Wednesday, January 31, 2018

German photographer André Luetzen travelled to three cities – Kochi, Arkhangelsk in North-West Russia and Khartoum in Sudan – to show the impact of the climate on the people

By Shevlin Sebastian 

Photo of André Luetzen by Albin Mathew. The others are by André Luetzen

When German photographer André Luetzen saw a man on the street at Fort Kochi, a desire arose in him to take a picture. He approached him asking permission but the man shook his head sideways. So André walked away. But the man called him back. And the photo was taken. “I did not know that when people shook their heads sideways, it is a yes,” he says. “In Germany, it means a no. So, that was interesting.”

André was in Kochi recently for the inauguration of his exhibition, 'Living Climate: A Tale of Three Cities' at the Uru Gallery at Mattancherry (it concludes on February 28). It is an exhibition of photographs which focuses on three cities with very different weather conditions: Kochi, Arkhangelsk in North-West Russia and Khartoum in Sudan.

Wet Fort Kochi

Around a couple of years ago, André had come to Kochi to take photos during the monsoon. And it turned out to be a surprise for him. “I had expected it to rain for days together,” he says. “But, usually, it rained an hour, followed by a gap of several hours, before it rained again. The locals told me that the weather had changed.”

Interestingly, André focused not only on the street but inside homes too. One day, he knocked on a door. A middle-aged woman opened it. Through his translator, Andre asked whether he could come in. She agreed. As soon as he entered André noticed a grey-haired man lying bare-bodied on a wooden bed. He got up. But André asked him to lie down. And he took a shot where the woman is sitting on a chair behind the man. It perfectly captures the narrow room and the damp walls, and the lack of space is shown by two sarees and a blouse hanging from a clothesline going right across the room.

In Kochi, when it is not raining, it can get oppressively humid. And in another photo, André has shown a young, bare-bodied boy lying on a bed, in deep sleep, near an open window, with a table fan placed right on the edge of the bed, so that he can get the best breeze. There are also shots of waterlogged rooms, a Superman poster juxtaposed next to a black umbrella, which is hanging on a nail on the wall; a young woman leaning despondently against a wet wall, and a wooded area, which has small pools of water. The leaves on the trees are a shimmering green thanks to the rain, while the ground is covered with twigs and branches, all fallen because of fierce winds during a storm.

The coldest North

When André arrived in Arkhangelsk (northern Russia) in March, 2013, the cold knocked him out. “It was minus 20 degrees,” he says. “The winter lasts five months. It is very difficult to move outside. So, the people spend a lot of time indoors. So I took shots of interiors. But I also needed pictures from the outside to show what winter is like in a small Russian city.”

Not surprisingly, there is a shot, taken at dawn or twilight, of a man standing on a wooden bridge and right under it and all over the landscape are thick snow and ice. At a distance, a street light emits a bit of light. There are shots of bare trees with no leaves on them, and small patches of water next to areas of snow outside buildings. 

There is a photo of a bored-looking elderly couple, the woman lying down, her husband sitting next to her, on a worn-out sofa with a large carpet as a backdrop. In another photo, a middle-aged woman wearing a green apron with black leggings sits on a chair in a room and is relishing the sunlight that is streaming in through the window and lighting up her face.

Hot Khartoum

Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, in complete contrast to Arkhangelsk, is one of the hottest places on the planet with temperatures reaching 50 degrees Centigrade. There is a shot of a man, in a white gown, wearing a black fez cap, who is walking beside a wall, which is half lit up because of the strong sunlight. There are shadows of two chimneys on it. And there are several interior shots which show that the houses, some with high ceilings, look cool, in contrast to the heat outside.

In Khartoum initially, it was difficult to get access to houses and other private spaces,” says André. “But once the people accepted you, they were warm and friendly.”
What is most amazing about all the photographs in the exhibition is that they have been taken with an analog camera: a Mamiya 711. “You have ten images on a film roll,” he says. “Working in analog needs more imagination than digital. Somehow, the photo is of a different quality. It seems to have more life.”

Finally, when asked about climate change, André says, “I am sure it is taking place. It has always been taking place for millions of years. But now, it is clear that we are the cause of it and it is speeding up. There could be a big disaster ahead.” 

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

Monday, January 29, 2018

At his recent exhibition, photographer Radhesh Rajappan has focused on horses

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photos. Radhesh Rajappan at the exhibition (by Albin Mathew); the daughter of Music; horses 

At 2 a.m. on a Friday, photographer Radhesh Rajappan received a phone call at his home in Dubai. The veterinarian Dr Sultan Mohammed, at the Ghantoot Racing & Polo Club, said, “Come quickly. The mare is about to give birth.”

So Radhesh jumped out of bed but, by the time he reached the club, 58 kms away, the mare, Selha, had given birth. Immediately, the doctor said, “Please don't shoot now. The foal will feel very nervous.”

When Radhesh tried to enter the stable, Selha neighed her disapproval. So Radhesh waited outside. And he saw the wondrous sight of the foal running around the mare, then stopping to suckle, then running around again. Finally, at 3.30 p.m., when Selha felt comfortable, Radhesh stepped in. By 4.30 p.m., he started shooting. And then he got the prized photo of Selha nuzzling the foal, as it stood next to her.

