Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Hanif Kureishi

Extracts from his excellent and intriguing essay, "Introduction: Sex and Secularity":

"To me, writing for film is no different to writing for any other form. It is the telling of stories, only on celluloid. However, you are writing for a director and then for actors. Economy is usually the point; one objective of film-writing is to make it as quick and light as possible. You can't put in whatever you fancy in the hope that a leisured reader might follow you for a while, as you might in a novel. In that sense, films are more like short stories. The restrictions of the form are almost poetic, though most poems are not read aloud in cineplexes. Film is a broad art, which is its virtue."

"I had been aware since the early 1980s, when I visited Pakistan for the first time, that extreme Islam (or "fundamentalism" - Islam as a political ideology) was filling a space where Marxism and capitalism had failed to take hold. To me, this kind of Islam resembled neo-fascism or even Nazism: an equality of oppression for the masses with a necessary enemy - in this case "the west" - helping to keep everything in place. When I was researching The Black Album and My Son the Fanatic, a young fundamentalist I met did compare his "movement" to the IRA, to Hitler and to the Bolsheviks. I guess he had in mind the idea that small groups of highly motivated people could make a powerful political impact.

This pre-Freudian puritanical ideology certainly provided meaning and authority for the helpless and dispossessed. As importantly, it worked too for those in the west who identified with them; for those who felt guilty at having left their "brothers" behind in the third world. How many immigrant families are there who haven't done that?"

"In Karachi there were few books written, films made or theatre productions mounted. If it seemed dull to me, still I had never lived in a country where social collapse and murder were everyday possibilities. At least there was serious talk. My uncle's house, a version of which appears in My Beautiful Laundrette, was a good place to discuss politics and books, and read the papers and watch films. In the 1980s American businessmen used to come by. My uncle claimed they all said they were in "tractors". They worked for the CIA; they were tolerated if not patronised, not unlike the old-style British colonialists the Pakistani men still remembered. No one thought the "tractor men" had any idea what was really going on, because they didn't understand the force of Islam.

But the Karachi middle class had some idea, and they were worried. They were obsessed with their "status". Were they wealthy, powerful leaders of the country, or were they a complacent, parasitic class - oddballs, western but not Pakistani - about to become irrelevant in the coming chaos of disintegration?"

"A child is a cocktail of its parent's desires. Being a child at all involves resolving, or synthesising, at least two different worlds, outlooks and positions."

"Like the racist, the fundamentalist works only with fantasy. For instance, there are those who like to consider the west to be only materialistic and the east only religious. The fundamentalist's idea of the west, like the racist's idea of his victim, is immune to argument or contact with reality."

"... And if we cannot prevent individuals believing whatever they like about others - putting their fantasies into them - we can at least prevent these prejudices becoming institutionalised or an acceptable part of the culture."

"Islamic fundamentalism is a mixture of slogans and resentment; it works well as a system of authority that constrains desire, but it strangles this source of human life too. But of course in the Islamic states, as in the west, there are plenty of dissenters and quibblers, and those hungry for mental and political freedom. These essential debates can only take place within a culture; they are what a culture is, and they demonstrate how culture opposes the domination of either materialism or puritanism. If both racism and fundamentalism are diminishers of life - reducing others to abstractions - the effort of culture must be to keep others alive by describing and celebrating their intricacy, by seeing that this is not only of value but a necessity."

Hanif Kureishi, November 8 2001

On identity

Towards the end of my first year in graduate school, I read a long essay in the Guardian (where else) about a man who had been living secretly in the forest for decades in Maine. He finally got discovered because he had stolen food and other bits and things from nearby campers or visitors, one time too many. There was something that he said that shook me to my core and revolutionized how I approach storytelling and creating characters, as well as in terms of dealing with myself: he said about how with no one around, he had no need to perform any sort of identity. That identity is essentially a performance for others.

Immediately upon reading that essay I vowed to greatly push myself to move past looking at the identity markers of my characters, for them to be as fully-dimensional as possible. It’s been a hard but worthy effort, and it will be probably something that I’ll always continue to strive on.

