Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Falling Against A Rod


Actor Pauly Valson talks about her experiences in the films, Ee.Ma.Yau., ‘Beautiful’, and ‘Iyobinthe Pushtakam’

Photos: Polly Valsan. Photo by Melton Antony. The climatic scene in Ee.Ma.Yau

By Shevlin Sebastian

In Ee.Ma.Yau. (2018), in the climax scene, Eeshi (Chemban Vinod) realises that he cannot bury his father Vavachan Mesthri in the cemetery because of the local priest's suspicion that Vavachan’s death is a murder. So, Eeshi decides to take matters into his own hands. At his house in Chellanam, on a day when it is raining heavily, with the villagers gathered around, wondering about the impasse, Chemban decides to bury his father in the courtyard.

As the people realise this, they are shocked and dismayed. So also is his mother Pennamma, played by Pauly Valsan. She rushes out of the house, towards Chemban, screaming, “No son, no, what are you doing?”

But Chemban is in such a rage, that he pushes Pauly away.

I lost my balance and the back of my head hit an iron rod which was protruding from a pandal which had been put up,” says Pauly. “I shouted, 'Amma' very loudly, but since it was a scene where there was so much of noise, nobody heard me. And I fainted.”

But director Lijo Jose Pelisserry noticed the mishap through the camera lens. He came running up and said, “Are you okay?” By this time, Pauly had regained consciousness. So Pauly said she was okay and there was nothing to worry about. “It was such an important scene that shooting needed to go on,” says Pauly. “Taking part in this climax was one of the most unforgettable moments of my career.”

Incidentally, Pauly won the Kerala State Award for Best Actress in a character role for this film.

There was also intense drama during the shoot of 'Beautiful' (2011), in which Pauly played a maidservant. At that time, she was also a lead character in a play. One day, at 7 a.m., she went to the set at Kalamaserry. She had one scene to shoot. That night, at 9.30 p.m., there would be a drama performance at Adoor. Pauly thought that she would have enough time to shoot her scene and proceed to Adoor, 125 kms away. But the whole day, director VK Prakash did not call her.

Pauly began to feel panicky. “If I did not reach the hall at Adoor, on time, the audience would start throwing stones,” she says. “So, I decided to slip away.”

She went to the gate. There was a watchman. However, he belonged to the film crew.

The watchman asked Pauly what had happened. So, she told him her dilemma. “He asked whether I had acted in an earlier scene,” says Pauly. “I said yes. Then he said, 'I cannot allow you to leave because the continuity of the scenes will be spoiled'.”

So Pauly returned to the set and began giving worried looks to Prakash. Then her eyes filled up. The production controller recognised her predicament. He told the director, “Prakash Sir please shoot the scene. Pauly Chechi is going through a lot of tension.”

So, the scene was shot. But by this time, it was 6.30 p.m. So, she immediately set out in a taxi. But on the highway, there were several traffic jams. “I knew there was little chance I could make it on time,” she says. “When I reached Kottayam it was already 9.30 pm. Till this time, the troupe members kept calling me. But after that, the calls stopped.”

Anyway, Pauly carried on. By the time, she reached the venue, it was 11 pm. And what she saw astonished her. The entire ground was under water. Apparently a severe storm had hit the area. It rained so hard that the organisers had no option but to cancel the show. “God saved me,” she says, with a beaming smile at her home in the Vypeen islands. “It was a miracle. Anyway, then and there I decided I cannot have two careers: films as well as theatre. So I stopped theatre. Now I only do films.” Till date, Pauly has acted in 45 films.

For Iyobinthe Pushtakam (2014), the shooting was in Vagamon. Since there was no vehicle that the production team could send to collect Pauly from Ernakulam, they asked her to come to Errattupetta. And they said they would arrange for Pauly to be picked up. “But when I reached Erattupetta, it was 8 pm. And I just missed the last bus to Vagamon,” says Pauly. “She called the production controller who asked her to take an auto-rickshaw. If he sent a car, it would take too much time.”

So she hired one. They began travelling. After 45 minutes, they were still travelling. It was dark all around. Pauly began to get nervous.

She rang up the production controller and scolded him for making her come all alone. “But since the driver was a good man, he took me safely,” says Pauly. “It is not easy to be a woman actress. Because of the nature of the job, I have to travel alone to many locations. But God has always protected me.” 

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

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Wonderful Elixir

Aby Baby runs the only donkey farm in Kerala. The products that he makes from the milk is vitamin-rich, good for skin problems, and is an anti-oxidant

Photos: Aby Baby at his farm; Queen Cleopatra

By Shevlin Sebastian

At the donkey farm at Ramamangalam (30 kms from Kochi), a jenny had given birth. But the foal fell into a small pit. It was bleating pitifully. But when worker Mohanan was about to step forward, to lift the foal, the jenny let out a hiss. But Mohanan ignored the sound. Suddenly, the jenny turned around and gave such a hard kick that Mohanan lay sprawled on the ground. For good measure, he bit the worker on the arm. Mohanan got up and fled.

Owner Aby Baby smiles as he recounts the incident. “To protect its foal, a jenny can become ferocious,” he says.

