Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Not At All Visually Challenged

'Inspiring Ilango', despite a lack of sight, is a noted voice-over artiste, singer, public speaker and entrepreneur

Photo by Ratheesh Sundaram

By Shevlin Sebastian

One day, in 1990, when Inspiring Ilango stepped outside the classroom at the Loyola College, Chennai, a group of seniors stopped him. They said they wanted to talk to him. One of them even yanked at Ilango's collar. The group then moved to the middle of the football ground. And then they began to hurl insults at Ilango.

All of them had been irked by Ilango's passion for the English language. “They felt that I was a snob,” says the Chennai-based Ilango, while on a recent visit to Kochi. “When I told them that I had studied in Tamil-medium schools, they laughed and said, 'Do you think you can master English?'”

Thereafter, one student, Robert Daniel (name changed) said, “Forget about your English. You don’t have something that we all have. You can’t see. You can’t see your mother’s face, you can’t see the sunrise or sunset. You have not seen your own face. Have you ever thought of killing yourself?”

Ilango felt that he had been hit by a thunderbolt. “I did think about killing myself,” he told them. “I asked myself, 'Why was I created like this? All my friends can see and enjoy life.' But from now onwards, let me assure you, I will die a natural death. Because, if people like you can exist then why can’t I?'”

It was a turning point for Ilango. A fierce determination and a desire to succeed sprung to life within him. Eventually, Ilango got a M. Phil in English Language Teaching from the University of Madras. And today, Ilango is a success in every sense of the word.

He is a voice-over artiste, in English and Tamil, for hundreds of advertisements. Apart from that, he is an ace singer, who knows more than 3000 songs in Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi and Telugu. He runs his own company, Ace Panacea Life Skills, which as the name suggests, is to develop people skills so that they can do well in society. 

But his drawing card is as an inspiring public speaker for companies, schools, colleges, NGOs, and various social and cultural organisations. The topics vary from entrepreneurship, leadership qualities, secrets of happiness, inter-personal skills, and effective communication skills for business and personal success.

Incidentally when asked about his name, 'Inspiring Ilango', he says, “Once, after hearing my speech, Dr. C. Sylendra Babu, a senior police officer, at Chennai, told the audience, 'This gentleman is not Ilango, but Inspiring Ilango'. Ever since then I have been known by this name.”

Meanwhile, when asked whether people lack the staying power to reach success, Ilango says, “I agree. One of the most successful insurance salesmen in the US, Ben Feldman, was asked this question: 'How many times would you knock on the door of a customer, who repeatedly says no'. Ben's reply: 'It depends on which one of us dies first'. There is a powerful truth in this statement. Until you succeed, the effort must be there, no matter how long it takes, be it one or two decades. It might happen two days before you die, but you should never give up.”

At Kochi, Ilango had come to offer support for the 22 visually challenged people who are operating the first telesales centre operated set up by the Society for the Rehabilitation of the Visually Challenged (SRVC). “This is a very good initiative,” says Ilango. SRVC Project Head MC Roy says, “Yes, it is. As for Ilango, he is a great achiever.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)    

Monday, December 05, 2016

In A Minority, But Loving It

Women wildlife photographers are a rarity in Kerala. Seema Suresh and Aparna Purushothaman talk about their experiences 

Photo: Aparna Purushothaman  and Seema Suresh 

By Shevlin Sebastian 

Seema Suresh, 38, and a group of friends, were travelling, recently, in a car, through the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary in Tamil Nadu. Suddenly, they saw an astonishing sight. An enraged elephant was attacking a 10 foot tall tree, with his tusks. “For about 15 minutes, he went on knocking the tree,” says Seema. “Then, as if in slow motion, the tree fell down with a thud. 

The moment that happened, the elephant cooled down suddenly. It moved to one side and began to eat grass peacefully. He reminded me of some human beings.”

Seema took dozens of photos. “I love to shoot elephants, because I have seen them from my childhood, when I would go to temples,” she says. “But this was the first time I saw an angry wild elephant.” 

The Kochi-based Seema is one among a handful of women wildlife photographers in Kerala. And she came to this passion by accident. In June, 2011, she saw a Facebook (FB) post about a wildlife photography camp being held at a sanctuary in Thrissur district. She took part. And got gripped by it. 

