Leisure http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure.rss en Sun Dec 11 11:18:13 IST 2022 meet-nina-metayer-the-worlds-best-pastry-chef <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/09/meet-nina-metayer-the-worlds-best-pastry-chef.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/3/9/83-Nina-Metayer.jpg" /> <p>In late 2023, during a ceremony in Munich, the International Union of Bakers and Confectioners named a French woman the world’s best confectioner. It was the first time a woman had received this prestigious award in its 92 years. That historic night in Munich may not have transpired as it did without a French girl’s visit to faraway Mexico 19 years ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nina Métayer was born in La Rochelle, a coastal city in western France. She prefers to keep details about her parents private, only revealing that they gave her a taste for good food. She grew up with two younger sisters and spent 10 years in Alsace in the northeast of France. A young Nina enjoyed playing the piano and theatre, and took art classes in school. She was particularly interested in travelling. So, naturally, when a student exchange programme gave her a chance to go to Mexico for a year, she took it. There, she met a French couple who ran a bakery, and inspiration struck.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She felt that French baking skills could be successfully exported to Mexico and went back to France with a plan.“I was dreaming to go back and live in Mexico,” Nina told THE WEEK. “My goal was to start a bakery in Playa del Carmen or Tulum, booming tourist destinations. So, after the baccalaureate, I started a vocational training course to become a baker.” She then moved to Melbourne and practised her craft there. But, the desire to go further in terms of technique and creativity pushed her to get trained in pastry-making at the renowned Ferrandi school in Paris.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She began her professional career at a Parisian five-star hotel and later became head pastry chef at another. Her first signature dessert, Lîle Flottante Exotique (Exotic Floating Island), was hailed by the press as the third best sweet discovery of the year. Nina’s accolades and accomplishments since then are too many to enumerate. She has also worked with several international establishments, which include contributions to projects in London, Shanghai and two exclusive collections for Jaeger-LeCoultre’s 1931 Cafés in locations around the globe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2020, alongside her business-to-business services, she launched her first patisserie, named Delicatisserie. It was fully online―customers would place orders online and then either choose a collection point or opt for delivery. “The concept was consistent with my belief that excellence, ecology and social commitment are as necessary for a sustainable future as they are economically viable,” she said. Delicatisserie offers made-to-order pastries in plastic-free packs and has a zero-waste policy―fruit peelings, for example, are used in syrups, toppings or coulis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nina is happy that sweet tooths have followed her vision. All the same, the success of the business prompted her to expand offline, too. “I opened an outlet in 2021 in Paris, then in 2022 at Issy-les-Moulineaux (a Paris suburb),” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Looking back, Nina said every moment has been essential, starting right from being introduced to the materials that go into food and pastry-making. “Apprenticeships in bakery, then in pastry-making, that required me to surpass myself; meeting the pastry chef Camille Lesecq and the kitchen chef Jean-François Piège was both important for me,” she said. “And, every day, my work alongside my teams is memorable.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She said her greatest challenges were with herself. “I have had to acquire skills that I did not think I could achieve, outdo myself constantly, sometimes going against my character, for example, not being patient, and learning to be confident.” Nina said that when she started, the bakery profession in general was male-dominated. “In pastry-making, women rarely reached the position of chef,” she said. “It pushed me to prove people wrong when they told me I could not do it, and to give my best to show that, even if I was a woman, I could reach a high level.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And reach a high level, she did. How did it feel at the summit? That night in Munich. “It is an honour and a great source of pride, especially since this award is recognition of a career path and, above all, of the day-to-day work of my teams,” she said. “It is awarded not for a ‘feat’ or a competition, but for a body of know-how, commitment to our craft, entrepreneurship, our capacity for innovation. And, as it is the first time this title has been awarded to a woman, it is even more gratifying.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nina is quick to add that the most important aspect of her work is the chance to share joy, make gourmets and her teams happy, and express feelings through pastries. She said it was essential to transmit both skills and “gestures” through the craft.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gestures?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The starting point can be smell, a landscape, the discovery of a town or countryside, a texture, a sound, an encounter, a memory,” she explained. “Everything that arouses in me an emotion, a sensation or a curiosity that I want to share to please people. That is where the creative process begins, always with its many missteps, that allow us to move forward and arrive at the desired result.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her 2020 <i>galette des rois</i> is an example. (<i>Galette des rois</i> translates to king cake. Also known as three kings cake, it is associated with the Christian festival of Epiphany.) The cake was a tribute to the majestic rose windows of the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral. She worked with a designer for the motif, which was then printed using a 3D printer used to make food-grade silicon moulds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While “gestures”―the art―are an essential part of her work, taste is at the heart of it. She said taste highlights the know-how of the pastry craftsperson. But, does the focus on taste raise concerns about health? Nina was candid. “Patisserie is a sweet pleasure and should remain so, but without [sweetness] masking the flavours,” she said. “Less refined sugars, such as muscovado (from sugar cane) are also interesting. So is using ripe, naturally sweet seasonal and local fruits. The use of high quality butter or cream in artisanal pastry is not a health issue [compared with] industrial products made with too much bad fat and added sugar.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Having achieved everything she has by the age of 35, what is next? “I really love my life, both personal and professional, as it is,” she said. Her husband, Mathieu Salomé, is the general manager of her business. Her two daughters, one aged six and one aged three, are regular sous-chefs on her Instagram and YouTube accounts. She has close to 3.5 lakh followers on Instagram and just over 31,700 subscribers on YouTube.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My priority is to take care of all our customers, as well as my teams, to give our best every day,” she said. “We do, of course, have plans, such as a new outlet in Paris, to expand a little in France and also to continue to work internationally.” The mention of working internationally begs the question whether she was considering coming to the Indian market.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She pointed out that she has to expand the business in a reasoned way, but, does not rule out the possibility. “India is an interesting country we would like to discover,” she said. “We may consider coming, one day.”</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/09/meet-nina-metayer-the-worlds-best-pastry-chef.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/09/meet-nina-metayer-the-worlds-best-pastry-chef.html Mon Mar 11 13:35:49 IST 2024 to-kill-a-tiger-documentary-film-shatters-the-silence-around-rape-in-india <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/09/to-kill-a-tiger-documentary-film-shatters-the-silence-around-rape-in-india.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/3/9/88-Stills-from-the-film.jpg" /> <p><i><b>To Kill A Tiger,</b></i> one of the five documentaries competing for an Oscar on March 10, opens to the early morning hum of a village in Jharkhand. After meandering a bit, it takes us to a farmer’s house where a young girl in a school uniform is combing her hair. We watch as she deftly weaves an orange ribbon into the ends of her two plaits. But instead of tying a simple, neat bow with two loops, she folds the ribbon over and over again to create a burst of orange festivity on either plait, like two big, messy marigold flowers. Or smiling dahlias, perhaps. This is 13-year-old Kiran, Ranjit’s eldest daughter and an inconvenience in her village.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the basic etiquettes expected of rape victims in India is that they remain anonymous and invisible. That is mandated by law, and also our culture.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Depending on how ardently rape victims adhere to this rule, we either celebrate and venerate them with lofty epithets like Nirbhaya (fearless), or interrogate survivors, their statements, their past, their behaviour and clothes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indo-Canadian filmmaker Nisha Pahuja’s powerful documentary, <i>To Kill A Tiger</i>, snatches that comforting buffer of anonymity and brings us face-to-face with Kiran (a pseudonym that means ‘ray’ in Hindi) as she laughs, cries and recounts how, at a family wedding near her house on April 9, 2017, three men grabbed her by the hair, dragged her to an isolated spot and raped her.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A traumatic, triggering, but also heartwarming tale of a girl’s courage and a father’s gentle determination to seek justice for her, <i>To Kill A Tiger</i> intimately follows Kiran, her family and members of the NGO supporting them in their court battle until the three men were found guilty and sentenced to 25 years of rigorous imprisonment in 2018.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Celebrated at several international film festivals and released in theatres in the US last year, <i>To Kill A Tiger</i> is being backed by some eminent Hollywood celebrities. Director Deepa Mehta, actors Dev Patel, Mindy Kaling and Priyanka Chopra-Jonas, among others, have come onboard as executive producers to give the film’s Oscar campaign some glamour and heft.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chopra-Jonas called it a “hard-hitting piece of art” and the film is a top contender to take home the Oscar on Sunday.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In India, however, where rape continues to be linked to shame―for the victim, the family and the nation―<i>To Kill A Tiger</i> has neither been released, nor is it talked about. The little chatter about it on social media is critical of the film’s “western gaze” that “exotifies” the Indian victim. Last week, Netflix acquired the film’s rights and is scheduled to release it in Hindi, with English subtitles, on March 8. There has not been much publicity around it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Part of this unease and silence comes from Indian law that prohibits anyone― media, police, lawyers, courts, even family members―from revealing the identity of rape victims, especially minors. A necessary safeguard for the lives, livelihood and reputation of the over 30,000 women who are raped every year in India, this restriction can be waived by the survivor at 18 years or above. <i>To Kill A Tiger</i> declares at the onset that Pahuja took Kiran’s consent before filming her. But the film was shot when Kiran was a minor. Pahuja also states in the film that she waited till Kiran turned 18 to take her consent, and only then did she release the film.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That does not matter because a larger part of our discomfort comes from our upbringing, our culture of silence, of the hush that surrounds sexual abuse and assault in our homes and families. Used to maintaining a distance from rape victims and incidents, we prefer to identify them by the places where they were committed―Kathua, Unnao, Shakti Mills, Suryanelli or Park Street.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kiran’s perpetrators, too, tried to impose silence with threats. If she told anyone, they said, they would kill her.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But when she collapsed on her way home, and her father asked her what happened, she told him what Kapil, Langdu and Ishwar Munda had done to her.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ranjit lodged a complaint and in court, the judge received a sealed envelope that contained documents about the internal injuries Kiran had suffered.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This almost paternal promise of anonymity and protection to rape survivors from prejudice, further victimisation and harassment does not extend much beyond court premises. In Kiran’s village, the elders, the women and the <i>mukhiya</i> (village chief) would often speak of “compromise”, and insist that she marry one of the perpetrators instead of ruining three lives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We watch Kiran sob when she hears of the threats and intimidation her father faces, and when her little brother says, “If papa dies, I will also die”. We watch her go to school though no one speaks or plays with her, and say softly, quite casually, “I was born to do the right thing”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a country where rape survivors are invisiblised for their own good, so that the focus stays on the crime and not on them, <i>To Kill A Tiger</i> is discomforting and disruptive, because it draws our attention to Kiran, to what happened to her on the night of April 9, 2017, and thereafter, when she refused to be shamed or silenced.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The film humanises and honours her by letting her tell her story. It lets us watch Kiran as she walks into the court in a blue sleeveless kurta, wearing a bindi and lipstick. Her father later says that though she was crying, she continued to tell the judge what had happened that night. <i>To Kill A Tiger</i> is a film about Kiran, a rape survivor. It’s also a film that shatters the silence imposed on rape survivors to celebrate a tenacious young girl who is palpably anxious as she leaves the court, but when asked what she is looking forward to doing next, says, “Going home and eating mangoes.”</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/09/to-kill-a-tiger-documentary-film-shatters-the-silence-around-rape-in-india.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/09/to-kill-a-tiger-documentary-film-shatters-the-silence-around-rape-in-india.html Sat Mar 09 16:27:03 IST 2024 indian-air-power-contemporary-and-future-dynamics-book <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/09/indian-air-power-contemporary-and-future-dynamics-book.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/3/9/91-Indian-Air-Power-new.jpg" /> <p>On February 21, Turkey successfully conducted the maiden flight of its fifth generation fighter jet KAAN, becoming one of the few countries in the world to master the cutting edge technology. India's fifth generation fighter, the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft, remains a work in progress. In the history of aerial warfare, Turkey was the first victim, notes Air Marshal Diptendu Choudhury (retd) in his book, <i>Indian Air Power: Contemporary and Future Dynamics.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On October 22, 1911, Italian pilots used aircraft to bomb a Turkish army camp at Ain Zara (in present day Libya) during the Italo-Turkish war. The audacious move by the Italians threw open endless possibilities and soon “command and control of the air” became the “key outcome and the dominant narrative” for air power thinkers and strategic experts. Just about two decades after the first air attack, in October 1932, the Indian Air Force was launched formally.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In <i>Indian Air Power</i>, Air Marshal Choudhury attempts a comprehensive overview of the evolution of the Indian Air Force. In 14 chapters, the book explains how the IAF transformed itself into one of the key guarantors of national security. The book is a timely addition to the scholarship on national security, especially with the unprecedented rise of China as a global power, rivalling the United States.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Beijing's aggression in the South China Sea and in north Ladakh and its deepening partnership with Pakistan “serve as a reality check that the days of peace and tranquility on the borders are over”, says Air Marshal Choudhury. He warns that the IAF's combat squadrons dropping below the required critical mass has become a major national security problem that should be addressed at the earliest. Time has come, he says, to take into account the enduring structural aspects of air power and consider doctrinal and paradigm changes that are relevant for the future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from conventional warfare, India's strategic leadership also needs to consider future vectors of aerospace power as it increasingly becomes a vital cog in the national security calculus. Space technology is the next frontier and Air Marshal Choudhury observes that while the US remains the world leader in this domain, China's confident strides in the field are likely to lead to the militarisation of the global commons. He says India needs to integrate space into a war-fighting domain in national security without any further delay.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Air Marshal Sir John Steele, India's Air Officer Commanding in Chief from 1931 to 1935, was initially dismissive of the ability of Indians to run the Air Force. “Indians will not be able to fly and maintain military aeroplanes. It's a man's job,” he said. Air Marshal Choudhury says it was the “sheer grit of the intrepid Indian airmen that not only proved Steele wrong, but earned the enduring respect and admiration of sceptics”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The IAF's doctrinal and strategic evolution has been a critical element in the Indian defence ecosystem and the book suggests that more needs to be done to prepare it for future endeavours.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>INDIAN AIR POWER: CONTEMPORARY AND FUTURE DYNAMICS</b></p> <p><i>Author:</i> <b>Air Marshal (Dr) Diptendu Choudhury (retd)</b></p> <p><i>Publisher:</i> <b>KW Publishers</b></p> <p><i>Price:</i> <b>Rs1,480;</b> <i>pages:</i> <b>244</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/09/indian-air-power-contemporary-and-future-dynamics-book.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/09/indian-air-power-contemporary-and-future-dynamics-book.html Sat Mar 09 12:03:03 IST 2024 author-nikhil-alva-interview <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/09/author-nikhil-alva-interview.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/3/9/92-Nikhil-Alva.jpg" /> <p><i>Interview/ Nikhil Alva, author</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nikhil Alva’s first novel, <i>If I Have To Be A Soldier</i>, is shaped by his childhood journeys to the northeast. Thriller-like, vividly told and set during the Mizo insurgency, the book preserves the painful memory of the bombing of Aizawl―a fact forgotten, but which has found a new life in fiction. Excerpts from the interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why did you choose to write this book?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> My mother was in charge of the Congress in the northeast. She took us on road trips. In the 1970s, insurgency was at its peak in Nagaland as well as Mizoram. For a young boy, this was quite scary. We couldn’t drive at night; security forces [were] all around; and there was this fear that permeated every exchange. We would be introduced as say, ‘Oh, they’ve come all the way from India, please welcome to India.’ I didn’t understand where that was coming from. My interest in the northeast started there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I got hooked on to the idea when I first heard of the <i>mautam</i> 15 or 20 years ago. (<i>Mautam</i> is a cyclic ecological phenomenon that creates widespread famine in the northeast every 48 years.) I was fascinated by the linkage―the causality of the bamboo flowering once every 48 years, which leads to this plague of rats, which leads to this massive famine. Because it is mishandled, thousands die and that leads to this brutal 20-year insurgency, where thousands more lose their lives. It is a very powerful story with layers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The leap into fiction is not always easy. Why fiction, rather than nonfiction?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I chose the medium of the novel because I felt that nothing else will do justice. The insurgency is quite old now. Very few insurgents are alive, [and] they are quite old. I didn’t have the experience, the expertise or the volume of research that will be required for a nonfiction book. I felt that a novel with fictional characters, but against the backdrop of historic events, was perhaps the best way for me to get into this story.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You write about Aizawl being bombed. It is a memory that has been wiped out. Could you really talk about that memory?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The tragedy is that there is so little information available of what actually happened. Sometimes we like to forget uncomfortable events or truths in modern history. Among all the uncomfortable events, the bombing of Aizawl stands out. It is the only time in our history where we used our Air Force to bomb our own people. [Many] innocent civilians lost their lives. We have no count of how many people died. It is all anecdotal evidence. We denied this bombing completely for the longest time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But it is not just the bombing. The other terrible thing that happened was this concept of progressive villages―where over 80 per cent of the Mizo population were, at the barrel of the gun, relocated. These villages [were] nothing but internment camps, along the highways and behind barbed-wire fences. Traditional villages were just burned to the ground. We don’t talk about it. We don’t write about it. It doesn’t feature anywhere. It’s like, it didn’t happen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is dangerous because history is not always glorious and wonderful. There are things that have happened that, as a people, we should not forget. If you forget, you tend to repeat the same mistakes again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you see a parallel with what happened then and what is happening in the northeast now? This idea that there is this conflict still burning at the edge of India, and we don’t understand it.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> The most important commonality between these different incidents is a lack of dialogue. The Mizo insurgency could have been averted well before 1966. There was resentment. There was anger. They felt they were being taken for granted. Their voice was not being listened to. No one really paid attention. The insurgency finally got resolved with the Indian government conceding that there was a lack of dialogue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These problems have been simmering for a long time in Manipur. There has been very little dialogue, little attempt to get both sides to the table to sit down and resolve differences peacefully. It will take years now to heal the wounds of [what happened] last year. We will need to give people an opportunity to be heard, to listen to those voices. Not from a perspective of tokenism, but actually listen, which means engaging in a meaningful dialogue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You talk about meeting insurgents as a child and being struck by their sadness and sense of loss.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> As a child, I didn’t really understand these concepts. I knew that there was trouble. I knew that there had been violence. I had listened to conversations because of my mother’s work, I [used] to meet some former insurgents who had come out of the so-called underground and into the political mainstream.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They had stories to tell. Some of them would be lighthearted and funny, but with this underlying sadness for the number of years lost to violence. I picked up emotions―sadness, the feeling of betrayal―without fully understanding the intellectual and ideological side of what actually happened.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The intention is not to make [the novel] political, but to say that violence impacts regular people who are trying to lead perfectly normal lives. They get caught up in a swirl of events, and their lives get shaped by them.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/09/author-nikhil-alva-interview.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/09/author-nikhil-alva-interview.html Sat Mar 09 11:57:41 IST 2024 if-i-have-to-be-a-soldier-nikhil-alva-book <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/09/if-i-have-to-be-a-soldier-nikhil-alva-book.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/3/9/94-If-I-Have-To-Be-A-Soldier-new.jpg" /> <p>Every half century or so, a cyclic ecological phenomenon sees the whole of Mizoram (and many parts of the northeast and Myanmar) awash with the flowering of the mautak (bamboo species). Old-timers say that when the mautak flowers, mautam (bamboo death) follows close behind, bringing with it untold misery, death and destruction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the face of it, TV producer and entrepreneur Nikhil Alva’s impressive debut novel―<i>If I Have To Be A Soldier</i>―is a love story―boy meets girl, falls in love, but they are forced to separate over a misunderstanding. But simplifying this story to just that is akin to saying James Cameron’s <i>Titanic</i> is merely the story of Jack and Rose. For it isn’t love, or the bamboo, that blossom here―Alva adds to it the heft of history. Looming in the background, nay foreground, is history, politics, even geography, as a series of events unwrap to take potshots at the star-crossed lovers and the world around them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Delhi-bred, Kannadiga-born Nikhil, the son of Congress leader Margaret Alva―who was in news for his social media makeover of Rahul Gandhi―dextrously positions his tale in the salubrious environs of the Mizo hills. But the timing isn’t all that breezy. The year is 1966, the mau (bamboo) has blossomed, and tam (death) is not far behind. Greater Mizoram is burning, with the Mizo National Front (MNF) calling for independence and prime minister Indira Gandhi swearing to crush the armed rebellion by sending in Delhi’s military might.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the massacre and mayhem that follow―including the shocking instance of India bombing its own citizens in Aizawl on March 5, 1966―loyalties are tested and resolves are broken, as Alva’s fictional hero Sammy, a captain in the Army, finds himself on the run with dreaded MNF commander ‘Che’ Sena he was supposed to interrogate. Only, Sena is his childhood friend-turned-foe (and insurgent) and the brother of the love of his life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As inculcated doctrines of a national narrative, jingoism and military discipline stare in the face of cultural identity, human bonding and, above all, love; often there are no victors, only victims. That is the reality the Sammy-Sena combine has to come to terms with when they get swept away in the great power play in motion, even as it forces them to confront demons, both personal and the political, along the way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Considering that this is Alva’s first book, it ticks all the right boxes. The book is also an enchanting eye-opener into the rich tapestry of the Mizo way of life and history.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Alva’s prose is ironically matter-of-fact and non-judgemental, letting the reader form their opinions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The scale of the story is grandly visual, and it is no accident considering that Alva initially wrote it as a screenplay, before he felt “only a novel could do justice”. The action, and the bodycount, is relentless, especially once Sammy and Sena go on the run, offering possibilities for a web series if not a twin-part movie. Throw in the human element of love and loss, and this becomes a screen wannabe. The story of India’s secret war in Mizoram, and how its stoic populace met it with dignity and resilience, is a tale that needs to be told.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>IF I HAVE TO BE A SOLDIER</b></p> <p><i>Author:</i> <b>Nikhil J. Alva</b></p> <p><i>Publisher:</i> <b>HarperCollins India</b></p> <p><i>Price:</i> <b>Rs499;</b> <i>pages:</i> <b>318</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/09/if-i-have-to-be-a-soldier-nikhil-alva-book.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/09/if-i-have-to-be-a-soldier-nikhil-alva-book.html Sat Mar 09 11:52:59 IST 2024 crime-grime-and-gumption-case-files-of-an-ips-officer-o-p-singh-book <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/09/crime-grime-and-gumption-case-files-of-an-ips-officer-o-p-singh-book.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/3/9/95-Crime-Grime-and-Gumption-new.jpg" /> <p>Temperatures (and tempers) are going to rise this summer in the north, as it will soon be soaked in the dust and heat of electioneering. As Uttar Pradesh, the most powerful state electorally, prepares for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, it will be yet another test for police officers who will be fighting crime and more to pave way for a smooth election of the political executive. The very same executive that makes the police “subordinate”, but not “subservient”, points out O.P Singh in his memoir. Singh oversaw the smooth conduct of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as chief of Uttar Pradesh Police―the country’s largest police force―till he hung up his boots in January 2020.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“If the management of law and order during Kumbh Mela of 2019 was not enough of a responsibility, the Lok Sabha election in the months of April and May further stretched the capacity of the UP police,” Singh writes in <i>Crime, Grime and Gumption</i>. The book is more than a memoir, as it delves into the case files of an IPS officer who fights the “chakravyuh” or trap of caste, underworld and politics to earn the trust of the political executive in a way that he could roll out measures for strengthening the state’s policing system.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh spent 37 years in service, commanding three police organisations, but the time spent in his “karmabhoomi” in Uttar Pradesh, he says, took him on a journey like no other. His early khaki days saw him sailing through the “tsunami years” of the Bahujan Samaj Party-Samajwadi Party coalition government. Apart from ensuring law and order during the Kumbh Mela, one of the biggest gatherings in the world, Singh came up with a proactive policing strategy during the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya temple verdict, which came close on the heels of the revocation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. He also established the long-awaited police commissionerate system in Uttar Pradesh under the Yogi Adityanath government. Each of these events was a challenge, writes Singh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ahead of the Ayodhya verdict, Singh recalls getting a call from the office of then chief justice of India Ranjan Gogoi. “This was an unprecedented move, never before had the court directed UP DGP for such a briefing,” he writes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh was born in the serene town of Gaya, where his father Sheo Dhari Singh was popularly known as “barrister saab” for his qualifications from the prestigious Middle Temple, one of the four Inns of Court in London. He, however, lost his father when he was 14. He left the hamlet of Mira Bigha, and moved to Delhi for higher studies. He prepared for the civil services and finally entered the Uttar Pradesh cadre, where, like a senior police officer had told him, he had his “baptism by fire”. He was Lucknow’s senior superintendent of police during the SP-BSP regime. BSP’s Kanshi Ram and Mayawati demanded his resignation over the killing of Mahendra Fauji, a terror in western Uttar Pradesh, but Samajwadi’s Mulayam Singh Yadav refused them. But he eventually had to budge. Barely had he spent 37 days in office when Singh was called to Yadav’s residence. “You are not being suspended, but being transferred,” said Yadav, not meeting Singh’s eyes. Singh had never seen a powerful leader in such a hapless state. “I felt flattered and bemused at the same time to become a potential reason for the fall of a government,” he writes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before Singh’s tenure ended, the Yogi Adityanath government announced the commissionerate system in Lucknow and Noida. “I used the chief minister’s trust for wresting benefits for the UP police, system building and strengthening the institution of the DGP,” he writes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singh’s accounts and personal experiences make the book a must-read for police officers and aspiring civil servants, even as it enthrals readers with his evocative writing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>CRIME, GRIME AND GUMPTION: CASE FILES OF AN IPS OFFICER</b></p> <p><i>Author:</i> <b>O.P. Singh</b></p> <p><i>Publisher:</i> <b>Penguin Random House India</b></p> <p><i>Price:</i> <b>Rs499;</b> <i>pages:</i> <b>256</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/09/crime-grime-and-gumption-case-files-of-an-ips-officer-o-p-singh-book.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/09/crime-grime-and-gumption-case-files-of-an-ips-officer-o-p-singh-book.html Sat Mar 09 11:49:37 IST 2024 golden-eye-chef-cooking-contest-for-the-visually-challenged <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/02/golden-eye-chef-cooking-contest-for-the-visually-challenged.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/3/2/58-Annpurna-Kaur.jpg" /> <p>Esref Armagan was born blind, but boy can he ‘see’!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Born in 1953 into an impoverished family in Istanbul, Armagan paints, in colours, shapes and shades. His art―rarely abstract, mostly landscape―has astounded many, particularly because his paintings have the right scale and perspective. He has even been the subject of a 2008 study by the University of Toronto and Harvard University. Researchers monitored his brain and found his visual cortex lighting up as he sketched, just as it does for people with sight. Armagan and his art challenge our ideas about colour and understanding of sight. It took him decades of work and perseverance to master the method of using his fingertips and mind as visual aids. And yet, some critics have discredited his work―exhibited in Turkey, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic―as not his own. Armagan’s amazing ability has been often dwarfed by his disability. And, he is not alone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Participants of Golden Eye Chef 2023, an annual cooking contest for the blind since 2019, know what it means to have your identity distilled down to your disability. “When we held the competition in 2019, we went live on YouTube, and one of the first comments we received was ‘even they feel the need to cook now? They are blind, how do they even eat?’” recalls Akhil Srivastava, managing trustee of NGO Antardrishti and the brain behind the competition. “People do not know what they are capable of. We realised that more than motivating blind people, we need to create awareness among the sighted.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 2019 event was held in Agra, where Srivastava is based, and was restricted to participants in India. In 2020, the pandemic struck and the competition went online―participants were asked to send videos of them cooking a dish, and were judged on parameters like how well the recipe went with the theme of the competition, how accessible the kitchen was, how the participants had arranged the ingredients and how skilful they were, says chef V.K. Iyer, who has been part of the jury for the last three editions. In 2022, the contest went international, with five overseas participants sending in videos. Last year, there were 32 participants, 11 of whom were from countries like the US, Uruguay, Mauritius and North Macedonia. Unfortunately, prejudice knows no borders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Poland-born, Mexico-based Katarzyna Agnieszka Bukowska, 46, would know. The former languages teacher (Polish, English and German) has been asked some very inane questions―how do you brush your teeth? Why get married when you cannot see your husband? That is why she started her own YouTube channel “to try to overcome this kind of prejudice”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bukowska won the jury award for best recipe among the totally blind. She was born with visual impairment, but could read with help of glasses. “As a teenager, I developed glaucoma,” she says, “and then as an adult, I lost sight completely.” Keeping with the theme of the 2023 contest―traditional recipe with locally sourced ingredients―she made green salsa chicken tamales, a Mexican dish.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bukowska has been living in Mexico for 18 years with her husband, Juan, who helped record the video, dog Imbir (meaning ginger in Polish), and cat Nebbiolo, named so after the Italian wine. Around the time she was finishing her master’s in English philology, with specialisation in cognitive linguistics, she wanted to move out of the family home in Mlawa, Poland, and was wondering what to do and where to go next. “Around that time, I was Skyping a lot with people and that is how I met my husband,” she recalls. “After finishing my master’s thesis, I felt like I needed some kind of reward and went to Mexico on vacation.” Mexico was warm and welcoming, and she just stayed put.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bukowska’s love for cooking comes from her mother. As a child, she went to boarding school, but would visit home on weekends, most of which were spent observing her mother whip up a yummy cake with just some flour, eggs and butter. “I thought, ‘This is magic’,” she says. She baked her first cake when she was 11 under her mother’s supervision and has not looked back since.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If cooking is magical for Bukowska, it is an adventure for Daniel Aronoff, 44. He won the people’s choice award for best recipe and was the second runner-up in the jury award for the same among the totally blind. He lost his eyes to a tumour around the optic nerve, which first showed up when he was all of three.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As far as he can remember, Aronoff has always loved cooking. He wanted to be a chef when he was 20, but admits that he did not have the skills for it then. “It has taken years of trial and error,” says Aronoff, who had a website, called the Blind Taste Test, where he would post restaurant reviews. “My wife [Ania] is from the Basque Country in Spain, I am from New York. Just having that relationship, learning about new food, it inspired me to do more―to try different cuisines, do more cooking of my own.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ania, adds Aronoff, has been a constant source of inspiration. It was Ania who encouraged him to participate in the contest, even as he was following its social media handle and retweeting its posts. And his dish―hake (a local fish in Basque Country) in green sauce (made from parsley) reflects his admiration and gratitude for his wife. Aronoff met Ania online in 2011. “She had questions about cupcakes in America and places to eat in New York,” says Aronoff, who has a double master’s degree in social work and visual rehabilitation therapy. “And then we met the next year in person and got married two years later.” They have a four-year-old son, Mikel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Aronoff, who now lives in Basque Country with his wife and son, finds it frustrating when someone asks who cooks for him. “Excuse me? I have a million gadgets in my kitchen. I use my stove with my iPhone. I have talking thermometers,” says Aronoff, who now teaches English online. He says he cannot understand why people think blind people cannot cook when there are so many good cooks like Christine Ha, the first-ever blind person to win the MasterChef title. “Obviously, taste is very important to us,” he says. “It is one of those senses that we use a lot. With our four senses we do what you can with five.” It might take them some time, some different trials, different alternative techniques, he says, but they can do what they set their mind to.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Aronoff’s parents are chuffed about their son’s cooking skills. “They actually exaggerate to their friends,” says Aronoff, laughing. “They say, ‘Our son is doing gourmet things in the kitchen.’ And I am like, I am making a piece of fish; it is not gourmet.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not all parents are as encouraging though, at least not initially. Annpurna Kaur, 28, was 13 when she first made a dish on her own. Her parents and sisters were away when she made <i>aloo ki sabzi</i> (a side dish made of potatoes). The dish turned out okay, but she got an earful for cooking when there was no one at home. “But slowly my father supported me,” says Kaur, who won the jury award for best recipe among the partially blind. “Whenever he would cook, he would make me sit next to him.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kaur was born with visual impairment and underwent a surgery at three that gave her partial vision. She made vegetarian momos, her speciality, for the competition. She has her own restaurant called Krafty Momos near Delhi University’s north campus. She never saw cooking as a challenge, she says. “Initially, it took me time to distinguish between the masalas, but I figured it out,” she says. “It was more difficult to convince my parents and society.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The reluctance to let visually challenged people cook or do just about anything on their own largely stems from safety concerns. Navina Gyawali, 33, from Kathmandu was often dissuaded from cooking for fear of sustaining burns or injuries. “I then asked my family, ‘You can also get burns, right? How is it any different from when I get them? I get burns not because I am blind, but because I am not mindful,” says Gyawali, who was born blind. “I need to cook to survive, right?”</p> <p>Her family finally saw reason in her argument. Today, when there is a puja at her house, it is a given that she will make the pickles and side dishes. Her cooking skills improved when she went to the US to study international relations and US history at the University of Southern Indiana on a Fulbright scholarship. She was living alone there and missing Nepali food, so she got cooking. Convincing her family that she can cook and also teaching her blind husband to cook have been her biggest achievements, says Gyawali.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the Golden Eye Chef, she made <i>dhido</i> (black millet porridge) and <i>gundruk</i> (fermented leafy vegetable). But what probably got her the jury award for the most creative recipe among the totally blind was the effort she put in to make it as traditional as possible. <i>Dhido</i> and <i>gundruk</i> were staples almost a century ago when people did not have enough to eat, says Gyawali. She not only dressed like a woman of that time but also travelled 300km to cook in a mud house with a <i>chulha</i> (earthen stove). That is why, she says, she was expecting an award for her creativity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But David Bogacz, 66, from Montevideo, Uruguay, was not even sure he would participate in the contest. He always loved cooking but never had a chance to learn it. Last March, the now retired neurophysiologist began taking cooking classes, and it was his teacher there who pushed him to participate. “My family (wife Mariella, a psychologist and theatre actor, and two sons) was surprised with my decision to participate,” he says. “They were very happy when I won [the jury award for most creative recipe and the people’s choice award in best recipe among the partially blind]. They are happy not just for the prize but for the fact that I am able to accept the challenge.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bogacz, who makes a mean pizza that he learnt from his mother, made Kenny’s Lamb for the competition. “I wanted to cook something that was relatively new, with some ingredients that were typical to my country. I discussed it with my friend Kenny, who is a good cook but not a professional,” says Bogacz, who developed vision problems in 2001. In 2009, he lost vision in the right eye and then began to have problems in the left eye, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bogacz wants to continue cooking and try his hand at making Indian dishes, as do Bukowska and Aronoff. Bukowska is hoping she can travel to India this year as the competition may have an offline edition. Aronoff is a huge Julia Child fan and is exploring French cuisine through her shows, videos and books. Kaur, meanwhile, wants to employ other blind people at her restaurant to create awareness in society and also provide job opportunities to those like her. Gyawali, who runs a small kitchen called Tick Tick Bites in Kathmandu (tick tick comes from the sound the white cane used by the blind makes), wants to open a restaurant run fully by the blind and expand the work of her NGO Supportive Action Towards Humanity (SATH).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I think making all these videos [for the contest] gives people a glimpse into our kitchen, into our lives,” says Aronoff. “It shows them that we are no different from the next person.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Clearly, the competition will have a ripple effect, at least in the community. As for the society, Gyawali has a request: “Please do not connect everything with my blindness. My blindness comes with me, not before me.”</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/02/golden-eye-chef-cooking-contest-for-the-visually-challenged.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/02/golden-eye-chef-cooking-contest-for-the-visually-challenged.html Sun Mar 03 08:41:44 IST 2024 grammy-winner-rakesh-chaurasia-and-his-flute-are-teaching-the-world-many-a-new-tune <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/02/grammy-winner-rakesh-chaurasia-and-his-flute-are-teaching-the-world-many-a-new-tune.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/3/2/63-Rakesh-Chaurasia.jpg" /> <p>Rakesh Chaurasia was not expecting the Grammy. In fact, with just minutes left for the ceremony, the virtuoso flautist was not even sure if his troupe had reached the venue. Tabla maestro Zakir Hussain had just flown in after a concert and, fighting jet lag, reached just in time. “My family was expecting it, but not me,” said Chaurasia, who won two Grammys on the night―one for the track ‘Pashto’ (Best Global Music Performance) and <i>As We Speak</i> (Contemporary Instrumental Album). “I was wondering how I would face my family if I lost. Until the moment I got it, I did not know the Grammys were so huge.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He had flown from Mumbai to Los Angeles alone to “play it safe”. “I did not want to make a mockery of myself in front of my family,” the 53-year-old said with a laugh. A few minutes after winning, Chaurasia had called one of his disciples, Bharat Raj B., and asked him how his practice was going. “There he was, at the biggest stage in the world for music, and yet, there was no over-the-top excitement in his voice,” said Bharat. “It was as if, in a fraction of a second, he had already moved on, and was thinking about getting on with more practice to polish himself further.