Category Archives: Comedy

Wax off! Or, How to write a killer log-line.

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb, all my brothers and sisters. Peace and mercy be on our calloused fingers and every part of our tired but hopefully happy bodies.

I’ve been studying the oft-ignored of logline-writing.

I have basically stopped ignoring it.

The Black Board has been my Mr. Miyagi in this process.

I have culled together the main things we should remember when we write log-lines from the various sources listed at the Black Board.

1. Start with an interesting character, give him/her a high-stakes want and make the obstacles against them practically insurmountable.

I think it’s worth unpacking each of the terms mentioned above.

An interesting character

Who would be the most fascinating person to put in this situation? Usually the most fascinating person has the steepest learning curve.

When mentioning the Protagonist, give them just one well-chosen adjective.

Don’t include their name.

Only mention a maximum of two characters in the log-line, preferably Antagonist and Protagonist. More than that and it just becomes confusing.

This applies even to an ensemble piece, such as Bridesmaids or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

A high-stakes want

The highest stakes are usually derived from the five primal human needs – hunger, survival, protection of loved ones, sex and revenge.

None of these need be interpreted literally and more than one, I imagine, can occur in the same script, while carefully making sure the plot doesn’t become too muddy.

Peeples has the following log-line:

Sparks fly when Wade Walker crashes the Peeples annual reunion in the Hamptons to ask for their precious daughter Grace’s hand in marriage.

Wade obviously wants to have sex with Grace,  or wants to continue having sex with Grace, by showing his commitment to only having sex with Grace.

The Peeples’ family, I imagine, are trying to protect their daughter Grace from Wade.

Two competing wants = hopefully a funny and juicy conflict.

This segues nicely into the next crucial part of a log-line


Do not ever have a passive character to whom things just ‘happen’. This is a fault not just in the log-line but in the entire story concept. The character should be the engine of action in the story.

He or she does something, something happens, they react by doing something else, probably still oblivious to their fatal flaw.  Something else happens. And so on until the Protagonist learns a new behaviour – or not.

Make the conflict external, even if it is internal. Let the Antagonist take a shape of some kind.

The character’s flaw is exacerbated, rendered life-threatening, by the obstacles the Antagonist puts in his/her path.

Again life need not be interpreted literally. Death can occur even when all your bodily functions are still working. As anyone who has ever stood in line at the DMV knows.

Hence the conflict forms the dramatic through-line of the logline.

Subplots should not be mentioned.

2. The logline should indicate the set-up, set up the main conflict of Act 2, and hint at the problem that will be resolved by Act 3.

This is by far one of the most useful things I’ve learned from the resources on log-lines.

Let’s look at the Peeples logline again:

Sparks fly when Wade Walker crashes the Peeples annual reunion in the Hamptons to ask for their precious daughter Grace’s hand in marriage.

Let’s re-arrange it so it mimics the 3-act structure of the movie.

When Wade Walker crashes the Peeples annual reunion in the Hamptons, sparks fly when he asks for their precious daughter Grace’s hand in marriage.

It’s much less elegant and a little confusing, which is probably why they went with the previous structure.

Act 1 set-up: When Wade Walker crashes the Peeple’s annual reunion in the Hamptons….

The Hamptons = lots of money.

Wade Walker = probably not so much money.

The use of the word ‘crashes’ means that he’s not expected and probably, not welcome either. Conflict already built in.

Act 2:  “…sparks fly when he asks for Grace…” This is the engine of conflict for the bulk of the movie.

Act 3:  How will we know whether Wade is a loser or a winner in this movie?

Answer: We’ll know if he’s allowed to marry Grace or not.

Once you have all these ducks in a row, you can fiddle around with them to make a cleaner prettier sentence.

3. What are the genre expectations based on this log-line?

The genre is one of the key aspects of marketing a movie and one of the first questions in a production executive’s mind when he views a coverage report.

A lot of dark comedy log-lines I wrote initially were misunderstood as thrillers.

I’ve found using ‘funny’ words and an ‘ironic’ tone might help.

Yep, I’m still researching this one, mostly in the comedy genre, because that’s my jam. Will let you know.

4. You can diagnose a lot of script problems at the logline stage alone. 

It’s amazing what an incredible diagnostic tool a log-line is.

In the forums on the Black Board, I’ve been alerted to lackluster antagonists and protagonists, a lack of a clear goal, and various other more secondary, but still very important considerations.

