Thursday, October 19, 2017

Affection Interrupted

By Shevlin Sebastian

Sangeeta was my neighbour in Kolkata. She was fair and had red lips, a typical Punjabi girl. One day, while standing next to each other at a milk booth, we started talking. Thereafter, we became friends. She was 20. I was 18. Soon we began going out for movies, music shows and art exhibitions.

She worked in a bank. I was a college student. One day, after work, I picked her up on my two-wheeler. To get some privacy, I took her to the National Library, where I was a member. It was a tree-filled campus, with few people.

There were many places to sit. But we sat on a cement ledge, under a large tree, on a small hillock, surrounded by bushes.

Sangeeta and I started chatting. Feeling affectionate, I placed my arm over her shoulders. We continued to talk. Suddenly, there was the sound of dried leaves being stamped upon. A man, in a khaki uniform, emerged, and told us to follow him. He said, “These things cannot be done in public. I have to take you to the authority.”

He led us to an office, which was just beside the main library building. There, a bespectacled middle-aged woman sat behind a desk. He whispered something to her and withdrew. I immediately said, “Sorry Madam. We made a mistake.”

She remained silent and stared at us. Sangeeta did not say anything. She remained calm and cool. 

The lady asked for my library membership card. Thankfully, I had it inside my purse. I showed it to her. She realised that I was taking books regularly.

She again looked at us and said, “Next time, please don’t do such things in the library. It is a serious place. Scholars come here to do research.”

I bowed my head and said, “Yes Maam.”

There was a pause. It seemed as if the woman was deciding in her mind what to do. Then she said, “You can leave.” And that was it. We were free.

We rushed out of the office and grinned at each other. Then I suddenly felt angry: “What was the crime that we did? I just put my arm across your shoulders. What’s wrong with that?”

Sangeeta held my hand and said, “You are right.” Did it act as a deterrent? Not at all. We carried on holding hands and I placed my arms over Sangeeta's shoulders whenever I had the opportunity. The friendship lasted for two years. Then, we parted amicably. This mother-of-two now lives in the United States. Looking back, in ripe middle age, the question remains: In the land of Kama Sutra, why do we remain such prudes? 

(Published as a middle in The New Indian Express, South Indian editions) 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Highlighting A Legend's Life

Director Lijin Jose talks about '8 ½ Intercuts – Life and Times of KG George', which was screened recently in Kochi

Photos: KG George (left) with director Lijin Jose. KG George with wife Selma. Photo of the couple by Manu R Mavelil

By Shevlin Sebastian

About half-way into the documentary, '8½ Intercuts – Life and Films of KG George', which was shown recently at the SIGNS Festival, at Kochi, the camera focuses on George's wife, Selma who sitting next to the director. And that is when she says: “My husband was involved with other women and that hurt me a lot. But whatever he did, he would come home and tell me. How painful it was. I would go on crying. He said he was telling me this so that I would not hear about this from another source. However, this is something that no woman can tolerate.”

For director Lijin Jose and the crew, this was a stunning moment. “We could not believe that Selma Maam was saying all this on camera,” says Lijin. “But what I found most interesting was the reaction of George Sir. He had no anger or frustration about what she was saying. Instead, he had a small smile and looked innocent. It was admirable that he had given Selma the space to react like that.”

In fact, spending time with George enabled Lijin to get a better insight into his character. “George Sir is a transparent person,” he says. “He also had no self-doubts, whether it was regarding his films, his religious or political beliefs.”

This is clear when you watch '8 1'2 Intercuts', which is an engaging and well-made documentary. It focuses on George's life, his humble beginnings, at Tiruvalla, and as he grows older, his growing passion for cinema, the stint in the Film and Television Institute of India, his marriage, and how he went about fulfilling his dream of making meaningful cinema. All this is narrated by the 71-year-old director himself, The documentary focuses on nine films. These include 'Yavanika', 'Lekhayude Maranam Oru Flashback', 'Mattoral', and 'Adaminte Vaariyellu'.

It is a given that Lijin is a die-hard fan. “George Sir cannot be compared to other directors,” he says. “He made stunning social commentary, as well as psychological portraits, and all this was done without any exaggeration. He was active from 1975 to the early 1990s and helped us to understand what Kerala society was like in those times.”

