La Liga’s seesaw: Can Real Madrid take home the title this year?

The new La Liga season kicked off this week with an extremely competitive title race set to take place. The English Premier League trumps it financially, but La Liga’s top five teams are inarguably better than their English counterparts, evident from the fact that they have won both UEFA Champions League (toughest European club competition) and Europa League (secondary European club football tournament) since the last two years. Moreover, five Spanish teams will probably feature in this year’s UCL, the most by any league in Europe.

Competition in La Liga boils down to three main teams – Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. The likes of Sevilla, Valencia and Bilbao will give them a run for their money, but are mostly expected to fight out for the fourth spot.


Last season’s all-conquering, treble-winning Barcelona is likely to win once again. Last year, they had the most miserly defence, creative midfield, and selfless attack. Importance of the attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior (MSN) cannot be overstated, as their campaign will hinge on them. One of them always delivered in the last season and Barcelona fans will be hoping for a repeat this year.

Photo: Reuters

Neymar will be missing some of the starting action due to mumps, and Pedro Rodriguez has left, so they will need the reserves to step up their game. Munir El Haddadi looks ready to plug the gap. Suarez links up nicely and is, without a doubt, one of the best forwards in the world right now. However, the form of Messi will be the most important factor for them.

Messi and Barca will probably win once again as despite the obvious brilliance of his team mates, he is the creative and attacking leader of the squad. Midfield is certainly dented due to Xavi’s Hernández departure, as a player of his stature cannot be replaced immediately or ever arguably, but they have an able midfield in Andres IniestaIvan Rakitic, and Sergio Busquets. The defence has shipped nine goals in the preseason and Luis Enrique needs to find a fix. Don’t be surprised if they end up winning once again. The squad will also be refreshed in January by the new signings i.e. Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal.

Photo: Reuters

Real Madrid

They were the dominant team for the first half of last season, as they made 22 consecutive wins, the highest ever in the recent decades and much better than the previous Spanish best of 18. However, their season fell away as the players were exhausted, particularly Toni Kroos. Moreover, key players such as Luka Modric and James Rodriguez, who had an extremely impressive first campaign, got injured.

Photo: AFP

With the new manager, Rafa Benitez, intent on employing a strong rotation policy, they are ready to back themselves for the title. A shift from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 is expected with Gareth Bale being the prime favourite to feature in the number 10 role, despite the presence of the proven number 10’s such as Modric, James Rodríguez, Kroos and Isco. They will either play the reigning Ballon D’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo or the Frenchman Karim Benzema as striker.

Photo: Reuters

I believe that the former would be more favourable for them, as the way Ronaldo played last season is more comparable to a striker, and his poaching abilities are currently the best, proven by him receiving yet another Pichichi Award. Casemiro and Mateo Kovacic are set to be capable lieutenants in midfield with Isco leading the way, while Jese Rodriguez and Lucas Vázquez will be decent attacking replacements when needed.

Defence is very settled with goalkeeping being a concern, due to the De Gea transfer saga, but it should not be forgotten that current number one, Keylor Navas, was the La Liga goal keeper of the year in 2013-14.

Atletico Madrid

The less illustrious neighbours of Real are the only team which can realistically challenge the duopoly of Real and Barcelona. The 2013/14 winners are back with an updated attacking force with Antoine Griezmann being supported by new signings of Luciano Vietto (12 goals last year) and Jackson Martinez (courted by the likes of Arsenal too).

Photo: Reuters

Nevertheless, their capable midfield will be weakened by the departure of Arda Turan and Mario Suarez. Having said that, KokeGabi and Tiago Mendes can fight off any team on their day. Similarly, the defence has lost Joao Miranda this year, but Jose Gimenez and Diego Godin are more than enough for any attack, while being ably supported by Juanfran, and the returning of Filipe LuisDiego Simeone’s team will be impressive throughout the year and will pound on any opportunity that becomes available if Real and Barca falter.

Photo: Reuters

Mainly, we can expect a close title race between Real Madrid and Barcelona with Atletico being a close third. My money is on Real Madrid, as they will be hungrier for the title, thus have better squad depth.

from The Express Tribune Blog


Why are we banning Saif Ali Khan’s movies but not his commercials?

Over the past few years, Pakistan has witnessed a boom in its film and drama industry. This has come as a blessing for most young and struggling actors. Previously, our industry had a handful of skilled actors, the same faces, and barely any room for new talent, which proved to be quite mundane for the audience.