Our devices and the websites and apps we use say a lot about us. They say too much about us. With my next project I’m aiming to more fully tackle-on my numerous issues with technology and how it affects us all. I’m quite fond of this saying, and I often say it to people: “In solving problems, technology creates new ones”. I myself have been off of Facebook for over 2 years, and my life has greatly improved as a result. I’ve only revisited a couple of times since so that I could post casting calls for my past recent films, but they had very little effect, so I won’t be doing even that anymore.

I’ve been told its ironic that my thesis project is a (limited) web series, despite my serious misgivings about technology, yet that is exactly why I’m doing a web series. There will be arguments and insanity over social media that happens in the series, and I actually want the series itself to spark intense online debate and discussion. Sounds very meta, but I want the web series to actually reflect this bullshit that happens in “real life”, when people fight on platforms like Facebook, especially over things like religion. I myself am guilty of this, and its probably part of the reason why I left that monster.

My oldest brother, let’s call him big F, asked me to do a him a favour and get him a copy of The Economist’s current double-issue. There’s a remarkable essay in here titled “Making you you”, and it’s gotten my brain at 35,000 feet churning. Here are a few quotes and passages that I highlighted.

“Valentin Groebner, a historian, uses the story of Il Grasso to illustrate his study of how people were identified in early modern Europe. It reveals two fundamental principles of personal identity. The first is that any individual’s identity is contingent on the recognition of others. The second is that anything like a modern life is rendered all but impossible when that recognition is not forthcoming, or is suborned.

Put those things together and you see why the provision and policing of identity is one of the foundations of the modern state and the lives lived in it. A person’s sense of who. They are dependent on many things, and is not necessarily either stable or singular. People can identify in many ways, and often do so simultaneously. Your correspondent will happily reveal that he is an immigrant (never an expat) but also a pukka Londoner and none dare say him nay. Political and social culture – at least in the liberal West – have matured to a degree where an increasing number of countries allow him to choose his pronouns and assert his gender unilaterally. But a claim that his name is Leo Mirani, that he was born in 1983 and that he is a legal alien resident in Britain holds little weight without documentary evidence in areas regulated by the state: finance, housing, employment, marriage”.

“The World Bank reckons that at least a billion people cannot produce a birth certificate, often because the states involved do not care to issue them. Being undocumented means being cut off from the modern economy – or working in the shadows and risking exploitation. Identity is a vitally important service for citizens if they are to fully participate in the economy and society”.

- This reminds me of a recent film I saw, Capernaum.

“No one knows for certain how much Aadhaar-associated data have been shared with whom, but in January 2018 Rachna Khaira, a reporter at the Tribune, a newspaper, bought a database with details on 1bn Indians for 500 rupees ($7). India’s states each have their own copies, and layers of sub-contractors have access to them. A system designed to prevent fraud has given rise to a whole new economy of fraudulent activity – such as the sale of fingerprints”.

“…Facebook, de facto identity provider of the non-Chinese parts of the internet. It is not just that nearly 2.3bn people use the service at least once a month, all identified by what seems to be a real name, all not only providing portraits of themselves but also helpfully linking themselves to their friends and interests (not to mention identifying pictures of each other). Almost every website, app and service now requires log-in details. Many people find it convenient to use the same social-network identity for many of these log-ins, and Facebook, as the biggest social network, has 60% of this 'social log-in' market”.

“Like Aadhaar, Facebook is a juggernaut dimly understood even by its own creators. Its complexity makes it difficult to foresee problems and its size makes it impossible to control. Facebook has so far proved reluctant to self-regulate to any serious extent. Despite two years of negative publicity, and fresh scandals about data misuse emerging nearly every week, it is stuck reacting to them pretty much piecemeal. Some argue that users can simply vote with their feet, but there are no signs of that yet. It is not so much that it is hard – though it is for many. It is that most people don’t really seem to care”.

