Wednesday, 29 February 2012
The film is adapted from Din’s hugely successful, Olivier Award-winning play ‘Rafta Rafta’ and tells the story of yet another close knit and raucous British Asian family living in Bolton.
Reece Ritchie (The Love Bones) and Amara Karan (The Darjeeling Limited) star as Atul Dutt and his young bride Vina for whom married life is proving far from straightforward. Their troubles are exacerbated by the presence of Atul’s parents in an adjoining bedroom and numerous troublesome relatives.
With meddling parents, nosy neighbours and a gossipy community, can this marriage last? And will Atul’s parents face up to the shaky state of their own marriage?
Harish Patel (Run Fat Boy Run) and Meera Syal (Anita and Me) reprise their roles from the original play as Atul’s parents, Eeshwar and Lopa.
The film has already received warm reviews from audiences at the Glasgow and Dublin Film Festivals where the film’s stars have been introducing cinema goers to the drama and comedy inherent in the British Asian community as so wonderfully portrayed by Khan Din in the past.
Meera Syal says of the film: “Principally, it’s a family comedy. What is great about Ayub's writing is he can turn on a sixpence, so you can be hilariously laughing one minute but then suddenly you’re into something very real and dark and moving about family life.”
All In Good Time is directed by Nigel Cole (Calendar Girls, Made In Dagenham) and produced by Oscar nominated Andy Harries (The Queen) and Suzanne Mackie (Calendar Girls, Kinky Boots).
For more information, visit www.leftbankpictures.co.uk
- UKAsian Staff
Pulchritudinus Bollywood heartthrob John Abraham - him of the nonchalant gaze, crater-like dimples and propensity for luscious supermodels - is to star in a film about the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elaam (LTTE), reports from India say.
Abraham - the star of such intriguingly diverse fare as Jism, Kabul Express, No Smoking and Housefull (1 and 2) - will also produce the film which is tentatively titled ‘Jaffna’ after the northern Sri Lankan city once the epicentre of the brutal, 30-year civil war between the Lankan government and the LTTE.
The war came to a bloody end in 2009 with the deaths of tens of thousands of combatants and civilians.
The conflict traced its roots back to the Island’s independence in 1948 and was marked by rights violations on both sides, the assassination of several heads of states, including Rajiv Gandhi as well as the LTTE’s detonation of trucks laden with explosives in crowded train stations, fruit and veg markets and places of religious worship.
‘Jaffna’ is described as a ‘political thriller’ by its director Shoojit Sircar whose most recent attempt was the equally intriguing (and Abraham produced) ‘Vicky Donor’; a film which the Times of India is already calling a ‘breezy satire on sperm donation’.
Sircar told the TOI, “John is a politically aware actor. He reads the newspaper every morning. He is clued in to the dynamics of the separatist strife in Sri Lanka. The minute I told him about my film 'Jaffna', he was on board."
Abraham reportedly intends to ‘travel in and out of Sri Lanka in the coming months to get a hang of the political situation in the pretty little country’, added the TOI.
"I am no stranger to themes of separatism and extremist violence. My first film 'Yahaan' was about Kashmiri separatism. And now 'Jaffna' would be carrying the theme of extremism to another extreme," said Sircar.
In the meantime, John would be going all-out to generate awareness about sperm donation in the weeks preceding the release of "Vicky Donor".- Vijitha Alles
John Abraham to star in film about LTTE
Contemporary artist Tassaduq Sohail returns to the Noble Sage in March in a solo exhibition which promises more of the stark realism which has seen him become one of the most controversial and respected Pakistani artists in the world.
This latest exhibition will be the third Sohail has staged at the North London gallery; the first in the UK which specializes in South Asian contemporary art.
Born in Jullundhar in East Punjab in 1930, Sohail’s formative years were spent in a country experiencing tremendous social and political upheaval. At partition in 1947, the entire region was plunged into bloody turmoil with different groups vying for domination. Those violent images have forever coloured his outlook on life and his work.
“People were lying on the roadside, killed… Arms and legs. And so many vultures and crows hovering to eat the flesh” he recalls.
Following the violence, Sohail and his family were forced to rebuild their lives from scratch, this time in Karachi.
The violence and oppression however, didn’t fade. The vacuum left by one type of extremist was filled by another, as the Mullahs began laying the ground work for a new, ‘correct’ way of life, imposed on a beleaguered people through oppression and abuse.
These supposedly pious figures would influence yet another strand of the work of Sohail who began to see all religions as the same repressive system, antithetical to the very act of living.
By 1961, the oppression around him forced Sohail to flee Karachi and move to England, where his first years were spent often destitute. After accidentally discovering he had an artistic gift, Sohail began to obsessively churn out small works of art.
The artist came to use a 'decalcomania’ technique, allowing blots of diluted ink created after pressing a piece of glass on the paper to suggest the image ahead or else using colourful watercolour backgrounds to propose imaginary figurative events.
The final results are often either descriptions of the fetid underside of life or else falsely (or ironically) upbeat descriptions of comedic scenes.
There is always a wry macabre sense of humour within all of his work. In different ways, Sohail uncovered in his pieces a life born of death and decay.
The works on show at this latest exhibition span the 1970’s and 80’s and demonstrate Sohail’s impressive handle of the medium as well as his own fascinating style of narration.
Tassaduq Sohail at the Noble Sage: 23rd March – 13th April by appointment only.
For more information, visit www.thenoblesage.com
- UKAsian Staff
Controversial Pak artist Tassaduq Sohail returns to the Noble Sage
Tuesday, 28 February 2012
One is an Afghan soap star, who acts to support her husband and seven children. The other is just 21 and Googled Shakespeare before she arrived.
They are part of an extraordinary attempt to stage Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors in Dari at The Globe theatre in London.
In April they will leave Afghanistan, and their families, for the first time and travel to London to perform in Shakespeare's historic theatre.
To mark the Cultural Olympiad the Globe is staging each of Shakespeare's plays - in 37 different languages. These include The Tempest from Bangladesh, Cymbeline from South Sudan and Love's Labour's Lost in British Sign Language.
The six-week festival culminates in an Afghan Comedy of Errors.
The production is masterminded by director Corinne Jaber, who once performed with the RSC and has transposed Shakespeare's early farce to modern-day Afghanistan.
The play opens in Kabul airport, with a father returning to his home land in search of his missing sons, who were lost - not in a shipwreck as Shakespeare intended - but in a sandstorm.
Ms Jaber believes Shakespeare has particular relevance to Afghanistan. She explains: "The fact that the play opens with a father searching for his lost family will speak to people here. After 30 years of war people do return looking for lost relatives - and family is so important, you just can't exist without your family.
"Renaissance England is much closer to contemporary Afghanistan than anywhere in Europe. All the cultural codes within Shakespeare's plays have a meaning in Afghanistan, and of course poetry is an integral part of Afghan culture."
This is not Ms Jaber's first foray into Shakespeare in Afghanistan. In 2005 she directed Love's Labour's Lost in an ancient garden in Kabul. The production was hailed as radical: men and women held hands and women appeared, at times, without head scarves.
But she insists she has not come to Afghanistan as a revolutionary. "I'm not a feminist. I am not doing this to make these women 'free'. I am just taking care of what I need to do artistically to tell a story."
One of the greatest challenges has been finding women willing to participate.
Of those women that took part in Love's Labour's Lost, two have have had to flee the country.
One is now living in Canada and will appear in the Comedy or Errors, alongside two local actresses from Kabul.
The auditions are not advertised, and Ms Jaber relies upon word of mouth to reach the small group of women working as actresses in Afghanistan.
Many of those auditioning have been harassed, insulted or received death threats because of their profession.
"Afghanistan is a traditional society," one actress explains. "Many people are illiterate and don't understand the concept of theatre. I get harassed on the street. People call me a pervert and a prostitute. They say 'you are a lady and should be at home'. They don't understand."
