Monday, February 19, 2018


I needed this.
Lots of emotions from this tune and video but only got time for these 3 words right now...


As I sat in my local coffee shop today and worked, I let this play in the background about 15x or so.

My goal is for my 3rd film in my trilogy of films about migrants, to address Partition. So am saving this tune and video for when it's time to tackle that script iA! In a way it'd be me going full-circle, finally addressing my own migrant roots in this trilogy that I'm aiming to make, with the first 2 films being about communities different than the one/s I come from. Anyway:

- from a London <---> Los Angeles migrant #MIGRANTLIFE

Sunday, January 07, 2018

On airports

Airports are checkpoints essentially. When I don't get patted down, I am relieved and always incredibly surprised. Because pretty much almost all of the time, that is what happens. I get examined. And I feel that recently, these "pat-downs" have gotten worse and much more invasive.

Is it better to not go through that stupid x-ray machine that examines every nook and cranny? I just do it, because if I don't I know that I'd only get more harassment, and delays.

So I go through the machine and almost every time I am not allowed to proceed. I've learned to look behind me, at the screen next to the fugly and massive machine that scanned my whole body, to see what my so-called problematic areas are. Before it'd be my head getting patted down. Now it always seems to be my legs and crotch area.

I had had enough. I did not want to be touched there by them. Yet again. The agent explaining where they would touch me and how, did not make it any better of course. I kept protesting.

"There's nothing there. It's a jean zipper. That's it. And there's nothing in my pockets".
"Ma'am if you don't cooperate, I'm getting my supervisor".

I knew what that meant. So I backed down, and then said no to a private screening. I just wanted the whole idiotic thing to be over. Yes, it is humiliating to be examined like that publicly. And it's gross. And infuriating. But in my mind, a private screening would just amplify it all.

WTF do they expect to find down there?

It is a violation. It's happened so much that I immediately block it out right away, and don't really think or talk about it.

But these painful flashbacks occur every now and then, at inopportune times - like right now. What's worse is feeling that there's nothing I can do to reclaim my humanity, my dignity, in these moments. To make these moments stop.

Sometimes, usually right after I've landed or once I'm at my destination, I wonder if the TSA agent that violated me earlier that day, remembers me and realizes that there is no news report of something going wrong in the skies, and I wonder if they realize that I, the person they violated, wasn't a threat at all. And I wonder how many times this must happen in a day. Such is the thinking of an oppressed mind.

And then I block it all out again.

Part of me wants to do an experiment, of going through airport security without hijab, to see if all of this same bullshit happens, or not. And then part of me thinks, that I shouldn't have to do such an experiment.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


This may seem like a small thing, but its actually quite momentous. It's so meaningful and deep for me, that I haven't told many about it. My bros know, coz they know me, and they get it. I've just now started to clue in my closest friends.

I've wanted to DJ since I was 14. I've long been a househead, since I got into music at 11. Long story short, I chose filmmaking instead, and have since (mostly) denied my immense desire to do anything with music. Rather, I end up writing and making films that feature characters who do music; they're either DJs of some kind, have been or are in a band, etc. I suppose that's me as a creator attempting to bring my worlds of film and music together.

In September I went to Berlin and I went out and experienced the nightlife. I had to, as Berlin's the current techno capital of the world and has been for about a decade now (after London and after Detroit) - and also I wrote about Berlin clubs in my script, so I had to actually go and experience at least a couple of them. Of course, the tunes I heard were terrific. A couple nights after returning to Los Angeles I found myself becoming the impromptu main DJ at a welcome-to-film-school party that my classmates and I put on. It was FUN. Having 250+ or so people in Soundstage 2 dance to the tunes I chose, was extremely fun. I've done some DJing before, randomly and off-the-cuff, and because I listen to music and especially to DJ mixes constantly, I don't find it tremendously difficult, but a great thrill.

After that night at the end of September, I decided, bas, that's it. I've made enough excuses for way too long. So I spent some money and finally got some gear. Learning how to properly DJ I think will be a meaningful and healthy hobby for me - I already spend a lot of my downtime listening to music, and always have, so I might as well make it more effective and useful in some way.

Here's a clip from yesterday. Monday morning, start of the week, eating cereal and exploring. Alhumdulillah a great way to start the week. Playing one of my favourite tunes from my high school years.

