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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Magnum Opus 2: Kudos Unilever and Marketing-360

The recent Magnum Ad Campaign in Pakistan created a bit of a furore (see earlier post). On a forum dedicated to marketing there were many streams of thought: from those yelling blue murder, through some extolling the 'liberal' tilt of the ad, to the obvious ones betraying their juvenile excitement of being able to use phrases on the forum that they would not use with the same aplomb at home - even when discussing the Magnum issue. However, one view that particularly saddened me was the expression of helplessness among some who felt that views discussed on such fora are in effective.


The ads are gone and here's a part of what happened:

• Dear Ms Musharaf Hai, I have always admired your leadership and innovation skills; Levers Pakistan has certainly benefitted from the same. I am a keen member of the marketing subgroup which is a group of Paki professionals (incl some from Unilever) and we have been debating the 'relevance' of the sexual context of the MAGNUM CAMPAIGN esp some females have made some strong comments that I highlight below. I am sure as a WOMAN and as a socially responsible organization; you will take notice of the same; if you haven't already that is. I wish Levers and Magnum success; while maintaining its image and reputation in a society which isn't yet ready for provocative content in advertising. Regards and all the best Imran O Kazmi MD Synergize Dubai, UAE
• Dear Mr Kazmi, We greatly appreciate your concerns, and would like to inform you that the Walls Magnum Caramel advertising campaign has already been withdrawn last week. As you are undoubtedly aware, Walls Magnum is internationally positioned on "Indulgence", and this advertising campaign was produced in keeping with this international strategy. There was no intention in any way to upset Pakistani cultural sensitivities. Unilever Pakistan regrets if the feelings of any member of the public have been upset. Walls treasures its relationship with the people of Pakistan and will not allow any issue to affect this special bond. Thank you for taking your time to write to us and expressing your concerns as these are extremely important to us. Kind regards Sher Afzal Mazari GM Corporate Affairs Unilever Pakistan Ltd
• Dear Group Members I forward Mr Mazari's response on the Magnum Ad; personally I appreciate the sensitivity displayed by Levers Pakistan - I do believe that creative fields border on the fine line between sanity and insanity, between light and the dark, between elation and sorrow and between euphoria and hatred; the person creating an ad has always to walk this fine line of perceptions. Well done Levers! Regards Imran O Kazmi
Here's my letter to the Forum; I wanted to share it with those not on its mailing list.
Through the forum I'd like to extend a very special thanks to Unilever for their sensitivity and for taking an action that must have proved very expensive and difficult to execute in such a short space of time. At the same time, I'd like to also address those who said (and even more who constantly feel) that individuals or small groups are powerless and cannot achieve anything: As you can see, this is not so. One should never hold back because of feelings of disempowerment. Remember Gandhi's words: Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.

In some discussions, on and off the forum, there was a constant undercurrent of criticism that Unilever has a brilliant woman at the helm of affairs and this should not have happened. Some felt it may have slipped past her. Now we hear a few voices saying that Ms Hai must have had them removed. Regardless of who took the final action, I wonder why the onus of sensitivity and morality is expected to rest on women? Do men in similar positions have no responsibility? And what about the responsibility on those who actually produced the commercial, acted in it, directed it, regardless of gender? None of them seem to have been forced into it as a result of poverty. Perhaps some of them had to do this as a job and had no option. Accepted. But, in such cases, I'd say: do so while registering your protest or dissent. 
Let us not, in our rush to judgement of corporations, forget that every single one of us makes up this society and has a right and a duty to express views if s/he disagrees for more than mere personal reasons.

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Raqsé Bismil to naheeñ hae yeh kaheeñ?

Dilam dar aashiqi aavaarah shüd? ... aavaarah-tar baada!
Tanam dar baykali bay-chaarah shüd … baychaarah-tar baada!

Amir Khusro

Well, both dilam and tanam are off-colour ... and not for reasons of aashiqi or baykali.
The privately organized Raqsé Durvaish session at the PC ended with my head doing a raqs of its own. It wasn't the sufi experience, for sure: the qavvaali was good, but not enough for me to be blown apart!

Could have been an attack of Vertigo, which I do infrequently suffer from and had quite an adventure with on my first seafaring trip (... and thereby hangs a tale, to be recounted someday). Medical tests this week should throw more light on the problem.

There's so much zipping around in my mind to blog about ... but it'll just have to wait. Just one note about the mahfil: Haider was and will continue to be missed.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Magnum Opus (aka Wall's Balls)

Wall's is anything but inconsistent. The ads suck, if you'll pardon the expression.

