Friday, March 30, 2018

Doing A Perfect Job


Make-up artist Renjith Ambady taks about his experiences in the films, ‘Thanmatra’, ‘Palunku’, ‘Paleri Manikyam’, ‘How Old Are you?’ and ‘Take-Off’

Photos: Renjith Ambady; Mammootty in  ‘Paleri Manikyam’

By Shevlin Sebastian

Before the shoot of ‘Thanmatra’, make-up artist Renjith Ambady went with director Blessy for a script-reading at veteran actor Nedumudi Venu’s home in Thiruvananthapuram. As Blessy was talking about Venu's role, as Mohanlal’s 70-year-old father, Renjith did a trial make-up on Venu.

“Venu Sir did not pay any attention to what I was doing because he was focused on listening to the script,” says Renjith. Thereafter, the visitors were invited to have tea and snacks in the dining room. “On the wall, I saw several black and white photos of Venu Sir’s family,” says Renjith.

Suddenly, two family members of Venu asked Renjith whether he had ever seen Venu’s uncle. The make-up man shook his head and said, “This is the first time I am coming to Venu Sir’s house.”

Then they pointed at a photo of an uncle. He looked exactly like the way Venu did after the make-up session. “It was amazing, to me, to see the likeness,” says Renjith.

Renjith had a similar amazing experience on the sets at Kattapana for Blessy’s ‘Palunku’ (2006). He did the make-up of Jagathy who plays a lottery seller. When Renjith was growing up in Paravur, he had seen a lottery-seller who had sparse hair, but kept combing it all the time. So, he made a similar wig for Jagathy.

After the shoot, Jagathy asked the stills photographer to get him a large print. Renjith then asked Jagathy whether he took stills of the films he had acted in. “I was curious to know since he has acted in more than a thousand films,” says Renjith. Instead, Jagathy said, “This is the first time I am asking for a still. I like this wig a lot.” For Renjith it was a supreme moment. “It was almost like I had won a national award,” he says.

Another actor who was impressed with Renjith’s work was superstar Mammootty, when they worked together for the film, ‘Paleri Manikyam’ (2009).

Mammootty played three roles, of which one was of a feudal landlord called Murikkum Kunnathu Ahmed Haji. For this role, Mammootty needed to wear a wig of white hair. But he did not like the idea of applying glue and attaching the wig to the forehead. So Renjith had to think of another way.

For days he could not find a solution, till, one day, inspiration struck.

“The character wears a Muslim cap,” says Renjith. “So, around the cap, I stitched the white wig. During the shoot, all Mammootty Sir had to do was to wear the cap. So there was no need to paste the wig. Mammootty said, ‘This is a very good idea. Where did you get it? On Google?’”

But there were tough moments too. Just before the shoot commenced for Manju Warrier's comeback film, ‘How Old Are you?’ (2014), directec by Roshan Andrews, Renjith was travelling at midnight towards Kuttikanam to reach the location of ‘7th Day’. Unfortunately, he hit another car and fractured his right hand. So he immediately called Roshan and said that he would not be able to work in the film, as it would take one month for his hand to heal.

“But Roshan Sir said that the plaster could be removed after two weeks and I could start working,” says Renjith. But after a fortnight, when the plaster was removed, the bone had not healed. Again the plaster was put back on. After another week, the plaster was taken off and again the doctor discovered that the hand had not healed. In the end, Renjith’s assistants did all the work.

Then last year, because of a persistent pain in the ligament of his leg, which was caused by an accident a long time ago, the doctors decided to join the bones with a screw. “As a result, I could not work for three months,” says Renjith.

Just after he recovered, he got a call from the makers of ‘Take Off’. But when he arrived at the set, producer Anto Joseph smiled and told Renjith, “In the early discussions, when your name came up, everybody felt that you would not be able to commit to a long shoot and that you would go away now and then to work on other films. But when we heard that you had been home for three months, we felt that since your leg was still healing, there was very little chance you would have got another movie quickly. So, we felt that you will be with us throughout.”

The shoot lasted for a year and it turned out to be a fruitful one for Renjith. He has just won the Kerala State Film Award for Best Make-up Artist for ‘Take-Off’. 

