Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Childhood Memories Of Kalabhavan Mani


Director Vinayan talks about his experiences in the films, 'Vasanthiyum Lakshmiyum Pinnne Njaanum', and 'Karumadikkuttan'

Photos: Director Vinayan. Images from 'Vasanthiyum Lakshmiyum Pinnne Njaanum', and 'Karumadikkuttan'

By Shevlin Sebastian

Kalabhavan Mani walked down a narrow rope bridge in Thodupuzha, on an afternoon in June, 1998. He was playing a blind street singer, Ramu, in the film, 'Vasanthiyum Lakshmiyum Pinnne Njaanum'. On the river bank, there was an elderly washerwoman, called Nannitalla, played by a theatre artist called Ammini Kutty.

When Ramu heard the sound of the washing he asked whether it was Nannitalla. She replied in the affirmative. Ramu said, “Has Thomas Sir come?”

How did you know?” said Nannitalla.

When Thomas Sir's clothes are washed, there is a different sound,” says Ramu. “He gives me his old shirts and mundu. I wear his clothes all the time.”

Nanitalla said, “Why can't you buy some clothes yourself?”

Ramu said, “I don’t have any money. All my life I have worn only old clothes.”

Immediately, after saying this, Ramu started crying. “This weeping was not there in the script,” says director Vinayan. “But Mani was so immersed in the character that tears began to roll down his face. It was a magnificent performance. Once I shouted, 'Cut', all the crew members started clapping. Many unit boys went and hugged him.”

But as Vinayan was getting ready for the next scene,. Mani came next to him, and burst out crying. Vinayan asked Mani what had happened.

Mani said, “Sir, when the scene was taking place, I remembered my childhood. Till Class 9, I never wore a new shirt or trouser, even during the festivals of Vishu and Onam. My mother was a servant in a neighbouring house, where there was a boy, Rajesh, (name changed), who was of my age. I would wear his old clothes and go to class. But, at the school, when Rajesh would see me, he would give me a mocking grin.”

When Mani recounted this incident, everybody, including Ammini Kutty started crying. “So I stopped the shoot, even though it was only 3 p.m.,” says Vinayan. “We were all upset.”

There were other emotional moments, too. In the 2001 film, 'Karumadikkuttan', Mani played a mentally-challenged man, who would do anything if you asked for his help. There was a landlord by the name of Pranchi Sir (played by drama artist Santosh), who was asthmatic. One day, according to the script, he fell ill, but there was no vehicle to take him to the hospital.

At the location, at Kuttanad, Mani said that he would carry Santosh, on his shoulders, even though the latter weighed 90 kgs. “And with ease, Mani lifted up Santosh, placed him on his shoulders, and ran forward at full speed,” says Vinayan. “That was because he had a childhood experience that enabled him to do it.”

When Mani was in the primary section of a government school at Chalakudy, rice sacks would be brought to the school. The school would hire headload workers to transfer the sacks from the gate to the store room. “That was when Mani opted to do the job,” says Vinayan. “He would get Rs 1 for this work. And he always gave the money to his mother. As a result, it made him strong. So, he had no problem in lifting up Santosh.”

Vinayan pauses, at his home in Kochi, shakes his head sadly, and says, “Mani was a great actor. So, it has been an unbearable loss for Malayalam cinema that he had an untimely death.”

Mani died, on March 6, at the age of 45, at Chalakudy. 

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

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Different perspectives of life

Jayakrishnan Pillai has started a popular web site called 'One Frames Stories', where writers can look at a photo and tell a story in 99 words

By Shevlin Sebastian  

About a year ago, young entrepreneur Jayakrishnan G Pillai was sitting around with his friends, Anup Joy and Jan Joseph, and having a chat at Kochi. “We were discussing about how it was becoming difficult for people to accept different opinions,” says Jayakrishnan. “Then we realised that it is a matter of perspective. What I see is not what you might see. That is the case when you look at a photograph or read a story.”

So the trio decided to do an experiment. They posted a photograph of a bench on a beach in Fort Kochi. It was placed facing the sea. There are clouds in the sky. It is an evening scene. And there is a sliver of sunlight against the edge of the clouds. They asked their friends to respond to it.

