Monday, 30 April 2012

Siri: Meet Aisha...from India

 
Siri – the often frighteningly competent and occasionally annoying voice assistant of Apple’s iPhone 4S – now has an Indian version.
But whilst ‘Siri’ sounds like a Sri Lankan alcoholic who moonlights as an electrician, the Indian version is charmingly named ‘Aisha’ and sounds, very, well…Indian, not to mention politically correct.
Actually it stands for Artificial Intelligence Speech Handset Assistant.
And whilst you have to cough up a small country’s GDP to purchase a Siri-ready iPhone, Aisha will be available on a new locally-made smart phone: the Micromax A50 Ninja which will set you back just Rs 5000 (approx. GBP65).
Through the voice recognition tool, users can initiate a Google search, view stock market details, make calls, read news about desired locations, view recipes and, perhaps most importantly, view their daily horoscope.
Aisha can also help users send messages, inquire about missed calls and make queries on varied subjects such as date and time, weather conditions, and even general knowledge.
- UKAsian Staff


Siri: Meet Aisha...from India

Sri Lankan Buddhist monk accused of sexual assault on girls aged 10

 
A court in South London has been hearing evidence in a sexual abuse trial involving one of the most senior Buddhist monks in Britain in a case that has sent shockwaves through the Sri Lankan community in the United Kingdom.
The Venerable Pahalagama Somarathana, 66 – founder of the popular Thames Buddhist Temple in Surrey and one of the most respected figures in the community – is facing nine counts of rape, indecent assault and sexual assault dating back to the late 1970’s and early 80’s.
One of his alleged victims claims she was abused by the priest in Chiswick, West London while another says she was abused in a shrine room at the Surrey temple.
The Sri Lankan-born Venerable Somaratana appeared at Isleworth Crown Court last week to deny the charges, saying he was the victim of mistaken identity.
According to the prosecution, the first victim – who was nine at the time of the assault in 1978 – had been lured into the monk’s room with fruit Polo sweets before being indecently assaulted.
The second victim only recalled the assaults during hypnotherapy sessions she underwent as an adult in 2009.
Members of the majority Buddhist Sinhala community who patronize the temple have come out in force defending the monk.
A dozen character witnesses appeared at court to give evidence on behalf of the defense, with one saying she had known the accused for more than 30 years and he had “always been a professional”.
“He’s a priest and as far as I’m concerned he’s never stepped out of that role” she said.
Another witness, a GP, said she too had known the monk since the inception of the Thames Buddhist Temple and had never had any complaints from her children about the chief monk.
The case continues at Isleworth court.
- UKAsian Staff

Sri Lankan Buddhist monk accused of sexual assault on girls aged 10

Seven Islands Single Malt: Blending Indian culture with an ancient Scottish art

 
India’s centuries-long love affair with Scotch whisky received a further boon in London last week with the unveiling of a new luxury Single Malt.
‘Seven Islands Vintage’ – the name refers to the 7 islands that were reclaimed over centuries to form modern Mumbai – combines all the colour and cultural vitality of India with the Scottish art of whisky making.
Whisky is widely consumed in India; Scotch whiskies such as Chivas Regal have long been popular in the country.  India is also home to numerous, local brands such as McDowells, Royal Challenge and Royal Stag which are made out of molasses with a small percentage of traditional malt whiskey.
The consumption of Single Malt Scotch however, is still confined to the country’s relatively well off although that demographic is rapidly expanding, a fact that hasn’t escaped the attentions of the promoters of Seven Islands: Tilaknagar Industries, the company behind such popular Indian whisky brands as Mansion House, Senate Royale and Blacpower.
Seven Islands is the company’s first super-premium whisky and will be made at the BenRiach Distillery in Scotland’s Speyside; home to some of the world’s finest Single Malts, including Glenlivet and Glenfiddich.
The new whisky was unveiled at a suitably glamorous reception at the Mint Leaf Restaurant and Bar in London prior to an international launch which will take in a number of major cities around the world.
- UKAsian Staff

Seven Islands Single Malt: Blending Indian culture with an ancient Scottish art

'Anarchy' in post-war Sri Lanka's Yala National Park

 
Yala is a place of magic, of rocky outcrops, big trees, ancient lakes and the rushing sound of the Indian Ocean never far off. It is a place of leopards, elephants, sloth bears, antelopes and a rich bird life of peacocks, hornbills and more.
But conservationists in Sri Lanka are warning that anarchic behaviour in some national parks is endangering the wildlife and the ecology of wilderness areas.
They say safari vehicles are flagrantly breaking speed limits and that marauding behaviour by drivers and tourists is grossly insensitive to fauna and flora.
This is especially the case in Yala in the south-east, the most famous habitat for leopards - the only big cat found on the island.
I experienced this during a recent trip there when we careered through the park at high speed, even though we told our veteran driver that we did not want to go fast and that we were by no means obsessed with seeing a leopard.
At first we were merely jolted, but within about 10 minutes, I had been flung to the hard metal bars running along the ceiling of the safari truck and sustained a serious head injury.
'Jeep jam'
But there have been serious consequences for wildlife in the area. Four months ago a female leopard cub was killed in Yala by a hit-and-run driver.
The BBC has been told of jeep drivers going up to 100 kph (the nominal limit is 40 kph), bottles and dung being thrown into bushes to entice the animals out, and widespread littering.

It is also not uncommon to see jeep "jams" caused by the frenzied use of mobile phones to spread the word about a wildlife sighting.
A contributor to travel and nature website lakdasun.org said he could not photograph a bird or rabbit without jeep-drivers barging in thinking he was looking at a leopard or revving their engines, overtaking and shouting obscenities.
The bad behaviour is all in aid of spotting the beautiful and elusive leopard - or drivers trying to show one to tourists hoping it will get them a fat tip.
Yala's elephants, sloth bears, spotted deer, crocodiles and rich bird life are almost ignored by comparison.
Manori Gunawardena, a wildlife biologist living near Yala, says "leopard-centric marketing" is to blame. "It's become a status thing - everyone wants to put the leopard shot on Facebook," she says.
Mithila Somasiri, who is a moderator on lakdasun.org, says tourists, especially Sri Lankan ones, make heavy demands on the drivers. Until quite recently there were few photographers and no mobile signals. Now, he says, the open part of Yala is "no longer a wildness experience".
As for the drivers themselves, one of their representatives admits there is chaos.
"There are lots of vehicles travelling in the park after hours," Tharindu Jayasinghe of the Independent Safari Jeep Drivers' Association told the BBC.
"On some days there are 500-600 vehicles entering Yala. That's terribly high and should be limited to about 150. There's so much congestion that you can't see the animals, so much noise that they disappear."
He admits that many enter the park without even a driving licence and would like to see a proper register of all the vehicles that enter.
Safari lessons
Several wildlife enthusiasts said they had seen both drivers and self-driving visitors breaking the rules in Yala yet getting away with it because of their close relationship with politicians.
A senior government official candidly admitted to the BBC that rules were being disregarded.
"We must build a relationship with the drivers to keep them under control," said S Kalaiselvam of the Tourism Development Authority.
He said the authorities have started an awareness programme on better behaviour for drivers and government-employed wildlife trackers, who number only 40 in Yala. They have also distributed DVDs to tourists and drivers on how to conduct a safari.
The programme is in its infancy, however. Mr Kalaiselvam admits there are not the resources to monitor driver behaviour properly but says that where offending drivers are caught they should be suspended from the park.
Others favour special licences for jeep drivers or even switching off the mobile service at peak viewing times in the early morning and late afternoon.
Many say the emphasis should be bringing drivers on board in developing a new outlook.
"You can't just follow phone calls," says Riaz Cader of Jetwing Eco Holidays, a Sri Lankan tour operator which has forbidden its chauffeur guides to use their mobiles.
"You must show the wildlife at leisure, follow the pugmarks, try and track them."
'Wildlife will suffer'
For some, this problem is symptomatic of broader issues. The wildlife biologist Manori Gunawardena says Sri Lanka's stated target of attracting 2.5 million tourists a year by 2016 is unrealistic and unsustainable, and criticises big development works being carried out near Yala.
"The trajectory we are on does not take wilderness and wildlife into account," she says.

In the end, says Rukshan Jayewardene of The Leopard Trust, a local organisation, the wildlife stands to suffer unless there is change.
He recounted a recent incident in which a group of jeeps obstructed a leopard as she pursued a buffalo calf. As they were moving into her space, she gave up the hunt.
"Any time a leopard fails in a hunt, she comes a step closer to starvation," he said. "This happens quite a lot - the leopard will change its mind and direction. They feel a lot of frustration.
"Don't be so over-zealous that you practically park on the leopard."
Anarchic behaviour on Sri Lanka's roads takes a regular, terrible toll of fatalities. Similar indiscipline now appears to be penetrating the wildlife parks.
- Charles Haviland, BBC Online


'Anarchy' in post-war Sri Lanka's Yala National Park

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Kidnapped British Aid Worker found murdered

 
A British Aid worker who went missing in Pakistan in January has been found murdered.
60-year-old Khalil Dale, a Muslim convert, had been working for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Quetta, capital of the troubled Balochistan region on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.
Local police discovered Mr Dale’s decapitated and bullet-ridden body at a roadside with a note saying he had been murdered as a ransom had not been paid.
Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the killing, saying it was a “shocking and merciless act, carried out by people with no respect for human life and the rule of law”.
British Red Cross chief executive Sir Nick Young said: "Khalil Dale was a committed member of the Red Cross Red Crescent family over the last 30 years. He was a gentle, kind person who devoted his life to helping others, including some of the world's most vulnerable people.”
Mr Dale, originally from Manchester, had converted to Islam some 30 years ago.  Before traveling to Pakistan, Mr Dale had worked with the ICRC in Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
He had been working as a health-programme manager in Quetta for a year before he was abducted at gunpoint while returning home from work on 5th January.
Kidnappings and targeted killings have become increasingly frequent in the region in recent years.
Most kidnap victims however, are released after a ransom has been paid.
- Vijitha Alles

Kidnapped British Aid Worker found murdered

Friday, 27 April 2012

Legend Zohra turns 100

est 
The Grand Dame of Bollywood, Zohra Sehgal has turned 100.
The landmark has sparked an outpouring of wishes for the legendary theatre and film actress from across the entertainment spectrum.
Amitabh Bachchan – who famously played Sehgal’s son in Cheeni Kum – praised Sehgal’s “unbound energy and enthusiasm” and said she was “still like a child”.
"The eminent Indian actress Zohra Sehgal is 100 years young! Congrats to my Zohra Khala (aunt)! Much love from New York," author Salman Rushdie wrote on Twitter.
Actress Dia Mirza tweeted: "100th Birthday of the Grand Lady of Indian theatre and cinema Zohra Sehgal! What a journey!!! And what a Lady!"
Sehgal was born in 1912 in the town of Saharanpur in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
Her first foray into the world of acting was with the a political theatre group, the Indian People’s Theatre Association which dominated the cultural scene in India in the 1940’s.
In 1962, Sehgal travelled to London on a drama scholarship, working in several English films and TV shows.
In a career spanning more than 7 decades, Sehgal has appeared in dozens of iconic films in Bollywood and England, including Dil Se, Cheeni Kum, Kabhi Kushi Kabhie Gham, My Beautiful Launderette, Bhaji on the Beach and Bend it Like Beckham.
The feisty actress was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India's second highest civilian award, in 2010 for her work in cinema.
- Poonam Joshi

Legend Zohra turns 100

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Shah Rukh Khan busted for lighting up in public

He may have got through US immigration (eventually).  It'll be far tougher to get through this.
King Khan Shah Rukh has been summoned to a court in Rajasthan for allegedly lighting up in a public place.  The actor's been asked to appear in court in Jaipur 26th May.
 