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

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Working With The Stars

Kalaripayattu master K Sunil Kumar Gurukkal talks about his experiences of working with Padmawat stars Ranveer Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor as well as other Bollywood, Mollywood and Hollywood stars

By Shevlin Sebastian

At Subramanian, a town in Karnataka, Mollywood superstar Mammootty was standing with a six-feet-long urumi (a type of steel whip, with several strands) in his hand. Three hooligans approached him with swords. This was during a shoot of the film, 'Mammankam'. Kalaripayattu master K Sunil Kumar Gurukkal stood to one side watching keenly. He was choreographing the kalaripayattu moves.

As Mammootty swung the urumi, an opponent lunged forward. Unfortunately, his sword grazed the back of Mammootty's hand. “Mammootty Sir started bleeding,” says Sunil. “The nerves had been cut. And there was a large swelling.”

The shoot was stopped at once. Crew members rushed to get ice. Soon, it was wrapped in a piece of cloth and pressed against the back of the actor's hand. Medicines were given. However, within half an hour, a grimacing Mammootty resumed shooting.

As all this was taking place, Sunil’s mind went back to a few months earlier when he was at the Reliance MediaWorks Studio at Film City, Mumbai. Bollywood star Shahid Kapoor was wielding the urumi and, like in Mammootty's case, somebody hit him on the back of the hand. “Thankfully, the injury was not serious,” says Sunil.

In fact, for about six months, Sunil would regularly go to Mumbai to impart training to Ranveer Singh and Shahid for the fight sequence between the two for Sanjay Leela Bhansali's film, ‘Padmawat’. “I had worked extensively with Ranveer earlier for ‘Bajirao Mastani’,” says Sunil. “So he picked up the moves very fast, as did Shahid.”

Sunil was all praise for the two stars. “They were completely dedicated and focused,” he says. “Once, because of a tight shooting schedule, Ranveer came at 5 a.m. to the studio to practice.”

Sunil has worked with other Bollywood stars like Shah Rukh Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Akshay Kumar, and Ajay Devgan apart from heroines like Deepika Padukone and Kareena Kapoor.

For all of them, he has a basic teaching method. “In the beginning, we teach a lot of animal postures,” he says. These include the varaha (wild boar), simham (lion), sarpam (snake) and gaja (elephant). “These are warrior postures,” he says. “Thereafter, I teach them the forward and backward movements. Then there is training with the swords and the Urumi.”

Sunil had also made a foray into Hollywood through Jackie Chan's film, 'The Myth'. “The shoot was in Shanghai,” says Sunil. “Through research, the film-makers came to know about kalarippayattu and got in touch with our branch head in Thiruvananthapuram, Satyanarayana Gurukul who informed me.”

Sunil was much taken up by Jackie. “He was flexible and knew many martial arts,” he says. “Jackie learned quickly.”

And he was a warm-hearted person. Once Jackie was travelling in his trailer during an off-day. He spotted Sunil and his brothers Anil and Gopakumar, along with the dancers of the Kozhikode-based CVN Kalari Nadakavu walking along a sidewalk following a shopping trip. “He stopped the vehicle and beckoned for us to join him,” says Sunil. “Then he dropped us to the hotel. I was amazed that a Hollywood superstar could show such humility.” 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A Perfect Goal!

Debutant director Zakariya and Nigerian actor Samuel Abiola Robinson talk about 'Sudani from Nigeria', the football film that has become a runaway hit

Photos: Nigerian actor Samuel Abiola Robinson with director Zakariya; Samuel with Soubin Shahir 

By Shevlin Sebastian

On Saturday, a man stepped out of Padma theatre, in Kochi, after seeing 'Sudani from Nigeria'. He sat on his bike, rode out onto crowded MG Road, but was soon hit by another bike. Later, he called up the film's debutant director Zakariya and said, “In normal circumstances, I would have shouted at him and got angry. But I was in a different mood after seeing the film. I just asked him, 'Are you okay?' That was the impact of the film on me. I wanted to tell you this.”

When Zakariya heard this, he was moved. He is getting a lot of calls – from well-wishers, friends, relatives and members of the Malayalam film industry. Asked whether he ever felt during the 36-day shoot whether the film would be a hit, the Malappuram-based Zakariya, who had come to Kochi for a brief visit, says, “I felt that only 40 per cent of the people would like the film. One reason being that there are no stars, except for Soubin Shahir, and no heroines.”