This is a big part of me attempting to take better care of myself, inshallah.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

On getting older

This is an exercise in procrastination. Oh well. I keep getting told I need to take better care of myself, so am gonna write this first.

For several weeks or months now I've been thinking about how hundreds, probably thousands, of people have walked in and out of my life. This is the result of having lived in multiple places, being in multiple circles as the result of multiple identities, multiple jobs and networks from those jobs. At some point we realize that there are only a few people who actually do stick around, and I can count those friends on one hand. That is all we need really. And though some of them are married now and have kids, every now and then we're able to reconnect, and if push comes to shove, I can reach out to them.

For them, I am immensely grateful that they have stuck around, despite all the bullshit I've put them through, over years, or decades. Perhaps it's no coincidence that two of them happen to be therapists...wozzup K & M.

Pretty much almost everyone else just passes by though. Somehow during my twenties in New York I built an immense network. When I am back in town there are only a few people I do actually see and/or who make time to see me. And that is totally fine. It would be exhausting and impossible to attempt to maintain connections with scores of folks there. I had a trip back to NY just a few days ago and I fully appreciated and enjoyed the time with the friends I did get to see. Quality, not quantity.

When I was briefly back on the monstrous social media site that rules too many of our lives, I "defriended" probably over 1,200 people (this defriending has happened over time, not all at once). People who lived on my floor in freshman year at college, people met at parties or events, etc etc - there is no need for me to be on that network or for us to be connected on it. It's interesting, I realized that as I "defriended" someone that I would probably never come across their name or memory again.

My brief trip to NY made me realize that close to 2 years after having left, that I am finally over NY. I'm over that city. New York is an incredible and emotional and long chapter in my past. I am not romantic about the city anymore, I think. Perhaps it was because I went in December, and it snowed - and thus then got grey and mushy - perhaps it's because the MTA is much more worse now, perhaps it's because I find the new and gigantic constructions aggressive, ugly, and in some ways, violent - my heart doesn't yearn for NY anymore. I used to write "NY meri jaan". In some ways it still is - but that's really only because of the incredible people I know there.

I feel much more ready and willing to embrace LA now. Come on Los Angeles, embrace me. Give me a massive hug with your tall and skinny palm trees, 5 lane freeways, avocados, and the lovely home I happen to reside in, alhumdulillah.

Many have told me that it's harder to make friends as you get older. I can certainly attest to this. I'm sometimes with those who are much younger than me - they want to stay out late and party, meet lots of people, etc - that was me. I'm way past that now. Those were the things I did in NY almost a decade ago, and later on, most of the people that I met have come and gone. I'm going from having a massive network in NY, to being much more selective about who I spend time with and attempt to befriend, here in LA. I think it's better that way. Because, most of the folks in the past are just that, in the past. Thinking about the present and the future now, in this city that I'm now looking to embrace much more, I'd rather more fully connect with just a good small number of folks, than attempt to befriend everyone I come across.

So here's to getting older, and maybe, though probably not, wiser. Hopefully spending my limited free time to building well with good people. Call me an introvert, I don't care. My days of going out and roving around with whoever are long gone...I think. I'd much rather have a handful of decent friends to connect with here, and spend my other free time working on myself inshallah. I still haven't really gone hiking here, dammit.

I suppose now I should actually finish this assignment...

Sunday, November 19, 2017

On being an anti-war filmmaker

People are dying. People have been killed.
People are human beings.
Iraqis are human beings. Iraqi civilians are human beings.
Iraqis matter. Civilians matter.

In the last couple of years there have been 2 NYT investigations related to Daesh and Iraq that have utterly devastated me. The first was this report from August 2015 on their sex slavery camps, that raised many uncomfortable questions in my mind about Islamic doctrine. The second, is from an email I received a couple days ago from Azmat Khan, a journalist who I went to college with a decade ago at the University of Michigan. Azmat, tremendously, courageously, and astutely, alongside with her colleague Anand Gopal, spent 18 months in Iraq uncovering the number of civilians that have been killed by U.S. airstrikes that supposedly target Daesh. Read their investigation here. 

