Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Indian BPO worker "caused NatWest glitch" - Reports


The IT malfunction which left millions of RBS and Natwest Bank customers unable to access their accounts was caused by a junior BPO technician in India, according to reports.

Technology website The Register says an "inexperienced operative" based at a support centre in Hyderabad had accidentally deleted information during a software upgrade last week.

The IT worker had been working on the online software for RBS, Natwest as well as Ulster Bank.
A team of IT experts had been recruited for the project in India following redundancies in the UK; Indian staff are paid a salary of £9000.00 compared to up to £50,000 for their British counterparts.

The error is thought to have occurred after a routine software upgrade froze part of the banks' online computer systems last Wednesday, affecting millions of customers in the UK.

Whilst the problem was resolved two days later, RBS - the parent of Natwest - is reportedly attempting to sort through a backlog of more than 100 million customer transactions.

Unions have already blamed the fiasco on the decision to outsource much of RBS's IT jobs to India.
The bank has promised customers will be reimbursed for the cost of fines or late payment fees incurred as a result of the delays.

Industry experts have estimated the cost of the problem to RBS at between £50 million and £100 million.
- UKAsian Staff
www.ukasiaonline.com

Baroness Warsi found guilty of 'Minor Breach' of Ministerial Code


Sayeeda Warsi, the Government minister and co-chairman of the Conservative Party, has been found guilty of a 'minor breach' of the ministerial code for taking a business associate on an official trip to Pakistan.

A Sunday Telegraph investigation had revealed Baroness Warsi - whose parents hail from Pakistan - had been accompanied by businessman and personal friend Abid Hussain on a government visit to Pakistan in July 2010, in contravention of the ministerial code of ethics.

The House of Lords Commissioner on Standards however, found the Baroness had "not used her office for personal financial gain".

Prime Minister David Cameron leapt to Baroness Warsi's defence, saying she could keep her job in the Cabinet because "she had not benefited personally" from the trip and because she was a "great asset" to the government.

Responding to the report by Commissioner Sir Alex Allan, Baroness Warsi said: "The allegations on this matter were untrue and unsubstantiated and I am pleased that Sir Alex's report has confirmed that."
Lady Warsi still faces a further accusation relating to expenses claims.

The Standards Commissioner is set to look into allegations that the Yorkshire-based politician claimed £165.00 per night from the taxpayer for accommodation whilst living rent-free with her friend and Tory official Naweed Khan in London.

She claims she made an "appropriate payment" to Mr Khan for the trouble of putting her up.
Mr Khan however, denies he was ever paid by Baroness Warsi.

- Viji Alles
www.ukasiaonline.com

Monday, 25 June 2012

"Gandu": The UKAsian Review


The London Indian Film Festival (LIFF) synopsis for Gandu very wisely warns you to leave your mum at home, as the numerous frames devoted to oral sex and pornography make for uneasy viewing even in the most unflappable company.

That the film was denied a general release in India meant most of the London audience was mentally prepared for an entirely off-the-censorship-scales experience, and it certainly delivers on that count.

The film opens innocuously enough with an attempt to capture the invective nuances of the word “gandu” – quite simply “asshole” - but encompassing a wider connotation of sheer asininity with an undertone of homophobia.

As a profanity, it transcends language barriers and is used quite liberally across most of India. As a lead character, it is the ideal protagonist for writer-director Q (Kaushik Mukherjee) to present his sketch of reality fused with a drug-fuelled haze. Bengali rap music inspired by the UK’s Asian Dub Foundation adds to this subversive turn.

Q’s Gandu (Anubrata Basu) is a lonely 20-year-old boy/man with a passion for rap – the only outlet for his angst-ridden existence. He dreams of cashing in on a lottery win some day and becoming a famous rap artist with fawning fans offering him sex in abundance. But until then, he is confined to a life of stealing from his mother’s illicit lover Dasbabu (Shilajit Majumdar) while they are in the throes of passion in an oddly airy Kolkata flat.

A chance collision with Ricksha (Joyraj Bhattacharya), a rickshaw-puller with a fanatical Bruce Lee devotion, offers him a welcome diversion from dwindling away hours in an Internet cafe playing video-games and watching porn while fantasising about the young woman in the next booth who is lost in her own hesitant attempts at cyber sex.

Ricksha injects hard drugs into this already heady mix and that is where the film seems to tumble into a gratuitous spiral. The audience is left muddled as Gandu floats between reality and hallucination, with a prolonged sex scene jolting them into a further state of disquiet.

Soon the freedom of working beyond the constraints of a script turns into a curse.
The film’s strength lies in its visual and narrative style; shot largely in black-and-white on a single-lens reflex camera to capture the bleak existence of its key characters. Q proves that the filmmaking process does not have to be a slave to high-end equipment and big budgets.

But Gandu ultimately seems to fall victim to its own hype, losing its rebellious thread at several points. Just like its lead character, it flounders for some semblance of the very structure it claims to have rejected.

This mixed feeling finds an unusual respite in the musical treat on offer as part of LIFF’s Gandu Circus experience soon after.

For a brief hour or so, the musicians behind the film – Five Little Indians – prove just how universal punk rock can really be. Trance sessions with their mentor from the Asian Dub Foundation and British Tamil musician Susheela Raman had everyone up on their feet in the aisles of the usually more sedate BFI Southbank film theatre.

You may have detected a whiff of pretentiousness, not least because of the lead singer’s own crack on deliberate public display through his shorts as a nod to the whole ‘Gandu’ experience.
But the genius of this circus lay in eventually leaving even the hardcore sceptics “punked out”.
- Aditi Khanna

Aditi Khanna is Senior Editor at India Inc. www.indiaincorporated.com

http://www.ukasiaonline.com/

'Gangs of Wasseypur': Epic, Beautiful and Disjointed


At a Q&A following the UK premier of 'Gangs of Wasseypur' at the London Indian Film Festival 2012, the film's mercurial director Anurag Kashyap was asked why he routinely took the road less travelled when it came to making movies.

Kashyap was emphatic in his response, saying that he enjoyed making things difficult for himself.
'Gangs' is a classic case in point: a hugely ambitious, 7-hour epic some 4 years in the making and one which marries myriad storylines and themes and featuring a cast of nearly 400 different characters.

So, does a cornucopia of cinematic elements make a movie great?
Contrary to how the film was described prior to its release, 'Gangs' is not about Bihar's notorious coal mafia, although the highly organized criminal network that stole vast quantities of coal from state-owned mines in the impoverished state  features prominently in the backdrop to the saga.

Instead it is first and foremost a sprawling revenge drama.
And as with all familial sagas, the plot - as such - is terrifically long-winded to define in a paragraph, let alone an elongated sentence.

In a nutshell, it all starts back in 1941 and the rivalry between two families - from two distinct sects of Islam - over supremacy in the coal pilfering business.  
Tigmanshu Dhulia plays Ramadhir Singh, a coal mine owner and gang lord who falls out with his henchman Shahid Khan (Jaideep Ahlawat).

After Shahid is murdered, his son Sardar (Manoj Bajpayee) vows revenge.
That oath of vengeance is the central theme of the movie: the blackening, sullying soot that engulfs everyone from the coal miners and henchmen to the mine bosses and politicians proving a fitting metaphor for the crippling desire for vengeance that consumes and slowly destroys the families involved.

'Gangs' is about ordinary people but the cast is anything but ordinary.

Manoj Bajpayee is manifestly one of the finest actors of his generation and as Sardar, he is sensational, marrying a slightly disturbing goofiness with a murderous hostility, superbly moving from uncertain lover to snarling killer and back again.

In one scene, he stabs a rival before stepping back, childishly jumping up and down, uncertain as to how he should continue before gleefully stabbing the man repeatedly.  In another he travels through the streets of Wasseypur, publicly and very affably threatening Ramadhir Singh with myriad painful reprisals.
It is truly a career defining performance.

The support cast is uniformly excellent: in particular the amazing Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Richa Chadda as Sardar's son Faizal and wife Nagma respectively.


Siddiqui is a delight as the brooding heir apparent, his every movement and expression painstakingly deliberate and nuanced.  Chadda is at the opposite end of the scale: an uninhibited feminine force of nature lashing out with unconcealed rage at her less than heavenly lot in life.
The actors have plenty to play with.

The script by Kashyap, Zeishan Quadri, Sachin Ladia and Akhilesh is outstanding, delivering regular doses of immensely entertaining verbal volleys.

The one-liners are tremendous as well: "I'm going to insert a barbed wire in your rectum and fly you like a kite!" is a personal favourite, notwithstanding the fact that this particular use of barbed wire was a method of torture preferred by the Sri Lankan government against communist insurgents in the late 1980's.
The brutality and the bloodletting is uncompromising and is juxtaposed with moments of tenderness and romance and humour that lend the movie a compelling authenticity.

