Monday, June 30, 2014

On a Hot Streak

Actor Nivin Pauly, Mollywood's rising star, has had three back-to-back blockbuster hits this year – '1983', 'Om Shanti Oshana' and 'Bangalore Days'

By Shevlin Sebastian

On an early morning, a few months ago, a shoot was taking place in an old bungalow in Tripunithara, a suburb of Kochi. Actor Nivin Pauly stood opposite Nazriya Nazim, and was supposed to talk about his mother coming to Bangalore for good. Cinematographer Sameer Thahir was sitting high up on a crane. But each time Nivin looked at Nazriya, both of them would start smiling. Take after take was spoiled. Finally, an exasperated Sameer came down and said, “I am going home. We will shoot tomorrow.”

That meant the shoot of 'Bangalore Days' would have to be done again the next day. Knowing this, director Anjali Menon rushed to Sameer, and said, “Please, please.”

A mollified Sameer said, “Okay, one more chance.”

And, this time, the actors got it right.

Nazriya and I are good friends,” says Nivin. “It is easy to do songs and comic moments. But when we have to do emotional scenes, it becomes difficult. So, we end up smiling.”
Nivin has other reasons to smile these days. Apart from 'Bangalore Days' becoming a blockbuster hit, his previous two films, '1983' and 'Om Shanti Oshana', released this year, have also been superhits.

So, how did he get it right? “I select films based on my intuition,” says Nivin. “If my inner voice tells me it is okay, only then do I say yes.”

He also looks carefully at the cast and the crew. “The director, cinematographer, production controller, producer and distributor have to be good if a film has to do well,” says Nivin. “And there should be positive vibes among the team members.”

Nivin also cites other reasons about why the three films did well. “'1983' evokes a lot of sentiments,” says Nivin. “The story touches the heart of the audience. We Malayalis are an emotional people and love nostalgia.”

'Om Shanti Oshana' did well, he says, because it is rare in Mollywood to do a love story from the point of view of the heroine. “I had a feeling that people would enjoy watching such a film,” says Nivin.

As for 'Bangalore Days', when Nivin heard the story he told Anjali that the film would do well. “All the factors needed for the success of a film were there, like humour, emotions, thrills, and romance,” he says.

Asked whether the audience's tastes are changing, Nivin says, “They are ready to accept anything, provided it is interesting and presented in an attractive manner.”

Nivin says that the one reason for his own success as an actor is because he follows the 'Method' style of acting. “When I was doing '1983', I never went to the set and told myself that I am Nivin Pauly,” he says. “Instead, I behaved like my character Rameshan.”

When there was a lunch break, Nivin would spread a sheet on the ground and have a nap, like Rameshan, instead of relaxing in an air-conditioned room. He remained as Rameshan throughout the shoot. In 'Bangalore Days', Nivin played Kuttan who is a slightly foolish character. “Off-screen I tried to be like him,” he says.

This 'method' seems to be working. Nivin Pauly is now one of the hottest actors in Mollywood. 

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

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Malayali Mindset

Swedish singer-flautist Jessica Hugoson talks about the status of women and other subjects after a year's stay at Kochi

Photo by Melton Antony 

By Shevlin Sebastian

Swedish singer-flautist Jessica Hugoson was taking singing classes at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm. And every day she saw an advertisement on the notice board: the Amadeus Academy of Music and Fine Arts, in Kochi were looking for teachers. Earlier, a couple of Swiss musicians had worked there. “I had always wanted to come to India,” says Jessica. “But I needed to do a bit of planning, since I have two children, Julius, 8, and Otto, 4.”

Eventually, she took the plunge and arrived in July, 2013, along with her partner, the Cuban violinist, Santiago Jimenez and the children. And now, a year later, they are coming to the end of their stint.

Asked about her experiences with the students, Jessica says, “They are polite and well-behaved. However, since the emphasis is only on learning lessons, there is not much scope for creativity. Sometimes, students should be allowed to do something which is not in the textbooks. Plus, they are too obedient and respectful of the teachers.”

Nevertheless, Jessica enjoyed her time at the Academy. “The teaching was nice, but our lives revolved around a routine of working five days a week,” she says.

As a professional singer-flautist, this was a constraint for Jessica. She would preferred to take a few days off, so that she could concentrate on her music.

Away from the academy, life was also pleasant. “We live in a good place,” says Jessica, at her fourth-floor apartment at the Riviera Suites, Kochi. “I like the climate and the people are friendly. When you ask for directions, they go out of the way to help. I also like the food a lot, but found it complicated to make. So, we eat Kerala food at restaurants. At home, I make Swedish food, like meatballs or pancakes, although my children like pasta all the time.”

