Archive for India

Foodistan (Lahore, Pakistan)

Posted in Food with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 22, 2012 by irydhan

Recently, I came back from a month long trip to Lahore – the culinary capital of Pakistan.

Lahore, has a wide variety of cuisine, from fancy upscale Italian restaurants to the simple Pakistani village food and everything in between.

A few tips for those of you who may be traveling to Pakistan soon:

1. Get Your Shots – Before you Travel (Currently Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Polio and Malaria are the main diseases in Pakistan)

2. Don’t Drink The Water – unless it’s Bottled and Sealed (Nestle PureLife is the most reliable brand)

3. Don’t Eat Street Food – unless it is fried up, steaming hot, or cooked well done!  Avoid eating anything cold or something made with water.

If you follow those 3 simple rules, you should be fine and not get sick!

Below is a short slideshow of my trip through “Foodistan” aka Lahore this past February.  I hope you enjoy the pictures, as much as I enjoyed eating all the delicious food:)!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You can see more pictures of my trip to Pakistan on ILLUME magazine online here!

Masjid Makeover by Rahim’s Wood Gallery

Posted in Architecture, Art, Islam with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 22, 2011 by irydhan

My friend, Rahim Akbar is a Naval architect and engineer by day and an inspired artist by night. He hails from a well known Mughal family that is endowed with a rich and rare history in architectural design, woodworking, iron smith and masonry. His outstanding works which are carved in wood, may be seen gracing ceilings, walls, doors, or as stand alone pieces that invite the viewer to step into the world of the written word… or simply remind one of the beauty and serene complexity of Islamic design.  As such, Rahim is reviving in the west the long lost art form of Islamic wood carving, or Naqashkari. He proudly yet humbly follows in the tall footsteps of his grandfather, whose exquisite work in the field may still be seen adorning stately mosques from Sadiqabad in the Punjab, to Sukkar in Sind.

His work can be seen at  www.facebook.com/woodgallery

One of his recent projects is a brand new Mihrab (Wall with a prayer niche) and Mimbar (stepped seat for sermons) at a small neighborhood mosque in North Carolina.

Check out the video of the installation and final product here:

For more information email Rahim at: rakbar@gmail.com or search for “Rahim’s Wood Gallery” on Facebook

Rizwan Manji: Taking Jobs From White America

Posted in Books/Magazines, Islam, Media, TV/Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 18, 2010 by irydhan

I interviewed actor Rizwan Manji from NBC’s “Outsourced” for ILLUME Magazine (www.IllumeMag.com).
He talked about what its like to be Muslim in Hollywood and the importance of  ‘good Muslim’ roles.

How did you get the part of Rajiv Gidwani on NBC’s “Outsourced” ?

I was sent the script for the Pilot and thought it was hilarious.  As an Indian, I could relate to some of the characters who share the same culture as me, and this was the first time that I have heard of a major TV sitcom about South Asian culture.  I initially was called in to audition for the role of Gupta (played by Parvesh Cheena) and did not get the role, but after the producers could not find a suitable actor for the role of Rajiv, they called me in again and I got the part.

Many people who watched the pilot episode, felt the show was filled with too many stereotypes and was not really a funny show.  How do you respond?

The pilot episode was basically a quick introduction to all the eight main characters.  We basically have 22 minutes to introduce each person and you don’t really have much time to go into that much detail of each character.  It is a pretty standard set-up as most TV sitcoms and if you have seen other shows such as Friends, etc. you will see that in the beginning they quickly introduce each character and you see how each character is on the surface (i.e. so and so is the dumb character, etc.).  The main goal of any sitcom is to entertain and establish an audience who is willing to come back to watch again.

Will the TV show go into the different religions of the characters or stay focused on the culture of India?

Currently there is one call center worker, Samina, who is a Muslim women who wears Hijab (played by a Non-Muslim) and she does interact with my character (my character is Hindu) in a future episode, but at this point in time the TV series is not focusing on religion and when references are made it is mostly the Hindu religion.

