Pakistani man takes internet by storm with Danny Morrison cricket commentary impression

Pakistani Tiktoker Waqar Bettani speaks during an interview with Arab News in Peshawar on March 13, 2024. (AN Photo)
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Updated 14 March 2024
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Pakistani man takes internet by storm with Danny Morrison cricket commentary impression

  • Zoology student Waqar Bettani hails from northwestern Pakistan, works two jobs to earn a living
  • Bettani invited for commentary at local tournaments, hopes to be invited to international series

PESHAWAR: The young man held the hammer up to his mouth as a makeshift microphone, looked straight at the camera and burst into spirited commentary about an imaginary cricket match.

The accent is distinctive: that of famed New Zealand cricket commentator and former cricketer Danny Morrison, but the man behind the voice is a 21-year-old Pakistani who became an overnight sensation after a social media influencer captured his commentary on video and the footage went viral.

Waqar Bettani hails from the impoverished and volatile settlement of Lakki Marwat in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, but moved with his family, including five sisters and four brothers, to the provincial capital of Peshawar two decades ago, where he is currently pursuing a zoology degree and juggling two jobs.

Speaking to Arab News, Bettani said the success of his first video clip inspired him to set up his own social media accounts on TikTok and Instagram.

“I started posting videos over there and they started going viral,” he said.

“When I talk, I say my name is ‘Danny Morrison Lite’, so I am a lite version of him because I love his commentary and my accent is just the same as his.”

Bettani said people widely told him he sounded like Morrison: “So, probably I will say that he is my ideal in commentary.”

He said he had enjoyed speaking in and polishing his English since he was a school-going child.

“I try everyday to polish my English speaking skills. In school, I would speak in English with my teachers and friends randomly and got the confidence to speak it in public and on social media.”

Bettani said he would fanatically watch cricket since he was a kid and listened to television commentary on high volume, which inspired him to start mimicking commentators and doing commentary at local cricket grounds.

Morrison has been his favorite for years:

“Danny Morrison is my inspiration and I like his aggression in commentary for which he is admired across the globe in different cricket leagues."

“THIS IS MY LIFE”

Like many of his friends in the northwestern city, Bettani is a fan of Peshawar Zalmi, a Pakistani franchise Twenty20 cricket team which plays in the Pakistan Super League and represents KP capital Peshawar.

“I support my own team, Peshawar Zalmi, the Yellow Storm,” Bettani said. “We love cricket, we love PSL, we are supporting our teams and we are behind them.”

He is also a huge admirer of Zalmi captain Babar Azam, one of the top performers in the ongoing PSL tournament and a former all-format captain of the Pakistan cricket team.

“I love the one and only King Babar Azam. He is on top in the world [rankings], and he is one of the greatest batsmen of present time in PSL and BPL [Bangladesh Premier League].”

Bettani has himself also received widespread recognition for his commentary and was recently invited at district-level tournaments to showcase his skills.

“I look forward to being part of the international cricket commentary box and in national level games like PSL,” he said. “I will find my place there.”

But the fan following has not made his life's challenges easier. He still has to work to support his family, which owns a small shop along the Ring Road in Peshawar.

The zoology student attends classes three days a week at a local private college and spends the remaining time working two jobs.

“I work in a quartz stone factory which exports to China,” Bettani said. “In the daytime, I work there and on the night shift, I work as a security guard. This is my life.”


Dave Chappell says support for Gaza war is result of ‘antisemitism in the West’ at Abu Dhabi show 

Updated 24 May 2024
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Dave Chappell says support for Gaza war is result of ‘antisemitism in the West’ at Abu Dhabi show 

DUBAI: US comedian Dave Chappelle performed to a packed audience at Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Arena on Thursday as part of Abu Dhabi Comedy Week, where he also addressed the war in Gaza.

“What is happening in Gaza is a direct result of antisemitism in the West,” he said on stage.

“If you are in America, the best thing you can do is to make American Jews feel safe, feel loved and supported so they can know they don’t have to support a country that is committing genocide just to feel safe,” he added. 

Chappelle previously slammed the Israeli bombing of Gaza, as well as the US support for it, at a show in Boston in October.

According to people in attendance, an audience member asked Chappelle to shut up, which sparked a heated response from the comedian.  

“You can’t take tens of billions from my country and go kill innocent women and children and tell me to shut the f--- up,” he said, according to the Wall Street Journal.  

Some members of the crowd began chanting “free Palestine,” to which Chappelle replied: “You are damn right, free Palestine.”  


