Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Kaleidoscope Of Images

Experienced as well as new artists have showcased their works at the Cochin Art Fair 

Photos: Work by Anandaraman; NN Rimzon's charcoal drawing and Narayanan Mohanan's 'The Other 99 Percent'. Pics by Melton Antony 
By Shevlin Sebastian
When you step into the hall at the MN Nayar Foundation to view the Cochin Art Fair, the first painting that catches the eye is a 6' x 6' oil painting by Anandakrishnan.
Right in the middle is a horse, wearing the war armour of olden times, straddling two pieces of land. Beneath the animal is a drawing of the human heart, its arteries touching both pieces.
The horse is crossing a fractured nation,” he says. “And even though the land has been partitioned, the heart beats the same for both places. I am not hinting at the India-Pakistan partition of 1947. I am talking about how nations come into being and the existence of borders everywhere. We also create borders within our minds.”

At the right side, there are several flying birds like eagles, pigeons, crows and sparrows. “There are two types of nations: ethnic and civic,” says Anandaraman. “In ethnic nations, there is one ethnicity, like in Japan or China. But in countries like India, there are all types of ethnicities that comprise a single nation. That is what I wanted to represent through the different types of birds.”
A little further down is NN Rimzon's simple charcoal drawing of two tiled roof houses next to each other, with an overhanging tree. It seems like any ordinary house, till Rimzon says it is the house of one of Kerala's greatest poets N Kumara Asan (1873-1924). “The house has been preserved at Thonnakkal (near Thiruvananthapuram),” he says. “It was the place where Asan used to write his poems. His vision and social commitment are qualities to be admired.”
Another work which can be admired is Babu KG's 6' x 5' oil on canvas. It shows a young girl standing in thick foliage, and staring with unblinking intensity at a butterfly which is peering into a flower. He got the inspiration for this work when, one day, while walking in Wayanad, with members of the Adivasi community, he saw a girl looking at a butterfly.
Babu was struck by her innocence. “I have noticed that people who live in the forests and have close contact with Nature have a heightened sense of innocence as well as divinity,” he says. “In the cities, the people become mechanical and hard-hearted. So, I wanted to show the innocence of the girl and the rich biodiversity of the forests.”
Meanwhile, right at the centre of the hall, on the floor, is a 3' high black bell, made of foam, with a hook on top. There are several black, white and brown rats which are running away from the bell. This work, by Narayanan Mohanan, is called, 'The Other 99 Percent'. It has been inspired by the Aesop's Fable of 'Who will bell the cat?'
I wanted to relate it to the present where politicians, religious authorities, and corporate leaders, who comprise 1 per cent of the population, control society,” says Mohanan. “Everybody wants a revolution, but who will bell the cat? Instead, they are all running away from the task.”
Meanwhile, after handling the huge task of setting up and running the Kochi Biennale, Founder Bose Krishnamachari has now done a work called 'Stretched Bodies'. “Since the medium used was acrylic, it dries off very fast, so I had to create a work with rigour and energy, pleasure and passion, freshness and warmth,” says Bose. “The aim is to reflect optimism. So, it is full of colours, and psychedelic textures.”
A total of 43 artists, including Aji Kumar, Ameen Khaleel, Bindhi Rajagopal, Baiju CL, Tom Vattakkuzhy, OC Martin, Hochimin and Bara Bhaskaran are taking part.
The show was curated by O Sundar, who, along with a group of fellow artists and art lovers, set up the Cochin Artcube last year. “There are artists who were finding it difficult to showcase their works, so we wanted to give opportunities to them,” he says. “That's how we set up this event.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Bike Crash


Actor Honey Rose talks about her experiences in the films, 'Boyy Friennd', 'Chunkzz', and 'Pithavinum Puthranum'

By Shevlin Sebastian

During a shoot, at Irinjalakuda, for Honey Rose's first film, 'Boyy Friennd' by Vinayan (2005), there was a scene in a house. A group of students were going to meet Rameshan (played by Manikuttan) because he had not come to college for a while. So, Honey was supposed to sit behind North Indian actor Madhumitha on a bike. “In fact, Madhumita said she knew how to ride a bike,” says Honey.

