Saturday, February 19, 2011

Behind the Scenes of "Hum Naa Rahay" : Return of The Blog

Guess who's back?

Once again, the start of another blog post where I apologize for my long absence and promise to be better in the future. But you guys know better don't've been played before. However you should know that every time I come back and promise to keep writing regularly, I well and truly mean it. However, in my defense, I should say that..well..shit, I'm supposed to be ROCKSTAR. I should be waist deep in a world of guitar riffs, screaming fans and and women of questionable morals rather than feigning literacy on this extremely self absorbed website. However, work, travel and hanging out with my band members (who have sufficiently questionable morals) seems to have taken most of my time, alas it has been devoid of debauchery.  
I find myself returning here to my little dick-joke-filled sanctuary on the internet.

When I started writing here about five years ago, I was 24 years old, I had just returned to Pakistan after living and studying in the U.S. for five years. I had just formed the Aunty Disco Project and was in the middle of recording our album. Here we are five years later, I'm in the middle of recording my second album with ADP. Out of the four original members, Yasir and I are the only ones left. Justin Bieber is the King of Pop. A black guy is the U.S. president. Crazy shit has clearly occurred. We've had the most incredible highs and the most heartbreaking lows. But now, for the first time, we're actually tasting real success. Last year was a big year for us, it featured our performance on Coke Studio that suddenly got us a whole new fan base. For the first time we began to think that maybe, just maybe we had finally made it.

We haven't made it.

But we've come real close. If the popularity of our Coke Studio performance made us feel vindicated, the runaway success of our latest music video "Meray Masoom Dost (Hum Naa Rahay)" was just pure exhiliration.

As of today, the video has already received 13,500 hits. The response has been truly amazing and we've just been riding the wave of attention and praise that's come our way because of the video. A whole lot of credit goes to our two directors Bilal Khan and Shayan Agha over at Forward Media productions and they deserve all the praise they get for their work on the video. I think this is the first video we've done that truly captures the attitude of the band. Over the years we've made a conscious effort to not take ourselves too seriously and to really hold up our music for what it was, which is pure, unpretentious entertainment. , I think I've been the slowest to embrace this kind of mentality, (propagated mostly by Ali Alam and Rahail), I've always wanted to project that air of mystery and unforced cool that was the hallmark of my rock idols, like Keith Richards or Robert Plant. But I guess that's not who I am. And for the first time I'm comfortable with just being a musician without a cool image. Four years ago, if you'd told me I would be doing a music video with a giant panda in it I would have pulled out my rape whistle and screamed. But here I am with an amazing panda music video and a story of just how we got there.

We always knew "Hum Naa Rahay" was going to be the first single we released from our upcoming album. The song is special for us in many ways, it was the first song Ali brought with him to the table when he joined ADP and it was the first song we recorded on our own at Rahails. To see a song become a hit knowing we did everything in it from the composition, the lyrics, the recording and producing, was really satisfying. We finally managed to prove to ourselves that we didn't need to moonlight as whores on the street to pay for our audio recordings. 

So the song got a fair amount of exposure on the radio channels and through Youtube, when we released just the audio version for Superstars For Flood Relief. We purposely chose not to make this song available for free download simply because we wanted all the money to go towards the victims of the floods in Pakistan. Anyway, we were in talks with a bunch of directors for the music video and one day, in the evening we got an email from Bilal Khan telling us he loved the song and him and his partner at Forward Media, Shayan Agha were really interested in making this music video for us. When he pressed us for ideas, I think it was Rahail who brought up the idea of having a person in the panda costume. For us, the panda didn't even have to be central to the theme of the video, we just thought it would be insanely cool to have a giant panda just lurking somewhere in the background while we rocked out. Why? Pandas are inherently funny animals. 
To elaborate:

1) They are bi-colored. All bi-colored animals are for some reason regarded as stupid and hence hilarious. E.g. zebras, penguins, pandas. Black and white animals are especially prone to being stereotyped as being cute and brain damaged.

2) My panda obsession started with a hilarious South Park episode entitled "Sexual Harassment Panda" where South Park Elementary hires a man in a panda suit to teach 5th graders about sexual harassment. Best quote: "When one Panda puts his furry little willy in another Panda's ear, that makes me a saaaaaaaaad Panda"

3) Will Ferrell's incrediblehilariousepicawesome movie "Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy" revolves around a news story of a giant panda giving birth at the San Diego Zoo. Ron Burgundy and his news team cover this news in a series known as "Panda Watch"

4) Then of course...there is this:

So armed with this crucial piece of information, Shayan went and wrote an entire concept for the music video within a couple of hours and emailed it back to us. We loved it. He sketched an entire plot about how the panda was like the sixth ADP member and we did everything with him. We were all just bowled over by the idea and we couldn't wait to shoot it. Literally we were on the phone immediately  setting up meetings and saying YES YES WE SHOOT THIS NOW PANDA SO FUNNY HAHA OMG LOL. 