World celebrities hit red carpet at Saudi-backed amfAR gala

Updated 24 May 2024
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World celebrities hit red carpet at Saudi-backed amfAR gala

  • Red Sea International Film Festival sponsors for fourth year
  • Demi Moore was host, which Elizabeth Taylor held in 1993

DUBAI: Some of the world’s biggest stars, in the French Riviera for the Cannes Film Festival, made appearances on Thursday at the 30th annual amfAR gala as Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea International Film Festival took on the role of presenting sponsor for the fourth consecutive year. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by amfAR (@amfar)

Among those in attendance were Demi Moore, Michelle Yeoh, Heidi Klum, Kelly Rowland, Andie MacDowell, Diane Kruger, Colman Domingo, Michelle Rodriguez, Winnie Harlow, Robin Thicke, Diplo, Paris Jackson, Petra Nemcova, Karolina Kurkova, Natasha Poly, and Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by amfAR (@amfar)

The RSIFF’s CEO Mohammed Al-Turki and chairwoman Jomana Al-Rashid were also present.

The American Foundation for AIDS Research, or AmfAR, is dedicated to the support of AIDS research, prevention, education and advocacy. It has raised nearly $900 million since 1985.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by amfAR (@amfar)

Demi Moore, whose film “The Substance” caused a stir at Cannes, hosted this year’s gala, a role launched by Elizabeth Taylor in 1993.

The red carpet at the Hotel du Cap, Eden Roc, was awash with models, actors, singers and fashion designers as well as plenty of festival movers and shakers.

A few celebrities opted for gowns by Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad including German model Toni Garrn, sports commentator Alex Scott and Brazilian model Thayna Soares.

Garrn wore a purple beaded strapless gown with scalloped edges and spider web-like details, while Scott was adorned with a rose gold off-the-shoulder sheer tulle beaded gown, and Soares opted for a hooded gold beaded short dress with a plunging neckline and embroidered tassels.

German model Kim Dammer dazzled on the red carpet in a glamorous halter-neck black gown, intricately embroidered with geometric shapes by Lebanese couturier Rami Kadi.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Kim Dammer (@kimdammer)

Lebanese designer Nicolas Jebran was championed by Turkish actress Hande Ercel, who wore a black gown adorned with red and blue beads and featuring a plunging neckline.

Egyptian actress Yasmine Sabri was also in attendance, wearing a sparkly silver dress by Lebanese designer Jean Pierre Khoury. The dress featured thousands of mirrored tube beads hand-sewn onto a corseted silhouette, according to the designer.


Summer cinema: The blockbusters coming your way over the next few months

Updated 24 May 2024
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Summer cinema: The blockbusters coming your way over the next few months

DUBAI: Here are eight blockbusters coming your way over the next few months.

‘Deadpool & Wolverine’ 

Director: Shawn Levy 

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Hugh Jackman, Emma Corrin 

Release date: July 26 

In what will likely be the summer’s biggest box-office draw, the now-retired Wade Wilson — aka the indestructible mercenary Deadpool — is pulled from his sedate existence by the Time Variance Authority and forced into carrying out a mission with fellow anti-hero Wolverine, of X-Men fame. Both men reluctantly engage in a task that “will change the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.” 

‘Hit Man’ 

Director: Richard Linklater 

Starring: Glen Powell, Adria Arjona, Austin Amelio 

Release date: May 24 (June 7, Netflix) 

Action-comedy from one of the best directors around. Gary Johnson (Powell, who co-wrote the movie with Linklater) is a straight-laced college professor who moonlights as a fake hitman to entrap criminals for the local police department. But when he falls for a prospective client, Madisson (Arjona), Gary gets in way above his head, and his lies start to catch up with him. The bizarre premise is actually based on a true story (although Linklater has stressed that his film is not a faithful recreation of events).  

‘Bad Boys: Ride or Die’ 

Directors: Adil & Bilall 

Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens 

Release date: June 7 

Detectives Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) are back for a fourth big-screen outing. This time, they’re investigating their own, when their late captain is accused of having been working with drug cartels. The two men set out to clear their captain’s name and find out who in the Miami PD could be responsible for framing him, only to be set up themselves and forced to go on the run. 

‘Inside Out 2’ 

Director: Kelsey Mann 

Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black 

Release date: June 14 

The sequel to Pixar’s much-loved “Inside Out” — about a young girl called Riley and the five personified emotions that determine her thoughts and actions — finds Riley entering her teenage years, and ushering in some new emotions (Anxiety, Ennui, Embarrassment and Envy) who throw off the delicate equilibrium achieved by the veterans Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. 

‘The Bikeriders’ 

Director: Jeff Nichols 

Starring: Jodie Comer, Austin Butler, Tom Hardy 

Release date: June 21 

Nichols’ tale of the exploits of the fictional Chicago-based biker gang the Outlaws MC over the course of the 1960s is inspired by the photo-book of the same name by Danny Lyon. What, at first, is intended as a place of refuge and sanctuary for local outsiders where they can feel free to be themselves evolves — or devolves — into a violent crime organization.  

