Dec 25, 2016


Dangal ("wrestler") is one of those films that you can watch with just about anyone—making you smile, laugh, and even cry while loving every bit of the experience. I went in without even knowing what the film was about, having no expectations, and came out with a huge smile and some happy tears. And honestly... I can't help but feel that it has been a wonderful refresher from all the recycled films made by Hollywood.

Movie Poster (Bollywood Hungama)
It's a family movie that, although long, is consistently gripping. Thus far, Dangal (starring Aamir Khan) has many positive reviews, earning raving comments and lots of buzz. And personally, I feel that this response is well-earned. The movie is by far one of my favourite bollywood films. It made me enjoy a biography about wrestling—something I didn't even think I'd like, let alone admire.

And admire, I did.

The story is about a Mahavir Singh Phogat, a father and wrestling nationalist, who raises his two daughters to be international gold medal-winning champions. Throughout the film, you get to witness how these daughters grow—under strict training in a culturally-rich environment—until you feel like you're practically part of the family, too.

The film doesn't waste time on cringy Bollywood dance numbers, love stories, or objectified forms of "beauty." Instead, it focuses on the raw potential of dreams and family. On the power, strength, and capability that these women have been born with and continue to maintain. It's a long, hard journey—but definitely one worth watching all the way through.

The payoff is so worth it.

All components of the film work nicely together. The writers did a skilful job with the script, with the lines being realistic and well-timed. Nothing felt out of place since it was such a perfect balance of serious, sad, and funny. The actors executed the script just as well. Everyone, from the child actors who are now amongst my favourite young stars to the adults who managed to build upon the characters' growth, did a great job. And then there's the director, Nitesh Tiwari, who shows the audience exactly what needs to be seen—nothing more, nothing less.

Although I loved the movie, not everybody feels the same way. Some negative reviews claim that Bollywood is sexist, and that this movie is no different. Instead of focusing on girl power, it focused on one man's "ego."

But I disagree.

The story isn't about a man's "ego," but about his dream—which he says repetitively in the movie. "Girl power" isn't the main focus here, because (let's face it) the women aren't the main characters. They're father is. Geeta, one of Mahavir's daughters, becomes a wrestler not only to fulfil her father's dream, but to earn his pride. Meaning: it's not a male-female dynamic, but a father-daughter relationship. And though the father is stoic, you see some of his defences crumbling when he interacts with his daughters. Especially since his inner turmoil (as a character) is deciding between being a father and being a coach.

In sum, the soundtrack is charming, the characters feel real (and in this case, they actually are), and the setting is well-established. But don't just take my word for it, watch the trailer and decide for yourself:

Dec 24, 2016

Common "Religious" Arabic Phrases Used Culturally

Some phrases, that when translated to English may sound over the top and archaic, are so common they're practically expected to be said in other languages. Because I believe language is an insight into culture, I came up with six different scenarios and their consecutive phrases. This post will be dedicated to the Arabic language and culture—and in them, religion plays a big role without even having to be involved.

Image by: Saad Mahmood

Below is a list (of sorts) that includes all major religious phrases used all the time without any religious context for them. For anyone learning Arabic or is new to the culture, they're important phrases to understand. Plus, they'll definitely make a strong positive impression on a native speaker.

Although this is a somewhat extensive post, it doesn't cover half of all the sayings in this rich language. Nonetheless, it's still a good phrase-guide for what to expect in certain situations.

1. Greetings & Thanks

In English, people often greet each other by asking, "how are you?" And if we're being honest, they're excepting to hear "I'm good/ fine/ okay" in return. It's the same in Arabic, except instead of replying with any of the above, people almost always say "Alhamdulillah," ("الحمد لله") meaning "Thank God." The logic is that you're already doing well—and because of that, you're thanking God. So in a sense, you skip the "I'm good" part and immediately go into being grateful. I've never heard this question answered otherwise in Arabic.

