Thursday, September 28, 2017

Prevention Is Better Than Cure

The Sydney-based Malayali Dr Jacqueline Michael is on a mission to highlight the need for lifestyle medicine in Kerala, which is affected by high levels of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and coronary heart disease

By Shevlin Sebastian

On Good Friday, 2007, Dr Jacqueline Michael suffered a miscarriage. At that time, Jacqueline was working in the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. Soon, she slipped into a depression.

Thereafter, she began to suffer from several physical ailments. “Initially, it started with hormonal dysfunction,” she says. “Then I had fibromyalgia, followed by vitiligo and started turning white.” She consulted a rheumatologist, an endocrinologist and a dermatologist. 
“Thereafter, I realised that there has to something which causes these diseases to flare up,” she says. “I wondered whether there was a way to cure myself.”

Jacqueline decided to do some research. And that was how she stumbled onto lifestyle medicine.

The aim of lifestyle medicine is to prevent illnesses from taking place, by making the right choices,” says Jacqueline. “Nowadays treatment is done, only when a person falls sick. It is like a fire-response unit. Mainstream medicine does not go to the source and get rid of the problem.”

She says that it is urgent to have a lifestyle medicine system in Kerala, because, thanks to a high standard of living, the people suffer from the lifestyle diseases of the West, like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and coronary heart disease.

Jacqueline suggests three methods of prevention. The first is to have a high fibre diet. These include green vegetables, flax seeds, carrots, grams, boiled elephant foot yam, rice with bran, oats, and fruits like apple, pear, and oranges.

The second is regular physical exercise. “When you do physical activity, a lot of good chemicals, like endorphins, are produced in the body,” says Jacqueline. “These are required for a person’s well-being. However, very few people do enough exercise in Kerala.”

She also suggests the avoidance of toxins like tobacco, excess alcohol, and substance abuse. Unfortunately, there are toxins in our environment. “As an example, we use a lot of chemicals in our personal-care products,” says Jacqueline. “And when you dye your hair, you are using hydrogen peroxide, which is an oxidising agent. So there is a level of oxidative damage happening inside the body as well." This may result in cancer and other chronic diseases.

In Kerala, too many people suffer from Vitamin D deficiency. That is because they are reluctant to expose themselves to the sun. “There is a phobia for sunlight in God's Own Country,” says Jacqueline. “Lack of Vitamin D can be a catalyst for high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and even cancer. We need sun exposure for at least half an hour every day.”

The right amount of sleep, about seven to eight hours, is very important. A lot of things happen during our nocturnal rest. “When we sleep the brain shrinks by six percent. This allows for the free flow of the cerebrospinal fluid, which allows for the cleaning of the toxins that are formed in the brain. During sleep, there is a memory consolidation. Restorative processes take place. I know of a case where a person suffered a stroke because he was chronically sleep-deprived.”

Jacqueline, a mother of three, who is now based in Sydney, has come to her home state, Kerala, with a mission. “I want to create an awareness of lifestyle medicine,” she says. “But it has to be citizen-driven. In fact, I was surprised to note that there is not a single lifestyle medicine centre anywhere. I am planning to start the first centre in my home-town of Kollam and encourage young doctors to take up Lifestyle Medicine as a career.” 

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

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Superstar Who Takes Risks


Dance Choreographer Kala talks about her experiences in the films, 'Kochu Kochu Santhoshangal', 'Ustaad' and 'Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol'

By Shevlin Sebastian

For the song, 'Ghana Shyama', in Sathyan Anthikad's 'Kochu Kochu Santhoshangal', the shoot was in a hall at Kozhikode. The scene was a public concert in front of an audience. Bhanupriya and Lakshmi Gopalaswamy were supposed to do the dance. But there was one problem. Lakshmi was a classical dancer and did not know how to do a cinematic style. “I felt that if she did a pure classical style, it will not look good in the film,” says dance choreographer Kala.

Not surprisingly, Lakshmi felt tense. So, Kala went up to her and said, “Don't feel nervous. You will be able to do it.”

Fellow actor Bhanupriya also said, “Don't worry. You can do it.”

Soon, Kala showed all the steps to Lakshmi. But it was not easy. “Somehow, Lakshmi could not match the expression to the steps,” says Kala. “So I had to teach her for a while. She was very young at that time.”

But in the end, it turned out very fine, with Lakshmi able to match Bhanupriya step for step. And for Kala, this was a film which she will never forget, because she won the National Film Award for Best Choreography in 2000.