But Zakariya admits that Soubin is the fulcrum of the film. “His acting is brilliant,” he says. But when Zakariya first went and meet him at his home in Fort Kochi and narrated the script, Soubin was non-committal and just said, “We will do the film.”

The story is inspired by the Sevens football that is an unique part of the culture of Mallapuram. “Every year, there are lots of Sevens tournaments in the region,” says Zakariya. “There is a lot of interest and drama surrounding these matches. But what makes it exciting is the presence of so many players from Africa. In one team, you can have three Africans. There are more than three hundred players and they stay in ordinary houses and lodges. So the idea of doing a film about these people was the inspiration behind 'Sudani from Nigeria'.”

And the person who played the African player in the film is the 6' tall Nigerian called Samuel Abiola Robinson who did not have much experience of playing football.

So, he had to do a lot of training on football grounds where the Sevens tournaments took place. “I also trained at the HiLite Mall in Kozhikode, where they have a place for football training on the terrace called Forza Nets.”

Samuel had to do other training too. “My character has an injury while playing,” he says. “So I had to practise on how to walk on crutches.”

And he had some nerve-wracking moments. There was a scene when he had to jump into a pond at Kozhikode. So, he went to the deep end and waited. When Zakariya shouted, “Action,” Samuel jumped in. And went right to the bottom, which was about 12 feet deep. “Although I know swimming, I panicked and remained down for a few secs, struggling for air, before the people on the set realised I was in trouble,” says Samuel. “So they quickly dived in and pulled me out. It was an embarrassing moment for me. I was actually so close to the shore.”

But all this has been made up by the reaction to the film. “It has been overwhelming,” says Samuel. “They keep saying, 'I love you Sudu'. And that has become my name. Everybody keeps calling me that. I feel blessed to be part of this film. I feel very welcome.”

Not surprisingly, Samuel is a fan of all things Kerala. “The people are very kind and have this huge family network and kinship with each other,” he says. “There were numerous occasions when we would be filming somewhere and some random family would come to the set and invite us for dinner. I was amazed by their kindness. In Nigeria, people are very independent and it is 'every man for himself'. So, this was a refreshing change for me.”

Indeed, the movie is a refreshing change, portraying with great simplicity and deep emotion the Muslim life in Malabar. And Zakariya has highlighted one aspect that nobody seems to know about: the poor treatment of stepfathers by the children of the first family. “When I would walk down the streets, I would see these stepfathers wandering from place to place. It would seem as if they were in some form of internal exile.”

But the audience is not in exile from the film. Instead, they are flocking to the theatres as word of mouth and social media are sending the film to stratospheric heights. “This is going to be one of the greatest hits in recent times,” says a trade analyst. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Ao Naga Choir Makes A Mark With Its Stirring Performance

By Shevlin Sebastian

When the Ao Naga Choir members step on stage at the Bastian Bungalow, Fort Kochi, at a recent show, organised by Spic Macay, they immediately catch the eye with their striking costumes: the men, in white shirts and black trousers, with a red sash across their chests. As for the women, they are in red, white, blue, and orange skirts and wraparounds, with traditional beaded necklaces.

Lanu Yaden, the man behind the choir, and a participating singer says that the red sash is of the Ao Naga tribe, which is one of the larger tribes in Nagaland. “There are more than twenty tribes,” says Lanu. “The different colours worn by the women represent the different tribes.”

Following an introduction, the concert began, unusually, with a Rabindranath Tagore poem called 'To the unnamed light' which had been set to music by the late Filipino composer Francisco Feliciano.

It took a while for the audience to get into the rhythms of the band since there was hardly any musical accompaniment. “Our strength is in the A acapella (a group or solo singing without instrumental accompaniment),” says Lanu.

The songs continued: Alleluia by composer Ralph Manuel, 'My Heart is Steadfast', a songcomposed by Naga composer James Swu, works by British composer John Rutter and even a Mozart classic, 'Ave Verum Corpus'.