Initially, they decided to give a word count of 140 characters, like a tweet. “Then we decided it should be 100 words, but realised 99 is a catchy number," says Jayakrishnan. "So we stuck to that.”

In the first attempt, they got 18 stories and as many different perspectives. “That was when we realised that we had a special idea,” says Jayakrishnan. “So we started ‘One Frame Stories’, which is being coordinated by my colleagues, Deepthi S. and Sejal Waghmare, through our company Heyyo Media.”

So far, they have put up 76 frames on a weekly basis. The total number of stories is 3299, written by 798 participants.

The writers include doctors, IT professionals, engineers and home-makers and come from everywhere: India, Romania, Sri Lanka, England and Kazakhstan. “It is a platform where people can show their creativity,” says Jayakrishnan. “However, one of the most interesting aspects is how every person looks at a frame in a different and unique way.”

Indeed, it is true. In one image, a man and woman are kissing in an enclosed area, made of bamboo poles. It is dark, except for a dim light shining on their faces.

And here is writer Shoumik’s story, ‘The First Kiss’ in 99 words:

He never wanted to marry her.
He was still waiting for the first love, a picture of a little girl he found on a bus. Years later his wife found that picture and asked him about it.
He confessed that he married her due to family pressure but he was always in love with the girl in the picture.
“Where did you find it?”
“In the bus on the way to school. Why do you ask?” he said.
“Because I lost it when I was little,” she said.
Parents of two shared their first kiss... years after their marriage. 

Renu Kaliyath’s response to the same picture, titled, ‘Stolen Moments’, is completely different:

He was a prominent gay lawyer for the LGBT community, she was a national award-winning closet lesbian actress.
They met at a rally, when their community was protesting a discriminating law.
At first sight they felt the connection, though both of them were in a committed loving relationship.
Moreover their cause was greater than love.
It was out of question trying to take their love forward.
Their only solace was intense stolen moments in dark and forbidding places.

Jayakrishnan smiles and says, “This happens all the time. If I put up a frame, with a river in it, some will react as if it is a fight between two states over water, while others will say it is an opportunity for fishermen.”

Jayakrishnan wants to pass an underlying message. “We should learn to appreciate and accept other people’s perceptions,” says Jayakrishnan. “Once we do that, it will solve a lot of problems in our country.”  

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Monday, March 28, 2016

A Stirring Return

Veteran music composer, Jerry Amaldev, after a hiatus of twenty years, produces melodious songs for the Mollywood hit film, ‘Action Hero Biju’

Photo of Jerry Amaldev by Ratheesh Sundaram; Nivin Pauly and Anu Emmanuel during the picturisation of the song, 'Pookkal Panineer'  

By Shevlin Sebastian

At a studio in Chennai, the twenty-odd musicians took their places behind the instruments – the violin, cello, bass guitar, viola, mandolin, xylophone, tabla, dholak, and the flute. As soon as the music began for the song, 'Pookkal Panineer', for the Mollywood film, 'Action Hero Biju', on a day in November, 2015, the musicians looked at each other with an amazed look.

Then, one of the senior musicians, Chitty Prakash Rao, came up to the veteran composer, Jerry Amaldev, and said, “We were thirsting for this kind of melody for the past twenty years. There is no heart in the songs of today. It is just noise and shouting. The music does not hit you.”

But 'Pookkal Panineer' did hit the hearts of listeners. What helped was the beautiful picturisation, set in Fort Kochi, featuring the actors, Nivin Pauly and Anu Emmanuel, and accompanied by the evergreen voices of legends KJ Yesudas and Vani Jairam. “It is a love song,” says Amaldev. “So, I put in a few quiet moments in it. In life, you don't tell somebody, 'I love you', 'I love you' in a rush. Instead, you say it once and wait for the effect. And I also waited in the song.”

The other songs by Amaldev – 'Chiriyo Chiri', 'Hara Hara', 'Oonjalilaadi Vanna' and writer Rabindranath Tagore’s composition of 'Vande Mataram' – were all received well.

And Amaldev has returned with a bang, after a hiatus of two decades. Asked the reason for the gap, he says, “Nobody called me. I have been in Kochi all along.”

