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HO MANN JAHAAN - 2016



ARE YOU THE CHILD OF DIFFICULT PARENTS? Asked author Susan Forward, which got me thinking –

When you were a child…

Did your parents tell you that you were bad or worthless? / Did your parents use physical pain to discipline you? / Did you have to take care of your parents because of their problems? / Were you often frightened of your parents? / Did your parents do anything to you that had to be kept secret?

Now that you are an adult…

Do your parents still treat you as if you were a child? / Do you have intense emotional or physical reactions after spending time with your parents? / Do your parents control you with threats or guilt? Do they manipulate you with money? / Do you feel that no matter what you do, it’s never good enough for your parents?

Most adult children of tough parents grow up feeling tremendous confusion about what love means and how it’s supposed to feel. Their parents did extremely unloving things to them in the name of love. They came to understand love as something chaotic, dramatic, confusing, and often painful—something they had to give up their own dreams and desires for. Obviously, that’s not what love is all about. Loving behaviour doesn’t grind you down, keep you off balance, or create feelings of self-hatred. Love doesn’t hurt, it feels good. Loving behaviour nourishes your emotional well-being. When someone is being loving to you, you feel accepted, cared for, valued, and respected. Genuine love creates feelings of warmth, pleasure, safety, stability, and inner peace.

Unhealthy families discourage individual expression. Everyone must conform to the thoughts and actions of the toxic parents. They promote fusion, a blurring of personal boundaries, a welding together of family members. On an unconscious level, it is hard for family members to know where one ends and another begins. In their efforts to be close, they often suffocate one another’s individuality.

Similarly, perfectionist parents seem to operate under the illusion that if they can just get their children to be perfect, they will be a perfect family. They put the burden of stability on the child to avoid facing the fact that they, as parents, cannot provide it. The child fails and becomes the scapegoat for family problems. Once again, the child is saddled with the blame.

Yet the beauty of human life is adaptability and we all learn to survive.


Asim Raza’s Ho Mann Jahaan in its premise deals with the pressing problems that parents create for us in order to think that they are doing us a favour. The saving grace being the friend, the girlfriend and the cushion they provide us in order for us to find some solace that go a long way to minimise the jolt of expectations and how some of us tend to find ourselves buried under its weight.

The film starts with the visuals of Arhan (Sheheryar Munawar Siddiqui) admiring Manizeh (Mahira Khan) while she is getting ready for what one understands to be her pre-wedding function. The scenes are controlled and reflect an almost dreamlike quality to them. Mahira is as tender as a marshmallow, yet firm as titanium, and this is rather evident in her demeanour and her countenance as the scenes unfold.


I had invited some friends over to watch Ho Mann Jahaan with me. As the movie progressed and we were engaged in knowing where it would take us, we observed that a friend (who was otherwise a bright spark of humour) seemed abnormally quiet. Pausing the film where Manizeh’s mother, an equally strong character is cautioning her husband about duplicity and how he shouldn’t be a spoke in the wheel in letting their daughter follow her dreams, we took a break to have sandwiches and tea. “What’s the matter?” I asked. He hesitated a little and then said, “I’ve had a thoroughly spineless father who complained buckets about the high-handedness of my mother, but before her was tongue-tied, at times a parrot, or a scampering mouse. As sexist as this may sound, if a man is not a man, and he hasn’t the expertise to keep the flagrant impulses of his wife in check, the equilibrium of a family is lost.” Our friend helped himself to a square of sandwich. “Not that I had missed him standing up for me any time, I am an adult, and I quite frankly don’t crave his support, but when I was growing up and was being mentally manipulated and emotionally abused, he played inert, and when not playing inert, was an echo of my mother. That’s when I pondered why he was less a man and more a shadow.”

“I see,” I said as I watched how the rest of the friends quietly exchanged glances.  

“Thankfully, I survived an opinionated, powerful and verbally violent mother who was groomed to be so ever since her childhood. She derived a near sadistic pleasure in insulting and belittling us without any rhyme or reason. She was calm when in company of her clique, and gloriously charmed when one toed her line. A slight nod of disagreement, irrespective of how illogical she was being, was enough to bring the roof down. She would leave the atmosphere foul with her yelling, and her hostility in deed and thought would leave one wondering how someone who was this wonderful could also be this wretched.”