‘Despicable Me 4’ 

Director: Chris Renaud 

Voice cast: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Pierre Coffin 

Release date: July 3 

Gru — once a supervillain, now an agent for good — is living happily with his wife (and fellow agent) Lucy, their three adopted daughters, and their newborn baby boy. But when Maxime Le Mal, the dangerous criminal that Gru helped put away, escapes from prison, Gru and his family (and, of course, his Minions) must go on the run. 

‘Fly Me to the Moon’ 

Director: Greg Berlanti 

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Anna Garcia 

Release date: July 12 

Set in the Space Race of the 1960s, Berlanti’s romantic comedy-drama finds NASA director Cole Davis preparing for the launch of Apollo 11. An already stressful situation is made worse when he falls for marketing specialist Kelly Jones, whom the government has appointed to stage a fake moon landing in case anything goes wrong with the real deal.   

‘Borderlands’ 

Director: Eli Roth 

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Kevin Hart, Jack Black 

Release date: August 9 

With video-game adaptations no longer the dross they used to be, thanks to the success of TV shows like “The Last of Us” and “Fallout,” hopes are high for this star-studded take on Gearbox Software’s all-action looter-shooter. Blanchett plays Lillith — a much-feared outlaw who returns to her home planet of Pandora on a mission to find the missing daughter of the universe’s most powerful man, Atlas. To achieve her goal, she teams up with a band of misfits to tackle monsters and bandits and find the girl. 


The Roundup: 3 pop culture highlights from across the region 

Updated 24 May 2024
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The Roundup: 3 pop culture highlights from across the region 

DUBAI: Here are three pop culture highlights from across the region.

‘Drawing Time: Duets’ 

This exhibition, from the collection of Sharjah Art Foundation, runs until August 4 at Al-Mureijah Art Spaces. The show, the organizers say, “grew out of a two-year research project into conserving paper” and brings together works from 15 artists (including Baya, whose “Femme au paon” is pictured here) that “present a composite picture of what drawing is and could be today.” It also “delves into the concept of the double” by presenting the works in “artistic duets.”  

Gultrah 

‘Revival’ 

The popular Tunisian alternative outfit’s second studio album is billed as “Tunisian reggae,” a “distinctive fusion” of “innovative blends” that “delves deep into introspection and self-acceptance.” With touches of funk, ska, and Afrobeat, the nine tracks on “Revival” address a number of social issues as well as “the quest for inner peace,” and should help Gultrah build on the success of their hit single “Win.” 

Dima Ayad 

The Dubai-based Lebanese fashion designer’s latest collection of dresses, pants and coats is based around “a harmonious fusion of nostalgic 90s style elements with contemporary sensibilities,” according to a press release. The collection features “warm earth tones,” blacks, whites, and splashes of bright pink, while the new one-shoulder dress provides “a unique twist to the (designer’s) knitted signature fabric.” 


How AI may push the boundaries of creativity in Saudi film industry

Updated 24 May 2024
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How AI may push the boundaries of creativity in Saudi film industry

  • From generating story ideas to streamlining post-production, artificial intelligence could revolutionize Saudi filmmaking
  • Digital arts expert thinks Saudi filmmakers will use AI for good and noble ends, but recommends they start simple

DHAHRAN: When William “Wink” Winkler of Samford University landed in Saudi Arabia earlier this month for the 10th edition of the Saudi Film Festival, held in Dhahran, he felt he had discovered a new frontier in cinema and technology.

At the invitation of the American Chamber of Commerce and US Consulate in Dhahran, the instructor of digital arts brought with him a wealth of knowledge and experience to conduct a masterclass in artificial intelligence in filmmaking.

However, during his week-long visit, Winkler also gained a fresh perspective on the Saudi film industry, its burgeoning local talent, and how breakthroughs in AI will transform the way movies are made in the Kingdom.

“I learned that the Saudi people are passionate and excited,” Winkler told Arab News. “They can tell amazing stories, original Saudi stories, and as they start to embrace new and emerging technology, that will help them to do that.”

William “Wink” Winkler

AI is still considered an emerging technology, but one that is evolving rapidly. In just the past two years, generative AI programs have progressed from producing janky text and surreal images to creating prose and visuals that could pass as human-authored.

As a giant aggregator of sorts, AI can instantly sift through vast amounts of data in an instant and use existing scripts and screenplays to identify patterns and generate curated story ideas.

While the creative aspect of AI is still imperfect and causes some discomfort among screenwriters, the technology has many other more rudimentary applications in the filmmaking process.

AI could make work easier by automating parts of the filmmaking process that are grueling and time-consuming, says digital arts instructor William “Wink” Winkler. (Supplied)

In pre-production, for instance, AI can help streamline location scouting by analyzing images and videos in real time to suggest settings based on a prompt. It can also cut casting time by instantaneously analyzing audition tapes to identify which actor best fits a particular character.

