellent writers in Pakistan, both in Urdu and English. It’s great that someone’s finally decided to give them this kind of exposure. A book might be widely read, but translating it into a film opens up another audience. I’m very excited for Mohsin.

As a filmmaker, what do you prefer more: original stories or adaptations?
Either, really. For me it really depends on how compelling the story is. I have worked on a few adaptations before, and my current serial is also an adaptation of a novel called ‘Matai Jaan Hai Tu.’ I know it’s a mouthful, but it means: ‘You’re the treasure of my life.’ It’s a very popular romantic novel, so this will be my first attempt at a serious tragic love story.

I know this isn’t a fair question, but how would you personally compare/differentiate between Daira and Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist in terms over-all execution and mass appeal?
I haven’t seen Daira so I can’t really comment on that. As books, I think they’re both very different. I personally preferred Moth Smoke though.

Tell me a bit about your association with Mira Nair both pre and post TRF.
I’ve known Mira for about three years now. It’s a very interesting story, my friendship with her. I’ve admired her since the early 90s when she made ‘Salam Bombay,’ and she’s one of the reasons why I wanted to become a filmmaker. I sent a CD of ‘Ramchand Pakistani’ to her through a common friend, and she liked it and that’s how we developed our friendship. She’s a wonderful mentor. She’s been very helpful to me and it’s a dream come true to have her in my life as a guide and as a friend. She’s very passionate about her work and working with her is an extraordinary experience.

You’ve worked with some of the best talent Pakistan has to offer. How does working on a project with actors like Keifer Suderland, Kate Hudson, Om Puri and Shabana Azmi feel like?
I haven’t been interacting with these actors; they’re solely India connections. If I had gone, I’d probably have met them. I only got to meet Riz, who’s the main lead, and was briefly introduced to Kate Hudson, and that’s about it. I really didn’t spend much time on the NY set either as I’ve been busy with my own production, but spending this past year-and-a-half working on the film with Mira and watching it take shape has been a great experience nonetheless.

Tell me about Meesha Shafi’s role in the movie. How have you been involved with her during pre-production and filming? How well do you think she deserved the role and more importantly, do you think she’s doing justice to her character?
I’ve read her role and I was there when Meesha was introduced to Mira last year. I had sent a CD of Meesha’s song with Arif Lohar to Mira, which is where she started considering her for this role. I think it’s an excellent thing that an actress from Pakistan has gotten a chance to play this excellent role. Meesha is very talented and I’m sure she’ll nail it!

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The Not-so-reluctant Meesha Shafi

Who doesn’t know Meesha Shafi? The woman who brought back Arif Lohar and red mohawks; gave local women the confidence to wear wife-beaters and showed young mothers everywhere that getting married and having children does not render one’s career inutile—that it is only if you go chasing after your dreams that you’ll be able to realize them.

Meesha’s super-star status in Pakistan might not be more than a couple of years old, but it is certainly a well-merited one. Not only has she helped broaden Pakistan’s traditional conceptions of what is beautiful, she has brought immense diversity to the table, proving her own mettle and prowess each step of the way with everything she has put her mind to, whether it be walking the ramp, representing an international cosmetics brand, acting in sitcoms, singing ‘Jugni’ with Arif Lohar on Coke Studio, being the Pakistan Day cover girl of Xpozé (August 2009), and now, landing a role in the legendary Mira Nair’s adaptation of Mohsin Hamid’s 2007 bestselling novel: ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist.’

Here, this young fireball of talent, good looks and energy tells me how she landed the gig that’ll surely up her celebrity a few notches soon; her experience of working with and befriending Golden Globe & Filmfare champs that she grew up admiring; her mother’s critical analysis of her work, and everything that falls in between including Delhi, a strong family support system and much much more…

First modeling, then music, television, brand association with L’Oréal Paris as their spokesperson in Pakistan, and now a larger-than-life movie star. Just how do you do it?

I take my career a day at a time. I’ve always followed my belief of doing quality work and I never pressurize myself for quantity of work or publicity. I see my projects as individual chapters or experiences and try to pick offers that are challenging and new as well as interesting. These transitions from one side of showbiz to another and back are not conscious. I find following the natural direction that my career path is paving for me a rewarding way of progressing so far. I plan to stick to it.

Tell me the story of how you landed the movie gig.

I’ve always been a big fan of Mira Nair. She brings our culture and issues to life so expertly and with ease. Mira’s vision is truly gifted and she really knows how to translate it for the big screen in the most beautiful of ways. Her movies are like paintings. So when I heard she was in Pakistan, I went for an informal screen-test while she was looking to cast actors for this film. My purpose was solely to meet her. That alone was an exciting notion in itself. I hadn’t expected much from this meeting professionally to be honest. When I got a call back confirming my casting, it was a fantastic surprise.

Had you met Mohsin Hamid before? How well read-up on his works (especially The Reluctant Fundamentalist) were you before you took on the project?

I had met him a few times. But we were only acquainted. I had read the book a while back but went back to it once I was on board. Mohsin was involved in the screenplay the whole way. Some characters have been introduced, others further developed. All with a great deal of sensitivity and a lot of analysis of course.

Tell me a bit about your character in the movie.

The role is one of an extremely spirited character who goes from being a spritely young thing to growing up and facing the realities that her family (more directly her brother Changez) is facing in the wake of very current affairs. Based on Mohsin Hamid’s book, this film is a big achievement for him and our nation. The book lends an interesting perspective to the times we live in and the realities we are facing. It talks so honestly of the changes in attitude and equal opportunities that young Pakistanis are facing in ‘The land of dreams: America,’ as well as at home.

How easy was it for you to be able to relate with her?

Extremely easy actually. My family in the film is so similar to mine that it is uncanny. They are a literary, progressive, extremely cultured family. Despite trying times, they are elegant and graceful, very close knit and supportive of each other. Even under some unusual circumstances. In real life, I am one of two siblings, just like in the movie. That made the nuances of a brother-sister relationship easy to communicate.

A lot of actors I’ve spoken to say they actually resist trying to find common-grounds with the characters they portray because actors aren’t supposed to be who they play at all. Do you agree with that?

Not really. I might agree with it depending on a particular role, but to always apply this unconditionally would be a bit unwise. Artists are sensitive people. They hold on to their experiences and emotions more than others. To tap into those dimensions and use them as references can be a valuable acting tool. After all, the best acting is when it doesn’t look like you’re acting.

