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Thursday, February 02, 2023 | Daily Newspaper published by GPPC Doha, Qatar.
 Muhammad Asad Ullah
Muhammad Asad Ullah
Muhammad Asad Ullah is one of the brightest new crop of journalists on the Doha scene. With a penchant for showbiz stories and a rover's eye on fashion. He's the whiz kid of the team with experience of both print and digital media.
POWER COUPLE: The duo, Hira and Affan will be love interests yet again in an upcoming drama serial Ghalati (Mistake), directed by veteran actor-turned director, Saba Hameed.
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Affan, Hira taking the leap of their career with new serial

Watching a love story unfold on television is magical, especially with Pakistani drama industry in focus. Everything is kept so real, whether you’re tuning in every week to catch the latest episode of your favourite show or binge watching on YouTube, it’s thrilling to watch as the best TV couples find each other, fall madly in love and give power packed performances. Some keep you waiting on the edge of your seat through breakups and makeups and back again. Some stories open the door for something more. And then there are fairytale endings where the girl gets her prince – fated right from the start, and some have been together forever, providing an anchor for the show. Whether you call it on-screen chemistry or charisma, there are certain pairings that have gone down in history, for their legendary mass appeal. We rarely mention Fawad Khan without Mahira Khan, ditto Osman Khalid Butt and Maya Ali. Nowadays, there is that young lot of actors who are joining the bandwagon of on-screen chemistry, Affan Waheed and Hira Mani being the very recent addition to the list with their popular pairing in Do Bol (2019), a drama serial on premier entertainment channel ARY Digital. Do Bol garnered over more than 181 million total views just on YouTube alone; it instantly struck a chord with masses owing to its relatable storyline and heartfelt performances by the cast.  The duo, Hira and Affan will be love interests yet again in an upcoming drama serial Ghalati (Mistake), directed by veteran actor-turned director, Saba Hameed.  In today’s young and fascinating actors’ rankings, Affan Waheed occupies a very high place. In 2010 he started his dynamic and intense affair with acting, which consecrated him as a highly versatile actor. For his ability to shift from intense to drama, for choosing tricky roles and embracing charitable causes. A young whizz.  So goes for Hira Mani. For Hira, Do Bol was another leap in a career, in which she has moved swiftly from newcomer taking on side roles to an award nominee known for her vast dramatic talents — and yet also for being a vulnerable, relatable, self-deprecating human being. Even if Hira owned a personal helicopter or a collection of rare art pieces, she would not brag about it. The actress still pretty much finds everything that’s happened to her in Pakistan entertainment industry as nutty as the rest of us do. She remains the sort of person who can get nervous about a formal gala, who finds the ritual of posing on the red carpet more than a little strange, and who continues to sound like an outsider and a full-time mom. Sometimes your one performance sets the standards and all subsequent performances pale no matter how hard you try, but even actor of Affan’s ability and skills feel all the pressure donning on to outdo his Do Bol legacy. He says, “Yes, I am feeling a lot of pressure but I’m just trying to shrug it off because something like Do Bol does not happen everyday. It was a smashing hit and the OST was a rage. It’s too soon for audiences to ignore the chemistry of Ghaiti and Badar. So all of these things put together are adding a lot of pressure. But I’m hopeful. If you come to think of it, your career path cannot be the same – so it’s okay if Ghalati (God forbid) does not do as well as Do Bol did. Yet I want it to.”  However, Hira Mani seems to have it all together, holding it all together with calmness. “I don’t feel any pressure after Do Bol. Because that was another project and Ghalati is an altogether different project, I do not compare both of them. I don’t take Do Bol as pressure, I’m just happy that in such a short period of time in the industry, I’ve given such a hit. I will always just feel proud and happy of Do Bol. I believe if you start taking pressure then you lose on performance,” she says. The celebrity on screen couple is becoming a phenomenon now in Pakistan as well, and Affan agrees. “There’s nothing wrong in the concept of on-screen couples. And I’m glad that me and Hira have been loved by people so much that we’ve been able to establish ourself along the lines. But people have so much expectations now. However, you know it’s very rare to establish such an on-screen couple concept in dramas. Because you’re almost working every day with new people and new co-stars. So, from that clutter, if something is established – then why not.” Saba Hameed is one of the renowned veteran actors of Pakistan with a matchless legacy of performances. As she delves into directing, Affan and Hira talks about their experience of being directed by a maestro. Hira says, “Saba Hameed has directed it way too well. The experience of working with her was phenomenal. It made me feel, that I’ve finally achieved something in my career. I’m finally on that level of my performance that I’ve achieved such a fine director. Saba herself have been a wonderful actress, so if she has chosen me for her first project – that meant everything to me.” adds Affan, “I had a great experience with Saba as a director. She has a vision and her hold on content is very strong. You can just rely on her as a director. If I wanted to contribute something as a performer, she would understand it completely and she was conducive with the idea that actors can also contribute. If I must in all fairness say, Saba will emerge as a great director.” How is Ghalati different? Affan says, “It is different compared to Do Bol for sure. The storyline revolves around just one element, which I cannot disclose right now.” adds Hira, “The serial has got just a regular storyline but its bombed with twists and turns and climax; which audiences would be able to relate to. In short: it’s about a woman who stands up for her dignity, respect and right. Everyone needs to watch this drama because in this Ghalati, is a ‘Ghalati’ which after watching, you won’t repeat that same ‘Ghalati’”

WOMAN OF SUBSTANCE: Jessica Kahawaty, a Lebanese Australian, TV Host, beauty queen, model, and philanthropist, was awarded with the prestigious Woman of the Year award for her outstanding humanitarian work.
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Grazia Style Awards 2019: Sifting style, celebrating women achievements

The Qatar’s fashion industry is booming. With Fashion Trust Arabia, the industry is on the rise and on its way to place itself on the cultural map of the world. Doha’s youth game is unmatched in the competing capital, but there is also a blazing tension between the experimental side of the fashion industry and the establishment of going classic. Going classic wins the game of sartorial fashion, well usually, but this season Grazia Style Awards 2019 gave the hint of something otherwise, hurling the fashion forte with millennials and aesthetics of futuristic approach. The electric tension between huge power houses and emerging designers makes for an unpredictable award show with winner list you can’t really pre-empt, but sit back and applause. It’s always exciting to see industry veterans and mover-and-shakers appreciating new industry entrants and giving them a space of their own to flourish and create something even more appealing. The annual Grazia Style Awards 19, now in its fourth year, was held at Mondrian Doha with over 370 guests and awards presented to Qatari and international achievers in fashion, art, culture, and philanthropy. Staged by Grazia, the awards celebrated female achievement in Qatar and beyond. The Grazia Style Awards (LSA) collaborated with Salam Stores, Qatar Airways, Lexus Qatar, Mondrian Doha, Aldo Coppola, L’Occitane, Trinity Talent Qatar, and Doha Gossip, since you cannot put up grand shows without a sponsor. Where the perceptive Mazini’s decedents of Fil Noir (Modest Wear Brand of the Year) takes the brand to a whole new level with cutting edge, practical designs and clothes that are even more imaginative when one begins to explore the garment construction – the zany style aesthetics and craftsmanship with finest cotton fabrics, it is the unassailable layering of Amal Ameen Almehain (Lifetime Achievement Award) of Amici di Moda (Best Luxury Boutique) that protrudes her in the ceaseless list of designers and veterans existing in the fashion industry. Amal defines haute couture with her painstakingly intricate details, embroideries and sheer cuts. Playing with couture, cuts and silhouettes has been an idea that seemed unfathomable few years from now in the region, but in no time we’re all have been calling Amal a change – maker, for the aesthetics and volume she brings. We are all in a mire of fashion choices in 2019. With abundance frills, volume, shoes dripping in crystals, leopard capes and 3D roses, the focus today towards a fashion forward approach has been rudderless. But then there are those millennial designers who takes on a classic and give a modern spin to it, so wonderfully that you cannot but stop and appreciate — redefining the shapes and tailoring timeless it-pieces. Some of the brightest names in Qatar fashion industry — spanning the worlds of womenswear and shoe wears — have been witted down to just two winners (Breakthrough Stars of the Year): Yasmin Mansour and Hissa Haddad. Where Yasmin stands behind the unfussy-yet elegant womenswear collection that’s proven a draw for fashion editors and retailers alike and getting a nomination and making it to the final rounds of Fashion Trust Arabia previous edition, the only designer from Qatar to establish footings at such a platform, Hissa, an engineer turned shoe designer, is the only Arab footwear designer to have had made a debut with a capsule collection at Paris Fashion Week 2017. Her breakout debut is only half the story of her success, the other, and more significant half is the fierce energy, motivation and aesthetics with which she represents Qatar worldwide, including the likes of London Fashion Week. Glitz and glamour is one of the centrepieces of GSA. An awe-inspiring activation curated by Salam Stores featuring mannequins, recalling the glamour of the Great Gatsby era, showcased some of Salam’s most dazzling new season collections.  Floor-sweeping shifts in clean white satin and provocative sculpted black dresses with rivulets of crystals and embellishments, couture lets a designer go all out and about and play along the creative aesthetics. That’s exactly what Tiiya by Alanoud Alattiya (Fashion Gamechanger Award) has been doing for previous quite some years, earning acclaim one after another for its lush fabrics, ranging from heavy gazar, to lighter organza, crepes and taffetas, sculptural shapes and meticulously ornate beading. Grazia has produced some of the finest and most iconic images of modern times and played a pivotal role in portraiture, fashion and beauty photography. The magazine has been encouraging and promoting photographers and designers to produce some of the most influential and stunning imagery in the history of fashion. Grazia honoured Sara al-Obaidly, Qatari photographer and filmmaker, with Artist of the Year Award. Sara’s work is so exceptional and often unique with the style of posing sitters and usual backgrounds that keeps the focus on subject articulately. Clothing may make up the majority of an outfit, but accessories are more significant than you may think. You might find yourself spending just as much time shopping for accessories as you do for clothes — and rightfully so, Ibrahim al-Haidos, founder of Fursan (Luxury Accessory Brand) understands that. The fact that all pole-apart trends can coexist alongside rainbow sunglasses and an unstoppable straw bag renaissance from Fursan makes the brand unbeatable.  Grazia’s Award for Social Media influencer was bagged by Almira Kahrobaie. Grazia Qatar’s Publisher and Editor in Chief Bianca Brigitte Bonomi hosted the evening, so well that one wonders how this woman does it all, all the time. Keeping it so perfect and flawless. Not a pitch out of place. “Glamorous than Oscars,” she said candidly. And it won’t be erroneous to say, that it really was, considering all the couture statement gowns that had made it to the award gala. “We’ve seen so many wonderful feats achieved by women in Qatar this year. From the opening of the National Museum under the leadership of HE Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, to the staging of Dana Alfardan’s Broken Wings musical; Yasmin Mansour representing Qatar-based designers at Fashion Trust Arabia, and the 150 women that took part in Grazia’s Real Beauty Revolution – the first magazine cover ever to feature its readers – women have shone over the past twelve months. At Grazia, we celebrate women in all of their technicoloured, brilliant diversity. Our guests come from different backgrounds, lead different lifestyles, and speak different languages but we are united in our appreciation of female achievement and that is what the Grazia Style Awards are all about,” she said. As this edition of GSA paid tribute to the women of influence, Jessica Kahawaty, a Lebanese Australian, TV Host, beauty queen, model, and philanthropist, was awarded with the prestigious Woman of the Year award for her outstanding humanitarian work. In 2016, Louis Vuitton approached her to be part of their Make a Promise campaign, designed to help children in urgent need through its support for Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund. In 2018, she became a member of the Unicef Leadership Circle, which gave her the opportunity to visit and support a variety of refugee camps around the world as well as sit amongst major philanthropic donors in the Middle East to discuss Unicef’s objectives and fundraising. To date, she has embarked on three humanitarian missions and the connection with the people she has met over the course of these missions has had a profound impact on her outlook. She ended her acceptance speech, in which she outlined her personal experiences on these missions, with a call to action. Speaking on the occasion, she said, “There are no words that can describe what I have witnessed … I met elderly crying in their final days because they had lost everything. A life lived for nothing they say. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed and imposed in 1948, but the world today is so far from recognising dignity, equal and valuable rights for all. Are we going to publicly proclaim our values online rather than turning our words into actions? We must change the culture of greed, social indifference and superiority that has thrived,” she added “Someone once quoted Andrew Sullivan to me, if you change the society and a culture, the politics will follow. This award is to remember those we have lost in crimes against humanity and for the survivors who are still pursuing their fight for justice in this world.”