“’The internet was built without identity management…Most of us in the industry are aware of the problem. We’ve been talking about it for at least a decade. There are standards, but there is no coordinated effort’ to manage digital identity".

“State ID documents often say who you were as much as who you are; self-sovereign ones could be bang up-to-date”.

“Most people say they are concerned about the use of their personal data, but are perfectly happy to give it up with very little incentive, something academics call the “privacy paradox”. It is a paradox that keeps Facebook in business.
It is fruitless to blame people for this irritating inconsistency. It is the way people are".

“Acquiring proof of identity without proof of identity is not easy. The undocumented must make trips to the Department of Vital Records (for a birth certificate), the Social Security Administration (to regain relevant numbers) and then to the Motor Vehicle Administration (for state ID). It is a time-consuming process".

Sunday, November 11, 2018

A Single Man

I am procrastinating a bit...but that's ok. I actually got a lot done today. However now is the time when for several months my head should be thinking about the characters I am working on.  When you write, whatever you're writing should be the first and last thing you think about each day. That process is now beginning for me again.

Backtrack a few weeks, when I was working on another script, I decided to read Tom Ford's scripts and watch his films. I just LOVE that a fashion designer is such a talented filmmaker. Granted, his films are adapted from books, but still. He emerged "fully-formed" as a filmmaker, as they say.

Screenshots from the A Single Man script below, written by Tom Ford and David Scearce, based on the novel by Christoper Isherwood, 2009. There's something about these pages, this script, and this film. (35mm anamorphic - wahey!) I did also read the book, but actually didn't enjoy it as much.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

On gambling

Last night I watched an Indian film with my parents called Simran. It's basically about a woman who becomes addicted to gambling - and must pay the price for it (there's actually a lot of humour).

In more truthful moments of when people ask me about what I do, I tell them that filmmaking is a constant hustle. That it is a gamble. That everything I am doing and am hoping to do, as a writer-director, is a gamble. I have no idea if any of my films will gain an audience. All of the work, all of the hours, indeed all of the years - it's been so many years now, many of which were spent in the urban wilderness - all of it can amount to absolutely nothing. I always say, to myself and to others, that I just hope it - "it" being the amount of work, suffering, and sacrifices - is all worth it someday.

That indeed, does sound like a gamble. Essentially, I've been gambling since I was 16, since I decided to be a filmmaker rather than a DJ. Filmmaking, or to be more honest, the attempt to be a filmmaker, can be highly addicting, just like gambling. I've been gambling with my life for half of my life now, and everyday I have to tell myself to keep going, to keep trying, that hopefully one day it will all be worth day. Right?

A relative in India passed away a few hours ago. Yet another sibling of a parent of mine. She had a very pretty and unique name. Sadly the last time I saw her was unsurprisingly 10 years ago, as that is what happens when your family is a diaspora, when everyone lives in different countries, in different states: #migrantlife. It's sad, and frustrating, the distances, both literal and metaphorical, between us all.

If I were to have somehow seen her more recently, and even if she weren't afflicted by Alzheimer's, were she to ask me what I do with my life, what I have done, I wouldn't know what to tell her. Filmmaking? Gambling. Gambling as filmmaking-the-attempt-at-filmmaking. That's what the honest answer would have been.

It's hard to get a film made yet I've longed believed that it's even harder to get a film seen. I want my work to be SEEN. Were my work to be SEEN, that would make me feel that all of the sacrifices have been worth it. That it's been worth it for me to have disrupted for myself this generational structure that spans back thousands of years that consists of being married with kids; that I have something to show for this sheer disruption and lack of familiar and familial structure in the timeline of my own personal life.

I specifically chose to not follow the path of everyone else who shares any part of my blood; I gambled. I realize now that if I had really wanted to, yeah I could've been married for years by now and had a kid or two, just like everyone else. But long ago, I decided to toss that structure aside. Because I'd rather be a writer-director instead (first).

Oh I so hope that it will all have been worth it. Thus I will keep working, as I am addicted, I'm addicted to this gambling, to the most difficult medium that exists.

