Sunday, October 21, 2012

Feisty and vulnerable

That's Yamini Namjoshi for you. The theatre actress from Mumbai impressed an audience at Kochi with her histrionics

By Shevlin Sebastian

In the play, ‘Pune Highway’, in a seedy hotel room beside the Mumbai-Pune expressway, a waiter, Sakharam, comes in and says, “Maal a raha hai. Quality maal (A beautiful girl is coming along).”

Before the three friends – Nicholas Thomas, Vishnu and Pramod Khandelwal – could realise what he was saying, Mona strides in. She is wearing a striking-red halter neck top, cut at the midriff and tight white trousers. She has sunglasses in her hair and is wearing bright red lipstick. After a brief dialogue, Mona has a vomiting sensation and rushes to the bathroom.

When she returns, her lover Pramod asks, “Are you okay?”

I want some water,” she says.

Mona, are you??” says Pramod.

Am I what? A Cancerian? A professor? A fitness designer?”

Are you?....”

Ask the question Prammy,” says Mona.

Suddenly, Vishnu says, “Why have you vomited? Is it some bad food you ate late night or are you carrying his bastard child?”

Pramod, I am pregnant,” says Mona, with a smile.

The Mumbai-based theatre actress Yamini Namjoshi plays Mona. It is a small role, but she excels in it. As she says, “Mona is a mix of vulnerability and power, a bit like myself.” A day earlier, at the JT Performing Arts Centre in Kochi, she also impressed in playing Pooja Thomas, a young woman who helps run a Mumbai-based English language theatre company in 'Me, Kash and Cruise'.

Yamini got interested in acting thanks to her schooling at the top-notch JB Petit High School for Girls at Mumbai. “The [late] principal Shireen Darasha was incredible in terms of her passion for the arts,” she says. “She wanted to expose us to a variety of art forms, science, literature, travel and culture. Theatre was a very big part of it, since Shireen Maam was a great lover of it.”
So Yamini, and her classmates, acted in plays under the direction of such theatre luminaries like the late Pearl Padamsee. When Yamini grew up, she continued acting in college festivals, while studying in St. Xavier's College. Thereafter, in 1997, she went to do a four-year course in visual arts at Ohio Wesleyan University, USA. “I also did a minor in theatre,” she says.

Yamini had a role in 'Antigone' by Sophocles and several other plays. After her graduation in 2001, she worked for a year at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. “It is one of the most respected theatre companies in America,” she says. “I worked as an assistant to established stage managers.”

Yamini also had a chance to see established thespians like Olympia Dukakis (who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 'Moonstruck') and Diane Venora at close quarters. “They were amazing,” says Yamini. “They did huge amounts of research about the character, and the time period. They just did not arrive and act. During rehearsals, they worked from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. When the play opened, somebody like Diane continued studying and reading about her character. I would look at her and think, 'This is dedication. Every day is a new day. There is no end to the discovery of your character. It is not like films, where, after the director says, 'Cut', the scene is concluded. In theatre, the search for the depths of one's character is a never-ending process.”

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

Freedom Vs. Repression

Dutch artist, Jonas Staal, talks about the conflict between people and governments and how banned organisations are quietly pushed outside the ambit of democracy

By Shevlin Sebastian

In Holland, in 2010, a right-wing government took power. This government frontally attacked art by calling it a left-wing hobby and propaganda. And the result was cuts in the budget for arts by 200 million Euros. “This resulted in a protest,” says Jonas Staal, a Dutch artist, who was giving a ‘Let’s Talk’ lecture at Kochi, on an invitation by the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

A group of artists took out a march from Rotterdam, called the ‘March of Civilisation’, till they reached the Parliament in The Hague. “What was interesting was the peaceful nature of the protests,” says Jonas. “There is a constitutional right in the Netherlands that one can protest as long as there is no violence. But, to the surprise of the marchers, the riot police suddenly attacked them. Because of that, there were other protests and questions to the municipality as to why the artists were attacked.”

The Mayor of the Hague, Jozias van Aartsen, said that the protest was not a problem. The issue was the space where the protest was taking place. All around are numerous shops. And people wanted to go to the shops. But because of the protesting artistes, they could not do so. “So we decided to intervene, because the right of the consumers to buy products was blocked,” said Jozias.

Adds Jonas: “In this example we can see the enormous difference between the two powers [the state and people], both stating that they are defending the ideals and principles of democracy. But the moment they meet it becomes clear that they are fundamentally opposed to one another.”

Nobody will publicly state that they oppose human rights, freedom, equality and diversity. “But when we start talking in depth about what are the types of freedom and equality then differences emerge,” says Jonas.