Such as there are too many weird things going on (sci-fi).

The device that connects everything together just isn’t working (sci-fi again).

And various other common-sense questions that don’t arise when you think you’ve discovered a brilliant concept.

For example, in Harry Potter, why didn’t they use the Time Turner and just jolly well  go back in time and kill Voldemort?

5. Slice-of-life log-lines operate according to different rules.

Slice-of-life movies do not translate their internal goals into external goals.

Christopher Lockhart uses the example of Love Actually:

A varied group of Brits struggles with the pleasures, pain, and power of love during the Christmas season.

…and Gosford Park:

During a weekend jaunt at a British country house, servants – who must keep order and protocol – struggle to please their aristocratic employers until a murder threatens to disrupt the balance.

According to Lockhart, these stories should be defined by a time ( as in Christmas in Love Actually), place (Gosford Park) or historical event (Bobby) and the theme should not be presented didactically.

6. You only got 25 words! 

…but I’m sure, in the age of Twitter, that isn’t too big a deal.

7. Start with a spark of an idea and keep adding elements to it. 

No one is born a fully formed adult having already discovered their vocation and values in life.

So it goes with loglines. Rarely do they come out fully formed.

They start out pure, innocent and sweet in the form of a story concept, a angel that strikes you with its wing in the queue at the supermarket.

For example, “a lawyer who cannot lie”, “Othello in high school”, “Othello in Indian politics” (these three are high-concept because they can be summed in a few words), “racial tension in LA”, “a family road-trip to a beauty pageant”.

The conflict, the stakes, the wants and the needs, all come later as you let the thing sit around for a while, gathering form.

When it graduates college, you’re good to go! (I know I’ve stretched that metaphor way too far.)

Much love and peace,

The Happy Muslimah (in a nutshell)

I hate movies; or How to eviscerate an idea

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

Photo by Bruno Hamzagic

Assalam alaikum wr wb,

So help me God, I hate movies.

Day after day, week after week, I watch trailers, I look at posters, I scan the cinema listings hopefully, looking for something worth watching.


Less than nothing.  A slap in the face. A grab for my wallet.

I’m not interested in franchises anymore. I’m not interested in movie stars. I’m not interested in explosions.

I am not interested in shock, awe, blood, gore. I am not interested in laughter or tears. Those are empty emotions and can be triggered by practically anything I pull up on YouTube.

I would like a story.

How do you define a story?

A story means something to you. Not to me, the viewer, the ticket-buyer, the audience member, the cat-caller. To you, the story-teller.

Why do I love listening to my parents tell stories? Because they are joyful in the telling and I can see it in their faces. And through that joy, I begin to understand their values, their experiences, their beliefs, however different we are.

As we began to stop telling each other stories, I understood them less and less and we fought more and more.

The fact is, story allows me to empathize in a way that no other medium has achieved.

That is why I hate everything that is in the cinema right now. It’s a blatant insulting play for profit. It desecrates story and the power of the human spirit.

I don’t mean to say that stars, explosions and high drama are bad things. I think they just have to be used in the right way.

I loved Michael Clayton. It showed a veneer of real filth underneath a sterile world. It showed two men coming apart at the seams. Yes it had George Clooney and Sydney Pollack in it. But it was a great story.

I loved Ides of March too for much the same reason. It seemed real to me.

I follow the work of Ryan Gosling, not just because he’s an incredible actor, but mainly because he has a knack for picking exceptional projects. There has not been one movie of his that I’ve seen that I’ve not enjoyed and that I wouldn’t watch repeatedly and that I wouldn’t badger my husband into seeing.

Fo’ rizzle.

So why am I ranting on a Monday morning?

I’ve been generating ideas for The Quest 2013.

There’s plenty of literature on how to test a concept for the marketplace. I particularly recommend Save The Cat’s program of market research.

The question is – how do you know if a story concept is right for you? How do you gauge your level of passion for it? How do you know that it’s touching some deep dark place rather than simply treading tired old ground?

This isn’t just about generating the passion to go the long haul with each project. It’s about having a product at the end, that no matter what happens, you can be proud of. Because you poured your heart and soul into it. Because you told the truth, no matter how much it hurt.

That sort of energy will sustain a career, in my opinion, and that’s what I’m cultivating.

To that end, I’ve been asking a lot of questions about each idea.