Meanwhile, there were a few negative moments. Jessica finds it difficult to tackle the overflowing traffic. “It is not easy to walk on the streets with the children,” she says. “The infrastructure needs to develop. People suffer by sitting in buses for a long time because of traffic jams. To get small things done, like getting a computer repaired, is hard, since I don't speak Malayalam. These are challenges, but I have made adjustments.”

These adjustments have included sartorial ones. “I wear clothes that keeps me covered, as is the style in Kerala,” she says. “If I wanted, I could have dressed provocatively, but felt it would be inappropriate.”

Jessica wants an improvement in the status of women in Kerala. “Women don't have the same rights as the men,” she says. “They are passive and docile. In many instances, the man speaks on behalf of the woman. The women might want to marry somebody else, or do something different, but they don't get a chance. They are influenced a lot by the family. I don't want to criticise the Indian system, but I would not accept the fact that somebody else chooses your husband.”

But the system of arranged marriages survives all over the world. Interestingly, in Sweden, arranged marriages continue to thrive, especially in the upper classes. “Among Swedish royalty there are several arranged marriages, and this exists among European royalty, too,” says Jessica. “But there is one difference. In India, you marry a family, while in Sweden we marry an individual. However, in both systems, if you get the right person, it enriches your life.”

Jessica has an enriching relationship with Santiago, whom she met more than ten years ago, in Stockholm. “I like his free spirit,” she says. “He is not strict about anything. We don't rehearse much, but when we play together it sounds good. So, we have a chemistry.”

This is clear from the interaction. It is a vibrant relationship, with the verbal thrust and parry of most couples. And since he does not know English well, Jessica translates for him. During the course of the interview with Jessica, which Santiago is listening in, he suddenly feels restless. He gets up and moves around the room, in a semi-circle, playing an imaginary tabla, with both hands. She gives a quizzical smile, even as they lock eyes all the time.

Finally, Jessica confirms that she will return, along with Santiago and the children, if she gets other opportunities. “All said and done, we love Kerala,” she says. 

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

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Like Sweet Wine

COLUMN: Spouse's Turn 

Ameena talks about life with the film director Salam Bapu

Photo by Melton Antony 

By Shevlin Sebastian 

Ameena's father got a shock. Her daughter's mobile bill was Rs 45,000. 'How is it possible?' he thought. And, finally, Ameena told her father the truth. She had been making calls to Salam Bapu, an assistant director of Mollywood, and wanted to marry him.

Her parents, and her elder brothers, objected strenuously. “They were against the proposal, because Salam is in the film industry,” says Ameena. “They would not have minded if he was working as an advocate. They knew Salam had a law degree.”

Meanwhile, things were at an impasse. A few months went past. Then one day, Ameena told her father, “Vapa, I cannot handle the pressure any more. I love Salam and want to marry him.”

The father relented, and both the families met and the marriage was fixed.

It took place on June 19, 2004, at Ameena's home town of Muvattupuzha. Actor Biju Menon and film director Lal Jose were present. “Lal Jose Sir observed me and told Salam that I am a good girl,” says Ameena. Her striking memory of that day was when the couple were travelling from Muvattupuzha to Salam's home in Ponnani, she was toying with Salam's specs and broke it. “I was shocked,” says Ameena. But Salam managed to get it repaired.

The couple had no time to go for a honeymoon. While Salam, who was working as an associate director with Lal Jose, had a movie to work on, Ameena returned to the Women's Government College at Thirivananthapuram where she was doing her second-year BA.
Ameena met Salam for the first time when she was selected, from college, to compere an Iftaar programme on a television channel in which Salam was writing the script. They liked each other, although Salam teased her about her delivery style. 

“After the programme was over, we remained in touch, thanks to mobile phones,” says Ameena, with a smile, at her apartment in Tripunithara. “Over a period of time we developed feelings for each other.”

And today, ten years later, she remains smitten by Salam. Once, she had gone to watch him shoot scenes of 'Red Wine', Salam's debut film, at Wayanad. “I had eyes only for Salam,” she says. “So much so, the producer's children began teasing me. They asked me whether I had not seen my husband earlier, and why was I staring at Salam? We are very attached to each other. Wherever he goes, I will call him up or he will do so. I miss his physical presence a lot.”

So, she always goes to the location when a shoot is going on. And Ameena is amazed to see the transformation in Salam's character. “Salam will talk loudly,” says Ameena. “Sometimes, he will shout at the crew. I always ask him, 'Why do you shout so much?' At home, he is soft-spoken and calm.”

And patient, too. “Like most women, I have mood changes,” says Ameena. “Whatever mood I am in, it can be seen on my face. If I am depressed, it lasts for a while. But Salam waits patiently for me to feel better. He has a true love for me. We are both surprised that a decade has gone past. We feel so fresh in our marriage.”

She likes his other qualities, too. “Salam is passionate about films,” says Ameena. “He is dedicated to his career. But even when he is working full-time, like he is doing now, for 'Manglish', the family is always in his thoughts.” The couple have two children, Adheena Fatima, 8, and two-year-old Ayisha Fatima.