Soon after the failed protest, through a group that Jonas belongs, 'Social Experiment', they invited senior police people to lecture to a group of artists and students at a national art school. “We wanted to understand how violence is enacted by the state,” says Jonas.

The police director explained about the types of situations where it is legitimate for the state to apply violence. “The director explained how the riot police had to analyse and evaluate a violent situation and then isolate the subject who is creating the problem,” says Jonas.

In three days of discussions, both artists and the police had a better understanding of each other. “There was a level of intimacy which usually never happens between a state and its citizens,” he says.

Jonas is keen for a more intimate understanding of people, democracies, and systems. In May 2012, he came up with an extraordinary concept: 'The New World Summit' at Berlin or an alternative Parliament. He invited political and legal representatives of organisations which have been placed on international ‘terrorist lists’ to explain their points of view.

Some of the people who spoke included Luis Jaladoni of the New People’s Army of the Philippines, Fadil Yildirim of the Kurds, lawyer Nancy Hollander representing the Holy Land Foundation, which supposedly has links with Hamas, the banned Palestinian group, Moussa Ag Assarid of the Tuareg People’s Right to Self-Determination and Linda Moreno a lawyer who represented Sami Al Arian, a Muslim activist, who is a US citizen and accused of links to Muslim terrorist organisations.

What happens when you are placed on such a list? “You are regarded as a state threat, and a danger to stability,” says Jonas. “Subsequently, you are pushed outside of democracy. As a result, your bank accounts are frozen and there is an immediate travel ban.”

This has happened to Julian Assange of Wikileaks. Although he has been given political asylum by Ecuador, there is a travel ban on him and he cannot leave Britain. And his organisation, Wikileaks, is unable to function. “Those who want to donate to Wikileaks are unable to do so,” says Jonas. “They are blocked by Paypal and Visa. You cannot build a political organisation when these simple means are removed. This is the way power effectively blocks out radical movements.”

Jonas has another reason to hold the summit. “True democracy is limitless,” he says. “It does not mean that it supports violence, but it means that all political positions, no matter what your background is, should be heard at all times without any exception. I wanted to create a space where banned political organisations have a platform to talk about their aims and their untold political histories.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi) 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Big Bang for the Big B

Malayali artist Yusuf Arakkal, among 70 notables, pays tribute to Amitabh Bachchan on his 70th birthday with an art exhibition at Mumbai

Photos: Painting of Amitabh Bachchan by Yusuf Arakkal; Bachchan viewing a fibreglass work of himself by  HG Arun Kumar

By Shevlin Sebastian

Four months ago, Malayali artist Yusuf Arakkal got a call. It was from the Mumbai-based curator Sapna Kar. She commissioned a painting on Amitabh Bachchan to be unveiled at an art exhibition on October 12, a day after the iconic actor turned 70. “He is one of the great actors that India has produced,” says Yusuf. “Being an artist, I thought this would be the best way to pay a creative tribute.”

For research, Yusuf referred to Mumbai journalist Khalid Mohammed's book on Amitabh, titled, 'To Be Or Not To Be'. “I liked a photo that was taken ten years ago,” he says. “It was the time Amitabh had started growing his white beard. It made him look benign.”

The oil on canvas, 5 x 4 ft., shows Amitabh, with a goatee, wearing a dark blue suit. There is a shawl placed across his shoulders, and his face is resting in his palms. Amitabh looks placidly at the viewer. On his left hand, which is resting on his knee, are a few rings.

Yusuf was one among seventy artists who were paying tribute to Amitabh. Says Sapna: “The idea was conceptualised by Jaya Bachchan and adman Piyush Pandey. They wanted to give a birthday gift that was different. Since both Jaya and Amitabh are lovers of art, Jaya felt that what better way than to give an artistic tribute to a man who is himself such a great artist?”

At the exhibition, held at the Nehru Centre art gallery, Mumbai, an excited Amitabh called up Yusuf in Bangalore. “Amitabh told me he liked my painting a lot,” says the artist, who could not attend, because of a prior engagement. “He kept saying 'Yusuf Sir' and I got very embarrassed. It gives you an indication of his humility. I told him we have a common friend – Mohanlal – and he was very happy to hear that.”

Among the people selected, Sapna looked for versatility. “Some were young and old, while others were modern and contemporary,” she says. “They specialised in different medium like painting, sculpture, photography, and mixed media.” Some of the eminent artistes included Anjolie Ela Menon, Akbar Padamsee, Badri Narayan, Satish Gujral, Gieve Patel, Manu Parekh, Paresh Maity and Arzan Khambhatta.

Khambatta's sculpture depicts Bachchan on the 'KBC chair', which he has called 'The Throne'. It's the artist's representation of how Bachchan's career got a fresh boost after the success of the quiz show, 'Kaun Banega Crorepati'.