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Listening to <i>As We Speak</i>, it feels as if the quartet―Chaurasia on flute, Hussain on tabla, the Americans Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer on the banjo and the double bass―is talking to each other through their instruments. Across a dozen songs, they take the listener on an immersive journey that shifts between the complexities of Indian ragas and the high-octave beats of bluesy bass lines.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Chaurasia, <i>As We Speak</i> was a stroke of serendipity. While he was on tour in the US with Hussain, whom he calls Zakir <i>bhai</i>, the latter was scheduled to meet Fleck and Meyer. “He suggested that as I was there, I should meet them,” he said. “So we were at Zakir <i>bhai</i>’s home in San Francisco and we all kept jamming together from 10am to 7pm.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The trio, which had already earned global fame, was figuring out if the flute could be part of their music. Chaurasia, though, simply could not understand their music―their instruments were constantly singing while he needed gaps to breathe while playing. “My flute was a contrast to their instruments, which I realised was exactly what they were looking for,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They then called him on stage during a bluegrass festival in San Francisco, as a guest, only for two songs. “I was surprised to see close to 70,000 people for this kind of music, which we are not too familiar with in India,” said Chaurasia. “But there, things are different. In Hindustani music, we are trained to improvise, as if we have been given the Google Map showing us the way, and it depends on us which route or detour we choose to reach the destination. But there, the room for improvisation is limited.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The group toured for a year before they decided to cut an album―12 songs in two days. So, in between tours, in Fleck’s huge studio in Nashville, Tennessee, the group recorded the album with zero post production. Everything was live. For someone who had spent more than half his life practising under the tutelage of his legendary uncle, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, aka Pandit <i>ji</i>, this was not a problem. “Yet, I have only reached up to his knees as a flautist,” he said. “He always has something new to give as a performer. When I used to accompany him on stage, I remember how he would change the plan as per the audience profile, and that was entirely different to what we had discussed in the green room.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both Chaurasias have long collaborated with Hussain, with Rakesh accompanying his uncle for many performances as a child. The first time he played solo with Hussain was in Scotland, about a decade ago. “<i>Bhaiya</i> (Chaurasia) was very nervous; he told us he closed his eyes and played just about 10 minutes with the tabla as he was that scared. Then Zakir came to him and said, ‘Don’t you like to play with me?’... that is how it started,” said Bharat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And now, in a recent tour, he did 17 concerts in 20 days with Hussain and the group. They travelled in a trailer with no stopovers, covering 1,500 miles. “Their work ethic is crazy,” said Bharat. “They can afford to take a gap of one month between each concert, but even after achieving everything that a musician can think of, they are like, ‘Why waste time, let us do more’.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are at Chaurasia’s duplex in Mumbai. White is the dominant colour. A temple on level one with a Saraswati idol and Krishna holding the <i>bansuri</i> adds a sense of calm. Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia’s unpolished 42-inch bamboo flute adorns the wall. Chaurasia’s wife, Nandani, is busy arranging the bouquets that had come home the previous evening when the society threw him a celebration. “We have never had so many flowers before. I just do not know what to do,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Continued Chaurasia: “I am very low profile. I have never tried for any Indian award either. Many still consider me a child who is vying for the limelight in the shadow of his uncle.... They even remarked on how we could get a Grammy. But now, I am realising the importance of knowing how to market and sell yourself.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is evident in the way he functions―there is no PR or secretary. His disciples read his emails and messages, and his son teaches him the tricks of technology; he struggles with social media. Bharat, an IT engineer from Mysuru who handles the flautist’s communications, once told him he had replied to 7,500 messages on the maestro’s behalf, to which Chaurasia cheekily replied, “Send me the bill.” “All I know is how to play the flute and that I think should suffice,” he said with a smile.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To that end, he looks after his fitness with rigour. “After all, it is in the genes,” he said. “I cannot remain without a good workout whenever possible.” The Chaurasias are known to have been a wrestling family, with the senior Chaurasia being the first to turn to music. “Once, I was with Rakesh <i>bhaiya</i> in a hotel and was nicely hogging,” said Bharat. “I saw him eating only a single serving of <i>upma</i>. He said if you keep eating loads as a performing artist, your health will go for a toss and there will be no stamina to perform. He eats only two meals a day. One meal is only fruits, and one complete meal.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like his uncle, Chaurasia has also been in tune with Bollywood. <i>Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya</i>, the 1997 film starring Aishwarya Rai and Bobby Deol, was a landmark in Chaurasia’s career because he established, alongside Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, his own trademark style of playing the flute in Bollywood.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, he said he misses the spark of the old stuff. “It has become monotonous,” he said. “Music should be situation-based, which used to happen earlier. There is a missing link between the film and the songs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bollywood aside, the two Chaurasias have a lot in common. “Both are lefties, both begin practice early in the morning and go on for hours, both tell disciples to have a Plan B ready before taking up music, and both believe in saving money and never indulge in self pity,” said Bharat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chaurasia has told both his sons about having a Plan B, too. He himself never thought of it as a career himself. “I did it for sheer passion,” he said. “I would just copy my <i>babuji</i>. I would wear a kurta, take my position on stage, and spray water on myself to show off my sweat, similar to his. Each time, he would tell me to not leave my job. Sleep less if you must, but do not leave the job for music.” That is the advice he gives his disciples, too. The Chaurasias run a gurukul in Mumbai where they mentor a limited number of students in a five-year residency programme.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Once, when I told him that I am not playing to my heart’s content, he told me about how Pandit <i>ji</i> would leave Bombay at 5am, reach Chennai to record with Illaiyaraaja and others, reach Hyderabad for another recording before moving on to Bangalore for a 4pm recording and then end with a 10pm stint with Bollywood composers,” said Bharat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That work ethic is ingrained in Chaurasia. In fact, he is still uneasy and restless and yearns for more. “Some time ago, he told me he was contemplating going on <i>chilla</i> (spiritual practice of solitude) for 40 days because his practice was not up to his expectations,” said Bharat. “Imagine!”</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/02/grammy-winner-rakesh-chaurasia-and-his-flute-are-teaching-the-world-many-a-new-tune.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/02/grammy-winner-rakesh-chaurasia-and-his-flute-are-teaching-the-world-many-a-new-tune.html Sat Mar 02 11:36:45 IST 2024 the-real-story-behind-the-amazon-prime-series-poacher <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/02/the-real-story-behind-the-amazon-prime-series-poacher.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/3/2/68-a-still-from-Poacher.jpg" /> <p><i>It all began in May 2015, when an emaciated man walked into a forest office in Kerala and confessed to a crime. He was part of a gang of ivory poachers with links to middlemen of an international ivory trading racket.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Kunjumon became Aruku in Emmy-winning filmmaker Richie Mehta's hard-hitting show Poacher, which released on Amazon Prime Video on February 23, and has Alia Bhatt as executive producer. Mehta, however, has remained true to the story and as a result, the show is receiving rave reviews.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>The suicide of a prime accused at a pineapple plantation, a race against time, inter-departmental squabbles, the country's largest ivory raid at a secret location in Delhi―these are all fiction rooted in fact, says <b>Jayan Menon</b>, the reporter who exposed the racket on the front page of the Malayala Manorama on June 29, 2015. Menon sketched out how 20 wild elephants were killed by poachers in the forests of Kerala. Here, he tells THE WEEK what really transpired, and how, sometimes, the truth really is more gripping than its own dramatisation.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Poacher</i>, the web series on Amazon Prime Video, comes at a time when several man-animal conflicts are being reported from Wayanad in north Kerala. The story of the large-scale poaching in the forests of Kerala in 2015 was broken by me when I was the <i>Malayala Manorama's</i> chief reporter in Thiruvananthapuram. As depicted in the series, it all started with a physically and mentally broken man―Kalarikudiyil Kunjumon, 62―approaching the Karimbani forest station in Kerala with a confession that he was the cook in an ivory poaching gang. He said they went hunting five times, killed seven elephants and extracted their tusks on four occasions, which were then sold to a person from Thiruvananthapuram. He was paid Rs57,000 by the gang.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The officers at the forest station, however, did not believe him and thought he was deranged. He then went to another forest station with his confession. When the forest officials conducted a preliminary search, they found the remains of an elephant at the spot shown by Kunjumon. A court remanded him in custody for 18 days. Though he gave the mobile numbers of seven culprits, no detailed inquiry was conducted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then came an honest forest officer, whose sincerity and commitment to the truth are proof that even hardened elephant poachers can be brought to their knees by the efforts of one man. When forester N. Sivakumar of the Perumbavoor Flying Squad came to know of what was happening, he alerted me. In fact, his role has been taken out of the show and that, according to me, is its one missing link. Unlike in the show, Nimisha Sajayan's character came into the picture much later. But other than this, the show is spot-on in portraying the reality, except for some obvious dramatic elements, like a love interest and a cancer diagnosis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sivakumar told me that nothing had been confirmed and the investigation had just begun. Both of us tracked the leads for days. Two weeks later, he came to see me in Thiruvananthapuram with Kunjumon's recorded statement. He was disappointed at the apathy of top forest department officers, three of whom had dismissed his conclusions, despite him providing concrete proof.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the <i>Malayala Manorama</i> broke the story of large-scale elephant poaching in Kerala, efforts were made to suspend Sivakumar for bringing the forest department into disrepute by colluding with the media, but the authorities were left helpless as each poaching incident was brought to light through the newspaper.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, who was the Kerala forest minister at the time, ordered an investigation, and one by one the ivory poachers were trapped. Following the news, the forest department launched a high-level inquiry into the killing and dehorning of 20 wild elephants from the Vazhachal and Athirapilli forest areas in Kerala. The investigation was led by Surendra Kumar, additional principal chief conservator of forest vigilance. The forest guards searched the valley in three teams. The gang members mentioned in Kunjumon's statement were taken into custody. The forest guards went into the “unexplored forest” with them.The remains of five wild elephants―mostly bones and teeth―were found. These samples were sent for testing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even though there were efforts from within the forest department to thwart the investigation, ultimately nine people were arrested after Preston Silva, who bought ivory from the poachers, and a few of the gang members surrendered before forest vigilance. Then it was discovered that the racket extended internationally, after the investigators found out about a Kolkata woman, Thenkachi, who was smuggling the tusks abroad. Currently, she is still at large.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another middleman in the ivory trade was Umesh Agarwal, who was arrested from a four-storey house in Delhi's swanky Shakarpur area by a team of forest rangers, members of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau and the Delhi Police as part of 'Operation Shikar'. Within 24 hours, Agarwal was brought and remanded in the Muvattupuzha court. The call records of Aji Bright, Preston and Eagle Rajan, who were arrested from Thiruvananthapuram, helped nab Agarwal. He had bought ivory from them, carved it into sculptures and smuggled them to countries like China, Japan and Nepal. The workshop operated from the ground floor of his house. He had been trading in ivory since 1990, but this was the first time he had been caught.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In August, the government handed over the probe to the CBI, as there was inter-state and international involvement. But the CBI did not find anything more than what was found by the forest department. Nineteen cases initiated by the forest department are still in court. Kunjumon, who gave the first statement and became a prime witness in the case, died in 2022. A case that would have ended with the arrest of one man finally led to the arrest of 73 people and the recovery of ivory worth around Rs25 crore, thanks to the intervention of a forest employee and a journalist. A pen, sometimes, is mightier than a poacher's gun.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Menon</b> is currently chief of bureau of the <i>Malayala Manorama</i> in Kozhikode, Kerala</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/02/the-real-story-behind-the-amazon-prime-series-poacher.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/02/the-real-story-behind-the-amazon-prime-series-poacher.html Sat Mar 02 11:29:53 IST 2024 arisi-rice-grains-of-life-dance-show-throws-light-on-the-role-of-rice-in-the-life-of-asians <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/02/arisi-rice-grains-of-life-dance-show-throws-light-on-the-role-of-rice-in-the-life-of-asians.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/3/2/70-Vignettes-from-Arisi-Rice-Grains-of-Life.jpg" /> <p>Tell an Asian to exercise, and she will probably hear it as ‘extra rice’. There is more than a grain of truth in that old joke. For Asians, rice is life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So it came as a shock for Aravinth Kumarasamy, artistic director of Apsaras Arts Dance Academy, Singapore, when his friend, a schoolteacher, told him that students in his class thought that rice came “from a packet in the supermarket”. He was taken aback by the fact that in a country where rice is a staple, students had no clue about its origin. A few days later, he visited an Indian school in Singapore. He noticed a patch of paddy on the campus, and asked the principal about it. “The children think that rice comes from the supermarket,” said the principal. Hence the show and tell.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is when Kumarasamy thought that the younger generation needs to be educated on rice. He did not want to be preachy, and so <i>Arisi: Rice-Grains of Life</i>―a multidisciplinary dance show involving bharatnatyam and Balinese dancers―took form.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rice is the staple food for at least half the world’s population, connecting cultures and civilisations. “I thought that this should be a subtle message and the main show should talk about the rice cycle and the rice culture,” says Kumarasamy, a Sri Lankan based in Singapore. He sat down to write the script with that one-liner in mind. But before that, he travelled the world, researching the significance of rice in the life of Asians. So, Arisi takes you through the paddy fields of Tamil Nadu’s Thanjavur to Indonesia’s Bali, weaving in the traditions, festivals and celebrations rooted in and around rice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The diversity shows through in the production, too. Kumarasamy brought together creative minds like Mohanapriyan Thavarajah of Apsaras Arts, Balinese arts Prof I. Wayan Dibia and dramaturg Lim Ho Ngean for choreography and other aspects of the production. In November 2022, bharatnatyam dancers from India and Singapore, Balinese dancers, dramaturgy experts from Singapore, lighting and set designers, and members of the Singapore-Chinese orchestra came together for the first show in Singapore. Today, the 75-minute dance show, tracing the journey of a new generation farmer from Thanjavur to Singapore, has been performed in rice bowls across the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Chennai, 20 dancers―seven from Bali and the rest from India and Singapore―performed the show during the Margazhi music season in January. Singaporean Wong Chee Wai put up a unique set with around 600 rice stalks, each about 1.6m tall. “This is played around with to show a paddy field, a decorative element and rainfall,” said Kumarasamy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from the props, what made the stage come truly alive was the music. At one point, a baby’s cry rent the air. For a while, the audience thought there was a toddler among them. But then the curtains went up, and it was clear the baby’s cry, signifying the connection between rice and childbirth, came from the stage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The music was by Indian composer Rajkumar Bharathi, who blended his compositions with Balinese instruments. The lyrics have elements from the works of Tamil poets like Manickavasagar, Kambar and Subrahmanya Bharathi. “We had to work through several challenges, such as integrating Chinese notes, western music and Indian ragas,” said Bharathi. “I was very particular that we should not mimic each other's genre and worked towards getting a perfect synergy. The whole production was a surreal experience, and I wanted the audience to experience a seven-dimensional sound with both recorded music and live orchestra.” Ace music producer Sai Shravanam was in charge of the engineering and sound design, and light design was by Gyandev Singh from India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sound? Check. Lights? Check. All set, it was a moonwalk (figuratively, of course) for the dancers. But why combine bharatnatyam and Balinese dance? “The southeast Asian-Indian link has always fascinated me,” says Kumarasamy, who has trained in bharatnatyam from Kalakshetra in Chennai. “Bharatnatyam and Balinese dance are rooted in <i>natyasasthra</i>. Also, Bali’s rice culture is very strong―Indonesia was the first country to export rice in the 10th century BCE.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There may be several cross-cultural references in the production, but it all comes down to this core idea that Kumarasamy had―“I only want to tell people how rice is rich in culture and tradition,” he said, “and how it is something more than a grain.”</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/02/arisi-rice-grains-of-life-dance-show-throws-light-on-the-role-of-rice-in-the-life-of-asians.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/03/02/arisi-rice-grains-of-life-dance-show-throws-light-on-the-role-of-rice-in-the-life-of-asians.html Sat Mar 02 14:45:58 IST 2024 herpetologist-rom-whitaker-s-new-memoir-is-a-rollicking-ride-through-his-early-adventures <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/02/24/herpetologist-rom-whitaker-s-new-memoir-is-a-rollicking-ride-through-his-early-adventures.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/2/24/67-Rom-Whitaker.jpg" /> <p>If Rom Whitaker had his way, the serpent would not be frolicking in the Garden of Eden. He would have caught it with a hook, scooped it up gently and put it in a pillowcase―as he did all his life with his mother’s linen―and studied it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whitaker was four when he realised he would always be Team Serpent. Turning over a rock to look for earthworms to use as bait, he and his buddies once encountered a snake. “Snake!” they yelled, and pounded it to death with stones.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Not having seen one before, I was fascinated but afraid. After the boys stepped back, I squatted near the battered creature and examined it. I carried it home on the end of a stick against their advice,” he writes in his memoir <i>Snakes, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll: My Early Years.</i> His mother looked at the snake and told him that it was a harmless garter snake and made him promise that he would never kill a snake. Breezy―as his mother called him (his sister was Gail)―readily agreed and his life changed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“That was the bane of my mother’s existence, because I used all her pillowcases to put snakes in,” says Whitaker, in a Zoom interview. “But she was so instrumental in this whole evolution of my life, in terms of loving wildlife and loving creatures, as she had the same feeling that I do about creatures, but perhaps not snakes. But suddenly, I started bringing snakes home when I was four or five years old. And so, like it or not, she got into it. And she just encouraged me all the way. Which mother would do that? Which mother would be crazy enough to let her kid bring home snakes?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His mother, Doris, was an artist, and after she and Whitaker’s father were divorced in the US, she remarried and moved to India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first snake Whitaker brought home was a milk snake. His mother took a photograph of it with him. As a teen, he acquired a pet python bought by his mother’s friend at Crawford Market in Mumbai. “And they remained friends,” said Janaki Lenin, laughing. Lenin―author, conservationist and Whitaker’s wife―co-wrote the memoir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whitaker’s pet python brought him adventures that possibly tested the friendship. It almost ate Trichy, Doris’s pet cat. (He had rescued it from a train station.) The python also lived with him in his school dorm at Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu. He kept it under the bed of a truck, feeding it rats.</p> <p>Everyone thought he would outgrow snakes, he writes, especially in his teenage years, when he loved motorbikes. But the love for snakes never waned; it grew instead. He learnt the proper way to catch a snake. “When you pick up a snake, you usually look at both ends,” he says. “One end is the sharp end, so to speak, which can bite you… so usually you would put a hand around the cloaca, which is near the tail. So you don’t get crap all over. But sometimes it does, of course.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By 15, Whitaker had a sand boa, water snake and Russell’s viper as pets. Apart from the pet python in school, he also had parakeets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Snakes, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll</i> is the first of three volumes, and it offers a rollicking journey through Whitaker’s life till he turns 24. Vivid, funny and evocative, the memoir captures not only Whitaker’s unusual love, but also a life that possibly could not have been lived today. “I yearn for that time gone by,” he says. “Everything was seemingly so much simpler, and less complex and less threatening.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The memoir is brilliantly told, and written almost tenderly, with adjectives not usually used for reptiles. The ring-necked milk snake, for instance, is described as “gorgeously patterned”. “The eastern diamondback rattlesnake in the US actually has quite a sweet smell,” he says. “I even thought of putting it into a perfume. Can you imagine?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The memoir offers a delightful, ringside view of his family. His stepfather, Ram Chattopadhyay, was the son of social reformer Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay. “I kind of regret not knowing her much,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From a childhood where he learnt to fish, shoot, stuff birds, catch snakes and experiment with fireworks, to his military stint in Vietnam, his days in Lovedale in the Nilgiris (which he hated) and encountering snakes in America, Whitaker has had an extraordinary life pursuing his unusual passion. So has this rubbed off on Janaki? “I didn’t think about snakes before I met Rom,” she says. “Obviously, they weren’t in my world. The thing is, his enthusiasm is infectious. We were living in the Crocodile Bank, and you are surrounded by these captive creatures that you are taking care of. I was a filmmaker at that time. And I was always wondering what is that cobra thinking? How is it perceiving the world? It is so alien. I don’t think, in a million years, we will ever be able to figure out how the snake sees us and the world.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is, well, hiss story worth reading. “I just lucked out,” says Whitaker. “I didn’t mess with the hard snakes till I was 12 or 13. By then, of course, you know everything. You know exactly what to do. Let’s put it this way: I am probably lucky to be alive.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Snakes, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll: My Early Years</b></p> <p><i>By</i> <b>Romulus Whitaker</b></p> <p><i>Published by</i> <b>HarperCollins India</b></p> <p><i>Pages</i> <b>400;</b> <i>price</i> <b>Rs699</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/02/24/herpetologist-rom-whitaker-s-new-memoir-is-a-rollicking-ride-through-his-early-adventures.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/02/24/herpetologist-rom-whitaker-s-new-memoir-is-a-rollicking-ride-through-his-early-adventures.html Sat Feb 24 15:21:39 IST 2024 jairam-n-menon-s-debut-book-masala-chai-for-the-soul-is-delightfully-tongue-in-cheek <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/02/24/jairam-n-menon-s-debut-book-masala-chai-for-the-soul-is-delightfully-tongue-in-cheek.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/2/24/71-Masala-Chai-for-the-Soul-new.jpg" /> <p>In the realm of literary concoctions, Jairam N. Menon's debut book, <i>Masala Chai for the Soul</i>, is a delightful blend of wit, humour and insightful observations on the quirks of human nature. Menon's ability to capture the essence of mundane moments and elevate them to comic or catastrophic heights is reminiscent of the legendary P.G. Wodehouse.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I remember reading Menon's witty contributions in THE WEEK. I am sure that like me many readers must have relished his selection of topics and the ease with which he expressed his thoughts. <i>Masala Chai for the Soul</i> is a testament to Menon's ability to transport readers to savour prose in slow motion. He effortlessly expands characters, trivialities and plots to create a tapestry of humour.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Menon's facility to make words dance to his bidding, the eloquent turns of phrase and a profound understanding of human foibles are evident throughout the book. Each chapter is a testament to his storytelling prowess, making the reader laugh, ponder and nod in agreement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the standout features of the book is Menon's ability to infuse wisdom seamlessly into his narratives. In a chapter on quotation marks, he humorously suggests that to clinch arguments or to appear knowledgeable, borrowed wisdom is your best ally.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Menon's writing transcends the boundaries of a typical humour book, offering readers not just laughter, but a profound understanding of human nature.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>MASALA CHAI FOR THE SOUL</b></p> <p><i>By</i> <b>Jairam N. Menon</b></p> <p><i>Published by</i> <b>Rupa Publications</b></p> <p><i>Pages</i> <b>224;</b> <i>price</i> <b>Rs295</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/02/24/jairam-n-menon-s-debut-book-masala-chai-for-the-soul-is-delightfully-tongue-in-cheek.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/02/24/jairam-n-menon-s-debut-book-masala-chai-for-the-soul-is-delightfully-tongue-in-cheek.html Sat Feb 24 11:15:16 IST 2024 indian-actress-janhvi-kapoor-about-her-movies <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/02/22/indian-actress-janhvi-kapoor-about-her-movies.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/2/22/63-Janhvi-Kapoor.jpg" /> <p>This has to be the year of Janhvi Kapoor. The actor, who made her debut with Dharma Productions’ <i>Dhadak</i> in 2018, has three films releasing in 2024. This is unusual, especially for Kapoor, as all her films have seen her play the lead role or the protagonist, and not just a love interest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And yet, when we meet at her Bandra home, the 26-year-old actor says she is not having the best day. “I just received the dialogues of <i>Devara</i> last night, and all I want to do is sit in my room and learn my lines,” she scowls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Telugu film <i>Devara</i> is unarguably the biggest film she has been signed for. It is a major production―an action film directed by Koratala Siva―and she stars opposite the celebrated N.T. Rama Rao Jr. One would think it ironic that Telugu lines make her nervous, since she is the daughter of India’s first female superstar Sridevi, who frontlined Hindi as well as every south language film. “I never learned Telugu and it is something I am ashamed of,” she says. “I can understand it phonetically, but I can’t speak it. Yes, it is one of my biggest regrets.” Now, she feels the film is bringing her closer to her south Indian roots. “This part of me had been dormant for a while. But the <i>Devara</i> team is very patient and helpful. They are working with such stalwarts and I am so grateful they are just a call away to help me with my lines,” she smiles. The film also co-stars Saif Ali Khan and Prashant Raj.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The other two films releasing this year are <i>Mr and Mrs Mahi,</i> in which she is again cast opposite her <i>Roohi</i> hero Rajkummar Rao, and a political thriller called <i>Ulajh</i>. “Sharan Sharma, the director of <i>Mr and Mrs Mahi,</i> discussed the film with me while we were shooting for <i>Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl,</i> which he had directed, too,” Kapoor says. “So I feel it has been a long time coming. He had this idea of a romantic film sprinkled with cricket. I fell in love with it. Its casting had its own journey, but I feel I have almost willed it back into my life,” she smiles. Kapoor adds the film has been trying; she lost nine kilos and dislocated both her shoulders training for it. “The process was long and strenuous, but I’m so proud of it,” she says. The film releases in April. <i>Ulajh</i>, she says, also borrows greatly from Kapoor’s life experiences and personality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She has also recently been signed on for four new films, all of which will release in 2024 or early 2025. She has been cast opposite two southern mega stars: Ram Charan for <i>RC 16</i>, and Suriya for Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s <i>Karna</i>, a two-part mythological drama where she plays Draupadi. She is also said to have been signed on for Shashank Khaitan’s next under Dharma Productions, alongside Varun Dhawan. There are rumours of yet another major film being signed on for Dharma.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My father (Hindi film producer Boney Kapoor) has gone and made some announcement, and I don’t know what he has said. It’s too early to talk about the other films. My father has definitely not spoken to me or my producers,” she laughs. “I wish I belonged to a universe where you just shoot films, you didn’t have to announce, clarify or deny them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What Kapoor will discuss is how excited she is about the many collaborations between Bollywood and films from the south. She is working in three. “As an artist, I have always been an advocate of Indian cinema. We have diverse cultures and a diverse audience. Regional cinema is also Indian cinema and we have seen them do the kind of businesses that mainstream cinema does. That says where we are culturally, as a society: we seek truth, we seek new ideas and honesty in our art. The pan-India format allows us to do all of this. Look at <i>Kantara,”</i> she says of Rishab Shetty’s Kannada film of 2022, that was made on a meagre budget and went on to make nearly Rs400 crores globally. “I don’t think this is a phase. I think we are stronger together. Cinema brings us together. It is amazing that we could, hypothetically, have a film with Allu Arjun acting, Sanjay Leela Bhansali directing, and have Sai Pallavi or Roshan Mathew, or some amazing Bengali actors in it. The possibilities are endless.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Inter-state films dipping into each other’s fan base is a big plus, too. “The south industry has been cultivating its audiences for a very long time. Telugu and Tamil films dubbed in Hindi have been getting great ratings,” she explains.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kapoor has starred in six films in five years―<i>Dhadak</i> (2018), <i>Gunjan Saxena</i> and a short in <i>Ghost Stories</i> (2020), <i>Roohi</i> (2021), <i>Good Luck Jerry </i>and<i> Mili</i> (2022), and <i>Bawaal</i> (2023). None of these have fared well at the box office, save her debut. But almost each one has seen her receive rave reviews for her performance. She was even nominated for two Filmfare awards for best actress (<i>Gunjan Saxena, Mili</i>).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Does the blockbuster film elude her? “I think a box office success would have made a difference to me and to my producers to get bigger budgets for their films. But I am fortunate they signed me for my talent. That said, nothing feels as good as people filling the theatres. No review or critical acclaim can match that,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is always so much talk around kids of actors or industry folk, but Kapoor has taken her career very seriously―she moved to California to Lee Strasberg’s film institute to hone her craft. “Can I be honest? I learned nothing there,” she says. “I’m often told I am too honest for Bollywood and that has burnt me. But at least I sleep well at night. The thrill of moving to California was in the anonymity it gave me. I was not someone’s daughter for once, and that was so refreshing. But the school’s format was so rooted in Hollywood and approaching its casting agents. I actually realised I am not a method actor. Secondly, I wish I had spent more time with my people and in my language. I am telling stories from India and I need to relate to Indians. Sitting in LA and going to Malibu on weekends actually made me feel more detached.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kapoor’s public image is far removed from the characters she plays. She portrays herself as a glamorous girl, working out in the gym, practising kathak, painting, or making awesome comedy reels. What is her relationship with her image like? “I enjoy social media, but there is nothing I enjoy more than being on a film set,” she says. “I haven’t been on one in a month now and it is driving me crazy. Getting my dialogues yesterday was like getting a life jacket thrown at you. I don’t want anything to dilute my art.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are also rumours of a budding romance with Shikhar Pahariya; she almost admitted to having him on her speed dial on Karan Johar’s talk show. “I even have my manager on my speed dial,” is all she’s willing to admit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She will admit, however, that she loves her younger sister Khushi Kapoor’s debut, <i>The Archies</i> (2023). “I thought she had a very likable, soft and honest energy on screen. She is an internal actor, not a demonstrative one. I told her there would be a lot of instructions thrown at her for not fitting into a conventional mould,” says Kapoor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She would know, she has been making and breaking moulds for a few years already.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/02/22/indian-actress-janhvi-kapoor-about-her-movies.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/02/22/indian-actress-janhvi-kapoor-about-her-movies.html Thu Feb 22 16:14:31 IST 2024 the-ultimate-restaurant-ratings-might-be-india-s-answer-to-michelin <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/02/16/the-ultimate-restaurant-ratings-might-be-india-s-answer-to-michelin.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/2/16/65-Johnson-Ebenezer-and-Manish-Mehrotra-and-Nikhil-Nagpal.jpg" /> <p>A cursory glance at author and award-winning journalist Vir Sanghvi’s food writing shows fervour and flavour. A piece on why leftover food tastes better the next day? The nation wants to know. Another on why the world of seafood is so mystifying? Yes! (And you thought you were the only one who did not know the difference between crayfish and lobster.) A story on why Gujarati food does not get the respect it deserves? Hit us with it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That’s why Sanghvi is probably the right person to helm India’s first annual star rating system for restaurants. “The majority of restaurant awards in India is done on a sponsorship basis,” he says. “Often many of them will charge you for the award, and accept sponsorships from restaurant companies, so there will be people who are getting awards who will be listed as sponsors, the hotel where the awards are held complimentary will be called hospitality partner, and the airline will be called airline partner, so there is a problem with the credibility of these awards.” Ultimate Restaurant Ratings, on the other hand, were established “with a mission to recognise and award culinary excellence without any form of outside influence”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And when the foodie is ready, the financier appears. Sanghvi met Sameer Sain, co-founder and CEO of the Everstone Group, before the pandemic and together, they founded Culinary Culture, which they describe as “the country’s only authoritative culinary movement”. Other than the Ultimate Restaurant Ratings, Culinary Culture has a few intellectual properties―like the Gourmet Delivery Awards for food delivery and Food Superstars to rate India’s top chefs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Ultimate Restaurant Ratings were roughly modelled after the Michelin. To judge the best restaurants in the country, 50 ‘food hunters’― mostly food writers, critics and bloggers―were selected to anonymously rate over 3,000 restaurants in six locations: Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Goa and Kolkata. The shortlisted restaurants were visited by a member of the jury (Culinary Culture prefers to keep details of the food hunters and the jury confidential) and their decision ratified by Sanghvi and Sain. “We rarely interfere, but if there is a major dispute, then we may adjudicate,” says Sanghvi. The process began in 2020, and the awards―where over 50 restaurants were given three, four or five stars based on the criteria of taste, technique, presentation, and service―were announced this month.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were surprises. And a few quibbles from social media users: Why was Lupa in the list? Bomras should have received four or five stars. Sublime in Goa should have been included. But as Sanghvi intimated, rating food will always be subjective and there are bound to be disagreements.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sanghvi himself was surprised by some of the findings. “The highest number of three-star restaurants were from Mumbai, and I thought Delhi would do better,” he says. “Also, in Mumbai, most of the restaurants that made it were non-hotel restaurants. There was a <i>time</i> when hotel restaurants had the best chefs and used the best ingredients. I think that has changed. Also, many of the Michelin-starred restaurants in Asian cities specialise in European food. That’s not the case in India. Of the three restaurants which got the five-star rating in India, Avartana in Chennai does modern south Indian food, Farmlore in Bengaluru does ingredient-based food with south Indian influences and Indian Accent in Delhi again does modern Indian food. It is interesting that we are developing an Indian restaurant cuisine that is independent of tandoori chicken, that is innovative and is being accepted by audiences and markets.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as Culinary Culture aims to expand the list to 10 cities in the next edition, which will probably include Amritsar, Hyderabad and Kochi, THE WEEK spoke to the chefs behind the three five-star restaurants in the country. After all, no one has boiled, broiled or braised India as these chefs are doing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Farmlore, Bengaluru</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Waiter, there is a fire ant on my plate!</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many of the dishes at Bengaluru’s Farmlore do not just tell a story, they make a statement. Take the seataphor―a dish that is a metaphor for how we destroy our oceans with plastic and oil spills. It is made with Kochi snapper, a blue algae called spirulina, coconut, which reached various shores through ships, and edible plastic, made with potato starch. “One has discovered that when ocean ecosystems are given <i>time</i> and space to recover from detrimental human activities, they can rebound at an astonishing rate, so it is never too late [to save them],” says Chef Johnson Ebenezer, co-founder and chef patron at the 18-seater restaurant, located on a 37-acre farm.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In fact, the ocean has a special significance for Ebenezer. He started his career working with Carnival Cruise Line in Miami. “My uncle used to work for cruises, and he used to send me postcards from different parts of the world,” he says. “Seeing them, I too decided I wanted to travel around the world. But my father is an ordinary cop who did not take bribes, so he could just afford to give me a normal education. That’s how I thought of going outside India to make money. Once I started travelling, I started understanding different cultures and foods, and soon, cooking became a passion.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ebenezer started Farmlore with Kaushik Raju, the COO of the Atria Group, in 2019, after helming Nadodi, a celebrated restaurant in Malaysia. The menu at Farmlore changes every day and is dictated by what is produced on the farm. He refuses to let his cuisine be defined by any specific category and describes it as “eclectic with locavore sensibilities”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“When you say farm-to-table, the food sometimes tends to look boring,” he says. “We did not want that. We wanted to have fun with our dishes.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And that’s where the fire ants and the gin gummy bears come in. “We collected fire ant nests from the mango and citrus trees in the farm, crushed the ants, added some Teja chilli and shallots and made a chutney out of them,” he says. Just as playful is the gin and whiskey gummy bears. “These are locally made whiskey and gin,” he says. “We give them as a takeaway as well. They are very cute and when you see them, you feel like popping them into your mouth.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But at Farmlore, the fun is never frivolous. “The dish should make sense in terms of flavour pairings,” says Ebenezer. “I could never do something that is completely eccentric. It has to appeal to the senses―to the eye and most importantly, to the palate.” Well, mission accomplished! All the Farmlore creations on its Instagram page―the pork belly with mustard espuma and charred purple cabbage, the poached egg with moringa, turmeric and crispy seaweed, the Christmas pudding with pine needle ice-cream―look like they could be framed and hung on a wall.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And if the Valentine’s Day specials were anything to go by, they might have tickled your literary sensibilities as well. The theme was Cupid taking revenge on Shakespeare for all his tragedies. An innovative spin was given to references like the quote on garlic and cheese in Shakespeare’s play, Henry IV. So if you were served crispy cheddar pork chops with garlic at FarmLore on February 14, you have King Henry to blame.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Indian Accent, Delhi</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The Maggi man who makes a mean dal Moradabadi</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chef Manish Mehrotra of Indian Accent grew up in Patna in a vegetarian household. His father and grandmother never allowed even onion and garlic in the dishes. His mother used to feed them eggs, but only on the terrace, on separate sets of crockery. Living in a household without onion, garlic or any non-vegetarian food did leave an impact on the celebrated chef. It taught him that you only need few ingredients to cook delicious food.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And that, in a nutshell, is the culinary ethos at Indian Accent―simple flavour profiles with innovations that do not compromise on taste. There are certain rules Mehrotra follows while experimenting on new dishes. First, he will not mix two Indian cuisines in one dish. At Indian Accent, you will never find a paneer chettinad or idli in Kashmiri spices.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then, he gives international classics an Indian twist. “For example, pork ribs will always go with something sweet and sticky, whether it is the South East Asian version or the Texas version,” he says. “So I thought, why not pair it with a sweet mango pickle sauce? This dish has been a best-seller at the restaurant from the day we opened. Or take bread and cheese, which is again a classic combination. So we decided to try out a blue cheese naan. Blue cheese is a bit of a wild flavour for the Indian palate, and that’s why we toned it down by stuffing it in hot naan. After getting cooked in tandoor, there is a hint of blue cheese, but it is not too overwhelming for the Indian palate.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian Accent, now with three outposts in Delhi, New York, and Mumbai, is no stranger to awards and acclamation. It has been on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list since 2015. It was recognized by <i>Time</i> magazine as being one of the world’s 100 greatest places to visit and was voted the no.1 restaurant in India by Conde Nast Traveller. The five-star recognition by Culinary Culture is the icing on its cake.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian Accent in Delhi is completing 15 years this year. “Yes, there is pressure to maintain the quality,” says Mehrotra. “You must be on your toes all the <i>time</i>. There are legendary restaurants like Bukhara (in ITC Maurya, Delhi) where the menu has remained unchanged for the last 35 years. They don’t need to, because they have specialised so well in certain dishes. That’s not the case with Indian Accent, where we keep innovating and experimenting and providing our guests with new experiences regularly.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And for Mehrotra, innovation comes from travelling, visiting relatives all over the country to learn more about eclectic Indian dishes and poring over cookbooks―he has over 1,200 of them and he says every two months, he searches out new ones. It began from the <i>time</i> he shifted from pan-Asian cuisine (while working with Oriental Octopus at the India Habitat Centre) to modern Indian food when he started Indian Accent in 2009. “It was really difficult to make the shift. I researched, practised and studied so much. If I had studied half as much in school, my parents would have been very happy, and I would have become a doctor, engineer or scientist,” he quips.