Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Panic During A Gas Leak


Actor Esther Anil talks about her experiences in the Malayalam and Tamil versions of 'Drishyam'

Photo by Swaroop Sankar

By Shevlin Sebastian

At a bungalow, outside Thodupuzha, during the shoot of the Malayalam film, 'Drishyam', in October, 2013, a birthday cake was being cut for Murali, Mohanlal's costume designer. The crew was keen to have a piece, as well as ladoos and other snacks. So they were hovering around the table. But, suddenly, a gas cylinder began to leak at the back of the house.

I saw [director] Jeethu Uncle and his wife Linta Aunty running into the nearby rubber plantation,” says child artist Esther Anil. Mohanlal, who was in his room, also got the message. Soon, he hurried out.

Very soon, panic set in,” says Esther. “Then we all began to run.” However, in the melee, Esther and her mother, Manju, fell to the ground. “We felt dazed,” says Esther. “In the end we managed to move away.”

It took a while before the leak was stopped. The people then trooped back, and shooting resumed once again.

During one scene, Kalabhavan Shajohn, who dons the role of Constable Sahadevan, is supposed to kick Mohanlal, who plays cable business operator Georgekutty, on the chest. “Lalettan told Shajohn Chettan to give an actual kick,” says Esther. “Otherwise, it would not be realistic.”

So Shajohn raised his leg, and, at that moment, he slipped, and fell flat on his back. “The entire crew began laughing,” says Esther. “Lalettan also laughed out aloud. Shahjohn Chettan felt embarrassed. After all, he was supposed to be a policeman.”

Meanwhile, during the shoot of 'Papanasam' [the Tamil version of 'Drishyam'], again, at Thodupuzha, one day, actress Gautami told Esther and Manju that Michelle Mann, from New Zealand, a friend of Shruti Haasan [Kamal Haasan's daughter] was coming to visit the town.

So, one day, all of them, including Michelle, went on a road trip.

On the way, Michelle read a board which said, 'Toddy'. She asked what it was. “We told her it is a drink,” says Esther. “She wanted to taste it. So, my mother and I went into the shop and bought a small bottle.”

When they gave it to her, Michelle tightened the cap and said she would try it in her hotel room. “The next day, in the presence of Kamal Sir, we asked Michelle whether she liked the toddy,” says Esther. “Michelle replied that she could not taste a single drop.”

When she unscrewed the cap, the contents burst out and fell all over the floor. “One reason was because it had been screwed too hard,” says Esther. “Another was that, in the car, the bottle had received a lot of jolts. And all that contributed to the explosion.”

Later, for the Telugu version of 'Drishyam', Esther and Manju had gone to Hyderabad for the shoot. But soon after they reached there, they realised that everybody spoke in Telugu.

When we wanted a glass of water we had to show the action of drinking water,” says Esther. “The same was the case of ordering different types of food, like eggs and fish. After a while, we got used to it.”

Then, one day, a new chef arrived. When he asked what food they wanted, Esther went into the same elaborate actions. Finally, he said, in Malayalam, “'Mole', what exactly do you want to eat?”

Dasan was the only Malayali on the set. He told Esther, “Next time, you don't need to do any actions. Just tell me directly.” 

The New Indian Express, Kochi, Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Making a Comeback

Gautami talks about teaming up with Mohanlal, after 18 years, in ‘Vismayam’, as well as her future plans

By Shevlin Sebastian

Gautami breaks into a small laugh when she is told that the film, ‘Vismayam’, has been received well in Kerala. “That’s so nice to hear,” she says. She is starring alongside Mollywood superstar Mohanlal, who dons the role of an assistant manager in a supermarket. Asked why she chose the role, Gautami says, “I wanted to work with the director, Chandrasekhar Yeleti, because he is passionate about the type of films he wants to make.”

Secondly, she liked the script. “Gayathri, the character I play, is like like most Indian woman, whose world is made up of her family and home,” says Gautami. The film has also been released in Tamil and Telugu. 

Gautami has teamed up with Mohanlal after 18 years. The last film they worked together was the Malayalam superhit, ‘His Highness Abdullah.’

Asked how Mohanlal has changed, Gautami says, “There is a maturing and greater ease in his acting. All these years he has been honing his talent. So, he has a deeper understanding of the craft.”

