Leisure http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure.rss en Fri Mar 13 16:36:23 IST 2020 https://www.theweek.in/privacy-an-settlement.html death-of-the-autograph <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/09/11/death-of-the-autograph.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/2020/9/11/63-Santosh-Kumar-Lahoti.jpg" /> <p>Playback singer Kailash Kher recently received a handwritten fan letter by post. Inscribed in green ink on a pink handmade slip, the heartfelt missive by Priti from Pune proclaimed how the singer’s tunes transport her to a whole new dimension and deepen her reverence for her own god. One cannot put a price on his voice, his music and his craft, she writes. “Sab anmol hai (all of it is priceless),” she adds. On a phone call from Mumbai, Kher points to the letter as an example of true devotion in a fan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The conversation began around how the simple, in-person autograph is dying a slow death. Kher rues how technology has killed respectfulness in fans, who now have bigger egos than the celebrity. “They used to be shy and hesitant, and so polite. Now, they have technology and knowledge, but no manners,” he quips.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But for all the talk on technology’s corroding effect on fandom, Kher forgets to mention that he is also selling video messages. On a platform called GoNuts, fans can book personalised video shoutouts from the Padma Shri awardee for Rs15,000.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was in May 2014 that former Australian leg-spinner Shane Warne tweeted: “After doing five selfies with people this morning before 8am on my morning run/walk, I’ve come to the conclusion that the autograph is dead!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Oxford Dictionary had already declared “selfie” as the word of the year in 2013, heralding a new era of narcissism. In this spectrum of egomania, from seeking and flaunting selfies to accepting celebrity challenges on video apps, in-person messages in cursive writing have withered into collectables from another age. “I remember practising my signature behind notebooks as a little girl. I did not know that a day would come when people would ask for my autograph,” says actor-producer Dia Mirza. “The connection between an artist and a fan is most wonderful. And a request for an autograph is high; an exchange so cherished. I look back to so many wonderful people and moments I had the opportunity to meet.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Autograph collecting is as valuable as stamp or coin collecting now,” says Kolkata-based Santosh Kumar Lahoti, cofounder of Autograph Collectors Club of India. The club, started in 1993, has many members who hold Limca Book of Records titles for having the most autographs. Purists at heart, the 2,000-plus members often hunt in groups with pen and paper, and sometimes exchange their hauls and hold exhibitions. “What is more valuable? A signature by [Mahatma] Gandhi or a selfie with him?” asks Lahoti.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 50-year-old has been encouraging members to send letters to their beloved celebrities even during the pandemic. Lahoti received a signed autograph from Hollywood star Judi Dench on June 10. When he was a record holder from 1994 to 2000, he had over 5,000 autographs from people like Benazir Bhutto, Yasser Arafat, Manmohan Singh and Amitabh Bachchan. Shah Rukh Khan, he says, is one of the most generous autograph givers in India. “He himself collects autographs! When I met him, he left his dinner to sign 15 to 20 autographs for my club members,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Saroj Ranjan Kar from Lahoti’s club has cricket memorabilia with signatures going way back to 1932, when the Indian team made its Test debut. Kar says he has only once paid for an autograph—for Don Bradman’s signed bat at an auction. The Cuttack-based 49-year-old is certain he will get a decent haul from the IPL this year. “My sister and friends live in Dubai. I have told them everything I need. We have a good network of autograph hunters there,” says Kar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But if there is one kind of celebrity that can still wield a pen with style it is the author. “Getting a book signed is very important for a reader,” says bestselling author Ravinder Singh. “They shy away from lending copies with signed autographs. People come back to me if I forget to handwrite their names.” Singh released an audiobook on StoryTel called The Runaway Groom on 8 September. While he is happy with social media fandom, a minority of fanatics with unusual requests and remarks do bother him on Twitter and Instagram.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For 26-year-old sport shooter Anjum Moudgil, paying for video messages has no personal touch. “It is a paid job,” says Moudgil. She was touched by the show of support when she won the silver medal in women’s 10m air rifle at the ISSF Shooting World Championships at Changwon, South Korea, in 2018. “A group of excited Korean kids mobbed me for autographs just because someone had won, not because they knew me,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the pandemic has ushered in unprecedented changes, including a battery of apps from which one can purchase celebrity video messages. Govind Gupta, a techie from Pune, got singer Shaan to sing him the birthday song for Rs15,000 on GoNuts, and he will buy more one-minute videos for his father, a friend and his own upcoming anniversary. “My father lives in a small town in UP and he cannot listen to singers live, even if there is no Covid-19,” says Gupta. Neelambara, who works in a Delhi-based law firm, bought a minute-long video of Saina Nehwal talking words of encouragement for Rs26,000. “I bought it for my office’s weekend badminton team. We have all been working from home. Even Saina is stuck at home,” she says. “Sure, in-person always has more impact. But then what is in-person these days?”</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/09/11/death-of-the-autograph.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/09/11/death-of-the-autograph.html Fri Sep 11 21:54:56 IST 2020 fine-tuning-the-future <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/09/11/fine-tuning-the-future.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/2020/9/11/66-Ustad-Rashid-Khan.jpg" /> <p>In the early 1980s, a teenager went to the prestigious Dover Lane Music Conference in Kolkata to listen to the legendary Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. A student of classical music, he sat in the front row of the gallery. Before long, however, the organisers of the show had banished him to the back. The front row, they told him, was for VIPs. Insulted, the boy took a pledge that one day he would become a classical musician of renown and, when requested to perform at the conference, he would decline.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the end, however, he did not reject the organisers and, many years later, performed there as Ustad Rashid Khan, one of the greatest Hindustani classical musicians of all time. Two decades after the incident, his renown had spread so far and wide that his idol Joshi himself acknowledged him to be “the future of Hindustani classical music in India”. He received the same adulation from other legendary musicians like Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Ustad Vilayat Khan, with whom he has performed jugalbandi concerts. Today, at 52, he is probably the last of the Hindustani classical vocalists and perhaps the last Mogul, though he refuses to accept it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He is one of the greatest singers of our time and I am proud of him,” says Pandit Bickram Ghosh, percussionist and childhood friend of Khan. “We are like brothers. Our families are close, too, and we have done many jugalbandis [together].”</p> <p>Today, Khan is fully focused on imparting classical training to thousands of aspirants through his musical school, The Fifth Note Global Centre, which he started two decades ago. During the lockdown, he taught students across the globe through video conference, with the help of music maestros like singer Hariharan and Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What is unique about his school is that it is not just about imparting musical skills, but also about helping students with branding and making a living. After seeing the poverty and hardship of youth at his village in Uttar Pradesh, he realised the need for music to be able to provide a livelihood.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I am happy that my academy is helping build the career of talented students,” he says. “I am proud to say that even during this trying time, the academy has ensured smooth sailing for all our performers.” To turn a talented music student into a professional musician, Khan and his team have come up with a strategy called “performance grooming”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Performance grooming is one of the most important aspects while giving the final touches to the performers,” says the maestro. “My academy provides three consolidated grooming courses whereby students are taught subjects like music management, image building, media and stage handling, emceeing and much more.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He says his academy has produced innumerable performing artistes over the last two decades. Like Om Bongane from Mumbai who won the Classical Voice of India contest in 2015 and appeared on the popular music show, Kingfisher Strong Backstage; and Nagesh Adgaonkar, one of the rising stars of classical music from the Rampur-Sahaswan gharana.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The idea of a musical finishing school came to Khan when he looked back at his own life. “There were no counsellors to chalk out a route map for my career,” he says. “I was deceived and cheated by many show organisers.” Today, one cannot survive in this industry without knowing the art of the game, he says. And he is determined to rescue future generations of musicians from the trap he himself fell into.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I used to be camera shy and could never handle interviews with élan,” he says. “I was clueless about what I should wear even for a simple photo-shoot. So, whatever you see in me today is the outcome of trial and error. I ensured that my students never face these critical situations without being [properly] equipped. This is how we set up the grooming department.” He says he has roped in experts to develop each of these fields.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Born to a musical family in Badaun, Uttar Pradesh, Khan’s grandfather Ustad Nissar Hussain Khan was his guru. Although he had a gifted voice, he wanted to become a cricketer—a hope that was dashed when his voice got affected by hours of practice in the scorching heat. His grandfather forbade him from playing cricket. “The first part of my musical learning was not through conscious effort,” he says. “It was more out of the fear of being reprimanded for not doing my homework well. But later on, in my teens, my only focus and dream was to become a musician, which drove me harder towards achieving my dream.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When his grandfather moved to Kolkata to join the ITC Sangeet Research Academy, he took Khan with him. After a series of interviews, he was selected as an exponent of classical music. Since then, he has become an icon and an integral part of the cultural life of Kolkata, the city that was home to another classical music great in the 1930s—Bade Ghulam Ali Khan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan’s open throat voice is not similar to Ghulam Ali’s, but when he sang songs like Kya Karu Sajni Aye Nah Balam and Yaad Piya Ki Aye in Ghulam Ali’s thumri style in his own bandish (a fixed melodic composition in Hindustani vocal or instrumental music), the audiences were mesmerised by the style and range of his voice. Swiftly, Khan proved his mettle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though originally belonging to the Rampur-Sahaswan gharana, which his own guru and grandfather initiated, Khan did not confine himself to it. He believes that listening to music is as important as reading books which are outside those prescribed. But only listening will not make one a singer, unless the person is also acquainted with various rhythms and other aspects of music, like thumri (a vocal genre or style), dadra (a classical vocal form), kajari and hori (genres of semi-classical singing), bhajan (devotional song) and ghazal (Urdu poetry). Over a period of time, he mastered all of this and today, his music is popular in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other parts of South Asia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He is a great vocalist with a God-gifted voice,” says eminent flautist Pandit Ronu Majumdar. “He can bring out the true soul of a raga. What makes him special is that he can change his singing style according to the different formats of music.” Renowned santoor player, Tarun Bhattacharya says, “Rashid is certainly one of the foremost vocalists of the Hindustani classical gharana. He has achieved mammoth success through sheer struggle.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though he believes in gurukul or gharanas, Khan is clear that Bollywood and Indian popular music do not harm them. In 2007, when his singing in the super-hit film Jab We Met broke all records, he was met with a flurry of offers. Khan was cautious in accepting them. He brought out his debut ghazal album, Ishq Lamhe, in 2013. According to him, Bollywood has helped Hindustani classical music reach the masses. “The immortal melodies of Lata ji, Mohammed Rafi saheb and Manna Dey, to name a few, have helped preserve a number of Hindustani ragas,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In these days of digitalisation, he is appreciative of covers made by youngsters with influences of classical music. “They so efficiently turn beautiful melodies by subtly incorporating a few improvisations on their own,” he says. “This is possible because of their training in classical music. In this way, they give their audience something fresh to listen to.” He is also not critical of fusion music threatening the purity of classical music. “Do you know that 65 per cent of the [music] videos posted on social media during the lockdown is that of classical music? I can vouch for the bright future of Hindustani classical music, keeping in mind that it has been in existence for the last 300 years or so,” he says. “All other music genres have emerged from this. So there is no question of Hindustani classical music losing its shine in another 300 years.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He has himself often mixed music genres to an equally packed auditorium. For Khan, the survival of Hindustani classical music depends not on how much of the basics it retains, but rather on how much improvisation it can make while retaining the basics. Fusion and orchestration are part of that process, he says. The music of those like Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, according to him, will remain for a thousand years because of the way it has been improvised—without losing its heart.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/09/11/fine-tuning-the-future.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/09/11/fine-tuning-the-future.html Sat Sep 12 10:57:45 IST 2020 two-worlds-collide <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/09/11/two-worlds-collide.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/2020/9/11/71-Harry-and-Meghan-new.jpg" /> <p>This is a happy ending that begins when the prince drops his title. The negotiations for Brexit deal are being ironed out. “Megxit” is over and is so far a success. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have repaid $2.4 million to British taxpayers, which was spent on the renovation of Frogmore Cottage. They have bought a $14.7 million seaside home in California. And, like everything that spells the perfect career for the famous, they have signed a deal with Netflix to produce content like the Obamas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finding Freedom offers a glimpse into why this might just be the ever-after they dreamt of. It is a breathless account of the romance that became a worldwide obsession and the marriage that finally led to the couple leaving the royal fold to make a living as commoners.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Few things remain secret between royal households,” write Carolyn Durand and Omid Scobie. There are a few that spill like the inside story of Meghan wanting a different tiara to wear on her wedding day that made news.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meghan did not have only to contend with the in-laws in a family that can only rival an Indian one—in terms of its expectations—but also the “forces within Buckingham Palace”. Little incidents had built up, convincing Harry that they would never be happy in the palace. Their story has just the right amount of family drama to make the book a compelling read.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fitting in was always going to be difficult for Meghan, according to the writers. She was a different kind of royal—a celebrity from Hollywood, who was outspoken and valued having a voice. The royal protocol of not responding when attacked was not easy for her. When they were dating and a picture of her wearing a gold chain bearing the initials M and H went viral, she got a phone call from a senior Kensington Palace aide. “She was advised that wearing such a necklace only served to encourage the photographers to keep pursuing such images—and new headlines. She said little during the call, choosing instead to listen to the counsel,” say the authors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pieced together and filled with confidential sources, the book paints a picture of a stuffy world for Meghan, the kind that Princess Diana had found herself trapped in. She did, however, make an effort, including taking survival skill classes where a kidnapping is staged and she is taught how to become friends with the enemies, claim the writers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is insight into Harry’s sensitive nature, the friction over money, the relationship between Prince Charles and his sons and what happened at the “Sandringham Summit”, where Harry, Charles, William and the Queen met to find a way to help the Sussexes stop being working royals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The relationship between the brothers had been tense since Harry started dating Meghan. When William sat his brother down to discuss his new relationship, he told Harry: “Don’t feel like you need to rush this. Take as much time as you need to know this girl.” According to the writers, “In those last two words… Harry heard the tone of snobbishness that was anathema to his approach to the world.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The book makes no pretence of where the authors’ sympathies lie. Scobie is dubbed Markle’s “mouthpiece” and Durand covered the royals for 15 years. Unabashedly supportive of the couple forging their own path, this is about independence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>◆ ◆ ◆</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from the chapter ‘Leaving Toronto’:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meghan was feeling a little emotional as she looked around the boxed-up living room of her Toronto home. With endless late nights on the Suits set and so many farewells, it took more than three weeks to pack her life into the boxes that now surrounded her in early November 2017. A moving team had just left, marking furniture with different labels for overseas shipping or storage, and sheets were wrapped around her white cotton sofas, leaving nowhere left to sit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>◆ ◆ ◆</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She knew that the moment she gave up her role on Suits and moved to London, her acting career would be over. Forever. No turning back. In some ways, it came as a relief. As she got older and saw more of the world and saw she had more power to help change it with her platform, she began to think about moving away from acting and toward a career that was more meaningful.</p> <p>Leaving acting, something she had spent so long working to achieve, was also “terrifying,” as she admitted to friends. At one point she had dreamed of moving into movies and meatier roles. As she moved into her mid-thirties, however, her dreams and aspirations started to change. A voice inside her kept telling her she could be doing so much more with her platform. That was one inspiration behind The Tig. But she also looked up to actresses like Angelina Jolie, who had become a force of her own in the charitable space, focusing mostly on humanitarian projects that she interspersed with the more commercial ones, and funding her life with the occasional brand deal. At one point that was Meghan’s career model. But then she met Harry. If she was going to have a real future—and family—with him, she had to give up acting altogether.</p> <p>Meghan was ready now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On November 20, Meghan landed in London, knowing the British capital was no longer just where her partner lived. It was now her home. While the past few weeks had been challenging, this felt right. She was excited.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Harry felt guilty that she had to give up so much—her home, her career—to fit into his world. He was always worried about disrupting her life. Privately he harboured fears about the road ahead. What would the press be like? Would he have to deal with prejudice from more people in his own circle and the institution? He wanted to protect Meghan, to wrap her up and shield her from all the negativity, but he knew that was impossible. He worried about her turning to him one day to say, “I love you, but I can’t live like this.” Meghan assured him she was strong and ready to “become a team.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After she moved her things into her new home with Harry, the cosy three-bedroom Nottingham Cottage, the plan for the days ahead were shrouded in secrecy. For Harry, as a working member of the royal family, it was business as usual as he continued to attend regular engagements, including a reception for Walking with the Wounded on November 21, the day after she arrived, at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, which was just a few minutes up the road from the home he now shared with Meghan. A big supporter of the veterans’ charity since 2010, having taken part in their treks to the North Pole in 2011 and the South Pole in 2013, Harry told the organization’s co-founder Simon Daglish after he delivered his remarks to the room, “Life is very good.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>◆ ◆ ◆</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meghan extended her personal touch beyond the walls of their cottage. She kept a box of disposable hand warmers she ordered from Amazon in the house so that whenever she went past the security gates on cold winter days, she could give a few to the guards.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meghan always liked to make the places she lived in as comfortable and chic as possible, and she’d moved often due to the nature of her work. This time, however, her domestic bliss was partly a way to cope with the major shift her life had taken, both geographically and internally. She felt at home at Nott Cott with Harry—she’s always been able to bloom where she was planted, but she hadn’t moved to London to start a new job. She had moved to London to start a new life. And although she was used to living thousands of miles from her mother, her constant source of support, there was something about being in London that felt just that little bit farther away. They spoke on the phone or via text message most days, but it wasn’t as easy because of the eight-hour time difference. Plus, she hadn’t moved to the UK like any typical member of society; she was going to become a member of the royal family, and that was a change that no one can truly be prepared for.</p> <p>With Harry and Meghan holed up in their love nest, rumours of their engagement hit a frenzy—chatter not quieted by the fact Kensington Palace aides were more tightly lipped than ever. Media requests for comment on their engagement status were met with no response or a promise of “nothing to report.” But the evidence was mounting. When Harry and Meghan took a sudden two-hour meeting with Jason, Harry’s head of communications, and Ed Lane Fox, his private secretary, on November 22, it was clear that something was happening.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Something had happened. But one thing was for sure: no one in the couple’s circle was about to leak the news early—especially after keeping it secret for so long. The only ones who Meghan had explicitly told were her parents and her best friends, including Jessica, Markus, and Lindsay Roth. To some of her closest girlfriends, she had more recently announced the news simply with a photo of her hand bearing her engagement ring.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Keeping it a secret was easy for Meghan,” a long-time friend said. “It was something she could keep to herself with Harry. And an opportunity to enjoy the moment before it became public news.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>(Excerpted with permission from HarperCollins.)</p> <p><b>Finding Freedom: Harry And Meghan And The Making Of A Modern Royal Family</b></p> <p>By Omid Scobie And Carolyn Durand</p> <p>Published by<br> HarperCollins</p> <p>Price Rs599, Pages 354</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/09/11/two-worlds-collide.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/09/11/two-worlds-collide.html Fri Sep 11 19:14:20 IST 2020 interpreter-of-maladies <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/09/04/interpreter-of-maladies.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/2020/9/4/66-Pankaj-Mishra.jpg" /> <p>For a long time, Pankaj Mishra was known as the young maven who ‘discovered’ Arundhati Roy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mishra was in his mid-twenties, fresh off the success of his first book (<i>Butter Chicken in Ludhiana</i>, a travelogue), when he began a six-month stint as the India head of HarperCollins. Among the manuscripts he read was a melancholy tale of a backwater village in Kerala. Mishra thought its author—a screenwriter in her mid-thirties who had been moonlighting as an aerobics instructor—“had little notion of what the market required”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Impressed, he called up Roy to congratulate her on writing “the greatest novel since <i>Midnight’s Children</i>”. The manuscript soon flew to London, and returned with the legendary agent David Godwin attached to it. Mishra and Godwin secured Roy an advance of Rs1.25 lakh—the largest for a work of fiction in India at that time—for what would be <i>The God of Small Things</i>.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mishra’s own debut novel came two years after Roy burst onto the fiction scene. <i>The Romantics</i>, about the sentimental self-discovery of a young Brahmin in Banaras, was part autobiography. Mishra himself had come of age as a thinker when he was 20 years old, during the four months he had spent searching books in the dusty corridors of the Banaras Hindu University library. “I read randomly, whatever I could find,” Mishra would later write, “and with the furious intensity of a small-town boy to whom books are the sole means of communicating with, and understanding, the larger world.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As it turned out, novel was too constricting an aesthetic form for both Mishra and Roy. They spent the next two decades churning out voluminous essays and reportage—the truth, after all, is often stranger than fiction. They meditated on the strange realities in places like Bastar, Kashmir and Ayodhya, and China, Tibet and Hong Kong.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Roy returned to fiction three years ago, with <i>The Ministry of Utmost Happiness</i>. Mishra, however, has established himself as a historian of ideas, and of the after-effects of the east-west encounters. His six works of nonfiction have not only expanded the understanding about Asia’s evolution, but also weakened the western belief that modernity and progress go hand in hand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At 52, Mishra is widely admired for his illuminating views and his mellifluous prose. His latest collection of essays, <i>Bland Fanatics: Liberals, Race and Empire</i>, is a finely crafted arraignment of western notions about the east. The 16 devastating pieces in <i>Bland Fanatics</i> have no trace of the timid, inexperienced 20-year-old who used to devour books in Banaras, his lack of “basic knowledge of politics and history... a secret source of shame”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I am still a keen learner,” Mishra tells THE WEEK. “As a writer you are obliged to learn all the time, primarily about how to outwit yourself. Being apprenticed to the modern west and its intellectual traditions was a necessary step to challenging them, or interrogating their applicability outside the west.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>MISHRA’S INTERROGATIONS have won him as many brickbats as plaudits. In 2010, the economist Jagdish Bhagwati denounced Mishra’s work as “fiction masquerading as nonfiction”. In 2011, the historian Niall Ferguson threatened a libel suit after Mishra described him as a neo-imperialist whose shifts in allegiances had recorded political and cultural changes more accurately than his books had done. Patrick French said Mishra had come a long way in life to live “at the heart of the British establishment, married to a cousin of the prime minister David Cameron”, but he seemed “oddly resentful of the idea of social mobility for other Indians”. In 2012, Salman Rushdie termed Mishra’s writing as “garbage”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mishra views this as an occupational hazard: his work challenges conventional wisdom, “so there is going to be some kind of friction”. “What someone of my background brings to this conversation is his or her own experience, which is not only of the western world but the vastly greater realms outside it,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mishra straddles multiple realms. He was born in a once-wealthy Brahmin family in Uttar Pradesh that was reduced to penury by the land reform act of 1951. He was expected to study and work his way back into the middle class, but Mishra grew to dislike the world of careers and jobs as an undergraduate in Allahabad University.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Bribery and nepotism played a major part in the disbursement of [government] jobs,” he would later write. “Students from the lately impoverished upper castes suffered most in this respect: if poverty wasn’t enough, they were further disadvantaged by the large quotas for lower caste candidates.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many of Mishra’s relatives, his father included, had right-wing leanings. His uncles were jailed after Gandhi was killed and the RSS was banned. His sisters attended a school where students were encouraged to disfigure sketches of Muslim rulers in history books. Mishra went to an English-medium school, where he was taught to view religion “as something one outgrows”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The bookish months in Banaras after graduation transformed his life. He loved the Old Banaras “of chess games in the alleys, the all-night concerts in temples, the dancing girls at elaborately formal weddings, the gently decadent pleasures of betel leaves and opium”, and loathed the “fast-food outlets, video-game parlours and boutiques, the most garish symbols of the entrepreneurial energies unleashed by the liberalisation of the Indian economy”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Visceral feelings have driven Mishra’s intellectual journey. He views modernity as a great, interrupting force that stunted and then irreversibly damaged the natural progress of eastern civilisations like India. According to him, the long British rule made Indians assume that “institutions (parliamentary democracy, nation-state), philosophical principles (secularism, liberalism), economic ideologies (socialism, followed by free-market capitalism) and aesthetic forms (the novel)... belonged to the natural and indeed superior order of things”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But then, does he believe that the east was capable of developing its own modernity? “It depends on what you mean by modernity,” Mishra tells THE WEEK, “and whether we should take the modernity proposed by the west as our only measure—by which nations succeed or fail. China, for instance, arrived at a sophisticated theory of state and statecraft long before the modern age.