Like many other actresses, Abidah used to teach in Kabul, and began acting when she could no longer support her family on her meagre salary.
"My daughter was very sick," she says. "I was teaching at the time but could not make enough money. So I said to my husband - your daughter is very sick please take her to the doctor.
"He said, 'To hell with her. She's a girl, wait until she's married and then her husband will pay for treatment. If she is to die - then let her die.'
"My character in films is completely different to my real character," she continues, "Anyone who watches me on television would think I have a very good life. But the money I receive from acting goes to pay for the children's school, the rent, and the bills."
Theatrical performances were banned by the Taliban, and more than 10 years after the fall of the regime there is still little live theatre in Afghanistan.
The Kabul National Theatre once staged Shakespeare, Moliere and Brecht and was one of the largest theatres in Asia, complete with a revolving stage and royal box.
But it was destroyed during the civil war in the 1990s and never rebuilt.
Mirwais Siddiqi, head of the Agha Khan Music School in Kabul, remembers the city's glory days:
"Shakespeare is not something new in Afghanistan. When I was younger we used to go to the National Theatre in Kabul, and we saw Shakespeare. It was like a little Paris - people would leave the theatre at two in the morning. It was another world."
The National Theatre now stages children's shows beside the ruined auditorium. It is managed by Shahpoor Sadaqat, who is sceptical of foreign arts projects.
"When Afghan directors cast a play they consider the traditions and work in a way that considers the sensitivities of the society," he says. "Foreign directors need to work with people who have good knowledge of the culture on the ground - otherwise they risk driving people even further away from theatre.
"Many foreigners come here, and when they leave the project is gone. They employ actors on contracts, and they play their roles, but when the director is gone that's it. They leave nothing."
The company have decided to rehearse in India, due to security concerns. Corinne Jaber intends to bring the play back to Kabul following a tour in India, the UK and Germany.
But the deteriorating security situation means The Comedy of Errors may never reach Afghanistan.
And for the actors involved, changing the face of Afghanistan abroad is almost more important that performing back home.
"The only things people associate Afghanistan with are drugs, war and terrorism," says Shah Mohammed, one of the actors, "The reason we wanted to do this play is to show the world that Afghanistan is not what you think: it has talented people, and rich culture. There has been war, but life goes on."
- Harriet Shawcross and Tahir Qadiry/BBC News
Shakespeare in Afghanistan
Cast and crew members, accompanied by a slew of Brit-Asian celebrities took the Red Carpet last week for the premier of Naachle London, the first ever BollyBrit film, which heralds in an all new genre of cinema, marrying Bollywood sensibilities and British filmmaking talent.
The film’s producer and director Neville Raschid – the man behind ‘Lost Dogs and Ealing Comedy’ – led the way for the likes of Jake Canuso (ITV’s Benidorm and Shameless), comic Kulvinder Ghir – best known for his uppity turn in Goodness Gracious Me – as well as model and actress Fagun Thakrar and debutante Alyssa Sharma.
Joining the ensemble of talent on the Red Carpet were British Asian celebrities such as: AG Dolla, MC Special, Tasha Tha, Madhu (Signature), Asad Shan, Ameet Chana, Sunny, Shay and the Grewals (C4’s The Family).
Following the World Premiere screening, guests were entertained at a post premiere party at Horizons, West London.
Heralding the debut of an exciting genre in British filmmaking and presented by dynamic, Asian family business-driven, UK-based production and distribution company, Aviary Films, Naachle London is a unique cinematic offering that presents a British take on the classic Bollywood genre.
A feel good, romantic comedy drama centered around two single parents who meet and fall in love when their children attend a Bollywood dance class in West London, Naachle London will appeal to cinemagoers of all ages and backgrounds.
The film’s USP is that the entire film was created in the UK. From the scriptwriters, the music composer, the playback singers and dancers to the actors, the cinematographer, the editor, producers and director, the entire team is UK-based.
Adopting the classic, Bollywood narrative structure and influence, Naachle London intelligently retells the rich girl-poor boy love story in a contemporary British setting, while dealing with issues that face British society today such as the recession, interracial relationships, the stigma attached to divorcees among Asian communities and self-esteem and acceptance issues facing teenagers in modern Britain.
Naachle London seamlessly blends Bollywood with international film stylistics and techniques. The Bollywood genre inspires six, catchy song-and-dance numbers and traditional themes such as family, while international cinema, most notably Hollywood, inspires multi-layered characterisations, nuanced themes and fast-paced editing.
Naachle London is now showing at cinemas, released in the UK through Aviary Films.
First ‘BollyBrit film Naachley London opens to much fanfare
Monday, 27 February 2012
Based on a series of true events, ‘Kahaani’ tells the story of Bidya Bagchi, who arrives in Kolkata from London to find her husband Arnab has gone missing. Heavily pregnant and alone in the teeming city she begins a relentless search for her husband, a pursuit hampered by a web of lies and deceit that becomes ever more dense with each passing moment.
It would be foolhardy to suggest that the delightful Balan is sticking to a particular type – Sabrina Lal, Silk Smitha…? – but she is fast giving Aamir Khan a run for his money with regards her judicious choice of roles.
Nonetheless, it is Balan’s fifth female-centric role to date and she is certainly flying the flag for feminists everywhere.
Thankfully, it is difficult to imagine another actress of her generation being able to carry off such a workload.
- Poonam Joshi
Vidya set to delight audiences with ‘Kahaani’
Sunday, 26 February 2012
So I find it utterly appalling that elderly people are left to contend with often surreal care home environments, contemptuous Zimbabwean male nurses, Lifeline alarms manned by indifferent council workers and a constant stream of criticism over their use of public gyms and driving habits.
Whilst some of these issues are self-inflicted – why decide to go for a drive during the morning rush hour? – you can’t help but feel for those elderly people who strive to maintain a semblance of self-sufficiency when it would be so much more helpful to admit that life is sandwiched between two extremes where the assistance of the more able-bodied is essential in performing your daily ablutions.
It’s an issue which is at the heart of John Madden’s wonderfully named Best Exotic Marigold Hotel; a rare cinematic ode to the bewilderment of retirement and old age, and the wonder of India, packed to the rafters with some of the world’s finest actors.
At the head of that cast of legends, of a suitably advanced vintage, is the incomparable Judi Dench who plays Evelyn. Recently widowed, she’s not only contending with the thorny issue of wireless internet connectivity but the mountain of debt that her husband has left behind. Tom Wilkinson plays Graham, a single High Court Judge determined to revisit a singular memory from his past. Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton play a couple out of tune with each other; Maggie Smith is a petulant, unabashed racist awaiting a long overdue replacement hip. Ronald Pickup is Norman, contending with a (very) late life crisis and Celia Imrie plays Madge, a late-developing gold digger.
Unable to come to terms with their rather bleak predicament in England, this motley crew decide to take up the offer of spending their last years at what promises to be the best retirement home in the world – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – located several thousand miles away in Jaipur.
As is usually the case, The Marigold turns out to be far removed from what is depicted in the glossy brochure; rooms haven’t been dusted in eons, feral pigeons have decided to move in and the plumbing is as old as the Mughals who inspired the architecture.
To the rescue comes Sunny (Dev Patel), the ridiculously young manager of the hotel who’s shunned the usual calling of going into his father’s business or working at a call centre to rescue his family-owned hotel and turn it into a care home so good that the elderly will “simply refuse to die.”
It’s apparent from the outset that the wonder of India will translate into new beginnings and unexpected endings for this motley crew of pensioners. There is however, no predictability and that’s largely due to the staggering wealth of acting talent on display.
Whether its carrying off the bewilderment of old age and retirement, enlightening a group of call centre workers on the nuances of dealing with elderly broadband customers in the UK or coming to terms with the slow disintegration of a long marriage, each and everyone one of these veteran actors is outstanding.