Amaldev’s comeback happened when a middle-aged film professional dropped to see him at his home a few months ago. He was Abrid Shine, the director of 'Action Hero'. “Shine told me that he was tired of the electronic music and was looking for good melodies and the use of acoustic instruments,” says Amaldev. Convinced of Shine's sincerity, Amaldev, 76, agreed to compose the music.

This never-say-die composer has had an unusual life. Born in Kochi, Amaldev decided to become a priest when he was a teenager. So, he joined the Society of the Divine Word in 1955 at Indore and came under the tutelage of German priests. Having a talent for music, for the next ten years, Jerry learnt the tabla, piano, organ, as well as north Indian classical vocal music. But soon, he felt that priesthood was not for him and quit.

Thereafter, he left for Mumbai, and got lucky when he became an assistant to the legendary Hindi composer Naushad. During the five years that he worked with Naushad, he received some valuable tips from the maestro. “The life of the song is in the lyrics,” said Naushad. “When you know the words, you can give the melody. When you have the melody you can provide the instrumentation.” 
After five years with Naushad, Jerry got a scholarship to study music at Cornell University in New York. After getting his master’s degree, Jerry spent several years teaching music in America before he decided to return to Kochi in 1980, and got his first Mollywood film, 'Manjil Virinja Pookal'.

The songs of this film became huge hits and remain popular. And he became the first composer in India to win a State Award (Kerala) for excellence in Music Direction for a debut film. Thereafter, he composed 300 songs for 75 films before he fell out of favour.

But, today, this senior citizen is getting offers again, ensuring that he enjoys a late second innings in Mollywood. But Amaldev says, “When you play music, you are ageless.” 

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

Saturday, March 26, 2016

A Cinematic Genius

Noted Malayalam writer, MK Chandrasekharan, has written a book on the life and career of Satyajit Ray

Photos: Satyajit Ray; MK Chandrasekharan

By Shevlin Sebastian

When author MK Chandrasekharan was growing up in Muvattupuzha he would read articles about the great Bengali film director Satyajit Ray in Malayalam newspapers and magazines. So, one day, in 1956, when he came to know that Ray's film, 'Pather Panchali', was going to be shown at Laxmi theatre, he got excited.

However, when the 15-year-old reached the hall on the second day, the film had been removed. “Since it was a Bengali film, there was hardly anyone to see it,” says Chandrasekharan. It would take another 15 years before he would see the film at Kochi. But, in the intervening years, he saw, many other Ray films, like 'Jalsaghar', 'Apur Sansar', and 'Devi'.

In 1969, Chandrasekharan went to Kolkata, for a few days,
en route to Bhubaneshwar, where he had to sit for an exam. While there, he saw Ray's popular children's film, 'Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne'. The next afternoon, the hotel manager told Chandrasekharan that Ray had also been present for the same show. A disappointed Chandrasekharan decided to go to Ray's home to meet him. But when he went there, he was told that Ray had left for Rajasthan. Nevertheless, Chandrasekharan continued to see numerous films of Ray, as well as read articles on and by him.

In 2011, Chandrasekharan had gone to Kolkata to do research on a book on Mother Teresa. And that was when he got the idea to write a book on Satyajit Ray.

The book, ‘Satyajit Ray – Cinema and Life', published by Green Books, has just been released in Malayalam.

The book discusses Ray's films, as well as recounts events from his life. These include the difficulties of getting the finance to make his first film, 'Pather Panchali'. Ray managed to shoot three-fourths of the film. Then he ran out of money. In desperation, he approached the then Chief Minister BC Roy, who happened to know his mother.

When Roy heard the script, he asked the director whether there could be a happy ending,” says Chandrasekharan. “But Ray said that the script is based on a popular novel by writer Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay and readers will get very angry if there is a change.” In the end, the Public Works Department granted a loan for a documentary about roads. The words, 'Pather Panchali' means, 'A song of the little road'.

When the film was released, it had an instant worldwide impact, especially when it was screened at the Cannes film festival in 1956, where it won the 'Human Document' Award. Today, it is regarded as a masterpiece of world cinema.

Asked about the qualities of Ray as a director, Chandrasekharan says, “He shows the true India. There are no stunts or fights. His films are accessible to the common man. You need patience to see films by Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Kumar Shahani, and other art-film directors, but there is always a good pace in Ray's films. We never get bored.”