Aby knows donkeys well. He is the owner of a two-acre farm which has twenty jennies and a foal. A male donkey (ass) died recently. Every day, he gets half a litre of milk from three jennies. When he gets six litres, he gets it freeze-dried.

Through this method, the milk is frozen to minus 40 degrees centigrade. During this process, the water is removed. The end result is a powder, with which he makes skin and cosmetic lotions, under the brand name of Dolphin IBA.

Because the freeze-drying process is very expensive, my products, about 40 grams, have a starting price of Rs. 1920,” he says.

There is a belief that donkey's milk can cure skin problems. One who has had a positive experience is the Hyderabad-based home-maker Sweetie Paul. For four years, her eight-year-old daughter Selah suffered from lichen planus (a chronic inflammatory disease of the skin).
I would get calls from the school saying that Selah was not able to concentrate because of itching,” says Sweetie. “We consulted many doctors in Hyderabad but there was no cure.” 

Through her dad, who lives in Kochi, Sweetie came to know about the donkey ointment. She started applying it on her daughter, in January, this year. “Within three months, Selah's itching has stopped,” says Sweetie. “And her skin is 60 per cent back to normal.

Another happy customer is Aji K. Jacob, 47, who works as an office staff at a school in Kottayam district. He suffered for many years from keloids (a scar on the skin that causes excessive itching). “I tried many ointments but there was no cure,” he says. “By accident I came to know of Aby's products and began using them. After three weeks, my itchiness has completely gone. Now I can function as a normal human being.”

Dr (Maj.) Sudheesh S. Nair (Retd.), who worked with mules in the Army and is now an Assistant Professor in Surgery at the Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, says, “Donkey's milk cures skin problems because it has a lot of vitamins like A, B, C, D, E, B12, as well as a high protein content.”

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation says donkey milk has 'particular nutritional benefits'.

In history too, donkey's milk was used regularly. Egyptian Queen Cleopatra took baths in donkey milk to preserve her beauty and youth. But the milk of about 700 donkeys was needed to fill her bath. Hippocrates, who is regarded as the father of medicine, was among the first to write about the benefits of donkey milk.

Meanwhile, back at his farm, Aby remains fascinated by donkeys. “They all have individual characters,” he says. “Some are moody, a few are always angry and use their kicks powerfully, a couple of them are introverted and stay away from the crowd, just like human beings.”
These Indian breeds, which he bought from different parts of Tamil Nadu, range in age from three to eight years. Most live till 40.

As for the food, they are given CO3 grass, wheat and rice bran, and coconut husk. “They have a 90 feet long intestine, so they have to eat all the time,” says Aby.

Asked about his future plans, Aby says, “I am looking for investors to expand my business.”

Says Sudheesh, “There is a large market for this kind of ointments, especially in Delhi and Mumbai. I have used Aby's products. They are very good. If he expands, he is bound to do well.” 

Monday, May 28, 2018

Just Coasting For The Time Being

Bollywood director R Balki, on a recent visit to Kochi, talks about his hit film, 'Padman', and how he is relaxing now by reading books, watching films and going for cricket matches

Photos: Director R. Balki; a still from 'Paa' and 'Padman' 

By Shevlin Sebastian

One day, a few years ago, film director R. Balki went to superstar Amitabh Bachan's house, 'Jalsa', in Mumbai. While conversing with Amitabh as well as his son Abhishek, he noticed something surprising.

While Abhishek was saying something serious, Amitji was pulling his leg,” says Balki. “I thought, 'The youngster was behaving like a wise one, while Amitji was behaving like a kid'. Then an idea popped into my mind: if I make a film with these two, I would like to make Abhishek the father. And thus the idea of 'Paa' came to fruition.” To make it logical, Balki made Amitabh suffer from progeria, which is a genetic disorder in which symptoms of aging manifest at an early age.

The film became a hit and Balki was off and running. And all along, he has tried to use Amitabh in all his films. “I am a fan,” says Balki, who had come to Kochi as the chief guest of The Pepper Advertising Awards (see box).

Asked how Amitabh is in private, Balki says, “He is 75 years old and very young. Young in mind, body and spirit. He is so enthusiastic about what he is doing. Films are life and death for him. In fact, Amitji genuinely believes that acting is the only thing he was born to do.”

Balki could also have been born to make films, since his recently-released 'Padman', starring Akshay Kumar, and made on a budget of Rs 25 crore, has become a box office hit with earnings of Rs 85 crore. And there are country-wide screenings in the lucrative China market which are yet to take place.

Many of Balki's other movies have done well including 'Cheeni Kum' 'Ki and Ka' and 'English Vinglish', in which he was a producer.

Asked the secret behind a box office success, Balki smiles, and says, “I have no idea. People says that stars guarantee a certain box office but that is not confirmed.”

But he has an idea of what audiences want. “They want interesting stories,” says Balki. “They want to have a good time. Even crying can be called a damn good time. That means you feel strongly for somebody, it means you are engaged with the characters. Audiences are never saying, 'Don't give me this or that story'. Audiences are only saying, 'Don't bore me. Don't intellectualise. Don't do mindless boring entertainment'.”

But even after you satisfy all these criteria, the pressing problem is how to get an audience's attention for a film. “There is so much of digital content that it is tough for an audience to know what is a good film and what is not,” says Balki. “Many good films go off the radar even before people come to hear about it. The ones which do well depend a lot on word-of-mouth marketing.”