It has resulted in an oeuvre that was bold, daring and visionary. Therefore, it is no surprise that many celebrities spoke admiringly about his work. They included actors like Mammootty, Innocent, Nedumudi Venu and Fahadh Faazil, writers like MT Vasudevan Nair and the late ONV Kurup, directors like Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Lijo Jose and the late Balu Mahendra, scriptwriter John Paul, film editor Beena Paul as well as technicians who worked with the director.

Apart from them, there are many ordinary cine-goers who remain die-hard fans. “When people heard that I was making a film on George Sir, they would ring up and ask for updates,” says Lijin. “But I also wanted to make the film for the younger generation who have not heard about him.”

Lijin, who has made two Mollywood films, 'Friday' and 'Law Point', got the idea to do the film from his friend, the writer Shahina K. Rafiq, who was doing her doctorate in films. When he approached George, he was amenable, because he had seen 'Friday' and liked it. Shooting began in March 2013, but it took four years to finish. “What took time was to get the many celebrities to speak on camera,” says Lijin.

Among the people who helped Lijin were editor B. Ajithkumar, music director Bijipal, as well as camerapersons MJ Radhakrishnan and Neil D' Cunha. Funding was provided by producer Shibu G Suseelan as well as the Kerala Chalachithra Academy. The film cost Rs 8 lakh to make. “We do not expect to recoup the money,” says Lijin. “It is a labour of love.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Friday, October 13, 2017

Young and Bright

Prayagh Sanjeev Krishna, at just age nine, has held a solo exhibition

Photos by Albin Mathew 

By Shevlin Sebastian

At the Durbar Hall, Kochi, recently, a boy was running around the halls of the art gallery. He was of slight build, with an innocent cum mischievous look. So, it comes as a surprise when artist Bindhi Rajagopal says, “He is having his own show.”

Yes, Prayagh Sanjeev Krishna, who is only nine years old, is having a full-fledged exhibition, with 28 of his works on display.

The majority are acrylic on canvases, while the rest are crayon drawings. One such crayon drawing is of a boy standing next to a teddy bear. “Prayagh had drawn this for an inter-school competition and was awarded the third prize,” says Bindhu, Prayagh's mother.

Most of the works are of nature and animals. There is a black and yellow butterfly against a bright and colourful backdrop of numerous flowers. Another one is of a river between high hills. Then, there is a cat looking with enlarged eyes at an aquarium full of fishes.

A few are from his own life. There is one acrylic work of a scene in a park. It is a simple work of a yellow sun against an azure sky, and lots of black birds flying around. Down below, just beside a mud path, a man is standing. He is dressed in a pink shirt and red trousers. “That is my father,” says Prayagh. On a swing sits a small boy, while on a slide, a bigger boy is lying down. “I am on the swing, while my elder brother is on the slide,” he says. A young girl in a blouse and paavada is sweeping the leaves off the grass. There are several flower bushes all around. “The girl is my neighbour,” he says.

Another work is a night scene. The sky is full of stars and sitting on a mound is a boy with a cat next to him. Prayagh has drawn them from the back. “This is also my neighbour Nihad and his cat,” he says.

Prayagh's interest in painting was inspired by his elder brother, Pranav, who is ten years older than him. Pranav would take part in art competitions in school. And Prayagh, from age three onwards, would tag along. Just to keep the toddler quiet, Pranav would give him a piece of paper along with some crayons. Then he would do some drawings. And the habit continued.

Today, as a student of the Mar Thoma Public School, at Kakkanad, Prayagh gets lots of support and encouragement from his art class teachers, Thomas and Shirley.

And he is a boy on a ceaseless creative flow. “Prayagh does his paintings in the evenings when he returns from school,” says Bindhu. “Sometimes, when he is playing outside, with his friends, he will get inspired and rush home and start drawing. On other days, when he gets up in the morning, he will get an idea and immediately do a work.”

Artistic talent runs in the family. Prayagh's father Sanjeev K is a Carnatic vocalist who teaches children in a freelance manner. On the other hand, Bindhu is a vocal trainer at the Mar Thoma school. Pranav is learning animation design. The family have a troupe and they go all over Kerala giving performances. “Prayagh can also sing very well,” says Bindhu.

The family will offer full support as Prayagh grows older. “We might enrol him in an art school,” says Sanjeev. Adds Bindhi, “By holding an exhibition, Prayagh is already an artist. He has a bright future.”

