Nandita Das Delights at Stanford

Born in British India, Manto migrated from his beloved Bombay to Lahore, Pakistan after Partition. Many of his stories reflect his heartbreak and disaffection at the violence and inhumanity that ensued on both sides of the British-imposed border.

I had watched the film “Manto” on Netflix a few days earlier, and was deeply moved and impressed by the directorial choices, acting, and Manto’s integrity which shone through every scene.

Das was introduced by Jisha Menon, Associate Professor of Theater and Performance Studies at Stanford.

Menon remarked that 20 years ago, when she was still a student a Stanford, she saw Das debut in Deepa Mehta’s film 1988 “Earth” based on Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel “Cracking India.” Das was “luminous” in that role, she said, and 20 years later, is still luminous.

Other panelists were Usha Iyer, Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies, and Asha Jadeja Motwani, an investor who was one of the producers.

Das showed video clips of several scenes throughout the event. The first was the Irani Café scene, where Manto sits with other writers, members of the Progressive Writers’ Association: his dear friend Ismat Chughtai, Kishan Chander, and Manto’s wife Safia. Das mentioned that Manto himself never joined PWA, he resisted anything organized.

Their very first court case was a joint trial: Manto for “Boo” (“Smell”), and Chugtai for “Lihaaf” (“Quilt”). At that time they were filled with optimism, bravado. By Manto’s sixth trial for “Thanda Gosht” (“Cold Meat”), he had lost a lot of that bravado.

He was a prolific writer. He died at 42 with 300 short stories and hundreds of plays and poems to his name. Das had originally thought to cover the period from 1942 to 1952 in her film. In the 4 years it took her to write the script, she had to make many choices on what to depict. This film was her attempt to humanize Manto.

Manto was interested in individuals, “the other.” In the Irani Café scene he says to his friends, “If you cannot tolerate my stories, then you can’t cannot tolerate the world: we live in unbearable times.”

Das spoke of how she got close to Manto’s family. She learned more from them than from any other source.  At this point, Jadeja asked her what was the most interesting thing she had learned from the family. Das mentioned that Safia developed a rash that went away only after Manto died. Sometimes stress comes out in strange ways. Then Jadeja asked if Safia was “passive-aggressive.”  An odd and somewhat disruptive question. Das calmly responded that she shows some of the steel in Safia in one of the scenes, in the next video clip, of Manto and his family at dinner. Manto says to Safia, “I will write enough so you never go hungry.” And she responds immediately, “That’s my worry, that we will go hungry because of your writing.” Das remarked that Manto’s daughters gave her those lines.

His nephew Hamid Jalal (whose daughter Ayesha Jalal is Professor of History at Tufts University) wrote an essay called Uncle Manto. And he was very sad that Manto died before it was complete, concluding the essay in words to that effect.

In the film, scenes from Manto’s stories are juxtaposed with accounts of his life, and it is sometimes hard to tell when a story begins. Das shared that she uses a small device. Manto’s character looks into the camera when a story starts. A few minutes of “100 watt bulb” were shown—a scene with increasing tension ending with startling violence. The woman depicted simply wanted to sleep. Das’s direction brings out Manto’s deep compassion for his disadvantaged subjects.

Das spoke of the element of surprise without manipulation in his stories: he is not sentimental.

Usha Iyer asked about the Raftaar rap song used to market the film. Das interjected that she had nothing to do with it.

There are certain fictional elements to bring in things that were important to Das. For example nothing was written of Manto’s response to Gandhi’s killing. But she felt it important to include.

She talked of “Manto-esque” people. If you have conviction, courage will follow. We all have the will to be more courageous, more open-minded. Manto said “Don’t say one lakh Hindus have died and one lakh Muslims have died, say two lakh human beings have died.”

Jadeja, to whom the professors had politely handed over the microphone, proceeded to ask a puzzling question about Puritanism in the film (it was not clear to me what she was asking), and followed it up inexplicably with “Do you not like Faiz?” “I have the greatest respect,” Das immediately responded, saying she has included two of Faiz’s poems in the film. Shortly thereafter, Jisha Menon took the mic back, to my great relief.

When Das comes to an NRI audience, she’s asked why are you showing the bad side of India? It is all about intention, she said. Do you milk it, or do you say this is my country: here is the good and the bad. You can know the intention of the maker, whether they wish to titillate, manipulate or genuinely show the reality.

She spoke of the conversation between Manto and his beloved friend Shyam. Shyam was lamenting the attacks on his uncle’s family in Pakistan. Angry at Manto for his seemingly high-handed literary references, he exclaimed that they were real people. Manto responded that either everyone’s life counts or no one’s.

An interesting piece of information she shared is that no Indian or international film that is set in Lahore has ever been shot in Lahore. Das was determined to but couldn’t, she was stopped. She looked for a place resembling Lahore in India, and found a place in Gujarat.

Jadeja talked about dinner with a friend at whose house she met Nandita Das.  The director had mentioned that she was raising money for a film.  While the topic was interesting to Jadeja, she said, “As a VC, I thought I won’t make any money on this.” Das exclaimed to the audience with humor and wisdom, “Those who have a lot of money want to make more money!”

In the next video clip, of Manto and Safia in the garden, we see the rash on her arm, and her distress at the alcohol in his breath on which even their little daughter commented.

Next, we see Manto’s statement in court that his controversial story “Thanda Gosht (“Cold Meat”) is literature. In that scene, he talks of Flaubert and Joyce and how they faced charges for their “Madame Bovary” and Ulysses” respectively. “My stories are the mirrors for society to see itself,” he said, “If someone has a problem with what they see, how am I to blame?”, adding “Neem leaves are bitter, but they purify the blood.”