But there are times when he wanders off mentally. “Even though he is in the house, he is in another world, especially if a shoot is going on,” says Ameena. “All creative people are like that. Sometimes, I would get upset, but now I have got used to it.”

Salam's one drawback is his lack of punctuality. “That irritates me a lot,” says Ameena. “I am always punctual, because my parents have taught me to be like that. So if we have to go out at 6 p.m., I will start urging him to get ready by 5 p.m.”

Whether he is punctual or not, whenever they have free time, they go to the beach in Fort Kochi or at Ponnani. And the reason is simple: Ameena is fascinated by the sight of water. “If I feel any tension, I can sense it seeping out of me, whenever I stare at the waves,” says Ameena. “We sit on the beach for hours, and have long conversations. I tell Salam he is very lucky. Whenever I say I want to go out, he knows that he only has to take me to the beach.”

When asked to give tips for a successful marriage, Ameena says, “Husband and wife should trust each other. Don’t irritate the husband. After a while, you will know his likes and dislikes. So, you can adjust your behavior accordingly. It is also important that there is love and caring between the two.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Fiat Is My Life

Nimish Kalappurakal fell in love with Fiat cars from his childhood. Today, he has founded the Team Fiat Moto Club, which has 3850 members
Photo by Manu R. Mavelil

By Shevlin Sebastian

Last year, Nimish Kalappurakal and a group of friends were travelling from Thiruvananthapuram to the hill station of Kodaikanal. There was nothing unusual about them except that in the procession of 12 cars, every single one of them was a Fiat: a Palio or a Punto or a Linea.
Somewhere along the way, a friend of Nimish, Asif Sharief asked whether he could drive his Palio S10. So they exchanged cars. “When Asif was driving I had a feeling that something was going to go wrong,” says Nimish. And it did. The engine suddenly stopped. An inspection revealed a loose wire.
The car seemed unhappy that somebody else was driving it,” says Nimish. “It has never stalled before.”
Nimish's car always works smoothly, because he looks after it, like a baby. “Every month, I take it for a check-up and water servicing,” he says. “Once in three months, it gets a fresh wax coat.”
The S10 car is also special because it has been signed by former cricketer Sachin Tendulkar. “Only 500 cars were manufactured,” says Nimish. And all these cars, painted in yellow, and numbered individually, have been signed by Sachin, on the bonnet, at the back and on the sides.
Asked why he loves Fiat cars so much, Nimish, who owns three, says, “Fiat cars have a different feel to it. It offers more safety features, as compared to other cars. The most important thing is the easy handling. The body is solid and can take an impact well. As a result, the fatality rate is low.”
This love was engendered in his childhood. “It was a household name in my family for a long time,” he says. “The company has had its ups and downs. But, today, it is on a resurgence.”
The Thiruvananthapuram-based Nimish, a human resource professional, worked in Kuwait for a few years. When he returned, he wanted to start a lifestyle club, similar to the ones he had seen in other countries. That was when he got the idea of starting a club for Fiat car lovers.
In May, 2011, he put up a page, the Team Fiat Moto Club, on Facebook. And offered free membership. Over the months, people joined from different parts of India. Today, there are 3850 members.
The majority are from Kerala and Tamil Nadu,” says Nimish. All of them belong to the upper strata and includes IT professionals, businessmen, doctors, engineers and chartered accountants.
The club is administered by Biju Jose and Jaydev Gopakumar, apart from Nimish. “We coordinate the daily activities and set the dates and agenda for future meetings,” says Biju. 
Several of the interactions of the members are online. At this moment, they are talking about the Abarth 500, a 180 bhp, two-door small car, which is expected to cost Rs 25 lakh. However, the existing price range of Fiat cars is from Rs. 3.5 lakh to Rs 12 lakh.
Interestingly, not many people know that the Fiat 1.3 multi litre engine is a big success. “About 13 cars use it,” says Jaydev Gopakumar. “Apart from Tata, Maruti's entire diesel range is based on the Fiat engine.”
Meanwhile, the club members interact regularly with Fiat officials based in India. “They are open and receptive,” says Jaydev. “They give us advance notice of new cars coming to India. Fiat has ambitious plans. They have set up 120 dealerships all over India and several more are in the pipeline.”
Apart from online discussions, there are physical meetings. “We have rides based on certain concepts,” says Nimish. “Last year, we had a winter drive from Thiruvananthapuram to Wayanad, 550 kms away. We posted the event on the club page. People came from Kochi, Chennai, and Coimbatore. It was fun.”
For their annual meet in September, 2012, 60 members, along with their families, went to Ooty. “We met new members and established contacts,” says Biju. “It was time well spent because we are all like-minded people.”
Finally, when asked whether he loves his wife or his car more, Nimish says, with a smile, “I knew my Fiat before I met my wife. But, seriously, I love them both passionately.”
(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi) 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Encounters with Mollywood Stars

By Shevlin Sebastian

The other day I sent a SMS to a leading Mollywood actress: 'Just as acting is your profession, journalism is my bread and butter. The only reason I am trying to get in touch with you is because my editors have asked me to write an article.' I sent this out of a sense of frustration: earlier calls and SMSes went unanswered. But she responded to this particular message: 'I am not giving any interviews at the moment.'

