Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Land As Inspiration

An exhibition in honour of the late artist Rajan Krishnan, who was skilled at landscapes, is taking place at the OED Gallery 

Photos: Rajan Krishnan; works by KP Pradeepkumar and Dipin Thilakan

By Shevlin Sebastian

In 2012, art impresario Dilip Narayan closed two of his galleries in Kochi and decided to open one in Mattancherry called the OED Gallery. It was not a good time. The global economy was slowing. Art prices were going down. But Dilip was not deterred.

And there was one artist who offered whole-hearted support. That was Rajan Krishnan. He was there before, during and after the opening of the exhibition. “Rajan looked at the gallery and said, 'This is like love in the time of cholera' [paraphrasing the book by the great Nobel Laureate author Gabriel Garcia Marquez],” says Dilip. “I never forgot that beautiful statement.”

By then Dilip had been representing Rajan for many years. “I liked his work which was land and space-related,” says Dilip. “He drew the hills, plants and paddy fields of Kerala with great skill.”

Unfortunately, Rajan, who had a masters in fine arts from MS University, Baroda, died on February 11, 2016, at Irinjalakuda at the age of 48. “It was a big loss for me,” says Dilip. “Rajan was an amazing human being; a perfect gentleman. I miss him.”

But now, an exhibition called 'Land Forms – A Tribute to a beloved friend and stellar artist Rajan Krishnan' is taking place at the OED Gallery (until February 10). The show has been curated by Kathleen Wyma, an expert on South Asian art, who works in the department of fine arts, University of Hongkong.

The participating artists include KP Pradeepkumar, Dibin Thilakan, Abul Hisham, Ranjith Raman, Sujith SN, and Sanam Narayanan, apart from two works by Rajan.

Pradeepkumar's work is a paper drawing of a rubber forest. He had seen these in the Kattapana and Palakkad areas. Beneath the trees, he has drawn white coffee flowers. “I am giving a hint of the colonial impact through the coffee image,” he says. “Many Britishers had come to Kerala and planted tea and coffee plants in our mountains in Munnar and other places.”

Pradeepkumar was a former classmate of Rajan at the Fine Arts College at Thiruvananthapuram. “Rajan was a friendly and helpful person,” says Pradeepkumar. “He would communicate very well. Many artists depended on him for help and support.”

Another artist who admired Rajan is Dipin Thilakan. “I love his landscapes,” he says. “It was his forte.”

Dipin's work, 'Bonds of Lineage' is an image of a landscape, which has two whorls in the centre. And inside them, there are three female representatives.
In the centre, there is a Mother Goddess. On the right, a girl is being raped. On the left, there is a Cow Goddess. “These are the three major figures of femininity,” says Dibin. It is done in the gouache style, a type of opaque watermedia, which originated in France.

As for Ranjith Raman he will not forget Rajan easily. After his graduation from the Fine Arts College in Thiruvananthapuram, he had gone to work at the Kanoria Centre for the Arts in Ahmedabad. “This was a period of struggle for me,” he says. “I was searching for my identity.”

Then on a mini-break, he had gone to Thiruvananthapuram where he met Rajan. “We started talking and when I told Rajan I was depressed, he immediately studied my palm,” says Ranjith. “I did not know that he knew palmistry. He told me many positive things and it brought a lot of mental relief for me.”

Ranjith is an admirer of Rajan's works. “Rajan's painting skills were of a very high standard,” he says. “I always enjoyed his landscapes. Even the ones at the exhibition which show the side of a railway track and one of thick foliage are very impressive.”

As for Ranjith, he has put up twelve small art works. Ranjith has used layers of fabric, different kinds of embroidery and hand stitches. “They are all semi-abstract landscapes,” he says.

Another artist who uses an abstract style is Sujith SN, who is also an admirer of the late artist. “Rajan was an amazing artist,” he says. “I was very close to him, even though he was my senior in college. Rajan invited me to take part in a show that he curated. We have been together in art camps. He was a simple and humble man who encouraged young artists. His death is a big loss.” 

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

A Leaking Boat


Make-up artist Pattanam Shah talks about his experiences in the films, ‘Albhutha Dweepu’, 'Siamese Irattakal', 'Ayaal', and 'Kattuchembakam'

Photo by Albin Mathew

By Shevlin Sebastian

At 4 a.m., make-up artist Pattanam Shah, along with costume designer SB Satheeshan, headed towards a hill in Kava, Palakkad during the shoot of Vinayan's ‘Albhutha Dweepu’ (a film about dwarfs released in 2005). “I knew it was going to be a difficult day,” says Shah. “I had to get the make-up of 300 small people done by 11 a.m.”