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2005, Mishra moved to London and married Mary Mount, a books editor and daughter of the conservative columnist and baronet Ferdinand Mount. The nobility he was denied in Uttar Pradesh is now accessible to Mishra in Britain, but he remains a vociferous critic of the British ruling class. He once described David Cameron, his wife’s cousin, as a “ghastly figure”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mishra believes that the vulnerabilities of modernity are particularly evident in India. B.R. Ambedkar had written that India’s liberal constitution gave people political equality, even as it left untouched the gaping social and economic inequalities. “We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment; else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political inequality,” he warned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The delay in heeding that warning has been lethal, says Mishra. “India is trapped by its grandiose middle-class dream of national greatness. It doesn’t have the material means to realise it, nor can it develop a more pragmatic sense of what it can achieve by way of security and dignity for its citizens,” he says. “What it does have is much coercive power to suppress disaffected citizens, especially in border states. Given the mass support for Delhi’s actions, India won’t cease its brutal blundering in Kashmir and the northeast. Nations are not diverted from their popular follies until they know catastrophe.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>REINHOLD NIEBUHR, the iconic American philosopher and theologian, believed that the bigger culprits of history were communists and fascists. In 1957, though, he wrote about the lesser culprits—“the bland fanatics of western civilisation, who regard the highly contingent achievements of our culture as the final form and norm of human existence”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mishra believes that these bland fanatics of liberalism made the modern, chaotic world. His new book delves into the consequences of this fanaticism—dysfunctional democracies, extreme inequality, lure of fascist mysticism, and suchlike. “What has become clearer since the coronavirus crisis is that modern democracies have for decades been lurching towards moral and ideological bankruptcy,” he writes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The essays in<i> Bland Fanatics </i>are incandescent—Mishra’s piercing analysis and razor-sharp prose emit the heat of his personal experiences and the welcome light of his singular vision. “The essays don’t offer a taxonomy of liberalism—such an attempt is doomed anyway,” he says. “What it shows is how those who call themselves liberals, and claim to profess liberalism, have dabbled in all kinds of political tendencies—especially those they might be expected to be hostile to, such as imperialism and imperialist wars.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b><i>Bland Fanatics: Liberals, Race and Empire</i></b></p> <p>By Pankaj Mishra</p> <p>Published by&nbsp;Juggernaut</p> <p>Price Rs599; pages 224</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/09/04/interpreter-of-maladies.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/09/04/interpreter-of-maladies.html Fri Sep 04 11:25:57 IST 2020 hear-the-birds-sing <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/09/03/hear-the-birds-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/2020/9/3/63-Lockdown-birders.jpg" /> <p>Amidst one of the darkest moments of World War II, as Allied troops were about to evacuate the beaches of Dunkirk, Ludwig Koch, a kindly German sound recordist living in the UK, wrote a letter to The Times urging the public to take a moment to listen to the birds. “War or no war, bird life is going on and even the armed power of the three dictators cannot prevent it. I would like to advise everybody in a position to do so, to relax his nerves, in listening to the songs, now so beautiful, of the British birds,” he wrote.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tellingly, in times of man-made crises, humans find solace in the sounds of nature. Amid the isolation imposed by Covid-19, birders have found a silver lining. The drone of cities and human machines has been silenced, allowing the sound of bird song to permeate living rooms and balconies once again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The birds were always here, but now we are able to hear them,” says Sharad Apte, a retired banker living in Sangli, Maharashtra. Considered among the pioneers of recording bird song in India, his collection of bird recordings spans 422 species and subspecies, with over 52GB of data containing more than 3,000 sound files. “Files are saved with details like species, type of call, date and time, location and comments on behaviour. I developed my own website (birdcalls.info) to share my recordings,” he tells THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Self-taught, he began recording bird song in 1998, acquiring better equipment and protocols over the years, so as to create a lasting archive of sounds. Over time, he came to know a calendar of bird activity: Knowing which birds would sing; where, and when.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Apte started recording bird song, he says there were only a few people like him. Now, there are hundreds. On August 9, he held a Zoom workshop on the equipment and practices needed to take a good recording, with over 60 participants eagerly taking notes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His favourite bird is the White-Rumped Shama, because it can mimic other birds perfectly. Aptly, this is also the first bird whose call was ever recorded—by none other than Koch in 1889. Song birds can be excellent mimics—Apte recalls a Black Drongo that would frighten away predatory cats by imitating an angry cat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like how a human mother will teach her baby its mother tongue, song birds too learn to sing from their parents and surroundings. Writes Myron C. Baker in Bird Behaviour, “...in the animal world we humans are virtually alone with the songbirds in the manner by which we obtain our auditory communication signals, the fascinating processes of vocal learning.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vocal learning means that the same species of bird will often have a different song in different regions. Pratap Singh, a retired Forest Service officer who served with the Wildlife Institute of India, had researched for his PhD how warblers in the north-western Himalayas sang more complex songs than their peers in the eastern ranges. The reason? “We hypothesised this could be due to noisy environments. In eastern India, a lot of organisms are communicating at once, not just the birds. If you want to stand out, you need a simple signal. If you are calling out to a friend in a crowd, you wouldn’t shout an entire sentence,” he tells THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Being a bird is akin to being a songwriter—you sing to attract an audience and you must give the audience what it wants. Some species, like the female Zebra finch, judge males by the accuracy with which they produce complex and precise renditions of their species’ calls. Some birds, as Apte notes, prefer males who can sing for longer durations—as it implies that they are well-fed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like humans, birds too can spread ‘viral’ tunes. A recent study in Canada observed a curious phenomenon over the last two decades, where white-throated sparrows across parts of the country replaced their three-note calls with a two-note one. Since the new tune did not appear to improve a male sparrow’s chance of mating, the researchers could not explain its new popularity. Perhaps it was just novel, they speculated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Crucially, what made such observations possible—changes in bird song over time and place—was the ability to crowdsource recordings. With bird songs from across the world documented on sites like Xeno-Canto and eBird, researchers have an ever-growing body of work to study.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“When you are recording bird song, you are not only recording the song but everything else in the background—insects, cicadas, dogs, whatever creatures there may be. The particular area you are recording in, that point of time, is a unique event. That may not ever repeat…That information is very valuable if you want to track change,” says Singh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Technology has made birding more accessible than ever-before. Websites like eBird and Xeno-Canto list birds and bird calls by region; an app by Cornell University can identify a bird from a picture, and mobile phones can produce an (albeit crude) recording of bird calls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Abhishek Gulshan, the Delhi-NCR reviewer for eBird and founder of nature awareness initiative NINOX-Owl about Nature, suggests that new birders spend time with their subjects. “A lot of people see the bird and then move on. That is not something I would advise birdwatchers to do—even if it means spending eight hours or a couple days on one species, do so, because you will understand so many different aspects about it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was by watching birds in the field that Gulshan found the details that most fascinated him—how male weaver birds can make nest after nest until a female approves it (and how abandoned nests can be ‘upcycled’ by other birds like munias for reuse); how female red-necked falcons will ration the food that their male brings them, feeding him only a little despite his begs for more (possibly to keep him fit so he hunts better); or how Drongos mimic Shikras to ward off other marauding birds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If you are ready to explore this fascinating world of birds, song and ecology, the silence triggered by a lockdown/containment zone may be your best shot at hearing the songs of nature.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/09/03/hear-the-birds-sing.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/09/03/hear-the-birds-sing.html Fri Sep 04 11:29:16 IST 2020 mex-match <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/09/03/mex-match.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/2020/9/3/69-Kavya.jpg" /> <p>Would you try a paneer burrito? How about prawn-and-pani puri tacos? These combinations might sound unusual, but the taste is anything but. Chef Kavya Verghese’s new venture in Chennai, Mex it Up, dishes up and delivers a cuisine that very few conventional restaurants handle. The Indian-Mexican combination that comes out of Kavya’s home kitchen is both delightful and creative.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Launched during the lockdown, Mex It Up’s burritos and taquitos have garnered a loyal following in Chennai. And, just one burrito can make you full. “I have been getting online orders continuously and it keeps me busy throughout the day,” says Kavya.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Born and raised in Chennai, Kavya travelled the world as a culinary chef. A few weeks before the Covid-19 lockdown began, she quit her job at the Dubai Hilton Jumeriah. She specialises in Mexican, Thai and French cuisines, but she says that most Indians are not adventurous when it comes to trying new dishes. And Chennaiites are no exception to this. “I felt people might not like authentic Mexican or French or Thai cuisine as they are,” she says. “So, I mixed some favourite Indian flavours with Mexican.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In addition to the paneer burrito, the Chettinad mutton burrito is another must-try. It is packed with rice, mutton, beans, jalapenos, pickled onions, cilantro and mozzarella, all wrapped in a nutritious multigrain tortilla. The chicken 65 burrito and the chilli garlic potato burrito, too, are spiced with Indian flavours.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from burritos, Kavya’s menu includes an Indian take on tacos. A small bite-sized puri is stuffed with a Mexican filling; the traditional tamarind water is also given a Mexican twist. The result is a pani puri that explodes in your mouth in a flood of new flavours. The prawn taquitos, filled with sautéed buttered prawns, refried beans, salsa, sour cream and corn in a puri, is crunchy and juicy. The mushroom and tofu taquitos are even more delicious. The two taquitos go with jalapeno-and-cheese samosas and soya lettuce wraps. The samosas are crispy and served with tangy salsa, while the wrap is lettuce filled with minced soya, crunchy vegetables and vegan sour cream.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You can wash it all down with a drink, too—either ice tea with your choice of Mexican fries or a watermelon basil paloma or even a cold coffee horchata. Not to mention desserts like the crispy churros or almond brownies to end your meal on a high. With the glut of orders coming in, Kavya is a happy chef these days. And she promises that Mex It Up will move out of her home kitchen once the pandemic blows over.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/09/03/mex-match.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/09/03/mex-match.html Fri Sep 04 11:04:10 IST 2020 brilliance-like-a-breeze <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/09/03/brilliance-like-a-breeze.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/2020/9/3/70-Fahadh-Faasil.jpg" /> <p>It is all very unusual for Fahadh Faasil: To give back-to-back interviews, to talk about his film when the world has not watched it yet, and to get on the hyperactive promotional bandwagon for every release. Part of his discomfort could be attributed to the Malayalam film industry’s more subtle film promotions. But most of it is because he is too reserved with his own thought process, and takes time to analyse whether he has achieved what he had intended to in a film.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Half the time, I am not even sure about the film I have just done; it is just something you vaguely know,” Faasil tells THE WEEK. “It is only after the film goes out to the audience that you realise things—what is working, what is not working. That is when I would ideally want to talk, but by then I already start working on the next film!” He was speaking ahead of the release of C U Soon, a Malayalam thriller that would release on Amazon Prime Video on September 1.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Faasil says he “works like a dog”, investing so much energy in the making of a film that he has never really understood the need to explain the film to people all over again. But this time, he wanted to see how it works. Also because C U Soon is not a regular film shot on sets or with a big crew. It was an experiment, shot in 22 days during the lockdown on phone cameras and computers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The thriller that unfolds on device screens—much like the 2018 Hollywood film Searching—is directed by Mahesh Narayanan and produced by Faasil and his wife, Nazriya Nazim. It is ironical how the film makes a case for technology and how creativity knows no boundaries even as it taps into the vulnerabilities that humans are exposed to with their lives almost unfolding on digital platforms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jimmy (Roshan Mathew), an Indian in the UAE, has fallen head over heels for Anu (Darshana Rajendran), whom he has only met virtually, first on a dating website and later on several video calls. Suspicious about this, Jimmy’s mother seeks help from his cousin, Kevin (Faasil), a techie, to check the girl’s background. As the film progresses, a human trafficking network is exposed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Mahesh [Narayanan] pitches a lot of interesting ideas to me,” says Faasil, who worked with the editor-director on the critically acclaimed Take Off and the yet-to-release Malik. “As a filmmaker, he keeps the possibilities of trying out new things open.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>C U Soon started as a project that could be modified on the edit table with Narayanan primarily being an editor. From there, the situation developed differently. “While acting in front of the computer screen, I realised that I am not a good actor,” says Faasil and he laughs. He mentions that it was a challenging film to put together “because no character is alone”. “There is another character always on the phone,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Faasil’s confession of not being a good actor may be a lesson in humility. In the last few years, as streaming platforms gained momentum and subtitled films from different parts of India became more accessible, Faasil has become one of the most revered actors of his time. Each of his recent roles has stood for something profound. It is, perhaps, an outcome of being a star rooted in Malayalam cinema with no ambition of crossing over to the Hindi film industry. “I don’t think I understand the language and would be able to do justice to characters,” he says, evading the topic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most of the characters Faasil plays—be it in Maheshinte Prathikaaram, Super Deluxe (Tamil), Kumbalangi Nights, Njan Prakashan or Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum—are not the regular hero roles and have yet been appealing to the masses. Through these, he has explored the dark lateral of human behaviour, from vengence to toxic masculinity. In C U Soon as well, he plays a complex character that is unlikable and misogynistic, but evolves as a fine, relatable man over the course of the film.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For him, as an actor, the only thing that matters is making his characters look believable. “These are realities [expressed] in a manner that is not offensive to anyone,” he says. “The characters should be organic without taking the fun out of them. They have to be as smooth as wind.” For Faasil, it is necessary to gauge the importance of a story to decide whether it needs to be told. He talks about his role in Maheshinte Prathikaram (translates to revenge of Mahesh). “When you see Mahesh (a naive, simple man), you would not believe that he could be vengeful,” says Faasil. “But he is. And the character has come from our surroundings. We have seen these things. It becomes important then to tell this story.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During our conversation, Faasil pauses frequently and deliberates over his answers. While talking about his journey in films, he pauses to check if he is making sense. Launched by his father, noted film director Fazil, at age 19 with Kaiyethum Doorath (2002), he failed to make a mark. So, he went for further studies to the United States. That did not go as planned either, and he returned to India after several years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The seven-year gap between his first two movies was spent meeting people, discovering places and watching many films, which changed his outlook towards cinema. “I don’t think if I had gone to Dubai, I would have come back wanting to make films,” he quips, adding, “I would see it as a normal journey that a teenager went through. It was not something outstanding.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Returning in 2009, he started afresh with small roles. “I had nothing to lose. I was trying out everything that came my way.” But then Chaappa Kurishu (2011) about two men living contrasting lives happened, which put him on the path to immense success. There has been no turning back since then, and Faasil says he will continue to make films for as long as he can.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/09/03/brilliance-like-a-breeze.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/09/03/brilliance-like-a-breeze.html Fri Sep 04 11:03:28 IST 2020 ball-in-her-court <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/09/03/ball-in-her-court.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/2020/9/3/73-Meghna-Naidu-new.jpg" /> <p>Meghna Naidu marked her arrival in the early 2000s with the remix of the song Kaliyon Ka Chaman. Since then, she has figured in popular films in Bollywood and in the south, and in television series like Jodha Akbar and Fear Factor: Khatron Ke Khiladi. Married to Portuguese tennis player Luis Miguel Reis, she now lives in Dubai, where she is a personal trainer and life coach, and runs a dance academy. Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ It has been a while since we saw you in films. Was it a conscious decision to stay away from limelight?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\In the last few years, I have been living in Dubai with my husband Luis. So I have been busy with my personal life. I travel to India mainly to see my parents and for work. By living so far away I cannot really balance work and personal life, so I made a conscious decision to focus just on one for now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ You announced your marriage last year, after keeping it secret for a while. How has married life been?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ In December, it will be three years since we married. But we have been together for 11 years. It was not a secret with my family and close friends, but it is just that I had not announced it in the media. Married life is wonderful and with the right partner, it is even more exciting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ Your father is a tennis coach and you also play tennis. Was it the game that attracted you to Luis?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ Yes, my dad (Ethiraj Naidu) has been coaching competition players in India for the last 30 years, or maybe even more. I have always been a tennis fan because of him. He also taught me how to play the game. In fact, my dad was the reason why Luis and I met. He introduced us on the tennis court 22 years ago and since then we have been in touch, and the rest is history. Luis is Portuguese and his family lives in Portugal. He has been in Dubai for 22 years, and has his own tennis academies there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ The death of Sushant Singh Rajput has triggered a debate on how star kids have an advantage over outsiders in the industry. Have you been a victim of nepotism?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ Sushant’s demise came as a shock to each and every person in the country. Nepotism exists not only in our industry but everywhere. It depends on how people take it. I have faced it, too, in my initial days, and it made me very sad, because I lost out on a few good projects which would have enhanced my career.</p> <p><b>Q\ In the last few years you have been part of some television shows. How was that experience like?</b></p> <p>A\&nbsp;It was a wonderful experience to be a part of the television industry. I learnt so much more about acting and how tough an industry it is. I look forward to doing some more interesting shows on television soon. I prefer reality shows because it is short and entertaining.&nbsp;</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/09/03/ball-in-her-court.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/09/03/ball-in-her-court.html Fri Sep 04 11:01:00 IST 2020 badasses-in-burqas <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/27/badasses-in-burqas.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/2020/8/27/churails-new.jpg" /> <p>There is a new superhero cape: the burqa. Not in the trademark black, but in colours of summer fashion—fuschia, fire engine red and tangerine. If Spider-Man has his mask to fight his crusade, the Churails from Karachi have their own version of the justice brigade.</p> <p>Streaming on ZEE5, the Pakistani show <i>Churails</i> has stirred up a mini revolution. Sassy, funny, dark, disturbing and addictive, the 10-episode show is replete with strongly etched characters and a story that stays with you much after the show is over.</p> <p>Welcome to Karachi 2020—a place of sprawling bungalows, beautiful women, politicians, cheating husbands, greed, drugs and the seamier side of a modern metropolis. Asim Abbasi, director of the film <i>Cake</i> (2018), about the relationship of two sisters, is now back with a hit web series.</p> <p><i>Churails</i> brings together four women who turn their personal battles into an all-out war for justice. There is Sara (Sarwat Gilani), the perfect wife who discovers one night that her husband has sent messages from LA to Larkana; Jugnu (Yasra Rizvi), a wedding planner estranged from her family and a socialite who is never far from her hip flask; Zubaida (Mehar Bano), a young aspiring boxer with a conservative father; and Batool (Nimra Bucha), who murders her abusive husband.</p> <p>The show cuts across class and privilege to show different faces of Karachi. There is love—not the usual romance—and there is anger. “It is female fantasy,’’ says Bucha. The four get together to start a boutique—Halal Fashions—which is a cover for a detective agency to expose cheating spouses, offering the enticing promise of, “<i>Mard ko dard hoga</i>” (Men will feel pain). The women of Karachi who lavish money on “lawn and <i>zewar</i> (jewellery)’’ choose instead to spend it on finding out the truth about their partners. Think<i> Scandal</i>, but with burqas instead of Olivia Pope’s gladiator outfits.</p> <p>In one episode, the English professor Uncle Ifty tells Jugnu condescendingly, while pouring out a generous glass of wine, “You have got a thing about notions. The notion of wanting more, being more, deserving more. This has got inside you and reason flies out of the window.” This rebellion and the need to be seen—a powerful and universal emotion—lie at the heart of the show.</p> <p><i>Churails</i> is also about friendship and camaraderie—real and authentic. The bond between the women is palpable. “We have become such good friends now,’’ says Bucha. “Playing out the script at rehearsals brought us together. The script touched our hearts so much that it shook us. I think that, in the end, what was happening to us as actors onscreen was happening to us behind the scenes—this aspect of sisterhood being the real and final family.’’</p> <p>There are many reasons for the show not to have become the word-of-mouth hit that it has. It is Pakistani—a word that in India provokes hostility, especially in the past few years. It is about women getting their own back, written in the post #MeToo world. There is violence, mostly by women. Zindagi TV had to stop telecasting Pakistani shows post the Uri attack. Yet, these are possibly the very reasons that the show, currently trending on Twitter, works. It also works because it is not peddling love, but something more powerful—a combined sisterhood. It is like the thrilling discovery of Pakistani actor Fawad Khan all over again.</p> <p>What helps is the flawless and pitch-perfect acting. Whether it is the charming, flippant and privileged Jugnu, who yet has depth, or the young, impulsive and determined Zubaida, each character has grit, which, helpfully, the women have in real-life, too. “We have all dealt with rage,’’ says Rizvi. “If you look at it, we are kind of the underdogs. Underdogs have a little bit of rage. We are women who have been very vocal about equality and feminism in our own countries—all aspects of it.’’</p> <p>The show is also a peek into a different side of Pakistan, where women drink, plot, curse and smoke up. Not since <i>Moth Smoke</i>— the Mohsin Hamid book full of forbidden love, drugs and crime—has there been such an awakening. It is a fascinatingly different world—one that has never really been part of popular culture.</p> <p>Unlike the more refined <i>tehzibdar</i> (civilised) world of the shows that, in the past, have become cross-border hits, <i>Churails</i> does not offer the comfort of gentle romance wrapped in eloquent Urdu. There was a time when scratchy, borrowed VHS tapes of Pakistani plays were consumed over weekends—<i>Dhoop Kinare</i> (1987) with the original McDreamy, Dr Ahmer, <i>Tanhaiyaan </i>(1986-2011) and <i>Ankahi</i> (1982), after which the character of Sana (Shehnaz Sheikh) became the favourite of a whole generation of young girls in India. “There are people who have pointed out, this is Pakistan? It does not look like Pakistan,’’ says Bucha. “But neither of us (India or Pakistan) has seen each other in that way. We have not had a close look at each other. We have only seen what cinema or television have shown us. It has shown us what, I feel, has been stuck in a time warp. It is not really us.’’</p> <p>Abbasi crams everything into his Karachi. A transgender character, a socialite who marries a “negro”, gay love, the secret parties and forbidden encounters of the rich, powerful and the privileged, cheating and abusive husbands—all come together to create a complex and addictive show. It is a whole universe, and it is easy to resort to stereotypes, but the strength of <i>Churails</i> is that it never dissolves into tokenism.</p> <p>“It is a Pakistani story,’’ says Bucha. “We complain that we don’t tell our story. Here we have, and that is why it has created so much noise. It has created many ripples because truth can do that.’’ What is compelling is that these women are not just Pakistani like the earlier plays, there are flashes of them in each of us. “I think the series shows parts of us which are real,’’ says Bucha. “But because you have not seen us, it seems like we are from another planet. We are more similar than we are different.”</p> <p>Just like for the actors, for the viewer, too, the show is an incredibly satisfying and freeing experience. “It liberated me as an artist at so many levels,’’ says Rizvi. “I am a woman who has spent all her life fighting and working for myself to have a voice in not only this society, but also this country and this industry. I am now beginning to think that there are many like me who do not choose to voice themselves. So maybe I should make something autobiographical, which will give them strength because they know it is not a work of fiction.”</p> <p>For others, there is the rumour of a sequel.&nbsp;</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/27/badasses-in-burqas.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/27/badasses-in-burqas.html Thu Aug 27 19:06:48 IST 2020 dream-come-true <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/27/dream-come-true.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/2020/8/27/baba-azmi.jpg" /> <p>A long time ago, poet and lyricist Kaifi Azmi asked his cinematographer son, Baba Azmi, whether a film could be entirely shot in his village, Mijwan, in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh. Mijwan being a tiny village at that time, with no infrastructure and few resources, Baba could only shake his head. But in 2019, Kaifi’s birth centenary year, Baba fulfilled his father’s dream through the film <i>Mee Raqsam </i>(I Dance), directed by him and produced and presented by sister Shabana Azmi. It is a beautiful film about dreams, about a father-daughter relationship and about India’s composite culture. After nearly a hundred programmes conducted across the world to celebrate the centenary year, the film’s <i>mahurat</i> on the poet’s birthday felt like a “completion”.