STATEMENT: Wes Gordon, the Creative Director of Carolina Herrera, takes a bow with models in Herrerau2019s Spring/Summer 2020 Ready-to-Wear and Bridal collection.
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Toast of the town: Carolina Herrera’s high fashion statements

What is the link between Michelle Obama’s fierce White House State Dinner look, Taylor Swift’s Golden Globe Awards haute pink appearance making headlines and the official photographs of Meghan Markle in a leaf printed chiffon gown in Morocco? They were all seen pulling off Carolina Herrera. Wes Gordon joined Carolina Herrera as a design partner in 2017 before taking over complete creative control as Creative Director last year and he’s doing quite well when it comes to street style and bridal wear, whilst being utterly faithful to Herrera’s legacy. Aesthetics like his and the uproar they’ve caused by accessible to the vibe on the street is largely responsible for other designers taking it easy and having fun with fashion as luxe gets comfy. High fashion moments, big business and chic in the real sense of the world. This is how the business of fashion is unfolding in NYC this season, and we witnessed it as Wes Gordon at Carolina Herrera sent down his models on the runway for an exclusive showcase at Fifty One East. Intricate inlay craftsmanship is used to create his striking aesthetics. It’s just there, in his choice of fabric and textures, a myriad influence and how he mixes them all up to bring to the runway, an aesthetic rooted in the west but still paying a nod or two or twenty to what’s happening everywhere else in the world. His bridal wear, such a clean work of art, that was the show-stopper silhouette weaved its usual magic spell, not because the choreography was sharp or the models were walking fine, both being true though, but because the silhouette on display were breathtakingly beautiful — it swayed effortlessly with intricate embroidery work. The rundown featured Herrera’s Spring/Summer 2020 Ready-to-Wear and Bridal Collection. Inspired by the botanical phenomenon of the Californian super bloom adding texture via velvety polka-dots placed on floating tulle and playing with the proportion on sleeves, Gordon put out clothes as pretty as a picture with not a stitch out of place, understated, frothy and sleek, even if the skirt was billowing. Crisp white shirts just looked sleeked with those printed skirts draped in lilies, verbena and lupine. The show started with a half-pint print which was soon followed by more giant flowers on a floor-grazing easy-breezy gown and a flirty frock embellished by a belt. Dress up or dress down! The energy dipped somewhat in the middle section of daytime separates in plaids and shirting stripes, but it zoomed back up again with black-and-white polka dots, more super blossoms, voluminous sleeves and off-shoulder gowns and exuberant bows. Gordon could’ve played with the bows a lot more than he did, and for real it could’ve only added well to the collection — but what we noticed was his penchant fondness for the belts and how they create an effortless picture for the dress that could’ve easily be taken down the street for some evening glitzy business. Clean lines and tailoring with a take on all things classy and a symmetry of shape and colour made Herrera’s a talked about collection of day dresses. Known for sleek wears and designs, sported by celebrities around the world — this collection was all about having fun with fashion while keeping the collection cohesive. The aesthetic yet effortless shaped wearable collection was goaded by the melding of modern era and street chic sensibility, using the myriad fabrics of silk shantung, organza, linen, taffeta and lace in the bridal wear. Meanwhile, the Herrera’s trademark orange was there in peachy and burnt tones used to devastating affect with a hint of black belt here and a solid block of white there. Commercially viable pieces? Hugely. Wes understands the market and – he just served right. Nothing too extravagant or nothing out of inch or lines. However, he did adapt to Middle Eastern culture featuring Kaftans with intricate embroidery in delicate tones or solid blocks. Kaftan’s volume was just right – nothing extra, just the perfect cuts. He knows where to stop and make a statement. The few dresses that couldn’t really live up to the puffery of Herrera’s trademark were the bombing voluminous silhouettes, that were only unstructured with no depth to the overall piece, and one lemon zest cape polka dot dress. That polka had too much happening in the dress all at a time. But speaking for others, were timeless pieces that are created for one simple reason to make women look like a million dollars. The woman should wear the dress, the dress shouldn’t wear the woman. Gordon has pushed himself well and explored dresses with more shape and structure — that could be Herrera’s future for the best. Here’s kudus to sharp, edgy and fast paced choreography and direction of Mohammed Kabis (Simo). For a flash it was happening so rousingly, we couldn’t even afford to look left or right – but stick to the ramp before we miss out any details.

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“Good movie is a good movie, I don’t care where you see it” — Bo Derek, Hollywood actress

Bo Derek made her acting breakthrough in the 1979 romantic comedy 10, and her performance — including an iconic scene of Derek running down the beach in a skin-coloured swimsuit and cornrows — quickly propelled her to a status of femme fatale with overnight stardom — a perfect 10. Bo was everywhere — on the covers of magazines, newspapers and posters of the film alike that helped make the movie into a 10 on a scale of same among box office sleepers, with a gross of $60 million. It’s the only thing most people even remember about the movie. Suddenly, everybody was wearing cornrows, trying to look just like her, accrediting Bo more than anyone else for popularising cornrows. A 1980 People article even cited Derek as the catalyst for making cornrows a ‘cross-cultural craze’ and a ‘beauty store bonanza.’ In Derek’s own words “Being the part of 10 was such an unusual experience. I’m only in the film a few minutes but it changed my life. The film itself was about a man in his mid-life crises, haven’t been told before. I feel so fortunate to be a part of it.” It was four decades ago, but the moment still looms over Bo Derek’s life. Born Mary Cathleen Collins in Long Beach, California, in 1959, Derek says she just sort of made up the name Bo around the time she was casted in cinema. Although Bo’s subsequent film Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981) did well on the box office, but it was raved with negative reviews due to the objectification of Bo rather than keeping the focus on Tarzan. Post Tarzan, Bo did Bolero (1984), Ghosts Can’t Do It (1990), Tommy Boy (1995) and a couple of other films, but Bo has always been interested in behind the scene aspects of the films and hence went into production soon after. Bo Derek recently spoke to Community as she is visiting Doha to celebrate her birthday, about how she thinks cinema has evolved over the period of four decades, what keeps her busy now and her take on #Metoo. “Absolutely everything has changed. There were just a few motion pictures made a year back then, now as a consumer or an actor there’s so much content and so much work because of streaming and Internet, cable and it’s a very exciting time. I like it,” says Derek.  Drawing a parallel between the old age cinema and the current scenario of online movie streaming services and how it has changed the media landscape, Bo Derek said, “It was so expensive to make a movie back in the 80s, so expensive to release a movie, and you had to make a film to please the masses. For the most part, the films were not that specific. Now, whatever you like, whatever documentary, whatever you want to learn about or however you want to be entertained — it’s just a click away and it’s fantastic,” she added, “I know there’s an argument in Hollywood right now that movies should be in the big theatre and you shouldn’t mix the two but I think it’s too late now and everything’s already just out there. Good movie is a good movie, I don’t care where you see it.” Have method acting changed over the period of time? “I’ve never enjoyed performing — behind the scenes has been more my thing. When I act, I prefer to have a very strong director. That’s hard to find now. Today, actors are so good, so prepared now that I have to catch up and warm up and feel it, and I need the director to tell me what to do and exactly how to do it,” the actress says. After her breakout role in 10, Bo decided to produce and act in films that she made with her husband, John Derek, even if that meant never having the starring role in a blockbuster movie.  “When I produced my first film, I had a very strong position in the industry. The biggest you can get — for a moment. So many people started pulling me and telling me what to do — I wasn’t prepared. And I didn’t have a sense for what I wanted to be in the industry. So, I decided to be my own boss,” she says, “I loved learning about the industry from the beginning till the very last process. When I look back, I think, I might would’ve made better career choices but I wouldn’t have traded the experience or anything.” Now since the Hollywood has matured into a global entertainment industry, many actors of all races and genders, even of Middle Eastern roots, are making their way into the industry — and making it big to the least, Rami Malek being one of the finest examples. Talking about this trend of actors of diverse backgrounds joining Hollywood, Bo says, “It’s both, a great cultural exchange and healthy for the industry as well. I love watching international cast and the idea of telling stories. It has been so provincial back in the days in the Hollywood, that when we’d have to tell a story about India or Asia or anyplace, it would be US citizens with makeup and getup but now, the writers are writing stories about people coming together from all over the world. The arts is always good and arts is liberal.” Bo along with her husband John visited Qatar for the first time in 1997. She was taking part in a horse race. After over a decade, she’s back in Doha and in all praises for the development and progress. “I was here for a horse race back then. I wouldn’t recognise it now. Although 97 seems to me like a few years ago, but in terms of growth here, its tremendous and beautiful obviously. I was at the Qatar National Library today, and National Museum of Qatar — I saw a collection of pearls and the way Qatar is preserving its history and culture is just amazing,” she adds, “Ofcourse, the FIFA World Cup 22 is exciting but at the same time the way Qatar is keeping its independence and identity is wonderful.” Bo was one of the most sought after and beloved actresses and after getting into production, she decided to take a step back from acting. In recent years she has concentrated more on her philanthropic work, advocating for wounded veterans and also serving as a spokesperson for the Animal Welfare Institute. How pleased she is with her new life, what she’s doing away from the public eye and what kind of scripts attract her, she says, “Anything. I don’t get much work anymore. In the position I was in, I was given everything — whether it was good for me or not. Then, when everything started to slow down, I surprised myself that I didn’t care. I have many interests, I got into horse racing and I was commissioner for seven years. It’s like chapters in the book. When I was acting and I was a movie star, that was one chapter — and when it started to fade, I didn’t hold on to it, I had other things to do. I do work now though; I recently did a family film with James Caan and that was a lot of fun and apart from that I work for animal rights, I care about them – especially horses.” One of the things that drives struggling actors to keep moving forward is helpful advice, best acting tips and inspiration from those who have made it. This has always been the case. Bo has a word for the struggling artistes out there, waiting and looking to make it big. “Make sure it’s your passion. It’s a lot of hard work. People don’t understand. People think it’s so glamorous and I know it is glamorous, but when I say hard work, I mean concentration and it is ridiculous that will make you crazy,” she advises, “So, make sure it’s your passion. It’s going to knock you down constantly, it’s a very cruel industry, but you have to keep that aside and keep going.” October 15 marked the two-year anniversary of the moment #MeToo went viral. In the days and months that followed, more and more people came forward with their stories of assault, abuse, harassment, and trauma. The #MeToo movement took hold of the public imagination. Some men were held accountable, while some decried the movement had already gone too far. Talking about #Metoo, Bo said, “Any movement has its core and either it can be used or abused for personal advantage. It took me by surprise because my industry was one of the first to welcome women. So, I was a little surprised and upset. I think that it’s over and men cannot treat women like that anymore. It’s in the past. If I was a man, I would be very nervous, because a woman can use it for extortion, or a law suit — it’s very confusing right now. But when it all settles, we’ll look back and say it was all for good.” Bo stands with a sense of dignity and you can feel it in the pitch of her voice when she says how proud she is of her fans and how much she thanks them. “I thank my fans so much. My business can be very cruel and shallow but it’s your fans that keeps you going. I’m so shocked, with all the crazy things I did in my career, I still somehow survived with a sense of dignity. And I only know that because of the way people treat me!”