The first question in the audience Q&A session was about the casting of Nawaz Siddiqui. Das said he was in “Firaaq”, her directorial debut, 10 years ago, and when Das mentioned to him that she was going to make a film on Manto, he said “I’ll give you two years! I’ll give you however long you need.” But by the time the she was ready to start the film, he had become a star! He was acting in “Munna Michael”. He did not have a lot of time to inhabit the role of Manto and deferred to her direction. But, she added, “he brought his authenticity and his beautiful eyes.”

The next question was about the form of the film, and questioner went on to ask about the meta-fictional aspect of the film. Das asked, to my delight, what does that mean? On hearing the questioner clarify that it was about the stories within a story, Das responded that she hasn’t studied film, it was quite organic. She decided to start the film with Manto’s story “Das rupiya” (“10 rupees”). The 14 your old girl seems happy and also you see the beauty of Bombay but it also makes you uncomfortable. There is a sense of foreboding. The girl is laughing but as the three men try to grab her, you think something is going to happen. So, to answer the question on form, it all came about very organically. For example, she did not do auditions, she just talked to the actors. She spoke with a wide range of actors, some very experienced and others, novices.

Who were some current fearless storytellers that she could name? She answered that she doesn’t like to name names, as it undermines those who are not named.

The next question was about how she balances artistic merit with commercial needs. Das responded that she is tried to make the film she wanted to make. No one knows the formula for commercial success! It is not a science; film is part of the arts because there is this alchemy,

She was asked about the production history. In her response, she mentioned Hewlett-Packard, and HP’s Satjiv Chahal, Vikrant Batra, and Jean-Pierre le Calvez (whose role at this event was primarily starting and stopping the video clips from a laptop by the podium.) HP was the official partner for Cannes. There she met Batra and mentioned that she was raising money for a film about a writer. He replied that there was alignment with HP’s tagline: “Power of Ink!” Viacom 18, the film studio was also a producer, better known for huge productions like Padmavat. Das ended up being producer, which was very demanding on top of everything else. In her next project, se declared, she will first look for a producer. Of course, art needs patrons. What it also needs is faith. (“Asha, are you listening?” she quipped to Jadeja.)

She was once asked what does the director do? She said a film like an orchestra and the director is the conductor. You have a vision and you share it. She took her driver to see the film and his reaction was as she had hoped.

A sophomore from Pakistan asked why Das hadn’t shown more of Faiz or something else. Das explained that it’s a two-hour film, you have to make choices.

The event ended with a video clip of Toba Tek Singh, one of Manto’s most celebrated stories.

Naatak, the Bay Area’s Indian Theatre company had put on a distinguished stage production of Toba Tek Singh in 2017, which I reviewed earlier. I noticed some Naatak members sprinkled in the audience—kindred spirits.

In the end Manto himself becomes Toba Tek Singh: in between India and Pakistan, on a piece of land with no name, lay Toba Tek Singh, and Manto.

Das thanked the audience with folded hands, and invited everyone for the screening of “Manto” in San Jose the following day.  If you can’t make it, she added, you can watch it on Netflix.

“This article was originally published at www.rajiwrites.com and is included here with permission.” 

This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D.

Cover photo credit: Geetika Pathania Jain

Unfinished But Undeterred: The Inspiring Story Of Helen Keller

The world hears her first cry as the delivery room light in Tuscumbia, Alabama strikes the new creature’s greystone eyes. With mama and papa’s tears comes a lasting hope that she will be forever safe and healthy. Time passes and the bearer watches her baby stumble over the toy bricks on the carpeted floor and ignore the sweet melodious calls to her warm uncovered arms, dreaming of a day when her baby will jump into them. Days go by, but nothing changes except the ruffled cough from her baby’s small throat. With fear belting in her eyes, she knows something is wrong and the warm oval of water drips down her lover’s shoulder. They rush to the hospital with their 19 month old’s body squirming up and down in their laps. The baby knew not what was happening but only that her ears craved to listen but heard complete silence, and that her eyes dreamed of the bright orange blanket she had left at home but now she would only be able to feel it. The decision was made by God for he had run out of things to give baby Helen when she needed them the most, leaving her unfinished.

Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. Photo credit by Julie Jordan Scott.

What God did give her was the power of passion and courage stronger than any other. Growing up, she heard the unsaid and saw the unseen as the shadows on the playground pushed her out of the way to go down the slide; to them she was an obstacle to get around, but to her, they were motivators she wanted to prove to that she is a fighter. More time passed and then comes her “soul’s birthday”, which she celebrated with dear teacher Anne. Anne gave her an ear to be heard, a mouth to voice her unspoken words, and a friendship to confirm that she was not alone.

Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. Photo credit by Julie Jordan Scott

This was the moment in time when judgment wasn’t consuming the air, but rather hope. This was the moment in time when she saw her first glimpse of light since that delivery room in Tuscumbia. This was the moment in time when she heard the new version of herself yelling, “keep going”. This was the moment of time Helen became Helen. The bumpy books, the resonating vibrations, and the power of determination ran side by side with Helen day by day with no one other than Anne making sure the laces on her shoes were tied in case she ran too fast and lost her balance. To Helen, Anne was her source of life and made her simple words reach every ground one could walk on for “walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light”. The baby walking with her mother, the child walking with her teacher, the teenager walking with her best friend, and Helen walking with Anne. No child walks into this world with every piece of them perfectly built and polished, but they crawl in hopes of being able to walk with the help of someone holding their hand. Support gives each the ability to walk together in the darkest of times when none can see. Support gives each the ability to walk together in the cries and anguish of a world when no one wants to  hear. Support gives a blind and deaf little girl from Alabama the strength to win a bachelors of the arts degree and go on to make a book inspiring others to overcome their imperfections.