</p> <p>“It is a film talking about the values that Kaifi <i>saab</i> has held dear— whether it is empowering the girl child, encouraging children to pursue their dreams, celebrating pluralism, or standing up against obscurantism. It was the best tribute we could have given him,” says Shabana about the film that revolves around Maryam (Aditi Subedi), a Muslim teenager who has recently lost her mother and wants to learn bharatnatyam. Perhaps the girl’s aspiration might have been acceptable in another place and time; but right then, there were too many naysayers, including her extended family and almost the entire Muslim community led by Hashim (Naseeruddin Shah). It is her father Salim (Danish Husain), a humble tailor, who stands by his daughter’s choice without caring about the brickbats.</p> <p>Shabana remembers how, when her father’s NGO, Mijwan Welfare Society, worked for the upliftment of the girl child, it was not smooth sailing. Once she asked him if it was frustrating to “work for change which does not occur at the pace that you want it to”. His response was something that Shabana has held close to her heart since then. “When you are working for change, you should build into that the possibility that change might not occur in your lifetime,” said her father. “But you must have the conviction that if you carry on working with all sincerity and dedication, then change will occur, even if it does so after you are gone.”</p> <p>Shabana has taken forward the work in the village and is delighted with the fact that there are no more child marriages happening in Mijwan as well as in the neighbouring 40 villages. “That, to me, is a huge change,” she says. “It is a change in mindset. It is much richer than any number of buildings or infrastructure that can be created. Transformation is a long process, especially when you are dealing with a society that is [determined] to hold on to its identity.”</p> <p>According to her, art could play a major role in creating counter narratives and bringing about transformation, despite it being attacked and subjected to unnecessary censorship. And one of the counter narratives in the film is the decrying of toxic masculinity. “Through [the character of] Salim, we are redefining masculinity that in these times stands for muscle power and <i>dadagiri</i>,” she says. “But why cannot masculinity be about support, sensitivity and encouragement?” She finds it delightful that more men are playing roles that are redefining conventional masculinity—whether it is Husain in <i>Mee Raqsam</i>, Kumud Mishra in <i>Thappad </i>(2019) or Pankaj Tripathi in <i>Gunjan Saxena</i> (2020). “[Earlier], it was such a privilege to be a man in a patriarchal society,” she says. “Now, the women’s movement is redefining privilege and giving women equal status, because of which these [progressive changes] have started permeating our art and our society.”</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/27/dream-come-true.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/27/dream-come-true.html Thu Aug 27 19:06:35 IST 2020 up-beat <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/27/up-beat.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/2020/8/27/street-academics.jpg" /> <p>For rapper Hiran Das aka Vedan, everything he sings is political. His politics, which stems from his upbringing in an unprivileged colony in Thrissur, Kerala, carries the wounds of systemic marginalisation that his people have faced for centuries. So, when he released Voice of Voiceless in June, it became the most viral political rap in Malayalam ever. His words, “<i>Kannil kaanatha jaathi matha verppaadu, yuganagalayi thudangi iniyumenne vettayadu</i> (Caste and religious divides that you choose not to see have been hunting me down the ages)”, made the usually bubbly Malayali social media users stop and listen.</p> <p>“I have faced casteism in my life,”&nbsp;says Das. “Though I talk about communities from Kerala, the song is about everyone who faces casteism. Those who ask, ‘Where is casteism in this country?’ are blind about this massive problem around us.”</p> <p>A few weeks after the release of Das’s song, another Malayalam hip-hop number broke the internet. Written and sung by actor-rapper Neeraj Madhav aka NJ, and produced by Arcado, Panipaali (Messed Up), became an overnight sensation. Panipaali’s success rode on its funky beats and fantasy elements. The song’s comic book-style video has already earned more than 1.8 crore views on YouTube (as on August 26). “The song talks about the distorted sleep schedules of the youth,” says Madhav. “I intended to keep it commercial, and at the same time, stay true to the hip-hop genre.”</p> <p>Madhav is known for his acting and was in the recent Amazon Prime Hindi series <i>The Family Man</i>. However, his rapper persona, NJ, was revealed only recently. “Since my childhood, I had an affinity for beats and rhythm,” says Madhav. “Kerala has a strong underlying rhythmic setup—we have musical forms like vaaythaari (orations) and vanchippattu (boat song), and percussion instruments like chenda and mrudangam. My interest in these may have formed my base for hip-hop, too.”</p> <p>Hip-hop in India gained prominence with rap battle communities like Insignia and Battle Shelter rapping in English. The late 2000s saw the emergence of regional language hip-hop subgenres in India. The founders of the 2009-born alternative hip-hop collective from Kerala, Street Academics—Rajeev M. aka Pakarcha Vyadhi and Haris Saleem aka Maapla—are counted among the pioneers of Indian rap.</p> <p>The Malayalam rap scene languished in relative obscurity until recently, though there had been an underground community of hip-hop enthusiasts in Kerala for over a decade and a half. Songs like Voice of Voiceless and Panipaali have finally brought a mass appeal for the genre.</p> <p>“Malayalam is not an easy language to make hip-hop songs in,” says Madhav. “The language’s phonetics is pretty difficult. It has long words that make the lyrical flow tough. It does not have the ease of English, Hindi or Tamil.”</p> <p>Initial attempts to popularise rap in Malayalam were limited to parodies of popular English songs. But the trajectory of Malayalam hip-hop took a new direction in 2010 when Street Academics released a fiery political bilingual track, Repping the Truth, featuring Saleem. The other members of Street Academics are Amjad Nadeem aka Azuran, Arjun Menon aka Imbaachi and Vivek Radhakrishnan aka V3k, and their themes range from social realism to dystopian fantasy. Their most acclaimed songs include 16 Adiyanthiram, Chatha Kakka, Aathmasphere, Kalapila and Pambaram.</p> <p>Many others like Danny Varghese aka Achayan, Remeez Musthafa aka rZee PurpleGaze, Sanju Jaison aka San Jaimt, Sarath Sasidharan aka Nomadic Voice and Febin Joseph aka Fejo also came up with original hits in the last decade. But they had to build the Malayalam hip-hop subgenre from scratch. Remeez released his first original on YouTube in 2014, but that was six years in the making. “I put in rigorous effort in writing and rewriting the songs, and learning beat production,” he says.</p> <p>Rajeev also recalls the struggling days of his collective. “We had to do all the mixing, mastering, shooting and video editing ourselves,” he says. “We had no model before us [in Malayalam rap] to take a cue from.”</p> <p>The absence of a rap-literate audience was also a problem. “I have been a live performer for almost 14 years,” says Rajeev. “I used to perform along with folk singers, doing fusions with them. Back then, I used to get reactions like, ‘<i>Ee chekkanentha ee kanikkunne</i>? (What is this guy doing?)’.”</p> <p>Rajeev adds that over time, people started understanding the genre better, and that in the last couple of years, there has been a major boom in regional hip-hop communities in India. He credits the increased accessibility to music and hip-hop’s adherence to grassroots for this rise. “The origin of hip-hop itself has to do with [overcoming] limitations. You can start making hip-hop with zero-investment,” he says. The proliferation of low-cost music software and hardware and short-format video platforms has also played a significant role in the current boom.</p> <p>Kerala, though, still lacks a strong independent music industry. “There are limitations for musicians to try something different in film songs,” says Madhav. The absence of film releases during the Covid-19 lockdown has helped this music genre rise and shine.&nbsp;</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/27/up-beat.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/27/up-beat.html Thu Aug 27 18:53:56 IST 2020 in-good-faith <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/27/in-good-faith.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/2020/8/27/prakash-jha.jpg" /> <p>Director-producer Prakash Jha is basking in the success of his latest, <i>Pareeksha</i>, currently streaming on ZEE5. Set against the backdrop of the National Education Policy, it analyses the conflicts emerging from a society ruled by class. Here, he talks about his next, a digital series called <i>Aashram</i> on MX Player, which is an indictment of fraudulent godmen, with Bobby Deol playing Baba Nirala of Kashipur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What was the genesis of </b><i><b>Aashram?</b></i></p> <p><b>A/</b> MX Player came to me with this story written by Habib Faisal. It was a long and interesting one—of a criminal taking advantage of the faith of innocent people. People have been speculating that it is a take on this baba or that baba, but it is not that. It is about how quacks function in smaller towns and villages.It has nothing to do with any religion or ritual.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/You released a disclaimer video even before the release of the trailer. Is there fear of a</b> <b>backlash?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b> We released the disclaimer because we honour and take pride in our religions and establishments of gurus. As far as backlash is concerned, we have always faced this. Forget about today, when I made <i>Aarakshan</i> (2011), it was banned. Even during <i>Rajneeti </i>(2010), the entire Congress party was after me because they thought Sonia Gandhi was being maligned. It has always happened. Surprisingly, with the current regime, Anubhav (Sinha) was able to release <i>Article 15</i> (2019), which is revolutionary. I did not have any issue releasing <i>Gangaajal</i> (2003) during the rule of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.</p> <p><b>Q/So, it is because of the ruling establishment?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b> No, it is not about this government or that government. [The noise] today is more because of social media allowing everybody to vent their feelings. It is not a new phenomenon. There have always been groups of people who have opposed certain ideas, but they did not have a platform earlier. But anyway, what can you do about that?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Does your political leaning influence your work?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b> I do not have a political leaning. Have you ever seen me campaigning for any political party? I am an observer and a student. There should be someone to raise questions. I do not believe in right, left or centre. My beliefs lie with truth, justice and equality for all. It may seem very philosophical, but there is no harm in trying to achieve these.&nbsp;</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/27/in-good-faith.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/27/in-good-faith.html Thu Aug 27 13:35:28 IST 2020 ever-the-seeker <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/20/ever-the-seeker.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/2020/8/20/145-Anand-Gandhi.jpg" /> <p>It was 2015. The novel coronavirus was nowhere in sight. Anand Gandhi was thinking about a film on a pandemic. He gave it a tentative name, too: 2020. Little did he anticipate that his idea would one day become reality. That, too, in 2020. The idea has now been recalibrated—Gandhi’s film, Emergence, will look at life in a post-pandemic world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though he gave up formal education at 15, Gandhi did not give up on his quest for knowledge. He always yearned to learn about the myriad mysteries of life and existence. It is, therefore, no surprise that in his much-celebrated debut, Ship of Theseus (2012), a conversation between two characters, Charvaka and Maitreya, is about a fungal spore that hijacks an ant’s body, changes its behaviour and makes it a vehicle for its own proliferation. Charvaka then wonders what trillions of microbes in a human body could be doing to an individual. That was when Gandhi’s quest began.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He took it a step ahead in Tumbbad (2018), which he co-wrote. He was also the executive producer and creative director on the film. The film set in 1918, when the Spanish flu struck (but not based on the pandemic), “used horror as a means of investing in nightmares, investing in cautionary tales, in methods of thinking about… what kind of horrors and problems human beings can find themselves in”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gandhi was certain that all these investigations—about human identity, consciousness, sentience and about what a virus could do to the human mind—could only come together through the story of a pandemic. As disheartened as he may be as an individual to see what Covid-19 has done to the world, as a storyteller his job may have become easier.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Now, I don’t need to entertain my audience talking about the pandemic and can jump straight into the second part of it. I can make a sequel to a film that I never made,” he says, laughing. “I can share my epiphany and my speculations. I can share with the world what could possibly come into existence a few years or decades from now, which, for a writer, is a dream situation to be in.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The task, however, is now to look for a new face. When Gandhi started writing the film, Irrfan Khan was supposed to play one of the lead roles. When Khan dropped out of the project after being diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumour that eventually took his life, Sushant Singh Rajput stepped in. Rajput’s death, too, left a deep impact on Gandhi. “Both these deaths have been a profound loss of people I deeply admired, people I looked up to and loved,” he says. “I knew Irrfan as an artist. We had a great exchange of ideas. Sushant, I knew a little more. I could call him a friend. [In] the last six to eight months, our relationship intensified. He was increasingly interested in what I was doing and in working with me.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajput’s death has reignited the nepotism debate. Gandhi identifies himself as an outsider. But what he finds most disheartening is that Bollywood rarely churns out films that start a discourse. “The function of films is not just to provide a drug to escape from reality,” he says. “It is to provide solutions, insights, epiphany and possibilities for a better future, and while at it, of course, engage people.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Maybe that is why Gandhi, who started his career in entertainment by writing hugely popular shows like Kyunki… Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii for Balaji Telefilms, set up Memesys Culture Lab with Zain Memon. The lab has been experimenting with different formats, from virtual reality films like Yeh Ballet, to a political board game like Shasn, and a political documentary like An Insignificant Man. Gandhi calls his lab a parallel universe, wherein he is trying to create a world where a tiny bubble like Bollywood remains just that, instead of becoming this mega industry that hogs all limelight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It may happen in five or 10 years or it may take my whole life or the next generation, but that is the vision I am interested in,” he says, “creating something that is so profound, so progressive, so constantly changing, so evolving, so scientific, so well-intended towards making a better world that it will make this tiny little bubble completely irrelevant.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Having grown up in a Mumbai chawl, where many resources were difficult to come by, the only thing easily available to him was knowledge. “I lived in a completely different environment from the one I am living in now,” he said. “I was made to understand at a very early age that knowledge is free and it was mine to inherit, and I went aggressively after it.” He had a questioning mind, and his mother encouraged it. “At 13, I started my philosophical journey pretty aggressively by attending every philosophical and spiritual service that I could find around me,” he said. “It taught me philosophy, and I decided to drop out of formal education and design my own curriculum because I could not find a single formal education (syllabus) that catered to my requirements.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By the time he was 17, he had charted out his educational journey that was replete with learning from different scriptures, societies, science and maths. That may be the reason why his lab is populated with people from diverse backgrounds. One of its upcoming projects is a science fiction show for Disney+ Hotstar, tentatively titled OK Computer. Its makers are a diverse duo—while Pooja Shetty is an architect and designer who has earlier worked for UN-Habitat’s low-cost housing project in Iraq, Neil Pagedar is a writer and filmmaker who has worked on Films Division’s documentaries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I always look for people who match my intellectual curiosity, whose journey overlaps with my journey of seeking the meaning of life,” says Gandhi. “In one of my recent posts, I wrote that seeker(s) of meaning will not find meaning but they do find each other and that’s really just the case. I have been very fortunate in finding the collaborators that I have found and [am] also fortunate that we have managed to stay together all these years.”</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/20/ever-the-seeker.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/20/ever-the-seeker.html Sat Aug 22 19:10:27 IST 2020 a-jugalbandi-of-minds <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/20/a-jugalbandi-of-minds.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/2020/8/20/150-Ritwik-Bhowmik.jpg" /> <p>Ever since they first met on the sets of Barfi! (2012) as assistant directors, Amritpal Singh Bindra and Anand Tiwari dreamt of collaborating on a show that would capture young love in all its glory and agony. “A story that was fun and young,” says Bindra. “That spoke about the conflicts that young [lovers] often face in their families.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is how Bandish Bandits on Amazon Prime Video came to be, with Bindra as executive producer and Tiwari as director. Apart from the duo, the show has two other writers, Adhir Bhat and Lara Chandni.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bandish Bandits could be a first on a few counts. It is the first Indian web series to have music at its core. It also marks the digital debut of the composer trio Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and brings together acting stalwarts Naseeruddin Shah, Rajesh Tailang, Atul Kulkarni and Sheeba Chaddha, with two new faces—Ritwik Bhowmik and Shreya Chaudhry—as leads.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 10-episode series starts with an interesting premise that juxtaposes Hindustani classical music and pop music in its storyline quite convincingly. Radhe (Ritwik), a singing prodigy from the Rathod gharana of Jodhpur, is torn between staying true to his legacy and helping his beloved—Tamanna (Shreya), a pop sensation—achieve the stardom she has always dreamt of.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I have absolutely no background in music. In fact, I didn’t even like classical music,” says Bindra. “Hence, it was quite an interesting journey for us to write a show on music.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While music is usually employed to reflect inner conflicts, Bindra and Tiwari wanted to focus more on the external conflicts that young lovers face. “We have stopped talking about the external conflicts,” says Tiwari. “There is, of course, a lot of internal conflict. But there is as much of external conflict in the lives of our two protagonists.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And while the two main characters are representatives of two very different mindsets that prevail in our country, Tiwari says, “the interesting part is that both are truly Indian—one traditional and one popular.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To understand the voices and choices of the youth, Bindra and Tiwari interacted with youth at the location in Rajasthan instead of relying on their own feelings while writing the show. “We don’t sit in Bandra West or Andheri West and think that this is how we feel and this is how the story should be,” says Tiwari.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the love story’s arc seems a bit stretched, the makers have beautifully tapped into life in Rajasthan. It is, however, the music that saves the show from sinking. With original compositions by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, songs like Virah, Lab Par Aaye and Garaj Garaj (in two versions) elevate the show. What also works is the indepth portrayal of some traditions followed in gharanas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For instance, in the second episode, titled Shuddhikaran, Radhe has to take a strenuous musical test to prove his mettle as a singer and as a sign of penance. These audience hooks came out of the research. “We spoke to a lot of musicians, including classical musicians, pop musicians and young playback singers to understand their world,” says Bindra. “Besides, we had music consultants to guide us through the show.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They worked closely with the show’s music supervisor Akshat Parikh, a disciple of Pandit Jasraj, YouTuber Anuja Kamat and Aditya Oke, who was credited for the show’s music arrangement and classical music coordination. The musician Shankar Mahadevan guided them to a lot of people, says Bindra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tiwari, who directed the much-appreciated Netflix original film Love Per Square Foot, and Bindra took almost two and a half years to create Bandish Bandits. All that hard work and patience paid off when the show was lauded by music aficionados.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They had also worked together on Bang Baaja Baaraat (2015), one of India’s initial web shows. “It has only been five years, but my God, look at how the [digital] landscape has changed,” says Bindra. “There has, of course, been the physical transformation in the scope, scale and size, with big players coming in and giving our shows a global platform. The other big change that it has brought is giving writers an amazing experience. We often say that film is a director’s medium and theatre, an actor’s. I really think that the digital space is a writer’s medium. It gives an opportunity to a writer to create a world that isn’t very singular.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bindra had to share the link of Bang Baaja Baaraat to make people aware of its existence. A few thought it was a film that did not make the cut and was therefore turned into a web series. That stigma, says Bindra, has reduced drastically in the last two years. The lines have blurred, he says, and that is a thing for people like him to rejoice about.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/20/a-jugalbandi-of-minds.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/20/a-jugalbandi-of-minds.html Thu Aug 20 15:36:36 IST 2020 staying-evergreen <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/20/staying-evergreen.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/2020/8/20/152-Chunky-Pandey-new.jpg" /> <p>Chunky Pandey made his digital debut with the recently-released second season of Abhay on Zee5. After working in the industry for over three decades, the actor says he is happy with where he is now. Here, he talks about playing a villain in the series, what it was like to be without projects in the 1990s and daughter Ananya Panday being trolled.</p> <p><b>Q\ How would you describe your character, Harsh, in Abhay 2?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ This is not a person you would want to meet anytime soon. He is a three-dimensional character, [seemingly] a soft-spoken and humble person, always nice to people. But when he changes, the change is drastic. I really enjoyed playing this character. He seems to have come straight out of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.</p> <p><b>Q\ You have spoken about not getting work after the release of Aankhen (1993). How do you look back at that phase?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ After Aankhen, the only film I did was Teesra Kaun (1994) with Mithun Chakraborty. Then, I went off to Bangladesh. I just was not getting any work. That was the phase when films were shifting [their focus] from multi-starrers to solo heroes. When I came back in 2000 upon the insistence of my wife, I realised that after staying away for so long, a whole generation had forgotten me.</p> <p><b>Q\ Many actors from your generation, like Govinda, have spoken about not being able to find work today. Has it been easy for you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ Govinda is a superstar. People would be happy to cast him. But is he ready to do the work that he is being offered? As for me, I decided to go after character roles. Somewhere in my heart, I knew there was no space for me as a second hero. My career started with people like Shakti Kapoor, Gulshan Grover and Kader Khan. These people would do great comedies as well as strong negative roles. They have always inspired me and now I am getting a chance to do what they did.</p> <p><b>Q\ Your daughter Ananya is often trolled when the question of nepotism comes up.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ I know her name keeps coming up. But as a parent I keep telling her, ‘You know how you got the film. As far as you know what you have done, these things should not affect you’. When she was young, I thought that she would become a doctor as both my parents were doctors, but she chose to be an actor. I am happy that she has been accepted.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/20/staying-evergreen.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/20/staying-evergreen.html Fri Aug 21 11:24:55 IST 2020 creativity-in-uniform <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/13/creativity-in-uniform.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/2020/8/13/abhishek-singh-ias.jpg" /> <p>IAS officer Abhishek Singh blazed into internet stardom recently with the release of a music video which has so far garnered over 50 million views. Morphing from an officer of a service often perceived as stuffy and dull to someone who is being described as “too hot”, “superfantabulous” and “phenomenal” has been quite a ride. In the video of the song ‘Dil Tod Ke’ (after breaking my heart), Singh plays a jilted lover riding resolutely to his ex-girlfriend’s engagement with a gun tucked into the waist band of his jeans. While the role has been criticised by some for its underlying misogyny, Singh disagrees.</p> <p>“The concept is dramatic but the idea is to leave a positive message that one should not ruin one’s life over such an incident,” he says. For the song, he drew from his own experience of being dumped by a woman and then throwing himself into preparing for the civil services exam which he cleared in 2011. Singh’s initiation into acting, however, happened earlier this year in a short film, the psychological thriller <i>Chaar Pandrah.</i> But the first offer he got was to play an IAS officer in the soon-to-be-released season two of the Netflix drama, <i>Delhi Crime.</i></p> <p>Singh might be the most recent, but is not the only member of the civil services to display talent beyond the confines of the job. Aparna Kumar, a member of the Indian Police Services since 2002, is the only officer to have scaled the South Pole and completed the ‘Seven Summit Challenge’—which entails climbing the highest summits in the seven continents. Hailing from Karnataka, Kumar had never seen a snow-capped peak till she landed at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration for her foundation training course.</p> <p>“I was mesmerised,” she says of her first sighting in Mussoorie. Then policing duties took over. The call of the mountains renewed itself during a posting with the 9th battalion of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) in Moradabad, a unit with a glorious tradition of mountaineering. Kumar found herself being regaled by old timers’ tales. In 2013, she enrolled herself in a basic mountaineering course and then did an advanced course some months later.</p> <p>In August 2014, Kumar scaled the first summit in the challenge— Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Two years later, she summited Mount Everest from the northern face, inspired by her hero, George Herbert Leigh Mallory. Her next goal is to ski to the North Pole.</p> <p>The mountains taught Kumar that life does not revolve around humans alone and that every adversity can be tackled by reminding oneself of how far one has come. The most important lesson, though, has been to embrace the need to pay attention to oneself. “In my initial climbs, I would be bogged down by the physical challenges of being a woman. But I learnt to take care of myself. I learnt that it was only in being happy that I could keep others happy,” she says.</p> <p>Sujoy Banerjee, a member of the Indian Forest Services (1997), displays equal adroitness as a photographer and singer—hobbies through which he often propagates messages about the environment and wildlife. His photographs have featured in <i>BBC Wildlife, National Geographic</i> and <i>Sanctuary Asia</i>, besides on calendars and posters. Banerjee has also created a montage of videos and photos of the largely unsung work of those who guard our forests and wildlife.</p> <p>He started taking pictures (and singing) while in college and taught himself the technical skills through constant reading. Yet, over the years, his definition of good nature/conservation photography has remained unchanged. “It is one without people—not one where people stand in the foreground and nature is relegated to the background. I edit minimally as there is a thin line between a real picture and an artificial one,” he says. Photography has brought him patience and a love for solitude.</p> <p>Banerjee’s musical performances moved from college festivals to bigger ones, cable networks and Doordarshan. He was also featured in the music magazine, <i>Rock Street Journal. </i>He sings in Hindi, English and Bangla, often playing a guitar, harmonica and bass drum strapped to his leg all at the same time. “To me, both music and photography create awareness,” he says. “I regret, though, that neither helps me capture the characteristic sounds and smells of the forest.”</p> <p>Devajyoti Ray (IPS, 1999), though a self-confessed “slow, not serious painter”, has had his work included in prominent exhibitions such as the All India Fine Arts Fair (Kolkata, 2005) and the Windsor Art Fair (London, 2015). He has had solo shows at the Jehangir Art Gallery (Mumbai, 2008) and the Nehru Centre (Mumbai, 2012). Ray is self-taught and learnt by observing artists at the Academy of Fine Arts, Kolkata. He describes his style of using striking colours and bold images as ‘pseudorealism’.</p> <p>“Pseudorealism is based on the idea that what we perceive as reality is often a projection of our own thoughts and deep-seated beliefs rather than facts,” he says. “In pseudorealistic artworks, we don’t see reality as in nature, but a constructed image in an unreal colour scheme and yet the image has the appeal of realism.” As an artist, Ray loathes disclosing his professional credentials. “What fun is it then?” he asks, about the reaction his work draws.</p> <p>The newly famous Singh, meanwhile, believes that a fuller display of the artistic inclinations of those in the services could help humanise them. He is working towards a talent hunt called ‘World of Vardi’ (uniform) that can serve as a platform for exhibiting such skills. “This will help people in understanding the lives and challenges of those in the positions of head constables and below,” he says. Meanwhile, the music continues to play for him.