Thursday, May 31

Wah! Wah! Girls Click for more info

Oh look! Another British Bollywood play set in London! I think I must have seen at least ten of these in the past decade, and at the time of writing this review can't really remember enjoying any of them too much. So yes, colour me cynical as yet another one makes the scene - I still had to watch it of course.

But wait! What's this? Could it be that Wah Wah is actually pretty good? Well let's see: first of all, it was blindingly funny. This, coming from someone who doesn't think it's possible for brown people to raise any kind of laugh (except perhaps out of pity). Next up, the plot was actually quite good in a KISS way - there wasn't any self-hating of Asian culture (quite the opposite in fact) and none of the victim mentality (usually of a poor repressed girl) that is the staple of every Asian story that makes it to the west. I guess that makes it rather original then?

The music and choreography was brilliant and engaging, with the acting more than good enough and most certainly endearing (of which Sophiya Haque was a part of bringing this whole review full circle). Production values were good with everyone looking fab in their wardrobes with the stage coming a close second in terms of how it was dressed (I especially loved the huge "curtain screens" per location). Actually on that note, it was so refreshing to see "East London" finally translating to Leyton/Leytonstone/Walthamstow. Represent.

So yes. It may have taken ten years to finally find it, but Wah Wah Girls actually was an Asian play that I really really enjoyed. I'm still gushing a little just writing about it, so it kind of goes without saying exactly how thoroughly it gets a recommendation from me.

Tuesday, May 29

Food: Automat Click for more info

We ended up in this American themed brasserie (no I don't know what that means either) after looking for a place that did decent fish and chips. That is, by total mistake. Still the fact that the chicken happened to be halal was a saving grace and so we stuck around anyway.

And it was a decent enough place I suppose. The food wasn't spectacular and very much on the bland side; certainly not worth the 18 quid we paid for it. The service and atmosphere made up for this in some sense though, the place packed for a Tuesday night in a town that's supposed to suffering from a recession.

Overall though one to skip.

Book: Out of Our Heads, Alva Noe Click for more info

Some books make me feel something. Usually the book is fiction and that feeling is joy. In this case the book was non-fiction and the feeling was irritation. Since I'm too old and tired to write about a book I didn't really like that much, I'm just going to list a few adjectives that came to mind while I was reading it:

Laboured, offensive, confrontational, petty, semantic, vacuous, non-progressive.

If you're still bothered, Out of Our Heads is a discussion on what consciousness is, or rather what it is not - in particular how it's not something that resides inside the brain. Yes, exactly, zzz.

So no, not recommended then. Thankfully it was pretty short though.

Monday, May 28

Film: The Raid Click for more info

First, what The Raid isn't. It's not deep. It's not intelligent. It's not got any kind of decent plot or story. It has no decent characters.

With that out of the way we can talk about what The Raid is. It's full of action. It's lightning quick. It's engaging. It's awesomely violent. And it's hella fun.

Although my high hopes for The Raid were dashed during the first 30 minutes, I did enjoy the film a lot. It wasn't exceptional and most certainly is not going to be a classic, but it does manage to hark back to an era when choreographed fighting scenes were awesome to watch.

Recommended, and definitely something I will have to catch again on DVD. In slow motion, perhaps.

Sunday, May 27

History of the Ottomans Click for more info

I distinctly remember the day I realised that The Ottomans were in fact Muslim. I was very young, and assumed to be Muslim was to live in a minority. It was a quality few people had, and something that made me different.

On being told this little fact, I suddently had so many questions. They ranged from "but weren't they the bad guys?" to "woah, you mean the Muslims had some kind of power?" to "you mean you can get non brown or Arab Muslims?". Looking back I realise exactly how naive I was.

But as one grows older, wiser and more cynical they learn not to blame themselves too much for being ignorance. My lack of awareness wasn't my fault, but that of an education system that had this pretty important part of world history almost clinically cut out of it. Compared to what I had known about Greek, Chinese, Persian and British empires at that age, I would even go on to say it was deliberately repressed.

But of course once you know there is knowledge out there you want there's no real excuse not to pursue it. Which finally brings me to this review or a two day course I attended this weekend with Ebrahim College, the title of which promised to fill me in on exactly what I wanted to know: The History of the Ottomans. Actually to be honest the main pulling point for me was that they were also showing the feature film Fatih 1453 about the conquering of Constantinople.

I generally tend to avoid the typically Islamic courses places like Ebrahim College tend to offer. They're not really my cup of tea (and I may write about my position on how we overuse prescription as a crutch and neglect introspection some other time), but I figured that this particular course would be academic enough for me to enjoy. I was right and wrong in this, but more about that in a bit.