Helen Keller with Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru. Photo Credit: US Embassy New Delhi

Support makes an African-American woman hold her seat on a bus even when her life is at stake. Support makes the LGBTQ community legally allowed to get married and adopt children they can call their own. Support makes that little baby Helen the woman known today as Helen Keller, and it makes each individual composing their own stories part of a human chorus that the blind can see and even the deaf can hear.

Photo Credit: Archives New Zealand

 

Sonali Shanbhag is a Junior at Saratoga High School and loves dancing, singing and teaching.

This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor, Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D.

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    IC Exclusive Interview With Nandita Das

     

    With more than forty films in her rich and lengthy resumé, Nandita Das can rightfully claim the status of a bona fide Indian and global film star and bask in the warm glow of klieg lights and the heady aura of celebrity. As the translation of her name from Hindi to English suggests, she could just be “happy.” But, despite her glamorous looks and storied career, Das has always used her talent and status to pursue higher ground, to strive toward making the world a better place through art.

    San Jose’s  Cinequest Film Festival opens with Nandita Das receiving the prestigious Maverick Spirit Award and presenting her sweeping biopic, Manto.

    Here is IndiaCurrents writer Mona Shah in conversation with Das about her inspiration and art.

    IC: Manto is a moving and gorgeously crafted look at the work and life of India’s beloved and controversial writer, Saadat Hasan Manto. What was your inspiration for taking up this biographical project? Did you envision it unfolding the way it did?

    ND: Thank you! What drew me to Manto was his free spirit and his courage to stand up to orthodoxy of all kinds. I was struck by his simple yet profound narratives and the way he insightfully captured the people, politics and times he lived in. He wrote as he saw, as he felt, without dilution, and with a rare sensitivity and empathy for his characters. I had read Manto in college but it was only in 2012, his centenary year, when so much was being written about him; that encouraged me to delve deeper. For the first time I read his essays, and that helped me hit upon the idea of expanding beyond his stories to telling his story, which was just as interesting and powerful. It took me 5 years to feel equipped, both emotionally and creatively, to tell this story that so needed to be told.

    There are a hundred factors that impact the process of filmmaking so it can never be what one had envisioned. All I can say is that it was the most challenging thing I have ever done and I gave it all I had. It has been a huge learning experience and therefore I have no regrets.

    IC: It took you over 4 years to research the film, what pitfalls did you encounter? How did you go about doing the research?

    ND: Once I knew I wanted to make a film on the life and works of Manto, I began reading his works quite extensively and also read what others had to say about him. He was a very prolific writer, so it was not possible to be fully exhaustive. I did not grow up in an Urdu-speaking household, so it was harder for me to read him in the original language. I took the help of many, in particular, Mir Ali Hussain, who lives in New York and Saeed Ahmed, who lives in Lahore. I feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to meet and speak at length with Manto’s daughters and his grand-niece, the eminent historian Ayesha Jalal. Ayesha’s book, ‘Pity of Partition – Manto’s Life, Times, and Work across the India-Pakistan Divide’, and the one she wrote on Manto’s centenary along with Manto’s youngest daughter, Nusrat Jalal, were some of the first gifts I got from the family. Manto died young, at 42, so there are very few people that are living who actually met him. Manto’s sister-in-law, Zakia Jalal, who also features in the film, is in her late 70s and was a big help. She and his daughters told me things I could never have found in any book. Through the process of the film, I became very close to the family. Manto, the husband, the father, the friend – these relationships I could only understand through the important nuggets shared with me. The whole process of researching and writing the script was time consuming and hectic but that is what formed the backbone of the film. It took 4 long years of research, many books and others’ inputs, working through several drafts of the script, for me to tell this story.

    IC: Manto is being showcased as the opening night film at Cinequest, do you consider it a mainstream movie? 

    ND: I do not like to label films as mainstream or art. Every filmmaker wants their film to be viewed by the widest audience possible and every investor wants his or her money back. Having said that, some films like Manto, are not driven by commercial success and are independent in their thinking and in the telling of their stories. And therefore, they are termed niche, parallel, art-house and independent cinema. Also, the producers and distributors have pre-conceived notions about it and therefore often don’t give it a fair chance at the box office. When there is no level playing field, how will we know if the film failed because it was too niche or because it was badly marketed and distributed. This is clear to me – seeing the overwhelming feedback we have been getting from people who are watching it on Netflix. I think people in our country and globally, are connecting to the story because in the end, it is a human story of struggle and courage and the will to speak out and to be your own self – something we all struggle with.

    IC: How do you think a diverse, non-Indian audience will relate to him and to the subject and will they walk away with something to think about?

    ND: Many of the issues that Manto grappled with – freedom of expression and dangers of identity politics, the question of who belongs where and the need to be free-spirited,  are not limited to any region or language. When a film is true to its context, but universal in its emotion, it crosses national boundaries. The reaction to the film at the screenings at various film festivals, be it at Cannes, Busan, Toronto or Sydney has only strengthened my belief that Manto’s story resonates across countries and cultures.

    IC: What do you want audiences to take away from the movie?

    ND: For me, making Manto was not just about telling people about the man and his works but to invoke the Mantoiyat (‘Mantoness’) – the desire to be outspoken and free-spirited. I believe all of us have it, whether dormant or awakened. I think people will see themselves more honestly and ask questions about their own morality, fears, convictions and courage. It will make them uncomfortable in a way that hopefully they would want to do something about. After all we all want to be more truthful, courageous, empathetic and free-spirited. And Manto inspires us to be that, without being put on a pedestal.

    IC: You wrote Manto keeping Nawazuddin Siddiqui in mind. What about him drew you to him?