The singers, despite the name of their choir, are all based in Delhi. They work in various professions but the majority are music teachers. Set up in 2009, the 'Ao Naga Choir' is steadily gaining in reputation. They have performed thrice for the President of India and twice for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. They have participated in concerts in Colombo and Salzburg, where they sang Mozart's Coronation Mass at the Cathedral. “It was a proud moment for all of us,” says Lanu.

In July, the band will be touring Budapest and Vienna where they will be performing at the United Nations Office. They will be presented with the 'Angel Of Peace Award' at the World Peace Choral Festival, for promoting culture and world peace through choral singing. 

Asked about their repertoire, Lanu says, “It could be anything from Renaissance music to western classical, all types of church music, operettas and Broadway musicals.”

Meanwhile, wherever they perform, whether it is India or abroad, they are always asked whether they are from India. “While abroad, this question enables us to talk about our Indian culture and its diversity,” says Lanu. “In India, some know where Nagaland is. For others, we have to sketch it on our palm and explain that we share a border with Myanmar. Many are aware of the Naga regiment of the Army.”

As for the band members, many of them were coming for the first time to South India. “Most have only been to Mumbai,” says Lanu, who is an exception. He did his Plus Two from St. Joseph’s College in Bangalore. Later, he completed his Bachelors in history from St. Stephen's College, Delhi.

For all the band members Kochi was an eye-opener. “There are a lot of European influences, especially in Fort Kochi,” says Lanu. “It was a wonderful opportunity to educate the younger members about the history of Fort Kochi. We enjoyed seeing the Chinese fishing nets, which we had only seen in photos.”

The choir members also appreciated the liberal culture. “The waiter in the restaurant that we stayed in was a Brahmin, but he had no qualms about serving us non-vegetarian food,” says Lanu. “We said, ‘Will it offend you?’ and he said there was no problem. It was reassuring to know that people accepted differences with grace and harmony.”

And they also had heart-warming experiences. There was a group of tourists from Salzburg, Austria. “After the event was over, they came running after us to say that they were so happy to hear Mozart in Fort Kochi,” says Lanu. “They have always heard it inside a church with the accompaniment of string and bass instruments, which usually drowned the vocals. They said that hearing the song in a foreign country and in such a setting was surreal but exciting, as well. We were all very touched and elated.” 

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

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Days Of Wind And Rain


Actor Isha Talwar talks about her experiences in the films, 'Two Countries', 'Ranam/Detroit Crossing', 'Bangalore Days', 'Thattathin Marayathu' and 'Balyakalasakhi'

Photos: Prithviraj and Isha Talwar hamming it up for the camera on the sets of 'Ranam/Detroit Crossing'; Isha

By Shevlin Sebastian

One day, Isha Talwar was sitting at her home in Mumbai when she got a call. A Telugu producer wanted to make a remake of the Mollywood film, 'Two Countries' (2015). Isha was offered the same role that she had done in the film. As Isha agreed, she suddenly went blank. She could not remember what her role and the movie was all about.

So I thought that it would be best to call [director] Shafi Sir up and find out,” says Isha.
When she stated her request, a shocked Shafi began laughing loudly. Then he said, “This is the first time anybody is asking something like this to me.”

But, he complied and told Isha about her role and the storyline. However, because of a clash of dates, Isha could not act in the film.

But Isha is deeply immersed in her latest film, 'Ranam/Detroit Crossing' which stars Prithviraj and will be releasing in April. “During the shoot, we were literally taken by storm,” says Isha. “Hurricane Irma hit Florida, while we were some distance away in Augusta. There was a lot of rains and winds and it had become chilly. But the shoot was stopped because many technicians, like the make-up artist and assistant directors, had families who were living in the eye of the hurricane. So they had to rush back to place their families in safe shelters and organise food for them.”

Shooting in the USA is quite different from what it is in Kerala. For example, the junior artists belonged to some of the richest families. “They just loved being part of a Malayalam film,” says Isha. “Many of them came to work in their Mercedes Benzes or flashy SUV's (Sports-Utility Vehicles).”

During the two-month shoot, Isha interacted with a lot of Malayali families. And during one shooting schedule, she stayed for a week with Dr Daniel George, his wife Grace and their family at Augusta, because she wanted to eat home-cooked food. “My producer was thrilled because he would be saving money,” says Isha jokingly. “As for Grace Aunty, she cooked the most amazing food.”