Of course, stars can bring some attention. “But what if it is a film which has no stars,” says Balki. “Plus, there is a lot of digital avenues, like Netflix and Amazon Prime, for people to see films.”

Meanwhile, asked what he is doing now, following the release of 'Padman', Balki says, “I am just coasting. I am not thinking of any ideas now. I watch a lot of movies, I travel, see cricket matches and read up quite a bit.”

Right now, Balki is reading four books at the same time. These include 'The Indian Constitution – Cornerstone of a Nation' by the late historian Granville Austin, 'Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind' by historian Yuval Noah Harari, a book by English comedian Stephen Fry and one on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Reading enables me to form images in my mind,” says Balki. “I see these books as potential films. I also love watching films, but there the images are already formed. When you keep exercising your imagination you can form vivid images when you write your own screenplays.”

Finally, on asked how his name changed from R. Balakrishnan, the Tamilian who grew up in Bengaluru, to Balki, the former chairman of the advertising agency Lowe Lintas (India), he says, “When I went for my first interview in 1998, the person who recruited me in advertising, Naganand Kumar just called me 'Balki'. And the name stuck.”

Pepper Awards speech

Kerala has so many unique voices”

I came to attend the Pepper Awards because I realised that the traditional capitals of advertising like Delhi, Mumbai and to a small extent Bengaluru, are losing their voices, says Bollywood director and senior advertising professional R. Balki. He was chief guest at the recent Pepper Awards held at Kochi. “Advertising in this country or for that matter, the world, needs fresh voices and different ways of thinking. There are two places which are ready to have new voices.”

One is Maharashtra, without Mumbai, and the other is Kerala, strangely. “Advertising depends on having an unique insight into life,” says Balki. “And I have never seen more unique insights into life than Malayalam cinema and books. I watch a lot of Malayalam cinema: the humour, the way you look at life, all of it is unique. There is actually a lot to learn from Kerala's filmmakers, writers and artistes.” 

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

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

When The Hero Sank


Cinematographer Shyju Khalid talks about his experiences in the films, 'Sudani from Nigeria', 'Chandrettan Evideya' and 'Sethulakshmi'

Photos: Shyju Khalid. Photo by A. Sanesh. Samuel Abiola Robinson (in blue vest) in a still from 'Sudani from Nigeria'

By Shevlin Sebastian

In Malappuram, during the shoot of 'Sudani from Nigeria' (2018), the hero Samuel Abiola Robinson was supposed to jump into a pond after a football game. The unit members asked him whether he knew to swim because the pond was quite deep. Samuel nodded. The shoot began. Samuel jumped into the water. But he suddenly realised there was no ground underneath to stand on. So, he sank.

I did not notice this, as I was busy looking through the lens,” says cinematographer Shyju Khalid. “[Actor] Soubin [Shahir] gestured to me, but I could not understand what he was saying.”

By this time, Samuel panicked and began flailing his arms and legs. “Thankfully, since there were other people in the pond, they were able to get hold of him and pull him up,” says Shyju. “So, in the end, we realised Samuel did not know swimming at all.”

For another sequence in 'Sudani', which was needed to be set in Africa, the crew went to the Buduburam camp, 44 kms from the capital Accra in Ghana. Through a contact, they were able to get some actors.

One of them was Abraham Attah, a boy who had acted in the Hollywood film, 'Beasts of No Nation' (2015). “We also took a few other boys who had acted in 'Beasts',” says Shyju. “Then we selected a girl who acted as Samuel's sister.”

In the film, she is supposed to carry a pitcher on her head, to give an indication of the water shortage of Samuel's village in the film. And Shyju was taken aback when he looked through the lens. “In my career, I have never seen a face so beautiful as this girl's,” says Shyju. “Her eyes were also beautiful. Then we came to know that she is half Indian: her father is from Mumbai, while her mother is Ghanian. But I got the feeling the father was not with the family any more.”

Overall, it was a very interesting experience for the crew. “We were introduced to a football player who was travelling to Thrissur the next day to play a tournament,” says Shyju. “This was amazing because our film was about these players.”

But Shyju did not have an amazing experience in the film, 'Chandrettan Evideya' (2015). The film was about Dileep, a government employee who is an ardent classical dance fan. The shoot was taking place at midnight on Kowdiar Avenue in Thiruvananthapuram. In the film's climax, Dileep was walking home, looking lost. Then a car came up, almost hit him, and the passengers shouted abuse at Dileep, who ignored their taunts.

The moment the director [Sidharth Bharathan] said, 'Cut', another car, with three men in it, came at full speed and stopped inches from the camera, almost as if they wanted to hit it,” says Shyju. “We did not know what was happening.
A muscular man stepped out and said, “Now the next scene is action on our part. Come on.”

The crew remained puzzled. Both Shyju and Siddharth apologised immediately. “We did not want to look for a fight because we did not know who they were,” says Shyju. "Maybe, they were politically connected. And although the others felt that we should have given them a bashing, I felt that we needed to manage them, so that shooting could continue. We could not afford to waste a single moment because all these delays would become a financial burden for the producer.”