This is something that Gautami has missed. She left acting, nearly twenty years ago, so that she could, as a single mother, be with her daughter, Subbalakshmi, 24x7. “But I have no regrets about it,” she says. “I always did what I wanted to do, at every stage of my life. Subbalakshmi is 16 now and ready to go college. So I felt that this is the right time to return to films.”
In fact, her first film was last year’s Tamil superhit, ‘Papanasam’, in which she starred alongside her partner Kamal Haasan.

She is, of course, best qualified to compare the two legends, Kamal and Mohanlal. “Both have huge personas,” says Gautami. “And they have reached where they have, through dint of sheer hard work.”

But when told that it must have been easy for them because of their God-given talent and charisma, Gautami says, “I know of many people who have talent and charisma, but unless you are willing to put in a huge amount of struggle, it is very hard to make a mark.”

And making a mark is what Gautami plans to do now. “I would like to act in both mainstream and meaningful films,” she says. In fact, she has just signed, to act in a Tamil romantic comedy, with Prabhu Deva. “We are teaming up, after 26 long years,” she says, with a beaming smile. “It feels great to be back.”

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

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Face As Inner Mirror

Sculptor EG Chithra’s work at the ‘Time Devoured’ exhibition is about her own face after she became bald

Photos: by Ratheesh Sundaram

By Shevlin Sebastian

Artist PV Nandan stares intensely at EG Chithra's sculpture, a self-portrait. “The eyes look sad, but the lips are determined,” he says. “There is a coiled energy in the face.” He caresses the bald head, which is on display at the 'Time Devoured' exhibition, held recently, at the Durbar Hall Art Gallery in Kochi. “It is an impressive work,” he says. “Although there are very few women sculptors in Kerala, Chithra is one of the best.”

Chithra's work, titled, 'Yes, I believe that this is something special', has a back story. At 6 p.m., on March 26, last year, she walked into the Aspinwall House, at Fort Kochi during the Kochi Biennale. Chithra was wearing a floor-length maroon gown, held an empty earthen pot in her hands, and had three dolls hanging on her back. She reached an area where a circle had been marked, with white chalk, on the ground.
Chithra went to the centre, and sat on the upturned pot. Then she closed her eyes for a few moments. Several spectators, many of them foreigners, gazed at her in silence. The screech of a parrot and the cawing of crows could be heard. Chithra stood up, took out a pair of scissors, and proceeded to cut her hair. Soon, thick lockets fell to the ground.

I am a person who has a lot of baggage from the past – a victim of social conditioning, brainwashed religious beliefs, unmet expectations, and intense anxieties,” says Chithra. “As a result, my real self was buried deep within myself. Through this performance, [called 'Abrecation', which is a psychoanalytical term, for reliving an experience in order to purge it of its emotional power], I wanted to move towards freedom.”
Later, her friends helped her to become completely bald. “After doing the performance I felt an immense self-confidence,” says Chithra.

A few months later, she got the idea of doing a sculpture of her bald head. To make it,Chithra did a life-size drawing on paper, by looking at the photo taken by her husband on his mobile phone. Then she made a two-feet high metal structure. Thereafter, wet clay was pressed onto it. “I did the detailing of the face at this point,” says Chithra, 30. Soon, a mould was made, using Plaster of Paris, and this was cast in cement. Finally, with the help of a spray gun, the chocolate colour was applied to the face.
Interestingly, on the back of the sculpture, there is the embedded mark of a plait of hair. “I just wanted to say that whatever happens in life, whether good or bad, it leaves a permanent mark on you,” says Chithra.

She is also making a mark with her works. But the artist stumbled on to sculpting by accident. When she applied to do a course in painting at the RLV College of Music and Fine Arts, in the suburb of Tripunithara, there were no seats. Instead, there was an opening in sculpture. So she opted for it and was able to complete the four-year course.

I discovered that I enjoyed sculpting,” she says. “It has given me so much of pleasure. This could also be a subconscious reminder of my father, who works as a carpenter. Maybe, that's why I also enjoy working with my hands.”

But life is not easy for this full-time artist, whose husband is a painter. “There are only a handful of artistes in Kerala who can live by selling their works,” she says. “The works of painters are not selling, so you can imagine the plight of sculptors.”

She has been able to make ends meet by being an occasional lecturer on art at different colleges, including her alma mater, RLV College. Thus far, Chithra has done about fifteen sculptures. One eye-catching one is of a woman lying supine, in mid-air, with her long flowing hair pointing towards the ground.