Artist Farhad Hussain depicts Amitabh in his various roles in his brilliant film career. So, there he is as Antony Gonsalves, with a black top hat and long coat-tails, in the film, 'Amar, Akbar, Antony'. In another section, he is driving the three wheeler motorcycle from the iconic scene from 'Sholay' when he and Dharmendra sing 'Yeh Dosti'. But in the painting, in a clever touch by Farhad, instead of Dharmendra in the side seat, it is Amitabh in his role as the bald-headed 'Pa'. On the left, there is Amitabh as the 'Coolie', with suitcases on his head, and wearing the familiar red tunic of the porter.

"The painting displays Amitabh's various roles, acting, and his looks over the years,” says Farhad. “All the figures reveal his greatness as an actor and a good human being. Depicting his acting and life in one painting is impossible."

Veteran artist Satish Gujaral has done a mural-style image of Amitabh holding a string with a couple of kites at one end and a ball of string at the other. Watching Amitabh on screen has always made a deep impact on me,” says Satish. “The impression has been one of a person who did not just act the character, but was able to sink into his pores. Having lost my hearing, watching him play a teacher of a deaf, mute, and blind girl in 'Black' was something I simply cannot forget.” Other works which caught the eye include a fibre-glass version by HG Arun Kumar of the young Amitabh, wearing black goggles and having shoulder-length black hair.

At the exhibition, which was inaugurated by Kokilaben Ambani, many notables were present including industrialists, Anil Ambani and Kumaramangalam Birla, socialites like Parmeshwar Godrej and Ramola Bachchan, film director Govind Nihalini and veteran actress Deepti Naval, and, not to forget, Abhishek and Aishwarya Bachchan.

Apart from the art show, a coffee table book, 'B Seventy' has been brought out. A part of the proceeds will go to the NGO, 'Plan India' which provides quality education for the girl child. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

When one maestro sings for another

Music composer Vidyasagar sang a song for Deepak Dev called 'Chengathee' for the film, '101 Weddings'. This is the first time Vidyasagar has sung a Malayalam song

Photo: Deepak Dev (left) with Vidyasagar

By Shevlin Sebastian

A month ago, music composer Deepak Dev had composed a song for the film, '101 Weddings' by Shafi. He pondered over whom to select to sing it. “It is a medium-paced song with a good beat,” he says. And suddenly, he thought, 'Why not Vidyasagarji?'

Deepak had worked with Vidyasagar for 12 years now, and assisted him on the many hits in films like 'Meesa Madhavan', Killichundan Maambazham', 'Pattalam', 'CID Moosa', and Tamil films like 'Chandramukhi' and 'Run'. “When I worked with him, for all the hit songs, he would sing it before the final singer would come on,” says Deepak. “And his version was far superior to the one that actually came out. Simply put, his voice is divine.”

But when Deepak approached Vidyasagar, he started laughing. “Are you crazy?” he said. “I am not a singer. I do not have the guts to sing in my own films, so why would I spoil your song?” But Deepak would not take no for an answer.

Finally, in end August, Vidayasagar came to Deepak's Chennai studio. He was wearing a bright white shirt and blue jeans. He hugged the younger composer and they set to work. Both of them worked together to set the background music. But Deepak, impish and child-like, would frequently disturb Vidyasagar as he played the keyboard, by going to the side and playing notes that would not match the tune. 

“I always had the liberty to fool around with him because there is so much of an age gap between us,” says Deepak. “Vidyasagarji has been like an elder brother to me and would always make me forget that he is a legend. That was why I always felt relaxed in his presence.”

Anyway, the recording began and,  Vidyasagar made an immediate impression. His voice was catchy and hypnotic and drew you in. Watch 'Chengathee' on You Tube. “After he sang it, he felt happy about it,” says Deepak. Then Vidyasagar said, “Why don't you also sing?” And that was how Deepak sang a few lines.

When Deepak sent the song to Shafi and actors, Biju Menon and Kunchacko Boban, who would be enacting the song, they got very excited. Says Shafi: “I have worked with Vidyasagar on two films ['Makeup Man' and a Tamil movie, 'Maaja']. In both these films, when he would read the lyrics, he would play the song on the harmonium. And he had a beautiful voice. So when Deepak told me that Vidyasagar was going to sing 'Chengathee' (friend), I had no worries. In fact, it has turned out to be a wonderful song.”

Actor Kunchacko Boban is also very happy with the song. “It is very catchy and probably the best song in the film. Thanks to Vidyasagar's talent, he has given me many hits over the years. Now, instead of composing the music, he is singing the song. I feel blessed by this.”