Meanwhile, the muscular man accepted the apology and admitted that they were drunk. “The reason we got angry was because your staff blocked our path when the shoot was going on,” he said.

Anyway, in the end, they went away. And the shoot continued.

For 'Sethulakshmi' (part of '5 Sundarikal', 2013), there was a drama of a different kind. The shoot was taking place inside a forest in Wayanad. The child actress Baby Anikha had a night scene with her parents.

After that shoot was over, and the crew was getting ready to leave, the villagers told them that there were numerous elephants in the vicinity. “So, we placed Anikha and the others in a car,” says Shyju. “Then there were cars in front and the back so that they were suitably protected. We moved in a procession, almost bumper to bumper. There was mist all around. But through the car headlights, we could see the elephants. There were many around. We kept our fingers crossed. It was a moment of tension. Everybody kept quiet. The cars moved forward slowly. We had to travel a few kilometres like this. Somehow, luckily, the elephants decided they would not attack us. So we managed to escape from there, without any problems.” 

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

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

A Chance Meeting With Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

The globe-trotting spiritual leader was at his Art of Living headquarters in Bengaluru to celebrate his 62nd birthday

By Shevlin Sebastian

During a visit to the Art of Living headquarters in Bengaluru, recently, when a devotee, on knowing that I am a journalist arranged for me to meet the globe-trotting founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who had just celebrated his 62nd birthday on May 13. As I entered the air-conditioned hall, Ganga Kutir, there were several people sitting around. Many of them were devotees who were wearing white clothes. As for Sri Sri, he sat at the centre, in his trademark white shawl and dhoti, with a smile constantly playing on his face.

In front of him on a small table, there was an I-Pad, as well as boxes of prasadam, a bouquet of flowers, and garlands, while at one side, in a basket there were several apples and oranges.

A woman sat on the floor next to Sri Sri. She showed him an album. The guru went through it. Then he murmured his appreciation. Then they exchanged a few words.
Later, he wrapped a scarf around her shoulders, presented her with an apple and a box of prasadam. She smiled, said thank you and got up.

Soon, I was allowed to go up. As we were about to converse, Sri Sri looked up at two women, sitting on chairs at the opposite side and said, “Do you have a plane to catch? Are you in a hurry?”

They smiled and one of them said, “No, Gurudev, we have time.”

So, he nodded, looked at me and I said, “How is it that you have achieved so much, while many people are unable to do anything in life?”

Sri Sri smiled impishly and said, “Wonders should be left as wonders.” But then he became serious and said, “There are no explanations. I am not an extraordinary person. But to achieve anything in life, you need to channel the divine force.”

So here was the counter question: “But then, not many people have the capacity to become a conduit for the divine energy,” I said.

Everybody can do it, but why they are unable to do it is a different matter altogether,” said Sri Sri. “But the capacity, as well as the divine nature, are within everyone.”

Thank to an abundance of energy, Sri Sri is an incessant globe-trotter: he travels to over 100 cities annually and meets all types of people. Asked whether they are happy, he said, “There are people who are happy, there are some who are unhappy, there are people in need, and there are others who are willing to help those in need. There are all types of people on the planet. But the one thing that is needed now is a wave of happiness. People need a spiritual upliftment.”

The spiritual leader feels an urgency because too many shocking events are taking place all the time. Asked why this is so, even though people are inherently good, Sri Sri said, “The goodness is sleeping in some people. And that needs to be awakened. Even a murderer has goodness within him. We see this because we are working with seven lakh convicts all over the world. They are nice people.”

However, some prisoners crack a joke saying that the Art Of Living is responsible for them being in jail. “They tell me that if they had known about the teaching earlier, they would not have landed in prison,” says a smiling Sri Sri. “So they all have an inherent goodness. However, there is a moment in their life when they could not summon it, and so they did something which they have come to regret.”

Finally, on being asked whether technology dehumanises man, Sri Sri says, “It is man who is driving technology. If I am not operating this I-Pad (pointing at the device in front of him), it will simply be still. As to whether it will overwhelm us, it is an instrument. It is up to us how we use it. But we need to be alert all the time.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Monday, May 21, 2018

A Harmonious Intermingling

In his photo exhibition, 'Transcendence/Kochi', Biju Ibraham focuses on the 39 communities that have lived peacefully together in the town of Mattancherry for centuries

Photos: Sarah Cohen (centre) with Thaha Ibrahim (left), Jasmine (behind) and Selin; Biju Ibrahim 

By Shevlin Sebastian

In the black and white photograph, 98-year-old Sarah Cohen sits in the middle on a wooden armchair, looking to one side, looking relaxed and casual in a printed frock and slippers. On her right is the bespectacled Thaha Ibrahim in a shirt and jeans, who is leaning towards Sarah with a smile on his face. Right behind the nonagenarian is Thaha's wife Jasmine who leans forward and places her hands protectively on Sarah's shoulders. On the right is the maid Selin.

Three communities are represented in this image,” says photographer Biju Ibrahim. “While Sarah is Jewish, Thaha and Jasmine are Muslim, and Selin is a Christian.”

Thaha and Jasmine have been looking after Sarah for about fifteen years ever since Sarah's husband Jacob died. “Sarah is famous in Jew Town, Mattancherry, for her embroidery work,” says Biju. “Now Selin is doing the work.”

