What Joyland achieved ‘unprecedented,’ producer says as film misses Oscar nominations

Pakistani filmmaker Saim Sadiq speaks during the 2023 Sundance Film Festival "Joyland" Premiere at Park Avenue Theater on January 21, 2023 in Park City, Utah. (Photo courtesy: AFP)
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Updated 25 January 2023

What Joyland achieved ‘unprecedented,’ producer says as film misses Oscar nominations

  • Joyland continues to fight legal battles for its release in Punjab province where it has been banned
  • The film celebrates ‘transgender culture’ in Pakistan, won the Cannes ‘Queer Palm’ prize last year

KARACHI: After missing the nomination in the International Feature Film category for the 95th Academy Awards, the makers of Joyland promised to follow the “unprecedented” success of the film on Wednesday by coming up with more creative productions to dominate the global entertainment industry.
Joyland won the Cannes “Queer Palm” prize for best feminist-themed movie last year as well as the Jury Prize in the “Un Certain Regard” competition, a segment focusing on young, innovative cinema talent. It also made it to the ongoing Sundance Film Festival 2023 in the United States.
Last month, the Pakistani film also featured in the list of 15 outstanding international productions that advanced to the final nomination stage ahead of the award ceremony scheduled to take place in March. However, it could not make the cut in the list of final five.
“What Joyland has been able to achieve so far is unprecedented and gives us hope for many more films to come out of Pakistan and take the global stage,” the film’s co-producer and casting director Sana Jafri told Arab News. “Being selected in the top 15 films out of over a hundred films at the Academy Awards is a testimony of the talent and hard work that went into creating the film and shows the potential of the creatives in Pakistan, especially keeping in mind the limited resources and support we have.”
Despite receiving critical acclaim abroad, Joyland has had a tough run in Pakistan that banned its screening at movie theaters last November by reversing a previous all-clear for release order. The film, which celebrates “transgender culture” in Pakistan, was later allowed to be released in some parts of the country, though it remains banned in the most populous Punjab province.
“While we are still fighting a legal battle to get the film released in Punjab for over two months, every day our inbox is filled with messages of people asking us about the release and it is heartbreaking to know that our own people have been deprived of what is theirs,” Jafri continued.
She added Pakistan had seldom celebrated its own creatives and hoped to witness a change soon.
The Joyland producer maintained there were many important voices and stories in the country that needed to be heard while pointing out that everyone should have the freedom to talk about what is important to them.
“We, as a nation, need to stop policing artists,” Jafri said. “This isn’t something new for us. We did this to [the 18th century Punjabi poet] Bulleh Shah and [Urdu short story writer] Saadat Hassan Manto. I hope we learn our lesson before it is too late.”
Joyland stars an ensemble cast including Ali Junejo, Rasti Farooq, Alina Khan, Sarwat Gilani, Sania Saeed, Sohail Sameer and Salman Peer.
Reacting to the film missing the final nomination for the Oscars, veteran Pakistani actress Sania Saeed said: “It didn’t make it, it didn’t make it. It has come this far and is still going strong despite everything. Also, a first to have been shown and won so many awards around the world at the most prestigious festivals, made some money too. We all worked so hard. We had so much fun working on it and with each other. I am so grateful.”


Hijabi ‘indie mothers’ embraced by young Indonesian music fans

Updated 01 February 2023

Hijabi ‘indie mothers’ embraced by young Indonesian music fans

  • Originally formed 47 years ago as a Qur'an recital group, the all-female Nasida Ria band now numbers a dozen performers, fusing Arabic and traditional Indonesian dangdut music