As a Muslim of South Asian descent, you are familiar with the tradition of parents limiting their children’s field of study to medicine or engineering.  How did your parents react to your decision to get into acting and were they supportive of you?

I was pretty lucky, because my family was very supportive of me.  At first my parents did not really understand why I wanted to be an actor and also how I would be able to make a living out of it, since they came from a background, like most South Asian parents, of leaving their homeland (Tanzania), going to another country (Canada) and working hard to allow their children to go to a good university so they can become a doctor or lawyer, etc.  My parents never told me no for acting, but they did encourage me to go to school and get a degree as a back-up plan.  I did go to school in Alberta for one year, but afterwards decided that I want to study acting at the “American Musical and Dramatic Academy” in the United States.  It was difficult to get in and also I didn’t have any money to pay for tuition, so I obviously had to ask my parents for help.  I thank my sister, who really was able to sit down with my parents and convince them that this is what I really wanted to do.  Now, my father is really excited about the whole acting thing and whenever he spots an opportunity for a South Asian role, he tells me to apply for it and kinda acts like my manager!

As a Muslim, do you think it is important for more Muslims to get involved with acting in TV and Films?

Definitely.  Muslims need to be involved and active.  TV is watched all over the world, especially TV which is produced here in America.  It is the most visible platform we have now.  If majority of the world sees only evil Muslim characters and roles on TV, that is detrimental to everyone, not just Muslims.  There needs to be a greater presence of Muslims on TV.

Were you offered any negative roles in terms of portrayal of Muslims and how did you respond?

Yes, I received many offers which portrayed Muslims in the stereotypical manner of just killing someone and yelling something in Arabic.  I turned down many of these roles.   But some of them I did debate whether to take them or not.  For example, I was offered several roles to be a terrorist  on the series “24”, which I turned down, but in the last season, they had several characters who were “good guy” Muslims (such as Anil Kapoor’s character).  So when I was offered a job to play a small role of a bad guy, I accepted it, since I saw that a major character was portraying a “good brown Muslim person”, so it wasn’t a one sided thing, where all the muslim characters are bad.  But I do struggle with these roles and turn down something if it makes me feel uncomfortable.

What advice do you have for young Muslims who are interested in becoming actors?

If it’s your passion, then go for it.  But don’t think that you will become rich quick.  It’s a struggle and is not easy work.  I have been working in this business for 15 years now, and had to do a lot of side jobs along the way.  There is very little money in the beginning.  But if you like it and have a passion for it, then do it!

Bollywood King goes back to his Muslim Roots

Posted in Islam, Media, TV/Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 15, 2010 by irydhan

By no means am I a Bollywood (Indian Cinema) fan.  I have only seen a handful in my life and never watched one in a theater – before last night when I went with my wife and a few friends to watch the King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and his new film “My Name is Khan” which is making headlines across the world because of it’s “Pro-Muslim” storyline – which is a rarity in Hindu dominated Indian cinema.

A majority of the film was also shot here in the San Francisco Bay Area and since a few of our friends were extras in the movie, we went to watch it in the theaters.

As most people who have seen Bollywood (the nickname for Indian Cinema based out of “Bombay” now called “Mumbai”) films before knows, the majority of them are extravagant “Musicals” which are usually 3 to 4 hours in length (they have an intermission when they play in the theaters in India and “Desi” theaters in the U.S. and other countries)! Most major hits have the standard format of a young guy and girl who come from different walks of life and go through some kind of struggle to end up together in the end – with a few large dance and song routines in the middle of grass fields and villages in India (or sometimes other parts of the world – to change it up a bit:)).

But, “My Name is Khan” is nothing like that.  It is not a typical Bollywood film at all.  It is pretty serious (of course it has a few light moments sprinkled in between to keep it interesting) and goes head on at some of the world’s toughest issues such as prejudice, stereotypes, religious extremism, terrorism, security concerns, and the commonality of the human condition across the world.