However, when he arrived at the shed where the make-up was supposed to be done, he realised he had a problem. “Suddenly, I wondered how we would do the make-up of small people while they sat in normal chairs,” says Shah. “We would have to bend a lot. And it would slow us down.”

Shah was wondering what to do. 'How would it be possible to get high stools in this distant location?' he thought. Anyway, he spoke to associate art director Shiji who said, “There's nothing to worry. We will solve the problem.”

Suddenly about 15 high stools appeared from nowhere. The production team had anticipated this problem and got the stools in advance. Both Shah and Satheeshan felt so relieved. “We could do the make-up and the costumes quite fast and all the actors were ready on time,” says Shah. “This was a rare occasion when a production team anticipated a problem and provided solutions.”

Shah had a different experience on the sets of 'Siamese Irattakal' (1997). Sainudeen and Maniyanpilla Raju played the role of Siamese twins. “At that time, nobody knew much about prosthetic make-up,” says Shah. “We had to join two stomachs. And the actors had to face each other.”

Two technicians came from Chennai. They took the measurement of the stomachs of both actors. Then they made rubber moulds. It was placed around their stomachs like a belt. “Then I got both the moulds to be glued together,” says Shah. “So the actors were stuck. There was a shirtless scene. We painted the moulds in a body colour, so nobody could notice the difference.”

The shoot went off well. The director and the crew praised Shah. But when the late Rajan P Dev said, “That was a beautiful shot,” Shah got emotional. “For me, getting praise from such a senior and respected artist as Rajan Chettan was better than receiving a national award,” says Shah.

In Suresh Unnithan's 'Ayaal' (2013), Shah went through a nerve-wracking experience. The shoot was on an island in the Kuttanad area in Alleppey district. There were about 100 people present. “For lunch, all had to travel on small boats to reach the eating location on another island nearby,” says Shah.

As he was awaiting his turn, Shah saw a fisherman on a small boat, with a motor at one end. “He said he would drop me,” says Shah. “So I agreed. As soon as the motor started, and the boat moved forward, a gush of water shot up from a hole in the bottom.”

The man immediately stopped the motor. And he began to use his paddle. But the water was steadily filling up in the boat. “Since I did not know swimming, I was scared,” says Shah. “And the water was quite deep in that area. But the boatman was paddling very fast, and somehow, before the boat could capsize, we reached the other island. It was a close shave for me.”

Shah had another close shave on the sets of 'Kattuchembakam' (2002), which starred Jayasurya and debutant Charmy Kaur. There was a shoot in the water, near the Athirampally Waterfalls, while the camera was placed on the bank.

Shah was assigned the task of holding Charmy. “There was a good flow of water,” he says. “There was talk that the current might suddenly increase in speed.”

As they waited somebody shouted, “Be careful.” And indeed, the water started coming down in powerful waves. It hit Charmy and Shah with full force. Both lost their footing and went underwater. “I thought we would be washed away,” he says. As they began to panic, a quick-thinking crew member managed to hold Shah's hand, while Charmy grabbed Shah’s body. The crew member had to use all his strength to pull the duo to the bank. “Thanks to God, we survived,” says Shah. 

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

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Chinese pole dancer Ode Rosset combines with Kerala's kalaripayattu artistes to form an unique art form

By Shevlin Sebastian

Ode Rosset climbs up the pole, stops, turns her face downwards while stretching her legs skywards. Then she turns again and goes to the top of the pole. Then kalaripayattu artiste Kishor climbs up the pole, stops midway and stretches his body parallel to the ground. Then three other kalaripayattu performers swing around near the pole. Meanwhile, there is haunting music by French musician Jerom Cury, who uses the drums as well as Tibetan bowls. The vocals are by singer Fatima El Hassouni.

All this is amazingly taking place on a street in Kottayam recently. It was a public performance. Bystanders watch the action curiously. Incidentally, the performance has been titled, 'Via', which means travelling by way of.

For Ode, it was a dream come true. A master of the Chinese pole, Ode had been learning kalaripayattu at the Jai Sankar KJV Kalari, at Puthupally, near Kottayam, for the past 12 years. 

In February, this year, she began teaching the kalaripayattu dancers on how to use the Chinese pole. As a result, they were able to come up with a fusion performance. “I think it worked well,” she says. Ode is now planning to have an exchange project between the Kalari and two French circus schools, namely the Academie Fratellini, Paris and Circus Pole, Amiens. At the moment, she is looking for sponsors.

Thereafter, Ode plans to take the show to other parts of the world. “Not many people know of kalaripayattu,” she says. “I want to popularise it.”

For Ode, the discovery of kalaripayattu happened by accident. She had come to Kerala to attend the wedding of her brother to a Malayali woman. Both had been working in Jordan, he as an engineer and she was an air-hostess in the Royal Jordanian Airlines. They met and fell in love. 