This picture can be seen in the 'Land And Life' photography exhibition which was held recently at the Durbar Hall, Kochi. In another photo, there is an image of a horse, with sleek chestnut hair, nibbling in a field of grass, with several trees on the perimeter. Thanks to the early morning sunlight, the skin is glowing. “This horse's mother's name is Music,” says Radhesh. “She is so beautiful that people call her the 'Aishwarya Rai' among horses. Now, observers are saying that her child is going to be as beautiful as the mother.”

Radheesh, who grew up in Kochi, used to go on horse rides at the Bolgatty Palace, a tourist site. “I became fascinated by horses,” he says. “The horse is a graceful animal. It has energy and power.”

He always had an interest in photography. But it was only in 2013, when he joined a photography club called Shutterbug in Dubai that his interested deepened.

One day, the group had gone to a farm, 50 kms from Dubai to take photos of birds. He was returning with a friend, Nishtha, who asked whether they could drive through unknown roads. “She wanted to explore space,” says Radheesh. “So I agreed. I was in no hurry. It was a holiday. But by going down a particular road, we came in front of the Royal Equestrian Centre. There was a statue of a horse. We decided to check it out.”

That was when Radhesh realised that there were hundreds of horses in residence. Soon, he began taking pics. When Mohammed Arfan Asif [Shutterbug founder and noted photographer] saw these photos, he told Radhesh horses should be his lifelong subject. “So I decided to focus on them,” says Radhesh. 

Asked about the character of horses, he says, “They are just like human beings. Each is different from the other. For example, if there are four stallions, one could be aggressive, the next one relaxed, the third one will bite you, and the fourth will kick you.”

Interestingly, all of them do not like human beings. “If there is a human being within the vicinity, the horses feel alarmed,” says Radhesh. “They don't like the smell of the soap, perfume or the clothes we are wearing. We don't have a natural smell, so they stay away.”

The only way is to earn their trust. For that, on his weekly Friday holiday, Radhesh spends more than ten hours in the stables. “After a few hours, I place some oats in my palm,” says Radhesh. “Then I would wait till the horse came and ate it from my palm. Some would come within an hour, while others took as long as a week. But the moment they ate from your palm, a friendship developed.”

But in order to ensure everything goes well, Radhesh has learnt to closely observe the eyes. When it looks relaxed, then it is safe to take pictures. 

And all along, he has been guided by Lorenzo, a third-generation trainer from Argentina. “Lorenzo began working in the stables from the age of five,” says Radhesh. “He loves horses more than his family. If he does not go to the stable every day, he feels unwell.”

Not surprisingly, Radhesh's photo of the Argentinian, shows the latter, with one hand on the neck of a retired horse called Palmereta, while the other hand caresses the area below the mouth. Both look serene.

Horses have changed me as a person,” he says. “Earlier, I was very aggressive, but nowadays I have calmed down and become a more accepting person. And when you interact with horses, you feel renewed energy. They are God's wonderful creatures.” 

(A shorter version was published in Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

#RadheshRajappan #GhantootRacing&PoloClub #Shutterbug #MohammedArfanAsif

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

An Untimely Death


Stills photographer Jayaprakash Payannur talks about his experiences in the films, 'Naamal', 'Make-up Man', 'Finger Print', and 'Celluloid'  

By Shevlin Sebastian 

During the shoot of Kamal's 'Naamal' (2002), cameraman P Sukumar was sitting on a 22 feet high crane at the Government Engineering College in Thrissur. Stills photographer Jayaprakash Payannur was standing next to the crane. At that time, he was using an analog camera. Suddenly, he noticed that his film roll had finished. So, he stepped away to get a new one. At that moment, the crane fell where he had been standing. “I escaped by a few inches,” he says.

Sukumar also fell from a height. He was immediately rushed to the hospital. “But surprisingly he had very few injuries and no fractures at all,” says Jayaprakash. He re-joined the shoot a few days later.

An investigation revealed that a screw in the central joint broke and caused the break-up of the crane. “On every shoot, you need a lot of luck so that there are no mishaps,” says Jayaprakash.

But sometimes, accidents do occur. The shoot for 'Make-up Man' (2011) was taking place at Ramoji Film City, near Hyderabad. Prithviraj, who was doing a guest role, was doing a dance sequence with the heroine. “Prithviraj was dancing on the edge of the fountain,” says Jayaprakash. “Unfortunately, he slipped. He shouted, 'Aiyoo' as he fell.”

Prithviraj was in a lot of pain. “He immediately went to his room,” says Jayaprakash. “Ice cubes wrapped in a towel was pressed against his leg. But what was most remarkable was that he returned to the set within one-and-a-half hours and the shoot resumed. All of us were amazed at his dedication.”

Sometimes, there are near misses. In the film 'Finger Print' (2005), the shooting was taking place near the Tripunithara bridge. The heroes were Jayaram and Indrajith. Jayaprakash wanted some action stills of both of them. “So I decided I would make them walk down the bridge and take the shots,” says Jayaprakash. “I was steadily going back as they walked forward.”

Suddenly Jayaram shouted, “Stop at once.”

Jayaprakash got so shocked he stopped immediately.

Then Jayaram said, “Now look back.”