Working with accomplished actors like Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland, Om Puri and Shabana Azmi has got to be an overwhelming experience for anyone. What was your first reaction when you got the final list of the movie’s star-studded cast?

It is such an exciting project, to say the least. This is a big opportunity. Working with all the legendary names on board will be a great learning experience for me. Sharing the screen with such a stellar cast and being directed by none other than Mira Nair is a dream come true. For me, she was definitely the biggest star on set.

Who were you the biggest fan of? Have your perceptions changed about anyone after meeting them personally and then spending time working with them?

Oh yes! I was already a big fan of Riz Ahmed and Om Puri. But after working with them, I realized that they are such naturals. I’ve seen excellent performances by both previously, but to see them on set while in the middle of a riveting scene is an amazing experience.
I am also a huge fan of Mr. Declan Quinn who was the director of photography, (he shot some iconic ‘The Smashing Pumpkins’ and ‘U2’ videos in the 90s, the breathtakingly beautiful ‘Kama Sutra’, ‘Monsoon Wedding’, ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ and a personal favourite ‘In America’ amongst countless other movies). On second camera, Sanjay Sami, who amongst a vast and overwhelming portfolio, shot ‘The Fall’. That one I really can’t get over. It is one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen! The list goes on, but I can’t not mention what an honor it was to work with Kris Evans, who was the head of make-up and has got movies like ‘Con Air’, all the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, all the ‘X-Men’, the new ‘Spider-Man’, ‘House of Sand and Fog’ under her belt. The list goes on!

Who’s been the most fun to work with so far? And who’s the most difficult?

It sounds too good to be true, but it was one of those rare experiences when you are truly surrounded by professionals who, despite being brilliant at what they do and being the best in the business, were so hardworking, so organized and still so encouraging and warm, they were inspirational! The most fun were Om Puri (he has killer wit and timing, remember ‘East is East?’), Riz, who is like a ball of endless energy and talent and Mira herself. She is so young at heart, positive and loving. And her vision and aesthetics are phenomenal. To watch them unfold onto the camera was awe-inspiring. And how can I forget Shabana Azmi. Her poise and elegance are really something to look up to.

Of all the people working with you on The Reluctant Fundamentalist, who were you most apprehensive about sharing screen-space with?

Nobody really. I’m an extremely secure person. I believe in myself and look forward to working with new people rather than wasting time feeling apprehensive. If anything, I was looking forward to scenes with each and every one of my co-stars. They are all names to behold in global cinema.

So tell me about the Mira Nair experience…

She is just the most amazing lady. So classy; so particular about each and every detail about her projects. She has a sharp eye for aesthetics and she’s hopelessly in love with all things beautiful. This of course, is highly evident in her work.
I think Mira exudes this warmth that touches all those she works with. The fact that most of her team has been with her for the last twenty years is testimony of this very fact. After a harrowing all night shoot, a day before I was coming back, she took out half an hour out of her extremely valuable time (I mean, really, she’s in the middle of shooting a major movie, with days that begin at 5:00am and ended late night) and left a parcel of presents in my trailer for baby J! No matter what the stress levels, no matter what the situation, I never once saw her lose her cool or her focus. She is truly one of a kind!

Was it unnerving being directed by a woman who in the past has directed actors like Tabu, Naseeruddin Shah, Reese Witherspoon, Richard Gere, Hilary Swank, Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman (the list literally goes on!)?

Yes it was, but only till before I started shooting. Once we began, I knew that she had believed in me, when she could have picked anyone from Hollywood, Bollywood or Pakistan. That meant that it was time to focus on the job at hand: Performing. That’s all I bothered myself with from that point on. I’m not the sort to waste my emotional energy on hang ups, comparisons or inhibitions. When it’s time to get into character and prove yourself in the midst of such a golden team, you get to work.

How many sittings did you have with Mohsin and Mira to understand their perceptions about the story over all as well as your character?

The three of us only got to sit together once unfortunately, as Mohsin wasn’t present once we started rehearsing and going over the scenes. But with Mira, there were many meetings and talks.

Were there any conflicts of viewpoints between you, the author and the director?

Not even once. We did however go over many details as far as the art department; costume department and language were concerned. I was one of the only two people on board actually from Lahore (the city where the movie is set), and Mira wanted absolutely no compromise on authenticity.

Walk me through a normal shooting day on a Mira Nair film set.

We would arrive at base camp, which would be set up from scratch every night near the given location, for breakfast and then into our trailers for makeup and costume. Once shooting began, time just flew, flew, flew! As far as the details of the shoot are concerned, I am not at liberty to divulge many details at this point. I guess you’ll just have to wait for the movie to come out!

Do you feel there are any major work-ethic differences in the way Mira goes about her business and the way things are usually done in Pakistan?

Are you kidding me??? Or is this a serious question?

Would you ever consider doing a Pakistani movie after The Reluctant Fundamentalist?

I would never say no unconditionally to a local movie. But sadly, so far, most scripts here are weak. And a script is the backbone of a movie. But given a quality script and project, why not?

What’s the one thing you’ve learned from your Hollywood counterparts?

It’s all about working hard, and that too, consistently. There are no short cuts to being brilliant. We have the talent, but we don’t have the training or the knowledge and experience that working in a healthy, booming movie industry gives you. There’s a world of fine work and amazing opportunities out there. It’s sad that we have very limited ways of getting to it.

And what have your colleagues from Bollywood taught you?

Again, because of how booming their movie industry is, they know what it means to be true professionals. Even though they are such senior actors, Om Puri and Shabana Azmi would be on set at the crack of dawn: punctual, hardworking, well-rehearsed and ready to go!

What’s your family’s take on you becoming a Holly/Bolly star with The Reluctant Fundamentalist?

They are extremely proud and very excited for me. As a working mother now, their support and help is crucial for me. This opportunity would have passed me by if either my family or my in laws were not so supportive of my work. I thank them and God for blessing me with such a strong support system every day.

Your mom (Saba Hamid) is known as the woman who hands out free advice to young actors in the industry. How helpful have her acting expertise been for you? How often do you turn to her for acting advice?

Her tips and advice are simple yet extremely helpful. She has oodles of knowledge and experience on top of being a natural. I haven’t acted much till now, but whenever I do, I always do turn to her. She’s very critical, but that’s what helps the most. She doesn’t believe in mincing her words or sugarcoat her feedback. No one better than your own mother to review you, right!?

Rafina, the movie your mom has done with internationally acclaimed director Sabiha Sumar is also due to come out shortly. How does that make you feel?

