Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Mrinal Sen

Mrinal Sen, one of India's greatest directors, will be honoured with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in New Delhi on February 2. In this excerpt from a conversation with Samik Bandopadhyay, Mrinalda discusses three familiar actors he has worked with.

Smita (Patil) knew she wanted to do the role. And Shabana (Azmi) knew she wanted to, too. They knew that I was working on this film. They were then acting in Mandi. Shabana was the landlady. Smita was the prostitute. And Sreela (Majumdar)was in it too. Both of them called me up and said that they wanted to act in my new film. And Sreela too, following their example, pitched in with her request. I told her to calm down. 'You are practically family. Stop worrying.' I sat down and wrote to both Shabana and Smita. 'You are definitely acting in my next film. But unlike Shyam (Benegal), I cannot move about with a harem, like a Mughal Emperor. He can take plenty of women at a time, but I can't take more than one woman at a time. I start with you. After you, I'll take on another actress. You are a great actress. So is the other one.'

I wrote 'Dear Shabana' on one and 'Dear Smita' on the other. I deliberately interchanged the envelopes and sent them off. I got to hear of the end result much later, from Shyam (Benegal). They were at the dinner table. It was during the filming of Aarohan (produced by West Bengal Film Development Corporation). (They had exposed 10,000 feet in order to shoot some lightning. I was told by the best laboratory of West Europe that they had never seen lightning shot this way before. I had borrowed some of that for Genesis.) Shabana came to dinner, wearing a long face. And told Smita, 'This is a letter for you.' And Smita too, pulling out a letter from her wallet, said, 'Here, this one's yours.' (Laughs.) They confessed that they'd had a big laugh about it.

Shabana could really put one on the spot. One couldn't say no. One never had a chance to do so. I was visiting Shabana once at her father's place in Juhu. As I got up to leave, she gave me a rose. We exchanged kisses and left. This was before Khandahar (1983). The moment I stepped out, I met Smita who had come to collect her parents. They were on the way to Prithvi Theatre to watch a play. There I was, outside Shabana's house, clutching a rose to my breast. Like a Mughal Emperor on his way to war! 'Mrinalda, I've caught you at it!' she exclaimed and hugged me. I didn't know what to say. 'I'm sorry. Do forgive me.' 'No. I've caught you this time. There is only one way you can atone for your sins. You must watch my film Umbartha tomorrow.' 'But my plane leaves at noon tomorrow.'

She was not to be swayed and fixed it up so that I could watch it at the laboratory itself. Somewhere near the Film City. It took an age to get hold of a print and by the time we began watching it, it was almost ten thirty. The film was a long one, and Smita's parents were there too. I sent off a young man who was with me, to the airport, to check in. The moment the film ended, I ran to the car. 'I cannot speak with you now. I must be off or else I'll miss my flight. Well done.' I patted her on the back and was off. 'Next time I come I'll have puran polis with you,' I told her parents, her mother in particular.

She used to make them for me especially and send them over. Smita's mother used to tell me about how she had spent a lot of time traveling with her husband, on political work for the Congress. She said to me, 'I would like to be with your team when you work. I can cook. I have heard so much from Smita. All of you become like one big family. I would like to be a part of it.' I promised Smita that I would call her when I reached home. But she called me first. 'How did you like it?' 'I thought you did very well, although I have my reservations about the film as a whole,' I said. 'I forgive you then, since you did make time to watch the film,' she replied.

After that, when I completed Khandahar, I received a long fax from Cannes. My faxes would come to the Grand Hotel, in those days. They had written that although they had seen Khandahar, they could not accept two films from the same country. They had heard of Ray's Ghare Bairey. And wee convinced that this was his last film because he had fallen sick while filming. They had started this festival with Pather Panchali. Let the Cannes festival end with Ghare Bairey, they requested. No one had seen his film yet. And everyone was worried if my film won an award and his didn't, then that itself would perhaps kill him off. They said they would extend every support to me and my film but that I must concede to this one request. They screened it, but out of the competitive section. I had nothing to say.

The people at Venice were enraged. 'Why didn't you give it to us?' Anyway, then it went to Montreal. Where it got the Second Prize. And to Chicago where it got the Best Film Award. Then, it was also included in the Film Guide -- where the five best films from all over the world are chosen every year.

Gilles Jacob, director of the Cannes Festival, was present at the Montreal Festival. It is a French-speaking region and Smita was part of the jury too. Gilles called me up one morning: 'Mrinal, though I am leaving this morning, and a friend of mine from India is also leaving, can we meet over breakfast? We perhaps have no time for lunch.' I agreed. I also knew that the friend she wanted to bring for lunch would be none other than Smita. She congratulated me warmly, and said, 'Mrinalda, I simply have to tell you this. I have never seen Shabana look so beautiful before.' It was such a compliment and such an honest confession. Although there were undercurrents of tension between those two leading ladies. Just before that, referring to Smita, Shabana had told me, 'Mrinalda, this woman is sick in the head.' That was the difference between the two. Geeta was very fond of Smita.

Gilles Jacob said, 'You've taken her for one film which won an award at Berlin. I want you to make another film with her, which you must give to me. To my festival.' I agreed. Smita quickly picked up a paper napkin and wrote down this decision. And I signed it, putting down the place and the date. Gilles signed it too and so did Smita. And I remember absolutely clearly, how lovingly and gently she folded it and put it away in her handbag. Three months later she was dead. I was getting hourly updates on her condition. The moment I heard about her death, I sent off a fax to Jacob. And he called me back immediately. 'Whom can I call up, to pay my condolences?' I gave him Smita's husband's number. It was very sad.

It was so unexpected, so unnecessary

Yes, absolutely. One of the city's most famous doctors had confided to me -- a gynaecologist -- 'One of us is responsible for her death. I visit Bombay frequently and have heard about it. She died because of gross negligence.'

* * *

One morning I visited Khwaja Ahmed Abbas (1914 to 1987, journalist, columnist, scriptwriter and filmmaker), who lived next door. 'Abbas-saheb,' I said. 'I'm making a film.' 'Yes, I've heard.' 'And everyone in it is new. If I go to the Films Division, I know I will get plenty of people. Pratap Shama and the like, whose voices I can use. But I don't want to. We are all such old friends. I want a new voice. Since everyone else is new, I would like this person to be an unknown figure too.'

There was a young man there, amongst many others. Tall. Thin. 'Mrinalda, aami Bangla jaani. Aami kolkatay chhilo,' he said. (Mrinalda, I can speak Bengali. I used to live in Calcutta.) I told him, 'Your Bengali is lousy but your voice is great. And for your information, my film is a Hindi one. The name is Bengali and the protagonist is also Bengali, but it's a Hindi film. I need your voice for a few words a little after the movie begins and then a little bit again, towards the end. Are you willing?' I had to trade with his director.

This young man was working in a movie called Saat Hindustani, at that point. His director, Abbas, said the chap was being loaned to me on condition -- that I would get him Utpal in return. I agreed. I took the young man to Jagdish Banerjee's house -- he had done some work for the Films Division -- who agreed to do the recording. We had a budget of only one and a half lakhs and so had to skimp at every turn. Oh, what a trial that was. The sound of fish being fried next door and then the smell of that same fish wafting past us. It was impossible. I said, 'What the hell! Let's spend some money anyway.' So off we went to Blaze, where we finished the recording in twenty minutes. There was a Hindi translation of Sonaar Bangla. The young man asked me, 'Mrinalda, shall I say "sonaar Bangla"?' I agreed.

When I went to pay him, he refused. 'This is my very first work in films. I simply cannot accept money for it.' I reasoned with him. 'Look, all of us are accepting payment. You cannot insult us like this. Take it professionally. Is this your profession?' 'Yes,' he replied. 'Well then, make a start with this.' So those three hundred rupees were his first earning in the world of films. When I asked him for his name, for the credit line, he simply said, 'Amitabh.' At that point he was still undecided about whether he would keep the Bachchan part of it.

Amitabh Bachchan had spoken the commentary for Bhuvan Shome.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

When Mani ratnam blackmailed A. R. Rahman

On dedicating the song Tere Bina to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

When I began working on the soundtrack of Guru, I happened to listen to one of Nusrat saab's softest songs called Sajna Tera Bina. It is simple and heart stirring. There is great beauty in it. I was inspired by it and started composing Tere Bina about eight months ago.

Originally, the song was about 25 minutes long. You know I often write six or seven mukhdas and then there are many variations. I also recorded the song Ay Hairathe for the film but Mani sir felt it was too heavy to be at the start of the film. He thought of using Tere Bina.