Most days, both husband and wife work in a rented studio at Fort Kochi. “I am living my passion, so I am happy, no matter the difficulties,” says Chithra. 

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Falling Face-Down


Actress Kaniha talks about her experiences in the Tamil film, 'Five Star', the Telugu film, 'Ottesi Chepputunna', and an unexpected meeting with a Malayalam superstar

By Shevlin Sebastian

Kaniha was feeling happy. For her first film, 'Five Star' (2002), she was shooting in Berne, Switzerland. She was so enthusiastic that when there was no shoot involving her, she would stand beside the director, Susi Ganeshan, and use the clapperboard.

One morning, on the penultimate day of the shoot, the crew had got inside a bus. They were about to do a picturisation for the song, 'Thiru Thiruda'. As Kaniha stepped in, she realised that she had forgotten her jacket. So she ran out, went to the hotel, collected it, and returned.

As she was about to step into the bus, she slipped and landed face-down on the road. “I had blood all over my face,” she says. “I had no clue from where it was coming.”

The crew rushed her to a hospital, but it took almost an hour. While there, the doctors realised that there was a severe cut in the gums. So they stitched it together. When Kaniha stepped out of the hospital, she noticed that there was dried-up blood all over her dress.

Suddenly, the director said, “Let's shoot. We have to finish the schedule.”

Kaniha got a shock. “I was thinking to myself, 'What a cruel world I am living in',” she says.

During the shoot, they took shots of Kaniha, in silhouette, so that nobody could notice there was anything wrong with her. Says Kaniha, “It would take a few more years for me to realise that what Susi did was right. The producer had spent lakhs of rupees, so the shoot had to be finished on schedule. Otherwise, there would be cost overruns.”

In January, 2003, Kaniha had another chance to go abroad. This was for her first Telugu film, 'Ottesi Chepputunna'. The shoot was at Queenstown, New Zealand. Hero Srikkanth wore a gaudy yellow shirt and trousers, while Kaniha wore a green and red costume for the picturisation of a song.

The crew placed us in the middle of a busy street,” says Kaniha. “Since the camera was placed on the top of a building, nobody could see it.” But thanks to a microphone in their ears, the actors would start dancing following instructions from the director E Sattibabu.

We would dance, but the local bystanders thought that we were street performers, since they could not see the camera. So, they would throw coins at us,” says Kaniha. “It was so embarrassing. In between shots, I stood at one side and thought, 'What am I doing here? People are throwing money at me!'.” Somehow, the shoot concluded quickly.

But Kaniha did not want another event to end quickly. Recently, she took a morning flight from Chennai to Kochi. Feeling drowsy, she put on her sunglasses and went off into a deep sleep. “Suddenly, I felt somebody tap me,” she says. “I woke up, feeling very irritated. And then I got a shock.”

It was superstar Mohanlal. An ecstatic Kaniha shouted, “Lalettan.”

The last film they worked together was 'Spirit' (2012). “I had not seen him for a while,” she says. “When you are shooting or at an award function, you have very little time to talk to each other.”

But, this time, the duo enjoyed 50 minutes of uninterrupted conversation. “We talked about cinema, about Lalettan's projects,” says Kaniha. “He was open to talk about any subject. Lalettan is extremely well-read and knowledgeable. I could have an intelligent conversation with him. It was a memorable experience for me.” 

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

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Living by Bread Alone

Jeemol Koruth Verghese has been spreading the joys of home-made bread
in Kochi 

Photos by Albin Mathew 

By Shevlin Sebastian

Rasheeda Begum, 30, felt depressed. She had asked permission from her conservative Muslim in-laws to attend a one-day baking class, at Kochi, conducted by Jeemol Koruth Verghese, but they said no. Her husband lives and works in West Asia.

Rasheeda threw several tantrums, and stopped having her meals. Finally, the family relented. But when she arrived at Kochi, from Guruvayur, 93 kms away, the mother-of-two was accompanied by two male relatives, who sat on the stairs, outside the door of Eva's Healthy Bakes, throughout the day, providing security for her.

In the end, it turned out well for Rasheeda. “She is a natural talent,” says Jeemol, 34. “Rasheeda picked up the techniques very quickly. And now she is baking all types of bread and has become a star in her locality. It has given a boost to her self-confidence.”

Jeemol's baking classes are growing in popularity in Kochi. “In a way, you can say, I am a 'bread activist',” she says, with a smile. “I want to make people eat home-made bread. It is so much more tasty.”