Luckily for us, Bilal and Shayan were as enthusiastic as we were and they set the ball rolling immediately.

The biggest problem of course was finding a convincing panda suit. I had never seen one in Karachi and all of us went around asking friends and trolling the internet with such dubious search terms as "How To Make Panda Costume", "Panda Costume Karachi" and "Furry Animal Costume Fighting Party". The last one wasn't really relevant but still...I was curious.

Apparently, Bilal and Shayan were able to find the only adult-sized panda costume in all of Karachi, in one of these novelty costume/prop/party stores. I believe this is how that conversation went.

Bilal/Shayan: "Suney, aap key paas jaanwar kay costume hain?" (Do you have animal costumes?)
Shop Dude: "Hain leykin sirf bachon kay size mein hain"  (Yup, but only kid sizes)
Bilal/Shayan: "Baron key liay costume nahin hain?" (Aww man, no adult sizes?)
Shop/Dude: "Nahin...humarey paas sirf bachon key hain....waisey aik adult costume hae...leykin woh panda hae" (Naah...all kid sizes...actually wait, i think we have one adult costume...buts its a panda)
Bilal/Shayan: *spontaneous bhangra* (*instant flailing of limbs*)

Long story short, we got ourselves a panda costume.

 The first time Bilal and Shayan came over with the suit, I thought I was going to die laughing. This panda was not cute. It was terrifying. Especially the eyes. This panda was Satan. We had to make sure the ears were taped up so that they always looked perky (yes...perky panda ears are important to us). We also stuffed its belly with cushions because a skinny panda is a shady panda. With the final piece of the puzzle acquired we set off to shoot the video guerilla style one fine Saturday morning.

No one is a happy camper Saturday morning. Especially not a guy in a panda suit. but our panda, Haris was a real champ. It got crazy hot in there so we had to remove the panda head (much to the horror of any children who were watching us) after almost every shot so that Haris could breathe. The initial scenes of us walking down the street were the funniest because a crowd of chowkidaars gathered out onto the street to gawk at a most retarded sight of five dudes buddying it up with a giant panda. What was more disturbing was how many dogs the panda costume was attracting. Apparently the neighborhood dogs thought they were being attacked by a giant man/panda hybrid and went insane barking their heads off. At one point Haaris refused to come out of the car because he was so sure he was going to be mauled by a pack of rabid pandacidal dogs.

We shot the park scene next in a park that can only be described as a death trap. The swings were rusted, the slide had a huge hole in the middle into which many a short sighted kid must have fallen and many a fat kid must have got stuck. The tunnel slide was coated with a liquid that I do not care to comment on, but I'm pretty sure we should all get tested for STDs.

It's interesting to note looking at this picture that we hadn't actually told Giles what the concept of the video was. Since Giles is a minority, this was to be expected. But it was extra hilarious because he kept asking what the hell the point of the panda was and just being genuinely confused throughout the video shoot. At this point in the picture, I think we were trying our best to get a sad reaction shot of him (upon losing his panda friend) but we ended up just trying to make him laugh instead. Actually we cracked up at several times in the video, because every now and then, we'd look at Haris in the panda suit and I don't know how the guy did it, but he managed to bring the most hilarious/tragic expressions to the panda face. The shot where the panda gets dejected and bows his head in sadness was performed by Haris with the intensity of a Shakespearean death scene.

You won't believe this but the popcorn/movie watching scene was actually shot in the basement of Bilal Maqsood, that's right, Bilal Maqsood from Strings. Don't ask us how we managed this, but basically we needed a room with a overhead projector for us to pretend like we were watching a horror movie together, and so we somehow ended up at Bilal Maqsood's basement and he was gracious enough to let us use it. We even met the great Anwar Maqsood while we were walking in. Which was..awkward. Note to self, next time you meet a television/comedy legend, don't do it in a panda costume. 

Yup, that expression was about right.

That was probably the most fun part of the shoot, we got to eat a whole bunch of popcorn and sit on a couch and act like douchebags.

Food was to feature yet again as we shot the cafe scene next, at The Roadside Cafe, which is one of my favorite, most awesome places to hang out in Karachi. (They were also the only ones who let us shoot inside their premises.) Since their kitchen wasn't open, we got our own food, which if you observe closely you'll see that we ordered burgers from CHIPS at Boat Basin. Try the Roast Beef Burger. It'll make you poop like a bullet train, but it's totally worth it.