That was when Jayaprakash saw a hole the size of a well. “I was just one step away from falling through,” he says. “Jayaram said the right thing. If he said, 'JP, you might fall, be careful, I might have continued walking, looked back and maybe could have fallen in. But his command to stop at once worked. I did not look back.”

Apart from mishaps, sometimes a tragedy can take place. One day, the crew for the film, 'Celluloid' were getting ready for a shoot in Mysore. Everybody was busy with their assigned tasks. The cooks were getting the meals prepared, the costumers were getting the dresses ready, the light boys were putting up the lights, but in the art department one boy, Dinesh Kumar (name changed), a carpenter, did not turn up for work.

People went to look for him. Amazingly, he had died in the night because of a massive heart attack. “Dinesh was only 23 years old,” says Jayaprakash. “He was from Kannur and had a wife and a child. His death deeply affected all of us.”

The shoot was stopped for the day. It was only his second film. The night before Dinesh had dinner with everybody before he went to sleep. “Who could have imagined his life would end so suddenly,” says Jayaprakash. “Dinesh was not from a well-off family. It was decided that we would collect some money.” Amazingly, from the hero Prithviraj downwards, the director Kamal, everybody on the set contributed.

In the end, we collected Rs 2.5 lakh,” says Jayaprakash. “A large part of it we put it in a bank account while we gave the rest to the widow. All of us were glad that we could do a little bit although nothing can erase the pain that the family is still going through.” 

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

Monday, January 22, 2018

The exhibition at the URU Art Harbour Gallery focused on the island of Mattancherry, near Kochi

By Shevlin Sebastian 

Photos: Zakkir Hussain, Anitha Thampi and Saju Kunhan. Pics by K. Shijith

One evening, artist Zakkir Hussain had a cup of tea at a hotel on Bazaar Road in the island of Mattancherry, near Kochi. When he stepped out, he heard a man shouting at another person, “You must vacate the house as soon as possible. Otherwise, I will get you evicted.”

It raised a major issue for Zakkir, who has a studio in Mattancherry. “Too many people do not own houses in Mattancherry,” he says.

So, when he was invited to take part in an exhibition called 'Mattancherry', which has been curated by Kochi Biennale founder, Riyas Komu, at the URU Art Harbour gallery, he focused on the subject of homelessness.

There are three works hanging side by side. In one, there is a woman with a fan hanging near her head, and there is a drawing of a house as well as a goat along the front of her body. She is standing on the steps of a house, balancing herself on a small wheel.

The wheel indicates that they are members of a floating population, with no permanent place to stay,” he says. “I added a goat because it is a common sight all over Mattancherry.” The other two paintings, which feature men, explore the same theme.

Meanwhile, photographer KR Sunil spent two months wandering around the bylanes of the town. “I decided to do portraits of people,” he says.

At the exhibition, 23 portraits are on show. One of them is of a porter who works on Bazaar Road. He is standing bare-bodied, with tufts of grey hair on his chest, and a folded towel over his head.

At seventy-years of age, he is the senior-most porter,” says Sunil. “But I noticed that he had more energy than many of his younger colleagues.”

As for artist Saju Kunhan, his work is devoid of people. Instead, it is a drone-like image, focusing on Mattancherry, Fort Kochi, Vypeen and the other smaller islands. In the sea, ships with sails can be seen.

This area has a centuries-old history of migration, thanks to a natural harbour,” says Saju. “So, a lot of ships arrived for hundreds of years.”

To make the work, Saju took a printout of a Google map. This was transferred onto a teak wood surface using an acrylic medium. “It is a long drawn-out process,” says Saju. But the 12' x 5' work, 'Our land is part of the globe', is one of the eye-catching ones at the exhibition.

The others who participated included poet Anitha Thampi, whose Malayalam poems, written on one wall of the gallery explore the life and times of the place. On another wall, artist PS Jalaja has done a large and remarkable portrait of a working-class man. 

There is also the Chennai-based Urban Design Collective, which has traced the history of Mattancherry through maps and graphics, while the research collective Route Cochin has focused on the enduring charm of the Dutch Breudher bread.

Asked the reasons for the theme of Mattancherry, Riyas says, “Because of the Bienalle, I have been frequenting the town for the past eight years. So, I felt the time had come to argue more for the people of Mattancherry. They face many problems like housing and a poor economy. At the gallery, we want to put up art works that are socially relevant.” 

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

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Land As Inspiration

An exhibition in honour of the late artist Rajan Krishnan, who was skilled at landscapes, is taking place at the OED Gallery 

Photos: Rajan Krishnan; works by KP Pradeepkumar and Dipin Thilakan

By Shevlin Sebastian

In 2012, art impresario Dilip Narayan closed two of his galleries in Kochi and decided to open one in Mattancherry called the OED Gallery. It was not a good time. The global economy was slowing. Art prices were going down. But Dilip was not deterred.

And there was one artist who offered whole-hearted support. That was Rajan Krishnan. He was there before, during and after the opening of the exhibition. “Rajan looked at the gallery and said, 'This is like love in the time of cholera' [paraphrasing the book by the great Nobel Laureate author Gabriel Garcia Marquez],” says Dilip. “I never forgot that beautiful statement.”