    ND: I always had Nawaz in mind while writing Manto. Firaaq, my directorial debut was Nawaz’s first significant role in a feature film. It is said if you get the casting right, 70% of your job is done, and with Nawaz that’s exactly what happened. He looks and feels the part. He has an incredible range as an actor, but intrinsically Manto lies somewhere in his eyes – it was an obvious choice for me. I brought in my research and script and Nawaz brought with him his life experiences and his talent. Together, I think we managed to bring many subtleties and nuances to the character of Manto. Nawaz has many traits that are similar to Manto –  a deep sensitivity and intensity, vulnerability, and a dry, deadpan sense of humor. These innate qualities in Nawaz helped him transition into Manto on screen quite effortlessly. I feel that our actor-director relationship struck the right chord.

    IC: Manto’s stories and the film’s narrative blend into each other’s worlds. Whose viewpoint are we seeing the movie from?

    ND:  The film showcases Manto’s journey as well as a glimpse into some of his best fiction writing. The line between his fact and fiction are often blurred; and so, in the film too, his narrative is interspersed with stories that he wrote, almost seamlessly. This form allows the audience to enter his state of mind, both as a person and a writer. We will get to see, through his work, what makes him so uniquely empathetic and truthful. This was not easy to do, as selecting 5 stories from close to 300 was a mammoth task. But it was an idea I had right from the beginning of the project, even before I wrote a word of the script. Finally, the point of view of the film is always the writer’s and the filmmaker’s. So, while you see the story that I want to tell, I have tried to be as close to reality and as close to Manto’s being. As the film progresses, it gets more and more intimate.

    IC: It’s a male-centric biopic, yet the women play nuanced roles in it. Is this a reflection of how Manto views women? His relationship with Ismat is of particular interest. Did you envision it playing out as it did?

    ND:  Manto’s view of women is one of the most important aspects of his work. And that has definitely interested me. The women in his stories were complex and richly developed, but he reserved his most nuanced and sympathetic gaze for the marginalized, such as the sex workers. He turned them from objects of scorn to people that have agency and made them the protagonists of many of his stories. Whilst Manto didn’t want to be labeled as a feminist,’ he was, in more ways than one. He was surrounded by women he loved and cared for – his mother, sister, wife and three daughters. At home he ironed his wife’s sari, made pickle, cleaned the house, read stories to his wife and sister and was an engaged father. A rarity for South Asian men, even today!

    I have always believed that gender sensitive films do not necessarily have to be women-centric.  It is more important that the representation of women reflects the diverse reality. I have often been asked that given all my engagement with issues of gender, why are Firaaq and Manto not women-centric? For one, women are impacted by all things in the world just as men are. And therefore, I have chosen to respond to issues that concern me. Secondly, in both films, the characters of women need to be judged not by their screen time but by their layered portrayals.

    Ismat Chughtai, was a very important part of Manto life in Bombay and he missed her in Lahore. Seldom does one see such camaraderie, especially in those times. But as there were many threads to his life, I could not dedicate more time to Ismat. A whole film can be made just on their relationship.

    IC: What about Manto resonated with you? What was the most challenging part about making the movie?

    ND:  It is Manto’s fearlessness and deep concern for the human condition that I have always felt most deeply connected to. No part of human existence remained untouched or taboo for him no matter how controversial. For him, the only identity that mattered was that of being a human. Manto’s faith in the redemptive power of the written word, through the hardest times, resonates with my own passion to tell stories. In some mystical way, I feel I am part of that hopeful legacy! Through him, I feel I am able to kindle my own conviction for a more liberal and compassionate world. Every aspect of the journey was challenging but also provided a learning experience. I am not a trained filmmaker or haven’t worked from within the film industry, so while not knowing the grammar freed me, it also posed challenges that I struggled with; getting the right cast and crew, raising funds and finally marketing and distributing it.

    IC: You’ve played all three roles, that of an actor, director, activist – do you find that they are intertwined? How so?

    ND: Yes, for me, they are deeply intertwined. They are different means to express and share my concerns and interests. I wear different hats at different times, depending on what I want to convey and depending on which medium is the best for it. I also wrote a monthly column for 8 years in an Indian magazine, The Week, and from time to time, in other publications. That too gave me an opportunity to express myself and to connect with people. For me, art and social activism are not so different. I see myself more as a social advocate who at times uses art as a medium to reach out. Art has the ability to subtly enter the subconscious and impact how we feel, think and respond.

    Both the films I directed, Firaaq and Manto, happened because I felt compelled to tell the story; because they provided me with a language to respond to what was of deep concern. Films and social advocacy are not that different for me, rather just different means to the same end.

    IC: You resent being called “dusky,” and have been a champion for women to “Stay Unfair, Stay Beautiful.” Tell us more about why your skin tone should not define who you are.

    ND: While I was aware of the prejudice against dark skin and spoke about it in some of my talks, I never thought of it as a stand-alone issue. It was only in 2013 when the NGO Women of Worth approached me to support their campaign that I got more involved with the issue. I became the face of the campaign by default as most “dusky” actresses progressively were getting lighter and lighter! The “Dark is Beautiful” campaign urges you to be comfortable in your skin. I am so glad that such a campaign was launched and that I was able to add my voice to it. The issue impacts so many people, young girls in particular.

    The response to Dark is Beautiful has been truly overwhelming. I think the time had come to react to this fairness obsession. When I had supported this campaign, I didn’t realize that it would resonate with so many and touch a raw nerve. I continue to receive so many emails, from mostly women, who share their stories of discrimination and feel more empowered by this campaign.

    Cinequest Opening Night Film and Maverick Spirit Award

    Manto

    Tue, Mar 5 7:15 PM, California Theatre, 345 S 1st St, San Jose, CA 95113.

    Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter, Facebook for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news and magazines. 

     

     

    Bolo Azadi: A Tale Of Two Mumbais

     

    What distinguishes Gullyboy, from other Bollywood underdog journeys in the zeitgeist, is the way it taps into a growing global hip-hop culture to break through class barriers. The film redefines traditional rich versus poor themes by using rap as a vehicle to elaborate on societal and class structures.  

