Monday, 28 May 2012

Full programme of LIFF 2012 revealed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the full LIFF 2012 programme, visit
- Poonam Joshi

Sunday, 27 May 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baroness Warsi to be investigated over expenses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Terry Morton

Immigrant students struggling with English, despite being born in Britain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He told the Sunday Times that poor English was a significant cause of segregated communities in northern
- UKAsian Staff

Indian surrogacy industry: we could never have imagined we'd be parents

When Alex and Amelia Hill are told of how they came into the world it will be no ordinary story.

They will learn of their parents flying back and forward to India, watching the twins growing in their mother’s womb over the internet, then spending the first weeks of their life not in the nursery prepared for them in the West Midlands, but a cramped New Delhi hotel room.

But what they will be told most of all will be the pure joy which their arrival brought their father Stephen Hill and his partner Johnathon Busher.

As Stephen and Johnathon held the twins in their arms for the first time little more than 12 hours after their birth, both men simply cried.

“I was overwhelmed,” said Mr Busher.

“I burst out crying like a baby myself and fell apart, and I couldn’t stop crying. We were both found it very hard to keep it together and then Stephen cried and cried. It was a very emotional time as neither of us had really prepared for this moment.

“We could never have imagined it a couple of years ago and we both fell in love with our children immediately and all the parenting instincts kicked in.”

The road to standing in the Delhi maternity hospital on the morning if April 21 had begun more than 18 months ago.

A couple for 18 years, they became convinced that the love they had always had for their nieces and nephews showed what was missing in their lives: a family of their own.

Mr Hill said: “John and I were surrounded by nieces and nephews and we had always adored children. We both talked about what was missing in our lives and agreed that we wanted to be fathers. We realised we needed to see new life around us and we started exploring the possibility of adopting children.

“It was a minefield, with very technical legal problems and waiting lists of up to two years and with visits from social workers. Adopting is so difficult in Britain and all the checks that are made on you, although absolutely necessary, can take years before you can adopt.

“We had heard about gay men becoming surrogate parents and knew all about Sir Elton John and David Furnish. But our first thoughts were that this was something only for celebrities who could afford it.”
But the idea did not go away, and it became clear it was possible. The couple began research on the internet, ruling out Eastern Europe because of stories about would-be parents being defrauded and the USA because of the expense.

“India kept popping up as the place to go to as there were so many good reports about not only healthy babies being born, but the surrogate mothers being well looked after too which was important to us,” said Mr Hill.

They found the clinic of Dr Anoop Gupta, medical director at the Delhi Fertility Research Centre, whose team has been behind a total of 6000 surrogate babies so far.
“We had carried out three weeks of extensive internet research before we made the decision to come to India,” Mr Hill says.

“Neither of us had been to this country and of course we still carried some uncertainties, but our minds were made up.”

Mr Hill travelled to India to make a sperm donation, using an egg supplied by the clinic, from a donor who neither man or the children will ever know.

“I was shown a book with body types and details of the women’s genetics and I chose a picture of a young woman who had an athletic build,” he says.

“Both John and I are quite tall, so I chose a woman with a good height although I never saw her face and will never know who she is.

“The first attempt was not successful and Johnathon and I did think maybe this wasn’t meant for us.
“But then our attitude was along the lines of 'If you fall off a bike, get back on the saddle’.

“When I was back in Birmingham and after a few weeks, I found out I was going to be a father and we were absolutely delighted.”

In fact, they found soon, they were expecting twins.
“We broke all the rules,” he says.

“You are not supposed to buy children gifts until they are born, but we were so happy we bought clothes for up to the age of five, and bottles and things like that months before they arrived. We were so happy. We did not know their sex, but we correctly guessed they were a boy and a girl. The full set.”

But the months were anxious: progress was monitored over the internet, by email and by calls to Dr Goopta on Skype. As the couple prepared to bring their children home, they also had to prepare for a legal difficulty which means the twins are still in India.

All that was put to one side on the day they went to see the twins, the morning after the evening of their birth.
They met Noorjhan, the woman who had carried the babies.
Perhaps inevitably, all was not straightforward.