The book explores the different phases of Ray's film career. So Chandrasekharan focuses on the Kolkata films: 'Pratithdwandi', 'Seemabhadda' and 'Jana Aranya; on films based on the stories of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore: 'Teen Kanya', Charulata', and 'Ghare Baire', the Apu Trilogy and the Hindi films, 'Shatranj Ke Khilari' and 'Sadgati'.

Chadrasekharan also trains a spotlight on Ray's affair with his leading actress Madhabi Mukerjee. “They broke up after a while, because Ray felt it was not right,” says Chandrasekharan. Ray's wife is his first cousin, Bijoya, whom he married after a nine-year courtship. “To me, Ray is one of India's greatest film-makers,” says Chandrasekharan. “After all, he has won the Bharat Ratna and is the only Indian to win an Honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Design of Choice School, Tiruvalla, is on shortlist for international architecture awards

By Shevlin Sebastian
The management of Choice School, Kochi, is waiting, with bated breath, for April 12. That is the day when the results will be announced for the much-respected Architizer Awards. The design of the new Choice School, Tiruvalla, by award-winning American architect Cetra Ruddy, is in the Global Top 5 in the ‘Unbuilt Institutions’ Category.

Asked about the Architizer awards, Nicole Tetreault, Senior Marketing Manager, said, from New York, "It celebratesthe year’s best architecture, and champions designs which have a positive impact on everyday life. Thus far, we have received thousands of entries in 115 categories from over 100 countries."

Around 350 judges selected the five finalists in each category. Thereafter, they will select the jury winners. Meanwhile, the names of the finalists have been released to the public so that they can vote online. “We give a popular choice award based on the votes,” says Nicole. “Sometimes, the popular and jury choice winners are for the same project.”

While there is no prize money, the winners are invited to attend a gala, in May, at New York where they are presented with an A+ Awards Trophy.

Principal architect John Cetra is thrilled. “To reach this far in the competition, all the final candidates are already winners in their own right,” he said. At this moment, Choice is leading, with 49 per cent, while the next competitor is Smart School in Irkutsk, Russia, at 23 per cent.

“We are happy to be leading,” said Jose Thomas, President, Choice Foundation. Asked how he selected Cetra Ruddy, who was recently inducted into the architectural Hall of Fame, Jose said, “Normally it would not have happened because their standard fees would not have made it viable for a school project in India.” However, Jose has a close friendship with John. “I told John that he should do something to radically alter the face of education in India,” said Jose. And the latter agreed.

One radical change is that the classrooms will be less like a hall. Instead, in each class, there will be several tables where students will sit around, like in American schools. There will be large latticed windows at one side and colourful murals on the walls. The staircases will be made of wood. The ceilings are being decorated with acoustic wooden baffles and there will be plants and palm trees growing inside the grand atrium.

The fully air-conditioned school, which has an area of 2 lakh sq. ft., has five interconnecting blocks: a hostel, a performing arts centre, a primary, middle and high school. “The design resembles '5 fingers', which crisscross and reach out in different directions,” says John. A total of 3000 students will be accommodated.

The first phase will be inaugurated in June.

(The New Indian Express, Kerala editions)

Monday, March 21, 2016

A Verbal Thrust And Parry

Naseeruddin Shah impresses, along with Rajit Kapur, in the English play, 'A Walk In The Words' and talks about his enduring love for theatre

Photos by Ratheesh Sundaram 

By Shevlin Sebastian

Jamaluddin Saab,” says Ram Chinappa.

Call me Jamal,” says Jamaluddin. “In fact, my friends call me Jams. What about you? Do they call you Pants?”

This witty exchange is from the English play, 'A Walk In The Woods', which was held at the JT Pac, Kochi, on March 6. While Naseeruddin plays Pakistani diplomat Jamaluddin Lutfullah, Rajit Kapur plays Ram Chinappa, the Indian interlocutor. They are both in Geneva to discuss peace proposals. The play is an adaptation of the original work, written by American Lee Blessing in 1988, and has been directed by Naseeruddin's wife Ratna Pathak.