Today, Seema has taken photos of the tiger, spotted deer, langur, nilgai, sloth bear, and birds like the flamingo and the Great Hornbill in all the major forests of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka. In end October, Seema went to the Bandipur Wild Life Sanctuary. Her series on wild dogs was shown at the recent 'Open Origins, Open Ends' exhibition held at the Durbar Hall, Kochi. 

Meanwhile, when asked about the disadvantages of being a woman photographer, Aparna Purushothaman, another wildlife photographer, says, “In our society, it is not possible for us to go into a forest on our own. We don't have the freedom. Instead, I have to be attached to a group.” 

But, mostly, Aparna is accompanied by her husband, Ashok Damodaran, an assistant engineer in the Kerala State Electricity Board. 

Aparna's love of photography was triggered by a gift, in 2012, from Ashok, of a Sony Cybershot camera. She began by taking shots of nature. But, these days, she uses the Canon 5D Mark 3, with 100-400 mm lenses.“Because I am a woman, many people pay attention to my images when I upload them on FB,” says Aparna, a Kottayam-based doctoral research scholar, at MG University, as well as a teacher. 

Like Seema, Aparna has shot in places like the Parambikulam and Neyyar wildlife sanctuaries in Kerala, as well as in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. 

Apart from the joy of shooting pictures, conservation is uppermost on her mind. “If I see somebody aiming a gun at a bird or an animal, I will immediately lodge a complaint with the forest department,” says Aparna. “It is only when you go to the forest and see the beauty of the animals that you realise that killing them is a sacrilege.” 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

The Kochi Biennale is primed for the December 12 inaugural





By Shevlin Sebastian

Kochi: The anticipation among the people is rising, as the December 12 opening of the Kochi Muziris Biennale draws near. Even the city police are getting ready. At a gathering of stakeholders of the festival, Mattancherry Assistant Police Commissioner S. Vijayan said, “There will be a picket near Aspinwall House [the main venue at Fort Kochi]. Apart from that, there will be 10 bike patrols around the clock. We are also setting up a special control room. In a couple of days we will be holding classes to sensitise bus and autorickshaw drivers, homestay owners, and employees about how to interact properly with the guests.”

Earlier, Riyas Komu, the secretary of the Kochi Biennale Foundation said that there will be 97 participating artistes, including 36 from India who will be taking part. The Kerala artistes include Anand, Bara Bhaskaran, C. Bhagyanath, KP. Sunil, P.K. Sadanandan , T.V. Santhosh  and Tony Joseph.

This Biennale is a diverse one,” says Komu. “There are craftspeople, performers, writers, film-makers, theatre people, muralists, painters and sculptors. And to ensure that the public will enjoy the event, more than 100 'Interpretation Guides' have been receiving training for the past two months.”

Curator Sudarshan Shetty said the theme is titled, 'Forming in the pupil of an eye'. “When a sage looks at the world, he draws in all the multiplicities through that one moment of vision,” says Sudarshan. “This is a Biennale of multiplicity.”

Professor KV Thomas, Ernakulam MP, spoke about the initial resistance by local artistes about the setting up of the Biennale. “It was the media in Kochi who cleared the way,” he said. “Now this Biennale has become very big and is known all over the world. It also has made a huge economic impact.”

The others who spoke included Ernakulam MLA Hibi Eden, writer Sethu, artist K. Reghunadhan, and Cochin Corporation stalwart KJ Soman.

Meanwhile, unlike many other biennales, the Kochi Biennale is involved in multiple programmes: a Students' Biennale, a History Now Project, a film festival, a video lab, Art by Children, Arts and Medicine and a 'Let's Talk' programme. “We are the only Biennale which is involved in so many projects,” says Komu. 

(Published in the state edition, The New Indian Express) 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Spicy Delights


On her first visit to Kochi, Egyptian chef Mariem Magdy talks about her experiences

Photo of Mariem Magdy by Ratheesh Sundaram; the koshary dish

By Shevlin Sebastian

Mariem Magdy always had a soft corner for India. That's because the Egyptian studied in an Indian school, while growing up in Kuwait. “All my teachers were Indian and they will always have a special place in my heart,” says Mariem. Mariem got an opportunity to come to Kerala recently when she took part in the Spice Route Culinary Festival.