As a viewer:

  1. Why would I watch this movie? What elements would make me book that ticket in advance?
  2. What elements would make me avoid this movie? What makes me shriek much like I did above?

These two questions allow me to really get to the nub of what sort of experience I want as a movie-goer.

As a writer (this is the clever bit):

  1. In what ways is this idea within my comfort zone of my abilities, interests, previous writing experience, etc?
  2. In what ways is this out of my comfort zone in the same ways?

It’s maddeningly simple, but for me, it’s helping me shape a story that’s been knocking around in my head for months now.

More importantly, it’s helping me commit to that story. Because I know why I’m writing it. Even if the telling is mediocre and the reception is poor.

Let me know what your thoughts are. And for God’s sake, if you’re a filmmaker with a movie that means something, please tell me about it. I’m starving for something real.

Wasalam and Fee Amanillah (in other words, Godspeed),

The Happy Muslimah

My brother said I wasn’t pretty OR 6 reasons why I write

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb, dudes and dudettes (I remember having a particularly vicious argument with my brother years ago about whether a slang word such as ‘dude’ could even have a feminine form. As you will see, my brother and I have had many vicious arguments over the years.)

Alhamdulillah. Praise be to God. I am about waist deep in a second draft of my feature film.

Alhamdulillah the second draft has been SO much more fun than the first.

With the first draft, I wept everyday as I put my characters in the most painful situations I could think of. I was moody, irritable and depressed, a feeling compounded possibly by having just moved to Sri Lanka and just gotten married.

And not getting much sleep due to the mosquitoes.

And having to become accustomed to unfamiliar-tasting foods.

And unfamiliar sights, sounds and languages.

But that’s a story for a different time.

Every day, I waded into a deep river of painful memories. It’s a wonder how potent memories can be. Whenever I remember the first time I saw my husband, I get the same butterflies in my stomach I got then. My cheeks still flush and I feel unmoored, but in a good way.

Bad memories show up in my body too, just as potently.

Without giving away too much…my screenplay is a tale of lost identity and gained family. I’m aiming for funny, shocking, odd and hopefully very alive, the kind of movie I’ve always wanted to see, and the kind of movie I hope women everywhere will resonate with.

Because frankly all I want to do is to give every woman in the world a big hug. Brothers in humanity, you too have my utmost respect and compassion.  Since I don’t have big enough arms, I am settling for giving you a piece of art instead.

As rewarding as writing this piece has been, it’s also been quite draining and especially at the beginning when those pages were blank, utterly terrifying.

Scott from Go Into The Story asked a great question a while. At the time, still reeling from the agony of my first draft, I had no real answer. As the story begins to gather more form in the second draft, I feel an answer taking shape.

To quote my friend Sarah – as always, bear with me.

I write because:

1. Story telling is a part of human DNA.

As long as I can remember, my family has delighted in stories, whether they were soap operas, police procedurals, sitcoms or movies. As long as I can remember, my family has loved a good laugh. At their own expense or at the expense of others.

The best stories were the ones my parents told. Like memory, the telling of the story transported them back and they relived everything and re-felt everything. It was a powerful thing to witness. Plus, my parents are blasted entertaining storytellers. Drama and interesting characters seemed like quotidian elements in the Sri Lanka of their memory

2. I often feel lonely.

I grew up the youngest by many years. By the time I was old enough to have a mature conversation, my brothers had already left for university. I spent most of my teen years feeling like an only child.

The movies made me feel less lonely.  They were populated by characters playing out their lives of which I was either a nasty voyeur or silent but essential part. I prefer silent but essential part.

3. Movies gave me reassurance.

Movies often reinforced to me that I was worthy of love, regardless of whether my hands were scissors or if I was a head-scarf-wearing Turkish girl abandoned in the back of a Nazi taxi-driver’s cab.

Movies told me if I put my mind to it, I could accomplish anything. Sure, the characters on screen didn’t look like me. But they seemed like me. And that was enough.

That brings me quite nicely to my next point.

4. My brother said that I wasn’t pretty.

I was about 9.

I can’t remember what we were arguing about. I think that there was no one on screen that looked like me.  Even then I could see the danger of only seeing faces devoid of color on screen. It can distort your view of your human privilege.

I think I said something like, “Why can’t someone like me be on screen?”

And my brother said quite readily, “Because you’re not pretty.”