This was not entirely true. She had given interviews to mass-market Malayalam newspapers and magazines as well as the radio. It seems that she, like a few others in Mollywood, lack the confidence to speak to English-language journalists.

But not this particular star, Rajesh (name changed). He exuded supreme self-confidence. And when I entered his trailer during a shoot at Kochi, he was lying sideways on a bed, his face resting on his upraised palm. Amazingly, throughout the interview, Rajesh remained in this position.

In 25 years of meeting celebrities at the state, national and international level, he is the only person who spoke to me lying down.

Interestingly, later, another actor told me that when Rajesh was starting out, he would beg journalists to write articles about him. So Rajesh has followed the route of many successful people: go up the ladder and then pretend it did not exist at all.

In my experience, it is the rare Mollywood star who responds to a SMS or a call, unless you are among his favoured group of journalists. But some, like me, prefer a professional relationship.

Unfortunately, this behaviour is being perpetuated. Young talents, who become successful, also act like their seniors. There is a new-generation director, as well as a young star, who were friendly when they began their careers. But once they notched up a couple of hits, they stopped responding to SMSes or calls.

On the other hand, Bollywood is far more professional. If you want an interview with a star, all you have to do is to get in touch with his publicist. If they feel it is worthwhile, time and date are fixed and the interview is done.

But, sometimes, Bollywood actors, who come to Mollywood, develop local attitudes. One such actor, who is on the fringes in Mumbai, gave me the run for two months. I could have given up, but took it as a challenge. The turning point came when I finally said, “I have worked in Mumbai and met many stars.” (Thereafter, I dropped a few names). The chastened actor gave me the interview immediately.

But there have been nice experiences, too. One such moment occurred when I met the late comic great, Cochin Haneefa. He spoke with an endearing humility, and provided a feast, for my photographer colleague and myself. To be honest, we were shocked. We are so used to getting a cup of tea only. After he passed away, in 2010, at age 58, his wife, Fasila, told me, “My husband had a big heart.”

It is time Mollywood also develops a big heart. And becomes professional in its dealings with the media. 

(Published as a middle in The New Indian Express, South India editions)

“He is a Soft Person”

COLUMN: Spouse's Turn
Geetha talks about life with the politician NK Premachandran

Photo by Vishu Lal 

By Shevlin Sebastian

On October 28, 2003, NK Premachandran fell ill with dengue fever. He was taken to a private hospital at Kollam. However, when the fever increased, his wife Geetha took him by car at night and got him admitted to the KIMS Hospital at Thiruvananthapuram.
But the situation began to take a turn for the worse. Every day Premachandran's blood platelet was going down: from a normal of 2.5 lakh it reached 9000. In a desperate bid to increase the count, the blood of 36 people were given.

Two weeks passed. One day, Geetha saw that the heartbeat line on the cardiac monitor had become irregular. She ran to Dr. M.I Sahadulla, the Managing Director, who called the doctors at the Intensive Care Unit. They confirmed that the situation was grim. Geetha ran back to where her husband lay, and prayed fervently to Guruvayurappan and Hanuman.
After a while, the miracle took place. “Slowly, the heart beat began to go up,” she says. “All vital signs began to improve.”

But there were further setbacks. Bleeding on the leg was detected. Soon, there came a time when Premachandran was unable to speak. He wrote something on a piece of paper and showed it to his wife: 'A politician who cannot speak, what use is he?' But, ultimately, he survived.

This was the most unforgettable experience for Geetha in her 23-year-marriage to Premachandran. Incidentally, she is a reader at the Homeo Medical College in Kurichi, Kottayam.

The other moving moment occurred when Premachandran recently won from the Kollam Lok Sabha constituency, where he defeated a heavyweight like MA Baby, of the CPI(M), by a margin of 37,649 votes.

It had a big impact on Premachandran. “He feels a big responsibility to live up to the expectations of the people,” says Geetha. “It is a great moment for the [Revolutionary Socialist] party.”

This win was a soothing balm to Premachandran, after his unexpected loss in the 2011 Assembly elections. “At that time, I had told my husband and child [20 year-old Karthik] that everything is for the good. But Premachandran told me, 'You are the first person to say that losing is a good thing,'” says Geetha.