And Kerala is just as I imagined it,” she says. “It is like heaven. The people are so sweet. India is very simple and, yet, at the same time, it has many layers.”

As a chef, Mariem is very familiar with Indian cuisine. “In the Gulf countries, there are lots of Indian restaurants,” she says. “But Kerala has a different cuisine. The aroma of the food is completely different. It is much lighter and healthier than the rest of the cuisine in India.”

At the festival, Mariem enjoyed eating the Karimeen Pollichathu (fried pearl spot fish). “This fillet fish, infused with spices, and wrapped in a banana leaf was very good,” she says. “These are items which I have never tasted before, especially the spices. Most of the spices in India have a completely different smell and taste. In Egypt, we mostly use cumin and coriander.”

And she got some valuable tips on her trip. “I understood that if you dissolve the spices in water, before adding it to the food, then each ingredient balances against each other, with no one particular spice overpowering the other,” she says. “I will be trying this when I return to Cairo.”

Meanwhile, it is interesting to know that one of the most popular dishes in Egypt, the koshary, has an Indian origin. “During the second World War, when Indians soldiers were stationed in Egypt, they would make this food,” says Mariem. “Soon, the Egyptians loved the food so much that they forgot their original food. Today, at every street corner, there is a koshary shop.”

A koshary consists of black lentils cooked with rice mixed with a spicy tomato sauce, infused with vinegar. “You can also add chick peas, fried onions and pasta,” she says. “It is a meal by itself and has become part of our street food culture.”

Other dishes include a foul – a form of beans which is cooked slowly and is placed inside sandwiches. Then there is the ful medames, which is a dish of cooked fava beans served with vegetable oil, cumin, parsley, garlic, onion, and lemon juice. Then there is the Marouk, which is a form of chappati. “We use flour, water and oil and cook it on a flat pan,” says Mariem. “We then stuff different types of beans inside it.”

Interestingly, the Egyptians don't eat meat all that much. And when they do, it is usually at official functions like weddings, festivals and feasts. “We like beef, lamb, camel and goat, but we are not dependent on animal protein,” says Mariem.

In Cairo, Mariem works as the Culinary Director for Food Tracks, which has been established by a top Swiss chef Markus Iten. “The company is focused on training and educating chefs,” says Mariem. “We also provide consultancy for food and beverage establishments. As for those investors who want to set up something, we provide the expertise.”

Meanwhile, Mariem is looking forward to coming back to Kochi in the future. “I love the place,” she says. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Monday, November 28, 2016

Setting Up An Artistic Space


After initial hiccups, Helga Peeters, of Belgium, is establishing an art centre in Jew Town, Kerala

Photos of Helga Peeters by Albin Mathew 

By Shevlin Sebastian

Helga Peeters stood in the middle of a 200-year-old warehouse on Bazaar Road in Mattancherry, near Kochi. There were broken bricks all over the floor. When you looked upwards, there were gaps in the tiled roof. But what was making her look worried, on a day in mid-October, was that the workers had played truant. “It will be difficult to meet the deadline of starting this art centre in time for the opening of the Kochi Biennale on December 12,” she says.

Helga breaks into a smile. “That's India for you,” she says. “Everything can go smoothly, one day, but on the next, work can come to a standstill. It's a challenging time for me.”

But, in early November, luck turned for Helga. Following discussions with the owner of a 100-year-old house, at the nearby Jew Town, Helga was able to lease out a 3000 sq. ft. space. About 2250 sq. ft. will be given, temporarily, for three months, for use by the Students' Biennale, while the remaining area will be an art centre.

She got the idea of starting an arts centre when she attended the second edition of the Biennale in 2015. “I felt inspired by the energy and excitement of the art festival,” she says. “It seemed to me that a new wind was blowing through Fort Kochi. And I wanted my guests to experience it first-hand.”

The Antwerp-based Helga runs the travel firm, ‘Anubhuti’ (This is a Sanskrit word which means, 'to feel something that you would like to treasure'). Over the past decade or so, she has brought groups of tourists to different parts of India: Ladakh, Kolkata, Darjeeling, Jaipur, Mumbai and Kochi.

I am not just taking them from one place to another, but I make them immerse themselves in the local milieu,” says Helga. “To travel through this colourful, complex, beautiful and spiritual country is magical as well as inspiring.”