There are so many meandering thoughts in my silly little brain after reading their work, and after hearing Azmat's interviews on NPR and PBS Newshour.

Of course my first thought is of how the American government does not care, at all, about how many civilians it kills. Indeed, they are uncounted. People like Iraqis, are seen to be expendable, as not human beings. Their lives do not matter to those who decide to invade, occupy, and kill. The journalists mention that the U.S. government actually doesn't even aim for 0 civilian casualties. And so a little 2-year-old girl, Rawa, will be the only survivor of an airstrike that killed 7 members of her family, including her parents. Her home was targeted due to faulty and outdated "intelligence". The American government could not care less, literally.

I remember 2003. I remember March 2003, when America invaded Iraq for the second time. I was in high school in Metro Detroit, and I went to a school that was a third Arab (and is probably about half Arab by now). I grew up during the Bush Administration, during the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, this so called War On Terror, and felt the boomerang effects of the war as the war came home via draconian surveillance on my faith community - and all of it is still ongoing. During these years I felt that I was facing an immensely massive, angry, violent dog, and in turn I was backed up into a corner. It's during this period when I first became politicized, and this is the same age and time when I decided I wanted to write and direct films. I realize now that it is because I wanted to reclaim and portray the humanity of my people. The humanity.

I've been told by my father's side of the family that I am 1/8 Iraqi, that I have a great-grandfather who came to India from Iraq. This is a mystery to me that I've longed to uncover someday, somehow, before it's too late, but I don't know how and I don't know when I'll get to dive into this history. Along with wanting to further explore the villages and towns in Bihar/Jharkand that my grandparents were from, some of which don't exist anymore as they got erased during the Hindu-Muslim violence of Partition, I also want to go to Iraq and see where this ancestor of mine came from. Iraq has frequently been on my mind since 2003, and I've created past film work about the war before. Perhaps it was because of this subconscious connection, perhaps not.

During my more activist days I identified for a time as an anti-war filmmaker. Since I've been able to dive more deeply into creating fictional work, which was my goal all along, I haven't used that label for myself as much, as it didn't seem as applicable.

But for the last week or so, my mind has drifted back to the notion of me being an anti-war filmmaker. Is creating films about migrants anti-war? Is creating films that complicate the narrative of what it means to be Muslim, anti-war?

Perhaps not directly. But anti-war also means anti-violence. Forced migrants, largely migrate because of violence. In creating films that are about migrants, there is a subtle and indirect, and sometimes very direct, commentary on "legal violence" that migrants are subjected to (a term I learned recently). And in creating films that show just how varied Muslim life is, that too is anti-war as it's a means to humanize my faith community - to get away from the language of war and terror, to show life as it is actually lived instead. And so perhaps just creating humanizing portrayals of communities is inherently anti-war, anti-violence.

I am an anti-war filmmaker. I do try to not put more labels on myself, but I think this is one I am returning to. It's a label that very few use now unfortunately, even though we now need more anti-war storytellers more than ever, as the violence in the world we live in just seems to be increasing.

I am so proud of what Azmat and co did (and for once I feel proud of the Umich connection, and I think is also a reason of why Azmat was able to connect to Zareena Grewal, mentioned in the report). I cannot fathom how difficult it must have been to spend 18 months talking to so many victims, survivors, seeing so many wrecked homes, the horror from the aftermath of airstrikes - and the reporters were in Mosul and the surrounding areas when it was all until very recently, under Daesh rule. Ultimately though, this is not about me, or about them, at all. It is about Iraqis.

Transcript from the NPR interview:
"KHAN: Well, it's very fascinating because Basim tried himself to report this case on multiple occasions.


KHAN: And he even had a cousin who was a professor at Yale who had written an op-ed in The New York Times about this airstrike. Basim is somebody who speaks fluent English. He lived in the United States for years. He has access to email. He could document his case really, really well with GPS coordinates. There was a video of the airstrike.

So here's somebody who's really acting in the best-case scenario. And in his case, it took him a year and a half to get the coalition to admit that these were civilians publicly. It took him a year and a half to do that. So what chance do these Iraqis who are much poorer, who don't speak English, who don't have access to these resources, who don't necessarily meet a Western...

MCEVERS: Right - have cousin at Yale University.

KHAN: Exactly. What chance do they have?"