So, they set out. But as they approached the house, Madhumita lost control, the bike hit a wall and both of them fell down. “I was in a daze,” says Honey. “It happened so quickly.” Honey's father, Varghese, rushed up, with an anxious look on his face. Thankfully, the injuries were minor: bruises on the knees and arms. “My father immediately told me not to sit behind Madhumita,” says Honey. But after a few tries, Madhumita got the hang of driving and they did the scene without any problems.

Unfortunately, Honey suffered another injury during a shoot of the just-released 'Chunkzz'. On the last day of the shoot, for the Kochi segment, during a free period, Honey had gone to a beach at Kochi with her cousin Merlyn. However, while walking, Honey hit a small rock buried under the sand and twisted her right ankle. “Suddenly, it started swelling,” says Honey. “And for one week, I had to put it in crepe bandage, and place it on a pillow while lying on the bed. I had to take pain killers, too.”

Thereafter, for the next schedule, Honey arrived in Goa. But her leg had not healed completely. “I felt a bit tense because there was a lot of running around to do, as well as ride a cycle,” she says.

In fact, if you look closely, especially during the sequences of the song, 'Hey Kili Penne', you can see Honey wobbling a bit.

And when she was asked to ride a cycle, she asked for somebody to hold it from behind. The crew agreed. A member stepped up. Soon, Honey started pedalling.

I gained in confidence, and began to move well,” says Honey. “But after a while, when I looked back I got a shock. Nobody was holding the cycle. Immediately, I got scared and lost my balance.”

Honey had a completely different experience during the shoot of 'Pithavinum Puthranum' (2012), which has not yet been released, because of problems with the Censor Board over the subject. In the film, Honey acted as a nun, who has a relationship with a few priests.

In one scene, the nun has a dream where she, like Jesus, is being crucified on the cross. So, at the shoot, at Motta Kunnu, Vagamon, Honey began to drag a cross up the hill. Thereafter, she lay down on it. Her hands and legs were tied. Then the cross was raised. “After a while, I found it too painful,” says Honey. “The body weight was being felt on my wrists. There was a small piece of wood beneath my feet, but it was not enough.”

It all got a bit too much. Honey fainted suddenly. So, the crew rushed to lower the cross on to the ground. Water was splashed on her face. And Honey slowly regained consciousness. “It was an unforgettable experience,” says Honey. “I went through all types of emotions, and pain. I got an understanding of what Jesus went through. In those days, they would hammer nails in the hands and the legs. You can imagine how painful it was.” 

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

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Seeing Things Which The Eye Cannot See

French psychic Uzuhi Reiki Douna talks about her experiences, as she gives a workshop in Kochi

Illustration by Amit Bandre; photo by Melton Antony 

By Shevlin Sebastian

When the Kochi-based psychologist Dr. Meera Sudhir heard that the French psychic Uzuhi Reiki Douna was holding a three-day workshop on intuition, at Kochi, she decided to take part.

It turned out to be a good experience,” says Meera. “Douna showed us how intuition should be an integral part of our-decision making process. Unfortunately, many of us do not realise that we have this power. Because we only want to believe what we see. However, there is an illogical aspect in the world. Telepathy, intuition, clairvoyance and extra-sensory perception come under this category. But people call them pseudo sciences and ask, 'How can you prove it?'”

But Meera did not need any proof. “Most women, by nature, are very intuitive, especially after they become mothers,” she says.

As for Douna, she was born with this highly-developed psychic gift. At age seven, she was about to leave her Paris home, for a student's camp near Mont Blanc. Suddenly, she saw a vision of her searching for something, and a girl trying to help her out. “At the camp, I lost my sock and began looking for it,” she says. “I took the help of a girl and she turned out to be the same girl that I had seen in my vision. She was in charge of helping the children at the camp.”

Douna gives another example. One day, when she was ten years old, she was playing in a garden. A lady came and began talking to her mother about her son, who was having behavioural problems. 

Douna overhead the conversation and suddenly gave the lady a description of her house. “I saw the interiors, even though I have never been there,” she says. “Thereafter, I gave some advice, so that the son would behave in a better manner.”