Thanks to the amusing thrust and parry between Naseeruddin and Rajit, laughter breaks out often, in the sell-out audience, which includes superstar Mohanlal. “These two try to find some common ground, as diplomats and human beings,” says Naseeruddin. “Their attempts don't result in anything fruitful, but does raise the possibility of a personal friendship between an Indian and a Pakistani.”

There is no doubt that Naseeruddin, at age 66, is still in top form. Or, as Mohanlal said, at the end of the play, “Naseer is a great actor.”

Naseer is part of a group of rare actors, who, despite commercial successes in Bollywood, continue to do theatre.

I love theatre,” he says, during an interaction before the play. “One can engage with the greatest writing in the world of the past one thousand years. You can do an ancient Greek play, or a 500-year-old [William] Shakespeare play. Where do you get that level of writing in films? And when you engage with great writing over a period of time, it slowly reveals itself. After the 100th performance, we realise that what we did in the first show was not that good.”

Naseeruddin also likes the bareness of theatre. “We prefer to use only words and actors,” he says. “When Shakespeare was doing his plays, there was nothing on stage. And he created worlds out of words. He had very little props. There was a man shaking a tin can to create thunder. To get the sound of gunfire, a cannon would be fired, and once a theatre caught fire because of that.”

Regarding the difference between film and theatre acting, Naseeruddin says, “There is no difference. People imagine that, on stage, you have to enlarge your performance. But the person, sitting in the last row, if he is focusing on your performance, is able to see everything. The human eye has a greater level of focus than any camera lens.”

But the best part for Naseeruddin is the feeling of exhilaration he feels while interacting with the audience. “It is not only the applause, response, laughter and live reactions,” he says. “There is something deeper than that. It is a subconscious connection between the actors and the audience.”

Meanwhile, when asked about the current talent level, Naseeruddin mentions noted Marathi movies like 'Masaan' (Neeraj Ghaywan), 'Court' (Chaitanya Tamhane), and 'Highway' (Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni). “I also liked the Hindi film, 'Dum Laga Ke Haisha' (Sharat Katariya),” he says. “These directors are the treasures of today. And they would not have been here without the Shyam Benegals and Govind Nihalinis who had come earlier. And they would not have been there, without the Mrinal Sens, Ritwik Ghataks, and Adoor Gopalakrishnans.”

After more than 40 years in the trade, with movies like 'Aakrosh', 'Sparsh', 'Mirch Masala', 'Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Ata Hai', 'Nishant', 'Junoon', 'Ardh Satya', and 'Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro', and winning numerous acting awards, as well as the Padma Bhushan, Naseeruddin has had a successful career. But his definition of success is unusual.

Success, to me, is to be able to do what you want to do,” he says. “If I feel like doing a commercial movie for lots of money I can do that. If I feel like doing a small Rs 50 lakh movie to be shot in the interiors of Kerala, I do it. If I feel like doing a play, or a workshop for students, or resting for two months and playing tennis, I can do that.”

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

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Attached To Each Other

COLUMN: Spouse's Turn

Lakshmi talks about life with the violinist Bala Bhaskar 

Photos by Manu R Mavelil

By Shevlin Sebastian

The first time, Lakshmi met the violinist Bala Bhaskar was in University College, Thiruvananthapuram in 2000. A mutual friend, Joy, introduced them. Bala said, “Hi,” and walked away. Later, he again came back and said, “I have seen you in the classes.” Laskhmi smiled. Soon, they began to meet up regularly.

Very soon, Bala proposed marriage. “I felt that he was joking,” says Lakshmi. “So I told him to get lost.” But Bala was not upset. He said, “Your answer does not change my feelings for you.” So, he kept on proposing. And Lakshmi kept on rejecting him. “But one day, I finally realised he was serious about me,” says Lakshmi.

Bala went and met Lakshmi's parents. “Like most parents, they were against the idea,” says Lakshmi. “They told me that both of us were so young. Bala had no job. I told Bala I needed time to convince my parents. But Bala was scared. He was sure there would be no family-approved marriage.” So, one day, Bala told Lakshmi that they should get married first and then complete their studies. Lakshmi agreed.

So, without informing their parents, they had a registered marriage, on December 20, 2001, at Thiruvananthapuram, in the presence of a few friends. Today, fifteen years later, the news is good. Both sets of parents have accepted their marriage and they are blissfully in love.