On day one, the lecture topics were pretty varied, which is always a good thing, except when they don't really flow from one into another. For example I would have expected any history course to be laid out in some kind of chronological order with a flowing narrative, pretty much as if it's a story that's being told. Looking back at the programme outline, it is clear that this was attempted in this case, but in my opinion it was poorly executed and I found it all a little disconnected and muddled. Professor Mehmet Ipsirli was clearly knowledgeable about this stuff, but I'm not sure I took away much from his opening "Emergence of power: political, social and administrative structure" talk. Similarly Professor Alparslan Acikgenc's "Ottoman culture, Science and Philosophy" course was a bit over my head too.

To be fair this was more a matter of taste than anything else, me being more suited to structure and pointedness in talks. Nevertheless I felt that Professor Azmi Ozcan's "Caliphate institution of the Ottomans and Relationship with the other Muslim Countries" was a little vague in content, although I did love the clarity in how he explained how the caliphate was not religious but political. I don't even remember what Professor Ipsirli said in his second lecture "The institution of Rulership of the Ottomans and the Great Sultans".

But as time went on and more lecturers presented, I found the courses did become more structured and so easier to follow for me. Professor Acikgenc returned to tell us about "Islamic Education in the Ottoman Period", a talk which I thought was wonderful in its focus and literacy. It was interesting to hear about how education belonged to the community rather than the state during the early years of the empire. Unfortunately I don't think I got as much from Professor Ozcan's second lecture "The Causes of Decline" as I did from his first.

Of course it goes without saying that I was irritated by the audience. Although the course itself wasn't an Islamic Course in the typical sense, the crowd most certainly was, and we had all the lack of etiquette in the Q&As that followed each talk that we usually see during these things. Over-fawning, pontification, self-promotion and digression were the name of the game here and although the lecturers were polite enough to go along with it, I would have expected the various chairs from the college to keep things in control and moving a little more. In my opinion a lot of the value to be had in these talks is wasted simply because we don;t know how to ask pertinent questions in a concise manner. But hey, I guess that's why I avoid these things.

Day two was much better. A new presenter, Dr Salim Ayduz, gave two lectures: the first was on "Contributions of Ottoman Science and technology to Modern Civilisation" and then a more focussed "Muhammed II and the Siege of Constantinople". Both were excellently prepared and structured and I felt that I took a lot away from them and even the Q&As were decent. I was especially interested in hearing how Da Vinci and Copernicus may have each plagiarised Ottoman scholars, and how in contrast the same Ottoman scholars would credit their inspirations and refuse to accept that they had "invented" anything themselves. Dr Ayduz may be a little biased, but it was clear over the course of his two lectures that there was a certain honour in the way the Ottomans rolled.

The day ended with an extended panel Q&A which had some really good questions asked and answered. The film that I (and most other people there, it seems) had come to watch had actually been cancelled; Ebrahim College were denied the ability to cut certain scenes in order to make it acceptable for them to show. A bit of a shame then, except that I wasn't able to stay for personal reasons anyway.

Overall I would say that I don't think I got all I wanted from this course. Although I have a taste of some of the aspects of Ottoman culture I'm still missing the "bigger picture" of what went on during the period, and I'm not sure I'm even aware of some of the more interesting deeper aspects of the empire. And of course I still haven't seen Fatih either. That said, it has served as a launchpad into further independent study, albeit an inefficient one at two days long, and I hope to explore some of the themes that personally interested me at a later date.

Thursday, May 24

Film: Town of Runners Click for more info

I managed to catch this documentary about two Ethiopian runners striving to make it big in their sport, in a country where running is the only real alternative to education and marriage. If there was such a genre as sportploitation then this would probably fall under it, although that could just be my reaction to the gushing in the Q&A afterwards. Oh yes, the director was there too.

As a film it wasn't too bad though and in fact I did quite enjoy it. It's always interesting to see the rest of the training and livelihood beneath the tip of the iceberg we see at events like the Olympics, and I guess this journey is even more striking in a place like Ethiopia where, let's face it, making it big in a sport means a lot more than it does in most other places.

Technically the film was good, and I enjoyed the narrative that eventually emerged from the otherwise confused progress - if anything I thought the film fell a little short of its conclusion and wish that it went a little further on that.

Otherwise you can pretty much predict what happens in the film and how people will react to it (group tours to Bekoji anyone?). I probably wouldn't recommend going out of a way to watch this unless you already have an interest in the topic to feed.