Douna pauses and says, “What I am doing is nothing exceptional. Everybody has the capacity to understand things through intuition, or telepathy. But, since our daily life is no longer a life-and-death struggle, like our hunter-ancestors, we have lost all these skills. So, you have to develop it again.”

But it should not be very tough because everybody has experienced moments of intuition. For example, when a person goes inside a stranger's apartment, he suddenly feels weak and uncomfortable. “That is their intuition working,” says Douna. “Maybe, there is something wrong with the energy inside. Through training, you can get this information regularly.”

She suggests an exercise. Take a photo of a friend you know. Concentrate on the image. After a while, you will begin to get new information. You can later check with the friend whether the conclusions you came to, are correct.

As she conversed, a man came in for a reading. She asked for his birth date and year. Then she looked intently at him and says, “For you, your family is very important. The women in your life, like your mother, wife, and daughter, are also important. You have a career in three parts. In the first, you travelled a lot. In the second, it has stopped. But the third part is coming up. You will move to another level and again travel a lot, doing something you love. Things are already moving in that direction, but you cannot see it yet.” The man looked happy and satisfied.

Amazingly, Douna says she has two spiritual guides, but it is a diffuse form of energy that she can see and call at will. “I always consult them before I make any decision,” she says. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Man On The Right Track

Elias George, the managing director of the Kochi Metro Rail Limited, talks about his experiences

Photos by K. Shijith 

By Shevlin Sebastian

On a recent Thursday morning, Elias George stepped into a Kochi metro train that was travelling from Palarivattom to Aluva. However, it did not take long before a man approached him. “Aren't you Elias George?” he said, extending his hand. “I am Fr. John (name changed). I want to congratulate you on a job well done.”

Thank you,” said the Managing Director of the Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL). The priest then introduced his son and daughter-in-law. “They live in Kuwait, so before they returned, I wanted them to have a ride on the Metro,” says Fr. John. The couple and Elias exchanged smiles.

It was a gratifying moment for the senior bureaucrat. When Elias took over four years ago, he was apprehensive. “There were so many hindrances in doing a mega project in Kerala,” he says. “Firstly, everybody has a different political and social view. Secondly, we had to acquire 600 parcels of land through the district administration. I was worried about whether we could pull it through. On top of that, there were was a tussle between the DMRC (Delhi Metro Rail Corporation) and KMRL. We are the client and they are the country's leading metro agency.”

A calm and laid-back person, Elias strove to iron out the glitches. And looking back, he has a good idea of how things worked out. “In Kerala, for a project to succeed, you have to make people believe your purpose is genuine,” says the 60-year-old. “The public always think that any person who is involved in such a massive project has a hidden agenda. Once they were convinced about our sincerity, the whole of Kochi offered full support.”

He gives an example. One day, a trader, Mohammed, met Elias in his office and said he had ten cents of land at Aluva. It was the third time the government was acquiring his land. First, the National Highway acquired some, followed by the Public Works Department. “Now the Metro wants my last ten cents,” said Mohammed. “But take it, Sir. My children will have a better tomorrow. The Metro will provide many economic opportunities.”

Another major plus was the presence of E. Sreedharan, the principal adviser to the DMRC (Sreedharan, a Padma Vibhushan winner set up the Delhi Metro as well as the Konkan Railway project, among many other undertakings).

Sreedharan has got tremendous project implementation experience and skills,” says Elias. “He knows how to manage different types of contractors. More than anything else, because of his reputation and stature, nobody, especially the labour unions, would come and harass us. He is like a banyan tree, providing shade and security to all of us.”

The 'us' included thousands of migrant labourers from the states of Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Assam. In fact, they comprised more than 90 per cent of the work force.

Asked why there were so few Malayalis, Elias says, “They are highly-skilled, educated, and adaptable but, increasingly, they are reluctant to work with their hands. And the Metro work entails hard physical labour. Today, Kerala is a high-wage economy. So, Malayalis are getting jobs elsewhere.”