Suddenly, the song got a life of its own. But there was one hurdle (chuckles). I had recorded it in the voice of Qadir Khan and he did an excellent job. But Mani sir wanted me to sing it. I said, Qadir will get hurt, and I did not want to hurt him. But there was no way of getting out. It became something like: Either you sing it or it won't be there.

So it was a blackmail?

But in a good way (chuckles). I also told Mani sir that I was fasting then and didn't have the energy to sing it. He said he would wait. (The song as it is has some of Murtaza Khan and Qadir's voices in the Dham Dara Dham Dara part at the beginning. Chinmayee joins Rahman later in the song.)

Monday, November 13, 2006

Got it!!

On Friday, November 10, 2006 ....I got my car license. That too I gave my roadtest on my stickshift car. Didn't expect a chance, but got it!!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Mindblowing recital!

Today is a special day, as I met Anoushka Shankar at Stony Brook University. A day to remember!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Ramu speaks it all!!

As a producer, you’ve said earlier that you want to release a film every Friday. In the spirit of being prolific, could you have begun to take your audiences for granted?
Coming out with a new film every week was a hope, a wish. To achieve that, you need to put adequate systems in place. In the recent past, I’ve been directing, as well as producing. I’ve decided to take a backseat and set everything in order first. So far as the audience is concerned, their loss is about a couple of hours or Rs 100; for me, at a personal level, the loss is much more.

If news reports are to be believed, you seem to have taken a financial hit.
Not true. I just moved out of my old office, which may have fuelled the supposed rumours. But that’s only because the tie-up (with K Sera Sera) was over, and they owned the premises.

On your film-front, we could run a daily bulletin on the latest on Ram Gopal Varma Ke Sholay; this when you haven’t even shot a reel.
The media is so hungry, and it’s got people all over the place. By the time I even think about something, it appears in the news… And then it’s about who’s Samba, who’s Basanti, copyright issues over Sholay, criticisms on casting decisions, constantly changing names… I may or may not choose to explain at times.

As a film, Sholay was considered a take on the Wild West, what came to be called the ‘curry western’. You take the western out of the curry; what’s left?
The coinage ‘curry western’ came up at the time because Sholay was believed to be an adaptation of Wild West films, like the Magnificent Seven, hence Seven Samurai: the scenic terrain, dacoits, horses… For me Sholay was a revenge story, which is pretty much possible in a city like Mumbai. There is nothing uniquely Western about it as a genre. The question is about its treatment as a remake in a new setting. This is different from Shiva, where taking the same premise (of Shiva; 1990), my object was to intentionally recreate the unintellectual formula film of the ‘70s: hero, villain, song, comedy scenes, fights… In the days of ramping and high-speed shots, I wanted to take a break from gun-shots and get back to raw fist-fighting; in reality, nobody fist-fights. But to see if one can transport those same feelings again was my purpose.

Once Amitabh Bachchan told me about how at the time Zanjeer came out, there was a lot of repression and anger in the country. My point was that’s not why Zanjeer worked. I came from a happy family; I had no clue about what the country was going through at the time; I saw Zanjeer seven times. I liked the way he kicked the chair when Pran was about to sit, or the nightmare he kept having of the horse.
This kind of cinema works on moments. I learnt the ropes, the understanding of characters through films of that genre, more than thinking them up myself. Since nobody seemed to be making movies of that genre, I thought may be I should do it for effect.

The blockbuster primarily survives in public memory and pop culture due to the caricatured characters, right down to Soorma Bhopali; Angrezon ke zamaane ka jailor… Those aspects can never be recaptured. Could you be caricaturing what’s been repeatedly caricatured in any case?
Having a direct comparison with an original, you take a greater risk with respect to audience or critical acclaim. I don’t think anybody reacts to the content of Sanjay Bhansali’s version of Devdas; they just see the splendour of it—the same story with new actors and settings and thereby a new experience. As a filmmaker, I believe I understand and respect Sholay more than anybody else I know.
When I take a favourite moment of mine from a film, lending my own sensibility to redo it today; it just becomes an interesting interpretation from an artistic point of view. To take up this exercise for an entire film, I thought there could be no better example than Sholay, which is like a friend of the audience; it’s the huge commercial success that makes anyone look up to it.
In the original, there is no police, it’s a village. Walking on a cliff, Gabbar says, ‘Kitne Aadmi The… Suwar ke bachhon’, but he is a rural dacoit. A man in a city would look odd speaking like that. But to not lose out on what those two lines stood for, yet to not use them; to do it in a way that it would be acceptable, yet not change it… It gives me a high as a filmmaker to capture the same content in the manner I understood it.

‘Kitne Aadmi The’ isn’t exactly a most profound line though.
One-liners of Sholay have less to do with the content than how they work as commercial tag-lines, which is pretty much what one-liners are about. ‘Mere Paas Maa Hai’ from Deewar: I still can’t understand what the line means. It belongs to Shashi Kapoor and it made Mr Bachchan a star.
The holding power (of a film) could be of an image, a moment, a line by Gabbar, who was a villain, but over the years became the hero. I studied the traits of Gabbar in the original and applied them on a gangster who exists in Mumbai and takes great pride in not operating from outside the city. The essential nature of Gabbar in Sholay is that of a megalomaniac, bored with his power, which you can tell from him constantly staring at an ant crawling (on his hand). He is always seen lazing around, because he never feels challenged, no one’s there to challenge him.

Talking of your films, every director portrays a distinct idea of how they view their women on screen. Yash Chopra has his chiffon-saree temptress; Mani Ratnam has his believable, naturally beautiful woman; your women, never mind the actors, seem straight out of a cartoon strip/ graphic novel, accentuated breasts and buttocks, a very Blondie-like demeanour.
Forget me as a filmmaker, on a personal level; I like men to be heroes and women to be sexy. Sexiness is also oriented around perspectives. What I find sexy, you may not. Eventually, since I am the filmmaker, the film would be my personal expression of how I want to see someone. The way you’re putting the question, it seems you mean my attitude is demeaning toward women.

I’m merely interested to know your world-view on women.
What you’re talking about might be obvious to the eye, but if you look at it from a larger perspective, the way I shy away from getting into problems of simple people or families, reveals how I am by nature. I am a loner. I live in an overawed, child-like dream world. And I love to see a woman as sexy. Many heroines feel that I shoot women the best, so I have no complaints.

You’re completely an alpha-male director. I want to know how you perceive women.
I’d love women to be still images.

That sounds sexist.
I think I am… And I think women should feel great about their sexiness.

So, in your world, men should go out and work, and women should dance.
Yes. When they come back from work, they should dance for their husbands.

Given that you call yourself a “lone person”, do you see the portrayal of this insularity, especially in big cities, a common theme running through your works—Satya, Kaun, Bhoot…
I think it’s got more to do with my interest in the study of the human mind. What comes across from a character or person when he’s alone, I feel, is his true self. Most times when you’re with people, you’re interacting and doing things for them. I’m not a social guy. I never go to functions. I hate birthday parties. I hate being with children.

You hate children.
I hate being with children.

So you hate children.
I started thinking about why I dislike children and realised that’s because they take the attention away from me. Sitting with three people, I want all their attention. But if the kid is there, I can’t compete—the kid won’t listen to me. So the people listening get distracted and seem more interested in the kid.

Movie-stars take attention away from you as well. Is that why you dislike them?
That’s not true at all. No one believes in stardom as much I do. For me, a ‘non-star’ can be a star, and vice versa. I feel half the stars have no business to be there. And a lot of others who deserve to be stars are not. I just don’t go by the box-office status of the previous week, or someone’s previous film. I go by what attracts me.

Stardom, however amorphous an idea, is directly related to the box-office though.
I love films too much to have a motive to make money from it. I need money to make films; I don’t make films to make money. Eventually everything boils to the director’s reason for making a film. If I have Ajay Devgan for Malik’s role in Company, from the first shot, the audience will take him seriously; they will take it for granted that it’s an important character. If I make Satya with newcomers, it’s because I want to capture the giddiness of the underworld. So I need to see to it that the protagonists look believable in the kind of location I’m shooting. I use them as devices to get to that point. I’m not trying to promote a Manoj or a Chekravarthy, on some kind of a trip. Similarly, a movie like Sarkar is not possible without Amitabh Bachchan. If the close-up comes, it must arrest the audience. It has to have certain information, a larger-than-life quality pre-built into the character. It’s not that I’m always right either.

What about Shah Rukh Khan?
The whole nation knows that Shah Rukh Khan is a super-star. By nature, I make dark, larger-than-life heroic films, which is pretty much against the image that Shah Rukh has with his audience. Kids and my own family members love him. I don’t ever watch those kinds of films. I thought it would be injustice to the image of Shah Rukh Khan and everyone else, if my heart was not in the film (that we were meant to do together). I had doubts over whether I could capture him in a certain way. That’s not to say that Shah Rukh can’t act in the films I make, but why take Shah Rukh Khan if you don’t use him for what he’s good at.