We resumed watching the film and stopped where Manizeh rings Nadir to tell him about being selected to play their music at the popular Coke Studio. Nadir, who has seen himself out of a meeting congratulates her and seeks her permission like a true gentleman asking if he could speak with her once he has finished with his work. Stretching a little, we started nibbling on our snacks and sipping tea. Our friend left his serviette folded on the table, by his plate and said, “When I was younger I would find myself questioning myself whether there was any iota of truth in what she was telling me about me, but in time I figured that it was only control games that she played with us at home. There were times when it got to me, but ninety-nine per cent of the times I let it glide over my head, because I knew I was not a power-seeking freak like her, or a simpleton like my (absent) father, and most importantly, I was not insecure. Much as we may debate it, it is often insecurity that leads people to manipulate their family, but some do it also because they have been raised to be selfish. ‘I don’t care about any of you. I live for myself, and it is my way or no other way!’ Is what I have heard drummed into my head since my childhood. There was barely a time when I was made to feel included. My father seldom missed an opportunity in letting me know how unwanted I was, and my mother asked me to get out of the house at a drop of a hat. And if I stayed, I stayed because I was answerable to my conscience, and in a way I was also scared stiff that if I behaved badly with them, harm may come my way. So part devotion to the fact that they were my parents, and part fear kept me with them, and by some twist of luck, touch wood, stone, steel or mud, despite the hammering, I turned out fine.”

“That’s good,” said nearly all of us in a chorus.

For the first time that evening, our friend smiled, “It helped that I refused to allow their heartlessness affect me. And this I could achieve merely because I believed in myself. Instead of running away from the truth, I learnt, early on, to call a spade a spade, which annoyed them beyond unimaginable wits, and more of a cause of friction because they could not take my being a mirror of their uncouth behaviour, but I knew no other way than to stand up and protect myself.” 


At this point I was hoping so much that Asim, Sheheryar, Mahira, Adeel and Sonya were around. To see that their movie had evoked in someone such a reaction would leave not only the writer or filmmaker, but the entire cast with an imperative feeling that something that they had done with such love is turning out to be a vehicle to let someone come clean about what they might have kept bottled within themselves for heaven knows how long. This is where I felt that film, as a medium, is more often associated with glamour, and people seem more enamoured by this glamour, but film has something far more powerful than we give it credit for: it has the capacity to alter lives much beyond our imagination, and this is in the most profound way shaping a bit of history too, whilst mending lives by playing an indirect psychologist, because a writer must be a psychologist, but a secret one, and the actors play out what the writer writes, and as Sam Shepard aptly said - the best actors show you the flaws in the writing, but when the writing itself is as impermeable as it can be, then the combination of words and visuals make the final product something that will be remembered for eons to come.  

As we progressed one realised that at the outset Ho Mann Jahaan appeared a fun film of three friends, but underneath the light-hearted veil was a theme that orbited around dreams, about the test of friendship, and about learning to know what to keep and what to let go even in the face of adversity. In times that were cynical, one needed such a positive representation of emotions. Of values and how even when faced with adversity we do not and should not give up on the ones we love and who love us.

“By sharing this distasteful part of my life,” said our friend, “I am not seeking sympathy, and neither is this washing dirty linen in public. I am sharing this since there might be several out there who are unable to deal with the damage and cruelty they are facing. I want them to understand that nothing will change the individuals who are habituated to getting their way. They will remain inflexible and haughty, but, yes, you can change things by changing yourself. By accepting the truth that regardless of what anyone might think, or judge you with, it is you who is going through the ordeal, and that it is you who has to deal with it. People will be amused. They’ll have opinions. Such chatter retains some flavour until something else that is far more entertaining comes along. My two cents of advice – care less for people, care only for your own mental health. Look the storm in the eye and tell it – Heck, I shall not let you bring me down. I’ll not let you destroy me any more!”


He then took a sip of tea and chatted with the rest of them while I thought to myself that the biggest plague to have infected modern life is selfishness. And in this pursuit of wanting to amass whatever we can, we normally bruise the very people we love the most. Nevertheless, the yarn of purity that folk’s share with their children, and some friend’s share with their friends is such a wonderful sentiment that has been masterfully knitted into the story by Asim Raza, who has penned the lyrics for the songs Mann Ke Jahan, Dil Kare, Dil Pagla as well. It is your friends who take your world apart when they want to, and it these very friends who become your greatest support system. Without them life would be lifeless.

“What happened after that?” I asked once I awoke from my rumination.