That stung more than a little. It still does. You know. Memory.

But I am amazed to tell you that I also remember something else – I knew that he was lying. I knew that I was drop-dead gorgeous and hecka fascinating.

So was he.

Pretty much everyone I’d ever met up until that point, male or female, old or young, dark-skinned or light, I had liked.  Everyone I’d met, I wanted to play with.

It was only much later that I was conditioned to hate myself.

And that’s when I realize someone like me needs to be on TV. Someone like me needs to show up on the silver screen. God knows how many 9-year-old girls hear, “You’re not pretty,” and believe it. Not cool.

I realize now why I’m always angry, why I’m always fighting some grave injustice and why my characters are always fighting something. It’s my brother’s fault! I knew it!

5. Writing allows me to look at things that are too painful with a little distance.

Writing helps me put myself in the shoes of someone else and forgive them. It lets me dive into a memory by giving my emotions to someone else and thus not hurting myself too deeply. It’s a good way of putting away my ego and allowing someone else, namely my characters, to figure things out. More often than not, they are a whole lot smarter than me.

6. Writing lets me have a happy ending, even if life was not that kind.

Movies tell me that it’s all going to be okay in the end. The movies that I like anyway. That everything will eventually make sense in the end. That there’s an internal logic to this mad world and I can’t possibly see it because I’m in it.

How about you? Why do you write?

I realize now that this is also a post about why I love movies.

Much love and beauty to you, my beautiful readers.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy (and beautiful) Muslimah (Mashallah!)

My friend Fear and 2013

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb!

Man, it’s been a wild year huh?

Early January this year, I went to a cousin’s engagement. On our way back to Colombo, my family’s car got hit by two buses. That’s right. Not one. TWO.

Isn’t that wild?

Alhamdulillah, everyone walked away from that accident.

I got a good knock on the head, though, which resulted in a dramatic swelling of my face as the blood from my head injury fell down into my eye sockets.

The effect my face had on people was hilarious. I scared children and made women cry.

I look back on that incident and I have to say, not only am I grateful, I am terrifically happy.

As odd as it sounds, we couldn’t have chosen better timing and a better location to have a disaster. Our entire family was on that same road home.  From wherever they were, they all turned around and came back to aid my mom and dad.  I can say with utmost certainty; there are far worse places to have a mild concussion.

I can’t remember much of the 12 hours or so after the accident and even in the weeks after, as my brain recuperated, my short term memory was a bit wonky. My big brother (who specializes in emergency medicine) said there’s nothing to worry about; I probably felt drowsy.  Thinking back, waking up in the middle of conversations just adds to that hilarity of the situation.

But my parents were not that amused. They were fully conscious, terrified and anxious.

The capital-F Fear has lasted a bit too long. It’s been almost a year now. My father is still frightened to drive, thinking he fell asleep at the wheel that day. He tells me, “I’m too old to drive. I am too tired. I am too distracted. ” The Fear cripples him.

Why was I capital-H Happy? Why was he Afraid? Was it because I was unconscious? Was it because I was naive? Was it because I simply didn’t care?

Recently I have been quite fearful myself. A recent social engagement left me crabby and shaking.

I have been watching my ‘I am’ statements recently and found there is a shocking prevalence of a kind of self-smack talk. “I don’t like new people. I am not good with new people. I am not good with unfamiliar situations. I am a nervous person. I am a shy person.”

I thought of something else I’d learned recently.

Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. What we think, we become. My father always said that. And I think I am fine.

I’ve heard this many times, but honestly it’s only made sense now.

These fearful thoughts have probably become my character. A photographer once told me she was surprised that I am a comedian because I was so timid.

“Like a mouse?” I thought at the time. I wasn’t angry; I was just sad that my Fear was so evident. Still I managed to have a kick-butt photo shoot.

On the morning of that social gathering, I sat very still and quiet and listened to my thoughts.

I was frightened of other people. I thought they would hurt me. I thought they would prey on my vulnerability. I thought they would bully me.

Good Lord, where did these horrid thoughts come from?

I’m not going to blame anyone else. I’m not going to blame some monolithic culture for branding a tiny South East Asian woman with stereotypical qualities.

Wherever they came from, they must be stopped. Because I don’t want to ‘become’ frightened. I don’t want my destiny to be shrinking away in the corners of rooms, waiting for someone to notice me and being scared when they do.  Allah Subhaana Wa Ta’aala is my Protector and His world is too big and too beautiful Mashallah.