The funniest scene at Roadside Cafe was when we asked the old man who was standing guard outside the place to act in our video.  He was massively stressed about his acting debut, the simple action of stopping the panda from coming inside the cafe was making this guy crazy anxious.  I had to bite my lip to stop laughing because this old baba was approaching this acting job with an almost Nicolas Cage-like intensity. If you look at his face during that scene, it looks like he was going to murder the panda on the road. I think we had to re-shoot that sequence a couple of times because the old baba was just making it look too much like Die Hard 4.

The last scenes we shot that day were the ones in my jam room at home. By this time, we had all given each other a variation of the cold or some allergy and we were sneezing like maniacs. You can't tell from the video but there was a box of tissues going around after every take. The "Don't Feed The Panda" sign was my idea and Ali Alam was responsible for the artwork. 
Yes. I have a banana stand.

We also filmed a highly uncomfortable sequence where Yasir, the Panda and I crammed into the backseat of Giles Suzuki FX while he drove like a maniac outside my house, leading the three of us to inadvertently molest each other. By this time, Haris had been inside the panda suit for four hours. I did not want to imagine what he was smelling like inside. (I believe Rahail used the expression "day-old ass")

The next day, we shot the live performance sequence at the BOSE showroom on a tiny stage we constructed. We threw out an open invitation to any fans who wanted to attend and we managed to assemble an amazing crowd who were really patient, really enthusiastic and totally into the whole video. Even thought it wasn't a large number, credit to Bilal and Shayan, the way they shot it, it completely looked like we were in a massive concert. With so much energy and such a great crowd, we felt guilty lip syncing, plus we weren't able to perform with the same kind of intensity. So we ended up playing 100% live. I think that's why you don't see too many shots in the video where the audio syncs up with the video while we were singing, but I'm glad we didn't lip sync. Everything you see during the performance segment is us actually performing and really putting on a show for some die-hard fans

Here's the stage before

I know right? It's tiny! And here's what it looked like while we were shooting

At the end of the day, it really didn't feel like a music video shoot to us at all. It was just like somebody stepped into our everyday lives and decided to document us. (Except we're never that pally to each other in real life. Don't think we've ever gone to a park to play on swings together either). We got to just hang out and eat a crap load of food and not deal with idiot crew members, make up or random technical people. The shoot was really personal and as directors, Bilal and Shayan were completely on top of their game, knowing exactly what shot they wanted and when to get it. I think the best thing about those guys was they just got our sense of humor. When we were sitting around tossing out ideas, nothing was off the table. A lot of the shots were just conceived at the moment and it was just a fantastic, really creative environment to be in. Now that I have effectively advertised you guys, Bilal and Shayan, will you please come back and make our second video and stop wasting your time trying to make other people famous instead.

Anyway, so that's pretty much the back story for how "Hum Naa Rahay" got made, here's some links to what newspapers had to say about us, do be sure to check out the video and spread it around to all your buddies and leave us some comments!

Blog review by Iftikhar Bin Waqar

Review by Maheen Sabeeh for The News Instep Today

Media Gallery and Interview in Dawn

The blog is back!


Blogger Rafay Alam said...

Loved the video. Loved the behind-the-scenes blogpost. Allow me to submit some more panda awesomeness:


5:30 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Not only is the video oh-so-sweet, but the song is insanely catchy too.

I can't count the the number of times I've been humming
"Meray Masoom Dost
Tum Kyun Gum Sum Rahay".

And this should be a little piece of trivia for y'all:
The reason an adult Panda costume was available was because of....Panda Ice Cream!

Yeh aik puraney, puraney stick peh ice cream hai.

Anyway, nice to read the post.

8:35 PM  
Blogger for every reaction.... said...

OMG you are back, thank the god :) loved the song , video and am going to post it to my FB profile.Will buy the song ASAP too. I've missed you OBA and don't mind being played (wink, wink).
nutty Indian fan who shifted base to STL and is homesick for music in hick town MO,USA

2:03 PM  
Anonymous Iftikar Bin Waqar said...

Loved the behind the scenes blog post! And Thank You so much for giving my review as a source xD
Good Luck For The Future!
Hit Us with some new work im waiting :D

9:50 AM  
Blogger Atta Khan said...

day-old ass....that's what's buzzing in my head for the moment...haha, naice

12:31 AM  
Anonymous fz said...

No interesting BTS about shy old Ali Alam and his jump-on-the-panda scene?

6:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Havent heard the song yet but this blog post was hilarious! Awesome writing.

6:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I caught up on your latest blog posts today and they made me laugh out loud literally (something I don't do that easily). Hilarious. Great song and great video especially after you explaned it.

2:59 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

i just cant stop laughing..
wat an intersting and hilarious behind scenes post...!!!

3:15 PM  

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