Adds Deepak: “Vidyasagarji has made subtle voice changes which enhances the richness of the song.”

So, thanks to Deepak, Vidyasagar has become a big-impact 'Chengathee'.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

“Thomas is a soft-spoken man”

COLUMN: Spouse's Turn 

Sherly talks about her life with Union Minister K.V. Thomas

Photo: By Manu R. Mavelil  

By Shevlin Sebastian

It was in January 1970 that Sherly Bernard met K.V. Thomas, the Union Minister of State for Agriculture, during an official 'marriage seeing' visit. “I cannot recall what he wore that day,” she says. “But the striking memory for me was how lanky he was.”

The marriage took place on April 12, 1970, at the St. Antony's Church at Vaduthala, Kochi. Very soon after that, Thomas made an adjustment which made Sherly very happy. “My mother suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and needed to be looked after,” says Sherly. “When my father asked Thomas whether he would stay at our house, he agreed. That made me feel proud of him.” At that time, Sherly's only other sibling, Jojo, was studying at Law College in Kozhikode.

In more than 40 years of marriage, Sherly likes the fact that Thomas is always soft-spoken and rarely gets angry. “When there are problems Thomas has an attitude of wanting to solve it in an amicable manner,” says Sherly. “As a politician, he has been able to get along with everybody across the political spectrum.”

Thomas began his career as a teacher of chemistry at Sacred Heart College in Thevara in 1968. “As the wife of a professor, it was a quiet life and there was no tension of being in the spotlight,” she says. “In those days, Thomas also had the time to teach chemistry to our children.”

The couple has three children: Biju, Rekha, and Joe. But once Thomas won the Parliamentary election in 1984, from Ernakulam, he took to politics as a career and, subsequently, could spare very little time for the family. “The children, especially Rekha and Joe, would miss him at times,” she says. “He would come very late and sometimes, leave early in the morning. So the children would not see him at all.”

Meanwhile, Thomas has a negative trait, which brings a smile to Sherly's face. “He can become absent-minded at times,” says Sherly. “As you talk to him, you suddenly realise he is no longer listening to you.”

Like in any life, there have been high and low points. One high point for Sherly was when she accompanied her husband to two trips to the Vatican. One was for ‘the elevation to sainthood’ ceremony of Sr. Alphonsa, in August, 2008, while the other was when Major-Archbishop George Alencherry was installed as a cardinal at St Peter's Basilica in February, 2012.”Both were wonderful experiences,” she says. 

But the low point was reached when Thomas was implicated in an espionage case in 1996 and accused of supporting a French team to do an ocean survey without proper authorisation. “My husband told me, 'I am a truthful man, so how can I betray the country?'” says Sherly. “It was a painful time for me.”

Because of the case, Thomas resigned from all posts within the Congress Party and withdrew from politics. Thereafter, he rejoined the chemistry department of Sacred Heart and for six years, he remained a teacher. In 2001, he retired as Head of the Department, after serving the institution for 33 years. During this period, he was exonerated of all charges, stood and won the Assembly elections in 2001 from Errnakulam.

Anyway, Thomas's career took off and he is now a Union Minister. “I could never imagine that one day my husband would hold such an important position,” says Sherly.

At their house in Thoppumpady, there is a constant stream of visitors to see Thomas. And Sherly is also in demand. As she talks, a group meets her to give a wedding card. A wedding during these times when youngsters seem unable to get along once they get married. So, what is her advice for newly-weds? “The only way to have a successful marriage is to adjust,” says Sherly. “There will be many issues which will crop up. Husband and wife come from different families and have contrasting personalities. But once the spouses learn to adjust, things will fall into place.”

About KV Thomas

K.V. Thomas is the Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture and Minister of State in the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Central Govt.. He is the MP from Ernakulam and a member of the All India Congress Committee. Earlier, he was the Minister for Excise and Tourism and Minister for Tourism and Fisheries between 2001 and 2004 in the state government. Thomas, who holds an MSc degree in Chemistry, has written six books.  

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The lost world of letters

As more and more people communicate through e-mail, letters -- and its wonderful but fading charm -- has been captured in an annual school magazine

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photos: The cover of 'Resonance', the annual magazine of the Rajagiri Public School; Jawaharlal Nehru with daughter, Indira Gandhi

Writer Susan K. Joseph, in the ‘Viewpoint’ column of this newspaper, says, “There is something so deeply emotional about receiving a handwritten letter - the anticipation of carefully opening the letter nestled in an envelope, the barely perceptible creases and stains on the page, the unique flourishes of the writer’s script.” Susan bemoans the forgotten art of letter-writing in this era of endless e-mails.  