In Kerala, and especially Fort Kochi, tourists enjoy the European heritage – Portuguese, Dutch and British – as well as the strong tradition of Ayurveda and yoga. “The nature in Kerala is unique,” says Helga. “It is green in Belgium, too, but not so tropical. And our people love the sea.”

The trip is also a moment of self-reflection. “During the visit, my compatriots are able to compare their own lives to what they see in India,” says Helga. “It make them aware that things can be done differently.”

Usually, at the end of the trip, they say they are ready for their next trip to India. And they end up coming five to six times. “And they always tell me it is a real anubhuti,” says Helga, with a smile.

As soon as her art centre gets established, Helga is planning to bring talented and upcoming artistes from Belgium. “It will be such a different experience for them,” says Helga. “But it will be an exciting one, too. Because they will realise that India is like an onion. There are layers upon layers. It is so fascinating. And this is the reason why I also keep coming back. On every trip I learn something new.” 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

True To Life

COLUMN: LOCATION DIARY

Production Designer Sabu Cyril talks about his experiences in the films, ‘Adwaytham’, ‘Pavithram’ and 'Anniyan'

Photos: Sabu Cyril; the poster of 'Pavithram' 

By Shevlin Sebastian

During the shoot of the film, ‘Adwaytham’ (1991), at Kozhikode, by director Priyadarshan, art designer Sabu Cyril had to construct a temple similar to the Lord Krishna temple at Guruyayur. When the set was ready, an Assistant Director (AD) led Srividya to the set. The moment she stood outside, she immediately took off her slippers. “The AD told Srividya that it is a set and there was no need to remove the footwear,” says art designer Sabu Cyril. “Srividya could not believe it. She said, 'It looks like a real temple'.”

Inside the temple there was a collection box, which was used as a prop. When the shoot was going, many onlookers would come to watch. “They also thought that it was a real temple and would put money in the box,” says Sabu. “At the end of the day, the crew would open the box, take the money out and share it among themselves.”

During the shoot of TK Rajeev Kumar’s ‘Pavithram’ (1994), Mohanlal, who played the hero, Unni, was feeling anxious. The next day, he had to shoot an emotional scene. Mohanlal's mother in the film, Devikyamma (played by Srividya) became pregnant at an older age and is about to give birth. However, during childbirth Devikyamma dies and Unni takes responsibility of the baby girl.

When Mohanlal came to know that the hospital was being set up in an area in Tripunithara where weddings took place, he told Rajeev, “I have shot there. It is not an ideal place for a hospital. It is an important scene. Unless the set is authentic, it will lose its impact. Tell Sabu he should look for another place.”

But Rajeev reposed his faith on Sabu. The next day, after the hospital was set up, Sabu moved towards the next location. He only returned in the evening. When Mohanlal saw him, there was a wide smile on his face. “Sabu, it looks so much like a hospital,” said Mohanlal. “So what did you do?”

Sabu said, “This is fourth-degree art direction.”

Mohanlal said, “What does it mean?”

I just sprinkled Phenyl and Dettol all over the place and that gave the impression it is a hospital,” said Sabu. “We have been going to hospitals since our childhood and know these smells well. So I decided to trigger that feeling.”

Mohanlal smiled in appreciation.

In the Tamil film, 'Anniyan' (2005), directed by S. Shankar, with Vikram as the hero, Ramanujam, and Sadha as heroine, Nandini, Sabu was told to recreate the famous Tyagaraja Aradhana music festival which is held every year at Thiruvaiyaru in Tamil Nadu.

In the film, Ramanujam proposes marriage to Nandini during the festival.

Sabu found a location near Mahabalipuram, on Chennai’s East Coast road. Along with his team, he worked through several days and nights to put up the structure.

On the morning of the shoot, Sabu went back to his Chennai home to have a bath. “When I returned in the afternoon, one of the assistant directors told me that Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan [a renowned classical violinist] was looking for me,” says Sabu.

So Sabu rushed to his room. There, Kunnakudi placed his palm on Sabu’s head and said, “Brahma [The God of creation] is with you. It is a magnificent work.”

But when he asked Sabu whether he could do a puja in front of Thyagaraja's statue, Sabu said, “Sir, we will be dismantling it very soon. There is no need.” 