JAKARTA: At a packed festival in central Jakarta, hijab-clad sexagenarian singer Rien Djamain bursts into an upbeat track about nuclear destruction to a crowd of thousands, mostly young Indonesians.
Behind the frontwoman of the all-female Nasida Ria band are her fellow musicians, dressed in silver and black sequined dresses, backing up her velvety vocals with bongos, violins, mandolins, bamboo flutes and tambourines.
“O cursed creator of the nuclear bomb, why do you invite the day of judgment?” she sang on the track “Bom Nuklir.”
Young concert-goers swung from side to side during the macabre ditty, shouting “mother!” at their favorite band members.
Originally formed 47 years ago as a Qur'an recital group, the band now numbers a dozen performers, fusing Arabic and traditional Indonesian dangdut music, which was once thought tacky and dated in cosmopolitan circles.
Their humorous Islamic pop tunes about serious themes, such as justice and human rights, have caught on with social media-obsessed young people looking for some levity in their playlists.
Riding the wave of Indonesia’s increasingly vibrant music scene, the band’s droll lyrics have gained them a certain notoriety.
Their songs are laden with similes and metaphors, comparing womanizers to “seditious bats” or describing how “monkeys like to carry rifles, humans like to show nipples.”
Twenty-three-year-old Fathul Amin said he thinks the band is “more than just cool.”

The Nasida Ria band performs on stage at a festival in Jakarta on January 6, 2023. (AFP)

“Why? Because all of the members are women who can play more than three musical instruments,” he said.
Screen grabs of Nasida Ria’s expressive words have been widely shared as memes, forging a connection between the band and the younger generation.
“That is how youths communicate nowadays, and that is OK. More importantly, it shows that our messages through the songs are well accepted,” Djamain told AFP.
“I am grateful that despite the mostly old members, Nasida Ria is still loved by the youths. That our music is still enjoyable to them.”

Music consumption in Indonesia is evolving, experts say, with listeners adding combinations of genres that include more traditional sounds — such as dangdut with Javanese lyrics or reggae-pop sung in eastern Indonesian dialects — to their Western favorites.
That growing trend has made Nasida Ria more relevant than ever, according to music journalist Shindu Alpito.
“The younger generations tend to celebrate music with a sense of humor. They are attracted not only to the musical aesthetics but also musical comedy,” he told AFP.
Dangdut music has been increasing in popularity, with acts now playing at festivals across Indonesia, performing for young audiences alongside rock bands, in addition to gigs for their usual crowds in smaller villages.
“A lot of youths in... Jakarta are re-embracing local music. Now, these types of music are what they call a guilty pleasure,” Alpito said.
“Islamic songs are usually serious, with lyrics carefully quoting Islamic teachings. However, Nasida Ria have charmed broader society through a language style that is easy to understand and amusing.”

The group capitalized on the demand for entertainment while the world was stuck indoors and concert venues were closed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Nasida Ria’s youngest member, 27-year-old Nazla Zain, attributes their success to modern technology allowing people from all backgrounds to be exposed to their music.
“We are keeping up with the trend by using YouTube and other music applications,” she said.
“So now youths with mobile phones can listen to our songs. That might be a reason why they like us.”
They have seen their YouTube subscriber count surge six-fold since March 2020 to nearly 500,000.
They also boast nearly 50,000 listeners every month on streaming platform Spotify and 38,000 followers on Instagram.
“They are so cool as they still perform at a not-so-young age,” said 32-year-old metal and punk fan Ricky Prasetyo.
“No wonder many people call them the indie mothers.”
 


Pakistani singer Kaifi Khalil delights Jeddah audience with hit songs

Updated 29 January 2023

Pakistani singer Kaifi Khalil delights Jeddah audience with hit songs

  • Kaifi Khalil enjoyed a rapid rise to fame thanks to his mesmerizing vocals and soulful music
  • The singer said the love and warmth shown from the audience in Jeddah were 'spectacular'

JEDDAH: Rising Pakistani music star Kaifi Khalil captivated audience members at a concert held on Jan. 26 at the WA Hotel in Jeddah.

The singer enjoyed a rapid rise to fame thanks to his mesmerizing vocals and soulful music. During the concert, he performed recent release “Kahani Suno 2.0” — which hit global world charts last year — along with other desi, folk and Sufi songs.

Speaking to Arab News, Khalil said the amount of love and warmth shown from the audience in Jeddah at his first international concert was “spectacular,” adding: “I had promised myself to fill the evening with a rendition of all my songs and tried my best to make sure every single person had a good time.”