Already making a mark

Winner of All India Clint Memorial Award
Balarama Odissia State winner
Balarama YMCA State winner
Has won Kerala Fine Arts Society Award five times
Has won Fresco Best Artist Award three times
FACT All Kerala Competition winner five times.  

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Shivering In Russia


Actor Deepti Sati talks about her experiences in the films, ‘Nee-Na’ and ‘Jaguar’

Photos by Gavin Fogg

By Shevlin Sebastian

Actor Deepti Sati’s very first scene in her career, for Lal Jose’s ‘Nee-Na’ (2015), was to take place outside the Smolny Cathedral in St Petersburg, Russia. “It was a very old and famous cathedral,” says Deepti. “There is a belief that if you went inside and prayed, you will get what you wish for.”

So, Deepti, accompanied by Lal Jose and cinematographer Jomon T John went inside and prayed. Later, when they stepped outside, it was snowing. The temperature was minus three degrees centigrade. “Through the camera lens, it looked so pretty, but I was literally freezing,” says Deepti. “As someone who grew up in Mumbai, I have never experienced such chilly weather.”

The shoot was for the song, ‘I remember you’. Deepti was wearing a trench coat and thick woollen clothes, as well as boots, and a muffler. In one scene, Deepti was supposed to walk down a street. However, because of the cold, the sidewalks had ice on them. Not surprisingly, Deepti slipped and fell. “Lal Jose Sir and the crew had a big laugh,” she says. “Nevertheless, it was a fun shoot.”

On another day, they were shooting in a large park. Deepti was sitting on a bench when she saw a one-year-old boy, in a red jacket and red shoes, lying on a mound of snow, not moving at all. Deepti had a sudden fear that something had happened to the baby.

She turned to the director and said, “Lal Jose Sir, the baby is not moving at all.”
So Lal Jose ran up to the boy. As he did so, the infant opened his eyes and began smiling. The mother, who was standing nearby, said, “No, no, nothing has happened. He is just enjoying being in the snow.”

Meanwhile, according to the script, Deepti needed to have her hair in a bob cut. They went to a saloon in St. Petersburg. A young and pretty Russian hair-dresser was assigned the task. She was very excited that Deepti was acting in a film. “I will watch the film,” she said.

Meanwhile, Lal Jose was very nervous. “He was not sure how it would all turn out,” says Deepti. When the haircut was done and a nervous Lal Jose saw it, he broke out into a smile and said, “I have finally got my Nee-Na.” Adds Deepti, “By God’s grace, the haircut really suited me.”

But a 7 a.m. shoot, back in Kochi, did not suit Deepti at all. She was supposed to sit on a bike in a parking lot smoking a cigarette when actor Vijay Babu would arrive in a car. “It was the first scene in the morning,” says Deepti. “I did not have my breakfast. Lal Sir did not know about it. Right after the scene, I felt giddy, because I inhaled the smoke, and so, I vomited. Lal Jose Sir was very worried. But after fifteen minutes, I felt okay.”

For the shoot of the Kannada/Telugu film, ‘Jaguar’ (2016), Deepti’s character had a pet dog called Arnold. It was a Shih Tzu, which is thought to have originated in Tibet. “I loved the dog a lot,” says Deepti. “But Arnold found it difficult to handle the heat because it is a dog which has lots of hair.”

Unfortunately, the shoot was in mid-May, at the Infosys campus in Mysore. There was a scene when Deepti had to look at the dog and pull his face towards her. “We did a lot of takes, but it did not come out well,” says Deepti. “And then suddenly when I pulled Arnold's face, he scratched me. Thankfully, it was on my hand, and no blood came out. There was a long mark and it remained for a long time. Now, thankfully, it is no longer there.” 

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

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A Treasure Trove Of Classical Music

There are more than one lakh records as well as 250 gramophones at the ‘Discs and Machines’ Sunny's Gramophone Museum and Records Archive at Plassanal, Kerala

Photos by Albin Mathew 

By Shevlin Sebastian

At the ‘Discs and Machines Sunny's Gramophone Museum and Records Archive' at Plassanal (74 kms from Kochi), the owner Sunny Mathew takes out a record from a sleeve. Then he takes a small piece of cotton, dips it in liquid paraffin, and rubs the grooves. Following that, he cranks up the spring of the gramophone and selects a steel needle. Thereafter he plays the record.