&nbsp;</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/13/creativity-in-uniform.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/13/creativity-in-uniform.html Thu Aug 13 17:54:19 IST 2020 skys-the-limit <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/13/skys-the-limit.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/2020/8/13/gunjan-saxena-jahnvi-kapoor.jpg" /> <p>In 1994, during an outbreak of bubonic and pneumonic plague in western and southern India, when the film <i>Hum Aapke Hain Koun</i> was all the rage among cinephiles, a teenager from Uttar Pradesh was nurturing an unlikely dream—to become a pilot. Gunjan Saxena could not remember having any other dream since childhood. Fortunately, her father, an army man, never clipped her wings. After graduating from Hansraj College in Delhi, she joined the Delhi Flying Club at Safdarjung, when the Indian Air Force had just started inducting women pilots into its ranks. “It was destiny,” says Saxena, 45, about her joining the Air Force in 1995. “One, because defence felt like a familiar environment, with my father being an army officer, and second, because no one can take away the glamour and glory of a defence uniform.”</p> <p>The highlight of her Air Force career, which lasted till 2004, was her participation in the Kargil War in 1999. Saxena, the first woman pilot in the Indian Air Force, was 24 years old then and would be later awarded the Shaurya Chakra for her service. “Being part of the war helped me evolve, not just as an individual, but also as a professional and as an aviator,” says the “Kargil Girl”, as she later came to be known.</p> <p>Her life has now inspired a movie, <i>Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl,</i> starring Janhvi Kapoor in the lead. Debutant director Sharan Sharma recalls how, when he first telephoned Saxena, she dismissed it as a prank call. “Gunjan ma’am is very modest and she thinks her journey is very normal,” he says. “Forget the film, anyone who has heard her story has reacted strongly because it is such an inspiring one. I am very lucky that no one has picked it up in so many years.” He stumbled upon Saxena’s story in a small newspaper article. “The fact that she was 24 at the time of the Kargil War and [participated as] a rescue pilot appealed to me,” he says. “I got interested in how her brother was also in the army during the war and her father had been an army officer.”</p> <p>Sharma, born and brought up in Mumbai, did not have much connect with the world of defence. As a first-time director, he was initially hesitant to explore such an unfamiliar terrain. But when he met Saxena, he discovered how the dynamics between her family members were so similar to his. It felt personal. Pankaj Tripathi plays Gunjan’s father Anuj. Tripathi’s character is such a pillar of support and strength to his daughter that many people thought it was “too filmy to be true”. Nevertheless, there was nothing false about it. “We may have taken cinematic liberty in retelling other things, but not the father-daughter relationship,” says Sharma.</p> <p>Ultimately, the film is not just an inspirational tale about a female pilot. It subtly raises questions of everyday misogyny and sexism that still exist when it comes to letting women pursue their dreams. Kapoor’s restrained performance conveys the message without making it too in-your-face.</p> <p>Contrary to the portrayal of Air Force pilots in the films Sharma had watched, he did not find Saxena to be too tough or aggressive when he met her in person. “The world never believed she could become an Air Force pilot,” says Sharma. “There is a lot of inner strength and confidence, but with a softened exterior and vulnerability. For us, it was important to find an unlikely hero—someone whom the world might doubt, but who could pull off the job and finish the task. That is the journey of the film as well. And Janhvi fit perfectly because she has that sense of vulnerability.”</p> <p>“When you meet Gunjan ma’am, it is hard for you not to fall in love with her—her simplicity, warmth and all of her great achievements,” says Kapoor who, besides understanding Saxena’s personality and relationships, had to go through the rigorous process of gaining five kilos for the role and then losing them. “It was important for me to understand the life of a pilot, what it was like being inside a chopper, the on-field experience…. All of that was immensely helpful.”</p> <p>“Janhvi and Sharan were really inquisitive, even after I often told them that so much was not required,” says Saxena, who was amazed at Kapoor’s desire to understand every aspect of her life during the training.</p> <p>Even with its strong storyline, the film has been mired in controversy, especially on social media, ever since the release of its trailer. Some pointed out that the salute of the Indian Air Force has been depicted wrongly in the film. But it was correct in 1999, when the story takes place, says Sharma. “It was on March 7, 2006, that the salute changed and became a 45-degree salute,” he says. “I did not know this either. It was Gunjan ma’am who told me all of this, and I feel lucky to have had her by my side throughout the filming.” According to him, researching the film was an ongoing process because it is a huge responsibility to tell a story centred on the country and its defence forces.&nbsp;</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/13/skys-the-limit.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/13/skys-the-limit.html Thu Aug 13 17:53:54 IST 2020 break-the-monotony <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/13/break-the-monotony.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/2020/8/13/yelagiri.jpg" /> <p>For those stuck at home for months, a change of environment is not only welcome, but also much required according to psychologists. Staycations and workcations (stay/work + vacation) seem to be the best travel solutions for 2020. (Even UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is on a two-week family staycation in Scotland!) Here are some destinations for that refreshing getaway you deserve</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Yelagiri</b></p> <p>This hill station located in the heart of Tamil Nadu is a visual treat with its cascading waterfalls, lake and green fields. Though generally a trekking hotspot, the breathtaking views from the hotels and the Punganoor Lake make for a pleasant weeklong stay.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Distance 150km from Bengaluru; 250km from Chennai; Key properties: Kumararraja Palace, Sterling Yelagiri</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Diamond Harbour</b></p> <p>The highlight of a trip to Diamond Harbour is said to be the soothing experience of sitting on the banks of the Hooghly, watching boats sail by. It was an important Portuguese trade port that was often troubled by frequent pirate raids. Now, it is one of Bengal’s most serene weekend getaways</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Distance 50km from Kolkata; Key properties: Ganga Kutir, The Ffort Raichak</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Kamshet</b></p> <p>An underrated destination for Mumbaikars. Its greenery and variety of birds help you escape the bustle of the city. There are numerous mud-and-thatch houses around that give it a quaint touch. The Vadivali Lake is surrounded by the scenic Western Ghats, setting the mood to kick back and relax.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Distance 100km from Mumbai; Key properties: Firdaus Baug, Le Farm</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lansdowne</b></p> <p>A charming town in Uttarakhand, filled with colonial-style buildings amid oak and pine forests. There is nothing much to see in Lansdowne. But what it does ensure is that one gets to nestle in the lap of nature, in a home far from home. A lake, a museum, cosy cafes and a great sunrise point complete the package.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Distance 250km from Delhi; Key properties: Blue Pine Resort, Lans Castle</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Araku Valley</b></p> <p>This valley in Andhra Pradesh has rich offerings of coffee plantations, forests and waterfalls amid misty hills. It is also the perfect location to take a drive on long, winding and picturesque roads. No trip to Araku is complete without trying out Bongulo chicken, the local delicacy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Distance 110km from Visakhapatnam; Key properties: Ananthagiri Haritha Hill Resort, Mountain View Resorts</i></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/13/break-the-monotony.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/13/break-the-monotony.html Tue Sep 08 20:41:03 IST 2020 coup-with-a-clone <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/13/coup-with-a-clone.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/2020/8/13/chingari.jpg" /> <p>Sumit Ghosh’s WhatsApp status—“hustling hard”—is an apt reminder of the push-and-shove game the 34-year-old entrepreneur has entered into. He has taken on the onerous task of attracting TikTok fans to his short-video app, Chingari. He wants to be the firecracker in the great void left behind by the banned TikTok.</p> <p>Local alternatives to the banned Chinese app are variously motivated. ShareChat’s Moj targets “talented local artistes”. Mitron faced the allegation that its source code came from Pakistan. The Art of Living’s Elyments suffered a cyber attack less than a day after its launch. Bolo Indya wants to host “knowledgeable” videos. Roposo, with more than 50 million downloads, started as a fashion social network, but became a video platform.</p> <p>Ghosh has no such spin to offer. He is as straightforward as it gets. “A TikTok user should feel at home at Chingari,” he says. “We provide them with everything they were doing on TikTok.”</p> <p>Ghosh developed his app in 2018, after his market research threw up Musical.ly (later acquired by Beijing-based ByteDance to become TikTok) as a fast-growing social media app. In November 2018, he launched Chingari, which he incubated at his software development company Globussoft Technologies in Bengaluru. For more than a year after its launch, Ghosh witnessed the rise of TikTok in India, while his own local version went into a limbo.</p> <p>Around June 10, with anti-China sentiment at a crescendo, Ghosh saw a gradual uptick in Chingari’s user base. Within the next six days, he earned 25 lakh users. The surge went on, followed by newspaper reports and then a game-changing thumbs-up by a corporate honcho. “I had not ever downloaded TikTok, but I have just downloaded Chingari. More power to you,” tweeted Mahindra Group chairman Anand Mahindra.</p> <p>“That tweet shot us into a whole new orbit,” says Ghosh. “The next day we had one million downloads. After TikTok was banned on June 28, everything skyrocketed. Now, I have 26 million users and 3 million daily visits.”</p> <p>In the first week of August, Chingari became a winner in the social mobile app category of the AatmaNirbhar Bharat App Innovation Challenge launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Buoyed by this approval, Ghosh is ready to embrace the deep-cash game that is cloning TikTok, and venture capitalists are lining up to fund his app.</p> <p>His many-splendoured plans to lure users include getting government officers to make videos, offering scratch card money for continuous scrolling, and crowning a national “Chingari star” with a cash prize of 01 crore following a two-month-long contest, with a Rs5 lakh cash prize for each state winners. “I want everyone in the streets to start talking about Chingari,” he says.&nbsp;</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/13/coup-with-a-clone.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/13/coup-with-a-clone.html Thu Aug 13 14:35:00 IST 2020 shortwave-link <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/13/shortwave-link.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/2020/8/13/bindi-china-radio.jpg" /> <p>At 6:30pm every Saturday, the signature tune of China Radio International (CRI) wafts into Rajesh Mehara’s two-bedroom house in Rajasthan’s Jhalawar district. Sometimes the voice of Neelam, often Chandrima, Anjali or Bindi float through the airwaves, straight from Beijing, with CRI's live Hindi broadcast. Mehara has been listening to CRI for 20 years.</p> <p>Gushing about the "Chinese-type Hindi" of radio jockeys from the state-run international broadcaster, the 35-year-old Mehara imitates their sedate but sonorous&nbsp;All India Radio-like “<i>aapkifarmaish</i>&nbsp;(Make a request)” lines. On May 20, CRI played a song he had requested on email—Hum Toh Chaley Pardes from&nbsp;<i>Sargam</i>&nbsp;(1979).&nbsp;“Sometimes I send letters with song requests,” says Mehara, a nurse. “I like it when they read out my name and address, before announcing my song request. Their Mandarin-style Hindi is a delight to my ears.” A father of two, Mehara says that his whole family loves radio programmes.</p> <p>The CRI Hindi broadcasts a one-hour programme daily. The music programme that Mehara listens to has a 20-minute slot on Saturday.&nbsp;Although Mehara listens to many radio stations, he&nbsp;has a special liking&nbsp;for the Chinese shortwave stations.&nbsp;After the monsoon set in, he got&nbsp;CRI to play Tip Tip Barsa Paani from&nbsp;<i>Mohra</i>&nbsp;(1994) last month.&nbsp;The station also read out the name of his village, Bakani Khurd.</p> <p>The India-China border stand-off has not affected CRI's weekly broadcast. “Perhaps, they may have lost listeners now,” says Mehara. “But their shows are not much different.” Mehara knows 10 others from his village who are regular listeners of CRI. They&nbsp;tune in mainly for songs and cultural programmes. “I do not listen to Chinese music. I only want Hindi songs. Their collection of Hindi songs is quite impressive,” he says, dismissing any talk of anti-India propaganda in CRI's&nbsp;programming.</p> <p>Just like other international broadcasters like Voice of America,&nbsp;NHK World-Japan and&nbsp;ABC Radio Australia,&nbsp;CRI is also a soft power initiative. Founded on December 3, 1941, it began its Hindi service in 1959. It currently offers its services in 63 languages, including Tamil, Hindi, Bengali and Urdu. Back in 2013, CRI's Tamil service launched its first FM station in India as part of its 50th anniversary.&nbsp;CRI is the only Chinese state-owned station aimed at an international audience, though there are reports of Chinese stations being used for propaganda in border areas.&nbsp;</p> <p>Mehara’s listening choices are reaffirmed by&nbsp;CRI broadcaster Yang Yifeng, aka Bindi. “We have segments on Chinese society, economic progress and a special segment on Tibet,” she says. “We do not play too many Chinese songs; there is no demand for it. We play mostly Indian songs.&nbsp;There is a 10-minute segment to teach Mandarin. That’s what Indian listeners prefer.”</p> <p>Bindi has been working in the CRI’s Hindi service department since 1993. She studied Hindi at Peking University, followed by a year's stint at the Delhi University. She was in Chennai in October 2019 when China’s President Xi Jinping&nbsp;met Prime Minister Narendra Modi there. Her voice is clear, calm and comforting; little wonder why the station gets hand-written letters from remote corners of India. Most of the letters, she says, come from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal.</p> <p>She says that the number of radio listeners has dropped in the last few years. “Indians can only listen to our programmes via short wave radio. Besides, new media and the internet has led to a decline in our listener base,”says Bindi, who also produces videos and live shows for CRI's social media pages. Fond of Tagore poems in Mandarin, she almost sounds like a pacifist. “Our listeners tell us they want peace; they do not want a war [between India and China],” she says. “Because, these days the world is such that only with mutual cooperation can we move forward. It is a global village; be it an outbreak or any other issue. Same goes for economic relations.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Lias Jiyong is a correspondent for China Media Group, which owns CRI. He has been in Delhi for four years now. He learnt Hindi in China and goes by the name Ramesh in India. Lias says CRI gets song requests from distant villages like&nbsp;Mirpur Juara&nbsp;in Chapra, Bihar. “We now want to focus more on positive news between the two countries,”he says, adding that hand-written letters from Indian listeners have dried up during the Covid-19 pandemic.&nbsp;</p> <p>Lias says he is at home in India. “I have gone back home only once (in four years)—for a month,” he says. “I do not miss home much. My security guards, neighbours and houseowners all have been good to me. They are normal people. For them 'boycott China' only exists at the government level."</p> <p>Rabi Sankar Basu, 52, from West Bengal first stumbled onto CRI in 1985. Back then, it was known as Radio Beijing. Basu was trying to tune in to an All India Radio play in Bengali, when he caught a mellifluous voice signing off in stilted Hindi. Since then, he has been an ardent fan of CRI. In 1999, Basu started a Sino-India friendship club named New Horizon Radio Listeners' Club, which has 62 members.</p> <p>Interestingly, Basu does not want CRI to play Hindi songs. He has shot off angry letters to them on the issue. “Why are you listening to CRI? To learn about Chinese culture, right? You can listen to enough Hindi songs on Indian radio channels,”says Basu. “This has been happening for two to three years. It is just not right.”&nbsp;</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/13/shortwave-link.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/13/shortwave-link.html Thu Aug 13 17:53:25 IST 2020 hungry-for-more <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/13/hungry-for-more.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/2020/8/13/radhika-apte-new.jpg" /> <p>Radhika Apte was keeping herself busy before the lockdown with an adaptation of Gregory David Roberts’s <i>Shantaram</i> for Apple TV, a science fiction series tentatively titled <i>OK Computer</i> for Disney+Hotstar, and casting director Honey Trehan’s directorial debut, <i>Raat Akeli Hai,</i> that recently released on Netflix. Here, she talks about acting for different platforms, making the short film, <i>The Sleepwalkers</i>, and why she still is not satisfied as an actor.</p> <p><b>Q\ You seemed to have agreed to do the film without reading the script. Does that usually happen?</b></p> <p>A<b>\ </b>There are times when I strictly need to see the script and there are times when I don’t. [The latter] usually happens when I have a good working relationship with the people [behind a film] and I know that we are on the same wavelength. Otherwise, there are a lot of reasons why you do a project. Sometimes the script really excites you and the part is great, or you want to work with the actors or the director. [There are times] when you want to work with a production house. Sometimes, you need the commercial viability, or the money is good, or they are shooting in a fancy place and you just want to go there (laughs).</p> <p><b>Q\Over the last few years, you have been a part of films and shows in different formats, platforms and even languages. Has that been enjoyable?</b></p> <p>A<b>\</b>The platform does not really matter as an actor as the process remains the same. But it is funny that people say that I have chosen a variety of roles and blah blah blah. Of course those roles are great, but I just do not feel that way. In 2018, everyone said ‘it is your year’, with seven projects [of mine] that released. But you know it was just so little. I had a small part in <i>Sacred Games</i>. It was the same with <i>Lust Stories</i>; there were just three days of shoot. I want to go to shoots and be challenged every single day. I do not think it is still satisfying at the moment.</p> <p><b>Q\You wrote and directed the short film, The Sleepwalkers, recently.</b></p> <p>A<b>\</b>Truth be told, it is just a short film. Let us not talk about it as if I have made my debut directorial. But having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed working on it. It was extremely stressful because someone is putting money into it and you have to make sure that you are not making a crap film. [Still], everything was new and it felt so creatively satisfying. I would like to do it again.&nbsp;</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/13/hungry-for-more.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/13/hungry-for-more.html Thu Aug 13 14:20:41 IST 2020 madame-spunk <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/06/madame-spunk.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/2020/8/6/63-Kiran-Gandhi.jpg" /> <p>At the age of four, Kiran Gandhi remembers watching the Disney movie Aladdin (1992) and wondering why the impoverished Aladdin was the one on the magic carpet, saving everyone and living the best life. What about Jasmine? She was the princess who had everything going for her. Why was the focus not on her story? “Problematically, we always tell boys’ stories with three-dimensionality,” she says. “We tell girls’ stories in a very limited way where she either has to be saved, or is secondary to the main character. We never learn holistically about her journey.” Even as a child, Gandhi—an Indian-American electronic music producer, drummer, artist and activist now popular as Madame Gandhi—understood that it was a major problem in society.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It was early on that my passion for gender [parity] started,” she says. This awareness developed with her growing interest in music. When she watched videos of songs she liked, she would feel upset about the sexualising of women in them. She wondered why men were not objectified in these videos. “I don’t have a problem with male fantasy, but I do have a problem with the fact that the majority of what we see is normalised misogyny,” she says. “And there is nothing to balance that. That is why in my music, I am constantly trying to combat these norms and re-depict the world I wish we lived in.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She is speaking from her mother’s house in New York, close on the heels of the release of her latest music video—Waiting For Me. The video, shot in India in February, encapsulates everything that Gandhi talks about in the interview and as a TED speaker. It is directed by Misha Ghose and produced by Aastha Singh with Chalk and Cheese Films. The video features 10 women who act out their journeys of gender and bias.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I knew that I wanted a female-led team,” says Gandhi, who has toured as the drummer for M.I.A and Thievery Corporation, and with Oprah Winfrey on her 2020 Vision Tour. “I think it is really important that we are telling our own stories. Otherwise, these jobs in production typically go to men…. It is not about reverse sexism. It is just about actively [countering] the inherent biases that exist in creative [and other] industries.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 10 girls, in dull grey school uniforms, robotically traipse through a building under construction. The tedium in the frame is broken by a spurt of florescent green ribbons and socks, symbolising the women’s closeted desires.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gandhi studied at St Anne’s High School in Colaba, Mumbai, for three years from 1997 to 2000. “I actually loved my experience [there], dancing to different Bollywood songs,” she says. “Even then, I used to write so much poetry and take acting classes. I had a good time.” But she did feel limited by the rote learning and the lack of scope for imagination. In the music video, she celebrates the aspects of Indian culture that she truly loved, but also criticises the ones that she thinks are conformist. “Honestly, it is the culture of conformity around the world that I think is problematic,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After graduating in mathematics and gender studies from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., she pursued an MBA from Harvard Business School. Of course, that taught her the basics of business and empowered her as an individual, but what it did the most was to help her question what she wanted. “That, honestly, we as women are not programmed to do,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The course also showed her how powerful patriarchy was, how we revere businessmen, and how we idolise the loudest voice in the room, instead of the most thoughtful one. It showed her how much work there was to do, the many problems there were, “and how I have felt unseen at times in those places when I would rather have preferred to feel like the voice that was most critically aware”. These feelings often reflect in her music. If Top Knot Turn Up aggressively attacks misogyny and the rules imposed on girls, See Me Thru is focused on queer femme.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Born to entrepreneur Vikram Gandhi and Meera Gandhi, the founder and CEO of The Giving Back Foundation, she is acutely aware of her privilege. In 2015, she famously ran the London Marathon without using a tampon or a sanitary napkin on the first day of her period to combat period stigma around the world. It sparked a global conversation about how we treat menstruation in various cultures.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I think each of us has some degree of privilege, no matter who we are or where we are from,” she says. “Now, we have to acknowledge that privilege and include it to bring about social change. In my mind, I was in a privileged position and that is why I ran to combat global menstrual stigma. I knew that if I crossed the finish line, I would just do some laundry and be able to comment on global issues, whereas if I were in a more vulnerable position with less privilege, I might have got into life-threatening trouble for doing what I did.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For a year after the free-bleeding run, she spoke about the notions around menstruation on various global platforms. “That is the reason we must be brave enough to acknowledge our privilege and do something with it,” says Gandhi. She says she will always focus on gender liberation “because that is my passion and that is where I feel my mission lies”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gandhi, who started out as a digital analyst with the record label Interscope Records, branched out into music and various other things later on. But after being a drummer her whole life, she found a stronger foothold in music with her EP, Voices, in 2016, followed by Visions last year. The last part of the trilogy, Vibrations, is now on the anvil. “I will always use my music and my public speaking as part of my mission to celebrate gender liberation,” she says. “Even if I show up for other causes, it is through the lens of gender.” She has been vociferously supporting the Black Lives Matter campaign “especially because it is a female-led movement and it is a queer female-led movement”.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/06/madame-spunk.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/06/madame-spunk.html Thu Aug 06 18:51:48 IST 2020 i-see-challenges-as-creative-opportunities <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/06/i-see-challenges-as-creative-opportunities.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/2020/8/6/66-Shubigi-Rao.jpg" /> <p>In Our Veins Flow Ink and Fire. That is the title of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale’s fifth edition. Its curator, Shubigi Rao, says in her curatorial note: “There is optimism even in the darkest absurdity, and this is what leavens the direness of our time.” When KMB 2020 released its first list of artists on July 21, it was indeed a breath of fresh air amid the gloom of the pandemic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, the shadow of Covid-19 still hangs over KMB 2020, scheduled to run from December 12 to April 10, 2021. Rao, a Singapore-based artist and writer, says that while the pandemic is a big challenge, it is also an opportunity for people to work collectively with common cause. The Mumbai-born polymath talks to THE WEEK about her plans for KMB 2020. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ The KMB is known as the people’s biennale. But with Covid-19 showing no signs of abating, would it not be challenging to welcome huge crowds?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF) is in touch with the government of Kerala to devise strategies for safety and precaution and are following the health ministry’s protocols. Since our venues are large, it is possible to regulate movement and also maintain social distancing comfortably. KBF is currently working towards determining these measures. We are also in touch with other international and regional biennales and institutions to learn from one another and navigate these times collectively.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ What are the key concerns of artists? Especially in the light of global travel restrictions. Artists may need at least three to four months to finalise site-based installations.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We have been in touch with artists since last year and almost all the works were finalised well in advance. Over the last three months, my team and I have been in constant touch with the artists, figuring out solutions to halted production and lack of access to sites. In many ways, this has been an opportunity for (many) artists to rethink their approaches, methods, and the reliance on conventional resource-intensive processes. This is also a time to think creatively and share resources—a number of artists are producing their works on-site, while they continue to speak and work with local skills and techniques.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ The last edition had 90 works and other parallel projects. Is there a plan to bring down the number of works this time? Last edition’s curator, Anita Dube, had to travel extensively to select the artists. Considering the unavailability of international flights, how are you managing?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We will be bringing together over 80 artists and collectives for this edition. I was able to travel extensively and complete my curatorial research before the lockdowns came into effect. In these journeys since June 2019, I was able to find tremendous diversity in works that were regional but also so familiar to the times and contexts we come from.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As I have maintained, in speaking to and working with overlooked artists and collectives, my conviction remains that the KMB is a well-suited structure to hold these practices, ideas, and conversations from the majority world. My time in Latin America, in Sápmi (the Sami lands in Northern Europe), southeast and east Asia and in Africa has immensely influenced my curatorial work for KMB 2020.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ How far can technological solutions be useful in this scenario? What is the new normal that you are expecting?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Technology is already embedded in our lives and some parts of the biennale will naturally be present online in terms of works as well as programming. But this is not an alternative or a replacement for a physical exhibition. Not all works translate well online and in the past few months we have also seen digital fatigue set in. I do not know what the new normal looks like yet. The pandemic is still an evolving situation and will take some more time for all of us to work collectively and create new and safe modes of navigating social spaces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ Personally, would you call this experience of curating a biennale in the time of a pandemic a great challenge. What are your key learnings from it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The current global pandemic is a big challenge but there are always challenges to exhibition-making, especially one on the scale of KMB. I do believe that the creative act—of thinking through problems, circumventing obstacles, and working with people collectively, inventively—dismantles challenges. As an artist, I am driven by many things—the need to situate myself in this world (historically and in my current reality), my responsibilities to not just our species but to the planet, and to recognise that artistic and literary practices have the potential to strengthen existing communities and to generate new thought and action. These imperatives continue to be present in my curatorial work for KMB, and this work will, in turn, inform my praxis. Quite a few artists manage and perform multiple forms of artistic labour and production, and are often continuously reflecting and rethinking. I have to say that I see challenges as creative opportunities, and a chance for people to work collectively with common cause.