INDIGENOUS FASHION IN FOCUS: Stella Jean recently showcased her collection employing Kalash embroideries, from the remote valleys of the Chitral region of Pakistan, at Milan Fashion Week earlier last month and then at Fashion Pakistan Week Winter Festive 19.
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Italian cuts and ethnic Pakistani works make stellar statement

Think of ethnic wear, and the first natural association is a growing tribe of indie labels that have extended their pared-down sensibility and sustainable mindset to traditional silhouettes. The line between inspiration and adoption is often blurred, especially in fashion. Nobody knows this better than the ethnic community, whose consecrated prints, hand-burnished leatherwork, and beaded appliqués and embroideries have been imitated by local and international fashion houses for centuries. Often it even happens, that designers travel to those ethnic places, place orders, corporate ethnic designs in their collections and don’t even give enough credit to those skilled ethnic workers. This type of cultural appropriation, where labels draw from deep-rooted design codes without crediting the culture they are taking them from, is particularly harmful to indigenous people, who have been, and continue to be, marginalised — rather invisible for the world. In these dark days, one good thing about fashion is the way young designers are using their platforms to enlighten, and to effect positive change.  Thankfully, Pakistani indigenous fashion is finally gaining some ground on international platform thanks to Stella Jean, an Italian designer.  Jean should be more than proud of her ability to use her fashion for good. Her activism goes far beyond slogan tees and hashtags and actually incites economic and social change.  With her penchant for ethical fashion, Stella had previously worked with artisans from other countries, intermingling their craft with her design sensibility. Now, she decided that she wanted to work with the craftswomen of the Kalash. Stella recently showcased her collection employing Kalash embroideries, from the remote valleys of the Chitral region of Pakistan, at Milan Fashion Week earlier last month and then at Fashion Pakistan Week Winter Festive 19. Stella herself lived in Chitral for about two weeks to learn about the embroidery techniques women use to adorn their dresses before collaborating with Chitral Women’s Handicraft Centre, founded by the 22-year-old Karishma Ali for the collection, in her endeavour to help build an Italy-Pakistan bridge. The women in Kalash embroidered fabric according to her instructions, patterns and sketches and then their finished work was sent to her in Italy, where the final garments were stitched. Tedious but worth-it, socially and commercially. Stella’s collection at FPW featured waisted sundresses in crisp stripes, logoed sports jersey with slim tailoring — bright embroideries and even brighter prints. Her sense of shape and silhouette is her most exciting calling card. These were happy summer clothes, with circle-skirted dresses, puff-sleeved blue and white shirting, off-the-shoulder necklines and tiered skirts — it was the best collection that went on the runway of FPW this season, and the best how she employed ethnic values with modern silhouettes; spot-on trend-wise for the season. The colourful stitching wrapped around dresses, adorned belts, and decorated the hemlines of Jean’s summer dresses. Jean’s multicoloured canvas served as an apt homage to the beauty and skill that is inherent to Pakistan. The Kalash embroideries stood out as did the truck-art prints. The well structured white dress with its swathes of layers and blue embroidered border and peeking blue leaves, worn by model Mushk Kaleem, was the highlight. But, in a room full of people donning the staples, how do you make yourself stand out? Jean’s piece is ideal for a woman who likes to keep it traditional yet make a statement.

SIGNING OFF: Hassan Riaz takes a bow with his collection u2018Lost in the French gardenu2019 on the first day of FPW-Winter Festive.
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Exalted and uplifted

The past decade in Pakistan Fashion Industry, social media, streetwear, street style and luxury wears have been on the rise. It has been minimalism, maximalism and minimalism again. Now, as a new decade dawns, the cycle is beginning all over again. And this time it seems to solidify the power of super brands and luxury couture, while also birthing a new generation of savvy independents whose influence far exceeds their size. The recently showcased collection ‘Lost in my French garden’ by Hassan Riaz at Fashion Pakistan Week — Winter Festive ’19, was a clamouring proof of it, with looks that captured elusive insouciance — the undone ruffles and layers, the waves of embroidery — but also ones that paid homage to Paris, the fashion capital of the world.  Hassan transported showgoers back to the 18th century with some silhouettes with a flair for the dramatics as a through line. Fantastical flourishes were omnipresent and the evolution of Parisian fashion was translated in between the lines, largely the story of liberation — first from fascinator hats, then from skirts, and finally from teetering stiletto heels. His mesh of traditional French embellishments of bold beadings, applique work, cut-work, and embroideries with experimental and regular silhouettes was the dizzying, super-surrealist cascade of eye crystals. The large three-dimensional florals and uniquely placed sequins were interesting. His runway started with Sadaf in emerald green pencil skirt paired with candy pink applique work and closed with a real bang of French ruffles in yellow and white, showstopped by actress Nimra Khan. Gogi advocated fiercely, for sheer sleek jackets, exaggerated shoulders, and body-hiding luxury jumpsuits, while simultaneously creating sexy little scarf dresses, miniskirts, and see through pants with pointed busts. There were looks that demanded a red carpet or a high street appearance day — an asymmetric explosion of lace and ruffles anchored by half of a tailored jacket—and others that demanded a very chic day (a patched, striped shirtdress with swaggering sleeves and a sleek bodice).  Few looks appeared eccentrically stitched together from old slips and patterns of cut-outs that deserved to be psychoanalysed. But to the extent that the feisty Wizkid usually indulges his colourful tendencies, the sum of these impressively executed parts actually felt less profoundly melancholic, more palpably enchanting. This came through in the seductive bias cut and drape of certain otherwise minimalist dresses, and the maximalist monochromatic embroideries that turned the final looks into couture-like creation.  However, Hassan clarifies that he had no intention of taking it along the couture lines. “A lot of people confused French garden and related the collection to French couture, which is not true. ‘Lost in my French garden’ was used as to describe the adoption of the beautiful and vibrant French tulip colours and details of embellishment derived from the organic and planned landscaped of French gardens with different attractive elements found around their gardens which can easily be embraced in the collection.” Did Hassan get lost in that elaborate collection of mish and mesh. “For some it might be elaborate and for some it may not be. I won’t say it was too elaborate or all over the place, it was just very detailed. Some of the pieces in this collection were showcased at London Fashion Week last edition, where they were highly appreciated. I believe the runway shows in Pakistan still have to go a long way for the acceptance of experiment and innovation.”  But a detailed collection of such can be nearly of no use, to the designers, fashion goers and buyers, if not translated well to the rack. “Rack is something which everyone considers while designing, but it doesn’t mean that it stops you from creating new market and something unique. We’re already in demand for our this festive collection, that shows that is has been already accepted by the masses for the racks. They’d buy it, just the way it was showcased, except a few tweaking here and there; fulling our purpose of providing uniqueness and something new for the market,” said Hassan.

GLITZY: The Duchess enlisted beloved British label Jenny Packham to help make her arrival to a reception hosted by the British High Commissioner of Pakistan whilst Prince William opted for a traditional Sherwani by Nauman Arfeen.
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The Midas Touch: Kate Middleton’s royal fashion statements in Pakistan

From their wedding dress to the clothes they opt for on international appearances and tours, what a Royal wears can tell us a lot about who they are, how they feel and the message they’re trying to convey. The Royal Family may not say much, but their fashion choices can kick off trends, make careers and promote social change.  The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (the British royal couple known as William and Kate among masses) are back in UK post their recent Pakistan tour, the first royal visit in 13 years. It has been, by all accounts, a highly successful five days of outreach. They met with Prime Minister Imran Khan (friend of William’s late mother Princess Diana) And schoolchildren. Played cricket. Saw many sights. Met the movers and shakers of Pakistan entertainment and fashion industry. And smiled for every photographer, paparazzi and person that came in contact with them.  These are culturally sensitive times, and those sensitivities are culturally relative. Their clothes made silent statements with cross-border respect, cultural awareness and outreach in focus. No detail, or earring, was overlooked. Kate Middleton and Prince William kicked off their tour of Pakistan by touching down at the Pakistani Air Force Base Nur Khan in Chaklala, Rawalpindi, Pakistan.  Suffice to say that our fascination with all things royal style runs deep and well, we know we’re not alone here, because we could see Kate trending on Instagram and Twitter like anything every few hours with her choice of wardrobes. Where people often took over social media to compare her fashion choices with what her late mother-in-law opted for during her visit to Pakistan, others just appreciated how gorgeous she looked with a 100 watt smile and that perfectly blow-dried hair. Deplaning and the morning leg As she landed, for Day 1, Middleton chose a special look: she wore an ensemble that recalled the late Princess Diana’s visit to Pakistan back in the 90s. The Duchess chose an ombré dress by Cathrine Walker, one of her favourite designers, and paired it with matching pants underneath. The ensemble appeared to be inspired by shalwar kameez – a mesh of a tea dress and a shalwar kameez. The look also bore a striking resemblance to the long, light blue button-up top and trouser combo that Princess Diana wore during her Pakistan tour in 1996. Middleton made the outfit her own by adding her signature nude pumps.  The next morning as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge went out to learn about the work of Teach for Pakistan — an organisation that recruits and trains graduates and young professionals for a two-year fellowship in which they teach in low-income schools, and visited the Islamabad Model College for Girls, Kate paired nude ballet flats with a periwinkle shalwar kalmeez and dupatta by Pakistani designer Maheen Khan. The dress was fuss free with exquisite embroidery detailing on the neckline paired with a chiffon dupatta. Kate seems to have had loved Maheen’s design, no wonder she wore two outfits by the designer and also a pair of white pants that she had paired with her green Catherine Walker trench coat meets tunic, when she met the Prime Minister and President of Pakistan. Meeting the president and prime minister of Pakistan To meet Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Dr Arif Alvi, Middleton chose an eye-catching emerald coat-dress by Catherine Walker. Then she added Pakistani labels to balance out the rest of her ensemble, including cream trousers from Maheen Khan, earrings from Zeen, and a printed scarf from Bonanza Satrangi. Her matching suede bag and pointed pumps finished off the look. We just loved how she tossed the crinkle embroidered dupatta as a statement. Middleton saluted local fashion without straying far from her signature style. The glamorous affair One word: Glam! The Duchess enlisted beloved British label Jenny Packham to help make her arrival to a reception hosted by the British High Commissioner of Pakistan one to remember, in a Pakistani ricksaw. She complemented the emerald green gown with statement earrings by Onitaa. To achieve an almost liquid effect while enhancing the body contours, Jenny was all about silvery emerald green crystals — encrusted with lace appliqués and embroidered with a generous amount of pearls and sequins. Almost costume-y in its unabashed glamour. Kate paired an emerald chiffon dupatta with the full length silhouette. Also, apart from Kate, William was wearing a matching emerald sherwani by Pakistani designer, Nauman Arfeen, and Oh! He looked handsome.  The Duke and Dutchess met the movers and shakers of Pakistani entertainment and fashion industry at the reception, including the likes of Mahira Khan, HSY and Mehwish Hayat among others. Warm hues amidst picturesque mountains After travelling to the north of Pakistan to the Hindu Kush mountain range in Chitral, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited the Chiatibo glacier in an attempt to highlight the climate crisis. For the trip, Middleton opted for a cowgirl-ready outfit that was chic.  Wearing a waistcoat by Really Wild, the mother-of-three looked ready for adventure, pairing it with a slip skirt, shirt and boots. Gold earrings and a pashmina shawl added an extra touch to the look. The royals were presented with traditional Chitrali hats and white coats, which Princess Diana also received during her visit to Chitral in 1991.  Touching down Lahore Touching down in the city of Lahore the next day, the Duchess of Cambridge stunned in a white shalwar kameez by Gul Ahmed, which featured intricately embroidered jasmine flowers, the national flower of Pakistan. The ensemble was paired with an off-white shawl by Maheen Khan. Keeping the outfit sleek and chic she paired it with beige suede heels by Gianvito Rossi and a blush clutch by Mulberry. And later on, white sneakers and a pony tail when she headed out to visit National Cricket Academy in Lahore to stroke a bat or two.  Visiting Badshahi mosque Kate Middleton sported a turquoise Shalwar Kameez by Maheen Khan for her official visit to the Badshahi Mosque. The well-structured silhouette featured a gold trim that perfectly matched the gold detailing on the front panel, an embroidery drawing inspiration from the Egyptian motifs and calligraphy. Her head scarf with gold pipping looked as traditional as it could.  A fashionable farewell For the final day of the royal tour, Kate wore a cream Elan kurta with black embroidery, Gul Ahmed pants, UFO earrings, and J.Crew nude heels, and carried a black Smythson purse. Kate later changed in a Beulah black blazer coat, a white tunic, white pants and black Russell & Bromley flats before she and Prince William attended their final event, a visit to Islamabad’s Army Canine Unit, where they met dogs and puppies trained to identify explosive devices. Stylists game strong Here’s to the stylists that put together some fabulous looks for Kate, incorporating so many traditional and Pakistani detailing. Va Va Voom!