And the impact is felt at the post office, too, where the number of personal letters has drastically gone down. Says a post office official in Kochi: “Private letters are far fewer these days. But this is more so in the urban areas, where e-mail use is more prevalent.”

Sensing this, the Rajagiri Public School came up with an innovative concept for their annual ‘Resonance’ magazine: an issue dedicated to the receding world of letters. As chief editor Mercy George says, “With so much use of the Internet and e-mails, we wanted to remind our students about the graceful and wonderful world of letter-writing.”

'Resonance' begins with student Cherian Chacko Manayath quoting several famous letters in history: Here is what Red Indian Chief Seattle wrote to the US Government in the 1800s.

“The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky? the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?” 

Former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru wrote several letters to his daughter, Indira Gandhi, while serving a two-year prison term. In one, he said, “Never do anything in secret or anything you wish to hide. For the desire to hide anything means that you are afraid, and fear is a bad thing and unworthy of you.” 

Of course, there are all types of letters: acknowledgement, apology, appreciation, complaint, inquiry, order and recommendation. And, not to forget, love letters. Class 9 student Joel Peter James points out that French ruler Napoleon Bonaparte (1763-1821) wrote as many as 75,000 letters in his lifetime, several of them to his beautiful wife, Josephine.

Here’s one, written in December, 1795: “I awake filled with thoughts of you. Your portrait and the intoxicating evening which we spent yesterday have left my senses in turmoil. Sweet, incomparable Josephine, what a strange effect you have on my heart! You are leaving at noon. I shall see you in three hours. Until then, a thousand kisses, but give me none in return, for they set my blood on fire.”  

And staid-looking former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, married to his wife, Clementine for 56 years, wrote on January 23, 1935: “In your letter from Madras, you wrote some words about my having enriched your life. I cannot tell you what pleasure this gave me, because I always feel so overwhelmingly in your debt. What it has been to me to live all these years in your heart and companionship no phrases can convey. ”

Letter-writing is an art. And Elizabeth Varghese gives some tips: “A letter is actually a talk on paper. All you have to do is to be the same as you would speak. If it is to a superior, it should be respectful; to inferiors, courteous; to friends, familiar, and to relatives, affectionate.”

Those of you who are nostalgic about the lost world of letters, you could take part in the World Postal Day on November 8. More than 150 countries celebrate this day in a variety of ways. “In some countries, philatelic exhibitions are organised, and new stamps are issued,” says Anna Ben Jacob. “Other activities include the display of World Poster Day posters in post offices and public places and the holding of conferences and seminars.”

But, unfortunately, the era of using an ink pen, and writing a letter, folding it and putting it in an envelope, then pasting a stamp on it and the slow trudge to the letter box to post it is fast coming to an end. In a poll in Britain, more than 50 per cent of the students in the 15-19 year age group have never written and posted a letter in their entire lives.

Bad news: The digital future is swarming all over us!

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Family grieves over missing teenager

By Shevlin Sebastian
Photo: Rohit Varghese
Saju Pappachen was very angry with his 16-year-old son Rohit. On September 3, he told his father that he had to go for special classes, but later in the day, through his neighbour, Saju realised that the St. Joseph ’s European High school in Bengaluru was closed because of the Sports Day, which had concluded the day before. When Rohit returned that evening, Saju questioned him at length, accompanied by his wife Reny, his elder brother Sabu and his wife Dr. Mercy. “He said he was playing football, but his clothes were not dirty at all,” says Saju. Astonishingly, this interrogation lasted till 2 a.m.
The next morning, Saju and Reny took Rohit to school. As the teenager waited on the playground, the parents met the class teacher Uday Kumar who gave them the shocking news that Rohit had been absent for the past two weeks. One reason why the school did not inform the parents was because it was only a couple of hours of special classes, as there was sports and cultural practice taking place. An incensed Saju went in search of his son, but he could not be found. Even though the school gates were closed, at one side, some construction work was going on, and Rohit seems to have slipped out from there.
The boy has been missing for the past one month. A desperate Saju, who works as project manager for a IT company, lodged a police complaint. He accompanied them on their searches in malls, parks, fast food joints, shops, and Internet cafes. Rohit’s friends told Saju that his son was addicted to computer games. “Apparently, he spent hours at Alienware, the computer gaming centre run by Dell,” says Saju. The father met senior police officers and politicians and placed ‘missing person’ advertisements in the local newspapers and in Kerala and. But so far, there has not been a single response.
The parents had been worried about Rohit for a while because he was failing in his exams. “He is a very intelligent boy, who can do the Rubik’s Cube in 60 seconds,” says Saju. “But when it came to his studies Rohit was not interested. So I have been strict with him.”
Saju, who also has a nine-year-old daughter, Sneha, is on an extended leave. “I have gone beyond fear, anxiety, and worry, and approaching a state of madness,” he says. I spoke to more than a hundred parents and they told me they were treating their children with the same mix of discipline and love. I don’t think I have done anything wrong.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kerala) 