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And what is the go-to food for the chef extraordinaire, whose doda burfi treacle tart, pulled pork phulka tacos and galautis stuffed with foie gras are now the stuff of culinary legend? “I’m more of a 2am Maggi kind of guy,” he says with a laugh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Avartana, Chennai</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Put your mouth where the south is</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If James Bond had asked for a martini at Chennai’s Avartana, he would have been in for a surprise. For instead of “three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka and half a measure of Kina Lillet”, he would have been served an ancient potion said to have been brought to Madurai by the Saurashtrians in the 16th century―distilled tomato rasam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sure, the rasam at the modern south Indian restaurant, served in a martini glass, has been given a sexy facelift―it is made over two days with bruised tomatoes hung from a muslin cloth for several hours for the flavour to drip through. But at its heart, it is still the soothing concoction that even our colonisers could not resist (they renamed it as mulligatawny in an attempt to anglicise it).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The story of rasam is also the story of Avartana―authentic south Indian flavours creatively reimagined. So, there are dumplings inspired by the famous ‘kozhikatai’, yogurt spheres in crispy chili potato and multi-layered panna cotta coated with pulled sugar. There is also the famous sago yogurt, one of the first dishes created even before the opening of the restaurant, inspired by a well-known family of gourmands in Chennai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Somebody once said that order exists so that good things can run wild. Whether it is the jackfruit seed fritters and potato crackers or the butter toffee wrapped with beetroot and spiced aubergine sheet, there is discipline in the playfulness, effort in the effortlessness.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Avartana, which opened at the ITC Grand Chola in 2017, now has two more outposts in Kolkata and Mumbai. Guests are offered a range of seven to 13 tasting menus. Interestingly, the person behind the restaurant’s success is not south Indian. Chef Nikhil Nagpal, executive chef and brand custodian at Avartana, was born in Kolkata. “Having travelled to multiple cities in my childhood gave me a varied experience of flavours and dishes,” he says. “I decided to be a chef in high school and since then have been inspired by food cultures across the world. Over the years, I have loved to travel and soak in experiences from various cities around the globe.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For someone who could not boil rice without burning it in college, Nagpal sure has come a long way.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/02/16/the-ultimate-restaurant-ratings-might-be-india-s-answer-to-michelin.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/02/16/the-ultimate-restaurant-ratings-might-be-india-s-answer-to-michelin.html Sat Feb 17 10:17:52 IST 2024 a-clutch-of-war-writers-at-the-jaipur-literature-festival-spoke-about-finding-hope-amidst-hopelessness <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/02/09/a-clutch-of-war-writers-at-the-jaipur-literature-festival-spoke-about-finding-hope-amidst-hopelessness.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/2/9/63-Roger-Cohen-Charles-Glass-Anjan-Sundaram-Olesya-Khromeychuk.jpg" /> <p>On June 17, 1987, American journalist Charles Glass was seized in Lebanon by 10 Hezbollah men with Kalashnikovs. When he tried to escape, they clubbed him with their rifle butts. He was held captive for 62 days, during which he would push notes for help in English, French and Arabic through a bathroom window. Two months after being chained by his ankle and wrist, he managed to escape.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“When captors pick you up, you disappear,” Glass later wrote. “You are vulnerable to whims and caprice. People from your country and the other side are making deals you know nothing about. You are expendable. Whether you die or achieve your liberty is someone else’s decision. Your impotence is total. Except over your thoughts. The Israeli-Palestinian poet and former political prisoner Fouzi al-Asmar wrote: ‘With all the might of their hatred that tears this life apart/They cannot put my mind in jail.’ You listen for clues―as if a guard’s tone of voice will tell you if he is going to kill you or let you go. Your senses are sharpened. You escape in sleep and dreams, remembering your life and imagining your life to come, if it is to come.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Glass, who has covered wars in Syria, Somalia, Iraq and Bosnia-Herzegovina, was at the Jaipur Literature Festival from February 1 to 5 to promote his latest book, <i>Soldiers Don’t Go Mad: A Story of Brotherhood, Poetry and Mental Illness During the First World War</i>. Elaborating on the difference between writing a book and covering war, he told THE WEEK, “A book is basically a long article. So, you just have to do more research, more interviews, and go through more archives, to be able to tell a story at length, which is a great luxury. Often, when you have the deadline pressure of daily journalism you cannot do that. It is probably a more interesting, but less exciting activity.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Glass was not the only one. At a time when the world is witnessing two wars―Ukraine-Russia and Israel-Hamas―a number of war writers at the JLF spoke about what it is like to cover conflicts in the most dangerous parts of the world, of living with fear and of witnessing the most extremes of human nature.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There is no point in hiding that there is fear,” said Pulitzer prize-winning war reporter, Roger Cohen, during a session on war moderated by Stephen Dunbar-Johnson, president (international), of <i>The New York Times</i> Company. “The anticipation is the worst.” He talks about the uncertainty of deciding whether to go somewhere or not. For example, he was planning on visiting the Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv the day it got badly shelled. “Should I go or shouldn’t I go, I wondered,” says Cohen. “You don’t need good luck in war, you need the absence of bad luck, because shrapnel can fly anywhere.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cohen, currently the Paris bureau chief of <i>The New York Times</i>, has worked for the <i>Times</i> for 33 years as a foreign correspondent, foreign editor and an opinion columnist, and has authored five books. According to him, war can never be looked at through an objective lens. It is always personal. “We are human beings,” he said. “Each of us brings our sentiments, feelings, and who we are into what we write. So, objectivity is a long word that I think is impossible and probably not even desirable to attain.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ukrainian historian and writer Olesya Khromeychuk would agree. After all, it does not get more personal than writing a book on losing a brother to war. “My book, [The Death of a Soldier Told by His Sister], is about my brother who volunteered to fight in the Ukrainian armed forces back in 2015, and was killed in action in 2017,” she said at a session. “This was at a time when Ukraine was entirely forgotten, and the war there was not seen as a war, but as an internal conflict. It was claiming thousands of lives, but the number of deaths matters when it comes to making headline news, so it wasn’t claiming enough lives to get global attention. I was living in London―where life went on as usual―and grieving for a brother who was killed in the frontline on the other side of Europe. I was looking to explain the situation in a way that others would know and care. I could not find that way as a historian, but I found it as a grieving sister. So, I decided to tell the personal story of grief for my brother, which people can relate to, and through that tell the story of the larger historical and political context of this war.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khromeychuk says that until February 2022, when the war escalated, the story of Ukraine was told either through Russia’s propaganda machine or by international observers who did not know the country well. “So, we found ourselves being portrayed as a small nation of 40 million people with no clear identity, and that is exactly how the Russians wanted the world to see us,” she says. “The story of how Russian imperialism and cultural violence then led to physical and military violence needed to be explained to a wider audience.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to these writers, war exposes humanity at its most naked. You see extremes of courage and cruelty, and it always leaves a mark on you. Cohen describes children in Beirut not being able to sleep unless they heard the sound of shelling (“silence was terrifying to them”), observing a waiter folding and refolding napkins and arranging them on the table elegantly while war raged around him, and women in Sarajevo walking around in high heels and makeup as a sign of protest at the height of the siege. “I remember going out on the fourth day after 9/11 and seeing these photographs of missing people,” he says. “A woman had put up her ultrasound, and written beneath: Looking for the father of this baby. Seeing that, I broke down. Sometimes it is hard to contain the emotion that we experience.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But in the depths of hopelessness, there is always hope, says award-winning Indian journalist Anjan Sundaram, who has reported mostly from the Congo and the Central African Republic, and has written three memoirs―<i>Stringer, Bad News</i> and <i>Breakup</i>. He studied mathematics at Yale, but shifted to journalism when he saw a report in <i>The New York Times</i>, buried somewhere on the fourth page, about four million people having died in the war in Congo. It shocked him, and he wondered why it did not make front page news. Finding mathematics too abstract and removed from the real world, Sundaram pivoted to war reporting, so that he could more directly impact people’s lives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In all the darkest places I go to, I find the most inspiring people,” Sundaram told THE WEEK. He narrates the story of finding a Polish abbot in the Central African Republic who was on his way to a church located in an extremely dangerous rebel territory. The church was attacked by the government who stole its door, leaving the altar exposed. The priest was now sleeping in the open. The abbot was going there to get the door replaced as a mark of protest. Sundaram asked if he could tag along, and at every village where they stopped, the abbot would honk and someone would run out of the forest, where the villagers were hiding, and thrust a piece of paper into the car. On it would be the names of all the people who were sick in the village and what medicines and other assistance they required. The abbot would pass on these slips of paper to the NGOs in the main city. “Collecting information by hand when the telephone antennae had been destroyed was an incredibly brave thing to do,” says Sundaram. “In the 21st century, where we think we have access to too much information through social media and other means, this is still how information is collected in a war zone.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is a hard life, and often these writers must live with the guilt of surviving when so many others did not. Yet, they say they would not give it up for anything. Said Cohen, “If somebody were to put a gun to my head and ask what were you put on this earth to do, it would be to be a foreign correspondent, arriving somewhere you don’t know, somewhere completely new, and just trying to understand―seeing, feeling, smelling, intuiting. There is no substitute for boots on the ground.”</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/02/09/a-clutch-of-war-writers-at-the-jaipur-literature-festival-spoke-about-finding-hope-amidst-hopelessness.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/02/09/a-clutch-of-war-writers-at-the-jaipur-literature-festival-spoke-about-finding-hope-amidst-hopelessness.html Sat Feb 10 14:59:36 IST 2024 rajen-mehra-s-never-out-of-print-is-a-memoir-of-not-just-a-man-but-also-rupa-publications-and-the-growth-of-indian-publishing <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/02/09/rajen-mehra-s-never-out-of-print-is-a-memoir-of-not-just-a-man-but-also-rupa-publications-and-the-growth-of-indian-publishing.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/2/9/68-Rajen-Mehra-of-Rupa-Publications.jpg" /> <p>It is a freezing day in Delhi’s winter that has outlived its novelty. The door of the Rupa office in the chaotic grey of Yusuf Sarai, with endless rows of shops, opens and music from the newly opened coffee shop wafts in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajen Mehra arrives right on time. “I am actually two minutes early,”he says. At 77, Mehra is spry, with the restless energy of a self-made man. At 22, Mehra travelled across India on a train to learn about publishing, a journey that changed his life. He was waiting to join a management school, but the train journey from then Calcutta to Kerala taught him much more than he would ever learn in books. He would, however, sell them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Never Out of Print</i> is a memoir of not just a man but also Rupa Publications and the growth of Indian publishing. This book or the idea of it started when he was in hospital for severe breathlessness in 2010. When he got home, he wrote. He first faced rejection from a friend, till the book emerged in this form―breezy, interspersed with pictures, memories and vignettes of his life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His great-grandmother had told his granduncle, who started Rupa, that if his first customer was a Muslim, his business would thrive. As it happened, the man who stopped to buy the Collins English Dictionary on August 17, 1936, at his stall was Humayun Kabir. “At auspicious occasions, I will always invite a Muslim to do that,” says Mehra. “People get upset about it. What is to get upset about? They are humans, we are humans.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mehra recounts the journey of Rupa from its Kolkata home near the coffee house to Delhi. The coffee house was where the city’s brightest gathered for <i>adda</i>. Mehra once got a cigarette for Kanu Sanyal, founder-member of the naxalite movement: “He paid for it,”says Mehra, smiling. Satyajit Ray, another visitor to the coffee house, designed the first Rupa logo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rupa has now become a much-established name in India’s thriving publishing scene under Mehra. It moved from being the distributor for giants like Penguin and HarperCollins to publishing. “We expanded into nonfiction, and nonfiction in an area Penguin would not get into and not get, like food,” he says. Over the years, this expanded to include big politicians like L.K. Advani to cricketers like Sunil Gavaskar―each of them having been scouted by Mehra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I shot the picture for the cover for [Gavaskar’s] second book, <i>Idols,”</i> says Mehra. “We had no budget. The company was going through the traumatic effect of leaving Calcutta. Photographers were not willing. Once they heard it was Sunil, they wanted to charge Rs10,000. So I took him to the DGCA ground and he was practising and I took some photos.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The story of Salman Rushdie’s <i>Satanic Verses</i> is well known. But Mehra has his own. “The manuscript was with Penguin and they gave it to me to read,” he says. “They were worried about some passages in the book. I gave it to two of my trusted Muslims; they were highly literate people. They said there is nothing in this.” So Rupa imported 500 copies. “The next day, (journalist and newsreader) Tejeshwar Singh called to say, ‘The book may be banned.’ Our office was in the Jama Masjid area. He was very concerned. I said, ‘We will see what happens.’ At 9pm, I was listening to the news. And Tejeshwar announced the book was banned.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next day, Mehra got to office early. “I used to drive an Ambassador car, and I put all my stocks into the car,” he recalls. “The first call came at 9am. Mr Sham Lal, editor of the <i>Times of India</i>, wanted five copies.” By the end of the evening, 400 copies were sold. “I had ordered 10,000 copies with special permission to import. But it had to be stopped at Heathrow,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Everything Mehra has learnt is through grit, hard work and enterprise. “Publishing takes years to build,” he says. “It is very difficult to destroy, because if you have good literature, you cannot destroy it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>NEVER OUT OF PRINT: THE RUPA STORY: THE JOURNEY OF AN INDEPENDENT INDIAN</b> <b>PUBLISHER</b></p> <p><i>Author: </i><b>Rajen Mehra</b></p> <p><i>Publisher:</i> <b>Rupa Publications</b></p> <p><i>Pages:</i> <b>504;</b> <i>price:</i> <b>Rs500</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/02/09/rajen-mehra-s-never-out-of-print-is-a-memoir-of-not-just-a-man-but-also-rupa-publications-and-the-growth-of-indian-publishing.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/02/09/rajen-mehra-s-never-out-of-print-is-a-memoir-of-not-just-a-man-but-also-rupa-publications-and-the-growth-of-indian-publishing.html Fri Feb 09 15:03:01 IST 2024 talat-mahmood-the-definitive-biography-is-a-befitting-introduction-to-a-singing-genius <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/02/03/talat-mahmood-the-definitive-biography-is-a-befitting-introduction-to-a-singing-genius.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/2/3/71-Talat-Mahmood-receiving-Padma-Bhushan-from-president-R-Venkataraman-in-1992.jpg" /> <p>To encapsulate the life of a man often described the ‘King of Ghazals’, though he was much more than that, is no easy task. Just for attempting that, Sahar Zaman deserves applause.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Talat Mahmood, born in Lucknow and trained at what was then the Marris College of Music (now Bhatkhande Sanskriti Vishwavidyalaya) was a singer unlike any other. His natural velvet voice bore a slight quiver. It is a quiver which singers take years to cultivate. Musically termed vibrato, this quick and subtle change of voice between notes which are pitched very closely conveys emotions more powerfully than lyrics. When used without dedicated cultivation, a vibrato sounds contrived and the unevenness of breath can be made out by the trained ear; but when it comes naturally, it is as smooth as the wax and wane of emotion. Yet, in his early years in Mumbai, Mahmood strove to hide this unique quality, attempting often to sing in the nasal tones of his idol K.L. Saigal. This would not last long as Anil Biswas, a composer he had worked with for long, angrily walked out of a recording studio asking Mahmood to return only when the real Talat was found.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ghazals came first to Mahmood because of his affinity with Urdu, and also because of the cultural bearings at home. His father, Manzoor Mahmood, who was a member of the Indian Medical Mission to Ottoman, would often sing to pep up his fellow travellers, while his sisters were flawless renderers of the <i>nath </i>(songs in praise of the Prophet), and his elder brother, Kamal, too, had a rich singing voice. While everyone in the family had strong voices with good throws, Mahmood’s was tuned differently. It was far gentler, almost like a dewdrop caressing a rosebud. It was the kind of voice that could dull the impact of the unkindest of blows. In the 2022 release <i>Gangubai Kathiawadi</i>, for instance, when the lead character learns of being sold to a brothel by her boyfriend, there is a snippet of a song that plays in the background. Mahmood's voice is like a gentle nuzzle that softens the harsh truth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pathos was the most marked emotion of Mahmood’s voice. It was the embodiment of a disembodied, deep sadness. No wonder then that ‘Tragedy King’Dilip Kumar spoke of him as the ‘true musical speaker of my soul’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mahmood’s musical life was a rich amalgamation of traditions and languages. Under the name Tapan Kumar, he was a leading voice of the modern Bengal Music movement in which lyrics became as important as the music. He sang in 16 languages including Malayalam, Tamil and Kannada. And while you can close your eyes and imagine him most readily as a dejected Dilip Kumar pictured behind gauzy, fluttering curtains singing <i>‘Shaam-e-Gham ki qasam’</i> (On the promise of this sadness soaked evening), close them for some more time and you will just as easily picture him as a boyish Raj Kapoor singing <i>‘Main dil hun ek armaan bhara’</i> (I am a heart full of desires), a song that lends itself most readily to the waltz.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a singer he had many firsts to his name, including being the pioneer of world tours. His pleasant face (which incidentally is also the meaning of Talat) made him a singing-actor and he also dabbled in composition. To audiences in the USA, he was introduced as the Frank Sinatra of India. He became a recognised voice, courtesy All India Radio, at just the age of 16. The book records a delightful incident in which the young Mahmood was accosted by a group of girls in Lucknow to sing as he cycled his way to his music college. Among that gaggle of fans was Qurratulain Hyder, who would go on to become a famed Urdu writer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He was also a man deeply devoted to the larger cause of his art. He raised his voice for the payment of royalties to singers and also became a part of programmes to raise funds for senior, out-of-work artists. He joyfully gave away songs to Mukesh when he was going through a rough patch. His delight in singing for troops and in encouraging new talent all made him a perfect gentleman, a word often used in the book to describe him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Biographies can never be divorced from the times that their subjects lived in. Thus, we read in bits about the decline of the film industry in Kolkata after the partition of Bengal, the government’s press for the Bhoodan movement, for which Mahmood sang; the start of recordings in sound-proof rooms; the introduction of multi-instrument orchestra for playback singing; and the rise of version songs. We also read of how the Partition tore apart Mahmood’s family. In a particularly poignant recollection, his father asked his elder son who would water the plants in the courtyard if he left for Pakistan (he did anyway).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The book at places digresses from a linear telling of Mahmood’s story and moves to talking about other stars of the time. This could appear jarring to some, but it is perhaps inevitable given that Mahmood’s journey was intertwined with those of others. One example being that of the actor Shyam, whose death resulting from an accident on a film set is talked about in some detail, to later merge it with the fact that his last three songs, sung by Mahmood, became ‘locked’in his voice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If you are looking for a book which offers an undeviating narrative of Mahmood’s life, this perhaps is not it. This book reads more like a collection of anecdotes―some known, some not so well known. His gentleness is a quality emphasised throughout the book. He earned it perhaps from spending his formative years with his paternal aunt Mahlaqa Begum. We also come to know that he was a keeper of his words―both to friends and the girlfriend he left in Kolkata.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To those who have known the music of Mahmood, this book is a ready reckoner of his songs and will send you to listen to those you have loved and search for those you have forgotten. To those who do not know the music of Mahmood, take this as a befitting introduction to a singing genius. To do both in under 500 pages, in easy language, peppered with countless photos of the handsome Mahmood, is Zaman’s biggest achievement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>TALAT MAHMOOD: THE DEFINITIVE BIOGRAPHY</b></p> <p><i>Author:</i> <b>Sahar Zaman</b></p> <p><i>Pages:</i><b> 480</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/02/03/talat-mahmood-the-definitive-biography-is-a-befitting-introduction-to-a-singing-genius.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/02/03/talat-mahmood-the-definitive-biography-is-a-befitting-introduction-to-a-singing-genius.html Sat Feb 03 11:26:57 IST 2024 kiran-rao-second-film-laapataa-ladies-kindling-productions-divorce-with-aamir-khan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/02/02/kiran-rao-second-film-laapataa-ladies-kindling-productions-divorce-with-aamir-khan.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/2/2/67-Kiran-Rao.jpg" /> <p>It has been 13 years since her last film release, but Kiran Rao has proved to be worth the wait. Her second film as director, <i>Laapataa Ladies</i>, releases on March 1, and has already won a standing ovation at September’s Toronto International Film Festival.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao, 50, says it’s just the kind of response she needed after not showing a film to an audience for over 10 years. “I was nervous,” she says of the Toronto screenings. “A lot of the film’s humour is in its dialect, in its cadence of writing. Plus Bhojpuri is such a sweet language, I wasn’t sure how all of this would translate via subtitles and we would lose the rural flavour. This was a paying audience, so I felt very validated.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are sitting at an office of Aamir Khan Productions in Mumbai’s Bandra. The same building houses Khan and his extended family. The film has just been privately screened for THE WEEK and we are probably the first people outside the office to have watched it. It’s an endearing tale of two brides getting swapped on a train in rural India, only to discover themselves and their personal goals, all along questioning their misleading veils, patriarchy, and dropping empowerment quips and tips. It stars newbies Pratibha Ranta, Nitanshi Goel and Sparsh Srivastav in lead roles, along with Ravi Kishan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“When Aamir first told me about the story, I thought the hook was delicious,” Rao lets in. The film is based on a screenplay writer Biplab Goswami had submitted in a competition where Khan was a judge. “In a sense it is a coming-of-age film, with a little mystery about how things would unfold. I read the story and I thought the women characters could be developed a little more. It could have been a dark film, but we wanted it to be more of a fun comedy,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao’s favourite scene is one where the women of a family are sitting together and having a giggle as friends. “Let’s not be relatives,” one of them says, “Let’s be friends”. Another favourite is a song by the river that has been edited out of the film. “I hope I can turn it into a music video and release it. It’s shot on a river with drones, and shows a newly-wed couple with the river as a metaphor for life,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Was the decision not to have any established actors deliberate? “Yes, and Aamir was very supportive. The story needed to be rooted and authentic, and the faces needed to be believable,” Rao explains.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Aamir is not playing a cameo either. “Aamir actually did a look test with hair and makeup for the part of the slimy cop. He actually auditioned for the role, and Aamir being Aamir was really good at it. We even had a long discussion on how much he wanted to play this character. But when we saw Ravi Kishan’s audition, I thought he was apt for the role. He brought a certain juiciness to the part. Aamir sort of sets up expectations for the character. So yeah, I rejected Aamir Khan,” she laughs. “But by the end of it Aamir agreed with me.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most of the film is filled with actors from theatre groups across Indore, Jabalpur and Bhopal. “I wanted everyone to feel that a place called Nirmal Pradesh (the fictional state where the film is set) really exists. We wanted people to be comfortable with the dialect and the families to look like families.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kiran’s first film, <i>Dhobi Ghat</i>, was set in Mumbai. It was a big-city film, with snatches of class interdependence and creative professionals dealing with urban existence. <i>Laapataa Ladies</i> is as rural as it can get. “I wanted to speak to a broader audience, and still keep my aesthetic,” she says. “I felt like someone had tossed me a challenge. The hard part was actually making a comedy, because I thought I was good at drama. So editing the film and hitting the right notes of a situational comedy was not easy.” Rao says a lot of things can happen to women who end up in places they don’t expect to be, but she wanted the story to be one of hope and optimism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why has it taken her so long to release her second film? “I was writing and producing, I was quite involved with <i>Dangal </i>and<i> Secret Superstar</i>. I also gave a lot of time to my family and enjoyed raising Azad (her son with Aamir, now 12). I had a child at a stage when I knew I wanted one. He’s a great kid and a companion for life. The writing was slow and subconsciously I wasn’t ready. That said, I started writing <i>Laapataa</i> in 2020.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao has also launched her own production company Kindling Productions. “I am still an adviser in Aamir Khan Productions and I will always have strong ties with it,” she says. “But Kindling is my own imprint. It has all the projects I’ve been developing for the last decade. We are working on two series. One is a contemporary comedy about two women. The other is a historical, set in Kolkata and Darjeeling, involving three generations of women with the whole geopolitical backdrop of the Anglo-Burmese and Bengalis.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao is also a founder at Paani Foundation, along with Khan, his first wife Reena Dutta and Satyajit Bhatkal. It offers solutions to Maharashtra’s drought crisis. “We are at an exciting juncture where 75 talukas have just competed for a water management prize called the Water Cup,” she says. “We find that as soon as villages have sufficient water, they start growing commercial but water-intensive crops like sugarcane again, and the cycle continues. We’ve realised that farmers need to work collectively with the best practices to be ecologically and economically sustainable. We hope to close the loop between producers and sellers and turn farmers into entrepreneurs. Our pilot Farmer Cup is between farmer collectives, and many all-women collectives are being formed, too.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao says she is still “hung over” from Aamir’s daughter Ira’s wedding, which concluded just two weeks back. “The wedding was so beautifully curated by Ira and Popeye (her fiance Nupur Shikare), keeping each of us in mind,” she says. “We are a large family with varied interests, like music and sports. So we had an obstacle course, and a sangeet where we teased each other.”</p> <p>Ira also had personalised gifts for her family. “She gave me a little oil painting of me on a street in Berlin,” she says. “I thought that was so special to make, in the middle of planning her wedding.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Visuals of Aamir Khan, with his two former wives, make a modern, happy divorce a very practical, respectful idea. “We are all naturally inclusive. We all get together for dinners on Monday nights. We live in a community and our homes are all in the same housing society. I hang out with Reena (Aamir’s ex wife) and Nuzhat (Aamir’s cousin) independently of Aamir, too. These are relationships you shouldn’t lose if you get divorced. Aamir and I didn’t have an acrimonious divorce; we may have parted as a couple but we are very much a family,” she smiles. “Even at the end of a marriage, you’ve put so many years in a relationship and that should count for something.”</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/02/02/kiran-rao-second-film-laapataa-ladies-kindling-productions-divorce-with-aamir-khan.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/02/02/kiran-rao-second-film-laapataa-ladies-kindling-productions-divorce-with-aamir-khan.html Fri Feb 02 16:14:46 IST 2024 adman-prahlad-kakar-s-memoir-is-no-malicious-but-delicious-read <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/27/adman-prahlad-kakar-s-memoir-is-no-malicious-but-delicious-read.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/1/27/73-Prahlad-Kakar.jpg" /> <p>Not many know that it was a short ad film, barely four seconds long, shot by a maverick adman that led to the discovery of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. It was the early 1990s―a time when ads were not skipped but etched in our memories, thanks to catchy slogans and jingles―and a young Prahlad Kakar was looking for a face for his next Pepsi commercial. That’s when Aishwarya, then a student of architecture, and her male colleague walked into his office, with a fat portfolio in hand. The duo had come to consult Kakar’s wife, Mitali, when his assistant spotted Aishwarya. “What struck me first were her grey-green eyes, which would change colour depending on her mood…. Even now when she is angry, they become green. When she is happy, they become grey-green,” writes Kakar in his latest book <i>Adman Madman: Unapologetically Prahlad</i>. Many years later when they became friends, Kakar brought her a pair of jade earrings from Myanmar that matched the colour of her eyes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Aishwarya’s first ad shoot was anything but easy―20 takes to say one line: “Hi, I am Sanju. Got another Pepsi?” He narrates how they did a free hair and a wet hair look. He wanted her body language to be just right, hence the many takes. “She was close to tears,” writes Kakar. “She was very young, and very inexperienced, protected, studious and had never even dated. I wanted her to get a room full of guys to fall for her but the problem was that Aishwarya herself wasn’t convinced that she was good looking enough to get a room full of men to fall for her. And then, when she delivered, destinies, both hers and ours, changed forever.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is noon on a weekend when we meet Kakar at his home in suburban Mumbai. He is at the dining table, nursing a glass of what looks like carrot-and-beetroot juice. He is warm and welcoming and breaks into an animated chatter the moment I ask him to sign a copy of his book. “Isn’t it unputdownable?” asks Kakar, 75. I say it is. “We ad people have so much to say; for every project, there is an entire story behind a story which can become a film in itself,” he says, as a domestic help combs his signature salt-and-pepper locks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His latest book is a compendium of his years as an ad filmmaker―close to four decades―with anecdotes from some of the most memorable campaigns he has done for prestigious clients and corporates. The book is divided into chapters that begin from his early “mad hostel years” to training under a “reluctant mentor like Shyam Benegal”, whom he credits for teaching him the art of storytelling and how to capture it on celluloid, to his time at Genesis, an ad firm he cofounded, and everything in between. Tell him what a fat book he has penned and he says, “Not fat enough. I left [out] so much of what I had to say. I think I will have to write another one now.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The book is a breezy read, peppered with his irreverent humour and sarcasm. “As far as I can remember, I have always―without exception―been thrown out of respectable institutions for being at the right place at the wrong time, and for not being able to keep my mouth shut,” writes Kakar. “The glee I got from it came much later when I decided to have fun while being thrown out.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, he has been thrown out of hostels and paying guest accommodations, of course, but he has also gate-crashed his then girlfriend’s wedding, trying (and failing) to elope with her and gifting her a <i>mangalsutra</i> as a parting gift in front of the full gathering. So, does he find himself at the right place at the right time now? “Well, now I have started enjoying needling the establishment,” he says, laughing. “It is like, ‘let’s see what it takes to get thrown out.’ I think that has been my evolution. Occasionally, I must be thrown out of places, otherwise they will call me old and that I have lost the plot.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 1990s saw an abundance of memorable ads, and Kakar was at the peak of his career then. “My clients kept coming back to me for 25 years on the trot,” he says. “I worked with Pepsi for 15 years, with Nestle for 25 years on Maggi. So the bar of the industry was raised entirely by Genesis. The 1990s was the time when the best work came out of this country in advertising.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The success of Pepsi has been close to his heart. “Nobody ever looked at a Pepsi film and said this is not about Pepsi but about Amitabh Bachchan or Shah Rukh [Khan] or Sachin [Tendulkar],” says Kakar. “It always was a Pepsi film.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How did he ace the 30-second ad filmmaking? “Purely by gut reaction, instinct,” says Kakar. “I would close my eyes and try and visualise it. But they never understood that and thought I was being arrogant…. Filmmakers should be able to read scripts and see the film. Because if he cannot see the film, he is the wrong person to make the film.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Called Indian ad industry’s feared and beloved leprechaun, Kakar was also known to change scripts. He writes about an ad he had to do for P&amp;G, which he found “crushingly boring and atrocious”. So he “would shoot it their way, get it out of the way and then shoot it my way”. “Sometimes the client would hate his version and end up liking mine,” he says. “Right now nobody does two films. They only do it for the client and the money that comes with it. They all forget about their own brand and only remember the star as against in films that we used to do―the star was always the second lead; the brand was the main [lead]. And, scripts were written around the brand.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ads of today are only mediocre, says Kakar. “It is evident from the consumer reaction to ads nowadays,” he says. “During our time, they would prefer watching the ads over the content. But now it is the reverse. Ads have become irritating for the viewer and she is opting for content without ads by paying extra. Unfortunately, clients are not understanding this.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the free hand he had at Genesis would have been restrained if not for the “iron fist in a velvet glove”―his wife, Mitali. They got married when he was 36 and she 22 and have three sons. “The first thing she did after our wedding was to take over the finances of Genesis, leaving me free to dream and create. She even put me on a stipend so that I wouldn’t run the company into the ground,” he writes. She seems to have forgiven him for having forgotten about their wedding even as the preparations for the same were on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kakar is now associated with quite a few OTT projects, and is also mentoring a production house and vetting their scripts to “see whether they are worth making or not”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, what makes Kakar rock after all these years? “I have no filters,” he says. “I don’t need them. I say it the way it is and you take it the way you want to. I have no malice towards anyone because I see people in shades of grey.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Adman Madman: Unapologetically Prahlad</b></p> <p><i>By</i> <b>Prahlad Kakar with Rupangi Sharma</b></p> <p><i>Published by </i><b>HarperCollins India</b></p> <p><i>Price</i> <b>Rs799;</b> <i>pages</i> <b>526</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/27/adman-prahlad-kakar-s-memoir-is-no-malicious-but-delicious-read.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/27/adman-prahlad-kakar-s-memoir-is-no-malicious-but-delicious-read.html Sat Jan 27 11:40:08 IST 2024 13-ad-rock-band-in-kerala <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/27/13-ad-rock-band-in-kerala.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/1/27/76-The-13AD-concert-in-Kochi-on-January-11.jpg" /> <p>Cochin, 1993.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was pedalling along a dark, deserted Shanmugham Road, with the nightly power cut adding to the sense of desolation. My bicycle chain was squeaky enough to spook a solitary man who, on his way back from a local cinema, was relieving himself on the wall of the police commissioner’s office.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the distance, beyond a bridge, I could see Marine Drive lit up by lamps. The shining promenade made me feel like I was in a rock concert―stage lights streaming into the dark concert hall. I pedalled till I reached a footpath lined with Ambassador cars on Marine Drive. No dark concert hall here, nor any rockers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was a behemoth of a building, though―Hotel Sealord. A few cabbies were huddled together outside, smoking a joint and waiting for a drunk patron or five, preferably white, to saunter out and hire a ride.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I stationed myself on the footpath near the hotel and listened. Eric Clapton’s ‘Tears in Heaven’ wafted out of the Princess restaurant on the first floor. As the song slowly faded, a hand fell on my shoulder. It was a long-haired cabbie, with a weather-beaten face and a beedi between his lips. He wanted to know why, for the past few days, a 16-year-old was waiting outside Hotel Sealord at 9pm.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“<i>Chettah</i>, I’m standing here so I can hear the band,” I said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His wrinkly face broke into a pleasant smile. People sitting on the pavement, and leaning against lampposts and cars, turned to me. They were complete strangers, but with a nod of their head, they acknowledged me as someone of their kind. The kind that could not afford to pay the cover charge of Rs75 (fully redeemable) at the restaurant to listen to the one and only legendary band of our times, 13AD.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This was the ‘empty wallet’ brotherhood, and I was part of it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The band, 13AD, was born in 1977, and it was not until 1992, when my elder brother was roped in as its lead singer, that I was introduced to the fine men who were at the height of their rock 'n' roll fame by that time, with two albums released and constant tours of the country. Hotel Sealord was their base in Cochin. Getting into the restaurant where they regularly performed, and experiencing the band as they held the platform, was something that only the fortunate among the music-hungry rockers across Kerala could afford.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A good portion of the platform was occupied by a massive drum-kit that came to life the moment the mighty Pinson Correia took his throne behind it. To his left stood the powerhouse of the band, Paul the bassist and singer, with fingers sculpting bass lines on those thick strings, getting them locked in with the bass drum. It was upon this foundation that the keyboard wizard Jackson Aruja kept himself busy, adding the sonic equivalent of the icing on a cake, which in turn allowed the phenomenal Eloy Isaacs, the band’s founder, reveal his immaculate guitar skills. Together, they created a hallowed ground for George Peter, my brother and the band’s youngest recruit who with his voice, stunned and transformed his audience into his obedient subjects.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After 8pm, when Marine Drive would be deserted, their glorious music streamed down to the street, where us empty wallets stood.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was an interlude, and I could hear someone shouting, “Ground Zero!” Soon there were more voices demanding 13AD’s most famous composition. The band obliged. As the band called out those who were ‘filled with the vision of nuclear fission’, a relatively young member of our brotherhood offered me a plastic glass with something that looked both sinful and delightful, to keep me warm against the cold air. The long-haired cabbie immediately intervened, and after a quick stare-down at the guy who now slunk back to where he was sitting, offered me a cup of tea.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As we stood there sipping from our cups, he enlightened me about the song. “Ground Zero was written by George Thomas Jr, who passed away in the Teekoy tragedy,” he said. George, he explained, had gone to an estate in Teekoy in Kottayam district with six friends. They were at a waterfall when a flash flood caught them unawares. He was among the four who died.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It started to drizzle. I could now lie to my mother that my ‘cycling exercise’ was interrupted by the rain and spend some extra time on the pavement. By then, a crowd had gathered outside the hotel, seeking shelter from the rain. As if on cue, the band started performing ‘November Rain’ by Guns N’ Roses, which was quite popular on MTV. Some of us sang along. A police jeep passed by, slowing down to assess whether we were trouble. Realising this was just a group of harmless music aficionados, the police went their way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before cellphones and the internet, 13AD stood out for their near-perfect rendition of songs by artistes on both sides of the Atlantic. With no recourse to YouTube tutorials, or other such to understand the method to making music, the band figured out how to perform those songs. They had two generations of music lovers hooked on to them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The rain subsided, and the long-haired cabbie decided that it was too late for someone my age to be hanging around there. He told me to scoot. Convinced he was acting in my best interests, I started for home. On my way back, I thought how rich I was to be in this empty-wallets brotherhood.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thirty-two years later, as I use a laptop to latch on to those memories, my beeping cellphone distracts me. It is announcing the arrival of video clips of a special, sold-out concert that took place in Kochi on January 11―a single-night reunion of 13AD after a long hiatus, specially for their fans from the 1990s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I don’t recall the names of the long-haired cabbie or anyone in the empty-wallets brotherhood. For me, it was somewhat like a train journey, where you meet and connect with people, but forget the moment you disembark. It was music that brought us together―we were all lucky to have been 13AD fans in the 1990s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, I am lucky to have lived long enough to see the band come together one more time.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/27/13-ad-rock-band-in-kerala.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/27/13-ad-rock-band-in-kerala.html Sat Jan 27 11:34:30 IST 2024 chef-garima-arora-talks-about-winning-second-michelin-star-for-her-restaurant-gaa <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/27/chef-garima-arora-talks-about-winning-second-michelin-star-for-her-restaurant-gaa.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/1/27/79-Chef-Garima-Arora.jpg" /> <p>There are many people who have turned Garima Arora, who recently won the second Michelin for her restaurant Gaa in Bangkok, into the chef she is today. First, there is her grandmother. Arora took her toddler steps in cooking with a milk cake, made with semolina in the pressure cooker, that her grandmother taught her. The real pleasure was not the end but the means―cooking with her grandmother.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her grandmother used to make white butter, which Arora used to eat with 'gobi ka paratha' or 'methi ka paratha'. Today, it is a signature at her restaurant. In fact, many of her early food memories are plated and served at Gaa. “We used to make a dish called kanjak with halwa, chane and poori during Navratri,” she says. “That was something I used to look forward to all year. That combination of savoury and sweet eaten together has shaped my palate and the way I cook.