GOING PLACES: Pinky Memsaab was a low budget film but did wonders in terms of critical acclaim, especially earning Hajra Yamin a nomination for Best Film Actress at Lux Style Awards.
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Hajra Yamin: Relatable, grounded and above all, real

From a relatively moderate theatre actor profile to making it big on television dramas, Hajra Yamin has traversed some distance. Each year, a handful of fresh faces stun on the TV screen, but when someone is coined even as a nominee for the Best Film Actress, and that too just after her second film, it’s a big deal. Which is why you need to pay attention to the game-changers. Meet Hajra, a trailblazer who is leaving her mark on the world, for good. She is a young actress dominating Pakistani television screens these days – ready and waiting to seize the next-big-thing crown. I wanted to know what this young girl is all about. What I discovered was meekness, love for her craft and aspirations to create change with her acting prowess.  I met Hajra for the first time around four years ago, back in 2015, when she was staging in a theatrical play by Anwar Maqsood, Pakistani scriptwriter, television host, satirist, humorist, and infrequent actor. It was a brief encounter, but it was clear that this girl has exactly what it takes to make it big: acting prowess. It has been an incredible run, groundbreaking in its creative and financial might, but Hajra got there by working almost nonstop through her teens and 20s. Well, she’s still in her early 20s! By now, as many of us have probably read a thousand things about how Hajra Yamin is just like the rest of us — ambitious, hardworking and how she is exactly the kind of Pakistani actor non-head case you’d want to chill and share reasonably priced tea with. This is true. Amid a breezy conversation that ranges from her landing up her first role, to her transition from theatre to film to drama, her take on Netflix and other streaming services and the kind of scripts that excite her, it’s easy to forget you’re in the company of someone now hailed as the next big thing for Pakistan Entertainment industry. Beginning with theatre in 2011, followed by her TV debut in 2016 and film debut in 2018, she did her second feature film, Pinky Memsaab that earned her a nomination for Best Film Actress at Lux Style Awards. From 2017 till date, Hajra has been a part of quite a number of serials, all of them doing well. From Teri Raza (2017), on premier entertainment channel ARY Digital, to essaying layered, unconventional, characters on the small screen in projects like Tau Dil Ka Kiya Hua (2017), Tabeer (2017), in which she played the role of a disturbed, psychotic young woman, and Baandi (2018), all on HUM TV, Hajra has been taking up roles of substance rather than going after the leads. Was acting something she always wanted to do? Over to her… “I decided that I wanted to act when I was 13, when I first saw a theatrical play. I fell in love with it the first time I saw it and I just knew it that stage is the place I want to be. So, my first theatrical play was in 2011, in Islamabad, and I never looked back. So, it has been 8 years now.”  From theatre to film to drama, how has Hajra evolved as an actor and which medium she prefers the most, she says. “Honestly, I’m still learning, and I don’t think that process will ever end. I make sure that I make space for theatre once or twice a year because my heart still lies there. It’s something that I can never let go of because it’s an institution and it feels like home,” she added, “As an actor I enjoy every medium thrown my way, be it theatre, drama or films. Every medium is different, the perks are different. But theatre is definitely the school of all, and that is where the learning lies.” Prior to getting into films and drama serials, Hajra, who has a degree in Communication and Media Studies, has studied film making. It’s often perceived if you know the angles and how the production goes, it gives you a grip and an edge over acting as well. Hajra seems to think otherwise. “Filmmaking and acting on-camera are worlds apart, but it does add pressure because being behind the camera is some serious responsible work. Also, it gives you an understanding of how things work and fills you with massive respect for people who work behind the camera,” says Hajra. Pinky Memsaab was a low budget film but did wonder in terms of critical acclaim, especially earning her a nomination for Best Film Actress at Lux. Talking about her character and how she resonated with it, Hajra says, “It was exciting, considering that I got chance to work with people across the border. As an actor I definitely learned a lot, it was completely out of my comfort zone and there was no way I could relate to the character Pinky, I had to build the entire character  from her personality, to her speech, her dialect, her clothes, how she talked, how she walked, her dreams and aspirations,” she added, “I couldn’t relate to Pinky on a personal level (which is something I’ve learned from theatre) but I became her up until the project ended.” Where Hajra looks out for the projects that can put her out of her comfort zone and challenges her as an actor, over the period of time — she has fortunately shared screen space with quite some senior actors of Pakistan entertainment industry, including the likes of Sanam Baloch, Ayeza Khan, Mansha Pasha and Hina Dilpazeer to name a few. How has the experience been for this young starlet. “I’ve worked with a lot of senior actors, I’ve been very lucky in that department and it’s always a learning experience. It’s always been a pleasure,” she says. With Pinky Memsaab getting a worldwide release on Netflix, is the online streaming service changing the dynamics of cinema and drama industry for good? Hajra agrees. “Definitely. Broader audience. Also gives actors a chance to work internationally, and get international recognition. The fact that your work is seen internationally portrays a better image of your country.”

SIMILARITY: With already 21 million views on YouTube, Aliau2019s new single, Prada seems to be inspired by Pakistanu2019s rock band. The melody of the song is eerily similar to one of Vital Signsu2019 popular song, Goray Rung Ka Zamana.
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‘Vital Signs’ dot Alia’s debut song

Ever experience déjà vu when you’re listening to a song recently released? And feel like you’ve heard the music somewhere before, but cannot put your finger just instantly on it? Usually, that’s because you have actually heard the sound track before and the song you’re listening to is sampling it. Sampling is when you take a piece of one song and use it in your own. It’s a legal thing, since the original artiste gets paid for the copyrights. Except sometimes. And that takes the shape of plagiarism – and well we call it a no-no.  Bollywood actor Alia Bhatt has officially kicked off her music career. The 26-year-old’s solo song Prada, featuring The Lamberghini famed singer, The Doorbeen, came out recently.  I was talking to my best friend when I heard it on the radio, in-a-flex increased the volume and asked him – if he thinks the song on radio is similar to something we’ve heard before. We couldn’t really decide that very instant, but we knew it was a rip-off.  Nothing really comes from a scratch anymore, and music is definitely no exception. When I talked to Sonam Kapoor, Bollywood actor, earlier this year and asked how she views plagiarism in light of fashion, she said “I think everybody is inspired by everybody.” Well that holds true for every creative industry. The first thing bands or singer talk about when they form are their influences and they typically start off by playing other people’s music. But a thing to notice is, that they always give credits to the original singers and musicians.  Entire genres, including folk, blues and hip-hop, are based upon liberal borrowing out of either tradition or necessity. Simply put, most of the artistes today, no matter how big or unique they maybe, stands on the proverbial shoulders of giants before. Whether by osmosis, coincidence, common ancestry or theft, there are plenty of hit songs that sound suspiciously similar to pre-existing sound tracks or music.  With already 21 million views on YouTube, Alia’s new single, Prada is no exception.  And the melody of the song is eerily similar to one of Vital Signs’ popular song, Goray Rung Ka Zamana! Vital Signs were a Pakistan pop and rock band formed in 1986. Since their formation, they became Pakistan’s first and most commercially successful as well as critically acclaimed act. The band’s popular lineup consisted of Rohail Hyatt, Shahzad Hasan, late Junaid Jamshed, Nusrat Hussain, Salman Ahmed, Rizwanul Haque and Amir Zaki. Though the band’s demise was never officially announced, but in 1998 the band ended.  The Indian song has an uncanny resemblance to the melody of the 90s hit and follows a similar groove for a major part sung by Bhatt herself. Since Vital Signs’ like several other 90s artistes have reportedly plagiarised or been ‘inspired’ by Western pop-rock songs before as well, but band member Rizwanul Haque confirmed that Gore Rung Ka Zamana was an original one.  “It was very much an original song composed in 1987-88 and released as part of our first album Vital Signs Volume I,” Haque said in a statement. “The band came up with the composition and Shoaib Mansoor wrote the lyrics for it.” Needless to say that Bhatt’s new song has once again ignited the debate about original music and whether the Vital Signs song was an original composition in spite of what Haque claims to be. Adding to the ongoing debate, well known RJ Wes Malik said that the VS song may have actually been inspired from a Punjabi folk song called Kalay Rung Da Paranda which has been performed by the likes of Noor Jehan and Shazia Mansoor. “The Alia Bhatt song wasn’t actually copied from Vital Signs but in fact it is a very old folk tune,” said Malik in a Facebook video, while plugging in the song’s rendition by Surendar Kaur and Narendar Kaur. “So maybe that folk song is where Prada is copied from and is also where maybe…Vital Signs took inspiration from,” he concluded. While Haque remains resolute that their song has always been an original attempt, the video shared by RJ shows exactly the same melodic progression that dates way back than Vital Signs. Whether it is inspiration being used in two different songs, the makers of Prada have some acknowledgements to make to Pakistani musicians, either way.

HONOURED: Mehwish Hayat was recently presented with Tamgha-i-Imtiaz, a state-organised honour of Pakistan. It is given to any civilian in Pakistan based on their achievements.
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The bold and beautiful

Mehwish Hayat has had a fantastic last few years: whatever part she’s played in different media has been successful. Be it Asim Ali’s drama serial Mere Qatil Meray Dildar (2011), on premier entertainment channel HUM TV, her debut feature film Jawani Phir Nahi Ani (2015) directed by Nadeem Baig — that went on to become one of the highest-grossing Pakistani film ever — followed by the same director’s Dil Lagi (2016), on entertainment channel ARY Digital, that saw her return to TV, and then Punjab Nahi Jaung, feature film in 2017, or Nabeel Qureshi and Fizza Ali Meerza’s Actor in Law (2016) or Load Wedding (2018), it seems she can’t put a foot wrong. Mehwish Hayat has been riding the wave of success for the last few years. It won’t be erroneous to say that she is one of the most sought-after actresses in the country today.  Even before Mehwish did a substantial role in Jawani Phir Nahi Ani, she had done a cameo item number in Nabeel Qureshi’s Na Maloom Afraad in 2014, and since then a lot has been said about Mehwish Hayat. About her string of successful films, about her screen presence, her singing, dancing, her style, her being outspoken, bold and most recently, her Tamgha-e- Imtiaz,  a state-organised honour of Pakistan. It is given to any civilian in Pakistan based on their achievements.  Sometimes good, sometimes bad but Hayat knows how to take things positively as her success flows. Her recent stint in another item number Gangster Guriya in Baaji (2019) was utterly praised; for her up-notch moves and crisp gaze.  Mehwish Hayat has decided to do full justice to her star status. Hayat while receiving the ‘Pride of Performance’ award recently at an awards ceremony in Oslo called upon the stereotypical misrepresentation of Pakistanis and Pakistan in general in international cinema.  Later, when asked if art should be politicised? Or should art not know any boundaries? Mahwish said, “Art and politics have been intertwined for as long as art has existed. Even the plays of Shakespeare were very political in their time. Art should reflect society as a whole and should always be challenging and thought provoking. We have to question, we have to provide a mirror, we have to praise when we see something good and condemn when we see something wrong. Art without that social conscience is gutless and soulless. It is through entertainment that we can make the greatest change in our society.” The Load Wedding star few days ago, also penned an op-ed for CNN, calling out faux celebrity activism and the responsibility that comes from an influential position. A few days ago, Bollywood actor, Priyanka Chopra was called out for her aggressive tweet by Ayesha Malik, a young woman from Pakistan, in Los Angeles during an event, to which Chopra was haughty, saying, “Whenever you’re done venting. Got it, done? Okay cool.” This was after security snatched the mic from Malik. “Girl, don’t yell, we’re all here for love. You’re embarrassing yourself,” said Chopra to the mic-less young woman. Chopra has since drawn criticism for her response and reaction. Reacting to the episode of Chopra, Mehwish wrote in the op-ed, “Chopra’s response to her questioner in LA, as well as the February tweet, did have a positive affect, and forcing many of us to think about celebrity activism, its uses – and its abuses.” She added, “Celebrities who act as charity spokespeople should always focus on humanitarianism. Chopra – again, a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador – should not be using her voice to legitimise a regime opposed to the values she claims to represent. Rather than use her position as a US-based celebrity to broaden what it means to be an Indian celebrity…” Adding a feather to the many hats Mehwish wears, she has also been appointed now as an Ambassador of Penny Appeal, a charity with which she wants to rebuild 5 schools in Sukkur Sindh, “for over 900 children.”  The actor revealed that she is now an Ambassador of Penny Appeal, a charity with which she wants to rebuild 5 schools in Sukkur Sindh, “for over 900 children.” “Penny Appeal is an amazing charity organisation that’s working in over 30 countries and I’m very happy to be on board with them and I want to work for education,” adds Hayat, “The condition (children in rural Sindh) are getting their education in is really a heart-wrenching situation. But parents really want their girls to get an education and be a part of the community. It’s just the lack of resources, otherwise, there is a very progressive state of mind.” “Many don’t realise that if a young girl wants to raise a family, education is very important and if she gets the primary education, she will have the power to decide if she wants to continue... so maybe giving them that basic education, the girls will have a voice which actually will in the longer run, help raise and build nations. That will be amazing. I really want parents to let their children – their girls - to follow their dreams,” said Hayat in. statement.  The Load Wedding actor will be taking part in the annual London Marathon to help raise the funds for the rebuilding. She’s aiming to raise £100,000 for the project.

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‘You know you love me!’