I’m so proud of my mother. She has always shone on Pakistan’s TV screens as well as in the hearts of so many. Her career has been acknowledged and honored this year when her ‘Pride of Performance’ award was announced on the 14th of August this year. She will be receiving it on the 23rd of March next year when the ceremony is due to be held. Her father, my grandfather Hamid Akhtar (veteran progressive writer, free thinker and intellectual) received his Pride of Performance last year. I wish I was accomplished enough by next year. We would have had a three generation family hat-trick!!! I can’t wait to be there for her with a proud smile. Mama is one of the very few remaining actors still working from PTV’s glory days. The golden era of our TV dramas. Her experience and talent is undeniable. It’s sad that the silver screen has been dwindling at best in the past few decades. Otherwise, our great actors would have painted that medium with their magic as well. But things are slowly moving in the right direction. She will shine on any screen she appears on.

And how supportive has your husband been throughout the process?

Mahmood’s support is an integral part of all my achievements. He doesn’t just support me, he is a huge help. His musical advice and expertise makes us an amazing in-house team. I can see how proud he is of me being cast for TRF. It is a rare phenomenon in our country for a husband to support his wife in showbiz. His best qualities are that he is a secure, content, talented and hardworking person. To not be insecure or feel threatened of being with a woman who is always in front of the camera is easier said than done. He sets a fine example and I hope other young men can learn from this and give their women a chance to realize their true potential in whatever they choose to do.

Your daughter’s obviously not traveling with you to India. Do you ever feel guilty about leaving her behind for such a long period of time?

I have an 8 month old beautiful daughter. Leaving her when I’m working is definitely the hardest part for me as a working woman. But she has a house full of grandparents, aunts and uncles who love her and spoil her rotten in my absence. A certain degree of guilt is ingrained in every mother, in me even more than usual. But if a parent didn’t feel guilty at the notion of leaving a child, children all over would be neglected and scarred. This feeling of guilt is what makes you count the days you are away and makes you come running back to have your baby in your arms again; where she belongs. Having said that, I myself was raised by a working mother, for which I have never blamed her or held this against her. In fact, I am proud of how she managed raising two children while working full time. After becoming a mother, I understand even more that it is heartbreaking for the parent to be away as well. But to quote my dear friend Juggun Kazim (who is also a working mother): “Give your child a mother who she can be proud of, not someone who sat at home and grew fat!”

But still, you’ve clearly proven yourself to be a model for working moms the world over. Do you have advice for other working moms?

Children are very intelligent, sensitive and understanding. As long as the time you spend with them is good quality, and you make sure they understand the nature and pattern of your work, they do adjust. Giving up your own life, your hopes and dreams is not the way to earn their respect. Besides, they should get a chance to grow independent and confident, but always under your watchful eye. You can and should love and nurture them instead of smothering them.

What has your overall experience working on The Reluctant Fundamentalist been like so far?

The experience has very intense. Working on a major movie day in and day out, with the same people while you’re away from home is like living with a new family. You can also compare it to being at camp. It takes a while to snap out of it and get back to real life.

The film shoots in New York, Lahore and Delhi? Which of the three places did you personally enjoy most?

Yeah, shooting was quite exciting because we got to do it in three iconic cities. I have a soft spot for Delhi as it is very similar to Lahore. And New York is just so full of its own unique energy, which is hard not to like. My work is mostly in Delhi. I wish more scenes for the movie could have been shot in my beautiful city of Lahore as originally planned. But alas!

How well did you enjoy the Delhi experience? What did you and the rest of the cast & crew spend your free time doing?

There is very little free time, but that which we got, we spent it going out to experience the city and its many flavours.

Pakistanis love shopping in Delhi. What markets did you raid and what all have you brought home?

Khan Market is by far my pick! I have shopped for the baby and the house more than anything else.

Some people call you a style chameleon. What’s your personal favourite hair & makeup look for yourself?

My staple is a pair of fantastic jeans (something one should invest in and never compromise on), a wifebeater (I have them in every colour imaginable), a clean washed face, au natural hair and sneakers! But then I do like drastic changes from time to time. Just last year I chopped my hair off and went around with a pregnant belly and a red Mohawk. Being a L’Oréal Paris Spokesperson in Pakistan, I consider clothes and styling a very important form of self-expression.

You’re hardly a conventional Pakistani girl; you have a very distinct style sense. How well have you been able to channel that in your role? What’s your styling like in the movie?

A lot of my personal wardrobe has been used by the costume department and mixed and matched with what they came up with for the character. I did have a lot of input in what I wore. I wanted it to be real, convincing and unique at the same time, and hope it shows in the movie!

What’s your workout & skin care regime while shooting for the movie?

The work and schedule itself is a workout! But I never take any shortcuts with my skin care. With all the makeup and heat from lights and outdoor shoots, your skin can really suffer. I cleanse tone and moisturize religiously. I also drink lots of water and never skip my multivitamins like a good girl.

I think now’s the perfect time to ask you this: What do you enjoy doing more: modeling, singing or acting?

I only do what I enjoy. Forcing yourself always shows, and it ends up affecting the final product. As long as I’m doing all of the above, you can know for certain that I’m getting some kind of creative gratification from all three.

What kind of books and movies do you usually enjoy most?

If I started listing names, the list would never end. I’m a sucker for beauty. I love both fiction and nonfiction. I think there are some fantastic books being written by South Asian writers. As for specifics, some of my favourite movies include ‘Old Boy,’ ‘Four Lions,’ ‘The Fall,’ ‘In America,’ and ‘Salaam Bombay.’
In books, I’m particularly fond of ‘Wild Swans’ by Jung Chang, ‘Lolita’ by Vladimir Nabokov, ‘The God of Small Things’ by Arundhati Roy, ‘Pillars of the Earth’ by Ken Follett and ‘Kal Kothari’ by Swadesh Deepak.

Lastly, had you not come to be an integral part of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, would you have gone to see the movie?

I look at it this way: even if I had absolutely nothing to do with this movie, the fact that Mohsin Hamid wrote a book set in my Lahore and none other than Mira Nair made a movie out of it is unbelievable! The thought of sitting in a cinema, watching a Mira Nair movie which starts with the words ‘Lahore, Pakistan 2001-2011’ gives me goose bumps. It will be surreal!