Dench, shorn of the superciliousness of ‘M’, is achingly vulnerable. Wilkinson is tremendous as a veteran of India spreading calm amongst the shocked arrivals. Nighy may seem stuck in the same role of the stuttering, quintessential English gentleman but that familiarity is nowhere more perfectly suited than here; loyal to the end, open to the undiscovered and conflicted beyond belief.
Imrie and Pickup excel as well in their limited time on screen. The pick of the lot though is Maggie Smith; wheelchair bound and forced to outsource her hip replacement, she can scarcely conceal her contempt for the foreigners she relies on for a new lease of life.
And they are all given some of the best lines in cinema in recent times; the script (adapted from Deborah Moggach’s 2004 novel ‘These Foolish things’) seems to provide a memorable refrain every couple of minutes.
The story is slightly predictable but who cares when the journey’s so much fun.
The only blight is Dev Patel who spends the entire movie trying to overcompensate for the thespian talent around him by either being too wooden or over-egging it to such an extent that you feel like stuffing a feral pigeon in his animated mouth.
The Indian team however is rescued to an extent by Lilette Dubey who plays Sunny’s exasperated mother and Tena Desae as Sunaina, Sunny’s love interest in a slightly irrelevant side narrative. Desae’s been touted as the ‘next Frieda Pinto’ but is seems a mistake on the part of her PR team for she displays far more gravitas than the sickly sweet Pinto and is possessed with a beauty and presence that is at once exotic and charming.
Director John Madden is best known for such grave fare as Shakespeare in Love and The Debt but here he allows the cast to work their magic in what is essentially a coming of age story for really old people. As a consequence it drips with plenty of charm and British good cheer.
The narrative never promises any profundity but there is nonetheless something tremendously profound about the journey of discovery that these persons of an advanced age go through in India as opposed to someone half a century younger.
This is due to the fact that ultimately, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is an advertisement for the transformative, life-affirming nature of India in all its’ wonderful, contradictory glory.
Saturday, 25 February 2012
The disorder is understood to be linked to an on-going trial of men at Liverpool Crown Court.
Officers were pelted with bricks and other missiles and two arrests were made after windows were damaged at a takeaway on Bridge Street. An officer also suffered bruising to his legs and arms.
A 35-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of a public order offence and police assault and a 14-year-old boy was arrested for causing danger to a public highway.
Assistant Chief Constable Terry Sweeney said: "Greater Manchester Police, in conjunction with its partners and communities, is aware of the tensions in the borough that have come about because of an on-going court case in Liverpool. We ask that the community acts responsibly during this difficult time."
Zeeshan Khokhar, 23, owner of Bits n Pizza, a take-away on Market Street, said he was verbally abused, though his shop was not damaged. Mr Khokhar said "white friends" came to his shop to protect him as trouble began brewing.
He said: "It started about 4pm, kids banging on windows. The police came and told us to shut up shop. We are just doing business. Our white friends, they came here and they are protecting us and customers were standing outside our door."
Mr Khokhar said he only took over the shop seven weeks ago and his business has nothing to do with the trial in Liverpool.
Inspector Steve Clark, GMP's neighbourhood police inspector for Heywood, said: "There were a number of young children out this evening and I would like to ask that their parents are conscious of this in the coming days and weeks."
- Press Association
Friday, 24 February 2012
Jasminder Singh, the 60-year-old Chief Executive of the Radisson Edwardian Hotels group, is being taken to court by his father Bal Mohinder Singh.
The elder Singh accuses his son of forgetting the Hindu and Sikh tradition of sharing familial wealth by excluding him from the business and his home.
If he succeeds in court proceedings, which are likely to be prolonged, he could win a third of the family fortune.
Jasminder Singh is worth an estimated £415 million and ranks 193 in the Sunday Times Rich List.
His chain, which owns the May Fair, has recently acquired the Odeon cinema in Leicester Square intending to turn the site into a hotel.
In a witness statement submitted to the court, Bal Mohinder Singh says: 'Both I and his mother are deeply ashamed that Jasminder should publicly renounce his cultural heritage and the mutual rights and obligations in which he was brought up.
'That family system based on custom and religious teaching is widely practised and universally understood by Hindus and Sikhs in India today just as it was in British India where I was brought up.
'It is also widely practised and universally understood in the Sikh and Hindu communities overseas including East Africa and the UK.
'My life has been devoted to winning respect for myself and family in those communities and the respect which we have earned as a family has been the basis for the success of our business in this country.
'For Jasminder to deny that and claim all the credit and ownership for himself will be shocking to wide sections of those communities particularly our family friends — that is why his mother and I are so ashamed.'
However, Jasminder Singh claims that he did not have a particularly religious upbringing, that neither of his parents regarded the family to be living under an agreement to share property nor was there any such agreement.
The father also accuses his son of trying to force him and his wife Satwant Kaur Singh out of the £10 million family home, Tetworth Hall near Ascot racecourse in Berkshire.
The father said his son has called in the builders for substantial redecorating work “with no regard for our comfort or convenience”.
He said that his son had refused to provide a chairlift for Mrs Kaur Singh who can no longer get up the stairs and has withdrawn the use of her driver and other staff to “provide us with the services to which we have become accustomed”.
The trial will get underway later this year.
- UKAsian Staff
The home ministry urged the court to reverse a 2009 landmark decision by the Delhi High Court which decriminalised gay sex.
The ruling overturned a 148-year-old colonial law which described a same-sex relationship as an "unnatural offence".
The Supreme Court had earlier asked groups challenging the judgement to define "unnatural sex".
Many people in India still regard same-sex relationships as illegitimate, but rights groups have long argued that the law contravened human rights.
Section 377 of the colonial Indian Penal Code defined homosexual acts as "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" and made them illegal.
In July 2009 the Delhi High Court described the colonial-era law as discriminatory and said gay sex between consenting adults should not be treated as a crime.
Until the high court ruling, homosexual acts were punishable by a 10-year prison term.
The ruling was widely and visibly welcomed by India's gay community, which said the judgement would help protect them from harassment and persecution.
But it was challenged by political, social and religious groups who wanted to have the colonial-era law reinstated.
Last week, the Supreme Court begun a debate on the legality of decriminalising gay sex in private between consenting adults.
"So who is the expert to say what is 'unnatural sex'? The meaning of the word has never been constant," Justices GS Singhvi and SJ Mukhopadhyaya asked a petitioner who challenged the judgement.
"We have travelled a distance of 60 years. Now it is test-tube babies, surrogate mothers. They are called discoveries. Is it in the order of nature? Is there carnal intercourse?" the judges said.
- BBC News
Waar is coming to cinemas in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and even the restive frontier city of Peshawar later this year. The trailer was viewed more than 500,000 times in the first month when posted on YouTube in January, entering the website's top five videos.
Inspired by real events such as a Muslim extremist assault on a Pakistani police academy in 2009, the film follows a team of anti-terrorist police officers who, with time running out, try to stop a new attack. But the subject matter is not the only attraction, say local critics. With its slick production and use of digital technology, the film, reportedly the country's most expensive ever, is a long way from the staples of local cinema.
"Waar is very, very new," says Sher Ali Khan, film reporter for the Express Tribune newspaper.
In recent years, there has been a series of films dealing with edgy subjects in Pakistan but these were made by, and watched by, the westernised middle classes. "So far the masses haven't accepted these new kind of films. They have catered to the westernised upper middle class. Popular tastes have stayed with the standard styles of plot and production," says Khan. "Waar can be considered the first new wave film to go mainstream."
One major difference with the traditional fare is the lack of song and dance routines. Director Bilal Lashari, who studied film-making in California, says: "There was just no question, even if people were telling me: 'How can you do without them?' For audiences here, it is going to be a complete 180 degree shift. From cinematography to style of acting, it is different from what has gone before."
The Pakistani film industry, which flourished after the country's independence in 1947, has languished for decades.
Cinema owner and distributor Zorraiz Lashari says a combination of booming cable television outlets and competition from India's Bollywood film industry almost finished off the local studios, concentrated in the western city of Lahore and known collectively, if somewhat unoriginally, as Lollywood.