On the sets of 'Bangalore Days', Isha also had a one-of-a-kind experience. After a shoot one day, Isha spent time with co-actors Parvathy and Nasriya in a hotel room. “It was the first time I was interacting with my fellow women actors in Mollywood,” she says. “It felt good to know that we could all leave our vanities aside, and just hang out with each other and have regular girly conversations. Of course, the bonus for me was to get a peek into the Malayalam film industry from their point of view.” 

Both Parvathy and Isha felt that Nasriya was natural in her acting. “Nasriya has more fun because she is so spontaneous and does not seem to care,” says Isha. “On the other hand, Parvathy told me she was a pure Method actor and does research before she plays a role. For me, I was so new, just hearing all this gave me a different perspective. I realised that I had to find my own way of doing things.”

Isha had a completely different experience on the sets of her debut film, 'Thattathin Marayathu' (2012). The shoot was taking place in Thalaserry and it was about 40 degrees Celsius and burning hot. When there was a break in shooting, Isha took shelter in an air-conditioned vanity van. “It was like a match-box and there would always be six or seven people – Aju [Varghese], Nivin [Pauly], Srinda [Arhaan], Tushara [Thomas], and Bhagath [Manuel],” says Isha. “There was a lot to chat about, but mostly the conversation was, ‘Vacate the seat, I want to do the touch-up’, or ‘I want to use the bathroom, can you get out?’ We were jammed into each other’s spaces, but we also had a good time.”

Another unique experience that Isha had was when she acted with superstar Mammootty in the film, 'Balyakalasakhi' (2014). During breaks in shooting, the duo would talk a lot. “The conversation ranged from food to his exercise regime and Mammootty Sir’s journey as an actor,” says Isha. “It was amazing how he could connect so easily with people of varying age groups.”

And then one day Mammootty said, “At some point in their careers, all actors become narcissistic.” Isha immediately said, “Sir, I beg to differ.” But today, she is not so sure. “I believe what Mammootty Sir said was correct since actors tend to live in a bubble,” she says. 

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

Saturday, March 17, 2018

In Search Of The Divine

Musician Joshua Pollock talks about his best-selling book, 'The Heartfulness Way – Heart-based Meditations For Spiritual Transformation'

Photo of Joshua Pollock by Albin Mathew

By Shevlin Sebastian

As author Joshua Pollock enters the Crossword book store in Kochi, on a weekday afternoon, he looks a trifle tired. That is because for the past few weeks he has been travelling all over India, going to places like Jaipur, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Hyderabad and holding events highlighting his book, 'The Heartfulness Way – Heart-based Meditations For Spiritual Transformation'. This has been written by Joshua, along with his guru Kamlesh D. Patel, who is otherwise known as 'Daaji'.

And all this hard work has paid off. The book, published by Westland, had reached No 1 on Amazon and the Hindustan Times/Nielsen Non-Fiction Bestseller list. “It is very gratifying,” he says. It helped that the President of India Ram Nath Kovind released the book. In Jaipur, it was Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje who did the honours and immediately tweeted a photo of herself and Joshua. And this is what she wrote: 'The Heartfulness Way' offers interesting insights into the spiritual way of living by and from the heart.'

Joshua seems an unlikely person to lead a spiritual life. A classical violinist who grew up in the USA, he played for several film-based songs of double Oscar winner AR Rahman. “But there was an emptiness within,” he says. A chance meeting with a woman while standing outside a shop in the US led him to the Heartfulness way of meditation which is propagated by Daaji, the fourth guru in the Heartfulness lineage, who lived and worked in New York for many years.

What attracted Joshua to heartfulness was the many parallels with music. “The heart always has to be the leader, especially when you are a musician,” he says. “It does not matter how technically perfect it is, the music will fall flat. It is the sincerity that is most important. That is not just for music. It is true for everything that we do in life.”

In the book, Joshua elaborates on three topics: meditation, cleaning and prayer.

What do we do in meditation?” Daaji says to Joshua. “We go within. We move towards the core of our being. In deep meditation, we come into contact with our Source. Dissolving in it, mingling in it, and merging in it, we become one with it.”