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Anatol Lieven @ KLF 2011

Anatol Lieven is a professor in the War Studies Department at King’s College London as well as a senior fellow of the New America Foundation in Washington DC. His areas of expertise include US strategy and political culture; Islamist terrorism and insurgency; contemporary warfare; the countries of the former Soviet Union; and the Greater Middle East, especially Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. His latest book, Pakistan: A Hard Country was published in 2011-2012 by Penguin in the UK, Public Affairs in the USA and Oxford University Press in Pakistan. It is based on his time as a journalist in Pakistan in the late 1980s and extensive research on the ground in recent years. From 1989 to 1998 Anatol Lieven worked as a British journalist in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe for The Times (London) and the Financial Times, and is author of several books on Russia and its neighbours. From 2000 to 2007 he worked at think tanks in Washington DC and studied US foreign and domestic policies in the wake of the
9/11 terrorist attacks. His book America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism appeared in 2004, and an updated edition is to be published by Oxford University Press in 2012.

Anatol’s Sessions at the Karachi Literature Festival:
– IN CONVERSATION WITH ANATOL LIEVEN
– TODAY’S PAKISTAN: An Economic and Political Perspective
– EYEWITNESSES AND OBSERVERS: Writing About Pakistan from an Outside Perspective
What papers were you reporting and writing for in the 80s when you worked as a journalist in Pakistan?
It was a string of freelance work, but my main employer was the London Times. I also did a bit of work for the radio and the Economist magazine.
And how long have you now been teaching at King’s College?
I’ve been at King’s College since 2007. I teach Security Studies, basically. There is one course on South Asian and Afghan Security Issues, and one on Conflicts in general.
You new book, Pakistan: A Hard Country has become quite popular among Pakistanis, although with strikingly conflicting reviews. What’s the relevance of the work and research you’ve put into it with present day Pakistan?
Well the book is a strong argument against the notion that Pakistan is or isn’t a failed state like most people say it is… I mean, this doesn’t look like a failed state to me, seriously!
How would you compare today’s Pakistan to the one you lived and worked in some 20 years ago?
Well, compared to when I was here in the 80s, some things have definitely gotten worse. Especially the rise of Islamists and extremists, rebellion and terrorism, which obviously wasn’t an issue back in the day. Some things haven’t changed nearly as much as one would wish: electricity issues, for instance, which was there in the 1980s and it’s still a nuisance today. I must confess I had really hoped that in 25 or more years someone would have been done something about it, and but sadly no one has. However, when it comes to arguing against the doomed scenarios, Karachi used to be much, much worse; even worse than last year when there was a lot of violence in the city.
So you think at least Karachi has made some progress over the years?
Definitely. When I was here the city really did seem to be spiraling downwards towards ethnic and civil war. You not just had a huge number of target killings but also dreadful indiscriminate massacres in markets; riders with machine guns mowing down dozens of people… Recently it’s been bad, but it’s more limited, more targeted. I’m not saying all the violence is good, but it’s better than it used to be. And then of course there’s the infrastructure of Karachi. My God the city is growing! In the last 25 years it’s more than doubled. One might have expected the city to basically have collapsed under the weight like in many other developing parts of the world, for example. Karachi’s infrastructure is a great deal better. So you see, some things get worse, some things get better. And a country or a city just continues on. Look at Afghanistan, it’s in a state of civil war and rebellion against foreign military force. It looks awfully like the 80s to me! The fact that most Pakistanis also sympathize with the resistance to that foreign force is rather interesting.
How important or fruitful do you think that intellectual discourse on a relatively micro level—like at the Karachi Literature Festival— could be for the people of a socially, politically and economically deranged country like Pakistan?
To have an educated, systematic and adherent discourse about critical issues is always good. At the same time, I have to say that while the discussion about broader issues, democracy and civilian rule, national identity, extremism and so forth is all very important, I could wish for a more informant, in depth and systematic discussion in the media, informed by solid research, that aims at solving the issues at hand rather than just a few people discussing them to no apparent end. Take the development of the Thar coal field, for example. Everyone says it could solve Pakistan’s energy crises. It often comes up in the media, but often in a way that’s impossible to tell what’s actually there; whether you can get it out, what you can use it for, etc. These are seemingly limited but tragically important questions. All these issues are also something good journalism and media is about. It’s not as they say sexy, but it is critical.
Pakistan has always been involved in one conflict or another, whether directly or indirectly, since independence. We have a strong history of militancy and we’re perpetually on guard on both our Eastern and Western borders. Being a professor of Conflict Studies and have done extensive research on the region, what do you think are the main reasons why we haven’t been able to settle our differences in 60 odd years?
I’m not a catastrophist. There have been three wars with India, and they were all very nasty and lesser engagements. But if you’re European, you have to keep in mind this does not compare with the damage Europeans did to each other in the two World Wars! It differs on so many orders of magnitude that I can’t even begin to count them! So, lets’ not exaggerate – things have been bad but not nearly as bad as they might have been.
Let’s look first to the Western border: I think there is a chance, and only a chance, that the Americans will make a peace settlement with the Taliban. If this happens, it won’t end Afghanistan’s problems, but if they could do that it would end this risk of Afghanistan descending into a full-scale civil war. It won’t end Pakistan’s problems either, because clearly some of these militants are determined to continue with their militancy regardless of what happens. But I hope that it will mean that the attraction of the Afghan jihad, and when the Pakistani Taliban uses that to mobilize themselves, they will go down. It may then be possible to drive a wedge between, say, Laskhar-e-Jhangvi and some other militant groups… those Taliban who only got involved because they were angry that the US is involved in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s alliance with them. Hopefully a peace settlement in Afghanistan could lead to a limited peace settlement in Pakistan. Of course not surrendering to these people in terms of giving them land to control, but basically getting them to go home in return for amnesty.
In on Eastern border, I’m not optimistic I must say, about a general settlement or reconciliation. There is so much opposition on both sides and both the governments are very weak. It’s often said that the Pakistani government is too weak, but actually I’m sorry to say Manmohan Singh’s government in Delhi is equally weak. Even though the concessions Pakistan would have to make are so much greater, the Indians ought to jump at this settlement. But there’s just too much opposition. The military plays a blocking role in India too and not just here.
So you’re basically suggesting there’s no reason to believe things will cool down on either side of the country anytime soon?
Not at all! Let me explain with an example I often give: during the Cold War between the West and Soviet Union, you had a complete structure of hostility on both sides. Especially the Soviet side and on the American side. This conflict really helped shape the institutions and politics, but it didn’t stop limited agreements on specific issues. For example, the issue of backing away from certain proxy conflicts elsewhere in the world. It’s very striking. You know, the biggest energy infrastructure in the world, still, is the network of gas pipelines from Siberia to Western Europe, and it was built in one of the coldest moments of the Cold War. The building continued through the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, while of course overall the Westerners were deeply hostile. So what I’m saying is, perhaps you don’t need to “solve” everything with India in order to bring down tension and reach limited agreement.
Pakistani journalism and media has taken a big leap forward in the last five-six year, becoming more aggressive and analytical like it should be, and yet there’s also been a lot of criticism for it. You obviously have been in the loop what with your many trips here. Do you feel we’re headed in the right direction? What suggestions would you give to the younger lot joining the profession?
You’re right, the Pakistani media has become very good at exposing certain abuses, but it hasn’t become so good yet at following them up. With dogged tenacity, the ability to go on and on, probing and asking questions. I say that with due humility; if you talk about that in England, you’re not talking about the same thing as in Pakistan, where you can actually end up getting killed! I say that with great respect for Pakistani investigative journalism, because they’re running risks that their Western counterparts don’t. There has been a depressing trend in Pakistan for the most ghastly abuses to be uncovered and then nothing to happen. That’s’ the fault of politicians, judiciary, and your police. The point is, society has to be mobilized to demand redress, and that’s the job of the media.
Another thing I would say is, do away with conspiracy theories. I hate them! The problem is you can’t argue against them. It may be true and it may not be, there’s no evidence! I always say lots and lots of people criticize the conspiratorial mindedness of Pakistanis, but you have to understand that if there are so many conspiracy theories, that’s because there are so many conspiracies. Look at Memogate; look at the death of General Zia-ul-Haq, which is perhaps a classic example. The only thing anyone can be certain of in that case was a conspiracy to kill him, but who did it and why? There are literally thousands of theories! But sometimes, it goes a little too far.
Conspiracy theories are unnecessary and they make a rational discussion impossible because those depend on actually producing enough evidence. So my approach to them is basically to introduce them, as in the case of Memogate, only if what happened could not possibly have happened without conspiracy. Otherwise, just focus on beginning with what you can actually produce and then build on that. Pakistani journalists need to realize that.