But, in retrospect, Geetha was right. When Premachandran lost, he had plenty of time. And he ended up spending it with Karthik. As a result, they became close. “When my son was younger, he would say, 'I am sure father does not know which class I am in.'” Today, Karthik, who has a B. Tech degree, is working for Sobha Developers in Dubai.

The second revelation, from the defeat, was that the family realised who their true friends are. “The behaviour of people is different when you are in power and out of it,” says Geetha. “When Premachandran lost, several people kept aloof. He felt it keenly.”

Asked to analyse her husband's character, Geetha says, “Premachandran is a soft person, who can never harm anybody. I tell him that he should not be so simple. Politics is a difficult profession. If a man makes ten requests, over a period of time, and Premachandran fulfills nine of them, and is not able to do the tenth, the person will talk badly of him. That is human nature. But, at the same time, there are many who love him.”

One of them is Remya (name changed), a poor girl who was studying nursing. For the final semester, she needed Rs 25,000. Premachandran, who was the then Minister for Water Resources, could not obtain a sponsorship. “That was when he decided to pay Rs 2500 every month from his salary so that the girl could complete her course,” says Geetha. “Today she is a qualified nurse. We feel happy for her. ”

Geetha also felt happy when she got married to Premachandran on February 10, 1991. Initially, her father had hoped she would marry somebody from the government service, instead of a politician. But Geetha had no doubts. “I knew Premachandran was smart, because he had secured the first rank in law from the Thiruvananthapuram Government Law college in 1985,” she says.

However, at the SG Auditorium at Attingal, where the marriage took place, there was a faux pas. “The ring which I had to give Premachandran was supposed to have my name,” says Geetha. “But it was not there.” Premachandran whispered to Geetha, “Did you not get the time to put it?” Geetha did not know what to reply and gave an embarrassed smile.

Thankfully, the couple never face any embarrassing moment when they step out in public. “Wherever we go, we are treated with a lot of love and affection,” says Geetha. “Nowadays, Premachandran receives a lot of congratulations [for winning the Lok Sabha seat]. They tell him that the right person has won.”

Finally, when asked for tips on marriage, Geetha says, “Before marriage, you might have secrets. But once you get married, you must be open and honest with each other.” Also, if there are problems between the spouses, they should solve it between themselves. “Others should not be allowed to interfere, especially the parents,” she says. “That will make it messy.”

There should also not be any ego issues. “At times, you must opt for a compromise,” says Geetha. “That is the only way to make the marriage work.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Like a Bird In The Sky

Rajesh Nair has a lifelong passion for kites. Through his KiteLife Foundation, he tries to inculcate a love for the sport among youngsters

By Shevlin Sebastian

The sky was a bright blue. A slight breeze was blowing. Rajesh Nair felt confident. Slowly, he sent his kite skywards. It had a distinctive design: a temple with three conical roofs. This was a replica of the Dathathreya Anjaneya Temple in Desom, Aluva, Kerala, where Lord Hanuman is worshipped. “I am a devotee,” says Rajesh.

The spectators clapped. This was the first time they were seeing a kite like this. Rajesh was participating in the 4th International Kite Festival held, on April 12-13, at Uiseong in South Korea.

It is an impressive kite: the dimensions are 7ft in height and a wing span of 16 feet. In order to control the kite better, Rajesh had tied the string around his waist. “High up the sky, the weight of the kite goes up to 250 kgs,” he says. “That is because the wind cannot go through the fabric. ”

The kite rose higher and higher. Suddenly, a stiff breeze began to blow. It began to increase in speed. Soon, it reached 64 kms per hour. Rajesh tried hard to control the kite. Unfortunately, the inevitable happened: the kite crashed to the ground. Rajesh ran to see what had happened. One side of the bamboo spar had broken. But he knew that he could repair it. Which he did. And flew the kite again, to sustained applause from the spectators.

Later, he flew another kite designed as Mahabali, the benevolent Asura king, who is the symbol of the Kerala festival of Onam. So, you could see the crown, along with the black moustache, a protruding paunch and the umbrella.

When I take part in international kite festivals, in places like Borneo, Singapore or Dubai, I try to propagate our Indian culture through my designs,” says Rajesh. His attire is also traditional: at the inaugural ceremony, at Uiseong, he wore a purple silk shirt and a white dhoti, and placed a half-dhoti on his shoulder.

Rajesh's interest in kites began in his childhood in Kozhikode. His father taught him how to make his first kite. And thereafter, his passion deepened. “When you fly kites, you experience a sense of freedom,” says Rajesh. “It seems as if I am also flying in the sky along with my kite.”

Today, he no longer makes the typical paper kites that we all know of. Instead, he uses a nylon fabric called ripstop. “It is used in the making of parachutes, and does not tear easily,” says Rajesh. “If there is a tear it does not spread. It is used extensively in the kiting community.” However, ripstop is not available in India. Rajesh imports it from China at Rs 350 per metre.