What Jeemol does not mention is that mass-baked bread has a lot of preservatives in it, so that it lasts a long time. The ingredients include gluten, palmolein, potassium sorbate, calcium propionate and sodium bezonate.

A home-made loaf, which consists of unbleached organic flour and sugar, yeast, water, milk, oil, salt and egg, has a much shorter shelf-life,” says Jeemol. “The bread will go bad within two to three days. But if its refrigerated, it can last a week. To eat it, you just need to steam it.”

Among the many types that Jeemol makes, they include whole wheat bread, baguettes, organic semolina, cibatta, rosemary and braided breads, Olive Herbed Foccacia and the Jewish Challah.

The Challah is a traditional Jewish bread, which is eaten on the Sabbath,” she says. “It is made with honey, olive oil, eggs, but has less sugar.”

But the most popular bread is the foccacia, from Italy. This is made of yeast, olive oil, thyme, herbs like rosemary or basil, black olives and caramalised onions. “Many of my students have never heard of this bread,” she says. “But when they take it home, the families love it. My children also like it a lot.”

Her classes are attended by women, who range in age from 16 to 65. And
most of the participants are happy. Deepa Vijay says, “I attended Jeemol's class, without anyone's knowledge, and the next weekend I baked a yummy loaf and surprised my family, who always considered me as zilch in the kitchen. Now I realise that the step-by-step process of making bread is a stress-buster for my marketing job.”

Asked the secret to making a good bread, Jeemol says, “You need to make it with passion. I feel such a deep sense of satisfaction when the bread rises in the oven. I love the brown crust and the delicious smell. When I make bread at home, thanks to the aroma, it does not take long for my neighbours to know it. So, I always give them a few loaves.” 

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

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Usha Uthup to sing in honour of Mother Teresa at Rome

Photos: Usha Uthup; a younger Usha sharing the stage with Mother Teresa at Kolkata

Shevlin Sebastian

Whenever singer Usha Uthup would perform, during the functions of the Kolkata-based Missionaries of Charity, singing classic hymns like 'Amazing Grace’ and ‘Abide with me’ she would also sing the 1970s hit pop song, 'Beautiful Sunday'. “Mother Teresa liked it a lot,” says Usha.

Thoughts of Mother Teresa are suffusing Usha's mind, as the former's canonisation, on September 4, at the Vatican, looms closer. Thanks to a special invitation from the Missionaries of Charity, as well as the Vatican, Usha will be attending, along with her son Sunny. Incidentally, Usha had been at St Peter’s Square, on October 19, 2003, to attend the beatification ceremony of the nun. While there she also received a personal blessing from Pope John Paul 11.

Meanwhile, on the evening of September 3, Usha will be singing at a function, at Rome, which will be honouring the life of Mother Teresa.

When Mother Teresa died [on September 5, 1997], I wrote a song called 'The Poorest of the Poor',” she says. “This song was sung throughout the four days her body was kept for public viewing, at Loreto House, Kolkata.”

Here is a sample of the lyrics:

'You filled their hearts with love and peace,
Oh Mother, Mother Teresa,
You loved and gave them reason to live,
You gave your life for the poor,
For the poorest of the poor.'

They depended on you, Mother Teresa
To see them through all their sorrows,
They depended on you, from the slums to the dying,
To live their todays and their tomorrows.’

At the Rome function, Usha will be singing this song as well as a Bengali song.

It will be an act of affection by Usha. Because she had known Mother Teresa for 47 years. “I became close to her because of her charismatic personality,” says Usha. “She was kind, merciful, and had a nice sense of humour. She also had unbelievable inner strength. What I liked was that she did not preach religion. In fact, she only talked about the brotherhood of man.”

And the Mother would offer advice to Usha, as she went through the ups and downs of her life. “She would also tell me, 'My child, bring a smile to everybody's face, with your singing,'” says Usha.

For the singer, Mother Teresa was already a saint when she was alive. “But this canonisation is so huge,” says Usha. “Where does it happen in our lifetime? To walk, talk, sit with somebody, have a cup of coffee, and, later, see her canonised! How many people are fortunate to see something like that? I am so grateful to God for this.” 