"It costs 20m rupees [£140,000] minimum to make a decent movie and it's very difficult to get your money back. You can buy a Hindi-language film from India for half or a quarter of that price," Lashari says.
From 700 cinemas in 1977, there are now only 175 and the only films to turn a profit have been in languages such as Pashtu or Sindhi, spoken in particular regions of the country, where Indian productions are incomprehensible.
Weak regulation leading to endemic pirating is one major problem. There are even occasional efforts to temporarily ban Indian movies.
"Even if a couple of multiplexes have opened, cinema is still very niche," says Sarah Tareen, a Lahore-based producer. "The main medium is television. Only a fraction of the population go out to watch films."
However, along with Waar, a whole series of similar films is being readied for release in coming months.
One is Kaptaan, a cinematic rendering of the recent life of Imran Khan, the cricketer turned politician who currently tops popularity polls in Pakistan. The film will cover Khan's life since retiring from sport 20 years ago and will dramatise his entry into politics as well as his failed marriage to Jemima Goldsmith, who is played by a Pakistan-American actress.
Tareen is producing Tamanna (Desire), a drama exploring class, adultery and, through flashbacks, the heyday of Lollywood. "It is neither action-based nor Bollywood-style. It is much more a pure drama with a narrative telling the story of three individuals," she says.
Sanaa Ahmed, a film journalist in Pakistan, sees the new developments in Pakistan as part of a broader global trend. "There are a lot of new young people with stories to tell who are figuring out ways to tell it," she says. "It's a new wave.
Lashari says Pakistan needs to "recreate" its cinema. "Everyone here has been following Bollywood but the best we can ever come up with is going to be a B grade knock off. We need to create our own identity," he says.
- Jason Burke, The Guardian
Thursday, 23 February 2012
This narrative nonfiction work catalogues a period of three years, beginning before the global market crash of 2008, of the Husain family, supported by a teenage trash-buyer named Abdul, and others who scrape together a living in a slum called Annawadi on a half-acre of polluted land beside the gleaming Mumbai international airport.
Mumbai is a city "that has this incredible contradiction," says Boo says over the phone recently from her hotel room in New York City. "It's expanding, it's prosperous, yet 60% of its residents live in poverty. It's one of the richest cities in India, but life expectancy is less than in other places."
She chose to base herself in Annawadi, which she describes as a "sumpy plug of slum," because of the contrast provided by its location and because it was a manageable size and she was allowed, however wearily at first, to shadow its residents.
The result of these exhaustive efforts has garnered rave reviews and elicited comparisons to the work of Charles Dickens and his skillful portraits of urban poverty. In order to gain the detailed insight with which she writes about her subjects, Boo says she had to "earn" her facts. This enabled her to write about a frame of mind or way of thinking not because somebody told her about it, but because she witnessed it repeatedly. She'll discuss that process and the nature of life in Mumbai's slums at a Zocalo event Wednesday night at the Skirball Cultural Center.
Annawadi, which is home to 3,000 exhausted souls, is hidden from view of the airport by a fence papered with ads for fancy Italianate tile that repeat the words "beautiful" and "forever" over and over again. This is where the book gets its title.
The economy in Annawadi is fueled by those salvaging, stealing and recycling trash and scraps. The book depicts a modern India in the throes of embracing the Western-spun dream of unchecked capitalism and the upward mobility that supposedly comes with it — one that is helping to break down what many deem an anachronistic caste system.
The great irony exposed within the book's finely wrought pages, however, is the lie of equality in the new age of global markets, particularly when it comes to the extremely poor.
A staff writer at the New Yorker, Boo had written extensively about poverty and the disadvantaged in America. She was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for public service in 2000 for a series of stories for the Washington Post about group homes for the mentally impaired.
Boo wanted to better understand how the infrastructure of opportunity was working in the world's most impoverished places and decided that the best way to do that was "to stay in one place to see who got rich and who didn't." She became interested in using India as a prism through which to view the mutability (or not) of poverty after meeting and marrying an Indian man nearly a decade ago.
To write "Behind the Beautiful Forevers," Boo lived in Mumbai for three years, visiting Annawadi with an interpreter on an almost daily basis, trailing its residents, interviewing them extensively, taking notes, scouring public records and lending her Flip video camera to the slum's children.
The end product is a richly detailed tapestry of tragedy and triumph told by a seemingly omniscient narrator with an attention to detail that reads like fiction while in possession of the urgent humanity of nonfiction. In Boo's Annawadi, a cripple named One Leg who likely drowned her 2-year-old daughter in a bucket because the child was sick sets herself on fire and blames the act on Abdul out of jealousy of his family's relatively elevated position in the slum.
That terrible event and its aftermath serve as the book's main plot as Abdul and his family are forced to deal with India's corrupt criminal justice system.
Throughout, Annawadi is revealed as a place where police beat and deprive the homeless, and where hopeless souls fish for food in a blue-black sewage lake. During monsoon season, bare feet butterfly black fungus; maggots breed in wounds wrought by trash picking; and a little boy who cuts his hand completely off in a plastic shredder apologizes to the plant's owner and promises not to report the incident.
This landscape of misery is made even more striking by the fact that the disadvantaged of Annawadi prey upon the even more disadvantaged, causing what meager upward mobility there is to be gained at the expense of the book's most tragic figures.
"Is globalization good or bad?" asks Boo. "What I'm trying to show over time is that people are very vulnerable. I had never given any thought to the economics of recyclable trash."
To maintain the material's urgency, she "tried to write down some of the experiences that I had almost immediately after the experience so I wasn't coming to them cold years later and building a scene with Lego," says Boo, who while reporting the book lived in a simple but nice apartment that "had running water all the time" as well as a bed, a desk and two chairs.
"People say, 'Could you have lived in Annawadi?'" she says. "I could not. I would have spent so much time doing just the work it takes to live that I couldn't possibly have worked."
- Jessica Gelt/Los Angeles Times
Coronation Street star Ayesha Dharker will continue as Dr Sharma’s wife Kamini whilst new cast members include Indira Joshi who plays Pushpa, Kamini’s mother.
Set in rural south Wales in the early Sixties, the show tells the remarkable story of the first wave of doctors from the sub-continent – more than 18,000 by some estimates – who were brought in by the government to address a critical staff shortage on the National Health Service.
Ironically enough the program was the brainchild of Enoch Powell who recruited medical professionals from throughout the Commonwealth. The often highly qualified doctors found themselves not with prestigious posts in London but pushed by the medical establishment into socially deprived areas or remote communities.
The first series of The Indian Doctor explored what became a revelatory experience not only for the new immigrants but for the communities to which they were posted. Some members of the fictional village of Trefelin find the doctor to be a curious oddity whilst others display outright antipathy.
The stoical Dr Sharma however tries to make the most of his circumstances whilst appeasing his glamorous and rather dissatisfied wife who feels terribly short changed and longs for even a “passing acquaintance with civilization”.
In the new five part series, smallpox hits the community and Dr Sharma and Kamini find themselves at the centre of the emergency. Prem and Kamini have to work together to discover the source of the outbreak and vaccinate the villagers against infection.
As he tries to deal with the medical challenge at hand, Prem must also contend with the arrival of Kamini’s mother Pushpa, an overbearing mother-in-law who is bewildered by the couple’s new life in rural Wales.
- Vijitha Alles
The new series of The Indian Doctor stars 2.15 pm 27th February 2012 on BBC One and BBC One HD.
Despite the setting being one of the world’s leading centres of learning, the event, which promises to celebrate the dynamism and upward mobility of modern India, was distinctly low brow and lacked polish.
Four decades of appearing in Bollywood cinema however has given the legendary Kapoor a singular polish. He was humble, effervescent and displayed impeccable manners and injected plenty of Bollywood glamour to the proceedings.