    The film follows Murad, a boy tormented by his abusive father, and trapped by his economic status in his journey of self exploration through Dharavi’s rap battles, Safeena’s love, and above all his dream of Azadi – freedom. He finds power in this escape, pouring onto the page withheld resentment against institutional and social discrimination, ire at his father’s audacity to take another wife, and commiseration with  his mother’s pain. Spurned, forgotten, and indignant, Murad’s rap is shaped by his experience growing up in the Dharavi slums. The soundtrack, masterfully written by Divine, Naezy, Dub Sharma, and Spitfire encapsulates the isolation of Mumbai’s ghettos from affluent neighborhoods, and exposes a deeper cultural inconsistency of rap as a mode of expression for the poor, and entertainment for the rich. The authenticity of this film to the Mumbai gully rap scene is only enhanced by the influence of these aforementioned artists, on whose lives the film is loosely based.

    Gullyboy is reflective of a new movement in Bollywood that distances itself from stereotypical family dramas. As millennials world-wide come to value social justice over feel-good fluff, the Indian movie industry has taken on a social responsibility in illuminating economic, social and political issues that have historically plagued Indian society. From the honor killings of Dhadak, to the story of Shravan in Mukkabaaz, Gullyboy is one of a new crop of Hindi films that distinguish themselves from the mold of stereotypical Bollywood rom-coms. Requiring a higher level of skill than lip-synching to Udit Narayan songs, the production of activist movies has pushed the Hindi film industry to nurture a unique set of extremely talented actors.

    Starring Ranveer Singh as a disillusioned Murad, whose silent remonstration of authority and ambitious dreams are both endearing and inspiring, Gullyboy poses a challenge as Singh’s first significant venture into a blue-collar role. Murad’s character is drastically different from the actor’s own bubbly personality, requiring Singh to assume a quieter countenance, which he does incredibly well, capturing inner conflicts with silent expressions. His delivery of the rap in this film intertwines raw emotion and conviction, affirming his reputation as a versatile performer. His teasing and comfortable rapport with Alia Bhatt as Safeena, establishes the backstory of friendship turned into love, and conjures an image of Dharavi college kids outside the screen, in evocative Zoya Akhtar fashion. Bhatt’s portrayal of Safeena matches the acting abilities of her co-star, building a strong female presence throughout the film. Given that this film plays heavily with counterculture elements, the spunky and confident character of Safeena is consistent but still refreshing. Bhatt’s distinctive and speedy style of speech is laudable in this character, as are the unabashed and witty retorts, delivered with a dimpled smirk that only she can pull off. But by far the most compelling performance in this film is seen from Siddhant Chaturvedi, as MC Sher, the encouraging mentor of the hero, Murad. Chaturvedi’s comfort in assaying this role can be understood given his accomplishment as a Bombay Times national talent winner, and his background in theater, indicative of a bright future ahead. Chaturvedi surpasses the written role of MC Sher, and embodies the characteristic swagger of rap stars. His scenes with Singh are natural, spontaneous, and empowering and remind the audience that his character is the reason for Murad’s journey. Chaturvedi shines in a role that in a weaker portrayal would have paled in comparison to Singh’s strong performance.

    In a two and a half hour rags to riches story, Akhtar combines talented actors with tight direction, and a powerful playlist, all of which contribute to the undeniable success of the tale of two cities — one of a Mumbai that is modern and metropolitan, and another that struggles to make its voice heard. Gullyboy, a love-letter to the latter city is a must watch masterpiece. 

    Sumedha Vemulakonda is a high school student and Bollywood enthusiast. Although initially reluctant about rap music, this film has definitely expanded her music taste. 

     

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    “Kathak is my breath, my life”: Shovana Narayan

    In this exclusive interview, Padmashri and Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee Shovana Narayan, talks about how she has endeavored to make Kathak an internationally recognized dance form and how she is trying to keep its rich legacy alive.

    IC: Tell us briefly about some of your efforts towards making Kathak an internationally recognizable dance form.

    SN: Kathak is my breath, my life. Hence whatever I do, think and emote is within the Kathak framework. I have performed across the globe and in India during national and international festivals. I have collaborated with well-known artists of several dance styles such as Western classical ballet, Spanish flamenco, American tap dance, worked with Buddhist monks and also with dancers belonging to various Indian classical dance styles. I have also performed to Western classical music (Ravel, Debussy, Schubert, Mozart, etc.) and to texts written by several non-Indian poets and philosophers such as Omar Khayyam, Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, Kahlil Gibran and many others. And, of course, I have danced to poetry written by Indian philosophers and poets from various parts of the country.

    Each of these collaborative works illustrated the transcendence of boundaries in the field of art as they brought forth the universality of the human emotional response, movements, musical notes and rhythm. Through collaborations, the co-artistes became aware about the salient details and beauty of Kathak but also the audiences in various parts of the globe realize this truth through watching such collaborative works and my solo performances. In addition, through dance workshops and lectures across India and in other countries I have worked to increase awareness about the beauty of Kathak, an art form which has survived for over 2,500 years.

    IC: Tell us more about how you redefined the traditional dance form of Kathak through its fusion with other major international dance forms.

    SN: As stated earlier, in such collaborations, we artistes saw how several movements were similar, yet they exuded different flavors. Different ethos to approaching the movements lent the different flavors in each form. If Kathak and Spanish flamenco were gravity bound, Western classical ballet was anti-gravity, giving an ethereal feel. Between Kathak and Spanish flamenco, there was also a difference in emphasis given to each movement that contributed again to creating different flavors. The same was true of pirouettes and the manner in which they are performed within these three different dance styles. As for footwork, we found this to be a common feature between Kathak, Spanish flamenco and American tap dance. Hence when doing our duets or trios, we took this aspect into account in our collaborative works.