Throughout his stint, Elias kept getting insights. And one perception was about the work culture in the country. “One of the problems with Indian organisations is ageism,” he says. “The managing director is in his late fifties, the director, fifty, and the general manager is forty. But all the creative energies and ideas come from below. Unfortunately, Indian organisations don't tap that. The lowest fellow cannot talk to the director.”

Realising that he was in the same boat, he decided to destroy the hierarchy. “We became like a start-up,” says Elias. “The average age is 32. In the KMRL you are valued for your contributions and not for your seniority or designation. When I retire this is something that I will propagate, apart from how we were able to set up the fastest first-phase metro project in the country.”

Away from the family

For the past five years, Elias George has been staying alone at Kochi. That is because his wife, Aruna Sundarajan, is Secretary, Telecom, Government of India. While his son works in Dubai, his daughter is a lawyer in Delhi. “Once a month, some meeting comes up in Delhi, so I get a chance to meet the family,” says Elias.

Stress busters

On weekends, at dawn, Elias George goes kayaking in the backwaters of Kochi. “If you want to see the beauty of Kerala, this is the best time and place to be,” says Elias. “I also do a lot of cycling and walking. Sometimes, I go trekking in the forests of Idukki.” And he also likes reading. The last book he read was ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ by Arundhati Roy. “She is an extraordinary talent, but this novel has a structural weakness,” says Elias.

New ideas

The Kochi Metro is the first to put literature up on the walls. They have also set up areas where herbs are grown. They are the first to hire transgenders and use the women of the Kudumbasree (community action group of the government of Kerala).  

Getting going

The Kochi Metro was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 17

Cost: Over Rs 5000 crores.

Length: 25 kms

No of stations: 22

Shortest time taken for first phase: 45 months.

Mumbai took 75 months, while Chennai was ready in 72 months.

Water metro: will connect the 10 islands near Kochi to the Metro at a cost of Rs 800 crore. 

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

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Need For Psychological Healing

Drama therapist Dr. Ravindra Ranasinha, of Sri Lanka, talks about his efforts to provide healing for the traumatised Tamil population, while on a recent visit to Kochi

Illustration by Amit Bandre; photo by Melton Antony 
By Shevlin Sebastian
For a few days, Vasantha Raman (name changed) sat silently and listened to the stories told by the people at a community hall in Kilinochchi (northern Sri Lanka). Then the thirty-five-year stood on the stage and said, “For fifteen years, every day I would stand at the gate of my house and wait for my husband,” she says. “But he never came. So I would spend the day mowing the garden.”
Vasantha has no children and lived with her parents. “Now I know that he will not return,” she said. “I have wasted my life waiting for him.”
This anecdote was recounted by Dr. Ravindra Ranasinha, a Sri Lankan drama therapist, who had come to Kochi to give a talk, titled, 'Post conflict reconciliation action as a social worker' at St. Albert's College.
Most of the Tamils are in a daze,” says Ravindra. “They cannot understand the trauma they had undergone during the civil war [between the government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, from 1983-2009]. They are the innocent farmers, fishermen and villagers who were caught in the crossfire. All the affluent and educated people escaped to Colombo.”
So, they sit silently and stare at the walls of their house. “The husband, wife and children do not talk,” says Ravindra. “Some children don't even go to school. Suddenly, there is violence between husband and wife because of the unbearable pain that they are carrying. Since they are unable to communicate verbally, they resort to physical violence, in frustration.”
These are the symptoms of severe trauma. “They cannot lead a normal life,” says Ravindra. “So, even if you provide instruments for a livelihood, like buckets or spades, or a place to stay, it will be of no help. What they need is psychological assistance to enable them to come out of the trauma.”
That was when Ravindra started drama therapy. “I encouraged the people to tell their stories and enact them,” says Ravindra. This proved to be beneficial. As they heard numerous stories of their fellow villagers and told their own, many became reconciled with their suffering.
Sadly, all this is coming a bit late in the day. During the rule of President Mahinda Rajapaksa (2005-15), there were obstructions to do this sort of counselling. “The regime did not want people to get healed,” says Ravindra. “They were scared that once they returned to normal, the people might tell the world about their experiences. But, now, thankfully, some sort of healing has begun.”
The civil war, which ended eight years ago, claimed more than one lakh lives, both among the Tamils and the Sinhalas. Asked the mind-set of the Sinhalas today, Ravindra, a Sinhala himself, says, “The Sinhala people feel calm, because the conflict is over, and they are in the majority. However, there are extremists trying to create dissension between the communities. But the government [headed by President Maithripala Sirisena] is not supporting them, therefore, the possibility of another war is limited.”
Meanwhile, the Tamils, still frantic and fearful, are yearning for justice. “They have lost so many of their dear ones – husbands, wives, children, parents, siblings, relatives, apart from property. They want the perpetrators to be caught, so that justice can be meted out.”
But, so far, the government has proved to be a disappointment. “There are several mechanisms in place, but it is a very slow process,” says Ravindra. “It is imperative to build trust between the communities. It would be nice if Sri Lanka had something like the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Then a true healing will take place in society.” 