The English song, 'Holy City', sung by Leo Stormont can be heard:

'Last night I lay sleeping,
There came a dream so fair;
I stood in old Jerusalem,
Beside the Temple there'

In 1898, this song, by composer Stephen Adams, became one of the most popular religious songs in England. “This is the earliest record in my collection,” says Sunny.

At his air-conditioned museum, which had recently celebrated its second anniversary, there are more than one lakh records in many international and Indian languages: Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, as well as Tamil, Hindi, Gujarati, Bengali, Oriya, Bhojpuri, and Malayalam.

In Malayalam, the earliest song which I have, was recorded in 1911, and sung by a woman called TC Narayani Ammal,” says Sunny. There are also recordings by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, and leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose.

Apart from this, he has a total of 250 gramophones, of all shapes and designs. For example, a suitcase model has a handle and can be carried from place to place. Picnic gramophones are small and designed to fold up into a compact box. Cabinet models are freestanding, like a piece of furniture.

This fascination for gramophones and records began in his childhood. At his home, his father had a HMV gramophone. “The sound of the songs was a wonder to me,” he says. “In fact, the Hindi songs that I heard at that time, by singers like KL Saigal, Shamshad Begum, Noor Jehan, Pankaj Mallik and C Ramchandra remain my favourites,” he says.

Asked how he began his collection, Sunny says, “By accident. One day, in the 1980s, while travelling in Madurai, I came across a 1930s Floral horn type gramophone, along with some records.” Once he began listening to music on this machine, Sunny got hooked. “Thereafter, there was no looking back,” says Sunny, who retired as Divisional Manager, Kerala Forest Development Corporation in 2012.

But he has paid a steep price for this passion. The museum has been built at a cost of Rs 50 lakh. To meet the expenses, Sunny had to dip into his savings, gratuity, as well as his provident fund. Unfortunately, the returns are not that much. “But that's because the entry is free,” says Sunny. Apart from Indians, the museum gets visitors from Europe, Australia, Singapore, and the USA.

Sometime ago, writer Roberts Millis from Seattle came to the museum and spent a few days. Later he wrote about Sunny in his book called the 'Indian Talking Machine'. “It is a study of the 78rpm record and gramophone collecting in the subcontinent,” says Sunny.

When asked to compare gramophone and digital music, Sunny says, “It's like comparing an elaborate meal, with two-minute noodles. In digital, you are not mentally prepared to listen to the music.”

When Sunny wants to hear a record, he will walk around, before selecting, cleaning, and playing the song. “To listen to a three-minute song, I have to prepare for three minutes,” he says. “When you do this, you will enjoy the music far more.”

Meanwhile, at his sprawling home, surrounded by willowy rubber trees, and with the constant support of his wife, Josia, Sunny is busy doing a project, called the 'Endangered Archives Programme', for the British Library in London. “I am digitising all the records available till 1927,” he says. “It will be uploaded on their web site. This is a valuable way to preserve the music and a nice way to spend my retirement.” 

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

Monday, October 09, 2017

A Wondrous Variety Of Life

A range of works are on display at the 'Oradimannu' (One Foot) exhibition at the Bindhi art gallery. 58 artists are taking part

Photos: Deepa Gopal Sunil (left) and Bindhi Rajagopal; Onyx Paulose's work

By Shevlin Sebastian

On most mornings, when artist Deepa Gopal Sunil would read the newspaper or watch the news on TV, she would come across instances of children being sexually abused. “It disturbed me a lot,” she says. So, when curator Bindhi Rajagopal invited her to participate in an exhibition, which is taking place at the latter's art gallery, she decided to focus on this theme.

In her acrylic work, done in shades of grey and black there is a teenage girl holding a teddy bear, in a pastel shade, and sticking her tongue out. “There are so many crimes against children,” says Deepa. “It marks a loss of their innocence and childhood. The teddy bear is to indicate that children are the playthings of depraved adults. And the girl has stuck her tongue out to show the death of her dreams.”

Artist Sara Hussain has focused on the physical, rather than moral decay. After having worked in a studio at Jew Town for the past 14 years, Sara has focused on the broken-down houses that she sees all around her. Her work is about one such house, etched in a yellowing colour to indicate that it is a night scene. Instead of a brush, she has used a pallet knife. The roof is a mix of grey and brown. “Many such houses can also be seen in other cities, like Mumbai,” she says.