He said: “My excitement hit the roof when I first learned that I will be performing in Saudi Arabia. I cannot describe this moment and the love I have received from the time I stepped into the country.”

Pakistani singer Kaifi Khalil performs at the WA Hotel in Jeddah on January 26, 2023. (Supplied)

Although he has performed many times back in Pakistan, Khalil was overwhelmed to see the response from an international audience, which has inspired him to return to the Kingdom.

“The constant cheering from the crowd was pure magic. When the performance was coming to an end, it dawned on me that everything that I felt was so precious that I will cherish it forever,” he said.

The constant cheering from the crowd was pure magic. When the performance was coming to an end, it dawned on me that everything that I felt was so precious that I will cherish it forever.

Kaifi Khalil

After Khalil’s music went viral last year, the singer became an inspiration to many, with children, teenagers and adults attending in the Jeddah concert.

One concertgoer described the event as a “magical night,” adding: “I don’t know how many times I have listened to Kaifi Khalil’s songs. To watch him perform live was a dream come true moment. He has such a soulful voice that made the entire hall sing along with him.”

Mohammed Abdullah, another fan, said: “I was so excited to experience the vibe and music of Kaifi Khalil. He is totally a gem in the music industry. Besides, I would like to extend gratitude to the organizers for the very well executed event as we could watch him clearly from our seats.”

Alongside Khalil, the event also included versatile singers Abida Hussain and Saleem Rifiq.

Fans react as Pakistani singer Kafii Khalil performs onstage in Jeddah on January 26, 2023. (Supplied)

Nosheen Waseem, founder of Nosheen Arts Culture Center, which oversaw the concert, said that the center aim to take the entertainment industry in the Kingdom to the “next level.” The event was organized to mark the successful completion of the first year of NACC, which involved organizing a range of nonprofit events.

Salman Lodhi and Talha Abdul Ghafoor, who organized the event, said: “The turnout was incredible — around 300 people attended the musical night. The atmosphere was electric. Everyone had a great time and the audience was on their feet for the entire performance.”


ULTRA Abu Dhabi music festival releases lineup of headliners for debut edition

Updated 28 January 2023

ULTRA Abu Dhabi music festival releases lineup of headliners for debut edition

LONDON: The international music festival, ULTRA Worldwide, has announced the first wave of headliners set to play the inaugural edition of ULTRA Abu Dhabi on March 4-5 at Etihad Park.

“Multi-award winning and platinum-record selling artist Afrojack is no stranger to headlining ULTRA Main Stages across the world, and will be on hand to deliver yet another high-octane set,” organizers said.

“Responsible for some of the biggest hits in the world, Grammy-nominated Calvin Harris will bring the beats to Yas Island for one of his signature high-energy sets (and) Dharma Worldwide boss KSHMR will whip the crowd into a frenzy with his culture-crossing sonics,” they also said.

Gud Vibrations label co-founder NGHTMRE will appear on the Main Stage with his signature blend of electronic music and producer Skrillex, who has won eight Grammy Awards — more than any other electronic dance music artist, will bring his shapeshifting soundscapes to the festival.

ULTRA Abu Dhabi will also host ULTRA’s underground techno and house concept RESISTANCE, featuring Drumcode founder and Swedish techno titan Adam Beyer.

“Producer and EXHALE label boss Amelie Lens will return to the Middle East to deliver her mesmerising blend of techno, while British legends Sasha_John Digweed bring decades of dance floor expertise to Abu Dhabi,” they added.

Etihad Park, located on Yas Island, is the largest open-air venue in the region and one of the world’s fastest growing leisure and entertainment destinations.

“ULTRA Worldwide sets the benchmark when it comes to delivering the ultimate festival experience, combining top-tier talent, cutting-edge technology and large-scale productions,” the statement said, adding: “As the most international music festival brand boasting active events on all six inhabited continents, it’s no surprise that ULTRA Worldwide’s Middle East debut will be one of the most highly anticipated events across the UAE this year.”