The summons follow a petition filed by Jaipur resident AS Rathore against SRK for smoking inside the Jaipur Cricket Stadium where Khan's IPL team the Kolkata Knight Riders were playing the Rajasthan Royals.
Local police have already fined the Rajasthan Cricket Association 200 rupees (£2.4) for allowing the actor to smoke inside the stadium.
"We argued that the film star violated the law and set a wrong precedent. He smoked in stadium in full public view and deserves action against him," said Rathore's lawyer, Nemi Singh Rathore.
"Our contention is that if film stars violate laws, it sends a wrong message to society."
The petitioners have also submitted to the court press reports and a CD which shows Khan smoking.
Rajasthan enacted the anti-smoking law 12 years ago and declared smoking in public places an offence.
- Poonam Joshi

Shah Rukh Khan busted for lighting up in public

Indian child bride annuls marriage in landmark case

 
An Indian woman who was married off at the age of 1 has had her 17-year marriage annulled in a landmark case challenging the culture of child weddings in parts of the country.
According to Agence France Presse, Laxmi Sargara, from Rajasthan, was  married to a boy named Rakesh when the former was just 12 months and the latter 3.  Their families reportedly decided that when they grew up they would live together and have children.
Child marriages, outlawed in India in 1929, are still common in many parts of the country, especially in rural and poorer communities.
A Unicef report says 47 percent of married women in India wed before age 18. Unicef also says 40 percent of the world's child marriages take place in India.
"I was unhappy about the marriage,” Sargara, now 18, told AFP. “I told my parents who did not agree with me, then I sought help. Now I am mentally relaxed and my family members are also with me."
Girls married off in infancy often remain in their parents' homes until they reach puberty and then are taken amid great celebrations to their husbands’ families.
When Sargara just days ago discovered that she was married and would be sent to her husband’s home this week, she sought advice from social worker Kriti Bharti, who runs the children’s rights group Sarathi Trust, AFP said.
Bharti negotiated with Rakesh, the groom, who only uses one name, and both families to persuade them that the marriage was unfair.
"It is the first example we know of a couple wed in childhood wanting the marriage to be annulled, and we hope that others take inspiration from it," Bharti told AFP.
According to a recent BBC survey, 10 percent of all girls in Rajasthan are married off before they reach the age of 18.
- UKAsian Staff

Indian child bride annuls marriage in landmark case

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Arrest of playboy stockbroker lays bare Bollywood underbelly again

The head of one of India’s oldest stock broking firms has been arrested for allegedly shielding one of Mumbai’s most notorious gangsters who was wanted in connection with the murder of a Bollywood actor’s father as well as an upcoming film director.
Gautam Vora of ULJK Financial Group – founded in 1903 – is accused of helping Vijay Palande flee the country following the murder of Bollywood producer Arun Tikku as well as the disappearance of director Karan Kakkad.
Vora is known for his playboy lifestyle and the glitzy show business parties he hosts.
He has also enjoyed the company of a string of high profile models; one of whom – Viveka Babajee – committed suicide in 2010 after Vora refused to marry her.  The final entry in her diary had famously declared: “Gautam Vora, You Killed Me.”
According to detectives investigating a series of murders and extortion cases, Mr Vora has confessed that he knew Vijay Palande as Karan Sood, the brother of model Simran Sood, and had not known his real identity or of any allegations against him when he helped him attempt to leave India.
Mr Vora had been dating Simran Sood, the model posing as Palande's sister.
Meanwhile, police are continuing their search for the severed head of 26-year-old actress Meenakshi Thapar who was kidnapped and dismembered by two fellow actors she had met on a set.
The Bollywood industry has long been associated with crime and many of its films are believed to have been used as money laundering vehicles by some of Mumbai's most feared gangsters.
Hussein Zaidi, the crime reporter and scriptwriter told the Daily Telegraph that Bollywood is still largely financed by money launderers and produced by people of dubious credentials.
"Bollywood is always vulnerable to people with all kinds of backgrounds, no one asks for credentials. They get access to people through indirect invites to parties and women still get parts through the casting couch. Lots of the money is still underworld finance," he said.
-    Staff Reporter

Arrest of playboy stockbroker lays bare Bollywood underbelly again

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Housefull 2: Laughing all the way to the bank!

 
It’s been variously described as “twice the torture” of the first movie, and “certain to create corns in your Cerebellum” but audiences have proved once again that the masses matter; irrespective of what the reviewers say.
Housefull 2: The Dirty Dozen – starring Akshay Kumar – has grossed 100 Crore (that’s a billion rupees or approximately £11m) in just three weeks of release.
With the film, Akshay joins the 100-Crore Club alongside the likes of Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Hrithik Roshan and Ajay Devgan.
The film’s director Sajid Khan tweeted: “All screens are going Housefull. I attribute a major part of its success to Akshay. He has been a superstar for the last eight years or so and will be one for many more years to go. The best thing about the film is that Akshay's work has been appreciated and this film is Akshay's biggest hit overseas."

Akshay also took to the twittersphere to thank his legions of fans: "For all those congratulating me for Housefull 2, honestly 100 Crores is just a number but I'd be lying if I would say it doesn't matter. Hearing/reading words like superhit, excellent business, great word of mouth, back in form, are music to any actor's ears but again you guys are the only reason behind it. Thank you all for watching and enjoying Housefull 2. God bless you all always".
Given India’s vast population and their access to increasingly ubiquitous multiplexes, a film with one of Bollywood’s most enduring stars crossing the 100-Crore mark is perhaps not entirely unsurprising.  What is surprising is the fact that Houseful 2: The Dirty Dozen has had successful openings in the US and UK among others.
As the name suggests, Housefull 2: The Dirty Dozen features a surfeit of stars; from Akshay to John Abraham to Asin to...numerous others and has a slightly incomprehensible storyline; if it can be called that.
The actors' combined talents however failed to spark any interest among reviewers who were unanimous in their panning of the film.
Akshay’s next film, Rowdy Rathore, will be an action thriller with a distinctly retro feel and which takes the star back to his action roots.
Industry analysts are already predicting big takings for ‘Rowdy Rathore’ so Akshay’s stars are pretty well aligned.
Just watch the Cerebellum.
- Poonam Joshi

Housefull 2: Laughing all the way to the bank!

Bollywood outrage at 'The Dirty Picture' TV ban

 
Bollywood has reacted with widespread indignation after Milan Luthra’s ‘The Dirty Picture’ was banned from prime-time TV by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting; the same government body which bestowed the film with a prestigious National Award.
The film had been scheduled for broadcast on Sony TV at noon  on Sunday but the ministry reportedly instructed the broadcaster to show the film after the 11pm watershed.
Filmmaker Karan Johar took to his Twitter account to declare: “A national award-winning film cannot have a national telecast???  This is…simple hypocrisy.”  Johar added, “If the censorship is not a final authority then what is??? Complicated and blurred lines defeat the core of democracy!!!! #dirtypicture.”
Tanuj Garg, CEO of Balaji Motion Pictures, the studio behind the film, tweeted, “The Dirty Picture trending.  That’s the point abt its popularity.  The most discussed & celebrated National Award-winner is nt allowed 2telecast.”
Tusshar Kapoor – who appeared in the film – tweeted, “Really unfortunate that after all the necessary cuts and a valid UA certificate, The Dirty Picture could not be telecast on Sony TV.”
The film’s director Luthra had earlier told reporters, “I am shocked and disappointed that this decision was taken at the last moment.”
The low budget film – based on the life of south Indian actress Silk Smitha – was a Bollywood anomaly; not only garnering widespread critical acclaim but winning over audiences to become one of the most commercially successful Bollywood films of recent years.
Actress Vidya Balan – who played the lead role – also won a national award for her performance as the beautiful and doomed siren.
According to reports from India, the film had undergone a total of 59 cuts but still failed to achieve a U/A (Parental Guidance) rating for broadcast during prime time.  The ban was imposed at the last minute, forcing Sony to run a ticker on the channel apologizing to fans.
TV censorship is not uncommon in the country.
Hollywood movies are subjected to heavy cuts often leaving the final product fragmented, incoherent and unrecognizable.
- Poonam Joshi

Bollywood outrage at 'The Dirty Picture' TV ban

Monday, 23 April 2012

Madhur Jaffrey to return to TV screens this year

 
Three decades after she introduced Indian food to the UK, curry queen Madhur Jaffrey is set to return to TV screens with a new series exploring the impact of Indian cuisine in Britain.

The 10-part series – titled Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Nation – will see the chef visiting cities across Britain; from London to Leicester, Birmingham to Glasgow.

Jaffrey will cook alongside members of the UK’s Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities to learn about their different techniques, as well as offering her own take on classic dishes.

The idea that Indian cooking does not have to take hours will be a theme that underpins the series.