At Rashtrapati Bhavan, she received the award from President K.R. Narayanan. “I felt very happy to get the award for a Malayalam film from a Malayali president,” she says. “In fact, Narayanan Sir looked thrilled.”

Meanwhile, for the song 'Theerchayilla Janam' in Siby Malayil's 'Ustaad', Kala had a different experience. When she went to the set, at AVM Studios at Chennai, she saw that it was a cramped place. It looked like the inside of a bar. She was told that dancers, club members, villains and the hero Mohanlal would be present. As she wandered around, she felt that the song could be done in a single shot.

When she told Mohanlal, he said, “Are you sure?” When Kala nodded confidently, he said, “Okay, let's do it.” Rehearsals with the other actors began at 6 a.m. Then at 11 a.m. Mohanlal joined the team and practised till 1 p.m. Thereafter, there was a break for lunch and another rehearsal at 2 p.m. The shoot began at 3 p.m. And it was completed within ten minutes. Interestingly, it was Mohanlal who sang the song.

The plus point of Lal Sir, from a choreographer's point of view, is that he can do any type of dance,” says Kala. “If I have to do a dance sequence with Rajnikanth, Kamal Haasan or Mammootty, I will frame it in a particular way. But Lal Sir has no limits. I can suggest anything, and he is willing to do it. He never says no.”

Even when the shots are highly risky. For the song, 'Aathimara kombilaaaa' in 'Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol', the song was picturised in Shimla. One day, Kala saw a stone mountain at an immense height. She felt that it would be a brilliant shot if Mohanlal and Meena could be placed on the peak. When she told director Jibu Jacob, he said it would be risky. “But Lal Sir immediately agreed to do it,” says Kala. “I am sure no other superstar would have taken the risk.”

And, indeed, it turned out to be a breathtaking shot, because it was taken from a helicam. “I met Lal Sir for the first time in 1996,” says Kala. “And today, I can categorically state that he has twice or thrice the energy and enthusiasm. He is an amazing actor and person.” 

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

Monday, September 25, 2017

A Touch Of Paradise

Vini's Farm, near Munroe Island, in Kollam, Kerala is a place where you can get in touch with nature and recharge your batterie

Photos of Aram Paul Chittilappilly and wife Vinita by BP Deepu 
By Shevlin Sebastian
At 4 a.m., manager Binu Babu received a call. The Swedish guest Vincent Borg had an unusual request. He wanted to go kayaking. “Sure Sir, we can arrange it,” said Babu. Thus, in pitch-black darkness, lit up by a torch, Vincent went to the bank and got on to a kayak. He went rowing for more than an hour and watched the dawn break on the eastern horizon.
Owner Aram Paul Chittilappilly smiles as he recalls the incident. “That's the type of service we would like to give,” he says. “I have told the staff the word 'no' does not exist for us.”
Aram is the owner of Vini's Farm, a four-acre island, near Munroe Island, which is at the confluence of the Kallada River and the Ashtamudi Lake, 140 kms from Kochi. There are only two luxury rooms, set in a wooden cottage, with a grand view of the water and the small hills in the distance. “Either a couple, two couples or a family can stay,” says Aram. “The USP is that they will have the entire island to themselves.” To maintain privacy, there is a natural perimeter of bushes and mangrove shrubs, with a door at one side. Staff can only be summoned through a walkie-talkie.
Interestingly, there are no televisions or the Internet, and there is a cute message posted on the wall: 'Sorry no Wifi. Talk to each other and enjoy nature'. Aram also makes a pitch for water conservation, with a message in the washroom: 'Save Water. Shower with your girlfriend'.
The food is the local Kerala cuisine, made from organic vegetables like tomatoes, beans, and brinjals. The other activities include kayaking, a boat ride at sunset, and a village tour. “You can also go fishing and catch the freshest pearl spot, and get it cooked, according to your preference,” says Aram.
In fact, it was the taste of the pearl spot that drew Aram to the island in the first place. A few years ago, while visiting his in-laws, at nearby Kollam, he went for a boat ride and stopped at the island. The owner, Sebastian, offered him a rice meal with pearl spot. “It was so tasty,” he says. After an interval, the Dubai-based Aram again visited Sebastian, and the latter said that he was planning to sell the island. And that was how Aram bought it.
Thereafter, on March 19, 2016, Aram held a surprise birthday party for his wife, Vinita, on the island where he invited friends, and relatives. “It was on that day that I gifted the island to Vinita as a present,” says Aram. “So, we decided to name it as Vini's Farm.”
An overwhelmed Vinita says, “It was one of the most unforgettable experiences in my life. And the island is such a nice place to stay.”
Others agree. Says Crystal, the American wife of a Chennai-based airline pilot, Vivek Zachariah: “Not only were the rooms absolutely stunning, the food was awesome! A must-try is their home-grown passion fruit juice. Yummy!” 