WARNING SPOILERS BELOW!!!

I was actually pretty surprised at how serious and “un-Bollywood like” the film was.  And since it takes place in the U.S. (there is about 30 min in the beginning which takes place in India), a lot of the dialouge is in English (they have subtitles to translate the Hindi-Urdu languages, but no one likes to read them while watching a movie:))!

The other surprising thing about the film was the fact that the star – Shah Rukh Khan (a Muslim in real life), decided to make such a film in the first place.  Shah Rukh Khan (or “SRK” as his name is spelled by bollywood fans online) is the top Bollywood Actor and is more well known and has a larger fan base across the world than any American actor!  He is like Brad Pitt, Denzel Washington and Al Pacino (hey I’m a “Scarface” fan, so I gotta through him in there:)) all rolled up into one.  Most Bollywood films stay away from religion and if they do it is only for comic effect (i.e. a Muslim Mullah or Imam saying something stupid, etc.) or to to show some other stereotypical element.  Since most Indians are Hindu the films reflect the main characters and religious ceremonies from the Hindu perspective (usually). 

Shah Rukh Khan was born in India, but his father was Pakistani (from Peshawar), according to an interview I watched with him here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWWBd6MD0Ew.  

SRK is Muslim, but he is married to a Hindu women (similiar to the story in the film). They teach their two children both religions and do not force one religious view over the other.  SRK has played a “Muslim” character on film before, but his character of “Rizvan Khan” is the first in which his being a Muslim is an integral part of the story.  Thus, it is like he is going back to his Muslim Roots.  Shah Rukh Khan, known as the “King of Bollywood” (for all the awards and allocades he has achieved in the Indian Film Industry) playing a Muslim (a positive one at that), is a major historical event for Indian Cinema.  It’s like when Steven Speilberg decided to make “Schindler’s List” and share his Jewish roots or when Mel Gibson decided to make “Passion of the Christ” and give a voice to his minority Catholic roots in mainstream Hollywood.  Shah Rukh Khan has already received some backlash in India because he publicy supported Pakistani Cricket Players and complained that they should not have been omitted from the IPL (Indian Premiere League) cricket league.  Some Indian Nationalist groups have threaten to ban his latest film “My Name is Khan” from being shown in local theaters in Mumbai in protest.

This is a shame because the film is all about treating all people with respect and dignity, no matter their religion or ethnicity. Shah Rukh Khan plays Rizvan Khan, a Muslim Indian with Asperger’s syndrome (a type of autisim) who comes to America to be close to his brother (after their mother dies in India) and in the process he befriends and falls in love with a Bay Area Indian women named Mandira (who happens to be Hindu).  Rizvan and Mandira marry and live a pretty normal life, but then the attacks of Sept. 11th, 2001 happen and Mandira’s son Sameer is attacked in a hate related incident at school.  Sameer dies from his injuries and  Mandira blames her marriage to a Muslim (SRK’s character) for her son’s death.  Rizvan then goes across country to meet the President of the United States and explain to him that he is a Muslim, but he is not a Terrorist (a Mantra he keeps repeating throughout the film and thus the title of the movie).

Of course the story is at times stretching reality and the ending is far fetched, but the process is believable because it is based on incidents that many people have gone through or experienced themselves in real life: security profiling at airports, racist and prejudiced people who try to stop you from achieving your goals, as well as good people who help you get where you want to go.

But what I really liked about “My Name is Khan” is the way it humanizes Muslims.  Of course they have the extermist Muslim in the film, but they also have the main character, Rizvan (portrayed by Shah Rukh Khan) who is a very spiritual person and is not afraid to pray in front of people – whether it being by reciting verses from the Holy Quran in a middle of a vigil for the victims of the 9/11 attacks, or by making salat (prayers)  outside a truck stop while everyone (including a “normal” Muslim couple) watches him in awe.