Joining him on stage was Professor Rachel Dwyer, of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, and a woman whose remarkably intimate knowledge of all things Bollywood led Kapoor to exclaim “She knows more about my family than I do!”
Whilst the opening night of India Week was meant to be a panel discussion about Bollywood cinema in general, the conversation between Kapoor and a clearly star-struck Professor Dwyer diverted into a trawl through what is certainly a quite prolific and celebrated career in cinema spanning 42 years.
Beginning with Rishi Kapoor’s first appearance on the big screen, as a toddler in one of his father Raj Kapoor’s films, to his most recent and arguably most critically acclaimed incarnation – as the fearsome, Qawwali-singing pimp Rauf Lala in ‘Agneepath’ – the discussion meandered at a pleasant pace through Kapoor’s career, taking in his love life and work with iconic directors such as Manmohan Desai.
Aside from Professor Dwyer’s brief and enlightening defence of Bollywood’s melodramatic tendencies, the evening failed to shed any light on the impact of Indian cinema and its’ increasingly global relevance.
India Week, organized by the Indian Society of the London School of Economics, aims to highlight all aspects of India’s rise as an economic and cultural superpower and will host a number of high profile speakers aside from Rishi Kapoor, including Shiv Nadar of Hindustan Computers Limited and Anvar Hasan of industrial behemoth TATA.
Significantly, India Week is open to the public for the first time since its inception. The Indian Society and its academic advisors have given themselves a terrific remit with the aim being to address the successes as well as concerns in a wide variety of fields; from Bollywood and philanthropy to politics and the economy.
Providing the proper context is imperative for its success and Monday night’s inauguration lacked just that.
Thankfully, things can only get better.
- Vijitha Alles
For event tickets, visit www.indiasociety.co.u
Wednesday, 22 February 2012
Paan Singh Tomar is a Hindi-language film is based on the true story of a runner who turned into a rebel. It is directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia and produced by UTV Motion Pictures. Irrfan Khan plays the lead character. Paan Singh Tomar premiered at the 2010 British Film Institute London Film Festival.The film will release in theatres on March 2 2012
Born in 1861, Tagore put together a staggering body of work, Novels and Plays to Poetry, most notably the epic ‘Gitanjali’. His work earned him a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, the first non-European winner of the prize. A film exploring Tagore’s life would be a titanic undertaking, so director Cesar concerns himself with exploring a little known aspect of the great poet’s life; a 1924 trip to Argentina and his “intimate but entirely platonic” relationship with Argentine feminist writer, literary magazine editor and cultural activist Victoria Ocampo and how that relationship reflected in each other’s work.
"The film will be set partly in present times and partly in the 1920s," says Cesar.
"The idea is to emphasise the continuing relevance of Tagore. I began pre-production in 2008 following a suggestion made by India's ambassador to Argentina" the director added.
Ocampo was reported to idolize Tagore after reading Andre Gide’s French translation of ‘Gitanjali’ in 1914 and was influenced by the poet’s work. For his part Tagore dedicated his 1925 book of poems, ‘Purabi’, to his Argentine friend and took up painting on Ocampo’s suggestion. In 1930 Ocampo organized Tagore’s first art exhibition in Paris and the two exchanged a series of letters until the poet’s death.
Ocampo was legally separated from her husband - divorce wasn't possible in Catholic Argentina of the day - in the wake of an affair with his cousin but she never remarried.
Tagore’s sojourn to Argentina was not planned. Whilst sailing to Peru from Europe, the poet was forced by an illness to stop over in Buenos Aires. He spent two months recuperating at a villa near the city and Ocampo looked after the poet. Whilst recuperating, Tagore wrote as many as 30 poems.
One of them - ‘Atithi’ opens with the lines, "The days of my sojourn overseas, you filled to the fullest, woman, with the nectar of your sweetness".
The English-Bengali-Spanish language film will be released internationally in 2012, 151 years after the birth of India’s illustrious poet.
- Vijitha Alles/Reports
Sunday, 19 February 2012
Mohammad Ali Jawad slams a thick fist into the terribly delicate looking designer desk in front of him and, wagging a thick finger at my face, demands, “Who the hell are you, sitting on your pedestal, to question the ethics of gastric band operations on the NHS? Obesity costs the government 10 billion pounds a year!!!” he rages as I slowly sink into my sorry looking pedestal. “Because of obesity we are fighting high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and the list goes on!” It’s a bit like watching that Brian Blessed episode of Have I Got News For You; intimidating yet strangely endearing.
Mr Jawad then continues, in a more measured tone; “Obesity is a disease and the consequences will resonate for years. It’s very easy to call for ‘lifestyle changes’ but in the meantime we need to deal with the problem and relieve the burden on the state, on the taxpayer. It’s irrelevant whether a gastric band is an ethical solution or not. It’s irrelevant whether it’s right or wrong. It’s a logical solution.”
His exasperation at my rather shaky moral high ground is probably also down to the fact that it’s been a hectic few weeks for Mr Jawad; darting between newspaper interviews and radio shows, running a successful plastic surgery practise on Harley Street and being one of the most respected burns and reconstructive surgeons in the United Kingdom.
But his explanation is elegant in its simplicity, and sums up the man quite perfectly.
Unlike a vast majority of us he doesn’t preoccupy himself ruminating on morality, ethical judgments or health and safety concerns. Instead he’s part of the minority that gets up in the morning to use his skills to improve the lives of others. It’s the kind of attitude that saw him celebrated in the plastic surgery fraternity for the miracle he performed on former model and acid attack victim Katie Piper. And it’s the kind of attitude that has now made him the focus of a documentary about the most wretched victims of one of the world’s most parlous societies.
‘Saving Face’, by award-winning journalist and filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy tells the stories of several Pakistani women, all victims of acid attacks at the hands of jilted lovers, spurned husbands and even female relatives of questionable religious mores. The film’s powerful portrayal of one of the lesser known of Pakistan’s many problems and Mr Jawad’s yeomen work rebuilding their lives, has led to its nomination in the Best Documentary Short category of the 2012 Oscars; the first film from the country to be nominated in any category.
A crime of primitive depravity
Pakistan’s bloody birth 65 years ago has given way to a protracted infancy as a combination of geo-politics, corruption, extremism, a disjointed national identity and general lawlessness has regularly brought the country to the brink of anarchy.
One of the more sinister manifestations of that lawlessness has been the acid attacks on women, a crime of primordial depravity, inflicting horrific physical pain and heinous disfigurement. “Using acid is the last resort for the attackers,” says Mr Jawad. “Each and every case is premeditated and it’s usually the final stage in a long period of domestic abuse which is an extreme sport with some of these fellows. Sulphuric or Hydrochloric acid produces a tremendous amount of heat and it burns very aggressively and it goes on burning until fully neutralized. The problem is that neutralizing it is also extremely difficult.”
American journalist Nicholas D Kristoff, who has studied acid attacks in the region, calls it “Terrorism that’s personal”. It is a symbolic act, taking away the victim’s very character and often leading to their total ostracization from society. The perpetrators simply disappear within a largely patriarchal society or are handed barely significant jail sentences; up until 2009, an attacker could be jailed for a maximum of just 5 years.
One of the problems was that the authorities scarcely acknowledged the issue. One organization – the optimistically named Progressive Women’s Association of Pakistan – documented more than 7800 acid attacks during a 14-year period up to 2008, whilst the official line maintained that there were no more than 100 attacks a year. "From the social justice point of view it was diabolical”, Mr Jawad says. “There was one lady who had sought a divorce from her husband and took him to court. The judge ruled in favour of the woman and as she was coming out of the court house in Karachi, the man attacked her with acid which had been supplied by his own father; at the entrance to the courthouse!”
“It makes me furious that this is happening in my country; all of these girls, pretty and innocent in their own way, and a vast majority at the cusp of their lives which have been destroyed. It’s terrible. The face is our primary portal of communication, and these women have lost that means of communication. After what I saw, I could not help but put my hand out to these women and do what I could.”