That authenticity is further enhanced by the film's delightful background score.
Composed by 29-year-old Sneha Khanwalker and Piyush Mishra, the music of 'Gangs' features a vibrant collection of devotional folk songs that pitch perfectly frame each pivotal moment of the narrative, lending urgency to some and emotion to others.

Faizal's courtship of Mohsina is curiously tinged with Bollywood melodrama and is one of the higlights of the film, alongside an hilarious yet disturbing encounter between a police officer investigating a murder and the butchers responsible for chopping up the murdered man.  Each moment is rendered with a sparkling musical accompaniment.

Aside from plenty of those moments, 'Gangs' is resplendent with various themes: from love and religion to colonialism and corruption.

And each of the moments has been crafted with plenty of care.  In fact, Kashyap's main strength lies in his meticulous attention to detail.  He is a slave to his craft.
The opening scene is an astonishing, 9-minute long sequence shot in one take.

The plethora of different elements however is the film's primary weakness.

Entertaining though it is, there is a lack of cohesion to the film not helped by its' length.

A narrator - Piyush Mishra - helps explain who's who and what's what but the story is disjointed, muddled and unnecessarily so. 
'Gangs' is hugely entertaining, a fine riposte to the tedious, conveyor-belt of cinema that Bollywood has become but Kashyap seems to have ventured too far to the other end of the spectrum.
How typical of him.
- Viji Alles
http://www.ukasiaonline.com/

Director Gurinder Chadha carries the flame


‘Bend It Like Beckham’ director Gurinder Chadha carried the Olympic torch on Saturday 23rd June 2012. She ran the Blackpool to Manchester segment near Burnley.  Blackpool is where she shot her first feature film, the unforgettable ‘Bhaji On The Beach’ and Manchester was of course home to a football team connected to a certain Mr Beckham!

Says Gurinder: "It was a complete and utter exhilarating experience, I am honoured and blessed to have been selected as one of only a few thousand out of all of Britain's 56 million population to run with the Olympic flame. I shall treasure my torch and display it in my house next to my OBE!"

Gurinder could barely contain her pride: "My goodness, I don't think my parents would have ever imagined I would have such honours showered on me when they first arrived on British soil in the sixties. I am proud to be a British Punjabi and when I first took hold of the flame I said to myself 'Bole Sonihal'. Saturday has been a great day for me and my community!"

- Reports
http://www.ukasiaonline.com/

Friday, 22 June 2012

Indian court lifts ban on file-sharing sites


An Indian court has overturned a decision to block file sharing sites in the country, allowing web users to access video and file-sharing sites such as The Pirate Bay.

The Madras High Court last month made Indian internet service providers block access to entire sites to prevent a single film from being shared online.

The new order was issued following an appeal filed by a consortium of ISP's and states that only specific web addresses or URL's carrying pirated content should be blocked, but not the entire website.

In late March, Chennai-based Copyrightlabs, an Indian anti-piracy firm, won a court order that made Indian ISPs and phone firms stop their customers reaching websites that were illegally sharing copies of certain Bollywood films.

The order allowed copyright holders to request a website be taken down to prevent illegal downloads.
The ruling led to a series of cyber-attacks by the hacker group Anonymous, which targeted a number of Indian websites, including those for government departments and India's Supreme Court.
Anonymous said the attacks were carried out in retaliation against blocks imposed on video and file-sharing sites.

The internet hacking group then staged numerous protests against "internet censorship" in India.
- Malinda Dharshana/Reports

http://www.ukasiaonline.com/

'Gangs of Wasseypur' launches 3rd London Indian Film Festival


The 3rd Annual London Indian Film Festival opened in Haymarket Wednesday night amid much fanfare, a plethora of entertainment industry guests and an appropriately groundbreaking movie launching the 2-week long celebration of independent Indian cinema.

Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ - fresh from thrilling audiences and critics alike at the recent Cannes Film Festival - opened the Festival at Cineworld Haymarket and received a firm thumbs from fans as well as the glittering array of stars who turned out in support of the Festival: from actors Anushka Sharma and Riz Ahmed to director Michael Winterbottom and musician Raghu Dixit.

Speaking before the screening, 'Gangs' director Anurag Kashyap said: “The London Indian Film Festival is lucky for me. My Dev D played in year one. That Girl In Yellow Boots premiered in year two and got UK distribution and now I’ve opened the festival. It’s a great platform.”

Festival Director Cary Sawhney said: “We are delighted that this year’s London Indian Film Festival has opened to such a tremendous response. We have a diverse range of events scheduled for the next two weeks, including the brilliant collaboration of director Q’s Gandu Circus along with Susheela Raman and the Asian Dub Foundation’s Steve Chandra Savale at BFI Southbank on June 21, and many World and UK film premieres.

And for those who couldn’t get tickets for Gangs of Wasseypur, there are two more screenings scheduled on June 28 at the ICA and on June 30 at Cineworld Shaftesbury Avenue.”
The Festival runs until July 03.
- UKAsian Staff
http://www.ukasiaonline.com/

Danish Kaneria banned from playing in England over corruption

Pakistan leg-spinner Danish Kaneria has been banned for life from playing in England after being found guilty of encouraging a teammate at his county side Essex to spot-fix.

An England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) disciplinary panel found the 31-year-old had urged Mervyn Westfield to underperform in return for money during a CB40 match against Durham in 2009.
Westfield was convicted of the offence in February this year and jailed for four months.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) has recommended that the ECB should be implemented worldwide.

Kaneria's ban comes into effect immediately although he has not played county cricket since 2010.
During Westfield's trial, the court heard how the entire scam had been orchestrated by Kaneria, who had been at Essex since 2004.

But Kaneria, who played 61 Tests and 18 one-day internationals between 2000 and 2010, was never charged by the police on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

In handing down the punishment, the panel said: "Kaneria has made no admission, has shown no remorse and sought to cast blame on other plainly innocent persons.

"We regard him as a grave danger to the game of cricket and we must take every appropriate step to protect our game from his corrupt activities.

"Self evidently, corruption, specifically spot-fixing, in cricket or any other sport for that matter, is a cancer that eats at the health and very existence of the game.

"For the general public, supporting the game and their team within it, there is no merit or motivation to expend time, money or effort to watch a match whose integrity may be in doubt. The consequences of the public's disengagement from cricket would be catastrophic."

Kaneria has maintained his innocence throughout the process and has said he will appeal the ECB's decision.
He told Sky Sports: "I'm very upset about this decision. They don't have any proof against me.  "I'm an honest man. I've been playing cricket with passion and love. I have done nothing wrong."

The news comes just a day after Kaneria's former teammate Salman Butt was released from a UK jail, having served seven months of a 30-month sentence for spot fixing during Pakistan's tour of England in 2011.
- UKAsian Staff
http://www.ukasiaonline.com/

MS Dhoni ranked India's top earner in sports

Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has trumped the likes of Wayne Rooney, sprinter Usain Bolt and teammate Sachin Tendulkar in the latest list of the world's 100 richest sportspersons compiled by Forbes magazine.

India's Twenty20 and ODI World Cup-winning captain also came ahead of the World's top tennis player Novak Djokovic and Chelsea Football Club striker Fernando Torres on the annual list.

According to Forbes, Dhoni is ranked 31st, way ahead of Djokovic (62nd), Bolt (63rd) and Tendulkar (78th).

Champion boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr topped the list with total earnings of $85 million while Filipino fighter Manny Pacquiao, with earnings of $62 million, and golf legend Tiger Woods, with $59.4 million, are second and third, respectively.

Of his total earnings of $26.5 million, Dhoni earned $23 million through endorsements while Tendulkar earned $18.6 million, with $16.5 million from endorsements.

Interestingly, the Indian captain's earnings through endorsements are more than the world's leading footballer, Lionel Messi.

Although Messi is 11th in the list with total earnings of $39 million - his earnings from endorsements are $19 million, $4 million less than that of Dhoni.

Manchester United's star striker Rooney is placed 37th with total earnings of $24.3 million.
Djokovic, winner of six Grand Slam singles titles, is 62nd with $20.6 million while Olympic 100m champion Usain Bolt is 63rd with total earnings of $20.3 million.

Maria Sharapova is the richest woman on the list, at 26th, with earnings of $27.9 million.
Roger Federer is ranked fifth, David Beckham eighth and Cristiano Ronaldo ninth.

- UKAsian Staff
http://www.ukasiaonline.com/

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Resplendent Aishwarya says "In no hurry to return to films: motherhood is bliss!"