Post-production is another area where AI will transform filmmaking by using automated editing tools, which can analyze footage and accurately suggest instant edits based on factors like composition and pacing.

It can also assist with traditionally manual tasks, such as color grading, sound design, and visual effects.

DID YOUKNOW?

• AI can sift through vast amounts of data in an instant and use existing screenplays to generate story ideas.

In pre-production, AI could help streamline location scouting and cut casting time by analyzing footage.

In post-production, AI could automate editing and assist with color grading, sound design, and visual effects.

Many filmmakers already use computer-generated imagery — or CGI — to digitally create an asset, character, or effect that was not caught on camera. This advancement has thereby automated parts of the process that were often grueling and time-consuming.

CGI has also benefited from recent AI advancements with more curated algorithms that can generate realistic characters and create fantastical environments from thin air, reducing the need for extensive practical effects or location shoots.

However, AI in filmmaking is not without its issues. The tool will undoubtedly negate many jobs in the industry, while machine-generated stories might seem inauthentic, lacking in depth, relatability, and human spirit.

AI art by Omar Alabdulhadi

“Films invoke emotion, and they can create feelings because they’re told from a human story,” said Winkler. “And humans have felt feelings and have dealt with real human problems. And the computer hasn’t.

“All it can do is read what has been written and repeat it, but it doesn’t actually know what to say, or how to convey it. It can only try to replicate what a human said before.”

There are also ongoing concerns about data protection and bias in AI algorithms — something that has been an issue for social media for some time, as the algorithm merely mimics what already exists.

William “Wink” Winkler along with fellow US expert Travis Blaise who flew in to Dhahran to conduct workshops for the Saudi Film Festival. (AI art by Omar Alabdulhadi)

AI systems have a tendency to perpetuate and amplify demographic and racial biases. This can lead to discriminatory outcomes that are not inclusive, such as only generating characters it deems conventionally beautiful — oftentimes slim, blonde, and light-skinned.

Another consideration is the ethics of plagiarism, as AI pulls from existing works created by humans and generates an entirely new work without providing credit.

To manage the potential for plagiarism and the amplification of harmful biases by AI systems and those employing them, Winkler believes a thoughtful discussion leading to robust regulation is required.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

“There’s always going to be evil people. We can fight it, just like we’ve always fought it — through rules and regulations,” he said.

“I think that creating communities and discussions at small local levels — to larger governance levels — creates some guardrails around what’s happening. The more ethical, morally good people get involved to help fight the evil, the better.”

Sora is a groundbreaking text-to-video AI model developed by OpenAI — the firm behind ChatGPT — that takes written prompts and converts them into dynamic videos.

The technology can instantly generate high-quality videos with detailed scenes and complex camera movements — with just a few written descriptions.

Surreal AI art collage by Saudi creator Omar Alabdulhadi. (Supplied)

There are concerns, however, about the potential misuse of programs like Sora to create “deepfakes” — digital forgeries that take a human likeness and fabricate images of them saying or doing things that never happened in reality.

These fabricated images can look and seem so realistic that it can be difficult to distinguish between what is real and what is not. Besides the obvious reputational risks, such deepfakes could also undermine trust in institutions and even lead to conflict.

In the film world, such technology could also cost jobs. Why would studios hire human actors if the AI can make their digital likeness do and say anything without rehearsal — performing better than the original, perhaps?

This image, which is part of the "Salt" short-film series by Fabian Stelzer and was created via Stable Diffusion. (Supplied)

Winkler believes Saudi filmmakers will use AI for good and noble ends — but recommends they start simple.

“I think the place that I would start is actually not in AI,” he said. “Start with a journal and a piece of paper and a pen — and document. Get the stories from your mother, your grandmother, your grandfather, your great-grandmother and your great-grandfather.

“Everyone’s ancestors have done amazing things, and that should be documented and shared.”

Surreal AI art collage by Saudi creator Omar Alabdulhadi. (Supplied)

One Saudi creator who is dabbling in AI is Dhahran resident Omar Al-Abdulhadi. While he believes AI technology has not yet been perfected, he is keen to see the market thrive and grow in the creative industries.

“All the anti-AI artists will accept the fact that AI is the future,” Al-Abdulhadi told Arab News, acknowledging the seeming inevitability of the technology’s adoption. But, with the right regulation and careful use, it does not have to be bad.

Winkler agrees. Furthermore, he believes the Kingdom is ideally placed to help this emerging industry grow. With such a young population made up of digital natives, Winkler says Saudi creatives can be future leaders in the field.

“The technology is not available right now, but I imagine that it will be very soon,” he said. “I don’t have the team or the time to do it — but maybe the Saudis can do it and change visual effects forever.”