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

Friday, August 19, 2016

A Paradise In The Middle Of Nowhere

The Quiet island resort, near a branch of the Periyar river, Kerala, radiates silence, tranquility and natural beauty

Photos of the resort by Ratheesh Sundaram

By Shevlin Sebastian

At the village of Paniely Poru, 55 kms from Kochi, a bus is waiting for me. It has the words, ‘The Quiet’, painted on its sides. On a cloudy May afternoon, driver Manish Varghese sets off on a winding, narrow, mud-baked road through the Malayatoor forest. On both sides there are rubber, jackfruit, mahogany and teak trees. The ceaseless buzz of crickets can be heard.

On good days, you can see elephants, wild boar, peacocks, and rabbits,” says Manish, as he navigates the bus over a smooth rock surface, which is part of the road.  

After five kilometres of a bumpy ride, we reach the edge of a branch of the Periyar river. There, two young men, Sanjay and Vijay, are waiting on their boat. Soon, we are going down the river. Both use bamboo poles to guide the boat. There is a gentle ‘slap-slap’ sound, as the water hits the sides. The greenery on the banks dazzles the eye. Slowly, the all-round silence begins to seep into me. The constant buzz of thoughts slows down.  

After a while, the boat stops at an island. I step off and climb a series of steps to reach 'The Quiet – By The River'.  

At the top stands Anil Kurian, the managing director of the Paniely Poru Hotels and Resorts Pvt. Ltd. “Welcome to paradise,” he says.

At first glance, apart from a grassy lawn, with plants and coconut trees, and an infinity swimming pool, you can see stone and wooden cottages with sloping roofs.

Anil leads me to a wooden cottage. The rooms are dark, cosy and pleasant. And there is a story behind the wood. For a long time, a family in the town of Cherthala had wanted to sell the 130-year-old wooden frame of their ancestral house. But no matter how much they tried, they could not do so. “In fact, their great-grandfather had made a prediction: since the house had been originally on an island, it would only go to another island,” says Anil. “And that was what happened. We bought it, dismantled the frames and set it up again on our island.”

When the resort was set up two years ago, Anil noticed a lot of old stones lying on the property. So he decided to use it to make the stone cottages. And inside each room, there is a mantelpiece made of the same stones. “It has a cooling effect,” says Anil. The bed, table and chairs are made of teak wood. And when you step outside, there is a small verandah, with low wooden armchairs. It is a relaxing setting. “You are in the middle of nowhere,” says Adela Drgova from Prague.

Indeed, one is. At one side of the resort, there is a cove, which is shielded by trees, and has a mini waterfall. “It is a natural jacuzzi,” says Anil. “Guests are encouraged to sit below the waterfall, to enjoy a shower. Most of the visitors spend hours in the water. In fact, we have put up floodlights, so that they can use it in the night also.”

Other activities include trekking, visiting a vegetable farm, and a one-hour boat ride at night. “We use a torch to light up the water,” says Anil. “Sometimes, large fishes come to the surface, and we can see them because of their glinting eyes. Manish, who is a local, is an expert at spearing fishes and lobsters.”

Once the catch is brought ashore, the chef CJ Mathew sets up a barbeque on the shore. The fish is cooked and consumed immediately. “Guests are also provided fishing rods, so that they can catch some fish on their own,” says Anil.

Apart from the fish, The Quiet provides local Kerala food. “This includes jackfruit, rice and sambar, beans and spinach,” says Mathew. “We make it with very little spices, to suit the foreign palate.” Interestingly, the resort grows most of these items, as well as the spices, like black pepper, on the island. “So there are no pesticides in the food we provide,” says a smiling Mathew.

Apart from Westerners, there are guests from other parts of India, apart from local corporates, who avail of day-packages on weekdays. But the surprise is that there are regular visitors from the Arab countries. “They love to come during the monsoon season,” says Anil. “When you live in a desert area, the rain is always a miracle.” 

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

Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Poet's Viewpoint

Author TV Varkey has written a novel through the eyes of Kerala's famed poet Changampuzha Krishna Pillai

Photos: TV Varkey by Melton Antony; Changampuzha Krishna Pillai 

By Shevlin Sebastian

A few years ago, author TV Varkey read the biography of Changampuzha Krishna Pillai written by noted art critic MK Sanu. “It was a good and unbiased narration,” says Varkey. “Changampuzha came across as a complex but interesting person.”

Varkey had been a fan, right from his teenage years. “I love the poems 'Ramanan' and 'Vaazhakkula',” he says.