Indian-born Jaffrey fronted her landmark program ‘Indian Cookery’ for the BBC more than 30 years ago.

She has written numerous cookery books and even appeared in films and TV shows, including in Eastenders.

In 1965, she won best actress at the Berlin Film Festival for her performance in Shakespeare Wallah and is said to have introduced film-making partners James Ivory and Ismail Merchant.

Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Nation will air at the end of this year.

- Staff Reporter

Madhur Jaffrey to return to TV screens this year

World’s Oldest Marathon Runner hangs up his boots, aged 101

 
A man said to be the world’s oldest marathon runner has decided to hang up his running shoes after completing the Virgin London Marathon on Sunday.
On a sunny afternoon in London, 101-year-old Fauja Singh finished the 26.2-mile run in a time of 07 hours 49 minutes before posing for pictures with some very glamorous cast members of The Only Way is Essex.
Mr Singh, of Ilford, says he will continue to take part in ‘short races’ of up to 10km.
The great-grandfather, originally from the Punjab, had taken up running after watching the London marathon on television 12 years ago, when he was 89.
Since then he has participated in a total of 8 marathons, including runs in London, New York and Toronto.  He has attributed his fitness to a regime of up to 10 miles of jogging or walking a day and a simple vegetarian diet.

Whilst his feats have inspired others to take up running, his rise to fame hasn’t been without its difficulties.
He has found himself embroiled in a row with Guinness World Records who have refused to acknowledge his claim to being the oldest marathon runner in the world as he doesn’t hold a birth certificate, much like millions of others in rural areas of the Punjab.
Mr Singh’s trainer Harmander Singh has even accused the organization of racial discrimination, saying that Guinness’ insistence on a birth certificate excludes much of the developing world.
Harmander told the Daily Telegraph: “I don’t think Guinness are racist intentionally but their processes are institutionally racist because they are clearly and deliberately saying that a birth certificate is important. If he wasn’t issued with a birth certificate, it wasn’t his fault, and we the British were in charge of India at the time.
“A recent United Nations report on children said that 40 per cent of children born in 2008 didn’t have a birth certificate, meaning developing countries. If people nowadays still don’t have birth certificates, what do you think it was like 100 years ago?”
Guinness however remains unmoved.
 
The furore has left Mr Singh bemused.  Through his trainer, Mr Singh told the Telegraph: “I did not even know what the Guinness Book of Records was until someone told me. It doesn’t matter to me as I just enjoy the running and everyone I know has been so pleased or inspired by it, and that is all that matters. I can’t read, anyway.”
- Staff Reporter

World’s Oldest Marathon Runner hangs up his boots, aged 101

Rowdy Rathore: Akshay’s return to action, with some retro surprises!!

 
After the tremendous success of ‘Housefull 2’, Akshay Kumar has been busy preparing for his next mega-bucks release: ‘Rowdy Rathore’.
Produced by the unlikely duo of Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Ronnie Screwvala of UTV, the film is directed by South Indian star Prabhu Deva and stars Sonakshi Singh alongside Akshay.
The film has a distinctly retro feel and what is said to be a suitably outlandish plot involving the ‘One Man Army’ Rowdy Rathore.  What’s more, it marries Akshay Kumar’s action man roots with his new-found talent as a comic: the film’s tagline, “Dooon’t Angry Meeee” is sure to join the 2012 lexicon of best one-liners.
Although it has not been confirmed yet, ‘Bebo’ herself, Kareena Kapoor, has reportedly filmed a song and short cameo in the picture as a goodwill gesture for close friend and ‘Rowdy’s’ assistant producer Shabinaa Khan.
Insiders on set have revealed to The UKAsian that it will be a very glamorous shoot by Kareena; currently one of the hottest properties in Bollywood, not to mention the industry’s highest paid actress.

Bebo however isn’t the only one making a surprise appearance in the film; director Prabhu Deva is better known for his dance moves – leading some to anoint him the ‘Indian Michael Jackson’ – and skill as a choreographer and he will be appearing in a song, matching steps with Akshay Kumar in a bid to appease fans of his dancing.
Production insiders say the pair shot some dance sequences together for the title track of the movie and Prabhu Deva says fans will “love it”.
Given the director’s dancing background, it’s hardly surprising to hear Akshay commenting, “Whatever he told me during the shoot, I just went and rehearsed it.  We would start rehearsing a week before the shooting.  His steps are not so easy that you can do it immediately on the sets.”
The film’s heroine Neeraja is played by the delightful Sonakshi Sinha.  ‘Rowdy’ is just her second film – after 2010’s ‘Dabangg’ and it’s evident that her star is on a very rapid rise in Bollywood.  ‘Rowdy’ marks the start of a jam-packed release schedule for 2012 for the 24-year-old actress who will be appearing once again with Akshay in his next release ‘Joker’ as well as Lootera, Son of Sardar and the sequel to Dabangg this year.
And as he does prior to the release of all his films, the seemingly tireless Akshay Kumar has already embarked on a publicity blitz in support of ‘Rowdy’.  The actor and TV presenter made a surprise appearance on talent show Dance India Dance 3 to dish out cash prizes to the show’s five finalists.
For his appearance, Kumar morphed into the Rathore character, complete with retro moustache, garish yellow pants and even kitschier bright orange shirt and descended onto the main stage in a Khatiya.
The promotional work will no doubt prove a success.  Trade analysts have already backed ‘Rowdy Rathore’ to break the records set by ‘Housefull 2’.
Taran Adarsh told The Hindustan Times: "Approximately Rs. 250 to Rs. 300 crore is riding on the next crop of releases. Rowdy Rathore is Akshay Kumar's return to action and it's being directed by Prabhudheva. That's a good combination.”
Bollywood analyst and journalist Amod Mehra meanwhile said “This film, with its rural to metro appeal, may bring Akshay Kumar his biggest opening ever."
While Kumar may not win over many critics with his releases these days, ‘Housefull 2’ has proven that his simple, masala formula is hugely popular with audiences across the world.
Rowdy Rathore is sure to continue that trend.
- Poonam Joshi

Rowdy Rathore: Akshay’s return to action, with some retro surprises!!

Young Bolly actress brutally murdered by fellow actors

 
An up and coming Bollywood actress has been murdered by two other actors in a kidnapping gone bad.
Meenakshi Thapar, 26, who had appeared in the horror flick ‘404’ in 2011 was reportedly kidnapped and beheaded in an attempt to extort £20,000 from her family.
Police officials say the kidnapping was carried out by lovers Amit Jaiswal, 36, and Preeti Surin who had decided to kidnap Ms Thapar after hearing her boast about her family’s wealth in Dehra Dun in the foothills of the Himalayas.
The duo allegedly invited her on a trip with them to Gorakhpur, a small town close to India’s border with Nepal and known for its Buddhist temples, where they held her hostage and sent a message to Ms Thapar’s Nepali parents demanding 1,500,000 Rupees (£18,000).
Reports say Ms Thapar’s fellow actors warned her mother they would force her daughter to participate in a pornographic film if their demands were not met.
Her mother paid 60,000 Rupees (£730) into her daughter’s account for her kidnappers to withdraw, but the actress was allegedly killed soon after.
She was strangled to death, beheaded, and her body was dumped at two different sites as her killers made their way back to Mumbai. Her torso was dumped in a water tank and her head thrown out of the bus window in a bag on the road to Mumbai.
Jaiswal and Surin were later caught in possession of Ms Thapar’s mobile phone SIM and confessed to the murder.
According to police, the couple had fled to Mumbai from their home in Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh, after Jaiswal’s wife discovered their affair.
They had moved to Bollywood in search of stardom.
-    Staff Reporter

Young Bolly actress brutally murdered by fellow actors

Susheela Raman and Lahore’s Mian Mir Qawwals: Musical nirvana

 
I had never been to a Susheela Raman concert before her performance at Alchemy 2012 on 16th April nor had I explored her music to any extent.  In spite of growing up in Sri Lanka – or perhaps because of it – Tamil music had not registered in my radar and my first encounter with Raman had been in the bowels of the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the day of her performance at the Festival. 

She looked harried but spoke softly, her intense eyes bearing down at you over a perfectly crafted nose.
 
It almost felt like a volcano was preparing to erupt in a few hours’ time. 

For the uninitiated, Raman – born in Britain to South Indian parents – is a Mercury Music Prize winner who has enjoyed success around the world; from the UK and France to India and Australia. 

Her unique, visceral arrangements of Tamil songs from Southern India are unlike any Tamil song that’s ever come out of South India, or anywhere else for that matter. 

The Tamil language may be as old as time itself but it isn’t the most mellifluous in the world. 

There’s a jarring quality to it, the words seem to collide with each other rather than flowing from one syllable to the next. 

As those syllables emanate from Raman’s mouth however – with the strum of Sam Mills’ acoustic guitar as the backdrop – they seem to transform, like sharp-edged stones on a beach morphing into beautifully rounded pebbles by the ocean tide rushing over them endlessly. 

The set began with ‘Paal’, a devotional song which begins with a whimper before reaching a crescendo of such terrific fury you’re left aghast.  Raman seems to enter a trance-like state before each song, living each word and chord.  There’s an almost primeval, Amazonian quality to her as she swirls around the stage, waving her hair, impassioned, furious and brooding.  It’s a remarkable spectacle.

Next up was a cover of Voodoo Chile – unlike any cover of the iconic tune you have ever heard, even darker and moodier than the original and inspired by the music of Ethiopia according to Raman. 

She was then joined on stage by several artists who would conspire to take Raman’s music to an entirely new level.  First up were Rajasthani singer and harpist Kutle Khan and Nathoo Lal Solanki, arguably the world’s preeminent exponent of the thrilling ‘Nagara’ drum.  Halfway through her set Raman was also joined by Lahore’s Mian Mir Qawwali troupe who managed to take the level of energy up by several notches whilst at the same time tempering the fury and despair that seems to characterize Raman’s songs.
The audience began to abandon their seats and make their way hither and thither, swaying and jumping in the aisles and entering the dream-like state that Qawwali music evokes.  It was beautiful and kept soaring to unimaginable heights. 

Just when you thought the furious strumming of the guitar, the frenetic beating of the Tabla and Nagara, or the singing could not continue any further, the Qawwals would find yet more summits to conquer.