While some derides the pop culture, it won’t be erroneous to say – we wouldn’t be who we are today, without deriving an inspiration from it, one way or another. From a television show, to a movie, book, or a cultural phenomenon that has taken over the face of stereotype over the years, there have been episodes that have inspired us profoundly.  “Hey there, Upper East Siders. Gossip Girl here. And I have the biggest news ever.” The first words spoken on television series, Gossip Girl, were by the mysterious Gossip Girl,  voiced by Kristen Bell, star of Veronica Mars, back in 2007 when the pilot episode aired; these three sentences sparked a massive following of an entire generation of digital age kids. The show’s narrative is told through the eyes of the eponymous, always anonymous ‘Gossip Girl’ – a blogger in the midst of its well-heeled characters, who relays the what-they’re-wearing, who-they’ve-been-dating details about their lives with an eyebrow arched as high as ours. The series lasted six seasons before coming to an end in 2012, and since then, largely thanks to Netflix having the program available to stream, new generations have been able to bask in the secret lives of Manhattan’s elite. Although when it first stormed the screens, the social media landscape was utterly different from what it is today; 2007 was still a time when people worldwide were adapting to Facebook and Twitter was still in its beginning and Instagram didn’t even exist, let alone the hoopla of selfies, gifs, memes and Whatsapp that would later come tumbling out of Pandora’s proverbial box. The teenage drama set in New York’s exclusive Upper East Side became the hottest thing in showbusiness and cult; and changed the way the world watched television. A more than a decade ago, the show left an entire generation of youth permanently obsessed with the old money elite living, playing and raving up in Manhattan. The cult phenomenon, which ran for six seasons between 2007 and 2012, was based on the best-selling books of the same name by Cecily von Ziegesar. It made stars out of newcomers Blake Lively, playing uptown blonde Serena van der Woodsen; Leighton Meester, Blair Waldorf; Chace Crawford, Nate Archibald; and Ed Westwick, Chuck Bass; as members of a wealthy clique of New York teenagers from the Upper East Side. Joined by the Brooklyn-residing scholarship student Dan Humphrey, played by Penn Badgley, who was the ultimate outsider, striving hard as ever but subtly to be the insider of Manhattan’s elite. The group’s every waking moment was broadcast to their peers by Gossip Girl, an anonymous blogger whose posts revealed many of the gang’s deepest, darkest secrets. Gossip Girl’s identity was kept a mystery till the last episode when Dan – the perpetual outsider often referred to as ‘Lonely Boy’ – was revealed as the eponymous blogger – to mass hullabaloo. With its realistic portrayal of the ups and downs of female friendships, accurate enough representations of family struggles, and loads of characters with a willingness to do everything to get what they want, Gossip Girl enormously affected those who watched the show, sometimes in a good way and sometimes just ridiculously bad.  Whether it was Chuck leaving his mark on the Manhattan skyline, Dan publishing a novel while he was a student at NYU, or Blair creating a new junior line for her mother’s fashion company, we always found the characters’ passion for what they loved contagious. Of course, the characters’ passions also included the harassment of fellow students, multiple up-town parties, glamorous tiaras and total slanderous scheming, but the show allowed to live vicariously through the characters and their outlandish adventures. It allowed the entry into the most vulnerable and relatable time of these characters’ lives—the end of high school and the beginning of college, adulthood, and everything else. Fashion and film have been inextricably linked for the past century, with designers drawing inspiration from the silver screen and auteurs going to great lengths to secure the perfect costumes for their characters. Would Blair Waldorf have become a sensation without Valentino and Givenchy’s sophisticated designs? And what would the blonde Serena be without Balenciaga or Harry Winston?  From the moment Serena stepped into the frame in a natty brown jacket, with bags in hand at Grand Central NY, GG had us totally buggin’. Although the lavish lives of Serena, Nate, Blair, Chuck and even poor (literally) Dan and Jenny were too glamorous and scandalised to be true, loads of us were still hooked. And once you got past the Chanel bags and private jets, the characters were actually kind of relatable; relatable in the sense that even the rich have problems too. We all can recall ourselves behaving in a similar way or struggling with a similar battle at some point in our lives which allowed us to sympathise with the characters. Despite all their flaws we still rooted for them. Gossip Girl had many protagonists that all had their own timelines.  I’m back, Xoxo We are living in the age of the reboot, with shows like Charmed and Will & Grace finding their way back to television. And while some of these reboots and revivals flop, others excel, combining nostalgia from when they first aired with relevance to today’s culture. But not all shows that were popular in the past are able to be reflective of the time we currently live in. We had seen this moment coming for quite some time now: the reboot of Gossip Girl. It has been officially announced recently, that show will be making a comeback. The fans like myself, were rooting for it – but it all depends whether it will hit the right relatable chord or not.  Xoxo! The high heels of Constance Billard School Manhattan, from where the Gossip Girl started, seems to tip off again! It seems that those phantoms halls, prowled by the likes of Serena van der Woodsen and Blair Waldorf, will once again halo the tolls of horrid pretentious laugher, the whispers of scandalous secrets. An updated reboot of Gossip Girl, is reportedly forthcoming from HBO Max! Can lightning strike twice? How much fun can we expect to have? Will it feature the original Blair and Serena, because we’re obsessed with them, And perhaps most importantly, what will the cast wear this time? Because we certainly remember what the original characters wore – giving major glitzy goals. In order to reboot Gossip Girl for today’s viewers, so much would have to be altered and changed. Is that possible? Maybe.  In the first series, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump once had cameos on the show, who would be making this time. Would someone even agree – knowing the reach of the show and media now? But apart from that, the biggest question remains – will original cast members return on the screen? Helmed by original executive producers Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, and one-time showrunner Josh Safran, the reboot will focus on a new generation of high-school students who are ‘introduced to the social surveillance of Gossip Girl’ when the old site is mysteriously restored.   The new series promises to address how social media has changed in the intervening years, but surely social media is what killed Gossip Girl in the first place? By the time the show ended, the idea of one blogger had ceased to be a concept. The power had already been redistributed to the masses, who were taking to their laptops to post anonymously on public platforms and share every aspect of their lives themselves. Gossip Girl, which practically predicted the rise of the internet troll, can no longer claim to be “your one and only source to the scandalous lives of the Manhattan elite”. “We’ve reached out to all of them (original cast members) to let them know it was happening, and we’d love for them to be involved if they want to be involved, but certainly didn’t want to make it contingent upon (them being involved),” said Josh Schwartz, Executive Producer of Gossip Girl, in a statement.  “They played these characters for six years, and if they felt like they were good with that, we want to respect that, but obviously...it would be great to see them again,” he added. According to Variety, the series will address “just how much social media — and the landscape of New York itself — has changed in the intervening years.” Schwartz went on to explain how Gossip Girl — as a character — would change as well, “So we thought there was something really interesting about the idea that we are all Gossip Girl now, in our own way; that we are all purveyors of our own social media surveillance state and how that has evolved, and how that has mutated and morphed, and telling that through a new generation of Upper East Side high school kids. We felt that a version with our cast grown up, regardless of what the challenges would be of assembling those actors again...it didn’t really feel like a group of adults that would be patrolled by Gossip Girl would make a lot of sense.”

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“Light is life, it is necessary to exploit it in every way”– Joseph Karam, Franco-Lebanese interior architect and designer

In an odd but quietly very important way, works of architecture ‘speak’ to us. Some buildings, streets and even whole cities seem to speak of chaos, aggression or fast-paced dilemma; others seem to be whispering to us of calm or graceful dignity, generosity or gentleness and glamour. Buildings affect how we sleep, work, socialise and even breathe. They can isolate and endanger us, but they can also heal us. Unique among creative and artistic professions, architecture must always reflect the age and cultural context that produced it. Joseph Karam, interior architect and designer, who has been defining the value that architecture holds for over four decades now stands in the midst of the modern yet contemporary architecture. Lebanon born but settled in Paris ,with works drawing a neat parallel and a mish-mash of Arabic and western architecture, is clearly on the top of his game. Karam takes no prisoners. That’s apparent in everything from the way he dresses — minimalistic — to the way he talks — a stream of no-holds-barred opinion, expressed in an accent that hovers closer to Paris than his native Beirut. In an age of focus-group-driven conformity, you sense that his fearlessness is the key draw for a client list that reads elegance like an A-to-Z of people who understand what it’s like to be surrounded with certain aesthetics. White is always predominant in his works. His style mixes French tinted with oriental warmth for authentic timeless projects. Bare boards, white shutters and walls, clean lines and big comfy sofas in his studio may look like something from a lifestyle magazine cover shoot, but the way he accessorices it, is quirky; big lights and shades.  Head wrapped around a mobile phone, pencil running on a sheaf of paper, Karam talks to Community about the changing trends in architecture, how he draws a parallel between Middle Eastern architecture and Western/European designs and how light plays a crucial role in aesthetics of a design. Have you always been interested in design and architecture? I think I fell into the pot of design at a very young age. I always dreamt and drew the future. As early as 1960, I began asking myself about the question of the architectural form and on the way of life that will be in the year 2000. It was by enrolling in the School of Fine Arts in Beirut that I deepened this research; a highly stimulating place for experimentation. We were twelve years old and our teachers encouraged us to give free rein to our imagination and to invention.  What elements define your style? Where do you find inspiration? My style is not defined, it is an adaptation of the personality of my client. And the personalities of men are never similar. The eyes are image sensors that record directly in a server – the brain. It is from this server that I dig my inspiration. But sometimes also by a designer parade or a misunderstood image. How do you see the evolution of architecture from ancient times until now? Is it necessary to define the main reasons for this evolution of architecture in general. It is: the economy, less sculpture, less cut stone, less ceiling height. Architecture is more and more rectilinear, simplistic with labour increasingly expensive, and a reasoning of more profitable financing, but with a huge variety of modern material and an evolution of technology and sources of comfort adapted to today’s life. Who is your favourite architect and why?  Mies Van der Rohe, a precursor architect who built in a style at the beginning of the 20th century what we called: minimalism; the detail was his priority. He brought the interest of the relationship between the interior and the exterior. He considered that the external space is an extension of that of the interior. His work on volumes and transparency marked his time. All this represents my way of thinking, except that I would add a nod to antiquity so as not to forget it and integrate it into modern architecture. What do you think about Middle Eastern architecture is different from Western/European designs? To understand the difference between Middle Eastern and Western architecture, we must observe Middle Eastern artistic culture mixed with that of the West which gives a typical flavour, confronted with modern life supported by new technology. It is said that architecture is a never fading field, people will never stop building their houses, and this has been leading to the saturation of the market. Your take? If the earth currently houses 7.5 billion people, it will have to 10 billion in next thirty years; even though the industry has seen a drop in recent years – it will take quite a manpower to meet this challenge, in addition to advancement in industry and technology – at least that of construction.  What is a good way to use lights in your room? What is this important element that gives a roomy perspective to an even smaller room? Light is life, it is necessary to exploit it in every way. It is necessary to demolish the obstacles of its passage and to orient the openings towards its direction, and sometimes to hang a giant mirror in opposite direction to reflect it, double it and at the same time enlarge the space. One should not forget the choice of the colours of the walls and furniture that play a big role. Making space is the new ‘it’ thing. If a person has a low budget – then what is your advice, how can they use this budget in the most appropriate way? in the best way possible?  Budget is not important for space. Material has become so varied and industrialised that it has become accessible to both large and small budgets. It is advisable to call on a building professional who, despite his fees, can find very useful solutions to save money. What remains is the value of labour that differs by country and region. But one has to pay attention to the quality of the work which costs more in time if it is cheap. Any message for young people trying to succeed in the industry? For a young person, the hardest choice in his life is the choice of his future job. Unless this young person is passionate and decided, he will be more likely to succeed in life. So, one has to dig long to discover his passions that are sometimes hidden.

