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Berlin film fest opens with spotlight on Iran and Ukraine



The Berlinale, Europe’s first major film festival of the year, opens Thursday with a comedy starring Anne Hathaway, Marisa Tomei and Peter Dinklage ahead of a packed programme spotlighting Iran and Ukraine.

The 73rd annual festival, which traditionally has the strongest political focus of the three big European cinema showcases, will mark the Russian invasion’s first anniversary as well as anti-regime protests in Iran with new feature films and documentaries.

A series of special events is planned including panel discussions and red-carpet protests in “solidarity” with the people of Iran and Ukraine.

The festival’s artistic director Carlo Chatrian said the Berlinale would be a celebration of the “catalysing and revolutionary notion of cinema which unites even when it divides”.


Hollywood actor Sean Penn, who was in Kyiv at the start of the Russian onslaught, will present “Superpower”, tracking Volodymyr Zelensky’s transformation from comedian to president to war hero, based on a series of conversations.

“Zelensky was two completely different creatures from one day to the next,” the two-time Oscar winner told film industry magazine Variety this week. “He was a spirit in waiting.”

The Ukrainian leader is expected to address the festival by video link.

Animation back in force
The Berlinale has barred filmmakers, companies and reporters with direct ties to the Russian or Iranian governments from taking part in the event, including its sprawling European Film Market, a key movie rights exchange for the industry.

“She Came to Me” by US director Rebecca Miller, about a New York composer portrayed by Peter Dinklage fighting writer’s block, will be the first of nearly 300 new movies from around the world to screen during the 11-day event.


French-Iranian actor Golshifteh Farahani (“Paterson”) will serve on the jury for the Golden and Silver Bear top prizes headed by Hollywood star Kristen Stewart, at 32 the youngest president in the festival’s history.

Nineteen films will vie for the main awards, including British-US co-production “Manodrome” featuring Jesse Eisenberg and Adrien Brody in a thriller about an Uber driver who is expecting his first child and lured into a cult.

Two Asian animated pictures will also join the running, “Art College 1994” by China’s Liu Jian and Makoto Shinkai’s “Suzume”, the first Japanese anime to compete at the Berlinale since Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” clinched the Golden Bear in 2002.

Gold for Spielberg
Three-time Academy Award winner Steven Spielberg is due in the German capital to collect an honorary Golden Bear for his life’s work, spotlighted in a retrospective.

British actor Helen Mirren will premiere the keenly awaited “Golda” in which she stars as Israel’s only female prime minister, Golda Meir.


And Vicky Krieps, the acclaimed Luxembourg-born actor from “Phantom Thread” and “Corsage”, will unveil her turn as renowned Austrian writer Ingeborg Bachmann in a biopic by veteran German director Margarethe von Trotta.

One-third of the films in competition are by women, who make up 40 percent of all directors represented at the festival.

“Love to Love You”, a documentary about disco queen Donna Summer, who defined an era on the dance floor and helped inspire Beyonce’s latest album “Renaissance”, will have its world premiere.

The film was co-directed by Summer’s daughter, Brooklyn Sudano, and features never-before-seen home videos.

The Berlinale ranks with Cannes and Venice among Europe’s top film festivals. It will award the Golden and Silver Bear trophies at a gala ceremony on February 25 before wrapping up the next day with screenings of popular movies from this year’s selection. 



Malkoo’s plea for removal from no-fly list transferred to another LHC judge




Malkoo's plea for removal from no-fly list transferred to another LHC judge

The petition filed by pop singer Muhammad Ashraf, popularly known as Malkoo, against the placement of his name on the Provisional National Identification List (PNIL), has been transferred to another judge within the Lahore High Court.

LHC’s Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh, who took up the petition on Friday, forwarded the case to Justice Shams Mahmood Mirza, who is handling similar cases.

Malkoo had lodged the petition through advocate Azhar Siddique, challenging the listing of his name in the PNIL.

In his plea, the singer argues that he had scheduled live performances in the United Kingdom from June 19 to July, but was unlawfully placed on the PNIL.


The petitioner contends that placing his name on the PNIL violates several constitutional articles including Articles 9 (Security of person), 14 (Inviolability of dignity of man), 15 (Freedom of movement), 16 (Freedom of assembly), and 18 (Freedom of trade, business, or profession).

He asserts that this action was arbitrary, illegal and without jurisdiction.

Malkoo has requested the court to promptly remove his name from the PNIL, which serves as a substitute for the Exit Control List (ECL).