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gaa was launched in 2017 as a modern Indian fine-dining restaurant offering a 12-course tasting menu, turning Arora―the only Indian woman to have won two Michelins―into an overnight sensation. However, starting it was not an overnight process. It took years of hard work, dedication, and a little nudge from chefs like Rene Redzepi, the wizard behind Copenhagen’s Noma.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Redzepi is one of the chefs she worked with after completing her course in Paris’s Le Cordon Bleu. Arora says her time at Noma gave her structure and discipline. And Redzepi gave her the best piece of advice. “He told me to make sure I do business only with the right people,” says Arora. “Finding a life partner is easier than finding a good business partner. Those were wise words.&quot;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She also says that her time at Noma taught her not to take her cooking too seriously, and to have fun in the process. But no one could ‘out-fun’ Redzepi like two madcap tricksters-turned-tasters―Chefs Ranveer Brar and Vikas Khanna―her co-judges on season 7 of <i>MasterChef India</i>. Both of them, Arora was to find out, could give you as good a laugh as a lasagna. &quot;They are my two favourite humans ever,&quot; says Arora. Whether it was playing ‘food charades’ or crowning Queen Garima with marigold flowers, the three had a blast on the sets of the show. As Brar said, “Growing up is overrated.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But there is one thing that Brar and Khanna could not give her―magic. Because there could be only one magician in her life: her father. He inspired her love for food when he experimented with all sorts of dishes in her childhood. He was making risottos and hummus when no one in India had even heard of them. But what confounded her was a banana upside-down cake that was his specialty. For the longest time she could not figure out how the banana got inside the cake. Her father would tell her it was magic, and he would make a ‘poof’ sound, and Arora was mesmerised. “That shaped my relationship with food, when the mystery surrounding it was ignited,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the magic drizzled away, the magician turned into mentor and best friend. The two have taken holidays together to Spain, Paris and Vietnam, wining, dining and wisecracking. There is nothing she cannot tell him. He also has another role at Gaa―as master taster. Everything must pass the acid test of his discerning palate, whether it is the famed jaggery butter and caviar on crispy buckwheat, or the fermented rice cake stuffed with spinach and topped with tomato chutney.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And no prizes for guessing who was the first person she called upon hearing of the second Michelin.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/27/chef-garima-arora-talks-about-winning-second-michelin-star-for-her-restaurant-gaa.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/27/chef-garima-arora-talks-about-winning-second-michelin-star-for-her-restaurant-gaa.html Sat Jan 27 11:29:23 IST 2024 conservation-architect-abha-narain-lambah-interview <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/19/conservation-architect-abha-narain-lambah-interview.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/1/19/63-Abha-Narain-Lambah.jpg" /> <p><i>Interview/ Abha Narain Lambah,conservation architect</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Abha Narain Lambah came to Mumbai as a young architect, the first building she prepared a conservation plan for was the David Sassoon Library and Reading Room in Kala Ghoda, an area known for its Victorian, Gothic and art deco buildings. That time they did not have enough funds, so she had to turn her attention instead to the India Habitat Centre in Delhi, which was the first building she restored in 1993.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The allure of the David Sassoon library, which turns 157 this year, remained though, and she finally got her chance in 2022, when the library signed an MoU with the JSW Foundation to restore and conserve it. The first thing she felt had to go was the RCC slab that replaced the main roof of the building. “We now have a sloping roof, exactly the way it was in the original structure,” she told THE WEEK. “Likewise, the windows, the Minton tiles―everything was restored to its past glory.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On a busy January evening, when the city is chugging along at full speed, the library offers an oasis of calm. An ornate chandelier in the centre gives the space a regal feel. After having lost close to 7,000 books, the library’s restored a rich collection of almost 28,000 books across five languages. There are banker’s lamps on the huge mahogany tables. Outside on the veranda, the planter’s chairs have been repaired, and one can comfortably settle in them and watch Mumbai in action.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last December, Lambah received the UNESCO Asia-Pacific award for cultural heritage conservation for restoration of the David Sassoon library and the Bikaner House in Delhi. These are not the only ones though. Lambah’s firm, Abha Narain Lambah Associates, has won 13 UNESCO awards and undertaken projects as varied as the Maitreya Buddha Temple in Ladakh, the Ajanta Caves of Maharashtra, the Raj Bhavan in Kolkata, the Hampi temples of Karnataka and the Opera House in Mumbai. Her ongoing projects include restoration of Shalimar Bagh in Kashmir, redevelopment of Crawford Market in Mumbai and conservation of Victoria Hall in Chennai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Did you expect the two awards?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Yes. Especially for Bikaner House, because it was the culmination of many years of work. It changed the narrative of government buildings in Delhi. This was a bus <i>adda</i> with <i>paan</i> stains and loosely hanging wires. When Vasundhara Raje was the chief minister, it was her vision to transform the place into a cultural hub and to turn it into a visiting card for Rajasthan in Delhi. That was precisely what we did in very little time. The place is now a buzzing art space, and can host cultural events from flamenco dance performances to food festivals and book releases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What has been your driving force as a conservation architect?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>When I became a conservation architect, people did not know what it meant. It was a completely new field and in India we had this notion that it was an elitist occupation. This is why my career growth did not start with restoring a palace or a monument; rather, it was grass-roots and mainstream―a historical building which is a part of the public memory. Yet, what bothered me was that despite historical public landmarks becoming an inherent part of our collective memory, we were always reluctant to fund their restoration and conservation. So, that is what has driven my entire career―making people participate in conservation. My first few projects were as founding member of Mumbai’s Kala Ghoda Association, where we raised funds through public support and restored some of the most prominent landmarks, like Elphinstone College and Mumbai University.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How crucial is it to go back to traditional knowledge systems for conserving heritage?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It is extremely crucial. So when we were working on the temple in Ladakh, we went to senior Ladakhi villagers on how to mix two types of clay, on where to get the ancient local grass, yagzas, and more. We used traditional techniques that have lasted for a century, rather than getting contemporary things. In Punjab, I worked on the Qila Mubarak in Patiala and the Mughal Serai in Doraha. Seventy years after independence, there had been no conservation at all in those towns. Punjab was all about new buildings and industry. There I found two craftsmen in their 80s who knew how to work with lime to train the younger guys, because they could provide us with the right knowledge on the materials used back in the day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you feel we have not yet mastered contextual design in India?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> In India, we either completely copy the old buildings and make a fake new one, like we did with Mumbai’s Gateway of India which had a mini Gateway of India with a fake arch that was a toilet. Or we make really bad new buildings that have no idea of scale. I learnt from my first boss, Joseph Allen Stein (known for the India International Centre and Ford Foundation at Lodhi Gardens, among others), that good architecture is built with context. So even if you build at the Lodhi gardens, don’t make fake Lodhi arches. Make a completely contemporary building, but with due regard to the original structure. In India, there are very few architects who can strike a balance between the new and the old.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Which Indian city is an example of an ideal, well-planned city in India?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Jaipur for me is a well-planned city, with courtyards that bring in passive cooling and thick walls. There is strong facade and signage regulations and a mixed land use. Elsewhere in India, this whole concept of the demarcation between the residential and business area is quite bizarre. For me, mixed land use is extremely crucial―where business, homes, shops and craftspeople form a micro community within each mohalla. That was how the traditional Indian set-up was. What we have lost because of European planning are buildings which lack identity. So if you see an old city like Jodhpur or Udaipur, a material palette was ingrained in their design. Which means all of Jodhpur used the same material and every [building] had the same height and fenestration, thereby giving a uniform identity to the entire town. Today, that is missing, with everyone building in their own way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think we have lost Mumbai to bad planning and greed?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>The Backbay Reclamation Scheme of Marine Drive reclaimed a lot of land and created a strong urban design. I worked on making Marine Drive a world heritage site. What is so special about it is that there is this strong massing, every building is of the same height and there is an overarching urban design statement. And then you look at Andheri and Lokhandwala, where there are pockets of isolated planning by individuals. So, in a way, the planners and the government just lost the plot and only cared about the development fees. There was just no planning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You say conservation is forensic in technique. Please explain.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Just like in forensics, you need proof to make decisions. Conservation is a lot like that. When we take on a project, we go into the archival history, look at the drawings, and the archival photographs. We found old photographs of side balconies at the Opera House, which at the time had been removed. Also, we found proof that the interiors were baroque and not art-deco. Because when I found it, it had an art-deco interior which had been redone at some point. So it was very important to establish at what time they changed it and what were the colour schemes used, because black-and-white photographs don’t reveal the colour. So we had to go through an old film starring Rajesh Khanna, the climax of which was shot in the Opera House, and that showed us the design of the balcony and the colour scheme then. When I was restoring the Mani Bhavan in 2004, all images were in black-and-white. So I went to a house across where an old man remembered the [erstwhile] colour scheme.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/19/conservation-architect-abha-narain-lambah-interview.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/19/conservation-architect-abha-narain-lambah-interview.html Fri Jan 19 15:13:00 IST 2024 the-indentured-and-their-route-a-relentless-quest-for-identity-book-review <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/19/the-indentured-and-their-route-a-relentless-quest-for-identity-book-review.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/1/19/67-The-Indentured-and-their-Route-new.jpg" /> <p>Forty years ago, I was doing a master’s course at the University of Leeds. A couple of my good friends were from Pakistan. We noticed that almost every third person on Oxford Street and Piccadilly was a person of colour, with a preponderance of South Asians. A Pakistani friend―a Pathan with a great sense of humour―joked about the few white men we saw, <i>“Humne </i>Hindustan, Pakistan<i> se inhe bhaga diya, ab englistan se bhi bhagayenge</i> [We drove them out of Hindustan and Pakistan, now we shall drive them out of England].” We did not drive anyone out; instead, we assimilated, learnt from them and taught them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former diplomat Bhaswati Mukherjee, in her fourth book, <i>The Indentured and their Route: A Relentless Quest for Identity</i>, tells the poignant story of indentured labour from India, forced to go to the West Indies, Mauritius, Suriname, Reunion and Fiji islands as a consequence of famine and poverty, a harsh foreign regime in India and alluring promises that never materialised. This story is a work of great scholarship, based on a study of multiple books and documents.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From 1834 to 1917, 1.3 million Indians left as indentured labour. Only 21 per cent returned; the rest either died or settled in the lands of their forced exile. Two factors contributed to the growth of indentured labour. One, the end of the Mughal empire and the rise of British colonialism brought about a big change in the living conditions in the subcontinent. While the Mughals were conscious of the conditions of the peasantry, and adopted administrative systems that were sensitive to their needs, the British and other European colonial powers exploited their colony for the enrichment of their distant homeland. They raised revenue shares to about 60 per cent. Millions of famine deaths occurred, yet the exploitation continued relentlessly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two, the movement against slavery threatened the supply of cheap labour to the plantations. The indenture system was a kind of agreement with the helpless and illiterate labour force, called <i>girmit</i> in its Indianised form, thus leading to the expression ‘girmitiyas’ for indentured labour. Middlemen promised <i>girmitiyas</i> relief from abject poverty, and obtained their thumb impressions and herded them into ships, with paltry rations. On the way, many died of cholera and smallpox. The planters, however, found that their slaves had been replaced by even cheaper labour. “One of the first planters to employ indenture confided in 1835 to an associate that ‘their cost is half that of a slave’,” writes Mukherjee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While girmitiyas were initially men, women soon joined them. The arrival of women and the formation of families changed the character of indenture. They became productive workers, rather than exploited labour. A political movement against indenture also emerged, supported by Mahatma Gandhi and leaders of the Indian National Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Generations later, descendants of the <i>girmitiyas</i> were fully assimilated into the culture and politics of the foreign lands. Their influence and position in society varied from place to place, strong in Mauritius and weak in Fiji. Yet, they retained their affinity towards India, as did India with them. UNESCO’s Indentured Labour Route Project, initiated by Africa and led by Mauritius, was strongly supported by India. The UNESCO recognised Aapravasi Ghat and Le Morne Cultural Landscape in Mauritius as world heritage sites.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Overall, a tragic, compelling story with a happy ending, told with empathy and skill.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Chandrasekhar</b> is former Union cabinet secretary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE INDENTURED AND THEIR ROUTE: A RELENTLESS QUEST FOR IDENTITY</b></p> <p><i>Author:</i> <b>Bhaswati Mukherjee</b></p> <p><i>Publisher:</i> <b>Rupa Publications India</b></p> <p><i>Pages:</i> <b>232;</b> <i>price:</i> <b>Rs595</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/19/the-indentured-and-their-route-a-relentless-quest-for-identity-book-review.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/19/the-indentured-and-their-route-a-relentless-quest-for-identity-book-review.html Fri Jan 19 15:06:24 IST 2024 goat-days-a-book-about-a-man-forced-into-slavery-in-saudi-arabia-is-getting-a-film-adaptation <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/19/goat-days-a-book-about-a-man-forced-into-slavery-in-saudi-arabia-is-getting-a-film-adaptation.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/1/19/70-A-still-from-The-Goat-Life.jpg" /> <p>Most pan-Indian mega-hits from the south have something in common―a super-human alpha male who has conquered every weakness. Be it the ex-cop who can decapitate people with a single swing of the machete (<i>Jailer</i>), or the gangster who goes on a rampage inside the Parliament to avenge his dead wife (KGF 2), or the prince who breaches the heavily-guarded fort of an evil king by single-handedly catapulting palm trees at it (<i>Baahubali 2</i>). The protagonist is too macho for cheap sentimentality, and any tear he sheds is amply compensated by the blood of the enemy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Enter Najeeb Muhammed, the hero of writer Benyamin's 2008 book <i>Goat Days</i> (<i>Aadujeevitham</i> in Malayalam). He is an ordinary man who lands in Saudi Arabia with the hope of a better life for his family. In the dunes of 'the Gulf', he is subjected to unimaginable misery when he is forced into slavery as a goatherd by a cruel master, with little chance of ever meeting his family again. The novel, based on real-life events, is one of the top sellers in Malayalam. Penguin described it as “a universal tale of loneliness and alienation”. It is just this universality that will underpin the success of <i>The Goat Life</i>, the book's pan-Indian, multi-language film adaptation, feels Benyamin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Because suffering is the same everywhere,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The survival drama, to be directed by national award-winning filmmaker Blessy, hits the theatres on April 10. It stars Prithviraj Sukumaran, who was last seen in the Prabhas-starrer <i>Salaar</i>, as Najeeb. Set to release in five languages, <i>The Goat Life</i> aims to become a trend-setter across India while staying loyal to the 'realistically grand' brand of filmmaking the Malayalam film industry is known for.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, can a story of tears and suffering compete with the gun-slinging, over-the-top spectacle of films like <i>Pathaan</i> and <i>Jailer</i>? Benyamin is sure it will. Language, he feels, will not be a barrier. “We are narrating the ordeal of a man who is trapped with an 'Arbab' (boss), the only human around him,” he says. “Najeeb cannot even speak his language. So language becomes least important when we are telling such a tale. Instead, action, pain and silence take centre-stage. Thus, any person around the world can relate to the movie.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In fact, the silences in the film speak louder than words, and elements like music, to punctuate the mood, become very important. That's why it was so advantageous to have A.R. Rahman and Resul Pookutty onboard to “create and capture the emptiness of the vast desert, the loneliness that haunts the lead and his trauma”, says Benyamin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The same goes for the VFX. To capture desert life with all its sundry sounds and sights―the hissing rattlesnakes and crawling camel spiders―demanded top-notch VFX. According to Blessy, the visual effects display Hollywood-level perfection and was meticulously crafted over a year and a half. <a href="https://www.theweek.in/news/entertainment/2023/04/07/aadujeevitham-trailer-release-goat-life-prithviraj-benyamin-movie-blessy-date.html" target="_blank"><b>The trailer</b></a>, with stunning visuals of bleeding purple skies and swirling sandstorms, bears witness to this. “The film's substantial budget served as a cornerstone,” says Blessy. “The strive for an unparalleled cinematic experience did yield results.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Benyamin says that Blessy has made the story his own. “The challenge before him was to translate Najeeb's trauma and thoughts into pictures,” says the writer. “He studied in detail how loneliness changed Najeeb's mannerisms. He delved deep into the novel to understand the mental and physical changes Najeeb underwent, and then he discussed them with me, Prithviraj and the real Najeeb.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Blessy elaborates further on his interaction with the real Najeeb: ''Before the shoot began, Benyamin, Najeeb, and I had an extensive conversation. It was my first encounter with Najeeb, whose real name is Shukoor. [He assumed the name Najeeb after the success of the book]. Najeeb shared more about his experiences beyond the novel―his initial hardships, silent struggles, and tearful moments. When I inquired about his response to his master's cruelty, he revealed that crying continuously prevented him from meeting the Arbab's eyes.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both Benyamin and Blessy vouch for Prithviraj's talent and commitment to the role. (The actor lost 30kg to transform into Najeeb.) “Prithviraj's dynamic involvement as a director, actor, and producer unfolded as a testament to his profound dedication to embodying Najeeb's character,” says Blessy. “His transformative journey went beyond the realms of conventional acting and evolved into a lived experience. His unique and immersive approach imbued the narrative with an unparalleled depth and authenticity. This was an extraordinary contribution to the cinematic portrayal of Najeeb's compelling journey.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For fans of the novel, the movie promises to take the story forward. Benyamin says that Blessy has introduced a new visual language while staying connected to the novel. “It is Blessy's movie,” he says. According to the director, the screen deserved more emphasis on how the indescribable torture transformed the man physically. “Because details matter in visuals,” says Blessy. “Portraying Najeeb demanded surpassing the narrative constraints of the novel. The actor abstaining from food and drink for a rigorous two-day period was an intense approach to authentically capture the nuances of the character's journey. This made it possible to elevate the movie into a palpable experience for the audience surpassing the confines of the written word.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The film does not just illuminate suffering; it is also a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. And perhaps there is no one like Blessy―known for his poignant filmmaking that mines hope from the depths of hopelessness―who can bring Benyamin's story to life.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/19/goat-days-a-book-about-a-man-forced-into-slavery-in-saudi-arabia-is-getting-a-film-adaptation.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/19/goat-days-a-book-about-a-man-forced-into-slavery-in-saudi-arabia-is-getting-a-film-adaptation.html Mon Jan 22 16:14:14 IST 2024 stories-of-inspiring-lesser-known-indian-women-are-being-told-by-women-authors <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/13/stories-of-inspiring-lesser-known-indian-women-are-being-told-by-women-authors.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/1/13/63-Lieutenant-Bharati-Asha-Sahay-Choudhry.jpg" /> <p>It is noon. The sky outside the window is a dusty, December barely-blue. Lieutenant Bharati ‘Asha’ Sahay Choudhry emerges from the warmth of her thick quilt―post her morning nap in her Patna home―in a white patterned kimono. Her hair, the colour of the moon, is held back neatly with four clips. Her hands, which once held a rifle as part of her training with the Rani of Jhansi Regiment, now holds a walker.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At 95, she is one of the oldest published writers in India. <i>The War Diary of Asha-san</i> chronicles the life of a girl growing up in war-torn Japan, fighting her own battle for the freedom of her country. “Ma would not let me sleep if I had not written in my diary,” she says. “We could not only write the good. You had to write the good and the bad.” Written in Japanese, on scraps of paper, and translated into English by Tanvi Srivastava (her great granddaughter-in-law), it has been published by Harper Collins India. Ask her what was the bad that the diary chronicled and she smiles: “We used to lie to ma. When enemy aircraft swarmed, ma would tell us to go into the trench. We would not listen and [instead] watched the dog fight. When American [aircraft] fell, we would celebrate. They were our enemies then. How to kill the British was the motto.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On June 15, 1943, a red-letter Tuesday in her diary, she met Subhas Chandra Bose and her life changed. “Netaji was in Japan,” she says. “I wanted to meet him. It was forbidden to go out at night, but we went at midnight. We reached the Imperial Hotel. He was standing there. I bent down to touch his feet. He told me that I should never bend. ‘You stand up and say Jai Hind. We have always bent under the British. Now, no more bowing. You have to fight for independence.’’’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is a story that she has narrated countless times. And one that has been passed down as a family heirloom, lovingly polished each time. “It was a personal journey for me as well,’’ says Srivastava. “Before I read the diary of Asha San, I had heard her stories. But, when I read the diary and the everyday details, I got goosebumps.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over 80 years later, Asha’s passion is still palpable. Her eyes are clear, her voice thinner with age, but her spirit is still very much of the teen that signed up to train to kill. “Nothing was ever difficult,’’ she says. “I was happy that we could use the rifle and learn it. We used to march and hold the rifle”. Her bayonet eviscerated Winston Churchill. (Not the man, but an effigy made of sack. The Ranis’ training included running 10 steps and on the eleventh shouting Jai Hind while piercing the effigy). “I learnt the bayonet but didn’t get the opportunity to use it,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her diary―lyrical, vivid and engaging―is the coming-of-age story of a girl who trained to fight, “to look the enemy in the eye’’, but her “war ended before it began’’. “My rifle did not fire any bullets, my bayonet did not slash the arteries of any enemies,’’ she says. The bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese surrender and the death of Bose ended the mission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the time Bose suggested the idea of women in combat, it was nothing short of radical. If Mahatma Gandhi pushed women out of homes to free India, Bose went further―to the frontier. The Ranis were trained in handling rifles, anti-aircraft guns, and methods of warfare, including guerrilla warfare. “I return home at seven in the evening,” writes Asha. “Ma doesn’t give me any work anymore. ‘<i>Arrey baba</i>, if you cut your hand here, how will you work there? Netaji’s soldier will hold a gun in her hand, not a flower.’’’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The war for India’s freedom was also a personal battle for freedom. Even if she did not know it then. “No one forced me,’’ she says. “I said I wanted to go.’’ After Japan’s surrender, Asha was imprisoned in Singapore. “There was no trouble in jail,” she says. “We used to laugh and sing ‘Kadam Kadam’. The Indians who came would send us food.” The song would become the bedtime song for her kids and even years later her voice may crack on the high notes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Asha may not have found a place in history, but her diary has found its way to bookshelves and has carved out space to accommodate women like her. While history books still have men as the heroes and women as supporting actors, big publishing companies are at the heart of independent stories like Asha’s and are adding furiously to them. This year alone, the space has been widened to include a whole spectrum.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sara Rai’s <i>Raw Umber</i>―the story of her family set in Allahabad, where the presence of her grandfather, writer Premchand, remained―was evocative and intimate. Meeran Chadha Borwankar’s <i>Madam Commissioner</i> recounts the memories of being the only woman officer in her batch of 1981 and of tackling the underworld. The upcoming biography of Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit―a diplomat and very much a woman about town, admired even by Marlon Brando―by Manu Bhargavan adds to this growing trend. But it goes beyond just conventional history.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Fabulous Feasts, Fables and Family</i> by Tabinda Jalil-Burney is about food, growing up in Aligarh where kebabs made memories and stories. The book is about recipes, but also about childhood.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then there is Ritu Menon’s <i>India on Their Minds―8 Women</i>, <i>8 Ideas of India</i>. In a slim volume, Menon tells the story of women who witnessed the independence struggle, participated in it and shaped it―whether it was through their writing, like Ismat Chughtai, Attia Hosain, Nayantara Sahgal and Qurratulain Hyder, or directly, as Captain Lakshmi Sahgal, Kamlaben Patel, Rashid Jahan and Sarla Devi Chaudhurani did. Each of these women grappled with freedom as they fought for it. As publisher to all of them, Menon’s book is intimate as well as essential, especially at a time when the idea of India is being pitted against Bharat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After translating Asha’s story, Srivastava is now rescuing the story of Asha’s mother, Sati Sen. The niece of freedom fighter and barrister C.R. Das had rebellion in her blood. In school, she was sent home by the nuns for singing God Shave the King. She blamed it on her Bengali accent. She married Anand Mohan Sahay. It was a love marriage, amid opposition. The two moved to Japan to fight for the revolution. In Kobe, when Indians decided to hoist the tricolour on January 26, 1935, Sati found that three Indian houses had chosen to fly the Union Jack. She set off with matches and set them on fire. The Japanese refused to arrest her saying that she was a patriot.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Even her husband in his memoirs just mentions her in passing,’’ says Srivastava, who is researching her story in archives to find the Indian National Army files. “I found her diary,’’ she says. “Here was this woman who was away in Japan but was connected to India. She writes about Jallianwala Bagh in 1922, and even though she was far away, she felt so strongly. You can feel the power.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like Srivastava, Anita Mani, too, has tried to flesh out women who are often only footnotes. Her book, <i>Women in the Wild: Stories of India’s Most Brilliant Women Wildlife Marine Biologists</i>, has brought to life the remarkable story of Jamal Ara―possibly the first Asian woman ornithologist. Ara, who studied only till class 10, wrote a book which is very much a bible for bird watchers. But, apart from the name little was known about her. “We did not even know she was a woman,’’ says Mani. But, a piece by a young essayist helped connect her story. If Ara had been lost in time, others in Mani’s book are pioneers who have never been acknowledged, like J. Vijaya, India’s first female herpetologist and turtle field biologist, who died at 28. Viji, as she was known, was ahead of her times―a tom boy who carried a bag of crocodile scat in a bus. “The trigger for me was Viji,’’ says Mani. “It took a while to piece together her life.” But now that it is out there, like Asha’s, it is impossible to erase.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/13/stories-of-inspiring-lesser-known-indian-women-are-being-told-by-women-authors.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/13/stories-of-inspiring-lesser-known-indian-women-are-being-told-by-women-authors.html Sat Jan 13 11:43:56 IST 2024 why-lakshmi-puri-s-debut-novel-swallowing-the-sun-is-part-life-part-invention <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/13/why-lakshmi-puri-s-debut-novel-swallowing-the-sun-is-part-life-part-invention.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/1/13/69-Lakshmi-Murdeshwar-Puri.jpg" /> <p>It was 1999. Aishwarya Rai had stepped into the world of acting. Akshaye Khanna was very much in his prime. Kevin Spacey had just won his second Academy Award. As a young diplomat, Lakshmi Murdeshwar Puri was in Hungary, the year the country opened a new chapter to enter NATO. Hope was everywhere, as the world stepped into another millennium.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That was when Puri began writing a story that she had lived with―one that she had grown up listening to. But it took a lifetime to complete. “I started writing when I was ambassador in Budapest, from 1999 to 2002,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is the dying days of December 2023 in Delhi. Puri is at her home, having taken a leap into fiction from the matter-of-fact world of diplomacy. “After about 43 years in what I call the pantomime of diplomacy, I really wanted to indulge in an act of creation,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Puri is at her desk, with an assortment of books in the background. All around her are gods―Guru Nanak on the desk, Shiva on the shelf and Krishna on the wall. “I wrote only 100 pages. After that, I got busy with work, and also had a block. I don’t know what happened. Over the years, I still kept reminding myself―that’s an unfinished project.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was only after 18 years―half of it in Geneva, and half in New York―that Puri resumed writing. Covid had the world on pause. “I worked 10 hours a day those days,” she smiles. “There was a kind of vacuum. That is what was needed. I think my external world was too busy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The result, <i>Swallowing the Sun</i>, is an ambitious novel. Especially for a first-time writer. Her canvas is vast, as is her cast of characters. The novel, which stretches across the tumultuous decades of the freedom struggle, follows the journey of Malati (rebellious, outspoken and feisty) and her sister Kamala (tamer, but cut from the same cloth)―from a village in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, where they were born, to a boarding school in Indore, and to Bombay and Banaras. The independence movement, which they become part of, forms the backdrop that shape their worlds, ideas and lives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“As someone said to me, this is not only their romance, but their romance with the idea of India,” she says. “I romance the idea of remaking India and India’s advance to greatness. My characters are not Mahatma Gandhi or Jawaharlal Nehru, or Sarojini Naidu or Annie Besant. [My characters] are the unsung heroes and heroines.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The book is as much a story about India as it is a love story. It combines the earthiness of the Maharashtrian landscape―with the sweetness of mangoes―with the political ferment of a time when India was filled with ideas. The book is as much a multigenerational family story, as it is a ‘coming of age’ story. And it is populated with not just feisty women as Malati and Kamala, but also determined men as Baba, the patriarch who fights to educate his daughters, and Guru Kopikar, the hero who is loyal, determined and in love with Malati. There is also Malak, the wealthy brother-in-law and Mohan Kaka, the uncle who was a revolutionary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the heart of the story are the lives of Puri’s parents―Malati Desai and B.G Murdeshwar. They were in their 40s when Puri was born. They were both passionate and committed to the idea of India. Years later, Puri has chosen to chart out their journey―fictionally. Their presence is palpable in the book, as in her home. Her father’s books, hardbound and their spines embossed with gold, the birth chart her mother made for Puri on her wall and, in a corner, the sitar she encouraged her to play.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It was a story waiting to be told, but not in an autobiographical way,” says Puri. “I am always reminded of Somerset Maugham, who was asked whether <i>Of Human Bondage</i> was autobiographical, and he said, ‘It is part life and part invention.’ I did want <i>Swallowing the Sun</i> to be both.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sprinkled across the book are <i>abhangs</i> (devotional poetry) that she grew up listening to. Abhangs were part of the fabric of her life, which is why she stitched them into the book in English, without losing their Indian heart.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Initially, one or two editors who read my script said, ‘Oh, but this doesn’t happen. It is not normal that people talk in poetry or insert poetry into their speech.’ I said, ‘You should have seen my parents,’” she says, laughing. “There was so much talk about books and literature and poetry. My father used to recite poetry every evening to us. I have tried to sing it like he did. So, that is in the weft and waft of the novel….”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The sweep of <i>Swallowing the Sun</i> captures the growing freedom and ambitions of women. The love letters that Guru writes to Malati are very much carved out of what her father wrote to her mother.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I have something like 148 love letters,” says Puri. “Written to my mother, when she had to be separated from him. During that period, I find that there are very few letters of hers. ‘You don’t express your love,’ my father complains all the time. I was fascinated by the medium of letters. It’s a medium of not only communication, but also expressing love, maintaining love, and evolving love.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Swallowing the Sun</b></p> <p><i>By</i> <b>Lakshmi Murdeshwar Puri</b></p> <p><i>Published by</i> <b>Aleph Book Company</b></p> <p><i>Price</i> <b>Rs899;</b> <i>pages</i> <b>424</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/13/why-lakshmi-puri-s-debut-novel-swallowing-the-sun-is-part-life-part-invention.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/13/why-lakshmi-puri-s-debut-novel-swallowing-the-sun-is-part-life-part-invention.html Sat Jan 13 11:32:47 IST 2024 ai-assistants-are-efficient-and-helpful-but-a-privacy-nightmare <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/13/ai-assistants-are-efficient-and-helpful-but-a-privacy-nightmare.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/1/13/70-shutterstock.jpg" /> <p>It is no secret that Microsoft is betting big on artificial intelligence. But its decision to add a key to summon Copilot, its AI bot, on the Windows keyboard shows how big the stakes are. The last time Microsoft changed the keyboard was some 30 years ago, when it added the Windows key next to the spacebar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Copilot is already there in many avatars on your Windows computer. By default, you see the button on the taskbar if you are running the latest version of the OS. It has a chat mode, powered by Bing chat, which is another version of Open AI’s ChatGPT, and can help you with anything from composing an article to change into dark mode.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Copilot can do a bit of coding as well. Just tell it what you want your code to do and it will give you formatted code. You can edit or tweak it as well. And, thanks to Dall-E integration, it can generate images―just tell it what you want and you get four options.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most these options are already available on Bing Chat, but there is more that Copilot can offer. Like summoning an app. Just type, or say after clicking the mic button in dialogue box, ‘Open Spotify’, or ‘Turn off dark mode’. It can also help you with troubleshooting apps.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, there are only a handful of programs that Copilot is integrated with. Edge, the browser, and Microsoft 365 have their own Copilots, and they are somewhat deeply integrated. But Copilot cannot do much inside most programs, even the ones developed by Microsoft. And until it is capable of doing stuff inside apps, it has limited use as a digital AI assistant and is no more than a party trick.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But again, giving a program access to everything on your computer is a privacy nightmare. For Copilot to be as efficient as it is designed to be, it needs access to a lot of data. Many of you would not want anything to be able to read your email or remember your photos, however helpful that thing be in getting things done.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You might already know how large tech companies use your data for targeted advertisement. They also use your data to train their AI models. That is a lot more terrifying than being spammed by ads. These AI models are powerful―they can hurt you with the same efficiency with which they help you.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/13/ai-assistants-are-efficient-and-helpful-but-a-privacy-nightmare.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/13/ai-assistants-are-efficient-and-helpful-but-a-privacy-nightmare.html Sat Jan 13 11:27:42 IST 2024 british-american-author-jhumpa-lahiri-interview <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/06/british-american-author-jhumpa-lahiri-interview.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/1/6/63-Jhumpa-Lahiri.jpg" /> <p><i>Interview / Jhumpa Lahiri, author</i></p> <p>There are few writers that publishing pauses for; Jhumpa Lahiri is one of them. She burst on to the literary scene with <i>Interpreter of Maladies</i> 25 years ago. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, changing her life, publishing and the immigrant experience in English forever. Lahiri, however, has only grown since then. She migrated from English to Italian with <i>Whereabouts</i> (2018). She is back with <i>Roman Stories</i>—short stories written in Italian—that are evocative, elegant, intimate and, like with Lahiri, difficult to forget.&nbsp;</p> <p>Her canvas is vast. There is the true-blue Italian—in ‘P’s Parties’, a short story in the collection; the immigrant—the one looking to build a new home, and who will always be an intruder; the one who left Rome after an attack;<b> </b>and the woman who returns. Lahiri conjures up a city that is changing. Her Rome is not only of the sunny piazzas but of the shadows as well. And it is in these dark places that Lahiri’s writing shines. As she says in an interview with THE WEEK, “But every love story is so much more complicated than that wedding moment. That’s why we are sort of so obsessed culturally with weddings because it is this moment of pure joy, and we are not thinking about the shadows.” Excerpts:</p> <p><br> <b>Can you talk briefly about writing again in Italian?</b></p> <p><br> The books are all glued together at the same time. They were siblings growing up at the same time. One follows the other in publication reality. I started writing these stories early on in the experiment of writing in Italian, and some of them predate the writing of <i>Whereabouts</i>.</p> <p><br> <b>Is it now the language that you are going to write in? How is it different from writing in English?</b></p> <p><br> It is a language I have chosen now to work in for the past decade or so. But no one knows the future.&nbsp;</p> <p><br> It happened. I was inspired to do so. I continue to work in Italian as a writer, and as a thinker. The factors that led me to move out of English and into Italian are constantly in evolution. Italian represents other things, new things, different things, not the same thing. But in general, what I will say is that there is such a glut of literature [being] produced in English today that to be able to&nbsp;write in another as a sort of point of departure from my writing is attractive to me, because it just allows me to say, ‘Okay, I am leaving the big city to go to a language that is comparatively less trafficked on a global scale’.&nbsp;<br> <b><br> In the book, many characters are middle-aged, looking at life through a certain perspective. You claimed Italian at a certain point in your life, where you are looking to reinvent yourself. Is the Jhumpa in Italian different from the one in English?</b></p> <p><br> Life is all about learning how to do things, never getting entirely comfortable. I like to challenge myself. That is the most exciting aspect of living in a way, to think about what is slightly beyond your grasp, and how you can get closer, get a bit better at something, whatever it is, whether it is a language or just being a human being. There is always so much room for improvement—in terms of our being, our bodies, our states of health, our attitudes toward ourselves and the universe.</p> <p>Part of the narrative of my moving into Italian is [that] Jhumpa Lahiri is moving out of her comfort zone. My response to that would be, ‘what is my comfort zone?’ I have never had a comfort zone. I have never been comfortable really ever in my life. I was raised feeling extremely uncomfortable for a whole host of reasons.&nbsp;My earlier work points to that general discomfort of what it means to be an outsider, what it means to be raised neither here nor there, not having specific cultural, linguistic frames of reference. What does it mean to be the child of immigrants? These things are not comfortable things. These are not suitable experiences.&nbsp;I am moving from sort of one zone of discomfort to another, shall we say?</p> <p><br> My father chose to leave India. He felt the impulse to explore outside of the place he was born [in]. That is what led to my entire existence and the circumstances of my upbringing.&nbsp;I did that on a slightly later clock.&nbsp;I was already married and had my two children, and then I decided to go to another place for the impulse of it. But in my case, the language also entered it, as a creative component.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You also talk about the fact that a lot of people told you, you don't need to do this. There was a lot of resistance.</b></p> <p><br> Not so much [like] you don’t need to do that, [but more like] you shouldn’t do it, sort of like this is a really bad idea. Now 12 years later, I find it really fascinating—these reactions and admonitions and resistance to a writer or to an artist changing instruments. I am bewildered, given how much the artists I know and admire have moved, pushed, refused to sit still and crossed new boundaries in their creative trajectories.</p> <p><b><br> Do you think that superstardom of writers—where they have to interact through social media and be part of that space—sort of restricts writers from doing something that is without a readership or without an audience? Do you think that the idea of what a writer should do does not allow&nbsp;you to&nbsp;go off on adventures like this?</b></p> <p>This is an interesting question. There is an abyss from my point of view between who I am as a person, how I approach my day, my life, my work, a page and sort of what can potentially happen to a writer in terms of acknowledgment to the audience. Maybe [that’s] because I was met very early on with intense scrutiny and the gaze of the world because of the recognition of my first book. I was very young. I was young as an artist. There was a moment the spotlight was on me. I realised very early how fundamentally unrelated that is to what I do and who I am and to my work, and the apprehension of how that kind of attention could be quite damaging for someone trying to just sit in a quiet room and produce work with some of the imagination.</p> <p><br> The fact is that I really don’t want to do anything with my day, but read books. I always sort of worked to keep all of that noise at bay. I thought about it as little as possible. I would go out when they asked me to, and I would do the events, and I would sign the books, and I would [pull] through the pictures and things like that but as soon as it was over it didn’t exist anymore.