The Indian media may have been critical of her inability to lose her post-baby weight but former Miss World Aishwarya Rai looked resplendent as she lit up a glittering charity gala dinner celebrating the political career of Keith Vaz MP, June 15.

Aishwarya looked radiant in a simple black Kurtha suit exquisitely embroidered in silver as she was joined by her equally impeccably turned out husband Abhishek Bachchan at the event organized to mark 25 years in politics for Vaz as well as raise money for his Diabetes charity  Silver Star.

The couple had stepped in after Amitabh Bachchan, Silver Star's international patron, was unable to attend due to ill health.
Unsurprisingly, politics took somewhat of a backstage on the night as Eastenders star Nina Wadia grilled Abhi and Ash on becoming parents.  "I love being a mum, it's absolute bliss", said Rai.  She added that she was in no hurry to return to films any time soon.

Asked whether he shared nappy duties with Aishwarya, Abhishek sheepishly said: "I am guilty. I don't spend enough time with the baby to change her nappies. She does all the hard work."

The Bollywood power couple were joined at the event by an eclectic mixture of personalities from politics and business to entertainment: from Speaker the Rt Hon John Bercow to Lycamobile boss Subaskaran Allirajah, all supporting the efforts of Silver Star, which holds mobile diagnostic clinics around the United Kingdom as well as parts of India.

Their generosity was rewarded by some amazing entertainers on the night: from Preeya Kalidas' surprising rendition of the Etta James classic 'At Last' to a resounding set by the Raghu Dixit Project.
For more information, visit www.silverstaruk.org
- UKAsian Staff
http://www.ukasiaonline.com/

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Stars of 'Teri Meri Kahani' to grace London


The buzz surrounding the film has been deafening, what with the romantic history between the leading pair not to mention the director's claims that Teri Meri Kahani will see Shahid Kapoor as you've never seen before.

And now fans in London will be able to enjoy that buzz not to mention the chemistry between Kapoor and former flame Priyanka Chopra as the stars descend on the capital to promote the film this month.

Eros International will release the romantic drama in the UK on 22nd June with a gala red carpet premiere among three very special events organized by the studio.

Director Kunal Kohli as well as producer Vicky Bahri will reportedly be in London as well.
The film is an intriguing love story, set across three generations, with Shahid and Priyanka playing different characters in 1910, 1960 and 2012.

The leading duo will be seen on screen together once again, for the first time since 2009’s “Kaminey” and the buzz is already building with the two performing the track “Uff” taken from the movie, at the “IIFA Rocks” event in Singapore earlier this month, stealing the show in front of a sold out arena audience.

- UKAsian Staff
http://www.ukasiaonline.com/

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

New service to offer Bollywood 'On-Demand'


A new online video rental service is offering UK-based fans of Bollywood cinema the chance to enjoy their favourite 'Bolly-flicks' from the comfort of their homes.

Sanona is a brand new on demand film service which allows viewers to stream films direct to their home screens via a PC, Mac or through a TV, in the mould of services such as Lovefilm and Netflix.

The company has already secured a number of content deals with some of India's biggest film studios, including Yash Raj Films, UTV and Reliance Entertainment, giving audiences access to a myriad range of films from the world's most prolific movie business.

The internet Video on Demand service works on a unique Pay Per View model with two tiers of pricing: the Pay As You Go option is ideal for those who like an occasional fix of Bollywood melodrama whilst the Sanona Gold Membership package offers die-hard fans discounted rates on films for a low cost monthly fee.
Aside from Bollywood, Sanona will also offer consumers access to the lesser-well-known but equally prolific sub-continental cinema.

Adam Davies, the founder and CEO of Sanona says: “The Indian film industry releases over 1,000 films a year and less than 10% of them are shown in cinemas in the UK.  We want to give audiences here the opportunity to enjoy some of these films which would otherwise not have a platform.  We are also starting to look at building a library of regional films that serve the Bengali, Punjabi, Gujarati and Tamil speaking communities too.”

Viewers and visitors to the site will also have the opportunity to rate and review films and access the latest news from Bollywood.

For more information, visit www.sanona.com
- Poonam Joshi
http://www.ukasiaonline.com/

Susheela Raman to team up with 'Gandu' director at LIFF 2012


Genre-bending British Tamil musician Susheela Raman is to team up with Bengali rapper and filmmaker Kaushik Mukherjee in what is certain to be an explosive, mind-bending musical collaboration as part of the London Indian Film Festival 2012.

Mukherjee - stage name 'Q' - is the controversial director behind 'Gandu': the subversive Bengali film about sexuality and youthful angst in India, which has shocked and entertained audiences at numerous Film Festivals around the world and which will have its UK premier at LIFF which kicks off June 20.

Mercury nominated Raman and Mukherjee will be joined on stage at the BFI Southbank by Mukherjee's band Gandu Circus along with Steve Chandra Savale from the Asian Dub Foundation following the premier of 'Gandu' on June 21.

Festival director, Cary Rajinder Sawhney says: “Gandu Circus is a live Jungle-rap rock performance intercut with stunning visual imagery, with the powerful voice of Susheela Raman making the experience transcendental. The film Gandu was never publicly released in India, especially due to the blatant drug usage, expletives and full frontal sex. It makes the film Shame look tame.”
Much like Raman's folk, jazz, carnatic and trance inspired melodies, Gandu Circus is an amalgam of several visceral music genres, including punk rock, rap and electronica.

The end result of this collaboration, whilst being difficult to categorize, is certain to be an assault on the senses.
Raman says: “I got to know Q on my travels to India and was immediately struck by the intensity and fearlessness he has and which he brings to his work.

I loved the idea of the film being about a rebel rock musician in Kolkata and the taboo-shredding edginess of the whole Gandu concept. He’s a visionary, in terms of pushing boundaries of Indian cinema and it’s a real bonus that he is a musician as well as the filmmaker. We were looking for an opportunity to perform together and the London Indian Film Festival provided just that.”

- Poonam Joshi
Susheela Raman and 'Q' with Gandu Circus will be at BFI Southbank June 21: 8.00pm
Tickets are currently on sale at the BFI Southbank. www.bfi.org.uk
The London Indian Film Festival takes place June 20 - July 3: www.londonindianfilmfestival.co.uk
http://www.ukasiaonline.com/

Ghazal legend Mehdi Hassan passes away


Celebrated Pakistani Ghazal singer Mehdi Hassan has died of multiple organ failure aged 84.

The singer, one of the unique few performers to have enjoyed cross border appeal in Pakistan and India, passed away after being admitted to a hospital in Karachi earlier this week.

Tributes have poured in from around the world for the singer with TV channels broadcasting live and hundreds of fans gathering at the Aga Khan Hospital in Karachi.

Hassan enjoyed a glittering career spanning some 50 years and was considered one of the finest practitioners of the 400-year-old art of Ghazal music.

Hassan - whose funeral will be on Friday - also achieved huge commercial success, providing music for many South Asian films.

Legendary Indian singer Lata Mangeshkar once likened his songs to the "voice of god".
On learning of his death, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called Hassan "an icon who mesmerised music lovers" in Pakistan and the sub-continent for decades, AFP news agency reports.
Born in 1927 to a family of traditional musicians in rural Rajasthan, Hassan and his family were forced to migrate to Pakistan at the time of partition in 1947.

He worked as an auto mechanic before his big break in 1957, when he got his first chance on Radio Pakistan as a classical 'thumri' singer.
Over the next 30 years he composed hundreds of songs for Pakistani movies and embraced Ghazals as well, his music proving popular throughout the sub-continent.

In a 1989 interview with the BBC Hindi service, Hassan revealed the history of Ghazal in his family:  "My ancestors use to regale the Royals of Jaipur, Rajasthan in India.  We still have remains of our home around the Amber Fort. And my earlier generations were gifted by the princely state of Jaipur to another royal household called Jhunjhunu in the faraway desert.

"But be it then or now, India or Pakistan, our music is the same, full of devotion."
Hassan became a Pakistani cultural ambassador who visited India.

He cut back on his performances in the late 1980s due to illness, which included a serious lung condition. The severity of his illness forced him to give up all singing by the late-1990s.
In 2010, however, he recorded a duet with Lata Mangeshkar, a long-time admirer, for an album called Sarhadein (Borders), which was released in 2011.

Mehdi Hassan recorded his part of the song in Karachi, while Lata Mangeshkar's part was recorded in Mumbai.
- UKAsian Staff
http://www.ukasiaonline.com/

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Tyeb Mehta's 'Mahishasura' sells for $2.2m at Christies auction


A painting by Indian artist Tyeb Mehta has sold for a record $2.2m at auction in London.
 
The 1996 painting - titled Mahishasura - was one of 122 works featured in Christie's annual London sale of South Asian art.