On a side note – I was also impressed with the film’s accurate portrayal of Islamic rituals and practices such as praying and what Muslims recite or pray when people die, etc.  Most films, whether Bollywood or Hollywood usually never get it right.  That’s one reason when I got a chance to be a “Muslim consultant” on a local indie film shot in the Bay Area last year, I jumped at the chance to volunteer just so I can make sure they can depict Muslims praying accurately (I ended up showing a cast of about a dozen Non-Muslim actors and extras how to pray according to the Sunni Hanafi Method:))!

In the end “My Name is Khan” is about always having a positive attitude and never giving up on your dreams, no matter the odds stacked against you or who or what is in your way.  It is also about being proud of who you are and not being prejudiced or hateful to other people just because they may come from a different background, culture or religion than you do.  A very important message for both Muslims and Non-Muslims alike. 

I hope people learn this message of peace and understanding after watching this film. And I hope more films like “My Name is Khan” come out of Bollywood (as well as Hollywood), because we definitely need them in these trying times.  I highly recommend everyone to watch the movie and tell all your friends to watch it too!

“Slumdog Millionaire” wins Best Picture and 6 other Oscars, including two for A.R. Rahman, for Best Original Song and Best Original Score.

Posted in Media, TV/Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2009 by irydhan

I found out recently that A.R. Rahman, the Academy award winning composer of “Slumdog Millionaire” as well as many other Bollywood films, was inspired by Sufism and converted from Hinduism to Islam in 1989.  His full name is Allah Rakkha Rahman.  He comes from a Tamil background and said “God is Great” in Tamil after he won the first Oscar.  Congratulations to A.R. Rahman as well as to the other Muslim actors in the film including Irrfan Ali Khan, who plays the police inspector, Rubina Ali who plays the young Latika character, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail who plays the young Salim character and Mozhim Shakim Sheikh Qureshi who played the crippled slum kid.  Both Rubina and Azharuddin are real life “slum dwellers” in Mumbai.

“Slumdog Millionaire” was definitely a great film, and deserved to win Best Picture, as well as Best Director, Danny Boyle.

The film is about a young Muslim kid, Jamal Malik (played by Dev Patel) growing up in the streets of Mumbai and how his life experiences help him answer random quiz show questions on the Indian version of “Who wants to be a Millionaire?”

The story is very moving and the young child actors are amazing in their portrayal of the difficult life in the slums of India.  Some Hindus were critical of the film because they did not like how Hindus were portrayed in the film (A Hindu mob attacks the Muslims in Mumbai and kill Jamal’s mother).  To that I say, “Don’t Complain – because you always portray Muslims as evil and backward in most Bollywood films, so chill out and just enjoy the fact that India and some of its actors, musicians and filmmakers are getting praised and honored on the World Stage!”

The film was raw, yet elegant at the same time.  It didn’t pull any punches and the story was fully engaging throughout the whole film.  Credit goes to the screenplay, cinematography, editing and sound mixing – all of which won Oscars in their respective categories.

I was not surprised with Slumdog’s success because it was an excellent movie, but I was surprised that “Waltz with Bashir”, the Israeli animation about the 1982 Invasion of Lebanon, which was nominated for Best Foreign Film, did not win!

Normally any film for and about Jews, especially about the Holocaust win some type of award from Hollywood.

But of course, “Waltz with Bashir” is no Holocaust film.  It is a unique animation which takes a documentary-type look at  Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and critically examines at how the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces), led by Ariel Sharon at the time, allowed the Lebanese Christian Militia to attack and massacre the Palestinian Refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila.

I guess the Academy, still does not want to give any type of credence to any film which may seem to criticize the state of Israel.  Just as “Paradise Now” the 2005 film by Hany Abu-Assad about two Palestinians who are preparing for a suicide attack in Israel, was also nominated for Best Foreign Film but did not win the Oscar either.

One day, Insha’Allah (God Willing) we will get there – but for now, all the Muslim TV and Film producers, musicians, actors, actresses, and artists need to keep working hard and telling our stories – because we can no longer afford to wait for others to speak on our behalf!