The film, Time Machine, was supposed to be a sci-fi.
It’s a highly entertaining sort of a film; not really my cup of tea. Whenever I’d look at the subject, I’d feel like I was going to school. And I hate school. I was a bad student. I felt stifled thinking about the film and I thought it wasn’t fair for anyone concerned.

Another thing you hate is writing, or what they call in ‘new Bollywood’, the ‘bound script’. With changing times, does that become a handicap, especially when you have to enlist leading names?
I don’t know of any actor who works on bound scripts; they work on trust. I also go by instinct. For instance, for Nishabd and Sarkar I had a bound script, for Company and Satya I didn’t. Rangeela, I had about half a story. I’m not priding the fact that Satya didn’t have a bound script, but because it didn’t have a script, it worked out a certain way. You need to have an understanding of characters. I’d rather go into a story with that, and see how it shapes up. Stories are about incidences, and incidences occur because of characters’ reactions.
I only get into the character after about two days of shooting. Unless I see the person perform, and see his body language, I probably may not understand before-hand what I’m dealing with. I do have a script. I just don’t have it on paper; I can narrate it. Eventually, my prerogative is to change what I want depending on what I think is right for a film. My films may have gone wrong in terms of creative content, but there has rarely been a case where an actor has been criticised. Over a period of time, actors develop that trust.

This sort of instinctual style of filmmaking may rattle off people who deal with the commercial side of films though.
About 90 per cent of the films that the intelligentsia or critics will like may probably collect the least amount of money in the business. In spite of my temperament and attitude towards filmmaking, I’ve probably lasted the longest. Mathematically, a flop and hit depends upon the cost of making a film, and the amount that gets recovered: that’s the business side. Otherwise, filmmaking is about an idea.

That’s something you initially set out to do, turn Hindi movies rightfully into a director’s medium.
In today’s times with serious technological advancement, Avid machines, DI, special effects… I sometimes really don’t know what a director does. It’s coming to that gradually. You see a fantastic opening title sequence that creates an impression on you, you credit the director, but he may have nothing to do with it. So I don’t entirely buy the ‘auteur theory’. Fair enough, it’s the director taking decisions; to that extent he may be in a position of power. But the creation of the emotional impact of a particular sequence might not have anything to do with the director, which is why I find the whole point of directing or acting institutes outdated.

Over the past many years, you’ve been taking pot-shots at your peers through your films: Vidhu Vinod Chopra / Shekhar Kapur (Rangeela), Karan Johar (Company), Subhash Ghai (Main Madhuri…), Farah Khan (Naach)… Have the concerned people taken those jokes well?
I take pot-shots at myself; I did that in Darna Zaroori Hai. All jokes on newspaper cartoons are on famous people; how else would jokes work?
In fact, both Vinod Chopra and Shekhar Kapur had an argument over who the character in Rangeela was modeled on. The ones about Farah Khan and Subhash Ghai you refer to, I don’t remember them being intended at all. If I show a choreographer in Bollywood, you could automatically think it’s Farah Khan. All B-grade films emulate A-grade filmmakers. In Company, referring to a film with the tag-line, “It’s all about loving your lovings” or whatever, my point was to capture a reality. I wasn’t taking a pot-shot.

Everybody may not buy your sense of humour. Your joke on Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna wasn’t taken well by him at the least.
Well, I’ve learnt. I swore on my mother and sister in Siddhivinyak, and pledged, may I burn in hell, if I ever say anything about Karan Johar. Now ask me if I believe in God. Ask, ask…

Do you believe in God?
No comments.

As a director:
Sarkar (2005): With the two Bachchans steering it, the film had slim chances of failing.
Bhoot (2003): Urmila played a convincing possessed woman.
Company (2002): Slick underworld action, intense performances by Ajay Devgan and Vivek Oberoi; well-received.
Jungle (2000): Urmila, Fardeen Khan and the creamy Kashmira in a forest of terror. Average.
Mast (1999): Aftab Shivdasani’s big break, with Urmila again, not really top-of-the line, but average performance.
Satya (1998): A de-glammed Urmila and a stellar performance by Chakrevarthy, Manoj Bajpai, Paresh Rawal and Co, catapulted it to heights.
Rangeela (1995): With Urmila cavorting on the beach in a shredded slip, and Aamir at his tapori best, it rocked the BO.
Shiva (1990): Starring Nagarjuna and Amala, Varma’s first feature film was a huge hit.

As a producer/co-producer:
Shiva (2006) and D (2005): Two films for Mohit Ahlawat that did not quite do for him what they were supposed to.
Naach (2004): All the world’s weirdest body contortions by Antara Mali could not change the fortunes of the film
Vaastu Shastra (2004): Successful in scaring the audience away from the theatres.
Ab Tak Chhappan (2004): Nana Patekar doing what he does best. The gritty film did reasonably.
Ek Hasina Thi (2004): Talked about for Saif’s superlative performance in a negative role.
Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon!: Sincere performance by Rajpal Yadav and Antara Mali kept the film in the reckoning.
Shool (1999): Directed by E Niwas, Manoj Bajpai and Raveena Tandon put in credible performances.
Dil Se.. (1998): With Mani Ratnam as director, the film’s superhit music and unusual lead pair: Shah Rukh and Monisha Koirala, made it one of the most talked about films that year.

Whenever Ram Gopal Varma airs his views on women, you want to tell him what to do with those views.
He has said it all. From “I hate intelligent women. If I want intelligence, I’ll read a book” to “I have always looked at women as sex symbols”; from “ I like to see women getting drenched in the rain” to “My cinema is all about heroes, for me, men should be powerful, women should be sexy”. He has gone on record to say that he doesn’t like simple women. “My perception about a woman has changed over the years—she has to be sensual and have the oomph factor,” he has said.
No doubt sometimes he may have been misquoted, sometimes quoted out of context. But the essence that emerges, of his ideal woman, remains consistent: he likes his woman to ooze oomph, pout and make soft, teasing noises. And, yes, if they must talk, they should let their cleavage do the bulk of the talking.
No wonder his metier lies in turning relatively simple young girls into oomph queens. From Urmila Matondkar to Jiah Khan, his heroines have been meticulously tutored in the art of pouting and panting. In fact, over the years, and ever since he made Rangeela in ‘95, all of Ramu’s heroines seem to have set up the chorus, ‘Main bhi Urmila Matondkar banna chahti hoon’. Urmila held the fort for several years, tossing her mane and thrashing her body, in turns, to heat-inducing music, exactly as Ramu wanted. Later, she passed on the baton to Antara Mali and company.
On the face of it, Ramu’s heroines have been modern, urban. They’ve been professionals rather than housewives, they’ve expressed their sexuality rather than hiding it behind filmi coyness. But that’s on the face of it. The ultra cool exterior hasn’t too often been backed by ultra cool thought. Finally his women have crawled (sometimes literally) back to conventionality.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Now this is very very Unfortunate!!!

Steve Irwin

Steve Irwin, the popular television presenter better known as the 'Crocodile Hunter', has passed away following a marine accident.

The 44-year old was filming an underwater documentary on Monday morning, and police sources in Cairns, north Australia, say he was killed by a stingray barb.

Only the second known Australian fatality from a stingray attack, Irwin seemed to have been stung either through his heart or the left side of his chest, following which he immediately suffered a cardiac arrest. He is survived by wife Terri and their two children, Bindi Sue, 8, and Robert, 3.

An exuberant and fearless showman, he popularised Australian phrases around the world, and will be remembered for his use of the word 'Crikey!'

Also aiding his global following were his pro-conservation, environmentalist approach and his encyclopaedic knowledge and love of crocodiles.

Source: Rediff

Only the gods can save India

Prakash Karat damns the Election Commission for 'bias'. Every Congressman is secretly convinced that he can do a better job as prime minister than poor Manmohan Singh -- if only Sonia Gandhi listens.

The BJP condemns the Speaker for his prejudiced views, and Somnath Chatterjee thunders back that he will resign if he is not respected. Meanwhile, the Lok Sabha descends into chaos as MPs from the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (United) engage each other physically.

Watching all this from afar I raise my eyes to the heavens, praying that our current crop of leaders lives long. Ask me why, and I can only invite you to consider the alternative...

Several of the top guns in politics arose from student unions. The list of luminaries includes Arun Jaitley of the BJP, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Sharad Yadav, and Marxists such as Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury. It is a fair assumption that some of tomorrow's leaders shall arise from the student unions of today. Can you, honestly, contemplate this future without shuddering?