I’ve learned that my friend Fear doesn’t leave when asked. He doesn’t leave when yelled at. And he doesn’t budge, even if you tell him to go back where he came from.

I have started changing my thoughts consciously. I’ve started to turn “I am shy” to “I am hopeful”, “I am thoughtful”, “I am observant”, “I am peaceful”. Nothing wrong with not talking. When you listen you learn so much about so many new things. When you consciously listen, it takes a bit of hard work. You have to shelve your ego and give the other person the space to express themselves. I’m still trying but Alhamdulillah it’s a richly rewarding experience.

The day of the accident, I was happy because I wasn’t alone. That day and all the days after that, every time I woke up someone I loved was there. It was like the world’s best Facebook picture slideshow.

And the only person who was hurt was me and I knew it wasn’t that bad. You know when something inside you is changed forever and Alhamdulillah that didn’t happen that day.

That particular week, I was just grateful for every single silly little thing, from my parents to TV, from boiled eggs to pain medication, from hugs to the wind, to beautiful confusing Sri Lanka to lovely and infuriating Dubai.

Hopefully insha Allah in changing my thoughts, I will change my character. Hopefully insha Allah I will nurture peace, whether my friend Fear is with me or not.

That, more than anything, is my intention for 2013 insha Allah.

Have a blessed year. Have a blessed life insha Allah!

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah.

The Happy (and fully healed) Muslimah.

Film review: Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb, fellow scribes and cinephiles.

I’ve been advised to watch at least 2 movies a week. I have also realized that lately I’ve been alternately amazed and appalled by what I’ve seen on screen.

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about how the baby boomer crowd is proving to be an untapped market for the movies. How they might revive the flagging industry and how – finally! and not a moment too soon! – the big studios might leave behind their obsession with teenagers and young adults and give us some real stories.

I’m 26, and even I’m insulted by that sugary cereal kinetic crap.

So I thought I’d partake in the forerunner of this so-called ‘old codger’ movement – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Here’s what I thought.

The Good:

It was briskly paced. It had clear characters. As far as screenwriting goes, you could really learn a lot about turning points, in terms of plot, and character motivations in terms of dialogue, by studying this movie.

The Bad:

Why in God’s name do the Indian characters sound like they’ve stepped right off the set of Mind Your Language? I most definitely do not ever talk like that. And there is no way in heck Indian kids born and raised in India, however educated they are, speak English all the time. They are more likely to speak a mixture of English and their mother tongue, whatever that might be.

The brown people of course had traditional brown people problems. As always, it’s the clash between modernity and tradition. Between the will of the parents and the will of the child.

And as usual, white people solve brown people’s problems.

What’s more, an old lady in a wheelchair suddenly starts spouting truisms like being in a wheelchair automatically makes you wiser. My mother’s been in a wheelchair for a couple of months and I can’t see any change.

My final assessment:

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was a good movie with good characters. But the paternalistic tone and poorly crafted Indian characters really ruined it for me.

Out of respect, I wouldn’t recommend it to any baby boomer I know. They deserve better.

I’m going to look for better.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy Muslimah

The root of all evil

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb,

I hate money.

I hate it because I want it and need it so badly.

Money buys things I couldn’t possibly get otherwise. Money causes decades-long rifts between family members. Money buys freedom and education. Money enslaves everyone.

But let’s not get metaphysical. Let’s get real. What is this blog post really about?

Simply put – I need a job. I don’t need a job. I’m skiving off my dear husband’s brilliance. I actually want a job. I feel like a waste of space and a waste of a college education.

Sure, I’m screenwriting. But I am wondering in real terms how much I’m benefiting people in this here initial stages between dream and cinematic dream.

I’m talking to people online. I’m making connections and giving support. I’m putting my energy into writing the very best screenplay I can, but I’m letting go of the outcome anyway. It’s okay if it’s horrible.  I’ll even be happy if it is, because a) I’ll know that I have the humility and the brains enough to recognize when something is bad and b) learning is fun.

It’s better than doing. Doing is terrifying.

This is why job applications are terrifying.

It’s the judgment thing. As someone recovering from social anxiety, the thought of a job interview is terrifying.

This is perhaps the only reason why I don’t want to apply for jobs. I don’t want to be judged and found wanting. I guess because I already find myself wanting. I would not like to have that opinion confirmed.