ENVOY: Francisco Navarro, Head of Mission at the Embassy of Panama talks about the rich heritage of Panama and the history of Panama Canal that brings value to the geographical position of Panama in the world.
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Panama: Five centuries of heritage, value and history

The term ‘heritage’ encompasses tangible and intangible elements, in the sense that ideas and memories — of songs and sonnets, food and recipes, language and love, dances and culture, and many other elements defining who we are and how we identify ourselves. Not just cultural intangibilities but historical buildings and archaeological sites as well. It won’t be erroneous to say that heritage is not just a collection of aged buildings, the popular concept, but an insight to the people who use it now and continually modify it. International competition for antiquities has been fierce since the 19th century — because the world existing before that, has been fascinating like anything: a thirst to get an answer to a question for how we have evolved as human beings and from where our heritage roots seem to sink in has been popular for quite some time now. Ancient walls, glassy skyscrapers, and a mix of African, Native Panamanian, and Spanish cultures have all played a part in forming the frenetic ‘Miami of Central America’: Panama City — the oldest continuously occupied European settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas — turns 500. From white-sand beaches to tropical rainforests, misty highlands and indigenous culture, Panama has a long long history of traditions, values and heritage embedded within itself. Panama has been a global crossroads ever since humans first passed through the country. The earliest evidence of humans in South America is 12,500 years old. That means that humans passed through Panama before that. Spearheads found in Panama date back to around 11,000 years ago, making them the first solid evidence of humans in the country. Located on the Isthmus of Panama, the narrow bridge of land connects North and South America. Embracing the isthmus and more than 1,600 islands off its Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the tropical nation is renowned as the site of the Panama Canal, which cuts through its midsection. Since 1914 the 51-mile- (82-km-) long Panama Canal, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, has afforded a long-sought shortcut for shipping and assures the country’s standing as one of the most strategic transportation hubs of the world. The canal also secures Panama’s ongoing role in international affairs and world commerce. Talking about history of Panama Canal, Francisco Navarro, Head of Mission at the Embassy of Panama, told Community, “When Spanish people founded the city in the Pacific, it was a connection between the Atlantic and the Pacific. They first came via the Caribbean Sea. At that time of course there was no Panama Canal. They used to come inside via rivers and then cross the land. Around 300-years later when they started building the infrastructure for the rail road, that was built by the French, those who had taken part in the foundation of Suez Canal in Egypt also took a trial to make a Canal in Panama, but because the geography was extremely different. They failed,” he added, “Following the failure of a French construction team in the 1880s, the United States commenced building a canal across a 50-mile stretch of the Panama isthmus in 1904. Post quite some tensions and riots we then signed an agreement with US in 1977 to return the Panama Canal to Panama by the year 2000. In the meantime we were also expanding and changes were underway, politically, towards the democratic country.” Wild and untouched, where the islands in Panama incites a feeling of discovery, its golden sand beaches and jungle paths offers a more bucolic lookout than that from a rooftop party in the capital. But no matter where you are in modern Panama — 500 years in the making — what’s old is new again. In spite of its relatively small area, Panama has a great variety of landscapes and habitats: tropical rainforests, savannas, cool montane forests, tidal lands covered by stilted mangrove trees, coral reefs, and beaches. Because of its ancient role as a land bridge over which species have migrated between the continents, the isthmus is home to a rich intermixture of plant and animal life. Panama has become more focused on preserving its treasures and understands the value of increasing tourism. “Panama is one of the most diversified country in the region, especially in terms of biodiversity. We have a tropical weather, lots of rain and more than 500 rivers. Tourism is very important for us, so we actually sort of invest in the sector as well. Another important thing, in terms of tourism, is that Panama is an extremely safe country. Because of our geography, when a Hurricane hits US, because of the direction of wind – no Hurricane actually hits Panama,” says the embassy official.  A cosmopolitan city where skyscrapers tower above whitewashed bungalows, Panama enjoys a handsome setting and a growing importance as a commercial and financial services centre for the region. Interested in getting the authentic Panamanian experience when visiting Panama? Francisco Navarro has a word. “Well, it depends on what the person is actually looking for because Panama is so diversified that it can cater you however you like. If you’re a person who likes crowd and is into nightlife, we have luxury hotels, shopping malls and commercial centres. But if you want to relax on a beach and resort, then we also offer that experience. You can go to San Blas and experience and unwind without any shenanigans — the authentic experience of how people used to live there years ago without any Wi-Fi or something. In this specific area, you’ll see people working and doing things they used to 100 years ago. Of course, things have modernised but they try to keep true to their roots. One thing about this region is the National Park that is governed by its own law. But let me tell you, the place is as beautiful as Bali or Philippines... rich in nature.” Talking about the ideal geographical location of Panama, that connects the world, Francisco says, “From Panama you can easily go to Costa Rica by land, visit Columbia or take a route to Miami or Mexico or Europe for that matter.”  Drawing parallel between the cultural heritage of Qatar and Panama, Francisco says, “In the time I’ve been here in Doha, I’ve found many similarities. The music and its expression, the use of domes in architecture — everything is so similar. Even the love of football that both the country shares along with the warmth they have towards their families. It’s all similar.” How the Embassy of Panama in Qatar celebrated Panama’s 500 years? “We recently organised an event, a get together, here at the embassy with the Panamanians residing in Doha to mark the 500 years anniversary,” Navarro tell us as he sips the last bit of his Panamanian coffee.

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“In Qatar, we welcome guests much more warmly” — Tarek Nour, General Manager at Sealine Beach, A Murwab Resort

Nestled against the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean Sea in Western Asia, Qatar, the port country is stooped in history having undergone several changes over the decades, but the key remains the same, still rich with Arabic heritage. Visitors can enjoy a stroll through the pastel-hued buildings of the Pearl while the old town Souq is always abuzz with activity. The most recent Qatar tourism statistics show an increase in international tourists to the country. Qatar has recently taken over as one of the popular tourist destinations for visitors from all over the world. With picturesque offerings such as the National Museum of Qatar, Katara, Souq Waqif, The Pearl and Sea Line, where desert touches the ocean, to name just a few, it is obvious why tourists flock to the heritage rich country. Wasn’t it only a few months ago when the entire world was looking up to the opening of National Museum of Qatar that was in-spades with Arabic heritage and modernised elements? According to the statement of the Secretary-General of Qatar National Tourism Council (QNTC) and Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive Officer, HE Akbar al-Baker, in May, Qatar received 588,000 visitors during the first quarter of this year, an increase of 10 percent compared to the Q1 last year. Similarly, The World Tourism Organisation, or UNWTO, released their 2019 Tourism Highlights (January Edition), which examines data from 2018-2019. In it, they highlight that Qatar’s visa facilitation improvements including allowing nationals of 88 countries to enter visa-free and free-of-charge, has made Qatar the most open country in the Middle East. Where Summer in Qatar has just concluded with helluva family activities around Qatar, Qatar-India Year of Culture is still underway with regal events planned for the entire year — attracting tourists and cultural enthusiasts worldwide. Well, desert has a long-connected history with the Arab world, embedded in the roots, and many people worldwide travel to the desert to truly understand the reserve. Not that just that, but dune bashing and recreational activities in the desert are one of the most popular ‘to do list’ things for the people visiting Middle East.  Amidst the poetical dunes of the Arabian Desert kissed by the blue waters of the Arabian Sea, at Sea Line Mesaieed lies the Sealine Beach, A Murwab resort. An unmatched resort destination for sun seekers and adventure lovers, that offers an eco-friendly destination that is as exhilarating as it is tranquil and relaxing. The recreational experience that it offers to the tourists or locals encompasses an energy haven spa, watersports, desert safaris, camel and horseback riding, banana boat rides, dune bashing and more. The recreational facilities also include football, basketball, tennis and volleyball courts and cricket fields.  Community recently sat with Tarek Nour, General Manager at Sealine Beach Resort, to talk about the ever-increasing tourism in Qatar, how they accommodate them at Murwab Resort and how he brings his seasoned experience of hospitality sector to Qatar. As tourism to Qatar continues to grow, it may prove the most effective tool in changing cultural bias to dispel any misperceptions, if any. You simply must find out for yourself. The journey may surprise you! For how long have you been working  in the Hospitality industry? I come from Egypt. I have been in the hospitality industry for the past 14 years. I’ve been groomed throughout my career with well-crafted hotels and organisations, I think where I am right definitely also accredits to the well competent teams I’ve been working and surrounded with throughout. I’ve not been a stranger to Qatar and have managed to successfully open Simaisma resort, where we cater luxury villas and elite brand of services. Before Qatar, I was with Four Seasons Company for good about 13 years, travelling throughout the Middle East, Europe and North America. What is the role of tourism in the growth of cultural experience in Qatar? and how do you think Sealine plays a part in it as a whole?  With the current expansion of visa for several nationalities and now that many nationalities can apply it online has definitely helped expanding the horizon of cultural diversity in Qatar. Many people come in, carrying their heritage and traditions with them. Sealine at this stage caters multiple guests. Basically the huge space we have, including several types of rooms, suites and villas, meshed perfectly with recreational activities like a couple of pools, beach front, spa, basketball and football fields; really helps a lot to expand the leisure of guests that’ll be coming to Qatar. So, in that way where many people are coming in Qatar, we’re accommodating them and bringing them together at one place. Many people from different nationalities come to Sea Line and there’s quite an exchange of cultural elements. We have Sealine that is modern, yet touches the heritage roots. Summer in Qatar means scorching heat, in this case – do you really think people make it to the resorts, especially when its so hot outside? You know, you avoid the sun from 11am till 3pm, nobody’s really a big fan to be outside during this time, during their vacay on resorts, either way in Qatar. They either enjoy in the morning time uptill 10 and evening post 4pm. People nap during those afternoon hours of heat mostly, so it doesn’t really matter, What is that one facility that resort can make its USP (Unique Selling Point)? Because spa and open air is what every resort in the world offers? It has to be a perfect balance and mix of each element. Where we have a focus on food and beverages, offering Pizzas and buffets, we also make sure that our recreational activities are top of the line, including some water activities. So, it has to be that perfect balance where people can just come in and feel that they have everything available. Family swimming pools are also very important to cater the kids. For over an year or two – there’s quite a boost in tourism in Qatar. Has it also affected positively for Sealine? For sure it has. Although there are very few resorts here at Sea Line, I think it won’t be erroneous to say that we’re one of the resorts offering the best sea front in Sea Line. We always have a good demand especially during the summer-time. Locals mostly, instead going anywhere else in the world, just comes over here to unwind. Even corporate companies now instead of going anywhere else come here for recreational activities and purposes. Because of good relations with Kuwait and Oman, we see many people coming from there even to enjoy the wind and beach here.  People opt for resorts to unwind and meditate, What treatments would you recommend to all such people who want to take a break from their busy life? People can simply book a room or suite or however they like at the resort and go for the top-notch spa treatments that we have to offer. Special yoga sessions give an edge. I’ve not tried yoga here in Qatar, but I have before and I strongly believe, if you work on your senses and rituals and try to control in and vent out with different yoga positions; you get mentally relaxed and ready for the next week or month or so.  Has resort culture in Qatar been affected by the popular heritage? It has, because now we have shifted our focus quite much toward the local heritage. We have embedded the local heritage with the leisure modern elements to create a balance. All the amenities here and the menus we have at restaurants are perfectly aligned with the local cultural elements.  Where do you see the tourism of Qatar in the next five years? It is on the rise and will be that way. Current structure of the country, including ministries and then collaborations between the hotels definitely will have an impact with an increasing rate, just the way it is going on right now. How would you draw a parallel between hospitality industry worldwide and in Qatar? You can’t really compare apples with oranges. But one thing I feel is that, in Qatar, we welcome the guests much much more warmly – which is very different. The quality is same around the world but because of the influence of Arabic culture here and it’s warmth, it gives an edge to hospitality industry in Qatar. Desert has been a part of cultural heritage of Qatar since forever, where and how do you think resort blends in with it at large? Very rarely you’ll find an area like Sea Line, where you’ll find the dunes of sands clashing with the sea. Very big cinema productions love coming over towards this side and shoot. So, I think we have nothing to do with it, but the blending has come in just naturally.