This photograph is part of an exhibition by Biju called ‘Transcendence/Kochi’ on the 39 communities that live in a radius of five kilometres in Mattancherry. They include the Gaud Saraswat Brahmins, Vellala Pillais, Kashmiris, Anglo-Indians, Bohra Muslims, Tamil Vannars, Telugu Naidus, Gujarati Banias, Jains, Kannadigas, Tulu Brahmins, Malabari Muslims, Ezhavas and Syrian Catholics.

Asked how he got the idea, Biju says, “Riyas Komu [one of the founders of the Kochi Biennale as well as the Uru Gallery in Mattancherry] told me to document the diversity of life in Mattancherry. He also told me that this is one of the few places in India where people of different religions live in harmony.”

To do this project, Biju was given a five-month residency by Uru in August, last year. So Biju wandered in and out of the narrow lanes in Mattancherry, befriending people, and noting their habits and rituals. “All the communities observe their different religious practices and rituals,” says Biju. “And this is respected by all. Every 100 metres, the community changes, the food changes, and there is a different way of talking.”

Over the course of several months, Biju took about 25,000 photos. From this data bank, 200 photos were culled and these were curated by Riyas. Biju took the images in colour as well as black and white. But in the end, he opted for black and white, because the details in the picture are clearer. “In a colour photograph, the viewers are drawn to the colour,” he says. “I wanted them to focus on the people and their emotions.”

Some subjects did become emotional. Biju visited an elderly Anglo-Indian couple who were about to go abroad the next day to attend their daughter's marriage. But after the shoot was over, and Biju was leaving, the man came out to the courtyard and took out his wrist watch and gave it to Biju. “He was moved by what I was doing,” says Biju.

And so were some of the guests at the exhibition. Wrote Dr Moideen Kutty AB, director, Kerala State minority welfare department, in the visitor's book: 'This is a unique idea, a kind of a miniature world. Directly or indirectly, the people have promoted national integration. Let this benefit the future generations to come.'

A self-taught photographer, Biju, 35, had spent more than a decade travelling all over India taking photographs. He has also worked with the late Mollywood scriptwriter TA Razzaq, as well as director Kamal. But to earn his living, he has been taking photographs for architect firms.

Meanwhile, his immediate plan is to bring out a coffee-table book on the subject. Thereafter, Biju is planning another project on the people of Mattancherry, following an extension of his residency till December this year. “I will focus on their day-to-day life,” says Biju. “So far, this has been a most enjoyable and learning experience for me.”

Friday, May 18, 2018

Learning Classical Dance Online

Kathak exponent Pali Chandra, who was in Kerala recently, speaks about her 'Learn Kathak' channel on YouTube which is growing in popularity

By Shevlin Sebastian

Anup Singh (name changed) had a dream. He wanted to be a dancer. But in his village at a far corner of Rajasthan, it seemed like an impossible dream. His family members expressed their disapproval. “Because, according to them, this was not something that men normally do and, secondly, it was not lucrative enough,” says noted Kathak exponent, choreographer and educationist Pali Chandra.

But then, one day, as Anup was surfing the net, he came across the 'Learn Kathak' channel on YouTube which features Pali giving classes for beginners, as well as intermediate and advanced students. On Wednesdays, the classes are for free.

So, every Wednesday, Anup locks his bedroom door and logs on to the channel. Then he starts doing the moves himself. “He says he is the happiest he has ever been in his life,” says Pali. “And not just him, people around him are also glad. And every week he drops me a line either asking a question or appreciating me. And that always brings a smile to my face.”
Incidentally, the classes which Anup watched are in Hindi, which Pali had started owing to demands from students.

The Zurich-based Pali was in Thiruvananthapuram recently shooting several new lessons for the media production company Invis Multimedia, with whom she has been associated for the past ten years. One day, when Pali came to work, she got a surprise. On a small computer table, there was a cake on which it was written, 'Congratulations Guru Pali Chandra – 50,000 subscribers.'

This is unbelievable,” she said, as she cut the cake amidst clapping by the employees of Invis. “This is not the work of one person but of all of us. We have a synergy, which is helping to draw students to the channel.”

Not surprisingly, many of the students are from the Indian diaspora all over the world. For Indian students, who want to take the full course of 222 lessons, in English, the annual fees are Rs 20,250. For Hindi students, it is Rs 6750.

However, she has some words of advice. “I tell my students that someone should keep an eye on them when they are doing the practice,” says Pali. “That way, they can get a proper body alignment, and the right way of bending and moving forward.”

Sometimes, students send recorded performances of their work to Pali for an evaluation. After viewing their videos, Pali gives her comments and feedback.

Even as Pali is imparting lessons, it has also been a learning experience for her. “I have learnt which are the best camera angles that can be understood by the viewers,” she says. “I need to have a language that can be easily understood.”

Another lesson has been imparted by the students themselves. Many of them ask her questions and that has enabled her to think deeper into her technique and the history of the dance form.

It seems she is doing something right. Because her students are showing their appreciation by posting comments on the channel. Dr Priti Karmacharya writes, “This music, this dance is bringing the ultimate peace to the soul. I am mesmerised.” Sagaya Deepa says, “I am 37 years old but the passion for dance made me want to learn Kathak.” Ranjeeta Kaur says, “The way you teach Kathak is fabulous.” 