The Magnum ads have, once again, sparked a debate in Pakistan. Not the philosophical kind that raged in the West and on the Net about its "5 Senses" ad ... and whether it was blatantly sexual or merely sensual (the line is rather blurred between these two words now).

The current debate, with participants ranging from advertising and marketing execs to students, centres around whether local context, culture, values, and taboos must be respected or not. Many worry that such ads will open the door, at one of the worst moments in our history, to a flood of obscenities. Others are turned off and disgusted. The few who do not oppose it merely suggest we accept the fact that selling is a no-holds-barred enterprise. Some may even argue that, by being placed on a billboard - a medium that does not offer the luxury of reaching for the remote control and switching it off - it tramples upon the choice of those who do not wish to see this or have their kids exposed to it. At least not when they are together.

Here is one comment from a female participant of the above-mentioned discussion. There are dozens of more blunt and angry comments that I did not see fit to quote. i drove by karsaz today and saw the blown up magnum ad. even though the ice cream is amazing (took a bite off a friend's magnum), the ad made me feel kinda... sick. this is not about ethics, this isn't about what is socially acceptable. i did not want to have an ice cream that hinted at what magnum was hinting at. that is not pure indulgence for me. it so isn't. did the ad work? it worked in scandalising people and creating a hype. did people go out and buy the product? i'm not so sure. i'll say it again: the ice cream was amazing. but thinking about you-know-what is not what i want to think about while having it. thank u whoever-was-in-charge for spoiling it for me.

That the ad 'hints' (to use the above writer's word) at what it does is no accident. An earlier campaign by Wall's had many arguing that the young model was duped into portraying what she did not realize what the ad would suggest (or, as some held, the viewer was reading too much in it). I only requested such 'defenders' to look at several people, of all shapes, sizes, and genders eating ice-cream - even Magnum - and see how many had the eyes-half-closed expression or the emotion that the ad showed. None ever brought it up again.

As ad-savvy people who follow international campaigns know, Wall's ads have always had a clear intent. For example, one Magnum Cone storyline was described thus on an ad-related website: Man is eating a Magnum Cone when a woman walks by and starts licking it. [And one has to see it for the briefest of moments to understand what's being implied.]. Even a less provocative ad by them, which showed a man rolling paper into a long marijuana joint, did not escape the sexual innuendo: it was called The Sixties Nine

Do I have a problem with the ad? Yes! I think that this ad - and many more that seem to confuse modernity with sexual liberalism - play right into the hands of the fundos, destabilizing all moves towards the more important aspects of liberal or open-minded thought in an already confrontational society. Soon we'll have the right-wingers screaming and demanding of people if this is the kind of immorality they want their children to be brought up with --- a form of emotional blackmail that works and will help them gain sympathy, paving the way for other nefarious activities under their self-apointed position of moral guardianship. From disfiguring billboards (already a fairly common sight as you travel further north) it is but a short hop to disfiguring people— and they will stop at neither.

May I suggest that consumers express their views not merely on private and net-based forums but also to Unilever. Or shall we wait until the next Wall's ad appears with Studded for Extra Pleasure as a slogan?

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Monday, January 23, 2006


Have been wanting to blog this since walking out of KaraFilm Festival's closing/awards night, which we finally did due to an extremely late start ("VVIP mooment ho raha hae; dayr to ho gee. Taenu jaldi kyaa hae?", as one RoboCop had barked).

In fact we left as soon as the President arrived and we realized that there would be even more speeches and ceremonies and security beef-ups. An underlying reason that 'got to us' was the creeping, increasingly unbearable horror of realization that the venue was most antithetical to such human-centred events: The PAF Museum, 'decorated' with pedestalled engines of destruction.

The Good News for KaraFilm Fests is that it has come of age. More films, more participants, more audiences, more venues, more sponsors. Great results for the dedicated and extremely hardworking team that has been at it relentlessly and with much less support than people imagine. And now they have a 'ModEn' President patronizing it.

But this last bit of Good News could also spell Bad News. Unlike the Presidential (and, thus, Governmental) patronage of the APMC - for all sorts of reasons, none negative - this could, unless vigilance is excercised, prove non-productive. There are, at APMC concerts, no anti-Government Raags, no dissenting Taals, no politically inspired performances (other than the words of the Sufis, if people only delved a little deeper). Film Festivals, worldwide, tend to primarily be the meeting ground of such protest material. From Michael Moore's larger-than-life movies to The Little Terrorist or Submission, they strike at the roots of all that is wrong around us, at least in the eyes of independent film-makers. Like Deepa Mehta and Anand Patwardhan's films, they challenge or highlight taboos. Some better than others. A few offering alternatives. But ALL making one think. And thinking, often, leads to action. And action to reaction.