Due to the mass awareness and globalisation, we’ve witnessed the mushrooming of numerous sitcoms starring new and fresh faces, such as Mawra HocaneOsman Khalid ButtHareem FarooqAdeel Hussain and the list goes on. It’s rather refreshing to see that directors and producers have taken it upon themselves to cast novel talent.

At the same time, it’s a bit surprising that we still tend to overlook our local talent when it comes to certain brands. Adverts such as the Head and Shoulders one starring the infamous Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor and the Pantene ad starring Katrina Kaif run repeatedly on air.

But the question is – why is it necessary to hire talent from international industries when our own industry has so much potential?

Are our actors not talented enough or is it that their face won’t be commercial enough to rein in the success these brands are looking for?

Not only is it unfair for our aspiring actors, but it’s also demoralising and demeaning for our industry. In essence, it sends out a message to our local actors that they are not good enough to be casted in local adverts, even though our actors have definitely stepped their game up and deserve every chance and right to be cast in such adverts. I could think of alternative actors who could take Saif Ali Khan’s and Kareena Kapoor’s place in a heartbeat.

We’re quick to jump to accusations and abuses when it comes to banning certain movies, yet those same actors are the stars of certain adverts. In an attempt to stand up for our country, we chose to ban Saif Ali Khan’s movies in Pakistan, yet air his commercials on every channel, every hour – why the hypocrisy?

We tend to place Bollywood actors on pedestals, and if one wants to do that, they have all the right to do it, but let’s not do it at the expense of our own actors and our industry. Maybe it’s time to change our star struck mind-set and give our talent the rights and opportunities they deserve.

from The Express Tribune Blog

Rest in peace, Wes Craven: The king of horror has left the building

Horror movies have, for more than a century, featured concepts and scenes that startle the viewer. However, with time, I feel the genre seems to be losing its touch in terms of actually instigating fear. Contemporary horror movies tend to get distracted from the actual concept; it either gets dominated by needless erotic scenes or extreme bloodshed without any background.

Wes Craven was one of the most prominent figures who kept the horror genre alive by giving us quality horror movies. For those of us who grew up watching his films know that his death is a major loss, not just for the horror film fraternity and fans, but Hollywood as a whole. Craven has created classics, his movies are popularly known by everyone.

From a very young age, I’ve seen my mother watch horror movies, and I was always eager to join her. Thus, we made a pact one day that if I completed my homework without giving her a tough time, I’d be allowed to watch a scary film with her. It was my first horror movie, I was so excited!

So I did my homework the very same day and insisted to watch Nightmare on Elm Street. Although my father was not too keen on this idea, and rightly so as the movie scared me to a great extent. Freddy Krueger, a character from Nightmare on Elm Street, wore a messy fedora and had razor blades attached to the gloves on his hands. He would visit his victims in their dreams and slash them to death. Thus, to no surprise, he became the reason behind me sleeping with the lights open at night.

This character was repeated in several sequels and a 2010 remake.

Another Craven production worth mentioning is The Hills Have Eyes. This became a cult classic and surely deserved to be categorised as one. I remember watching this movie, assuming it won’t be so frightening. My predictions were wrong. It was disturbingly petrifying.

I felt the plot of the movie was extraordinary. It was about a suburban family on a road trip who get stranded on a desert and are targeted by a family of savages.

This movie did pretty well, thus in 1985, Craven made a sequel, The Hill Have Eyes Part II. He produced Mind Ripper, also known as The Hills Have Eyes III in 1995. He also produced the remake of the original movie in 2006.

Craven’s The Last house on the left is also a noteworthy movie in my opinion. It did extremely well on the box office, although, it wasn’t a typical horror movie and can be categorised as thriller or suspense. The film follows two teenagers who are taken into the woods and tortured by a gang of murderous thugs. Although this movie was his directorial debut, he regardless did an amazing job. It is one of the movies I have recommended to many horror/ thriller lovers out there.

A remake was also made of this movie in 2009 with the same title and was produced by Craven.  hence I decided to do a movie marathon where I watched the remake first, and found myself intensely biting my nails throughout the movie, and watched the original one next, which without a doubt, was brilliant.

The People Under the Stairs was another masterpiece by Craven; this story was about a juvenile burglar who breaks into the house of his landlords, an evil brother and sister. It depicts a disturbing scenario where a number of boys were imprisoned under the stairs by these incestuous adult siblings. This movie is more of a psychological horror; it actually distressed me. I remember chills running up my spine throughout this movie, yet I was constantly glued to the screen, eager to know what happens next.