By then Dilip had been representing Rajan for many years. “I liked his work which was land and space-related,” says Dilip. “He drew the hills, plants and paddy fields of Kerala with great skill.”

Unfortunately, Rajan, who had a masters in fine arts from MS University, Baroda, died on February 11, 2016, at Irinjalakuda at the age of 48. “It was a big loss for me,” says Dilip. “Rajan was an amazing human being; a perfect gentleman. I miss him.”

But now, an exhibition called 'Land Forms – A Tribute to a beloved friend and stellar artist Rajan Krishnan' is taking place at the OED Gallery (until February 10). The show has been curated by Kathleen Wyma, an expert on South Asian art, who works in the department of fine arts, University of Hongkong.

The participating artists include KP Pradeepkumar, Dibin Thilakan, Abul Hisham, Ranjith Raman, Sujith SN, and Sanam Narayanan, apart from two works by Rajan.

Pradeepkumar's work is a paper drawing of a rubber forest. He had seen these in the Kattapana and Palakkad areas. Beneath the trees, he has drawn white coffee flowers. “I am giving a hint of the colonial impact through the coffee image,” he says. “Many Britishers had come to Kerala and planted tea and coffee plants in our mountains in Munnar and other places.”

Pradeepkumar was a former classmate of Rajan at the Fine Arts College at Thiruvananthapuram. “Rajan was a friendly and helpful person,” says Pradeepkumar. “He would communicate very well. Many artists depended on him for help and support.”

Another artist who admired Rajan is Dipin Thilakan. “I love his landscapes,” he says. “It was his forte.”

Dipin's work, 'Bonds of Lineage' is an image of a landscape, which has two whorls in the centre. And inside them, there are three female representatives.
In the centre, there is a Mother Goddess. On the right, a girl is being raped. On the left, there is a Cow Goddess. “These are the three major figures of femininity,” says Dibin. It is done in the gouache style, a type of opaque watermedia, which originated in France.

As for Ranjith Raman he will not forget Rajan easily. After his graduation from the Fine Arts College in Thiruvananthapuram, he had gone to work at the Kanoria Centre for the Arts in Ahmedabad. “This was a period of struggle for me,” he says. “I was searching for my identity.”

Then on a mini-break, he had gone to Thiruvananthapuram where he met Rajan. “We started talking and when I told Rajan I was depressed, he immediately studied my palm,” says Ranjith. “I did not know that he knew palmistry. He told me many positive things and it brought a lot of mental relief for me.”

Ranjith is an admirer of Rajan's works. “Rajan's painting skills were of a very high standard,” he says. “I always enjoyed his landscapes. Even the ones at the exhibition which show the side of a railway track and one of thick foliage are very impressive.”

As for Ranjith, he has put up twelve small art works. Ranjith has used layers of fabric, different kinds of embroidery and hand stitches. “They are all semi-abstract landscapes,” he says.

Another artist who uses an abstract style is Sujith SN, who is also an admirer of the late artist. “Rajan was an amazing artist,” he says. “I was very close to him, even though he was my senior in college. Rajan invited me to take part in a show that he curated. We have been together in art camps. He was a simple and humble man who encouraged young artists. His death is a big loss.” 

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

A Leaking Boat


Make-up artist Pattanam Shah talks about his experiences in the films, ‘Albhutha Dweepu’, 'Siamese Irattakal', 'Ayaal', and 'Kattuchembakam'

Photo by Albin Mathew

By Shevlin Sebastian

At 4 a.m., make-up artist Pattanam Shah, along with costume designer SB Satheeshan, headed towards a hill in Kava, Palakkad during the shoot of Vinayan's ‘Albhutha Dweepu’ (a film about dwarfs released in 2005). “I knew it was going to be a difficult day,” says Shah. “I had to get the make-up of 300 small people done by 11 a.m.”

However, when he arrived at the shed where the make-up was supposed to be done, he realised he had a problem. “Suddenly, I wondered how we would do the make-up of small people while they sat in normal chairs,” says Shah. “We would have to bend a lot. And it would slow us down.”

Shah was wondering what to do. 'How would it be possible to get high stools in this distant location?' he thought. Anyway, he spoke to associate art director Shiji who said, “There's nothing to worry. We will solve the problem.”

Suddenly about 15 high stools appeared from nowhere. The production team had anticipated this problem and got the stools in advance. Both Shah and Satheeshan felt so relieved. “We could do the make-up and the costumes quite fast and all the actors were ready on time,” says Shah. “This was a rare occasion when a production team anticipated a problem and provided solutions.”

Shah had a different experience on the sets of 'Siamese Irattakal' (1997). Sainudeen and Maniyanpilla Raju played the role of Siamese twins. “At that time, nobody knew much about prosthetic make-up,” says Shah. “We had to join two stomachs. And the actors had to face each other.”

Two technicians came from Chennai. They took the measurement of the stomachs of both actors. Then they made rubber moulds. It was placed around their stomachs like a belt. “Then I got both the moulds to be glued together,” says Shah. “So the actors were stuck. There was a shirtless scene. We painted the moulds in a body colour, so nobody could notice the difference.”

The shoot went off well. The director and the crew praised Shah. But when the late Rajan P Dev said, “That was a beautiful shot,” Shah got emotional. “For me, getting praise from such a senior and respected artist as Rajan Chettan was better than receiving a national award,” says Shah.