Monday, August 27, 2018


Excerpts from Hunger by Roxane Gay

Page 17
            "It would be easy to pretend I am just fine with my body as it is. I wish I did not see my body as something I should apologize or provide explanation. I'm a feminist and I believe in doing away with the rigid beauty standards that force women to conform to unrealistic ideals. I believe we should have broader definitions of beauty that include diverse body types. I believe it is so important for women to feel comfortable in their bodies, without wanting to change every single thing about their bodies to find that comfort. I (want to) believe my worth as a human being does not reside in my size or appearance. I know, having grown up in a culture that is generally toxic to women and constantly trying to discipline women's bodies, that it is important to resist unreasonable standards for how my body or any body should look."

Page 29
            "My mom still takes pictures of everything and has more than twenty thousand pictures on her Flickr stream, pictures of her life and our lives and the people and places in our lives. At my doctoral defense, there she was, staring at me so proudly, every few minutes picking up her camera to snap a new picture, to capture every possible second of my moment. At a reading for my novel in New York City, there she was again with her camera, taking pictures, documenting another memorable moment." 

Pages 228-229
            "I never seem to hold on to the most important elements of my mother’s recipes, so when I am in my own home trying to cook certain Haitian dishes, I call home and she patiently walks me through the recipe. The sauce, a simple but elusive dish, stymies me. My mother reminds me to put on my cooking gloves. I pretend that such a thing would ever find a place in my kitchen. She tells me to slice onions and red peppers, setting the vegetables aside after a stern reminder to wash everything. My kitchen fills with the warmth of home. The sauce always turns out well enough but not great. I cannot place what, precisely, is off, and my suspicion that my mother has withheld some vital piece of information grows. As I eat the foods of my childhood prepared by my own hand, I am filled with longing and a quiet anger that has risen from my family’s hard love and good intentions.
            There is one Haitian dish I have mastered—our macaroni and cheese, which is filling but not as heavy as the American version. When I attend a potluck, an activity I dread because I am extraordinarily picky and suspicious of communal foods, I bring this dish. People are always impressed. They feel more cosmopolitan, I think. They expect there to be a rich narrative behind the dish because we have cultural expectations about “ethnic food.” I don’t know how to explain that for me the dish is simply food that I love, but one I cannot connect to in the way they assume. Instead of being a statement on my family’s culture, this dish, and most other Haitian foods, are tied up in my love for my family and a quiet, unshakable anger."

Page 245
            "I often tell my students that fiction is about desire in one way or another. The older I get, the more I understand that life is generally about the pursuit of desires. We want and want and oh how we want. We hunger". 

Page 247
            "Or I am thinking about testimony I've heard from other women over the years - women sharing their truths, daring to use their voices to say, "This is what happened to me. This is how I have been wronged." I've been thinking about how so much testimony is demanded of women, and still, there are those who doubt our stories.
            There are those who think we are all lucky girls because we are still, they narrowly assume, alive.
            I am weary of all our sad stories - not hearing them, but that we have these stories to tell, that there are so many."  

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Ross From Friends

Ross From Friends is the funniest artist name I've heard in a long time. It's pretty genius, actually.

Here's a short bio from him:
"When a 90's sitcom character undertakes a new role as an electronic music producer".

I discovered him via listening to - what else? - KCRW, a few choice nights ago. This is the track I heard on the radio that immediately peaked my interest:

"Don't Wake Dad" is very unique. And good.

I found this excellent Fader mix that he put out a couple of weeks ago. It's been ages since I found a mix that is as superb. Mixes as grand and good as this one come few and far in between. Thank you Ross From Friends! I have a long flight in front of me and I will thoroughly enjoy re-listening to this, again and again.

IT IS SO DAMN GOOD. I'm not even done with my first listen yet, and here I am posting about it. Brava, Ross From Friends, nice one. Also he's from...LONDON!

 Here's the full interview with Fader.  