It was the perfect hybrid; a fusion of Raman’s fury and the joy of the Qawwals colliding like some extra-terrestrial atom inside the Large Hadron Collider; the energy it generated was staggering. 

The men from Lahore however, triumphed on the night.  Susheela Raman enjoys a terrific following in the UK but her music is not everyone’s cup of tea. 

The Qawwals seemed to take her to a much wider audience. 

Raman has collaborated with dozens of artists over the past 15 years and has enjoyed some not insignificant success. 

It’s arguable whether this collaboration will be surpassed. 

-    Vijitha Alles

Raghu Dixit and Bellowhead at Alchemy 2012: Left wishing for more…

 
The UKAsian was fortunate enough to be a part of the Raghu Dixit Project’s first tour of the UK in 2012 as we followed the band around England on a week-long sojourn that was as frantic as it was fraught.
The figurehead – Raghu – arrived at Heathrow, mid-afternoon on Saturday 14th April.  He was already battling a sore throat after traveling the entire length of India for several gigs in a matter of 4 days.  On arrival in London, he and the band were whisked off to Wiltshire for an appearance at OneFest.  He was soon into his signature stage costume – better suited for balmy Goa than freezing Marlborough – and getting the crowd moving.
Even as his vocal chords faltered, Raghu fought hard to retain the earthy emotion that is so distinct to his voice and his charismatic stage presence; earning rapturous applause from the audience, most of who had never heard of the band.
He and the band then returned to London the same night, and Raghu appeared on the Andrew Marr show early the next morning before going through four days of grueling rehearsals with English folk band Bellowhead for the performances on 18th and 19th April at Alchemy.
That kind of schedule is sure to take a toll on anyone and despite stuffing himself silly with honey, yogurt, turmeric, more honey and myriad varieties of Lemsip, Raghu remained less than 100% as the two groups took to the stage at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
They had found the perfect subject matter for this, their newest collaboration: a story based on Thomas Mann’s ‘The Transposed Heads’ – which in turn was based on the myth of Hayavadhana.
It’s a tale of friendship and a terrific triangle of love, further dramatized by an infusion of Eastern and Western music.

The two bands had had all of 9 days – 5 in Delhi late last year and 4 days in the lead up to their performance at Alchemy – to put together the hour-long show.  I watched and filmed those final four days of rehearsals and it was fascinating to watch the process of refining and fine-tuning.  In fact, on the days of the actual performances, the two bands were still making last minute tweaks.
A narrator sat at the front of the stage, telling the story of Kush, Deva and the exquisite beauty they are both in love with: Lavanya.  The narration is interspersed with a dozen or more songs whilst a set of dancers – led by the Southbank’s resident artist Gauri Tripati Sharma – played out some of the scenes.
Raghu and his Project have long been known for their clever fusions and that musical originality was on full display: marrying Indian folk, retro Bollywood, Parth Chandiramani’s exquisite flute and even some operatic guitar riffs courtesy of Bryden Lewis with Bellowhead’s immense brass section, Celtic fiddles and Pete Flood’s amazing percussion.  The Hindi and English vocals were shared between Raghu and Bellowhead’s Paul Sartin and Rachael McShane.
The ingredients were certainly there and in isolation they were all excellent but despite it being pregnant with promise, the production as a whole lacked cohesion, feeling very much like a work in progress.  Gauri Sharma and her dancers had three days to come up with a routine but failed to find one which embodied the story’s drama.  Even the lighting effects failed to capture any of the shifts in the story.
On the first night, Raghu attempted to provide fans with something more familiar by returning for a set of the Project’s own songs to much raucous cheer but had to give up after two songs as his voice caved in and he had to implore bassist Gaurav Vaz to take up singing duties.
On the second night he didn’t even attempt a second set and you could tell that he was well below par; those segments where he did sing were still very emotional – particularly the soulful Yaare Bina – but the usual aura that his voice exudes was absent.
A vast majority of fans The UKAsian spoke to, enjoyed the collaboration between the two bands but left wishing they experienced more of Raghu Dixit and the Project in all their glory.
It’s going to be a busy few months for the band and they will be making several trips back to England in 2012; Raghu will in fact, be performing solo at the Queen’s Golden Jubilee concert in June before the band perform at several music festivals in the UK and Western Europe.
Here’s hoping that those insufferable vocal chords are mended by then.
- Vijitha Alles

Raghu Dixit and Bellowhead at Alchemy 2012: Left wishing for more…

Mahatma Gandhi personal effects auctioned for GBP128,000

 
A collection of personal items belonging to Mahatma has been auctioned off in Shropshire for £128,000 with his iconic spectacles fetching more than GBP40,000.

The sale featured 27 items associated with Gandhi and attracted interest from across the world.

Ghandi’s family had branded aspects of the sale ‘morbid’ after it was revealed a piece of blood splattered earth on which Gandhi was standing when he was assassinated in 1948 would go under the hammer.

Auctioneers Mullock’s said three items had been snapped up by the same buyer via a proxy bidder.

A spokesman for the auction house said, “The spectacles which sold for £40,900, Gandhi’s wooden charka which sold for £31,300 and the casket containing the blood stained soil which sold for £12,040 were all bought by the same person.

“The bids came in over the phone and the buyer used a proxy bidder. I’m not sure where the bids were coming in from and we can’t reveal their identity.

“Another item which attracted particular interest was Gandhi’s prayer book which sold for £12,640. Bids for these items came in from six different sources over the phone. Some online bids were also made.”

The lots were given a pre-auction guide price of £80,000.

- Staff Reporter

Mahatma Gandhi personal effects auctioned for GBP128,000

Sunday, 22 April 2012

The 'Missile Woman' behind India's new ICBM

 
The Indian media loves calling her Missile Woman - and with good reason.
Tessy Thomas, a scientist from India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), is a rare woman who has played a key role in the making of its most potent long-range nuclear-capable ballistic missile, the Agni-V, which was successfully tested on Thursday.
She is thought to be one of the very few women working on strategic nuclear ballistic missiles in the world.
In the male-dominated world of the country's highly secretive missile development programme, Ms Thomas, 49, has stood out ever since she joined the DRDO in 1988.
But the charismatic scientist says she has never faced any anti-female bias at her workplace.
"There is no gender discrimination in technology. If your work is good it automatically stands out. I have never faced any discrimination ever in my workplace," she says.
Ms Thomas, a Roman Catholic, was born to a small-businessman father and a homemaker mother in Alleppey in southern Kerala state.
She grew up near a rocket launching station and says her fascination with rockets and missiles began then.
After finishing school and college in Kerala, she left the state for the first time at the age of 20 to pursue a masters degree in guided missiles in the western Indian city of Pune. It was there she met her future husband, Saroj Kumar, now a commodore in the Indian navy.
Ms Thomas says she was named after Mother Teresa, the late Nobel laureate who worked with the poor in Calcutta.
So how does she feel about about working on some of the most powerful weapons of mass destruction?
Ms Thomas says she is developing "what are really weapons of peace".
What has been infinitely more difficult, she says, is juggling work and family.
At times, she says, she is torn between her loyalties to the missile programme and her family responsibilities.
It has helped immensely, she believes, that she has had immense support from her husband and son, Tejas, an engineering student who shares his name with India's indigenously developed light combat aircraft, also made by the DRDO.
In a glowing tribute in 2008, The Indian Woman Scientists Association did not forget to mention that "like most women she also does a tight-rope walk between home and career, between being a mother and a scientist who is dedicated to her job.
"We feel Tessy Thomas serves as a role model and an inspiration for women scientists to achieve their dreams and have their feet planted in both worlds successfully," the group said.
Ms Thomas has said when she joined the DRDO there were very few women working there. Now there are many more working in key weapons programmes.
In January, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the Indian Science Congress that Ms Thomas is an example of a "woman making her mark in a traditionally male bastion and decisively breaking the glass ceiling".
Last year, three women scientists won the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar award, India's top science prize, compared to 11 from 1958-2010.
Now, the accolades are again coming fast for Ms Thomas - the media also love to call her Agniputri, or one born of fire, after the missiles she has helped develop.
"We are all proud of our country. Agni-V is one of our greatest achievements," she says.
- Pallava Bagla, BBC Online

The 'Missile Woman' behind India's new ICBM

'Vicky Donor' sheds inhibitions on sperm donation in India

 
Talking about sex is still a cultural taboo in conservative India, but a Bollywood filmmaker is hoping to usher in change with a light-hearted take on infertility and sperm donation.
"Vicky Donor", a romantic comedy about a sought-after sperm donor at a fertility clinic, is part of a wave of recent films tackling subjects rarely addressed in Indian cinema - gay relationships, biopics on sex symbols and now sperm donation.
Indian audiences, torn between rigid social mores and the challenges of a rapidly modernising nation, have gradually accepted Bollywood films with bolder themes. But sperm donation may be pushing the limits.
"Conservative families, how they will react, I don't know," said the film's director, Shoojit Sircar. "Things may change. There are chances that youngsters may tell their parents to go and watch the film."
In January, a couple's advertisement offering 20,000 rupees for the sperm of an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) alumnus sparked an online furore.
Sircar, whose 2005 film "Yahaan" was a love story set in Kashmir, said he steered clear of adult jokes for "Vicky Donor". "Vicky" is the name of the main character.
"Sperm donation could become a little repulsive if not presented right because it is a taboo and sperm donation straight away relates to masturbation," the 43-year-old film-maker told Reuters in a phone interview from Mumbai.
"The treatment is quite humorous, a very Woody Allen-ish style of humour."
Much of the dialogue in "Vicky Donor" is sourced from real-life anecdotes, with the filmmakers taking inspiration from the doctors and patients they met while researching the movie.
The trailer depicts a childless couple seeking a cricketer's sperm sample so that their offspring could play for the country and also make a lot of money.
"This is a subject that we talk only in our bedrooms but infertility is a huge problem in this modern society," said Sircar.
Despite marketing gimmicks such as men dressed in sperm suits dancing at the film's music launch earlier this month, the makers of "Vicky Donor" may find it difficult to counter the stigma attached to sperm donation.
No mainstream Bollywood star, with the exception of its producer, John Abraham, features in Sircar's film. The director says he didn't even bother asking the Indian film industry's reigning heroes.
"Any star would have liked the script but they wouldn't have agreed to be a part of the film, I knew that," said Sircar.
Instead, newcomer Ayushmann Khurrana, a known face on Indian television who donated sperm as part of a reality TV show task, was cast in the lead role.
"Sperm donation is something not generally discussed openly, at least no one knows about the lives of professional sperm donors in India," said film critic Utpal Borpujari.
"If this film is able to give a perspective to the whole thing -- even if in a comic way -- the director will deserve kudos for bringing an important issue out in the open."
- Tony Tharakan, Reuters