Our friend smiled as he turned to the ceiling for a few seconds, drew a deep breath and conveyed, “Keep in mind that the pastime of such insensitive parents is to push you to such an extent that you react, and when you do, to conveniently make it appear like it was entirely your fault to begin with, I would say, do not give them that joy. Show such people their place, but politely and gently. Remember too that you can only keep your calm, but up until a point, so shout back if you have to shout back at times: you are not a saint, but do not lose your manners and respect because someone else is disrespectful of you. Do not permit them whatsoever to walk over you, and if they try to do that, then exercise your faculties in order to defend yourself in any which manner you find it befitting, as you, and nobody else is aware of the temperaments of the people you are dealing with.” 


We all knew we had felt that way sometime or the other in our lives. And so had Arhan and Nadir and Manizeh. With the permission of our friend we proceeded with the film and then came the scene where Manizeh’s father stops by to gift her a car, and soon after that scene our friend let out a knowing titter, “Wealth and lineage blinds one to the subtleties of life,” he said, “such people are so absorbed in their own self-importance that they end up wrecking the entire generation for their pride and gratification. I agree that we each have our reasons to become the way we become, but when you come from aristocratic families, big-headedness is an inescapable way of life for majority of them. However, as adults, we possess the choice of being kind, or being despicable human beings, and if I prefer to remain a douche, then it is a conscious choice I am making, and such unreasonable behaviour is unpardonable. The unfortunate one’s who get caught between the devil and the deep sea, are people like me, Manizeh and Nadir who are born in such families with history and grandeur, and yet aren’t a chip of the same conceited block. Then again there isn’t much we can say or do than to let people like these flourish in their comfort zones, though the only thing that we can do is keep away from them for the preservation of our own sanity.” Our friend stopped, tossed a square of dark chocolate into his mouth and went on, “some might reason that this is possibly one side of the coin. If it were, then I might not be this composed in conveying to you that this declaration is taking place nearly after close to thirty years of constant battering. Irrespective of what you may contemplate and draw from it, I am pleased that I may have inherited numerous traits from my parents’, but one thing is unquestionable, and that is that I am not an imprint of their egotism.”

When he was speaking, I once again thought to myself that indeed we are products of many materials, but we are also the architects of our own life. And we must not sanction anybody else the right to write our architectural thesis. We must draw our own lines, ourselves. We must love to no expectation, but love those who deserve it. We must also bear in mind that kindness is rarely recognised by the vile. One cannot pour from an empty cup, so we must tell ourselves repeatedly that we must first take care of our own selves before having to become an example to the world. My golden rule, slightly harsh, was also rather simple: we have been conditioned by society to put parents on a pedestal, but we need to come out of it. We need to understand that they too are as human as anyone else, and if they push their luck beyond a point, then it is not blasphemy to tiptoe away, because like any other relationship, even that with your parents comes with an expiry date. Be it the words of my friend, the crux of Ho Mann Jahaan, or my own aristocratic childhood, we must each tell ourselves that tender-heartedness and togetherness is more important than anything else in this arid and treacherous world.  


The strongest point of Ho Mann Jahaan is its endearing and also enduring positivity that Manizeh brings to the growth of the story. Her part has been drawn out with a certain sense of maturity—not screaming feminist or overtly woman centric—albeit of a woman who has an independent and balanced mind. Mahira Khan is the correct candidate to portray those qualities; she sports the accurate amount of gentleness, steeliness, elegance, kindness, composure, courage, confidence, intelligence, reflection, humility, honesty and love. One glance at her and you know that she is about expensive styles, and someone who would not settle for anything but the best, and she is all of that for the screen, however, when in her sincerest elements, Mahira is intensely realistic and someone who can laugh at herself without ever having to think twice about it. There is refinement in her manner. Outrageously attractive, she has the ability to seduce the world with her eyes and the mere twitch of her lips, making her an ideal idol throughout social classes.


Adeel Husain as Nadir has a dashing-woody-vulnerability to him. He grabs the screen with his restrained magnetism. He is uncannily hearty, and yet business-like with others, but when he is with his leading lady he is the savviest romantic, and that affinity and tenderness is immediately visible, which he conceals from the others. Adored the method in which he trades one-liners rather nervously when he is in the car mustering up the courage he can muster up prior to proposing to his ladylove. He makes comedy such a cheerful courtship ritual without losing the importance of his intention.