That does not mean it was a bed of roses,” says Lakshmi. “There have been fights, misunderstandings, and problems. But we worked hard to overcome them and remain together. You must not forget, we were very young when we got married.”

Asked to list Bala's plus points, Lakshmi says, “He is committed to his music. Bala puts in 100 per cent in whatever he is doing, whether it is a jingle or a song. And even though he is always busy, travelling from city to city, he will never say, 'I cannot do this for you because I am travelling or busy'. He is always there for me.”

His negative quality is a short temper. “That is because he is a sensitive and emotional person,” says Lakshmi. “If he feels hurt, he will react. But I have got used to it.”

And Lakshmi has also got used to the fact that music is his greatest passion. “I don't have a problem with that,” she says. “Because music makes my husband so happy. I can see it in his eyes when he is performing. He becomes a different person on stage. Bala loves to do shows, and gets so encouraged by the vibes of the audience. A performance is a kind of meditation for him.”

But her happiest moment has been away from music. That was when they went for a one-week vacation to Dubai sometime ago. “It was the first time that I could spend time with him, without any disturbances,” she says. “We enjoyed shopping, ate good food and saw lots of nice places.” 

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

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Unexpected Deaths And Business Calamities


Scriptwriter S. Suresh Babu talks about his experiences in the films, ‘Shikkar’ and ‘Kanal’

Photos: Mohanlal with S. Suresh Babu (right); Mohanlal on the sets of 'Shikkar' 

By Shevlin Sebastian

When the casting was being done for the film, ‘Shikkar’ (2010), a lot of names were suggested regarding the actor who would play the friend of Mohanlal.

It was then that I suggested Sreenath, a brilliant actor, who was acting in television serials at that time,” says ‘Shikkar’ scriptwriter S. Suresh Babu. In ‘Kireedom’ (1999), he had played a friend of Mohanlal, so the latter also accepted the recommendation.

But when shooting began, at a bamboo forest in Kothamangalam, it was clear that Sreenath was not at his best. “Later, we heard that some ruffians had gone to the hotel in Kothamangalam, where he was staying, and threatened him,” says Suresh. “Apparently, he owed money to a lot of people.”

When the first part of the shoot was over, Sreenath was told that he could go home and would be called later.

On the morning of April, 23, 2010, a taxi driver arrived at the hotel in Kothamanagalam to collect him. But there was no response when calls were made to the room. Ultimately, the door was opened, by hotel employees, using the reserve key.

Sreenath lay unmoving on the bed. Police later said that he had committed suicide. It came as a big shock to all of us on the set,” says Suresh. “We felt sad, because Sreenath was only in his fifties.” Shooting was suspended for two days, as the police had to conduct an enquiry. In the end, Lalu Alex played the role.

Near the end of the two-month long shoot, the climax was shot at Devil's Kitchen in Kodaikanal. This is a forest at a height, between a valley and three gigantic rocks. “It is a scene where Mohanlal's daughter, in the film, played by Ananya, is hidden there by some villains and he comes to rescue her,” says Suresh.

But it was a dangerous place. There are certain spots where there are holes in the ground through which one can slip through and fall all the way to the bottom. “You cannot survive such a fall,” says Suresh. “Guides had to use sticks and hit the ground ahead of them as they walked.”

Director M. Padmakumar decided to use four cameras. Out of the four, one of the cameras was to be placed at a lower level pointed upwards. As the crew members were going down, suddenly they came across a body lying on the branch of a tree.

It was a horrific sight: decaying flesh and pieces of bone could be seen, apart from a putrid smell. “Maybe, the man fell by accident or committed suicide,” says Suresh. “But the guides and forest officers told us that this was a regular sight, as many people went there to kill themselves.”

Despite these bad omens, when ‘Shikkar’ was released, it became a big hit. “So although I felt sorrowful about Sreenath's death, I was glad that, after all the difficulties, the film did well,” says Suresh.

On another occasion, Suresh went to Dubai to do research on a story on the global recession of 2008. While there, he met Kurup (name changed), a Malayali, who used to own four hotels. But the recession destroyed his business. “Kurup was staying in the storeroom of one of the hotels, because he had no place to stay,” says Suresh.