This fabulous teacher grew up in Lucknow and began studying Kathak under Kapila Raj of the Lucknow Gharana at the age of seven. Her other gurus include the late Vikram Singh and Pandit Ram Mohan Maharaj.

Asked about the state of the art, Pali says, “Kathak is growing in popularity because it is able to mould itself to the environment. So, there is ballet and Kathak, jazz and Kathak, and so on. There is a lot happening beyond the infrastructure of classical dancing. We are trying to preserve and change at the same time.”

As for her future plans, Pali is determined to put her work online as much as possible. “My guru Vikram Singh had said that we need to pass our knowledge to future generations,” she says. “I am also working on a book where I will focus on definitions and techniques.”

Finally, Pali remains ever-grateful for her enriching life. “God has been kind to me,” she says. “I bow down to the force which has given me a job that I love. There is not a single day that I feel that I am going to work. It is almost like I breathe dance. And when I do dance I am so happy. It has been a beautiful journey.”

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

#KathakexponentPaliChandra, #LearnKathak #YouTube #KapilaRaj #LucknowGharana #VikramSingh, #PanditRamMohanMaharaj

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A Continental Link For Homesick Tourists

Alice Floch's French bakery at Fort Kochi is a magnet for French and European tourists

By Shevlin Sebastian

On a recent Sunday, at 'Alice Delices' boulangerie (bakery) at Fort Kochi, Fanch and Viviane Le Guellec dropped in. They are friends of Alice Floch from France. “We came to know Alice had started a bakery in India,” says Viviane. “So we were keen to taste the items.”

And they liked what they ate. “It was as good as it was in France,” says Viviane In fact, the Guellecs are customers of Alice at the 'Paroles de Pain', an organic bakery in Pont-l'Abbé on the west coast of France. “We buy bread and cakes,” she says. “Sometimes, my husband, who is retired from government service, helps in bread deliveries.”

Another fan is the Paris-based Clarisse Alx. “The best French bakery in India is in Fort Kochi,” she says.

A recent customer was Frenchwoman and Mollywood star Paris Laxmi. She woke up one morning at her home in Vaikom (37 kms from Kochi), longing for some home food. So she headed to the bakery at Fort Kochi.

By the time I arrived, at 12 noon, my favourite Pain Au Chocolat (chocolate croissants) was sold out,” says Laxmi. “So I had a cinnamon cake as well as a fresh lime juice. It was as good as any bakery in France.”

Alice first came to Kochi five years ago and fell in love with the place. “Fort Kochi is a special place, so different from other parts of Kerala and India,” she says. “It is very quiet, and green. In Pont-l'Abbé, like in Fort Kochi, we also see a lot of fishermen. So, there are a lot of similarities.”

Alice decided to open the bakery in late 2016, during the Kochi Biennale, because she felt there would be takers since it is the only French bakery in Fort Kochi. “In fact, from the very beginning, we had a lot of French and European people visit our bakery,” says Alice. “But we also get Indians, too.”

To suit the Indian palate, she has made a special bread which has cashew nuts, almonds, pistachios and grapes. For certain breads, Alice has added cinnamon. Apart from this, Alice makes cashew and brownie cakes as well as lemon pies. She also offers a French-style thali breakfast. It is priced at Rs 300 and is popular.

This breakfast consisted of different types of bread, served with butter and pineapple jam, as well as a bowl of mixed fruit,” says tourist R. Ron from Europe. “And, according to my partner, she had the best coffee on the trip at the Delices.”

The locals also love her items. During Easter, Alice had bumper sales of her plum cakes. “Many Malayalis were my customers and said they liked it,” she says.

To ensure that all is fresh and crisp, by 7.45 a.m., the time the bakery opens for its clientele, Alice has to get up at 4 a.m., to start work. For most of the bread items, she uses a mix of flour, yeast, salt and water.

But to make croissants, she has to do it in an air-conditioned kitchen. “If I try to make it outside, the butter will melt,” she says. There is a lot of kneading of the dough and the rolling pin is used several times before the items are put in the large oven which is located in the garden at the back of the bakery. 

I love baking,” she says. “But what I enjoy equally is to watch the reaction of the people when they eat the food that I make. Many a time, after they eat a croissant a smile breaks out on their faces.” 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Second Story In The Erotica Series

Juggernaut Books publishes my second story in the erotica series.

This can be downloaded on the mobile or the laptop.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Watch Out: Revolution Ahead!

Jim Chabin, the President & CEO of the US-based Advanced Imaging Society talks about new trends in entertainment, while on a recent visit to Kochi

By Shevlin Sebastian

There are three professionals. One is in Los Angeles, another is in London, and the third is in Kochi. All three put on their Virtual Reality goggles. They connect with each other. And then they decide to go to the Four Seasons Resort in the Maldives. “Physically we are not there,” says Jim Chabin, President & CEO of the US-based Advanced Imaging Society. “But we will be able to talk to each other and look out of the window at the sunset.”