The buyer for the painting by Mehta - who became the first contemporary Indian artist to sell a work for over a million dollars - was an unnamed "Asian Institution".

Mahishasura recounts a Hindu legend where a demon-king produces a son through his union with a she-buffalo.

Before Monday's sale, Christie's had said they expected it to fetch between $1.8m and $2.8m.
The top 10 slots at the auction were taken by Indian artists, including the likes of Syed Haider Raza and Maqbool Fida Husain.

Four of Raza's paintings fetched $1.23m (£791,000) between them, Christie's said.
Collectors, institutions and dealers participated from South East Asia, India, the Middle East, Europe and the United States, Christie's said. Bidders could take part in person, on the phone or online.

Fida Husain's Cinq Sens - formerly owned by Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini and his Indian wife Sonali Dasgupta - sold for $147,492 (£94,850).

The auction also featured Pakistani artists, including Anwar Jalal Shemza, Muhammad Zeeshan, Khadim Ali, Aisha Khalid and Talha Rathore.

- UKAsian Staff
http://www.ukasiaonline.com/

Thursday, 7 June 2012

EXCLUSIVE: The UKAsian given exclusive preview of 2nd Raghu Dixit album


The UKAsian has been given an exclusive preview of the Raghu Dixit Project's second album and we can report that the long wait for the Project’s sophomore effort has been utterly worthwhile.

This writer was given a tantalizing taste of the album’s first four songs at a rather hastily-put-together editing suite in North London recently.
The name of the album is a closely guarded secret and it is tentatively slated for release towards the end of this year and fans of the Project's unique brand of folk music will not be disappointed.

One of Raghu's long-stated ambitions has been to travel solo the length and breadth of India collaborating with the country’s myriad array of folk musicians.
 
For this, the follow up to his self-titled first album of 2008, Raghu - it seems - has temporarily put on hold that rather blissful domestic aspiration and instead gone international, collaborating with the likes of English folk music band Bellowhead, London-based Sarod player Soumik Datta and even a Scandinavian orchestra, to take his music to a whole new level.

Since the Project's explosion on to the UK music scene following their appearance on Live! with Jools Holland the band has been a regular fixture on the Festival circuit, performing at events as varied as Glastonbury, Larmer Tree and Alchemy as well as making rather more unexpected appearances on political discourses like the Andrew Marr Show.

But whilst fans have continued to lap up increasingly more energetic performances of such iconic Raghu Dixit hits as 'Mysore se Aayi', 'No Man Will Ever Love You...' and 'Hey Bhagvan', a yearning for more has doubtless crept in.

On the evidence presented to The UKAsian, that yearning is soon to be sated.
Given the immensely evocative nature of his music - the cornerstone of the band's popularity - it was difficult to imagine the next stage of Dixit's musical progression.

Mercifully, Raghu has kept things simple in that that progression is linear and evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

The folksy inspirations are still very much present but there is a complexity to the music that is alarmingly beautiful.

A myriad array of instruments and instrumentalists lend the album a vibrancy that is signature Raghu Dixit, on a whole new level.

But whilst Parth Chandiraman's flute and Datta's Sarod provide an almost mystical energy to the songs, Raghu Dixit's effortlessly joyous voice still commands centre stage.

It is a phenomenal thing, that voice; redolent with emotion and elegance and perhaps even able to make such things as albums slightly redundant in that no album could match Raghu's on-stage energy.
The Project is said to be considering doing a live album but the hectic touring schedule and recording for the second album is currently taking up an exhausting amount of its time.

New Fans
It might be four years since the release of 'Raghu Dixit' but the likes of 'Mysore Se Aayi' keep finding new fans, particularly in the UK.
The Project were described as the best on show at the recent Bushstock Festival in West London.
This writer witnessed the second half of the band's set - staged inside a beautiful, 163-year-old church in Shepherds Bush - and the incessant laryngitis and flu that blighted Raghu's appearance at Alchemy 2012 earlier this year seemed a very distant memory as the bohemian - overwhelmingly white - audience took to the aisles, leaping in step with the band.
This weekend the band will headline the Salisbury International Arts Festival in Wiltshire (Saturday June 09) before appearing at the exclusive members club Shoreditch House in East London (Sunday June 10).

Birmingham Town Hall will host the Project on June 13 before two gigs in Scotland, including at the Solas Festival in South Lanarkshire.

The band then head south again for a performance at the iconic Brighton Dome before Raghu heads right back up to Edinburgh where he will open the prestigious TED Conference 2012 (Technology, Entertainment and Design).

The event will see the singer follow the likes of Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Jane Goodall, and Bangladeshi American educator Salman Khan by presenting what inspires him in a maximum of 18 minutes: unsurprisingly, the presentation will be of an innovatively musical nature.

The Project's summer tour of the UK will also take in performances at the Larmer Tree Festival, WOMAD and the Cambridge Folk Festival.
- Viji Alles
For updates, gigs and tickets, visit www.raghudixit.com
Photo Courtesy of Carl Spring Photography
http://www.ukasiaonline.com/

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

House of Lords to investigate Baroness Warsi over expenses fiddling


British Pakistani politician Baroness Warsi is to be investigated by the House of Lords over allegations she fiddled with her parliamentary expenses.

The co-chairman of the Conservative Party referred herself to the Lords Standards Commissioner following reports that she claimed accommodation allowances while staying rent-free with a friend in 2008.

The rules for expenses claims by members of the House of Lords, as set out on the Parliament website for the year 2007-08, say members living outside London can claim a maximum of £165.50 a night.

Separately, Lady Warsi has apologised after it emerged she failed to declare she and a relative, Abid Hussain, had stakes in the same firm before travelling together to Pakistan on a government trip in 2010.
The prime minister said he was "very happy" with Lady Warsi's assurances but has referred the matter to his adviser on the ministerial code.

- UKAsian Staff
http://www.ukasiaonline.com/

Channel 4 producer denied entry to Sri Lanka


A senior executive at Channel 4 has been denied entry to Sri Lanka.

Stuart Cosgrove and his wife Shirani Sabaratnam were turned away at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo because of the Lankan government's displeasure at a Channel 4 documentary alleging the country's armed forced had committed war crimes.

Mr Cosgrove, 59, is the head of Creative Diversity at Channel 4 while Mrs Sabaratnam is a Commissioning Editor for UKTV.

The couple are said to have been the driving force behind the airing of 'Sri Lanka's Killing Fields' documentary, which alleged widespread rights abuses by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces during the final days of the country's bloody civil conflict in 2009.

Channel 4 confirmed Mr Cosgrove had been denied entry to Sri Lanka on Wednesday but insisted that the Glasgow-based executive had no role in the production of Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields.

A spokeswoman for Channel 4 said: “Stuart Cosgrove’s passport and visa were both valid but his passport was rejected on a technicality on arrival in Sri Lanka – as the middle name on his new passport did not match the one on his visa.

“He and his wife were not granted entry to the country and are now on their way back to the UK.”
An unnamed official in charge of immigration told the BBC that the incident "was not a deportation" and that Mr Cosgrove had merely been "instructed to leave".

The official told the BBC the reason for the denied entry was "because they are from Channel 4, which without reason has harmed Sri Lanka's reputation".

Speaking at the time of the original broadcast, the Sri Lanka High Commission said: “The Government of Sri Lanka categorically denies the allegations that it has deliberately targeted its own civilians, as the Channel 4 alleges in its film Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields".

- Viji Alles
http://www.ukasiaonline.com/

Bollywood royalty set to thrill Singapore


The weather forecast is set to the 'Damp' setting but Singapore is in for a scorcher this week as Bollywood royalty descends on The Lion City for the 13th annual International Indian Film Academy weekend and awards which kicks off Thursday.

From veterans such as Salman Khan and Hrithik Roshan to young guns like Sonakshi Sinha dn Abhay Deol all the way to the evergreen Rekha and Rishi Kapoor, a glittering array of Bollywood actors and filmmakers will enthral fans in the tiny nation state.

The younger generation's appearance at the Festival is particularly significant as this year's edition of the popular awards show is focussed on providing a platform for fresh young talent.

Sabbas Joseph, director of event organizers Wizcraft International told IANS: The freshness in this year's edition, is across multiple perspectives. It is a much younger approach, something that represents the youth of the country on global platform".

True to its approach, the gala will see young and budding talent taking centre stage.
Shahid and Farhan Akhtar are set to entertain the audience with their wit and humour as the hosts of the glitzy awards ceremony.

The pre-finale celebrations will include a race on Singapore's F1 track as part of the promotional campaign for Vidhu Vinod Chopra's 'Ferrari Ki Sawaari'.