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/06/i-see-challenges-as-creative-opportunities.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/06/i-see-challenges-as-creative-opportunities.html Thu Aug 06 18:35:16 IST 2020 suited-to-stardom <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/06/suited-to-stardom.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/2020/8/6/69-Ishaan-Khatter-and-Tabu.jpg" /> <p>When Mira Nair came to Mumbai last year for the shoot of A Suitable Boy, there were two things she was looking forward to—guava ice cream with chilli powder and Ishaan Khatter’s acting. The young actor, who was selected to play Maan Kapoor in the six-part BBC miniseries, jumped in joy when he heard that. It was one of the biggest compliments he would get as an actor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Vikram Seth’s eponymous novel, if a character could be described as unsuitable, yet fascinating, it has to be Maan. The novel, set in the 1950s, revolves around the hunt for a suitable boy for college-going Lata. But it also captures the essence of newly independent India and the burgeoning hate for Islam in pockets. In the midst of all this, Maan—the younger son of India’s revenue minister Mahesh Kapoor and brother-in-law of Lata’s elder sister Savita—is full of dichotomies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His friendship with Firoze, and his fascination and later romance with a Muslim courtesan—Saeeda Bai (played by Tabu in the show)—almost double his age marks him as unconventional. But, “it is just so true and honest”, says Ishaan, who was thrilled to be cast opposite Tabu. “Mira di has given me an opportunity to play this kaleidoscopic character,” says Ishaan over the phone. “Certain times you are attracted to a character for a certain quality. Maan was an all-encompassing character, with many elements and dimensions. That makes him the most unpredictable character for me. He is functioning on his own rhythm. He is the non-conformist of his family. His flaws make him interesting.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But there were certain things about Maan that took him completely by surprise. “I come from a family of artists, politics is the farthest from my reach,” he says. “My childhood has been full of cultural arts, literature, films and music. To play the son of a minister and to understand that background was important, but what fascinated me the most was that he is not as much a result of his background as he is of his own individuality and curiosity. His actions directly affect everyone around him, but he does them because he has to follow his truth.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Son of actors Neelima Azeem and Rajesh Khatter, and half-brother of Shahid Kapoor, Ishaan made his acting debut in 2018 with Majid Majidi’s Beyond The Clouds; he played a drug-peddler from an impoverished background. He considers Majidi a father figure, “a spiritual saint who taught me so much and set me on a journey for which I will always be indebted to him”. His second film, Dhadak (2018), was the Hindi remake of Marathi film Sairat. Though it was panned by critics, Dhadak did steady business.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ishaan’s background in syncretism (combination of different forms of belief or practice) often plays a role in him seeing a character’s innate characteristics through a finer lens. “Maybe that is why I was able to see certain elements in Maan,” he says. “That is, of course, the result of the upbringing that I have had and the life that I have lived. I have been able to see so many shades and so many sides of life, and have had varied influences from a rather young age. That directly contributes to the actor that I am.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Alongside A Suitable Boy, which is scheduled to stream soon on Netflix in India, he was also shooting for Khaali Peeli, a romantic drama directed by Maqbool Khan. It is an out-and-out Bollywood affair that would see him as a typical Hindi film hero.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Juggling an international career along with mainstream Hindi films could overwhelm many. But Ishaan says it is no big deal. “My job is the same, to act,” he says. “I have been lucky enough to have these opportunities where people can see me on different platforms. I think it is because of the diversity of my first two films that people can imagine me in different roles. I am grateful for it.” The challenge in managing the two different worlds, however, was more practical, he says, like juggling the shooting schedules of the two projects and achieving the look for the different characters in a short span of time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is looking forward to Khaali Peeli; its shoot was stalled because of the pandemic. He also has another project to look forward to, a horror comedy—Phone Bhoot—co-starring Siddhant Chaturvedi and Katrina Kaif. The film’s announcement came at a time when nepotism was being widely discussed on social media. Ishaan had to bear the consequences. “I think we are living in unprecedented times that is leading to a hostile climate, at least on social media,” he says. “Social media has become largely toxic; kind of a weird place, going against what it could have done [positively] for society and the world. But I think, for me personally, being a part of the film industry has only helped me grow.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, one thing that Ishaan is certain about is that to be an actor, empathy is important and the world, he feels, is functioning in a way which is opposite to that. That pains him, but he is trying to understand life, one day at a time.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/06/suited-to-stardom.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/06/suited-to-stardom.html Fri Aug 07 10:35:31 IST 2020 straddling-two-worlds <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/06/straddling-two-worlds.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/2020/8/6/72-Aasif-Mandvi.jpg" /> <p>Just two days before the lockdown began in New York, actor Aasif Mandvi and his wife had a baby. While the tiny tot is keeping them on their toes, Mandvi, who was The Daily Show correspondent, is excited about the Indian audience watching his latest show, Evil, that is currently airing on Zee Café. Born in Mumbai, he spent his growing up years in England, before moving to the US to pursue writing and acting. Excerpts:</p> <p><b>Q/ The concept of Evil is interesting.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Yeah, it is an interesting show. It is a show about three characters investigating paranormal activity. But it starts this conversation between science and religion, whether there is a demon or possession or something just scientifically explainable. The script was remarkable. I am also a big fan of Robert and Michelle King and their work. So, I was really excited to work with them….</p> <p><b>Q/ You have often spoken about the biases in Hollywood. How has it evolved in your almost three-decade-long career?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The industry has evolved. And I am glad. When I first started out, there were not a lot of roles for South Asian or brown actors…. Now, we see stories being told from much more divergent points of view…. It starts in the writer’s rooms and the people who are making decisions about what gets aired. As we see more diversity in those rooms, we start to see more diversity on screen…. We are also seeing it from purely the business side of it—that there is an economic and financial incentive, that now we are speaking to a global audience, not just an American audience, and that, I think, is continuing to change the types of stories that are being told.</p> <p><b>Q/ In No Man’s Land (2014), you wrote about immigration. How have things changed since then?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The story of immigrants continues to be a divisive and a hot button issue, especially here in America, especially within this administration…. This idea of the more progressive the world becomes, the more we move towards inclusivity and diversity–[but] the more tribal it becomes as well. So there is like a yin and yang reaction, where you see this movement towards progressivism and inclusivity, and then the reaction to that are tribalism and nationalism and this fear of the other. That is a dangerous and scary thing. As Hamilton said in Hamilton, you know, immigrants get the job done. It is true for anywhere in the world. When you have people who come from somewhere in order to make a life, they contribute far more than they take away from that society. I think somewhere in the conversation, especially here in America, that has gotten lost.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/06/straddling-two-worlds.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/08/06/straddling-two-worlds.html Fri Aug 07 10:31:37 IST 2020 a-complex-equation <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/30/a-complex-equation.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/2020/7/30/vidya-balan.jpg" /> <p>Unlike everyone around her who has memories of meeting mathematician Shakuntala Devi when she visited their school or at one of her talks, filmmaker Anu Menon does not have any such recollection. An engineering graduate, Menon had not even read any of her books. But knowledge about Devi, she says, is like one of those old Hindi songs “that you just know”. After directing the critically acclaimed <i>Waiting</i> (2015) and co-directing the first season of <i>Four More Shots Please!</i> (2019), Menon was looking for the story of a woman in maths “because we rarely tell such stories”. The first name that came up was that of Devi. The fact that the mathematician’s daughter, Anupama Banerji, lived in London, where Menon is based, helped. The film <i>Shakuntala Devi</i> premieres on Amazon Prime Video on July 31.</p> <p>Devi, a math wizard known as the “human computer”, simplified complex mathematical equations for countless students. Her name was included in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1982 for multiplying two 13-digit numbers in just 28 seconds. In the 1970s, Devi’s husband, Paritosh Banerji, an IAS officer, came out as gay. It inspired her to write a book on homosexuality called <i>The World of Homosexuals</i>—an empathetic “inquiry into the lives of a minority of her fellow humans who have lived half-hiding throughout their lives”.</p> <p>“We had so much information that we had to figure out what was actually going into the film,” says Menon, who did interviews lasting several hours with Banerji. “We got an intimate peep into everything there was to [know about] Shakuntala Devi. We matched [our research] with what Anupama provided us—her memories, anecdotes, and a wealth of photographs.”</p> <p>During the three years of research into Devi’s life, Menon discovered her zany sense of humour and her zest for life. “When I started out, I did not know she was so gregarious and flamboyant,” says Menon. That is why she could think of no one better than Vidya Balan, who often displays a similar exuberance, to play Devi. “Vidya is equally funny and witty and we felt she could carry off the role really well,” says Menon. It was important for her to contact Balan during the early stages itself because she was not sure if the actor would consent to play the mother of a woman in her 20s. She sounded out Balan in early 2018, and the actor was instantly attracted to the role.</p> <p>“You have a sense that it was a life well lived,” says Balan, who, too, has a knack with numbers. “She had a wicked sense of humour and was like a complex equation.” The film covers Devi’s life from the age of five to 60-something. Actor Araina plays the young Devi and Balan takes over from the age of 20. It was important for Balan to understand the nuances of her character—where she was at each stage of her life, physically, mentally and emotionally. “When you go through so many stages of a character’s [life], it becomes very challenging and fulfilling,” she says. To prepare for the role, Balan listened to the taped interviews of Anupama and her husband by Menon and co-writer Nayanika Mahtani, interacted with Anupama to understand her mother and watched all the available videos on Devi.</p> <p>Interestingly, Balan had said in an earlier interaction that she did not know how to act in a biopic and “live the life of a real person” until <i>No One Killed Jessica</i> and <i>The Dirty Picture </i>happened in 2011. <i>The Dirty Picture</i>, inspired by the life of south Indian actor Silk Smitha, not only catapulted Balan into the hall of fame, but was also a watershed moment for women-centric cinema in India. The trick, says the actor, is to capture the essence of the person. You might not look like her, but you can adopt some of her mannerisms. And that is what she has tried doing with her portrayal of Devi. Balan’s multifaceted nature helped her inhabit the character. “After a point, I referred to Vidya as Shakuntala. They became one and the same for me,” says Menon.</p> <p>Balan’s journey of getting into the skin of the character was slow. “What I knew [initially] of Shakuntala Devi was that she was a human computer,” she says. “Slowly, I started discovering so many layers. At one point, I turned to Anu and asked, ‘Ok tell me, what has she not done?’” Balan says what attracted her was how Devi embraced her flaws and limitations as well as her gifts and her genius. “I think that is what makes her so inspiring,” she says. “That she did not think she was a saint. She thought, ‘<i>Main jaisi hoon</i> great <i>hoon’</i> (I am great as I am). She wanted to try everything and live every moment like it was her last. So, she wrote books, she was an astrologer, and at some point, she joined politics. She was travelling the world and meeting presidents and prime ministers of various nations.”</p> <p>One of the striking points in the trailer is when Anupama (played by Sanya Malhotra) accuses her mother of not being like other moms who are selfless and always at the beck and call of their children. Devi, on the other hand, balanced both motherhood and her career, refusing to give one up for the other. “Even if you are not able to personally identify with the character’s predicament, you can draw from what you have seen around,” says Balan. “I have seen this a lot with friends who are working moms, whose children expect them to be only mothers. I think the expectations from a mother are very unfair.”</p> <p>Although she is not a mother, Balan is no stranger to the complexities of being a wife and a working professional. “Even though I have come a long way, I still think there are times when I feel that maybe I should do some more,” says Balan. She deals with it by having open conversations with husband, film producer Siddharth Roy Kapur.</p> <p>Playing Devi might just be a defining moment in Balan’s career. The makers, on their part, have left no stone unturned to imbue her character with nuance and authenticity. “This film is not a puff piece, neither is it an ode to Shakuntala Devi,” says Menon. “We have gone into the darker spaces, ready to make it a bit real.”&nbsp;</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/30/a-complex-equation.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/30/a-complex-equation.html Thu Jul 30 15:36:12 IST 2020 the-taste-of-freedom <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/30/the-taste-of-freedom.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/2020/7/30/athira-vishnu.jpg" /> <p>In May this year, during the lockdown, searches for the frothy Dalgona coffee saw a 5,000 per cent spike on Google, as coffee aficionados tried their hand at whipping up the creamy two-toned coffee with its butterscotch-hued foam. Just when the popularity of the drink peaked on Google Trends, Madhavi, an unassuming homemaker, got over 21 lakh people hooked to her ingenious spin on the drink—a Dalgona coffee cake—on her YouTube channel, ‘Madhavi’s Kitchen’.</p> <p>For a growing breed of homemakers uploading recipes on YouTube daily, the kitchen has turned into a sanctuary, and they are enjoying unprecedented popularity. “I don’t think I have ever had as many viewers as during the lockdown. The viewership has more than doubled. As if people are just noticing their own kitchens and are relishing the joys of making their own food,” says Kabita Singh, 39, whose YouTube channel, ‘Kabita’s Kitchen’, has more than 80 lakh subscribers. With recipes that teach one how to rustle up instant jalebis and potato chips in less than 10 minutes, her average monthly viewership, which was close to two crore before the lockdown, has shot up to nearly seven crore in the past four months.</p> <p>In the last five years or so, these women—essentially stay-at-home mothers, many of whom have quit plush corporate jobs—have been cooking up a storm in their kitchens, even as their husbands play a supporting role. The lockdown further amplified their popularity on YouTube as the demand for home-cooked meals that are quick and easy to put together shot up. So did an interest in learning fun ways of experimenting with everyday ingredients.</p> <p>For many, like Vishakha Singh, 28, who has been consistently uploading “high on oil, but extremely satisfying non-vegetarian recipes” on YouTube since 2016, the recognition has brought a boost of self-confidence and a sense of identity. “It just made me feel so much more valued,” says Singh. “I can earn my own money by doing something that has been taken for granted [till now].”</p> <p>Her feelings are shared by Madhura Bachal, who has been at the forefront of popularising Maharashtrian recipes since 2014. Food, she says, has always been the centre of her universe. Whether it is the homemade Lamington chocolate cake, honey chilli potatoes or the immunity-boosting raw mango panna with a twist, a casual scroll down her YouTube feed leaves one in no doubt about the popularity of her recipes. “I had a secure banking job which I left to follow my passion in cooking,” she says. “Of course nobody believed in me back then, but as time passed and my popularity grew, those around me began taking me seriously and realised the power of the digital medium.”</p> <p>A typical day in the life of a home-based digital chef, especially since the start of the pandemic, stretches well into 14 to 15 hours of work daily, which involves preparing meals for the family and shooting at least two to three different videos. While in normal times, the creator has the help of an extended team comprising videographers, a video editor and social media managers, in the past four months, the digital chefs have been doing everything themselves. This includes chopping vegetables and preparing the ingredients, handling the DSLRs, editing, uploading and marketing. “But that has also been a self-revelation,” says Athira Vishnu, mother of a three-year-old, who has gained 800 plus followers since starting her YouTube channel last month. “I never thought I could be a pro at it,” she says. “It gives such a sense of achievement to be able to do what you want the way you want without having to depend on or face the condescension of anyone.”</p> <p>According to Chef Ajay Chopra, a former MasterChef India judge on the show’s first two seasons, the lockdown has shifted the focus from chef-centric and exotic restaurant fare to the joys of everyday cooking and home-based meals. “These women are so much more relatable in the way they come across and their essentially home-grown style of cooking,” he says. “Also, the fact that many of them are churning out fascinating stuff in regional cuisines like Assamese, Marathi and Kerala is phenomenal. They are very consistent with their videos—be it daily, weekly or fortnightly—and that is essential for YouTube to take them seriously as digital chefs.”</p> <p>Banker Manish Singh, Kabita’s husband and father of their two children, has taken to helping his wife by managing her brand endorsements and handling the finances. “It is she who conceptualises everything. I only play the support function,” he says. “On YouTube, popularity makes all the difference. Kabita gets a six digit income per month for uploading at least three videos a week. She has been able to hire a few employees and contribute to the family’s income.” Close to 90 lakh people viewed Kabita’s post on instant jalebis which, according to her, can be prepared in 10 minutes.</p> <p>“We have even made an e-booklet of my recipes to inspire users on WhatsApp during this time of staying indoors,” says Ruchi Bharani, an interior designer and chef with the digital platform Rajshri Food. Her tryst with cooking began after marriage when she lent her mother-in-law a hand in her kitchen, where the aroma of homemade Sindhi cuisine would linger for hours. Her recipe for dal fry, which she put up around eight years ago, was the first to get over a million views. “That time there were not as many YouTube chefs as now. So it was relatively easy to get popular,” she says.</p> <p>But for Vishakha and many others like her, their top-notch cooking videos that have helped them put their stuff out there have afforded true liberation. “I am a very shy person,” says Vishakha. “So, for someone like me, it has been exhilarating to be popular only for my work and not my looks.” </p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/30/the-taste-of-freedom.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/30/the-taste-of-freedom.html Thu Jul 30 15:04:33 IST 2020 spreading-cheer <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/30/spreading-cheer.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/2020/7/30/rasika-dugal.jpg" /> <p>When people’s moods started plummeting during the lockdown, Rasika Dugal and husband Mukul Chadda came up with the delightfully light-hearted short film, <i>Banana Bread</i>. But that is not all. Dugal has much more up her sleeve. There is Mira Nair’s <i>A Suitable Boy</i>, the comedy-drama <i>Lootcase</i> and the second season of <i>Delhi Crime</i>. In between, she has been dubbing for the second season of <i>Mirzapur</i>. She will soon begin work on <i>Lord Curzon Ki Haveli.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Were you scared about going out to dub for </b><i>Mirzapur 2?</i></p> <p>I was going out after a long time and hence had taken extra precautions, [almost to the point of] overdoing it. (Laughs) The good thing was that the producers were extra nice. I discussed the safety measures and the things that would make me comfortable.... I asked them to shift the dubbing to a studio closer to my house in case I wanted to use the loo and they did. It was strange to step out though. The streets looked so different.</p> <p><b>So many people are struggling for work and you have four projects back-to-back.</b></p> <p>I am so grateful. I have nothing to complain about, especially because I am getting to do such a variety of roles. Recently, we released a small clip of a song from <i>Lootcase</i>, where I am doing a little dance, something that I have not done earlier. <i>Lootcase’s</i> Lata is a blunt and straightforward person. [On the other hand], Savita in <i>A Suitable Boy</i> is a gentle, calm and loving person. It is lovely to play such diverse characters across formats.</p> <p><b>You wrote and acted i</b>n <i><b>Banana Bread</b></i> with Mukul.</p> <p>It was really a need to respond creatively to the very strange times that we are living in. And I consciously wanted to have a light-hearted take on it because we could all do with a little of that. Every day, there is something which is even more devastating, at an economic or a human rights level. In the coming months, we are going to feel the impact of all this severely. We really need something in such times to cheer us up. On a lighter note, it was a break from the constant housework. I had always been interested in being a part of something right from the ideation stage because as actors, you enter a project when the work is half done. So, you don’t have much agency. Mukul has written a few things previously, but for me this was exciting and thus <i>Banana Bread</i> happened.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/30/spreading-cheer.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/30/spreading-cheer.html Thu Jul 30 14:50:48 IST 2020 brothers-for-life <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/23/brothers-for-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/2020/7/23/69-Mukesh-Chhabra.jpg" /> <p>Casting director Mukesh Chhabra remembers discovering Sushant Singh Rajput, who stars in his directorial debut Dil Bechara, while scouting for Kai Po Che! (2013). “I spotted him,” he says proudly. Chhabra was looking for three young actors for the film when Shobha Sant, a movie marketer and talent consultant (currently head, content alliances, JIO Studios) introduced him to Rajput. After auditioning the television star along with Rajkummar Rao and Amit Sadh, he would get him one of the lead roles. “The audition tape is on YouTube. If you watch it, you will see how charming all three of them were. We would soon bond and become brothers for life,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And like a brother, Chhabra is extremely proud of Rajput’s journey. “He achieved so much,” he says. “Look at his television days, or his dancing, or his film career. He was flawless in everything. It is so sad to think that he is not around to continue that journey. It is so difficult for me to talk about him in the past tense.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Their close bond would take them on a journey that, according to Chhabra, has been very emotional but, at the same time, fulfilling and fun. In 2017, when Chhabra decided to direct a film, he shared the idea with Rajput. “He told me that whatever my first film was going to be, he would star in it,” recalls Chhabra. Perhaps that was Rajput’s way of thanking the casting director for giving him the break he needed to make a spectacular transition from television to films. It would take another year for Chhabra to finalise the film he wanted to direct. “In 2018, I got a call from Fox Star Studios to direct a film based on [John Green’s book made into a 2014 Hollywood movie], The Fault in Our Stars,” he says. “I had not read the book or watched the film. But as an idea, it seemed like something I could take up.” He agreed to do it and the result is Dil Bechara, a romantic drama about two cancer patients who fall in love. The film, starring Sanjana Sanghi alongside Rajput, releases on Disney+Hotstar on July 24. Its trailer has already crossed one crore likes on YouTube.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Chhabra called Rajput and told him about the script, the actor immediately agreed. “’Let’s do it,’ he said, no questions asked,” says Chhabra. The debutant director waxes eloquent about the trust that they shared. On May 27, Rajput had called Chhabra to wish him on his birthday. “He had a way of making you feel special,” says Chhabra. Later, they discussed the possibility of Dil Bechara premiering on a streaming platform instead of getting a theatrical release on May 8, as earlier planned. “He was happy with the idea,” says Chhabra. “We all understood how difficult the times were, and this seemed like the best way to take the film to the audience.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chhabra’s journey in Tinseltown is in itself a story of struggle. A trained actor from Shri Ram Centre for Peforming Arts in Delhi, he worked with the Theatre In Education Company, which is affiliated to the National School of Drama, for years before moving to Mumbai. He lived in penury for the first one-and-a-half years there. “It was [casting director] Honey Trehan who called me when I had no work and no money,” he says. “He took me on as an assistant casting director on Vishal Bhardwaj’s films The Blue Umbrella (2005) and Kaminey (2009), and gave me a salary that helped me survive. Otherwise, I would have had to return to Delhi.” He says that it is a happy coincidence that Trehan’s directorial debut, Raat Akeli Hai, is releasing on Netflix a week after his film.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chhabra’s big break came with the Ranjit Kapoor-directed Chintu Ji (2009), followed by illustrious films like Chillar Party (2011), Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) and Rockstar (2011). He still makes it a point to call Trehan occasionally to thank him for taking him on. Today, Chhabra owns a sprawling office in the suburbs of Mumbai and is one of the most prominent casting directors in the industry. He has a knack for discovering theatre actors from the nooks and crannies of the country. He was famously adamant about casting rookie Pankaj Tripathi as Sultan Qureshi in Gangs of Wasseypur, although director Anurag Kashyap wanted a more famous actor to play the part. He strongly recommended Rajkummar Rao for his national award-winning role in Shahid (2012).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Transitioning from a casting director to a director has not been easy. “Every first step is difficult,” he says. “When you are a casting director, you have a director above you to guide you and to give you directions. When you are a director, people are waiting for your validation and your go-ahead. It was difficult to get everyone on the same page. But the whole journey has been really interesting.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Having closely worked with almost all the celebrated directors of today, including Rajkumar Hirani, Anurag Kashyap and Imtiaz Ali, one would assume that he would have drawn from their styles of filmmaking in some way. But he says he was deliberately and consciously trying not to get influenced by anyone’s filmmaking styles. “I wanted to find my own voice instead,” he says. He does, however, admit that subconsciously he might have learnt something from these directors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To direct a film is a milestone in his career, but Chhabra says he will never give up casting. “That has made me who I am. I am never going to leave that for anything,” he says, adding how excited he is about his upcoming projects−Kabir Khan’s 83, Ayan Mukherjee’s Brahmastra and Advait Chandan’s Laal Singh Chaddha.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/23/brothers-for-life.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/23/brothers-for-life.html Fri Jul 24 10:38:57 IST 2020 it-raining-shows <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/23/it-raining-shows.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/2020/7/23/73-Namit-Das.jpg" /> <p>Namit Das has had back-to-back releases in the last few weeks. First, it was Aarya on Disney+Hotstar followed by Mafia on Zee5. He will soon be seen in the much anticipated miniseries A Suitable Boy. Born into a family of musicians, he says his journey in showbiz has been eventful.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have had quite a run, with Aarya, Mafia and now A Suitable Boy. Did you expect Aarya to be so successful?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Not at all. I was sure it was something special, but I did not expect it to become so big. It is a great feeling. Nothing can be greater than three projects happening one after the other. My character in Mafia, too, has been appreciated a lot. I am looking forward to A Suitable Boy, which will be on Netflix later this year. What could be better than being visible on all the [main] streaming platforms? I feel really grateful.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have been in the industry for a while now. Has the journey been challenging?