(The New Indian Express, Chennai, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode)  

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Pillars Of The Body


Dr Rajesh Simon, the newly-appointed secretary of the Indian Foot and Ankle Society, talks about problems, as well as solutions for the feet 

Photo of Dr Rajesh Simon by Albin Mathew; a cross-section of the foot

By Shevlin Sebastian

For one year, home-maker Valsa Kumari, 54, endured a pain in her toes. She went to several doctors but, despite many investigations and medicines, the pain persisted. The normally gregarious Valsa began to feel low. Soon, she began taking antidepressant and sleeping pills. 

It was in this situation that she came to Dr Rajesh Simon, Sr. Consultant – Orthopaedics (Foot and Ankle and Trauma) of VPS Lakeshore Hospital, Kochi. After a careful examination, a surgical repair was done to a small ligament at the base of her second toe. “Today, Valsa is back to her laughing self,” says Dr. Simon. “I don't blame the other doctors, but you need specialised knowledge to solve this problem.”

Dr. Simon is, probably, the only Foot and Ankle expert in Kochi. Recently, he was selected as the National Secretary of the Indian Foot and Ankle Society. “For a long time, foot and ankle had been a part of orthopaedics,” says Dr. Simon. “But a sub-speciality has developed in the West during the past 15 years. This is happening very slowly in India. As for me, I got special training from the University of Birmingham, USA, as well as in Munich, Germany.”

Asked about the commonest problems faced by people, Dr. Simon says, “Heel pain or plantar fasciitis. This happens more to women, because they wear heels. It leads to a bony projection in the heel called a spur, which is painful. When you wear footwear, with a narrow base, the toes, bones and ligaments are tightly pressed against each other. There is a likelihood of them being damaged. This results in bunions [a swelling on the first joint of the big toe].”

The other problems include Achilles tendinosis, flat feet and corns (thickening of skin near the toe).

As for ankle sprains, it usually happens to sportsmen, like basketball and football players, when their ligaments get torn. But the good news is that it can be healed through rehabilitation. “Only 20 per cent of the cases require surgery,” he says.

Meanwhile, two years ago, Dr Simon held a foot and ankle symposium at Kochi. Two foot and ankle doctors came from the US. So, on a free evening, they went to a mall. And, as they roamed around, they also looked at the feet of the people. One of them said, “My God, Rajesh, you have so many patients.” Says Dr. Simon: “Too many people have deformed feet.”

Dr. Simon says that, to avoid problems in the foot, it is important to wear the right footwear. “The footwear should have a broad toe-box,” he says. “The toes should be allowed to spread out. Sandals are relatively fine if you have a back strap. However, stiletto heels does damage in the long run.”

Chappals, for long walks, are a no-no. “You grip the chappal between the first and second toes, like a claw,” says Dr. Simon. “The problems start as you grow older, when you have muscular imbalance, arthritis, and diabetics.”

Diabetic patients have insensate feet. So, a chappal can slip off and the wearer will not know about it. You can then hit a small stone or a thorn, and will only realise it when a passer-by sees blood. “So, the best solution is to use jogging or covered shoes,” says Dr. Simon.

Meanwhile, treatment is divided into four methods: physical rehabilitation, footwear modifications, medicines, and surgery. “Many problems can be solved through simple stretching exercises,” he says. “For me, surgery is always the last option.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Close Look At An Icon


Joshy Joseph’s documentary, ‘Mahasweta Devi – Close Up’ focuses on one of West Bengal’s great writers and tribal activists 

Photos: Joshy Joseph with Mahasweta Devi; the writer

By Shevlin Sebastian

When the documentary 'Mahasweta Devi – Close up' opens, at the recent Signs Film Festival in Kochi, there is an image of an elderly woman, with round-rimmed spectacles, combing her grey hair. Behind her there are book shelves and a calendar hanging on a wall. Then the camera focuses on her face. She seems to be staring intently at something off-camera.

Mahasweta is watching the film, 'Five', by one of Iran's master film-makers, Abbas Kiarostami [who died on July 4 this year],” says film-maker Joshy Joseph.

The reason Joshy used this method was because of the lack of visual possibilities. “A writer finds it difficult to write in front of the camera,” he says. “So there are no variations in the visuals, unlike if you do a documentary on a dancer or musician.”