One day, sometime ago, Varkey felt a desire to write a novel in the voice of Changampuzha. So, he did research, read several books on the poet, apart from articles in magazines and newspapers. Then he sat down to write.

Two years later, the end result has appeared: a 327 page novel, called 'The Poet', which has just been published by Partridge Press, Singapore.

What is unusual is that, instead of writing in Malayalam, like his previous 12 novels and two short-story collections, Varkey has opted for English. Asked why, he says, “English has a worldwide acceptance. If I write in Malayalam, it will reach a small audience. Only a thousand copies will be printed.”

In Malayalam literature, he says, the critics have hailed only about half-a-dozen writers: O V Vijayan, M Mukundan, Paul Zacharia, Kakkanadan, Punathil Kunjabdulla, and Sethu. “They don't pay any attention to the others,” says Varkey. “Many have suffered because of this neglect.”

Changampuzha had also suffered a lot during his life, but it was a different type of pain. When he was nine years old, one evening, he came home, at Edapally, bleeding, after a fight with a friend. His shocked mother beat him with a stick. “That was a turning point,” says Varkey. “Changampuzha adored her. He never expected that his mother would hit him. He went to the back of the house and brooded for many hours.”

But his life changed when he discovered his poetic talent. “Changampuzha became a different person,” says Varkey. “He was able to touch the common man's heart with his poems on love and nature.”

However, like most great artistes, his personal life was in tatters. Apart from being an alcoholic, he was also an insatiable womaniser. “He was tall and handsome and knew how to seduce women,” says Varkey.

Changampuzha probably took after his own father. One day, his dad took Changampuzha along, as he went to his mistress's house. He went inside and made love to her, while the boy stayed outside.

Like his father, Changampuzha also never looked after his family, which consisted of his wife, mother, grandmother, and three children. “Whatever money he earned, he would spend it on drink,” says Varkey. “Nevertheless, he kept on writing.” Eventually, he published several books of poetry, while another two belong to the non-fiction category.

His turning point happened when he returned to Kerala following a stint as a clerk in the Military Accountant's Office at Pune and Kochi. Suffering from rheumatism, he was treated at a hospital near the Naval Base, at Kochi, where he met Dr. Arvind Nair (name changed).

The doctor brought him home and provided treatment. Arvind's wife, Radhika, was a beautiful woman, and an avid fan of Changampuzha. They began an affair in secret. And when Changampuzha went to Chennai, to study law, they would write letters to each other. Soon, the family came to know. At Chennai, two sons of Arvind confronted Changampuzha and gave him a severe thrashing. Later, this led to the rise of tuberculosis, and, death, at an early death of 37.

Nevertheless, Changampuzha had packed more in his short life than many others who have lived long,” says Varkey.

Yes, indeed. The novel reveals the messy but soaring life of a creative genius. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

First Time With Legends


Unni Mukundan talks about his experiences in the films, ‘Janatha Garage’, ‘Avarude Ravukal’ and ‘Mallu Singh’

Photos: Unni Mukundan in 'Mallu Singh' 
By Shevlin Sebastian 
When actor Unni Mukundan appeared on the sets of the Telugu film, ‘Janatha Garage’, at Hyderabad, recently, he felt nervous. This was the first time that he was going to share screen place with superstar Mohanlal. Unni was playing the son, to Mohanlal, who is a shady character.

I remembered the fantastic work that he has done, and the superstar image that he has,” says Unni.

To increase his nervousness, the crew members told Unni that Mohanlal was doing his role exceptionally well. “And on that first day, I was given five paragraphs of dialogue in Telugu,” says Unni. “I was trying hard to memorise it.”

Nevertheless, Unni had a plan. During their shot, when Unni was supposed to get aggressive with Mohanlal, he decided he would take a threatening step forward, to increase the impact.  

But when the camera began to roll, Mohanlal gave such a fierce look that Unni felt frightened. “I felt I was being overpowered as an actor,” says Unni. “I don’t feel ashamed to say that I could not execute my plan.”

Nevertheless, after the conclusion of the scene, a gracious Mohanlal tapped him on the back and said, “Good job.”  

Unni also had an opportunity to share screen space with another legend: Nedumudi Venu.

This is for the yet-to-be-released ‘Avarude Ravukal’. Unni plays Siddharth, a happy-go-lucky character. “He is a popular guy in college, loves to play cricket, and is a big-time flirt,” says Unni.