Writers like Javed Akhtar and Prasoon Joshi, composer Shantanu Moitra and filmmakers Zoya Akhtar and Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, will host music workshops, where they will discuss what goes into creating the music that is such an integral part of Bollywood.

Other highlights include a world premiere of Dibakar Banerjee's Shanghai.
IIFA Rocks, a fashion and musical night, featuring designers like Masaba Gupta, Suneet Varma and Varun Bahl, will be held a day before the main award function.

VJ-turned-actor Ayushmann Khurrana and actress Chitrangada Singh have been roped in to host IIFA Rocks, where new kids on the block -- Nargis Fakhri, Zoa Morani, Aditi Rao Hydari and Shazahn Padamsee will take to the ramp as showstoppers.

The awards night Saturday will see performances by Shahid Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Sonakshi Sinha, Bipasha Basu and Ranbir Kapoor in dance sequences choreographed by the mind-bogglingly flexible South Indian superstar Prabhu Deva.

Other Bollywood stars expected to attend the event include Vidya Balan, Preity Zinta, Malaika Arora Khan, Rani Mukerji, Parineeti Chopra, Dia Mirza, Emraan Hashmi and Anil Kapoor.
- Poonam Joshi/Reports
http://www.ukasiaonline.com/

Delhi High Court dismisses petition against 'Shanghai'


The High Court in New Delhi has dismissed a petition by the Hindu nationalist Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena (Bhagat Singh Revolutionary Army) seeking to prevent the release of Dibakar Bannerjee's new political thriller 'Shanghai'.

BSKS President Tejinder Pal Singh Bagga filed a 'public interest litigation' objecting to the lyrics of one of the film's songs, 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai', stating the song's writer had presented India in the most "humiliating, outrageous and insulting manner".

Judges however ruled that there was "nothing insulting in the song and it merely depicted the existing state of affairs in India".

Justice Rajiv Shakdher and Justice Vipin Sanghi said in their ruling: "We do not find anything objectionable in the said song.  In a democracy, every person has a right to voice his views and opinions... the same right to speech and expression cannot be curtailed except under some circumstances."

"The author of the song has merely sought to portray the existing state of affairs in India, once considered a golden bird... is now infested with diseases like dengue and malaria", the judges added.

The film stars Emraan Hashmi, Abhay Deol and Kalki Koechlin and has created considerable buzz ahead of its release this weekend with multiple storylines casting an inhibiting eye on the murky underbelly of Indian politics.  

Bagga contended that the song showed that its writer had no respect for India, depicting India as the land of the homeless, full of misery and despair.

Justice Shakdher however, disagreed: "Similar kind of accusations were being made against great film maker Satyajit Ray that he used to sell the darker side of India abroad," adding that "you cannot restrict artistic freedom".

'Shanghai' is released June 08.
- Poonam Joshi
http://www.ukasiaonline.com/

Tamil protests greet Mahinda Rajapakse at Queen's luncheon


Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapakse was forced to cancel a speech in the City of London Wednesday after more than 3000 Tamil protestors converged on a Jubilee event attended by the Queen.

President Rajapakse was attending a luncheon in honour of the Queen organized by the Commonwealth Secretariat and attended by Commonwealth heads of state and Prime Minister David Cameron.

The more than 70 guests were greeted by angry scenes as they arrived at Marlborough House in Central London.

Several effigies of Rajapakse were burned as the crowd protested his presence at the meal citing alleged war crimes committed by government forces in the final days of the country's Civil War in 2009.

Mr Rajapakse was jeered as he swept through the main gate in a Range Rover.
His car did not carry a flag because of security concerns.

Mr Rajapakse had earlier been forced to cancel an appearance as keynote speaker at a £800-per-head event organized by the Commonwealth Economic Forum in the City.

The Queen spent a brief moment with Mr Rajapakse and appeared to fleetingly shake hands with him as she met guests at the pre-lunch reception.

The protests come after a Sri Lankan man, who was left scarred and suicidal after two weeks of torture, accused the British government of forcibly deporting asylum seekers who are then tortured in Sri Lanka.
The victim told the Guardian newspaper he was tortured over the space of 17 days after being deported from the UK last year.

His torturers accused him of passing on to British officials information about previous beatings at the hands of state officials and other human rights abuses to ruin diplomatic relations between the two countries.
- UKAsian Staff

http://www.ukasiaonline.com/

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

From Hindu Temple to Hollywood Hairdo


The heat is damp and stifling, the sound that fills the air at once distinctive and surreal. Hundreds of cut-throat razors are at work, scraping rapidly, in a hall packed with girls and women, like so many sheep at a shearing.

Thick, dark clumps of hair flop down into baskets at their side until, just seconds later, the former owners look round, blinking and completely bald.

This is the Hindu temple of Tirumala Venkateswara on the coastal state of Andhra Pradesh where, every day, thousands of Indian women – and a few men – offer up their hair as a gift to Lord Venkateswara, the presiding deity.

It is also the starting place and principal provider for an astonishing industry, one that has seduced celebrities in Europe and America, and those rich enough to follow them. The trade in human hair is booming.
Temple hair, as it is known, has already found its way to hundreds of British salons, where it is sold in the form of real hair extensions costing up to £3,000 a time. One leading manufacturer boasts that horde of celebrities, including Mischa Barton, Eva Longoria and Frankie Sandford of The Saturdays, have used its products.

To fans of extensions, the appeal of human hair is obvious: it both looks and feels better than the synthetic additions made famous by stars such as Jordan and Britney Spears. Moreover, the  quality of Indian hair, which is strong and has for the most part never been subjected to Western shampoos, is known to be unusually good.

It is safe to say that the temple makes millions from the piles of thick black locks. Yet the women who once possessed the hair – many of them peasants – receive not a penny, donating their hair, instead, as a religious sacrifice.

The shaving ceremony and the sale of hair is not limited to this one holy site, but Tirumala Venkateswara attracts tens of thousands of pilgrims in a single day and is by far the dominant temple in the trade.
There are 18 shaving halls, all of them  vast, and so big are the crowds that women and young girls can wait in the queue for up to five hours.

Six hundred and fifty barbers sit in lines on concrete floor, deftly tying up into ponytails the hair of women seated in front of them. Small children being carried by their mothers can be heard whimpering. They too are candidates for tonsuring – the shaving of  the head as a sign of religious devotion.
With a few expert sweeps of  a razor, each head is shaved smooth and is then doused with water, washing away any blood caused by nicks from the razor. The average woman’s head yields about 10oz of hair, which is worth about £210.

Most of the women seemed stunned, their hands patting at a scalp that minutes before had been covered in glossylocks. Then in a flash they are ushered away and the next candidate sits down.
Often, as they wait for their turn, the women’s faces are impassive, their lips pressed shut, as though trying not to cry.

Mayoor Balsara, chief executive of India’s largest exporter of human hair, Sona Devi Trading Company, says: ‘For poor rural women, their hair is their only vanity. They have saved up to make a once-in-a-lifetime journey. Thousands have made an oath to their gods – they may have asked to be blessed with a child or for a good harvest. Should their wish be fulfilled, they offer their most precious possession as a sign  of gratitude.’

Pujari Aruna started her pilgrimage early one Sunday morning and, after walking in her bare feet for 30 hours, the 40-year-old housewife was waiting to go into the main tonsuring hall when we spoke. This is the fifth time Aruna has undergone the ritual and  she is accompanied by 25 family members and friends who will also get their heads shaved.

‘Offering your hair to the god is a symbolic gesture of surrendering one’s ego,’ she says, ‘and a way of giving thanks for your blessings.’
Aruna says she is thankful because her husband, Pujari Nagraja, 45, made a swift recovery after an accident. She seems unconcerned by the fate of her hair after tonsure and shakes her head. ‘I don’t know what temple staff will do with it but I am sure they sell it to someone.’

Outside in the cool breeze sits housewife Anita Triupati, 28,  who has travelled 350 miles, part walking and part spent on an overcrowded night train with  her two daughters, Padma and Rajama and three generations of her family, all of whom will offer up their hair.

‘It has taken us years to plan this pilgrimage and everyone should make their way here once in their lifetime as it brings god’s blessing,’ she says.

‘This is the first time I have had tonsure and I am doing it because it is traditional in my family to come here and offer up our hair. I don’t know what will happen to my hair, but I know that local film stars wear wigs made from the hair and that some of it is sent to Hollywood as well.’

It is not just rural women who offer their hair to Hindu gods. The trend has been customised for well-educated, professional women from cities, too; instead of submitting to a full tonsure, they can donate a mere three strands to the temple.