'Vicky Donor' sheds inhibitions on sperm donation in India

Sonu Nigam blames organizers for no-show at ‘Dhamaka’ 2012

 
Singer Sonu Nigam says he was forced to pull out of the 'Dhamaka 2012' concert in London after the event's organizers failed to obtain the necessary visas for his group.
The award-winning Indian singer had been scheduled to perform alongside Pakistani artist Atif Aslam at the O2 in East London on Sunday night.
In a statement posted on his Facebook page, the singer’s management said organizers of the event had failed to arrange the appropriate sponsorship for UK Visas for Nigam’s “entire group.”
It’s not clear who that group included.
On 15th April Nigam had taken to his Twitter account to declare: “I’m not part of the London O2 concert on 22nd April 2012 guys.  Just letting you all know.  Another time.  Love u all and thanks for the support.”
Two days later he backtracked, tweeting: “London O2 happening…Get ready guys.”
Less than 24 hours before the concert however, the singer tweeted: “Disappointed n enraged 2 inform every1 tht I'm not coming 2 London.  Hard 2 believe tht except my visa, not a single visa for my group was done.”
The singer added: “Never happened in 20 years of overseas travel. Don't know whom (sic) to blame. Our entire team's time and repute (sic) has been wasted.”
The statement details events in the run up to the cancellation of the trip to London: “Mr. Nigam had categorically announced his delight in performing for the said concert and spread the word amongst his anxious fans on the 17th April.  After their entire troupe's ordeal on their way back from Australia – when their connecting flight to Bombay got cancelled from Singapore and they had to fly to Delhi and then reach Mumbai – they headed straight to the British visa office VFS in Andheri East, and fulfilled the official formalities as the promoters in UK had assured that the visas could easily be procured thereafter.  Little did we know that we will reach a point where our time, our dates and most importantly our credibility will go through testing times such as this!  In our 20 years of successful inning (sic) in the (sic) show-biz, this is the first time a promoter has failed to obtain visas for our entire group except Mr Nigam's!  We are aghast at this unexpected turn of events.”
 
The statement received a mixed reaction from the public.
One fan – Sarika Pugla, writing on Nigam’s Facebook page – vented her anger at both parties, saying “I hate this blame game and am very disappointed at the sheer audacity of you people (both Sonu Nigam's team and the event’s promoters) to put us in such a situation.  Who on earth is naïve enough to believe that UK visas can be obtained in 4 working days?  Why did you people not question the organizers beforehand?”
Another, Amisha Patel, placed the blame squarely on the organizers, writing “A real shame.  The promoters have had plenty of time to get things organized.”
“Sonu we didn’t go to the O2 today but look forward to seeing you perform in London soon”, she added.
Others were far less conciliatory.  Asad Shan tweeted, “Just read one of the most pathetic press releases…talk about integrity but don’t mess with the UK audience…we make you…”
The statement from Nigam went on to say, “We have given the option to the promoters to postpone the event and work on another date, viz 26th or 30th of April, or 26th of May, so the fans do not feel let down, and we still stand by it.  All this despite the wastage (sic) of an important date and so much negativity from the promoter's side in the UK.”

It added, “For everyone's knowledge, every single member of our group has his\her passport stuck still in the UK consulate.”
The Dhamaka concert was penciled in during a packed schedule of concerts featuring some of the biggest names in Indian music, including Kailash Kher and the Raghu Dixit Project.
The event was promoted extensively by the organizers Dhamaka and Flex FX, both headed by dancer and choreographer Naz Choudhury, who had promised an event that was as much a music concert as it was an exercise in diplomacy.
The concert continued at the O2, albeit with a sparse crowd and a dance troupe supporting Atif Aslam.
The organizers did not respond to a message from The UKAsian requesting a comment.
- Staff Reporter (Edited by Vijitha Alles)







Sonu Nigam blames organizers for no-show at ‘Dhamaka’ 2012

Friday, 13 April 2012

Shah Rukh Khan detained by US immigration en route to Yale

 
Actor Shah Rukh Khan was detained for two hours at an airport in New York after arriving in the US to address students at Yale University.
Khan – who flew into the city’s White Plains airport in a private jet – only received immigration clearance after intervention by the Indian Consul General.
The actor had been scheduled to attend a Press Conference before travelling on to the Ivy League university to receive a fellowship and speak to students.
Reports say the press conference and the lecture had to be delayed by more than 3 hours due to the actor’s detention.
Arriving at the press conference, Khan commented, “Whenever I start feeling too arrogant about myself I always take a trip to America. The immigration guys kick the star out of stardom.”
The US Customs and Border Protection Agency later released a statement apologizing for the incident.
In 2009 the actor was detained for two hours at Newark airport in New Jersey because, he said, “he had a Muslim name.”
-          Staff Reporter (Edited by Vijitha Alles)

Pak students to UK to face interviews as Oxford warns against new rules

 
Pakistani students applying for a visa to the UK are to face compulsory interviews with visa officers, according to a report in the Guardian.
The new rule has reportedly been imposed after a secret Home Office study suggested that 40% of all potential students were spurious applicants.
The newspaper said that Home Secretary Theresa May will announce that “bogus” students will be blocked from entering the UK when the measures are introduced.
Pakistani students wishing to study in the UK have applied for visas via paper applications over the past decade.
The pilot study, which was carried out by the UK Border Agency, suggests that 40% of applicants for student visas from Pakistan are likely to prove ineligible for the document, mainly due their inability to speak English.
According to The Guardian, the study was conducted through consulates in 13 countries; from India and China to Nigeria.
It found 38% of applicants from Bangladesh would be considered ineligible for a student visa. In most cases this was because applicants were unable to answer basic questions in English without the aid of an interpreter. The failure rate in other countries was projected at 29% in India, 28% in Egypt and 27% in Sri Lanka.
In Canada and the US, which are predominantly English speaking countries, the failure rate is projected to be 4%.
Reports say the compulsory interviews will gradually be extended to other countries after the pilot scheme in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, The Vice Chancellor of Oxford University has urged students from India to not be deterred by strict new visa rules introduced by the UK government this month.
Andrew Hamilton said the scrapping of the Post Study Work scheme on 6 April will have serious consequences with students looking to other countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia for their education.
New immigration rules mean fewer non-EU students are allowed to stay on in the UK after the end of their studies.
Ministers estimate there will be 70,000 fewer student visas issued as a result over the next 12 months.
Its estimated non-EU students bring close to GBP10 billion into the British economy annually.
-    Vijitha Alles

“I love Rajnikanth…and Jesus”: Rakhi Sawant

 
Unabashed publicity monger and everyone’s favourite (come on, admit it!) ‘Item Girl’, Rakhi Sawant has expressed her unreserved, unequivocal, unconditional and uninhibited love for Rajnikanth after the follically-challenged (albeit hirsute on-screen) South Indian megastar’s SON-IN-LAW ditched her at the last minute at a planned dance performance.
Ms Sawant, assuming her now-familiar, trout-pout-enhanced curled lip and crossing her legs a-la Sharon Stone, in a timely fashion, told the Times of India that she was heartbroken after Dhanush (what’s with the mononyms these days? India’s booming but everyone’s becoming fans of Madonna?  Move on people!) left her standing at a planned performance of something called ‘Kolaveri Di’; which is apparently a dance involving an exotic variety of curry leaf, according to my informed sources.
Thankfully, just as her emotions (I actually mean her hormones) threatened to go into meltdown, Rakhi Sawant found Jesus.  Yep, you read that right.  The guy on the cross.
She says, “I was told that his (Dhanush’s) advisers told him to stay away from performing with me because I am a controversial girl. He thought his reputation as a big star would get hampered!  I was very hurt, but then I saw Jesus' face smiling at me and telling me 'Rakhi don't worry, I will always love you!"
As her emotions (hormones) went into overdrive, she added, "Rajinikanth is my dream man! I respect and love everyone and everything attached to him! Dhanush is his son-in-law, and I am a big fan of Dhanush's songs and acting skills. Even though he didn't show respect towards me and treated me as an untouchable, I pray that his songs and films become more popular than ever! "
After having expressed her undying love for the South’s biggest movie star, Ms Sawant casually proceeded to tear the South’s work ethos to pieces: "Seeing what Dhanush did to me, I realised how nice our Bollywood stars are! Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Sanjay Dutt and even cricketers like Kapil Dev have performed happily along with me and never made me feel small or belittled!"
Kapil Dev?
That’s sailed over the long-on boundary!!!!
-    Tung-in-Chick

Thursday, 12 April 2012

SRK among stars to light up BBC Asian Network this Jubilee Year

 
The BBC Asian Network has announced a series of exciting new programs set to feature some of the biggest stars of the subcontinent as well as a slew of British Asian talent.
The series will begin in May and will include meet the stars events, comedies, dramas and specialized programmes featuring, among others, Shah Rukh Khan, Meera Syal, Madhuri Dixit and even Pakistani cricketer Shahid Afridi.
The biggest draw of the series, unsurprisingly, will be King Khan – already something of a fixture at the digital channel – who will present his own radio show from 28 May to 1 June.  The five-part series, titled Shah Rukh Khan’s Heroes, will see SRK taking listeners on a journey of discovery, shedding light on the personal heroes who inspired him.
Listeners of the channel will also have a chance to meet the star at the Asian Network studios through an exclusive competition, details of which will be announced in May.
Actress and Comedian Meera Syal will host a 4-part series from 9 July to 12 July, Meera Syal’s Asian Comedy Story, explores the history and future of the genre and reflects on her own experiences and career.
Out of the studio, Pakistani all-rounder Shahid Afridi will appear at a unique one-off coaching event at Edgbaston, 13 May after presenting a show on the Network on 9 May.
Other highlights include a series of special interviews conducted by Noreen Khan with the likes of Adnan Sami (16 May) and Bollywood legend Madhuri Dixit (23 May).
For more details on programs and how you can get involved, visit www.bbc.co.uk/asiannetwork.
-    Staff Reporter