The three-day festival will offer a premium general experience pass that allows access holders to dedicated entrance gates, toilets, food and beverage stands, as well as a private lounge area. It will also offer VVIP passes at both stages.

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‘Extension of their personality’: Meet Pakistani TikTokers taking style risks to amass followers

Updated 24 January 2023

‘Extension of their personality’: Meet Pakistani TikTokers taking style risks to amass followers

  • Growing number of Pakistani influencers are aiming to make unique fashion statements
  • Stylists welcome young people expressing their own personalities and styles on social media

KARACHI: Popular Pakistani TikToker Uroosa Khan loves changing her hair color “frequently.” And Tahir Abbas takes pains to design flamboyant costumes for his musical performances on the popular short-video app.

Khan and Abbas are among a growing number of Pakistani TikTok stars who are going against the grain, using unique hair styles and color, makeup, clothes, tattoos and dance moves to make a “statement” and draw followers in a country where over 20 million people use the video app.

Uroosa Khan, who currently has 60,000 followers on TikTok and creates transition videos, says her unique selling point to draw in a larger audience is her hair.

“I have experimented with almost every [hair] color on myself,” Khan, 26, told Arab News. “I was bullied in school for being a tomboy so I changed my look to stand out from the crowd. It actually gives me confidence and now has become a part of my personality.”

It was “socially challenging,” Khan said, when she first experimented with a “funky” hair color in 2016.

“But I was in my vibe from the start and I didn’t care about criticism. Now, it’s different. Everyone appreciates it,” the influencer said, adding that she complimented her hair with “funky makeup looks, including glittery eyes, blue lipsticks and neon eye liners.”

“It looks so colorful and reflects my personality,” she said. “I really love to see how my followers, even my friends, ask for my unique hair color advice. The hair transformation actually gives me so much confidence that people’s negative opinions don’t affect me.”

Another TikToker, Daniya Kanwal, who has nearly a million followers on TikTok and creates dance and lifestyle content, said showcasing unique haircuts like a boy bob are “all about how comfortable and confident you feel.”

“I’ve had short hair for most years of my childhood. I remember I was diagnosed with a disease and I had to go bald,” she said.

“Those were the days I felt so different from everyone, I wanted to hide my face and never look up again. The younger me was not out of the box, but who I am right now is the exact opposite, I like to experiment with my hair and looks, and be confident in each one of them.”

Kanwal also likes making a “statement” with accessories.

“What makes my accessories great is thrifting and picking little things when I travel,” the 20-year-old said. “You can turn a boring outfit into a cool one by accessorizing it the right way and carrying it with confidence.”

Though it is sometimes difficult for people to understand her unique styles and she has been the victim of online trolling, Kanwal said it did not bother her.

“Social media trolls are obviously always there and for people it’s a little hard to digest someone’s style if it’s not what they expect (someone) of that gender to look like,” she said.

“At some point, my younger version would’ve thought about the validation from people on how I should dress or cut my hair but this version of me accepts me for who I really am and wants to style in the way I feel most confident in.”

Tahir Abbas, with 235,000 followers on TikTok, said amassing new followers required taking style risks.

“I try to wear something different and mostly design my own outfits. In cases where I opt for a designer, I do my homework first,” said Abbas, whose TikTok content features original musical performances.

“For my recent album ‘Ramz,’ I designed the dresses myself. The jacket I am wearing in the song ‘Mann Meriyan,’ ... I bought the cloth, the patches and did the whole design,” Abbas said, describing a bright orange jacket with colorful patches sown on.

Mehek Saeed, a Lahore-based stylist, welcomed the young stars for expressing their unique styles on social media.

“Style is a form of self-expression, particularly, when people put themselves out there on social platforms such as Instagram and TikTok,” she said. “So, if these TikTokers have bright-colored hair or bright eye shadow, they are probably trying to put across a mood or just trying to express themselves. And I am all for it.”

“This hair and this makeup is probably an extension of their personality,” she added. “More power to them.”