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

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Colours In Your Life

Colour Therapist Jessica Mundroina talks about how it can help bring back equilibrium in your life

By Shevlin Sebastian

One day, colour therapist Jessica Mundroina got a call at her home in Nottinghamshire, England. Sandra James (name changed), a 24-year-old, wanted to meet her. She was a single child whose parents had divorced. Her mother was very dominating. “Sandra did not know how to share or express her feelings,” says Jessica.

So, she came to Jessica. After hearing her life story, over a couple of sessions, Jessica made Sandra lie down on the bed. Then she directed blue light at her throat and yellow light in the area below the chest and above the stomach.

Each light is aimed at the chakras in the body,” says Jessica.

In fact, the colour of the seven chakras follows the VIBGYOR pattern of the rainbow.
The Violet chakra is at the crown; Indigo is at the eyebrow level; Blue represents the throat; Green is the heart chakra; Yellow is at the solar plexus; Orange represents the abdomen, while Red is at the base of the spine.

Soon, Sandra felt better. “I was sceptical at first,” she says. “But after six sessions of colour being aimed at me, I could feel a change in me. I would recommend this therapy, but you must be open-minded about it.”

But in India, colour therapy is yet to gain wide acceptance. So Jessica, who has relocated to Kochi, is holding a workshop at the Backyard Cafe, to bring about awareness of this therapy and the impact of colour in our lives.

Every colour invokes in you a certain feeling,” says the therapist. “In Christianity, purple or violet, which is regarded as regal and spiritual, is associated with the Virgin Mary. In Hindu mythology, the goddesses wear different colours. If you see Kali she is in black, with a red tongue. Saraswathy, the goddess of learning, is always in white, which means she is virginal and pure. Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, wears pink or some form of orange. It implies gold and cash. As for red, it is the colour of sexuality.”

If you look at Indian weddings, red is used for the bride, in terms of lipstick, nail polish, earrings and the saree, to excite the passion of the spouse. “More than three thousand years ago, the Egyptians used henna for highlighting red, but many cultures also used red in their weddings, especially for the bride's trousseau,” says Jessica.

As for blue, it radiates peace. “Why are hospital uniforms blue?” says the therapist. “The patients feel calm and reassured when they see the colour. When you mix black in it, the colour becomes dark blue, which is the colour of depression. So, you will not see anybody wearing dark-blue as an uniform. ”

As for yellow, it is the predominant colour of communication. Yellow stimulates you to speak. “Green, on the other hand, is the colour of nature and new shoots,” says Jessica.

In fact, during the Easter Mass, the priest wears green vestments. “Because green signifies growth, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” she says.

Interestingly, those who come for therapy are mostly women. “It could be either because men don't believe in it or if they told their friends they will laugh at them,” says Jessica.

She adds that it is a meditative form of therapy. “You must have faith in the therapy,” she says. “Otherwise it will not work. Whether you go to a doctor or a therapist, in order to get healed, you must believe that you are in the right hands.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Making Shah Rukh Khan Groove To His Steps