    The above are a few illustrations. It was fascinating to see how so many avenues opened up during our collaborations and each one provided so much learning and beauty in working out a collage that created a beautiful picture with each artiste maintaining the identity of his or her style.

    IC: Tell our readers about some of the books on dance that you have written over the years.

    SN: Among the 15 books written till date, barring three, all others have been on the subject of dance and the arts such as Kathak, Indian classical dance and theatre traditions, folk dance traditions of India, dance and yoga, Nataraj, and the Shree Raghunath temple. The three exceptions were Policy Perspective on Indian Performing Arts, Meandering Pastures (that was based on my experiences) and a biography of my father-in-law, Erwin Traxl and what he suffered under Hitler as he was anti-Nazi.

    IC: Give us an insight into how you are keeping the legacy of Kathak alive by nurturing the talent of many young dancers whom you promote at the LalitArpan Festival that you organize every year.

    SN: The LalitArpan Festival started in 2002 when late Ustad Shafat Ahmed Khan and I were reminiscing about our early days. As young artistes, we received a lot of support and were projected along with established artistes by some of the great artistes of yesteryears. We thought of continuing the tradition and started the festival to provide a platform to the new generation of artistes who are pursuing classical arts with so much dedication and hard work—even in the midst of the glamorous, enticing world of popular culture—they are carrying forward the classical performing arts legacy that is an identifying feature and pillar of Indian heritage. In this endeavor, Dr Jyotsna Suri and her late husband lent their full hearted support. Thus, the festival has showcased and continues to showcase artistes of all genres of classical performing arts with artistes from across the globe.

    Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. You can read all her published work on www.nehakirpal.wordpress.com

     

     

     

    Breaking Free From Hinglish

    Recently I had to call India and talk to an elder in my family expressing my sadness and condolence over the loss of a family member. It was a conversation full of tears and love. With this sense of loss of family, I felt another strange sense of loss, and that was the loss of language.This conversation required me to talk in unadulterated Hindi and that would usually not pose  a big problem, but to express levels of deep emotion in an articulate fashion was really hard for me to do.

    Growing up in Bombay I always communicated in Hinglish. HIndi and English words wove in and out of sentences to express meaning. Anyone who thinks Hinglish is just a trendy word, does not know that it’s a “real thing:” True Hinglish speakers cannot complete a sentence without using both languages. And that is really how I talk. And I’m sad about it.

    When I lived in India, my usage of Hindi was always limited to watching Hindi movies, reading street signs, talking to household help and using colloquial Hindi within the family. I absolutely adored HIndi music and that helped me expand my vocabulary. Growing up, I loved reading Hindi poetry and always secured top grades in Hindi which was my second language at school. Since I attended a  privately run English medium school, we were reprimanded if we talked to each other in Hindi or any other Indian language unless it was during our regular instruction time in that language. All of these formative influences surely helped sharpen my knowledge of English, but not without leaving Hindi to be the second cousin that lagged behind. This sense of what it meant to have one language lag behind the other never impinged on my consciousness, until I moved abroad. As my external Hindi stimuli were taken away, I was forced to look within, into what my inner relationship with the language was.

    We Indians are a community of immigrants who live across the world; we are not only hardworking and committed, but a big feather in our caps is that we excel at speaking and writing in English. One of the many reasons we can live, work and create communities in many parts in the world is because of our English language proficiency. It was as early as 1835, under the Governor Generalship of Lord William Bentick that English was first introduced in schools. It is interesting to note that English replaced Persian as the medium of instruction. The introduction of English was intended not just to teach a new language but to  inculcate a familiarity with Western culture and create and mold the intellect for taste, opinion and sensibilities of mind toward Western thought. Social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy encouraged the learning of English to help procure lucrative jobs with the government during British rule. This is not the place to go into the political and colonial aspects of this subject, but to focus on the fact that the love for English and accepting it as our own has certainly trickled down through the generations. In my immigrant experience, it has only helped me to be an English language lover. I am a language purist when it comes to English, but am not equipped to be that with Hindi.

    When one looks at other immigrant communities, whenever they bump into each other whether it is at airports, restaurants or workplaces, they always greet each other in their native tongue. As for us Indians we talk to each other in English wherever we go. Are we letting Hindi and other languages fade?

    My family came to Bombay from Sindh during the partition. Sindhis were really immigrants within their own country that was now India. A big ripple effect of this migration was the loss of language. Growing up, I was never exposed to the language except when I overheard my grandparents speak to each other. In fact my grandmother being the product of English education spoke only English and Sindhi. She explained to me that she was never taught to read Hindi in school! Because I was never taught a native language, I can see it’s alienating repercussions . Many Sindhis in India and all over the world are waking up to not just the death of their culture but of their language.

    This juxtaposition of migration and forming of new identities makes me question my love for my culture being inter-tied with my connection with Hindi. Are language and culture not mutually inclusive? Can England ever be devoid of Shakespearean English or Kabir’s dohas ever exclude the history of Indian language and culture? But just as culture grows and progresses, so does language. Is this a sense of loss then, that I should accept as a natural progression of language in my age or can I do something about it?

    Preeti Hay is freelance writer. She grew up in Mumbai, India and has a Masters degree in Post Colonial Literature and a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism. She has written for major publications in India including The Times of India, Hindustan Times and DNA India. She is passionate about creative writing and is currently working on her first novel.

     

    Stop Heart Health Risks From Creeping Upwards

    When I was a 35-year-old man, I thought I was going to live forever, as so many of us do at that age. But that changed as I grew older and suddenly, here I am in my fifties. My knees hurt a little, my back aches, I put on some weight, and I became much more aware of my mortality after losing a dear friend to diabetes and heart disease, and witnessing a close relative having a stent in one of the arteries.