Nevertheless, the 40-minute film is an affectionate and intimate look at one of the great writers as well as tribal activists of West Bengal. Mahasweta, who wrote over 100 novels, won the Jnanpith Award, the Magsaysay Award, and the Padma Vibhushan.

Not surprisingly, in the film, Mahasweta talks about one of her favourite stories:

It was titled ‘Akla’ (Alone). There is a little boy whose parents have gone out and he is alone at home. He has nothing to do. He has finished his homework and is watching TV. Suddenly, next to him, comes and sits a little boy. The boy asks, ‘Who are you?’ The little boy answers, ‘I’m Akla. I came because you’re alone.’”

Joshy also travels with Mahasweta to Nandigram, which became infamous, because of the shooting of 14 people, on March 14, 2007, by the police when the ruling Left Front tried to set up a Special Economic Zone. There, she meets farmers and activists.

On her return journey, by car, there is an amusing moment when she connects with the State PWD minister Kshiti Goswami on the phone and complains about the sorry state of the roads. The minister, like most ministers, says he has no money for developmental works. “Ask one of the multinational companies,” says Communist sympathiser Mahasweta, tongue-in-cheek.

This film is a tribute to one of Joshy's close friends. “I would meet her every evening, because my office is just five minutes from her home,” says Joshy, who is Deputy Director-General in charge of the Films Division, Government of India.

Asked about the character of Mahasweta, Joshy says, “She was my friend, sister, mother and grandmother. All those roles, which different people play in your life, it was combined into one person. I miss her every single day.”  

Mahasweta died on July 28, at the age of 90. 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Behind Prison Walls, A Soaring Imagination


Lissy Sasi, who is serving a 25-year jail term, at Kannur Women’s Prison, is on a month’s parole, which will end on November 19. She talks about her upcoming book of short stories and poems

Photos: Lissy Sasi at Marine Drive, Kochi. Pic by K. Shijith; Lissy with Subin Mananthavady

By Shevlin Sebastian

On October 19, when Lissy Sasi, 43, stepped outside the gate of the Women's Prison, at Kannur, on a one-month parole, she felt strange. “For six years whenever I stepped out, I was accompanied by two police escorts,” she says. “Now there was nobody.”

But her younger sister, Sherly, nephew, Dinu, and her sister Rani's husband, Joseph, were there to welcome her. Lissy’s family felt worried that if people recognised her, when she travelled on a bus they would physically attack her or make cruel comments. (Lissy is serving a 25 year jail term for transporting drugs).

So they hired an Omni Maruti car. Before they set out, to Wayanad, they brought chicken biriyani as well as oranges and grapes from the prison outlet. “They were scared to take me inside a restaurant,” says Lissy. “So we ate the food along the way.”

Lissy was granted parole because her 84-year-old mother, Rosakutty, is unwell. “She is asthmatic and has high blood pressure,” says Lissy. “There is nobody to look after her. My brother and sister live elsewhere. Recently, my mother almost died because of breathing difficulties, but I could not help, because I was in jail.”

In fact, what helped her get parole is her increasingly high profile in the media. She has written a book, which consists of eight short stories and fifteen poems. The book also includes a biography written by former journalist Subin Mananthavady, who is now the managing director of the Thiruvananthapuram-based Kokkopelli Public Relations.

The book, titled ‘Kuttavaliyil Ninnu Ezhuthukariyileykku’ (From Convict to Writer), by Poorna Publications, will be released soon. “I am a huge fan of Mohanlal, so Subin is trying to get the superstar to release it,” says Lissy.

When Subin was a journalist, he did a magazine series on the changing face of Kerala prisons. That was when he met Lissy.

She told me that she had a desire to be a writer,” says Subin. “In fact, she had written a few poems.” And when Subin read one of them, he was impressed. “She had a nice style,” he says, of the author who had studied only upto Class 10. Thereafter, he got her white sheets of paper and pens and asked her to write.

Lissy went at it in right earnest. She would write in the evenings and in the mornings, when she had to keep an eye on the cows. “The jail superintendent, Sakuntala P, and welfare officer Sobhana K.N., encouraged me a lot,” says Lissy, while on a recent visit to Kochi.

For the prisoner, there is a clear motive behind the writing. “Since I have a negative image in society, I want to change this through my writing,” she says.