For one scene, Unni sits on a white Bullet, wearing stylish sunglasses, his make-up making him look years younger, while behind him is Venu, who is unrecognizable, with a wig, and a red bandana across his forehead. Venu plays a mentor to Siddharth, as well as the characters played by Asif Ali and Vinay Forrt. 

The impromptu shoot, in the month of May, took place outside St. Teresa’s College, Kochi. Unni drove up and told a few girls, standing outside, “Hi, how are you? You look beautiful.” Venu also added a few comments. 

As the scene was getting shot, without the girls being aware of what was happening, one of them said, “Thank you.” Another said, “What?!!” And the third said, “Is that Unni Mukundan?” as the duo drove past.

Unni says, with a smile, “It was so much fun, and, that too, being allowed by the director [Shanil Mohammed] to flirt with girls. But this has been one of my most fulfilling roles.”

Unni also had fun during the shoot of ‘Mallu Singh’, which starred Manoj K Jayan, Kunchacko Boban and himself at Bandipur, Punjab, in December, 2011. The shoot lasted for two months. But after a month, the locals thought that Unni was a Punjabi guy who was doing a Malayalam film. “They would come and talk to me in Punjabi,” says Unni. “Because I knew Hindi, I would tell them that I am a Malayali, but they just would not believe me.”

In the end, Unni became friends with them. “They would bring fantastic food to the sets,” he says. “By the end of the shoot, they wanted me to marry a local girl and settle down in their state doing Punjabi films. I was offered a couple of films, since one of the prominent Punjabi actors, Shivendra Mahal, was playing my father in ‘Mallu Singh’. It was hilarious. I still have good support in Punjab.” 

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

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Uniting The Souls

The Santhigiri Ashram, at Thiruvananthapuram, which does not believe in caste, creed or religion, promotes inter-caste and inter-religious marriages 

Photos: (From left): VS Manjula, C. Jino Jose,  NR Dinakaran and Krishna Chithra. Pic by Kaviyoor Santhosh. Ashram Organizing Secretary Swami Gururethnam Jnana Thapaswi 
By Shevlin Sebastian
On a cloudy morning in June, C. Jino Jose, along with VS Manjula, enters the ‘Sahakarana Mandiram’ or the ‘Shrine of Togetherness’ at the Santhigiri Ashram in Thiruvananthapuram. This is a holy abode and is situated right next to the Lotus ‘Parnasala’ where the physical remains of the founder Navajyothisree Karunakara Guru (1927-1999) are kept. The couple stops in front of the abode’s altar. Then Jino and Manjula bow their heads. Later, they go to one side and bring back a tray, which contains fruits, two garlands, as well as a lighted lamp.
This is placed on a table in front of the altar. At one side, a few sanyasis chant verses from the Skanda Purana. “These verses urge the pair to have a good life, and to share the good and bad together, and to live a life as per the Guru's teachings,” says Ashram Organizing Secretary Swami Gururethnam Jnana Thapaswi.
After Jino and Manjula exchange garlands, in front of several saffron-clad sanyasis, they go to one side, where family members, relatives and friends, stand in a queue to throw flowers and chant the Guru Mantra.
After that, they are led back to the altar where more prayers are recited. “The marriage concludes in the presence of the Guru,” says long-time devotee Rajeev Devraj.
And thus, one more inter-caste marriage has been concluded at the ashram. While Jino, 28, is a Christian, Manjula, 24, is a Hindu. He had seen her when they were studying at the Mar Ivanios College at Thiruvananthapuram, both doing different degree courses. 

“I liked her character,” he says. “Manjula is sincere, simple and down-to-earth. Although we belong to different religions, we are similar in many ways. So I felt that religion will not be a problem. Manjula also said that she has no problem in accompanying me to church.”

Jino first received the permission of his own parents before he approached Manjula's father J. Velayudhan Chettiyar. “The Guru has taught us never to look at caste, creed or religion,” says Velayudhan. “All human beings are the same. I have lived in the ashram for forty years. Manjula has also spent all her life here.”
Velayudhan then approached the Guru Apparent, Janani Amritha Jnana Thapaswini, who, after meditation and prayer, gave the go-ahead. “Janani Amritha takes guidance from the guru, looks into the soul of the couple, and sees whether they are compatible,” says Swami Gururethnam.
Incidentally, there are two more marriages scheduled for that morning. Anil Kumar weds Asha, but both belong to the Nair caste. On the other hand, NR Dinakaran, who belongs to the Ezhava caste, gets married to Krishna Chithra, a Nair.
On an average there are 15-20 marriages conducted every month at the Ashram. “The majority are inter-caste and inter-religious ties,” says Swami Gururethnam. “It is not that all marriages work out well. Sometimes, problems arise. So, we encourage them to come to the ashram, pray to the Guru, and take our help to sort things out.”
Meanwhile, the ashram's overall aim is to reach a situation where nobody asks about one's caste or religion while fixing a marriage. “That has been the dream of Navajyothisree Karunakara Guru,” says Swami Gururethnam. “And we want to achieve it.” 