Professor Nishi Pandey of Lucknow University complained of being harassed by student leader Ram Singh Rana last year after she tried to stop him from entering the women's hostel. This year, the Samajwadi Party has made Rana its candidate for president of the Lucknow University Students Union.

In Delhi, Jamia Milia Islamia University shut down in July after students went on a rampage against the vice-chancellor and the proctor. They were supported by the National Students' Union of India president Nadeem Javed, who promised to take up their case with Union HRD Minister Arjun Singh. (The fact that the vice-chancellor in question is the renowned historian Mushirul Hasan did not get him any support from his leftist friends.)

But all this pales into insignificance beside the tragedy in Ujjain, where Professor Harcharan Singh Sabharwal died of injuries after he was assaulted, allegedly by activists associated with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. This has been denied both by the ABVP and by the BJP; the spokespersons of both pointed out that the television footage does not show any ABVP member hitting Professor Sabharwal.

You know what? I don't care, the footage that I did see was damning enough!

I saw Vimal Tomar, organising secretary of the ABVP in Madhya Pradesh jabbing away at Professor M L Nath of Madhav College in Ujjain. I saw him mouth offensive words at the assembled faculty, abuse that the television channels prudently bleeped out. I heard him say something to the effect, "You have called us goondas, now we shall teach you a lesson!" We also had the 'privilege' of watching Shashiranjan Akela, president of the Madhya Pradesh unit of the ABVP, argue vehemently with his teachers.

Even if you can lay aside the assault on Professor Sabharwal -- and I for one find it absolutely unpardonable -- how can you explain away the fundamental lack of decency exhibited by the likes of Vimal Tomar? There may not be any evidence of ABVP members assaulting Professor Sabharwal, there is plenty of proof of their vulgarity against the other teachers. For this alone, they should be drummed out of the university, and kicked out of all political activity as well.

Lawyers will argue endlessly whether Professor Sabharwal's death was 'murder' or 'manslaughter'. Investigators certainly have their work cut out to see whether there was any NSUI involvement given that the Congress-backed body was just as unhappy with Professor Sabharwal as the ABVP itself. But if there is a moral dimension to politics, then Vimal Tomar and Shashiranjan Akela are guilty of creating an atmosphere where violence against teachers could flourish.

Let me quote from the RSS web site: 'Devotional worship of the Guru is one of the most touching and elevating features of the Hindu cultural tradition. The relationship of Guru-shishya is one unique symbol of our Hindu Dharma.'

The RSS takes this so seriously that one of its great annual events is Guru Purnima, when every member is expected to make some token offering to the Guru. I can remember seeing the likes of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani perform Guru Dakshina even when they were in high office.

Why, given this tradition, weren't Vimal Tomar and Shashiranjan Akela drummed out of the ABVP the moment they were seen insulting their teachers at the gates of Madhav College? Does Guru Purnima hold any meaning any longer, or is it empty ritual?

The ABVP was formed when M S Golwalkar was the Sarsanghachalak. The 'M' in his name stood for 'Madhavrao', and he himself was affectionately known as 'Guruji'. What irony if the centenary year of his birth is marked by insulting Gurus in the precincts of an institution named 'Madhav' College!

Will anybody emerge with clean hands from the Ujjain tragedy? When last heard, over 20 NSUI members had been arrested in Ujjain -- on the basis of a list of offenders given to the police by the principal of Madhav College. Sanjeev Jain, of the Nationalist Congress Party's Disha Kisaan Sangathan, also surrendered to the police in the same case. With associates of the BJP, the Congress, and Sharad Pawar's NCP named, fears of political interference are bound to grow.

And these are the people from whose ranks India's future leaders may arise. Ponder over that.

I read that GMP Dwivedi, who is heading the Criminal Investigation Department team, started the probe after praying at the Mahakaleshwar temple in Ujjain. I understand exactly how he feels. When politics vitiates the atmosphere in temples of learning so much that students insult their teachers, well, only the gods can save India.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Ram Gopal Varma's "Nishabd"

Love stories and emotional relationships haven't exactly been Ram Gopal Varma's main area of interest, so when he decided to make an intense saga about an old man's obsession with a young girl in "Nishabd" it raised several eyebrows.

But Varma says that the film with Amitabh Bachchan wasn't a sudden decision. "It was an idea I was sleeping with for a long time. What fascinates me is how would it seem to place a man of Mr. Bachchan's character, demeanour, grace and image in such a position? The relationship with a young girl will look even more effective," Varma told us.

Varma doesn't deny that he has shied away from sex and love in most of his films.

"It could also have something to do with the genre of films I generally do. 'Nishabd' allowed me to go into areas I haven't visited before. But I wouldn't like to give it a pompous terminology like 'soul-searching'. I'm not equipped for that sort of an exercise.

"In 'Nishabd' I'm basically interested in capturing a conflict within a man between his feelings and his responsibilities. The girl is only a device to trigger off that conflict."

Right now, Varma is hogging the limelight for his two remakes - "Shiva" and "Sholay".

Excerpts from the Interview:

Why this sudden decision to make "Nishabd" with Amitabh Bachchan?

It wasn't a sudden decision. I had been talking to Mr. Bachchan about several projects. In fact, I had sounded him out about "Nishabd" a year back when the idea came to me. When we were both ready to work together again, we wondered which script to start with.

Unfortunately, all my plans with Mr. Bachchan went haywire because of his illness. Now I have his dates for "Sholay". But that's been delayed for various reasons. We used those dates for "Nishabd".

Why has "Sholay" been delayed?

Because it's a straight-on action film. I didn't want Mr. Bachchan to do anything strenuous after his illness.

I would never expect a film titled "Nishabd" from you.

See, it isn't a question of suddenly trying to prove I can do an intense love story. It was an idea I was sleeping with for a long time. People seem to think I'm doing an adaptation of "Lolita", which is about a middle-aged man's obsession with a 14-year-old girl.

What fascinates me is how would it seem to place a man of Mr. Bachchan's character, demeanour, grace and image in such a position? The relationship with a young girl will look even more effective. I feel emotions have nothing to do with age. What stops a man in that position of supreme success and respect from indulging in his feelings? Is it a sense of responsibility towards society and family? I wanted to look beyond those responsibilities.

I want to film a love story between a man of Mr. Bachchan's age and a very young girl, in an intense stylised way in a completely new narrative language. I want to create a language of love-expression that's never been tried before.

You've shied away from sex, even love in most of your films.

Yeah, it is possible. But that could also have something to do with the genre of films I generally do. "Nishabd" allowed me to go into areas I haven't visited before. But I wouldn't like to give it a pompous terminology like 'soul-searching'. I'm not equipped for that sort of an exercise. I just like to capture feelings.

For all my cynical talk, I feel I portray feelings and emotions in a way that's entirely mine. In "Nishabd" I'm basically interested in capturing a conflict within a man between his feelings and his responsibilities. The girl is only a device to trigger off that conflict.

You've chosen a new girl?

Her name is Jiya Khan. And please don't ask a stupid question like where did I find her. I didn't go on a girl hunt or something. I keep collecting pictures of actors and actresses who come to meet me. And then a particular face comes back to me when I'm scripting a character. Jiya is right for this part.

To my knowledge she has no experience in modelling or acting. I had met her a couple of years back. In fact, I was planning to cast her in a later production. Then "Nishabd" came along.

Is there a strong undercurrent of sexuality in "Nishabd"?

No love story can be complete without an undercurrent of sexuality. Because of the nature of the subject and its requirements, I'm excited about capturing Mr. Bachchan's expressions as never seen before.

Amit Roy, who shot "Sarkar" is the cinematographer. There are no songs this time. We completed "Nishabd" in one schedule.

You've just finished directing "Shiva" and then "Nishabd".

That's not really unusual. I never sit idle. The minute I finish a project, I immediately start something else.

You and Amitabh are doing a series of films together.

I think we're addicted to each other. And we're both in the mood to create poetry in "Nishabd".

Are you getting mellower?

No. This is my once-in-while moment of seriousness. I'll quickly go back to making "Bhoot" and "Kaun" before people start taking me seriously and start giving me awards.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

My only dream was the India cap: Tendulkar

After surviving more than 16 years in media spotlight, Sachin Tendulkar is set to put into words his incomparable drive and passion for cricket. Lauded as the best batsman since Sir Donald Bradman, he reveals in his forthcoming book Tendulkar's Opus how he evolved from being an unmanageable child to India's youngest-ever Test player.

"Cricket is something very, very special to me. It has never been about owning this or that car and the other things that come with this life. My parents taught me that it is important to live everyday of your life with grace and honour," the ace batsman says in the book to be published at the end of next year.