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Challenges are challenges if we look at them as challenges. I look at it as a journey where I have learnt a lot. I have not seen it as a daunting task. It is a process. This whole argument about nepotism—yes, it does exist, but if I do not have a godfather in the industry, then I have to support myself. It is a crude reality. I only feel that one should have patience which, today, people don’t.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have had a long association with Mira Nair, having worked with her on the musical Monsoon Wedding and now, A Suitable Boy.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ My association with Mira Nair has deepened. She is just so delightful to work with and such a perceptive person. She is like a godmother to me. Four-and-a-half years ago, when we connected on the musical, I knew that it was going to be a lasting friendship. A Suitable Boy came as a gift from the universe. It is one of those really special projects. I play the character of the shoemaker, Haresh Khanna, in it. He is one of the suitors who is in the race to become a suitable boy for Lata. [The story] is similar to the novel, but Mira has added her own touch to it. That is what makes Haresh really special.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have also composed music for the show?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I am a small part of the music, having composed three tunes for it. Mira called me one day and told me that she wants to give me the chance to do these three tunes. She felt I was perfect for it because these are folk-based tunes. She loved [what I came up with]. In fact, one of them is written by my mom.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/23/it-raining-shows.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/23/it-raining-shows.html Fri Jul 24 10:38:03 IST 2020 the-presidential-puzzle <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/16/the-presidential-puzzle.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/2020/7/16/melania-trump.jpg" /> <p>Imagine that you have been invited to a state dinner with United States President Donald Trump. Not only that, the White House have put you next to first lady Melania Trump. “I have heard so many stories about people sitting next to her saying, ‘Oh my God, I thought I would get the scoop’, ” says&nbsp;Mary Jordan, author of <i>The Art of Her Deal: The Untold Story of Melania Trump</i>—the first close-up portrait of America’s confounding first lady.</p> <p>Traditionally, first ladies are fabulous hosts and raconteurs. Now here you are shoulder to shoulder with Melania, the daughter of a car mechanic/salesman and a factory worker, who grew up in a small town in Yugoslavia, who became a model, the third wife of a New York playboy and then the first lady. She must have some stories!</p> <p>Well, apparently, Melania can sit in perfect silence from the first sip of soup to the last draught of coffee. “There are some people, like the wife of [French] President Emmanuel Macron, she can chat with,” says Jordan. But usually it is a total nightmare. She is known as “a tough one to sit next to”. In this, as in so many other things, says Jordan, “she has broken the mould for expectations.”</p> <p>All of which tends to make her more interesting, if not at dinner.&nbsp;Jordan has wormed out extraordinary details, all very hard won. Before she interviewed Melania, in 2016, Trump insisted that he speak with her first. There is “a solidity” to Melania, he told Jordan. This seems right—the first lady can seem almost intransigent. At Trump’s Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, the president wanders about asking people if their club sandwich was any good, while Melania sits by the pool reading and no one dares to bother her, Jordan writes.</p> <p>But when Jordan interviewed her, she found her “absolutely delightful, normal to talk to”. She has also seen Melania more recently, at events. “I saw her backstage,” she says. “Then I saw her go on stage. It is like two different people.”</p> <p>The director of a televised Slovenian fashion show Jordan spoke with recalled seeing a young Melania winning a career-making trip to Milan. She seemed “either emotionless, or, may be, a little disappointed”, says Jordan. “You do not really see joy coming out of her face. I think that is another reason that people have said, ‘Oh, she is trapped’, [and] the hashtag #FreeMelania.”&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a famous story, told by the gossip reporter Michael Wolff, that Melania wept tears of despair on election night, as she saw her pleasant life in New York vapourised by her husband’s victory. Jordan does not believe it. “Nobody [that she talked to] has ever seen her cry.” Melania almost never betrays what she is thinking, says Jordan. “She is not showing her hand.”</p> <p>Just after Trump was installed in the White House, Melania disappeared for about three weeks. “We were used to having a first lady’s office that you would send a note in and say, ‘What city will she be in? When is the next public event?’” says Jordan, a long-time correspondent for <i>The Washington Post</i>. “It was just blank, blank, blank. Nothing.” This was when she got properly interested in the first lady, she adds.</p> <p>Jordan interviewed all the president’s men, more or less, for the biography, as well as everyone from Melania’s childhood friends to the maid who cleaned her bathroom of smudges of the tanning spray Melania apparently applies whenever she goes outside. “So many people would say, ‘The Trumps will kill me. I cannot talk’,” says Jordan. She once interviewed the boss of a drug cartel in a maximum-security prison in Mexico. That was a cakewalk in comparison. “This was just the hardest thing I have ever done,” she says.&nbsp;</p> <p>But Jordan had made some striking discoveries. At the start of the Trump presidency, Melania lingered at the Trump Tower, rebutting pleas from her husband’s advisers that he was so much calmer when she was around. She claimed that was an arrangement for her son, Barron Trump, to finish his school year in New York.</p> <p>Jordan says Melania was renegotiating their prenuptial agreement to give Barron a larger share in Trump’s estate, using her absence as leverage. She cites three sources who say the moment that Melania began to seem happier in public, with her husband, in mid-2018, corresponded with the conclusion of “a new and improved financial agreement”.</p> <p>Around the same time, amid outrage over the separation of migrant children from their parents at the southern border, Melania took a trip to see one of the camps where kids were interned. She wore a jacket from Zara with big white letters on the back that read, “I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?”</p> <p>“The fact that she put it on her back and wore it shows how weak the support around her is,” says Jordan. Melania had issued a statement condemning the Trump administration’s child separation policy; Jordan was told she got cross that her stepdaughter, Ivanka Trump, seemed to be trying to take credit for stopping it. Jordan was told that the jacket was partly a message to Ivanka.</p> <p>In the White House, Melania’s parents often stay. They also visit Trump’s New Jersey golf club, where they summer. When Trump threw away a red cap he often wore, Melania’s mother thought it might suit her husband, Viktor Knavs, unaware of an unwritten rule at the club that only Trump could wear a red cap on the grounds. Trump demanded that Viktor take it off.</p> <p>Trump and Melania have a “strange marriage”, according to the housekeeper. Jordan, however, thinks that in many ways the relationship is tight. Melania was the one who wanted Trump to get serious about a political run. Jordan says Trump picked Mike Pence as his vice-president on Melania’s recommendation, reasoning that the other candidates would be vying for Trump’s job.</p> <p>Often, when it looks as if she is “trolling” her husband, she is actually working with him, to help him change direction on something, says Jordan. “Just like when you see her looking unhappy, it is not always what it appears,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Art of Her Deal: The Untold Story of Melania Trump<br> </p> <p>By Mary Jordan</p> <p>Published by Simon &amp; Schuster</p> <p>Pages 352, Price Rs699</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/16/the-presidential-puzzle.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/16/the-presidential-puzzle.html Thu Jul 16 16:01:22 IST 2020 a-family-affair <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/16/a-family-affair.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/2020/7/16/amitabh-cachchan-corona.jpg" /> <p><b>It could have</b> been a celebratory weekend for the Bachchan family, with Abhishek Bachchan’s show <i>Breathe: Into the Shadows</i> debuting on Amazon Prime Video. Just a week before the show started streaming, Abhishek had completed 20 years as an actor. In a video interview with THE WEEK ahead of <i>Breathe</i>’s release, he had said that he was forever grateful to the audience for supporting his work. “That is a huge honour, which I take very seriously,” he said.</p> <p>He might have imbibed the idea of including his fans in his success from his father. Amitabh has often described his huge fan base as his “extended family”. Perhaps that is the reason why, when the news of his infection began doing the rounds on July 11, he informed his fans on social media that he had tested positive for Covid-19. “Shifted to Hospital... hospital informing authorities… family and staff undergone tests, results awaited... All that have been in close proximity to me in the last 10 days are requested to please get themselves tested,” he posted.</p> <p>An hour later, Abhishek, too, informed that he had tested positive. A day later, wife Aishwarya and daughter Aaradhya tested positive as well. As father and son get treated at the Nanavati Hospital in Mumbai, and Aishwarya and Aaradhya quarantine themselves at home, there has been a deluge of prayers from their fans. Almost the entire film industry, as well as ministers like Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav and Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope, wished the family a speedy recovery. Currently, the hospital has announced that they are in a stable condition.</p> <p>Pictures of <i>havans</i> and pujas, too, have emerged from places like the Hanuman temple in Kandivali West, Mumbai. “It shall not be possible for me to acknowledge and respond to all the prayers and wishes expressed by them that have shown concern towards Abhishek, Aishwarya, Aaradhya and me…. I put my hands together and say…. Thank you for your eternal love and affection,” Amitabh responded on social media.</p> <p>Both he and Abhishek have been busy with work in the past few months, even if remotely. Amitabh featured in one of the biggest and most talked-about films during this period, <i>Gulabo Sitabo</i>, which was the first film to be released on a streaming platform in the absence of a theatrical window. Though he did not give interviews, he kept himself busy with the film’s promotions, coming out with several videos and social media activities.</p> <p>Amitabh’s upcoming films include the sports film <i>Jhund</i>, directed by Nagraj Manjule, the much-awaited <i>Brahmastra</i> directed by Ayan Mukherjee and co-starring Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt, and the mystery thriller <i>Chehre</i> directed by Rumi Jaffery, which was to release on April 20 but got postponed. Abhishek has a line-up of three films that include <i>The Big Bull</i>, directed by Kookie Gulati, about the life of stockbroker Harshad Mehta, the anthology comedy film <i>Ludo</i> by Anurag Basu and the crime thriller <i>Bob Biswas</i> by Diya Annapurna Ghosh.</p> <p>Ad-man Piyush Pandey, who has often collaborated with Amitabh, vouches for his discipline. “He is very particular about his health,” he says. “He has got no habits that [are not good for] his health or his body.” Pandey adds that he is always ready for experimentation. During the lockdown, Pandey had called him for <i>#Family—A Made At Home Short Film</i> that was to be remotely directed by Pandey’s brother, Prasoon. “He was on with the idea immediately. He wanted to do something for daily wage workers and he thought by combining both ideas, it would be a good way of helping the workers of the industry.” The film was part of Bachchan’s ‘We are One’ initiative to provide ration to one lakh daily wage labourers in the film industry.</p> <p>Vinod Bhanushali, president of Global Marketing and Media Publishing for T-Series that is producing <i>Jhund</i> and <i>Ludo</i>, gushes about the family’s work ethic. Their professionalism and discipline are unmatched, he says. “I have seen him on shoots many times,” he says. “It is so amazing how everything is planned. He would tell you his in-time and out-time and in that given time, he would, with professionalism, finish everything perfectly. He would never give you an opportunity to complain. Everything is so meticulously calculated. We really need to learn a lot from him.”</p> <p>Although Amitabh has been called the “superstar of the millennium”, “living legend” and “<i>shahenshah</i> of Bollywood”, in the last few months, with the rising number of Covid-19 cases, his fans have not been too forgiving. An avid social media user with 43.5 million followers on Twitter, Bachchan has had to retract some of his recent posts. On March 22, he tweeted about the evil force of the virus being at “max potential” on Amavasya, the darkest day of the month. “Clapping <i>shankh</i> vibrations reduce/destroy virus potency….,” he tweeted. “Cumulative vibrations better blood circulation.” It would turn out to be a risky message in such critical times.</p> <p>The stark criticism he faced for the tweet forced him to delete it within hours of posting it. A few days later, however, he would advocate homoeopathy treatment in another post and again receive flak for it. After the Bachchan family tested positive for Covid-19, these previous posts have come back to trouble them. While the outpouring of love is unparalleled, people have not forgotten the tweets that seemed to discount allopathic treatment.</p> <p>Critics have read more into the situation than one might have imagined. Soon after he was admitted, a video of Bachchan wishing and congratulating the staff of Nanavati Hospital started doing the rounds, raising questions about how the actor could have made a video after getting diagnosed. To control the damage, the hospital had to issue a statement claiming that the video was shot in April 2020 to motivate the frontline nurses, doctors, and staff working in the Covid-19 ward.</p> <p>Perhaps it is the price that the rich and famous have to pay. And while they may have to constantly fight the naysayers, they are also the ones who people look up to and follow. As we pray that they get well soon, it might not be wrong to hope that this will pave the way for a more empathetic society and reduce the stigma attached to Covid-19 patients and their families.&nbsp;</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/16/a-family-affair.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/16/a-family-affair.html Thu Jul 16 15:49:16 IST 2020 basic-concept-of-breathe-was-very-emotional-and-i-was-drawn-to-it <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/16/basic-concept-of-breathe-was-very-emotional-and-i-was-drawn-to-it.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/2020/7/16/breathe-abhishek-bachchan.jpg" /> <p><b>Abhishek Bachchan</b> made his debut on the big screen with <i>Refugee</i> (2000). Twenty years on, he has now made his digital debut with Amazon Prime Video’s <i>Breathe: Into The Shadows</i> that sees him play a psychiatrist in search of his missing daughter. Around ten days before he tested positive for Covid-19, Abhishek spoke to THE WEEK about his journey in the film industry and his foray into the web world. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/How do you look back at these 20 years of being an actor?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>I look back upon them with a great amount of regard, a lot of happiness but above all with gratitude and an immense amount of humility. Gratitude to the audiences which have patronised my work and because of that I get to celebrate 20 years in the film industry. That is a huge honour which I take very seriously. An actor is truly blessed to be a part of one film. It is very difficult. To be able to do it for 20 years is a blessing. I remember my friend Aditya Chopra told me at the very start of my career that very seldom does the audience decide to love somebody. ‘If they decide to love you,’ he said, ‘they will keep you on cloud nine. Don’t ever disrespect that love and work hard every day to keep earning it. Because, if they fall out of love with you, nothing is gonna help you out.’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What drew you to </b><i><b>Breathe: Into The Shadows</b></i><b>?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>I just really liked the story. When Vikram Malhotra (producer, Abundantia Entertainment) and Mayank Sharma (director) came in and narrated the story to me, I loved it. At that point, it wasn’t a detailed script, it was just a story arc. I thought the basic concept of the show was very emotional and I was drawn to it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/How do you think the advent of streaming services is changing the entertainment game?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>I am not so sure. But to be honest, at the end of the day, it is about getting your product out to the audience and as long as you can do that successfully, you are fine; you should not complain. Here is another medium through which we can reach out to our audience. First, it was just the cinema hall, then came the television, and now you have streaming services and it is just nice. I don’t think we should question it. One should just be thankful for it.</p> <p><b>Q/In your interviews during </b><i><b>Manmarziyaan</b></i><b>, you spoke about the complacency creeping in and the break you took before that. How did the break help you? Did something change when you made a comeback?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>You know what is really amazing about this? It is that it really doesn’t matter how it changed me. It is whether I have been to work or not and whether you enjoy my work. At the end of the day, it is about the audience.... But I finally started acting upon things that I wanted to do, which previously I didn’t. Maybe that is where the complacency was. Everything is hunky-dory, everything is good, don’t fix something that isn’t broken—that was the attitude. But after that, I guess, what changed was that I realised that this was how I wanted to work, this was the kind of work I wanted to do, and this was how [I could] go about it. So, maybe I started implementing what I was thinking.&nbsp;</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/16/basic-concept-of-breathe-was-very-emotional-and-i-was-drawn-to-it.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/16/basic-concept-of-breathe-was-very-emotional-and-i-was-drawn-to-it.html Thu Jul 16 15:41:41 IST 2020 warrior-queen <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/16/warrior-queen.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/2020/7/16/charlize-theron-the-old-guard.jpg" /> <p>To watch Charlize Theron in action in her latest, <i>The Old Guard</i>, is a true pleasure. Her punches are poetry in motion, lithe without being clunky, strong without being heavy. It is hard to believe that not only does she not have a martial arts background but also that she trained to be a ballerina before she made it big in Hollywood. </p> <p>But then again, maybe it is not so strange, given how many times Theron has shape-shifted for her roles. From the tortured woman plagued by visions in <i>The Devil’s Advocate</i> (1997), widely considered to be her breakthrough role, to the doe-eyed beauty of<i> Mighty Joe Young</i> (1998), who does not know why people stare at her when she enters a ballroom, to the serial killer of <i>Monster </i>(2003), for which she won an Oscar for best actress, it would be an understatement to say that Theron’s repertoire is diverse.</p> <p> This has not been by accident. She has consciously and routinely pushed the envelope by transforming herself, both physically and emotionally, in each of her roles. “Unless it is something where I really feel like I am going to go scare myself—like I am standing on a ledge and if I fall, it might be brutal and not pretty at all—I don’t really want to do it anymore,” she once said about the parts she is interested in playing. And no, playing a blue-eyed bimbo does not fall in that category. When Oprah once told her that she fit into the pretty girl box, Theron categorically refuted it. </p> <p>“What’s a more interesting box for you?” Oprah asked her. </p> <p>“Life,” she replied. “Everything around the box.”</p> <p>This is not to say that she does not lethally deploy her sexuality when she needs to. Like in<i> Atomic Blonde </i>(2017), in which she plays an MI6 agent. “Women are always getting in the way of progress, aren’t they?” asks James McAvoy’s character, a misogynistic prick, in the film, a few scenes before Theron puts a bullet in him. “It’s a double pleasure to deceive the deceiver,” she says in her throaty contralto. The fact that she kills him in six-inch Manolo Blahniks feels like poetic justice for women all over the world. Not that Theron has to resort to her sex appeal to be sexy. In <i>Mad Max: Fury Road </i>(2015), for example, her character Furiosa, with her mud-caked face and nearly-shaved head, is more dangerously sexy than any starlet in spandex. </p> <p>However, it has not been easy for her to make it as an action heroine, although she can kick butt as well as the best of them. After the failure of her first action film, <i>Aeon Flux</i> (2005), it took her 10 years to bag another action role in <i>Mad Max: Fury Road</i> as the fierce, one-armed Furiosa. “Unfortunately, the very sad truth of any film in the genre with a female lead, where they don’t succeed, there is this mindset of, ‘Well, if it doesn’t work, you just don’t touch it again’,” she said in an interview. She never gave up, and followed Fury Road with Atomic Blonde and The Fate of the Furious in 2017. </p> <p>And then came<i> The Old Guard</i>, in which she plays the leader of a band of immortals. The movie, as such, follows a predictable route, peppered with rather maudlin dialogues and emotional scenes that seem a tad forced. But Theron is fantastic as Andy, weary, bone-tired and disillusioned with her existence. Her every posture and look conveys Andy’s brokenness. Ironically, it is from this fragility that she draws her strength. This is vintage Theron. As she once said, “There is nothing more powerful than a vulnerable woman.”&nbsp;<br> </p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/16/warrior-queen.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/16/warrior-queen.html Thu Jul 16 15:31:49 IST 2020 man-on-a-mission <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/16/man-on-a-mission.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/2020/7/16/karnesh-ssharma.jpg" /> <p>Anvita Dutt, who directed the recent Netflix original, <i>Bulbbul</i>, became friends with Karnesh Ssharma, Anushka Sharma’s elder brother and co-founder of their production house, Clean Slate Films, on the sets of a film almost a decade ago. When Dutt told him the story of <i>Bulbbul</i>, he told her that if he ever turned producer—he was in the merchant navy at the time—he would take it up. It took a long time, but he did keep his word. Starting with <i>NH10</i> (2015), Ssharma talks about his five-year journey as a producer and the stories the brother-sister duo choose to tell.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Since </b><i><b>Bulbbul</b></i><b> was one of the first scripts you heard, was it instrumental in you turning producer?</b></p> <p>Well, part of it has to be it, yes. Anushka and I would always discuss while watching films from across the globe and about making similar cinema, which later happened to be <i>Bulbbul</i>, <i>NH10</i>, <i>Paatal Lok</i> (2020), <i>Pari</i> (2018) and <i>Phillauri</i> (2017). That was also our taste in cinema. It so happened that when Anushka decided that we should start producing films, I remember going back to Anvita and telling her that ‘it would be great if we could produce it for you’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There is a sociopolitical context to all the projects that you have taken up. Was that a conscious decision?</b></p> <p>It is totally incidental. You cannot think that you would want to talk about a particular thing today. Most of our content does not have [the context] as the frontrunner. These are layers which are revealed or explored through characters in the story. They are not out there to make a statement. It is, I think, part of our personalities, Anushka’s and mine. We are very laidback, unsocial people. That is why our stories are laidback and layered with something interesting. This is going to be the mantra in future, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What about the negative feedback you got for choosing to tell stories with difficult themes, like in the case of</b><i><b> Paatal Lok?</b></i></p> <p>This is all we know. We feel we are sensible people and sensible citizens. We do not say anything just for the sake of saying it. Cinema is subject to opinions. When you welcome the good opinions, you should also welcome the bad ones and introspect. Introspection at every level, not just with respect to telling stories but individually also, is very important. That is why Anushka named the company Clean Slate, because after every project, we start with a fresh slate, without the baggage of the previous films.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/16/man-on-a-mission.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/16/man-on-a-mission.html Thu Jul 16 15:32:14 IST 2020 burning-bright <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/09/burning-bright.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/2020/7/9/63-Megha-Majumdar-new.jpg" /> <p>The only Megha Majumdar that exists on Skype that matches the id is located in Beijing. And that is all that it says. No photograph, no personal details, nothing to suggest Majumdar has burst into literary stardom with her debut novel—A Burning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I spent seven months in Beijing,” she says from her Brooklyn home, by way of explanation. She worked with high school teachers and students in Beijing, helping them research schools in the US. Majumdar is a poster girl for everything that middle-class India dreams of. Her academic credentials are stellar: Harvard and then Johns Hopkins University for social anthropology. “My parents have always been very supportive, even when I wanted to do humanities,” says Majumdar, who did her schooling at Ashoka Hall, Kolkata. “They supported me on research for college and reaching for the sky. It was quite unusual in my year.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There have been few other books from the subcontinent in recent memory that have generated the kind of interest that Majumdar’s first book has. Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger was one, thanks to the sheer power of his narrative.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The rave reviews for A Burning continue to pour in. Margaret Atwood recommended it; Amitav Ghosh endorsed it before it hit the stands. Over the past month, Majumdar has found fame with her book. She is a favourite at webinars, her name acquiring heft at a time when the world stayed indoors and bookshops remained largely shut. “It is very gratifying,” she says.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Majumdar’s book is fast-paced, almost breathless—a word that one would not usually associate with a literary novel. Manasi Subramaniam, head of literary rights at Penguin Random House India, stayed up the night to read it. In the morning, Subramaniam, who edited the book, called up Alfred A. Knopf in the US and said she had to publish it. An editor herself, Majumdar spent four years on the book to ensure that each word and sentence propelled her story further. “A book makes a claim on a reader’s time,” she says. “It must reward that time.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Majumdar left Kolkata barely an adult, at a time when Bengal was at the cusp of change. In 2006, the Singur issue was raging, and it propelled Mamata Banerjee straight into Writers’ Building, ending the Red years. More than a decade later, at 32, Majumdar has written a political novel capturing India’s less than shiny side. Asked if she set out to write a political novel on JLF’s Brave New World, Majumdar answered earnestly: “I don’t think it is possible to write a novel that doesn’t grapple with power and freedom in some way.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her book opens with a curfew, after men have thrown flaming torches into a train. The fire spreads to the huts that border the station. Jivan, a young Muslim woman who witnesses the attack, posts something “dangerous” on Facebook: ‘If the police didn’t help ordinary people like you and me, if the police watched them die, doesn’t that mean that the government is also a terrorist?’ She is arrested and accused of collaborating with a terrorist to start the fire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The novel weaves in the lives of two other characters who become integral to Jivan’s battle to tell her side of the narrative. Lovely, a transgender who dreams of being an actor. Jivan teaches Lovely English—a skill that she needs to get ahead. The other character is PT Sir, who teaches physical education at the girls’ school where Jivan studies. He hopes Jivan, a natural at kabaddi, will become an athlete like him; he forgives her soiled skirt and old shoes. But she drops out without an explanation. Fuelled by his ambitions, PT Sir gets pulled into right-wing politics. Both Lovely and he have to testify at her trial. The choices they make—linked to their own ambitions—and the story they choose to tell will determine her future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A Burning is dark, eerily real and accurately depicts India’s hyper-nationalism and its steady shift to the right. The sheer enormity of the themes—from nationalism to the system that has unfairness built into it—is enough to bog down any writer, especially one who has never written before. This is where Majumdar’s craft shows. “Because I am an editor, I am my own harshest critic,” she says, laughing. “I kept asking questions: Is this confusing? Am I bored? What do I want to say?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She always wrote, right from “essay competitions in school”. Like many people, she says, she dabbled with short stories. Did she win competitions? “Sometimes I won,” she says. “I got more serious about writing with the book.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Majumdar’s book has the lightness of a jamdani—a sari her Bengal is famous for—blended with the urgency that makes it impossible to put down. Has her life changed? “When [you] sit down, and you are alone with the page, it is as hard as it is to get as close to the vision you have in your head,” she says. “It is solitary, it is slow, it is hard work.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, she has begun again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A Burning</b></p> <p>by Megha Majumdar</p> <p>Published by Penguin<br> Random House India</p> <p>Price Rs599 Pages 304</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/09/burning-bright.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/09/burning-bright.html Fri Jul 10 21:26:36 IST 2020 fear-comes-calling <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/09/fear-comes-calling.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/2020/7/9/65-Fear-comes-calling.jpg" /> <p><b>A FEW NIGHTS</b> later, there was a knocking. It was late, two or three a.m., when any sound brings your heart to your throat. My mother was shouting, “Wake up, wake up!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A hand reached out of the dark and dragged me up in my nightie. I screamed and fought, believing it was a man come to do what men do. But it was a policewoman.