Given the reactions of the President to some forms of dissent and the Prime Minister's recent statement (quoted in the Press with reference to a partial ban on cable channel content) that he would like to prevent the showing of material that was against our religion, state, culture, vaghaerah (now that's going to be a really hard one to figure out for censorship but may help shut down PTV!), the strings of patronage could as easily become the ropes for throttling a truly independent selection. I am not saying they will. All I am saying is that the guys at the KaraFilm Festival need to be on their toes and need all our support. Here's hoping there will be even more venues added next year, with at least one on 'the other side of the bridge'!

Three cheers for the KaraFilm gang. I love you!

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

A memorable evening ...

As a Founder Member of the Board - although I resigned from it a year later - the APMC (Karachi) really means a lot to me. Along with the KaraFilm Festival (more about that in another post), the APMC Annual 3-day event has breathed new life into Karachi. Free, open to all, it attracts a crowd that spans the entire spectrum of demography. And the atmosphere is joyous ... something that Karachi hasn't been able to really be since an attempt at its Beirutization began.

Yesterday was the 2nd day of the 3rd Annual APMC Conference by the Karachi Chapter. A really tightly packed audience in the beautiful Hindu Gymkhana that now houses the National Academy of Performing Arts run by Zia Mohyeddin his team, sat through 7 hours of everything, from the opening performance by Karachi High School's delightful tiny tots (some as young as 6) rendering a classical bandish, through brilliant perfrmances by Classical Music Maestros (what a lineup!) to the much awaited Mekaal Hasan Band. Yes, folks, the APMS finally has expanded its range and feels, rightly, that good fusion must be highlighted, too, so that it opens up a path for many younger listeners to experience classical music.

Now to the performances. The cute and promising Naujavaan Fankaar were, well, as expected, cute and promising. Nazeer Ahmad, on the tabla, although a well established artiste, had obviously never accompanied these kids before and did so terribly! Nothing else describes it. It did throw off the children in the beginning but, by the end of the pieces, things worked out. This was followed by a technically well-performed, but rather long and soul-less, piece on the Harmonium by Niaz Ahmad, an old stalwart and composer. My mind wandered back to the days when W. Khan (as Masood Bhai was known to most in the musical circle) played the kind of dazzling hamonium that has never been heard before or after him - and I say that despite having heard ustaads Habibuddin and Sadiq Pindiwalay. Of course, adding to Masood Bhai's performances was that unique tabla player, Ustad Shahamat Ali. Only those who have heard that bearded, always-smiling muazzin-cum-musician (what a long way we have sunk since then) know what an experience that was. Sadly, recorded pieces of this magnificent duo that remain are rare and of poor quality. To be fair to Niaz, he does not often perform this role - and, in any case, most of the listeners were fascinated by being treated for the first time to a solo rendition on an instrument that is used for accompaniment.

Ikhlaque Husain, son of Ustad Imdad Husain, visiting from his new homeland, the US of A, appeared next. Prior to his departure, Ikhlaque, a really hardworking young musician, played well but sounded like the angry young man he was. Acknowledgement and accolades in the US - and the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you will be financially rewarded for your work and not have to live from day-to-day - has brought maturity to his style. He now has a thehrao that is nearly as beautiful as his father's. His playing was marred, though, by 3-4 very long interruptions to tune the sitar, making the piece less cohesive. I would also suggest to him to make his performances, at events such as this, shorter and crisper. Bashir's tabla sangat, usually subtle, was also rather overpowering.

It was the next artiste who set the course for the evening: Sarah Zaman. A teacher at the Department of Music in Lahore's NCA, held us enthralled with a long piece that complemented the performer's grace. The audience wanted more. In fact, so did she and requested a litttle more time, but was - rather aggressively, many thought - refused a bash at even a small follow-up piece. Sarah is, without doubt, among the better of our singers and, with age and passion on her side, she will ceratinly continue to thrill a whole new generation. She more than disproved Anwar Maqsood's dictum that a female classical vocalist can't be good-looking and perform well.

Following Sarah would have been quite an act for anyone other than a real ustaad … and Naseeruddin Saami certainly lived up to the status. His rendition of Daiyya Kahaan Gae Voh Loag was replete with some of the most complex taans that retained beauty despite their difficult demands. Like all members of the Agra Gharana, and of his own Dilli Gharana, Saami makes each taan seem easy and pleasant, smiling throughout - unlike some of our other ustaads who seem to believe that facial contortions add to the performance. In fact if you turn off the TV volume during some performances of such singers you may be pardoned for thinking that they were impersonating an attack of gastroenteritis. By the way, Saami's son, Urooj, who accompanied his father with exquisite supporting vocals, was lovingly dubbed Tan Sen by his nana Munshi Raziuddin. He is an incredible solo performer in the making. Watch this space!