As for artist Sajith Puthukkalavattom, he had an unusual experience while attending an art camp near Bengaluru. During lunchtime, several monkeys would come charging up to get at the food of the artists. “They lived in the nearby trees, which had all dried up,” says Sajith. “Today is a time when we are losing so much of forest land, thanks to commercial exploitation.” So, he has done a watercolour on rice paper that shows a tree trunk on wheels, which is going to be used in the cities. A monkey sits on top of it, looking at the viewer with a sad face. “I wanted the viewer to feel a prick of conscience about what we are doing to the planet,” says Sajith.

Meanwhile, PG Dinesh has dwelt on a simpler subject. He has drawn an image of a small boy, wearing goggles which have only one lens. Dinesh got the inspiration to do this portrait from his six-year-old nephew Manav. “He would break the toys and use it in a different way,” says Dinesh. “I remember once I gave a photo of Manav to him. What he did was to place it on the floor, and drive his toy car over it. There were scratches and sand on it. I used this photo as a reference.”

As for Onyx Paulose's work it can make you step back. It is a face with a large tongue sticking out. On it rests a black lizard. The face has been split into two halves and both are looking at each other. The 14' work is made of wood and fibreglass. “There are many people who talk too much,” says Paulose. “I wanted to portray them. As for the lizard, there is a belief that when we say something, and if the reptile makes a noise, it means that whatever we have said will happen. However, usually, nothing happens.”

A total of 58 artists are participating. They include Sunil Vallarpadam, Babu KG, Benoy Janardhanan, Kaladharan T, O Sunder, Shajee Chelad and Sunil Lal TR.

Most of them are either state or national award winners,” says curator Bindhi. Regarding the theme of 'Oradimannu' (One Foot), Bindhi says, “The sun has a path, and the moon has a path. Like all living beings, we human beings also have a path. When we stand at one place, the place belongs to you. But the moment you move, that space is no longer yours.”

To illustrate the concept, Bindhi has done a drawing on a brass sheet showing the soles of two feet. It belongs to a student of Bindhi's, who is a teacher in an architecture school. “He is a cancer survivor,” says Bindhi. “So he is a hero in my eyes.” 

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

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Imagining Himself To Be Prithviraj


Actor Anson Paul talks about his experiences in the films, 'KQ', 'Su.. Su... Sudhi Vathmeekam' and 'Remo'

Photos: Anson Paul; with Keerthy Suresh in 'Remo'

By Shevlin Sebastian 

Just before his first-ever moment in front of the camera, for the film, ‘KQ’ (2013), actor Anson Paul sat in his Skoda Octavia at Fort Kochi. A big fan of the Mollywood star, Prithviraj, Anson said, “I told myself, 'It is not Anson who will get out of the car. Instead, it will be Prithviraj. I have done so many films. All the people standing on the road adore me as an actor'.” 

It seemed to have worked. The first shot was of Anson and his friend, Baiju Johnson (who is also the film's director) riding on a Bullet and entering a house. Thereafter, they step out and Baiju sits on a wall even as Anson lights a cigarette. Both ogle two girls who walk past. Then Anson says something to Baiju, the pair get on the bike, and ride away.

The shot went smoothly,” says Anson. “Before this, the crew members were wary of me because I was the new kid on the block. But after this scene, they all relaxed, and accepted me.” 

In Anson's next film, 'Su.. Su... Sudhi Vathmeekam' (2015), which starred Jayasurya, and Shivada Nair, Anson plays a character called Vijay Babu. There was a scene when Anson comes down a spiral staircase, at a school in Palakkad. Jayasurya, who was going up, was supposed to have a minor collision with Anson and the latter would lose his balance. The next scene would be of Anson lying dazed on the ground. But when the shoot took place, Anson fell over the railing and landed on the floor with a thud. 

Jayasurya ran downwards and said, “Are you okay?” 

Anson said he had planned it beforehand. Jayasurya said, “You should have given us an indication you wanted to do something like this?” 

Anson replied that it was a spur-of-the-moment decision. Immediately, Jayasurya said, “It's good to do things for a purpose, but you must look after yourself physically at the same time.”

Thankfully, cinematographer Vinod Illampally had not switched off the camera. “So, he got the entire fall, which can be seen in the film,” says Anson.   

Meanwhile, an excited director Ranjith Shankar said, “You have now really become the character of Vijay. Come and sit next to me and watch the scene on the monitor.” 