After he has secured the fabric, Rajesh does the drawings. Then he cuts the cloth according to the lines of the drawing. Then bamboo spars are added.

But before that, the bamboo has to be treated carefully. “Every bamboo, when it is cut, is wet,” says Rajesh. “So you need to dry it in the sun. Then it turns into a yellow colour. Then I apply termite oil. It has two benefits. The termites will keep away, and the bamboo will bend beyond 90 degrees, without snapping.”

All this takes time. An average kite takes anywhere between one-and-a-half months to three months. “I work nights and on the weekends,” says Rajesh, who is a consultant on corporate social responsibility in many companies.

Asked the charm of making kites, Rajesh says, “You imagine any colour and that can be used. You design a shape in your mind and that can be shown. I have a fascination with folk songs and culture. I bring all those images to a kite.”

In fact, during a kite festival in Malaysia, Rajesh flew a kite resembling a theyyam dancer (theyyam is an ancient folk art of Kerala). The media was so enthralled that the 'Borneo Post' published a photograph of Rajesh flying the kite on the front page.

In 2010, Rajesh set up the KiteLife Foundation. Thereafter, he has held numerous workshops for children and adults alike, all over Kerala, to inculcate the joys of kite flying. In Thrissur, once, he taught 1200 students at a workshop.

The centre of kite-flying is in Ahmedabad,” he says. “I also want Kerala to develop a kite-flying culture.” 

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

Living with Words and Images

US Kutty, director of Sobhagya Advertising, looks back on 25 years in the industry

Photo by K. Rajesh Kumar 

By Shevlin Sebastian

In 1980, when US Kutty had completed his Class 10 examinations at Chittur, Palakkad, his uncle, KV Menon, took him to Mumbai, to improve his prospects. Kutty went for early morning college, but was free during the day. Menon's neighbour, Shyamala Pillai, noticed this. She was working at Sobhagya Advertising Service. “Why don't you do some work during the day?” she told Kutty.

And that was how Kutty went for an interview with NL Saboo , the finance director of Sobhagya. But there was no interview. Saboo just looked at Kutty and said, “You are appointed.”

Kutty said, “Sir, you have not given me a test?”

Saboo said, “After seeing you, I know that you will do well.”

Thereafter, Kutty was assigned to work with Anand Nakrekar, who handled media planning at the Dalal Street office. Kutty started learning the ropes. Sometime later, there was a call. 

It was from the Chairman SM Singhvi who said, “Is anybody there?”

The youngster said, “I am Kutty, the new person.”

Singhvi said, “Come to the head office.”

When Kutty presented himself, 20 minutes later, the chairman said, “I am going to Ahmedabad. You have to make an estimate for newspaper advertisements worth Rs 1 crore. You ask Jayan. He will help you. Please show it to me by 6.30 p.m., because I have a flight to catch.”

The time was 4.30 p.m. However, within an hour, Kutty showed the media estimate to Singhvi. The chairman was impressed. He looked at what Kutty had written, and said, “When did you join?”

One month, Sir,” said Kutty.

Okay, tomorrow onwards, you will be in this office,” he said.

This was Kutty's turning point. He was put in charge of all media for all the offices in Mumbai, and continued to do well.

A few years later, Kutty's second turning point occurred when he was asked to go to Kayamkulam by the chairman.

Kutty said, “Sir, where is Kayamkulam?”

Singhvi started laughing and said, “Arre yaar, it is your native place.”

Kutty said that he had not travelled beyond Thrissur, because his father was strict and never allowed his children to move around. Anyway, Kutty went to Kayamkulam and met the officials of the National Thermal Power Corporation Limited. They told him that if Sobhagya wanted to handle their advertising account, they would need to open an office in Kochi. Kutty did so, on July 1, 1991.

Ever since, Kutty and Sobhagya Advertising have been going strong. Today, he is the director of the company and has just celebrated his 25th year in the advertising industry. In Kerala, Sobhagya has clients like Eastern Foods, Geojit, State Bank of Travancore, Kerala Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation and the IT Mission.

And, of course, the big change in the past two decades is the advances in technology. “In earlier times, to make an advertisement, we had to do type setting and block making,” says Kutty. “A colour advertisement took more than a week to make. Now, we can make ten advertisements on the computer in an hour. An ad film can be made within a day. That is how fast it has become.”

But despite the earlier slowness, Kutty made good advertisements. His award-winning one, a short film, was for Prima Cattlefeed. The scene is set in heaven. The gods are asking for milk and one cow produces more than 15 litres. They are amazed. The gods ask how this is possible. And the answer is simple: 'Prima Cattlefeed.'

Asked about the qualities needed to make a good advertisement, Kutty says, “Good copy comes from the heart. A copywriter must keep his eyes open all the time. A small event can lead to a good advertisement.”