Mr Busher said: “Noorjhan’s husband had been going around the hospital saying the babies were his and we found out that medical staff there had not been told the twins were surrogates. We got very worried as her husband had been allowed to see the babies in our absence.”

According to British immigration law, Noorjhan’s husband is recognised as the legitimate father until citizenship and UK passports have been issued.

“It was only when Dr Gupta telephoned the hospital to tell them Amelia and Alex had been born through our surrogacy arrangement and we produced the contract, was it that we were able to take them out.
'Then we were so happy, our feet didn’t touch the ground.”

Both struggled to communicate properly with Noorjhan.

“I thanked the surrogate mother very warmly and she was very happy for us and appreciative of what she had done for us,” said Mr Hill.

'Her English wasn’t very great, but she was perhaps a little bit too attached and there was a little bit of an awkward time when it came to handing the babies over and for her to say goodbye.

“She was reminded that it was a deal and she was fine. She was quite tender with them because they are cute and they are twins. But the reminder to her by me and the carer was a simple pointer that it was a deal and the time had come for her to say goodbye to them.

“I understood her attachment to them, but it was going too far and she needed to be reminded.”
But even then it is no simple matter for two homosexual men to take home their children.

British immigration procedures will take at least another month and until then, because Mr Busher has had to return to the UK to care for his terminally ill elderly mother – the couple are her joint carers – Mr Hill is effectively a single father. A quirk of Indian immigration law means foreigners cannot return to India for 60 days after they have left, making it impossible for Mr Busher to come back.

Now Mr Hill describes himself as “a hotel prisoner” as he cares for the twins alone.
He is surrounded by piles of nappies, baby milk powder, clothes for children up to the age of a year and in the corner is a twin pram and piles of toys.

Even the formula milk has been brought from Britain, just in case the Indian product is not good enough.
“I wear cotton combat trousers to help with the heat and use the pockets around the knee to keep their milk bottles,” says Mr Hill.

“Right one for Alex and left for Amelia. They say motherhood is a full time job. well, tell me about it. There is no let up. It is so full on.

“Yesterday, Alex grabbed my arm as I was feeding him and it was a wonderful moment and like a kind of 'hello dad’. You cannot put a price on that type of feeling and everything being worth it was summed up by that moment.”

In the Midlands, meanwhile, Mr Busher is looking after his extremely ill mother and preparing for his family to be reunited.

“I was very sad when I had to leave them and Stephen behind. I wish I was there with them now,” he says.
“But if Stephen is not home in six weeks, I will be able to go out and rejoin them as the 60 day rule on returning will have expired.”

Both men also have some trepidation about the reaction they will receive where they live.
Mr Busher says: “The word has leaked out that we have become parents and some of the early comments have not been very nice.

“We don’t want our children to live in fear of being attacked because we are gay and some people have a problem with that. We may have to move to a more friendly area.”
And Mr Hill adds: “We have had a hard time back in the West Midlands with being called names and people having a go at us.

“I am worried about the reaction from people in our area, when we get to England, but right now I can only think about the babies.”

But they have no doubt they have done the right thing: the reaction from their families has been one of delight.

“My mother was in a state of disbelief,” Mr Hill said.

“When we told her, she was so happy and said a fortune teller had once told her she would have five grand children and with these two, she now has five.

“She said she could never have expected me to give her any grandchildren as a gay man.”
Already the couple are planning for Alex and Amelia to have siblings – this time with Mr Busher as the biological father.
“In a couple of years I intend to go to India and father children too and we will all be one big happy family,” he said.

- Shekhar Bhatia

Friday, 25 May 2012

Nominations now open for Asian Achievers Awards 2012

Asian Business Publications (ABPL) has revealed details of the 12th annual Asian Achievers Awards which will once again celebrate the most inspirational British Asians in Great Britain.

The 2012 Awards ceremony will take place at the luxe Grosvenor House Hotel on 14th September 2012 and will recognize the outstanding work of Asian individuals from all segments of society.