&nbsp;It was like being on a course of antibiotics. That’s how it was for me. It is how it has remained for me.&nbsp;I am not on any kind of social media. I have always been on a different speed. But I feel now more than ever that I am still kind of like riding the bicycle and everybody else is zipping around high school.<br> <b><br> The book is also about outsiders. In one story, the outsider feels like an intruder. How much of this aspect of your being an immigrant is different or similar? In Italy, you are no longer the intruder; you are a writer, right?</b></p> <p><br> The artist is, by definition, an outsider. That is the only position in which art can be made—from the margins and from the outside. That is one premise.</p> <p>But I have always felt like an intruder. I always felt that my family was sort of intruding into the landscape of the place where I was raised, where, incidentally, I am right now as I am speaking to you. I am here at my father's house. It is impossible for me to come back to this place even today and not recall. Yesterday, I was taking a walk. It is impossible for me to completely set aside a slight apprehension of someone looking at me and saying, “What is she doing here?”&nbsp;I literally cannot divorce that apprehension from my state of mind. We are made in our childhood. We are sort of formed in ways that we carry with us.&nbsp;</p> <p>A&nbsp;lot has been made of my moving to Italy<b>—</b>she is in love with Italy, she is in love, whatever. It is a clever narrative for a headline. But every love story is so much more complicated than that wedding moment. That is why we are sort of so like obsessed culturally with weddings, because it is this moment of pure joy, and we are not thinking about the shadows. That is what the stuff of my books has always been—looking at the shadows, looking at the reality, looking at the underside of the pretty surface.</p> <p>Rome is an amazingly inspiring city, because it is so intensely beautiful, physically beautiful and powerful. And it is sort of historical resonance. But at the same time, it is complicated—there are so many things that, of course, the tourist who seeks only the sunny piazza is never going to seek out. They are actually not going to read the newspaper.</p> <p>On the one hand, I did arrive as a writer, so I have my status as a kind of a writer that enabled me to meet certain people. But on the other hand, when I am walking through the streets, just going to a doctor's appointment, there is not a sign around my neck saying that she is a well-known writer. I am just a person who is brown walking through the space. That is also an education.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>And you always will be a person who is brown, right?</b></p> <p>I am. Regardless of where I go, I am that. So depending on where I am, that is going to be part of the reality of any given moment, also the apprehension.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>In the book, there are stories about children and their loss. In ‘P’s Parties’, the narrator is torn about his son growing up. His wife, however, can’t wait for him to grow up. Could you talk about having children and being a writer?</b></p> <p>It was more of a logistical challenge. For women, writing with children historically has been a challenge. Compromises have to be made. In the ideal world, you have the whole day to yourself, you can run to your desk or whatever. So many writers in the past were men, and usually very wealthy men. It is a hard thing to do when you have other responsibilities, whether the responsibilities are holding down another job or raising children. But fortunately, for me and for my generation, there were many examples of women who had figured out a way.</p> <p>It is the discipline alongside some of the smaller sacrifices that, I think, allow that balance. Balance is a false word. Life is very tricky and out of balance most of the time. We have to kind of acknowledge that. I learned growing up as an artist, as a parent that it is not always going to be a great writing day.&nbsp;It is not always going to be a great writing month, or even a great writing year, because things happen in life that are going to make demands on your time. Whether they are wonderful things like raising two children who are small and who need to be taken care of, and they have been fed and played with and held, things like that, or whether it is the more unpleasant, inevitable experiences of life that take you away from things. You have faith that the writing will happen. After the rainstorms, the skies will settle, and it will be possible, again, to make the journey.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Roman Stories</b></p> <p><i>By</i> <b>Jhumpa Lahiri</b></p> <p><i>Translated by</i> <b>Jhumpa Lahiri and Todd Portnowitz</b></p> <p><i>Published by</i> <b>Penguin Random House India</b></p> <p><i>Price</i> <b>Rs499;</b> <i>pages</i> <b>224</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/06/british-american-author-jhumpa-lahiri-interview.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/06/british-american-author-jhumpa-lahiri-interview.html Sat Jan 06 13:57:37 IST 2024 why-zeba-heroine-of-huma-qureshi-s-new-book-is-the-badass-version-of-huma <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/06/why-zeba-heroine-of-huma-qureshi-s-new-book-is-the-badass-version-of-huma.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/1/6/67-Huma-S-Qureshi.jpg" /> <p>Actor Huma Qureshi has written a book―<i>Zeba, an Accidental Superhero</i>―and much like our heroine, there is that which is accidental about the book. It was not a planned masterpiece, but a zig-zaggy tour through Huma’s imagination. All themes in the book, she says, are accidental, and she gives the reader full rights of interpretation. “I invite all readers to draw their own inferences from what they feel about it,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In essence, she is telling us to make of it what we will, and so, that is exactly what we are going to do. <i>Zeba</i>, we deduct, is the badass version of Huma. She is Huma on steroids, Huma in high-resolution, Huma in a cape (pick the metaphor of your preference). For those of you who have not read <i>Zeba</i>, it is about a second-generation American immigrant who is the “chosen one” (kind of the female sum of the parts of Neo, Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter) to save the people living in the fictional kingdom of Khudir ruled by an evil dictator, the Great Khan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So why do we say that <i>Zeba</i> is Huma 2.0? For one, she is the fulfilment of Huma’s deepest wishes. Like flying. There are two things in Huma’s bucket list currently: make her book into a film and learn flying. And guess what? <i>Zeba</i> is a certified flyer. She has passed every exam with flying colours―written, oral and practical. See a pattern here?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Huma disagrees with our hypothesis that her creation is a glorified version of herself, but there are those who would agree. (Like Freud, for one.) Here is the second reason why we think so. Huma, like the rest of us, lives in a reality that is too realistic for its own good. After all, she made her film debut with <i>Gangs of Wasseypur</i>, which is the antithesis of fantasy. The film portrays life at its darkest and grittiest. It is only natural that when Huma writes a book, she would make it flighty and fanciful, her own way of rebelling against the humdrum league of realists. It is also telling that her favourite superhero is Deadpool, the most wisecracking of them all who his writers described as “fun to hang out with… in short doses”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Huma is at her most adventurous, not just in the creation of <i>Zeba</i>, but also in the structuring of the novel. In writing <i>Zeba</i>, she breaks all rules of writing. She mixes the real with the fictional, bringing in things like a performance by Beyonce at a royal wedding in Khudir, with her “long, cascading hair” and “thighs that evoked lust and dreams of earth-shattering orgasms among all genders.” (Wouldn’t you just love to see the Queen Bey raise her sculpted eyebrows at reading this?) Often, Huma ambles into her story with humorous asides, much like Shakespeare walking into his play and asking Hamlet to get his act together.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are post-its and illustrations strewn throughout the book. In fact, Huma says her favourite part of the novel is a post-it that comes right after <i>Zeba</i> gives a formal introduction of herself, and says: “Everything you will read in the following pages is fiction. Do not believe anything you read here.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finally, the reason why <i>Zeba</i> is the Freudian dream version of Huma? Because after all, who would not want to be <i>Zeba</i>, the pot-smoking, protein shake-guzzling superhero, who secretly wishes that the joint she flicks over the rooftop will fall on someone’s blond hair extension and set their clothes on fire. And has heady sex with a Bollywood heartthrob, with bonus post-coital snuggling included. And can zap a field of soldiers frozen with a single icy stare. Literally.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Zeba, an Accidental Superhero</b></p> <p><i>By</i> <b>Huma S. Qureshi</b></p> <p><i>Published by</i> <b>HarperCollins</b></p> <p><i>Price</i> <b>Rs499;</b> <i>pages</i> <b>187</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/06/why-zeba-heroine-of-huma-qureshi-s-new-book-is-the-badass-version-of-huma.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/06/why-zeba-heroine-of-huma-qureshi-s-new-book-is-the-badass-version-of-huma.html Sat Jan 06 13:54:12 IST 2024 polish-filmmaker-krzysztof-zanussi-s-distinctive-filmography-over-five-decades-has-influenced-many-generations <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/06/polish-filmmaker-krzysztof-zanussi-s-distinctive-filmography-over-five-decades-has-influenced-many-generations.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2024/1/6/68-Krzysztof-Zanussi.jpg" /> <p>Even now, at 84, acclaimed Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Zanussi frequently gets inquiries about a nostalgic ‘unrequited first love’ from his early years. When pressed on the matter by this reporter, the auteur openly confessed his feelings. “I still love physics, though physics did not fall in love with me,” he said. “I was mediocre and I discovered it after studying the subject for four years [at the University of Warsaw]. But the whole field of ‘exact science’ is the basis of my life’s outlook and orientation.” His distinctive filmography over five decades―inspired by his own life, its dilemmas and anxieties―has influenced multiple generations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Recently, Zanussi―who played an active role in the Solidarity Movement leading to the downfall of the communist dictatorship in Poland in the 1980s―was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK). This is ironic, since the state is run by a communist government. Nevertheless, Zanussi is adept at navigating the ironies of life through filmmaking, employing wisdom tinged with dry wit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But he is not hesitant to criticise when warranted. Twenty-five years ago, during an open forum session at IFFK, Zanussi engaged in a verbal altercation with the late CPI(M) ideologue P. Govindapillai. At that time, the filmmaker boldly declared, “I come from a country that was the victim of communism”, in response to P.G. ridiculing Poland for rejecting Marxism. That spat had attracted international media attention then.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the recently concluded IFFK, P.G.’s children, M.G. Radhakrishnan and R. Parvathy Devi, presented the filmmaker with the English-translated version of <i>Gramscian Chinthakal</i>, a Malayalam book co-authored by P.G. and former Kerala chief minister E.M.S. Namboothiripad, about the ideas of the Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci. However, Zanussi revealed a little secret to THE WEEK: after the closing ceremony of the IFFK, he discovered that the book was missing from his belongings. Without hiding his frustration over the loss, he remarked, “Maybe it’s a sign.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zanussi attributes his openness and curiosity about the mysteries of the material world to his short but influential years in the company of people of science. “I believe that people of science are years ahead of the rest of society, because they understand the material world much better,” he said. “The material world is full of mysteries which are not explained. Maybe some of them will never be explained. The people of science know better about our limits, and I think the public in developed countries lost this sense of limitation in the 19th century itself.” A stint with philosophy following his physics days aided his filmmaking since 1969 on the limitations and imperfections of the human race and society.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zanussi was born in 1939, the year Poland was invaded by the Nazis. He grew up in a country that was ruled by a puppet communist government under Stalinist dictatorship. Those early memories of living under an oppressive regime are most reflected in his tragicomedy <i>At Full Gallop</i> (1996), which is considered to be one of his most autobiographical works.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The [Stalinist] period was really dramatic and is seen from the perspective of a child [in the film],” he says. “It was almost comical, and that is why I made the film a comedy. For instance, horse riding was [restricted in Poland] back then, could you believe that?” The regime considered it a hobby associated with the former aristocratic class. Interestingly, in <i>At Full Gallop</i>, Zanussi narrates the tale of a young boy sent to live with an ‘aunt’ (actually an old family friend) as his family falls under communist suspicion. This ‘aunt’, who shares her passion of horse riding with the boy, had many fake identities to survive the communist regime.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zanussi said that this ‘aunt’ was based on a real-life eccentric woman who used to take care of him in his childhood. “After World War II, identification cards had to be reissued [for many] because many parishes and offices were destroyed in the war,” he said. “This ‘aunt’ had the crazy idea to create two identity cards instead of one, pretending to have a twin sister, because she knew that she would have to accept many moral and political compromises. So, she [made] this non-existing twin sister a party member. And in that crazy system it was possible to live [these fake lives]…. The whole idea of reality being not real is an essence of communism, or the essence of life under pressure or oppression.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zanussi recognised this disparity between communist ideals and reality at an early phase of his film career. And, that made him the pioneer of an influential Polish film movement of the late 1970s―the cinema of moral anxiety. A protagonist facing a conflict of values became the pivotal theme in his critically acclaimed films like <i>Camouflage</i> (1977) and <i>The Constant Fear</i> (1980). The movement abruptly ended in 1981 after martial law was introduced in Poland.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Many of the ideals of communism―social justice, economic equality and so on―were positive,” said Zanussi. “But they did not match reality, and this whole discrepancy [created] the cinema of moral anxiety. [We were having] an absolutist government, so public debate was not possible. It was possible only through allusions in films, and that is what we were doing.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The filmmaker faced enough communist censorship in his creative life. Interestingly, in 1981, when Zanussi worked on a biography of Pope John Paul II―whom he had known since the time he was a bishop―he had to deal with censorship from the Vatican, too. Around 30 objections were raised on his script, and Zanussi took a flight to the Vatican to say that if the church, too, wanted to impose censorship, he did not want to continue. As it happened, the Pope fell ill that day. Cancelling all appointments, he had the time to read the screenplay which an influential priest from Poland, coincidentally on the same flight as Zanussi, delivered to him. Consequently, all the “objections” disappeared.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over the past five decades, Zanussi has helmed around 40 films, with the last one, Eter, releasing in 2018. Despite having opportunities to collaborate with prominent Hollywood stars and production houses, he opted for a “more sophisticated dialogue with a very demanding public”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, with the dominance of social media and audiovisual content, Zanussi still believes that there is room for philosophical reflection. “As printed matter becomes less significant in our public life, with people reading less, we must find a way to convey more sophisticated ideas through audiovisuals,” he advises the younger generation of creators.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/06/polish-filmmaker-krzysztof-zanussi-s-distinctive-filmography-over-five-decades-has-influenced-many-generations.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2024/01/06/polish-filmmaker-krzysztof-zanussi-s-distinctive-filmography-over-five-decades-has-influenced-many-generations.html Sat Jan 06 13:53:08 IST 2024 writer-and-translator-damion-searls-exclusive-interview <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/29/writer-and-translator-damion-searls-exclusive-interview.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2023/12/29/63-Damion-Searls.jpg" /> <p>Damion Searls, a Harvard educated writer and translator, first read a novel by 2023 Nobel Prize winner Jon Fosse around 20 years ago. He read the German version of <i>Melancholy</i> as he did not then know Norwegian. Searls found the book brilliant and decided it was time to learn Norwegian. He enlisted help from a Norwegian-born co-translator and translated the book into English.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He has since translated multiple works of Fosse, including <i>Septology</i>, a novel in seven parts, published in three volumes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fosse is not the first Nobel laureate he has translated―Searls says Fosse was the eighth. The other seven were Patrick Modiano, Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann, Andre Gide, Elfriede Jelinek, Peter Handke and Gunter Grass (short pieces by the last two). But, Fosse is the one Searls has worked longest and closest with. Searls, who has a PhD in English, is known for his strong grasp of German, Norwegian, French and Dutch. He has written a book on Hermann Rorschach, who created the inkblot test, and has translated many classic modern writers, including Proust, Rilke, Nietzsche, Ingeborg Bachmann and Alfred Döblin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, the man who has received writing and translating awards from global institutions and universities, and from the Austrian, Belgian and Dutch governments, went to college to be a physics major. He ended up majoring in philosophy and then went to graduate school for English. Translation was how he pivoted into writing, but it was never something he formally studied.</p> <p>He has about 10 finished translations coming out soon, including a debutante Swiss novelist (her book is called <i>Overstaying</i> and it is hilarious, he says). Then, the next couple of years will be spent on Fosse’s backlist, he says. These include early novels, children’s books, poetry, and a new trilogy of novels.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Searls says that Fosse had been rumoured to be a frontrunner for the Nobel for years and in 2023 it seemed likely. So, he was watching the live stream at 6am in the US. “I understand enough Swedish that when the head of the academy said ‘Norwegian writer’ I knew it was Fosse a second before he said the name,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an exclusive interview, Searls shares his learnings and the experience of translating Nobel winners. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\Your book, <i>The Philosophy of Translation</i>, is due for publication. Could you tell us about your evolution as a translator?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A\</b> My ideas about translation have not changed much, though I think I am a better translator than I used to be, because I am a better writer. I do not translate in an intellectual, analytical way. I just try to make the sentences sound good. <i>The Philosophy of Translation</i> does talk about translation in a more conceptual way. But it is all after-the-fact―the act of translation itself is quite intuitive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ How did you first read Jon Fosse’s work and what was your impression of him?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A\</b> It was just a job. This publisher who had heard about Fosse did not have anyone to read Norwegian. But, the book had been translated into German, so they sent me the German translation of <i>Melancholy</i>. I was solely a translator from German at the time. It was a very good translation. I read the book and said it was total genius; you should absolutely publish it. The publisher said: ‘Thank you very much. Here is your hundred bucks,and we are not, in fact, going to do it.’ Which is usually what happens. I asked them if I could take the project elsewhere else, and found a US publisher, found a co-translator and learned Norwegian in the process of doing this book together.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The co-translator, Grethe Kvernes, who is a native speaker of Fosse’s version of Norwegian, did a first draft―Norwegian to English―and I sat there with the English and the Norwegian. I knew what the Norwegian said because I had the English. When I could not figure out how they went together, I could triangulate with German as Norwegian is a Germanic language. At first, I was worried that I would not have anything to do besides editing it a little bit, and I did not want to claim to be a co-translator if all I am doing is touching it up. But actually, I ended up making hundreds of changes on every page in terms of getting the rhythm, and we went through seven or eight rounds together. I do think it is fair to call it a co-translation, and that is how I learned Fosse’s Norwegian.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ It is often said that the essence or flavour of a work is “lost in translation”. How do you make sure this does not happen?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A\</b> This is a needlessly pessimistic way to think about it. And I also do not think it is true to how anyone, except the most uptight reader, actually reads. We all get to know the essences and flavours of world literature in translation and few people feel that because of translation they are totally cut off from the wider world. On the contrary, we feel that translation works. It is thanks to translation that we can read Homer and Kafka and Tolstoy and Cervantes and Ernaux and the Bible and the Ramayan. No one reads everything in the original. A translated work is different from the original. The words are different, but, by definition, it gains as much as it loses (if it loses all the Norwegian words, it gains all the English words).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ How did you become multilingual?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A\ </b>Some people learn by conversation―to learn Spanish or Catalan they go to Barcelona and head out to a nightclub―but I learn by reading. Wanting to read something is what motivates me to look up vocabulary, decode syntax and figure it all out. I do not fluently speak all the languages I translate from, but I read them well. It is being a good reader that taught me the languages, not the other way around.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ Could you share some anecdotes from your interactions with Fosse?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A\</b> He has always been responsive, kind and a great correspondent by email, which is how I communicate with him. He is widely translated and is a translator into Norwegian himself. So he understands how translation works and knows he has to trust translators to make their own decisions. He does not micromanage anything, but he has always been there to answer any questions I had. The trust he has in me is something I really treasure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have told this story before, but my favourite communication from him was about the title of his novel <i>Aliss at the Fire</i>. The Norwegian title is <i>Det er Ales</i>, which means ‘that is Ales’ or ‘it is Ales’; the woman’s name in the original is Ales. Unfortunately, this is a word in English, and we could not call the novel ‘It is Beer!’ So I emailed Fosse to ask two questions: What did the name Ales mean to him and what did he want the title to convey? I had noticed that the book’s first burst of short sentences, after 40 or so pages flowing by without a full stop, included the sentence ‘det er Ales’. So the title should refer to that moment in the book, but what else? Fosse told me that Ales was a very old-fashioned name, “Maybe your grandmother might have known an old woman named Ales.” He had a great-great-grandmother named Ales who was known as a “wise woman”, a healer, who got into trouble with the local priest at one point, but avoided punishment. About the title, Fosse said: “It means Ales is spreading out over the whole universe.” I love these answers, especially the second answer―they are like how I imagine a genius director does not tell actors what to do, just offers some comment that makes the actors realise they already know. I realised the character’s name should be recognisably a name, but unusual, mysterious, with a certain aura―not contemporary like Alice or Alissa. And the title should be something archetypal: a universal moment or image from that burst of short sentences.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We did not actually meet in person until May 2022, when we were finalists for the International Booker Prize and we both went to London. I think we slipped quite easily into in-person conversation, since we had understood and liked each other for so long already.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is a big fan and collector of fountain pens, different kinds of ink, and so on. So most of the time we talked about that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ You say Fosse’s writing speaks to everyone. Please elaborate.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A\</b> He is the most produced living playwright in the world, with something like a thousand productions in 50 languages. I think in English we tend to assume that if writing is not populist and trashy, then it must be elitist and difficult. But, Fosse is not creating intellectual puzzles or mysterious artefacts for academics to analyse. He is writing books about people for people to read. He is often compared to [Samuel] Beckett, and I think that is true of Beckett, too, by the way―you can try to say Beckett is ‘difficult’, but people love his work. I think journalists who emphasise, ‘OMG it is a 700-page book with no full stops’ are being more misleading than anything. I have heard from lots of readers who tell me ‘I was scared off by the reviews, but when I read it, it was great’. That “700-page book with no full stops” has characters, scenes and dialogue. It is not all philosophical, though there is some of that, too. His dialogue is moving and funny. I think it is amazing. What the characters say shifts our sense of them, it is surprising. It is never just stating information but always revealing how this person exists in the world. I think it is Fosse’s playwriting chops that let him do that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ How much time does it take you to finish a book by Fosse?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A\</b> It depends. His new book, <i>A Shining</i>, is 50 pages long, while <i>Septology</i> is close to 700. You cannot help but read slowly when you are translating. There is no skimming. You need to put in the time on every sentence, look up every word you do not know, decide how you are going to resolve every ambiguity. (I do not mean simplifying the text and removing ambiguity; I mean deciding which possible option in English you are going to use.) I do not read the books in advance. I translate as I go along, so that means I always read Fosse slowly. Which I think works well with his writing, luckily!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ How are you celebrating the Nobel Prize?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A\</b> I got to go to Stockholm and even bring my son to the Nobel ceremony and banquet! It was the experience of a lifetime, something even my teenage son eventually had to admit.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/29/writer-and-translator-damion-searls-exclusive-interview.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/29/writer-and-translator-damion-searls-exclusive-interview.html Mon Jan 01 17:02:30 IST 2024 making-music-is-an-intensely-spiritual-experience-for-anoushka-shankar <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/29/making-music-is-an-intensely-spiritual-experience-for-anoushka-shankar.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2023/12/29/68-Anoushka-Shankar.jpg" /> <p>Three years ago, sitarist Anoushka Shankar, daughter of the legendary Pandit Ravi Shankar, released her EP, Love Letters. Its music was drenched in pain, coming as it did after her divorce from filmmaker husband Joe Wright, her anxiety over being a single mother to her two sons and health issues following painful surgeries, including one to remove abdominal tumours. “Am I still loveable if you stop loving me?” she sings about heartbreak in one of the songs. But there is also strength in the music―she is not voicing the pain as much as exorcising it. The album, in that sense, is almost a catharsis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She’s written before about dredging music from this place of pain. “I’ve been struggling to write music lately and today, I’ve realised it is quite simply because, once again, I’ve been afraid that feeling too deeply will cause me to lose myself―that I will be engulfed by a pain I don’t want to touch or dive into,” she once shared. “Even though from experience I know it’s precisely that self-losing that allows me to change and heal.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And now, with her latest mini album, <i>Chapter 1: Forever, For Now</i>―the first of a planned trilogy of mini albums―she is more confident in revealing that vulnerability. In the “self-losing” that she spoke of, it is clear that she has found herself. There is something organic about the music in Chapter 1, as though it is an expression, rather than a creation. Its four songs were recorded at Berlin’s Leiter studio, and produced by Grammy-winner Arooj Aftab. My favourite was the opener, ‘Daydreaming’, featuring Nils Frahm on the piano. It is based on an old Carnatic lullaby that Anoushka’s mother and grandmother used to sing to her. One day, while rocking her sons to sleep, she strummed the tune to them, and memories started tumbling out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I have always loved the song, but usually when I have heard it performed it is quite dynamic,” Shankar tells THE WEEK over a Zoom conversation. “So, there is a whole percussion accompaniment and solos and a bit more buoyancy to the song. Whereas I wanted to bring out that lullaby flavour, that relaxing, hazy kind of feel.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Leaning back against comfy green pillows and sipping coffee, occasionally putting her feet up, Anoushka seems as relaxed as the mood she is trying to create in her song. When she smiles, the resemblance to her father is inescapable. This is the 10th year since she came out with <i>Traces of You</i>, her seventh studio album in which she pays homage to her father, who had died in 2012. (The album also features vocals by her half-sister Norah Jones.) She says that what she misses most about him is his laugh, which is fitting since Shankar used to laugh a lot. In her biography on her father, Anoushka recalls how he used to find humour in everything. She remembers a time he was in hospital and in a lot of pain. When they visited him, he told them that the monitor attached to his finger looked like a little ET and made it wiggle a ‘hello’ at them. He shot off a couple of spontaneous jokes and impersonated a nurse with a strange accent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Often, he would joke with his audience at concerts, sometimes introduce Anoushka as his mother, wink at her in between songs, and occasionally announce a piece and then confess he had no idea what he was going to play next. “If there is one thing that Bapi has taught me about performing, it is that it has to be fun,” writes Anoushka. And it is, most of the time. Sometimes, though, it is not. In a social media post, Anoushka reminisces about playing on the closing night of the Edinburgh International Festival in August while suffering from migraine. Right beforehand, she was vomiting and in searing pain, “hiding in a dark room with every part of me pleading not to have to go out into the lights and loud sound”. But she had to go out and play as though everything was alright.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“A lot of what artists do is quite invisible,” she says. “If you are getting up there night after night, you are getting up there through all your life events. My marriage broke when I was in the middle of a tour, and I was going onstage every day sticking a smile on my face, but my life was falling apart. It is not something you can share with your audience; they are just there for the show. On the one side, there is something transcendent about it―it is beautiful that music can lift you out of that difficulty. On the other side, it is something artistes do that goes unnoticed that is quite amazing, but also a little unfair.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But for the most part, she loves touring, even though it means leaving her sons for long stretches of time. (“Why are you gone so much? You just came back,” is their constant complaint.) And now, she will be touring India in January, including a performance at the Lollapalooza music festival in Mumbai. She says India holds a special place in her heart, because it is where her music and instrument come from. It is also where she held her first concert at the age of 13. That same year, she entered the recording studio for the first time, for her father’s album In Celebration. Two years later, she helped as conductor with her father and George Harrison of The Beatles, on their 1997 release, <i>Chants of India.</i> It was not always smooth sailing, as she remembers being quite the brat then.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I was convinced that something wasn’t working,” she says. “There was a shloka that my dad wanted everyone to do, but it was out of rhythm, and I was like: ‘This song is not working. We should move on.’ I was overstepping a bit. I was a kid and I was my father’s daughter. That time, Uncle George told me, ‘You must give it time. If you want to make something work, you have to find a way.' It was a real learning for a 15-year-old.” Since then, she says, she has learnt something from everyone she has collaborated with, from Sting to the Dalai Lama. But her best teacher remains her father.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In a way I am lucky, because I get to hear him whenever I want,” she says with a wistful smile. But even without the music, the memories are vivid: Teaching him how to blow bubbles because he said he had never done it as a child, being gifted four party dresses on her fourth birthday, him cringing at her “black lipstick” phase, playing Holi together…. She often wonders about what he would have said regarding many things in her life today. As she says, “It would have been lovely to continue the conversation.”</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/29/making-music-is-an-intensely-spiritual-experience-for-anoushka-shankar.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/29/making-music-is-an-intensely-spiritual-experience-for-anoushka-shankar.html Fri Dec 29 15:11:03 IST 2023 pablo-cesar-s-rich-filmography-brings-to-life-the-myths-beliefs-and-forgotten-histories-of-diverse-lands <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/29/pablo-cesar-s-rich-filmography-brings-to-life-the-myths-beliefs-and-forgotten-histories-of-diverse-lands.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2023/12/29/70-Pablo-Cesar.jpg" /> <p>Pablo Cesar’s calling card is a work of beauty. It resembles a 35mm film gauge―appropriate, since the veteran Argentine filmmaker entered the world of cinema in the 1970s, when 35mm was the standard gauge and digital filmmaking did not exist. His pathbreaking films were all shot on film, and he continues to use it even today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pablo, 61, was a jury member in the ‘international competition’ category at the recently concluded International Film Festival of Kerala. He started his film journey in 1975, when his stepbrother José Maria gifted him a Kodak Super 8 camera. With José’s support, he made his first short film in just months. “It was an eight-minute animation film named <i>La Diversión Del Rey,”</i> says Pablo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1976, the military captured power in Argentina, essentially “stealing” Pablo’s adolescence (he lost the opportunity to enrol in film school), but not deterring his passion for filmmaking. He produced seven short films in 1977, overcoming the ban on filming on streets by turning to parks and holiday houses as alternative locations. At 14, his hunger for adventure had him sneaking into an Air France Boeing 747, capturing footage with his Super 8, and leaving undetected. The following week, he attempted a repeat of it with his schoolmates, but they were caught and detained for four hours.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pablo lost his father when he was young. His mother, Martha Elena, chose not to remarry and devoted herself to taking care of Pablo and his younger brother Miguel. In many ways, Martha shaped his journey as a filmmaker. “I once created a short film titled <i>The Machine</i> (1977), about a robot spiralling out of control and hurting people. During a party at home, I asked all the guests to play characters who fall victim to the rogue robot,” says Pablo. The most memorable scene turned out to be an unscripted one. “I needed to show the machine falling from a height,” he says. “My mother, without hesitation, threw the dummy machine out the window [of our apartment], and it landed on top of a police car parked in the street. My mother had to put on an act to avert trouble.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pablo’s 2003 film <i>Sangre</i>―about a filmmaker seeking inspiration while dealing with a sick mother―depicts the deep emotional connection he had with his mother.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The experimental short <i>Del Génesis</i> (1980), which portrayed an apocalypse and a quest for a better world (a parable about Argentina’s yearning to break free from military dictatorship), was Pablo’s first award-winning work. In 1983, he produced his first feature film, <i>De las caras del Espejo</i>. Shot on a Super 8, it bagged multiple awards, including one for best photography.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The year also marked Argentina’s return to democracy. Pablo began learning Russian at the Argentine Society for Cultural Relations with the USSR. In 1985, <i>De las caras del Espejo</i> was showcased in Moscow and other European cities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1989, Pablo was selected as a jury member of the Kélibia International Film Festival in Tunisia. For Pablo, Tunisia offered an entirely different cultural landscape. “I heard <i>azaan</i> for the first time in my life, and I rushed out of the hotel where I was staying. I thought it was an emergency call. It was only later that I found out that it was a beautiful call for prayer,” he says. Pablo’s discovery of Sufi culture, North African myths and mysticism marked a transformative moment in his career.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The following year, he signed a coproduction agreement with the Tunisian Federation of Filmmakers for producing <i>Equinoccio, el jardín de las rosas</i> (Equinox, the rose garden)―about five fables narrated by a young angel in five distinct towns. Equinoccio marked the first instance of a Latin American filmmaker directing an African coproduction in Africa. In the next three decades, Pablo was part of many coproductions that brought myths and beliefs in Benin, Mali, Angola, Namibia, Ethiopia and Morocco to the screen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1994, his third feature, <i>Fuego gris</i>, was screened at the International Film Festival of India. It was during a dinner with filmmakers Pino Solanas of Argentina and Michelangelo Antonioni of Italy at the Taj Bengal in Calcutta that he discovered the location for his next feature, <i>Unicornio, el jardín de las frutas</i> (Unicorn, the fruit garden), “My original plan was to shoot it in Morocco, but Antonioni suggested that I shoot in India, explaining the vastness and diversity of the country,” says Pablo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Unicornio</i> (1996), shot in Rajasthan, became the first Indian-Argentinian coproduction. He collaborated with filmmaker Murali Nair to explore five distinct stories that had themes ranging from transsexualism to alchemy, slavery and the exploration of heaven and hell.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was a two-decade hiatus before Pablo returned with his second Argentina-India coproduction. In 2018, he released <i>Pensando en él</i> (Thinking of Him), depicting the meeting between Rabindranath Tagore and Argentine writer Victoria Ocampo in 1924.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The gap does not imply that Pablo lost his connection with India; quite the opposite. His affinity for India deepened over the years, and he even learnt to play the sitar―a gift from R. Viswanathan, former Indian ambassador to Argentina and an occasional columnist for THE WEEK. “His only condition was that I should learn it,” Pablo says. “I learned it and, at a farewell gathering before his return to India, played the rag Khamaj on the sitar.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last year, Pablo released his first feature-length documentary―<i>Macongo, la Córdoba Africana</i>, on the systematic erasure of African cultures from Argentina’s collective consciousness. The documentary challenges prevailing narratives in Argentina about people whose ancestors were brought to Latin America as slaves. “Córdoba was a province that had more than 50 per cent Afro population around 1850,” says Pablo. “Even today, the province retains traces of African heritage in the names of towns like Macongo, Tulumba, Candonga, Cabinda and Cabalango.”</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/29/pablo-cesar-s-rich-filmography-brings-to-life-the-myths-beliefs-and-forgotten-histories-of-diverse-lands.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/29/pablo-cesar-s-rich-filmography-brings-to-life-the-myths-beliefs-and-forgotten-histories-of-diverse-lands.html Fri Dec 29 15:08:47 IST 2023 physician-and-author-dr-abraham-verghese-interview <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/23/physician-and-author-dr-abraham-verghese-interview.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2023/12/23/60-Dr-Abraham-Verghese.jpg" /> <p><i>Interview/ Dr Abraham Verghese / physician and author</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first thing you notice about a person says a lot more about you.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Dr Abraham Verghese, it is shoes. They help put himself in the shoes of the patient he is seeing. “We all are supposed to do that, to try to do that. A part of you has to be objective and yet you have to sort of try to imagine what [the patient] is going through,” he tells THE WEEK over Zoom from Texas, where he is attending a book fest, in early November.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His latest book―<i>The Covenant of Water</i>―has made him put on his travel shoes more often this year. A week or so before the interview, he was in Spain to promote the book’s Spanish edition. While his previous three books, too, had done well, the latest one is seeing success on a whole different scale―the book has made it to many a ‘best books of 2023’ list, is the 101st pick of Oprah’s Book Club and has already sold more than a million copies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It has been a whirlwind year for him, no doubt. But he seems untouched by the busyness that surrounds him when he sits down for the interview at 7am, Texas time. He speaks in a calm, unhurried tone, with not even a hint of irritability or discomfort despite nursing a cold. Even when the audio acts up at our end, he is patient. These are qualities that show up in and at his work―both as author and physician. (He is professor and Linda R. Meier and Joan F. Lane provostial professor, and vice chair for the theory and practice of medicine at the School of Medicine at Stanford University, California.) Be it the creative or the clinical side, he is, as <i>Stanford Magazine</i> describes him, the human whisperer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an hour-long conversation, Verghese talks about his early life in Addis Ababa, his Madras days, his life and medical practice in the US and what it means to be a writer. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why do you write, Dr Verghese?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I began writing first to tell the story of something that I was living through, which at the time was very unusual. I thought I was living in a small town in Tennessee as an infectious disease specialist and everybody expected that I would see, in 1985, maybe one patient with HIV every other year because it was considered an urban disease, you know, more a function of big cities. But in a few years, I had about a hundred people with HIV infection that I was caring for, which was much more than anybody predicted. And it turned out to be a story that I thought was happening all over America. And it represented boys who had grown up in that town, who left for the big city and lived there for decades. And at some point the virus found them and now they were coming back to their hometowns because they were sick. So I wrote a scientific paper describing that, but then I felt that the language of science didn’t begin to capture the heartache of the families, the tragedy of that whole journey. That was the moment I became a writer. (His first book―<i>My Own Country: A Doctor’s Story</i>―came out in 1994.) And then I just sort of have kept going, I have kept writing ever since then. I think partly it is because I love to read. I came to medicine because of certain books, certain novels that inspired me. And so once I published that first book, I had this ambition to write the kind of novel that would inspire another generation of readers to go into medicine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ I read that writing became an escape for you while treating patients with HIV. Is it still an escape? Or, is it something else now?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Yeah, I think when I first started writing about HIV, I was writing fiction, short stories. And it was a kind of escape. In my fiction, I was able to do the things I couldn’t do in reality, which is turn back time and get into people’s heads. I think it is still sort of an escape. I think what happens is once you have published a book and it has been recognised, then you become more self-conscious. So it becomes less of an escape and you become more mannered, if you like. But yeah, it is a bit of an escape. Mostly it is a pleasure. Sometimes, it feels like a lot of work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you see art or literature? As escapism? Entertainment? Education?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Well, all of it, but I actually think that fiction, especially reading novels, has an important function in people’s lives. I think when a book is a book that we find deeply meaningful and that we remember and that is important to us, it is usually because it resonates with some truths that we already recognise. [Marcel] Proust, the French writer, said that every book, every novel becomes an optical instrument by which we examine ourselves. So every reader frames the book in terms of [his/her] own personality. I am struck by the kind of responses I am getting from readers about my book. It is very individual. Every reader makes their own mental movie of the book from the words. So I think fiction has an important role in our lives. And I worry that when your attention span is confined to Instagram and short bursts like that, and when it is all visual and when you don’t have the experience of taking words and making pictures in your head, then a part of your brain just doesn’t get exercised. And I think you lose something.