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

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Devi Vs The Demons

S.V. Sujatha's 'The Demon Hunter of Chottanikkara' is a gripping read

By Shevlin Sebastian

Devi turned the trident so its prongs faced downward, and then she stretched out her other hand. Her veins stood out prominently. She took aim at the three dark scars that still remained from the last sacrifice and she plunged the trident into herself in one swift motion—blood spurted out. She placed her open flesh over the mouth of the altar, pouring her blood into the sacrificial pyre, watching impassively as it dribbled onto the blazing wood. The chanting ceased.

I offer unto the stomach of our gods, of Agni, the fierce God of fire, my blood, my life force,” Devi cried. “And I ask in return for strength to protect my people from evil. To cure them from disease. To save them from demons.”

This is an extract from 'The Demon Hunter of Chottanikkara' by debutant novelist S.V. Sujatha.

And as the title indicates, the Devi is the one whose job is to slay the demons. And while she does the job with ease, soon, there comes the news of a dangerous demon who would be more than a match for the Devi. The story then shows the various twists and turns in the battle between the two, along with a back story.

For the Tamilian Sujatha, who lived in Chennai for many years, a novel set in a temple in Kerala happened by accident. During a low point in her life, someone suggested that she could visit the Devi at Chottanikkara (16 kms from Kochi), because the goddess is extremely powerful. And so, eight years ago, Sujatha did go and spend three days at the temple. And it was an exorcism which she witnessed at the temple that had a profound impact on her.

A lot of people, who were possessed and had mental afflictions, sat in groups,” said Sujatha. “A strand of hair taken from the pilgrims was nailed to the trunk of a tree. The whole tree was covered with pieces of hair. The priest was chanting around them. A few were ranting and raving, while others were screaming. ”

But after a while, Sujatha noticed that the chants were working. People began calming down. “But at that age [21], it was frightening for me,” said Sujatha. “It stayed with me. When I wanted to write about folklore and Indian mythology, somehow, this temple came to my mind. I wanted to write about the Devi.”

Sujatha did a bit of research, by reading books and looking for material online, but mostly relied on her imagination. “I have personified the Devi,” said Sujatha. “She is an orphan child who is raised by a foster father called Kanappa, a reformed bandit. He has already lost his daughter, so he raises Devi as his own.”

The writing is assured, confident and gripping, thanks to Sujatha's natural story-telling gifts. These skills could have been developed at the one-year Writing Programme that Sujatha attended at Warwick University, UK, in 2010.

No course can teach you how to write,” said Sujatha. “But I learnt how to shape characters and tell a story. It was more about the craft of writing. The teachers pointed out what I was doing wrong, and the ways to use fewer words to say more.”

Meanwhile, Sujatha is busy looking for her next subject at her home in Seattle, USA, which she shares with her husband, an IT professional.

The writing bug has bit me,” she said and laughed, during a recent visit to India. 