The singer’s petition lists the federation, Interior Ministry, Directorate General of Immigration and Passports, and Federal Investigation Agency as respondents.

Malkoo’s name was added to the PNIL in March following the release of two songs titled ‘Qaeedi 804’ and ‘Nak Da Koka’ on his YouTube channel before the Feb 8 general elections.


Both songs expressed support for imprisoned PTI founder Imran Khan allegedly.

Malkoo claims that it was due to these songs that his name was included in the PNIL.

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Umro Ayyar – A visual treat you should not miss

Umro Ayyar – A visual treat you should not miss




Umro Ayyar - A visual treat you should not miss

When it comes to Pakistan’s film industry, many filmmakers prefer to play it safe. It is a formula that may or may not work, but even if it is the latter case, there is not much to lose.

However, when it comes to experimentation, a filmmaker has more to lose than to gain in a country like Pakistan. This is not the first time a science fiction/fantasy film has been made in Pakistan.

What makes Umro Ayyar – A New Beginning different from other experiments in Pakistan? This is the first time a film of such calibre with a story different from a wedding or a rom-com or even comedy or simple action for that matter has been successful.

What attracted me to watch the film in the first place was the name Umro Ayyar itself. It is considered a childhood favourite, especially in Pakistan. If you have not read it yet, make sure to read the books. It is something both you and your children will enjoy.

The film is connected to Umro Ayyar, however the primary focus is not Umro Ayyar but Amar (Usman Mukhtar), a descendant of the legendary character. It is a modern retelling of the childhood classic. There however is a very special connection to legendary Umro Ayyar himself and it is not limited to Amar but for that you will have to see the film.

Amazing use of special effects


The best thing about the film are its special effects. On a 1-10 scale, I would rate it 11. One can see the effort placed in the film’s special effects that needs to be applauded.

If film students in Pakistan want to learn and observe the use of special effects in a film, then this film is a wonderful reference point. How you feel about the other aspects of the film can be quite subjective but one cannot praise the film’s special effects enough and what makes it even more amazing is that all of it was done in Pakistan.

The Story

The story is a classic case of good versus evil. Amar is a university science professor who believes science is the absolute truth and thinks that Jinn and ghosts are nothing but nonsense. He does not know in the beginning that in a world outside his average realm, he is destined for something bigger, and Laqqa (Faran Tahir) and his people are after him.

Amar has to prepare himself among other Ayyars led by Guru (Manzar Sehbai) to fight against Laqqa and his army and put a stop to his rule. As the last living descendant of Umro Ayyar, he is the destined one that can put a stop to it, however, it will be no easy feat as it’s a very different transition from a university professor to a chosen fighter and that too in a limited time.

Actors were completely comfortable in their element

With the exception of Faran Tahir, who shines in his role as Laqqa, this was a new genre for many of the actors involved but it seemed like they were quite comfortable in their element as it seemed like nothing new to them.

Usman Mukhtar plays the protagonist with pure brilliance. Sanam Saeed as Meena, Ali Kazmi as Maaz, and Salman Shaukat as Azam were amazing supporting characters.

The rivalry and tension between Amar and Maaz was an interesting element to the film. Manzar Sehbai as Guru, Adnan Siddiqui as Amar’s father, and Simi Raheal as Farhana had such a brilliant presence and added so much colour to the film that you would forget that they were acting because they were so absorbed in their character.


Hamza Ali Abbasi plays a very special role in the film and he does a marvellous job at it. Osama Karamat (OCL) has a cameo in the film and while I have always been a fan of his rapping with his songs like The Balance and Desi Thumka with Nouman Khalid, seeing him on the big screen was a treat too.

Uloomi Karim and Shehroz Sunny both had minor role but made their presence known.

There were three actors who really stood out to me. Asad Chauhdry might be a new name to Pakistan’s entertainment industry but he has shown his versatility in a limited time. I remember him playing a nerdy character in Green Entertainment’s College Gate. He played the part of Safeer really well. He might be one of Pakistan’s biggest names in the near future.

Sana Fakhar as Cheena Bai, the secondary antagonist and Laqqa’s follower, did an amazing job. If more films or television shows are made in sci-fi/fantasy genre, she would be the preferred choice of an antagonist.

Danyal Raheal was another standout actor in his role as Babar. If there was one actor’s storyline that I found the most interesting, that would have to be Babar and Danyal Raheal did justice to his character.