He remembers how advertising legend Alyque Padamsee coined the 'Hamara Bajaj' slogan. Padamsee was walking around in a village. There was a boy whose father had bought a new Bajaj. And that interaction inspired Padamsee to come up with the 'Hamara Bajaj' slogan.

The communication should be simple and easy,” says Kutty. “People do not spend more than 10 minutes with the newspaper. You have to convey the message quickly.”

Meanwhile, Sobhagya's boom occurred when it began handling public issues of shares. Today, Kutty has conducted more than a thousand press conferences for various companies. 

And he follows a set pattern. “I ensure that it is held in a good hotel,” he says. “Then there should be an interesting story about the company which I can convey to the journalists.  If we do not have anything catchy to say, there will be minimal coverage in the newspapers and TV channels the next day.”

Kutty has also been instrumental in setting up The Advertising Club, Kochi in 1994. A year or two after he settled down, he noticed that people in the industry treated each other like rivals. “So I thought of setting up a club where we can talk with each other and discuss issues, pertaining to advertising,” says Kutty. “I sent a letter to all the agencies telling them of my plan.”

The response was enthusiastic. Today, there are 500 members and 80 agencies. Last month, Kutty started the Kerala chapter of the Public Relations Council of India.

Just as these institutions are thriving, Kutty remains strong and alert. “I love my job and learn new things every day,” he says. “This enables me to remain fresh.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Soccer's Sorcerer

Diego Maradona, with his undoubted genius, made an unforgettable mark at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, and helped Argentina become world champions

By Shevlin Sebastian

June 23, 1986, Azteca Stadium, Mexico
Quarter finals: England vs. Argentina

Argentine captain Diego Maradona collects the ball from near the centre line on the right flank. He starts to move slowly, then accelerates with the sudden speed and finesse of a deer. He is immediately challenged by two English defenders. Maradona sidesteps one and swerves around the other, his eyes on the ball all the time. He runs hard. Again, two English players converge on him. Incredibly, he finds a gap between the two, squeezes past them and is now in the open, on the right side. He is unchallenged and in full stretch now, the ball mesmerisingly glued to his left feet.

English goalkeeper Peter Shilton hesitates. He is afraid to commit himself early, but Maradona has already reached the top of the penalty box, although he is chased by three English players. So Shilton has no option, but to move forward. He closes the angle, but Maradona gives a feint. He pretends as if he is going to take a shot at the left corner. However, it is a dummy. Shilton splays his legs, as Maradona moves to the right and flicks the ball into the empty net.


The stadium erupts. Maradona erupts. He clenches a fist and runs towards the Argentinian section of the stadium, and yells his jubilation. The other Argentine players converge on him. There is a rapturous joy. This is surely one of the greatest goals in the history of the World Cup. Or in the history of football.

In fact, in 2002, users of overwhelmingly voted it as the ‘Goal of the Century’. The Mexicans were so taken up by the goal that, later, they built a plaque at Azteca Stadium commemorating it.

This work of beauty was compensation for an earlier disputed goal in the same match. In the 51st minute, Mardona runs towards the goal and, amidst a clutch of English players, he gives a diagonal pass to teammate Jorge Valdano, who is running in a parallel line, but the ball goes behind him and reaches midfielder Steve Hodge who has run back.

He tries to clear it, but miscues the kick and the ball heads in a high arc towards the penalty box. Shilton runs out to punch it, but Maradona, already running forward, jumps up and hits the ball with his left hand into the goal. Unfortunately, the Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser did not see it. The English players protest vehemently. But the referee is unmoved. And the goal is allowed.

Later, at the press conference, Maradona said, tongue-in-cheek, “I scored the goal, a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God.” Thereafter, this goal has been permanently dubbed as the ‘Hand of God’ goal.

June 29, 1986, Azteca Stadium.
World Cup final: Argentina Vs. Germany

Two spectacular goals by Karl Heinz Rummeneige and Rudi Voeller has helped Germany draw level with Argentina, 2-2. The South American confidence is beginning to erode. There is only ten minutes left. It is a moment that demands magic. And so, once again, soccer’s sorcerer responds. Maradona collects a pass from inside his own half, eludes three defenders and clips a through pass to Jorge Burruchaga that splits the German defence.

Burruchaga is unchallenged and running like the wind, towards the box. Goalkeeper Harald Schumacher, in a striking canary yellow jersey, advances towards the Argentinian. But, at the most important moment of his life, Burruchaga keeps his cool and sends a low shot that eludes the diving and desperate Schumacher. Score-3-2.

When the final whistle blows, the man responsible for the decisive pass, is already on his knees, his arms outstretched, his eyes heavenward, tears rolling down his face, and an outstretched smile that made it seem as if he had no lips.