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

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Pigeons At The Jain Temple

At the Jain temple, at Mattancherry, at 12.15 p.m. pigeons arrive in large numbers. They are fed with grains of rice. You can throw the grains to the ground or place them in the palm. The pigeons will land on your hand, and they will peck so well, that your skin is not touched. This practice that has been going on for a long time. Took part when friends from the US came for a visit. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Breaking An Arm


Veteran stuntmaster Mafia Sasi talks about his experiences on the films, 'Ee Pattanathil Bhootham', 'Best Actor' and 'Ordinary'

Photo by K. Shijith

By Shevlin Sebastian

One day, veteran stunt master Mafia Sasi was travelling by car from Kuttikanam to Thiruvananthapuram. On the way, he saw a lorry driver lose control, and hit an autorickshaw. Thereafter, the lorry ended up hitting the driver's door of the car Sasi was travelling in.

Sasi's left elbow was placed on the window sill, at the back, and because of the collision, his hand went back and hit the side of the car at great force. “The bone broke,” says Sasi.

At that time, Sasi was working on two films at the same time: one was for a Hindi film by director Murali Nagavally at Kuttikanam. The other was for the Prithviraj starrer, 'Vaasthavam', by M. Padmakumar at Thiruvananthapuram.

On the set, a bit earlier, Padmakumar had said, “Mafia Sasi will not come, since he is busy on the other set. I am sure he will send an assistant.” So when Sasi called and said he had an accident, Padmakumar laughed and said, “I am sure this is an excuse.” It took a while before Padmakumar was convinced that Sasi was injured.

For Johny Antony’s 'Ee Pattanathil Bhootham' (2009), Sasi was scared that Mammooty would get injured. The shoot was on the banks of the Periyar river, in front of the Shiva temple, at Aluva. Hundreds of people had assembled to watch Mammooty. A stunt scene regarding a motorcycle was planned.

So Sasi told Mammooty, “Sir, we can do this shot on a set and add the background later, on the computer. If some mishap takes place, then it will look bad.”

But Mammooty did not agree. “Let the people understand how difficult it is to do a scene like this,” he said. “They should see the effort that we put in.”

So, a rope was tied around Mammooty's waist as well as the bike. Then the superstar drove at high speed and went up a ramp and sailed through the air.

Soon, the shoot ended. “The audience began clapping and cheering loudly,” says Sasi. “Most stars would have avoided taking such a risk, but Mammooty has always been bold.”

And sensitive, too. In 'Best Actor' (2010) there is a fight sequence where Mammooty asks Sasi who he is. “I am Mafia Sasi,” says the veteran. Then Mammooty says, in a mocking tone, “Did your father give you that name?”

Much later, when Mammooty met Sasi on another film shoot, he said, “Did you mind that I said that dialogue about your father?”

Sasi said, “Sir, it is a film dialogue. So, I am not upset at all.”

Sasi was indeed surprised that a superstar like Mammooty kept it in his mind. “He has retained his sensitivity, despite so much success,” says Sasi.

Meanwhile, sometimes, things don't go according to plan on the sets. At the climax of 'Ordinary' (2012), there was a scene on a dam, at Gavi, where Asif Ali was supposed to run down, reach the middle, climb a railing and jump off, in an act of suicide. “Initially, Asif jumped a couple of feet and then we pulled him back, with our ropes,” says Sasi. “The rest of the fall was shown through graphics.” 

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

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Inculcating A New Mindset

When children reach Class 9 or 10, too many parents prevent their children from practising an art form, citing the need to concentrate on their studies. Dancer Priya Manoj is trying to change attitudes

Photos by K. Shijith 

By Shevlin Sebastian

One day, when she was in Class 10, Priya Manoj was getting ready to go for her dance classes at Tavanur village in Malappuram district. But suddenly, her father KU Gangadharan came into the room and said she could no longer do so. Priya looked shocked. “You are in Class 10,” said Gangadharan, a teacher. “It is time to concentrate on your studies and do well in the exams.” For Priya, dance was her life. She began learning it when she was only six years old.

Not surprisingly, Priya began crying. She begged her father but he did not relent. But Priya never gave up on her dream.

While doing her MA and B. Ed, she did training under many gurus, including Padma Shri Kshemavathy and Kalakshetra Haripadman. Realising her commitment, thereafter, her parents offered an unstinted support.

Later, Priya got married and moved to Abu Dhabi in September, 2002. But thanks to her husband's encouragement, she began dancing again and teaching various art forms like Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattom to students at the Model Indian School. She also teaches at the Indian Social and Culture Centre, Kerala Social Centre and Malayalee Samajam.