It was on that visit that I saw kalaripayattu for the first time and became fascinated,” she says. At that time, she was a student of The National Circus School at Ch√Ętellerault (100 kms from Paris). “I got special permission from the school authorities to come and learn kalarippayattu,” she says.

Asked about the charms of the kalarippayattu, Ode says, “The flexibility of the art form is great. The movements are so fluid and elegant. When I am doing a Kalari movement I feel that I am in a temple. My mind becomes open and spiritual. In France when you are learning, you don't give much respect to the teacher. But in Kerala, you are keenly aware of the teacher's contribution and are respectful.”

In fact, Ode's teacher, the master, Dr Baiju Varghese Gurukkal is all praise. “She has become a very good kalari artist,” he says. “I admire her dedication and devotion to our traditional art form.”

Meanwhile, just before the Kottayam performance, Ode had an unusual experience. She had placed a cover on the pole. When she took it away, minutes before the start, a snake moved away. When she told Baiju, the latter said that it was a good sign. “In kalarippayattu, the snake is regarded as a symbol of spiritual energy,” says Baiju.

Meanwhile, the kalaripayattu master feels that the fusion can be deepened and become something great. “This is just the beginning, ” he says, with a smile.

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

#OdeRosset #JaiSankarKJVKalari #Chinesepoledance

Monday, January 15, 2018

Still In The Frame

As Manoj K Jayan celebrates his 30th year in Mollywood, he looks back at his career

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photos by Albin Mathew 

When Manoj K Jayan steps out of his car, at the entrance of a five-star hotel in Kochi, the staff immediately give welcoming smiles. He is wearing a full-sleeved blue shirt, black trousers and matching canvas shoes.

To get some privacy, he is allowed to go inside a closed restaurant. Lights are switched on, and a classic raga can be heard on the sound system.

Manoj is feeling good. The actor has just entered his 30th year in Mollywood. And he remembers his first shot as if it took place the other day.

I had a small role as a horse owner in 'Ente Sonia',” he says. “Ratheesh, who was the top star at that time, and Geetha were the leading pair. It was a party scene, but I did not feel nervous. The shot went fine. But, in the end, for some reason, the film never got released.”
Despite that inauspicious start, Manoj went on to act in hundreds of films in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Kannada as well as Malayalam.

Asked the reasons behind his longevity, Manoj says, “I have avoided playing stereotypical characters. Secondly, I have not irritated the audience with my behaviour, either on the professional or personal front.”

Apart from that, Manoj is well versed in the craft of acting. And he got most of his tips from director Hariharan. “He told me that it is not so important to be fair, handsome or have a muscular body,” he says. “What matters is to express yourself, especially through the eyes. 
The audience is always looking at your eyes. So, it is the best way to hold their attention. Also, your body movements will naturally align with the emotion in your eyes.”

Thus far, Manoj has been feted for his roles as 'Kuttan Thampuran' in Sargam, 'Thalakkal Chandu' in Pazhassi Raja, 'Kunjiraman' in Kaliyachan, and 'Digambaran' in Anandabhadram.
And right from the beginning, Manoj had his priorities clear. He never aspired to be a superstar. “I am happy to be regarded as a noted actor who does good roles,” he says. “That has been my aim all along.” This has turned out to be the right decision because Manoj is still getting roles.

Surprisingly, despite being in the industry for so many years, he says it is impossible to predict which film will be a hit or flop. But there are ways to increase the chances of success. “If a film has to do well, it needs one of two elements – either it should be an entertainer or have a clear uplifting message,” he says.

And there should be clarity in the story-telling process. “When the audience leaves the theatre, they should not ask, 'What did the director mean? What was the message?'” he says. “Instead, they should have a smile on their faces, and say, 'This is a superb film'.”

There is no doubt that Manoj has a clear-cut practical vision. So, even though he is the son of famed Carnatic musician Jayan, he never ventured into singing. “From my childhood I realised that, in music, there is only one genius and his name is KJ Yesudas,” he says. “So I wondered whether I should enter. In the end, I opted for films. My decision has turned out to be correct, because, even today, there is nobody to match Yesudas.”

So, in the end, music's loss has been cinema's gain. And nobody's complaining. 

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

Saturday, January 13, 2018

When Your Brain Cells Die One By One

Veteran Bollywood actor Mohan Agashe stars in the award-winning Marathi film on Alzheimer's Disease called 'Astu', which was screened at Kochi recently

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photos: The poster of the film; Mohan Agashe 

The shoot of 'Astu' (Marathi for 'so be it'), a film on Alzheimer's Disease was taking place at the main market in Pune. Veteran Bollywood actor Mohan Agashe, moved around, like an Alzheimer's patient, looking lost and lonely. “Since I am well known, the people stepped forward to help me, thinking that I am in some sort of a problem. I had to tell them, 'Please don't help me'.”