But this is part of being an adult. Being rejected. Over. And over. And over. Again. This part of life. This is part of my learning curve for failure.

This is part of faking it till I become it.

I care about the work I do, even if it isn’t screenwriting. I care about telling a good story, writing a good article, doing better than I did before.

That’s why it doesn’t work, it hurts so very bad.

I don’t think this is about money at all. I’ve written a couple of screenplays and am getting very excited about the feature I’m working on. But I’ve done nothing for money in the past 10 months.

That statement is sitting now in my chest and in my gut. With no emotional charge around it at all.

I feel fine about that.

Why then do I want a job? Why then do I need a job?

  1. Getting a salary or getting paid, like it or not, is a great psychological security blanket. It can only make my writing better.
  2. In this peculiar world economy, all our futures are uncertain. I want to be able to have an income if we find ourselves in a crisis.
  3. Working challenged me to think outside my own box. I met some weird and wonderful people and found I had a taste for weird and wonderful things. Educational and youth activism. Women’s rights. Art as emotional release. God knows what I’ll discover while doing my next job.
  4. If I’m not contributing to humanity, I am quite right in thinking myself useless. I want to give back to my community with my skills.

Is that reason enough? I think it is.

God’s love, peace and protection with you.

The Happy (and constantly searching) Muslimah

P.S. Happy birthday to me. I’m 26 today. Now to find a job. If you know anyone who needs an online writer, I’m your woman!

3 Lies I Have Been Told About Being A Successful Artist.

By Stuart Miles. From

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb, peeps.

So I’ve been on this radical rest trip. Of the many things I wanted to do (see a LOT of movies. Eat ice-cream. Take long walks), one of them was write, with no chance of success.

No chance of success. What does that mean to me?

That means that no one will see my work and tell me it’s wonderful. No one will ever release it in any way to the public – it will be never be published, painted, sculpted or filmed. It may even never be seen by eyes other than mine. If so, perhaps by uncomprehending eyes.

This is a highly emotionally fraught belief I have about my work. The message my work communicates must be understood. If not, I have ‘failed’. 

But I continued to write anyway, focusing on the outcome, this time not of success, but of failure. It seemed important to me to get used to failure. All the great creative minds in the world suffered thousands of failures before finally getting it right. I wanted to lessen the pain of failure, train myself to get the right perspective, to learn the lessons, rather than whinge, whine, mope and despair.

So I wrote a poem, a far-too-personal, far-too-esoteric, far-too-emotional poem about my husband. I knew that if I read it to him, there wasn’t much chance that he’d understand. But I wrote it anyway.

I continued to read an incredible book on characterization and did some of the creative exercises.

In adulthood, study is considered a waste of time unless there are monetary rewards. In childhood, it is considered a waste of time unless there are system-generated rewards such as grades and certificates.

But the true reward of study is putting what you learn into practice – when the surgeon saves a life, when the graphic designer designs a book, when the journalist publishes a controversial world-changing new story.

But the system trains us to look for short-term gains – grades, certificates or monthly salaries.

This makes studying in adulthood really arduous.  Without those regular accolades, it is much harder for me to maintain momentum though learning the ropes is essential for my craft.

I feel my chest constricting with the desire to do more. To achieve more. To be everything to everyone. To get that pat on the back, that glowing review. To bake that banana flan, visit all my aunts and uncles, take care of my in-laws and my husband and in the meantime, write an award-winning screenplay. And of course, look stunning when I go to my relative’s wedding.

My body fills with pain again and my head becomes cloudy. But now thankfully, I’ve learned to recognize the signs and stop myself before my head gets too big.

Oddly enough, just after I wrote this, I went looking for TED talks on success and motivation. I found this fascinating one by Mr. Dan Pink. Carrots and sticks just don’t work for 21st-century lateral-thinking problems. But intrinsic factors, my freedom, my degree of skill, my level of service to others; that’s what keeps us coming back to work.  That throws all of the jobs I’ve ever had into sharp relief.

This leads to the biggest and worst lie I’ve ever been told: That I am talented. True, my friends, my teachers, they probably all meant well, but the fact of the matter is the word ‘talented’ contains a connotation. A connotation that I am somehow above the rest. That perhaps that I do not need to work as hard. That a little of what I do goes the long way.