For Anson, this was a huge honour. “A director calling an actor, who is not the hero, and with only one movie on his resume,” says Anson. “That was when I felt goosebumps.”  

Anson also had goosebumps on the sets of 'Remo' (2016). “I felt that I could not do a romantic scene with Keerthy Suresh unless I felt it deep inside me,” he says. So he downloaded her photos from the Net and added some photos of himself. Thereafter, he made a video accompanied by the 'Kandaangi, Kandaangi' song from the Tamil film, 'Jilla'. Anson watched the video many times. “As a result, during the romantic scene I was totally in love with Kavya (the character played by Keerthy),” says Anson. 

However, the next day, there was a climax scene where Anson was supposed to get very angry with Keerthy. On the set when Keerthy came to talk to him, just before the shoot, Anson ignored her completely. Keerthy looked startled. Actor Sivakarthikeyan said, “He must have got into his character.” After the shot was over, Anson quickly went and apologised to Keerthy. 

Keerthy said, “Oh, I did not know you were into Method acting.” And they both had a good laugh.  

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

Monday, October 02, 2017

Captain Of The Port

Malayalee Nirmalya Roy has become the first female President of the Ship Science Faculty of the 115-year-old University of Southampton

Second photo: Paloma Media with Nirmalya Roy 

By Shevlin Sebastian

One evening, Paloma Medina was waiting at a bus stop outside the University of Southampton when Nirmalya Roy approached her and they started talking. They were both in the same Ship Science course. Thereafter, they became friends.

Soon, Paloma, who is from Spain, became an admirer. “Nirmalya has a lot of passion and determination,” says Paloma. “At the same time, she is a friendly, helpful and lively person. I felt that she would make a mark.”

Indeed, Nirmalya has. On May 15, Nirmalya, who is from Kerala, became the first female president of the Ship Science Faculty in the 115-year-old university. (Incidentally, Ship Science is the science involved in building and designing a ship, as well as its engineering aspects).

“It was my dream to be president,” she says. “I had been a class representative for two years.”

There was a two-week campaign at the end of April. Nirmalya put up an online manifesto. Then she spoke to the students and told them about her plans. Thereafter, on a particular day, around 300 students went to an online voting site. Only one other male student stood for the post. In the end, Nirmalya won.

Asked the reasons for her win, the 21-year-old says, “The students liked my proposal of increasing communication between the faculty and the students. I also plan to set up international conferences and invite speakers to give talks. This will broaden the minds of the students.”

Interestingly, Nirmalya and her twin Nivedya are the only two Indians in their class. The rest come from countries like England, France, Norway, Italy, Germany, Brazil, China and the USA. Both are in their third year of a four-year integrated undergraduate as well as master's degree.

Indeed, it is unusual for girls to opt for an off-beat subject such as Ship Science. But Nirmalyahas an easy explanation. “My dad [entrepreneur Sohan Roy] and uncle Dr. S.K. Pyarilal are naval architects,” she says. “Ever since my sister and I were small, we would always see them work on their projects. It was very interesting to see how a ship was built.”

So far, the education has been very beneficial. The university allows students to develop as an individual, and encourages them to take part in extra-curricular activities. “It is not just about grades and exams,” says Nirmalya. “They don't pressure the students to get high marks.”

Apart from that, there have been other learning experiences for Nirmalya, who grew up in Dubai, and studied in the International School of Choueifat.

“At my home, I did not need to cook or wash clothes, but in England, I have to pay my own bills, and cook for myself,” she says. “It has helped me grow as an individual. After all, you cannot always depend on your parents. If you stay with them, you are always held back in some way.”

Nevertheless, her father has been an abiding influence on her. “Dad started his business from scratch, and went through a lot of hardships,” says Nirmalya. “His life is very inspiring for me.”

Asked about her future plans, she says, “I would like to work in a firm for a few years. Thereafter, I will join my dad's business.” 

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

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Prevention Is Better Than Cure

The Sydney-based Malayali Dr Jacqueline Michael is on a mission to highlight the need for lifestyle medicine in Kerala, which is affected by high levels of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and coronary heart disease

By Shevlin Sebastian

On Good Friday, 2007, Dr Jacqueline Michael suffered a miscarriage. At that time, Jacqueline was working in the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. Soon, she slipped into a depression.