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You said in an interview that Covid-19 had echoes of the epidemic―AIDS―that made you a writer. So what effect has Covid-19 had on you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I think Covid-19 had a lot of influence on all of us. But the difference was that I was much older than when HIV came along. And I was not so much on the frontline as my younger colleagues in the ICU and in the emergency room [were]. Even though I was caring for patients, I didn’t feel quite the way I did during HIV when I thought I was very much on the frontline. And also, I don’t think that Covid had the same sort of social prejudice that HIV had in the early years. So I think it was very poignant. It was very sad to see the extent of it, to see people dying with this illness and not having their family members be able to come close because of masking and all that. So it affected us all very deeply. But I think it shaped the younger generation more than anything. But it had echoes for me of the early years that shaped my medical career.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your experience with treating HIV patients brought you face to face with what you call the conceit of cure. You have also said that HIV humbled you. How does a doctor come to terms with the limitations of his profession?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> When you are a young physician, you are full of yourself. And you just assume that you can fix most things. And if you can’t, it is not your fault. It is [because] the patient came too late (<i>laughs</i>). There is an arrogance of youth. And I think that was especially true in my speciality―infectious disease…. People went into the speciality because it was all about cure. You could really make a dramatic difference if you made the right diagnosis, I don’t know, in a bone marrow transplant patient with an infection and so on. And then HIV came along and for many, many years, we had no treatment, no cure. And I think it humbled many of us. And it helped us understand that even when you couldn’t cure, you still had an important role. And I think that is still true. It has taken a lot of time to really grasp that life is a terminal condition. Nobody survives. And so in that sense, we have to have a role that is larger than just making people better because we can’t do it all the time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Did that in any way make you lean towards bedside medicine?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Actually, what led me to bedside medicine was the wonderful training I had in India. So I had my medical education in two places―in Ethiopia to begin with and then when the civil war broke out there, I eventually finished in India [Madras Medical College]. But in both cases, there was a British system of education that put great emphasis on learning to read the body as a text. It is an art that is dying, that is not done very well anymore. But I loved it. And I had the most wonderful teachers, unforgettable people who were incredibly skilled at reading the body. And so I sort of really fell in love with that. And it is ironic that my reputation in America in academic medicine has a lot to do with bedside medicine (<i>laughs</i>). And yet it is not as though I learned some special skills in my postgraduate years. I am calling on my memory of my wonderful teachers in Madras, whose lessons are still with me. I can hear their voice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You mentioned your experience of civil unrest in Ethiopia, and later you were a nursing assistant in the US, both of which have shaped you, your life and your work. Could you elaborate on that?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I think they were all very influential. I was of Indian origin, but born in Ethiopia, and I still speak the language very well. On the other hand, there was a big community of Malayali teachers hired from the same place, largely Christians, Syrian Christians. So the paradox of growing up in a St Thomas Christian community while being in another land, which I suppose is not that different from kids who are growing up these days in the Gulf, Dubai―they are very much in the Malayali community, but they are elsewhere.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And then the civil war was very dislocating. It was very traumatic. I think there were 30 of us or less than that in our medical school class, and some of them were arrested and tortured, and many of them became guerrilla fighters for the other side, so to speak. One of them, after 22 years of being a guerrilla fighter, became the prime minister of Ethiopia, and I had the opportunity to interview him for a magazine many years later. So, it was a tremendously impactful occurrence in my life to be displaced like that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And I wound up coming to America and working as a nurse’s helper for one and a half years before I was able to transfer to a medical school in Madras because the Indian government took me in. So all those things are hugely influential.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think, as a writer, I often feel that I am always on the outside looking in. Whether I was in Africa, even when I was in India, I was very, very comfortable in Madras and had all my great friendships and relatives there. But even there, at some level, I didn’t have quite their experience because I wasn’t born there. I wasn’t as fluent as they were. And of course, in America, I am an immigrant. I am an American citizen, but still, at some level in my head, I feel I am an outsider looking in, which is a great perspective to have as a writer. It’s not a bad thing, necessarily.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why did you decide to take time off medicine and then go for the Iowa Writers’ Workshop?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I think I felt that that was the lesson that my patients were teaching me, that if you want to do something, don’t postpone your dreams, don’t take forever to do that. I was also getting quite burnt out being the only person providing HIV care in that town. I felt that I wanted to keep doing this, but in order to do it and not get totally burnt out, I needed to take some kind of a break. So I wanted to tell the story, and I applied to the Iowa University Writers’ Workshop. The only criteria for admission are two short stories. Nothing else really matters. When they took me, I decided to go. If they hadn’t taken me, I was still planning to give up my tenured position and take a year off to write this story while working in emergency rooms or whatever else I could do to make money.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How did the workshop help?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It is a very interesting place. The Iowa Writers’ Workshop was one of the first to offer a master’s degree or a PhD where your thesis was a collection of short stories or a novel or a chapbook of poetry. Over the years, it has turned out some wonderful American writers, from Flannery O’Connor to John Irving to Tracy Kidder. But the Iowa method, which is still the method they use there now, and it is widely emulated, is very simply you met once a week and you discussed two of the students’ stories. When your story came up, you kept quiet while your fellow students and the writer-in-residence discussed it. You very quickly found out that the kind of story that <i>Ammachi</i> [grandmother] thinks is cute and your spouse thinks is so nice doesn’t usually fly there. In fact, the moment that your spouse or your <i>Ammachi</i> doesn’t like your story (<i>laughs</i>), you probably have found your voice. But the most important thing Iowa did, I think, is it gave you the time, because you only met once a week and the rest of the time was yours to read, to find your voice, to write. And I knew that I would not have that kind of time again, and I had never had that kind of time. So I took full advantage of it. I think I was in my mid-30s. By contrast, I think many of the students were straight out of college. They were in their mid-20s and they were too young to appreciate how precious this time was. But I wasn’t. I was very conscious of it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your second book, The Tennis Partner (1997), was also nonfiction and personal. Your fiction, be it Cutting for Stone (2009) or </b><i><b>The Covenant of Water</b></i><b>, also comes from a personal space. Does it come easy to you, opening up a part of yourself like that?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I think the second book, as you said, was nonfiction, but I wrote it somewhat reluctantly. I mean, the first book about HIV, I thought I was going to do that as a novel (<i>laughs</i>). It turned out to be better told as nonfiction. Nonfiction, at least in America, outsells fiction five to one, ten to one. For some reason, if something really happened, readers are more interested in it than if you make it up. So in general, even though novels make a lot of splash, nonfiction makes money for publishers. So there was a lot of pressure for me to write another nonfiction story. And I had just lived through another experience with the death of a friend.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But I was really keen to write fiction because I think it is very liberating. My fiction, I mean, even though it draws on things I know, it draws on my experience, I don’t think it is autobiographical in the sort of broadest sense. But I do write about what I know. So the first novel was set in Ethiopia and the character goes to medical school. But that’s about the only resemblance―I didn’t have a twin, my mother was not a nun.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ With </b><i><b>The Covenant of Water</b></i><b>, you said you wanted to write about the landscape. Did the geographical aspect come to you first or the characters?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> First of all, it is not as though I am a novelist with 20 books. And so I can say this is my rule. I am just telling you how these things happen. But for me, it seems the most important decision is geography―where you locate the book. So my first [novel] was located in Ethiopia. It would not be the same book if I located it in New Jersey or somewhere else. Similarly, I think making the decision to put the novel in Kerala is huge because I think geography affects everything. Napoleon said that geography is destiny. And that is certainly true in my life. Every change of geography has changed my destiny.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But I had hesitated [to set my novel in Kerala] even though I was very familiar with Kerala, coming there every summer for vacation. As I mentioned, growing up in a Malayali household and community, I didn’t have quite the familiarity perhaps that you do or someone born there does. So I hesitated. But ultimately, my mother had written this wonderful longhand document for my niece, her granddaughter, because her granddaughter asked her, ‘What was it like when you were a little girl?’ And seeing that manuscript with all its illustrations reminded me how rich it would be to set a novel in the unique era of the 1900s in Kerala with all its wonderful rituals, particularly the rituals of the St Thomas Christian community that are not that well-known to people certainly outside of India, but even within India. I am not sure that they are all that well-known.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You doodle. You had a whiteboard when you were writing </b><i><b>The Covenant of Water</b></i><b>. You also sculpted a clay model of the ‘Stone Woman’ (an artwork that appears in the novel). How are these processes essential to your writing?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I think they are ways of you thinking aloud. Even though I wanted [the whiteboard] to be kind of the whole architecture of the novel, like a house plan, like a blueprint, [it] never quite worked out [that way]. Once [you] start building, you suddenly feel like, ‘Oh, well, the veranda doesn’t belong here, the sun comes that direction (<i>laughs</i>)’. I kept changing the plan. So I look at them now as just artefacts of the creative process. They weren’t the causative agents that made me write in a certain way. They were just part of the process.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ </b><i><b>The Covenant of Water</b></i><b> was unputdownable. Do you write with that intention―to make a book that is unputdownable?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Yeah, I suppose. When you write fiction, as opposed to nonfiction, you really have to work very hard to get the reader to suspend their disbelief in the first few pages. You want them to forget that they are sitting in a hot room and that they are unhappy with their mother-in-law and that there’s work tomorrow. You want them to forget all that and enter this world in two or three pages. And then you have to work very, very hard to keep them in this fictional dream with their disbelief suspended. So I think it is much harder to write fiction than nonfiction because when something really happens, we have an inherent interest in it. But when you write fiction, I think you just have to work very hard. So I am not sure about my goal being to make it unputdownable as much as to make it a very believable world and to make the reader want to keep turning the page to have this urge of, ‘Well, what happened next? What happened next?’ Not quite in the sense of a murder mystery where the ‘what happened next’ is pretty compelling. Somebody has been killed, and you have to find out who did it. I think with literary fiction, it is a different kind of ‘what happened next’. But yeah, it is very much on my mind.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ I wanted to talk about the women characters in </b><i><b>The Covenant of Water</b></i><b>. I thought you wrote them with understanding and empathy, and I think it is rare when it comes to male writers. Did it come naturally to you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Does it come naturally for a middle-aged male to enter a woman’s head? (<i>Laughs</i>.) No, I don’t think it comes naturally. But I think I have been blessed to have had some very strong and charismatic women in my life. Both my grandmothers were, in their own way, quietly heroic women―the kind of heroism that the world will never know. Those <i>ammachi</i>s who labour away, and they are so critical to the welfare of a family. And they suffer a lot. They have gone through a lot of hardship. But their faith is so strong. They just keep going on. So I think that was my role model. First of all, the two of them, because they had both been through considerable adversity―losing a child. Each of them had lost an adolescent boy. One to typhoid, one to rabies. And they lived in the confines of the house that they married into. I don’t think they had ever travelled far from it. And to me, they were so noble, despite not having the trappings of what we would consider power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And I think my mother was also tremendously influential. She was very brave to set off in the 1940s, just after independence, reading this ad in the newspaper, and went off to Ethiopia in a sari, a single woman. Can you imagine? In a place that she never knew anything about, had to look up on a map. I think that I have been surrounded by strong women role models, if you like, of the kind of women I wanted to put in my fiction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Love and loss are two prominent themes in </b><i><b>The Covenant of Water</b></i><b>. What does love mean to you, and what does loss?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It is funny when people ask me questions like that. I am always destined to disappoint them with the answer. Because when I am writing, I am not thinking of themes. It is like when you were studying in college, and you get these questions, what is the theme of the novel? What is the underlying operating archetype? I think when you are a writer, you are just trying to tell a good story. So I think it is after the fact that readers impose these sort of meta constructs on a book about themes. So I am not sure that I had any agenda around love and loss, except that as a physician, I think I am much more conscious of mortality than perhaps many people are. I am not being morbid. I feel I am accurately portraying the kind of death and carnage that was pretty common in the era I was describing. People died from infectious disease. They died from drowning. They died from trauma. Whereas I think most lay people are in a bit of a denial about their mortality. I am not, and I think that because I am not, I am also more in awe of life. I think we are all living on borrowed time. This is not a permanent state we are in. This is an ephemeral conversation; it will disappear one day. Or, we will, the conversation might linger. So I think that sensibility does come into my writing, but not consciously like that. It is not my agenda that I am going to write about loss, I am going to write about love. I think the things that move me in life are love, are loss, just like they move all of us. So it is nothing special.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How much do you love your characters?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Well, I grew to love them. I think initially they are two-dimensional constructs, but then as you revise and revise and revise, they become very, very real to you. Big <i>Ammachi</i> [from <i>The Covenant of Water</i>] became as real as one of my grandparents. So they all become very real. One of the criticisms (<i>laughs</i>) of my book was that my characters are all too nice. I didn’t have anybody who was bad. But in a way, that’s my view of how we are. I really don’t think there are very many people who are inherently evil. There are, but not many. Most of us are trying to do our best, and sometimes we have made terrible mistakes, and we are trying to find redemption. In a sense, I have always had trouble with the Christian theme of we are sinners and we have to confess. But in a funny way, I think I have echoed that theme with my characters, because I do think that people are mostly good and trying to do good and often have made mistakes that they are trying to compensate for.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Did you have to ‘kill your darlings’ in the book?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Yeah (<i>laughs</i>), I think that’s a famous saying in writing that you have to kill your darlings. But when they say kill your darlings, it doesn’t mean killing your favourite characters, by the way. What it means is, as you know, if you think a piece of writing is very, very cute, you have written 10 pages, but you love this one paragraph, that’s the paragraph your editor and you, if you have some wisdom, are going to realise that it is just not working.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Was it difficult to do that?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I think as a writer, I have always been very conscious that I cannot be objective about my writing. I think most readers don’t realise how critical an editor is to the process. I actually think editors should be listed on the book, because honestly, you have to trust someone experienced who has the ability to say, ‘This section is lovely, but it doesn’t belong in this book. This section is great, but you should expand on it.’ You lose all objectivity. You are no longer able to see.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There is tragedy in </b><i><b>The Covenant of Water</b></i><b>, but there is also hope. Do you think art has to be hopeful?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Well, again, I am not starting out with an agenda of themes, like I want to bring hope to this, but I think hope is a necessary human quality for us to go on, to wake up every day and despite whatever trials we are facing, the desire to go on is because, I think, one clings to some hope that if things are not good, that they will be better. I don’t think I was consciously trying to impose hope on my world or anything like that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ We talked about mortality and how you view it. There is a lot of research happening on reversing age and attaining immortality. What is your view on that?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I think the biggest things we can do to live longer are actually things that are not as sexy as creams that we apply or injections we take. It is much more going to be about very simple things, like diet and exercise will prolong life a lot more than many other things. I think it is interesting. It is very human to want to live longer, and we are living long. I think, in general, people are healthier for the most part. And, medical technology is advanced to the point where things we might have died of―like the two things I mentioned my uncles who I never met died from―they are both eminently treatable conditions. So I am interested in longevity from that point of view. I think there is a lot of other stuff out there that is yet to be proven.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you identify yourself as a physician first and then a writer?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I know this sounds a bit disingenuous, but I think of myself as all-physician. And I am looking out at the world through the lens of a physician. And when I approach the writing, it is very much the same lens and I am looking at human beings in some detail. But unlike in my day job, I am also allowed to get into their heads and allowed to imagine things about them. But it is the same lens. I always resisted when people try and [make] me wear two hats―a writer hat or a physician hat. I certainly don’t feel that way, I don’t feel quite so schizophrenic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You wrote an interesting paper―Culture shock: Patient as icon and icon as patients―where you contend that the patient in the hospital bed gets less attention than the patient data on the computer. Do you think we are too much in awe of technology?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I think there is a great danger, both in India and elsewhere, any place that has access to sophisticated medicine. We are getting so enamoured with the data, the images, the CAT scan, the MRI. But sometimes we can lose sight of the human being and sometimes you could wind up spending people’s money in a way that is so destructive. When what they really need is something simpler and they need to be listened to, they need to be cared for. But a lot of medicine, both here certainly and also in India, has become very much like a business machine, trying to improve the bottom line, which is understandable to some degree. But it has really changed the practice of medicine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ I read that you first look at the patient’s shoes. Is that true?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>We all are supposed to do that, to try to do that. A part of you has to be objective and yet you have to sort of try to imagine what [the patient] is going through. One of the hardest things that happens to physicians is that we can get so disease-focused that we forget about the individual who has a disease. A very famous American physician who died in 1919 used to say, ‘It is much more important to know what patient has the disease than what disease the patient has.’ I think that remains true. I think it is much less about specific diagnosis than it is about getting to know this person in front of you and the illness that they have and sometimes the outcome depends much less on the nature of the illness than on the nature of the patient.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think AI will take over our jobs?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I think AI is going to do a lot of things (<i>laughs</i>). But there is a big misconception about AI; it is neither artificial, nor is it intelligent. It is actually parasitising material already existing in the world by writers like me. In fact, there is a movement afoot to try and make sure that AI pays us for poring through our novels and coming up with ways to imitate us. So I think it is an interesting phenomenon, it will generate a lot of interesting quasi art. But ultimately, we respond to human beings, individuals making art. I am not sure whether we are moved by, except in the abstracts, technology creating art even if it has some similitude where it feels real. Even so, I don’t think it is quite the same thing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There is a thinking that science and technology have shaped the world today. Where do you think art stands in what is being called the age of AI?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/ </b>Art gives meaning to our lives. If we were mechanical creatures, then we wouldn’t need art. But art is in a way tapping into our subconscious and tapping into our complex motivations. I mentioned Proust talking about novels being an optical instrument that allows you to look into yourself. Similarly, I like a lot of modern art, but it is very subjective. The artist presents you something and you bring your life history and your biography and your eyes and you look at this thing and you tell yourself a certain story. My belief is that we need art to make meaning of our lives. We need technology to boil our coffee and to allow us to talk on Zoom, but it doesn’t necessarily give us meaning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There is this notion that fiction is somehow less important than nonfiction, that there is little you can learn from it. I know you don’t agree with that. But why do you think people see it like that?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It is really puzzling to me. We raise our children with stories. We use stories from the very earliest stage. If you think about your own childhood, it is a succession of small stories that impacted you. And it is always puzzling to me why people stop reading fiction, to their great detriment. At least in America, the majority of readers are women. One could argue that they have perhaps more time. That’s not a really good argument, but it’s being made. Very often, especially in medicine, I find my colleagues have this sense, ‘Oh well, I am a serious kind of person, so I don’t read fiction; I read biography, I read memoir.’ I am always struck by that, because fiction, time and time again, has the ability to change societies. You think about <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin</i> in America. That novel ended slavery in America. One book captured the public’s imagination and made slavery unpalatable. Similarly, in the UK, one book―<i>The Citadel</i> by A.J. Cronin―depicting medicine and health care in a small Welsh mining town created the National Health Service. It caused such a public sentiment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When fiction sweeps through society, it has a particular role in shaping us. And, a part of the reason that to me medicine feels very unimaginative at times in terms of the way people seem to understand it is because we have become so left-brained in our orientation. And we are not tapping into the right brain and all its wonderful mystical associations. All the stuff that Freud and everyone else would tell us is terribly important in driving us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is your next book going to be? Fiction or nonfiction?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> I am not even thinking about a next book right now. One of the common things is that when you have done something, then it is assumed that you are going to keep doing it. You are going to create another one, another one. And with every book, I have always felt that I have nothing more to say, that I put everything I know into it. And, I think when you do something that’s worked well, there is immediately the sense of, ‘Oh, what’s next? You’re gonna do this again. When will you do it again?’ And I must say, I feel free of that pressure. So that’s probably why it took 14 years between the last book and this book.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not that I don’t want to create these works, but it is not easy for me to do that. And I can’t just do it on demand. It has to sort of come organically, because I feel I have something to say, and there is a story that’s compelling. So I am not in any rush to write another one right away. I probably will write. I enjoy writing. But I don’t feel compelled to churn out another bestseller, first of all, because it is impossible to do. I think it is incredibly lucky to have had one novel do well, and then to have a second one do even better. There is no formula. With every book, you start from zero. And it is long, tortuous. This book especially was really, really hard. I actually had to switch publishers, because they were impatient with me, and I thought that they didn’t get the story. So at some great financial peril, I had to return the money they advanced me, find a new publisher. So, I would be very, very cautious about jumping in to do this again, unless I felt compelled to.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You received the National Humanities Medal from former president Barack Obama in 2015. When Obama, the first black president was sworn in, there was a feeling that America had come of age. And then Donald Trump came to power. Did we celebrate too soon? Or, were we naive enough to think that America had moved beyond race and colour?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> It has been a very curious time. I am a great fan of Obama. I thought he was remarkably articulate. But that said, he had a hard time being effective. And I don’t know if that was his failing or his inability to build consensus, or it was just the determined opposition to someone like him. Donald Trump has been a very curious phenomenon. As a writer, you sit back and observe all these things. But it is not just America. You look around the world, in India, everywhere, there is sort of shocking polarities in the way countries are moving that are unexpected. You sort of assume progress comes with open-mindedness and generosity of spirit and inclusion rather than exclusion. But that is not the case. And as a writer, you just come back to the sense that, well, we are human, and we are infinitely more complex than anyone can outline on a piece of paper.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You are a physician, professor, writer. How do you find time to do all this?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A/</b> Well, I take my time, I am very slow. Fourteen years to produce another book is a long time (<i>laughs</i>). I am not in any great hurry. I love my day job. I love teaching medical students. I love practising medicine. I love writing, too. But thank God, I don’t have to use the writing to pay the bills. I am doing it out of love, and when it does well and it is successful, it is always a tremendous delight. People assume that I am juggling all these things at the same time, but it is really not quite like that. I don’t play golf, I don’t watch a lot of TV, so I suppose that frees up a lot of time.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/23/physician-and-author-dr-abraham-verghese-interview.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/23/physician-and-author-dr-abraham-verghese-interview.html Sat Dec 23 19:16:00 IST 2023 the-nadaswaram-has-been-a-constant-note-in-yazhpanam-p-s-balamurugan-s-life <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/15/the-nadaswaram-has-been-a-constant-note-in-yazhpanam-p-s-balamurugan-s-life.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2023/12/15/63-Yazhpanam-Balamurugan.jpg" /> <p><i>By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. Upon the willows in the midst of it, we hung our harps.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The poignant verses from Psalm 137 in the Bible’s Old Testament echo the lament of men, women and children forced to leave their homes centuries ago. Like the lamentations in the psalm, nadaswaram maestro Yazhpanam P.S. Balamurugan was also forcefully displaced once.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a teenager, he, too, had shed tears, wondering whether a curse hung over him and his people―the Sri Lankan Tamils. However, even while growing up during the civil war, Balamurugan never hung up his double reed wind instrument.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“When I was 15, our family had to flee our house in Nallur,”recalls Balamurugan. “For nearly six months, we lived in a place that was 30km away from our village. We lived in temporary sheds; we did not have any money, and had almost nothing to eat.” Even in that situation, his father, Suppuswami Pillai, insisted that he practise the nadaswaram. “He believed that if I managed to stay alive, this music would be the key to sustaining myself and making a living,” he says. “I obeyed him.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Born in 1980, Balamurugan belongs to a generation that bore the brunt of the devastating civil war in the island nation. Witnessing death and bloodshed was almost a daily affair. For the first 22 years of his life, he hardly travelled outside Jaffna. Today, he is a globetrotter and one of the most sought-after musicians worldwide. He has a soft corner for south India for its knowledge and appreciation of Carnatic music.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Nadaswaram is not at all an easy instrument to master,” says S.P. Sreekumar, principal of Kshetra Kalapeedam, Vaikom. “In the contemporary musical world, there is hardly any other nadaswaram artist who has earned such a legendary status at such a comparatively young age (43)…. A lot of nadaswaram players play the instrument, focusing only on swaras (notations). But Balamurugan is one of those artists who learn and play nadaswaram without mutilating the beauty of sahitya (lyrics) of a keerthana. That is one reason why we can just keep listening to his music for hours.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And that was evident when he performed during the annual 13-day Ashtami festivities at the renowned Vaikom Mahadeva Temple in Kerala in early December. On the 11th day of the festival, Balamurugan’s music created the divine ambience for the hours-long Sribali and Vilakku rituals. On the 12th day, he conducted a four-hour-long concert. His son, P.S. Sarang, 21, joined him with the nadaswaram, whereas Kovilur K.G. Kalyanasundaram, Mettupalayam M.S. Ravikumar and Eguvarpalayam E.M. Ganapathy set the rhythm with their thavil. Balamurugan enthralled the audience with raga vistharam (slow and rhythmically free improvisation that sets the mood for the subsequent composition) in Kokilapriya ragam. He then proceeded to play mano dharma―an on-the-spot improvisation while adhering to the musical grammar―in Shuddha Saveri, a raga that is also used in music therapy for alleviating depression and instilling a positive outlook. That same night, Balamurugan enthralled a larger audience with his hours-long performance for the Ashtami Vilakku ritual.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like his music, there is something calming about Balamurugan, thanks to his humility and ready smile. When THE WEEK visited him in Vaikom, he was taking a nap to get over the jet lag from his long flight (Germany-Colombo-Thiruvananthapuram). But when Kavalam Sreekumar, a thavil expert from Kerala who collaborates with him, told him that we were there to interview him, he promptly joined us. He sat for the interview without a shirt on, just like he does in his performances. “I started playing the nadaswaram at the age of five,” he says. “My <i>appa</i>, who was an <i>aasthana vidhwan</i> (a recognised musician) of the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil for 40 years, was my first guru.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Music runs in his family. Balamurugan’s grandfather, Ponnuswami, had moved to Jaffna from Pudukottai in Tamil Nadu in the first half of the last century, looking for opportunities to play the nadaswaram. Meanwhile, Balamurugan’s maternal grandfather was a mrudangam expert. Apart from the nadaswaram, Suppuswami could play the thavil, nattuvangam, ghatam and ganjira. As a child, Balamurugan was more inclined to play the thavil, a barrel-shaped percussion instrument, but his father insisted he concentrate on the nadaswaram. Occasionally, he would play the thavil at a temple without his father’s knowledge, and would end up getting an earful when he came to know about it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Balamurugan studied only till class four, but his musical training continued for long because of his father. At eight, he was first sent to study the nadaswaram in the gurukulam tradition, which required him to reside at the guru’s house. Over the next four years, he studied under esteemed teachers like Shivaswami Pillai, Maapettapuram Shanmukhanadan Pillai and Thururaaja Pillai. When he was not training, he would repeatedly listen to tapes featuring maestros such as Maharajapuram Santhanam and Madurai Somu. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, when power supply was erratic in his village and battery sales were restricted over concerns of misuse in bomb-making, Balamurugan ingeniously overcame the challenge. He connected his audio cassette player to the dynamo wires of his bicycle, pedalling nonstop to keep the music on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For a brief period, Balamurugan stayed at home. But when he was 13, Suppuswami again sent him for training, this time to the house of renowned maestro Alaveddy N.K. Padmanathan in Yazhpanam. “My guru came to Yazhpanam after the Indian Peace Keeping Force killed his son in Alaveddy,”recalls Balamurugan. He barely learned four varnams and seven or eight kritis there, but the life lessons he acquired and the techniques he mastered, including the art of blowing the nadaswaram from his lower belly, have stayed with him. “I used to serve at his home, closely observing his daily routine and noting the specific activities he engaged in throughout the day. His day typically began at 4am, and even when he was over 60, he maintained a disciplined practice routine. The sound of his practice served as my morning alarm,” he recalls. “There were no structured classes. When he felt like giving a lesson, he would call, <i>‘thambi inke vaa</i> (come here, child).’He didn’t repeat instructions, and I had to be always prepared for an impromptu lesson.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At 15, Balamurugan was home again. However, as the civil war escalated, his family, like many others, had to flee the village. “People abandoned the village, carrying whatever belongings they had in a desperate attempt to stay alive,” he says. “We all moved together like a procession along the Jaffna Road. There were deliberate attacks against those of us who were fleeing.” He remembers a girl walking ahead with her family. “Holding a tiffin box in her hand, she cried due to hunger, and her parents reassured her that they would eat soon,” he says. “Tragically, just a few minutes later, she died in an explosion right before our eyes. The most horrifying part was that we were unable to help them or anyone else, as we were also running for our lives.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While living as refugees, Balamurugan’s family, comprising his parents and four siblings, slept in a trench within their makeshift shelter. “Every other family did the same to mitigate the impact in case of a bomb blast,” he says. “I distinctly remember how, during bombings and firings, my parents would gather us children in the middle and embrace us, hoping to shield us. Despite selling all our belongings, my father remained steadfast in his commitment to ensuring my musical education.” A nadaswaram master named Inavil Balakrishnan was also seeking shelter in a temporary shed. And, Suppuswami requested him to teach Balamurugan some keerthanams.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nearly six months after leaving the village, the Sri Lankan army recaptured the region, and all those who were living in shelters started their journey back home. “We once again covered the entire distance of more than 30km to return to Nallur,” he recounts. “My father resumed working at the Murugan temple, occasionally sending me to play there. Soon, invitations from other temples started pouring in, and from 1997 onwards, I began participating in major festivals at nearby temples.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even at the age of 17, his father continued to make decisions for him. “There was a renowned musical duo named Ganamurthy-Panchamurthy. When Panchamurthy relocated to Colombo, Ganamurthy needed a nadaswaram artist for a concert and reached out to me,”recalls Balamurugan. “During that period, I was unable to make decisions independently. So I directed him to seek approval from my father. Consequently, I joined Ganamurthy and played alongside him for nearly five years. This opportunity allowed me to meet and interact with various masters and experts, listening to their conversations and musical performances.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2003, he received his first international invitation from Singapore to perform at a temple. “Until then, my knowledge of the world was confined to a mere 30km radius,” he says, chuckling. Within a couple of years, Tamil expatriates began reaching out to him from various countries, including the UK, US and Australia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Following the conversation with THE WEEK, Balamurugan got ready for a performance at the Vaikom temple. When he emerged, he was adorned with jewellery and resembled a deity. And that imagery showed he could embody the utmost divinity through his music, while embracing profound humanity in his everyday life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>―<b>with B. Manojkumar</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/15/the-nadaswaram-has-been-a-constant-note-in-yazhpanam-p-s-balamurugan-s-life.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/15/the-nadaswaram-has-been-a-constant-note-in-yazhpanam-p-s-balamurugan-s-life.html Fri Dec 15 18:35:49 IST 2023 two-movies-animal-and-sam-bahadur-with-radically-different-male-leads-makes-us-question-the-meaning-of-heroism <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/15/two-movies-animal-and-sam-bahadur-with-radically-different-male-leads-makes-us-question-the-meaning-of-heroism.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2023/12/15/68-Vicky-Kaushal-in-Sam-Bahadur.jpg" /> <p>Who is a hero? Is it someone who performs an act of valour? Or is it someone who inspires adulation in others? Opinions differ widely. A Byronic hero, for example, is a “melancholy and rebellious young man, distressed by a terrible wrong he committed in the past”. To American poet Walt Whitman, a hero is someone who does a good deed to make the world more beautiful.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, perhaps, the definition of a hero is not as fixed as these bards believed it to be. Historian Marshall Fishwick might have been closer to the mark when he said that the hero is always a barometer to the national climate of opinion. “Every hero mirrors the time and place in which he lives,” he said. This might explain why a movie with a toxic 'alpha male' as its hero is doing significantly better than another about a decorated war hero. After all, we live in times when trolls are the most vocal 'aficionados' on most subjects, and words like 'dystopian' and 'deep-fake' are the most searched words of the year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two movies which released on the same day (December 1) feature radically different heroes: <i>Animal</i>, a fictional story about Ranvijay, a man determined to avenge his father's attackers; and <i>Sam Bahadur</i>, inspired by the true story of India's first field marshal, Sam Manekshaw. It is telling that even before the release of the films, trade experts predicted that <i>Animal</i>, directed by Sandeep Reddy Vanga and starring Ranbir Kapoor as Ranvijay, would earn more than <i>Sam Bahadur</i>, directed by Meghna Gulzar and starring Vicky Kaushal as Manekshaw.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And that is exactly what happened. <i>Animal</i>, made on a budget of Rs100 crore, grossed Rs700 crore worldwide in 10 days. Meanwhile, <i>Sam Bahadur</i>, made on a budget of Rs55 crore, grossed Rs75 crore worldwide. The opening figures, too, were higher for <i>Animal</i> than <i>Sam Bahadur</i>, thereby sparking a debate about the contrasting ideas of manhood in Bollywood, with <i>Animal</i>'s toxic masculinity having more takers than the larger-than-life portrayal of a hero in <i>Sam Bahadur</i>.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trade analyst and industry tracker Ramesh Bala says, “<i>Animal</i> is a mass-oriented, youth-friendly commercial film, whereas <i>Sam Bahadur</i> is more of a niche movie. The trailers set the tone for what was to come. <i>Animal</i> has the right mix of everything―action, drama and hero worship. As against that, <i>Sam Bahadur</i> appeals to the slightly middle-aged and older generation which is nostalgic about the exploits of the field marshal. It is a multiplex-oriented niche film, compared with <i>Animal</i>, which is meant for the single-screen goer who enjoys a good masala film. This explains the wide gap in the box office collections of the two films.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Experts attribute <i>Animal</i>'s success to the close relationship between popular culture and society, with one feeding off the other. The ideas and attitudes we embrace as a society will make it into films like <i>Animal</i>, they say. “<i>Animal</i>―which appeals to the lowest common denominator and peddles the crudest representations of masculinity, along with a healthy dose of Islamophobia and an attack on all kinds of minorities―holds a mirror to our society, as popular culture always does,” says writer Jerry Pinto. “We have always been that kind of society. It is just that now, with the current dispensation at the Centre and with the trolls, there is a greater nakedness about our darker side. Feminism has always been a thorn for most men, and it takes a lot of effort for any man to give up power. So, any attempt at sharing it must be met with a backlash, and films like <i>Animal</i> are that backlash.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It also speaks of what society wants to watch―like a man who makes his wife listen to a black box recording of the first time they had sex in his private jet. As against the chivalrous field marshal who charmingly woos his to-be wife and holds open car doors for the ladies. Vanga's earlier films like <i>Arjun Reddy</i> (2017) and its Hindi remake, <i>Kabir Singh</i> (2019), had exactly the same kind of protagonist, and they worked well, too. <i>Kabir Singh</i>, starring Shahid Kapoor, grossed over Rs370 crore, becoming the second-highest grossing Hindi film of 2019. Vanga stands by his characters. Justifying a scene where Kabir slaps his girlfriend Preeti, he had said, “There's love between the two. If you don't have the liberty of slapping each other, then I don't see anything there.&quot;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Arjun Reddy might also have given Vanga a &quot;formula for success&quot;, which he then applied to both <i>Kabir Singh</i> and <i>Animal</i>―to appease and appeal to the chauvinistic male ego. &quot;Vanga is not making these movies just for the sake of making them,” says Bala. “It is his conviction about his protagonists. <i>Animal</i> is also a part of the alternate fare that Vanga is providing the masses, who are now being bombarded with notions of feminism, liberalism and cerebral content. Vanga knows what works, and he is making it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Faiz Ullah, assistant professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, agrees. While conceding that other films have explored a range of masculinities and more nuanced representations of gender relations, even if less successfully, Ullah says that filmmakers like Vanga are “determined to reverse whatever little gains one has seen regarding gender inclusion and the complexity of representation in the recent past”. He calls it a “visceral reaction” to the traction that feminist and social justice movements have been able to create around issues of equality, inclusion, dignity and justice, most recently after #MeToo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not many people in the industry have openly appreciated the film. Actor and producer Ramesh Babu and filmmaker S.S. Rajamouli chose to remain silent after watching. Upon facing backlash, actor Trisha Krishnan had to delete her social media post which called <i>Animal</i> a cult film. Film critic C.S. Venkateswaran says that that post-Covid, many films have been displaying more violence of the “over-the-top, visceral, and graphic kind”. &quot;It is reflective of the huge amount of hatred and misogyny in society, and these films are pandering to it and in turn magnifying it,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, Pinto feels there is hope, because everything happens in waves. “In the 1970s and 1980s there was a lot of violent cinema, then in the 1990s there was romantic cinema and so, this is another such wave which will pass.