But it does not come easily. “You have to wait, but not impatiently, as if you are pacing back and forth waiting for a bus,” says Daaji. “It is a relaxed kind of waiting. You are at ease. You are comfortable. Everything happens in its own time. For example, you cannot cut open a butterfly’s cocoon before it is fully matured. That would kill the butterfly. Similarly, we cannot expect spiritual states to bloom before their time.”

Apart from meditation, cleaning is very important. This is how it is done. “Sit in a comfortable pose,” says Joshua. “The aim is to remove all the impressions you have accumulated during the day. Close your eyes. Imagine that all the complexities and impurities are leaving your entire system. Feel that they are leaving you in the form of smoke and vapour.”

Continue this process for approximately twenty minutes. “You will know it is finished when you start feeling a subtle lightness in your heart,” says Joshua. “You have now returned to a simpler, purer and more balanced state. Every cell of your body is emanating simplicity lightness and purity.”

This cleaning is the unique aspect of the Heartfulness way. “It is all about inner hygiene,” says Joshua. “It makes your consciousness crystal clear.”

As for the third aspect, prayer, it remains an essential way to connect with something higher than ourselves, says Joshua.

But prayer is only the first step,” says Daaji. “It must mature into prayerfulness. For example, it is common to pray before eating, but if, after the prayer is completed, your attack your food like a wolf, then what happens to the prayerful mood that you have just created? Without a prayerful inner state, prayer is absurd. So we must offer prayer with feeling. The subconscious only knows the language of feeling.”

So, there are many tips in this well-written book, that if followed diligently, will enable one to reach the inner core of divinity that is within us. 

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

Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Baboon Creates Havoc


Actor Indrajith Sukumaran talks about his experiences in the films, ‘Naku Penta Naku Taka’, ‘Ezhamathe Varavu’, ‘Calcutta News’ and ‘Padayani’

Photos: Indrajith; with actor Bhama

By Shevlin Sebastian

Actor Indrajith Sukumaran drove the six-seater vehicle carefully to the shooting spot inside the Nairobi National Park at Kenya. Sitting beside him was actor Bhama. At the back was Vayalar Madhavan Kutty, the director of ‘Naku Penta Naku Taka’ (2014) and cameraman Krish Kymal. As Indrajith stopped at a clearing, he saw a baboon sitting some distance away, by the side of the road.

In order to get a closer look, he drove up to the grey-and-black baboon. “I was curious about it,” says Indrajith. “The baboon, unlike other monkeys, likes to eat meat. It kills deer. It has long incisors and can be dangerous.”

As the car went past slowly, the baboon just stared at them. Then its eyes rested on several red, green and yellow flowers which were placed at the back.

Soon, Indrajith returned to the original spot. Then another car came up. This consisted of people of the art department. The back door was lifted up. And one of the members took out some flowers and moved some distance away.

In the rear-view mirror, Indrajith could see Madhavan and Krish. A few seconds later, he saw a shadow. The baboon had raced up and jumped into the back. 

We all started screaming out of complete fear,” says Indrajith. “The baboon felt unnerved. It ran out but with some flowers.  Maybe it thought they were fruits or vegetables.”

The next visual was of the baboon running away but it was dropping flowers all along the way. Soon, it vanished.

After heaving a sigh of relief, the group got out of the car. Preparations began for the shoot to start. But soon, there was an unexpected development. In the distance, the crew saw a group of ten baboons. “Just like human beings, the one who ran away had called his gang,” says Indrajth, with a smile. “As they were approaching, the guards said that it was no longer safe. So we immediately left in search of another location.”

For Hariharan’s film, ‘Ezhamathe Varavu’ (2013) Indrajith faced a danger of a different sort. The shoot was inside a forest called Kannavankadu near Thalassery.

Indrajith, who was playing a hunter, had to shoot a sequence where he had to walk into a river, go some distance, turn around and walk back. As he stood in the water, with a gun in his hand, and a backpack, suddenly he heard a shout, “Chetta, watch out, there is a snake.”

When Indrajith looked back, he saw an eight feet long thick black snake fall into the water with a splash barely five feet away. “I was frozen with fear,” he says. “Most probably, it was a viper.” Thankfully, the snake which had lost its balance and fell from a branch of an overhanging tree felt even more flustered. Using great strength, it fought the current and managed to reach the bank and slithered away. “That was a very close shave,” says Indrajith.