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

“My husband speaks his mind”

COLUMN: Spouse's Turn 

Usha talks about her husband, P.C. George, the Chief Whip of the Kerala Government

By Shevlin Sebastian

When P.C. George was campaigning for the 1980 Kerala Assembly elections for the Poonjar constituency, he would drop in to see panchayat president P.K. Mathew at Edappady [a town between Bharananganam and Pala]. Mathew’s daughter Usha remembers George striding into the house. “He wore a starched white shirt and mundu,” she says. They met, but did not speak to each other. “But George liked me from the very beginning,” says Usha. He became a regular visitor to the house. A few months later, the George family sent an official proposal. Thereafter, the parents met, and the marriage was fixed.

“We began talking on the phone after that,” says Usha. At that time, Usha was doing a home science course at Jyothy Bhawan, Moolamattom. “He came and met me a few times at the hostel,” says Usha. It was, of course, unthinkable to go out on a date. “Society was conservative then,” she says. “Since he was a politician, he always had a group of people with him. We spoke briefly about what was going on in our lives.”

The marriage took place on January 25, 1981. After 30 years of marriage, Usha still likes her husband’s frank and honest nature. “George speaks what is on his mind,” says Usha. “He attacks both the LDF, as well as the UDF. Because of his outspokenness, he has made many enemies. Now he needs police protection all the time. Sometimes, I tell him that maybe he should not be so forthright. But he has always been like this.”

Usha now goes to church every morning and prays for the safety of her husband and their family. “I worry about them all the time,” she says.

What Usha appreciates about George, the present MLA from Poonjar, is that he has given a lot of freedom to her. “I can go anywhere I want,” she says. “He rarely says no. Sometimes, I book my railway ticket and only then do I tell him that on this date I will be travelling.”

Like her husband, Usha has been having a busy life. For the past 28 years, she has been running the Mayflower Beauty Parlour and Tailoring Centre at Erattupetta, near the house in which they live. “We have about 15 employees,” she says. “This year, I have also started a business selling salwar kameezes and sarees.”

Other plus points about her husband: “He is not particular about his food,” says Usha. “All he wants is tasty stuff.”

As for his negative traits George, the Chief Whip of the Kerala Government, can get angry very fast.  “Sometimes, I have been hurt by what he has said,” she says. He is also particular that nobody uses his things, like the comb or brush. “He does not like anybody to remove it, without telling him,” she says. “But despite all this, even though he does not show it, George loves me and the children very much.”

The couple have two sons, Shone, 29, an advocate who is now working with his father in politics, and is married to actor Jagathy’s daughter, Parvathy. The second child, Shane, is in Class 12 at St. Thomas College in Thiruvananthapuram.
“Both the children would miss their father when they were young, because George was always on the move,” says Usha. “But they understand him and his career better now that they have grown up.”

The life in politics is one of never-ending tension, but George, who is the vice-chairman of the Kerala Congress (Mani), does not talk to his wife about it. “There is no discussion of politics at home,” says Usha. “If my husband is tense, you rarely see it on his face. But I know that he is under stress when he starts smoking a lot.”

And she says that she follows his political moves by watching the news channels. “He does not tell us anything, but blurts out everything on TV,” she says, with a smile.  

Husband and wife love each other, despite all the ups and downs. Asked for advice to give young people, in these times of skyrocketing divorce rates, Usha says, “If the mother or mother-in-law is good, then the family will not have any problems. If there are any conflicts between the son and daughter in law, a mother-in-law should solve it. However, they tend to add salt to the wounds. In many divorce cases that I know of, it was the mother-in-law who contributed to the break-up. She should have been the one who solved the problems.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

Monday, October 08, 2012

'Attitudes are changing in the Malayalam film industry'

By Anwar Rasheed

(As told to Shevlin Sebastian)  

Photo: Anwar Rasheed (left) with Dulquer Salman 

My latest film, 'Ustad Hotel', is a hit. I am happy about that. All the hard work has paid off. From the time the script was written till it hit the screen, I was out of the house. The time taken was one-and-a-half years. So now I am spending time with my wife, Teresa, five-year-old son, Aadhi, and Aditi who is four. We have just returned from a vacation in Ooty. Of course, I am basking in the success of 'Ustad Hotel'. It deals with with human relationships and is a story of two generations: an old man [Thilakan] and his grandson [Dulquer Salman, Mammooty's son] with widely different attitudes. This film is the coming of age of Dulquer. He has clearly moved away from the giant shadow of his father and established his acting credentials.