Tari, the tabla-navaaz whose performances remind one of the jazz drummers of the 50s, was next. Generally, tabla solos are meant to last 10 minutes or so (and, as several classical purists complained yesterday, that's the amount of time for which one can usually bear them). However, Tari is anything but usual. A powerhouse of skills, technique, knowledge, and showmanship, he had the audience - including the musicians who had huddled together in the front row to hear him - in his grip. Bursts of cheers during his performance and the numerous discussions of his wizardry later on in the evening proved that he had won the audience's heart. Yes, the performance did go on for too-o-o long, but it got all the newly converted even more involved ... and that's one thing that is part of the APMC agenda. So, despite being a very critical and often intolerant listener, I am glad that Tari did not get the Sarah Zaman treatment (although, I do believe, she could as easily have been given the extra time with no harm done).

Ustaads Fateh Ali & Hameed ali, nephews of the late Ustaad Ummeed Ali Khan, followed and, once again, showed that even Tari's exhilerating act could not prevent real ustaads from establishing an immediate rapport with the audience. They are excellent singers and I always enjoy thair madhya lae expositions - but their crescendos have never been my cuppa. However, a quick glance around showed that most people disagree with me and were swinging to their drut. It was particularly pleasing to see that several teenagers, arriving in time to hear MHB, were truly enjoying this and, at least one section of 5-6 young girls were straining at the cultural leash to get up and dance.

Finally, after a break, probably to let some senior citizens - specially those with a disregard for all things new - leave, MHB made their entry amid roars, claps, and wild cheers. The performance and its effect on such a mixed audience was beyond expectations! Mekaals' forays and improvisations were remarkable, as always. The drumming was consistently good and the brief appearance and the accompaniment by Gumby proved even more fun for his fans. The flautist, Pappu, was briliant and his improvisations thoughtful. Javed Bashir's vocals (despite a discernable imbalance in the sound volume where I was sitting, making him sound just a trifle muffled) were breezy, tight, and clearly indicative of a classical (perhaps qavvaali) background. I'd rather let someone else - Insiya, perhaps - write more about this part of the performance, since I am only a recent initiate to this group's sound, having been captivated by the Darbari on their first CD.

The session ended at 4 AM and everyone still seemed full of life. Karachi: we need a lot more of this and a few all-night Espresso joints to go to afterwards.

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Girls of Riyadh

Twenty-four year old Rajaa Al-Sanie's first book, "The Girls of Riyadh", may not turn out to be worth much as a work of great prose. It may not find a place next to Nawal Al Sadawi's brilliant writings on my bookshelf. Perhaps it won't even sit near Tehmina Durrani's "My Feudal Lord". Since it's not on Amazon's list yet, I'll just have to wait and see what readers say. So far, of course, no review, particularly in the Western Media, seems even remotely interested in its literary merits, preferring to gloat over having discovered, surprise-surprise, double-standards and moral decay in jolly old Soddy Arabia. Oh, dear!

Googling the book title revealed nothing new about the book, but it did unearth a news item in the Arab News (Sunday, 2, October, 2005). Under 4 Arrested for Molesting Girls in Riyadh I found nested in the last paras, the following horror story that really stumped me. :
Last year, a mobile sex clip was widely distributed in the Kingdom and it too horrified many people. The clip showed a black man raping a Saudi girl as she pleaded for help. The governor of Riyadh immediately gave orders to find the offenders and bring them to justice. Two young Saudis were arrested and sentenced by the high court to prison terms and flogging for having planned and filmed a Nigerian driver sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl. 
The judge sentenced the principal defendant, Barjis ibn Faleh, 27, to 12 years imprisonment and 1,200 lashes; the other Saudi, Abdul Rahman ibn Haif, 22, was sentenced to two years and 200 lashes. The Nigerian, Youssef Abkar Muhammad Abdullah, was sentenced to six years in prison and 600 lashes. [Italics mine.]
That a 'planner' got twice the punishment the rapist received was strange enough. But, the grossness of the crime and such incogruous sentencing in this case aside, what I am really horrified about is that, had this been a consensual act, the couple could have been - under some circumstances - stoned to death (in itself a topic for debate within Islam).
Considering the violence of rape as worthy of a lesser punishment than an act that may occur out of Love, certainly seems a shocking and stupid way of looking at things. But that's male-bonding and chauvinism for you!
Back to Rajaa's book: Literary merits and demerits aside, it is a milestone. If King Abdullah, reported as being sympathetic to the idea of slowly-but-surely including women in all aspects of governance, does not prevent her from appearing on international talk shows (fearing that she will damage the country's image), she will inspire many other young women, everywhere, to expose the hideous pressures that they continue to endure and the dual lives they are often forced to live, even in this century. Good luck, kid!
Truth can be really powerful stuff. You're not expecting it.
Kurt Vonnegut

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Sunday, January 15, 2006

"... and reas'ning but to err."