Thereafter, she began to suffer from several physical ailments. “Initially, it started with hormonal dysfunction,” she says. “Then I had fibromyalgia, followed by vitiligo and started turning white.” She consulted a rheumatologist, an endocrinologist and a dermatologist. 
“Thereafter, I realised that there has to something which causes these diseases to flare up,” she says. “I wondered whether there was a way to cure myself.”

Jacqueline decided to do some research. And that was how she stumbled onto lifestyle medicine.

The aim of lifestyle medicine is to prevent illnesses from taking place, by making the right choices,” says Jacqueline. “Nowadays treatment is done, only when a person falls sick. It is like a fire-response unit. Mainstream medicine does not go to the source and get rid of the problem.”

She says that it is urgent to have a lifestyle medicine system in Kerala, because, thanks to a high standard of living, the people suffer from the lifestyle diseases of the West, like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and coronary heart disease.

Jacqueline suggests three methods of prevention. The first is to have a high fibre diet. These include green vegetables, flax seeds, carrots, grams, boiled elephant foot yam, rice with bran, oats, and fruits like apple, pear, and oranges.

The second is regular physical exercise. “When you do physical activity, a lot of good chemicals, like endorphins, are produced in the body,” says Jacqueline. “These are required for a person’s well-being. However, very few people do enough exercise in Kerala.”

She also suggests the avoidance of toxins like tobacco, excess alcohol, and substance abuse. Unfortunately, there are toxins in our environment. “As an example, we use a lot of chemicals in our personal-care products,” says Jacqueline. “And when you dye your hair, you are using hydrogen peroxide, which is an oxidising agent. So there is a level of oxidative damage happening inside the body as well." This may result in cancer and other chronic diseases.

In Kerala, too many people suffer from Vitamin D deficiency. That is because they are reluctant to expose themselves to the sun. “There is a phobia for sunlight in God's Own Country,” says Jacqueline. “Lack of Vitamin D can be a catalyst for high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and even cancer. We need sun exposure for at least half an hour every day.”

The right amount of sleep, about seven to eight hours, is very important. A lot of things happen during our nocturnal rest. “When we sleep the brain shrinks by six percent. This allows for the free flow of the cerebrospinal fluid, which allows for the cleaning of the toxins that are formed in the brain. During sleep, there is a memory consolidation. Restorative processes take place. I know of a case where a person suffered a stroke because he was chronically sleep-deprived.”

Jacqueline, a mother of three, who is now based in Sydney, has come to her home state, Kerala, with a mission. “I want to create an awareness of lifestyle medicine,” she says. “But it has to be citizen-driven. In fact, I was surprised to note that there is not a single lifestyle medicine centre anywhere. I am planning to start the first centre in my home-town of Kollam and encourage young doctors to take up Lifestyle Medicine as a career.” 

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

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Superstar Who Takes Risks


Dance Choreographer Kala talks about her experiences in the films, 'Kochu Kochu Santhoshangal', 'Ustaad' and 'Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol'

By Shevlin Sebastian

For the song, 'Ghana Shyama', in Sathyan Anthikad's 'Kochu Kochu Santhoshangal', the shoot was in a hall at Kozhikode. The scene was a public concert in front of an audience. Bhanupriya and Lakshmi Gopalaswamy were supposed to do the dance. But there was one problem. Lakshmi was a classical dancer and did not know how to do a cinematic style. “I felt that if she did a pure classical style, it will not look good in the film,” says dance choreographer Kala.

Not surprisingly, Lakshmi felt tense. So, Kala went up to her and said, “Don't feel nervous. You will be able to do it.”

Fellow actor Bhanupriya also said, “Don't worry. You can do it.”

Soon, Kala showed all the steps to Lakshmi. But it was not easy. “Somehow, Lakshmi could not match the expression to the steps,” says Kala. “So I had to teach her for a while. She was very young at that time.”

But in the end, it turned out very fine, with Lakshmi able to match Bhanupriya step for step. And for Kala, this was a film which she will never forget, because she won the National Film Award for Best Choreography in 2000.

At Rashtrapati Bhavan, she received the award from President K.R. Narayanan. “I felt very happy to get the award for a Malayalam film from a Malayali president,” she says. “In fact, Narayanan Sir looked thrilled.”

Meanwhile, for the song 'Theerchayilla Janam' in Siby Malayil's 'Ustaad', Kala had a different experience. When she went to the set, at AVM Studios at Chennai, she saw that it was a cramped place. It looked like the inside of a bar. She was told that dancers, club members, villains and the hero Mohanlal would be present. As she wandered around, she felt that the song could be done in a single shot.