The 123-minute film was shown at the JT Pac, Kochi recently. Mohan plays Dr Chakrapani Shastri, a 90-year-old Sanskrit scholar and former director of the Oriental Research Institute, Pune, who is gradually losing his mind. One day, his daughter Ira (Irawati Harshe) steps out of the car at a market and asks Shastri to wait in the back seat. As he sits alone Shastri sees an elephant on the road and becomes fascinated. He steps out and follows the animal, even though the mahout owner Anta (Nachiket Purnapatre) tries to discourage him.

Eventually, the mahout takes Shastri to his tent on the edge of Pune besides a river. There, Shastri's uneducated wife Channama (Amruta Subhash) treats him with great respect and understands instinctively that Shastri now had the mindset of a child.

Meanwhile, back at Ira's home, there is hysteria. Ira and her husband Madhav, (played by Milind Soman) inform the police. There are flashbacks of how Shastri is gradually losing his mind to dementia. Ira visits his old haunts, but Shastri is nowhere to be found.

Ira's sister Rahi (Devika Daftardar) arrives from Mumbai. Soon, there is a clash between the two sisters about how Rahi does not have the time or the inclination to look after their father. Ira also meets up with a former colleague of Shastri to see whether he had gone to her house. In the ensuing conversation, the woman clarifies that she did not have an affair with Shastri, which his late wife and family had suspected. Eventually, after a day, Shastri is located by the police and there is widespread relief all around.

It is a deeply moving film and impressed the audience no end. Says Paul Davis, the Kochi-based care manager and helpline co-ordinator of the Alzheimer's And Related Disorders Society Of India (ARDSI): “Mohan Sir has portrayed an Alzheimer's patient in the most accurate manner possible. I am sure he has studied deeply on the subject. Our caregivers who watched the film told me that every mannerism of his reminded them of some of their patients. I am not surprised the film won so many awards.”

'Astu' had won the Audience Award for Best Film at the Indian Film Festival at Stuttgart, the Best Regional Film at the Delhi International Film Festival as well as two National Awards for Best Dialogue (Sumitra Bhave) and Best Supporting Actress (Amrutha), apart from being nominated for awards at numerous festivals.

Asked the reasons why Mohan says, “Instead of making Alzhemeir's as something sensational, it has been portrayed in a sensitive manner. We have provided as accurate a portrayal as possible. Most people know about the medical aspect but we showed the anxieties and suffering that a family goes through. The idea is to sensitise people about the issue. However, now that our life expectancy is going up, we will see many more cases than what we used to see before.”

In Kerala, after the age of 60, the number of dementia victims ranges between three to four percent of the population says Dr S. Shaji, President of the Kochi chapter of ARDSI, who had come to view the film.

Asked how dementia occurs, Shaji says, “It is a degeneration of the brain cells. As a result, it affects mental functions like intelligence, memory, and orientation. The person will no longer be able to live an independent life. Anybody can be affected. However, scientific evidence suggests it has genetic origins.”

So, do you want to live longer, asks Mohan, even though medical science is actively marketing artificial longevity? “When you do a bypass surgery the quantity of life will increase, but does the quality?” says Mohan. “You may be buying Alzheimer's Disease because of your greed to live longer.” 

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

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Captain Radhika Menon Wins Union Ministry Award

By Shevlin Sebastian

Captain Radhika Menon is on a roll. The first female captain of the Indian Merchant Navy has bagged another award. This time, the Ministry of Women and Child Development is presenting a 'First Ladies' Award to her at a function at Rashtrapati Bhavan on January 20. A ministry communication stated: 'This is an initiative to recognise women who had the courage to tread an unusual path and succeeded in being the first in their respective professions. Our aim is to empower and encourage the women of our country.”

Earlier, Radhika had won the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) 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 on June 22, 2015. She is also the first woman to win this award. It was presented to Radhika at a function of the IMO at London on November 21, 2016.

At that time, Radhika had said, “To be honest, I was not trying to win an 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.”

On April 5, 2016, National Maritime Day, the National Maritime Day Celebration Committee of India conferred the 'Seafarers Gallantry Award' on her.

Radhika was appointed as captain in early 2013 and usually, she handles an all-male crew. “They know me well, and have no problems in taking orders from me,” she says. “Do remember I have been with the Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) for about 26 years.” Radhika did a one-and-a-half year radio course at the All India Marine College in Kochi before she became a radio officer in SCI, the first woman to do so in India.