Dance choreographer Prasanna Sujit talks about his experiences in the films, 'Billu Barber', 'Kakkakuyil' and 'Kaadhal Kondein'
By Shevlin Sebastian
At the location of the Bollywood film, 'Billu Barber', at Film City, Mumbai, in 2008, the sun was shining brightly at 11 a.m. But dance choreographer Prasanna Sujit was shivering. That was because he was about to show the signature step for the song, 'Marjaani Marjaani' to superstar Shah Rukh Khan.
Soon, Shah Rukh appeared on the set. He watched Prasanna from a distance. Then he came up and said, “Are you nervous?” The choreographer said, “Yes, I am.” Shah Rukh smiled and said, “Relax, I am a chilled-out guy.”
Prasanna began to breathe easier. Then he went some distance away from the star and performed the steps. Shah Rukh immediately came running up and said, “This is fabulous. Please teach me.”
After a brief rehearsal, the shot was taken and completed in one take.
Thereafter, Prasanna went to have lunch in his vanity van. After a while, there was a knock. When the door opened, Shah Rukh came in and said, “Thanks, Prasanna, you did a very good job. Hope to meet you soon.”
Then Shah Rukh paused and said, “Why don't you call me when the IPL [Indian Premier League] match comes to Chennai? You can watch it with me in the VIP box.”
An overwhelmed Prasanna nodded silently.
Another superstar who made a lasting impact on Prasanna was Mohanlal. Prasanna worked with him for the song, 'Govinda Govinda' in the Mollywood film 'Kakkakuyil' (2001). “I was recovering from a fracture on the right hand,” says Prasanna. “Mohanlal was also not well. He was suffering from cold and fever and taking medicines.”
There was a sequence when director Priyardarshan asked Prasanna to do a cartwheel and land on one knee and remain in that position. “When I was practising, my hand slipped and I was not able to land properly,” says Prasanna.
Mohanlal noticed this and told Prasanna, “You are trying to do a cartwheel when you have a problem with your hand. You should not do it. In fact, I will do it.”
But Prasanna pleaded that he would do it. But Mohanlal stood firm. 
In the end, Priyadarshan agreed for a physically-weak Mohanlal to practise the cartwheels. “Again, like with Shah Rukh, the shot was done in one take,” says Prasanna. “It was a very touching gesture on Mohanlal's part.”
Prasanna had a different experience on the sets of the Tamil film 'Kaadhal Kondein' (2003), which had Dhanush in the lead role. It was being shot in the Talakona forest, near Tirupati. “It was an era where there was no wifi or WhatsApp,” says Prasanna. At 2 p.m., director Selvaraghavan gave the audio track, which contained the theme music, to Prasanna and asked him to choreograph the dance immediately. “We have to complete the shoot before 5.30 p.m.,” the director said. “It is winter, so the light will fade very fast.”
Prasanna thought for a while and came up with the idea to use the choreography of a tribal dance. When Prasanna showed the steps to Selvaraghavan, he liked it. He quickly turned to Dhanush, and said, “Learn it from Prasanna.”
Soon, the shoot took place. When it was over, Selvaraghavan came up to Prasanna and said, “Actually, this theme music was to be used much earlier.  But because it has come out so well, I want to use it in the climax, along with a fight sequence.”
Prasanna said, “Please go ahead. It is an honour.” 

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

Monday, September 18, 2017

Some Eye-Opening Insights

Ulrich Pfisterer, the chairman of the International Blind Sports Federation, gives his insights about Indian football players, following a coaching camp in Kochi

Photo of Ulrich Pfisterer by Albin Mathew; Ulrich giving coaching at Kochi

By Shevlin Sebastian

On a grassy field in Kochi, the 6' tall Ulrich Pfisterer, in a blue T-shirt and track pants stares at the footballers in bright yellow jerseys standing at one side of the ground. Then Ulrich, the chairman of the International Blind Sports Federation, says, “Okay run.”

The footballers run from one side to the other. The winner is not the one who is first, but the person who can stop the closest to the sideboard. After a while, they began to get a good feel of how far they can go.

This is Ulrich's first visit to Kerala as well as India. He has come at the invitation of Sunil Mathew, the Director of the Indian Blind Football Federation. In the past few days, Ulrich has developed an understanding of the psyche of the players, who have come from different parts of India to take part in workshop and training sessions.

Many of the players are not used to moving around independently,” says Ulrich, who is also the head coach of the German team. “Maybe, it is because of the type of training they have received in their childhood and at school. Indian players stay close together and are not confident about moving into open spaces.”

One reason could be that Indian society, apart from the coaches and other trainers tends to be overprotective of blind people. “But that should change,” says Ulrich. “The attitude should be: you are a football player who just happens to be blind.”

The players are also not used to tough physical contact during a game. “You need to have an attitude of being tough and strong,” says Ulrich. “Top teams like Spain, Argentina, Brazil and Germany play very aggressively. You need a similar sort of aggression if you want to compete on the international stage.”

They also need to develop their footballing skills. “Ideally, they should have a ball at home,” says Ulrich. “They can practice, for example, when they go from the bedroom to the toilet, controlling the ball. The aim is to play with the ball all the time so that you can develop kinesthetic awareness. The ball becomes a part of you, like it is with Lionel Messi [one of the all-time great footballers] whenever he plays.”