Jim pauses and says, “Alternative reality is the most revolutionary development in the film industry. In future, we will go to school, watch movies and meet our friends in virtual reality. In Steven Spielberg's blockbuster hit, 'Ready Player One', for most of the movie, you don't know what is real and what is artificial.”

A new invention is high-dynamic-range imaging (HDR) which increases the luminosity of the image. “Thanks to HDR, the future of the flat screen is doubtful,” says Jim, who had come to attend the Global Digital Summit at Kochi. “The brightness, colour and the contrast on the TV will be as good as it is in the movie theatre. We are getting to the point where the experience of watching a movie at home is going to be every bit as good as watching it in the hall.”

Of course, 3D has already made its mark. Last year, Hollywood sold 1.2 billion 3D tickets last year. “For the opening weekends of a Star Wars or Marvel movie, around 50 per cent are 3D tickets,” says Jim. “[Director] James Cameron, who is shooting Avatar 2 in Los Angeles, has said that he is working on a technology where you don't need 3D glasses. James does not want us to wear a pair of glasses while watching his movie.”

Clearly, things are changing at a rapid pace. At Doha Airport at 4 a.m., while on the way to Kochi, Jim saw a girl in a baby carriage looking intently at an Ipad Tablet. “She must have been less than two years old,” he says. “These children when they grow up – it is unlikely they will watch TV or go to movie theatres.”

Everybody in Hollywood is very aware that the 12-year-olds of today are very different from earlier generations. “I am not sure these children, who have short attention spans, will have the patience to sit through a two-hour-long movie,” he says.

One who is anticipating this is Jeffrey Katzenberg, the former owner of the Dreamworks studio. He has started a new media and technology company called WndrCo. in Los Angeles that is making 10-minute movies for You Tube. “So there are seven or eight episodes of six or seven minutes each,” says Jim. “It might have stars like Leonardo De Caprio or Chris Hemsworth.”

And will they read the printed word, like the book? “I don't know,” says Jim. “I, myself, am not reading a lot. Again, while coming to Kochi, I brought a novel along because I am an avid reader. But I never took my book out. Instead, I watched ‘The Dark Tower’, ‘Victoria and Abdul’, and ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’. I learnt so much about life by reading books. So, this is a loss for me.”

Meanwhile, when asked about the functions of the Advanced Imaging Society, Jim says, “It was set up in 2009 by the leaders of the industry like Walt Disney Studios, DreamWorks Animation, Sony, Paramount, IMAX, Dolby, Panasonic, and others. The aim is to advance the creative arts and sciences of stereoscopic 3D. But as new cutting-edge technologies have come to the forefront, the society is sensitising industry professionals about these innovations.”

Asked about his views about India, Jim smiles and says, “I love India because it is the world's largest democracy, a multi-cultural society, so rich is in so many ways, including its stories. The market is so huge. There are 300 million comprising the middle class. That is bigger than the population of the United States. We would like to make relevant films, which the people will like.”

So far, they are on the right track. The latest release, ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ by Marvel Studios has set the Indian box office on fire. Asked the reasons behind the success of the Marvel series, Jim says, “When I asked Victoria Alonso of Marvel how they managed to do one great movie after another, she said, ‘Our movies are based on very good comic books that were written by great writers and illustrators. We are just taking good source material’.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

In A Hole


Actor Riyaz Khan talks about his experiences in the films, ‘Cheena Thaana 001’, 'Mayilattam' and ‘Casanova’

By Shevlin Sebastian

In ‘Cheena Thaana 001’ (2007) the Tamil version of the Malayalam blockbuster 'CID Moosa', Riyaz Khan played the role of Assistant Commissioner Gowrishankar. Riyaz had several scenes with the hero Prasanna. For these scenes, he was accompanied by many policemen.

So, on the day of the shoot, at Film City, Chennai, Riyaz met up with the other policemen. They sat on chairs and had an intense discussion about their scenes. But when they stood up, Riyaz got a shock. “They were all above 6'2”, while I am 5'8”,” he says.

Initially, Riyaz stood atop a platform during the indoor shoots. But he expected to face problems when the production went outdoors and there would be long shots.

One day, as Riyaz was about to enter his caravan, he noticed some members of the art department digging up mud with shovels. “I was puzzled,” he says. “Maybe, it was for a scene in the movie. Anyway, I wore my police uniform and got my make-up done.”

When Riyaz went to the location, he realised what had happened. The height of the hole was the difference in height between Riyaz and the tall extras. “So, the director asked the tall men to stand in the hole,” says Riyaz. “It seemed now I was on par with the men. In some places, where the hole had been dug deeper, I looked much taller than them.”
Riyaz couldn't help but burst out laughing. “It was an innovative idea,” he says.

Meanwhile, during the shoot of 'Mayilattam' (2004) actor Jayaram did offer Riyaz an innovative drink but it did not work out the way the latter had hoped.

One day, after the shooting was over, Jayaram told Riyaz that he had got a liquid from a nearby temple. “If you have it you will feel relaxed,” said Jayaram.

So, at night, Riyaz went to Jayaram's hotel room and collected it. When he returned to his room, Jayaram called on the intercom and said, “Riyaz, just have a little bit only.”