"An obsession with money or worldly matters was always thumbed down. My only dream was to wear the Indian cap and the Indian colours. In that respect, my childhood dreams have come true."

However, Tendulkar says cricket wasn't his only love. He also played a lot of tennis and believes he was pretty good at it too.

"My big-time hero was John McEnroe. I just loved that guy. All my friends and family would support Bjorn Borg. I was the only one supporting John McEnroe - everyone used to call me 'Mac' because I styled myself on him.

"I made my father buy me the same headbands and sweatbands and even grew my hair long. You wouldn't believe the pictures of me from that time. I was also extremely naughty. Very, very difficult to handle."

"I would climb the trees around the apartment complex and polish off all the guavas and mangoes. The fruit trees were strictly off limits, but I used to time it to perfection by waiting until nobody was around, normally in the evening when everyone was inside watching television.

"I had a nanny who used to run after me virtually 24 hours a day, because I never wanted to go home," he says.

Tendulkar says he settled down when he started playing a lot of cricket in his early teens - "all my calories were being burnt on the cricket pitch and my energy was being focused.

"I have my brother Ajit to thank for that - he guided me into the game. He used to watch me play downstairs with my friends, without me realizing. He figured out that I could bat by watching my swing, the way I connected with the ball and my consistency.

"He's almost 10 years older than me and had played at a decent level himself. He told me that professional cricket could be a future for me and convinced my father to let me change schools, to help me play more," he says.

"My father, who died in 1999, was never a cricket fan, not at all. He was a writer and a poet: he taught Marathi, my mother tongue, at the local university. But he understood exactly how to get the best out of me. He always encouraged me and told my mother that he had full faith in me. It was probably reverse psychology, but as I got older I felt like I could not misuse that trust.

"He warned me against taking short cuts and told me to just keep playing, despite the ups and downs. When it came to choosing between cricket and going to university, he said: 'You can play cricket, I know that is your first love, so go for it'."

Tendulkar says his parents were extremely happy when he became the youngest player to play for India, at 16.

"At first they were a little worried. In India, cricket is almost a religion and they had some apprehensions over whether I'd be able to cope with the demands and pressure at that age. Some of the players were almost twice my age and I was living away from home for most of the year. But it all went smoothly in the end."

In excerpts of the book published in The Sunday Times magazine, Tendulkar says "I now have my own family, daughter who is eight and a son who is six, so there's that other half of the coin to look at. I need to strike the right balance between cricket and family.

"I try to follow my father's lead and give my kids the freedom that I had in my family. Having children brings back all my old childhood memories, wonderful years. Now, every minute is measured and calculated. I still dream - without dreams, life is flat, you stagnate. I don't go to the temple every morning, but I do pray. I thank God for everything He has given me, because life has been good to me," he says.

As a child, Tendulkar says he always knew he would play cricket for India. The batting maestro says he received his first cricket bat when he was seven.

"My big sister gave it to me after returning from a trip to Kashmir, which is known for its high-quality willows. It wasn't the best bat, but it was like a piece of gold to me. I used to imagine myself batting for India, hitting fours and sixes, the people cheering. I used that bat until it broke when I graduated from playing with a tennis ball to a hard, seasoned ball."

Reminiscing his childhood, Tendulkar says he grew up in an apartment in central Mumbai, a nice middle-class area, the youngest of four children - "I have two brothers and a sister. There was a private green at the front of our building where I used to spend all my spare time playing with friends.

"Virtually every morning, evening and afternoon, playing football, volleyball, hockey - and cricket, of course. Batting came naturally to me, probably because of my physique. There were bigger guys who chose to bowl, and there were smaller guys like me who had no option but to bat."

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Kamal Hassan's interview

Kamal Hassan talks about making films on his own terms

Excerpts from the Itnterview:

Why have you been maintaining such a low profile?

I'm 50 now. I have suddenly realised how much time I've wasted. I should've planned my dream Maridunayagam more carefully. I need 40 more years as a filmmaker. Although it may seem so, I'm not a workaholic. I took one entire year (1990) off thinking I could afford it. I'm one of the few filmmakers in Chennai who takes every Sunday off.

You've been around for 30-odd years as a leading man. What changes do you notice in the film industry?

I'm still trying to execute those dreams that I had at 19. I agree that the Tamil industry is quite stagnant. But as long as I live to tell the story, I guess I'm going to do so.

Aren't your films very expensive?

All the films I do for external productions are within the budget. When I did Hey Ram on my own, it cost as much as Shankar's Hindustani, although it was a bi-lingual. When it comes to my films, the forthcoming film has to be better than the earlier ones.

Are your dreams getting bigger?

No. I don't believe in daydreaming. But Maridunayagam remains one of my dreams. Now, I can get most of the finance in India, but only if my next few films do well. Luckily, portions where I'm supposed to look younger have all been shot so that my growing older in person would become a part of the narrative.

Is it becoming difficult for you to make films on your own terms?

It's always difficult, whether on my own or on others' terms. But I've no complaints. I'm a pampered technocrat. Filmmaking is not an isolated endeavour; it's like fighting a war. You can lose any time. Your soldiers might fail you. Your courage might fail you.

Singing is an abiding passion for you, isn't it?

I've sung about 50 songs for my films and majority of them are in Tamil. My father wanted me to become a singer, a classical vocalist. I learnt classical singing but not to the level he wanted. Due to my other pursuits, I couldn't take up singing seriously. Now, my daughter Shruti is learning Hindustani classical music.

What do you feel about another Kamal Hassan coming up in the industry?

They're already there, though they aren't my direct offsprings. My replacement is probably smiling at me and calling me passe. I only hope I can groom him without jealousy (laughs). I remember commenting on my seniors's performances. We'd look at MGR and Sivaji Ganesan films and wonder why they did some of the films that they did. Of course, we became eager chelas once we entered the industry.

Where are the replacements for you and Rajnikant?

Earlier, people used to say that no one could replace Sivaji Ganesan, and he would modestly say that his replacement would arrive. It took a long time for Sivaji saab to see a spark in me —he took me seriously as an actor after 17 years. I'm being realistic when I say a replacement will come. There are so many gifted new boys. And I'm eager to encourage them.

What do you enjoy the most—acting, producing, screenwriting or directing?

That depends on which of these capacities are required for, at any given time. I was a reluctant actor who was cajoled into acting. Now I enjoy it too much to give it up. There's so much applause you get. But if my visiting card read 'Kamal Hassan, Actor' I'd be slightly perturbed.

When your ex- wife Sarika had a near-fatal fall you subconsciously recorded the incident for future reference?

That's a common trait among actors. Though I can detach myself from tragedy, no one is immune to tears and fears. As an actor I've recorded a number of tragedies for reference. But this was one crisis where I kept the actor completely at bay. However, the child within me remained curious about the fall and wanted to know the technical details. That didn't in any way, diminish my affection for my wife. But the truth is, I was seeing a bizarre screenplay in my mind. I went from shock to gloom within no time.

So you realised that audiences' tastes couldn't be trusted?

No, the same audience that accepted me in this film also wanted to know when I would do more films like Moondaram Pirai, Thevar Magan and Appu Raja.

What about your Hindi films after Ek Duuje Ke Liye?

Some were obvious failures. But they didn't affect me. I did them out of friendship. My failure in Hindi cinema was more conspicuous because those Hindi films took longer to finish. If they were completed on schedule I would have done 50 films during the same time. I chose to stay away from Hindi films because I've a short life and there's lots of work to be done. Some of my best friends took forever to make their films. Ramesh Sippy took two years to make

You have a formidable acting reputation to back up your films in Mumbai.

I'm just a musafir (traveller) in Mumbai. I drop in once in a while and shake up the statusquo as I come and go. I'm not present in the market to generate faith in my standing. So when I do come with a film they say, "Ah phir aa gaya?!" But in Tamil Nadu it's another story. Alabandhan is being looked upon as a huge event.

Is there a Dravidian prejudice in Mumbai, because Madhavan too is facing the same kind of stumbling block.

But Madhavan is facing a stumbling block in Chennai as well. If in Mumbai he's seen as a Madrasi boy, then in Chennai he's the Bombay guy. It's unfortunate to enounter so many parochial attitudes. To a large extent, Tamil cinema is free of those biases.

Many of your fans feel that Mani Ratnam's Nayakan is your best film till date.

It's an important film. But even Mani Ratnam would say his best is still to come. Now when we're thinking of working together again we're scared whether we'd get an equally powerful script.

Was Nayakan designed as a desi Godfather?

Yes, both Mani Ratnam and I are great fans of Mario Puzo and Francis Coppola. All the same, we wanted to get away from the Hollywood stereotype and remake Nayakan into our environmnt.

Were you offered the Hindi remake of Nayakan?