Sheheryar Munawar, besides being the producer of HMJ, has an incredible level of spirited naughtiness that is dipped in wisdom, as well as being naïve to a level of adorable absurdity. He enacts his scenes with such care that he brings to it his own energy that outshines everyone else who are sharing screen space with him, and still not making himself look awfully good at the expense of the others. He executes his witticisms with great zest, never letting us forget at the same time that the character is behaving like an angry, selfish, opinionated young man, or even an oaf, only because he does not wish to ruin his friendship with his best friend, and the woman, whom he surreptitiously admires, and has feelings for, even though she considers him nothing but a good friend.


Sonya Jehan as Sabina is a prudent prop that facilitates Arhan come to terms with his shortcomings. She is the type of suave woman any man would wish for, but would find hard at the same time to obtain because she is not someone to be swayed most easily considering that her decisions aren’t based on her emotions but intellect.

Hamza Ali Abbasi as Malang Baba is effective. Syra Yousuf is quite the calm counterpart to the undulating temperament of Arhan. The rest of the cast from Bushra Ansari who plays Nadir’s mother to Bilal Maqsood and Faisal Kapadia who appear in cameos again are befitting to the characters chosen for them.  


Fawad Afzal Khan plays Rafael. Drawing heavily from Pauline Kael’s philosophy I would say that men want to be as fortunate and privileged as him. In short, they want to be like him! And women imagine landing him. He draws womenfolk to him by making them feel he needs them, yet the last thing he would do, would be to come right out and say it. He is not a conqueror, but a winner. Like a fairy-tale hero he gets the happy-go-lucky, humorous girl by beguiling her into going after him, but she has to pass through the trials: she has to trim her cold or pompous adversaries; she has to dispel his fog. As an actor he is supremely confident, earthy, irresistible, gallant, gentlemanly and charming so much so that every woman aches to be his date, on or off the screen. Like Robert Redford, he is sexiest in films in which the woman is the antagonist and all the film’s erotic energy is concentrated on him.

Ho Mann Jahaan teaches us that togetherness with the people who matter to us is like what water is to fish, we will whither if we find ourselves deprived of that permutation. HMJ teaches us that the ones whom we love are the very fibre of our existence. And that such love does not have to be blood-related, that anybody who loves you like family is family. HMJ teaches us that doubt is quite like white ants that devour whatever comes in their path. HMJ teaches us that anger seeps into our life without a murmur and makes a mess of it. So the best way is to stay clear of it. HMJ teaches us that society is intrinsically important but not when it prods us to keep changing with it like storms take to the waves. HMJ teaches us that parents can also be lethal emotional blackmailers: we must love them, but keep our ears and eyes open. HMJ teaches us that no matter how satisfied and joyous we feel on the surface level, we are all melancholic by nature. Being loved and loving are our basic requirements, and as much as we claim we are selfless human beings, we need to be made to feel secure deep within the layer of our souls, and only when that happens do we let those who make us feel that way make their home in our hearts. HMJ teaches us that ‘bond’ is something that is unshakable within a clique. People may disagree, and they may want to bite each other’s heads off, but the unification of what binds them is far stronger than what divides them. In summary, Ho Mann Jahaan is a complete circle of a significant journey where everything is communicated to you in the clearest manner and yet left to your own interpretation of it.


The music by Zebunissa Bangash, Atif Aslam and Faakhir Mehmood is magnificent. The film realised by Salman Razzaq Khan deft camerawork reminded me of the aura of the old movies, particularly the decorum in them. How beautiful it is indeed that you do not have to make love, or to lock lips on the screen to depict love in order to increase viewership. That depth works any day as opposed to frivolity, and this credit, once again goes entirely to Asim Raza for his prudence in penning an excellent story. The dialogues by Yasir Hussain are relatable and about lyrical in several instances. Rashna Abidi and Imtisal Abbasi have kept a steady grasp on their screenplay, while Amir Saif has made certain that nothing dips anywhere by cutting the film cleverly.

“Main toh sab ki aankh ka ishaara samajh leta hoon, par mujhe sab kuch kyun kehna padhta hai.”

That was the deal sealer. That is a universal feeling every human being who cares for everyone else but themselves feels. The world functions like that – they rarely acknowledge what one is doing for them. They gripe about the odd ways of life, and when someone does anything for them they don’t have the courtesy of respecting the person, or, what they do for them. They take the giver for granted. Only that our creator has given the people who give to the world such unending reserves of love and affection, that despite facing dryness in their own lives, they still have a smile on their lips, and something positive to offer to those around them. These are the people you need to love and respect and not those who sponge about you to make use of you for them.