But it has not been a smooth journey. “As compared to a male officer, I am scrutinised much more,” she says. “I try to avoid making mistakes. If I do make one, it will be talked about, and never forgotten. My attitude is simple: if a hurdle has been placed in front of you, then you will have to clear it.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Losing Expensive Cameras


Photographer MK Mohanan (Momi) talks about his experiences in the films, 'Mandanmar Londonil', 'Kinnaram', 'Revathikkoru Pavakkutty', 'Lal Americayil', and 'Veendum Chila Veettukaryangal'

Photo of Momi by Sunish P Surendran; the dancer Disco Shanti

By Shevlin Sebastian

For the film, 'Mandanmar Londonil' (1983), stills photographer MK Mohanan (Momi) made his first trip to London. The crew sailed through immigration but it was only when they waited outside, they realised that director Sathyan Anthikad and cinematographer Anandakuttan had not come out.

After a while, they came to know the reason. “On their passport, Sathyan was described as a director and Anandakuttan as a cameraman,” says Momi. “At that time most of the directors in England were middle-aged or senior people, so they could not believe that Sathyan, at just 28 years of age, was a director.”

Eventually, the London-based producer Mohan had to go to his home, get the official letterheads of his film company and was able to prove that Sathyan and Anandakuttan were indeed director and cameraman respectively.

Scenes from life

In 'Kinnaram' (1983), there was a scene between Unni (Nedumudi Venu) and Sethu (Sukumaran), who are two bachelor friends staying together in Chennai. While Sukumaram wanted to sleep, Venu wanted to read. So they kept switching on and off the lights, in turns.

As I was watching this scene, it looked familiar,” says Momi. “Sathyan and I would sleep together when we were youngsters and while he wanted to read, I wanted to sleep. So, I would switch off the light and he would put it on. He took the inspiration from our lives.”

There were many such incidents which Sathyan had put in ‘Kinnaram’. So, one day Momi told him, “Sathyan if the film does well, you have to share the profits with me, because you have lifted it straight from our lives and making money out of it.”
Sathyan laughed aloud.

But working in 'Revathikkoru Pavakkutty' (1986) was no laughing matter for Momi. The song, ‘Chinnakkutti Chellakkutti Thankakkatti’ was being shot at a lake in Cherthala. After taking some stills, Momi hired a small boat and moved away, to get a long distance shot.

Momi had three cameras around his neck – a Mamiya, Canon, and a Rolleiflex. But on the small boat, Momi was finding it difficult to retain his balance. And the inevitable happened. The boat toppled over and Momi fell into the water. But since Momi knew swimming he did not panic. But he immediately raised the three cameras out of the water.

Sathyan later told me later that he first saw the three cameras coming out of the water, followed by my head,” says Momi. “He said he would never forget that image.”

Unfortunately, there was significant damage. The Rolleiflex priced at Rs 5000, and the Mamiya at Rs 6000 could not be repaired. “It was a financial blow for me,” says Momi.  

In the film, 'Lal Americayil' (1989), it was the turn of dancer Disco Shanti to have problems with the water. There was a scene in a swimming pool. Shanti was supposed to dive into the pool from a diving board. Momi stepped into the pool to watch Shanti jump.

And jump she did. But after that, she did not come up to the surface. Momi immediately swam to where she was lying immobile at the bottom. He managed to pull her up to the surface, where crew members dragged her to out of the pool and revived her.

I had drunk a lot of water, but I was so glad I could save her life,” says Momi. Soon, they came to know that Shanti did not know swimming. Earlier, when she had been informed that it was a movie where swimming would be required, she kept quiet in order to get the role.

Recovering from a trauma

The shoot for the film 'Veendum Chila Veettukaryangal' (1999) was taking place at Ottapalam soon after the death of director Bharathan, on July 30, 1998. Bharathan's wife KPAC Lalitha had a major role. But nobody was sure whether she would be able to perform.

The shoot was of a scene between her and Nedumudi Venu. “In real life, Bharathan and Lalitha were very close to Venu and his family,” says Momi. “Following Bharathan's passing, Lalitha had not seen Venu.”

But when Lalitha met Venu, she lost control and began crying. And she did not stop for a long time. Venu tried to console her but to no avail. “The shoot was cancelled,” says Momi. “But after a couple of days, Lalitha managed to regain her composure and resumed work.” 

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

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Art impresario Asif Ali has curated his 100th exhibition, ‘Chithra Chantha’ (Art Mart)

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo of Asif Ali by Melton Antony; the participating artists 

In 1993, art impresario Asif Ali was preparing to hold a cultural show at the poolside auditorium of Al-Nasr Leisureland, Dubai. One of the participating artists, Gokulan Thrissur did a painting of the back of a woman who was playing the veena. Asif got it hung as a backdrop.

When a senior plainclothes policeman, who had come to inspect the auditorium, saw the backdrop, he said that this was not allowed. So, he went to get more policemen, so that he could arrest Asif.