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My father, on the floor, his throat dry and his painful back rigid, mewled. Nighttime tumed him into a child.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then I was in the back of the police van, watching through the wire mesh a view of roads glowing orange under street lamps. I exhausted myself appealing to the policewoman and group of policemen sitting in front of me: “Sister, what is happening? I am a working girl. I work at Pantaloons. I have nothing to do with police!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They said nothing. Now and then a crackle came from the radio on the dashboard, far in front. At some point, a car filled with boys sped by, and I heard whooping and cheering. They were coming from a nightclub. The doddering police van meant nothing to those boys. They did not slow down. They were not afraid. Their fathers knew police commissioners and members of the legislature, figures who were capable of making all problems disappear. And me, how would I get out of this? Whom did I know?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<i>Excerpted with permission from Penguin Random House India.</i></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/09/fear-comes-calling.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/09/fear-comes-calling.html Fri Jul 10 10:45:29 IST 2020 writing-helps-you-explore-the-limits-of-what-is-possible <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/09/writing-helps-you-explore-the-limits-of-what-is-possible.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/2020/7/9/66-Kritika-Pandey.jpg" /> <p>The girl with the black bindi knows she is not supposed to glance at the boy in the white skull cap, but she does.” Thus begins Kritika Pandey’s short story, The Great Indian Tee and Snakes, which could perhaps alternatively have been titled, Love in the age of hindutva. One can imagine where the story is leading, but the beauty is how Pandey takes us there, through a wondrously lyrical world of moustachioed men who clean their ears with Q-tips and brides who hide the names of their future husbands amid swirly, intricate henna patterns. So perhaps it came as no surprise when Pandey won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2020 for her “gut punch of a story”, as described by one of the judges. After all, the 29-year-old MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts Amherst is no stranger to accolades, having won the 2020 James W. Foley Memorial Award, the 2018 Harvey Swados Fiction Prize and the 2018 Cara Parravani Memorial Award in Fiction. Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p><b>Q/ How did The Great Indian Tee and Snakes come about?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I wrote the story after Tabrez Ansari was lynched by a mob not far from my parents’ house in Jharkhand. I was visiting them at the time. And I could not do much else other than write in order to cope with my grief. I can only imagine what Ansari’s family must have gone through…. I wrote The Great Indian Tee and Snakes to help my readers acknowledge that we need a lot more compassion in this world. What we have right now is far from enough.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What does it mean to be a writer from Jharkhand? How has the place you grew up in influenced your writing?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ When you grow up in a place that is not part of the popular imagination, a place that you do not see in any of the movies or read about in any of the books you come across, then you move through the world feeling immensely alienated. This sense of alienation is evident in everything I write. All my characters struggle to belong, even to themselves. My childhood in Jharkhand was mostly about staying locked up in my parents’ house. One set of windows overlooked the slums. Another set of windows overlooked relatively wealthier people’s houses and cars. As I grew older, I discovered the third set of windows: books. I read as often as I could. It helped me get away. I made friends with fictional characters with effortless ease. But if I found myself in a family gathering­—full of elders who wanted me to touch their feet and be a soft-spoken girl who does not talk to boys—then I had no idea what to say or do. So I would return to reading once again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why did you pick engineering over writing? How did you arrive at the decision to give it up?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I did not decide. It was decided for me. I got 97.2 per cent in Class 10. And my entire family, as well as most of my teachers, kept telling me that I should be an engineer. So that is what I did. Then, when I finished college, I refused to take up the job I had been offered during campus placements because I could not bear to keep feeling as miserable as I had felt for four long years at college. At some point, you have to stand up for yourself. Especially if you are a woman, because people tend to think that women are too stupid to know what they are talking about.</p> <p><b>Q/ How did it feel like to win the Commonwealth award? Can you describe your reaction when you first heard about it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I felt two things. One, that I was not wrong in realising that I wanted to be a writer in Class 7 when I read Sarojini Naidu’s poems in my literature textbook. Two, that I have a renewed responsibility towards people whose struggles have been historically (made invisible). Writing cannot single-handedly change the world, but it has its place in the project of resistance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Which is the one novel you could read and re-read a dozen times and still not grow bored of? And why does it hold such an appeal for you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Anything that Clarice Lispector has ever written. She is more than just a writer. She is a magician. She can reach into the innermost crevices of your soul and reveal a part of yourself to you that you would not have encountered without having read her. Here’s a snippet of her genius: “I write as if to save somebody’s life. Probably my own. Life is a kind of madness that death makes. Long live the dead, because we live in them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have described with such insight the emotions of a girl who falls in love, perhaps for the first time, in your story. Did you draw upon your own first love to give it authenticity? If yes, could you describe your experience of falling in love for the first time?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Without getting into too many personal details, I will say that, let alone marrying, not being able to even hold hands with the person you are infatuated with is a lived reality for many young people in India. And it is no surprise that romantic love is such a taboo in our society. This is precisely what it takes to maintain one of the cruellest systems of social segregation in the history of human civilisation: the caste system. And a lot of it relies on controlling the bodies and sexualities of women. Upper caste women, like me, must at all costs be forced to marry upper caste men in order to reproduce caste hierarchies. This is why if we say no to being controlled by social norms, then all hell breaks loose.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is the first short story/ poem you ever wrote? What inspired it and how do you feel about it now, after so many years?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Our English teacher had asked us to write something, anything, and I had written a poem about war. It was obviously not good poetry. But I remember feeling an unparalleled excitement as I discovered certain ideas only once I wrote them down. That is the power of writing. It helps you explore the limits of what is possible, both inside and outside of your head.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/09/writing-helps-you-explore-the-limits-of-what-is-possible.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/09/writing-helps-you-explore-the-limits-of-what-is-possible.html Fri Jul 10 10:42:50 IST 2020 like-a-child <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/09/like-a-child.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/2020/7/9/68-Aditi-Rao-Hydari-new.jpg" /> <p>Most of Aditi Rao Hydari’s days in lockdown have been good. She admits that the negative news that one comes across every day can be demoralising. “But I am one of those eternally positive humans,” says the actor, talking from her home in Hyderabad, a day before the release of her Malayalam film Sufiyum Sujatayum on Amazon Prime Video. “I know a lot of people are really suffering and it is very tough [for them], but I feel as humans we always have those two choices, and there are enough people who suffer every day who also smile and choose positivity. So, it is possible.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She knows the place of privilege she comes from and that “somebody will turn around and say that it is easier for me”. “But we all have our struggles and our difficulties in our own place,” she says. Unlike a lot of celebrities, who have been taking up various social media challenges and are keeping fans entertained in numerous ways, Hydari’s social media updates are sparse. “From a place of privilege, what I am going through is very different from what [most of] India is going through. Rather than post my day-to-day activities, I would rather put that energy into reaching out to people in a way that is more real,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And hence, she is doing things that she used to do as a young girl, because of the time she has at home. “It is giving me that opportunity to be a child again,” says Hydari. “I have gotten back to dancing, which I have been doing since I was five. I am doing kalaripayat, which I also learnt as a child. I am singing more. I help in cooking. I am helping my brother set up his house. I am also talking to my friends and anybody who is feeling low, to try and cheer them up. For me, that is very important.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But having said that, she yearns to return to the film sets, to do what makes her happiest. There is fear in the air in anticipation of what a post-pandemic set might look like. “But I am not going to fear what the situation would be once things open up,” she says. “At the risk of sounding like a child, I think we really need to reassess the chaos we have created in this world.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps, it is the inherent belief in the childlike innocence that drew her to Sufiyum Sujatayum—a film about pure love between a Sufi singer and a mute girl. “This film is so sweet and so special,” says Hydari. “There is so much innocence about it. It is people and their million complications that put their own burdens on simplicity and purity.” Sujata is a girl, she would always hope and aspire to be. “It is almost like you don’t want anybody to ruin her innocence. You want to protect that girl,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Playing a speech-impaired girl was challenging, but that is why she found the role fascinating, too. “The director (Naranipuzha Shanavas) and the director of photography (Anu Moothedath) were very careful in how they chose to shoot,” she says. “They wanted so many cuts. When you are speech impaired, your other senses are so heightened. You have to look into the person’s eyes and talk. That makes you very vulnerable and also very true. It was almost unreal.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although Hydari’s film career began with the lead role in Tamil film Sringaram (2007), she had a small cameo as a dancer in Malayalam film Prajapathi (2006). But she considers Sufiyum Sujatayum to be her Malayalam debut.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The innocence that Hydari talks about is often synonymous with most roles she does; her characters are often very sensitive, subdued and soft. Mehrunissa in Padmaavaat (2018), Bhoomi Sachdeva in Bhoomi (2017) and Leela in Kaatru Veliyidai (2017) have all been roles of women struggling to find their space. “Somebody else told me I always choose strong characters. So, I am confused,” she says and laughs, adding that that works for her. “Hopefully, I will never be put in a box.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One still wonders if she has ever thought about being associated with seemingly delicate roles. “I can’t change the way I look,” says Hydari. “I might have a delicate structure and face, but I think every part that I pick has strength of character.” She says one can be gentle and loving, and at the same time fearless and strong. One of her directors once told her that instead of trying to change her looks, what would matter more is what she does in front of the camera. “Now, I don’t look in the mirror while doing my shots,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over the years, Hydari has successfully traversed the Indian cinema landscape, even making her Telugu debut with Sammohanam in 2018. She is thrilled to have worked with Mani Ratnam—in Kaatru Veliyidai and Chekka Chivantha Vaanam (2018)—a director who really helped her grow. That is one reason she looks forward to working across regions, because of the depth that it brings. “I grew up in a mixed background,” she says. “My ancestry is mixed. For me, it is so natural to have a syncretism of different cultures in the same household. I have never seen it as anything strange or something that needed to be adjusted to. It has just been so beautiful, everybody coexisting. Because of that comfort, I was attracted to being a pan-Indian actor. I wanted to look at different kinds of content because different content is always culturally rooted in their own space, and the directors have their own voices. For me, it is not really the region, but the director and the team. I hope I can continue because it is not easy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is no surprise then that after this Malayalam debut, she already has The Girl On The Train (Hindi), V (Telugu) and Hey Sinamika (Tamil) lined up for the rest of this year.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/09/like-a-child.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/09/like-a-child.html Fri Jul 10 10:41:56 IST 2020 curtains-down <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/09/curtains-down.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/2020/7/9/70-Nivya-Velayudhan.jpg" /> <p>Soon after the video-sharing app TikTok entered the scene in 2012, it became a virtual Pied-Piper, seducing its followers to dance to its tune (often literally). As TikTok’s popularity began to surge, it started getting embroiled in controversies. There was the worry that the Chinese were using the app to steal data. Then there was the allegation that TikTok was hiding videos of the protests in Hong Kong to appease the Chinese. Some people denounced it for promoting illicit content and pornography. Then, on June 29, the border stand-off between India and China led to the Union government banning 59 Chinese apps, including TikTok.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sure, there are the bigger questions of espionage, ethics, international posturing and political tit-for-tat, but none of this largely mattered to the over 200 million TikTok users in India. For them, TikTok was a free-for-all bazaar of creativity, full of quirky microwave challenges, ‘sad panda’ memes, funny couple fights and re-enactments of famous dialogues. The app offered a way for them to create a glitzy, happy-go-lucky alter-ego of themselves that sometimes bore little resemblance to their real-life versions. It was escapism at its goofiest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“On TikTok, everything was readymade,” says Mumbaikar Nivya Velayudhan, 28, who has posted on the platform between 200 and 500 videos of her singing and performing Bollywood dance sequences. “And, there were no copyright issues like there are on YouTube,” she says. She has been on TikTok for a year-and-a-half now. “I immediately downloaded all my videos when I heard about the ban,” she says. “It came to around 32 GB.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The appeal of TikTok for many was that it was a great leveller. You did not need to be a celeb to amass followers on the platform. Instead, you could become a celeb through the platform. “People say I look like actor Dhanush, so I recreate songs from his trending movies,” says Vivek, a content creator with six lakh followers on TikTok, who goes by the handle Maari Vicky. “My cover song of [the Dhanush song], Rowdy Baby, went viral and got over 11 million views.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This opened the door for many app promotions for Vivek, and ultimately, to the world of television, with several stand-up performances in TV shows. The BTech graduate says that his family was always happy with his creative pursuits because it created a secondary source of income. “I never asked them for money,” he says. “I am grateful to TikTok [for helping me enter the world of entertainment].”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With TikTok no longer there, content creators have been forced to migrate to other platforms. “The options in TikTok were so easy to use,” says Venkatesh Poddisetty, a TikToker from Telangana. “It helped us reach the target audience perfectly. We hope (similar) Indian apps will come up.” But what TikTok opened for them, they are not willing to give up. “I will express my creativity in other ways,” says Velayudhan. “I can dub for other videos. I can lip-sync dialogues and put it up elsewhere.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many people dismiss TikTok as “mindless fun”. But it was much more than that. It did not have the uppity vibe of Facebook or Instagram, where everyone clamoured to present sugar-coated versions of themselves. TikTok was less about one-upmanship and more about self-expression. And that is something TikTokers are unwilling to give up.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/09/curtains-down.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/09/curtains-down.html Thu Jul 09 16:56:21 IST 2020 return-of-the-boy-next-door <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/09/return-of-the-boy-next-door.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/2020/7/9/73-Chandrachur-Singh-new.jpg" /> <p>Actor Chandrachur Singh made a promising return recently as the owner of a pharmaceutical company in the Disney+ Hotstar show Aarya, alongside Sushmita Sen. Currently based in Gurgaon, he looks back at his journey as an actor and the opportunities that streaming platforms have created.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have not done too many projects in the recent past. What was it about Aarya that attracted you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I would say that I was really keen to work with Ram (Madhvani, creator) because of his work in the past. Besides, I was supposed to work with Sushmita long ago, which did not happen then. That was again a draw. Plus, I thought the entire concept of Aarya was very enticing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ When Tere Mere Sapne and Maachis released in 1996, you had become quite the sensation with your boy-next-door image. When things started crumbling, were you badly affected?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I would like to mention that I am really grateful to Jaya ji (Bachchan) and Gulzar ji for giving me a break in the two projects [respectively]. Maachis released first and became an overnight success, both critically and commercially. But I think by the time [things started falling apart], I had been through enough struggles. I knew how to take stardom in a very different way. I was more in it for the creative joy. The struggle and the journey, I feel, only make you a better artiste at the end of the day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You started your career in an era when digital was almost non-existent. How do you see the changes in the entertainment industry over the last two decades?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I feel lucky to have been able to witness the growth of the industry from the time of single screen theatres to multiplexes, to be able to work in television and now on streaming services. I feel there is a certain professionalism now that is very different. When I started, things were not as personalised as they are now. There is a lot of punctuality and consistency in the setup today. The acting workshops that happen now really help one in the final performance. Another thing that impressed me a lot is how the schedule was followed religiously. I think an actor can show his versatility now because there is so much content being produced. As an actor, you are not stereotyped. Just see how [someone like] Akshay Kumar is juggling so many genres. I think it is a great time to be a performer.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/09/return-of-the-boy-next-door.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/09/return-of-the-boy-next-door.html Fri Jul 10 10:39:19 IST 2020 bug-studio <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/02/bug-studio.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/2020/7/2/Venkat2.jpg" /> <p>While most people squirm and scream at the sight of a spider, there are a few who reach for their cameras. While hobbyists use macrophotography or extreme close-up photography to showcase the unseen beauty in everything from rice grains to vegetables and flowers, these entomophiles (lovers of insects) want to introduce you to the vibrant world of insects.</p> <p>Bugs are the most challenging subjects, as they are rarely stationary. Chennai-based photographer S. Venkatraaman says one has to go from crouching and crawling to even holding one’s breath while photographing a bug. “The bug is not going to say ‘Do you want to try another shot?’ and strike a pose,” he says. “Therefore, it is important for the photographer to not move a lot. I suggest you stop breathing when you click the picture. With analogue cameras, the challenge was to get it right in the first shot itself, as we would get to see the result only after it got printed.”</p> <p>Venkat, 55, who is single now and lives with his mother, says that the photographer should study the behaviour and surroundings of the bug. Despite the fact that some of his initial assignments involved shooting lab specimens, he is against killing insects. The entomophile believes in photographing insects in their natural surroundings and working towards their conservation. The first camera that he ever used was the Agfa Click-III. Later, for macrophotography, he used the Pentax P-30 with Takumar 55mm f/2 macro lens.</p> <p>But this was not love at first sight. A sound engineer by profession, it was his fascination with astronomy that triggered an interest in photography. “I sold all my audio equipment to buy my first analogue camera and other photography gear,” he says. “At the time, I had started off doing a lot of reprography work (the reproduction of documents and graphics through means like photography) as copy machines were not popular during that time. It was then that I attended a mathematics workshop, where I met a scientist who was doing research on arachnids. She wanted my help with the duplication of her slides. Little did I know what I was getting myself into.”</p> <p>While duplicating 200 slides of spiders, he wondered why anyone would be interested to study a creature so grotesque. But before he knew it, he got caught up in the intricacies of arachnid anatomy. What started out as an assignment turned into a fascination. Taking a torch and a camera, he walked into his garden that night to discover a whole new world beneath his feet. Since then, there was no turning back.</p> <p>“Apart from the duplication work, I clicked some pictures of spiders in my garden with my analogue camera,” says Venkat. “I showed the pictures to the scientist and she was very impressed. I vividly remember her asking me, ‘Are you not scared of these creatures?’ Interestingly, I was not scared at all.”</p> <p>Thanks to his frequent visits to Chennai’s Guindy National Park, the officials there christened him ‘Poochi Venkat’ (<i>poochi</i> is Tamil for bug). “It was the most hilarious thing I heard. Every time our team went there to study or take photographs of the bugs in their natural setting, the officers would say, ‘Poochi sir has come’. The name just stuck,” he says. The moniker appears on the cover of his book, <i>Insects: Guardians of Nature</i>, a compilation of insect photographs from across Chennai. “I wanted to show people that despite the city’s concrete trapping, the most beautiful creatures still thrive and exist here,” he says.</p> <p>Venkat has created a small insect ecosystem at home; he calls it the ‘insect hotel’. “I have spiders, beetles, ants and several other interesting bugs in my room,” he says. “The best part about it is that nobody enters my room fearing what might possibly jump out at them. It gives me a lot of privacy. I have created a small space with leaves and twigs for the bugs to settle in and be comfortable.”</p> <p>After over 25 years photographing and conserving bugs, nature has blessed him by making him resistant to most insect-induced allergies. He says he survived a viral infection from the pox family in 1997. “I was in Karian Shola for a survey during the monsoon,” he says. “The doctors were dumbfounded when they found the virus. Apparently, it had never been documented in humans before.”</p> <p>According to Venkat, the praying mantis is one of the most dangerous bugs. “It can nibble off your flesh,” he says. But mantis is a favourite of Hyderabad-based cinematographer and photographer Jagadeesh Bommisetti. “There are so many species of the mantis,” he says. “I love how it studies our movement and behaves accordingly. I recently stumbled upon what I thought was a baby mantis, but it was actually a full-grown one of a different species.”</p> <p>The 27-year-old entomophile calls Venkat his biggest inspiration. “I mostly photograph both live and dead insects sizing between 2mm and 5cm,” he says. “Personally, finding live insects is my biggest challenge. The dead ones are easy to find. I, too, have set up a small ecosystem in my room, so that some of the insects that I find during my walks in the park or garden get habituated to the room. After I photograph it, I let the insect go back to where I picked it from. I usually keep the insects for two to three days.”</p> <p>Apart from a customised macro studio setup in his house, Jagadeesh has found ways to cut costs while buying photography gear. “Generally, macrophotography requires a dedicated macro lens, but I achieve life-size images of 3x to 5x magnification by using different hacks like extension tubes, reversal rings and focus bracketing techniques,” he says. “When it comes to extreme macro, one needs to take multiple images (layers) of the same subject. As I do not use macro lens or a macro rail, it takes around three to four hours to photograph an insect. And then the stacking of the layers and processing take another one or two hours based on the complexity of the bug. One photograph can be between 15 and 20 layers.”</p> <p>Apart from the technical know-how, Jagadeesh says patience is key in the entire process. According to him, macrophotography is very different from normal photography. “I work with two extreme sets of subjects—one that listens to instructions and strikes poses accordingly and the other that has its own mind. Sometimes, I have to keep reminding myself that the insects are not actors,” he says.</p> <p>Unlike Venkat, Jagadeesh is not into full-time macrophotography, but currently he is in the process of documenting bugs found in the wetlands of Andhra Pradesh. “There is no fixed income in this field; it mostly depends on the assignments we get,” he says. “Depending on the difficulty of the task, the remuneration fluctuates. As of now there are not many photographers in our country who have ventured into this field. This means that entomologists need our help.”</p> <p>As for Venkat, he is busy with a couple of projects with the Agriculture Department of Tamil Nadu and some other entomological work, apart from his personal lockdown documentation of bugs. With a kitty full of bug stories, achievements and experiences, Venkat also trains and inspires young photographers to take up this niche area of photography. “Thanks to advanced digital technology, we can now see photographs beforehand and take multiple shots without the tension of wasting film. There is so much that can be done,” he says. Who thought bugs would be treated like celebrities? Time to take a closer look. Literally.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>GEAR TALK</b></p> <p><b>Jagadeesh’s picks</b></p> <p>Canon 5D mark3</p> <p>Tamron sp 45mm</p> <p>Tamron 28-75mm</p> <p>Rokinon 85mm</p> <p>Canon 100mm macro</p> <p>Third party extension tubes</p> <p>Reversal ring</p> <p>Godox ad200 external flash</p> <p>Customised diffusers</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Venkat’s picks</b></p> <p>Nikon D810 DSLR</p> <p>Canon 5D-Mklll DSLR</p> <p>Sony a-7R Mk-3 MILC</p> <p>Lumix LX-5 compact</p> <p>Tamron 90mm macro</p> <p>Nikon 80-200mm</p> <p>Canon 100mm macro</p> <p>Canon 70-200mm</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/02/bug-studio.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/02/bug-studio.html Thu Jul 02 15:52:07 IST 2020 gunning-for-the-king <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/02/gunning-for-the-king.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/2020/7/2/Valorant.jpg" /> <p>For 20 years, the Counter-Strike (CS) series has been the definitive tactical shooter experience for millions of gamers. Its simplicity stands out as much as its depth—you can pick up the game in minutes, but it could take years to master.</p> <p>Two teams of five fight for control of a map: either by finishing off all opponents or by exploding/defusing a bomb. Weapons must be bought at the start of each round. Both teams have the same budgets to begin with, but an in-game economy regulates purchases in subsequent rounds.</p> <p>As the years passed, the series’ dedicated fan base started to experience niggles. From an invasion of hackers to the ever-present problem of lag and ultimately, a framework that has remained fundamentally unchanged since the last title came out in 2012. CS needed an update, or, a competitor.</p> <p>Enter Riot Games, makers of League of Legends—one of the world’s most popular eSports titles. With Valorant, launched in June, Riot Games manage a mix of familiarity and novelty that makes for a refreshing take on the premise.</p> <p>Much like CS, Valorant features two teams of five battling to take control of a map and a regulatory in-game economy. Unlike CS, however, are the ‘Agents’ and special abilities, which add a dash of complexity to the core gameplay.</p> <p>For example, one agent’s special ability is that he can deploy a floating spy camera to monitor enemy positions; another agent—Omen—can fire projectiles that pass through walls, and teleport around the map. Some agents are best-equipped to pick up kills, others to stay behind and support the team.</p> <p>Valorant’s greatest strength is its balanced gameplay. Infrequently-available ‘ultimate’ moves, like Omen’s teleportation, are staggeringly useful, but when pitted against or in tandem with one another, you get a game that cannot be truly one-sided; anything is possible, in every round. And while these abilities add to the complexity, players with good aim can still prevail.</p> <p>Valorant was designed from the ground up to be fair: The agents’ abilities are constantly being balanced by meta updates. Servers are designed to minimise chances of an internet issue costing you the round and a special anti-cheat system has earned Valorant a good rep (prompting CS developer Valve to update its system).</p> <p>Will Valorant last long enough to match CS’s pedigree? Only time will tell. But, with an eSports tournament already on the charts in India (over 400 teams and a 070,000 purse), a free-to-play model and low system requirements that make the game accessible, and unprecedented pre-launch hype courtesy the world’s biggest video game streamers being given early access, Valorant has a better shot at dethroning the king than any game before it.