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“When your films are up — you are competing with global cinema” — Bilal Ashraf, Pakistani actor

Bilal Ashraf is punctual for the appointment, meeting me in the lobby of a picturesque hotel in Islamabad. As temperatures rises, so, too, does Bilal’s profile. He’s still busy promoting his film Superstar with Mahira Khan that releases today in Pakistan and has already been released worldwide. I’ve seen some clips from the upcoming release and it won’t be erroneous to say that it is none less than an award-tipped performance, that is going to win Bilal even more ecstatic following, and not because of his looks – but acting, all the way. His acting gig for Shan Shahid’s film, 021 (2014), is only half the story of his success. Although the film didn’t do well with cinegoers, but there was one face that was hugely recognised by the Pakistan entertainment fraternity: Bilal Ashraf. Post 021, he went on to play a romantic hero in Janaan (2016), a rockstar in Rangreza (2017) and an army personnel in Yalghaar (2014). All these years, Bilal, particularly, has weathered some very cruel reviews in the past, having even been coined a non-actor. But he intends to change that perception of him with Superstar. And it definitely seems to, this very time! Bilal Ashraf enrolled himself in the biggest acting academy in Pakistan this time where he took classes all over again to perfect the craft before returning to the big screen with also half a dozen abs, which he flaunts like any ‘Film Hero’ in the world.  Becoming a famous actor was never something he ever thought of growing up — he was set on having creative VFX and animation aesthetics while working for the hedge fund in New York, with double major in finance and art when 021 came along his way.  Ashraf’s capacity for expression is mesmerising. On his pleasingly fairly symmetrical face, his fierce eyes and smile compete to articulate most loudly. We discuss how he practices in between scenes, his first pairing with Mahira or with any star of that stature for that matter, and cautiously picking up the roles to take Pakistan film industry a step forward. You’ve been living abroad throughout your life. So how did everything fall into place for you returning to your home-country and working in Pakistan film industry? Was acting something you always wanted to do? I never wanted to be an actor. I was telling Mahira the other day, during the dubbing of the film, that I don’t know who that person is on the screen, it’s not me. My late sister was someone who was into film-making and wanted to make films in Pakistan. But unfortunately, that didn’t happen, so for me it was more about carrying her dream forward and contributing to Pakistan in any way or form I can. I couldn’t care less about competing with someone or something, because I’m not competing with someone, I just want to try and do justice to her (my sister) in some form. Now that I’ve gotten into it, I believe if you do something, do it with all your heart.  You have been weathered with some very cruel reviews in the past, having even been coined a non-actor, so how you think you have evolved as an actor for Superstar? I’ll be very honest, I have not done theatre and haven’t done a drama — I had no desire to become an actor, so obviously for me the craft of learning is and was there, and that’s what I’ve done. I’ve tried to work on myself, on my skills. Did a few acting courses in England and for this film, Momina Duraid got me enrolled in National Academy of Performing Arts for theatre acting. So, we actually performed Superstar theatrically even before we had started shooting. So I’m always willing to learn you know. A lot of people ask me ‘Oh you’re dancing in the film?’ and I respond that I’ve been dancing throughout my life — it’s just that you didn’t know. I kept on telling different art directors and film makers to use me in the real sense for the camera. I feel an actor needs to be used properly because it is director’s medium. Like television, visions are the director’s medium; stage is an actor’s medium. And if someone doesn’t get the best out of you or use you properly, you can give the best shot but the world would never know.  How important is it for a film industry like Pakistan to have a packaged actor, an actor who’s an aplomb of acting talent and physique?  I feel Pakistan film industry is still fledgling. I wouldn’t call ourselves an industry as yet, we can say that when we’re churning out three to four films a month. When your films are up internationally — you are competing with Hollywood, Bollywood or Turkish cinema probably. And with the age of social media everything has gone accessible and global. My physical transformation for Superstar was something I came up with. I requested my producer Momina Duraid who had the belief in me. I think it added that extra dimension to the character I’m playing in the film. It took me an year for the transformation. At the end of the day, once that transformation was done, I realised it wasn’t just for the Superstar, it was much more than that: mental clarity and approach. I think youth looks at Hollywood and Bollywood and gets inspired by their physique and stuff all the time — and I felt why not if youth can look up to their own and get inspired. It’s just not me but there are other boys in Pakistan entertainment fraternity as well who works out a lot, but I believe there’s no concept of physique in our industry yet. I went through this physical transformation and did a shirtless song, not to gain appreciation for the boxes (abs) I’ve made, but to set a trend and to benchmark what Pakistani hero should look like, physically. People might would’ve questioned Momina Duraid on why did she sign a comparatively new comer opposite Mahira Khan. I would like to ask you, why Superstar? Because of several reasons. First and foremost, the script was fabulous. The music was out class and along with Momina Duraid Productions, everybody on-board was a maestro in their own field. From the director to the music. Second the angle of theatre and obviously then Marina Khan, Nadeem Baig, Ali Kazmi, Javed Sheikh and Mahira Khan — all acting legends. I signed also because I wanted to learn and it was a learning experience for me.  This was your first pairing with Mahira or with any star of that stature for that matter. So were you intimidated at some point of time during the shooting process or a victim of unnecessary star tantrums? No, not at all. The energy and attitude she brings on set — was phenomenal. I’ve worked with other people in the industry as well, but would you believe it that she used to be on the set even before the call time and would be the last person to leave the set. No food tantrums — not buzzing unnecessary attitude. And she gives space to the other person to just grow. We didn’t know each other before, just some social meeting, but when we were doing theatre we got to know each other and get comfortable with each other and that is one of the reasons why you see such a chemistry on screen. I wasn’t intimidated by her because of who she is and till when we started shooting for the film, we knew each other. So, post films, can we expect to see you in theatre or dramas? I would love to do theatre. I have been offered many dramas for the past 4-5 years, although I feel that dramas are wonderful, but I just want to focus on films. Films are challenging to work more. Since you’ve studied animation, Pakistan doesn’t have to offer much when it comes to animated films. What or how do you think can be done to step into the paradigm of original animated films from Pakistan? We have small studios in Pakistan but unfortunately animation is a very time-consuming and expensive thing. Because of the budgets we have a set-back. But even films like Donkey King and Allah Yaar did well on Box Office. So there is market, people are working towards it, it’s just going to take a little time.

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“We’re all affected by politics. I am too. But I try to stay away”— Mahira Khan, Pakistani actress

Her first ever interview came in Community almost more than four years ago. She was then all set for her silver screen comeback with Bin Roye (2015). Not much has changed for Mahira Khan. She is still the lithe, jaunty girl with the easy megawatt smile whose eyes grow big when she is excited. It’s the voluminous blow-dried hair and flawless skin that give her away.  Mahira is dressed unobtrusively in a mucho simple deep-red slightly lower than knee length dress and blue stilettos, but she is unmistakable. Cameras have accosted her a couple of times in the past half hour alone. However, she continues to chat animatedly about her upcoming film Superstar. The title that goes so much hand in hand with the phenomenon that Mahira Khan is for the Pakistan entertainment industry.  Mahira’s still as beautiful and cheeky as she was when she made her acting debut with Neeyat, drama serial in 2011, post her brief stint as a Video Jockey (VJ) on television. Neeyat and her first film Bol (2011), directed by Shoaib Mansoor, released simultaneously with a gap of only a few days, and the rest is history.  Who knew the geeky Ayla from Neeyat would one day become the queen of Pakistan entertainment industry whilst making one of the most prominent debuts in Bollywood as well, and that too opposite none other than Shahrukh Khan in Raees (2017).  Since turning out as the charming Ayla, Mahira Khan has come a long way, coursing her way through a hit list of serials, from Sarmad Khoosat’s Humsafar (2012) to Rukhsana in Sadqay Tumhare (2014), and silver screen prominence from Bol to 7 Din Mohabbat In (2018). It also won’t be erroneous to say that Mahira is indeed one of the most fashion savvy actresses Pakistan industry has ever seen. An actress that can never go wrong with how she steps forward on the red carpet; and that image was pretty much backed up when she had made her debut on the stairs of Cannes Film Festival in 2018 in an Alberta Ferretti number and Chopard jewels.  Although Mahira made a successful Bolywood debut, but with the eruption of tensions between Pakistan and India, Mahira and other fellow actors such as Fawad Khan and Ali Zafar, had to abandon future projects in India. Community recently sat down with Mahira to know how she felt when her Bollywood debut film, Raees, got stuck at the censors and she wasn’t able to be a part of the then ongoing promotions of the film and what she dreams about now that she’s hit the pinnacle of stardom. From a girl next door – to a diva walking the red carpet of Cannes. Was there any specific moment when you actually realised that you’ve just made it as the superstar of Pakistan entertainment industry? I don’t know. I’ve never actually thought about it. But you know I was watching the Hollywood Round Table and whenever they ask such a question in that show, that when was that specific moment when you felt you had made it, it’s so hard to answer. It’s so hard to think what was that specific moment. You know, ever body has a dream, right. We work towards that. When I was little, my dream was to work with Shahrukh Khan. That’s it! I didn’t want to work, I just wanted to be in the same frame. And it was an unbelievable dream; something people thought was unachievable. But that’s what dream are. I think when I saw Zaalima or I stood there in front of him, I was like yes it’s done! You know honestly after that, since I had no other dream in life, something else then had to naturally and organically come. And that’s very hard. After sharing screen space with Shahrukh Khan, now Superstar is that next dream. Along with Superstar, you have quite a prominent cameo in Parey Hut Love as well, both releasing simultaneously on Eid al-Adha. What kind of pressure you’re going through?  A lot of pressure! My cameo in Parey Hut Love is super special to me. One, because it’s Asim Raza (director of Parey Hut Love). Asim for me is somebody very special. We connect on a very soul level. There are very few people I speak to so much in the industry, and Asim is one of them. He’s been my guiding force although I’m a rebel! He’ll like it more if I listen to him. Morre Saiyan in PHL is a song that we both wanted to do and I would say it’s an ode to our friendship.  How much can you relate to your character of Noorie in Superstar? I think Noorie is a lot like me. She has a lot of faith; unbothered and unfettered by anything around her. It’s her and what she wants to do but she also wants to be morally correct and wants to do the right thing. Does do the right thing! But, sometimes in your journey you get hurt and then you try to prove to the world then to prove yourself; you start off with the dreams that are yours but suddenly you’re doing things you never wanted to do. That way, Noorie is like me. And Noorie experiences love along the way. Well, I’ve experienced better love than Noorie!  You share the screen space with Bilal Ashraf this time, who is relatively quite a new comer, so what kind of bond did you both really share? Did he look up to you since you’re a much-experienced actress? You need to ask him for that! I used to look up to him because he was much taller though, which is great. I felt like I don’t want to cramp someone’s space, even if I’m more experienced or I’ve done more films. So what! That doesn’t matter. I have to allow him to be him and he has to enjoy his time. I think that’s what important and we both really enjoyed it. We were strangers. Last time I worked with someone I did not know was Shahrukh and before that was Fawad. Other than that, I’ve worked with people that I’ve known or hung out with. Bilal and me were strangers, put in a closed space. I’m shy, so I give a little space. But I felt comfortable with him. If he had to hold my hand or come close to me, I never felt awkward. Which is very important. Even when I did feel awkward, it worked for the film ­— the initial love. But he has done a very good job! You hit a career peak with Raees. Do you think the artiste ban in India stole your best years on the big screen? No, not at all! Let’s say I had done another film. And I had been offered many films. But you know my dream was to share the screen with Shahrukh Khan and that was done, and that’s it! I didn’t want anything else. So, I’m very lucky and grateful. Did I feel bad because of the ban? Yes, of course.  Politics is a reality in today’s world of art. Do you think artistes should take a stand on it? If so, do you feel disappointed that the biggest names in Bollywood shy away from doing the responsible thing? You couldn’t, after all, be even a part of the promos of a film headed by SRK! I can’t speak for Bollywood because it’s not my industry. I don’t think I have right to speak for that industry. I can speak for mine. It would be wrong for me to comment on something which is about them. But when it’s about our industry or our country, I do try to speak out through different mediums. Talking of politics, are you a regular Pakistani who cannot escape political drama that is a part and parcel of our lives, or you manage to stay sane? We’re all affected by politics. I am too. But I try to stay away. I don’t watch TV. I watch a few shows, say once in a while, on Netflix or Amazon and that’s why I feel like I’m very much out of the loop of what’s happening even. Because I’m just in my own little bubble. When I want to know about politics, I know who to call: Hamza Ali Abbasi. Did you vote last year? Would you tell us which party, if so?  How can you ask me this? I did not vote last year. Because of HUM Awards. I was very upset actually for not voting because last time I had voted. And I’m a big supporter of Imran Khan. But when I think things are not going well, I also say it. I don’t think you should have blind support. So, for me to not have been here was huge and I think me and two other people really fought this case. But because I was one of the people who were performing, so we had to be there. We fought and delayed as much as we could. It’s unfortunate. How different is today’s Pakistan Entertainment Industry from the time you started out in showbiz?  So much. First and foremost: social media! Everything is out there. Because I think I came at a time when it was just beginning, that’s when I came, and I remember, right before Bol released, I deleted myself off Facebook. That’s the only thing I had. Then for years, I was not on any social media platform. Finally, Hassan, my brother, convinced and requested me to join Instagram. Oh no! I joined Twitter first. And Instagram was just a joke, like a dare. And now I can’t get off. I try to keep it as authentic as possible though. What I don’t want, I don’t post – what I want to, I post. I think that has changed a lot. Other thing that has changed, look at where the films are. Look at how many options we have. Whether it’s the television industry or film industry, you are no more looking at five people, but in double or triple digits of talented people. Be it filmmakers or actors or any other kind of technicians, so I think that’s huge! On the personal side, tell us what is the most satisfying part of being a single parent and what the most challenging?  Most challenging is time. I wish there were more hours in a day. That’s the most challenging part. You know, I was at the dubbing of the film, I don’t know for how many hours, it was four-five in the morning and Azlan (my son) kept on calling. He was like “Mama Mama”. First, he called at midnight, then he called at 1, then he called at 3 – finally when he called at 4 because I had told him I’ll be home by 3, he started crying. And I couldn’t hear him cry. I was like I’m coming and coming. I put the phone down and started dubbing the climax scene. And while I was dubbing, I howled. And I knew I was howling because my child is waiting. The feeling you know that I want to go home, I don’t want to be doing this right now, that’s my big challenge. The most satisfying thing is when I hear Azlan talk to other people or see him have conversations with other people or interactions. I can just sit back and say, me, my mother, my father, my ex-husband – all of us collectively have done a good job.  What are your personal life goals? What do you think makes life whole?  I think what makes life whole is… is… that’s a good question! I think if you can sort of strike a balance which is very hard, I don’t think I can. It’s very very hard for me. But you know the moment you strike a balance that I’ve done my work, I’m satisfied with my work and I have a personal life and I’ve tried my best in all of that– if you can find a moment to feel okay with everything and feel peaceful, happy and satisfied with it, that is feeling whole. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but it needs to be a little bit of contentment. Artistes are often asked if there’s any particular role they would like to essay. What about you; have you ever tried to pursue one?  Superstar is the one! If there has been a dream, it has been Superstar. I’ve waited for it too long. I’m sure actors have faith in things, I have had insane faith in Superstar. I’ve given up everything for Noorie. Who is your favourite Pakistani film and TV artiste, and why? I’ve lots of favourites! But Sajal is just out-standing. I like all these new faces; I like Imran Ashraf and Iqra Aziz. And in my time, I like Fawad Khan and Humayun Saeed. I want to work with Nauman Ijaz.