I did not know that in the UAE (United Arab Emirates) you could not draw pictures of a woman, and put it up in public,” says Asif. “But now I was in danger of being imprisoned.”
But a quick-thinking Asif told Gokulan to make the girl’s head like a sun and the veena like a mountain. After half an hour when the policeman returned with a couple of his colleagues, the painting was completely changed.

The policeman looked shocked. Then he smiled, shook his head, and said, “You Indians are too talented.”

The show was allowed to go ahead and it was a success. Emboldened, in 1994, Asif decided to go ahead with his first painting exhibition at Sharjah. The works of five artists were showcased. Among them was Asif’s younger brother Riyas Komu, who, later, along with fellow artist Bose Krishnamchari founded the Kochi Muziris Biennale in December, 2012.

Asif recounted all this while he stood among paintings of his 100th exhibition called ‘Chithra Chantha’ (Art Mart), which he has organised with cartoonist Ibraham Badhusha at the Oberon Mall at Kochi. More than 100 artists are taking part, showcasing more than 250 paintings, woodworks, photographs and sculptures.

Among them are paintings by Sindhu, the wife of the late Mollywood director Lohithadas, actress Sheela, and Vinitha Anand, the granddaughter of the legendary artist Raja Ravi Varma. Mainstream artists like Jimmy Mathew, Dudu Unni, Sara Hussain and Raveendran Valappad are also taking part.

Some artists have different reasons for taking part. Renjith Thekkoote wants to build a house from the money that he earns by selling his works at the exhibition. Two artists are in hospital: Johnson Aluva and Ummer Thathapilly. “They are hoping to get buyers for their their works, so that they can pay the hospital bills,” says Asif.

As Asif talks, small groups of people step into the exhibition area on the fifth floor. “Art is catching on among ordinary people,” he says. “Those who build new homes would like to put up works of art. The Biennale has also made a difference.”

But Asif readily admits that cinema is the first love of the people. “When you watch a film, you can follow the story,” he says. “And it is usually stories about the people we know and hence can relate to. However, when you look at an art work, there are many stories but they remain hidden within the canvas. In fact, when you look at a work, you have to make up your own story. And that is not easy.”

Nevertheless, that has never discouraged Asif. After spending more than twenty years in Sharjah, working in the advertising and marketing sectors, Asif settled down in Aluva and started the Komusons Art Gallery in 2007. Thus far, he has held exhibitions in Thiruvananthapuram, Thrissur, Kodungallur, Kochi, Nedumbassery and Fort Kochi. “I enjoy encouraging artists,” he says.

When asked about their character, Asif says, “They are moody and over-sensitive. Most of them are loners. They tend to avoid conflicts. For them, art is a passion. They are looking for creative fulfillment. When they start a work, they forget the outside world and concentrate deeply. They will only reconnect with others after the work is over. Their satisfaction comes from the work. It is not that they create works of art because they want to sell them. In fact, most artists are poor at marketing. In Mumbai, there are curators who do the marketing. In Kerala, this is where I come in.”

Apart from being an art promoter, Asif has been a photographer, and produced and directed numerous TV commercials, radio advertisements, documentaries, songs, and serials, apart from cultural programmes. “Life is short,” says the 67-year-old. “I want to make the most of it.” 

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

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Usha Uthup's Musician Colleague Emile Isaacs Passes Away

By Shevlin Sebastian

The ace musician Emile Isaacs passed away at 1.30 p.m. at the Medical Trust Hospital, Kochi on January3. He was 70 years old. He had been suffering from diabetes, kidney-related ailments as well as breathing difficulties. With his passing, one more stellar musician goes missing from Kochi as well as India's music scene.

Emile had been the bass guitarist for 'The Sound' band, which accompanied Usha Uthup in all her performances. “I had been with Usha for 38 years,” he had told this reporter a few years ago. They have performed all over the world, including offbeat places like Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

Unfortunately, in January, 2009, during a concert in Kolkata, Emile could feel his hand becoming numb. It was the beginning of a stroke. And it affected the movement of his left arm and leg. Unfortunately, it brought his career to a halt.

Emile, the son of a prominent violinist, Joe Isaacs, started playing the guitar at 15. Because of his natural talent, he was hired as a member of playback singer K.J. Yesudas' band. They performed all over Kerala and in the Middle East. “Yesudas made me,” Emile said. “I was with the band for eight years.” 

Later, Emile started a band called the Elite Aces, which consisted of his brothers, Eugene, Rex, and cousin Pinson Correia. They began playing at Volga, Sealord, and the Casino hotels at Kochi. Soon, they became popular.

When Usha came down from Mumbai, at the invitation of the Kottayam Arts Society, the Elite Aces performed for her. “This was our first concert with Usha,” said Emile. They clicked together and played for a number of years. However, in 1979, the Elite Aces broke up and the band members went their different ways, while Emile stayed on with Usha, at Kolkata.