Interestingly, each country has its own way of playing. “The Germans have a clinical style. They always have a linear focus towards scoring goals and play a hard physical game. On the other hand, the Chinese are very skilful, but they forget that there is a goal. Sometimes, during a match, they enjoy as much as 70 per cent possession. But when they come against the strong English and German defenders, they are unable to move forward,” says Ulrich.

Meanwhile, Ulrich took the opportunity to tell the wards about the new trends in blind football. “If you try to stop the ball, by stretching your feet, it might go between your legs,” he says. “So, you have to get the body behind the ball and catch it with both your feet.”
For dribbling, you cannot afford to push the ball and run after it. So, you have to use both your feet to caress the ball.

As for short passes, you can put your sole over the ball and push it forward. “It always goes in a straight line,” says Ulrich. “Finally, the most powerful shot in front of the goal is the poke with your toe. It is so fast, on many occasions, the goalkeeper is easily beaten.” 

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

Friday, September 15, 2017

Dubai-based Malayali Golfer Equals World Record

Rayhan Thomas, whose family is from Kottayam, has just equalled a world record at the Dubai Creek Open. The 17-year-old hit a stunning nine birdies in a row (a birdie is one stroke less than the designated number to complete a hole). The record was first set by American Mark Calcavecchia at the 2009 RBC Canadian Open.

When I hit the first two birdies, I felt this was going to be my day,” said Rayhan. “I'm very happy with my performance.”

And this has been one of many. In the highly-competitive US Amateur matchplay championships at Kansas in July, Rayhan came third after losing to eventual winner Noah Goodwin.

In the process, Rayhan became the first Indian to reach the semi-finals. Previous winners include Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth, both former world No. 1. Last year, Rayhan also became the first amateur to win on the MENA (Middle East & North Africa) tour.

His father John is the Chief Operating Officer of an oil, gas and marine company based in the United Arab Emirates, while his mother Neena is a homemaker.

It's a great achievement, at this age,” said John. “I believe he's got what it takes to reach the top.” Incidentally, Rayhan is No. 50 in the world amateur golf rankings and No. 1 in India in the category.

Adds Darren Clarke, the 2011 British Open champion, who witnessed the record, “Rayhan is a huge talent. He played beautifully, hit the ball very well and putted nicely."
In Dubai, Rayhan trains daily at the Butch Harmon School of Golf, named after Woods' former coach. “I love golf and want to become a champion,” said Rayhan. 

(Page 1, The New Indian Express, Kerala Editions)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

When Words Have Power

Manoj Vasudevan, the first Malayali to become the World Champion of Public Speaking talks about his experiences 

Photo by Manu Mavelil 

By Shevlin Sebastian

The Singapore-based Manoj Vasudevan walked with a confident stride towards the stage at a hall in Vancouver, Canada. Then he said, “When I was 24 years old, I was living in India. I was waiting for Cupid to shoot his arrow and find me the perfect partner. Guess what? It seems Cupid does not live in India. Soon, I went to another angel who had all the answers: my mama. 'Mama I can’t find good girls? How will I ever marry?' She said, ‘No problem. We can fix it.’ My Mama offered to introduce me to some good girls.”

And Manoj described how he met, fell in love with Sindu and got married. And then he described the ensuing relationship troubles that affect all couples.

This speech, titled 'Pull Less and Bend More' resonated with the 2500-strong audience, as well as the judges. Manoj was adjudged the Toastmasters International World Champion of Public Speaking, which is regarded as the Olympics of Public Speaking. More than 35,000 participants from 142 countries took part, over six months of eliminations, before ten people made it to the final, held on August 26. Incidentally, Manoj is the first Malayali to win it.

Asked the reasons behind his victory, Manoj says, “My message was universal. Everybody has faced problems in their relationships, so they could relate to it.”

He felt overwhelmed when a 40-year-old black American woman, Miss Cooper came up to him, and said, “Your speech pulled at my heart strings. I am divorced now but will be getting married again. But I will remember all that you said for the rest of my life.”

Another reason for his win was because he approached the event with a different attitude. “I realised that I should give a speech, not to win the trophy, but to go beyond that, and say something meaningful. I looked at it as an opportunity to speak to the world for seven minutes. So what is the one thing I wanted to say​? I realised that everybody is fighting and arguing with each other. In the US, the Republicans are fighting with the Democrats, and [US President] Donald Trump with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. So I wanted to say that if we try, we can all get along with each other.”