- cross-posted on The Ashraf Obsession

Monday, June 18, 2018

On children

The children in that audio recording who were separated from their parents at the border - sound just like the children in my family.

The cries of "Papa" especially sounded just so, so familiar, while the little girl reciting her aunt's phone number sounded just like my resourceful and brainy niece.

Perhaps at some point, a little boy or little girl, no matter where they're from, can sound exactly the same when they are crying out for their mother or father.

I was just with some of the kiddies in my own family. My brother and I took his kids to a local fun fair a couple of days ago. My nephew was always trailing behind us as he slurped on his snowcone and held onto his plush toy. But for a few brief moments, he got mixed up in a random group, and he looked around for us. I saw the immediate - immediate - looks of utter panic and fright and terror and horror on his face when he thought he had lost us, when he thought we were no longer there. He didn't see his father, his older sister, or me, his aunt - the family members of his that were with him at this event.

I kept calling out his name and waving to him, as I was just a few yards away. My heart completely sank and broke as soon as I saw his reaction to him thinking that we were gone. This was thankfully, extremely brief, perhaps five or six seconds, before he spotted me and ran straight to me, the closest family member. But his reaction in those few seconds made me think right away, of how terrified children understandably become when they believe that they are completely alone; when they do not recognize anyone around them.

I heard that audio recording, and my heart sank and broke again. I pictured those children in my head. What an absolutely disgusting and revolting country we live in.

Once again, if I ever come across anyone who claims that America is better than any other country in any way, well here's yet more proof to the contrary.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Before Sunrise

As I write another feature script it'd be wise of me to both watch feature films and read feature scripts. Hence I just finished reading the script of Before Sunrise written by Richard Linklater (the director) and Kim Krizan.

Greatly enjoyed the 1+ hour I spent in Untitled Cafe at UCLA as I sat by the window, on a rainy and cloudy day in Los Angeles (which was a refreshing change, and the air smelled different), sipping on a cold brew coffee which is my choice of drink these days, and listened to this great mix. I watched the film last year, coincidentally on June 16th, which is also the date in the film that the characters meet on.

Anyway, some great lines here:

Page 50:
Jesse: You know her, but no one really knows anyone. That's the thing about relationships - people are always saying, "I want to know you, I want to know who you are." But it is so hard for anyone to even know themselves. Who I am is always changing, so how can anyone else share in that?

Celine: So that's it? It's been nice not knowing you.

They look over and see several elderly couples riding the bumper cars. 

Page 76:
Jesse: I don't know. Love is like this escape for people who haven't learned to be alone or to make something of themselves. People think love is this unselfish or totally giving thing. But if you think about it, there's probably nothing more selfish.

So who just broke up with you?


Sounds like you just got hurt.

Pages 92-93:
A wandering violin player has entered the room and is playing a waltz.

But for some people, there are no real goodbyes. I think if you have a meaningful experience with someone else, a true communication, they are with you forever in a way. We are all a part of each other in ways we'll never know.

So it's a deal? We die in the morning?

Saturday, April 28, 2018

On shedding

Shedding. shed shed shed. Literally as well. Showed the first rough cut of my new work a couple of exhausting nights ago, and I realized that this film, more than any other one before, really reflects who I am right now as I continue to evolve yet again. And along this I realized that my past work doesn't belong to who I am anymore. No longer represents me and hasn't for a long time, much like other things in my life. So I'm shedding my past work, leaving that and other things in the past. What I'm working on now really shows who I am NOW and what I'm struggling with, and yes it makes it very painful for me to watch and edit - but it's what I chose to do, I chose to channel my pain into the film and indeed I couldn't help it. It's cathartic in some ways but I'm still dealing with these things, and I'm not sure where these things are going to land, and in the meantime the representation of these things are in the film that I now have to edit and finish.


Thursday, April 12, 2018


I once wanted to make a series of spiritual paintings, but I now no longer do.

Here though, are some of the quotes I was going to use. I still like the quotes. I still appreciate Hafiz, Rumi, Shams, the Sufis in general, sufismo in general.


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.