But Indrajith ran out of luck during the shoot of ‘Calcutta News’ inside a tram depot at Kolkata.  It was the last day of the 75-day shoot. 

At night around 60 people were supposed to leave for Kerala by train and plane. A fight sequence was being shot at 12 noon. The plan was that Indrajith would swing his fist towards a junior Bengali artiste. The latter would move to the right, snapping his head. However, when the shoot began, the artist moved to the left and by accident, his arm hit Indrajith smack in the middle of the nose. “Like a pipe being open, the blood just shot out,” he says. “Soon, my shirt was drenched. I felt groggy.”

The whole unit was shocked. Indrajith was quickly taken to a nearby hospital. However, after inspection, the doctor said there was no major damage. The blood had shot out because of the impact. Nevertheless, the shooting was cancelled along with all the rail and air tickets.

The shooting was kept on hold because whenever I got up and walked fast, I would start bleeding again,” says Indrajith. “Anyway, it was eventually done on the fourth day. Many crew members had to stay on for a few more days, as they could not get tickets immediately.”

As Indrajith talks in his 15th-floor apartment in Kochi, all of a sudden, his mind goes way back into the past.  The shoot of the film ‘Padayani’ (1986) was taking place outside their house in Ashok Nagar at Chennai. Mohanlal played the lead, while Indrajith, in his first-ever role, played the child Mohanlal.

One day, my father [Sukumaran] told us that Mohanlal wanted to meet us,” says Indrajith. “I must have been six while Prithvi [actor Prithviraj] was only three. We were super-excited because we were fans.”

They ran down the stairs. Mohanlal was sitting outside on a chair. “He was very warm and friendly and had a smile on his face,” says Indrajith. “When Mohanlal is with children he behaves like a child. He made us feel very comfortable and hugged us. Then a photo was taken. It is there in my mother’s album.” 

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

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Something Is Better Than Nothing

This award has been given by the Kerala Media Awards for Child Rights (English section), jointly instituted by UNICEF and Kerala Child Rights Observatory.
Had focused on the seven-minute film, ‘No Go Tell’, which stars Mollywood star Nivin Pauly.
Brought out by the NGO Bodhini, the aim of the film is to raise awareness among students about child sex abuse.
The article appeared in the Kochi edition (April 22, 2017) of the New Indian Express.

Monday, March 12, 2018

A House For Dr Srinivas And Family

The Mumbai-based urological cancer surgeon V. Srinivas has written a book about his experiences, along with his wife, of building a house at Kotagiri in the Nilgiris

By Shevlin Sebastian

At Kotagiri, in Tamil Nadu, the Mumbai-based urological cancer surgeon V. Srinivas and his wife Vidya were building a homestay. Friends in Mumbai offered numerous suggestions. One friend Reena (name changed) suggested that they should use Burma teakwood for all the floors. Srinivas blanched when he heard that. “It will cost too much,” he said. But Reena said, “Why don't you find some old ship and get the wood from the deck? This is usually made of seasoned old Burma teak wood.”

As luck would have it, a new patient of Srinivas was from Bhavnagar in Gujarat and his business was ship-breaking. After the man recovered, the couple went with him to Alang, near Bhavnagar, which is the centre of ship-breaking in India.

There, the '1952 Manila Princess', which had been a floating casino in the Philippines was being dismantled. So, Srinivas bought a lot of teakwood at a very competitive price. Then, a driver agreed to take the entire material to Kotagiri, but he had never been beyond Hyderabad. “We were told that there was no insurance coverage for this type of transport and all we could do was to leave it to God,” says Srinivas.

In the end, the belief in God worked because on the fourth day, the wood did reach Kotagiri safely.

This anecdote was recounted in the just-released 'A Tale Of Two Homes' written by Srinivas and brought out by White Falcon Publishing. It tells the story of the trials and tribulations that the couple faced while trying to build a homestay on ten acres of land.

Initially buying the land was the problem. “One piece of land was owned by 18 cousins and relatives,” says Srinivas. “We had to get a lawyer to check all the papers to make sure everything was okay. Then we had to wait before we could acquire the next six acres.”