Baskets filled with hair are collected every six hours and stored in a vast warehouse where it is piled knee deep. The hair, strong and healthy, has never been dyed or subjected to anything more abrasive than coconut oil and herbal soap.

Sometimes it has never been cut. The temple then auctions off the hair – even taking online bids – to exporters around the globe.

Mayoor Balsara transports the hair in fibre sacks by truck to Bangalore, 150 miles away. ‘We buy hair in metric tons,’ he explains. ‘A ton represents 3,000 women.’

Balsara buys about 50 tons a year and ships it round the world. India exports an estimated 2,000 tons a year. The best – or longest – hair will fetch at least £350 per pound. In his factories the hair is washed by hand in giant baths. Then the hair is laboriously pulled through long beds of spikes by hand to smooth it before being tied into neat bundles of 200 strands each.

The hair is then carefully packed into cardboard boxes and flown  to Nepi in Italy where the pigment is removed, a process that sees the hair soaked in rows of small white baths for up to 20 days.

Great Lengths International, a leading manufacturer, supplies 1,300 salons in Britain alone, selling its products as ‘ethical hair extensions’ – ethical because the source of the hair is known.

After the bundles of hair have been coloured, polymer bonds, which mimic the molecular structure of real hair, are attached to them. The bonds will be used to fix the strands to the customer’s head. Philip Sharp, UK managing director of Great Lengths says: ‘There are no official global  statistics but it’s fair to say that hair has become a commodity as precious as gold, diamonds or oil. Some top salons order up to £100,000 worth of hair a year.’

The company says that European hair is too thin in diameter for the process; Chinese hair, meanwhile, is too thick and rigid for use with European clients.

Unfortunately, such are the profits to be made, there is a criminal side to the real hair industry. Real doubt persists, for example, about the origins of some hair sold from Eastern Europe. There are claims that women have been mugged for their locks. Victoria Beckham once said of her real hair extensions that, ‘[they] come from Russian prisoners, so I’ve got Russian cell-block H on my head’.

There has been a flourishing trade in human hair for thousands of years. In Egyptian times, men and women shaved their heads but wore wigs as protection from the harsh sun. Queen Elizabeth I famously sported a head of false tight red curls.

In India, temple hair has been sold for centuries – mostly to stuff mattresses, or for the chemicals  it contains.
Temple officials argue that, unless they sell the hair, they  would simply dispose of it.

The profit from the hair collected at the temples, an estimated £70 million a year, is spent on orphanages and hospitals. And for women such as Anita Triupati, the tradition of offering hair began long before the glamorous world of real-hair extensions.

‘My mother and grandmother came here before me and my daughters will do the same,’ she says. ‘We would never seek to be paid – we give our hair freely.’
- Alice Smellie and Sanjay Jha: The Daily Mail
http://www.ukasiaonline.com/

Love Commandos: Towards a more equanimous India


In India, "love" is still considered by many to be a dirty word with most marriages arranged by parents along religious or caste lines. But a group of "love commandos" are increasingly stepping in to protect Cupid and his targets.

Rajveer Singh is a handsome young man of 23. He has large, earnest eyes and hair that falls over his forehead. He is well-built, quiet, thoughtful.

When Rajveer was 12, a new family moved into the house across the narrow alley. The first time he saw Madhuri, who was then 14, he says he fell in love. "I thought to myself 'this is the girl I want to marry'. She was mischievous, she had a beautiful smile, and I knew she would look after me."

Madhuri, a petite, bright-eyed woman with a winning smile, says she felt the same. Over the years, as Rajveer and Madhuri went to school together and shared their best hopes and worst fears, they fell utterly in love.

You know what happens next. This is India, where parents vet a potential marriage partner like Nasa scientists checking a space shuttle before lift-off:
  • caste
  • complexion
  • horoscope
  • height
  • character
  • qualifications
  • family
  • eating habits
Love just does not get a look in.
So when Rajveer and Madhuri told their families they wanted to marry, the answer was a resounding "no". Rajveer's family are Thakurs, or landowners. Madhuri's are Banias, or traders. Apparently incompatible.
But they were undeterred. As Madhuri's family took her back to the village to forcibly betroth her to a more suitable boy, Rajveer hatched a plan. He called the Love Commandos.

Perhaps you are picturing them now - tall, chivalrous men in tights, wielding swords and roses. Well, not quite. A group of aging businessmen and journalists, the Love Commandos began 10 years ago as a movement to protect lovers from harassment by both Hindu and Muslim hard-liners.

One of their co-founders, Sanjoy Sachdeva, is a rumpled, white-haired hack whom I met after a series of phone calls. "Come to the Imperial Cinema. Come alone. One of my commandos will meet you."

Down a fly-blown alley in Paharganj, near New Delhi railway station where backpackers sip mixed fruit juice at cheap open stalls and disembowelled televisions are repaired on the street, I met Sanjoy in one of the Love Commandos' secret shelters.

It had all the charm of a broom closet. But in India, where falling in love is a provocative social and political statement, a safe broom closet can come in very handy.

Sanjoy explained that the image of a commando is central to the helpline he and his colleagues operate. Indian lovers need protection and they need to believe that they will receive it.

Madhuri managed to escape from her relatives' house in the village, and met Rajveer at the train station, knowing they were guaranteed sanctuary back in Delhi.

That same evening, they arrived at the Love Commandos' shelter to find flowers, clothes and some simple jewellery for Madhuri. More importantly, they found smiles of encouragement and good wishes.
Within hours they were man and wife.

On paper it is very Romeo and Juliet - or the eastern equivalent Laila and Majnu - but in reality, rescuing lovers is expensive and difficult. In Delhi alone the Commandos' monthly operation costs up to $5,000.
After pontificating about love over a cigarette, Sanjoy pins me with his green eyes and says, plaintively: "We need money. We are broke. Our friends are broke. I'm not sure how long we can sustain this."

Still, he and his Commandos fervently believe that the only way to change India's caste-riven society is through love marriages. They hope that the children born of such unions will be freer and more equal.
But, if Rajveer and Madhuri's story is any barometer, change will come grudgingly and violently.

Last year, after the couple dared to move back to their old neighbourhood, Rajveer was held at knife point by four men. They drove him to a secluded spot, tied him up and beat him severely and left him for dead.
At first, the police refused to act. With the Commandos' help, they did eventually file a report. No one has been charged. Madhuri is convinced her own family was involved. She says someone recently toppled a pile of bricks from a shared rooftop onto the couples' bed. Luckily they were not in it.

According to Unicef, nearly 40% of India's billion-plus population is under the age of 18. Falling in love here is not easy, but more couples are choosing to brave the consequences. For the Commandos, love is war.
And as long as they can afford it, they do not intend to surrender peacefully.

- Anu Anand, BBC News, New Delhi
http://www.ukasiaonline.com/

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Lankan Buddist Monk jailed for sexual assault on 9-year-old

One of the most senior Buddhist monks in Britain has been jailed for 7 years for a series of sexual assaults on young girls in the 1970's.

Venerable Pahalagama Somaratana, 65, was the prelate of the Sri Lankan Buddhist clergy in Britain and founder of Croydon's Thames Buddhist Vihara: one of the most popular community centres for the Sri Lankan Diaspora.

Somaratana was convicted earlier this month of four counts of indecent assault on a 9-year-old girl at a temple in Chiswick in 1978.

The conviction came despite the defence calling 24 character witnesses in support of the monk, who is also a close friend of Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapakse.

Sentencing him at Isleworth Crown Court, Judge Matthews said his crimes amounted to "a betrayal of Buddhism".

The case has caused a stir in Sri Lanka, bringing to the surface the issue of child abuse in religious establishments that many in the country acknowledge is widespread.

The country's Children's Affairs Minister Tissa Karaliyadda told the BBC that he is shocked and ashamed over the extent of the problem.

Somaratana however is one of the few monks to have been found guilty of abuse inside or outside Sri Lanka.

Research by the BBC Sinhala Service has revealed that more than 100 Sri Lankan Buddhist monks have been charged for sexual or physical assaults on minors in the last ten years.
Many of these cases were barely reported by the Island's media and have seldom resulted in convictions.
- Viji Alles
http://www.ukasiaonline.com/

Man admits killing Indian student Anuj Bidve


A self-proclaimed 'psycho' has admitted to killing Indian student Anuj Bidve who was shot dead in Manchester on Boxing Day last year.

Kiaran Stapleton, 21, pleaded not guilty to the murder but pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility when he appeared at Manchester Crown Court on June 1.

He had earlier given his name as "Psycho Stapleton" to the court.

Mr Bidve, 23, an Electrical Engineering post-grad at Lancaster University had been visiting Manchester with a group of friends.