No. Feroz Khan wanted to do it. That's why he bought the rights. As for my opinion of the Hindi version, Mani Ratnam and I share the same opinion—they missed the point.

What do you think about the frenzied fusion of cinema and politics in Tamil Nadu?

It started with the DMK who wanted a propaganda tool. When C N Annadurai started the DMK party, it was not a contesting party. Annadurai was also a screenwriter. When he died, Karunanidhi was unanimously chosen as his undisputed successor. After 1967, Tamil Nadu hasn't seen a single non-cinema Chief Minister. Even NT Rama Rao in Andhra Pradesh saw the close link between cinema and politics through MGR. NTR played almost every role in Telugu cinema that MGR played in Tamil and also had a religious aura to his personality.

Why have you and your guru Sivaji Ganesan shied away from politics?

I have. He hasn't. He won several elections and even started his own party. He lost his focus on cinema for a while. How could I advise him against it? How can you tell the headmaster to run the school? We disciples humbly murmured our disapproval.

What do you think about Rajnikant as an actor?

When we were still in our 20s I had asked him why he was so stylised on screen. He said that's the secret of his future success. I assured him that my style would also be a winner. He turned around to say, 'Fair enough. You do your thing and I'll do my own.' Rajni is a phenomenon too. Both of us were young actors who started from scratch. We didn't have fathers to make movies for us. But we had the same godfather K Balachander. It's quite strange, but our paths as actors were always intertwined. We made our way up together.

Are you keen on doing a film with Rajnikant?

It depends. He said if we do a film together he wouldn't direct it. It has to be either me or someone else. It would be interesting to do a film with him. At the Thenali silver jubilee function Rajni recalled an incident when he was riding pillion on my bike. When the bike skidded Rajni asked if I knew how to ride a bike! I assured him that even if I fell, I wouldn't let him fall. I was so touched when Rajni said at the function, 'That's what happened in our careers. He never let me fall. In 1983, when I wanted to leave everything behind it was Kamal who cajoled me back to the material world.' I guess we'll do a film together. We're worried about the expectations.

You're accused of becoming increasingly self-indulgent in your films.

I was self-indulgent earlier. I am an actor who can do Bharat Natyam and Kuchipudi, skid on a motorbike and select films from different languages for a remake. Is that being self-indulgent? I don't think so.

Anil Kapoor has done a large number of your Tamil films in Hindi.

Somewhere he must admire the way I conduct my career. Maybe he wanted to use some of my career tricks. But no re-make can be the same as the original. Even Moondram Pirai and Sadma aren't the same though they were done with the same cast and crew. Just as Shakespeare's Othello is played by so many actors why can't two actors in India interpret the same character in two languages? I was offered the chance to do the Hindi remake of my Swathi Muthyam (which Anil Kapoor eventually did as Eeshwar) by Raj Kapoor. If I had taken the offer I'd have belonged to one of the most illustrious film families in India, just as I belong to Sivaji Saab's family.

Where do you think our cinema stands globally?

It's time for our films to move ahead of V Shantaram's musical milieu. I may not succeed playing a vigilante. It's not enough for a Mani Ratnam or a Kamal Hassan to change the status quo. We need more celluloid reformists. It happened in Karnataka through a governmentsponsored scheme. Suddenly, I was very proud of a neighbouring state. I'd run to Karnataka just to be part of the cinematic revolution at a time when Tamil Nadu was making crappy commercial films. Just being in B V Karanth's house was comforting. I feel the same movement can start in any part of the country. Why should we depend on Mumbai for it? I think our cinema has never grown up since Shantaramji's days. But I'm trying.

Why this aversion to songs and music?

I've this Guru Dutt-like background. I used to be a dance composer. In four years, I must have choreographed about a hundred songs. As an actor I've done about 500 songs. To me songs make commercial sense, in the same way that whores make sense to someone in the prostitution business. As an actor, songs often seem stupid. I played a psychopath in the Tamil film Red Rose. Everyone expected me to go on stage and sing a pop number with girls. I told my director that a serial killer doesn't sing. In our films everyone from a dentist to a follower of Vinobha Bhave sings and dances. I'm fed up of bringing music into every aspect of life on screen. We don't need to mix genres. At the moment we're cooking up a strange gypsy dish made up of leftovers and disposable food.

Do you feel music is a huge impediment to our cinema' progress?

Yes. My greatest disappointment was when my hero Shyam Benegal succumbed to the song trap in Zubeidaa. See how the film industry is coercing some of our greatest filmmakers. When I first saw his work. I remember meeting him after Ankur and I asked him the name of his next film. He said, 'We don't have to name the film now since we don't have to sell our songs." I admired him for that. Now I can understand his desire to be market-friendly. We all have to change. He's still my hero.

Your fans want your talent to be recognised in the West.

They should stop dreaming of an Oscar for me. Oscar isn't the ultimate reward for an Indian actor. Hollywood doesn't allow us to participate on an equal level; we can participate only as foreigners. It cannot be a world endorsement of cinematic excellence. It doesn't even endorse American cinema fully. My dream project is to create a film festival like Cannes in Chennai where the top prize would be one million dollars. Then we'll have Hollywood participating without reservation.

Do you think our cinema is finally being noticed abroad?

We need to take our cinema forward and free it from bigotry. I'm bored with what we're doing. I've my own sensibilities as a filmmaker. I want to apply these to international standards. Hollywood comprises multi-cultural talent. Likewise, we need to wear our cultural badge and still look cosmopolitan.

There's a lot of speculation about your personal life.

A broken marriage isn't a crime. In Tamil Nadu, the press seems to respect my feelings. I'm a child of the Tamil industry. I've gone through grief. I repeat, give me my privacy. It's my fundamental right.

Your problems have made you compassionate.

I always believe there's no such thing as luck for those who deserve it. You've to work hard for it. I paid the price for wanting to be a director. I lost money but I gained critical fame. Now I wonder if the bargain was worth it. As a struggler, I dreamt of owning several cars, living in an air-conditioned home etc. I was paid Rs 15,000 per film and I was doing 10 films at the time. I wanted to cross the Rs 100,000 bracket and act in only one film at a time. Today I've many luxuries and liabilities including alimony. But my dream of making films hasn't died.

Friday, August 11, 2006

A R Rahman Interview


�I�m starting my own music label�

Musical genius A.R.Rahman tells Shana Maria Verghis why he is starting KM Music,
why he missed out on working in Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrmann�s latest project, his
collaboration with a famous guitarist, why musicals are the next big thing in Indian cinema, how much Heath Ledger liked the Bombay Theme, why he has a new haircut and the next Elizabethan saga from Shekar Kapur.

Last time we met A.R.Rahman, he was sporting his trademark shoulder-length
hair., This time it was cropped short because he recently went on a Haj pilgrimage. Wearing a beige Van Heusen jacket, white shirt and jeans over patent leather shoes. Rahman, who has just
been anointed WorldSpace�s brand ambassador, was in Delhi for a brief stopover. We buttressed him into talking about chalk and cheese.

WorldSpace got you into four new adverts. Your second TV commercial after Nokia.
You also composed the jingle for WorldSpace�s latest campaign which is built around you
and includes concert shows.

I have been using the radio for four years. The video was shot in Kannur. The music is inspired
by sounds of nature.

Spike Lee chose Chaiyyan Chaiyyan (from Dil Se) track for his heist film, Inside Man, which
stars Jodie Foster. And one of your tunes will appear in Nicholas Cage�s Lord of War. Did you
get paid?

Spike Lee is an undergraduate professor at a US University. He saw the film and contacted us
for the song. He wanted to put rap in it, but I made a specific condition he couldn�t touch it.
Mani Ratnam�s company was paid for it. Nicholas Cage�s film uses the Bombay
Theme song.

You are working on the soundtrack for Mani Ratnam�s Guru, based on the life of
textile tycoon Dhirubhai Ambani. In the background was an anthem on TB for United Nations.

It has been changed to anti-poverty. Gulzar is collaborating on Guru, that
should be good.

What about the Sholay sequel?

I'm not in it anymore.

And Mani Ratnam�s Mahabharata trilogy?

That is still in the idea stage. But I�ve got Shootout at Lokhandwala, Woodstock
Villa, Dus Kahaniyan and Alibaug, all produced by Sanjay Gupta, who wrote the script for
the last. I�m also working with a great guitarist.

Carlos Santana? Since every new album of his is with collaborative artists?

(Smiles) I�m not telling.

But there is a lot more work in progress�

Yes, like Shekar Kapur�s two sequels to Elizabeth. The first, The Golden Age, is already
happening. It�s going to be an IMAX film and there is a project with Farah Khan starring
Shahrukh Khan. Period films, The Golden Age and Jodha Akbar.