Now curious, Riyaz opened it and drank the reddish-black liquid. He noticed it had a sweet taste. Since Riyaz did not experience any high, he had another glass. By this time, cinematographer Venu came into the room. He inhaled from the bottle but did not drink it, since it was unfamiliar. Then director VM Vinu arrived. But he also did not drink it.
Soon, room service brought the food. After dinner, Riyaz had one more glass and then he locked the door. He lay down on the bed and closed his eyes.

Hours passed. Riyaz could sense some noise. But he was too deep in sleep to notice anything.

When Riyaz woke up, he decided to get ready to go to the location. The reporting time was 8 a.m. As he entered the bathroom, to have his bath, he casually looked at his watch and got a shock. It was 11.30 a.m.

He opened the door and asked some crew members, “Why did you not call me?”

They laughed and said, “Sir, we almost broke down the door trying to awaken you,” one of them said. “We banged on the windows, also.”

So, Riyaz ran off to the set, without having a bath.

When he reached the location, he was told that cameraman Venu was sitting on top of a crane for a long time. “Venu laughed when he saw me,” says Riyaz. “So did Jayaram and the others. They all understood how I had got late. They teased me a lot after that.”

Curious as to what happened, Jayaram got in touch with the temple authorities. “They revealed that there was quite a bit of alcohol in the liquid,” says Riyaz.

Riyaz had a completely different experience on the sets of ‘Casanova’ (2012). The shoot took place in the Hyatt Palm Resorts at Dubai. In the scene, Mohanlal is supposed to come into a hall to attend a large party. Riyaz as an Interpol officer was supposed to come in from another door and arrest him.

Among the crowd, there was a man in a red suit. “Whenever there was a scene that had to be shot with Mohanlal, he would be next to him,” says Riyaz. “But because of his red colour, he began to appear in too many shots. The cameraman asked for him to be removed. Each time, the man would tell Mohanlal, 'Yes Sir, I am moving away. I will not stand next to you. Thank you, thank you'. But after a while, he would find his way next to Mohanlal again.”

So, finally, he was dragged away so that the shoot could take place peacefully. Then he went and stood next to the director Roshan Andrews. Roshan said, “Why are you standing here?”

The man said, “Sir, since I am not allowed to be next to Mohanlal Sir, I decided to stand next to you.”

Riyaz smiles and says, “There are all types of people on a film set.” 

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

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

A Peep Into The Past

At Sivasankaran’s recent exhibition, he has deftly captured life in Kerala hundreds of years ago

By Shevlin Sebastian

At the Ethnic Passage Art Gallery in Mattancherry, Daina Ulmyte, a 25-year old theatre director from Lithuania stood transfixed in front of a large painting at artist Sivasankaran's recent exhibition, 'Once Upon A Time in Muziris'. After a while, she stepped back and says, “In Europe these days, abstract art is very popular. So I am enjoying some realistic art for a change. I like this work by Sivasankaran. The details are so finely etched.”

The work in question is set in the Muziris area. The timeline: 650 years ago, during the time of Portuguese rule in Kerala. So, there is a tranquil-looking river with small boats plying on it. At a distance, a ship is anchored. On the opposite bank, there is a white church with a steeple. On the bank nearer to the viewer, at one side, a man and a woman are looking deep into each other's eyes. Right in the middle of the image, there is a cement structure that is jutting out from the bank.

This was made to protect the bank,” says Sivasankaran. “During the rainy season the water would hit the sides with great force and it would disintegrate. So this was made to prevent that.”

What is striking about the work is the alluring sepia tone. Sivasankaran got the colour by mixing brown, black and a little bit of blue. “I used this to give a feeling of something being old,” he says.

Asked why he has focused on Muziris, Sivasankaran says, “I have spent all my life in the area. I remember how, in my childhood, during the rainy season, the water would overrun the banks and enter our houses. And when we would go for classes we would discover that school was closed, because water had entered the classrooms, too.”

In another image, Sivasankaran shows wooden ships, with large sails, as it makes its way to the famous Muziris port. According to history, the port was devastated by a flood in the 14th century. Thereafter, Muziris rapidly declined in importance.

Sivasankaran's aim was to recreate life in Kerala from way back in the past. He used photos from the Internet, consulted history books and studied drawings. But he has also focused on other areas.

For example, he has done a black and white painting of the Marine Drive in Kochi. Today, there are numerous shops, restaurants, office and residential buildings, and the streets are choked with people and traffic – buses, cars, auto-rickshaws and two-wheelers.

But one hundred years ago, it was a serene place. A deserted road, with trees on one and the sea on the other, with a few people walking casually about. “Times have changed,” says the 56-year artist, with a rueful smile. “Development has come. The population has grown.”
At another section, Sivasankaran has brought up a forgotten chapter of Kerala history: the hated 'breast tax'. In the painting, four dark-skinned women stand next to each other wearing white sarees, with thick gold earrings and necklaces and holding a gold plate which contained smaller utensils. What was astonishing to see was the exposed breasts.

I wanted to highlight the period when women would expose their breasts all the time,” says Sivasankaran. Around 300 years ago, women who belonged to the backward classes and the Dalits had to pay the breast tax, if they wanted to cover their breasts with a piece of cloth.

All the paintings have interesting tales behind it. In his skillful but simple way, Sivasankaran has deftly captured the history of Kerala.