However, I believe that Craven proved to be versatile by directing the movie Red Eye. Even though this wasn’t a horror movie at all and was very different from Craven’s expertise, it earned the title of being a Craven classic. The movie is about a woman who is held hostage by a stranger on a flight. Her captor threatens her by the potential murder of her father, thus she is pulled into the conspiracy to assist him in killing a politician. I found this movie to be intensely astounding; it’s one of those movies that can be watched more than once in a lifetime.

No one can deny the fact that Craven was a gifted filmmaker. He had the gift of making our nightmares come alive; he held the talent of making what we fear the most come to life. He was a flexible director, a horror genius, and the king of innovative characters.

He will forever be missed and will live on through his classics.

Rest in peace, Wes Craven.

from The Express Tribune Blog

Hitman: Agent 47 – All fails when you miss your target

Hitman: Agent 47 is a movie based on the video game of the same name. The movie is directed by Aleksander Bach and is more of a reboot of the previous iteration released in 2007, Hitman.

This time around, Rupert Friend (Homeland) dons the iconic black suit coupled with a crisp clean white shirt, a blood-red (befittingly appropriate) necktie and a signature barcode at the back of his neck. It is a story of a genetically engineered and cut-throat assassin cum killing machine eponymously known only by his codename – 47.

Photo: IMDb

Hitman: Agent 47’s basic premise revolves around Agent 47 stopping a multi-billion conglomerate by the name of Syndicate International from getting their hands on a secret genome formula which will enable them to produce an army of clone soldiers gifted with sharpened logical, analytical, and reasoning abilities as well as heightened fighting, driving, and shooting skills. To stop them from achieving their goal towards global domination, Agent 47 collaborates with a young woman, played by Hannah Ware, who like Agent 47, was part of the same genetic engineering program as him. Needless to say, together they wreak havoc on their enemies.

Photo: IMDb

Hitman: Agent 47 is by no means a tasteless affair in terms of its visuals; sky-scrapers which reach dizzying heights and fancy cars endowed with ample horsepower (Audis to be exact) are shown in all their glory. In fact, so much so that the beautiful urbanised landscape aesthetics of Singapore make the movie somewhat of an ad for the Singapore tourism board. Having been to Singapore recently myself, I truly agree that this movie accurately portrays the metropolitan beauty of Singapore.

The urban concrete jungle and the night vistas coupled with neon lightings make this movie a sort of a déjà vu and been there, done that affair, as this has already been done before by Michael Mann. It’s a forte of Mann’s movies, be it Collateral (2004), Miami Vice (2006) and Heat (1995) etc.  All the action sequences in this movie, though thrilling and enjoyable to a degree, fail to add a layer of originality or something new.

Photo: Hitman: Agent 47 Facebook official page

The acting abilities of the protagonist are a miss and not something to boast about, which comes as a surprise, because Friend captivated the audiences with his engrossing performance in the hit series Homeland. Perhaps, he should have learnt from his role in Homeland and tried to add more depth to his role and made it more entertaining to watch, but sadly that’s not the case at all.

Moreover, the Hitman series in terms of the video game franchise has always been about authentic realism and stealth, which seems a far cry from this movie. Some of the scenes even seem ludicrous and outrageous at times; for instance, a 10 mile (not kilometre) head shot and asthma inhalers disguised as bombs. Even some driving stunts are way too farfetched and not an ounce of reality could be found in them. Now the audiences are intelligent and are smart enough to discern and differentiate between real stunts and something that has been achieved via CGI (Computer Graphics Imagery).

Towards the end, this movie has plenty of action sequences, car chases, and shootings to keep the audience entertained, however, the only thing it excels at is its visuals and visuals only.

Photo: Hitman: Agent 47 Facebook official page

The cinematographer, Óttar Guðnason, has done enough to keep the movie visually pleasing and has tried to give this movie the same international feel as those of previous spy movies, such as the James Bond feature films.

It is a shame though, because this movie could have kick started a cult following in context to the general movie-going audiences, something that Hitman already enjoys in the video gaming world and Tomb Raider had achieved when it was released as a feature film, which was initially a video game as well.

It feels like a B-rated action movie which lacks intelligence. Watch it for fancy cars and jaw-dropping visually pleasing locales. Hitman: Agent 47, unlike the central character upon which it is based upon, is a hit and miss.

I would give it a rating of six out of 10.

from The Express Tribune Blog

Ashraf Chaudhry, slut-shaming is not ‘freedom of speech’

A country must be a mother. No other person could suffer so much at your hands and still call you its own.