Today, a sombre Usha says, “I am totally grieved about the passing of Emile. He has been a part of my career for so many years. It was fantastic the kind of music we used to do. And, over the decades, we graduated from one genre to another. He was a great musician as well as a wonderful friend.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kerala edition) 

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Manufacturing A Dam


Scriptwriter Shibu Chakravarthy talks about his experiences in the films, ‘Ooru Thira Pinnayum Thira’, ‘Nair Saab’, ‘Sainyam’ and ‘Churam’ 

Photo by Albin Mathew 

By Shevlin Sebastian

Scriptwriter Shibu Chakravarthy was only fifteen years old when he went to the sets of P. G. Viswambharan’s ‘Ooru Thira Pinnayum Thira’ (1982) at Aluva. That was because Viswambharan was married to Shibu’s cousin, Meena. “I was supposed to go and give some medicine to him,” says Shibu.

When Shibu reached the location he saw the actors Prem Nazir and Jaya Bharathi. Viswambharan told Shibu, “Do you want a photo with Prem Nazir?”

But Shibu was not interested. “I was not much of a Prem Nazir fan,” he says. “But the person who I found most interesting was a handsome, young man who was operating the camera. He was Jayanan Vincent. I was introduced to Jayanan. He was just a few years older than me.”

It was a fateful meeting. Because, in later years, Shibu and Jayanan worked on many films, including ‘Nair Saab’ (1989).

In ‘Nair Saab’, a large portion of the film was shot in Kashmir. Shibu remembers travelling on a snow truck from Srinagar to Gulmarg in December when it was snowing heavily.
The wheels had chains on them,” says Shibu. “Snow is like cotton. But when weight is put on it, the snow turns into ice. As the driver braked, the wheels went on slipping for a while. The problem was that on one side of the road it was a steep slope. I felt so nervous.”

Anyway, they reached safely. But there was a crisis. In the film, there is a scene where a house had to be exploded. But everywhere there were signs which stated that nobody should clap their hands or shout as it would trigger an avalanche. “So, we could not get permission to do an explosion,” says Shibu. 

Then the crew decided to make a miniature model. It would be one-eighths of the actual size. “Next to our hotel, there was a house,” says Shibu. “We took some shots. Then I made some sketches and added a few fir trees.”

In the end, a miniature house was created on a table at Chennai’s AVM Studio. “We used salt to recreate the snow,” says a smiling Shibu. “I think it worked because when you see the film, you will not notice the difference.”

After the Kashmir shoot was over, director Joshiy and Shibu were flying from Delhi to Bangalore. As the plane neared Bangalore, both of them saw numerous runways belonging to the Air Force.

Joshiy said, “Shibu, our next film should do should be on the Air Force. You think about a story.”

Shibu got cracking and wrote the script for ‘Sainyam’ (1994). The shoot, at the Air Force Academy at Dundigal, near Hyderabad, was originally scheduled for November but Mammootty got chicken pox. So the shoot was postponed to March. “At that time, the temperature at Dundigal was 40 degrees Celsius but at the Academy, it must have been two degrees more since there were no trees around because there were 60 runways on 5000 acres of land,” says Shibu.

As soon as there was a break in the shoot, everybody went and stood under the shade of the two-seater plane which was being used in the shoot. “But I saw too many young crew members get sun-stroke and fall on the tarmac,” he says. “It was such a stunning contrast to what we experienced in Kashmir.”

However, on the sets of ‘Churam’ (1997), it was all about water. The climax was supposed to be a flood coming down a mountain. But when Bharathan and the art director tried to make a set, it did not work. The producer was S Satheesh, a member of a dam-building firm. 

Satheesh said that their engineers would make a dam,” says Shibu. “To reach the top of a mountain, near Thenmala, they made a road.” Thereafter, they made a mini dam. Through pipes, the water was sent up.  Then shutters were made. “When the crew was ready, the engineers opened the shutters and the water came rushing down the mountain,” says Shibu. “It turned out to be a superb climax.” 

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

Monday, January 01, 2018

This Is What We Wish In 2018, But Will It Happen?

By Shevlin Sebastian

In 2018, if any natural disaster takes place we would like the Kerala state government to get the number of victims correctly so that no family misses out on the compensation.

We want that when we say our name, people should not categorise us as Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jain, or whatever, and put us into the mental boxes of accommodation or discrimination. Instead, can we rise above caste and creed and look at each other as fellow Indians?

We want that when a woman complains of misogyny, we don’t want hundreds of bricks thrown online at her.

We want doctors to regain their focus on healing people instead of having a mercenary attitude all the time.