This year’s event will have added significance as ABPL celebrates 40 years since the launch of its iconic South Asian publications Asian Voice and Gujarat Samachar.
The Asian Achievers Awards is arguably the most popular of the plethora of such events within the Diaspora community in the UK, in part due to the public’s participation in choosing the shortlist for each of the 11 categories.
Nominations are now open for the public to vote in the different categories, which this year include:
  • Sports Personality of the Year
  • Business Person of the Year
  • Lifetime Achievement Award
  • Professional of the Year
  • Achievement in Community Service
  • Achievement in Media, Arts and Culture
  • Award for Entertainment
  • Woman of the Year
  • Young Entrepreneur of the Year
  • Uniformed and Civil Services Award
  • International Personality of the Year
An independent panel of judges will select a shortlist in each category based on the public’s nominations and a winner chosen in the run up to the event.

Mr CB Patel, Chairman of ABPL Group and the mastermind behind the awards said, “Asian Achievers Awards is a unique award ceremony where nominations are made by members of the public and the selection is done by an individual panel of judges – truly the ‘People’s Awards’.”

Nominations can be registered via Asian Voice and Gujarat Samachar newspapers, as well as online at:
The deadline for all nominations is July 12.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

'Saving Face’ producers threatened with legal action by victims

Acid attack victims in Pakistan have threatened legal action to block the release of award-winning documentary Saving Face in the country for fear of reprisals.

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s heartrending documentary was celebrated around the world and won an Oscar – Pakistan’s first – in February.

But relations between the director and some of the subjects featured in the film have reportedly taken a turn for the worst.

Survivors have said they are at risk of further acid attacks if the film is screened in Pakistan.
Saving Face follows acclaimed British-Pakistani surgeon, Mohammad Jawad, as he travels around Pakistan performing reconstructive surgery on survivors of acid attacks.

The film’s success however has angered some of its subjects.

"We had no idea it would be a hit and win an Oscar. It's completely wrong. We never allowed them to show this film in Pakistan," Naila Farhat, 22, who lost an eye to an acid attack, told AFP news agency.

"This is disrespect to my family, to my relatives and they'll make an issue of it... We may be in more danger and we're scared that, God forbid, we could face the same type of incident again.

"We do not want to show our faces to the world."

But Ms Obaid-Chinoy insists the women have signed legal documents allowing the film to be shown anywhere in the world, including Pakistan.

She told AFP that one woman featured, Rukhsana, had already been edited out of the version to be shown in Pakistan out of respect for her concerns.

-    Viji Alles

Win soundtrack CD for Rowdy Rathore

To celebrate the release of Prabhu Deva latest blockbuster offering, Rowdy Rathore, released by UTV, we have CD’s of the pulsating soundtrack to give away to five lucky readers.

This will mark the return of Akshay Kumar in the action genre after 7 years.The film features Akshay Kumar in double role opposite Sonakshi Sinha.

For your chance of winning a Rowdy Rathore soundtrack CD, simply correctly answer the following question:
Which other film featured Akshay Kumar in double role:

1) Tasveer
2) Tees Mar Khan
3) Khiladi

This competition is open to UK residents only. Please send your replies to:
Rowdy Rathore releases in the UK on 1st June 2012.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

"Civilian casualty figures are wrong": General Sarath Fonseka

UKAsian Editor's Note; General Sarath Fonseka - the  man who helped vanquish the LTTE and bring to an end Sri Lanka's bloody 30-year Civil war in 2009, and who was subsequently imprisoned for daring to challenge the country's president at the ballot box - was released from prison last week.

The career military man, a war hero to many, had been jailed after standing against his former masters - President Mahinda Rajapakse and his brother Gotabhaya, the powerful defence secretary - at the general election which followed in the aftermath of one of history's most violent and crippling ethnic conflicts.
General Fonseka's imprisonment attracted widespread criticism - nationally and internationally - and was seen as yet another ploy by the ruling Rajapakse family to suppress dissent and extend its' hegemony over the picturesque island.

Some say the general's release was a way for the Rajapakse regime to counter waning support home and abroad.  In spite of Sri Lanka's booming economy, the country continues to be dogged by myriad troubles: from the often brutal suppression of opposition to the government to the skyrocketing cost of living.
It is still unclear whether General Fonseka will re-enter politics.  Even if he does, he is not seen as an immediate political threat as the next presidential election is due to take place in 2016.
The BBC's Charles Haviland was the first journalist to interview General Fonseka following his release from the notorious Welikada prison in Colombo.