When she told Mohanlal, he said, “Are you sure?” When Kala nodded confidently, he said, “Okay, let's do it.” Rehearsals with the other actors began at 6 a.m. Then at 11 a.m. Mohanlal joined the team and practised till 1 p.m. Thereafter, there was a break for lunch and another rehearsal at 2 p.m. The shoot began at 3 p.m. And it was completed within ten minutes. Interestingly, it was Mohanlal who sang the song.

The plus point of Lal Sir, from a choreographer's point of view, is that he can do any type of dance,” says Kala. “If I have to do a dance sequence with Rajnikanth, Kamal Haasan or Mammootty, I will frame it in a particular way. But Lal Sir has no limits. I can suggest anything, and he is willing to do it. He never says no.”

Even when the shots are highly risky. For the song, 'Aathimara kombilaaaa' in 'Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol', the song was picturised in Shimla. One day, Kala saw a stone mountain at an immense height. She felt that it would be a brilliant shot if Mohanlal and Meena could be placed on the peak. When she told director Jibu Jacob, he said it would be risky. “But Lal Sir immediately agreed to do it,” says Kala. “I am sure no other superstar would have taken the risk.”

And, indeed, it turned out to be a breathtaking shot, because it was taken from a helicam. “I met Lal Sir for the first time in 1996,” says Kala. “And today, I can categorically state that he has twice or thrice the energy and enthusiasm. He is an amazing actor and person.” 

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

Monday, September 25, 2017

A Touch Of Paradise

Vini's Farm, near Munroe Island, in Kollam, Kerala is a place where you can get in touch with nature and recharge your batterie

Photos of Aram Paul Chittilappilly and wife Vinita by BP Deepu 
By Shevlin Sebastian
At 4 a.m., manager Binu Babu received a call. The Swedish guest Vincent Borg had an unusual request. He wanted to go kayaking. “Sure Sir, we can arrange it,” said Babu. Thus, in pitch-black darkness, lit up by a torch, Vincent went to the bank and got on to a kayak. He went rowing for more than an hour and watched the dawn break on the eastern horizon.
Owner Aram Paul Chittilappilly smiles as he recalls the incident. “That's the type of service we would like to give,” he says. “I have told the staff the word 'no' does not exist for us.”
Aram is the owner of Vini's Farm, a four-acre island, near Munroe Island, which is at the confluence of the Kallada River and the Ashtamudi Lake, 140 kms from Kochi. There are only two luxury rooms, set in a wooden cottage, with a grand view of the water and the small hills in the distance. “Either a couple, two couples or a family can stay,” says Aram. “The USP is that they will have the entire island to themselves.” To maintain privacy, there is a natural perimeter of bushes and mangrove shrubs, with a door at one side. Staff can only be summoned through a walkie-talkie.
Interestingly, there are no televisions or the Internet, and there is a cute message posted on the wall: 'Sorry no Wifi. Talk to each other and enjoy nature'. Aram also makes a pitch for water conservation, with a message in the washroom: 'Save Water. Shower with your girlfriend'.
The food is the local Kerala cuisine, made from organic vegetables like tomatoes, beans, and brinjals. The other activities include kayaking, a boat ride at sunset, and a village tour. “You can also go fishing and catch the freshest pearl spot, and get it cooked, according to your preference,” says Aram.
In fact, it was the taste of the pearl spot that drew Aram to the island in the first place. A few years ago, while visiting his in-laws, at nearby Kollam, he went for a boat ride and stopped at the island. The owner, Sebastian, offered him a rice meal with pearl spot. “It was so tasty,” he says. After an interval, the Dubai-based Aram again visited Sebastian, and the latter said that he was planning to sell the island. And that was how Aram bought it.
Thereafter, on March 19, 2016, Aram held a surprise birthday party for his wife, Vinita, on the island where he invited friends, and relatives. “It was on that day that I gifted the island to Vinita as a present,” says Aram. “So, we decided to name it as Vini's Farm.”
An overwhelmed Vinita says, “It was one of the most unforgettable experiences in my life. And the island is such a nice place to stay.”
Others agree. Says Crystal, the American wife of a Chennai-based airline pilot, Vivek Zachariah: “Not only were the rooms absolutely stunning, the food was awesome! A must-try is their home-grown passion fruit juice. Yummy!” 

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