We want those who spew hatred against people of other communities, to realise that despite the differences in upbringing, education, religious beliefs and thought processes, the same red blood flows in their veins as it does in the ‘other’.

We want drivers – of cars, buses, auto-rickshaws and two-wheelers – to understand that when they blow their horns non-stop it gets on the nerves of others, especially the elderly.

We want that if a boy student puts his arm around a girl classmate it should not result in condemnation and expulsion. We want a relaxation of the rules. Too many decades of sexual repression has led to an alarming rise in child sex abuse cases and perversions.

We want the culture of black money and illegal transactions to be ended, so that honest entrepreneurs can also thrive.

We want the young to realise that drug-taking and excess alcohol ruins their brains and bodies and damages their future.

We want women to be treated with dignity and respect at their work places, on the streets, in malls and market-places, at their homes and while travelling on a public transport.

We want a visit to a police station to be not one of intimidation and harassment but of co-operation and friendliness.

So, can we, as fellow Indians, fulfill these wants and make the world a better place?

(The New Indian Express, Kerala editions)

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Crash, Bang, Thud!


Cinematographer Shamdat talks about his experiences in the films, ‘Sahasam’, ‘Prasthanam’ and ‘Streetlights’

Photos: Shamdat at a location; the poster of 'Streetlights' 

By Shevlin Sebastian

In the Telugu action film ‘Sahasam’ (2013), there is a car chase on a mountainous road in Ladakh. One car was supposed to hit a fallen bike and then veer away and fall off the mountainside. “We placed four cameras at different locations,” says cinematographer Shamdat.

Then he placed one camera, 150 feet below so that he could capture the fall of the vehicle. But the director Chandra Sekhar Yeleti told Shamdat it looked a bit risky. “I said that when the vehicle falls it will bounce a bit and come to a stop because there is a hole there,” says Shamdat. “If we get it, we will have a Hollywood type action shot.”

The fight master Stunt Silva told Shamdat that in case something went wrong, he should move to the left and not the right.

So, the car went off the road and, as predicted, fell into the hole. But it unexpectedly bounced because of the momentum. “I immediately moved to the left,” says Shamdat. “And a moment later, the car landed at the place where I was standing. That was how close I was to losing my life.”

In Ladakh, a sequence was planned where a car would come at high speed, skid on a sandy road, the driver would brake hard and the back of the car would come and stop right in front of the camera lens.

The shoot began. “As the car came at high speed, I got scared,” says Shamdat. “To calm down, I focused on the monitor. All the other assistants ran away. The driver braked at the right time and the car stopped right in front of the lens.  I was able to capture the sequence.”

Silva went up and hugged Shamdat. “Courage is good but if the driver had made a mistake, you could have lost your life,” said Silva. “The industry will say a few words of condolence and they will forget you. Whenever you want to take any risks, please remember there are some people who are dependent on you at your home. Life is more important than this shot.”

As Silva was talking, Shamdat was reminded of an incident which involved him during the shoot of the Telugu film, ‘Prasthanam’ (2010), at Hyderabad. It was a scene where a crowd ran down a road. Shamdat held a hand-held camera and ran beside them. But suddenly he slipped and fell into a 10 foot deep well by the side of the road. It was filled with broken fluorescent lights, glass and jagged stones. “There were cuts on one part of my face,” he says. “I started bleeding. But as soon as I got up I said, ‘One more take’. In that moment I did not know what had happened to me.”

He was rushed to a nearby hospital. A doctor from Britain was in attendance. “After he took a scan of my face, he said that nature will cure me and there was no need for any surgery,” says Shamdat.

It may have been an erroneous diagnosis. Because, nowadays, when the weather becomes cold, Shamdat suffers from a severe pain in his neck.

In Shandat’s debut directorial venture, ‘Streelights’, it was the turn of actor Vishnu Unnikrishnan to suffer a mishap. On the second day of the shoot, at Mattancherry, Vishnu was supposed to run very fast, then stop suddenly, skid a bit and then move down another road.

Unfortunately, Vishnu ran too fast, and when he stopped he could not prevent his right hand from hitting an electricity post with force. He began crying because of the pain.

On the way to the hospital, Vishnu said, “Shamdat Chetta, this is your first film. More than 200 people are working on the set. Because of me, the shooting has come to a stop.”

Shamdat said, “Don't think about all this now.”

At the hospital, it was discovered that Vishnu had fractured his hand in three places. He immediately said, “Chetta, why don’t you get [actor] Dharmajan [Bolghatty] to replace me?”

Shamdat was undecided about what to do. He showed the sequence of the accident to the film’s star Mammootty, who said, “Just ask Vishnu what we should do and we will do that.”

In the end, Shamdat opted for Dharmajan. As for Vishnu, it took him three months to recover from the accident. 

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