Early Life

Manoj grew up in Thiruvananthapuram, the son of a senior administrative officer at the directorate of health services. After graduating from the College of Engineering, he worked in Mumbai and the Technopark at Thiruvananthapuram before he left for Singapore in 1998, where he worked for numerous companies. But, today, he runs his own consultancy firm, 'Thought Expressions', which teaches aspirants on how to be effective leaders. Manoj is also a stand-up comedian, and has written a best-selling self-help book called, ‘Mastering Leadership The Mousetrap Way’.

Meanwhile, when asked about the most difficult aspect of public speaking, Manoj says, “It is the pause within a speech. For example, when you are talking about your friend, the audience is seeing their friend. If I say something about a classroom, they are thinking about their classroom. They are listening to you, and forming images in their mind. Sometimes, you need to give time to the audience to visualise and assimilate those images. If you talk so fast, you are erasing the scene and so they cannot enjoy the speech.”

The pause is important when you ask questions. “Also, when you say something profound,” says Manoj. “The audience needs the time to think. [Former US President] Barack Obama pauses a lot in his speeches. And that is why his speeches are so powerful. The pause expands Obama’s presence and that is why the audience thinks, ‘This guy is awesome’.” 

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

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

An Officer And A Gentleman

Adil Hussain talks about his experiences in the Malayalam film, 'Naval Enna Jewel', as well as Hollywood and Bollywood

Photo by Albin Mathew

By Shevlin Sebastian

On the sets of the Malayalam film, 'Naval Enna Jewel', at Muscat, Oman, Adil Hussain met American/Iranian actor Reem Kadem for the first time. “She began speaking rapidly, and I could not understand a word,” says Adil. “I said, 'What are you talking about? Are you from America or what?'”

Reem burst out laughing and said, “I am speaking Malayalam.” Now it was Adil's turn to laugh. “Reem had memorised all the dialogues by heart,” says Adil, while on a recent visit to Kochi. “In the end, she delivered a knock-out performance as Naval.”

And so has Adil, who plays an Iranian government official, who can sometimes speak in Malayalam. “This was one of the reasons I accepted the role,” he says. “The character is not Malayali, and has an accent. So I was able to dub for it. Half the acting is in the voice, the sound which comes out of my being. I also felt that it was an important story, which dealt with the way women are exploited in countries like Iran and Iraq.”

Adil hit the international spotlight when he played the role of Santhosh Patel, the father of the boy-hero Pi Patel in the award-winning 'Life of Pi', directed by Ang Lee. And it is no surprise that Adil is a fan of Ang. “He is the humblest director I have ever met,” says Adil. “Ang allowed me to do what I wanted and then said, 'Just put 10 per cent affection to your sternness'.”

Adil has also acted in 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist', and in French, Norwegian, Bengali, Hindi, Assamese, Tamil and Marathi films. In 2017, he won the National 'Special Jury Award' for his role in the Hindi film, 'Mukti Bhawan'.

Nevertheless, it is Hollywood that impresses Adil with its brilliant planning and commitment. “I got the script of 'Life of Pi' six months before the shoot,” he says. “The itinerary was given to me two months in advance, along with the mobile number of the chauffeur. And it all went according to plan. In Bollywood and other regional industries, there is a 'chalta hai' attitude and a lack of ambition to be excellent.”

This ambition could be kindled if there are more opportunities for the young. “For a population of 1.3 billion, there is only one Film and Television Institute of India and one National School of Drama, with 26 seats,” says Adil, an alumnus of the NSD. “There should be at least 20 drama schools.”

Meanwhile, on asked whether he will act in another Malayalam film, Adil says, “If the opportunity arises and if I am given enough time to learn the dialogues.”

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

Thursday, September 07, 2017

A Miracle Inside A Church


Actor Anjali talks about her experiences in the films, ‘Marupadi’, ‘White Boys’, ‘Ben’, and ‘Role Models’

Photos: Anjali; the wax figure that formed on her palm

By Shevlin Sebastian

A scene inside a church at Mepadi in Wayanad was taking place in VM Vinu's film, ‘Marupadi’ (2016). As Anjali, who played a nun, was about to enter the church, senior actor Devan told her that there is a belief that if you take eight drops of wax from a candle burning near the altar and pour it on the palm, a miracle will take place.