When I was the Master of a ship - in the Merchant Navy, not in the killer kind! - I once asked a group of cadets, who had been on board for a month or so, to describe what they thought a Shipmaster did: his duties, responsibilities, authority, and so on. Apart from the obvious ('head of the ship', 'in command', and other generalizations) these boys, only 7-10 seafaring years away from that position themselves, understood nothing about the role of the Master.

In a Catalogue produced by aliens, there'd have been little or no difference to be seen between them and me, just a dozen or so years their senior at the time: Human, Male; mainly dressed in white; Habitat: metal floating homes. Maybe the physical charactersitics would have been noticeable (if far enough apart) and recorded as digital values of Height and Weight.

The fact that, despite such minor differences between us, the cadets were unable to comprehend a Master, got me thinking: What if the aliens had captured an Ape and a Man. There is a possibility of putting a selected specimen of each beside one another, and, through alien eyes, being unable to discern too many differences: Hirsuteness, maybe; and Tails. In most cases. And, with even such a small difference - albeit a major one in the eyes of humans - can the Ape comprehend or understand what Man is?

On further extrapolation, I thought: What if the aliens put an Ant, a Dog, and a Man in a lab and studied them? Size differences would be obvious. And some physical characteristics. Depending upon their interests in the three samples, and the purpose of their research, they may even jot down 'multi-sized carbon-based life-forms' ... and pass on to more interesting tasks at hand.

Does the Ant comprehend the nature of the Dog or the 'debatably higher' form of life that Man is? Is the Ant even aware of my entire being, as I stand towering beside it? Does it cross my foot, stinging me as it passes, and is aware of my feelings (pain, anger, whatever ...) at what he considers to be an innocuous natural act? Is it even aware that the piece of flesh he is 'located upon', at that moment, is actually a part of a larger being who is aware of the Ant, a being from a species capable of everything from the sadistic torture of fellow humans to the most intense examples of selfless love and sacrifice? Does the Ant have any awareness of his own death as my hand picks it up and I crush it between my fingers? Does it 'know', or presume to know, my feelings or motives? And, can I presume whether or not Ants presume?

And we know how much of a leap in differences it is between the Cadet example and the Ant one.

Yet, we have a whole bunch of people who are so sure of not just that 'God' is but also of what He is ... and wants! His capabilities and desires. Even His 'future' (as in, what He would do if such-and-such happened). I am not even getting into the obviously different answers they all get; that's a minor quibble. I am merely wondering about the basic assumption that they not only comprehend but can speak for a Being who, by their own definitions, is not a carbon life form, does not exist in any state similar to ours (or even theirs), shares none of our characteristics in terms of the 5 senses or physical necessities that we could not exist without, is constrained neither by space nor time, does not need to 'think' - for He 'knows' - and, is infinitely more different from us than the Cadet from a Shipmaster or even the Ant from Man.

To assume, for example, that a God would cause Ariel Sharon to have internal bleeding in the brain because he was about to politically divide up the His land - a claim that Evangelist Pat Robertson has just made - truly amazes me. [And to think that Pat was once a US Presidential Candidate.]

Don't forget, even a Pope (Alexander!) has suggested the we 'presume not God to scan' ;-)

Graffiti in the 60s: And God said unto them, "And who do you say that I am?"And they replied, "You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, the ontological foundation of the context of our very selfhood revealed." And God said unto them, "Huh???"

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Sunday, January 01, 2006

Hope you had as much fun bringing in the new year as I did

Last night, after an enjoyable barbecue and a post-midnight session, at Sabeen's, by Fareed Ayaz, Abu Mohammad, and the younger humnava fast coming into their own, I had a really great time reciting my favourite pieces of poetry - something that Fareed &c always enjoy a great deal. I chose random ash'aars, and a couple of complete ghazals, since that is what the qavvaals like most (and, quite often, select their future girahs from these).

Given the mood, I left out a poignant nazm, although my mind was buzzing with it. This is why I have decided to share with you: One of my favourites, the brief and haunting Judaaee, by Kaifi Azmi.


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