At least this is the belief that my arrogant talentless backside has had for a long while now.

I have had a false sense of entitlement. I am talented. They must hire me. I am talented. They must be excited by my short screenplay. I am talented. Of course I can write a feature.


I am a novice and I need to study. Talent might be inherent but skill needs to be learned. Talent is the sword but skill is the sharpening stone. Talent might be the beer, but skill is the funnel (I know that’s a haraam metaphor). My point is, talent is nothing without skill. And I don’t got no skills yet, son.

Writing this blog post was a mistake because it is definitely a short-term gain. When I hit publish, it’s ‘published’. But I am going to force myself to wait till it’s the right time to publish it.

I did however read the poem to my husband. He was very touched. And he understood every word.

That’s the best success I’ve ever had.

May Allah (subhaana wa ta’aala) bless you for your time.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy Muslimah.

Happily married, unhappily wedding planning

Photo from

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb, my friends, married and single and in-between.

It has occurred to me that weddings are a lot like filmmaking. Except one is a complete and utter waste of time and one isn’t.

Guess which one.

When planning both, you have a checklist that just keeps on giving. Once you cross one item off, ten items seem to sprout in its place. Until the day of the great event – or shoot – it would seem that ‘stuff’ just keeps needing to be done. And the only person to do it is you.

Even though of course, time and time again, everyone professes that they will help, in reality, it’s all you. The bride. Or the director.

Of course, there are obnoxious overbearing personalities in both scenarios. Meddlesome relatives and producers have so much in common.

Planning my wedding has thrown up challenges I didn’t expect to face. I never thought that I had any – I mean any! – expectations of my wedding at all. I wasn’t ever someone that spent hours in my girlhood dreaming about my wedding. Dreaming about the love of my life and our beautiful happy marriage, yes. Definitely not the wedding. Unless I’m telling jokes, I really don’t like being the center of attention.

But here I am, attacked on all sides with tradition, some verging on Shirk, some blatant shirk, and other people’s expectations, and I find myself becoming a bride-zilla.

I’ve worked hard on controlling my rather horrific temper. But lately my patience and my defenses have been weakened.

It is because Shaitan is using the element of surprise on me.

Going back to the filmmaking analogy I used earlier, my husband and I are both directors on this project. We agreed a long time ago on one thing – marriage is a test, a commitment, a responsibility, a fulfillment of half our deen but not for free. We need to work hard to protect it, as with all things that are precious

But we’ve recently discovered that we have been on different even conflicting spiritual quests. This has surprised and upset me a great deal.

Suffice to say, I’ve lost my temper far too many times at far too many people.

I have also learned some shocking things about myself. I think fun is wrong. I find it really hard to ask for what I want or even fight for what I want. Anger seems to be my default emotion. I find it really hard to conduct a constructive conversation.

My mother being ill has made planning this wedding all the more difficult. You see, I’m not very good at planning and secondly, I really don’t care very much about my wedding. I’d rather get it over with and be married already.

My mother however was the human organizer. And she has spent a good long time fantasizing about my wedding, so she has the enthusiasm to push through the mire. She should be the one at the helm of this project.

But she isn’t. It’s all me. And as much as I’m trying not to hate every minute of it, to try and have fun with this ridiculous process, I do hate it. I do hate what people become around family weddings. I do hate the lack of agency the bride is allowed to have at her own wedding. I hate the lack of respect for the couple’s wishes. I hate the obscene wastage of money and the arrogance.

In both a deen (religious) and dunya (worldly) sense, it would seem that my wedding is a bust.

Still, unlike when I was looking for a groom, I have lowered my expectations at least in the dunya sense. I’ve asked my hubby to fight some of my battles because he is better at confrontation.

All in all, I am celebrating my little successes. Being conscious of my blood boiling. Holding my tongue. Being conscious that I have much to work on and insha Allah and Alhamdulillah, the energy to work on it. Alhamdulillah, this attitude is definitely an improvement on spontaneous combustion.

Remember me in your prayers.

Peace, love and God’s protection,

The (almost happily married and) Happy Muslimah.

7 Things I loved About Crazy Stupid Love

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb and howdy.

There are some movies that just get you. That crawl into your skin and stay there. That touches a nerve. And you keep returning to them over and over again trying to figure out how it works.

I didn’t expect Crazy Stupid Love to be one of them. I expected it to be a star vehicle for Ryan Gosling’s abs.