We may call Pakistan our mother, we may respect it as if it was our mother, we may even love it like our mother but is there a place for mothers, sisters, and daughters in this Pakistan? Is there no country for women?

We are quick to stand up in arms when the sanctity of our adopted mother is called into question. We are often told,

“The sovereignty of Pakistan must come first.”

There was a similar visceral reaction in Pakistan to the trailer of the Indian movie Phantom. It doesn’t matter that Hafiz Saeed is a terrorist, since for many, he is a Pakistani first and India is the enemy. So in this war that we have inherited, we are bound to side with our own, even if it comes at the discomfort of siding against Katrina Kaif.

A lot has been said about the movie; video blogs have been made and nationalism has been used by many to promote themselves. However, my blog is not about this particular issue per se, as my opinions on the matter only distract from the point of this blog. I realise that this proviso will not stop the tirade of India versus Pakistan comments, but before you transform into a keyboard, please take a minute to think whether your nationalism is making you lose your humanism.

When a woman is insulted in Pakistan, a common rebuke is,

“What if she was someone’s mother, someone’s sister or someone’s daughter?”

As if devoid of that possibility there is no need to respect women. A woman cannot be respected for being a woman, she has to be somebody’s mother, wife, daughter, sister, cousin; her very existence is defined in terms of her relationship with a man. Her respect comes from the house she belongs to, the man she is married to or the man she gave birth to.

Unfortunately, we do not even extend that courtesy when other countries are insulted. All of us have a right to disagree with the policies of any state, we also have a right to criticise the state itself but to paint every single citizen living in that country with a single broad brush stroke, based on the actions of a few, is foolhardy.

It creates the ‘us versus them’ siege mentality which makes people resort to violence.

A Facebook post may not be considered ‘violence’ per say but within the context of the society we live in, labelling somebody a traitor publicly does seriously jeopardise the life of the person. Our ‘Pakistani’ actors should have more prudence before passing statements about their co-workers.

However, they do have a right to their opinion, their position of power means they should act with more responsibility but if they still feel the need to, they are to express themselves. This is not a blog against Shaan Shahid or Hamza Ali Abbasi. This is a blog against Ashraf Chaudhry, the self-proclaimed number one sales trainer in Pakistan, and an expert on ‘selling yourself’. He decided to firm nail his colours to the past by chiming on with his opinion on the issue. Chaudhry showed the country that there was no need to label Mawra Hocane a traitor to make the nation dismiss her opinion, there was an easier way.

Following Chaudhry’s logic, if a woman expresses an opinion that you may not agree with, you gain the right to publicly call her a ‘slut’. When you are called out by people for your blatant misogyny, your retort is to innocently wonder, “What name would you give her”, along with posting a picture of her.

Also championing freedom of speech (his ‘freedom’ to call Hocane a slut) while blocking anyone who disagrees with him. I am assuming ‘irony’ is not one of the modules Chaudhry teaches.

You are a person who dismisses sexual harassment as #BurgerBoysProblems. If a male teacher sexually harasses a 20-year-old boy, the boy should reclaim your ‘manhood’.

It would be unfair to even single out Chaudhry. He may not even believe in all of this, after all he is an expert on selling himself, and controversy creates cash. By abusing Hocane and posing as a nationalist, Chaudhry has been able to remarkably increase the traffic on his page.

He is now using that same traffic to post a video promoting himself after every couple of hours.

Well played Sir, well played.

Chaudhry is not the tragedy. The tragedy is that he represents a majority of men in Pakistan who casually slut-shame women. When confronted, they would not disagree with the fact that women have equal rights and equal freedom as men but use their words like arrows to shoot down those freedoms and rights for women at every turn.

Would he have called a male actor posting similar tweets a slut?

Slut-shaming is a legitimate power tool used by men to keep women down, to promote the structures of patriarchy. This tacit behaviour by men, and their opinions influencing the masses, perpetuate patriarchal structures in society. Any time you tell a person to be a man, or be a woman, you are reproducing traditionally defined gender roles.

A woman who freely expresses herself on Twitter, or a woman who goes to work, or a woman who comes home late at night, is not labelled a slut because you genuinely question whether she is involved in sexual activities but it is a way for society to diminish the role of women.


Chaudhry’s comments do not hurt Hocane, as much as they hurt all the women of Pakistan – even women who may agree with him and disagree with Hocane on the matter. Her opinions on the subject have no bearing on this discussion.