“I got very excited,” says Anjali. So, when she reached the altar, Anjali selected a candle and turned it sideways, to pour a drop of wax. But, instead, a large amount fell on her palm. Even though it was hot, Anjali ignored it and waited to pour the eight drops.

Devan came up and confessed that he had played a prank on her. But Anjali focused on getting the eight drops. In the meanwhile, the wax had solidified on her palm. Devan carefully extracted it.

A design had been formed. It had become like Mother Mary, holding a small child, on top of a hill. “Everybody was shocked,” says Anjali.

One week later, the parish priest invited Anjali to be a guest at a function in the church. So Anjali went and told the audience about what had happened. Thereafter, the wax image was projected onto a LED screen. “Then the priest showed me a photo,” says Anjali. “It was of a famous statue of Mother Mary atop a mountain with a child, somewhere in Europe. And it looked exactly like the wax design. It was, indeed, a miracle.”

Meanwhile, during the shoot of ‘White Boys’, Anjali had an entirely different experience. She plays the mother to child actor Gaurav Menon. In one scene, actor Elias is coming to save Anjali and Gaurav from some villains led by actor Kaushik.

Elias was supposed to just point a pistol at Kaushik.

But when Elias took aim, there was a loud bang and suddenly Anjali saw blood on Kaushik's face and shirt. “I was not told that there would be a sound and small balloons filled with red water, had been put under Kaushik’s shirt,” says Anjali. "I began screaming thinking that Kaushik had actually been shot. It took me a few minutes to realise that nothing serious had happened, because everybody was laughing. After that, for the rest of the shoot, I was teased non-stop by the crew.”

Anjali was also emotionally overcome during the shoot of ‘Ben’ (2015). Again, she played a mother, Asha Justin, who intensely loved her son, Ben, played by Gaurav. But Ben rebels against his mother.

“So, there are many scenes where I harass Gaurav,” says Anjali. “I hit him on the head, push dirty clothes into his mouth, and drag him around. Then one day, while the shoot was going on, I suddenly burst into tears over all what I had done. I felt so bad for Gaurav.”

Anjali told the director Vipin Atley that she could not carry on. “Those scenes were so difficult,” says Anjali. But Vipin consoled her and it took a while before Anjali calmed down and the shoot could resume.

Anjali, who usually plays mother roles, became a feminist, who gets sexually assaulted, in ‘Role Models’ (2017). The shoot was near a bridge in Goa. “There was an overpowering smell of urine,” says Anjali. “It was unbearable.” Anjali found it very difficult to shoot the scene. “Nevertheless, after it was over, [director] Rafi jokingly promised that the next time there was a shoot, with me, he would ensure that there was no smell of urine nearby,” says Anjali.

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

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Customising The News

Carlos Fernandes has invented the 'Blaze', an application, where consumers can get the news they like to read or see. Thereafter, the user can editorialise it to their liking

By Shevlin Sebastian

One day, Carlos Fernandes, the CEO of the Singapore-based Blaze Company read an article which talked about Comedy Central as being one of the most trusted sources of news. “I was surprised to read it because the anchors are actually giving their version of the news,” says Carlos.

That was when Carlos got an idea. And now, he has come up with a bot called Blaze. A bot is a cloud-based application that automates the tasks that you do.

This is how it works. Blaze gets to know what users like and then it will scan the web for content that the user would like to read or see. You can access it on Facebook Messenger.

“After that, a user can editorialise it,” says Carlos. “In other words, you can add filters, image, text or video and make the news story your own.”

He gives an example. During the Vijay Mallya extradition saga from the UK to India by the Indian government, there was a photo of the Indian tycoon with a caption which stated that he is fighting extradition. “Someone quickly added a crown on his head, to signify 'the king of good times', and added a tag line which said, 'I am too sexy for the Indian jail',” says Carlos.

The excited entrepreneur says, “It's just four or five words, but it tells you so much about the story, and about the world that we are living in. So, imagine a scenario where people will start reading your take on the news that comes from different sources.”

This is one of the many achievements of Carlos. In 2006, he patented the world’s first Internet-based Digital Video Recorder called Record TV. Following its success, Carlos brought out the InstantTV app, which soon became a top-selling service in Singapore. It basically offers a slew of TV channels on your iOS and Android devices.