    It was around this time that I decided to return to the South Asian Heart Center at El Camino Hospital where I had some tests done to check my cholesterol and other indicators of diabetes and heart disease. My first visit there was more than 10 years ago. At the time, my results were normal and within in the right ranges, so I thought I was good and didn’t have to worry about anything.

    This time, when I returned for those same tests, my cholesterol was high, my A1C, which tests for type 2 diabetes, was creeping into the danger zone and that was a tipping point for me. I knew it was time for a lifestyle change. What I had been doing wasn’t working anymore, and I was ready to commit to doing something else, so I signed up for the Center’s STOP-D program.

    STOP-D is a one-year program designed for people like me with pre-diabetes and want to make a positive change before developing full-blown diabetes. It incorporates mindful eating, exercise, sleep management, and meditation.

    Over the first couple of months, an educator helped me understand the science, a coach helped me create a personalized lifestyle plan and stay on track, and a peer group provided additional encouragement. The program structure, which includes planning for success and concrete measures to track progress, helped me make the healthy changes I could not manage on my own. It was my personal coach, however, who made the biggest difference. She was my conscience, my wingman, fully invested in my success. She watched what I was doing and provided regular feedback, nudging me toward the right behaviors in a non-judgmental way.

    I made changes to my diet that I stick to pretty closely. I lost about 17 pounds and more importantly, I have maintained my weight loss for the past year. I eat steel cut oatmeal, more eggs, whole grains, veggie burgers, salads and carrots or cucumbers with hummus for a snack. I have given up diet soda and visits to the vending machine altogether.  I treat myself to some dark chocolate or an alcoholic drink occasionally. The great thing is I didn’t have to give up any of my favorite foods – I just learned healthier ways to enjoy them.

    My coach and I also looked at my sleep schedule. Most nights I was lucky if I got five hours of sleep, which is pretty typical if you work in Silicon Valley. Now, I get more than six hours of sleep each night, which is a significant improvement. More importantly, the quality of sleep in terms of time in REM deep sleep has gone up and my resting heart rate is down eight or nine beats. I feel more rested when I wake up and have more energy throughout the day.

    I also needed to retain my commitment to exercise. As a very active person, I have always loved the outdoors. I play tennis, scuba dive and am a serious hiker. In fact, this year, I am going to hike around Tibet, and I travel to two countries every year. My slogan when it comes to exercise is to “keep on your feet,” so I pace while I talk on the phone and work out regularly.

    The biggest challenge for me was meditation. My coach gently insisted it be something I adopt and now that I am regularly doing one and a half meditations a day, I see myself more present when I am in meetings or with people.

    For me, changing some key habits was a no brainer. I made an investment in myself and it is paying off. My critical markers are all within normal ranges now, I’m sleeping longer and better and I’ve kept the weight off. I am still working on some other areas, like taking the time to meditate, but changing my lifestyle wasn’t a sacrifice for me. It was a necessity and I have improved my odds of living longer as a result.

    It’s easy to look healthy but not be healthy and even though I was still climbing mountains, my health wasn’t what I thought it was. I read every book I could on diet and had an intellectual understanding of what I needed to do, but I needed training and support to really make it work. Once I got the right tools, I knew how to fish for myself and the improvement has really been dramatic. I may not live forever, but I am going to make the most of life while I am here!

    Fun Activities To Do With The Whole Family

     

    We can bicker about the Bay Area’s changing landscape all day long, but we all agree that our swath of California has so much to offer. From inspiring natural scenery and classic institutions to new traditions and only-in-S.F. events, the Bay Area has something for everyone.

    We’ve got you covered with fun activities, whether it’s a cold and rainy day and you’re stuck inside or if the weather warms up and you can shed your winter coat and enjoy the outdoors in all its glory.

    We have some great off the beaten track restaurant suggestions to round off the day.

    1. Bruce Munro at Montalvo: Stories in Light (Ends March 17)

    This is a stunning display as you enter another dimension, exploring the brilliant realms of British artist Bruce Munro’s light-based installations. London-born Bruce Munro is best known for large-scale light-based artworks inspired largely by his continuous study of natural light and his curiosity for shared human experiences. This exhibit features the largest number of works by Bruce Munro ever on public display at a single venue.

    With 10 glittering, glowing, pulsating pieces scattered throughout Montalvo’s expansive grounds, Munro combined The Chronicles of Narnia themes with installations that feel intimate, utilizing hundreds of thousands of bespoke components to construct multi-hued waves, clusters, cascades, flocks, and seas of light.

    My favorite was the “Reepicheep’s Wave,” a gigantic installation 20 feet high and 46 feet across with 18,000 plastic mussel shells clipped onto more than 1,200 fiber optic threads hung vertically, undulating in blues and greens. It’s supposed to evoke the huge, still wave on the Silver Sea that Munro says is a metaphor for what we all must do, moving through a portal at the end of one life and on to the next. It’s so meditative and peaceful, as it is accompanied by a steady concert of tones on an ascending scale like a thousand people gently humming. Sit on the theater seats and close your eyes and just listen to it, or gaze up at the stars.

    Some of the exhibits include a sea of “lily pads” created from over 4,000 illuminated stems in an installation entitled Silver Sea. A flamboyance of 1,000 flamingos, densely clustered on Montalvo’s Garden Terrace and illuminated in sunset hues, pays tribute to Ramandu’s Table, while a metal tree of glowing lights alludes to the Parliament of Owls (the talking birds who met nightly to discuss the affairs of Narnia). Over the grand staircase in Montalvo’s Villa, a 106-year-old stained glass window depicting the three sailing ships of explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo is illuminated in constantly changing multi-prismed waves of color, offering an allusion to Prince Caspian’s galleon, the Dawn Treader, voyaging across mythological seas.

    Pro Tip: Tickets are for timed entry, and takes about 1 hour.