Any words on the Karachi Literature Festival? Are you enjoying yourself?
Oh yes. The people here today are delightful to talk to and I’m very glad I came. I’d love to come here again. I should take William Dalrymple and put a hard word on him to invite me to Jaipur next year as well!
Lastly, how would you define or describe your relationship with Pakistan?
Well, being a journalist you have to get used to seeing terrible things. On a number of occasions over the years I’ve had to visit hospitals after the latest batch of ethnic killings. More recently, I’ve had to see wounded men. In the heartrending period in the 80s, I had to see women and children who had been machine-gunned at random. Today of course you see the same thing coming from terrorists. The thing is, thanks to the tremendous warmth and hospitality of Pakistanis at the same time, it all becomes much easier. In the evenings I’m invited to dinner by friends; I get an invitation to go to a party or go to the countryside to hunt quails or boar. I’ve met lots of extremely intelligent, interesting, educated people here, and they have all treated me in their own interesting ways. There aren’t many places where on the one hand you’re dealing with depressing things like visiting a hospital or covering the latest dreadful case of gang rape or bomber killing, and on the other you enjoy yourself in the company of hospitable and warm and open friends. Pakistan is an amusing country. I’ve become quite attached to it.

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William Dalrymple @ KLF 2011

William Dalrymple is the author of seven acclaimed works of history and travel, including City of Djinns, which won the Young British Writer of the Year Prize and the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award; the best-selling From the Holy Mountain; The Age of Kali, which won the French Prix D’Astrolable; White Mughals, which won Britain’s most prestigious history prize, the Wolfson; and The Last Mughal, which won the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize and The Crossword Prize for Non Fiction. He divides his time between New Delhi and London and is a contributor to The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The New Statesman and The Guardian.