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UNIQUELY AND DISTINCTIVELY HIS OWN - Ali Sethi



Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said that a man’s manners are a mirror in which he shows his portrait and there can be no better way to depict this than in a portrait. I most ardently and absolutely adored the mood, the melody and the melancholy in this portrait of Ali Sethi by painter Salman Toor.

Ali is a man of many dispositions and to capture an artist and a musician and a poet and a writer onto a canvas is as tough as apprehending the soul of a genie in a bottle, and both you and I know that many things are possible, that in certain instances the impossible can be made possible too, but this is a deed that is impossible, as the genie is himself quite the magician who scatters his own sparkle on the populace. What's more? Because of Ali, I have swiftly grown to admire Salman for the many influences he reflects right from Frida Kahlo to the Pre-Raphaelites, from Claude Monet to Lucian Freud, yet engraving a spot for himself that is uniquely and distinctively his own. 

I found something deeper being sparked off in me when I first saw this portrait of Ali that my dear friend Rakshanda Jalil had liked on Ali’s wall. It stayed with me since, and this parallel of the genie and the bottle, and paint and the canvas kept playing hide and seek with me, and I read one night that every portrait that is painted with feeling is quite a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. That the sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. That it is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself. Those words appeared to fit Salman’s work quite like a glove.

I excavated a little and found essays on portraiture from old masters mainly in some books I had and at The Met Museum. Sadly, nothing much has been written on the art in the recent times. So drawing from them it was evident that a portrait is typically defined as a representation of a specific individual, such as the artist might meet in life. A portrait does not merely record someone’s features, however, but says something about who he or she is, offering a vivid sense of a real person’s presence. The traditions of portraiture in the West extend back to antiquity and particularly to ancient Greece and Rome, where lifelike depictions of distinguished men and women appeared in sculpture and on coins. After many centuries in which generic representation had been the norm, distinctive portrait likenesses began to reappear in Europe in the fifteenth century. This change reflected a new growth of interest in everyday life and individual identity as well as a revival of Greco-Roman custom. The resurgence of portraiture was thus a significant manifestation of the Renaissance in Europe.


One of the hallmarks of European portraiture is a sense of reality, an apparent intention to depict the unique appearance of a particular person. Each portrait is thus meant to express individual identity, but as Erwin Panofsky recognised, it also “seeks to bring out whatever the sitter has in common with the rest of humanity.” This second aspect of portraiture comes across in the considerable conservatism of the genre: most portraits produced in Renaissance and Baroque Europe follow one of a very small range of conventional formats. The profile view, which was favoured in ancient coins, was frequently adopted in the fifteenth century. The three quarter face, which allows for greater engagement between sitter and viewer, was also widely favoured. This format places the sitter in a simply characterised interior, with a horizontal element like a windowsill at the bottom and a glow of light in the left background. Italian painters at the turn of the sixteenth century embraced and refined this formula.

The conventional aspects of portraiture ensure that each example will bear some resemblance to the next, and yet this general similarity makes the distinctive qualities of each one the more salient. Sometimes the sitter’s beauty or demeanour is emphasised for example with luxuriant curls and a straightforward gaze. In other examples, a magnificent costume highlights the sitter’s wealth and fashionable taste. Other portraits suggest a sitter’s profession or interests by including possessions and attributes that characterise him as, for example, a humanist author, an accomplished sculptor, or an impassioned preacher. In addition to these rather public aspects of identity, portraits may also suggest the sitter’s inner psychology or state of mind. Hints of personality are especially evident in seventeenth-century portrayals of less exalted persons.

In addition to recording appearances, portraits served a variety of social and practical functions in Renaissance and Baroque Europe. Miniatures were given as gifts of intimate remembrance, while portraits of rulers asserted their majesty in places from which they were absent. In courtly settings, portraits often had diplomatic significance.

A portrait was often commissioned at a significant moment in someone’s life, such as betrothal, marriage, or elevation to an office. The making of a portrait typically involved a simple arrangement between artist and patron, but artists also worked on their own initiative, particularly when portraying friends and family. These portraits sometimes display a sense of affection, informality, or experimentation unusual in commissioned works. In a nutshell an oil portrait lives forever! It symbolises the value and worth of the individual in society. To capture a loved one, or to honour a special individual on canvas, is a timeless human need and expression. Today, portraiture is more important than ever in a world becoming less and less sensitive to the human condition, the more important portraiture becomes for preserving our humanity, culture, care and love.




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