London Met University to introduce ‘Dry Areas’ for Muslims

 
The Vice Chancellor of London Metropolitan University says he wants to create alcohol-free areas on campus out of respect for Muslim students, according to The Daily Telegraph.
Professor Malcolm Gillies – an Australian music scholar – told the paper he was consulting with staff and students about creating the dry spaces out of “cultural sensitivity” as part of a major redesign of the University’s two campuses.
Reports say a fifth of students at the university come from Muslim families – many of them young women from traditional homes.
Prof Gillies told The telegraph that for many of these students, the drinking culture was a hindrance to their university experience.
The academic made his plans public during a discussion on how to accommodate minorities at a conference of university officials earlier this month.
Professor Gillies was quoted as saying, “(Drinking) is a negative experience – in fact an immoral experience – for a high percentage of our students.  And given that around our campuses you have at least half a dozen pubs within 200 metres, I can’t see there is such a pressing reason to be cross-subsiding a student activity which is essentially the selling of alcohol.”
He added, “They don’t have to feel that this is an alcoholic environment, we are an educational environment, we are not seeking to push particular cultural or gastronomic values, we meet the needs of our students as they actually are.”
His comments were welcomed by anti-alcoholism campaigners, including Paul Morrison, Policy Adviser for the Methodist Church, and a strong advocate against excessive drinking.  “We think that local communities should be able to choose how alcohol is consumed in their areas because in some places it is perfectly acceptable but in other places it is antisocial,” he said.
-    Staff Reporter

Jayasuriya, Symonds “express interest” in Pakistan Premier League

 
Former international cricketers Sanath Jayasuriya and Andrew Symonds have expressed interest in participating in the proposed Pakistan Premier League, according to a report in the Express Tribune.
The ‘PPL’ is a Twenty20 cricket tournament styled after the hugely successful Indian Premier League and is the latest attempt by the Pakistan Cricket Board to revive international cricket in the country.
The paper quoted a PCB insider as saying the board was enlisting the assistance of current and former Pakistani players to use their influence with other international cricketers to make the tournament a reality.
Former West Indian legend Brian Lara has also expressed interest in participating.
The insider told the Tribune, “These players have promised to feature whenever they are invited.  This is just the beginning and we are expecting more confirmations. Although these cricketers have passed their prime, their participation will convince other (current) players to come forward.
The idea for a PPL was first discussed back in 2007 following the success of the IPL and similar leagues in Australia and South Africa.
However the terrorist attacks on the Sri Lankan team in 2009 put paid to the idea.
No international team has toured the country since.
Vijitha Alles

Anupam Kher on Freedom, Professionalism, Optimism and Nepotism

 
altIf the hallmark of a great thespian is the ability transform, transcend and reinvent oneself, Anupam Kher ticks all the right boxes.
In an insulated industry where currying favour takes precedence over ability – not to mention one obsessed with generic physical beauty – a follically-challenged man born to a lower-middle class family in an obscure Kashmiri town has endured and entertained a generation.
His humble background has doubtless ensured his longevity and endowed him with an insatiable appetite for work.
The 57-year-old has appeared in a staggering 450 films and dozens of theatre productions, directed a multi-starrer with some of India’s biggest names and produced a brace of critically acclaimed films.
He has headed the Censor Board of India and the prestigious National School of Drama in New Delhi as well as running Actor Prepares: arguably India’s most respected acting school with a branch in the United Kingdom.
Appropriately enough, he’s also written a self-help book ‘The Best Thing About You is You!’ which details his struggles and experiences as an actor.

And, 30 years after making his screen debut in Saaransh – India’s official entry for the 1985 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film – Kher is venturing into Hollywood in 2012: first with Deepa Mehta’s big screen adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s ‘Midnight’s Children’ followed by ‘The Silver Linings Playbook’, an ensemble comedy starring Robert de Niro and Bradley Cooper.
Not forgetting of course, his standing as one of the leading members of India’s burgeoning Twitterati.
On a flying visit to London – where he shot several scenes for Yash Chopra’s upcoming film – Anupam Kher sat down with The UKAsian for a chat about creative freedom, Hollywood, optimism, professionalism and nepotism.
altOn ‘The Silver Linings Playbook’…
AK: The film is about a mentally imbalanced person (played by Bradley Cooper) who is taken out of an asylum and his relationship with his mother and father played by Jackie Weaver and Robert de Niro respectively.  I play an Indian therapist whose unconventional methods don’t sit well with the father.  The story is about how inherently dysfunctional we can all be; it’s about people who find themselves out of place, without context.
On comparisons between Hollywood and Bollywood...
AK: In Hollywood, there is a certain type of professionalism, a certain discipline about the movie-making process.  There’s also a tremendous amount of paperwork involved, a lot of pre-production and they stick to schedules.
In India the process is much more fluid.  As a consequence, there’s a certain human touch to making films in India.  You’re invariably involved with friends or friends of friends and things are a lot less regimented.  But like all things in India, I think that relaxed nature too is changing although not necessarily for the best.  When there were no vanity vans, no mobiles, there was a lot of togetherness. Now, there’s aloofness.  It’s fine for some people but I’m a people person so it’s much more difficult for someone like me.
But overall, the future of Indian cinema is very bright.  We have made massive leaps in terms of talent and content.  Now you can make movies you believe in.  You don't have to follow a certain formula, which is very good.  From 'Khosla Ka Ghosla', 'A Wednesday' and 'Kahaani' – these movies are proof that if small films are made well, they have an audience today.
The outside world might look at the Indian film industry with skepticism but whatever the world may say about us, we make movies for our people; for 1.2 billion people to be precise.  Not specifically for international audiences.  That’s not to say that Indian films are not being appreciated around the world; they certainly are in ever increasing numbers but what one has to realize is cinema is the one thing that unites the whole of India – apart from a cricket match against Pakistan.  We have a very large captive audience and that audience is our first priority.
On Midnight’s Children...
AK: I have read Midnight’s Children and in fact it’s one of my favourites.  I have a guest appearance in what is essentially an ensemble film.  I was very flattered that Deepa told me she had chosen me because she wanted someone to set the tone for the entire film.  I think it’s an outstanding film; it’s extremely difficult to adapt a book like that for the big screen but I think she and Rushdie have pulled it off.
On Salman Rushdie, the Jaipur Literary Fest and the media
AK: I think everybody has the right to express their view.  I don’t think his commentary is a representation of what India is about as a whole.  Today, people will latch on to anything and everything to sensationalize things but we need to have some perspective.  Blaming a country for being backward is very easy; much more difficult is the task to go deeper and understand people’s sensibilities and adapt to those sensibilities.  A nation as a whole has a different point of view to that of an individual’s.  When we shoot in London we have to follow the rules of the UK.  It’s the same in the US, Dubai or elsewhere.  Having said that, I think it’s very important to have creative freedom but creative freedom is open to interpretation.
On Deepa Mehta choosing to film ‘Midnight’s Children’ in Sri Lanka instead of India...
AK: Contrary to what the media likes to say, Deepa didn’t apply to shoot the film in India in the first place because she didn’t want to disturb anyone’s sensibilities so she made a decision at the outset to shoot elsewhere.  But that was interpreted in a wholly different way.  She actually wanted to do part of the filming in Kashmir and I had personally spoken to the chief minister about it and permission had been granted without any qualms but the shooting was cancelled due to logistical difficulties.  The problem is that kind of thing can be interpreted in the most negative way possible and placed in the public domain.  Catherine Bigelow has been shooting her film about Osama bin Laden in Chandigarh for a while and there haven’t been any problems.  So it’s important for the public to understand that there will be these kind of problems anywhere in the world; not just India.
On Censorship and the Censor Board...
AK: I don’t think the censor board has any type of agenda but it can get ridiculous sometimes.  My producers and I were recently discussing an upcoming film with the Board; a film which references both Manmohan Singh and George W Bush.  We were told that mentions of both names must be muted in the final cut.  It’s absolutely ridiculous.  If the humour is based on these two individuals and then we mute their names, what’s the point of a movie into which a tremendous amount of work has gone in?  There would be nothing left to say.  But we are continuing to fight the ruling against the film.
altOn being an optimist...
AK: I’m the ultimate optimist.  I was born an optimist.  I think my whole family is optimistic.  When you’re from a poor, lower-middle class family, the only thing that is cheap is happiness and holding on to the thought that things can only get better.  When you’re rich or worse, if you’re born rich, you become sceptical and wary of people.  I come from a large family.  My late father – who was a clerk at the forestry department – was the only earning member.  He brought in Rs. 90 a month which sustained a family of 14 people back in the late 50’s.  But we were happy.
It’s easy to be pessimistic; to feel downtrodden.  It’s much harder to make things work.  Look, I made it.  I was a bald, thin, nobody who didn’t have a decent place to sleep but I made it didn’t I?  You can find reasons for not going that extra mile but what is there to lose, especially when there’s so much that can help you along the way?  If you want to be an actor today there’s so much that can help you.  There are casting companies, casting directors, there’s reality TV, millions of TV channels.  I had none of these things back in the early 80’s.
On Actor Prepares...
AK: The acting school is my passion.  The thinking behind it wasn’t, “I’m an ageing actor, and I need to secure a regular source of income, let’s start an acting school!”  I’m very much a working actor, and not only in India.  I truly feel that acting can be taught.  My theory is that people who can lie can act.  The job of Actor Prepares is to help hone that ability.
On how long he intends to entertain...
AK: I will go for as long as my mind and my body are in sync which is hopefully as long as I shall live.  More and more older actors are doing amazing work.  Look at Clint Eastwood, for example.  He’s done some of the most amazing work of his career in the last 20 years!  Who would have thought that Dirty Harry will turn out to be such an amazing director?  It gives us all hope!  You don’t retire from this profession.  And I enjoy living.  Living life to the optimum; obviously that helps.
On Shobha De’s allegations of Nepotism in Bollywood and his own sons...
AK: Shobha De is not in the film industry.  I doubt she has the full picture.  She’s a writer of fiction.  I have great regard for her as a person but her opinions are skewed.  She’s of course entitled to her opinion but no one will give you work in Bollywood just because you’re someone’s son or relative.  It’s not as black and white as that at all.
I’m definitely like my character of Dharamvir Malhotra in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge in that I’m one of those fathers who celebrate failure and a person’s ability to overcome failure and become better and stronger.  I will do all that is necessary for my children and my family but I will never ask someone to give my brother or my son work because I don’t think it would be appropriate on my part.  If I make such a request and the producer in question refuses then that damages the relationship between the two of us and I would never put myself in that situation.
On what is left to achieve...
There are so many things that I want to achieve.  You can pose the same question in 30 years time and I’ll list 100 things I’d like to achieve.  Perhaps that article will outline what more I’ve done!
-    Poonam Joshi (with additional reporting by Isha Chandra. Edited by Vijitha Alles).

