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)