When saying thank you, there's the standard "shukran" ("شكرا") that everyone uses. But there are also stronger phrases to convey just how thankful people really are. Saying "Baarak Allahu feek," ("بارك الله فيك") meaning "May the blessings of God be upon you," and "Jazak Allahu khairan," ("جزاك الله خيرا") meaning "May God reward you with fortune" are some of the ways people do so. They're reserved for "special thanks," but are commonly said as a way to show gratitude for small yet touching gestures done for the speaker.

2. Daily Life

A good example to share and explain for this section is sneezing. When sneezing, the sneezer would say "Alhamdullilah"  under the logic that their body has gotten rid of bad bacteria through sneezing and, therefore, they're thankful. Anyone in the vicinity would reply with "Yarhamuka Allah," ("يرحمك الله") meaning "May God have mercy on you." You can easily think of this as the Arabic substitute for "Bless you," except... the dialogue is not quite over. The sneezer, after hearing that, then says "Yahdeekum Allah wa yusleh balakum" ("يهديكم الله و يصلح بالكم") meaning "May Allah guide you and fix/ purify your condition." It may sound complicated, but the exchange is so natural that it's done routinely.

Another notable term that is so very common is "Inshallah," ("إن شاء الله") translating into "God Willing." It's a very flexible term used in varying contexts, mostly in a paradoxical sense. People often use it when they're looking forward to an event happening—but it's also said as a way to lightly reject an offer or a planned occasion. The phrase is so common that I've even heard non-native speakers using it in their own daily lives to imply that something won't happen. For example, a speaker can typically say "I will go, inshallah" and that can either mean they plan to go and are looking forward to it, or that they don't plan to attend at all. The secret to knowing the difference lies in the body language and context.

"Salam" Image by: Cisco Lightpainting

3. During Sickness 

It's commonly known that people greet each other by saying "al-salamu-alaykom," ("السلام عليكم") meaning "peace upon you." But the root word used here (al-salam) is worth a short tangent. This greeting is often shorted to simply "Salam" as a casual greeting and even a goodbye from the original form "Ma'a al-salama" ("مع السلامة"), meaning "With peace." The key word here is "Salam," ("سلام") which literally means "peace." It comes in a variety of forms and carries all sorts of grammatical nuances. For example, the word "Istislam" ("استسلام") is often translated into "submission," but is more like the verb form of the word "salam"—turning "peace" into an action. And some of its other forms are even used to talk about health.

When someone is sick, people would often express their concerns by saying "Salamat" ("سلامات") or "Salamatak" ("سلامتك")—kind of like saying "Get well soon" in English. The sick person would then reply with "Allah yisallimak," ("الله يسلمك") roughly meaning "May God keep you safe."

4. When Scared

When getting spooked, a common first reaction (in-sync with jumping all over the place) is quickly saying "Bismillah," the shortened version of "Bismillah al-rahman al-raheem," ("بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم") which means "In the name of God, the Most Gracious and Most Merciful." And some even say it before shrieking—it's that well engrained into their minds. Another phrase is "A'outhu billah" ("أعوذ بالله") meaning "I seek God's protection/ refuge" as a way to confront the fear while making the speaker stronger. Although they sound long, both are very common that they don't need to have a religious aspect to their fear to be said. They're just said whenever the speaker is suddenly confronted with something unexpected (in a passing moment).

5. When Angry 

A lot of people curse when they're angry, but other sayings are just as common, lighter, and more socially acceptable. For example, "Allah yehdik" ("الله يهديك") means "May God guide you," and it's used under the assumption that the instigator acted improperly— thus needing God's guidance. Or, by saying "Allah yesamhak," ("الله يسامحك") meaning "May God forgive you," the speaker is basically giving a quick (yet bitter-ish) prayer to absolve the instigator from their wrongdoings (that angered the speaker in the first place).

In a way, saying these phrases implies that the speaker is benevolent and that they're not really that angry—they're not actually cursing the instigator.