William’s Panels:
-BOOK LAUNCH: Scent in the Islamic Garden by Ali Akbar Husain
-INDUS JOURNEYS: In Conversation with William Dalrymple
-AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN: Conflict, Extremism and the Taliban
First of all, a warm welcome to Karachi! How do you like it so far? Have you been looking forward to meeting anyone in particular at the Karachi Literature Festival?
I love coming to Karachi; I’m a regular visitor. I usually come here about once every year actually. The frustration this time is I’m in the middle of a book, and while I’d normally come for say about a week or so, this time I’ll just have to do my bit at the festival and leave for Delhi tomorrow. That’s less than two days and not enough time to really enjoy.
You gave us some incredible teasers from your next book about Afghanistan this morning in your keynote speech that kicked off the festival. Tell me, how soon will we be able to get our hands on it?
It’ll be out In the Fall, around September. I’m desperate to finish the book right now. I think it will be titled: “The Return of a King: Shah Shuja and the West’s first catastrophe in Afghanistan.”
It’s rather intriguing for us to see you; a British man who’s so enthusiastic about this region and has so much knowledge and continues to write about it. Very bluntly, why this fascination with South Asia?
I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to say my job is to tell you guys about your own country. I’m flattered that you do read what I write, and of course it’s very nice and flattering for me. I’d be worried if I was writing about this part of the world and no one took it seriously! Still, I don’t think I’m primarily writing for South Asia, although increasingly I think you’re right, a large part of my audience is here, strangely. I’m just glad to be here and luckily every one of my books has won a major literary award. Some have won two and some have won three. They’ve all been successful; they’ve all been bestsellers. Occasionally I see a sniffy review, but my career hasn’t yet nosedived.
So how important are awards and prizes to an author like yourself, especially at this stage in your career?
Personally, I really, really like winning prizes! There are many ways of judging the success of a book – one is word of mouth, people telling you they like it; one is sales; another is prizes. It’s a terrific boost to the writer’s ego to keep winning prizes like I have. And I personally find it a great help and encouragement. Other writers I know regard it a lottery–and indeed it is a lottery. The book most people consider my best book is “From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium”. Other books which perhaps will stand the test of time less well, won lovely prizes as well. There is always the element of the dice throw. I usually get the double six or I get the two-ones!
Speaking of India and Pakistan and the constant tension there’s been between the two countries since partition, do you look forward to a project where you would perhaps dissect the anatomy of this conflict and try to decipher this unending animosity?
I’ve already written extensively about the biggest issue of this part of the world. The weird part is, I have to say, its’ still less of a journey to fly from Delhi to Lahore, than it is to fly from Delhi to Madras. There’s a far bigger cultural-break to fly to South India, than it is to fly across the border! The cultures are still very similar. In an American university, put a Pakistani guy next to an Indian girl in lodgings, and they’ll be busy cooking at each other’s houses, watching cricket together. It’s only the politics and the militaries of both countries that create the enmity.
I would think there’s every reason to hope at some stage people can envisage SAARC, for example, turning into some sort of EU style body whereby you’d have separate countries but borders would be open for people to move around openly. The reality is that India is growing very fast; last year, the Indian economy grew by the size of the entire Pakistan economy! Pakistan is in the same situation as my country, Scotland, being attached to a far bigger nation. I think Scots did the right thing to unite in the UK with England, and in many ways took it over. The last three prime ministers have all got Scottish surnames! We’re essentially a nation of 5 million, with 50 million English people. And I think we did extremely well by that decision.
That’s an interesting way to look at it, but I’m sure a lot of politicians on both sides would lose their marbles at the very thought!
I’m just saying this could be a possibility for you too. The final decision, obviously, is for you guys to take!
Coming back to festivals and literature: Any comments on the whole chain of incidents that led to Salam Rushdie’s pull-out at Jaipur this year? Do you think pulling him out when you did was the right call or are there any regret?
No, I don’t regret the decision at all. We had him on video and he was a complete star, charmed everyone with his talk. What I do regret is announcing his name; we should have just kept it quiet. But then, he had specifically asked be announced. Instead of agreeing, I should have said: “Salman, it’s election time – it’s best if we don’t” We didn’t do that, and that was a major error.
As co-director of the giant Jaipur Literature Festival, how would you compare it, growth wise, with the Karachi Literature Festival?
Well, you’re a lot bigger than we were in our third year. In our third year we were still under 1000 people, and I’d guess there are at least 5000 here today, and that’s a good sign. We’ve had a strange growth curve at Jaipur over the last couple of years—we had 120,000 people attend this year and numbers keep doubling.
Now that you’re acquainted with the festival, can we in the coming years expect you to offer your help and expertise to the organizers here?
I wouldn’t know about that. They seem to be doing quite well for themselves… I see they’re quite capable of running their own show!
There is now this whole cluster of festivals that have grown around Jaipur – like Hyderabad and Karachi. This happens in many parts of the world. For example the Auckland festival in New Zealand happens just before Sydney. Then there’s one that happens in Brisbane right after. So writers who have bothered to go to Australia can get to three festivals and the organizers sometimes share their air fare. Maybe we will do something like that as well.
The last few years have witnessed the birth of many Pakistani authors in both fiction and non-fiction. Any word of advice to people looking forward to building a career out of it in a country like ours, in times like these?