Floyd, Khan and Viva
The fifth child in a family of eight, Mr Jawad, 54, was born and raised in the vibrant, optimistic, cultural melting pot that was Karachi, immersing himself in both the progressive rock of Pink Floyd and the traditional Qawwali of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, before the arrival of Zia Ul Haq and the country’s slow and painful descent into radicalization and violence. The first in his extended family to take up medicine, Mr Jawad was inspired to pursue plastic surgery by a Pakistani American surgeon who had a habit of driving around Karachi in a vintage Ford Mustang.
In the 1980’s, as Ul Haq’s Islamic Ordinances began to take effect, Mr Jawad travelled to London to complete a fellowship in Cosmetic Surgery before training in the United States, Italy, France, Belgium and Turkey. Eventually he would head up the world renowned burns unit at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital whilst also establishing his own plastic surgery practice, the ‘Nip and Tuck Surgery’.
His first foray into humanitarian work came in 1998, courtesy of a flamboyantly whiskered Sri Lankan Tamil surgeon celebrated for his charitable work in India and Sri Lanka. “This fantastic guy, Charles Viva, who’s rocking it in Middlesbrough at the moment, introduced me to this madness of humanitarian work. He’s an inspirational guy who asked me to tag along when he travelled to Pakistan to do a clinic for patients with cleft palates. It was an incredible experience, particularly the way he drove everyone crazy in a culture where perfection is the exception rather than the rule.”
Encumbered with a burgeoning medical career in the UK however Mr Jawad put humanitarian work on the back burner for a while.
Then, on October 08th 2005, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake devastated Pakistan’s remote Northwest killing nearly 80,000 people. As had happened after the Asian Tsunami less than a year previously, the South Asian Diaspora sprang into action, raising funds and sending in its’ finest to assist. “The earthquake was a phenomenal opportunity. Trauma treatment was something that we had been doing extremely well in the UK for a long time. I made sure I picked up all the kit and equipment form hospitals in the UK. That was imperative if I was going to be independent of all the forces that come into play when a tragedy of this sort happens in our part of the world.”
In scenes reminiscent of the 4077 Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, Mr Jawad and his team set up a 75-bed hospital outside the epicentre in Muzaffarabad and went to work, carrying out reconstructive surgery on an average of 25 patients per day for 7 weeks. “It was something that we would never forget; the destruction and the chaos and the terrible injuries the tremor had caused. It was gruelling and cold and I lost two very good winter jackets! It was an eye opener for me. I loved the rush; to use the skills that you’ve acquired to go and help people, my people, was tremendously fulfilling.”
Following his revelatory first visit, Mr Jawad spent the next three years spending up to four months at a time in Pakistan, carryout out procedures on people who couldn’t afford reconstructive surgery; from burns victims to children with cleft palates.
2008 brought yet another defining moment.
Katie Piper, a young, aspiring model was attacked with acid in broad daylight in North London by a man hired by an ex-boyfriend. The 25-year-old was rushed to the burns unit at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital where a team of surgeons led by Mr Jawad carried out a landmark operation, removing all of her facial skin and replacing it with Matriderm, a skin substitute.
In an age in which plastic surgeons are revered and reviled in equal measure, Mr Jawad was hailed as a medical genius for attempting the risky new procedure. “Her injuries were horrific, absolutely appalling. The nature of the injury was such that it required us to do something radically different; the actual process of reconstructing her face after the initial replication with Matriderm was long and drawn out but it was worth it in the end. In fact, it was better than expected.”
It was not immediately clear whether the procedure would work as Piper was forced to wear a specially designed mask to hold the Matriderm in place as it moulded to the bone structure of her face. The success of the operation led to a documentary, ‘My Beautiful Face’, which propelled her and Mohammad Jawad to the public’s conscience.
That ‘notoriety’ - as Mr Jawad likes to call it - brought him to the attention of activists against acid attacks in Pakistan. “Around the end of 2008 I was told about the scale of the problem in Pakistan and I was astonished. I had never heard of anything like it while growing up. It was a real shock to the system because the most violent thing I knew of was someone using a hockey stick to get even.”
His trips to Pakistan became even more frequent, and now included free clinics for acid attack victims – funded by, among others, Islamic Help – as well as training workshops for local surgeons and aftercare specialists.
It was then that Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy came calling.
One of the stories featured in ‘Saving Face’ is that of 39-year-old Zakia from the Punjab who became the first acid attack victim in Pakistan to undergo the reconstructive procedure Mr Jawad had performed on Katie Piper. Mr Jawad recalls, “When she came to me she had already lost an eye and the face was horrifically distorted. I said I could fix you. The eye couldn’t be saved but we did a new prosthesis for her nose and a special pair of glasses to cover up the missing eye and now she has the confidence to go out of the house which she hadn’t done for 3 or 4 years.”
The film also provided Mr Jawad the context in which he could delve deeper into the victims’ lives as well as explore the sociological aspect of this appalling crime and to see the country of his birth now far removed from that of his carefree upbringing. “It’s pathetic really. These attacks are evidence that Pakistan is in a bad place at the moment. There isn’t a good enough health service, any justice, any family or communal support for these people and then there’s the poverty. It’s a potent combination.”
Although it’s difficult to establish a correlation, the filming of ‘Saving Face’, Mr Jawad’s work and Zakia’s healing nonetheless coincided with a shift in attitudes in official circles. The country’s parliament finally decided to get tough with attackers who now face a minimum 14 years to life in prison and a minimum fine of 1 million rupees (approx. £7200). “These are small steps. We are a country of 180 million people who face so many different problems on a daily basis. There’s a state of war, there are survival issues, we are being bullied by the Americans, we are in a difficult situation but people are speaking out and the powers that be are listening,” Mr Jawad says.
“We need to take these small steps and I’m just doing my little part. I don’t think we can completely eradicate this menace but we can bring it to a manageable level. The first thing is to have a good deterrence and secondly to have effective treatment. It’s easy to be pessimistic but things can and do change. It’s imperative to speak to people in a language they understand, to get into their psyche and engage with them from their point of view.”
Much work remains. According to legal experts a comprehensive law needs to first define the nature of the crime in greater detail which will in turn lead to not only the crime being addressed but also define other areas like procedure, accountability, medical care and the rehabilitation of victims. In order for acid attacks to be more clearly defined however, the country’s domestic abuse law needs to be strengthened – a move regularly opposed by Islamist political parties. It is further evidence of the dominant role the Islamic faith has played in Pakistan; from its birth to its current roster of problems. “Faith is a funny thing”, Mr Jawad says recalling a meeting with a casualty of the 2005 earthquake. “She was this remarkable woman whose legs had been shattered by falling debris and had to be amputated but she said faith had kept her going. Faith is like a fire; it can keep you warm or it can burn you. But this kind of violence against women has nothing to do with religion or culture.”
The Red Carpet Treatment
Mr Jawad’s not the first medical professional to devote his time to helping people; his mentor Charles Viva and surgeon Conal Austin of Guy’s St Thomas’ are two who spring to mind. However, there is a special significance to Mr Jawad’s work in that he’s not attempting to reverse what nature has got terribly wrong. “I absolutely have to detach myself and look at things objectively. Of course I have a moral view and a political view of it but getting involved in the socio-politics of it all, especially in Pakistan, means that I would not have the conditions to do what I do best and that is to fix people. Sometimes you just have to put your head down and get on with it and not be swayed by the injustice and nonsense that takes place around you because it ends up being counterproductive. For instance, every time I travel to the US I get the ‘Red Carpet’ treatment because of my first name and the place I was born. But I don’t let it get to me. After all, if there are two things I can’t change, it’s my name and where I’m from!”