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

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Telling Jokes On The Set


Director B. Unnikrishnan talks about his experiences in the films, ‘Grandmaster’ and 'Pramani'

Photos: Director B. Unnikrishnan with Jagathy and Mohanlal on the sets of 'Grandmaster' ; photo of B. Unnikrishnan by Kaviyoor Santhosh 

By Shevlin Sebastian

Director B. Unnikrishnan was taken aback. On the set of his film, ‘Grandmaster’, at Kochi, on March 9, 2012, the final day of the shoot, veteran actor Jagathy Sreekumar told Unnikrishnan he wanted to dub his voice by using the rushes as a reference. “Usually, the dubbing is done after the first edit,” says Unnikrishnan. “But Jagathy told me he wanted to finish it.” And so it was done.

It had been an enjoyable shoot. What Unnikrishnan like the most was the good-hearted teasing that took place between superstar Mohanlal and Jagathy.

And he gives an example. “Jagathy had a particular habit,” says Unnikrishnan. “After lunch, he would always take a nap for half an hour. Once, we were shooting at Cherai beach. And, immediately, after lunch, Jagathy went to sleep in a room at a nearby house. Mohanlal saw Jagathy sleeping through a window.”

The star then borrowed a phone and called up the production executive, Mani (name changed). He changed his voice and said, “I am calling from another location. I need to talk to Jagathy immediately.”

Since Jagathy does not keep a cell phone, Mani took his mobile, went into Jagathy's room, woke him up and said, “Sir, there is a call for you.”

When Jagathy took the phone, Mohanlal said, “Sir, can I tell you an interesting joke?” And they both burst out laughing.

There is a back story to this. Mohanlal was working with Jagathy in ‘Naran’ (2005), a film directed by Joshy. They were shooting late at night, somewhere in Tamil Nadu, when a tall and broad-shouldered man approached the duo and said, in Tamil, “Excuse me.”

Both of them thought he was an important person.

The man paused and said, “Can I tell you an interesting joke?”

They found it weird and ignored him.

Ever since that day, during the 'Grandmaster' shoot, whenever Jagathy would be resting between shots, Mohanlal would come up from behind and say, 'Can I tell you an interesting joke?’” says Unnikrishnan. “Even though Jagathy was always serious and sombre between takes, Mohanlal had the ability to make him laugh.”

On that last day, Jagathy approached Unnikrishnan and complimented him on the film. “Thereafter, he came for the pack-up party, which he usually never does. He then informed me that he would have to travel through the night to reach Kodagu (in Karnataka), where a shoot of Lenin Rajendran’s ‘Idavappathy' was taking place,” says Unnikrishnan.

Unfortunately, during the early hours of March 10, the vehicle hit a median on National Highway 17, at Tenhipalam, in Malappuram district. Jagathy suffered serious head injuries from which he has not completely recovered. “Looking back, if Jagathy had not done the dubbing, before he left, it would have been difficult for me to release the film,” says Unnikrishnan.

In another experience, on the set, 'Pramani' (2010), a young girl was appointed to play Fahadh Faasil's sister in the movie. “She was a bubbly and high-spirited girl,” says Unnikrishnan. “But all of us always treated her like a child.”

She interacted with everybody, except for Fahadh, who, true to his introvert nature, kept to himself. “She had acted with Mammooty in 'Palunku' [directed by Blessey],” says Unnikrishnan.

So, it did come as a complete surprise, when Unnikrishnan was invited to Fahadh's wedding reception, on August 21, 2014, at Thiruvananthapuram, and came to realise that the young girl on the 'Pramani' set had become Fahadh's wife.

"I jokingly reminded Nazriya [Nazim] that she first met Fahadh on the sets of my film,” says Unnikrishan. “She gave me a shy smile.” 

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