I think it’s possible to be a writer in this part of the world and make a living the way it wasn’t 10 or 15 years ago. A best seller could sell 15-20,000 copies here and 50- 60000 in India, and that’s enough to make a living. It’s not impossible now to be brave enough to say: “I’m going to give it a go!” So, if you feel it’s what you want to do, try it out! It may be that chartered accountancy is your thing! But if you can do it, it can be done!

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Vikram Seth @ KLF 2011

Vikram Seth is an acclaimed Indian poet, novelist and travel writer. He has published six volumes of poetry and is the author of three novels: The Golden Gate, A Suitable Boy, and An Equal Music. His most recent work The Rivered Earth is a collection of four libretti written to accompany music by composer Alec Roth and performed by violinist Philippe Honore. He has also written an opera libretto, a book of other libretti, and two highly regarded travel books.

Vikram’s Panel:
-IN CONVERSATION WITH VIKRAM SETH

First of all, a warm welcome to Karachi. How’re you enjoying the city so far?
Karachi is an amazing city and I love it here. I’ve been to Lahore before a couple of times but I was expecting Karachi to be very different, and it is!
I believe you’ve been out and about since you landed here day before yesterday. What all have you seen and done so far?
Yes, I spent most of yesterday exploring Thatta, Bhambor and Makli because I didn’t want to waste my time in a hotel room! They’re all fantastic places. I went and saw a couple of mosques, and also visited a Kali temple nearby, which was really intriguing. After all the sightseeing, we had lunch at a circuit house, so I got to experience the different aspects of the local civics as well. I have to tell you everything here is surprisingly similar to India. I’m not getting much sleep but I’m thoroughly enjoying myself. We even stopped by a dhaba sort of place to have a typical Karachi breakfast yesterday. I also took a walk along the Clifton beach on my first night here and it was lovely.
You have obviously been to lots of prolific literature festivals around the world before, but this is your first time here, so how does it feel to be a part of this particular event?
I think Ameena and her gang has done an incredible job with the Karachi Literature Festival. I was just going through the schedule and I wanted to go to listen to more than a few of them. To organize something on this scale in Karachi, especially when the city is going through difficult times, is really commendable. I’m also very happy to see the emphasis on Urdu writing, which is very important. Of course one can never really predict the future of such events, but I don’t think they would have arranged a third festival if the first two weren’t successful. And this year surely looks like a big success to me, which means the people of Karachi should look out for another great event next year also!
How important a role do you think poetry and literature play—or should play, for that matter—in our lives, especially in times like these when one wouldn’t be wrong in assuming that the arts and literature have literally been forced to take the back seat?
It’s always nice to be an idealist and hope literature and poetry and art does much, but I really don’t know if it does. Take India and Pakistan, for instance. We’ve had some very fine writers on this side of the border and we’ve had some very fine writers on our side, but all their efforts don’t seem to have done much, wouldn’t you say? Slowly, sure, maybe it will happen, but more because of other factors than literature. At least that’s what I think.
But literature has brought you and Shobhaa Dé, Siddharth Deb and Sharmila Bose here today! Surely that’s a positive sign?
That’s true, and I hope you’re right and we’re able to deliver and bring about a positive change some day… You see, I’m not pessimistic, but I’m not very optimistic either. As time passes, I feel the frequency with which Indians and Pakistani’s meet is becoming less and less. We don’t travel to each other’s countries unless we have a very specific reason for doing so, and even then, it’s usually just touch and go in one city. I feel it’s not in everyone’s interest to solve all the problems. If it were, we’d be way past them by now.
Your book A Suitable Boy is testament to the fact that you’re one of the masters of contemporary fiction, but you also do a lot of travel writing and poetry. What genre do you personally enjoy most?
Well, enjoyment is a tricky word to use. Most of the times when you’re writing you’re not really enjoying yourself, but you continue to do it because it’s your job. I enjoy whatever comes to me. I’d obviously write a travel book when I’m traveling. People often ask me why I’m not writing another fiction; that my fans and publishers are waiting for it, and I just tell them to go away and stop bothering me!
So you believe in writing for yourself?
Pretty much, yes. Of course once I’ve written a book, I fight like anything to get a good advance, but as to whether I’ll write another book like The Golden Gate or A Suitable Boy, well… that’s got nothing to do with commercialism.
When can we expect to get our hands on the much talked about sequel to A Suitable Boy? Will it really be called A Suitable Girl?
I’ll tell you this much: something is definitely in the works, but I don’t even know if it’s going to be called A Suitable Girl or An Unsuitable Boy or what. It could be anything. I have a deadline of about fifteen-seventeen months from now, so let’s see how things turn out. I really hope my publisher will be a little tolerant with me!
So no spoilers for us?
No spoilers at all! In fact, no spoilers for me either. I really don’t know what I’m going to write next.
Tell me a bit about The Revered Earth and your collaboration with Philippe Honoré (violinist) and Alec Roth (compser).
Well, The Revered Earth is a very thin book and apropos to what you were saying earlier, I’m pretty sure it won’t be very popular with the fans. I mean, who the heck would want to read so much poetry, calligraphy and music? For me, the great reward of working with a wonderful violinist and composer is this: that my words, such as they are, will be heard clearly, and that they’ll be cloaked in beautiful music. And this gives me more pleasure than I could ever have imagined.
Any final words on the KLF experience and meeting the many burgeoning Pakistani authors of fiction, non-fiction and poetry?
I think it’s a great thing for Pakistan. I’m so happy to see so many new writers here who’re doing fiction and short-fiction. I’m not very well acquainted with poetry but I believe there are some very prolific poets here today as well. Pakistani writers are very diverse and it only speaks well of the people of Pakistan.