Many people ask me how I select my scripts. When I listen to a story I look for simplicity. Thereafter, I ask myself whether it will appeal to the widest range of people. My mother rarely sees films on TV or in the theatre. I need to make a film where my mother feels the urge to come and see it. I would also have to make a movie for a person like me who is crazy about films. There are people who will only come to the theatre if they read good reviews. This category has increased thanks to the multiplexes. There are also members of the audience who like to watch new ideas and concepts. But, at the same time, there are many who prefer tried and tested ideas like a strong plot, melodrama, some humourous moments and melodious songs. These people comprise the majority. I don't know whether this is good or bad.

So selecting the right script is not easy. In the past few weeks, there are many writers who have been calling me with scripts they want me to read or at least have a hearing. To save time, I ask them to tell it to me on the phone. I cannot spend 24 hours on cinema all the time. I need to devote time to my family. Sometimes, I ask them to send a synopsis by e-mail. If I find anything interesting I might meet the scriptwriter face-to-face and hear the story again.

Nowadays, people feel they can access the industry. Earlier, you had to go outside the director’s house and wait for hours before you got a chance to talk to him. Then you had to work as an assistant for many years. That was how I began. I am happy to see that things are opening up.

Attitudes are also changing. A decade ago, it was important that your first film should be a hit; otherwise, people would not accept you. For a hit to happen, you needed a good script and an actor who could draw in the audience, like superstar Mammooty. Today, if a first film does not do well, producers will say that the director has talent and therefore they will place their faith in him for the next film. In other words, he will get another opportunity. This is great! Talented people are getting a look-in. It will lead to a creative flowering in the Malayalam film industry.

(Anwar Rasheed is a young director in Mollywood)

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

Thursday, October 04, 2012

High drama and tension

The play, ‘Pune Highway’ electrifies a Kochi audience with its witty one-liners and swift developments
By Shevlin Sebastian
It is 5 a.m. In a hotel room beside the Pune-Mumbai highway, are three friends, Nicholas Thomas (Nick), Vishnu and Pradeep Khandelwal.
It is a seedy room. On the wall, a graffiti line can be seen: ‘Clenliness (sic) is next to godliness’. There is a washbasin at one side; a table and chair on the other end. Next to a bed in the middle, there is a phone placed on a low stool.
Earlier, Nick, Pradeep, Vishnu and Babu had been travelling in a car. Accompanying them is Pradeep’s girlfriend, Mona.
There seems to be a body on the road. The friends stop to investigate. Immediately, they are attacked by a gang of ruffians with swords. They rush back to the car, but Babu has received multiple wounds and is left behind. Now they are in the hotel room, wondering what to do now. “The cops will finish us if they find out,” says Pradeep. “Look at us: three rich boys, a Mitsubishi Lancer, and a girl.”
But this is not accepted by Nick. “You wanted to slip off,” he says. “You were only bloody thinking of yourself.”
Retorts Pradeep: “It was either saving Babu or saving all our asses. It was a judgement call.”
Vishnu, the stockbroker, says, “It was a wrong one, Pramod. You were too busy with the babe in the backseat of the car.”
There is an intense argument with the three of them, with Nick drawing hilarious laughter from the audience, because he stammers and stumbles over words and sentences.
A waiter, Sakharam, comes in with tea they had not ordered. But Sakaram insists they had placed the order. Nick says, “I hate these buggers, their attitude just sucks.” Sakharam leaves after a while.
Meanwhile, when queried about Mona, Pradeep says that she has gone to her father’s house in Lonavla. Asked why she was allowed to do so, Pradeep shouts, “We don’t want her to get involved in all this. It is best to keep chicks out of all this. Women panic under pressure. They are not like us guys.”
When his two friends ask Pradeep on how he came across Mona, he says, “We met in a bar and got talking about horses.”
Immediately Nick says, “So you only know this babe for a few days and you start riding her.”
The waiter reappears by singing Kishore’s Kumar’s ‘Andheri raaton mein sunsaan rahon par’.
Nick says, “He is messing with our brains.”
He shouts at Sakharam, “Take a walk.” Since the waiter does not know English, Nick says, in Hindi,
Tum iha se paidal jao.” The audience, at the TT Pac, Kochi, is in splits. Then Sakharam says, “Maal a raha he. Quality  maal (A beautiful girl is coming along).”