6. When Happy 

In English, saying "Oh God" often implies a problem or a confronted issue—but it's the opposite in Arabic. By simply saying "Allah" ("God") the speaker's tone changes, and they sound more pleased than before. The word is often said when looking at something beautiful, or admiring personal/ others' accomplishments. An even more popular phrase is "Mashallah," the shortened version of "Mashallah tabarakallah" ("ما شاء الله تبارك الله") that roughly translates into "What God wants to happen, God is blessed." It's said when the speaker wants to express their amazement. So basically, it's like saying "wow" in religious terms.


Some of these phrases aren't "religious" in the sense that they must be said during these situations. Instead, the aim of the post is to show how these religious phrases are used in everyday life, without religious context. They're not always expected to be said out of devotion, but are just so common that not hearing them said is just ... odd. In a way, this post shows how religion and language play a role in shaping a culture.

Dec 7, 2016

Novel Like Manga—Laying out Your Story

I'll be honest: I know nothing about drawing manga, but I do know a thing or two about writing. As a longstanding manga fan, I feel like I owe it to the industry to understand how it works. And while thinking about it, I discovered a lot of connections between manga and books—some similar, others admirably different.

Image by: Stuart Rankin
Manga is a unique storytelling platform—one that relies on art instead of prose. Like any fictional story, good manga has to have an established setting, a developed plot, and relatable characters. But the added element of "art" changes the playing field. In order to maintain the important concept of "pacing," mangakas (Japanese manga artists) lay out their art through a carefully planned out process: panelling.

Typically read from right to left (up then down), manga forces readers to reconfigure their reading habits. In my case, it helped me learn that the way things are placed changes how they're perceived. The pages of a manga usually include different paneling styles and dialogue breaks—all of which are placed so that the "story flow" can grow naturally. And in good manga, it does.

Manga vs. Novel: 

In writing, the illusion of passing time is done through paragraph breaks. But manga expresses time through panels—the ultimate foundation of its pacing. By using long panels, mangakas are able to "draw out" an instance and give readers a better chance to fully take in the moment. Consequently, shorter and smaller panels make time pass faster in a manga—the eye doesn't linger nearly as long. Because there is no art in (most) novels, novelists do this by carefully crafting short paragraphs and standalone sentences. And while they might be read quickly, these short text breaks create a stronger impression of a defining moment.

Sample Manga Page Image by: Kasuga

Panel layout and design are instrumental to a story's flow, making variety an important concept. I've never realised before looking into it, but different manga genres can even have different panel templates that get used more often in one genre than the other. In a way, manga becomes a lot like film—with frames and shots getting produced by the mangaka's art instead of a director's vision. But the challenge with manga is that you can't feel and hear the dialogue the way you do in a film.

Sure, you have visuals to fill in the context for the actual text, but structure is just as important. So in addition to using longer panels, mangakas strategically transition between panels to include more intricate details. And a well-designed, well-placed dialogue bubble is one of the ways that does this best. There's interaction happening in between the panels—the same way that prose and dialogue interact in between the lines. This level of cohesion reminds me just how important it is that every scene has a purpose and a reason for being.

Mangakas have to visualise the flow of each page to control how readers go through the panels (essentially, the story)—and that's something I believe all novelists can benefit from doing.

Image by: Neitram
There may not be any art to direct, but basic text serves the same purpose. Focus on the scenes of your story and visualise how dialogue connects with prose on a micro level. It's hard work, but the payoff is definitely worth it. Think of the lined pages as panels and see how different your writing becomes. Experiment with dialogue as if it's in a bubble instead of quotes. Envision a blank page as a panel template sheet, and see how you'd fill it up.

Every medium has its different approach to storytelling ... but in the end, it's still telling a story. When getting stuck in a scene, a lot of writers suggest changing approaches by using a different character, a different point of view—a different story element. But what if, instead, you use a different format?

It could all be done in your head, by using the power of imagination if art isn't exactly your forte. The idea is to play with something new, to start "noveling" in an innovative way that might actually help better lay out your story.

Extra sources:

If you want to find out more about manga layout and what actually goes on behind the pages in more detail, then check out this post on Panelling, Pacing, & Layout in Comics & Manga #1 and #2 (written by an actual professional who knows what they're doing).