What music are you listening to�.

Classical, like Bartok.

What about when you travel, do you collect music?

You can get form an iTunes store.

What do you think of Himesh Reshamiyya?

He�s okay. We were co-jurors for a show on Channel [V].

You are known for keeping unearthly work hours. Do you still do?

Depends on work. I�m at it from 9 pm till 3 am. Then I sleep till three in the afternoon.

Is there a lacuna in the music scene?

The lack of an extraordinary male voice.

What is your definition of �extraordinary�?

Like Mohammed Rafi. Not that Shankar (Mahadevan) and Sonu (Nigam) aren�t good
but one looks for a timeless voice.

Followed the World Cup?

I don�t know a thing about it. I am beyond sports!

Are you in touch with your guru, music composer Dakshinamoorthy?

We are collaborating on an album based on Kairadu Master�s poem.

How did the collaboration with violinist Vanessa Mae happen on Choreography?

She would come to Shekar Kapur�s flat and ask me to arrange something for her album. I was
supposed to do three tracks. In the end I only did Raga�s Dance.

You arranged music for Kevin Wallace�s mammoth musical Lord of the Rings. It premiered in
Toronto and opens in London next year. At $12.5 million, it is supposed to be the most
expensive musical to be staged in London.

It has been a lot of work. It covers all three of the movie versions. I worked on it with
Finnish folk musicians Vartinna.

Have you taken up new instruments?

I bought an accordion during a trip to Prague.

You are happiest doing live show. What do you think about music now?

It�s a shame most Indian�s listen to music that is only film, film. There is so much more.
Western classical, new age, South Indian classical. That is why I am launching a new music

A label of your own?

KM Music. KM stands for something holy and lucky for us. I�ll be producing, not distributing.
We will get all kinds of people and composers, focusing mainly on unknown voices. Music in the
market is something most relate to. I first listened to Bade Ghulam Ali saab on the Mughal-e-Azam soundtrack. I doubt I would have listened to him otherwise. Recently, in Delhi, I was listening to a nine-year-old who sang on a talent show and blew everyone out. It�s good
that�s there�s so much talent around.

Going back, how did you end up composing for the Chinese film, Warriors of Heaven and Earth?

Sony, my producers, wanted me to work with Joshua Bell who had appeared on the
Red Violin. While talking they mentioned this project.

You nearly landed up working on Baz Luhrmann�s next film�

Unfortunately, they checked out the list of my projects on the IMDB website and
got scared because my name was next to thirty. They don�t like the idea of working with
someone who has too much on his plate. Baz Luhrmann has three proposals still lined up.

There seem to be more musicals with you composing Shyam Benegal�s Chamki
Chameli, about a BSF officer and a gypsy girl.

There are going to be more musicals in the future. I�m also composing for Naresh
Iyer�s London Dreams about two composers and the Punjabi underground music scene. And for Rockstar with Sushmita Sen and Shiney Ahuja.

Your take on remixes?

I don�t think all are bad.

What do you present when you land an international project?

I don�t show them I�m Indian or anything. I let them listen to the melody. It
should match the scene. Like my score for Ring Theme in The Lord of the Rings was cyclic. They aren�t interested in ragas. The Bombay Theme was popular in Hollywood actors� make-up rooms as a stress buster. I met Heath Ledger at the premiere of Shekar Kapur�s Four Feathers and he loved it.

Friday, July 14, 2006


Cleared my qualifiers on July 12th, 2006.


Friday, May 12, 2006

Interview: Sound of Rahman

He is considered India's most respected musicians. He has been credited with giving Indian film music a global, a more original, more unique sound. He is also one of the highest selling artists in the world, having sold more than 50 million albums in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and English. He has also made a very successful crossover to the West, while his roots, his first love, continues to be Indian music. He is A R Rahman.

In an exclusive interview with CNN-IBN's Entertainment Editor Rajeev Masand, A R Rahman talks about Rang De Basanti, his music and some of his outstanding works.

Rajeev Masand:

The most obvious question first: Where did the dreadlocks go?

A R Rahman:

I went for Haj, so I had to get them off. Or you can say, to washed my sins, I got my hair chopped off.

Rajeev Masand:

That was your most marked characteristic. Do you miss them?

A R Rahman:

I know, but my wife likes me better now.

Rajeev Masand:

Rang De Basanti, your most recent work, is a film which really marked a milestone. Isn't it? Apart from the fact that it has great music and it's a great album, it is one of those rare soundtracks where the theme is blended perfectly with the music. Your earlier work Bombay and Taal were also examples of that. Do you agree?

A R Rahman:

Yes, I think so. The process with Rang De Basanti started when Rakeysh (Rakeysh Om Prakash Mehra, the film's director) told me the story, which had freedom fighters in it. I was working on Legend of Bhagat Singh with Santoshji at that time. So, I said that I would not do another film like this. Of course Rang De Basanti happened four years later.

When I started on this film last year, what we decided to do was not to have anything which is preachy and going to bring people down. We wanted to go abstract and go counter-point, like people and children are dying there and we have a happy soundtrack, which is Ru Ba Ru and going to the light and there is more positivity rather than going along with the film.

In fact, everything is in opposites -- like the song Khalbali, which has the word 'ziddi (stubborn)', and it came because of the tune. And then the way after the song was recorded, which Rakeysh used in the film, when Bhagat Singh refuses to take any food and becomes ' ziddi'. Now that is the stroke of a genius. And that's how things should be done, more interactively, not by having a per se idea and defining it. If you want to break and go on to the next level, you need to take a chance. Sometimes, it works out this way. And in this film, it all worked out, I guess.

Rajeev Masand:

One of my favourite songs in Rang De Basanti soundtrack is Lukka Chhupi. I have read a fair bit of criticism about the song, largely perhaps because it is a collaboration with Lata Mangeshkar. I could be wrong, but I guess the reason should have been Lata Mangeshkar. The song is really a mother's call and a mother's song.

A R Rahman:

See, the song was not designed to be in the film at all. I was doing the film and I was doing Ru Ba Ru and Khalbali and Pathshaala. I felt it was all upbeat and modern. What was the film about? It is about a call of a mother. It is how the characters in the film change. I was actually hearing a song from Born On The Fourth Of July soundtrack and there is a song, which goes this way: 'Where have you been my blue-eyed son'.

I thought why not do a similar song for the film. It is very abstract, it takes the inner feeling of the film into a soundtrack. So I was telling Zaria, and Rakeysh was saying, "Mmm... OK." And Prasoon, of course, said it won't work. We then came up with Lukka Chhupi. I said why don't we have an answer for the mother who calls. And in a way, I was trying to do a duet with Lata Mangeshkar, which I had wanted to do for a long time, because whenever I had approached, it never happened. The plan got cancelled for almost six times, until it finally happened.

So, in which scene will this song fit in is the next question, right? When we tried to spot the scenes, it fitted exactly with Waheedaji and the death. But then the reverberation of the song is within the film and outside the film also. So, I feel doing a song is taking me from the cliché' of situation which films have. And working outside it and then fitting it in. So all these things fitted in.

Rajeev Masand:

You have just signed up as world ambassador for World Space. This is not the first time that you have endorsed a brand. How long does it take or how do you decide as to what is it that you want to get attached to and don't ?

A R Rahman:

I probably was the first one to get the radio of World Space. I just wanted to check it out first. I was really impressed with the variety and the manner World Space had put up their advertisements. I did not know that here was a policy of not having any hassle in it, which is brilliant. I remember 20 years back, I used to go all the way to Bangalore to pick up my favourite music, and here we have everything on the touch-move-button --jazz, classical, pop. So when they ask me, I said: "Yes, let's do it!"

Rajeev Masand:

You were in Toronto recently for the opening of the Lord Of The Rings musical. Tell me, was that a daunting task, for doing a score for that? Especially, because the comparisons between the musical and Lord Of The Rings film series were almost inevitable and especially because those films have gone on to become cult films.

A R Rahman:

I think people very well know what is possible on stage and what is not. In films, you can add a lot of special effects and get away with. But to do something like this on stage is an incredible task. We have to give it to them the way they produce it and direct it and how they have put up this whole thing. It was a big gamble and they have succeeded in it. And being a part of it is a nice feeling.

Rajeev Masand:

You have composed music for a musical before, including Bombay Dreams. Was Bombay Dreams perhaps a little easier, especially because you were familiar with the milieu. It was a story of a boy who wants to become an actor in Bollywood?