&nbsp;</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/02/gunning-for-the-king.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/02/gunning-for-the-king.html Thu Jul 02 15:53:43 IST 2020 stories-from-the-core <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/02/stories-from-the-core.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/2020/7/2/sudip-sharma.jpg" /> <p>It was 1998. Sudip Sharma was pursuing his under graduation at Hindu College in Delhi. Ram Gopal Varma’s <i>Satya </i>was the latest movie in town and every youngster was making a beeline for the theatres. Sharma did too, little aware that it would become the turning point in his life. “I remember being stunned by its visual language, the craft of the storytelling, and the great texture that the film had,” Sharma says over the phone, almost a month after <i>Paatal Lok’s</i> release. The Amazon Prime Video show, of which Sharma is the creator (directed by Prosit Roy and Avinash Arun), has already earned critical acclaim, and people are dissecting its scenes and characters, just like with <i>Satya.</i></p> <p>Sharma grew up in Guwahati, where his father was posted. While his passion for films started at a young age, the movies screened in Guwahati were entirely Bollywood, and he had almost no exposure to art-house films and world cinema. Sharma, however, recalls watching a few classics on Doordarshan.</p> <p>His student days in Delhi, however, made him a film literate. At Priya Cinema in Delhi, he would watch acclaimed films from the west. Meanwhile, his academic journey progressed—he got into Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. He was restless in those couple of years, thinking about the path he should choose. During those days, he kept watching a lot of movies—from early Korean and Japanese cinema to Tamil films. “I cannot say I was unhappy [there], but I was just trying to find my feet, figure out what I wanted to do with my life.” It took a while to figure all that out. In between, he picked up a string of corporate jobs.</p> <p>With a very unsure attempt at making a short film, he, however, had found his calling—that it is writing that draws him. Soon, he quit his job to become a writer, something that would temporarily strain his relationship with his parents. “That is the easiest thing in the world to do—to announce yourself as a writer. But at the same time, it is really difficult to be a half-decent writer, [at least],” he says. Apparently, his wife, with a corporate profile, stood by him, all through his struggling days.</p> <p>He confesses that cinema is a very uncertain business. The first time someone told him that he is making a movie and that Sharma is going to write it, he got super-excited. “I threw a little party for some of my friends,” he says. “We all got drunk, and I paid the bill. Then I realised that no money ever came and no film ever got made.”</p> <p>It took four to five years for him to figure out the craft. In 2010, he co-wrote the film<i> Semshook</i> (directed by Siddharth Anand Kumar) along with Rahul Singh. Sharma had been in search for collaborators he could work with on a long-time basis. Incidentally, he met Navdeep Singh—who directed <i>Manorama Six Feet Under</i> (2007)—on Facebook. Singh and Sharma would soon collaborate on a few scripts, that include an unreleased zombie-comedy, <i>Rock the Shaadi</i>; work on another film titled <i>Kaneda</i>; and then finally do <i>NH10 </i>(2015).</p> <p>“He [Sharma] was a little raw at the time [of their first meeting],” says Singh. “But the potential whether you have it as a writer or not, that basic talent was inherently there.” For <i>Paatal Lok</i>, Singh came onboard as a script consultant.</p> <p>Meeting Singh really helped Sharma. “He had experience over me,” he says. “He had already made one wonderful film. It really helped me hone my craft and get down to the root of it.” Sharma helps the writers he works with now to do the same.</p> <p>On Facebook, Hardik Mehta—one of the four writers of <i>Paatal Lok</i>, along with Gunjit Chopra, Sagar Haveli and Sharma—wrote about how they were given a freehand in the research process to go to places like Chitrakoot to understand the world and the characters. “For me, <i>Paatal Lok</i> was the culmination of everything else that I had done in my life,” says Sharma. The show is set mainly in Delhi, Punjab, Bundelkhand and Chitrakoot. All these places were familiar for Sharma as he had done rigorous research on these places for his previous projects. “I urged the other three writers to do these rounds because it is important that they should also be on the same page,” he says.</p> <p>Sharma is inherently drawn to complex stories from society, stories that are beyond the binaries of white and black. In the process, he has faced criticism, too. Over the last one month, people have questioned him over the depiction of violence against women in <i>Paatal Lok</i>; some have called him “Hindu-phobic”; and cases have been filed accusing him of portraying people from northeast India in a bad light. But nothing bothers him. “I consider myself a fairly responsible writer,” he says. “When I am writing something, the idea is never to sensationalise, at least not in my head. I have a very close and experienced group of readers who read all my scripts. These are the opinions I trust. I always knew what we had done. My own sense of judgement and responsibility told me that what we are trying to show is a very responsible gaze. How do you show discrimination without showing discrimination?”</p> <p>It is not easy to research and write such stories that go deep into society. He remembers the disturbing experience he had during <i>Udta Punjab </i>(2016). “Day after day, I was meeting juvenile boys, 14 and 15 years old, who were addicted to drugs, who do not see a life ahead of them,” he says. “You are talking to them and you are seeing their desperation. It did take a toll on me. But then, you have to pull yourself up and tell yourself that your job is to tell the story.”</p> <p>The idea of more and deep research fascinates him. “You cannot tell a story well if you do not understand it yourself,” he says, adding that he is looking forward to tell more such complex stories. “I am not interested in being super successful at the box-office in India. I want to tell stories that resonate beyond boundaries.” </p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/02/stories-from-the-core.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/02/stories-from-the-core.html Fri Jul 03 19:39:07 IST 2020 the-lore-in-four <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/02/the-lore-in-four.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/2020/7/2/Variyamkunnath.jpg" /> <p>The Malayalam film industry might be having its <i>Rashomon</i> moment. Much like Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s famous movie, in which four people tell different versions of the same story, four Mollywood filmmakers have, almost simultaneously, announced movies on the same person, Variyamkunnath Kunjahammed Haji. He was an early 20th century freedom fighter from Malabar who played a crucial role in the Malabar rebellion against the British. He had even established a short-lived regime called Malayalanadu before being shot dead by the British in 1921.</p> <p>The ruckus in Mollywood started with Prithviraj, one of the leading actors of the Malayalam film industry, announcing a movie on Haji titled <i>Variyamkunnan</i>. It would be directed by Aashiq Abu, one of the ace directors of Mollywood, with Prithviraj playing the title role. The film is expected to release in 2021, to coincide with the 100th year anniversary of the Malabar rebellion.</p> <p>The announcement was immediately met with resistance from right wingers, who consider Haji as having massacred Hindus during the riot. Prithviraj’s Facebook page was flooded with hate messages. When supporters of the movie joined in, it became nothing less than a virtual firefight.</p> <p>Other than the “anti-Hindu image” of Haji, what irked many was the ideology of the filmmakers. The leaning of co-director Muhsin Parari and scriptwriter Ramees towards political Islam provoked many to question the film’s intention. Many lamented that Prithviraj had become a “pawn in the hands of Islamists”.</p> <p>But what followed was nothing short of astonishing. The next day, three more films were announced by three different directors on the same person. The first one to enter the fray was two-time MLA and award-winning filmmaker P. T. Kunju Muhammed, with <i>Shahid Vaariyamkunnan.</i> The second film, titled <i>The Great Vaariyamkunnan,</i> was announced by director Ibrahim Vengara.</p> <p>While the first three films will portray the title character as a hero, the fourth entrant has a different take on it. To be directed by Ali Akbar, a pro-BJP film director, the movie will, apparently, “expose Haji’s real face”. Akbar said he would be making the film through crowd-funding.</p> <p>Interestingly, a film called <i>1921</i> was made in 1988 on the same subject. Directed by I.V. Sasi and starring Mammootty in the lead, the movie had gone on to become a super hit. The debate took a political turn with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan affirming that Haji was a warrior who led a brave battle against the British. “Kerala has always recognised him as a warrior,” he said. “There is no need to give a communal angle to that historic fact.” As expected, BJP leaders reacted strongly against it. “The Hindus have suffered a lot during the Malabar riots. If these films are being planned to make the oppressor a hero, then we will not allow it,” said senior BJP leader Sobha Surendran.</p> <p>Film lovers and critics, however, feel the more the merrier. “There is no one narrative to any incident. Let there be multiple narratives about this historic persona.... It is for the viewer to judge which is a better film,” said noted film critic C.S. Venkiteswaran. He pointed out that when the movie <i>1921</i> was released, there was no controversy. “If the same subject becomes controversial now, it only reflects how polemical Kerala society has become,” he said.</p> <p>The Film Employees Federation of Kerala, (FEFKA), meanwhile, has welcomed the move to make four movies on the same theme. FEFKA stated that it respected the creative freedom of all the filmmakers involved in these projects, and hoped that this would give a much needed boost to the film industry, which is struggling post Covid-19. </p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/02/the-lore-in-four.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/02/the-lore-in-four.html Thu Jul 02 15:54:15 IST 2020 teen-uprising <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/02/teen-uprising.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/2020/7/2/les-miserables.jpg" /> <p>A police officer moves to a new town and is assigned to a trigger-happy, anti-crime brigade led by a man with questionable morals. They drive around town, making a few shakedowns and interacting with criminal elements. Things take an unexpected turn when they attempt to apprehend a teen thief. A kerfuffle ensues between the cops and a group of teenagers, forcing a cop to shoot a flash-ball at one of the boys. With the help of local criminals, the cops are able to cover up the deed at first, but not for long.</p> <p>Director Ladj Ly borrows the town of Montfermeil from Victor Hugo’s novel for the setting. But in Ly’s <i>Les Miserables</i>, the teen protagonist is not looking for eventual redemption like Hugo’s Jean Valjean.The movie, which was screened at the Cannes Film Festival and was the French entry to the 92nd Academy Awards, often reminds one of <i>Training Day</i> because of the way it blurs the line between cops and crooks and <i>The Wire</i>, because of the similar backdrop. It is a story about the abuse of power, and the resultant violent uprising.&nbsp;</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/02/teen-uprising.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/02/teen-uprising.html Thu Jul 02 15:19:46 IST 2020 tech-couture <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/02/tech-couture.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/2020/7/2/nila-new.jpg" /> <p>Miquela Sousa or Lil Miquela—a 19-year-old Brazilian-American model, “musical artist”, and influencer—was the world's first ever virtual supermodel. Created in 2016, she lived in Los Angeles, wore clothes by luxury brands like Chanel and hobnobbed with musicians and artists in upscale restaurants. Shudu Gram, the first virtual Black CGI supermodel, was once a muse for Rihanna’s cosmetic brand, Fenty Beauty. To be sure, creating a digital supermodel, which involves employing sophisticated modelling software to create hyper-realistic 3D images, is fraught with ethical risks. But we now live in surreal times, when technology is both aiding and threatening the human race.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So when Nila, “India's first digital model”, was launched last week by Inega, a 20-year-old modelling agency, there was some interest on social media to create spin-offs and counter-claims. Another digital model named Leena Khurana popped up on Instagram claiming to be “India's first CGI fashion girl—Delhi brat, Bombay bred”. There is an attempt to humanise and build a story around Nila. “Nila's guiding principle, as she learns more about the world, is to treat those around her with fairness. And, consequently, to be treated fairly. Her favourite emotion is love.... She detests fakery in all its forms and believes that kindness can save the world,” says Ankit Mehta, CEO of Inega and part of the production team that helped conceptualise Nila, unwittingly making her sound like a beauty contestant who idolises Mother Teresa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On June 22, Nila introduced herself on Instagram thus: “Hi. I'm Nila. Happy to be here”, followed by a close-up of her chiselled face and full lips. Her features were sculpted using a tool called ZBrush and rendered out of a technology called Arnold. Mehta says Nila might not make her debut on a runway, although she does come just in time for India's first ever digital fashion week in August. “It could be an ad campaign or a magazine cover. Who knows?” he says, building on the mystique. “The idea is exciting and we have a long way to go. There is enough interest from the fraternity for collaborations and promotions.” He points out how globally, brands such as Valentino, Dior and Prada have already welcomed virtual models in their campaigns, to complement real models, and how there is a huge untapped opportunity for the fashion industry here.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fraternity has so far registered mixed reactions. Rahul Mishra, the first Indian to win the International Woolmark Prize in 2014 at the Milan Fashion Week, is interested but cautious. “I feel that this makes me curious, at the least, to find out what prospects lie ahead of us with this new advancement,” says Mishra, before adding a caveat. “We often take three to four days to cast models for our shows in Paris, going through about 400 girls to shortlist the right girl. They are not just hangers, they are breathing beings who are responsible for bringing life to a look.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Designer Ashdeen Z. Lilaowala, of the label Ashdeen which specialises in Parsi Gara saris, is not much enthused. “Being a purist, virtual models do not quite excite me,” he says. “Fads like this come and go. Everything that a physical model does today is a statement, starting from who she is, where she comes from, her background, race and body type. To generate a digital person who is controlled in some way makes no sense to me.” But “fashion”, by definition, also means to manufacture, cast, construct and fabricate. Is it not built on creating an illusion of both perfection and casual abandon?</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/02/tech-couture.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/02/tech-couture.html Thu Jul 02 15:54:31 IST 2020 chasing-glory <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/02/chasing-glory.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/2020/7/2/radhika-madan.jpg" /> <p>Radhika Madan made a wonderful debut with Vishal Bharadwaj’s <i>Pataakha </i>(2018), followed by a power-packed performance in Vasan Bala’s <i>Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota</i> (2018). Her third film, <i>Angrezi Medium</i>, released in the week the lockdown was announced. But instead of getting disheartened by the film’s short run in the theatres, the actor is looking at the positives, like the time she got to learn to play the piano. She even came up with a rendition of the song, Lag Ja Gale, with singer Jasleen Royal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\What made you learn the piano?</b></p> <p>A\I have always wanted to learn it. I kept talking about it. When the lockdown happened, I realised I have all the time in the world right now. It was time to practise what I preached. I was just posting a few pictures with the piano when Jasleen messaged me asking why not do something [together]. She wanted to learn the accordion. Then, we thought of collaborating for Lag Ja Gale, [which] is one of my favourites; hers too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\You have already had three releases in less than two years. How do you see your journey so far?</b></p> <p>A\It has been beautiful. I have got the opportunity to play quite a few characters. They have all been very different from each other. I also feel very fortunate to have worked with really amazing people in such a short time. I try and imbibe everything that I can from each person I work with.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\But has it been easy to find the kind of work you want to do?</b></p> <p>A\I do not have any complaints. If I learn of a project that I think I could be a part of, I chase the people associated with it to let me audition for it. I do not beg or ask to get the role. I just ask for a chance to audition. And I do not mind doing it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\The recent death of Sushant Singh Rajput has sparked many debates in Bollywood. One of them is how actors who transition from TV to films are not taken seriously. Since you have made this transition, do you think that is true?</b></p> <p>A\Of course this was the case. Sushant, in fact, inspired many of us to take that leap into films. He paved that path for us. But when I was transitioning, I often tried to get to the roots of why it has been like that and why people think like that. Maybe one needs to perform for television in a certain way and project a bit more when compared with movies, [which is subtler]. But as actors, you understand those differences.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/02/chasing-glory.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/07/02/chasing-glory.html Thu Jul 02 15:53:01 IST 2020 the-girl-on-the-train <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/06/25/the-girl-on-the-train.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/2020/6/25/63-Srishti-Shrivastava-new.jpg" /> <p>Srishti Shrivastava’s first brush with fame was while commuting on the Mumbai local. “Hey, Girliyapa!” yelled someone, referencing her character on The Viral Fever’s show. It was 2017, and those around her barely acknowledged her. Flash forward to 2019, when a fellow commuter yelled, “Hey, that’s Albina from Gully Boy!” and more people took note of her. There is no commuting right now because of the lockdown, but the acknowledgment is pouring in in different ways. Particularly after Shrivastava made a bold appearance in Amazon Prime Video’s recent offering, Gulabo Sitabo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A day after the film’s release, Shrivastava sounds chirpy on the phone. She is delighted that the reviews have praised her performance, though they have been somewhat critical of the film. Shrivastava’s Guddo, in the Shoojit Sircar film written by Juhi Chaturvedi, is a firebrand with chutzpah. The film is set in Lucknow, and Guddo is semi-orphaned, uninhibited and outspoken—someone who would not hesitate to give her elder brother (played by Ayushmann Khurrana) a dressing-down. These bold qualities are evident in her own voice and most of her other work as well. “When I auditioned for it, I had an idea of what the character was,” said Shrivastava. “She is a rockstar. She is so comfortable in her skin. I love that about her.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Auditions are the only way for new actors to make inroads in the industry. Over the last five years, Shrivastava has auditioned for “a lot of web series, advertisements and films”. She lucked out when casting director Jogi Mallang’s team called her to audition for a Sircar film. The brief mentioned that her character, Guddo, would be “chill and muhfat (blunt)”. Her first question was: “Is she an important character?” She said: “I asked that very selfishly. And, the girl on the call said, ‘She is the only girl.’” Only during the audition did Shrivastava find out that Amitabh Bachchan and Khurrana were headlining the film. But she was assured of an important role.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Guddo is an addition to the growing list of characters that break the on-screen stereotype of small-town women being coy, shy and dim. In an interview with Film Companion, Sircar mentioned that he wanted Guddo to be the head of the family. He wanted her to be liberal in terms of her sexuality, and praised the writing. “It’s her body, her life, her choice,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shrivastava captures Guddo’s emotions beautifully. But her encounter with diverse women characters of strength and resolve began early on. In her first theatre play, 07/07/07, directed by Faezeh Jalali, Shrivastava is one of the actors playing the lead role of Reyhaneh Jabbar, the Iranian woman who was imprisoned for stabbing her rapist. Then, playing Amba and Draupadi in Shikhandi, also directed by Jalali, Shrivastava confronts the notions of maleness, femaleness and everything in-between. Manav Kaul’s Chuhal, a love story, sees her as a nonconformist questioning the idea of marriage. It is, however, the Girliyapa videos, with its quirky stories of everyday women, that shot her to stardom. And then, there was a cameo appearance in Gully Boy as Albina Dadarkar, whom Alia Bhatt fights on-screen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But reaching this stage has taken time. Her response to the difficulties on the road to achieving her acting dreams is not one of frustration. But it is not oblivious of the realities of it either. “We go through a lot of rejection,” said Shrivastava. “I have not been selected for [many] ads either. I have done just three ads, having worked for more than four years.” With time, she learnt that too many factors influence the selection process. “Your face, whether you look the character or not, the number of followers you have [on social media], all these influence a director’s choice at times,” she said. She used to cry a lot, but has now accepted it as the reality of the business.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Born to parents from Uttar Pradesh, Shrivastava grew up in Mumbai and spent four years in Indonesia, where her father works. Her tryst with performance began fairly early. The dreamy-eyed child wanted to become a “heroine”. “Just that belonging to a middle-class family, we didn’t know how to go about it,” she said with a laugh. Her supportive parents, gauging her interests, enrolled her in Bharatanatyam classes when she was four. They also took her to auditions for TV commercials.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She did an ad for Amul ice-cream. She also auditioned for the role of Frooty in the popular TV show Son Pari, but did not get it. That was the end of her acting dream as a child. Her parents wanted her to complete her education before resuming acting. But dance continued. In her years in Indonesia, she also trained in Javanese dance. It was later, while studying mass media in Mumbai, that she started out in dramatics. She would go on to join The Drama School Mumbai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“When I taught Srishti in drama school, I always wanted to work with her once she was out of the school,” said Jalali. “You give an exercise to an actor and everybody has their own way of doing it. Some actors think differently. They are a notch above. I was sure I wanted Srishti for 07/07/07.” Jalali says that with her experience of working on multiple platforms, Shrivastava has grown in her perspective and performance. “She has gotten more refined,” she said. “She is somebody I would work with anytime, anywhere, blindly. I know the discipline and dedication she brings to whatever she does and the joy with which she does it. There are days when she is struggling; days when she questions what she does. But she always comes out stronger.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shrivastava’s last theatre performance before the lockdown was in Shikhandi at Prithvi Theatre. She is eagerly waiting for the auditoriums to be opened once again. But with the adulation coming her way for her turn in Gulabo Sitabo, she wants to be honest with herself. “I always wanted to be an actor, and what attracted me to it was the fame that came along,” said Shrivastava. “I got some of it with the Girliyapa videos and even with Shikhandi. I don’t know if the lockdown has made me wiser, but I feel that doing Gulabo Sitabo was to get more work ahead. My ultimate goal is to do mainstream cinema and good work as a lead. I knew that if Guddo works, it would hopefully open more doors.” Train rides for her may never be the same again.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/06/25/the-girl-on-the-train.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/06/25/the-girl-on-the-train.html Fri Jun 26 11:01:27 IST 2020 space-gaze <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/06/25/space-gaze.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/2020/6/25/66-Real-estate-firm-Cushman.jpg" /> <p>Les Musiciens du Ciel (The Musicians of the Sky) is a 1940 French film directed by Georges Lacombe. It tells the story of Victor Barthelemy, a con artist who falls in love with a terminally-ill woman, Jeanne. He meets her in a Salvation Army building called Le Cite de Refuge, which was the first major work in Paris by the famous Modernist architect, Le Corbusier. As the woman slowly succumbs to the illness, a parallel story is taking place—of the partial destruction of Le Cite de Refuge by the bombing of the Gare d’Austerlitz during World War II. In the end, one cannot ignore the connection Lacombe draws between Jeanne’s illness, probably tuberculosis, and the backdrop of the building in which her life plays out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the major reasons why the gilded carpets and ornate furniture of the 19th century gave way to the clean lines, empty white walls and sanitised interiors of 20th century Modernist architecture was tuberculosis, which was ravaging the world then. “Many of the ideas that Modern architects proposed did not come from architectural theory, they came from doctors, nurses and hospital architecture, particularly tuberculosis sanatoriums,” said Beatriz Colomina, Princeton professor and author of X-Ray Architecture, in a recent interview.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In fact, disease has always had a major influence on architecture, whether it was the 1855 bubonic plague in China or the 1954 cholera epidemic in London. Covid-19, too, might force us to rethink the minimalist Modernism we inherited. The pandemic is driving every aspect of our lives in new and unknown directions. Health and wellness are going virtual with telemedicine and remote patient monitoring. Education has become trans-national with online classes open to people of all ages and nationalities. Hospital-ready hotels might be the new norm. In the face of such changes, we are left with more questions than answers. Will the way we dress change? What about the way we find partners? Or the way we crack jokes? How will our built spaces need to adapt to accommodate these changes?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“People say that things will soon return to the old normal,” says Gautam Bhatia, award-winning architect, artist and writer. “But there is not going to be an old normal. There are going to be many changes. The three biggest ones are that spaces are going to shrink in size, become more intimate and more multi-functional. The virus is going to make a significant dent, not just in the way we design our homes, but also in commercial architecture. Buildings of monumental scale, like airports and stadiums, are going to be majorly affected. Some of them, like the Heathrow Airport, are so gargantuan in size that they leave a huge foot-print. They are going to become much smaller in future, as people limit their travel.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In many ways, the future is already at our doorstep. Take waste management company Bee’ah’s headquarters in Sharjah. It is built with “contact-less pathways”, and minimum interfacing of the employees with the building. Lifts are operated with smartphones and robots help host meetings. Or take the Netherlands-based real estate firm Cushman &amp; Wakefield’s concept of the “six feet office”. There are large black tiled circles around each desk to ensure social distancing and provisions for employees to exit only in a clockwise direction, to prevent them from bumping into one another. In the retail segment, DLF Malls is creating isolation rooms and building plexiglass screens into store counters. Watch maker Titan is re-designing its stores to allow for a distance of six feet between customers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There is going to be more stress on individuality and individual spaces,” says Smaran Mallesh, co-founder and principal architect at Cadence Architects. “We are going to look at how to better execute work from home options. There might be a dedicated corner in your house for that. Decks and outside spaces are going to become important.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He, however, cautions that we are still in the thick of things and it might be too early to speculate. But while, perhaps, people are hesitant to initiate permanent changes, many ad-hoc arrangements have come up. To ensure social distancing, a German café distributed hats fitted with pool noodles to its customers. Some parks are handing out hula hoops to children. A church in Bengaluru held a drive-in worship service, where people attended the service without getting out of their cars and bikes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nisha Mary Poulose, architect, urban planner and founder of Woven Design Collaborative, says that what our cities need is “mixed use planning”, where all types of land use—home, office and commercial—will be present in a particular area. “Currently,” she says, “we have divided our cities into zones like residential zone and commercial zone. This needs to change. Things need to become more localised. We need to realise the importance of, say, a park in every neighbourhood.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ultimately, the pandemic may inspire new ways of thinking in us which will have lasting repercussions on the spaces we occupy. “We will no longer take our spaces for granted,” says Mallesh. “There will be a new sense of empathy with which we view our collective spaces. As we redefine our personhood at the basic cellular level, this will have a ripple effect on everything.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In many ways, Covid-19 is offering us a chance to re-design the world and set a few wrongs right. There is a passage in the book, The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, about brook trouts that lived in deep glens “where all things were older than man” and “hummed of mystery”. On their backs, he wrote, were “vermicular patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again.” A new world—a pandemic-struck one—might be in its becoming. We have one chance to put it back together. How will we do it?</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/06/25/space-gaze.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/leisure/2020/06/25/space-gaze.html Fri Jun 26 11:00:29 IST 2020