Following is the full transcript of the interview.
The BBC met Sarath Fonseka on Tuesday morning at the rented house where the family now stays on the outskirts of Colombo.  Two restless barking dogs – a Dalmation and a Dachshund – calmed down by the time we started filming and the place was peaceful, the only extraneous noise being the occasional lowing of cattle in an adjoining field.  The former army chief looked tired but was due to set off to pay homage at Buddhist temples in the provinces the same afternoon.

Charles Haviland: Why do you think you’ve been released now?
Sarath Fonseka: There’s a lot of pressure on the people who were behind putting me behind bars – internally, the local aspirations of the people, the sentiments of the people, the pressure was building up.  Then internationally we know that there was unlimited pressure.  The international community did a great job by maintaining continuous pressure on them.  Because they were interested to see proper democracy in this country.  With that in mind, they I think exercised a fair amount of pressure on the people who were behind my incarceration.

CH: You have your differences with President Rajapaksa but are you grateful to him for signing the papers for your release?

SF: I will ask you the same question.  If I put you behind bars, later on I put you out, what would you feel about it?

CH: Are the terms of your release unconditional – will you be allowed to go  back to politics?

SF: As yet I have not seen this legal document.  Unless they have remitted the prison sentence which I have completed already, unless they do that I can’t do politics.  I can do politics but I can’t vote or contest.  So as it is, we don’t know exactly what is there in the document but we’ll come to know.

CH: There’s still another charge outstanding against you, of harbouring army deserters.  Could you still go back to court and be sentenced again or is that out of the question?

SF: Yes naturally they want to hold on to it, thinking they can put pressure on me by maintaining that.  But that’s another case as far as I’m concerned.  Obviously we don’t agree with the charges.  If they think they can put me behind bars again using that, most probably they are repeating the same mistake.

CH: Would you like ideally to go back to politics again and challenge the president in an election once more?

SF: Umm – yes, it’s not that I want to become the president of the country or something.  My intention and my agenda is not to contest for the presidential and become the president of the country only.  I have a political agenda: to change the corrupt political culture in this country.  As far as I can do that, I don’t mind not becoming president or not being an MP.  But we’ll definitely try to gather all the forces together for that purpose.  So when we go ahead with that, they will already be confronting us, obviously.

CH: How do you see yourself in terms of being an opposition leader in this country?  Do you think perhaps you are the best placed to be such a leader?

SF: It’s not a case of whether I am the best or anyone else is the best.  It’s a case of who is really interested, genuinely interested, about the country’s interest.  Let the people decide that.  The people who think that this government is not doing their job and if they think there is a change required now then they will have to decide basically who is the best person or who are the best people to do that.  Otherwise I don’t want to get into a leadership clash or fighting for appointments or something.

CH: I’d like to talk about human rights issues starting with the international angle.  In March the US sponsored a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva which was critical of Sri Lanka on human rights.  It was adopted, India supported it, and it basically said Sri Lanka should do more to implement reconciliation recommendations which came from within Sri Lanka and should do more about accountability in respect of alleged war crimes.  Were you happy to see that resolution passed?

SF: Yes – because – on certain issues in that resolution we straight away we agree – the violations of human rights, the reconciliation, yes, it’s a must, but the war crimes – there are various different opinions.  So we have to argue with that, argue it out and clarify any doubts so that those who are pointing out any issues – I always believe that they must point out specific  issues, then we are ready to answer them, we can clarify anything.  I don’t want to hide and wait.  The way some people are trying to hide their face when it comes to war crimes and other issues – it gives the impression to the rest of the world that these people are guilty of something.  I have always said that I am ready to answer for any allegations about the war crimes in relation to the military operations,  so that is my position.

But human rights violations, yes, and the intimidation, the people are under pressure, terrified, terrorised, all due to the abuse of power by the government – I fully agree that if there is a dictatorship, ongoing dictatorship, or someone looking forward for a dictatorship, tyrannical politics – if people’s interest is not looked after, people are intimidated, if the opposition is suppressed – then obviously if things go beyond the control of the law-enforcing agencies in the country, if the judiciary is being pressurised, influenced – then obviously the accepted thing in the whole world – the rest of the world must also take some interest in those issues to help a country out.