In Suresh Unnithan's 'Ayaal' (2013), Shah went through a nerve-wracking experience. The shoot was on an island in the Kuttanad area in Alleppey district. There were about 100 people present. “For lunch, all had to travel on small boats to reach the eating location on another island nearby,” says Shah.

As he was awaiting his turn, Shah saw a fisherman on a small boat, with a motor at one end. “He said he would drop me,” says Shah. “So I agreed. As soon as the motor started, and the boat moved forward, a gush of water shot up from a hole in the bottom.”

The man immediately stopped the motor. And he began to use his paddle. But the water was steadily filling up in the boat. “Since I did not know swimming, I was scared,” says Shah. “And the water was quite deep in that area. But the boatman was paddling very fast, and somehow, before the boat could capsize, we reached the other island. It was a close shave for me.”

Shah had another close shave on the sets of 'Kattuchembakam' (2002), which starred Jayasurya and debutant Charmy Kaur. There was a shoot in the water, near the Athirampally Waterfalls, while the camera was placed on the bank.

Shah was assigned the task of holding Charmy. “There was a good flow of water,” he says. “There was talk that the current might suddenly increase in speed.”

As they waited somebody shouted, “Be careful.” And indeed, the water started coming down in powerful waves. It hit Charmy and Shah with full force. Both lost their footing and went underwater. “I thought we would be washed away,” he says. As they began to panic, a quick-thinking crew member managed to hold Shah's hand, while Charmy grabbed Shah’s body. The crew member had to use all his strength to pull the duo to the bank. “Thanks to God, we survived,” says Shah. 

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

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Chinese pole dancer Ode Rosset combines with Kerala's kalaripayattu artistes to form an unique art form

By Shevlin Sebastian

Ode Rosset climbs up the pole, stops, turns her face downwards while stretching her legs skywards. Then she turns again and goes to the top of the pole. Then kalaripayattu artiste Kishor climbs up the pole, stops midway and stretches his body parallel to the ground. Then three other kalaripayattu performers swing around near the pole. Meanwhile, there is haunting music by French musician Jerom Cury, who uses the drums as well as Tibetan bowls. The vocals are by singer Fatima El Hassouni.

All this is amazingly taking place on a street in Kottayam recently. It was a public performance. Bystanders watch the action curiously. Incidentally, the performance has been titled, 'Via', which means travelling by way of.

For Ode, it was a dream come true. A master of the Chinese pole, Ode had been learning kalaripayattu at the Jai Sankar KJV Kalari, at Puthupally, near Kottayam, for the past 12 years. 

In February, this year, she began teaching the kalaripayattu dancers on how to use the Chinese pole. As a result, they were able to come up with a fusion performance. “I think it worked well,” she says. Ode is now planning to have an exchange project between the Kalari and two French circus schools, namely the Academie Fratellini, Paris and Circus Pole, Amiens. At the moment, she is looking for sponsors.

Thereafter, Ode plans to take the show to other parts of the world. “Not many people know of kalaripayattu,” she says. “I want to popularise it.”

For Ode, the discovery of kalaripayattu happened by accident. She had come to Kerala to attend the wedding of her brother to a Malayali woman. Both had been working in Jordan, he as an engineer and she was an air-hostess in the Royal Jordanian Airlines. They met and fell in love. 

It was on that visit that I saw kalaripayattu for the first time and became fascinated,” she says. At that time, she was a student of The National Circus School at Châtellerault (100 kms from Paris). “I got special permission from the school authorities to come and learn kalarippayattu,” she says.

Asked about the charms of the kalarippayattu, Ode says, “The flexibility of the art form is great. The movements are so fluid and elegant. When I am doing a Kalari movement I feel that I am in a temple. My mind becomes open and spiritual. In France when you are learning, you don't give much respect to the teacher. But in Kerala, you are keenly aware of the teacher's contribution and are respectful.”

In fact, Ode's teacher, the master, Dr Baiju Varghese Gurukkal is all praise. “She has become a very good kalari artist,” he says. “I admire her dedication and devotion to our traditional art form.”

Meanwhile, just before the Kottayam performance, Ode had an unusual experience. She had placed a cover on the pole. When she took it away, minutes before the start, a snake moved away. When she told Baiju, the latter said that it was a good sign. “In kalarippayattu, the snake is regarded as a symbol of spiritual energy,” says Baiju.

Meanwhile, the kalaripayattu master feels that the fusion can be deepened and become something great. “This is just the beginning, ” he says, with a smile.

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

#OdeRosset #JaiSankarKJVKalari #Chinesepoledance

Monday, January 15, 2018

Still In The Frame

As Manoj K Jayan celebrates his 30th year in Mollywood, he looks back at his career

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photos by Albin Mathew 

When Manoj K Jayan steps out of his car, at the entrance of a five-star hotel in Kochi, the staff immediately give welcoming smiles. He is wearing a full-sleeved blue shirt, black trousers and matching canvas shoes.

To get some privacy, he is allowed to go inside a closed restaurant. Lights are switched on, and a classic raga can be heard on the sound system.

Manoj is feeling good. The actor has just entered his 30th year in Mollywood. And he remembers his first shot as if it took place the other day.