But it was a surprisingly vulnerable, sweet, non-cynical movie. About, oddly enough, crazy stupid love. I got the product advertised AND I wasn’t disappointed. Score for the Hollywood star machine!

I am personally sick of one-note female characters that are about as deep as a puddle. Many people however fail to realize that, as the foils to their male counterparts, these flimsy characters simultaneously cheapen the male character who romances them.

Now I’ll admit the women in this film didn’t have much to do. This movie failed the Bechdel Test resoundingly (though frankly I have my reservations about that test). They were, as always, the receptacles of male desire and nothing more. We only hear the men’s side of the story and not much else.

But somehow there was a little more at stake here. Cal was Emily’s soul-mate.  As Jacob may well be Hannah’s. Call me love-struck, but that’s hugely different. Even if it wasn’t alluded in film time, that gives the impression of a shared history, a shared LIFE. That’s no small thing to share. Even if the women were simply plot devices, in the ‘real’ world, they would have been much more.


Okay, let me get into what I really love about Crazy Stupid Love and leave the complicated stuff aside for now.

  1. A man was treated like a piece of meat and hated it.

Throughout the movie, the camera lingers lovingly on Ryan Gosling, tracking slowly up to him in a very well-cut suit as he munches on pizza.

I’ve only ever seen that kind of shot used on women.

At one point in the film, Hannah orders Jacob to take off his shirt. Jacob is distinctly uncomfortable; he even asks whether he can put it back on again.

Now he knows what the women feel like.

  1. The same man was treated like a complete human being and loved it.

Moments after this scene….well, I don’t want to give anything away. There was a strong emotional  connection between Jacob and Hannah that moved well beyond the physical. It was so refreshing to see something other than ‘wham, bam, thank you ma’am’ between two people under 30 on screen.

  1. A man became a womanizer and hated it.
  2. A man admitted desperate unhappiness.

And it wasn’t an emo support group moment. It was simply a change from being lonely to not. And everything that he’d missed became clear.

  1. Women recognized what they wanted and went after it.

Both women in the film did precisely what they intended to do. They didn’t doubt their power for a second.

  1. They later realized they made a huge mistake.

Women are always under pressure to be perfect in every single way. Sometimes what you want isn’t what you need. You find that out in a strange twisted way. Fate’s funny like that.

  1. Genuine good humor and affection in the war of the sexes.

Where’d the love go? Seriously. I thought we were all in this human boat together. Cal and Emily didn’t treat each other like enemies, even though they didn’t always get along. They were always vulnerable with each others. Tears welled. Voices shook. There were never any secrets between them.

*sigh* Now that’s love.

Godspeed and protection.

Peace out.

The Happy Muslimah.

Life lessons on a Saturday afternoon

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb and greetings, writers and the loved ones of writers!

More than ever lately, I have felt like I’ve needed a shoulder to cry on and some stern but loving advice.

A support group, in other words.

Something like Fight Club for screenwriters, maybe.

I found it recently at the Introduction to Screenwriting panel.

Michelle Nickelson, producer extraordinaire, writer/producer Shina Ahmad and TV veteran Mohamed Youssouf shared their insights at the session (extended bios at the link above).

The biggest lessons I took away from that afternoon:

  1. The usual self-help speak which, oddly enough, is true: “Never give up. Believe in yourself. There’s always a way.”
  2. Keep knocking on doors. I need other people to make movies and the more people I meet, the more chance I’ll have of meeting the ‘right’ people for my project(s).
  3. Get rid of that “I’m a really shy person” belief. I started asking myself, “What would I do if I wasn’t a shy person?”
  4. Write like it’s going out of style.
  5. Think outside the box. Innovation always gets attention. Not just with my writing, but with my networking and job-seeking tactics.
  6. Always have 5-6 projects going at a time – be they plays, TV pilots, web series or films. When I get asked that golden question, “What else do you have?” and my heart leaps, “They love me, they really love me!” I should have a basket of loglines!
  7. Leverage every human resource I have, from my neighbor to my pizza delivery man.
  8. Adapt to my environment.  I need to play by the rules – and then Insha Allah, break them and see whether they still love me.

I’m feeling fired up and it’s just what I needed. Thank you God and thank you Women and Film in Television Dubai!

May God’s Grace follow you wherever you go!

The Happy Muslimah.