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Iconic MINI finally makes it to India

 
Hair dressers and Estate Agents of India rejoice.
The MINI: a British – albeit now German-owned – icon of cool, lately known for its ubiquity among purveyors of hair extensions and tony Edwardian terraces in North London is now available in its myriad forms on the sub-continent.
Infinity Cars, a Mumbai based BMW dealer, will market the Mini, the stylish Mini Convertible and the cross-over Mini Countryman in the country from a 12-000 sq ft dealership at the appropriately named Santacruz Linking Road in Mumbai. 
And in keeping with the brand’s ‘lifestyle’ ethos, the showroom will feature a restaurant serving up international cuisine.
Pooja Choudhary, Managing Director of Infinity Cars said, “When we think Mumbai we think ‘Unstoppable’, ‘Iconic’, ‘Standout’. When we think MINI, we think ‘Unstoppable’, ‘Iconic’, ‘Standout’. MINI is meant for Mumbai.”
-    Staff Reporter

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

India’s obsession with skin fairness is heading south

 
First came the face, with even Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan jumping on the bandwagon to tout dangerously volatile chemical concoctions that would turn you into a black-clad Parisian mime artist.
Gleeful manufacturers and marketers then headed south, conjuring up a deodorant that would not only banish unpleasant, Masala-charged odours but make that rarely seen and regularly ravaged underarm area fair and lovely as well.
And now it seems that relentless march southwards continues with ‘Clean and Dry Intimate Wash’, which reportedly offers protection, fairness and freshness for vaginas; an area which – to be fair – historically remains challenged in the ‘fairness’ stakes given the fact that it spends large swathes of its life, erm, covered up.
A new TV commercial for the cream – first aired in India on Tuesday – shows a young couple going through the usual morning routine but the woman is pensive, staring into the distance, seemingly in crisis.  The camera then pans to her in the shower with a bottle of the lotion in question before the video abruptly cuts to a graphic which depicts an unusually darkened groin region of a woman magically transforming itself after application of said cream.
The subsequent images – unsurprisingly – show the woman jumping for joy much to the bemusement of her husband/partner.

The commercial has come under attack from viewers, women’s rights activists and advertising executives.  Author and ad guru Anuja Chauhan told the Hindustan Times “It’s insane to project a personal hygiene product like this. There is way too much pressure on looking fair. At least the private parts should be spared!”
Barkha Sing, chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Women agreed saying the ad was “ridiculous” while designer Rina Dhaka called the ad “shocking and horrifying.”
Social media sites were suitably abuzz over the advert with one Tweeter saying “After watching the ad, I’m expecting people to mention “must have fair skin AND privates” on matrimonial websites.”
A spokesperson for manufacturer Midas Care defended the cream, saying “The wash keeps the skin clean, fair and safe from infections. Fairness is just one of the many offerings.”
-    Vijitha Alles

Monday, 9 April 2012

Kailash Kher at the Hammersmith Apollo: The UKAsian Review

 
The Hammersmith Apollo has hosted some legendary musicians and on a damp and dreary Easter Sunday, the iconic venue played host to one more as Kailash Kher stopped off in London as part of his whirlwind world tour.
He’s taken in performances in Northern England and the Netherlands, not to mention an appearance at the BBC’s famed Maida Vale studios in a matter of days but if there was any exhaustion it certainly didn’t show.
As the sounds of a Sarod reverberated through the auditorium, the diminutive Kher scuttled on to the stage to start things off with an epic version of ‘Jana Jogi De Naal’.
That opening gambit was so rapturous it almost felt as if it was the end of the evening but any doubts that the night couldn’t sustain such a high standard were soon laid to rest as the band dipped into its abundant back catalogue and some covers for a performance that will doubtless join the list of legendary gigs at the Apollo.
Among the highlights was a haunting rendition of ‘Saiyaan’, a cover of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s ‘Sanu Ek Pal Chain Na Naave’ which the maestro himself would have been proud of, the pulsating ‘Tauba Tauba’ and the band’s newest release, the delightfully breezy ‘Rangeele’.
The key to the band’s burgeoning success is its amazingly complex fusion of Sufi and myriad Western musical genres.  In an age when fusion music is so au courant, it is arguable whether there is a finer marriage of styles; the mysticism of Sufi music blending seamlessly with jazz, reggae, African rhythms, funk, bluesy rock and roll and even a bit of Nashville to create a sound that is utterly effervescent.
The instrumentalists were uniformly excellent, particularly Paresh and Naresh Kamath, backing vocalists and the band’s lead and bass guitarists respectively as well as the outstanding percussionist Sanket Athale.
At the heart of the band’s sound of course is the unique voice of Kailash Kher.
It is a voice that can effortlessly capture a plethora of emotions; from the profundity of Sufism to the despair of the blues; from the yearning of reggae to the joy of funk.  It is astonishing that Kailash can actually sound better live than in the recording studio.
What’s more, he is a true entertainer, flitting between singing and performing observational comedy in between songs.  There is a humility to him that is deeply endearing; it is evident that he loves every moment in the sunshine and cherishes the success he has found since struggling in Mumbai.
History is pock-marked with references to music’s claimed ability to transcend all manner of barriers, borders and nefarious encumbrances and make the world a happier place.
No music better encapsulates that esoteric power of music than the magical concoctions of Kailash Kher.
-    Vijitha Alles
Kailasa’s latest album ‘Rangeele’ is available via iTunes and Amazon Music

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Kailash Kher makes music history in London


Diminutive singer and composer Kailash Kher made history this week when he became one of a handful of Indian artists invited to perform at the BBC’s famed Maida Vale Studios; an iconic venue which has played host to the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, David Bowie and Tabla maestro Zakir Hussain.
The recording took place 3rd April – a day before the start of singer’s first ever UK tour – and saw Kher and his band Kailasa perform a set comprising some of his most well known material such as ‘Allah Ke Bandey’ as well as tracks from the band’s latest album ‘Rangeele’.
Speaking after the exclusive recording, Kailash Kher said: “I am overwhelmed being in a place where top recording artistes like David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin have performed. I can feel their energy and am blessed.”
Built in 1909, Maida Vale Studios is now home of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and is used for both performances and recordings of classical music.
The building houses a total of seven music and radio drama studios, of which Studio Number 3 (MV3), in which Kailash and his band recorded, is one of the largest.
Bing Crosby made his last recording session in this studio in 1977 – 3 days before he died of a heart attack.
Kailash and Kailasa’s performance and special interview with DJ/presenter Bobby Friction was filmed by the BBC for multi-platform use, including television, radio, online and the digital interactive BBC Red Button service.
The output will also form part of a national marketing campaign which will run from May 14th, 2012. Focusing on a range of eminent Asian film and music celebrities, under the tag line “Asian Stars for Asian Network”, the new promotional campaign will also be seen and heard across the broadcaster’s network of television and radio channels, plus cinemas and billboards around the UK.
Kailash and Kailasa’s recording session came amidst a hectic tour of the United Kingdom and Europe which has seen the band performing in Birmingham, Liverpool and Amsterdam within a matter of days.
Kailasa will be live at the Hammersmith Apollo in London on Sunday 08th April before heading over to Leicester on Monday the 9th.
For more information visit www.saregamaevents.com

Madhuri Dixit Interview Madame Tussauds Wax Statue

Shankar Tucker and his Exquisite Fusions

 
It’s difficult to get your head around the package that is Shankar Tucker.  The eyes aren’t blurry, the invisible pores on his face don’t spew out whiskey fumes and the index fingers aren’t jaundiced by smoke of any kind as you would find with jazz musicians.  And he’s not adorned with a plethora of trinkets or encumbered with the esoteric vibe – not to mention breathtakingly bad hairdo – of the typical Indian classical musician.
In fact – having been enthralled by his music – I’m slightly disappointed to find him so strait laced; the boy-next-door hair cut, the New England style and the shy, youthful demeanour giving nothing away about the musical genius whirring away behind the preppy façade.
Appearances though – as is always the case – are deceiving.
Shankar Tucker is fast becoming a cross over sensation in a country whose musical traditions have inspired countless generations of musicians to attempt to marry East and West.
Born and raised in tony Boston, Massachusetts to an artistically inclined and spiritually left-field family, the 24-year-old is an accomplished clarinettist who’s been playing the instrument since his early teens.  
When he was 15, Tucker came across a CD of Remember Shakti, which featured Zakir Hussain and Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia and a love for Eastern classical music was born.
After training in Western classical music at the prestigious New England Conservatory in Boston, Tucker won a scholarship to study music under his idol Chaurasia in 2010.
After his year-long apprenticeship with Chaurasia, Tucker set up his own YouTube channel – the Shrutibox – where he began showcasing his creations; a mind-numbing array of compositions of eastern and western music as well as covers of popular Indian songs.
One composition – O Re Piya – features vocals from a relatively unknown New York-based singer called Rohan Kymal and is a seamless fusion of Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s seminal anthem and Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep’; an exquisite marriage of two seemingly irreconcilable melodies.
 