&quot; As for who a hero really is, perhaps it is merely a matter of perspective. After all, for the mother in Siegfried Sassoon's poem, 'The Hero', her coward son who died in the war was a hero. And for many people today, the man in <i>Animal</i> who asked a woman to lick his shoe to prove her love is a hero.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/15/two-movies-animal-and-sam-bahadur-with-radically-different-male-leads-makes-us-question-the-meaning-of-heroism.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/15/two-movies-animal-and-sam-bahadur-with-radically-different-male-leads-makes-us-question-the-meaning-of-heroism.html Fri Dec 15 18:30:25 IST 2023 kalyani-menon-cements-her-place-in-the-pantheon-of-indian-music-legends <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/15/kalyani-menon-cements-her-place-in-the-pantheon-of-indian-music-legends.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2023/12/15/70-Kalyani-Menon.jpg" /> <p>The video of the Maharaja Swathi Thirunal composition, ‘Alarshara Parithapam’, which released in October, opens with the photo of a young, sari-clad woman gazing into a future that only she can see. There is a purity about her, as though whatever dream she is dreaming is shielding her from reality. This photograph of singer Kalyani Menon, who died two years ago at the age of 80, was taken in 1983 by her son, cinematographer Rajiv Menon, when he was first experimenting with window light.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There was a kind of uniqueness in the way amma sang,” says Rajiv. “She had a quiet ownership of her art.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He recalls that dinner table discussions always revolved around the arts when she was there. She wanted to sensitise her sons, Rajiv and Karun, to the arts from a young age. When Rajiv took to photography―the baby steps that took him to cinematography―his mother always posed for him. This latest music video―titled ‘In search of the dark lord’―is the second Swathi Thirunal composition sung by Kalyani to be video-graphed. The first, ‘Aliveni Enthu Cheyvu’, released in 2017, and has got over three million views on YouTube.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like that one, this, too, is given a contemporary treatment with a new-age twist while remaining true to its classical roots. The song features Kalyani’s granddaughters, Lakshmi and Saraswati, as they search for their elusive Lord. The music was produced and composed by Mahesh Raghavan, who is known for his fusion works, like the viral Carnatic version of Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“When I came down once to Chennai from Dubai, where I was living, Jayaram [Ramachandran, who directed the video] took me to Kalyani aunty, who had a special affinity for Swathi Thirunal compositions,” says Raghavan. “We were sitting around the dining table at her house and talking. We decided to casually record with a mobile recorder. She sang [both compositions] in just one take―’Aliveni Enthu Cheyvu’ in kurunji raga and ‘Alarshara Parithapam’ in suruti raga. That day, Jayaram and I decided that we would definitely have to release them as music videos.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Born to Balakrishnan and Rajamma Menon in Kerala, Kalyani was first musically trained under the famous guru, Cherthala Sivaraman Nair, who, incidentally, also trained singer K.J. Yesudas around the same time. She first sang for the Malayalam film, Abala (1973). Her first Tamil movie was Nallathoru Kudumbam (1979), with music by Ilaiyaraja. But it was her song, ‘Nee Varuvai Ena Naan Irunthen’, in the Tamil film Sujatha (1980), that catapulted Kalyani to musical royalty. Tragically, this song of melancholy and longing was recorded a few months after the sudden death of her husband, naval officer K.K. Menon, at the age of 40.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For a long time, Kalyani dedicated herself to devotionals, until Indian music’s Mozart A.R. Rahman brought her back to the world of films with a song in Kadhalan (1994). Kalyani worked extensively with Rahman in several films like Muthu (1995), Alai Payuthey (2000) and Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa (2010).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kalyani had a great following among music lovers, with her pure and pristine renditions that could touch your soul. Even in her death, her voice lives on, welcoming a new generation into its lyrical depths.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/15/kalyani-menon-cements-her-place-in-the-pantheon-of-indian-music-legends.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/15/kalyani-menon-cements-her-place-in-the-pantheon-of-indian-music-legends.html Fri Dec 15 18:26:58 IST 2023 indian-k-pop-idol-aria-on-performing-in-india-and-how-she-taught-herself-to-sing <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/09/indian-k-pop-idol-aria-on-performing-in-india-and-how-she-taught-herself-to-sing.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2023/12/9/63-Aria.jpg" /> <p>It is a lazy Sunday morning, and Bengaluru city is still bleary-eyed. The previous night, city dwellers were up late grooving to K-pop at India’s first open air festival dedicated to Korean food, music and culture. While K-pop has a huge following in the country, fans at the festival had another reason for their frenzy―one of their own was performing: Indian K-pop idol, Aria.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>THE WEEK met Aria at her hotel room. As the door swings open, a chirpy voice greets us: “<i>Anyohaseyo</i>” (“Hello” in Korean). Seeing the blank expression on our faces, the lovely girl before us switches to Malayalam, her mother-tongue. Aria―the first Indian K-pop star to perform onstage―hails from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. Sitting across us, dressed in lounge pants and tee, Aria has a girl-next-door innocence about her. One might not think that she is home from her first overseas tour as part of the five-member Korean girl band, X:IN, exactly a year after she set out to pursue her dream. Or that her fan base extends even to China and Pakistan. The rest of the band members flew back to Seoul a few hours ago, but Aria, 20, stayed back to spend some time with her family, who had arrived the previous day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I am happy to be able to perform here this soon,” says Aria. “I missed my family a lot, and now I got to see them all. I missed our food, too. Now that I have come, I want to visit again often.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Korean music caught Aria’s attention in 2017. “After school, I used to watch songs on TV,” says Aria. “One day, I turned on the TV as usual, and was going about my chores when I heard music in an unfamiliar language. It was fun to hear, and much more to watch. I sat fixated by the TV. Later on, I realised I was listening to the song ‘Blood, Sweat &amp; Tears’ by BTS. It changed my life.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She got an opportunity to visit South Korea two years later. After studying in Thiruvananthapuram till standard five, she moved to Mumbai with her parents and brother. The founder of the school Aria joined there was of Korean origin. As part of a cultural exchange programme, she travelled to Seoul in 2019. She loved it there, and two weeks later she returned to Mumbai reluctantly. Says her mother, “Amy (as she is fondly called by her) kept on saying she misses Seoul and the food.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since then, Aria pursued her K-pop dream doggedly. Closeted in her room, she would practise Korean music by herself for hours. Not being trained in music or any musical instruments, she taught herself by watching videos on YouTube. Then, she sent applications to Korean entertainment agencies. Usually, these agencies conduct auditions in three stages. They first invite recorded songs. The shortlisted candidates would be interviewed over Zoom. Afterwards, the selected few would be invited to South Korea for an in-person audition. But Aria was the exception. After the Zoom call, the entertainment agency―Escrow―asked her to report for training in Seoul at the earliest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Asked about her memory of her first trip to Seoul, Aria giggles. “I am an avid sleeper,” she says. “I slept throughout. There was a layover in Vietnam. I slept there, too.” But what awaited Aria at Seoul was many sleepless nights of hard work. As soon as she showed up, she was informed that she would be part of X:IN’s debut line-up. She was nervous, as there was much less time to pick up both the music and the language. Nevertheless, she was determined to work hard. Upon seeing how quickly she learned Korean, the CEO of Escrow Entertainment was impressed. “You don’t even need a tutor,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Still, it was hard, training under unfamiliar conditions in a foreign land far from home. She was terribly homesick and cried a lot. Her parents had told her to quit if she wanted to, but Aria was determined not to. What got her through those difficult days was BTS’s song, ‘Tomorrow’, which she listened to constantly. “Follow your dreams like a breaker,” the lyrics went. “Even if it breaks down. Don’t ever run backwards, never!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Six months after she reached Seoul, the band’s pre-release single, ‘Who Am I’, came out on March 12―Aria’s birthday. She wanted to use her nickname, Amy, as her stage name as well, but since it sounded similar to the collective name of BTS fans―the ‘BTS Army’―she had to choose another name. She came up with Aria, which means ‘solo’ in opera performances.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then, in April, X:IN performed for the first time in Seoul. Their K-pop single, ‘Keeping the fire’, set the stage on fire. Aria, the band’s rapper and vocalist, is also its youngest member, and thus referred to as ‘<i>Makne</i>’, the Korean term for the youngest member of K-pop groups.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the X:IN members live together in a house, and take turns to do the cooking and other household chores. They are together almost throughout the day. In the evening after work, they get a little time to themselves, when Aria goes for strolls at a nearby park, with her headset on. The other band members are very fond of Aria, who had brought them gifts of chocolates and <i>jhumkas</i> (earrings) from India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before K-pop, Aria had worked as a child actor in Malayalam movies like Madhav Ramdas’s <i>Melvilasam</i> (2011). She has also acted in other serials and documentaries, but took a break after the film <i>Thank You</i> (2013), when her family moved to Mumbai. For now, Korea is her first love. She is the brand ambassador of the Korean cosmetic brand, Mixsoon, and is in the final stages of being cast in a Korean drama by an OTT platform.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a way, it feels as if the universe conspired to make her dream come true. Aria’s mother still remembers the day she found her daughter’s journal in which it was written, ‘To the future K-pop idol, Amy.’ “It almost felt like she was predicting her future,” says her mother. “I still get goosebumps as I recall it.” Due to the strict rules of Korean entertainment companies, her parents cannot celebrate their daughter’s success in public. And Aria cannot name her parents in the media or the school where she studied. Still, her folks are brimming with pride. “She did it all by herself,” says her mother. “This joy is indescribable.” Aria only has a few hours left before flying back to Seoul the next morning. A lavish lunch at Restaurant Chef Pillai is on the agenda. No better way to leave the country than with a last taste of home!</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/09/indian-k-pop-idol-aria-on-performing-in-india-and-how-she-taught-herself-to-sing.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/09/indian-k-pop-idol-aria-on-performing-in-india-and-how-she-taught-herself-to-sing.html Sat Dec 09 15:49:29 IST 2023 twinkle-khanna-on-her-new-book-welcome-to-paradise <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/09/twinkle-khanna-on-her-new-book-welcome-to-paradise.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2023/12/9/67-Khanna-at-the-launch-of-Welcome-to-Paradise.jpg" /> <p>It took Twinkle Khanna close to a decade to complete ‘Jelly Sweets’―the last short entry in her new five-story anthology, <i>Welcome to Paradise</i>. The other stories took close to four years to come to life. Every morning, starting 4:30am, she puts pen to paper at her work desk, which is next to a balcony that looks out over the Arabian Sea. For Khanna, writing feels like getting drowned in the light-soaked view for hours on end.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At 48, she is out with her fourth book. The creative process, she says, still remains almost totally opaque to her. “There have been times when I have written 10 chapters of a book and dropped it. I do that often. I have many unfinished stories languishing in my folders waiting for daylight to strike them,” she tells me. We are in her office, and she―dressed in a loosely buttoned shirt with bent collars and cotton trousers―is sipping black coffee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khanna could have easily produced her fourth book without labouring much. It could have been Mrs Funnybones Part 2, a sequel and a compilation of her columns, all of which were already there; in fact, her publishers advised her to do it, but she turned them down. “I didn’t want to take the easy route. I would rather stab myself in the heart, and that is what I did with this book,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The five stories in <i>Welcome to Paradise</i> can be read in a go. The degree in creative writing she recently earned has, in a way, influenced her manner, style and form of writing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What is it that, in writing, both deeply interested her but had her struggling? “Non-linear narrative architecture, like in Alice Munro’s work,” she says. “Because I felt that I am very interested in how time works, especially in short stories, and I was personally struggling to do that effectively. The seamless way in which she moved her characters back and forth [in time] helped me in my own writing.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the stories in the anthology, ‘Nearly Departed’, makes this evident. It is based on the real-life story of Narayan and Irawati Lavate’s widely reported pursuit of a pro-euthanasia law. In the story, an 86-year-old retired schoolteacher Madhura Desai writes to the chief justice of India seeking permission to die at a time of her choosing. As she bides away time, she finds love in Pipi, a friend who is of the same age and is equally lonesome. The story moves organically in time, leaping across ages and decades, and time zones and seasons, without losing grip. “In my mind, truth is like potato. You can make <i>aloo jeera</i>, you can make french fries. It’s how you present it,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>‘Jelly Sweets’ is the most autobiographical of all five stories, says Khanna. That is why it took so long to finish, as it is based on stories that Khanna’s grandmother told her about her childhood in Satpati, Maharashtra. At the heart of this story is Nusrat, who despite having lost everything―including her husband, son and voice―finds love and light at the end of the tunnel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is clear that Khanna is mastering the requisite short-story skill set: observation, pacing, surprise and time. At the same time, though, she continues to be gleefully heedless of the rules that bind so many of contemporary writers. “I enjoy freedom and that is what this genre offers. I just want to be known as someone who tried to pursue authenticity and excellence. Thirty years from now, anyway, I would be put into a box and buried six feet under. Why should I limit myself now?” asks Khanna, who makes it a point to read science fiction every night.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khanna’s prose is rugged and colloquial―just like the way she speaks. During our interview, her tone kept shifting back and forth from assertive lucidity to groggy self-deprecation. Some stories in <i>Welcome to Paradise</i> are short and snappy; others are long and languid. The ones that revolve around particular events in someone’s life are better than the ones which encompass an entire lifetime.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khanna says she never wanted to be an actress, but the shadow is difficult to get rid of. Even now, she is not just an author, but a heroine-turned-author. “I told my mother that you wasted my 20 years, and then she was like, ‘See where you are today.’”</p> <p>Khanna has never been short on stories she wanted to tell. She finds material in her own experiences, and her eventful life underlies most of her work. One wonders: did the recognition as an author come easy, piggybacking on her privileged status as a star? Even if that were true, Khanna has undeniably been a trailblazer in having audaciously ventured where too few Bollywood beauties have gone before―the business of writing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khanna is gregarious, outspoken and loves to laugh, but our interview also has moments of deep reflection. What do you want to be remembered as, I ask. She thinks long and hard, and says, “I am unable to process the world until I write my way through it. Next is to get inspired by [Haruki] Murakami’s process of writing―waking up at 5am and running 10km. Either he has a wife who hates him, or he doesn’t have a wife. I’m not sure.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And she laughs out loud.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>WELCOME TO PARADISE</b></p> <p><i>By</i> <b>Twinkle Khanna</b></p> <p><i>Published by</i> <b>Juggernaut</b></p> <p><i>Pages</i> <b>224;</b> <i>price</i> <b>Rs399</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/09/twinkle-khanna-on-her-new-book-welcome-to-paradise.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/09/twinkle-khanna-on-her-new-book-welcome-to-paradise.html Sat Dec 09 15:43:51 IST 2023 gargi-rawats-first-book-tiger-season-marries-romance-bollywood-and-her-love-for-the-wild <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/09/gargi-rawats-first-book-tiger-season-marries-romance-bollywood-and-her-love-for-the-wild.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2023/12/9/68-Tiger-Season-new.jpg" /> <p><i>Tiger Season</i> reads like a reporter’s diary. Perhaps, it is because the bones of the novel were formed when Gargi Rawat tramped through India’s jungles covering the wildlife and conservation space for NDTV. So yes, a reporter’s diary it is, with a braid of romance and man-animal conflict running right through it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Set in Rajasthan, the storyline blends three worlds―conservation, Bollywood and journalism. Of these worlds, Rawat is a veteran in two, and that experience shines through her central character― journalist Sunaina Joshi who is shooting a wildlife show in a national park, with a Bollywood star in tow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The journalism bit comes through in every little detail from camera angles to mentions of gear, logistics, costumes, and the rest of the hoopla that accompanies a TV show. She does not dodge that ‘dirty word’―money. Credit is paid to journalists in small towns, their struggles, hunger, and perceptiveness. Then there are those brief artful sketches about members of the team. One gets the feeling that Rawat knows these characters, not just in her mind―in flesh and blood.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then there is the conservation bit. Rawat’s love for the wild is pragmatic and passionate. The passion shows in the vivid descriptions of wildlife… the claw marks that tigers leave on trees, the alarm calls of spotted deer, and the stink of a rotting kill. Just as the journalist tips her hat to the local reporter, Rawat does the same to Ram Tiwari and his brother forest rangers, the men on the ground struggling with everything from unruly tourists to irate villagers and rogue animals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She does not pull any punches when sketching out the shallow and unkind world of social media, the PR juggernaut of Bollywood and the champagne conservationists who flit from cause to cause―stray dogs today, rogue tiger tomorrow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The research that Rawat has put in adds to the flavour of <i>Tiger Season</i>. For example, for much of India, a standard north Indian salutation would be the familiar namaste. But, in the novel, she goes with the traditional Marwari greeting―<i>khamagani</i>, may you be blessed with wealth and prosperity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My first name for the hero was Raunak,” says Rawat. “And then I spoke to a friend from Rajasthan, who was shocked. ‘Raunak? You wouldn’t find a <i>banna</i> named Raunak,’ he said.” <i>Banna</i> is a term of endearment for Rajput boys; baisa for girls. Thus, Raunak became a true-blue <i>banna</i>, Devraj Singh Rathore―charmer, photographer and owner of Baagh Baadi heritage resort, where the novel is set.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then there is also the food, breaking stereotypes about much of north India being a ‘potatoes and paneer’ country. At meal times, one is almost transported to picnic scenes in the Enid Blyton universe. But <i>Tiger Season</i> meals are no kid’s affair, they are adult banquets of slow-cooked khadd mutton, Baagh Baadi special red chilli parathas, finished with strawberry coulis and glasses of chilled Sauternes wine. Paan, too, if you will have one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The other personal element about the book is the cover. Rawat’s husband, Yusuf Ansari, clicked the tiger on cover. He is vice-president and director of experiences at SUJÁN resorts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Slow-burn romance and pragmatism might not seem like a good pairing on paper. <i>Tiger Season</i> might convince you otherwise.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>TIGER SEASON</b></p> <p>By <b>Gargi Rawat</b></p> <p>Published by <b>Ebury Press</b></p> <p>Price <b>Rs299;</b> pages <b>347</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/09/gargi-rawats-first-book-tiger-season-marries-romance-bollywood-and-her-love-for-the-wild.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/09/gargi-rawats-first-book-tiger-season-marries-romance-bollywood-and-her-love-for-the-wild.html Sat Dec 09 15:40:32 IST 2023 siddharth-roy-kapur-s-obsession-with-films-has-led-to-some-of-india-s-biggest-productions <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/02/siddharth-roy-kapur-s-obsession-with-films-has-led-to-some-of-india-s-biggest-productions.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2023/12/2/121-Siddharth-Roy-Kapur.jpg" /> <p>Siddharth Roy Kapur’s earliest relationship with films was birthed in tears. The then some four-year-old Kapur rushed out of a cinema hall crying. The film he watched was <i>For the Love of Benji</i> (1977), which was the story of a stray dog longing for a home and humans. Though the film ended happily, the distraught Kapur could not bear to wait till then, choosing to bolt when the dog was lost. “I can’t remember a time when I was not obsessed with films. I loved the experience of being in a dark cinema hall watching a film unfold,” said Kapur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That obsession grew to a voracious reading of film magazines, including trade publications, to understand what went on behind producing magic. It helped that the Roy Kapur home was subsumed in art. His mother, Salome, a trained Indian and western dancer and choreographer, was born to parents who were dance teachers. His father Kumud, an Army officer, had a father who had produced films. Theatre was a big part of the family’s leisure time. It was no surprise thus that Kapur’s younger brothers―Kunaal and Aditya―would also walk into acting careers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kapur’s obsession with films has led to some of India’s biggest and best productions―both in his earlier capacity as managing director of The Walt Disney Company, India; and now as founder and MD of Roy Kapur Films. In his former role, he oversaw <i>Barfi!</i> (2012) which was chosen as India’s official entry to the Oscars. More recently, the Roy Kapur Films production <i>Last Film Show</i> <i>(Chhello Show)</i> became the country’s entry to the Oscars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 11 years that Kapur spent at the start of his career at UTV Motion Pictures and then Disney taught him the value of creating an all-encompassing entertainment universe. “The beauty of [Walter] Disney’s genius lay in creating multiple formats [from merchandise to theme parks to cruise ships] of the characters the audience had watched and fallen in love with,” he said. It was also a stint that introduced Kapur to the wide spectrum of talent that the company housed―from animation geniuses to studio executives. And, then, there were the rigour, discipline, precision and accuracy that went into the nuts and bolts of how to build a company that was successful. The idea to turn producer, though, grew subconsciously. Had he stayed on in the job, he might have had to move to a different geography. But he had realised that producing content was a greater love than being a senior media executive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The entrepreneurial journey was not without creative and commercial risks. But at UTV, Kapur had learnt from its founder, Ronnie Screwvala, the importance of taking ownership, even if one was just an employee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The year 2017 was perhaps not the best to form a production house for Covid-19 would come soon after. Yet, as Kapur said, “We were fortunate to have so many great stories come our way. Some came straight through the door, some we built from scratch. It is a great team we have now created across genres, platforms [and languages].”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the company’s most ambitious projects, <i>The Sky is Pink</i> (2019), did not work at the box office. Kapur ruminates that it was, perhaps, a difficult story for people to watch. “It could have worked better if we did not scale it up and had told it more intimately,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are gems within the Roy Kapur library that remain largely undiscovered. One is <i>Yeh Ballet</i> (2020)―a film about two underprivileged Mumbai teens learning the art from an Israeli-American teacher. “You have to work within the constructs and parameters of the story. One tried to make it as colloquial and fun as possible, but there were elements that cannot be changed else you end up negatively impacting the story,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The latest Roy Kapur offering <i>Pippa</i> (Amazon Prime) has invited mixed reviews. The range of evaluations go from ‘must watch’ to a film that takes you close to ‘the sights and smells of battle’ to ‘tired’. Kapur chose to make it because he had often heard his father say that the Battle of Garibpur, which preceded the 1971 Indo-Pak war, was the only ‘just’ war in history. “It is the only war in which a country went into another [Bangladesh], liberated it, and was not an occupying force,” Kapur said. There was another personal connect―Brigadier Balram Singh Mehta, the author of <i>The Burning Chaffees</i> (on which the movie is based), was a friend of Kapur’s father.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The movie production business in India is changing, and one of the most positive changes is that the funding is transparent. Corporates have brought in better sales and distribution practices. The stereotypical image of the paan chewing, uncouth producer, dressed in a safari suit, with a faux leather bag tucked under his armpit, is long gone. Kapur says those producers of yore, though caricaturised, had a passion in which ‘fortunes were lost and houses were mortgaged’ to make films.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As six time president of the Producers Guild of India, Kapur is aware of challenges―the most pressing of which is piracy, which the Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2023, seeks to tackle with more legal teeth. “New writing talent has to emerge in a structured, organised, professional way. We have to up the quality of our content to make great Asian crossovers like <i>Parasite</i> [2019, South Korea]. The economics of the industry―where big films are getting bigger―needs to be fixed. We need to be more efficient with our budgets to better realise our revenue potential and increase profit margins,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of all the projects in the Roy Kapur production pipeline, he is, especially, excited about the Shahid Kapoor headlined <i>Deva</i>, an action thriller slated for a Dussehra 2024 release. There are other big projects―among them an adaptation of <i>The Anarchy</i> by William Dalrymple, which will be mounted as a global TV production. It figures that Kapur is a voracious reader, and on his list are <i>In Other Words</i> (Jhumpa Lahiri) and <i>Sabbath’s Theater</i> (Philip Roth); and a re-read of <i>Sapiens</i> (Yuval Noah Harari). Then there is that looming question of consciously not casting the enormous talent within the family. While he does say ‘never say never’, he admits that separation might have lost him great casting opportunities. It is a risk he is willing to take to keep family matters uncomplicated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When not subsumed in all things films, Kapur spends time with friends from schools and lingers over long family meals. Beneath it all, that child remains.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kapur remains a self-confessed ‘easy crier’. And thus, the line-up of productions from his company invariably squeezes tear ducts other than his. For what is a movie or a series without a good cry?</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/02/siddharth-roy-kapur-s-obsession-with-films-has-led-to-some-of-india-s-biggest-productions.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/12/02/siddharth-roy-kapur-s-obsession-with-films-has-led-to-some-of-india-s-biggest-productions.html Sat Dec 02 16:41:47 IST 2023 graphic-india-head-sharad-devarajan-s-life-mission-has-been-to-create-a-sense-of-wonder-through-animated-stories <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/11/25/graphic-india-head-sharad-devarajan-s-life-mission-has-been-to-create-a-sense-of-wonder-through-animated-stories.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2023/11/25/63-Sharad-Devarajan.jpg" /> <p>Immortality, begins Disney+Hotstar’s animated show <i>The Legend of Hanuman</i>, means different things to different beings. Some will tear the universe apart to gain its power. But for others, it is about finding the true hero within through faith and hope. This sets the tone for the epic good vs evil battle between Ravan and Lord Hanuman in the series. According to its co-creator Sharad Devarajan, most stories about Hanuman either focus on his impish childhood or his leap to Lanka. But between these two realities lies a rich tale of pathos and profundity. Of a god who is made to forget his own immortality until he truly understands its power and can wield it responsibly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Through the show, one of the themes we wanted to explore was the duality of immortality,” says Devarajan. “Ravan is craving immortality, but he never had a purpose to his life. This purposelessness made him numb, and the numbness started to take over. The obsession with Sita and everything that led to his downfall was because he was void in his soul. Immortality without purpose is an endless torture. Whereas Hanuman is also immortal, but has this deep connection to Ram. So, his immortality is filled with great purpose, joy, and love.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The show is visually stunning, and imbues the much-loved story of Hanuman with depth and poignancy. Upon its launch in 2021, it became the most watched show across all streaming platforms and has now been renewed for a third season.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Just like Hanuman, who had a lifetime of preparation before he came into his own, Devarajan, too, has been preparing all his life to realise his purpose. As one of the few Indians in his neighbourhood in New Jersey, Devarajan grew up with an acute awareness of being different. He found the love of his life at the age of five when he picked up his first comic book from a rack in a 7-Eleven. Comics gave him a unique sense of identity, because their heroes were always outliers like him. Their strength was their uniqueness and embracing it gave them purpose. Since then, comics became his staple, not just reading, but also drawing them. “The purist medium I always found for art was comic books,” he says. “It was a place where imagination was unbridled, and you could create the entire universe in a single page and destroy it in the next.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a child, Devarajan was reading Amar Chitra Katha with equal voraciousness as Marvel and DC comics. This straddling of the east and the west, in some way, is the story of his life. Through his work, he allows each to stream into the other. Right after college, he founded his first company, Gotham Comics, where he brought western comics to south east Asia and India, to people who could not afford or access them in their own language. Later, he co-founded Liquid Comics, where he collaborated with the likes of Guy Ritchie and John Woo to create original projects and graphic novels. He is also the CEO and publisher of Virgin Comics LLC and Virgin Animation Pvt. Ltd, a set of companies he co-founded with Sir Richard Branson. His latest ventures are Graphic India, under which he released the likes of <i>The Legend of Hanuman</i>, and Toonsutra, India’s biggest comic and webtoon app which went live last month. He created the series <i>Chakra The Invincible</i> with the legendary Stan Lee, and <i>Astra Force</i> with Amitabh Bachchan. He is also the co-creator with S.S. Rajamouli and Arka Mediaworks of <i>Baahubali: The Lost Legends</i>, which premiered on Amazon Prime Video in India, and the co-producer of Zoya Akhtar’s upcoming movie, <i>The Archies</i>.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the last 15 years, Devarajan has been an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School, teaching a course in media and entrepreneurship. He says one of his biggest learnings in entrepreneurship has been the importance of timing. “Can you really have the right timing for the business you want to launch?” he asks. “It’s a bit of luck and art to be able to do that.” If your idea is too ahead of its time, then people won’t buy it, but if it’s too far behind, then everybody’s going to do it. There’s a bit of alchemy to it, he says with a smile.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Currently, however, it looks like he is at the right place at the right time. The Indian animation and VFX industry has been witnessing a renaissance ever since the pandemic. According to Statista, it was valued at approximately Rs107 billion in 2022. The animation, visual effects, gaming and comics (AVGC) sector now accounts for about 20 per cent of the Indian media and entertainment landscape. “Every day I meet creators in the country who are pushing the boundaries of risk-taking,” says Devarajan. “Risk aversion is something that is steeped in our culture. But the reality of being a creator is to live in the area of risk, to put everything out there and to really go for it. We are advancing in world-building, and I have seen some of the most sophisticated sci-fi, fantasy and superhero writing from India. Our goal is to nurture it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He says that while there is a huge animation outsourcing industry in India, he wants to change the perception of India from being an outsourcer to the source. “We have a thriving Bollywood ecosystem, but where are the [Hayao] Miyazakis, the Steven Spielbergs, the Stan Lees?” he asks. He is trying to push for artists to take the risk of becoming artists, instead of merely executing someone else’s vision. Outside India, he sees a burgeoning interest in our culture, as portrayed through films like Rajamouli’s <i>RRR</i> and the <i>Baahubali</i> series.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In fact, Rajamouli gave him his biggest lesson in risk taking, says Devarajan. “Think about the risk of the <i>Baahubali</i> franchise,” he says. “Those guys pushed it to a level never seen before in Indian cinema, taking a risk that I would say no studio would take up. I think the history of Indian cinema will be defined as before and after <i>Baahubali</i>. When I went to meet Rajamouli [while working on <i>Baahubali: The Lost Legends</i>], I realised how important world-building was to him. He showed us how the films were just the tip of the iceberg when compared with the years they had worked on world-building. And the themes he explores―like dharma vs justice―are so unabashedly Indian and so globally accessible in the way he presents them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As far as the future of his industry is concerned, the biggest disruptor is going to be artificial intelligence, he says. In fact, he has been teaching it at Columbia. “What [Google CEO] Sundar Pichai said many years ago was so prescient: that AI would be more important than fire,” he says. “Think about how tech has evolved in the last 200 years and then imagine the next 10 years being that equivalency. With the power of AI increasing, what we need to teach our students is a true comfort with ambiguity, with the ambiguous future that lies ahead. The things we thought we were in control of―industries we spent many years training for―might not even exist anymore. So how do we, as human beings, find different truths? It is going to force a rethink, not just in my industry, but in every industry.”</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/11/25/graphic-india-head-sharad-devarajan-s-life-mission-has-been-to-create-a-sense-of-wonder-through-animated-stories.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/11/25/graphic-india-head-sharad-devarajan-s-life-mission-has-been-to-create-a-sense-of-wonder-through-animated-stories.html Sat Nov 25 11:58:31 IST 2023 an-art-show-that-confronts-voices-and-visions <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/11/25/an-art-show-that-confronts-voices-and-visions.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2023/11/25/68-Chavittu-Nadakam.jpg" /> <p>Nine years ago photo artist K.R. Sunil saw a fascinating <i>chavittunadakam</i> performance by a group from Chellanam, a coastal village near Kochi, which stayed true to its original form in 16th century. A form of theatre which originated within the Latin Catholic community of Kerala, <i>chavittunadakam</i> resembles Europe’s opera, and features glittering costumes that resemble Greco-Roman style robes, intricate gestures, and rhythmic music. The stories are mostly heroic tales of Christian warrior kings of the Roman Empire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The performance, involving fisherfolk and daily-wage workers, profoundly affected Sunil. So he became a frequent visitor to their village and homes. He recognised the stark contrast between their roles as royals and the harsh reality of living in extreme poverty, with their houses getting flooded frequently. Sunil observed that these men and women, who do the least damage to nature, unfortunately, bear the maximum brunt of climate change and environmental degradation. “So instead of their royal backdrops, I placed them in front of their own flooded houses,” said the photo artist. And that led to his photo series <i>Chavittu Nadakam: Storytellers of the Seashore</i>, which is currently being displayed at Contextual Cosmologies, an art exhWWibition in Thiruvananthapuram, showcasing works of 44 artists from Kerala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Curated by Anushka Rajendran, Bose Krishnamachari, Premjish Achari and Sujith S.N., the show is being held at the College of Fine Arts in Thiruvananthapuram, which was established in 1881. Krishnamachari, the director of Kochi-Muziris Biennale, did the scenography, crafting, and designing for the show that features artworks of various mediums and sizes. Originally conceived as one of Krishnamachari’s four projects for Keraleeyam 2023―a festival being organised by the Kerala government to showcase the state’s achievements―the show will continue till December 31.</p> <p>As I move through the exhibition space, I encounter myriad voices and visions. Mysuru-based artist Amjum Rizve, 33, presents a sculpture of a Sufi and a Muthappan Theyyam entwined in an inverted embrace. Cleverly concealed amidst this composition is a fungi-covered frog perched on the raised feet of the sculpture. Both Sufi and MuthappWan embody the realisation of divinity in humanity, and Rizve sculpted their inverted embrace using more than 1.5 lakh beads. Coming from an orthodox Muslim background, Islamic cultural practices formed the base of this young artist hailing from Kappad in Kozhikode. Rizve told me about his inspirations. “After my graduation, there was a gap of three years before I joined for my master’s. In that phase, where I had to strive for survival, I worked with my aunt, a tailor, and designed wedding dresses [with decorative elements],” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My master’s syllabus had a paper on Islamic art and other art forms,” said Rizve. “There, I was exposed to Persian carpets, Persian miniatures, and a lot of decorative images. The Persian miniaturists make their work in a meditative and disciplined process. I used to paint oil paintings arrogantly. But this work is a result of my transformation to be a more disciplined artist who takes time and makes the process of art a meditative process.” He opened his work for interpretations from the backdrop of the current political atmosphere in the country. There is clear yearning for fluid spaces instead of ghettos.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Elsewhere, a group of musicians from Germany were eagerly exploring the unique work of artist Vivek Vilasini. The work featured a re-enactment of the Last Supper―clearly inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s version―starring 13 Kathakali performers tucking into appams and other traditional Kerala delicacies. Christine Evans, a band member hailing from Hamburg, was filled with awe. “We are great fans of any kind of high-quality art and we found such wonderful artworks here,” she said, “We felt like we just discovered a whole new colourful world and we are very grateful to be here.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Krishnamachari said this artwork delves into the realms of conceptualism―an influential ism prevalent in art-making throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the first things that a person would notice when entering the exhibition space is a typography in Malayalam, <i>Nammalenganenammalayi</i> [How we become what we are] by Latheesh Lakshman, who calls himself an “artist + designer + illustrator + typography lover”. Later I saw some of his other quirky works with Malayalam words like <i>Kashtapettishtapedenda</i> [love a little less hard] and <i>Engotta, Evidanna</i>, Ara [to where, from where, who are you] with pigmented print plus serigraphy on museum paper as the medium. Krishnamachari calls <i>Kashtapettishtapedenda</i> an “iconic work” considering the contemporary design, graphics and art scene. “It is important to see how a typography gets transformed into a contemporary artwork,” said the veteran artist and curator. Lakshman, 43, who is working in the advertisement industry, is particular that his work communicates; he said he is fond of doodling and working on wordplays.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Uncovering muted voices from bygone eras, and confronting the narratives crafted under the guise of ‘established history’ is a realm that bold artists venture into. In Contextual Cosmologies, one encounters some notable works dealing with such historical narratives. For instance, Bara Bhaskaran’s <i>Chamber of Amazing Museum</i>, set against the backdrop of the violent Punnapra Vayalar revolt―a communist uprising in the princely state of Travancore leading to over a thousand deaths―examines the unheard voices of the martyrs’ widows, who played an equal role in the struggle yet remained unrecognised. “This work would certainly hold significance should a museum be established focusing on the Punnapra Vayalar revolt,” said Krishnamachari.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>T.V. Santhosh’s <i>History Lab</i> series is also a work that deals with the idea of understanding history through different narratives, and various perspectives. At Contextual Cosmologies, one encounters the third instalment in the series―an installation of war-ravaged buildings with a countdown timer set for around 79 years, symbolising the average human life expectancy. This apocalyptic vision examines the future by reflecting on our turbulent past, drawn from history books and contemporary news imagery that shape people’s perspectives. In a world marked by news of conflicts, such artistic visions acquire heightened relevance.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/11/25/an-art-show-that-confronts-voices-and-visions.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/11/25/an-art-show-that-confronts-voices-and-visions.html Sat Nov 25 11:47:54 IST 2023 indian-author-gurcharan-das-relives-his-extraordinary-life-and-finds-new-meanings-that-define-him <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/11/18/indian-author-gurcharan-das-relives-his-extraordinary-life-and-finds-new-meanings-that-define-him.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2023/11/18/63-Gurcharan-Das.jpg" /> <p>Gurcharan Das was just a boy when his family first arrived in America. Eisenhower was in the White House, and race politics was on the boil. Das felt the heat soon after he enrolled in a school in Washington, DC. A white girl invited him to her birthday party, where after a grand meal, the children played Spin the Bottle. The game involved a player spinning the bottle, and when it stopped, kissing the person of the opposite sex that the bottle was pointing to. An unwritten rule: black boys kissed only black girls, and white boys kissed only white girls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So there was much confusion when it was Das’s turn. “I solved the problem brilliantly―I kissed everybody,” Das tells THE WEEK. “If there was a black girl on the other side, I would kiss her. If it was a white girl, I would kiss her. And I kept getting bonus points as a result of that. I just kept on kissing.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is a Zoom meeting, and Das, now 80, is in his home in Delhi having soup and sandwich as he talks about his new book, <i>Another Sort of Freedom</i>. It is a charming memoir that intimately describes the twists and turns in his extraordinary journey―his happy childhood in a prospering family in Lyallpur in pre-partition Punjab, the “temporary insanity” of the partition that left deep wounds, the healing in independent India, the World Bank’s brokering of a water sharing treaty between India and Pakistan that had his family moving to America (his father was part of a team of engineers that negotiated the deal), the American experiences that would forever change his outlook on life, his return to India to earn a formal livelihood, the weekday struggle to climb the corporate ladder and the weekend dabbles in the literary world, rising to become the legendary CEO of Procter &amp; Gamble India, taking early retirement to become a full-time writer…. In the memoir, Das is both the spinning bottle and the beneficiary of liberal kisses from good fortune.