But, inevitably, she would come across parents who would insist that their children stop dancing when they reached Class 9 or 10. Priya felt a natural empathy for the students since she had gone through a similar experience. “When you block children, their confidence gets shattered,” she says.

So, Priya decided to counsel parents. “They have a belief that if a child does dance or arts or sports, their performance in academics goes down,” says Priya. “But this is a wrong conclusion. On the other hand, these children tend to do much better if they are practising an art form. Their right brain, which consists of creativity and original thinking, becomes activated, apart from the logical left brain, which grows through studies. So this leads to an overall development.”

There are other benefits, too. “Children learn to bond with their peer group,” she says. “They feel mentally happy after doing physical exertion. In fact, one girl told me that after a session, she feels eager to go back to her studies.”

So, she has begun orientation classes for parents. “I talk to them regarding the importance of art and hobbies,” says Priya, while on a recent visit to Kochi. She had come to Kerala to give a solo Bharatanatyam performance on Lord Krishna at Guruvayur, even as she prepares a Mohinyattom performance on the same subject.

Meanwhile, apart from youngsters, Priya is also teaching women, from the early twenties till 45 years of age. Interestingly, the timing is from 8 to 9.30 p.m., so that the women can finish their household chores and then come. “All are married, but they feel a bit empty since they are unable to express themselves,” says Priya. “Dance is one of the best platforms to express yourself. They forget all their worries for one-and-a-half hours.”

And some have been transformed. There was a lady who suffered from an inferiority complex because of her weight. Priya encouraged her to take up dancing. And she began tentatively. Recently, she told Priya, “My husband tells me to dance all the time because he has not seen me so active in so many years.”

Meanwhile, other talented women have been able to put up public performances.

So, in her own way, Priya is trying to transform lives, both among the young and the middle-aged, through the medium of dance. “This is my way of doing something for society,” she says. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Heart-To-Heart Service

Joerg Drechsel, of German origin, talks about the Malabar House, at Fort Kochi, which recently won Lonely Planet's Heritage Hotel of The Year Award

Photos: Joerg Drechsel by Albin Mathew; Malabar House 

By Shevlin Sebastian

When David and Rebekah Benjamin checked in at the Malabar House hotel, at Fort Kochi, a few weeks ago, it was obvious that the latter was unwell. So, she was taken to a nearby hospital. After tests and a check-up, the doctor told the Swiss couple that Rebekah had dengue.

So, Rebekah stayed in the hospital for a few days. But every morning, the staff from the Malabar House would go and change the pillow and sheets. They would also provide all the meals.

Later, after Rebekah recovered, David wrote a mail to owner Joerg Drechsel (of German origin), in which he said, “We have never experienced such care and hospitality anywhere in the world.”

Drechsel has a reason to extend such help. “When you travel to a foreign country, you take along everything you need, but leave behind your social networks,” he says. “So, you have to depend on the people you interact with, like the taxi drivers, tourist guides and hotel staff. And we want to do our best.”

So, it is no surprise that, with this attitude, the Malabar House has won many awards. The latest, a few weeks ago, was the Lonely Planet's Heritage Hotel of The Year Award. In 2014 it won the World Travel Award for best boutique hotel in Asia, and became the first Indian member of Relais and Chateaux (a highly-respected global group of individually-owned and operated luxury hotels and restaurants).

Asked the charms of the 17 room hotel-bungalow, CEO Saji Joseph says, “People come, not for a good night’s sleep but to have an experience. The ambience, the exposure of the restaurant to the tropical weather, while the cuisine is based on local flavours (you can have the seasonal catch of the day: fish with tempered tapioca and coconut milk gravy). Then there is the art collection, a blend of contemporary art and collectible old art. We also offer ayurveda treatment as well as yoga lessons.”

Guests are also encouraged to travel to the famed backwaters of Allapuzha, or take part in a beach picnic, and see how coir mats and carpets are made.