The point of this article is that patriarchy and misogyny have been reproduced in our country by tying these notions to nationalism. The archetype of the Pakistani woman is used to deliberately relegate women to an inferior role in society. Ziaul Haq took this strategy a step further by adding religion into the mix.

Without consciously realising that these power structures are in place, and all lives, our culture, and our language has been coloured by our history, we would continue to perpetuate the same ideas, we would continue to create a culture of hate and violence against women, without even realising we are doing so.

It does not matter if your intention was not to stifle space for public discourse for women by calling one person a slut, the fact that you were negligent enough not to realise the repercussions of your actions is enough to deem you guilty.

Being nationalistic may get you a few likes or a few followers but by exploiting people’s love for our country, using it to ‘sell yourself’, please make sure you are not hurting a cause that generations have worked hard for. We may never be able to reverse all the violence against women committed in the name of the nation and religion in our country but the least we can do is be conscious of that history before looking to belittle a woman.

Hocane is not a slut nor is any other woman who has been called one in Pakistan for simply exercising her right to expression, her right to movement, her right to live.

from The Express Tribune Blog

The responsibility of being a famous celebrity in Pakistan

Saif Ali Khan’s Phantom (2015) was a sad excuse for a movie, much like Shaan Shahid’s Musalman (2001). Movies that play on the very jingoistic sentiment, which have led us into various wars and thousands of casualties, do nothing but betray their audiences who otherwise wish and need peace in the region.

Pakistan was right to ban the film as a sign of protest. I would expect the same from India but India being a much older democracy has been far more disappointing. Not only did it ban non-political movies and dramas from Pakistan, but our artists like Shakeel Siddiqui and singers like Atif Aslam have also been directly threatened whilst on Indian soil, something no Indian artists has ever faced while visiting Pakistan.

The recent controversy created by Phantom, and subsequent statements made by Saif Ali Khan, got angry responses from known actors like Shaan Shahid and Hamza Ali Abbasi, and anchors like Faisal Qureshi and Shahzad Khan. I can understand their anger and hence, this video is not about defending Phantom or Saif Ali Khan.

Photo: Hamza Ali Abbasi Facebook page

Photo: Hamza Ali Abbasi Facebook page

But I fail to understand the use of sexism to echo one’s point in a patriarchal society (Qureshi), questioning people’s religion and associating one’s morality to their clothes (Abbasi), teasing a man on his wife’s personal life (Shahzad Khan) and demanding ban on another Pakistani Artist, Mawra Hocane, and endangering her career just for having an opposite view about a fictional movie (Shahid). This video is about the references and context we use to express our anger which may be perpetuating prejudices.


These four gentlemen above have done remarkable work for Pakistan in their respective fields and otherwise, and are blessed with the love and support of millions. They are role models who people try to emulate. So, in effect, how they phrase their arguments and address their prejudices matters.

I have also tried to emphasise in this video that regardless of having opposing views, we as people need to learn to engage the other with respect, in the same way we expect it from others.

Pakistan Zindabad!

from The Express Tribune Blog

As a Pakistani, I support Faisal Qureshi

I came across Faisal Qureshi’s video in which he responds to callous and ill-informed comments by Saif Ali Khan, an Indian actor. Qureshi also addresses certain dialogues from the actor’s recently released movie, Phantom. I saw the video, read several comments on it, and a couple of articles criticising Qureshi for his approach and attitude in the video.

I haven’t seen Phantom and so I chose not to comment. But when I saw the reaction to Qureshi’s video and this one particular article published by a national newspaper, I was compelled to respond.

I am a patriot at heart and I love my country and my fellow patriots. For many years, I have read and seen the hate spewing anti-Pakistan propaganda in the Indian media and – thanks to ‘Modi sarkar’ – the Indian government. I will not go into the pointless debate of who is right or wrong, but what essentially made me respond was the fact that our own countrymen expect us to take all that filth and venom with a smile on our face.

As I say in the video, I don’t think Qureshi was addressing peace-loving Indians, but only the jingoists therein. For me, the video wasn’t just about an actor or his movie, but a reply to all the rubbish that has been thrown our way over the years.

Qureshi’s video, regardless of its large audience, was his own personal opinion and sentiments. It was not an official statement, neither was it the stance of an on-air anchor. It was the statement of one Pakistani who happened to be offended by the actor’s statement of ‘losing faith’ in a country for not screening his movie and the portrayal of our beloved nation. The few who chose to bash Qureshi for it needed to be responded to, and that is what I did, by expressing my own personal opinion.

from The Express Tribune Blog