Apart from that, the Mumbai-born Carlos Fernandes has been identified as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, Geneva, and was in Businessweek's Top 25 Entrepreneurs in Asia. He has also served as an adviser to many governments on youth development, technology and entrepreneurship. Apart from that, he is a member of numerous international organisations.

Meanwhile, when asked about life in Singapore, Carlos says, “Singapore is an easy place to live. You don't have to focus on things like traffic jams, slow Internet speed and poor infrastructure like I had to when I was growing up in Mumbai.”

When he would go to college, Carlos would spend a minimum of four hours travelling to and fro on buses. “But at the end of the day, you become resilient and capable of surmounting difficulties,” he says.

However, the disadvantage of living in Singapore is that you tend to become soft. “Sometimes, you hear people say, 'I don't want to work in this job because it is too far from my house',” he says. “But in Singapore, wherever you want to go, you will reach it in less than an hour and that too, you are travelling in an air conditioned train.”

Carlos is also worried about the impact of this smooth life on his children [daughter Chamoni, 7 ½ and son Leon, 5]. “I am not sure how they will face it when problems arise,” says Carlos. “It is easy to move from a problem-city to a no-problem city. But it is very hard to move from a no-problem one to a problem city.”

Carlos pauses and then says, “But then, that is life. There are pros and cons to everything.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The Colossus Of Tamil Nadu

Author R Kannan traces the life of MG Ramachandran as artist, politician and human being

By Shevlin Sebastian

The brothers [MG Ramachandran and Chakrapani] met Sathi Leelavati's producer Marudachalam Chettiar and Kandasamy Mudalier at a hotel on Wall Tax Road. When Marudachalam Chettiar held out a 100-rupee note as advance, the brothers were overwhelmed. It was their first 100 rupees.

As they walked home, MGR asked his brother if the note was authentic, to which Chakrapani said he had never seen one before. Back home, [mother] Sathyabala held the note against the light, and declared it contained a watermark. After this, she placed it before her husband's picture, lit camphor, then applied sacred ash on her sons' foreheads. MGR could not sleep that night. It felt that the house was filled with silver coins and there was no place to put their feet.

At that time, if somebody had told MGR that, one day, he would become an extremely wealthy man, a superstar of Tamil cinema, a man much loved by the masses, become the founder of his own political party, a three-term Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, and have an affair with a protege Jayalalitha, who would become a Chief Minister herself, he would have said, “Don't be daft.” But that was exactly what had happened.

And this is explored in lucid and absorbing detail in the well-researched biography, 'MGR: A Life' by R. Kannan, who heads the Basra office of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq. Apart from MGR's life, the book also focuses on the sixty years of the Dravidian movement and how it became a potent force in Tamil Nadu.

But what fascinates is MGR's life. How a Class three dropout made his way in the world; his complicated relationship with Prime Ministers Morarji Desai and Indira Gandhi; and his friendship and later antagonism of Chief Minister K. Karunanidhi.

Asked about their relationship, Kannan says, “They had reached a point where they had no option, but to oppose each other. But MGR had a huge amount of respect for Karunanidhi. The 25-year-long association, when they were colleagues in the film world, and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, could not be set aside. So, whenever they met, in the State Assembly and outside, there was a good deal of cordiality between the two.”

What is also interesting to read is MGR's relationship with Jayalalitha, who was 30 years younger when she met the matinee idol.

She sort of stunned him, with her fair-skinned beauty, English language skills and phenomenal memory,” says Kannan. “The fact that initially she was indifferent because she did not know how big MGR was, dazzled him."

Afterward, when MGR realised that she was very ambitious, he became confused about her. The relationship became ambivalent. "He clipped her wings and left her high and dry on occasion," says Kannan. "However, when he was about to throw her out of the party [the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam], his fondness for her prevented that.”

No matter the difficulties, Jayalalitha remained with this charismatic man. “MGR did things by instinct,” says Kannan. “He was superstitious. Yet the man had the confidence to have bright people around him although he was a school drop-out. He was a large-hearted man, who believed in giving. He was quirky at times. And wanted to know about what was happening with others. So his intelligence set-up was very active.”

In the end, this is a worthwhile book. And it already has some celebrity admirers. Says legendary actor Kamal Haasan: “I know most of the story, but I was aghast to learn some truths. This is an interesting read and told in a voice similar to MGR's – not given to hyperbole or icon bashing.” 

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