    Download the app for the audio guide, Bruce Munro explains the art and inspiration behind it, which enriches the experience.

    Select evenings through March 17, Montalvo Arts Center, 15400 Montalvo Rd., Saratoga. Tickets must be reserved in advance for specific dates. For tickets ($15-27) and more info: www.montalvoarts.org

    1.  Onedome

    An interactive arts & entertainment venue offering two interactive experiences that merge art, story and technology.

    Unreal Garden introduces you to a cool Augmented Reality experience where art comes to life all around you. Featuring the work of artists, and created by a team of technologists, innovators and storytellers, it merges multiple layers of perception of augmented reality, projection mapping, soundscapes, and even the physical space itself all work together to immerse you in a fantastical otherworld.

    LMNL features 14 interactive rooms and installations like  the “Kinetic Infinity Room,” a visually stunning LED mirrored room that appears to go on forever, while responding to movement with light and sound. The “Fluid Structures” installation allows participants to walk around walls made of digital water, appearing inside of the installation as a water version of themselves — even allowing for digital water fights with other people in the room. The “Funky Forest” is a digital forest ecosystem featuring a digital waterfall that’s path can be moved around the room with logs. Depending on where the water flows, the forest will conjure creatures from the forest and grow trees and flowers. “Prana” is a 12-foot LED sphere connecting humans to technology with one simple breath. With the viewer in the center, the sphere lights up with each inhalation, uniting the piece and the participant.

    Open every day. Buy the combo ticket for the best deal: https://onedome.global. 1025 Market St., San Francisco, CA 94103

    1. The Walt Disney Family Museum

    Find animation, innovation, and inspiration and discover this intimate museum as it tells the remarkable life story of Walt Disney. Curated by his daughter, Diane Disney Miller, it has some wonderful interactive galleries with exhibits narrated in Walt’s own voice alongside early drawings, cartoons, films, music, a spectacular model of Disneyland.

    104 Montgomery Street in the Presidio, San Francisco, CA 94129

    Wildlife Hikes for Winter

    1. Baylands Nature Preserve is considered one of the best birding spots on the West Coast with one of the largest tracts of undisturbed marshland in the San Francisco Bay Area. So go see some seriously cool birds (and art installations) via 15 miles of interconnected trails between Baylands Nature Preserve and neighboring Byxbee Park. We’re talking over 100 different species of birds to spot. As you wander the marshland trails, keep an eye out for a prize sighting: glimpsing the endangered clapper rail.

    From San Francisco, take Hwy. 101 south, exiting east at Embarcadero Rd. in Palo Alto. Follow signs for Embarcadero Rd. and continue on Embarcadero about a mile and a half until it dead-ends at a stop sign. A left turn will lead you to the free Baylands Nature Preserve parking lot next to the park ranger station. Dog friendly!

    1. San Gregorio State Beach has a large cave to explore if the tides are okay, check out the cave (north of the beach estuary) and more than a mile of nice walking and just north of the parking area is the ideal spot for a whale watching.  A short walk up the trail on the bluff leads to a large promontory—ideal for spying gray whales making their migration. Bring some easy-sit chairs or a blanket and spend a little time with yourself and the vast ocean.

    Pro Tip: Stop at San Gregorio General Store, just off Highway 1 on the San Mateo coast. Eclectic and charming describes this former stagecoach stop, which offers everything from Levi’s to literary novels to all kinds of different tequilas. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, warm up next to the fire and enjoy live music.

    San Gregorio State Beach is located 10.5 miles south of Half Moon Bay on Hwy. 1. Parking $8. No dogs on the beach. San Gregorio General Store, Hwy. 84 and Stage Rd., San Gregorio; 650-726-0565. San Gregorio is 11 miles south of Half Moon Bay, off Hwy. 84.

    1. Butano State Park is a great winter wander among coastal redwoods without encountering many other people. Get an early start for the 9.5-mile Canyon Loop hike, one of the park’s classics.

    1500 Cloverdale Rd, Pescadero, CA 94060. From the visitor center take the Jackson Flats Trail to Canyon Trail. The park has a $10 day-use fee which can also be used at neighboring parks if you choose to visit multiple parks in one day. No dogs.

    What day trip is complete without some Indian food, which is definitely having a bit of a renaissance in the Bay Area. Here are some cool new joints that are a bit unique or as they say in Hindi “hatke.”

    • Viva Goa Indian Cuisine: specializes in Goan cuisine, which features a lot of seafood, coconut, and kokum. 2420 Lombard St., San Francisco.
    • Besharam: chef Heena Patel channels flavors from her native Gujarat, Don’t miss her fish moilee or, at brunch, her handvo. 3407, 1275 Minnesota St., San Francisco.
    • Ritu Indian Soul Food: started as popular food truck DUM (the chicken biryani is the stuff of legend), this brick and mortar location has California twists like kale chaat (with yogurt, tamarind, and “Mumbai trail mix”), great kebabs, or a feast-worthy four-course menu for $45 per person. 3111 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

    Splurge worthy and special occasion:

    • Campton Place: Earned a Michelin star for innovative Cal-Indian cuisine. chef Srijith (Sri) Gopinathan blends traditional American and European fine dining with Indian spices and influences: Think black cod with tamarind jaggery and guinea hen two ways, roasted with tomato tokku, kohlrabi and lime yogurt, and slow cooked with root vegetables and kallappam. 340 Stockton St, San Francisco.
    • ROOH: A very polished setting featuring dishes like pumpkin mulligatawny with parmesan mousse and curry oil, or green pea kulcha with goat cheese and truffle. 333 Brannan St., San Francisco.
    • August 1 Five: a new interpretation of traditional Indian cuisine. Small plates, tandoor, and boozy cocktails. 525 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco.

    Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter, Facebook for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news and magazines. 

     

     

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