Direction and Screenplay

Azfar Jafri showcases his direction prowess with this film. The element of direction needs to be applauded as one could see how much hard work was put into that department.


Atif Rehan Siddiqui as the screenwriter played his part well too. The story was engaging but the writing was pretty good as well. There were certain complexities that might have been hard to understand but if you find a film’s writing complex but at the same time engaging and want to know what’s happening, then that is an example of a successful formula.

If there is ever a sequel which there should be and will be, these two need to be responsible for it otherwise the sequel might not work.

What Next?

I watched the film on a Monday at a cinema in London. There was not much of an audience as it was a working day but unfortunately, a lot of people missed out on something amazing that day.

As the film ended, many people celebrated by clapping, and a lot of people that were there for the 7:20pm show at Vue in Westfield Stratford on June 17 can vouch for this. There were a few shouts of a sequel as well from the audience.

As much as I would love a sequel, this film needs two prequels as well. You need to watch the film to understand why I want a prequel and why two prequels specifically.

Umro Ayyar is a visual treat that you cannot miss. You have to watch it. I cannot wait for it to be released on OTT but this film is an amazing cinematic experience. If films like this are made, they will show how relevant cinemas are in the age of streaming.

I know I have said a lot but when films like this are made, it forces you to say something. So you need to go to your nearest cinema right now and watch it. It will be an amazing decision on your part.

Overall rating: 10/10


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R.E.M. delivers surprise performance at songwriting gala

R.E.M. delivers surprise performance at songwriting gala




R.E.M. delivers surprise performance at songwriting gala

 R.E.M. performed onstage together for the first time in well over a decade Thursday, reuniting to play their classic “Losing My Religion” as they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Michael Stipe, Peter Buck and Mike Mills broke up in 2011, and the last time all four members played onstage together — Bill Berry left in 1997 — was in 2007. But entrance into the who’s who of music that is the prestigious songwriting pantheon got the band back together.

“Songwriting is the very foundation of why we came together in the first place,” lead vocalist Michael Stipes told AFP. “We’re really proud.”

The band was inducted by Jason Isbell, who performed a cover of R.E.M’s “It’s The End of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” at the event. “R.E.M. was greater than the sum of its parts. R.E.M. moved like a single instrument,” Isbell said.


The Songwriters Hall of Fame celebrates its inductees with a festive dinner and intimate concert instead of a televised event.

Kevin Bacon and his brother Michael — the duo known as The Bacon Brothers — opened the show with a foot-stomping rendition of “Footloose,” the Oscar-nominated title track of the hit 1984 film of the same name.

Bacon starred in the movie — but Dean Pitchford wrote it and much of its music, and was among the elite group inducted Thursday.

The writer of many hit film and musical tracks, Pitchford thanked the adoring audience “for hearing all these years, and above all, thank you for listening to me.”

Trey Anastasio of Phish inducted Steely Dan, while chairman of the Songwriters Hall of Fame Nile Rodgers — the beloved co-founder of Chic — bestowed SZA with a special award for songwriters “at an apex in their careers.”


It’s “just beyond all of my wildest dreams,” SZA said, before performing an acoustic rendition of “Snooze.”

Rodgers took his moment onstage to emphasize that “there would be no music industry if there were no songs,” specifically calling out streaming platform Spotify to “acknowledge and make a point of songwriters being your priority.”

Hip hop, country, and Oscar royalty

None other than Missy Elliott had the crowd on its feet as she inducted Timbaland into the coveted class.

“In hip hop, there was certain ways that hip hop music sounds — Timbaland… literally changed the cadence,” she said, adding that the producer, rapper and singer whose hits include “Give It To Me” was a master at marrying sensibilities of rap and R&B.


“Thank you for giving me a seat at the table,” Timbaland said in a lengthy acceptance speech, before conducting a house band through a medley of his hits and those he produced for the likes of Elliott, Justin Timberlake and Beyonce.

Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban performed in honor of Hillary Lindsey, a Nashville songwriting star who’s written for artists including Lady Gaga, Bon Jovi, Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill and Shakira.

And Diane Warren — the songwriter who’s earned 15 Oscar nominations, including for “Because You Loved Me” performed by Celine Dion and Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” — received the night’s highest honor, the Johnny Mercer award.

She, like all of the inductees, said being honored by her peers was particularly special. “It’s songwriters — what’s cooler than that?” she said. 

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