Wednesday, May 23

My Name is Ahsan Click for more info

The really scary thing is that I'm actually not writing this post freely. I was going to make some satirical remark about how I'm not really safe from extradition either (seeing as these pages are hosted in the USA), but then I asked myself "what if the US government don't find me funny?". The point here isn't about terrorism or even the concept of extradition itself, but the manner in which it can so easily be done by party that has no sovereignty over here. The US wouldn't have to make an argument that I wasn't being funny or sarcastic, their word and request would have been enough to get me a free flight across the pond to face trial - and that even though I had written this post at my home in London.

For those who don't know, that pretty much covers the situation that a few British citizens currently find themselves in. You may have already heard of Babar Ahmad, but there are others too, including Gary McKinnon and Talha Ahsan. Tonight was mainly about supporting these guys, raising awareness and creating some kind of actions afterwards.

It's actually quite shameful, not from a universal justice view (although yes, that too), but in terms of how easily the US managed to get into a position where it could violate citizens of another country so easily - even more so that that country is the UK. Where's the self respect?

The speakers today included Gareth Peirce, Bruce Kent, Victoria Brittain, Salma Yaqoob, David Bermingham and Riz Ahmed. For sure, I only knew of Riz, but judging by their presence and received reception the others were big names too. Some spoke objectively, some from a personal viewpoint, some were fun and exciting other were boring. All were passionate and compelling and even the cynicism and polemic I always have waiting for these kind of political movements was stemmed. It really is as straightforward as this: there is no way that this arrangement can ever be seen as fair or just even from a subjective or US-biased viewpoint.

Regardless of whether you care enough to do anything about this or not, I do request that you all reading at the very least privately acknowledge that this is wrong. And if not, then to please spend some time explaining why you hold that position.

Wednesday, May 16

Abstruse Goose Click for more info

Make no mistake, this counts for brown Asian women too:

Pity us men please, thanks.

Saturday, May 12

Book: A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin Click for more info

I like to think that I don't judge books by their covers. I give most things a go before actually judging them, and generally I go into a book with an open mind. I have to admit however that I was very surprised with how A Game of Thrones panned out, indicating that I did have some kind of preformed expectation of the book in this particular case.

I'm not too ashamed of this, if only because the surprise was so pleasant. The thickness of the book did not imply that it would be a chore to read, the plentiful characters did not imply that it lacked good characterisation and the immense background and universe that the book is set in did not imply that I would have to dredge through tons of descriptive text. In other words, this was no Lord of the Rings.

So yes, in a word A Game of Thrones is brilliantly accessible. I never once tired of what was going on and after getting used to it didn't lost my thread or pace in reading. Okay I admit that I did at first find the plentiful number of characters confusing (with names and nicknames adding to that confusion), but even that wasn't an issue a few chapters in.

A lot happens in this, the first volume of A Song of Ice and Fire, and yet it's clear that we're in it for the long haul - I can only imagine what else we have in store. It's a testament to the book that I want to jump straight into the next part, and I'm already excited with the idea of continuing on my journey through the Seven Kingdoms.

Thursday, May 10

Film: Marvel Avengers Assemble Click for more info

There are two types of people who went to see this film. The first are those who wanted to catch the biggest film of the year, the non-stop action superhero rollercoaster that everyone would be talking about at work/school the next day. The second group are those who went to see it because it was directed by Joss Whedon.

Since this is a movie review, I won't go into too much detail as to why Whedon is such a genius except to mention a single name: Buffy. Vastly underrated, it's about time he got high profile, and must admit I felt a little vindicated as I saw one of his films break all opening weekend box office records.

Of course the main fear was always going to be whether Whedon could resist any "creative pressures" being placed on him from above. And if I'm completely honest I would say that Avengers Assemble wasn't as Whedon as I wanted it to be - for a recent example of what that means, go watch Cabin in the Woods.

But I did laugh extremely out loud at three uniquely Whedonesque gags, yes, the ones that everyone else did too - who said Whedon was just for the culty geeks? Overall though, the first half was kinda bad, with the second half very much worth the wait. Oh and for those who care Ruffalo was much better than Norton. Oh and a special raised eyebrow goes to Pepper Potts' short shorts.

So yes. As hugely enjoyable as as it was, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed at the lack of total polish and genius I've come to expect from Whedon. That's not to say that the film isn't good - on the contrary, those in the first group will go away very satisfied - so it gets nothing less than a recommendation from me.