I had a small role as a horse owner in 'Ente Sonia',” he says. “Ratheesh, who was the top star at that time, and Geetha were the leading pair. It was a party scene, but I did not feel nervous. The shot went fine. But, in the end, for some reason, the film never got released.”
Despite that inauspicious start, Manoj went on to act in hundreds of films in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Kannada as well as Malayalam.

Asked the reasons behind his longevity, Manoj says, “I have avoided playing stereotypical characters. Secondly, I have not irritated the audience with my behaviour, either on the professional or personal front.”

Apart from that, Manoj is well versed in the craft of acting. And he got most of his tips from director Hariharan. “He told me that it is not so important to be fair, handsome or have a muscular body,” he says. “What matters is to express yourself, especially through the eyes. 
The audience is always looking at your eyes. So, it is the best way to hold their attention. Also, your body movements will naturally align with the emotion in your eyes.”

Thus far, Manoj has been feted for his roles as 'Kuttan Thampuran' in Sargam, 'Thalakkal Chandu' in Pazhassi Raja, 'Kunjiraman' in Kaliyachan, and 'Digambaran' in Anandabhadram.
And right from the beginning, Manoj had his priorities clear. He never aspired to be a superstar. “I am happy to be regarded as a noted actor who does good roles,” he says. “That has been my aim all along.” This has turned out to be the right decision because Manoj is still getting roles.

Surprisingly, despite being in the industry for so many years, he says it is impossible to predict which film will be a hit or flop. But there are ways to increase the chances of success. “If a film has to do well, it needs one of two elements – either it should be an entertainer or have a clear uplifting message,” he says.

And there should be clarity in the story-telling process. “When the audience leaves the theatre, they should not ask, 'What did the director mean? What was the message?'” he says. “Instead, they should have a smile on their faces, and say, 'This is a superb film'.”

There is no doubt that Manoj has a clear-cut practical vision. So, even though he is the son of famed Carnatic musician Jayan, he never ventured into singing. “From my childhood I realised that, in music, there is only one genius and his name is KJ Yesudas,” he says. “So I wondered whether I should enter. In the end, I opted for films. My decision has turned out to be correct, because, even today, there is nobody to match Yesudas.”

So, in the end, music's loss has been cinema's gain. And nobody's complaining. 

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

Saturday, January 13, 2018

When Your Brain Cells Die One By One

Veteran Bollywood actor Mohan Agashe stars in the award-winning Marathi film on Alzheimer's Disease called 'Astu', which was screened at Kochi recently

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photos: The poster of the film; Mohan Agashe 

The shoot of 'Astu' (Marathi for 'so be it'), a film on Alzheimer's Disease was taking place at the main market in Pune. Veteran Bollywood actor Mohan Agashe, moved around, like an Alzheimer's patient, looking lost and lonely. “Since I am well known, the people stepped forward to help me, thinking that I am in some sort of a problem. I had to tell them, 'Please don't help me'.”

The 123-minute film was shown at the JT Pac, Kochi recently. Mohan plays Dr Chakrapani Shastri, a 90-year-old Sanskrit scholar and former director of the Oriental Research Institute, Pune, who is gradually losing his mind. One day, his daughter Ira (Irawati Harshe) steps out of the car at a market and asks Shastri to wait in the back seat. As he sits alone Shastri sees an elephant on the road and becomes fascinated. He steps out and follows the animal, even though the mahout owner Anta (Nachiket Purnapatre) tries to discourage him.

Eventually, the mahout takes Shastri to his tent on the edge of Pune besides a river. There, Shastri's uneducated wife Channama (Amruta Subhash) treats him with great respect and understands instinctively that Shastri now had the mindset of a child.

Meanwhile, back at Ira's home, there is hysteria. Ira and her husband Madhav, (played by Milind Soman) inform the police. There are flashbacks of how Shastri is gradually losing his mind to dementia. Ira visits his old haunts, but Shastri is nowhere to be found.

Ira's sister Rahi (Devika Daftardar) arrives from Mumbai. Soon, there is a clash between the two sisters about how Rahi does not have the time or the inclination to look after their father. Ira also meets up with a former colleague of Shastri to see whether he had gone to her house. In the ensuing conversation, the woman clarifies that she did not have an affair with Shastri, which his late wife and family had suspected. Eventually, after a day, Shastri is located by the police and there is widespread relief all around.

It is a deeply moving film and impressed the audience no end. Says Paul Davis, the Kochi-based care manager and helpline co-ordinator of the Alzheimer's And Related Disorders Society Of India (ARDSI): “Mohan Sir has portrayed an Alzheimer's patient in the most accurate manner possible. I am sure he has studied deeply on the subject. Our caregivers who watched the film told me that every mannerism of his reminded them of some of their patients. I am not surprised the film won so many awards.”

'Astu' had won the Audience Award for Best Film at the Indian Film Festival at Stuttgart, the Best Regional Film at the Delhi International Film Festival as well as two National Awards for Best Dialogue (Sumitra Bhave) and Best Supporting Actress (Amrutha), apart from being nominated for awards at numerous festivals.