ALL SET FOR CINEMA: Mahira Khan is all set for her upcoming film Superstar and her special appearance in Paray Hut Love, both releasing this Eid al-Adha.
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The Queen speaks

Mahira Khan enters the board room at a picturesque hotel in Islamabad where I’m waiting for her with my questionnaire.  She is dressed in a red knee length silhouette, and with her voluminous blow-dried hair, her delicate features are accentuated. Her makeup artiste gives her last touches, she looks in the mirror swiftly and dabs at her lips; hers is a classic beauty befitting a Pakistani movie star. Then she suddenly turns to me with a bit confused look, momentarily, and hugs me recognising we had met almost four years ago, when she was promoting her film Bin Roye (2015), that was her comeback on the silver screen post her successful appearance in Bol (2011), and in that moment I’m in awe of her memory. Now Mahira is all done with the promotions of her upcoming film Superstar, that is scheduled to release this Eid al-Adha, but apart from Superstar she’ll also making a special appearance in Asim Raza’s Paray Hut Love, that is also scheduled to release this Eid.  I ask her, if she’s going through any sort of pressure since both of her films are releasing simultaneously. She responds, “A lot of pressure. My cameo in Paray Hut Love is super special to me. Morre Saiyan, my song in the film, is something me and Asim wanted to do for a long time and I would say it’s an ode to our friendship.” Mahira was very young when she felt in love with cinema and when she decided to be a part of the screen. She’s been mulling it over since forever, but it wasn’t until her teens that she decided to take action. Khan did what any enthusiastic teenager would do — jump into the bandwagon of auditions before landing up to something substantial and luckily everything did fall into place. Mahira started her career as a Video Jockey with the Pakistan’s show MTV Most Wanted in 2006, and everything else is a history. She made her acting debut with the 2011 drama Neeyat, however, it was her performance in Humafar (2011), Pakistani drama serial on entertainment channel HUM TV, that won her immense praise and is considered to be her shot to fame. If Mahira wouldn’t have been an actor, which career she would’ve opted for we wonder. “I would’ve been a junior artiste. Standing in the back doing something, in the hopes that I’ll get spotted. But I would’ve been in the show business still,” Mahira says. Mahira’s all time favourite film is Dilwale Dhulania Le Jayenge which is not a secret to anyone. But which actors Mahira is rooting for these days, she tells, “I’ve got a lot of favourites but Sajal Aly is just outstanding. I like all these new faces, I like Imran Ashraf and Iqra Aziz. And in my time, I like Fawad Khan and Humayun Saeed. I want to work with Nauman Ijaz though.” When asked for what has changed in her more than a decade journey in Pakistan entertainment industry, Mahira responds, “So much. First and foremost: Social media! Everything is out there. Other thing that has changed is, look at where the films are and how many options we have now. You are no more looking and five people, but in double or triple digits of talented people.” 

PICTURE PERFECT: Yami Gautam with National Museum of Qatar in the background.
Community
“I’m glad to have a perspective outside film industry”

Yami Gautam was one of hundreds of young faces, who arrive every year to Mumbai carrying sanguine, but mostly farfetched, dream of making it big. Before Yami found her calling, she was a teenage civil services aspirant. From a relatively moderate celebrity profile as a drama serial actress to making a star turn for the silver screen, Yami has traversed some distance.   There are some people who radiate positivity and energy as they smile from within and Yami is indeed one of them. And she has all the reason to be. Not many actors make a successful cut from television to Bollywood and sustain it if they’re not from a film or star background, but Yami is that phoenix that has always risen from the ashes, not ashes in literal, but even when her few films didn’t do great on box office – she never felt short, rather clapped back with all the strength she could. And see where she is, celebrating her successful opening of 2019 with URI: The Surgical Strike.  But how did a girl born in Himachal Pardesh and raised in Chandigarh land up in Bollywood in the first place? Yami was pursuing a law degree when her uncle sent her pictures to a production house. An audition for a television serial landed her in Mumbai and she never returned. Post wrapping up her debut in Chand Ke Paar Chalo (2009), a drama serial on entertainment channel NDTV, Yami also did a couple of South films before landing up a substantial role in Vicky Donor (2012). The journey from television to the movies was a long and arduous one. But Yami held on and now she has completed seven years in Hindi film industry. Although her debut Hindi film Vicky Donor was a sleeper hit, vowing both the audience and critics alike and earning her many female debut awards, her few choices post Vicky, except Badlapur(2015) and Kaabil(2017) and now URI, did not work at the box office. With her feet planted firmly on the ground, she neither lets success go to her head nor allow setbacks to drag her down. She’s the ultimate insider now and knows perfectly how to get going.  Yami is a cheeky girl, and time and again it peeps through her not so conventional roles in the films that are not commercial but actually contribute significantly to the story of the film. Be it Kaabil, Sanam Re, URI: The Surgical Strike or Badlapur (2015) — she has gone grounded in the choices she makes.  Yami was recently in Doha, for a magazine shoot with picturesque landmarks of Qatar providing a breathtaking background to her ever-glowing face. Dressed in her casual travel suit, all set to take her flight back to Mumbai, Yami spoke to Community in an exclusive interview and revealed how its doubly hard for girls from non-filmy backgrounds to keep going, her URI success and why it’s okay these days to be a brand ambassador for a fairness cream. She clears her stance and she does it well.  Almost seven years in film industry, what’s changed? A lot has changed. The learning process is still going and I’m still learning with every project I do. Things have changed in the industry for good, we have more faces coming up, more genres been explored. And everything else is well on its way, just like it was before. After Vicky Donor and a couple of other films that couldn’t do huge on box office. What kept you going? That’s how the industry is: you fall down, be strong, get-up, keep moving on and grab the opportunities that come your way. Better scripts and huge projects might not happen instantly when you want, but it all takes time and falls into place eventually. This belief keeps me going. Coming from a middle-class family, and not a star background. How difficult was it to make it where you are right now? Any lessons learnt the hard way? I think the only difference, professionally if I say, is if you’re from the star background and your film doesn’t work out, you already have a backup and some sort of people or films to back you up or you can fall back to. And if you’re not from the star or film background then if your film does work great but doesn’t do well on the box office then the further options of the next one project to be chosen could not be perhaps what you immediately want to do or what you wish to do. That’s about it. Rest, there’s nothing else that I would like to trade from where I come from. I’m really happy to have the kind of family I have and I’m glad I have certain perspective which is outside film industry. I’m really happy where I come from, and where I’ve been raised. That perspective is something I always enjoy. Was acting something you always wanted to do? No, I wanted to join civil services but acting is something that just happened along the way. If I go back to my school days, my friends and I, all laugh about it that I was always that closet brand, a closet dancer, this closet singer. I used to love imitating and mimicking my teachers, whoever was around. But only my best friends knew about it. So, maybe deep down in my heart, I had a performer side in me. But I didn’t know. And never had I ever thought that from Chandigarh I’ll be leaving everything and shifting to Mumbai. I was very good in studies and was seriously preparing for civil services. But yeah it just happened. The new cinematic awakening has been a relatively recent development, triggered by periodic bouts of deep professional introspection. What kind of scripts excite you now? Anything which I’ve not done before. Something which challenges me. Something you would feel ‘Oh we’ve not seen Yami do this before or probably have imagined her doing something like this before. Anything that takes me out of my comfort zone. There’s a thin line between getting out of your comfort zone and something that is awkward for you. Even when you go out of the way to select your roles but that shouldn’t be that you’re trying too hard to prove a point or something. That shouldn’t be there. If there’s something that excites you as an actor, you feel you want to do this and feel you have a director whom you can fall back to and trust him completely and he can trust you – then you go for such roles. Any genre! I haven’t done comedy, action, costume drama. There are so many things which I want to do and will, eventually. I think slowly and steadily I’ll have it. And how would you draw a parallel between South film industry and Hindi film industry? I haven’t really been a South film actress. I did do two three films but it was just a part or phase where you’re doing work and Good work keeps coming your way. That’s it. You’re auditioning constantly, you’re trying every possibility to keep working in Mumbai. And in that auditioning spree I had Vicky Donor also. In that phase of my life I also did regional films because I didn’t see language as a barrier. Actually it’s even harder when you’re performing a language you don’t know. I saw it more as an opportunity to be a part of something that is for the big screen. Ofcourse there’s a difference in the culture, language and work atmosphere. But, it’s not that I was a very established actress out there. If I have to chalk out some difference for you, they’re very particular about their timings! They have some pretty strong technicians out there. Really interesting work is also being done there with so many remakes happening. There are some drastic beauty standards that have been set-up which are difficult for a common girl to follow? It’s considered a taboo now if an actor is promoting a fairness brand especially with the rise of social media, and you are. Your take on it? I’d say I’m doing my work. I’m working as a professional. Having said that, the kind of fairness cream ads, or any cream ads for that matter, you see now have been drastically evolved over the years. They’re not the same anymore, thankfully. Just to bring it out factually for you, there are no more four faces used in the TVCs and put out a narrative that if you’re not fair there’s something to be sad about. And I’m so glad. I’ve been associated with the brand long before Vicky Donor even, when I was exploring my work as a model. My contract became an ambassadorship post Vicky Donor. I did have a chat with the brand, did express my concerns exactly on the same line; that to promote a brand is fine as long as you’re following a legal line. But, otherwise to show that to be unhappy about not being fair is not right. And I’m so glad that it has been worked upon and those ads are not there anymore. Maybe, it’s the name Fair & Lovely, which has been there for the decades and I cannot change. Maybe that’s what gives out a different perception. All the ads that running on television right now have similar elements, but if I’m the only one being picked upon. No problem, that’s alright. I understand the concern and I’m with the concern. Now it’s just your choice that you want to buy it, buy it – if you don’t want to buy it, absolutely fine. Please be comfortable with whatever you feel is the best version of beauty is. You started 2019 with a very high note of URI. Has the feeling sunk in? Not yet! One is when your film is doing really well and people are congratulating you, you feel happy when your film has done well and the one is when people own and embrace your film. That doesn’t happen with every film. The kind of respect that has been associated with this film, I think that was phenomenal. We knew that it is going be a very good film, but we didn’t see that coming. The way it was shot, we knew it was a very very honest attempt. The way people all across the world embraced it that’s very endearing. How was your visit to Doha? This is my first visit to Doha and there is a lot of love I’ve felt here. I went to a mall and the National Museum of Qatar, and lots of people came up to me to show their love. It’s always nice to feel the love and warmth. It’s a beautiful place! And there’s so much more yet to be explored here in Doha. And I’d just love to come again and be back soon. Until next time!