Asked why the couple wanted ten acres Srinivas says, tongue-in-cheek, “We wanted to avoid neighbours. In over-crowded Mumbai, we have too many neighbours all around us.”

Meanwhile, as construction went on, the couple got an insight into the mindset of the labourers. “The labourers need supervision,” says Srinivas. “They were working on five to six buildings at the same time, so they would disappear for a while. They also like their liquor. After working for six days, as soon as they got their wages they would go to the liquor shop. Thereafter, they would be absent for two days.”

But despite all that, the couple grew to love the local people. “The people are simple and honest,” says Srinivas. “After we bought the land, we were going to fence it, but then the local people told us, 'Nobody puts a fence'. In most places, the only thing marking a boundary were some white stones. So, we did the same. And, to our surprise, there were no squatters at all, unlike what would have happened in Mumbai.”

Srinivas and his wife faced other difficulties. Their architect was very strong on vaastu. But when the plans were drawn the couple felt that the bedrooms were very small. “We felt upset about it,” says Srinivas. “But then an architect friend of mine came from Mumbai and noticed that there were good verandahs. He told me that in the hills, the beauty is outside the house. So it would be better to have small bedrooms since guests will spend more time outside. Which turned out to be true.”

And throughout his book, Srinivas details numerous episodes in their nine-year odyssey to build their home. But eventually, it was all's well that end's well.

They called their homestay 'Raven's Nest', after their granddaughter and it is doing well. There are six rooms, out of which three are for the guests while the other three are for Srinivas and his family. “Visitors have come from Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai,” says Srinivas.

As for the doctor, every month, he, along with his wife, fly down from Mumbai and spend a week there. “We felt that if we have built a home, we should stay there often, especially in such a salubrious atmosphere as the Nilgiris,” says Srinivas. “It is a place that brings back memories.”

That's because Srinivas did his schooling in Lawrence School, Lovedale. So he has a soft spot for the Nilgiris.

Meanwhile, the book, which is an engaging read, is getting good reviews on Amazon. Says Dr Namrata, “I really enjoyed reading the book. It's not a book only on house building but about relationships. The humour is the USP. I can guarantee the book will sell and will have readers across all age groups.”

Adds Dr Thilak, ophthalmologist, “It is extremely interesting and well written. Got hooked on it.”  

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Master Composer Is Finally Rewarded .... After 50 Years!

By Shevlin Sebastian

It was like any any other day (Thursday March 8) for veteran music composer MK Arjunan. Till he sat on his sofa in the living room at his home in Kochi and switched on the TV. Suddenly, it was announced that he had won the Kerala State Award for Best Composer for the songs he composed for the film, 'Bhayanakam'.

Soon, Arjunan's house became a swirl of activity. Neighbours, friends and relatives dropped in. Television as well as newspaper journalists arrived in a rush. Arjunan received several congratulatory phone calls as well as messages.

But what was lost in this buzz was that it took 50 years for Arjunan to win his first-ever State Award. During that time he had composed the music for over 500 songs in more than 200 films. When this was pointed out to him, Arjunan burst out laughing. Then he regained his composure and said, “I have never thought about awards. For me, it has always been about the music.”

And it is also a fact, that many of his songs, like 'Ninmaniyarayile' and 'Dukhame ninakku', remain evergreen in the minds of listeners despite the passage of time.

As for 'Bhayanakam', the story was based partly on the novel 'Khayar' written by the late great writer Thakazhi Sivasankarapillai. “Since the story was set in World War 11, the songs had to remind viewers about that period,” says Arjunan. “[Director] Jayaraj had given me a clear idea on what he wanted, but it was not very tough for me. I used the harmonium, the tabla and the violin, and other traditional instruments.”

Asked about the music of today, Arjunan says, “The audience likes fast-paced songs. But the music is drowning the words, so we don't know what the song is all about.”

Another problem is that not much effort is expended to make a song. “In earlier days, we would spend as much as five hours to record the song, so that we could get it perfect,” he says. “Today, a singer only needs 15 minutes. The track is already there on the laptop. So, the beauty of songs is going down. I feel sad about this.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kerala editions)