Asked the reasons why Mohan says, “Instead of making Alzhemeir's as something sensational, it has been portrayed in a sensitive manner. We have provided as accurate a portrayal as possible. Most people know about the medical aspect but we showed the anxieties and suffering that a family goes through. The idea is to sensitise people about the issue. However, now that our life expectancy is going up, we will see many more cases than what we used to see before.”

In Kerala, after the age of 60, the number of dementia victims ranges between three to four percent of the population says Dr S. Shaji, President of the Kochi chapter of ARDSI, who had come to view the film.

Asked how dementia occurs, Shaji says, “It is a degeneration of the brain cells. As a result, it affects mental functions like intelligence, memory, and orientation. The person will no longer be able to live an independent life. Anybody can be affected. However, scientific evidence suggests it has genetic origins.”

So, do you want to live longer, asks Mohan, even though medical science is actively marketing artificial longevity? “When you do a bypass surgery the quantity of life will increase, but does the quality?” says Mohan. “You may be buying Alzheimer's Disease because of your greed to live longer.” 

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

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Captain Radhika Menon Wins Union Ministry Award

By Shevlin Sebastian

Captain Radhika Menon is on a roll. The first female captain of the Indian Merchant Navy has bagged another award. This time, the Ministry of Women and Child Development is presenting a 'First Ladies' Award to her at a function at Rashtrapati Bhavan on January 20. A ministry communication stated: 'This is an initiative to recognise women who had the courage to tread an unusual path and succeeded in being the first in their respective professions. Our aim is to empower and encourage the women of our country.”

Earlier, Radhika had won the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea. This is for her role in the rescue of seven fishermen from a sinking fishing boat off the coast of Orissa on June 22, 2015. She is also the first woman to win this award. It was presented to Radhika at a function of the IMO at London on November 21, 2016.

At that time, Radhika had said, “To be honest, I was not trying to win an award when I initiated the rescue operation. Instead, I considered it my duty. But, yes, the recognition from the IMO is memorable and I am humbled and honoured.”

On April 5, 2016, National Maritime Day, the National Maritime Day Celebration Committee of India conferred the 'Seafarers Gallantry Award' on her.

Radhika was appointed as captain in early 2013 and usually, she handles an all-male crew. “They know me well, and have no problems in taking orders from me,” she says. “Do remember I have been with the Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) for about 26 years.” Radhika did a one-and-a-half year radio course at the All India Marine College in Kochi before she became a radio officer in SCI, the first woman to do so in India.

But it has not been a smooth journey. “As compared to a male officer, I am scrutinised much more,” she says. “I try to avoid making mistakes. If I do make one, it will be talked about, and never forgotten. My attitude is simple: if a hurdle has been placed in front of you, then you will have to clear it.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Losing Expensive Cameras


Photographer MK Mohanan (Momi) talks about his experiences in the films, 'Mandanmar Londonil', 'Kinnaram', 'Revathikkoru Pavakkutty', 'Lal Americayil', and 'Veendum Chila Veettukaryangal'

Photo of Momi by Sunish P Surendran; the dancer Disco Shanti

By Shevlin Sebastian

For the film, 'Mandanmar Londonil' (1983), stills photographer MK Mohanan (Momi) made his first trip to London. The crew sailed through immigration but it was only when they waited outside, they realised that director Sathyan Anthikad and cinematographer Anandakuttan had not come out.

After a while, they came to know the reason. “On their passport, Sathyan was described as a director and Anandakuttan as a cameraman,” says Momi. “At that time most of the directors in England were middle-aged or senior people, so they could not believe that Sathyan, at just 28 years of age, was a director.”

Eventually, the London-based producer Mohan had to go to his home, get the official letterheads of his film company and was able to prove that Sathyan and Anandakuttan were indeed director and cameraman respectively.

Scenes from life

In 'Kinnaram' (1983), there was a scene between Unni (Nedumudi Venu) and Sethu (Sukumaran), who are two bachelor friends staying together in Chennai. While Sukumaram wanted to sleep, Venu wanted to read. So they kept switching on and off the lights, in turns.

As I was watching this scene, it looked familiar,” says Momi. “Sathyan and I would sleep together when we were youngsters and while he wanted to read, I wanted to sleep. So, I would switch off the light and he would put it on. He took the inspiration from our lives.”

There were many such incidents which Sathyan had put in ‘Kinnaram’. So, one day Momi told him, “Sathyan if the film does well, you have to share the profits with me, because you have lifted it straight from our lives and making money out of it.”
Sathyan laughed aloud.

But working in 'Revathikkoru Pavakkutty' (1986) was no laughing matter for Momi. The song, ‘Chinnakkutti Chellakkutti Thankakkatti’ was being shot at a lake in Cherthala. After taking some stills, Momi hired a small boat and moved away, to get a long distance shot.

Momi had three cameras around his neck – a Mamiya, Canon, and a Rolleiflex. But on the small boat, Momi was finding it difficult to retain his balance. And the inevitable happened. The boat toppled over and Momi fell into the water. But since Momi knew swimming he did not panic. But he immediately raised the three cameras out of the water.

Sathyan later told me later that he first saw the three cameras coming out of the water, followed by my head,” says Momi. “He said he would never forget that image.”

Unfortunately, there was significant damage. The Rolleiflex priced at Rs 5000, and the Mamiya at Rs 6000 could not be repaired. “It was a financial blow for me,” says Momi.  