Suddenly, Mona comes in. She is wearing a reddish top, which is cut at the midriff and tight white trousers, with a golden belt. A sunglass is placed in her hair and she is wearing large earrings and bright red lipstick. As she answers the question about why she came, she suddenly has a vomiting sensation and rushes to the bathroom.  
When she returns, Vishnu asks her point-blank, “Why have you vomited? Is it some bad food you ate late night or you are carrying his bastard child?”
Mona smiles and says, “Pramod, we are pregnant.”
Pramod says, “We cannot have this child. Do an abortion.”
She says, “How can you not accept your responsibility? This is 50 per cent your creation, no? It is not a game, Promo. I want you to accept your responsibility.”
A few dialogues later, the three friends realize that Mona is the daughter of an influential politician, Sanjay Mansekhar
Says Nick to Pramod: “This is serious shit. Don’t you know anything about the people you are screwing or what?”
More witty dialogues later, Mona understands that Pramod has been married to Seema for 12 years.  
You wanted to have your fun, but now pay-up time has come,” says Mona. “All you boys are the same.”
And she rushes out of the room. Thereafter Sakharam comes in and tells them that Manshekhar’s henchmen are coming and there is no escape.
It is a gripping play, with superb one-lines and repartees by writer-director Rahul D’Cunha, which keeps the action moving forward at an electrifying place. The acting is superb, by Rajit Kapur (Pradeep), Ashwin Mushran (Vishnu), Yamini Namjoshi (Mona), and Shankar Sachdev (waiter), but the standout performance was by Bugs Bhargava Krishna as the stammering Nick.
Pune Highway ’ was premiered at the Writers’ Bloc festival in 2004, and there have been over a hundred performances in India. It was also staged at the prestigious Biennale Bonn Festival in Germany, as well as in the UK, South Korea, Holland, Belgium, and Malaysia. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Shepherding artistic talent

Sunitha Kumar Emmart, who owns Gallery SKE in Bangalore, talks about nurturing new artists and how the Kochi Biennale will be a success

Photo: Sunitha Kumar Emmart (extreme left) with art dealers Eglantine de Ganay and Sylvia Arguello at Art Basel, Miami Beach, Florida, USA

By Shevlin Sebastian

I was just blown away by the spaces in Aspinwall and Pepper Houses,” says Sunitha Kumar Emmart, who owns Gallery SKE (her initials) in Bangalore. “I recently returned from the 'Documenta' art exhibition, which is held every five years in Kassel. Germany. The venues in Fort Kochi are comparable to anything you see internationally.”

There is an amazing character to all the places. “Apart from that, there is the history,” says Sunitha. “In terms of landscape, the Biennale locations are wonderful, set in the little roads of Fort Kochi, a small town with a great personality. There are temples, churches and mosques and this multiculturalism is exciting.”

She remembers standing in one of the studios at Pepper House. “There is this idyllic scene of the water at one side, when suddenly a cruise boat goes past, blaring Hindi music,” she says. “On the other other side is the Customs House. It is a mix of the old and the new, the touristy and the historical.”

Sunitha is confident the Biennale is going to be a grand success. “It will bring the Indian artistic community together,” she says. “Hopefully, ordinary people will get engaged in art.”

Sunitha, of course, is fully engaged in art. She started Gallery SKE in Bangalore in 2003. And it displays a wide range: sound, photography, painting, installation, video and sculpture. 
And Sunitha has different aims from other owners. “Some galleries are non-profit, while others are gung-ho commercial places,” she says. “A few, like mine, are in-between. In fact, I am not somebody who listens to the market. My skills as a business person are not that great.”

Sunitha's skill lies in spotting new talent, and working with them from the beginning, till they flower as artists. “I look for drive and ambition, and an inner connection,” she says. “If everything clicks, I reach out my hand in friendship. In fact, I believe in a long-term relationship. When gallery owners do a show with an unknown, and if it is successful, only then will they call him back. If not, they will ignore them. But I believe that not every show can be a great one and young artists should be given more chances.”

Some of the artists Sunitha has discovered have gone on to become commercial successes. They include Sudarshan Shetty, Sakshi Gupta, Sheela Gowda and Bharti Kher.

What is unusual about Sunitha, as a gallery owner, is that she has avoided going to the established artists. “The role of the gallery is to create patronage and exposure,” she says. “There is a lack of a challenge to work with a known artiste.”

Asked to analyse the personalities of artists, she says, “Most of the good ones have a certain madness in them, but in a good way. However, some are dull, while others try hard to be sensational but they usually have a low quality of content. Nevertheless, the world will be a dull place without these lovable people.”

But life is not easy for the artists, as the art scene is not well developed in India. “We just don't have enough of museums, private foundations, and not too many great private collections like the way it has been established for hundreds of years in the West,” says Sunitha. “A lot of us are trying to do something about it.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)