True to his word, Mr Jawad continues to do his part undaunted. A new charitable Foundation will help offer training to surgeons and medical staff in Pakistan, educational and awareness programs and – perhaps most importantly – post-operative therapy for victims. “Psychological support for these patients is coming through now because people are realizing that it is absolutely essential. It’s still not enough. Pakistan doesn’t have a lot of things and psychological therapy for burns victims is pretty low on the list of priorities but we are working on it.” The foundation hopes to build on Mr Jawad’s work, expanding it throughout the sub-continent and passing on his invaluable expertise to local medical professionals.
In the UK he hopes ‘Saving Face’ will not only highlight the plight of acid attack victims in Pakistan and elsewhere, but shed light on the positive work done by plastic surgeons on the NHS; a service unlike any other in the world.
For the moment however, he’s determined to set aside the tools of his trade and enjoy some of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood on 26th February. In spite of his young relatives’ determination to crash the party, Mr Jawad is determined to make the most of it. “HBO is putting me and my wife up during the course of the event but I’m slightly concerned because my nieces and nephews in America are going to take their chance to descend en masse on Los Angeles and crash my hotel room and get a piece of the action man! But I’m focused. My plan is to meet up with George (Clooney that is). Who knows, we might work together one of these days”, he jokes with a slight American twang which will certainly stand him in good stead as he trawls through the endless pre-and-post Oscar parties, really living it up.
God knows he’s earned it.
- Vijitha Alles
Though the Marigold Hotel is less luxurious than they imagined, they are transformed by their shared experiences, discovering that life and love can begin again when you let go of the past. By the time I hit California I had emailed back that I loved the script. Then texted the same to the scriptwriter Ol Parker, whose film Imagine Me & You I’d been in five years before. He engineered a vetting interview for me at Fox Studios with five very high-powered, high-heeled producers.
Two days of waiting followed while I travelled back across the country to a snazzy hotel in Chicago. As I put my key into the lock of my room my phone buzzed. ‘They want you.’
Next step, on returning to London, an interview with John Madden. Bill Nighy was in before me. Then the green light flashed for me to pack for India… A place I had fallen in love with 20 years before when on a British Council theatre tour of The Merchant Of Venice.
Now, with excitement too high to quite believe, I was off to film with, as is always the case in our lives, some actors, dear friends who I had worked with before, some I hadn’t but always wanted to, and some I had never met. Here are some extracts from the diary I kept during filming 16 months ago...
10 October 2010
In India they say 10/10/10 is a lucky date, so it’s serendipitous that on the tenth of the tenth, 2010, I meet up with friends at the re-opening of London’s fabulously restored Savoy Hotel. And just as we raise our champagne glasses, over in Udaipur, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel starts shooting the first scene. Tonight I fly out to join the cast in Udaipur.
I depart from Delhi on the overnight train to Udaipur at 19.00. I’m sharing a sleeping compartment with Raj, an electrical engineer, who at 19.03 is already in his pyjamas. The First Class lavatory is a hole in the train floor – you can see the rails speeding below. I’m too excited to sleep. At dawn, the train grinds to a steamy halt, and as the door opens onto the bustling platform, crammed with bhaji sellers and bicycles, I’m greeted by the smiling faces of our writer Ol Parker and producer Graham Broadbent. What a welcome.
They’re running a bit behind, so I haven’t started working yet. We’re staying at the Oberoi Udaivilas Hotel. It’s overwhelmingly luxurious, with your own swimming pool… well sort of. It’s a single-lane canal round the hotel, where people swim past your window. I’ve a four-poster bed with 29 embroidered pillows, cool lime juice and hot masala tea. The difficult bit is the minute you leave its guarded gates you will quite likely see a little girl scrabbling for a cabbage leaf to survive.
Marigold garlands have been festooned around the place for the arrival tonight of Bill Nighy, who comes armed with two bottles of Bollinger champagne. I had texted him to ask if he could possibly buy some en route, as I know Dame Jude loves champs and we can’t find any here.
I decided to sample a different dish each morning from the Indian page of the breakfast menu, so today it’s poori bhaji – three puffed-up, deep-fried wheat balls and potato curry with papaya preserve. Very tasty. In the garden I admire the stripy chipmunks, the kestrels soaring above and I spot a sign that reads ‘Do not pluck the roses’.
Penelope Wilton, Judi Dench and I go on a red boat around the lake to try to cool off in the scorching 40ºC heat, while our friends back in London are all complaining about the frosts. The cast have Bill’s champagne in Judi’s room this evening followed by a scrumptious array of curried delights at the lakeside restaurant under the moon. Tomorrow, at last, I work. Hooray!
I slept sporadically, and at 5am I’m escorted from the lobby to my car by my assistant Yash, a gentle young man of nearly 30. We have all been assigned personal assistants to prevent us from getting lost or into trouble. The car is perfumed inside with incense, while sitar music plays on the radio. Although it is still as dark as night, the street cafés we pass are all packed. Along the roadside there are pretty lights in the shape of tents, with statues inside to celebrate the forthcoming Hindu festival of Diwali.
My first scene is with the adorably effervescent Dev Patel, who plays the young manager of the hotel. He is showing his guests to their allotted rooms in The Not Quite Yet Best or Exotic Marigold Hotel (you’ll have to see the film to discover what that means!).
It’s 5.15am and I’m en route for my first scene with Ronnie Pickup, who plays the dapper septuagenarian Norman. It’s an hour and a half’s drive to the Marigold Hotel set every day, and the traffic in India is nothing like London. No one wears a helmet to ride a scooter, and they change gears on their motorbikes with bare feet. Drivers never look from side to side to see what’s coming, they just go when they fancy, and they never stop honking their horns. It’s terrifying. I count families of five or six, including babes in arms, squashed onto one scooter, vivid coloured saris billowing behind. A milkman zooms past us on a Harley-Davidson balancing huge milk churns on either side.
Happy Diwali!! By 9am it is stifling. Penelope and I sneak out of the hotel without our assistants (which we’re not supposed to do) for our own private adventure. We flag down a tuk-tuk (a motorised three-wheeled minivan) and career into town, dodging sacred cows specially decorated for Diwali with pink painted horns and polka-dotted backs. On our walk home we notice dolls made out of cowpats on each doorstep, all part of the celebrations for this Festival of Lights. Back at the hotel an embossed invitation has arrived to drinks tomorrow at the Royal Palace. The Maharajah is sending a launch to ferry us across the lake for a firework display.
Yash is pleased I have asked to visit all the Hindu temples and learn some words. He teaches me Suprabhat, ‘Good morning’, and Shubh ratri, ‘Goodnight’. We go to the Shri Jagdish temple, built in 1652. It is invigorating, beautiful, strange, ancient, and full of mystery.
We disembark from our royal red barge and are driven up the hill to the steps of the Maharajah’s palace, where bagpipes herald our arrival. It made our hearts sing and our eyes water. Guards on white stallions are dressed in scarlet, with cockerel plumes on their hats. While glasses of Veuve Clicquot and flaming mutter paneer on sticks (an Indian cheese delicacy) are passed around, a tiny piper in tartan trews and spats plays a slightly off-key but spirited Gay Gordons. I adore the Maharajah, so dashing in his scarlet dress with pearl buttons, drinking scotch and flirting.
A mongoose is on the prowl round the breakfast tables this morning, which makes me scan the ground for possible cobras. Tomorrow we leave Udaipur to continue filming in other locations in or near Jaipur, 250 miles to the north-east. The rest of the cast fly out while I get back onto a jam-packed overnight train.
Arrive in the Pink City. John Madden had warned us: for Udaipur think Harrogate, for Jaipur, Birmingham but with 20 times more traffic. I think it’s more like Catford. The difference is, here cows wander in and out of the shopping malls and the goats wear stripy jumpers.
As we set out to work at 6am it’s already hot and humid, then suddenly there’s a crack of thunder, torrents of rain and the brightest forks of lightning I’ve ever seen. We’re about to shoot the bus ride when our characters arrive in India and make their way to the Marigold Hotel. It means we’ll be driving on the motorway all day and into the night. It’s now 7.15am and the cast are huddled in their Winnebagos, quaking with fear. Meanwhile, one of the Indian crew, our props master heroically holding an umbrella, is struck by lightning. Although his arm goes a bit numb and he’s shaken, he’s otherwise unharmed. Then flash, bang… he falls to the ground again. Who said lightning never strikes twice? According to local folklore this man is now considered a god.