His ability to imagine such amalgamations has led to Shrutibox becoming hugely popular, with more than 3 million views and downloads around the world enabling this independent artist to keep on carrying on.
And the singers he has used in his videos – such as Rohan Kymal, Shweta Subram, Indian American classical musicians the Iyer sisters and Aditya Rao – have started to make a name for themselves as well with fan pages on social media sites and invitations to collaborate with other musicians.
I caught up with Shankar on a flying visit to his native USA to talk music, India, the Bansuri and cheese sandwiches.
Poonam Joshi: Shankar...it’s an interesting choice for a name.
Shankar Tucker: My family have been devotees of Mata Amrtanandamayi Devi – who we all refer to as ‘Amma’ or mother – for a long time.  She gave me the name when I was pretty small and I’ve gone by it ever since.
PJ: So how did a boy from Massachusetts end up doing Indian fusion music in Mumbai?
ST: I’ve been interested in Indian music for a long time.  I was already into jazz when I was in school but then I discovered John McLaughlin and his work with Shakti and I thought it was extraordinary.  McLaughlin on guitar and Zakir Hussain on Tabla; I found it inspiring.  It was just an extension of jazz.  At about the same time I discovered Hari Prasad Chaurasia who pretty quickly became my favourite instrumentalist.  The amazing thing was that after I graduated from college I was lucky enough to earn a scholarship and study in India with Chaurasia, which was the most amazing experience.
PJ: Your family were also artistically inclined...?
ST: My family’s always been very involved with the arts.  My grandfather was a composer and musician and played a whole lot of different instruments.  My parents are visual artists; my mother’s a painter and dad makes sculptures so my sister and I were always were surrounded by the arts.  My parents always made sure there was loads of different music to listen to at home so I’ve had an amazing array of inspirations.
PJ: What was your parent’s response when you told them you were moving to India?
ST: They had known it was a dream of mine for a while, especially when I was in college.  I always wanted to study Indian classical music at its source and they were very encouraging.  I had applied to study under Hariprasad Chaurasia so they knew that I was going to go.  They started to get a bit nervous as the day approached and they dealt with it by making sure I got all the vaccinations I needed!
PJ: What were your first impressions when you landed in Mumbai?
ST: Mumbai was pretty intense, definitely not what I expected.  People had told me beforehand how modern and metropolitan Mumbai was.  After I had got out of the airport and gone up to the upper suburbs of Mumbai to stay with a friend, it wasn’t exactly what I associated with the words ‘modern’ and ‘metropolitan’.  Sure there are modern, metropolitan areas in the city but I wasn’t prepared for most of it, even coming from Boston!  I love the city though.  I love India.
PJ: Ever had Delhi Belly?  
ST: I did have Delhi Belly a couple of months ago and it was terrible.  It was the first time I had been sick in India after almost two years of living there.  The amazing thing is I got ill after eating a cheese sandwich!  It was a moment of weakness because I really miss cheese.  I’ve learnt my lesson and I shall stick to Indian street food instead!
PJ: Has the Indian experience been what you expected?
ST: It’s been a really immersive experience as all experiences in India are.  Studying with Hari Prasad Chaurasia was amazing because it was a traditional Gurukul environment which I found fascinating.  It was just me and a couple of other students and we would have music lessons for a few hours a day and the rest of the time was spent practising and experimenting.  I also had the chance to go out and make music with friends who lived close by and it was great.  It’s exactly how I dreamt a classical music experience in India would be.  I was already interested in Eastern music and I had been trying to play it before I went to India, listening to recordings and stuff.  But it had never got to the point where I had really imbibed the voice of Indian music and incorporated it into my own playing to the degree I wanted which India and the experience of India kind of allowed me to do.  The only reprove that Guruji would give us was: ‘tuning, tuning’. Things are different in America where musical training is rather job-oriented.
PJ: What was it about Pandit Chaurasia that drew you to him?
ST: I think he’s one of the most brilliant improvisers on any instrument anywhere in the world.  I’ve always been a massive fan of his work.  Also his pet instrument is the Indian flute – the Bansuri – which has a very similar sonic quality to the clarinet although the more obvious Indian counterpart to the clarinet would be the Shehnai.  I had been hooked on Pandit Chaurasia’s recordings for a long time and it was really a no brainer to go study under him.
PJ: Why do you think jazz and Indian classical music make such good bedfellows?
ST: Jazz has been my first love and I think it’s mostly because of how it allows for improvisation.  I think a lot of people who discover jazz discover freedom in music.  When you play Western classical music, everything is notated and everything is prearranged and composed but with jazz you just have the freedom to kind of compose things in the spur of the moment.  That’s a liberating experience.  It’s the same with Indian classical music; improvisation takes up probably 90% of it but there is also a very specific science to it.  For instance, you have a raga and a taal and even if you do improvise you have to stay within those components.  Even then a composition could last for hours.  So you’ve got the improvisational elements in both forms of music but also the fact that jazz isn’t as structured as Eastern classical music.  I think the two forms complement each other very well because of that.  Jazz is all about harmonies and improvising with those harmonies whereas Indian classical music is about set boundaries and improvising within those boundaries.  It’s a perfect combination.
PJ: In your videos you play a vast array of instruments...or so it seems.
ST: Apart from the clarinet, I can play the Tabla a little bit and the piano only because I took a few lessons on both a long, long time ago.  I play a few chords on the guitar and that’s about it really.  The thing is, modern software allows you to do amazing things with sounds and instruments so that helps obviously.  And of course, necessity; it’s difficult to call up musicians to record when you’re travelling and when you’re recording on a shoestring budget so I’ve kind of dabbled in all the instruments.  At the moment at least I can’t afford to hire proper musicians so I’ve had to do it myself!
PJ: In an age when online downloads and YouTube have been derided and acclaimed by the music industry, the internet has helped give you to the world.  Is it as easy as it looks, being an YouTube artist?
ST: Well, obviously recording and promoting all by yourself is an expense and the returns can take a while to trickle in.  But then even if you’re signed by a major record label – in the western sense – there’s no guarantee that you’re going to make much money.  I’m definitely not the only independent musician who kind of works online, making videos through YouTube.  I’ve been lucky enough to make a living that way and a lot of people are doing the same thing.  So the internet has allowed independent musicians to flourish.  But I think it works particularly well in a country like India where you have so many amazingly talented artists but no structured music production and distribution system in place.  Of course you have companies like Saregama and Times Music but they concentrate mostly on Bollywood.  There aren’t the kinds of record labels you have in the West where it’s all-inclusive and an artist can be helped with producing and marketing his music.
PJ: Do you then still have to depend on your parents for occasional handouts?
ST: (Laughs uproariously).  At the moment, I’m surviving by selling MP3’s of my videos online through iTunes and other online music services.  That’s the first way, and there’s also Google ads which play on YouTube and I get a percentage of the revenue from the ads shown on my YouTube channel.  I work on and off as a session musician and I’m starting to do music for a film so I’m working on bits and pieces that bring in enough to survive.  It’s an adventure.
PJ: So how important is it to you to get into the mainstream and have the money rolling in?
ST: Well, money can make things happen, least of all, hiring the people to make music and of course travelling to have my music heard.  Money is obviously important no matter what independent musicians will say.  And of course I need to survive!  Having said that, a lot can be done on a minimal budget which is what I’ve kind of been doing.  It’s not easy but it’s becoming less difficult with YouTube and Facebook and social media there to help raise awareness.  I imagine I’ll keep that up for as long as I have to.
PJ: There’s obviously this debate at the moment about illegal downloads and plummeting CD sales and companies going bust and musicians losing out.  Where do you see yourself in that debate?
ST: I’ve been incredibly lucky to have built up a fan base through YouTube.  To be honest, I don’t think a lot of them are from India but Indians living abroad who I think are in a better position to appreciate the kind of crossover music that I do.  Either way, they have been fantastically supportive and have basically provided me with a living.  I know that anybody can rip the tracks from YouTube illegally, but there are a lot of people who don’t and contrary to what the media says, the number of people who legitimately download music and pay for it far outweigh those who don’t.  They’ll buy the tracks because they know that it supports me and every time they buy a track it goes directly towards funding the next track and video that I make.  They are essentially there to support the music.
On the other hand, I don’t really blame those people – particularly in India – who will find it necessary to illegally download the tracks.  It’s extremely prevalent and I suppose people don’t give it much thought because there’s no social stigma attached to it.  It’s so socially accepted that people don’t even think about it.  So, in a context like that, it’s difficult to blame someone who downloads a song.
PJ: Obviously the lack of laws doesn’t help either.
ST: Absolutely.  And of course, there’s no real distribution structure for music in India.  iTunes doesn’t work in India nor do most things that use PayPal.  Whenever it does, PayPal isn’t very friendly towards Indian credit cards.  And then there’s the price of course.  Sure, 99 cents sounds cheap in America but in India it’s not competitive to price a single song at 50 Rupees.  So the whole music production and distribution system needs to be reconfigured to suit India and its’ circumstances.
 
PJ: You are also starting to dabble in Bollywood.  Is that a direction that you see your career heading?
ST: I’ve done a couple of sessions for composers so I wouldn’t call it my work as such.  I’m just trying to take it one step at a time and seeing where it goes.  I don’t ever expect to be a totally mainstream Bollywood artist.  On the other hand, I don’t want to jinx any opportunities by saying that I don’t expect it to happen!  So we’ll see.
PJ: What type of music do you prefer performing?  North or South Indian?
ST: They are both great traditions.  To be fair, I haven’t spent a great deal of time studying South Indian music as I have done North Indian.  I still wouldn’t call myself a North Indian classical performer.  I draw inspiration from it but I wouldn’t go so far as to label myself as such.
PJ: One of my personal favourites is ‘O Re Piya’ featuring Rohan Kymal.  Tell me about the creative process.  Is it spontaneous or is a carefully planned process?
ST: Most of the videos are actually much more spur of the moment than most people realize.  I had an opportunity to record with (singer) Rohan Kymal when I was in New York; we didn’t have too long – I think it was just a day in a studio – and we decided to put something together.  So we just basically had to find songs that he and I both knew and try and record.  It was really fortunate that he was comfortable enough singing Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Adele and I adore both musicians.  We were incredibly fortunate that it turned out the way it did.

PJ: So what’s coming up for Shankar Tucker then...?
ST: I haven’t been as prolific with new videos as I’d like to be recently but I do want to take it to the next level and upload videos more frequently.  I might be working with MTV India sometime this year.  Nothing’s been confirmed yet but we are exploring the possibility of perhaps turning the making of the videos on Shrutibox into a show.  I do have a small tour set up for India next September.  I might also try and do some concerts in America but before that I need to figure out how I’m going to make a live concert work.  With the videos, it’s very different because each one has a different singer for example, singing in a different language often.  It’s obviously not practical to take such an enormous number of people on stage! So at the moment it’s about translating what I have on YouTube into a live performance.  Hopefully I’ll have it all figured out by this summer!
-    Interviewed by Poonam Joshi