However, what greatly adds to the charm is the people-to-people experience. “The Malayali is a born host,” says Drechsel. “He is friendly, kind, warm and cordial. And intelligent, too.There was a waiter who studied philosophy and was happy to discuss French existentialism with a client. For the guests it is an unique experience.”

But, interestingly, the turnover of staff is very high. “In Kerala everybody has a passport in his pocket,” says Drechsel, with a smile. “I have people knocking on my door at 7 p.m., and saying, 'Sir, it was wonderful working with you, thank you very much. My flight to Dubai is at 3 a.m. So I am leaving'.”

Despite the hiccups, it is clear that Drechsel loves Fort Kochi. In the 1970s, he came to stay one night at Fort Kochi and ended up spending two weeks. Thereafter, he kept returning every two years. However, in 1994, when he came across Malabar House, a shuttered bungalow for sale, he decided to buy it. And stayed on. As he put it on the hotel website: 'Country of Birth: Germany. Motherland: India'. 

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

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Narration During A Car Ride


Photos: Scriptwriters Sanjay and Bobby; the poster of 'How Old Are You' 

Scriptwriters Bobby and Sanjay talk about their experiences in the films, 'Ente Veedu Appuvinteyum', 'How Old Are You?' and 'Traffic'

By Shevlin Sebastian

For their first film script, 'Ente Veedu Appuvinteyum' (2003), Bobb and Sanjay felt that Jayaram would be the best person to play the hero. So, one day, they got in touch with Jayaram, who said he was on his way to Kottayam, the home-town of the scriptwriters, for a function. But Jayaram also added that he had to leave immediately, because he had to attend another function at Allapuzha. So, Sanjay narrated the script in the car when Jayaram left Kottayam.

Following the hearing, Jayaram said, “There is a child in the film. Who will be playing that?”

Immediately Sanjay said, “Maybe Kalidas [Jayaram's son] can play it.”

Jayaram mulled over it and stopped the car at Changanacherry. Then he stepped out and called his wife Parvathy. Afterwards, he told Sanjay, Kalidas would act in the film.

This opportunity turned out to be very good, not only for Jayaram, because the film became a hit, but also for the youngster. For his performance, Kalidas won the Kerala State Film Award as well as the National Award for Best Child Artist.

A different type of narration took place when Bobby and Sanjay had readied the script of 'How Old Are You?' (2014). “When we were writing the story, we did not know who could play the heroine,” says Bobby.

Then came the news that Manju Warrier was making a comeback. So, Sanjay and Bobby went to Manju's parents' home in Pullu, Thrissur, and narrated the script. “Manju listened with rapt attention for the entire two hours,” says Bobby.

At the end, Manju said, “This is the challenging role that I was looking for. It suits me perfectly.”

When Manju accepted, the duo felt happy and tense at the same time. “Her comeback had generated a lot of attention in the media,” says Sanjay. “We were worried that if the film did not do well, it would reflect badly on us. However, Manju was confident that it would do well.” This belief was not misplaced; the film became a hit. And Manju made a resounding comeback.

For the Tamil version of 'How Old are you', ('36 Vayadhinile') , there is a scene where actor Jyothika goes to see the President of India. Bobby and Sanjay sent a list to the production controller in Chennai indicating that the number of extras needed to play the roles of Security and Protocol Officers, as well as the Black Cat commandoes.

After a week, there was a message from Chennai. Everybody had been readied, except for the black cats. “They told us they had managed two black cats, but the others were white and brown in colour. Was that okay?” says a smiling Bobby.

The scriptwriters had a different experience on the sets of 'Traffic'. In the film, there is an important character called Dr. Simon D'Souza. “We had a desire that our uncle Jose Prakash should play this role,” says Bobby. “He was 84 at that time, and not keeping good health.” Initially, Jose was not keen but agreed when his nephews urged him.

One week before the shoot, Jose asked for the script. Thereafter, he began rehearsing at home.

My uncle had acted in 300 films,” says Sanjay. “Despite this, it seemed to us, looking at the excited look on his face, that he was acting as if for the very first time.” In the end, the shoot, at Jose's home at Vaduthala, went off very well.

But, sadly, this turned out to be Jose's last film. He passed away on March 24, 2012. 

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