A R Rahman:

One more thing is Bombay Dreams is a musical, which was written around the music of life. So we already knew that Ayesha was going to be in it. Taal's music was going to be in it. The music was written around it. But here it was vice-versa, we have script and the successful movies and they said do not derive inspiration from the movies. No music should come out of the movie, but it should be original from the book. So this is more difficult, this is really difficult. And I worked with Bartana, who is from Finland. Ultimately, when the music was put together, you could only see the scene and the episode there and get excited rather than trying to research which music is whose and cannot find that out.

Rajeev Masand:

Your music is quite a rage among Chinese filmmakers. Your score in Warriors of Heaven and Earth became immensely popular. You have apparently been getting lots of offers from Chinese filmmakers. Is that true?

A R Rahman:

Yes, there were a couple of offers which came in, but then I was busy on this side.

Rajeev Masand:

Is it difficult doing a Chinese score? What's the challenge there?

A R Rahman:

The challenge for me was not just doing a Chinese film. It was about the Silk Route, the Turkish and the Russian influence, and all those stuff. Working of the film was really good. For the first time, I got to work with the Prague Orchestra and the orchestral experience was really something.

Rajeev Masand:

Which you used again in Mangal Pandey…

A R Rahman:


Rajeev Masand:

If I ask you to pick your most under-rated film score out of 1947 Earth, The Legend of Bhagat Singh, Bose... which one do you think had the most under-rated score which could have perhaps done well, but didn't ?

A R Rahman:

I want every film score I do to do well. But some don't, because there are a lot of actors involved. Yet, it adds to the repertoire because someday people might listen to it in a different frame of mind. Like when I did Mani Ratnam's Iruvar, I literally had a person asking me why did I do a score which looked so old-fashioned. He didn't know that it was a period film. There are so many elements and when people come to know about them, then after a year they buy the same music.

Rajeev Masand:

You are dodging the question. Which is that one score that you were disappointed with, perhaps because of its failure?

A R Rahman:

Yes, sometimes you get disappointed, but then its not just you, it's the entire team that gets disappointed because it did not succeed. Bose, I know that most people wouldn't have listened to it at all. Most people won't be having a cassette or a CD of it. I hope it gets released soon as I have heard it was finally getting released some time (soon). I hope that gets done.

Rajeev Masand:

Have you ever been embarrassed by the way a song has been filmed?

A R Rahman:

Yes, a lot of times. But, I guess the people are intelligent enough now to know all that, what is personal and what is not, and what is done for the movie.

Rajeev Masand:

You won't take any names?

A R Rahman:


Rajeev Masand:

We know that Mani Ratnam has been an influence and a mentor. While you were doing ad films, he offered you Roja and most of your best work has been with him. Tell us as to what kind of relationship do you share with him. Is it something apart from just the director-composer relationship? Are you two friends? Do you hang out outside the studio?

A R Rahman:

We don't hang out much (laughs). What is really a relationship? A relationship means the first good experiences, like first love and you always remember that. He picked up the best out of my work and said, "This is you." He was the first one who gave me a good work. For us, it's been a challenge to cross each thing from Bombay to Iruvar. Whenever we sit, we don't talk about old things, rather we try sharing a new frequency to create the same magic again.

Rajeev Masand:

Your score for Roja was ranked by the Time magazine as one of the 10 best scores in the world. How do you look back at it now, since so many years have passed since Roja? Is that flattering?

A R Rahman:

Yes, it's quite flattering. It's a small world, isn't it? You see Inside Man using Chhaiyyan Chhaiyyan, Lord of War using Bombay theme.

Rajeev Masand:

Do you think Roja is your best work?

A R Rahman:

It's probably my first good work. Like I said about Mani Ratnam, who gave me my first good work. It brings back all those memories. It gave me the urge to go further and maintain quality work, crossing over to the North Indian audience with the film, lyrics which were never imagined before.

Rajeev Masand:

Chhaiyyan Chhaiyyan is one song that you've always been remembered for. People continue to love this one song. It was used in Bombay Dreams, in Hollywood films, Spike Lee's Inside Man… Do you ever feel like telling people to get over with it and look at your new work? Do you ever feel that it is a like a double-edged sword?

A R Rahman:

It was very strange how Chhaiyyan Chhaiyyan was done. I wanted a Punjabi singer for Chhaiyyan Chhaiyyan, while I had Nusrat's voice in my head. I asked my friend Brijbhushan in Bombay if he knew anybody like that. He suggested me three names. Finally he said 'Mr Singh' will be coming in.

I had expected somebody with a turban . That's when Sukhwinder Singh landed in Chennai. He was working on Govind Nihlani's Thakshak and I asked him if he knew any Sufi lyrics because his voice has that Sufi touch. He said, "Yes, I know this." We went to a room and then did Chhaiyyan Chhaiyyan. It was lying there for one year. I wanted to use it for my album Vande Mataram, but it didn't fit in. Then Mani asked me if I had a tune for his next film. I said something is ready and he immediately liked it. Then Gulzar sahib wrote the lyrics. It was first Thaiyan Thaiyan and then it was changed to Chhaiyyan Chhaiyyan. At that time, I realised that it had the potential. The intention of doing this song was not to make it into a film song. It had that Sufi aspect.

Rajeev Masand:

Gulzar sahib once said, "A R Rahman's greatest achievement is that he didn't mess around with my lyrics." Is that something you like to elaborate on?

A R Rahman:

Yes, I do. And where is the need to mess around with the lyrics when somebody writes them so perfectly?

Rajeev Masand:

You have often confessed that you are not so familiar with Hindi.

A R Rahman:

(Laughs) Yes, I can't talk but my vocabulary is better than what it used to be. I have been learning Urdu. I can't talk but I can read now and I can understand most of the vocabulary. The thing about words, certain words give you a sound and meaning, if you get the right kind of balance, the song becomes a hit and everybody takes pride in it.

Rajeev Masand:

So many actors, especially in Hindi films, have been singing their own songs and you have said that it is good for actors to know how to sing so that they can act as if they are singing themselves.

A R Rahman:

Yes, like in the West, actors never practise to use someone else's voice. Nicole Kidman used her own voice in Moulin Rouge. I think that should happen in India too. It will be good if actors learn music because it will make our industry more credible. It will be good if these things could happen simultaneously.

Rajeev Masand:

Let me put you in a tough situation. What do you think of Aamir, Shah Rukh or Amitabh, who've been singing their own songs? What do you think of them as singers?

A R Rahman:

I think they are intelligent enough to choose songs, which go along their own voice. You can't expect classical songs being sung by kind of actors like Shah Rukh. They don't want to torture people like that.

Rajeev Masand:

You said some of your songs were composed in two days while some of them took up to 45 days. How do you know when a song is ready?

A R Rahman:

It's based on one's instinct. Sometimes, when you overwork on something you go back and sometimes abruptness is the best.

Rajeev Masand:

Over the years, you've sung many songs yourself. Like, Ye jo des hai mera, in Swades, Chale Chalo from Lagaan, or Ru Ba Ru from Rang De Basanti. How do you know when a song requires your own voice?

A R Rahman:

Sometimes I've worked from the scratch using my own voice. Like in Dil Se, Mani said why don't you sing it in your own voice. Or when I did Ye Jo Des…Ashutosh Gowarikar suggested that I should be singing this song. Initially, I was supposed to sing Ek Taara but it didn't match Shah Rukh's voice.

Rajeev Masand:

Has it ever happened that you recorded a song in your voice and the director told you that someone could have sung this better? Sukhwinder Singh or Shankar Mahadevan? Has it ever happened to you?

A R Rahman:

I would be the first one to suggest such a thing (laughs). The last thing I want to do is put my voice in a song. There are so many lovely singers out there and I would love to get their contribution in my music.

Rajeev Masand:

You daughters are learning music as well. In fact, they are on the soundtrack of Mangal Pandey...

A R Rahman:

They are getting trained, but they have not been singing so much. It's just to give them a choice that they can take up music if they want to.

Rajeev Masand:

So in many ways, it's like a legacy you want to give them.

A R Rahman:

Yes. That's true.

Rajeev Masand:

Talking about Mangal Pandey, apparently you've still not been paid entirely for your work in the film. Does that upset you since the actor and the producer of the film have gone on record saying that the movie was highly successful. Not only did they recover the entire investment in the first week, but that they made a lot of money.

A R Rahman:

That's a very delicate question. Mr Bedi came the day an article on it was published. He promised me that everything will be settled sometime in July. I didn't want to go the legal way. He is a nice man and I trust his word. Besides, everybody has been watching everything. All these things were not intentional I guess.

Rajeev Masand:

Please tell us what do you like to do when you are not working? What kind of a husband are you? What kind of a father are you?

A R Rahman:

Good question (laughs). I think you should be asking this to my wife and children. My mother, my kids are very supportive of me. They always know what I'm going through. I also try to play my role as best as I can within the limitations of my schedule.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

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