Twenty elephants parade past the hotel on their way to the royal wedding tomorrow. The Maharajah of Jodhpur’s only son, Prince Shivraj Singh, India’s most eligible bachelor, is getting married to Gayatri Kumari, princess of the Himalayan kingdom of Askot and the whole thing is happening in our hotel! Prince Charles, Sting, Bruce Willis, Mick Jagger and John Travolta are all on the guest list. How come the Maharajah knows all these celebrities? The answer is, I believe, that the groom went to a posh English boarding school.
Wow – the wedding is sensational! The lawn is a breathtaking sea of saris. The lady guests delight at discovering James Bond’s M and Harry Potter’s Professor McGonagall – Dames Judi and Maggie – on the same hotel lawn watching the nuptial splendour below, then we’re invited by the Maharani of Jaipur to join the reception. Elephants with painted heads and toenails lead the parade, a golden carriage pulled by white horses delivers the groom and then the male guests follow. The tradition is for the women to stay apart for the procession. Peter Mandelson is also at the hotel for another party. Judi and I take bets on whether he’ll say hello. He doesn’t, but Jude dares me to, and I do. He is charming. Among in-house services of this hotel, I notice, it lists a ‘hotel astrologer’. I’ve seen him, but he’s spooky and always in a bad mood.
This morning we finished a night shoot at 1.50am, and I didn’t get to bed until 3.30am. Tom Wilkinson and his wife Diana invite me to go to the Monkey Palace today, three natural bathing pools set in a mountain where the water is famously blessed, guarded by sacred monkeys. When I ask Dame Mags if she wants to join us, she replies, ‘I’ve been there.’ And with those three words I know exactly what it is going to be like. It’s utter filth, three levels of disgusting putrid pools swarming with bad-tempered monkeys. The highest pool is green and looks as if someone’s been sick in it.
Total haze this morning. Mags says when she looked out of the window she thought she was in Argyll. It is damp and raining. We have to have a day off as we can’t be filmed travelling the streets in our tuk-tuks in this murk, otherwise they might think we’ve been filming off the North Circular. Maggie, Penelope and I go to The Gem Palace, the most famous shop in Jaipur, and have fun trying on priceless diamond headdresses in the back room.
While the rain comes down we still can’t film. Olivia, our second assistant director, takes me to see the men making flower garland necklaces and curtains for all the weddings at the Rambagh Palace Hotel and elsewhere in Jaipur. The scent of all the rose petals, sacks of them, huge vases of tea roses all being decorated by the men (no women in sight) is beyond belief and nostril.
It’s 4.35am and we pile into cars for the two-hour drive to film a scene that includes a funeral pyre. There’s mist rising from the grass verges and vibrant pink bougainvillea blooming for miles along the central spine of the motorway. We’re going to the Hindu equivalent of a cemetery or crematorium, and that means we’ll be filming on holy ground. Under the strict Hindu laws no meat is allowed. The crew aren’t very pleased with breakfast – they’d prepared themselves for no sausage and bacon, but now discover eggs aren’t permitted either on this hallowed ground, and we’re here until sunset. Uh-oh…
I’m told England is in the grip of blizzards. The M1 and A1 are closed, trains frozen on lines in Kent, people stuck all night, and some airports closed. Not ours I hope, as we fly home tomorrow.
As I write this curled up in my ‘sleeping suite’ on the plane I wonder how I can say thank you enough for this enchantment. As we start our descent to Heathrow I realise that soon it will be as though it never happened. The music in my headphones as we land is Doris Day singing Qué Será Será. It’s still dark here – but back in India it’s 11am. I know that, as I haven’t changed my watch. We disembark from our royal red barge and are driven up the hill to the steps of the Maharajah’s palace, where bagpipes herald our arrival. It made our hearts sing and our eyes water. Guards on white stallions are dressed in scarlet, with cockerel plumes on their hats. While glasses of Veuve Clicquot and flaming mutter paneer on sticks (an Indian cheese delicacy) are passed around, a tiny piper in tartan trews and spats plays a slightly off-key but spirited Gay Gordons. I adore the Maharajah, so dashing in his scarlet dress with pearl buttons, drinking scotch and flirting.
- Celia Imrie. This article first appeared in the Daily Mail (18/02/2012)
Thursday, 16 February 2012
The King arrived in Berlin in style by a chartered flight following his advance guard Farhan Akhtar, Ritesh Sidhwani, and Priyanka Chopra. He was not alone. Gauri Khan was with him as well at the Red Carpet in her smart red dress, looking ever youthful and 'fighting' fit. She could not have allowed her recuperating darling of a husband and doting father of her children to be all by himself in an extraordinarily cold Berlin weather. And what can be warmer than a caring, admiring, and beautiful wife next to you in these conditions to provide you the mandatory medicinal doses and to ensure that you have the muffler tightly tied around your neck.
Surprisingly, King Khan did not join the rest of the DON 2 team on the Red Carpet at the Berlinale Special gala event at the Friedrichstadt-Palast and reached the venue much after the screening had begun with his wife Gauri and Reliance head honcho Amit Khanna. The reason given was that the chartered plane of the King took its own time to land at Berlin airport.
He appeared on the stage after the screening with Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick. He performed his regulation DON 2 act, inviting others to repeat his moves. Everyone did it but for the film's lead actress Priyanka Chopra, who acted coy, and refused to dance to SRK's tune.
The Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick danced with even greater enthusiasm than the rest, expertly performing a Bollywood dance. Now we know why everyone finds him funny and the reasons behind his universal popularity. The festival director represents the quintessential Berlinale spirit, informal, free, openhearted, welcoming, likeable, accommodative, and heart-warming.
Rajesh Kumar Singh, Glamsham
This year’s edition of India Week – organized by the LSE Student Union and the LSE India Society – will be the first time the event will be open to the public and will run from 20th to 26th February.
Other highlights include a discussion on ‘Philanthropy in India’ which will feature Mr Shiv Nadar, founder of Hindustan Computers Limited and Mr Anwar Hasan, Managing Director of TATA. And on Sunday 26th February, the MCC will host Ajay Jadeja at Lords Cricket Ground where the former India international will discuss the economics of the Indian Premier League and how it has changed the dynamics of cricket worldwide. His lecture will be followed by what is certain to be an intriguing cricket match between the LSE’s Indian and Pakistani teams.
India Week concludes with a Bollywood night hosted by Raj and Pablo and will feature a performance by talented young British Asian artist Arjun.
The LSE India Week has been the flagship event of the university’s India Society for several years and aims to celebrate the myriad successes India has enjoyed in recent years as well as highlight areas for improvement, particularly from the perspective of Indian students.
For more information and tickets, visit www.indiasociety.co.uk
Tuesday, 14 February 2012
The 69-year-old actor, who has a history of abdominal ailments, was operated on in a hospital in the western city of Mumbai on Saturday.
Bachchan, who continues to act in films, was last admitted to a hospital in Mumbai with abdominal pains in 2008.
He also underwent surgery for an intestinal condition at the same hospital in 2005.
Bachchan suffered a near fatal injury during the shooting of an action scene on the set of a film in 1982 and was critically ill for several months.
Saturday's surgery lasted for "about two to three hours and everything is normal," tweeted the star's son, Abhishek Bachchan, himself a Bollywood actor.
Bachchan is likely to be released early this week if everything is fine, his son said.
Bachchan has acted in more than 180 Indian films over 40 years. He remains India's most popular actor.
Last year he returned as the celebrity host of Kaun Banega Crorepati, the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire - one of the most watched shows on Indian television.
He also made his Hollywood debut in a new film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, starring Leonardo DiCaprio