Diego Maradona’s dream of winning the World Cup had come true. This was the first time, since Pele, that a player had stamped his individual authority on the World Cup, and with as much flair.

Right from the first match, against South Korea, when he performed brilliantly, despite some persistent fouling, Maradona had produced soccer of the highest class.

The feints, the slow start to his runs, the sudden acceleration, the swift changes of direction, the outrageous dribbles, the perfect headers, and those swirling free kicks that puzzled both defenders and goalkeepers alike.

There was no footballer like Diego Armando Maradona.
And, on June 29, 1986, Diego Maradona was 'El Rey', the King Of The Planet.

(Published in The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

“He is a Positive Person”

COLUMN: Spouse's Turn 

Anupama talks about life with the actor Saiju Kurup

Photo by Mithun Vinod 

By Shevlin Sebastian 

One day when Anupama Nambiar was eight years old, she was standing at the Army Public School in Wellington, Coonoor. Suddenly, she saw something strange: it was a cross which was going around the tree. “As a child you tend to have an over-heated imagination,” says Anupama. “However, the image was very clear to me.”

Fifteen years later, Anupama returned to Coonoor for her honeymoon with the actor Saiju Kurup. This time, she took him to the same spot where she had seen the cross. “But neither the tree was there or the cross,” says Anupama, with a smile, at her sixth-floor apartment in Kochi.

Nevertheless, Anupama showed Saiju many places in Wellington, which was a reminder of her childhood. Anupama had spent the first eight years of her life in Wellington, because her father, Colonel KPB Nambiar, had been posted there.

Anupama met Saiju when they were both working in an insurance company in Kochi. For Saiju, it was an instant attraction. But for Anupama, it was a slower reaction. “Saiju did stand out because of his height [5' 11”] and piercing eyes,” she says. “He also had a confident way of carrying himself.”

Within a few months, however, both left the insurance company and joined a telecommunication service firm. It was at this time that Saiju got an offer to act in a Hariharan film, 'Mayookham', and accepted. But he remained in touch with Anupama.

One day, he called up and proposed marriage on the phone. “I never expected it,” she says. “I told him we had just met and did not know each other well. But Saiju had no doubts.”

Eventually, Anupama told her parents. To keep her mother happy, she asked that the horoscopes be read. To Anupama's relief, it matched. So, her parents gave her the green signal.

The marriage took place on February 12, 2005. Initially, there was a 'thali exchange' at Guruvayur temple, followed by a reception at the Vinayaka Hall in Kochi.

At the Kochi event, there was a confusion about the rings. “Both rings looked the same,” says Anupama. “Somebody said, 'No, this one is Saiju's.' Another person said, 'No it is Anupama's.' Everybody was talking at the same time. There was confusion all around. At that time, it was not funny. But when we watch it on the video now, we laugh a lot.”

Meanwhile, when asked about her husband's plus points, Anupama says, “Saiju is a positive person. He has had a lot of ups and downs in his film career. Anybody else in a similar situation would have given up or started thinking in a negative way. But he would always tell me, 'the good times will come'.”

The couple's 'good times' moment occurred when their daughter Mayookha was born. “Saiju was thrilled,” says Anupama. “He says how Mayookha, when she was born, fitted in the palm of his hand and now, at eight-and-a-half-years of age, she has become so tall.”

But as a father, he is laid-back. “The father-daughter relationship is more like a brother-sister link,” says Anupama. “It is a playful bond. Saiju never disciplines Mayookha, and tries to fulfill most of her wants. And he will not make her do things she does not want to do.”

On the other hand, Saiju is tough with Anupama. “In our day-to-day life, I want to do things one way, while he wants to do it in another way,” she says. “I may be impulsive, while he is not. For example, I drive fast and carelessly, while Saiju is a careful driver.”

Once, while reversing the car, Anupama hit an autorickshaw. “The driver had parked the vehicle without me knowing,” says Anupama. “I wanted to scold him, but Saiju told me there was no point in fighting. 'It will make it worse,' he said. 'Keep quiet. Note down the number in your mind. Don't do it in front of him.'”

Anupama smiles, and says, “Sometimes, I feel like shaking him up, so that he will lash out.”

When they step out in public, Saiju is easily recognised, thanks to his roles in films like 'Trivandrum Lodge', 'Red Wine', 'Left Right Left' and '1983'. “I have seen young and old, as well as children who come up to talk to him,” says Anupama. “He gets a lot of messages on Facebook from girls. I don't feel insecure about it. He is clear that these are fan relationships. He has strong family values and respects women a lot.”

Finally, when asked for tips about marriage, Anupama gives clear-eyed advice. “It is important that the interests, ideas and values of the boy as well as the girl should match,” she says. “What I mean is that they should have a similar vision for the future. Otherwise, it will not work. It is also important to be frank and forthright with each other.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)