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Shobhaa Dé @ KLF 2011

Shobhaa Dé is one of India’s best-selling authors. All her seventeen books have topped the charts and created records. Four of her titles are course material at the University of London. Her work features extensively in Comparative Literature courses at Universities abroad and within India. Considered something of a literary phenomenon, over a hundred dissertations on her work are in various libraries worldwide. Recipient of several awards for her journalistic contributions, she writes prolifically for Indian and International publications. She has also been the writer of several popular soaps on television. Dé is recognized as an important social commentator and something of an authority on popular culture. She has gone back to writing fiction with a provocative new title, the soon-to-be-published Sethji. Featured on the list of India’s 100 Most Impactful Indians over the past 15 years, by leading lifestyle magazine Verve, she has also been the recipient of the prestigious ‘Veuve Clicquot
International Tribute to Inspirational Women’ in Paris, the only Indian woman to be thus
honoured .

Shobhaa’s Panel:
-SUPERSTAR WRITER: In Conversation with Shobhaa Dé

This is your third trip to Karachi and I know you were keenly looking forward to it. How’re you enjoying the trip so far?
Karachi is always an overwhelming experience, and this time it’s better! I’m thoroughly enjoying myself. It’s only a four day trip and even though I’m sure it won’t be enough I still consider myself very lucky to be here. I attended a mehndi function last night and I’m hoping to go to a Qawwali tonight. In between there have been luncheons and other very exciting get-togethers. I’ve also been invited to dinner by Imran Khan tomorrow, and I’m really looking forward to that as well.
Sounds like your personal schedule is tighter than that of the festival!
I went shawl shopping yesterday and I really want to go to the famous Itwaar (Sunday) Bazaar as well… so yeah, I’m definitely trying to make the most of my time here!
Tell me about your cocktail Sari business. Why did you call it off when it was doing so well?
Well, I did it for three years and it was great fun, but I called it off because my daughters who were supposed to help me with it didn’t give me any time! They were busy with their own lives and had their own priorities: one of them left to study in Paris and the other one got married. So, for me to do it on my own wasn’t really possibly because it was on a big scale and I wanted to focus more on writing. Maybe I’ll go back to it sometime in the future.
But you do still design for yourself sometimes?
Oh yes! I still very much design for myself and my friends and daughters and their friends and their mothers. People keep asking me to create saris for them and I’m always happy to design for them or people I’d like to dress as well. It’s just no longer a commercial project because it was causing too much tension and I’m not a businesswoman. My daughters were supposed to look after that, not me!
You’re an active blogger and interact actively with your fans online. What do you think is the importance of such discourse for public figures like yourself?
I think all online social platforms, especially blogs, are democratic spaces that are very important in today’s world. It’s your space where you can write and express yourself. I haven’t monetized my blog even though there have been several offers. I don’t want to be paid for it. I control my space and I love it. In fact, I’m very possessive about it. I actually enjoy the idea of people leaving comments on it that are critical or negative. Of course I don’t tolerate abusive comments and just delete them, but if someone challenges me, I’m all game. I enjoy a good democratic dialogue.
And just like everything else you do, you’ve also made blogging quite fashionable! How often do you make it a point to blog and what is the usual subject matter of your posts?
Really? That’s a nice way of putting it! My blog is important to me because the minute I blog I get responses from around the world and it’s amazing. Sometimes when I’m traveling, people would come up to me and tell me they’re my “blogdost” (blog friend). So, I’m always open to building new friendships and relationships. I use my blog to communicate something that’s more universal. Things people would want to know about. My blogdosts actually wait for me to watch a Bollywood film and comment on it! And it’s not just my blog, I enjoy twitter a lot too, but I don’t use it to tell the world that I’ve had this and this for lunch and that I’ll now be taking a nap or something like most people. I use it to make a political or a social comment; or to comment on a Bollywood film that I’ve seen and there’s something in it that I find ridiculous, for instance. I don’t believe in sharing my private life with anyone on social networking sites like most people.
You’d be surprised to know but children are all very jealous of my blogdosts because they say I give them a lot of my time and I’ve forged very good penships with most of them. All my children have their own blogs now too and one of them is writing a terrific travel blog called ‘Azad Awaz’. You should check it out.
You’re also famous for “inventing” the very colloquial and practical Hinglish. Was it a conscious effort, creating this new language that would eventually catch on with younger writers in the region? Does it bother you when others use and abuse it so?
The language I use in my books is street-speak; it’s very colloquial: it’s how people actually communicate. People in India and Pakistan are suffering from a colonial hangover. Most of our English authors tend to write like Jane Austin or Charles Dickens. It was archaic and obsolete and it certainly didn’t capture the flavor of the Sub-continent like it should! That’s not how we speak! I’m sure you use a lot of Urdu words when you’re speaking and I always use a bit of Marathi, a bit of Hindi and a bit of Urdu when I speak… and that’s become our language. We appropriate it and make it our own. It’s always very important for me to do that. Of course it wasn’t a conscious decision that I wanted to start a new language. I just started writing like that and it caught on, and eventually everybody started writing in a similar way. And it doesn’t bother me one bit with others use it. In fact, it makes me quite proud!
Tell me a bit about your upcoming novel ‘Sethji’. How does it feel to come back to writing fiction after fifteen years?
I really enjoy writing non-fiction, but coming back to fiction for me is like coming full circle. ‘Sethji’ is based on a slimy, despicable Delhi based politician who’s been in my mind for a long time. He’s not a big name; he’s a hustler. He would like to be very powerful and he’s hustling his way through the society to get there. He’s a guy who’s forever looking to do ‘setting,’ but never really making it big. He’s an interesting character and I’m sure you’ll enjoy him very much.
Modeling, acting, writing, reporting, hosting and designing—you’ve pretty much done it all. What’s next on your list of agendas?
To be honest, writing is my one vocation. It’s my passion and it’s what defines me professionally. Everything else is just icing on the cake. They’re just little thrills I enjoy, but nothing I’d take very seriously. I feel very flattered when I’m constantly being asked to model at this age! I’ve just done a shoot for Vogue and Hello! It’s all good fun. I’d like to model with my daughter and my granddaughter now and show the world the three generations!
In your session earlier you mentioned that you make it a point to writer at least 2,500 words every day, whether or not they’re published. Would you call this a matter of discipline or is it simply an addiction you’ve chosen not to fight?
It’s a nasha (addiction), definitely! I haven’t been able to write for couple of days and I’m already experiencing withdrawal symptoms! My day doesn’t go very well if I don’t write at least a couple of pages. In fact, I would rush to my room right now to write for my blog or something if the internet in my room was working.
Would you encourage other writers to ‘smoke the same pipe’ then!?
Of course! If not 2500 words, write 300 or 500 words at least, because seriously speaking, it’s about the discipline as well. Write whatever you want: it could a blog; it could be a part of your reportage; or it could be fiction.
You’re obviously not new to literature festivals, but this is your first time here, so how does it feel to be a part of this particular event?
The Karachi Literature Festival is a brilliant effort. It so far hasn’t been converted into a carnival. In terms of numbers, sure, Jaipur is gigantic and it’s right there on the map as one of the top three literature fests in the world, but I’ve felt that the focus there is not as much on the writers and writing as much as it is on the sideshows. A lot of people who attend the Jaipur festival aren’t necessarily readers, but everybody I’ve met here in Karachi is here for the love of books; they all have their favourite authors and know specifically what sessions they want to attend. The atmosphere is much more literary. The focus is very much on book and the writers, like it should be.
Who were you most eagerly looking forward to meet at the festival this year?
I wanted to hear Hanif Kureishi but I missed his session because it overlapped with my time in the media room. I heard him at Jaipur and very much wanted to see if he’d say today what he had said there. I absolutely adore Vikram Seth and hopefully I’ll catch his session tomorrow!
Any comments on the Salam Rushdie’s last-minute pull-out at Jaipur this year?
Well, I wrote extensively about the Salman Rushdie incident and I spoke about it on television as well. It’s not really about Salman Rushdie. I personally don’t care about him. I mean, of course ‘Satanic Verses’ has offended a lot of people and I understand that, but the management at Jaipur failed, in my opinion, in handling the situation in a decent fashion. I mean, if it was an honest protest, I would have been OK with it because everybody is entitled to protest, but I didn’t care much for it since it was a politically motivated protest and some people were looking to gain political advantage prior to the elections in UP that are just around the corner.
Salman has been in and out of the country many times and he was present at the Jaipur Literature Festival in 2007 or 2009 as well. Nobody even bothered about his presence there then! This whole incident has turned him into a martyr and a hero in many segments. I just wish he had had the guts to come and face whatever it is. You must have the guts to defend your work. If you decide to stay away, they you should stay away. I personally would never have decided to speak over a video link like that.
Any final words on the whole Karachi experience? Can we expect to see you here again next year?
It’s like a sister city to Mumbai. I feel so completely at home here. I actually have to pinch myself to remind myself that I’m actually in Karachi. We have so much in common. The welcome has been overwhelming for me and I hope they invite me again next year. I would love to sit down and chat with you again and next time hopefully it’ll be for a longer time!

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Mohsin Hamid @ KLF 2011

Mohsin Hamid is a novelist best known for his second novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which explored contemporary identity issues and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and is presently being made into a movie. His earlier Moth Smoke exposed the decadence of the elite of Lahore. He also contributes op-ed articles to the daily Press here and overseas. He lives between Lahore, where he was born, and other places, including New York and London.

Mohsin’s panel:
-PAKISTANI CONTEMPORARY FICTION WRITINGS

You’ve made it a point to attend the Karachi Literature Festival all three years. How does it feel to be a part of an event that seems to be getting bigger and better with each passing year?
It’s great, obviously. I don’t know what the attendance figures are, but the big change is people seem to be getting used to it. That’s good because people who’re interested in writing, reading, and reviewing or love literature generally all get together. It’s becoming a part of the ecosystem, which is good.

Who were you most looking forward to meeting here this year?

A lot of my friends are writers who I only get to see at events like this so it’s great to get together with all of them.

Xpozé recently ran an interview with Meesha Shafi who’s a part of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the movie. How was the experience of having one of your books turned into a major film project?

So far so good. The filming is done; it’s now in editing and post portion. Hopefully it’ll be out in the winter. I’m sure Meesha and the rest of the cast have all done a good job.

Are you glad that it was Mira Nair who picked it up and not somebody else?

Of course I’m glad it was Mira Nair, but then I haven’t seen it yet, so…

When can we expect to get our hands on the next Mohsin Hamid title?

I’m very superstitious: I never talk about my future projects!

Any comments on Xpozé turning you into a cover boy with Kamila Shamsie and Danial Moinuddin last year?

It was definitely a surprise! I didn’t know those pictures were going to end up on the cover of a magazine! It was a nice surprise.