Iranian women take center stage at Sundance film festival

Updated 23 January 2023

Iranian women take center stage at Sundance film festival

  • Their inclusion in Sundance’s line-up follows four months of mass demonstrations in Iran, triggered by anger over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in teh hands of religious police

PARK CITY, US: Movies by and about Iranian women took center stage at the Sundance film festival this weekend, as diaspora filmmakers reflected on female-led protests and the deadly challenges of censorship and resistance in their ancestral home.
“Joonam,” a documentary about a three-generation family of Iranian women now living in Vermont, and “The Persian Version,” a colorful but candid dramedy which hops between Iran and New York over several decades, received world premieres on Saturday.
“Shayda,” a drama directed by Noora Niasari about a Persian woman who flees her abusive husband in Australia, debuted earlier at the high-profile independent film festival in Utah.
Their inclusion in Sundance’s line-up follows four months of mass demonstrations in Iran, triggered by anger over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after her arrest for violating the Islamic republic’s strict dress rules.
At least 481 people have been killed in the crackdown and at least 109 others are facing execution in protest-related cases, in addition to the four already put to death, according to NGO Iran Human Rights.
The protesters “are literally putting themselves on the line... I stand in support with them 100 percent,” said “Joonam” director Sierra Urich.
HIGHLIGHTS

 

Movies by and about Iranian women that are featured at the festival:

Joonam,” a documentary about a three-generation family of Iranian women now living in Vermont,

The Persian Version,” a colorful but candid dramedy which hops between Iran and New York over several decades

Shayda,” a drama directed by Noora Niasari about a Persian woman who flees her abusive husband in Australia

“You can’t speak freely in Iran, they’re imprisoning filmmakers and imprisoning artists,” Urich told AFP.
“I can speak freely outside of Iran — to an extent.”
Iran has arrested a number of celebrities from the country’s film industry in connection with the protest movement. Renowned director Jafar Panahi has been in prison six months following an earlier conviction for “propaganda against the system.”
While US-born Urich cannot visit Iran for security reasons, her film chronicles her efforts to connect with and better understand the country by learning Farsi and interviewing her mother and grandmother.

She learns about the murder of an ancestor, and the story of how her grandmother was married at 14 to a man she met before reaching puberty.
While her grandmother is happy to reflect, her mother worries it is “very dangerous” to delve into the family’s past on camera, at one point warning her daughter that in Iran, “the filmmaker will be the one hanged.”
“Coming into Sundance, the film is on the world stage. I think Iranians are always weighing how truthful they will be, versus what they will say causing consequences for people that are back home,” said Urich.
“It wasn’t until my grandmother shared the story of her grandfather’s martyrdom that I really understood this wall of fear that had been built by this authoritarian regime, to so many people in Iran, outside of Iran.
“My mom was trying to protect me from that reality.”

In “The Persian Version,” rebellious young Iranian-American Leila (played by Layla Mohammadi) has a fractured relationship with her immigrant mother, caused by Leila’s sexuality and their seemingly different views on the role of women.
But as she uncovers the truth about her parents’ experiences in Iran and their departure from the country, both generations of women gain perspective on their complicated heritage.
“I’m proud to have an Iranian film here at this moment about women,” said director Maryam Keshavarz at the film’s premiere, where cast members wore badges in Iranian flag colors with the protest movement’s slogan “Woman Life Freedom.”
“I think it speaks to the resilience through the decades, not just now. It’s been forever in the making,” she said.
“Even before this regime, women have always pushed against society for what they’ve wanted.
“They’ve upended the norms and they’ve learned to find their way of being free.”
Keshavarz has not been able to return to Iran since the release of her debut film “Circumstance,” about two teenage Persian girls who fall in love.
Urich still hopes to visit one day, but is watching the protests from afar, and for now hopes that her film can be “a small part of that struggle for freedom.”
“I think part of why it’s so moving to see what’s happening in Iran right now, and to be here with these other filmmakers,” she said, “is it’s a real sense of community, and being able to tell our stories openly.”