He suffered horrendous injuries to his face and head after being shot at close range as the friends made their way to a Boxing Day sale in the early hour of the morning.
Mr Bidve later died in hospital.

Members of the local community held a candlelit vigil in the aftermath of the killing and there were peace rallies in New Delhi and Pune, Mr Bidve's hometown.

His parents, Subhash - a former IAF pilot - and Yogini - a businesswoman - travelled from India to visit the spot he died.

They were present in court when Stapleton entered his plea, describing the experience as "emotional and very difficult".

- UKAsian Staff
http://www.ukasiaonline.com/

'Shanghai', the difference between our dreams and reality: Dibakar Banerjee


Anurag Kashyap may have held the title of 'India's leading Alternative Filmmaker' for more than a decade but Dibakar Banerji's doubtless about to take over that mantle.

Just ask Kashyap, who tweeted this week: 'Dibakar Banerji is the best director in the country, period!'  High praise indeed.

And certainly deserved.
While Banerjee cannot claim any kudos for being prolific - four features in six years: continents shift more swiftly - his first three films were widely acclaimed, cinematic delights that have explored a myriad array of subjects: from existential crises in Middle India to the country's sensationalist media.

Audiences in London will be familiar with the director: his last film, the visceral Love Sex Aur Dhoka opened the London Indian Film Festival in 2010 and caused a stir - not least in India - for its exploration of honour killings and media ethics.

Despite its controversial themes, the film was an unmitigated success with audiences embracing the film and critics acclaiming its authenticity.

Two years later, Banerjee is back with 'Shanghai'; arguably his most commercial film to-date with a far more 'mainstream' feel to it than any of his previous efforts.

The film, releasing June 08, is Banerjee's most expensive to date, costing a reported $3m.  An equally extravagant amount has been spent promoting 'Shanghai'.
But whilst the production and marketing of the film has been as commercial as it gets, early previews suggest there is nothing mainstream about the story.

The film is inspired by 'Z', Greek writer Vasilis Vassilikos's masterpiece about the rebellious spirit that lurks beneath the surface of Greek society of the 1960's against the corrupt military junta which is slowly, deliberately asphyxiating the country.
The political thriller stars Emraan Haashmi, Abhay Deol and the beautiful Kalki Koechlin - aka Mrs Anurag Kashyap - in a story that continues Banerjee's love of interwoven storylines.
Set in an unnamed Indian city, 'Shanghai' follows the stories of four individuals, inextricably linked to the city's politics.

A young activist witnesses a road accident which leaves a prominent local politician in critical condition.  Another witness believes the accident to be premeditated murder.

A porn filmmaker claims to own incriminating documents that will bring down the government, prompting the arrival of a political 'damage control' expert.

What none of them realize is that they are merely pawns in a bigger game of cat and mouse carefully orchestrated by a corrupt government.
'Shanghai' has already stirred something of a hornet's nest in India with one nationalist organization taking exception to one of the film's songs and the powers that be slightly agitated about where Banerjee has drawn inspiration from.
Ultimately, all things point to the film being a classic; Kashyap has described 'Shanghai' as the most "visceral, stunning and ballsiest film ever made in India".  If there's one man - apart from Kashyap - who can pull that off, it's Banerjee.

Poonam Joshi discusses politics, independent filmmaking and the delights of Shanghai with the director himself.    
It's been two years since 'LSD' thrilled audiences, not least here in London.  Why has it taken so much time for you to return?
Well if you look at my record, in 2006 it was Khosla Ka Ghosla, then Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! in 2008, LSD in 2010 and now Shanghai in 2012.  So I've been pretty consistent with my output.  But because I produce and direct my own films I take plenty of time to get things absolutely right.  Each project had no precedent.  With Shanghai, just in terms of the cast, no one has ever seen Emraan, Abhay and Khalki Koechlin together on screen.  Every film is a first of its kind or at least that's what I want it to be: exploring a whole new subject.  So it takes time to write it and fine tune it to the extent that I am completely satisfied with it.

Vassilis Vassilikos' 'Z' was about an extremely oppressive military junta.  India's the world's largest documentary.  How have you related the themes found in 'Z' to a modern Indian context?
When I first read the book I felt that the violence and corruption depicted in the book could happen in a political context in contemporary India where ordinary people from all walks of life were affected and their lives dictated by decisions taken by people they didn't even know.  The result was an extremely interesting one.  I was confident from the outset that I could translate it into a contemporary Indian story.  At its core, 'Z' is a whoddunit, the unravelling of a mystery so it was a fantastic opportunity to marry a popular cinematic genre with a message about contemporary politics.  I wanted a true blue political thriller in the Indian context. Our political thrillers are essentially family dramas which are incidentally about politicians and politics.  But I wanted a film which had politics as the central fault line of the characters; about what they did and the choices they made and the destinies that they embrace.  All of that leads to the political ideas that govern our country at the moment.

There's something quite commercial about the way the film has been promoted.  Some say you've "sold out" by moving into the 'mainstream'.  What are your thoughts on that?
I have never really considered myself 'alternative'.  The media's perception always moulds the public's perceptions.  My films play in the same multiplexes that many of the bigger Bollywood blockbusters play in.  I definitely don't consider myself as an "alternative filmmaker".  At the end of the day if I'm going to market my film then I should do it aggressively because ultimately it's a commercial product.  And Shanghai is essentially an edge-of-the-seat thriller with a nail biting climax.  I've had a chance to see the final edit of the film and it doesn't let you breathe until the end.  It's a story about India and why should it not be promoted aggressively?  I have never considered myself above or below the usual 'mainstream' as it were.  These are all media inventions.  The dynamism of the Bollywood film industry is as much a part of me as I am a part of it.

The name Shanghai refers to India's obsession with China...is that a bad thing though?  Surely there's a lot of good that can be drawn from China?  Shanghai is a lovely city to begin with!
There's nothing bad or good about China or anything else.  It's the process and the thinking behind that obsession that needs to be examined in the context of the political ideas that govern our lives and our country. The name Shanghai alludes to the gulf between what we aspire to and dream about between Shanghai or any other Western city and the reality that hundreds of millions of people live in every day.  The film is also about the social and political ideas that govern India and whether they take us towards that 'Shanghai' or takes us away from it.  I think that is what will define India and where we are going in the next twenty or thirty years.

Some say that China has better used its wealth, far better than India, to uplift the lives of its people.  Do you think that's an accurate statement?
If you look at purely statistic oriented economic growth, of course China has fared much better than India.  But the question is, and this is the question that 'Shanghai' poses, can someone else's parameters and solutions be our solutions?  Can one solution fit all?  Is there one solution that can go easily down the throat of every nation?  Can every nation pursue a western model of economic growth or should every nation define its own goals and aspirations within its own cultural parameters?   That's the question the film poses.  In terms of purely economic statistics, China has fared better but there are other areas where India has fared better.  We must look at those statistics and figures and find out whether they are the ones that we want or are there other parameters by which we must define ourselves for the greater good of our country.

You've already run into problems making and releasing the movie.  There will always be crazies in the world but given a context like that how difficult was it to get the movie made and are you worried by some of the threats?
Not really.  India is a pluralistic democracy and one interesting thing about India - unlike China for instance - is that everyone's opinion can be heard.  No one is switched off.  It's a noisy society where various opinions can be heard.  I'm absolutely fine about the threats so long as whatever is considered legitimate under the law of the land prevails.  In terms of getting the film made I didn't have any problems because I've got two of the brightest stars in Bollywood on the project and they were so committed to it.  Ultimately, the film's an adventure that these guys embarked on.  It's an edge of the seat entertainer.  Hopefully once people have seen the film, all the layers of the story will come apart for them and hopefully get them thinking.  First and foremost, my job with the film is to entertain and then inform people.

The film is clearly a critical look at India and its politics.  What do you think is fundamentally wrong with Indian politics?
There is nothing wrong with Indian politics that is not similarly wrong with another country of a similar size or similar nature.  There are as many honest people and politicians in India as there are corrupt politics as any other country.  But after our country's economic liberalization, we have come to the crossroads of history and we need to judge for ourselves and define for ourselves the route forward.  The question that we need to ask of ourselves is whether it's going to be a country where a few people are very rich and are we going to break through the barriers and achieve an equanimity forcefully or are we going to take a little longer and work towards a society where a vast majority of people have access to the same privileges and opportunities?  Are we going to work towards a society where everyone has access to justice and not just the rich and powerful.  Everything else falls into those parameters.

