Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Falling From A Branch


Guinness Pakru talks about his experiences in the films, 'Swantham Bharya Zindabad', 'Ambili Ammavan', and 'Joker'

Photo: Guinness Pakru in 'Swantham Bharya Zindabad'

By Shevlin Sebastian

Director Biju Vattappara placed his camera on the bank of a river in Thodupuzha, on a day in 2010. On the opposite bank stood Guinness Pakru, the 2’6” hero of the film, 'Swantham Bharya Zindabad'.

Pakru, who plays a Communist by the name of Vettoor Sivankutty, is supposed to commit suicide by jumping into the river. Associate Director Roshan Nair (name changed) stood next to Pakru, the script under his arm, and showed Pakru how to jump into the water.

But so engrossed was Roshan in showing Pakru how to do it, that he slipped and fell into the water. “And right in front of my eyes, I could see the papers of the only script we had slip out and float on the water’s surface,” says Pakru.

A panicky Biju arranged for a boat. Crew members got in and began collecting the pages from here and there. In the end they managed to get all the sheets. Thereafter, they came to the shore. The engine of a Tata Sumo was switched on, and the pages were placed on the bonnet, so that it could dry out.

That was the only way we could shoot the next scene,” says Pakru. As for Roshan, he became the butt of jokes by colleagues on the set.

In his very first film, 'Ambili Ammavan' (1985), Pakru had to sit on top of an elephant. The background of the story went like this: A rich man's son comes to school in a Mercedes Benz. When Pakru complains to his father, a mahout, played by Jagathy Sreekumar, that the family does not have a car, the latter announced that, from the next day, Pakru will go to school on an elephant.

I felt it would be exciting to do a shoot with an elephant,” says Pakru. “But when I sat on top, the bristles were like needles on my bum and legs. I started crying because of the pain. And it was Jagathy Chettan who soothed me and told me not to worry.”

And in one sequence, the elephant wrapped Pakru around his trunk and brought him down. “For a few moments, my legs were up in the air, and my head was facing the ground,” says Pakru. “Both the director [KG Vijayakumar] and Jagathy Chettan said that we should not do such risky shots. I will never forget the support offered by Jagathy Chettan throughout the shoot.”

Sometimes, stunt sequences can cause injury. At the shooting of Joker (2000) by director Lohithadas, at Cheruthuruthy, near Ottapallam, Pakru plays a joker in a circus. Since there was very little income, there was a scene when the performers steal coconuts from a nearby field.

Pakru goes to one such field, along with actor Bindu Panicker, who carries a ladder. “I was supposed to climb up a tree and throw coconuts to the ground,” says Pakru. “There was one scene where the ladder falls away and I am hanging from a branch. Then the branch breaks and I fall. As I head towards the ground, Dileep is supposed to catch me in his arms.”

But Pakru gained so much of momentum that Dileep could not hold him. “Instead, I slipped from his hands and fell, just as Dileep did,” says Pakru. “In the end, he hurt his hands, and injured his back.”

Unlike most actors, throughout his career, Pakru has had to all the stunt sequences by himself. “There is no question of a stunt man replacing me, since I am so small and there is nobody of my height doing these scenes,” says Pakru. “But I have got used to it. And, by the grace of God, so far, I have managed to do all the actions safely.” 

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

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

On The Run

Former Australian MP Pat Farmer is on a 4600 km journey across India to inspire people and impart a message of peace

By Shevlin Sebastian

The first sight of Australian long-distance runner Pat Farmer, 53, at a hotel in Kochi, comes as a shock. There is not an ounce of fat in his body. He is sinewy and lithe. The second impression is how red his skin has become.

On January 26, Pat set out from Kanyakumari, on a 4600 km journey, called ‘The Spirit of India run’, all the way to Srinagar. He plans to do it in 65 days. Pat is being accompanied by a television crew which is making a documentary that will be shown in film festivals all over the world.

And Pat has a reason to do this. “I want to inspire people,” he says. “When they look at me, they see the pain in my eyes, the blisters and bruises on my feet, they see I am struggling with the heat, but they also see something else. They see an ordinary man doing something extraordinary.”

But Pat is no ordinary man. For eight years he had been a Member of Parliament. And during a 20-year running career, he has run from the North to the South Pole, across Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam North America and Wet Asia. In the process, Pat has raised millions of dollars for charity. In 2000, the then Australian Prime Minister John Howard presented him with the ‘Achiever of The Year’ Award.

But Pat says anyone can do what he has done. “I want to tell people that they are capable of great things themselves,” he says. “We all have setbacks and difficulties. But it does not matter how many times you get knocked down, as long as you can get up one more time. And that is what this journey is all about.”

Pat has a couple of other goals. “I want to show Australians what a beautiful country India is,” he says. “I am also collecting donations to further girls’ education in India” (online contributions can be made at

For this journey Pat is being supported by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs – Public Diplomacy Division, Indian Association of Tour Operators, and the Federation of Hotels and Restaurants Association of India.

But the run is taking a physical toll on Pat, because of the intense heat and humidity. “Pat is exposing his body to extreme conditions,” says Dr. Joseph Grace, the medical and safety director of the team. “He has not experienced this level of humidity before. I have advised Pat to drink plenty of water plus salts.”

And Pat has discovered a quick-to-take food: chicken soup. It has the necessary salts, calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and iron,” says Dr. Joseph. “And it tastes delicious.”

Earlier, during the reception, Kochi Mayor Saumini Jain said, “Nowadays, within nations and even localities, there are differences on the basis of religions and other issues. That is why these efforts are very important. It brings people closer to each other.”

Says Pat: “This run is not about recognising the trouble, but the hope in the world.”

Nevertheless, it was in West Asia that Pat experienced first-hand, what Saumini had mentioned. “When I was in Lebanon, the people said, ‘Don’t go to Israel, they are all murderers there,’” he says. “And in Israel, they said, ‘You have been to Lebanon. And you have survived?!’ All I want to say is that, at the end of the day, whichever country we belong to, we are all human beings.”

And Kerala is a shining example. “When I set out on my runs in the early mornings, I saw people praying in the mosque,” he says. “After a while, I saw groups of men and women enter a church. Thereafter, I saw devotees in a temple. There are people of so many religions in India but they are worshipping in different, but peaceful ways.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Monday, February 01, 2016

Ebony and Ivory

The London-based artist Tatiana De Stempel's exhibition focuses on the impact of skin colour on people

Photos: Tatiana De Stempel. Photo by Albin Mathew;  Muslim women at Trafalgar Square, London

By Shevlin Sebastian

In June, 2015, the London-based artist Tatiana De Stempel noticed a group of young women, from Saudi Arabia, wearing black burqas, and holding expensive handbags, laughing and taking selfies at Trafalgar Square. “They were having a ball,” says Tatiana. “I was struck by them because, usually, Muslim women are very sombre in public.”

So Tatiana approached them. And they immediately agreed to her suggestion to stick their tongues out as she took photos. Over several months, Tatiana took photos of all types of people – blacks, transgenders, whites, Indians, Chinese and Japanese – all sticking their tongues out for the camera. She also took photos in Greece and Kochi.

Several of these photographs have been put up at Tatiana's show, 'What colour would you choose', which was held at the Backyard Civilisation Gallery at Mattancherry, near Kochi. The show (January 15-24) has been curated by the Delhi-based author Manoj Nair. “I wanted to show how, even though people have different skin tones, they have the same pink tongue,” says Tatiana. “In other words, deep down, we human beings are the same.”

This idea came to her, when at the India Art Fair, in January, 2014, at New Delhi, Tatiana, along with Manoj, met up with Kerala artist Binoy Varghese. “We were talking about the matrimonial advertisements in India, where the preference is always for ‘fair’ girls,” says Tatiana. “And there is a high demand for fairness skin creams in India. That was when I decided to do this project.”

She was also prompted by an incident in her childhood. In London, there was a Black & White Minstrels Show, in the 1960s, where people, who are white, would be dressed up as black persons and wore black makeup, but the area around the eyes was painted white. “It looked weird,” says Tatiana. “And I never forgot it.”

However, during the year-long project, Tatiana came across some paradoxes. “In England, as soon as the sun comes out, everybody steps out to get a tan,” she says. “They want to turn brown. That's why they go for summer holidays to Greece and Spain. No one is happy with the skin colour they have.”

In Athens, a young girl called Maria summed it up well: “White people want to be black, and black people want to be white. As for me, it is good to be tanned, because all your marks and scars can be hidden.”

In Kochi, when Tatiana held a workshop on skin colour, the responses confirmed to her the deep-rooted desire among Malayalis and Indians to be fair-skinned. “All the women participants wanted a light-coloured child,” she says. “Somebody told me that women are told not to eat mangoes, or drink coffee, so that they can become fairer.”

Apart from photographs, Tatiana has done watercolour drawings of people who have undergone plastic surgery because they have been unhappy with their skin tone and colour. “I have done a drawing where the face has been changed by Botox surgery,” says Tatiana. She has also focused on French performance artist Orlan, who has done a lot of a plastic surgery on her face as part of her public performance.

The third aspect of the exhibition is a video in which Tatiana asks people their views regarding their skin tone. A black man, by the name of David, says, “Skin colour is a hierarchy, with white on top. As to whether I have the same opportunities as my white contemporaries, the answer is no.”

As Tatiana speaks, local artist Pradeep Kumar comes in to view the works. “This is interesting,” he says, after walking around. “Apart from the tongue, everybody has red blood. Maybe, this could be the subject of your next exhibition.”

Tatiana smiles and nods. A practicing artist for the last 20 years, Tatiana has exhibited in London and San Francisco. She has done paintings, etchings and photography. For the past 16 years, she has also been a visiting tutor at the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design at London. But her heart is in India. “I am having a great time in Kochi,” she says. 

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

Sunday, January 31, 2016

India’s First Blade Runner

Major DP Singh lost his right leg as a result of the Kargil War. Today he is a runner as well as an inspirational speaker

By Shevlin Sebastian

At the start of the Spice Cost Marathon in Kochi, in November, 2015, Uday Bagde, a participant from Ahmedabad, had a moment's hesitation. A member of an all-India group called The Challenging Ones, he turned to founder Major DP Singh and said, “Sir, is it necessary to wear shorts while running, instead of trackpants?”

Singh replied that runners can only wear shorts. So, Bagde took off his track pants and set out in his white shorts. Immediately he caught the eye, because he was wearing a prosthetic.

Later, when he completed his quota of five kilometres, he told Singh, “In this short span, I have changed as a person. Earlier, I was shy about showing my prosthetic in public. But during the run people told me, 'Oh my God, you are an inspiration for me.'”

Singh is also an inspiration. He is India's original blade runner, in the manner of South Africa's famed running champion Oscar Pistorius. “When I wear a blade, it gives me the same posture as a normal runner,” he says. “One part of the blade works as a toe. It gives a push, and helps me to move forward.”

Thus far, Singh has taken part in 18 half marathons (21 kms) in places like Mumbai, Delhi, Kochi, Chandigarh, Ladakh, and Sangla. Incidentally, these type of limbs are not manufactured in India. Singh has imported one, made of carbon fibre, at a cost of Rs 7 lakh.

The Delhi-based runner began running six years ago. “I wanted to do everything that a normal person can do,” says Singh. “The most difficult aspect for someone, without a leg, is to run, and to run long distance. Once I began running I felt an immense self-confidence.”

And there was a changed attitude among the people towards Singh. “There were no longer any looks of sympathy,” he says. “Instead, they quickly accepted me as a normal person. Running also releases endorphins in the brain. As a result, I feel good and happy. And in control.”

But Singh had experienced moments when things went haywire. On the morning of July 15, 1999, he was part of an Army team taking part in 'Operation Vijay' during the Kargil War between India and Pakistan. A bomb burst just five feet away from him at the Chicken Neck section in Akhnoor. By the time, he regained consciousness, the situation looked grim. Gangrene had set in. Despite the best treatment in several hospitals, the doctors had no option but to amputate his leg.

And his first thought was highly unusual. “I felt that now I will be able to see life from a disabled person's eyes, and do something about it,” says Singh. “Today, I believe that this is the path chosen by the Almighty himself, so I cannot question Him at all.”

Singh carries on in this vein: “My present life is much better. Had I not been injured, I would have been a mediocre person. But because of the amputation, I touched the nadir of my life. And from there I bounced back. It is the bouncing back that makes you a different person.”

It gave him the confidence to start an organisation for amputees called The Challenging Ones. “The name comes from being physically challenged,” says Singh. “We wanted to convert members, through sports, to become a challenger in life, and help them adopt a positive attitude.”

There are 800 members from all over India. For the Kochi race, Singh was able to persuade IDBI-Federal Life Insurance to provide air tickets and five-star hotel accommodation for 18 runners from all over the country. Out of them, 11 were coming out of their home city for the first time since their amputation. “It was an emotional moment for them,” says Singh. “I felt happy that I could do my bit for my fellow amputees.”

In his day-to-day life Singh is an inspirational speaker. He has talked about his life experiences at companies, school and colleges. “Now, you tell me, wasn't my amputation a good thing?” says Singh, with a smile. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Many Firsts To Her Credit

Thanks to her many achievements, Nirmala Lilly has become the first Indian to be interviewed in the Toastmaster international magazine

Photos: Nirmala Lilly; the cover of the December Toastmaster magazine

By Shevlin Sebastian

One day, in September, 2015, Nirmala Lilly got an e-mail which took her by surprise. It was from Shannon Dewey, an editorial team member of the Toastmaster international magazine. (The Toasmasters is a world-wide institution which helps members to improve their speaking and leadership skills). "I am very interested in interviewing you for a 'Member Moment' profile, in an upcoming issuem," wrote Shannon.

Following Nirmala's assent, there was a regular exchange of mails for the next few weeks, as Nirmala had to answer several questions sent by the editorial team.

And, finally, in the December issue, the article appeared. Thus, the Kochi-based Nirmala created a bit of history: she is the first Indian Toastmaster to be interviewed in the magazine. "What really excited me was to see the small Indian flag that was placed next to my photo," she says. Incidentally, the magazine is available in 135 countries.

In the interview, Nirmala said, "Toastmasters was and is the medicine, as far as articulation is concerned. It gave me the courage to quit and get better jobs, better positions and better [salary] packages and, of course, recognition."

Like most good public speakers, Nirmala was painfully shy for several years. "I was petrified to stand in front of an audience," she says. "This affected my career in the earlier years."

Thanks to the encouragement given by CM Daniel and Paul Manjooran, the founders of the Toastmasters movement in Kerala, Nirmala attended a few meetings, but could not commit herself to join. The turning point came when a Toastmaster, by the name of George Mathai, said, "Nirmala, it is nice to have a honeymoon. But it is better to get married and have a honeymoon."

So, Nirmala joined in August, 2006. "Thereafter, I took to it like a duck to water," she says. "There was no looking back."

Recently, Nirmala was felicitated by her club, the Kerala Toastmasters (KTM), at a function in Koch for being featured in the magazine.

"Nirmala has many achievements to her credit," says KTM president Shawn Jeff Christopher. "She is the first Lady Charter president in Kerala, as well as the first area governor."

Nirmala was given the best area governor award, of District 82, which consists of India and Sri Lanka. She is also the first lieutenant governor-marketing. As a result, she holds the highest position in Kerala. "Nirmala is also the first person to achieve the Distinguished Toastmaster rank," says Shawn. "She has set a benchmark. We have to follow in her footsteps."

At the meeting, Nirmala thanked her mentor, Daniel, apart from many other eminent members. A happy Daniel said, "Nirmala is a person who pursues her goals through relentless efforts. Despite ploughing a lonely furrow, she perseveres, no matter the obstacles."

Says KTM member George Johnson, "Nirmala is the sole reason I joined the Toastmasters. The way she mentored me and the positive energy she imparted, it has always helped me."

Nirmala has spent more than 25 years in the hospitality industry, having worked with the Taj Group of Hotels, the Ramada Resort, Flora Hotel, and the Wonderla Group, among many other assignments. Today, she is the owner or CEO of Infinity Hospitality Services, which focuses on tourism, consultancy and training. Nirmala is also a member of the Institute of Directors, New Delhi, and a managing committee member for several businesses and organisations in Kerala. 

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

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Making a Mark…Yet Again

Despite a small role, Lena makes an impression in the Bollywood box-office hit, ‘Airlift’

Photos: Lena in a scene from 'Airlift'; Director Raja Krishna Menon (left) with Akshay Kumar during the shoot

By Shevlin Sebastian

In March, 2015, at Ras al-Khaimah, United Arab Emirates, a sandstorm blew up. On the sets of the Bollywood film, ‘Airlift’, director Raja Krishna Menon was thinking of packing up, but it was Akshay Kumar, who plays the hero, who suggested shooting through the sandstorm to create a sense of authenticity.

As a result, Mollywood actress Lena got an opportunity to encounter a sandstorm first-hand. “The only problem was that it took all of us two days to remove all the sand from my hair,” she says, with a laugh. Says a grateful Raja: “The actors were patient and we shot a beautiful scene which, unfortunately, I had to take out in the edit.”

This is Lena’s first role in a Bollywood film. She plays Deepthi Jayarajan, the wife of George Kutty (who is played by Kannada actor Prakash Belawadi). He is forever complaining about all the problems the Indians are facing. ‘Airlift’ is a fictionalised version of the evacuation of 1.7 lakh Indians from Kuwait when Iraq invaded the country in August, 1990.

In the film, Lena has only a few sentences to say. “I was clearly told that there would be very few dialogues, so I was aware before-hand of what I was getting into,” she says.

Says Raja: “Roles are never small or big. Lena took up a challenging role and has blown it out of the park. She is unforgettable as George's wife. She brings life to a very difficult character. I always say quality over quantity.”

Indeed, Lena impressed with her facial expressions. She was able convey powerfully her exasperation at the way her husband is behaving.

In fact, in one of the striking scenes in the film, when George Kutty complains, yet again, Akshay’s on-screen wife Nimrat Kaur lashes out, reducing Kutty to a stunned silence. Again, it is Lena’s shame and embarrassment, which are revealed through the eyes that is eye-catching.

Asked how she got the role, Raja says, “I was looking for a Malayali actor and my casting assistant brought me a clip of a film she was in. Lena was brilliant in the clip, but when I looked deeper, I realised she is quite a big star in Malayalam cinema. Anyway, I spoke with her, explained the part and she agreed to be a part of ‘Airlift’. I am really glad that she did.”

Meanwhile, when asked about the striking difference between a Bollywood and Mollywood production, Lena says, cryptically, “The budget. [Airlift had a budget of Rs 30 crore]. Everything is on a large scale. We cannot even compare.”

Interestingly, Lena has yet to see ‘Airlift’ because she is busy shooting for the Telugu film, ‘Dr. Chakravarty’, where she plays the hero’s wife. “I am told that ‘Airlift’ is doing very well in the box office,” she says. “So I am very happy about that.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

When Usha Uthup Danced with Kalpana

(Memories of the actress, who died, aged 51, on January 25)

Photos: Usha Uthup; Kalpana 

By Shevlin Sebastian

Veteran television producer Diana Silvester is in shock. Just two days ago, she had called Kalpana in Hyderabad. She asked the actress if she could attend the inauguration of the new building of the St. Joseph's Bethlehem Church at Chullickal, Kochi, on January 30.

Kalpana promised to get permission from the producer of the Telugu film she was working on. Meanwhile, singer Usha Uthup had already agreed to attend. There is a reason behind the request: at the function, Diana is planning to play the video of the hit song, ‘Palavattam’, which had been sung by Usha. She had also danced with Kalpana for the shoot.

Here's a flashback: at a television studio, in Kochi, on a day in August, 2008, it is difficult to recognise Usha. She is wearing a wig of brown curls and a body-length black gown as well as a dazzling golden necklace.

Standing next to her, in black top and jeans and boots, topped by a black wig, is Kalpana.

Usha and Kalpana move their hands and shake their bodies from side to side, in rhythm to the beat of 'Palavattam', which is being played over the speaker system. 

There is an easy camaraderie between Kalpana and Usha. When Kalpana does some quicksilver moves on the dance floor, Usha, who is watching from the sidelines, shouts, “You are a rock star!”

When Usha says, in mock protest, to Diana, “I don’t want to dance next to Kalpana, she makes me look old,” the actress crooks her finger and says, “Come here, little girl.”

During a break in the shooting, Kalpana says this is the first time she is acting for an album song. “The biggest plus is the dynamic voice of Usha Didi,” she says. “And to act with her is a second big plus. Lastly, the director is a lady. So, this song is a collaboration of three women.”

Later, hands-on director Diana keeps coming onto the set from the control room and says, “Kalpana, your lip movements are not synchronising with the lyrics,” or “the expression is not precise.” Kalpana always takes this in a sporting spirit and is ready to do, take after take, to get it right.

As for the song, it has a thumping beat and soaring above it, is the rich velvety voice of Usha. "Who can resist swaying to this song?" says Kalpana, with a smile.

So, it is sad to know that death has snatched away this effervescent actress on the cusp of middle age. Or, as Usha says, from a recording studio at Kolkata, “It was heart-breaking for me to hear the news.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kerala editions)  

Monday, January 25, 2016

A League of His Own

Business magnate Dr. J Rajmohan Pillai, the younger brother of the late Rajan Pillai, has started the Nutking Kerala Tennis League. He has plans to start an all-India league, apart from a tennis academy along the likes of the Britannia Amritraj Tennis (BAT) Academy

Photo of Rajmohan Pillai by Manu R Mavelil

By Shevlin Sebastian

On a humid afternoon in September, 2015, at the Trivandrum Tennis Club, TP Rajaram, the joint secretary of the Kerala Tennis Association was playing a game with Dr. J Rajmohan Pillai, the chairman of the transnational Beta Group, which has a turnover of $2 billion. The group has a major dried fruits and nuts business.

During a break, they had a chat. That was when Rajaram told him about his plans to hold an inter-club championship. “Why inter-club?” said Pillai. “Let's make it bigger. We should get teams from schools, colleges and corporates. That is the only way to unearth the best talents.”

And thus was born the Nutking Kerala Tennis League. For the inaugural league, (November 15 – January 25), there were 37 eight-member teams from all over Kerala, from Kasaragod in the north to Thiruvananthapuram in the south. “We have also encouraged people above 45 to take part,” says Pillai. “Once the parents start playing, the children will definitely follow. I want to create a movement for tennis.”

The league has been divided into four zones. “Each zone had a round robin,” says Rajaram, the tournament director. “The top two will go to the knockout stage. The third and fourth teams will play another knockout for the Loser’s Plate.”

The winner gets Rs 60,000 while the runner-up will collect Rs 40,000. The Plate prize is Rs 30,000 and Rs 20,000 respectively. The total investment is Rs 15 lakhs.

Pillai says that for the next year's league, he will increase the amount substantially, because he has been encouraged by the response. “Tennis has become very popular, thanks to the Grand Slam exploits of Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi, and Sania Mirza,” he says.

Moments after the Wimbledon final in 2015, Rajaram took an autorickshaw in Thrissur town. “The driver spoke to me about the brilliance of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic,” he says.

Pillai has been brilliant on court, too. In December, 2015, he won the doubles gold with his partner Shashi Bhushan Sharma (a Deputy Inspector-General of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police) at the inaugural Malaysian Open of the seniors circuit of the International Tennis Federation.

But the interest in tennis goes back a couple of generations. “It all started in the early 1960s when my parents used to play tennis at the Cashew Club, Kollam,” says Pillai. “Soon, my elder brother Rajan [Pillai of Britannia Biscuits fame] who is 16 years older than me, began playing. I started at the age of six. 

Later, when Rajan settled in Singapore, I would go there and he would provide coaches for me. In fact, his house, on Ridout Road, was one of the few places which had a tennis court in the early 1970s. In the end, both of us developed a passion for the game.”

And in the early 1980s, Rajan (1947-95), who was the chairman of the Beta Trust, contributed $12 million to set up the Britannia Amritraj Tennis (BAT) Academy in Chennai. Later, the academy would produce players like Leander Paes, Somdev Devvarman, Gaurav Natekar and Asif Ismail. There was some good news for Kerala trainees, also.

Jaco T. Mathew won the junior national hardcourt title in 2001 by defeating Somdev Devvarman in the final. Unfortunately, he faded away.

Meanwhile, Pillai has plans to start a second BAT, with an investment of Rs 100 crore. “We are looking for a location in Bangalore,” he says. “Or we might even take over a functioning academy.”
He said that his centre would place an emphasis on scientific training. “Otherwise, it would be difficult for Indians to match foreigners in a gruelling five-set match,” says Pillai. 

An academy could provide material help, since tennis is not an affordable sport for most people. “If you want to be a pro, you have to spend between Rs 16-22 lakh a year, for travelling, equipment and taking part in tournaments,” says Pillai.

In September, 2016, Pillai will unveil another ambitious plan. His firm Beta Sports is going to hold a pan-India tournament, in the manner of the Indian Premier League. Says Pillai: “So, what was started off by two people at a tennis club could soon become a movement to unify the game in India with one gigantic league!” 

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

Friday, January 22, 2016

Unexpected Twists and Turns


Scriptwriter/director Rafi talks about his experiences in the films, 'Romeo', ' 'Ringmaster' and 'Aniyan Bava Chettan Bava'

Photos: Scriptwriter/Director Rafi; Dileep in 'Ringmaster' 

By Shevlin Sebastian 

One day, in 2007, scriptwriter Rafi was on the sets of the film, 'Romeo', at Ottapallam. Suddenly, an unit hand came up to him and said that a young man wanted to meet him. So Rafi called him over.

Anish (name changed) shook Rafi's hand and said, “Sir, when I saw Punjabi House [directed by Rafi-Mecartin, 1998] and saw the financial difficulties of Dileep, I had laughed a lot.”

In the film, Dileep had a small notebook that he kept in his pocket, which contained the details of all the debts that he has to pay back. However, a few years later, Anish was in the same position. “Like Dileep, I also carry a notebook,” said Anish. He then took it out and showed Rafi the money he owed to various people, because of a failed business.

I can no longer stay at my home, at Kozhikode,” said Anish. “My family is going through a lot of trouble, because the creditors are harassing them. Now, at night, I sleep at railway stations, temples, or bus stands. However, like in 'Punjabi House', I hope to find a benefactor and, who knows, maybe, somebody to fall in love and marry.”

Rafi tapped Anish consolingly on his shoulders and was about to take out his purse. But Anish quickly said, “Sir, I owe in lakhs, so what you give will not make a difference. But when I heard that you were shooting in the vicinity, I just wanted to tell you about all this.”

Like Anish, on another location, at Pollachi, for the film Ringmaster (2014), director Rafi was facing problems. Dileep plays a dog trainer. A Mumbai-based trainer Pradeep (name changed) had come with a dog. However, when the dog was in a naughty mood, he would not obey Pradeep. Three days went past. The dog remained disobedient. No shooting could be done. Rafi, as well as Pradeep, began to feel tense because of the wasted time.

And then, suddenly, Rafi got an idea, to solve the problem. “In the film, there is a film director who is supposed to shoot Dileep and the tricks done by the dog,” says Rafi. “Instead, I changed it and decided the focus would be on a disobedient animal, just like in real life. So the director would say, 'Please make the dog urinate,' and Dileep, despite his best efforts, was not able to do so. This section turned out to be one of the the most humorous moments in the film.”

There have been times when Rafi has felt nervous, just like Pradeep. This was during the shoot, at the Aluva Government Guest House, of 'Aniyan Bava Chettan Bava' (1995) directed by Rajasenan. Rafi and Mecartin had written the script. Soon Rafi heard that the late Narendra Prasad, who was playing Chettan Bava, wanted to see him, after reading the script. “I knew he was a writer and scholar,” says Rafi. “I thought he wanted to scold me for writing an all-out comedy.”

So, Rafi stayed away whenever Prasad's takes were being done. But, one day, by accident, they both came face to face. Prasad said, “For the past few days I have been asking about you.”

Rafi remained silent. “It is a nice script,” said Prasad. “But I have a suggestion to make. When you wrote about the olden times, you spoke about people spending one or two rupees. But in that era, it was one-fourth and one-half of an anna. Would you have any objection if we changed that?”

Rafi agreed immediately. “Prasad Sir never treated me that I was lesser than him,” says Rafi. “I will always have the deepest respect for him.”

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

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Ups and Downs of the Human Heart

Best-selling author Preeti Shenoy deals with emotions in relationships in her latest book, 'Why We Love The Way We Do'

By Shevlin Sebastian

At a book signing event, in Chennai, a young girl came up and gave best-selling author PreetiShenoy a gift. “I put it in my bag and forgot about it,” says Preeti. “My mind was focused on signing books and meeting people.”

However, three days later when Preeti opened her bag, she got a shock. The gift was a gold-plated Ganesha. “I was overwhelmed,” she says. Somehow, she managed to trace the young girl on Facebook and conveyed her thanks.

Apart from gifts, Preeti receives thousands of e-mails every month. And they are from people who ask the author for advice on how to go about having relationships. They feel that Preeti is an expert because she has written in detail on this subject in five novels and two non-fiction books, all of which have been best-sellers.

In fact, her just-released book, 'Why we love the way we do', published by Westland, reached No 4 in the best-seller charts within a short while.

It is a collection of her column articles, which she continues to write for a national newspaper. With an average length of 700-800 words, it talks about a wide variety of subjects: finding love, dating, marriage, break-ups, gender differences, communication, infidelity and sex.

So, Preeti is well placed to talk about the trends in middle-class society in India. “The very young are disillusioned about marriage,” says Preeti. “In fact, most youngsters do not want to get married. Because they feel that what they can get from a marriage, they are getting without. Pre-marital sex has become widespread.”

So how do parents react? “Some turn a blind eye,” says Preeti. “Others impose restrictions. But that does not work because children will find 15 other ways to do what they want. The best method is to have an open and healthy friendship with their children. That will enable the children to open up and talk on all subjects, including sex. In fact, a parent can advise their children that it is always better to have sex at 21, when they are mature enough, and not at 15, which is what is happening now.”

As for adults, it has become so much more easy to have an affair. “Today, because of technology, you can sit in India and begin an affair with a person in Japan. The very fact that there were lakhs of Indians on the Ashley Madison [adultery] web site shows that there is an active desire for extra-marital affairs.”

The Bangalore-based Preeti talked about all this on a recent visit to Kochi for a book signing and surprised people when she spoke in fluent Malayalam. “Both my parents grew up in Kerala,” she says. “But I lived outside. But, as children, we would come often to Kerala during our vacations.”

A Goud Saraswat Brahmin, Preeti's life changed in 2006 when her father, KVJ Kamath, passed away, suddenly, at age 66 through a cardiac arrest. “I felt numb because I was very close to my dad and would speak to him every day,” she says. “He was my hero.”

To get over the shock, Preeti began a blog. This turned out to be popular, and thereafter, her writing career took off. Asked to analyse her popularity, Preeti says, “Readers tell me that my style is simple, easy to read, and touches the heart. They have also told me that when they start reading my book, before they realise it, it is over.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)