In the film, 'Lal Americayil' (1989), it was the turn of dancer Disco Shanti to have problems with the water. There was a scene in a swimming pool. Shanti was supposed to dive into the pool from a diving board. Momi stepped into the pool to watch Shanti jump.

And jump she did. But after that, she did not come up to the surface. Momi immediately swam to where she was lying immobile at the bottom. He managed to pull her up to the surface, where crew members dragged her to out of the pool and revived her.

I had drunk a lot of water, but I was so glad I could save her life,” says Momi. Soon, they came to know that Shanti did not know swimming. Earlier, when she had been informed that it was a movie where swimming would be required, she kept quiet in order to get the role.

Recovering from a trauma

The shoot for the film 'Veendum Chila Veettukaryangal' (1999) was taking place at Ottapalam soon after the death of director Bharathan, on July 30, 1998. Bharathan's wife KPAC Lalitha had a major role. But nobody was sure whether she would be able to perform.

The shoot was of a scene between her and Nedumudi Venu. “In real life, Bharathan and Lalitha were very close to Venu and his family,” says Momi. “Following Bharathan's passing, Lalitha had not seen Venu.”

But when Lalitha met Venu, she lost control and began crying. And she did not stop for a long time. Venu tried to console her but to no avail. “The shoot was cancelled,” says Momi. “But after a couple of days, Lalitha managed to regain her composure and resumed work.” 

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

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Art impresario Asif Ali has curated his 100th exhibition, ‘Chithra Chantha’ (Art Mart)

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo of Asif Ali by Melton Antony; the participating artists 

In 1993, art impresario Asif Ali was preparing to hold a cultural show at the poolside auditorium of Al-Nasr Leisureland, Dubai. One of the participating artists, Gokulan Thrissur did a painting of the back of a woman who was playing the veena. Asif got it hung as a backdrop.

When a senior plainclothes policeman, who had come to inspect the auditorium, saw the backdrop, he said that this was not allowed. So, he went to get more policemen, so that he could arrest Asif.

I did not know that in the UAE (United Arab Emirates) you could not draw pictures of a woman, and put it up in public,” says Asif. “But now I was in danger of being imprisoned.”
But a quick-thinking Asif told Gokulan to make the girl’s head like a sun and the veena like a mountain. After half an hour when the policeman returned with a couple of his colleagues, the painting was completely changed.

The policeman looked shocked. Then he smiled, shook his head, and said, “You Indians are too talented.”

The show was allowed to go ahead and it was a success. Emboldened, in 1994, Asif decided to go ahead with his first painting exhibition at Sharjah. The works of five artists were showcased. Among them was Asif’s younger brother Riyas Komu, who, later, along with fellow artist Bose Krishnamchari founded the Kochi Muziris Biennale in December, 2012.

Asif recounted all this while he stood among paintings of his 100th exhibition called ‘Chithra Chantha’ (Art Mart), which he has organised with cartoonist Ibraham Badhusha at the Oberon Mall at Kochi. More than 100 artists are taking part, showcasing more than 250 paintings, woodworks, photographs and sculptures.

Among them are paintings by Sindhu, the wife of the late Mollywood director Lohithadas, actress Sheela, and Vinitha Anand, the granddaughter of the legendary artist Raja Ravi Varma. Mainstream artists like Jimmy Mathew, Dudu Unni, Sara Hussain and Raveendran Valappad are also taking part.

Some artists have different reasons for taking part. Renjith Thekkoote wants to build a house from the money that he earns by selling his works at the exhibition. Two artists are in hospital: Johnson Aluva and Ummer Thathapilly. “They are hoping to get buyers for their their works, so that they can pay the hospital bills,” says Asif.

As Asif talks, small groups of people step into the exhibition area on the fifth floor. “Art is catching on among ordinary people,” he says. “Those who build new homes would like to put up works of art. The Biennale has also made a difference.”

But Asif readily admits that cinema is the first love of the people. “When you watch a film, you can follow the story,” he says. “And it is usually stories about the people we know and hence can relate to. However, when you look at an art work, there are many stories but they remain hidden within the canvas. In fact, when you look at a work, you have to make up your own story. And that is not easy.”

Nevertheless, that has never discouraged Asif. After spending more than twenty years in Sharjah, working in the advertising and marketing sectors, Asif settled down in Aluva and started the Komusons Art Gallery in 2007. Thus far, he has held exhibitions in Thiruvananthapuram, Thrissur, Kodungallur, Kochi, Nedumbassery and Fort Kochi. “I enjoy encouraging artists,” he says.

When asked about their character, Asif says, “They are moody and over-sensitive. Most of them are loners. They tend to avoid conflicts. For them, art is a passion. They are looking for creative fulfillment. When they start a work, they forget the outside world and concentrate deeply. They will only reconnect with others after the work is over. Their satisfaction comes from the work. It is not that they create works of art because they want to sell them. In fact, most artists are poor at marketing. In Mumbai, there are curators who do the marketing. In Kerala, this is where I come in.”

Apart from being an art promoter, Asif has been a photographer, and produced and directed numerous TV commercials, radio advertisements, documentaries, songs, and serials, apart from cultural programmes. “Life is short,” says the 67-year-old. “I want to make the most of it.” 

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