It is said that people are powerless.  You have said that you feel frustrated at how your own life is dictated by politics.  But is it strictly accurate to say that people are unable to do anything?
Well people are able to take action on one level or another.  I've made a film!  There are many countries in the world where I would not have been able to make this film and I'm very proud that I have been able to that in India.  It's not true that people cannot do anything to change the status quo.  Of course they can and it is happening.  I think these are exciting times.  Things are happening.  It's now about defining our route and our journey.  Whatever we do we need to be cognizant and keep our eyes and ears on the debate.  Debate is crucial as is dissent.  If dissent is silent or silenced then there won't be anywhere to go.

You've always dealt with social issues and continue to do so.  What compels you and how do you think Bollywood has reacted to you and your stories?
It was difficult when I began making films.  Khosla turned the tide although I struggled to get it released.  Once it was, it was a lot easier to then go on making films.  It's an exciting time for filmmakers to tell different stories.  I suppose as a filmmaker, it's an itch for me!  These are the kind of stories that I relate to and respond to.  They are my stimuli and they energize me.  I know all my films have been about social issues but I'm sure a change is coming.  Perhaps my next one will be about relationships and the complexity of any relationship.  I don't know, we'll have to wait and see.
- Interviewed by Poonam Joshi

http://www.ukasiaonline.com/

Monday, 28 May 2012

Full programme of LIFF 2012 revealed


The full programme of the London Indian Film Festival 2012 has been revealed with an exciting and eclectic roster of feature films set to thrill audiences across London.

The 3rd annual edition of the popular Festival will begin as it means to continue with the UK premier of Anurag Kashyap's powerful 'Gangs of Wasseypur'.

The five-hour gangster epic - the first commercial film by India's most respected independent filmmaker - vowed audiences and critics alike at the recently concluded Cannes Film Festival and will open LIFF 2012 on June 20 at Cineworld Haymarket.

'Gangs' is one of several motion pictures that will premier at the June event.
It's testament to LIFF's growing stature as the leading showcase for independent Indian cinema in Britain.
Bollywood veteran Jackie Shroff's Tamil film debut 'Aaranya Kaandam' will have its UK premier on June 26 at Cineworld Shaftesbury Avenue.

The film has been described as the first Tamil 'neo-noir' film, with the style and pathos of Film Noir but with a 21st century upgrade.

'Aaranya' tells the story of an ageing mafia don, played by Shroff and how he comes to terms with his declining powers.  The film has received critical acclaim in India and won several National Awards.

Also premiering at LIFF 2012 will be 'Baishey Srabon', a hit Bengali movie about a serial killer adding to the chaos of Kolkata and the alcoholic ex-cop enlisted to track the murderer down.
The London Indian Film Festival has long displayed a particular fondness for Bengali cinema, reflecting the region's extraordinarily creativity and LIFF 2012 is no different.

Aside from Baishey Srabon, the Festival features a number of other critically acclaimed pictures from India's sultry North East.
Most prominent is 'Gandu', peculiarly named director 'Q's monochrome tour de force about sex, drugs, rap and youthful angst in Kolkata.

The film has been doing the rounds at a number of film festivals over the past 18 months and was screened as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2011.

The screening at LIFF 2012 will be followed by a special live rap performance by the director at BFI Southbank.

Among the Hindi film highlights are 'Gattu', which tells the story of a child's passion for kite flying, 'Dekh Indian Circus', a beautiful and heart warming Rajasthani film about poverty, politics and family and 'Delhi in  a Day' a darkly comic take on the disparities between India's newly rich Middle Class and their servants.
LIFF 2012 will also screen several of crossover films for the first time: most notably 'Tooting Broadway', director Dev Shanmugam's urban crime drama about the gang culture that blights London's Tamil community.

'Alison and Arjun', director Sidarth Sharma's meditation on race relations in Britain will have its' world premier during the festival as will 'A Decent Arrangement' an Indo-American film directed by Philadelphia-based playwright Sarovar Banka about cultural identity and arranged marriage.

For the full LIFF 2012 programme, visit www.londonindianfilmfestival.co.uk
- Poonam Joshi
http://www.ukasiaonline.com/

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Anurag Kashyap's 'Gangs' goes down a storm at Cannes


Anurag Kashyap's five-hour gangster epic Gangs of Wasseypur went down a storm at the Cannes Film Festival this week, with the film's director even being compared to Quentin Tarantino.

'Gangs' was screened as part of the Director's Fortnight at the Riviera event and Kashyap has described his first commercial film venture as 'a Bollywood-influenced gangster epic, part Western, part documentary.'

With a folk-meets-dubstep soundtrack and a basis in true stories, the film follows three generations of coal and scrap-trade mafia gangs in a suburb in east India who are obsessed with traditional Hindi cinema.
The two-part film screened this week in the Directors' Fortnight sidebar section of the Cannes festival, to strong reviews.

"Gangs of Wasseypur puts Tarantino in a corner with its cool command of cinematically-inspired and referenced violence, ironic characters and breathless pace," was how the Hollywood Reporter summed up the movie.

"There's never a dull moment in this Indian gangland epic," wrote Screen International.
Bollywood stars like to spice up the red carpet at Cannes but their movies seldom create a serious buzz.
Kashyap, who is also working with British 'Slumdog Millionaire' director Danny Boyle on a film about 1960s Mumbai, hopes Cannes exposure can help change perceptions of Indian cinema and boost ties with foreign film-makers.

His film was one of three examples at Cannes this year of a burgeoning, alternative Indian cinema that departs from commercial song-and-dance Bollywood hits so popular at home but the other two met with more lukewarm reviews.

Kashyap also had a hand in the experimental 'Peddlers', which screened in the other main sidebar section at Cannes Critics' Week.

Directed by newcomer Vasan Bala and financed through appeals on Facebook, the Mumbai-set movie weaves together the stories of a cynical narcotics cop, and two youngsters who fall into the drug trade.
The Hollywood Reporter regretted its 'confused, at times naive story-telling', despite an 'action-packed last half-hour.'

Likewise, Ashim Ahluwalia's 'Miss Lovely', screened in the Un Certain Regard new talent section of the festival, drew a muted reception.

France's Liberation newspaper said the storyline, about the sleazy world of 1980s 'C' grade Hindi movies, had the potential to be fascinating, but was rendered 'charmless' and 'dull' through an overly-serious tone.
- Reports
http://www.ukasiaonline.com/

Baroness Warsi to be investigated over expenses


Sayeeda Warsi - one of the highest ranked British Asian politicians in the UK - is facing a police investigation after allegedly fiddling with her parliamentary expenses.

Baroness Warsi, 41, is said to have claimed more than £2000 for staying rent free at the home of a Conservative party donor, according to The Sunday Telegraph.

The paper reported that the co-chairman of the Conservative Party had claimed £165.50 per night while staying at a London house belonging to Dr Wafik Moustafa.

Dr Moustafa however says that he has never received any money from the politician.

He told the paper that he is "disgusted" that she had claimed taxpayers' money when he had simply been "helping out", providing free accommodation to the Yorkshire-based cabinet minister.

Baroness Warsi says she was entitled to the expenses because she had paid a "financial contribution" to a political aide - Naweed Khan - who had also stayed at Dr Moustafa's house.

The matter has now been referred to the standards commissioner in the House of Lords.
Born and raised to Pakistani parents in West Yorkshire, Baroness Warsi is the third Muslim Minister and the first female Muslim to serve as a minister in the United Kingdom.

- Terry Morton
http://www.ukasiaonline.com/

Immigrant students struggling with English, despite being born in Britain


Many second and third generation immigrants can hardly speak or understand English despite being born and raised in the UK, an article in The Sunday Times reveals.

The newspaper quotes Philida Schellekens, author of the National Standards for Translators as saying that the inability of immigrant students to understand the language means they are unable to take notes or understand basic instructions on training courses.

Mrs Schellekens warned about English standards last week at a conference run by Cambridge Assessment, the exam board.

She said: 'It upsets me to go into further education colleges and you see Oxbridge material sitting there and, because they {the students} don't have the language to express themselves, they are stuck ... it's not good for them as individuals, but for society as a whole it's a tragedy.'

According to the Sunday Times, Ms Schellekens first analysed the issue of poor English skills among migrant students in 2005 in a study at a Birmingham college and said the same problems were still prevalent today.
'What happened was that these were kids born in the UK [but] their parents or even their grandparents came from abroad, ' she said.

'There were second language speakers where a less-than-sure command of English really [did] hold them back ...their tutors were really concerned.

'[The students] couldn't read a manual, couldn't get the meaning of what they had to do and follow instructions. They couldn't listen and take notes at the same time.'

As a result, students were not able to go on work placements because they could not understand what employers were telling them.

Phil Woolas, the former immigration minister and Labour MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth backed Ms Schellekens.

He told the Sunday Times that poor English was a significant cause of segregated communities in northern
towns.
- UKAsian Staff
http://www.ukasiaonline.com/