Kurup became the inspiration for the character of businessman Kuruvilla Mathew Iype (played by Atul Kulkarni) for the film, ‘Kanaal’ (2015), which was written by Suresh, and starred Mohanlal and Anoop Menon.

However, when the United Arab Emirates government refused permission to shoot the film in Dubai, because the theme was recession, the crew shifted to a labour camp in Doha, Qatar. After a careful search, they discovered a small and shabby room to do a few scenes. In fact, a Malayali, Ravindran (name changed) was using that room.

After the shoot was over, Suresh told Ravindran about the theme of the film. “Ravindran became emotional,” says Suresh. “He told me that he had been doing very well as a businessman in Dubai, but lost everything in the recession. So, he came to Qatar and was now working as a labourer. I thought to myself, ‘From Kurup to Ravindran, what a coincidence’. ” 

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

Monday, March 14, 2016

Kerala's Super Mouse

Many youngsters in Kerala are fans of the comic book hero Dinkan. But they use him to mock formal religion and outdated beliefs

Photos: Dinkoists at a meeting in Kochi. They are holding a large tapioca and giving the 'Dinka, Dinka' greeting with their thumb; Photo by Ratheesh Sundaram. The comic hero Dinkan
By Shevlin Sebastian
Sarita Cherian lifted up the placard high above her head. On it was written, 'Dinkan Exists', in Malayalam. Her colleague shouted, “Dileep, with your comedy film, 'Professor Dinkan', you are hurting our religious sentiments.”
This protest took place outside [Mollywood star] Dileep’s 'Dhe Puttu’ restaurant on January 30, at Kochi, by the members of the Dinkoism religion. “We are angry that Dileep is using the name of Dinkan for his film,” says Sarita. “We don't know the storyline, as yet, but our God is Dinkan.” Dileep plays a magician in the film.
As for Dinkan, he is a comic strip character created by the Kottayam-based writer N. Somashekharan, 57, and artist Baby. A mouse, with a red cape, a yellow body suit and red shoes, he first appeared in the Malayalam children's magazine, 'Balamangalam' in 1983 and remained in print till the magazine closed down in 2012, even though Somasekharan left the magazine in 2005.
Dinkan has superpowers,” says Somasekharan. “He lived in a forest called Pankila. One day, Dinkan was abducted by aliens. They did some experiments on him. As a result, he became physically powerful, and could fly. Any animal, or person, who was in distress, could call out his name and Dinkan would come to the rescue, like Superman.”

Says Dinkan devotee Samoosa Thrikonadhyaya, “He is the god of the universe.  We also believe in the Big Laugh theory, which says that the entire universe originated from the big laugh of Lord Dinkan.” 

So, clearly, the protests against Dileep were a clever way of making fun of organised religions. They also pretend to get offended when anybody questions the divinity of Dinkan or their 'Holy Book' Balamangalam. “We were also making fun of those who protested against films like 'Hey Ram', 'PK' and 'Vishwaroopam',” says writer KS Binu. “We believe in a free and just society, based on scientific and rational thinking.”
Not surprisingly, nearly all the Dinkoists have read Dinkan as children. “He is a beloved character,” says writer Binu. “We have been his fans all along.”
But Somasekharan is not a supporter of the Dinkoism movement. “The Dinkoists are using Dinkan to mock people and concepts,” he says. “But this hero belongs to children.”
Thus far, Dinkoism is an amorphous grouping. They have not registered themselves as an organisation. But there are devotees in places like Kozhikode, Thiruvananthapuram, Thrissur and Kochi. But, thanks to their protest, at 'Dhe Puttu', which was broadcast widely, they have caught the imagination of Keralites everywhere.
On February 28, the Dinkoists held a meeting at Kochi, so that they could get in touch with each other. At a table, on the stage, there was a large piece of tapioca. “As a mouse, Dinkan's favourite food is tapioca,” says Sarita. “Uprooting tapioca from the ground represents uprooting the social evils of religion, racism and misogyny. Hence, Dinkoists promote the consumption of tapioca.”
And the Dinkoists also took a potshot at faith-healing, which is so prevalent in Kerala. One youngster, Mohan Das (name changed), stepped on stage and pretended to be a faith healer. When a young girl, Haritha Thambi, said that she was feeling very hot, Mohan pointed his arms ceiling-wards and invoked Dinkan. “Lord Dinkan, please cool down this girl,” said Mohan.