And while doing this, Lissy is also waging a battle in the Kerala High Court, to reduce the prison term. “It is too harsh,” she says. “Others who have done similar offences have got between five to ten-year terms.”

Meanwhile, Lissy is trying to enjoy her last few days of freedom, before she re-enters prison on November 19. But what proved to be a moment of joy was the reaction of her neighbours when she arrived. “They came swarming towards me, with smiles on their faces,” she says. 
“A few cried and asked how I ended up in such a mess.”

Indeed, Lissy has had some bad experiences, including the death of her husband, at age 36, due to alcoholism. “I have faced many difficulties in life,” she says. “But I will fight on.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Snaky Encounters


COLUMN: LOCATION DIARY

Scriptwriter M. Sindhuraj talks about his experiences in the films, 'Pattanathil Sundaram', 'Pullippulikalum Aattinkuttiyum', and the upcoming 'Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumpol'.

Photos: M. Sindhuraj by Melton Antony; the poster of the 'Pullippulikalum Aattinkuttiyum'

By Shevlin Sebastian

During a location search for 'Pattanathil Sundaram' (2003), director Vipin Mohan and scriptwriter M. Sindhuraj arrived at a house, in Ottapallam, where the hero, Kizhakkethil Sundaresan (Dileep), a grocery store owner, was supposed to stay.

There was a high gate and it looked locked,” says Sindhuraj. “So, we decided to climb over it. After much effort, we reached the top, but, suddenly, the gate swung open. That was when we realised it had been unlocked all along.”

Both Vipin and Sindhuraj had a good laugh.

Sindhuraj also had a good laugh during the shoot of the film, 'Pullippulikalum Aattinkuttiyum' (2013). Set in Kuttanad, a boatman, played by an actor called Sabu, was trying to get close to a widow, Kainagiri Revamma (Bindu Panicker). So, one day he stepped into the house, but as soon as Revamma saw him, she chased him away by swinging a sickle.

Sabu jumped into the water,” says Sindhuraj. “But when he surfaced, we got a shock. He was bald. That was because his wig had come undone.”

The crew members made a frantic search but could not locate it. So, Sindhuraj quickly inserted a line in the script and Revamma says, contemptuously, “He set out with a wig on his head.”

A few years earlier, Sindhuraj decided to stay at the Peermade Government Guest House to write the script of what later became 'Jalolsavam' (2004). But the moment, he entered the room, he felt uneasy.
I did not know the reason why,” he says. “So I asked a staffer, Mani (named changed), to spend the night in the same room as me. The next day, after breakfast, I left.”

Three months later, Sindhuraj met Mani by accident at Alleppey. “Mani told me that soon after I had left, they discovered a huge snake just above the bathroom door in my room,” says Sindhuraj. “In the end, the employees killed it.”

But, during the shoot, of the 2013 film, 'Pullippulikalum Aattinkuttiyume', at Alleppey's Punnamada, a snake was left undisturbed. There was a scene when Kunchako Boban and Namitha Pramod arrived in a speedboat, jumped into the water, waded ashore and lay on the bank.

However, when the shot was being taken, on the bank, the crew noticed a snake on a branch right above the duo. “Everybody kept quiet, because they did not want to frighten Kunchako and Namitha,” says Sindhuraj. “But we kept a sharp eye on the snake through the monitor. Thankfully, it did not move at all. It was only when everything was over that we told them about the snake.”

Meanwhile, at this moment, the shooting is going on for Sindhuraj's latest script, 'Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumpol'. Directed by Jibu Jacob, and slated for a Christmas release, it stars Mohanlal and Meena.

Recently, a scene was set at a bus terminus in Kozhikode. But when Mohanlal arrived, hundreds of people gathered around, there was a traffic jam, and it became difficult to shoot the scene. “So the location was shifted to Thamarassery,” says Sindhuraj. “The cameras were kept hidden. Then Mohanlal was brought in a car. He got out and started walking. Before the people could realise that it was indeed the superstar, the shot was canned, Mohanlal got into the car and vanished.”

However, at an outdoor shoot, at Narkhanda, near Shimla, Mohanlal did not do the vanishing act. Again, there was a large crowd present. “I was surprised to note that they were all non-Malayali fans from North India and abroad, waiting patiently for a photo with the star,” he says. “That was when I understood the extent of Mohanlal's popularity.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode)