Monday, July 25, 2016

A Graceful Sunset

Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom, at 98, is the oldest living Bishop in the world. He looks back on his life

Photo by Ratheesh Sundaram

By Shevlin Sebastian

When Dr Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar Thoma Valiya Metropolotan comes into his office at Maramon (102 kms from Kochi), on a July morning, it is difficult to believe that he has completed 98 years of age on April 27. His face is unlined, the smile pleasant, and the eyes are twinkling.

Suddenly, I notice the voting mark on his left forefinger, thanks to the state elections held in May. “I have voted in several State and Lok Sabha elections,” says Mar Chrysostom.

But he remembers that the candidates whom he voted for during the first three Assembly elections lost. “When the fourth election came up, the Communists told me, ‘As a Christian you will never vote for us atheists',” says Mar Chrysostom. “So, can you stay away from the voting?'”

But Mar Chrysostom reminded them of the defeats of the earlier candidates, all of them Congressmen. So the Communists said, “Okay, then, can you vote for the Congress again?”

Mar Chrysostom did so. “Unfortunately for the Communists, the Congressman won,” says the Bishop, with a smile.

The oldest living Bishop in the world is famed among Malayalis for his witty sermons and speeches. And he has a specific reason for opting to use humour. “There is no need to be more serious than necessary,” says Mar Chrysostom. “I realised that when I used humour, people regarded me as a friend and felt free to come and talk to me.”

One who did so is superstar Mammooty. At a June 21 public function, held at Kochi, to felicitate the bishop on his advanced age, Mammooty said, “I regard the Bishop as a close friend, who gives me advice on how to lead a meaningful life.”

Meanwhile, underneath the laid-back style, Mar Chrysostom is deeply dedicated to his vocation. And the seeds were planted early in him.

His father, the Very Rev. K. E. Oommen was a priest and became the Vicar General (the highest position among priests). "Right from childhood, because of my parents’ influence, I was committed to the church and God," says Mar Chrysostom. 

After his theological studies, Mar Chrysostom became a priest in 1944 and a bishop on May 23, 1953. On October 23, 1999, he was appointed as the supreme head of the Mar Thoma Church. But, in 2007, Mar Chrysostom relinquished his post. Today he is the Mar Thoma Valiya Metropolitan, and continues to travel extensively and give speeches.

Sometimes, he delves into his childhood memories. Once, when he was seven years old, he had gone with his mother to have a bath in the Maramon river. But his mother slipped and fell on the slushy bank. “My mother was very bulky,” says Mar Chrysostom. “So it looked very funny. I started laughing loudly.”

Neighbour Mathew, who was returning from the market, heard the laughter and stopped. “That was when he saw my mother,” says Mar Chrysostom. “So he helped her get up. Later, my mother got upset that he had seen that she had fallen. But I told her, 'Who else could have picked you up? Thank God I laughed. Otherwise, Mathew chettan [elder brother] would not have come'.” 

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

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Shooting On An Island


Director Sachy talks about his experiences in his debut hit film, 'Anarkali'

Photos: Director Sachy by Ratheesh Sundaram; the poster of 'Anarkali' 

By Shevlin Sebastian

As director Sachy was about to embark, on a ship, in February, 2015, with the actors and crew of the film, 'Anarkali', for the Lakshadweep Islands, he got a shocking news. The permission to shoot scenes at the islands of Agati, Kavaratti, Bangaram, and Thinnakara had been withdrawn by the island's administrator Rajesh Prasad.

A group called the Sunni Students' Federation had submitted a petition to the Administrator, signed by the Imam of the local mosque, stating that cinema is unIslamic. “I was informed that if shooting commenced, there would be communal problems,” says Sachy.

The director kept calm. “If I told [the actors] Prithviraj, Biju Menon, Priyal Gor, and Miya George about this problem, they would immediately set out for their next films,” says Sachy. So he kept quiet and had a discussion with producer Rajeev Nair and production controller Roshan Chittoor.

The team was supposed to arrive at Kavaratti the next day. But Sachy needed more time to get the order reversed. So he persuaded the captain to change the direction of the ship's journey. The boat would now touch the islands of Bitra, Kiltan and other islands and would reach Kavaratti the day after.

Again, through an influential contact, Sachy was able to inform a senior official of the ministry of external affairs. The official immediately asked the administrator to come to Delhi. So, Rajesh flew by helicopter from Kavaratti to Kochi and then took a flight to Delhi.

While there, the official told Rajesh, “If Lakshadweep is a part of India, then the film shoot will have to take place there, at all costs.” Rajesh cited a possible law-and-order problem and said that he did not have the necessary forces to control the unrest. “We will send central forces,” the official said firmly. Rajesh nodded and flew back. As soon as he reached Kavaratti, Rajesh issued the permission certificate.

Meanwhile, Sachy felt a tension within him as the ship approached the embarkation jetty at Kavaratti. There were 2000 people present, but he was not sure whether they were friendly or antagonistic. “But when we stepped out, they gave us green coconuts to drink, to show their happiness at seeing us,” says Sachy. “I felt so relieved. It became clear that the the majority were in support of us. Later, whereever we had shooting stints, the locals would provide us with food. They were so kind and generous.”

However, when Sachy wanted to do a crowd scene, he faced opposition. The islanders are followers of Islam. “They said that women were not supposed to appear in front of the camera,” says Sachy. “My problem was that I could not show an audience that consisted of only men.”

So Sachy requested the local doctors and engineers to bring their families. That evening, an announcer went around the island in an autorickshaw and announced a performance by Jayaraj Warrier, who was playing Chettuva Shah Jahan, a Mappilapattu singer, in the film. Jayaraj would lip-sync a song called 'Aa Oruthi Avaloruthi', which was sung by Vineeth Sreenivasan and Manjari.

Sachy kept his fingers crossed. But, at the appointed time, a crowd of men, women and children appeared. They listened to the song avidly. “We shot the reactions and the clapping,” says the director, who used three cameras as well as a helicam. “After the song was over, we played it again. Again they clapped. When the third time it happened, people began to drift away. So, we begged a few of them to stay on. That was how we managed to shoot the song.”

Sachy smiles and says, “After all these difficulties, I was so relieved when the film became a bumper hit.” 

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Straddling Two Continents

Colombian artist Pedro Gómez-Egaña talks about his first impressions of Kochi, as well as his art and life in Norway

Photo by Ratheesh Sundaram 

By Shevlin Sebastian

A day after his arrival in Kochi, recently, Colombian artist Pedro Gómez-Egaña, has a dazed look on his face. “There are so many impressions,” says the Norway-based artist, on his first visit to Kerala. “It is going to take me a while to assimilate it.”

But he is much taken up by the dynamism of the city. “Kochi has a particular rhythm,” he says. “By rhythm, I mean, the intensity with which people interact with each other. Like the way they navigate the traffic. The pedestrian rhythm is slow and relaxed and the people walk with a beautiful confidence. The traffic, on the other hand, is frenetic. Although people told me it is aggressive, I did not find it so. There seems to be an interwoven communication between the pedestrians and the car and bus drivers.”

Pedro is one among the ‘First 25’ artists who have been announced as participants for the third Kochi Biennale, which runs from December 12, 2016 to March 29, 2017.

His work is a mix of installation and performance-based works. One striking work is called 'The Chariot of Greenwich'. It is a wooden contraption, with two large wheels, and several gears and was inspired by the Chinese.

The Chinese built this chariot in 2600 BC,” says Pedro. “It has a complex set of gears and was built in such a way that an arrow always pointed to the South. And it always moved around in a circle. We are also moving, but, many times, it seems to be in circles.”

Like the Chinese chariot, all inventions have their pluses and minuses. “According to French philosopher Paul Virilio, when you invent the ship, you invent the shipwreck,” he says. 

“When you invent the plane, you invent the plane crash. And when you invent electricity, you invent electrocution. Every technology has its own negativity.”

Meanwhile, when asked about his life in Bergen, Norway, Pedro says, “A part of me resonates very strongly with Norwegians. I feel at home. They have a romantic streak. That is very Latin American. They also believe in contemplation and solitude and have a beautiful relationship to light and darkness.”

This darkness lasts for six months. Not surprisingly, Pedro, from sunny Colombia, misses the sunlight. “Even if my brain does not feel it, my body does,” he says. “My doctor said that since I was born in the tropics, it will get worse every year. I try to go away. Or I have to take Vitamin D tablets, fish oil and lie under sun lamps. But it is still very tough. The nice thing is that everybody is depressed. And there is a collective agreement that we are going to be moody for the next six months.”

Despite this, Pedro has been working steadily. His works have been shown at the Performa 13 at New York, the Bergen Assembly Triennale, La Kunsthalle in France, the Brussels and Marrakech Biennials, and the Colomboscope in Sri Lanka.

Since he is a frequent international traveller, he is well-placed to identify the global trends in society. “The media is the most powerful force in the world today,” he says. “However, for the first time in history, we not only consume news, but we produce it on our own and share it. As a result, life is being constantly interrupted by SMS messages, Facebook and Whatsapp texts. There is a saturation of information. So, people are in a constant state of distraction. They are unable to engage with anything deeply. It is affecting the brain, relationships and our perception of time.”  

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

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Playing A TV Journalist


Ramesh Pisharody talks about his experiences in the films, ‘Amar Akbar Antony’, ‘Nasrani’ and ‘Aadupuliyattam’ 

Photos by Ratheesh Sundaram

By Shevlin Sebastian
In the film, ‘Amar Akbar Antony’ (2015), where mimicry artist Ramesh Pisharody has a small role, the shooting was at debut director Nadir Shah’s native place of Eloor, Kochi. “Nadir Shah wanted to impress his neighbours,” says Ramesh. On the set, there were stars like Jayasurya and Indrajith. Nadir Shah wore the director’s cap.
Usually, the director says ‘Roll’ and ‘Action’, and the camera starts to roll,” says Ramesh. “For a couple of times, Nadir Shah said, ‘Roll’ loudly and for various reasons, the camera did not roll.”
A lot of people were watching the shoot. After a while, an elderly man told a relative of Nadir Shah, “There is a shoot taking place in Eloor. And Nadir Shah is begging loudly for a role in films.”
But Ramesh got a role easily. One day, while he was in Thiruvananthapuram, he got a call from production controller Nandakumar Poduval, who told him he had to play a big scene for the film, ‘Nasrani’. Mammooty played the hero while Joshy was the director.
So Ramesh took a night bus and arrived at the location of Kalamassery. There were 300 junior artistes and 15 police jeeps. It was a scene of a riot. Ramesh was given a three page script and told to memorise it. It consisted of the names of people who were critically injured or died in a hospital. He was playing a television reporter Biju Cherian who would tell all these names following a call from the news desk. The shoot was concluded in half a day. “Later, when I was called to do the dubbing, I felt that this was a big scene,” says Ramesh. So, when the film was released, Ramesh eagerly went and saw it at the Saritha cinema.
There is a scene where Mammooty is sitting in a bar with some friends,” says Ramesh. “Suddenly, all the details of the victims can be heard on a speaker. I was puzzled. My voice can be heard, but I cannot be seen. Suddenly the camera pans to a TV on the wall. And what was when my face was shown. I wanted to tell people that from TV I had reached films, but, in the film, I was back on the TV.”   
In ‘Aadupuliyattam’ (2016), in which Jayaram plays the hero, the shooting was at Tenkassi. It was a place which abounded in monkeys. One day, Ramesh, who plays the character of Sunny, had parked his car near a temple which was having a festival.  Because of the bursting of firecrackers, a frightened monkey took shelter under the car.
No matter what we did, shouting and poking it with a stick, the monkey would not move,” says Ramesh. “Somebody suggested placing a banana away from the car. We did so. But the monkey remained unmoved. Then, water was aimed through a hose. Still nothing happened.”
So the car was moved forward slowly. But the monkey also started moving along with it. “If we pressed the accelerator, the monkey would have died,” says Ramesh. “Finally, somebody suggested that we should burst a cracker. So we got one from the temple, lit it, and threw it under the car. The cracker burst, the monkey ran away, but the only problem was that I had to spend Rs 16,000 to repair the underside of the car.” 

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

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Double View

On a recent visit to Kochi, Bertrand de Hartingh, the Cultural Counsellor of the French Embassy, talks about a host of subjects regarding India and France

Photo by Ratheesh Sundaram 

By Shevlin Sebastian

At 5.30 p.m., on a Tuesday, last month, Bertrand de Hartingh, the Cultural Counsellor of the French Embassy at Delhi was about to stride into the Chavara Cultural Centre in Kochi. But he stopped suddenly because a group of chenda players were giving a spirited performance. This was part of the celebrations of the opening of the new Annexe of the Alliance Francaise.

The annexe is a spacious set-up with a hall and several large rooms. Posters of various images of France hung on the walls. “The opening of the annex at its own premises in Kochi is one of the biggest achievements of the past few years,” says Alice Gauny, the director of the Alliance Francaise of Thiruvananthapuram. “From now on we have a space in which we can teach, organise events, and develop partnerships and activities.”

Bertrand nods as he cuts the ribbon and lavishes praise on Alice. Just four months into his new assignment, Bertrand has already fallen in love with India. “I have been charmed by the intelligence and the dynamism of the people, and their readiness to have a look at everything, with open eyes,” he says. “I immediately felt that India is a place where I can learn a lot.”

He is also fascinated by Kerala. “It is a complex state,” says Bertrand. “Kerala has the highest rates for education, a low child mortality rate, and many other achievements. On the other hand, when you travel across Kerala, you can see garbage here and there. And then you think, 'How can such an obviously intelligent people allow this?'”

But Bertrand says France and Kerala are similar. “In both places, people like to laugh, tell jokes, read, have chats, enjoy nature and the arts. Both have a heritage which has lasted for hundreds of years.”

Asked about his work profile, Bertrand says, “My job is to meet and convince people, be it a professor, student, researcher, activist, or media person, that France can be a partner. During my Kochi visit I met Kerala University officials and had discussions on setting up partnerships for vocational training and higher education and businesses.”

There are more than one thousand French businesses in India. These include famous companies like L'Oreal and Schneider Electric. “They have thousands of employees, who make products for the Indian and world market,” says Bertrand. “We believe that by walking along with India in their development journey it will be good for the world.”

But all is not good inside France. It has been hit by a spate of terrorist attacks. “The mood in France is that the people want to heal,” says Bertrand. “Let's go on with what we are. We want to have our democracy the way it has always been.”

However, there is a feeling that there is a rising anti-Muslim bias. But Bertrand says, “I don’t think so. During the attacks at Paris in January, one of the victims was a Muslim policeman. These people use the name of Islam, but they kill everybody. They negate the human value. A lot of French Muslims are horrified by what has happened.”

Yet, despite that, there is an increase in popularity of the Far-Right parties like the National Front. While Bertrand acknowledges it, he says, “All around the world there is a tussle between nationalism and globalism. When people are confident and the economy is doing well, they go for globalism. But if there is a financial crisis, and people become afraid, then they will opt for nationalism.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Captain Radhika Menon wins Bravery Award

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photos: Captain Radhika; with the crew and the rescued fishermen  

Radhika Menon, the captain of the oil tanker, 'Sampurna Swarajya', and the first Merchant Navy woman captain, is to receive the 2016 International Maritime Organisation Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea. This is for her role in the rescue of seven fishermen from a sinking fishing boat off the coast of Orissa. She is also the first woman to win this award. It will be presented to Radhika at a function of the IMO at London on November 21.

Captain Menon displayed great determination and courage in leading the difficult rescue operation in the Bay of Bengal in June last year,” says a member of the IMO.

A thrilled Radhika says, from her ship at Mumbai, “The news has not yet sunk in. To be honest, I was not trying to win any award when I initiated the rescue operation. Instead, I considered it my duty. But, yes, the recognition from the IMO is memorable and I am humbled and honoured.” 

Incidentally, this is her second award. On April 5, National Maritime Day, the National Maritime Day Celebration Committee of India conferred the 'Seafarers Gallantry Award' on Radhika.

The rescue mission took place at noon, on June 22, 2015. Second officer Manoj Chauhan noticed a boat two-and-a-half kms away, off the coast of Gopalpur, Orissa. Owing to a deep depression there were fierce winds and rains. The wind speed was 60 to 70 knots, while the waves rose to a height of 25-27 feet. As a result, the boat was being tossed up and down.

Manoj informed Radhika. “When I looked through my binoculars, the men were waving their shirts and asking for help,” says Radhika, who is from Kodungallur. Radhika immediately ordered a rescue operation. 

Because of the turbulent sea, it took three attempts before all seven were rescued. The fishermen, who ranged in age from the 15-year old Perla Mahesh to Narasimha Murthy, 50, were in bad shape. They were weak, starving and frightened. The food and water had been washed away. They survived by sucking on ice cubes from the cold storage, which is used for preserving the fish. 

(The New Indian Express, Kerala edition) 

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Tips From Prem Nazir


Captain Raju talks about his experiences in the films, 'Raktam', 'Aana' and Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha'

Photos: Capt. Raju with his wife Premila. Photo by TP Sooraj. MT Vasudevan Nair (left) with Capt. Raju 

By Shevlin Sebastian

In the film, ‘Raktam’ (1981), Capt. Raju had a fight sequence with Madhu at the Rama Varma club at Kochi. The crew had placed small sheets of wood (the pattika) of an old house on the floor. As Madhu hit Capt. Raju, with a shovel, the latter fell on the wood.

Mollyood legends Prem Nazir, Soman and Srividya were watching silently.  

Once the shot was over, Prem Nazir said, “Captain Raju, please come here.”

When the actor went near, Prem Nazir said, “Captain, look carefully at the wood. There are numerous nails sticking out. I understand your anxiety to do well. This is your first film. But you have to be careful. If you fall and a nail enters you, especially if it is your face, then what will happen? Director Joshy will say, ‘Pack up’. Then you will have to be taken to the hospital to be given a tetanus injection because the nails are rusted. And your career might come to a stop before it has started.”

At his first-floor apartment, at Kochi, a moved Capt. Raju, 66, who has acted in more than 400 films, says, “Which superstar will tell something like this to a newcomer? I have never forgotten it. Prem Nazir Sir was a star with so much of humanity.”

However, owing to the compulsions of shooting, Capt. Raju did take some risks. In ‘Aana’ (1983), directed by P. Chandrakumar, the shoot took place in a forest at Koothatukulam. The ‘Aana’ was an elephant from Uttar Pradesh, who would only listen to instructions in Hindi. In one scene, the elephant chases a forest officer played by Capt. Raju.

As the captain started running, he came in front of a tall tree which had a long creeper hanging from it. “Chandrakumar Sir shouted at me to grab the creeper and climb up,” says Capt. Raju. “Since I had done rock climbing during my military training, I had strong biceps and triceps. So I went up swiftly and reached a height of 40 feet.”  

Down below, Capt Raju heard the mahout shout, “Pull at the creeper.”

The elephant pulled so hard that Capt Raju found himself hurtling towards the ground. The crew below looked shocked. Chandrakumar shouted, “Oh my God.”

Luckily, the tree had a fork and the creeper got stuck. “I stopped just two feet away from the upturned tusks,” says Capt. Raju. “Otherwise, I would have been gored to death.”

The panic-stricken crew rushed Capt Raju to the hospital, but there was not much damage. “There was skin lacerations on the shoulders and the back, as well as a pain in my legs,” says Capt. Raju. “God saved my life.”  

Capt. Raju had another life-enhancing moment. This was during the shoot of 'Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha' (1989), which was based on a script by Jnanpith Award winner MT Vasudevan Nair. Capt. Raju plays kalarippayattu master Aringodar who has a fight with Aromal, played by Suresh Gopi. After the encounter, Aringodar sits on a chair, places his right leg on top of his left knee, and drinks a green coconut. Then Aromal says, “You fought in the wrong way.” 

Aringodar stopped drinking, threw the coconut behind him, and said, “There is a lack of knowledge on your part. That is all that I have to say.”

After the shot was over, Capt. Raju got a pat on his shoulders. “When I looked back, I saw that it was MT,” says Capt. Raju. “He was showing his appreciation of my acting. I will never forget it. It was like winning the Oscar.” 

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

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Playing A Soldier


Tini Tom speaks about his experiences in the films, 'Pattalam', 'Indian Rupee' as well as 'Pranchiyettan and the Saint'

Photo by Melton Anthony 

By Shevlin Sebastian

Director Lal Jose had seen Tini Tom on mimicry shows and selected him for the Mammooty starrer 'Pattalam' (2003). On the set, Lal Jose noticed Tini's height and decided to give him the role of a soldier, along with [actor] Joju George. After a while, 400 real-life soldiers arrived.

As they waited on the sets, a black Mitsubishi Lancer came up. Out stepped Major Ravi, who had yet to start his career as a Mollywood director. He wore black sunglasses and a black jacket. The major lit a cigarette and shouted, “Attention. We will do a march past.”

So, Tini and Joju took their places among the soldiers. “It was only when we started marching that we realised how difficult it is to do it,” says Tini. “Because of us, the soldiers kept banging into each other.”

Major Ravi saw Tini, and said, “I know you. Which battalion do you belong to?”

Tini said, “Sir, I am from Kochi.”

A puzzled Major Ravi said, “There is no battalion in Kochi.”

Tini said, “I belong to a troupe.”

He said, “Which troop? And you took part in which war?”

Finally Tini said, “The biggest problem is that a few letters have been changed. I am from the mimicry and not the military.”

Finally, Major Ravi understood. A smiling Tini says, “This was my first experience on a film set.”

Tini's first proper role was in 'Pranchiyettan and the Saint' (2010), where he played a Mercedes Benz driver, called Subramaniam, who drove Mammooty around at the location in Thrissur.

But Tini's role was brief. After his work was over, he would drive the Mercedes Benz to the hotel where he was staying. One day, at the reception, he overheard one employee telling another, “This is the magic of cinema. One day you arrive in an Indica and the next day you can afford a Mercedes Benz.”

Meanwhile, in 'Indian Rupee' (2011), Tini played a real estate agent called Hameed. The hero, as well as the producer, was Prithviraj. In the initial days, at Kozhikode, there was a shoot, which involved fish. However, this did not appear in the final cut.

These were expensive pomfret, costing Rs 2500. On the first day, because of rains, the shoot was cancelled. This happened on the next three days. So, Tini told Prithviraj, “You are spending so much of money on the fish. Maybe you could provide it for our meals.”

A smiling Prithviraj said, “When you have dinner tonight, note the taste of the fish. It is yesterday's fish.”

That was when Tini realised Prithviraj was a good producer. “He had not wasted the fish,” says Tini. “Prithviraj had ensured that the crew ate it on all the days.”

On the set, Tini befriended the veteran actor Thilakan, who died in 2012. “Thilakan Sir would give me a lot of advice,” says Tini. “One day, he told me that eating too much rice and halwa is not good.”

But during lunchtime, Tini noticed that Thilakan was having both without any problems. So he approached the veteran and said, “Sir, you told me to control the intake of rice and halva, otherwise the sugar levels will go up.”

Tilakan replied, “I can do anything I want. I am supposed to be a person who creates problems (at that time, Thilakan was having a tussle with the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes). Everyone says I don't listen to anybody. But you can listen to me.”  

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

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Making A Mark

Rajeev Ravi's gritty and hard-hitting hit film, 'Kammattipaadam' marks the arrival of a major talent

Photos: A scene from the film, 'Kammattipaadam'; director Rajeev Ravi. Photo by Mithun Vinod 

By Shevlin Sebastian

Sound Designer Renganaath Ravee stepped out, after a morning show at the Inox Cinema, in Mumbai, recently, with a dazed look on his face. He had just watched the Mollywood hit, 'Kammattipaadam', directed by Rajeev Ravi.

The direction was absolutely fantastic,” says Renganaath, who works in Mollywood and Bollywood. “I also liked the sounds, camera angles and the music. Lots of people were fans of [Mollywood directors] Bharathan and Padmarajan in the 1980s and wanted to emulate them. But, in this generation, it is Rajeev Ravi who is in the forefront. He is the new creative force in Mollywood.”

Another fan is Rajeev's Bollywood colleague Anurag Kashyap. The director tweeted: “Don’t miss ‘Kammattipaadam’. One of the best gangster/brotherhood films from India. Rajeev Ravi – the boss.”

The film is a gritty and unsparing look at the transformation of Kochi, post-liberalisation, in the 1990s. In fact, there did exist a huge expanse of land, called 'Kammattipaadam', in central Kochi, which consisted of paddy fields and mud tracks. But unscrupulous businessmen, taking the help of the youngsters of the Dalit community, got people forcibly evicted from lands, or paid them meagre sums, so that multi-storeyed buildings could come up. “In the last thirty years, there has been a massive 'development' in Kochi,” says Rajeev.

The film features leading star Dulquer Salman, apart from Vinayakan, Vinay Forrt, Shine Tom Chacko, Manikandan R. Achari, and debut heroine, Shaun Romy. But it was Manikandan who has stolen the show with his dynamic performance as a Dalit hoodlum called Balan.

I did take a big risk by casting Manikandan,” says Rajeev. “But the theatre artists who brought him to me, Sujith Shanker and Vijay Kumar, said that he is a big talent. And he is.”

Asked why the film did well, Rajeev says, “The story of land-grabbing, for real-estate development, is something everybody is familiar with. So they felt an emotional connection
with the film.”

However, for Rajeev, the inspiration for the film happened when one day, a few years ago, an image came unbidden to his mind. As an eight-year-old, he had just arrived, with his family, at Ernakulam South railway station. The family lived in Pathankot, because Rajeev's father worked in the Air Force. “One of my uncles picked me up and all I could see was an endless expanse of paddy fields,” says Rajeev. “It was beautiful. Now all that is gone.”

He passed all these memories to veteran scriptwriter P. Balachandran who has produced a taut and fast-moving script. This is Rajeev's third film. The earlier two were also received well: 'Annayum Rasoolum' and 'Njan Steve Lopez'.

Apart from this, he is one of Bollywood's leading cinematographers. Some of the films he has worked on, include 'Chandni Bar', 'Dev-D', 'Gangs of Wasseypur Part 1 and 2', 'Bombay Velvet' and 'Udta Punjab'. In 2010, he won the Filmfare Award for Best Cinematography for 'Dev D', as well as the national award for his wife, Geetu Mohandas' film, 'Liar's Dice'.

But it is as a director that Rajeev is expected to continue hitting the bull's eye. One who thinks so is Vinay Forrt, who has acted in 'Kammattipaadam': “If you want to make a good film about politics or human relationships, you should have some content inside you,” he says. “And Rajeev has it.” 

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

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Energetic And Vibrant

The one-day programme, on the Agrawal community, organised by 'Ethnicity--The Cochin Heritage Research Centre' of the English department of St. Albert's College, was a thumping success

Photos by Melton Antony 

By Shevlin Sebastian

Who is the most famous Agrawal in the world?” says compere Akshay Agrawal.

[Actor] Kajal Agrawal,” shout the students of St. Albert's College, Kochi.

Akshay burts out laughing and says, “No, it is Lakshmi Mittal [the London-based steel magnate].”

All of them had gathered in the college quadrangle to take part in 'Agrotsav', a one-day programme, which highlighted the culture, heritage, history and food of the Agrawal community.

The chief guest was Shabareesh Varma, the noted singer, who sent the youngsters into a frenzy of dancing, with his rendition of the hit song, 'Malare Ninne kanathirunal', from 'Premam'.

Soon, the lamp was lit in front of the photo of the community founder Maharaja Agrasen, who was born in 3125 BC. “This was during the Mahabarata period,” says Shyam Sundar Agarwal, chairman of the festival.

Thereafter, College Manager Fr. Antony Arackal inaugurated the snacks section at one side. The food included samosas, puris, kachori and different types of juices. Rajesh, the caterer, is from Rajashtan. “I have been living in Kochi for several years and provide food for all events of the Agrawal community,” he says.

The event was organised by 'Ethnicity--The Cochin Heritage Research Centre', of the Department of English. “Kochi is a melting pot,” says Nisha Thomji, the head of the department. “We felt it is necessary to study the various communities, who have settled in Kochi, like the Jews, the Gujaritis and the Konkanis. Last year, we had done programmes on the Goud Saraswat Brahmins as well as the Anglo-Indian community.” Incidentally, the centre was established in 2009 by Dr. Edward Edezhath, the former Associate Professor in English.

For this particular programme, it was noted writer KL Mohana Varma, who is also the chairman of the Centre, who came up with the idea. “I have been friends with Shyam Sundar for a long time,” he says. “It is a vibrant community and noted for its charitable works.”

The Agrawal community comprises only 150 families in Kochi, but they run around ten charitable institutions. “All of us are doing business,” says Rajkumar Agrawal. “But we also feel it important to give to society. Charity and donation are in our blood.”

Later, a seminar took place where speakers spoke about the history of the community as well as its culture and heritage. "This was arranged by the members of the Agrawal Yuva Mandal, especially office-bearers Akshay, Naren and Vinay Singhal," says Shyam Sundar.
There were also dances and a fashion show.

The younger Akshay, expectedly, belongs to the second generation. “I grew up in Kochi and can speak Malayalam well,” he says. “At home, I eat both North as well as South Indian food. I am also an alumni of St. Albert's. Many of our community members have passed out from this college.”

As for Shyam Sundar, a member of the first generation, he came to Kochi in 1987. “I grew up in Salem, which is a dry place,” he says. “So Kerala, with its rains, is like heaven for me.” Despite many warnings from community members, he set up a flour mill in Kochi, went through labour problems, which almost closed down his unit, but managed to survive. Later, he built a steel factory and is now a prosperous businessman.

Shyam Sundar's wife, Durga, says, “I love Kochi for its greenery, cleanliness, and peace. We have assimilated easily into the liberal Kerala culture and have many Malayali friends. They are kind and friendly.”

Famous Agrawals

Sunil Mittal - Airtel

Naresh Goyal - Jet Airways

Rahul Bajaj - Bajaj

Gautham Singhania - Raymond

Subhash Chandra - Zee TV

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