After a while, the girl said, “I feel all right now. Thank you Lord Dinkan.” Then the Dinkoists raised their right thumb, shifted it sideways rapidly, and shouted, 'Dinka', 'Dinka'. “This is our way of greeting each other,” says Sarita.
The audience yelled their appreciation and burst out into spirited laughter. In the crowd was Vinuraj MV, a 26-year-old IT professional. He had been following the Dinkoist movement on Facebook. So, when they announced a meeting, Vinuraj decided to attend it, so that he could get a better idea.
At the conclusion of the two-hour meeting, he felt that it was thought-provoking. “But I need more clarity on what they stand for,” he says. “So I might have to attend another meeting.” 

But Vinuraj enjoyed their parody skits. "There should be more groups like this, who can come up with new and interesting ideas," he says. "It will energise our society.”

Saturday, March 12, 2016

In Search Of An Unique Gift, A Father Writes About His Son

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo: Characters in the story. Photo by Mithun Vinod. 

A few days ago, while I was walking with my 12-year-old son, Subin, he told me, “Baba, from the back, your head looks like the top of a cashew nut with bits of hair on the sides.”

Should I wear a wig,” I said.

No, it's fine,” he said.

This talented boy always has an interesting take on the world. And a big heart. One of my unforgettable memories of Subin was when his mother was unwell and was lying in bed. And she wanted to eat something.

Subin, who was in Class 4, went to the kitchen, broke an egg, pored the yolk into a bowl, added salt, and stirred it. Then he pulled up a chair, lit the gas stove, placed a pan, and made an omelette, which he gave to his mother.

And so, sometime ago, when his First Holy Communion ceremony was going to take place, I wracked my brain on what unique gift to give to him.

And then the idea struck me: why not write an article about my son. After all, as a journalist, I write about all sorts of interesting people, from Edmund Hilary at a hotel in Darjeeling to a beggar outside St Mahim's church, Mumbai, who, astonishingly, turned out to be a Malayali.

So here is the gift of thoughts and reflections:

When Subin was small he would look at the sweets placed in a glass bottle on our dining room table [at Kochi],” says Rani Vadakel, Subin's grand aunt. “He would never take it without getting permission. To get it, Subin would knock on the table, and get our attention. When we give it, he would take not only for himself but for [his sister] Sneha also.”

Classmate Aaron Joseph Pramod says that Subin is a good boy. “He reads a lot,” says Pramod. “Among our friends, Subin is the smallest. Sony, who is taller than Subin, carries him around. Subin does not like it much and says, ‘Put me down’. When the class teacher is there, he is very quiet. But when we have a free period, he talks a lot.”

Says Molly Isaac, maternal grandmother: “Sometimes, Subin will ask me whether I miss my husband [who died in 2003]. Compared to other children, he has the ability to understand people far better than most. This is a gift from God. If I tell him I am going to the shop, he will immediately say, 'Grandma, don't go alone. I will come’.”

To cousin Aneesha Jose, Subin is an extremely fun-loving and jovial person who knows how to tickle the funny bone of even the most serious person. “He has the greatest dance moves and can remember the lyrics of a hundred songs,” says Aneesha. “He can lighten the mood in any situation. Everyone loves being around him. Even though his size may be small, he has the biggest heart.”

As for Subin’s mother, Sini, she remembers getting a letter one day from Subin.

On the cover, it was written, 'A Sorry and a Thank You note'.

Inside, Subin wrote:

Thank you
1) For ironing our clothes
2) For washing the dishes
3) For praying for us
4) For sweeping the house
5) Loving and taking care of us

Sorry for:

Not helping you
Hurting you
Not doing things on time

This exercise was an eye-opener. At the end of it, I realised that, like all parents, I hardly knew my son, even though he is living right next to me. So, what is the possibility that I will know anything when Subin grows up and moves away?

And this also proved, once again, that the immortal words of Kahlil Gibran in 'The Prophet' are absolutely true:

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.’ 

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