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He describes it as <i>laghima</i>. A Sanskrit word, <i>laghima</i> connotes the experience of living lightly―“not like a feather, but like a bird”. <i>Laghima</i> had stood Das in good stead at Harvard, where he switched subjects as he pleased in his first year, learning from titans and drinking from several fountains of knowledge. He took classes in molecular biology from James Watson, who would go on to win the Nobel for proposing the DNA’s double-helix structure; he learnt moral and political philosophy from John Rawls, author of the seminal <i>Theory of Justice</i>; the economist-diplomat J.K. Galbraith had him appreciating Nehruvian socialism, while pre-fame Henry Kissinger had him questioning Nehru’s foreign policy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He also learnt from Edward Said that a Hindu from a Punjabi middle-class family that had risen professionally in British colonial society, such as Das, had much in common with a Palestinian scholar from a rich Christian business family in Egypt, such as Said. They were both “deracinated exiles”, Said told him, and they were trying to cope with their post-colonial identity. “He insisted that I must return to India after Harvard and free my countrymen from the mental fetters of colonialism,” writes Das.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As it happened, he took only half the advice. After graduating from Harvard with a degree in philosophy, Das returned to India and joined a company that made Vicks VapoRub.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was a somewhat forced decision. After returning to India, Das had been living by the French aristocracy’s belief that idleness is the natural state of human beings, but his quintessentially Indian mother began losing patience. Being jobless is the result of too much philosophy, she said. <i>Laghima</i> again came to Das’s rescue. He found happiness in the form of a rotating chair in his new office in a run-down Victorian building in Bombay. “I sat in it, and I went round and round, and it cheered me up,” he says.</p> <p>Good cheer wafts through <i>Another Sort of Freedom</i>. Das’s narration marries wit and contemplation―he not just pokes fun at himself (“I just take my work, and not myself, seriously,” he explains), but also takes a warts-and-all look at the person he has evolved into. With equal passion, he writes about being an awkward boy who accidentally encounters the naked bottom of an attractive cousin (“…the memory of a gentle light falling on her beautiful, light-brown, naked bottom persisted for years”) and being a worldly-wise philosopher-CEO caught in the stifling bureaucracy of India’s Licence Raj era (“The joint secretary was ready to kill anything that breathed of spontaneity or human achievement”).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I think my wife would have been happier if I had not written the book at all,” says Das, “because she is a bit embarrassed that I am sort of a semi-public person.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a lot in the book that would make fans of aphorisms happy. Early in his career, Das writes, “I found there were two kinds of people: those who did the work and those who took the credit. There was lots of competition in the second group, very little in the first.” Politeness, he discovers, is the best form of hypocrisy. As a mid-level manager, he finds out that “when power and incompetence meet, disaster is not far behind”. The difference between Delhi and Bombay? “Delhi had one CEO; Bombay had 1,00,000.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Another Sort of Freedom</i> is the fourth in a series of Das’s meditations on <i>moksha</i> and the various forms of liberation associated with it. In the widely acclaimed <i>India Unbound</i> (2000), he had delved into India’s economic liberalisation and its search for material well-being; <i>The Difficulty of Being Good</i> (2009) was a Mahabharat-inspired inquiry into moral liberation; and <i>Kama: The Riddle of Desire</i> (2018) was about attaining the goal of desire and pleasure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With this intimate memoir, Das says, he has not just completed a <i>moksha</i> quartet, but also come to grasp a personal truth. He now thinks of himself “not as a horse without a harness,” he says, “but as a ‘horse easy in its harness’, as Robert Frost puts it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Surely, it is the best sort of freedom one could hope for.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/11/18/indian-author-gurcharan-das-relives-his-extraordinary-life-and-finds-new-meanings-that-define-him.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/11/18/indian-author-gurcharan-das-relives-his-extraordinary-life-and-finds-new-meanings-that-define-him.html Sat Nov 18 11:59:53 IST 2023 another-sort-of-freedom-gurcharan-das-book-extract <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/11/18/another-sort-of-freedom-gurcharan-das-book-extract.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2023/11/18/66-Another-Sort-of-Freedom-new.jpg" /> <p>I was now thirty-seven and sitting at the top of the heap. I had become CEO of Richardson Hindustan Ltd, the company where I had started at the bottom. I was happy to be among old colleagues, but everyone didn’t seem pleased. Envy, I suppose, is the side effect of success. I’ve known envy since kindergarten, when I grabbed the rich kid’s pencil box and got poor Ayan into trouble. The Greeks exiled their heroes, allowing them to return only after the public’s envy had cooled; Chinese heroes coped with envy by self-deprecation; Indian heroes, by renouncing the world.</p> <p>I may have got to the top, but I wasn’t sitting pretty. The company was in serious trouble, a real mess. I didn’t know to which port we were sailing; no wind was favourable. The socialist government had instituted severe price controls on medicines, threatening to bankrupt us. Our labour force was hostile, coming out of a seventy-seven-day strike. The chemists’ association had just announced a boycott of our products to force higher trade margins. With sales plunging to zero, we might go bust. I called a meeting of the management committee. Although I hated meetings, this was a dire moment. Some in the Mancom had long memories—they had still not forgiven me over executive toilets and white-gloved waiters. Nevertheless, sharing our difficulties might help to lift us out of a bottomless pit.</p> <p>Gloom filled the room when I finished outlining our ominous situation. I suggested a free-flowing ‘brainstorming’, a novel idea that left my colleagues cold. They were suspicious. I might have a hidden agenda before I plunged in the knife. There were long silences, lengthy intervals.</p> <p>One person felt that since I was the boss, I should be giving orders, not asking for help. Another feared that I was trying to steal their ideas and call them my own. Normally talkative, they were tight-lipped at the meeting.</p> <p>Soon, they began to fidget, grow restless, visit the toilet. No one spoke. Someone had a sensible idea: As we weren’t getting anywhere, why not end the meeting and the pain? I was confused and didn’t know what to do. The uneasy quiet rolled on until, one by one, making excuses, they all left.</p> <p>The brainstorming was a disaster. I chalked it to our differing mindsets. Theirs was more traditional, hierarchical style; mine was consultative, participative, maybe because I had grown up in democratic America.</p> <p>Nevertheless, I wasn’t deterred and called for a second brainstorming session. This time, I did a better job. They had also begun to trust me a bit more. I guided the discussion more confidently, focusing sharply on the key issues. Ideas began to flow. At one point in the flowing stream, the Gujarati head of marketing said almost absent-mindedly, ‘What if Vicks Vaporub had been an Ayurvedic medicine, not a Western drug?’</p> <p>Someone snickered, thinking it a joke. But behind the ‘what-if’ was a hope—Ayurvedic products did not fall under price control. Then, the Tamil head of R&amp;D spoke, as though he was speaking to himself: ‘Vaporub’s ingredients are natural. I wonder if they’re in the Ayurvedic formulary.’ The Marwari company secretary thought it worth confirming if Ayurvedic products were indeed free from price control. The Punjabi sales manager wanted to check if Ayurvedic products were limited to pharmacies or sold by general merchants. The Bengali finance manager, ever cautious, felt that even if Vaporub’s ingredients were in the formulary, it would be illegal to make the switch. Would the government ever allow it? The wishful Gujarati, who had started all this, confessed that the idea had been put into his head by an official of the Gujarat government.</p> <p>Someone announced a headline from the <i>Times of India</i>: ‘100-Year-Old American Product Becomes a 2000-Year-Old Indian Medicine!’ Everyone laughed. The ice had been broken.</p> <p>Everyone seemed to know what to do. The R&amp;D man rushed to the Bombay University library to check if Vaporub’s ingredients were in the ancient formulary. The finance manager went off to the lawyers’ office to confirm if Ayurvedic products were indeed free of price control. The company secretary called our government-relations man in Delhi to check if Vaporub’s registration could be changed. The sales manager was off to the bazaar to ascertain which sort of stores sold Ayurvedic products. We met in the evening. There were smiling faces. It was a ‘yes’ on all counts.</p> <p>All of Vaporub’s ingredients were in the formulary; Ayurvedic products were not price-controlled. We looked at each other in disbelief. The advice from Delhi was not to ask for a change in registration but to make an application for a new product and make the switch only after the approval.</p> <p>Over the next few days, we worked day and night, preparing a dossier, backed by endorsements from Ayurvedic experts.</p> <p>When the application landed on his desk, the regulator practically fell off his chair. He had guessed what we were up to, but he couldn’t stop us—it was all perfectly legal. After weeks of prodding daily, the authorities handed us the prized licence to manufacture an Ayurvedic rub. From that day onwards, the factory stopped manufacturing the old Vaporub. Our Maharashtrian purchase manager ordered labels for the new Vaporub. The sales manager recalled the entire inventory from the market for relabelling.</p> <p>Two weeks later, shiny bottles of ‘All Natural Ayurvedic Vicks Vaporub’ were sitting proudly on store shelves. Nothing had changed, except our profits. They soared. The sales force began to expand distribution to the non-drug trade. Within six months, outlets carrying Vicks jumped from 60,000 pharmacies to 7,50,000&nbsp;general stores. The trade boycott collapsed. Consumers were happy, finding Vicks now at every street corner.</p> <p>We received the new registration and set up a plant for Ayurvedic Vicks in a tax-advantaged area of Hyderabad, with lower costs and higher productivity. Thus, we escaped the clutches of a hostile union in Mumbai.</p> <p>Since it was impossible to close the old factory in those days of the Licence Raj, we merely stopped production. Workers came to the factory; they were paid full wages but did not work. Soon, we offered them a generous voluntary retirement plan. Most of them found it attractive and accepted it. The few who were left lodged a complaint via the union. The authorities tried to stop us. But they were helpless—we had not broken any law.</p> <p>With higher prices and better costs, we invested aggressively in marketing. Our after-tax profits rose from&nbsp; 1&nbsp; per cent to&nbsp; 14&nbsp; per cent of sales. Soon, we were a blue chip on the Bombay Stock Exchange as the share price zoomed from Rs&nbsp; 30&nbsp; to Rs&nbsp; 400&nbsp; over the next eighteen months. (We were owned only 40 per cent by the American company; the balance 60 per cent was widely spread among the Indian public.)</p> <p>Having anticipated this outcome, we had offered shares of the company to all 1248 employees, including factory workers, secretaries and cleaning staff. All shared in the company’s prosperity and many ended up buying a home from their capital gains. This had not been easy, since no one had heard of stock options in those socialist days. The controller of capital issues thought it a scam—employees trying to steal the company’s money.</p> <p>However, we prevailed in the end and were allowed to offer 5 per cent of the share capital to employees. The story doesn’t end there. We proposed to create an R&amp;D centre in Mumbai to prove the efficacy of all-natural Ayurvedic therapies for common ailments. There were many sceptics at the headquarters. But it helped that we were now flush with funds, having become one of the most profitable subsidiaries in the world. After much debate about Ayurveda’s efficacy, the headquarters agreed, and a cheque for $2 million arrived one morning.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Excerpted from Another Sort of Freedom by Gurcharan Das, with permission from Penguin Random House.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Another Sort of Freedom</b></p> <p><i>By</i> <b>Gurcharan Das</b></p> <p><i>Published by</i> <b>Penguin Random House</b></p> <p><i>Pages</i> <b>275;</b> <i>Price</i> <b>Rs699</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/11/18/another-sort-of-freedom-gurcharan-das-book-extract.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/11/18/another-sort-of-freedom-gurcharan-das-book-extract.html Sat Nov 18 15:27:52 IST 2023 ai-pin-humane-a-new-device-wants-to-wean-you-off-your-phone <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/11/18/ai-pin-humane-a-new-device-wants-to-wean-you-off-your-phone.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2023/11/18/67-ai-pin.jpg" /> <p>Smartphones are enabling but addictive. Humane, a San Francisco-based startup, wants to liberate people from their phones using, well, more technology.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It recently launched a gadget called AI pin, a small, square device that can be pinned to the chest. It can be controlled by voice, touch pad or projecting a laser display onto the palm of a hand, and it can make calls, send texts, play songs and snap photos, and even translate a real-time conversation into another language.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Humane CEO Bethany Bongiorno, who founded the company with her husband, Imran Chaudhri, calls it the world’s first contextual computer. “We’re offering the first opportunity to bring AI with you everywhere,” she told <i>Wired</i>. Sam Altman, OpenAI’s chief executive, is an investor in Humane.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AI pin is miles ahead of Alexa or Siri or Google Assistant in understanding the context of voice commands and getting things done. Thanks to the deep involvement of AI, it naturally follows conversations and makes fewer mistakes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And it does not have apps. Instead, it directs requests through an AI model or third-party service. That, in more ways than one, might be a good thing. Apps are often inefficient and distracting, and are the main reason behind smartphone addiction. Even apps that are meant to help get work done can introduce distractions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Will the AI pin replace smartphones? It can do many things that phones do, but not everything and not always.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Can it get things done better than smartphones? The AI pin’s form factor may help skip many steps involved in operating a phone. For instance, you can just ask it to take a photo, rather than taking your phone out, opening the camera, focusing and then clicking a photo. But you might not get as good a photo as the one taken by an iPhone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Can it do stuff smartphones do not? AI pin is impressive for a first-generation device, and comparing it with smartphones that are at the zenith of their evolution might not be fair. Apparently, Humane is “exploring the possibilities so you can rethink how you experience music, shopping, communication, and more”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AI pin will cost $699 and require a $24 monthly subscription, and will begin shipping in the US next year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The significance of the AI pin is that it is the first meaningful effort to wean you off smartphones by offering an alternative. In future, it may become a lot more than just a substitute. At the moment, however, it is just a promise.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/11/18/ai-pin-humane-a-new-device-wants-to-wean-you-off-your-phone.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/11/18/ai-pin-humane-a-new-device-wants-to-wean-you-off-your-phone.html Sat Nov 18 15:24:55 IST 2023 filmmaker-anand-ekarshi-on-the-making-of-aattam <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/11/18/filmmaker-anand-ekarshi-on-the-making-of-aattam.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2023/11/18/69-A-still-from-Aattam.jpg" /> <p>On October 13, <i>Aattam (The Play)</i>, a Malayalam feature film directed by debutant Anand Ekarshi, had its world premiere at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA). With more than 90 per cent of the audience being non-Malayalis, the filmmaker was worried about how they would perceive a dialogue-centric movie, even with subtitles. Post screening, all his concerns were laid to rest. Men and women reacted differently to the film―something he had observed in all the five screenings he had with audiences. The film, which won the Grand Jury Award at IFFLA, explores the outlook of a group of theatre actors who become aware of a sexual crime committed against the lone female artiste by a perpetrator who is hiding among them. “Many of the women spectators told us that they went emotionally numb and silent for a couple of hours after the screening,” says Ekarshi, 35. “Each of them recounted a similar experience in their own lives, navigating situations where they not only confronted sexual violence but also grappled with the challenge of convincing others to believe their account. Meanwhile, the film affected men differently. One guy came to say: ‘Finally, I felt like I got a slap on my face. I felt that I was part of that group [of men portrayed in the film].’”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Aattam</i> will open the prestigious Indian Panorama 2023 section at the International Film Festival of India, to be held in Goa from November 20 to November 28. Its story, says Ekarshi, is not inspired by any particular incident. “Instead, the story formed around the cast,” he says. Except for Kalabhavan Shajone, who plays Hari (seen as an outsider by other characters), and Zarin Shihab, who plays the female protagonist, every cast member in the film, including film star Vinay Forrt, has been associated with the Lokadharmi theatre group at some juncture. Ekarshi, who had also been part of Lokadharmi once, explains that the project originated from a short trip he took with his theatre friends during the pandemic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Vinay [Forrt] suggested that we do something for these [theatre] actors,” recalls Ekarshi. “So, the story was crafted for them…. The core idea of the script was not centred around sexual molestation or gender study, but rather an exploration of the theme of group versus individual dynamics. The script delves into the internal journey of an individual and the dynamics of a group. Who pursues truth? Can a group collectively pursue truth or justice, or is this a dimension achievable only by an individual? Because I had 11 men, that became the group. And, the individual became the woman.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Sanskrit word ‘Ekarshi’ means one who travels alone, and the filmmaker admits that the writing part of a film is a lonely process. Parallels had already been drawn by many between <i>Aattam</i> and Sidney Lumet’s classic legal drama, <i>12 Angry Men</i> (1957), which depicted a jury deliberating on the fate of an 18-year-old murder suspect. “While writing the script, it reached a point where 11 men had to discuss a certain crime,” recalls Ekarshi. “That is when I realised it was heading into the realm of <i>12 Angry Men</i>. However, it felt like a natural progression, and I sensed that forcefully changing it would impact the film.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the actual inspiration for the filmmaker in writing and making <i>Aattam</i> was the works of Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi like <i>A Separation, A Hero, The Past and The Salesman.</i> “How he treats humans, human behaviour, how he generates human tension and how he draws characters for the audience to judge and not judge―he goes very deep [into the human psyche] and I have always loved [it],” says Ekarshi. “That was always something that I wanted to do.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though Ekarshi, a postgraduate in applied psychology, had no formal training in cinema, he had been acting in plays since he was 10 and was later part of Lokadharmi. In 2013, he won a national-level short film competition, which, in turn, found him his only stint as an assistant director―for Imtiaz Ali’s Tamasha (2015). “After that, I have done a couple of music videos,” he says. “I was always planning to do my feature film, but doing it requires a lot of time.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To prepare for his directorial debut, Ekarshi immersed himself in extensive reading, travel and worldly experiences, emphasising the importance of understanding the world for crafting his own screenplays. The meticulous preparation is evident in <i>Aattam</i>, as the film provides cues for diverse interpretations and discussions on a range of issues. Notably, it critiques majoritarianism and delves into the delicate boundary between majoritarianism and democracy. “A collective can make erroneous decisions, especially when personal interests are involved,” says Ekarshi. “So, I have always believed that the individual holds greater strength than the collective.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The cast also underwent a different kind of preparation; they had to transition from the theatrical style of acting to film acting. “[Of the 11 men], nine had never been on a film set before,” says Ekarshi. He didn’t want them to be intimidated or overwhelmed. And so, he “ conducted rehearsals with a small DSLR camera over 45 days, covering almost 70 per cent of the scenes. The goal was for the actors to internalise their lines, allowing them to focus on nuances and subtleties during the actual filming”, he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The actors’ rapport with each other also helped. “Since most of these actors had known each other for about 20 years, we decided to use their real names for their characters, adding an element of truth to their interactions,” says Ekarshi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The filmmaker acknowledges that addressing a story about molestation inherently involves delving into a political dimension, which he saw as an inevitable challenge. He sought to approach it genuinely and humanly, emphasising that he did not consciously cater to popular opinions or pursue political correctness in his film.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Honestly I don’t know what political correctness is, and I have no intention of preaching anything of that sort,” he says. “I just wanted to write a compelling story. If you look deep into the people, all the men over there, you cannot say that everyone is wrong or everyone is right. It is a grey situation. Like, when people face complex situations and your morale and sense of justice is tested. That is how we become human beings. Like, it is always easy to say what is the ‘correct thing’ when it is happening in other people’s lives. But when it occurs in your own life, things change. This is what I wanted to talk about in the cinema. Trying to appear politically correct, be it in life or art, is a major fault. Then you are living a very unreal life; you would require putting on a mask to please people. That is the last thing I would want to do.”</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/11/18/filmmaker-anand-ekarshi-on-the-making-of-aattam.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/11/18/filmmaker-anand-ekarshi-on-the-making-of-aattam.html Sat Nov 18 15:21:29 IST 2023 madhur-jaffrey-takes-a-trip-down-the-food-memory-lane <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/11/10/madhur-jaffrey-takes-a-trip-down-the-food-memory-lane.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2023/11/10/63-Madhur-Jaffrey.jpg" /> <p>Her karma was korma. At 20, when Madhur Jaffrey left home for London to enrol in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), she had never stepped into a kitchen before. But fate―and her homesickness-fuelled recipes for korma, kheema and other culinary delights―changed Indian cooking forever. And kitchens around the world opened their doors to Indian flavours.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jaffrey, now 90, logs in five minutes before the online meeting is to begin. She is at her home in upstate New York, and behind her are fuchsia-coloured walls. “People told me it would look like a brothel. I said, ‘Wait till it is finished,’” says Jaffrey. She is dressed impeccably in pale turquoise silk, her sleek hair resembling a helmet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She still cooks. “I was so feeling aloo chole with not much mirch masala. So that is what I made,” she says. She no longer does grand dinner parties. “I don’t cook 15 dishes. I can’t do that. But I will cook every day. We cook simple things,” says Jaffrey.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the peak of its popularity in the 1970s and 1980s, the BBC show <i>Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery</i> had Britain come to a standstill at 7pm every Monday. The story goes that the day after Jaffrey made ‘lemon coriander chicken’, the Manchester supermarkets ran out of coriander. At a time when Indians were not yet visible on television, the sight of the sari-clad Jaffrey with her crisp British accent revolutionising Indian cooking was powerful.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I was interested in life in every aspect. So I could portray anything.” she says. “They knew it as a cultural programme―learn more about Indians, customs and Indian food. I think what carried across was my enthusiasm for everything, and my abilities as an actress.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her bestselling classic <i>Indian Cookery</i> has been reissued for its 40th anniversary. It is still very much the world’s textbook for Indian cooking. Jaffrey demystified Indian cuisine at a time when it was considered too exotic and complicated. She showed flair in adding anecdotal spice to recipes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For her, food is personal. “It is about passing on love,” she says. “They say giving a morsel of food to your child is passing on your love for the child. It is true.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her cookbooks offer instructions, but her memoir <i>Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India</i> and her children’s book <i>Seasons of Splendour </i>offer a glimpse into just how integral food was for her. In her memoir, she writes about sneakily eating the gardener’s rotis, and the flavour of chilli and raw onion that still linger. Her writing is delicate, evocative and vivid, and it comes deeply soaked in memories of food.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I remember my father taking beetroot sauce, adding meat sauce into it, and eating it with roti,” she says. “These are a kind of physical memories. They are also emotional memories, of families sitting down together to have a meal. I remember loving sucking bones. Everyone would finish; I would still be sucking bone. My mother would say, ‘This is awful. Go put it back.’ My father will say, ‘Let her be.’ He would let me suck it. He was very indulgent.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is a habit she still has, as the reissue of <i>Indian Cookery</i> reveals. New additions include dishes with meat and moong dal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was the memory of potato that lured Jaffrey into cooking. Homesickness at RADA drove her to make aloo hing wale, with the nuttiness of cumin and asafoetida that she describes in the tempering as sending up “its sulphurous and fart-like funk” in a piece she wrote for <i>The New Yorker</i>. By cooking the <i>aloo</i> as per her mother’s three-line recipe, Jaffrey recreated the flavours of home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her nostalgia-seeped memories and measured recipes introduced Indian flavours to tables across the world. Fifty years later, she still has the box of hing her mother sent her. The smells still lingers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jaffrey may be the queen of Indian cooking, but she is more than just a cook. She is also an actress―a facet that does not get that much attention. “I would love [another] role,” she says. “I would love it. I don’t know how strong I am to do it; I am a little frail. But I would love another role.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jaffrey was instrumental in the celluloid marriage of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, and acted in several of their movies. “I remember the time I had done <i>Shakespeare Wallah</i>, and it had won an award and was being shown to the vice president of India. My father was walking along with the vice president and he said, ‘Acting is just her hobby.’ He never took it seriously. He thought I was a child having fun.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And it was fun when Jaffrey did it. She make it seem like fun. Perhaps it is her breeziness about being a pioneer that makes Jaffery not only an icon, but also likeable, relatable and refreshing. “I wanted to do something,” she says. “I just did not want to be like my mother. I love my mother. She taught me what she could teach me. I learnt sewing from her. Knitting, too. I wanted more. I just knew that I cannot just sit at home and get an arranged marriage and then just go on with life. My parents understood it. My mother asked, ‘We have found this wonderful boy, would you be interested? I said no. She never asked me again.”</p> <p>Jaffrey did eventually marry, twice. “I was, I guess, a rebellious young person. I did not like the position of men in society,” she says. “I felt I was always put down. First you listen to your father and your brothers. There is nothing you do that you decide on your own. But with my father being what he was, he sort of said yes to whatever I wanted.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Would she have listened if he had said no? “Probably not,” she says.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/11/10/madhur-jaffrey-takes-a-trip-down-the-food-memory-lane.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/11/10/madhur-jaffrey-takes-a-trip-down-the-food-memory-lane.html Sat Nov 11 12:12:35 IST 2023 how-koffee-with-karan-lost-its-mojo <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/11/10/how-koffee-with-karan-lost-its-mojo.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2023/11/10/66-Karan-Johar.jpg" /> <p>In May last year, Karan Johar announced on social media that his popular and often controversial chat show, <i>Koffee with Karan</i>, after airing 135 episodes on TV and OTT, would not be returning for a seventh season. &quot;I'd like to think we have made an impact and even found our place in pop culture history. And so, it is with a heavy heart that I announce that <i>KwK</i> will not be returning,&quot; he said back then. Those who knew him well knew that he did not mean it. How could the scion of Bollywood's Dharma Productions―known for his sensationalist, over-the-top drama, both on and off-screen―give up what essentially forms his core, they asked. The past seasons had successfully taken the audience on a roller-coaster ride of emotions, from shock and surprise to awe and anger. It was in season 3 that Kareena Kapoor broke the news that she and then-boyfriend Saif Ali Khan would tie the knot in 2012. Not only Johar, but even Saif was taken aback by that announcement. Then in 2010, Deepika Padukone shocked the audience by suggesting that Ranbir Kapoor should endorse a condom brand. Salman Khan evoked gasps when he declared himself to be a virgin. Vidya Balan once talked about her fantasy of a married man cheating on his wife with her and how she wanted Shah Rukh Khan to be that man, as &quot;the second one always sticks&quot;. In an episode with Emraan Hashmi, Johar asked him what came to his mind when he thought of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, to which he replied, “plastic”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, as critics point out, all this happened at a time when Bollywood was more &quot;open minded and mature enough to take humour in good spirit&quot;. Sadly, however, with the drug abuse of some stars coming to light, the change in work dynamics post-pandemic, and a series of flop films, the industry has become more cautious―speaking only during film promotions and as per PR mandate. This might have been one reason why Johar decided to take a break from <i>KwK</i>, as stars preferred lying low.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, within three months of the announcement, season 7 of <i>KwK</i> was back, premiering with Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt as guests. Theirs was a pairing with a strong undercurrent, with their spouses being ex-lovers. And now, the first episode of the eighth season featured Bollywood's power couple, Deepika Padukone and Ranveer. However, many have reportedly declined to appear on his show this season and Johar has confessed that he has been trying hard to get those like Ranbir, Shah Rukh, Anushka Sharma and Salman. Salman was in fact the first guest in <i>KwK</i>'s fourth season in 2013-2014. Shah Rukh has appeared in seven episodes, the last being with Alia in the premiere episode of season 5 in 2016, shortly before the release of their film <i>Dear Zindagi</i>. The reason for declining, they all say, is the highly personal and controversial nature of the questions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is also symbolic of how Bollywood itself has evolved over the years― hiding inside its shell and coming out only when it &quot;needs&quot; to. The fun and frivolous nature of the almost 20-year run of <i>KwK</i> was appealing and binge-worthy, because Bollywood celebs were &quot;chilled out&quot; enough to let the audience have an insider (almost invasive) peek into their lives. This continued until social media trolling and the growing atmosphere of intolerance caused the industry to clam up. In the older episodes of <i>KwK</i>, guests spoke with candour, self-deprecating humour and intimacy, like the ones featuring Shah Rukh and Gauri, Amitabh and Abhishek Bachchan, Anil Kapoor and Sanjay Dutt, Mira Nair and Tabu. This has been missing in the last six to seven years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The show used to be akin to a glossy magazine that discussed campiness, sex, power and money without qualms. &quot;Now the idea of what constitutes Bollywood needs to be questioned,” says writer Jerry Pinto. “Earlier, it was based on this elevated sense of melodrama, but now that is gone and the stars are done with it. Now, what we are seeing is the last flicker of stars, and that is why <i>Koffee with Karan</i> seems so old, because who is interested in stars?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He compares <i>KwK</i> with India's first entertainment talk show hosted by actor Simi Garewal. &quot;I think Simi seemed to be interested in the people behind the personae. Karan is adept at creating spaces where the surface glitter completely overwhelms you. He is most comfortable at the level at which the stars want to be perceived as playful children who have loads of money and sex appeal. He is interested in sensationalising the shows; the byte becomes of utmost importance.&quot;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Episodes of <i>Rendezvous With Simi Garewal</i> featuring those like Rekha and Jayalalithaa remain memorable, because even as Garewal indubitably thought of herself as a star, she respected the individuality of the guest. Whereas in <i>KwK</i>, the guests seem too distant and impersonal, which also explains the larger dynamics between the actors and the audience today. There is nobody one can look up to as an ideal. Some episodes like the one in which Ananya Panday wonders who the Indian prime minister is or Alia Bhatt wrongly names the president of the country as Prithviraj Chauhan instead of Pranab Mukherjee, does not reflect too well on Bollywood's general interest in anything outside itself. &quot;If <i>KwK</i> is not scripted, then I am appalled at the guests' lack of intelligence,&quot; says Pinto.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kalpana Swamy, founder of Nostalgiaana Jukebox, adds, &quot;It is all about promoting one's film or work. And <i>KwK</i> is only symbolic of that culture that has pervaded Bollywood. Nobody will now come to speak about their life and times, as before. They will only talk when they have something to sell, and that is the unfortunate manner in which Bollywood now functions.&quot;</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/11/10/how-koffee-with-karan-lost-its-mojo.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/11/10/how-koffee-with-karan-lost-its-mojo.html Fri Nov 10 17:46:38 IST 2023 manish-malhotra-new-headquarters-in-bandra-mumbai <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/11/04/manish-malhotra-new-headquarters-in-bandra-mumbai.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/leisure/images/2023/11/4/153-Manish-Malhotra.jpg" /> <p>It has been five months since Manish Malhotra had announced that he had moved lock, stock and sewing machines to a mammoth new space. His new headquarters, a 40,000 sq.ft atelier spread over four floors, is undeniably a massive achievement. But Malhotra has barely invited anyone over to see it. There was no launch party or a press lunch. In typical Malhotra style, he just got down to business as usual.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I am not a show-off,” Malhotra, nearly 57, replied when I asked him why. It took me weeks of pleading, prodding and even an occasional stomping of feet to get him to show me around.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The giant glass and chrome building stands tall in Bandra’s Guru Nanak Road, just an ordinary street that leads you to the station, almost as an homage to the worker bees Mumbai is famous for. It overlooks the Bandra Talao, a manmade paddle lake that offers a small breather for the city that does not sleep.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Malhotra, easily India’s most famous fashion designer and a blue-chip Bollywood A-lister, calls himself an ordinary “worker” even after 33 years of being in the business. This year has unarguably been his busiest one yet. He opened the headquarters, dressed up two movie star brides for their weddings, announced he is directing a film, started a production studio of his own, launched a jewellery line, designed 1,300 costumes for the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre’s <i>The Great Indian Musical: Civilisation to Nation</i>, and was announced as the chosen Indian designer for the newly privatised Air India. That would possibly be the workload of 10 designers, or more. When does Malhotra sleep?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I barely sleep. I believe in one philosophy: a busy man makes time for everything. If I’ve made a commitment to a task, I will ensure I complete it. Since I was five or six years old, my life has been all about cinema and all about clothes. I enjoy working, my life is limited to work. I don’t waste time wondering what others are doing, my energy is focused on my work alone,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Malhotra, handsomer than most leading men, has built a career in fashion on the sheer dint of hard work. He started out as a model, then a costume stylist. He launched a fashion boutique, Reverie, with Yash and Avanti Birla in the mid 1990s. Soon, he moved on to Sheetal Design Studio. He started his own label making only saris and tunics 18 years ago, giving it to his brother and sister-in-law to manage. He is most famous as the celebrity stylist to some of the most photographed stars and films. But he says his work in styling is only five per cent of his time. The other 95 per cent is dedicated to fashion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When we are meeting here, Malhotra has had his personal chef from home come to the office to give us the most magnificent lunch. The plated dishes see a paneer makhani roll, diced eggplant, skewered lady finger, and avocado in a potato nest, all cooked Indian-style but to be eaten with silverware. The meal befits a five-star hotel, and there are just the two of us here.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The building is a Reliance Brands property, and the fashion conglomerate runs an office on the ground floor. The next four floors are for the Manish Malhotra fashion label, one floor each for an embroidery atelier, a stock room, a design, styling and ecommerce floor, and the top floor for Malhotra’s office, a client’s trial room (complete with a makeup studio filled with beauty products from the ‘Manish Malhotra’ line), and the marketing and finance offices. There are close to 400 people who work for Malhotra in this building alone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The atelier is designed by the international design firm Space Matrix. It follows an open-door policy, which means several meeting rooms are not enclosed, while some rooms merge into others by just opening sliding doors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I am not a person who thinks that the heads of departments need to be in their cabins, that’s just old school. I like to speak to my interns, I love young minds. This is why we sell, this is how you stick around for decades,” he says of his success. He is right, Malhotra has designed for every decade’s leading lady right from Sridevi and Madhuri Dixit to Urmila Matondkar, Manisha Koirala, Karisma Kapoor and Kajol, to Kareena Kapoor, Preity Zinta and Rani Mukerji to Deepika Padukone, Alia Bhatt and Anushka Sharma. “Please don’t forget Ananya Panday and Janhvi Kapoor, and of course now Suhana Khan and Khushi Kapoor, too,” he laughs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Malhotra says he is big on recycling paper, and that the office is plastic free. Moreover much of his fabric waste is upcycled into his premium ready-to-wear label, Diffuse.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An entire wall is dedicated to Bhanu Athaiya’s original sketches. Athaiya, a gifted contemporary of M.F. Husain and F.N. Souza, was India’s first costume stylist. She had even won an academy award for her work for Richard Attenborough’s <i>Gandhi</i>. “I was a huge fan. I had met her and invited her for my shows, too,” Malhotra says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The designer felt he needed an all-in-one headquarters as he needed a space to get his work more organised. “A lot of designers who don’t live in Mumbai have one atelier to go to. I live in Bandra, I have an office in Pali Hill. I have workshops in Andheri and Goregaon. My marketing team was somewhere else. It was all too much, I had literally set up a workshop in my car,” he laughs. “For any brand to be a big business, you need to be in one space.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manish Malhotra was among the first labels Reliance Brands put their money into. Malhotra is not willing to divulge the financials but says it was a cash plus funding deal. “I have huge respect for Reliance as a company. I have worked closely with Nita Ambani as well as Isha, and their vision is extraordinary. I have heartfelt respect for them. When other companies had approached me, I wasn’t ready. I was okay being alone. But when Reliance made their offer, it was my respect for them that made me agree,” he admits. “That said, money has the power to build your business. More than the money, I appreciate the structure their investment has given me. For someone who hasn’t studied business or design, for whom everything was instinct-based, this was an important step for the company to grow. The creatives are still with me.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Malhotra has obviously scaled his production. He has also built a 30,000 sq.ft atelier in Noida. He is soon opening a 5,000 sq.ft store at the Dubai Mall.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dubai is crazy about Bollywood and Malhotra. “I have been in Dubai since 2005 and I work a lot in the Middle East. The new store isn’t just an Indian store of saris and wedding wear, but will have a lot more tunics and jackets and western wear. It’s all Indian embroideries speaking a global language, it’s a modern India,” he smiles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Few know how Malhotra was shortlisted by Air India to design its uniforms. “They spoke to a few designers including me, and gave us a brief. Our samples moved to the second round, and eventually we got selected,” he admits. Malhotra says he has enjoyed the collaboration as he got to study the history of the airline, formerly India’s national carrier.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There has been a lot of speculation on the internet of whether Malhotra would retain the sari uniform or switch over to something more modern. “I needed to keep in mind that primarily it is a uniform and its concern had to be utility first. It needed to be work-friendly and comfortable. We had a lot of discussions with the flight attendants and the ground staff, ultimately the people who will be wearing them. Their inputs were the most important to me,” he avers. “I will have to say this is a research and a collaborative exercise.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Malhotra admits to a non-disclosure agreement with the airline which will only allow him to discuss or disclose the look in December or January.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Speaking of saris, Malhotra is best known for the saris his heroines wear. The last to join the very long list of chiffon-clad beauties is Bhatt in her latest film <i>Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani</i>. Bhatt’s vivid chiffons and deep-cut blouses are Malhotra’s signature; Bhatt’s saris in this film have become a template for the young Indian sari-wearer today. What was director Karan Johar’s brief to him? “It was very straightforward, he really wanted it to be only saris, nothing else. It is great that the look has caught on. I see people wearing more ombre and shaded saris all of a sudden. I adore a sari, whether a handloom or a crepe. And I adore colour that brightens up the wearer’s face,” Malhotra says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ironically, both his movie star brides this year―Kiara Advani and Parineeti Chopra―wore muted tones for their respective weddings. “Kiara-Sidharth’s (Malhotra) wedding was very special to me as we did the entire wedding. They are such a good-looking and private couple. Would you believe the north-Indian Punjabi family had a non-alcoholic baraat? They were all about the rituals. After that, I did Alanna Panday’s wedding which was white on white. Parineeti was so different from Kiara’s. She wanted to do tone on tone, keep it simple and fuss-free. She didn’t want too much texturing or embroidery. Celebrities like to have a look that makes it seem like it’s the first time the audience is seeing it, it needs that ‘wow’ factor. We achieved that with the jewellery I designed for them,” Malhotra says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His most challenging new ‘vertical’ is probably film production and direction. In September this year, he announced his Stage 5 Productions. “It has taken me seven years to set this up and we are already working on three films. We have just finished one film,” he says, referring to the Tisca Chopra-directed <i>Train from Chhapraula</i>. “I wanted to start a company that supports young writers and directors, those who don’t get backing from the big studios. I wanted to have a boutique film company,” he says. Malhotra, who has sat in script sessions for several films to create their looks, must have a great sense of story-telling. “For me, the biggest relaxation is to watch a film in a movie theatre.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The bound script of the Meena Kumari biopic is sitting on his desk. “I will be directing two films under the Dharma Productions banner. This will be one of them,” he offers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Any advice from his best friend, ace producer and director, Karan Johar? “Yeah, he said production was a whole new ball game. A brand new monster,” he laughs.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/11/04/manish-malhotra-new-headquarters-in-bandra-mumbai.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2023/11/04/manish-malhotra-new-headquarters-in-bandra-mumbai.html Sat Nov 04 11:38:48 IST 2023