CH: So you say the judiciary is intimidated, that there is intimidation in wider society, threats, etc?  Is this what you are saying?

SF: Yeah that’s true.  Judiciary – although it is not direct intimidation there’s a certain amount of influence on judiciary because after the 18th Amendment was brought in [taking away limits to presidential terms and providing the president with numerous new powers]  – Powerful, and the judges and everybody else in the judiciary, Attorney-General’s Department, everybody [is] vulnerable for a one-man show.  So obviously they can’t be independent, they can’t take decisions.  They themselves are human beings who have to look after their families, who have to look after their jobs.  So indirectly they are pressurising the judiciary and judiciary cannot be independent under a situation like this.

CH: You’re saying that’s because the president has the power to directly appoint so many of these people?

SF: Yes.  Everybody knows in this country and he’s not doing it sincerely.

CH: Before you left the army some people accused you of taking part in that same kind of culture of intimidation and threats.

SF:  That is also the fault of the government.  When there were incidents here and there, the government did not come out and face the criticism and settle those issues, then the people formed their own opinion.  If someone is killed in Colombo or a journalist is attacked or killed, then if the government does not find the culprits, the people, the opposition will point the finger at the government and those who are – the military and the police, the people who have power.  As the people who are responsible.  In fact this president, very unfortunate, I know at certain media briefings , after some incident took place in relation to a media personnel, he has been saying “don’t disturb the military, if you disturb the military we will not be able to look after you” – and words like that.  So obviously the people were suspicious about everybody else, not only the army I mean, the servicemen – the intelligence –

CH: So you deny having taken part in those kind of violations in the past?

SF: I had more important things to do.  I was full time to ensure [indistinct word] fighting a huge war.  Rather than going behind one or two people in Colombo which didn’t matter to me at all.  If that is the case now, the way they are criticising me, the mud-slinging, I must start attacking each and every man in the government, if I had that frame of psychology.

CH: On the subject of the war – we’ve referred to it already – a panel appointed by Ban Ki-Moon said there might have been up to 40,000 civilian casualties – civilian casualties on a mass scale.  The government absolutely rejects that.  Where do you stand on this?

SF: I totally reject, refuse the numbers given that thousands of civilians died.  Because I knew exactly how the battle was fought.  How the military was moving forward.  The reaction of the civilians.  What were the civilians doing.  Of course a certain amount of casualties would have been there because everybody knows the civilians were also manning the LTTE bunker lines.  Civilians – there were pictures and the video footage to show that even elderly women aged 60 or 70 going through weapon training.  So there is no question – of a few civilians getting killed obviously but you can’t blame the military for that – because civilians were given weapons and put in the front line, it would not be possible  for the military to identify such people.  But the large figures of 30,000, 40,000, dying, it was not practicable.  The way we conducted the war, the type of weapons systems we used, the manuals we made, we were always concerned about the security of the civilians.

CH: So what’s your view of the idea that there should be an international independent investigation of those claims?

SF: That is up to the international community – if they have any doubts, if they have any questions they can do it.  I think they have all the right and freedom to do it.  Then it’s our business to confront them, meet them and discuss with them and thrash out any doubts.

CH: And Sri Lanka should be open to that?

SF: Definitely, yes.

CH: And you would be open to that even if you were to come under the spotlight of investigation?

SF: I’ve said from the very beginning, to safeguard the name of the military, those who sacrificed their lives, those who conducted that operation, I’ll come out at any time, I’m not scared to come before anybody.

CH: Who was really in charge of the war effort in the last months or years – you or the defence secretary or the president?

SF: If I could run it for two years and eight months, there was no reason for take over during the last month.  Nobody else would have had the knowledge about what’s happening on the ground more than me at that time.  Of course everybody wants to say, “we conducted the war”.  I don’t know what they have been talking, what they have been doing.  If they were discussing things without my knowledge without my presence, I don’t know.  They are themselves saying they planned certain things, they worked out certain strategies, they have to answer for that then.  They must say what they exactly did.

CH: But you were in overall charge?

SF:  Yeah, definitely.

CH: Sarath Fonseka, thank you very much for speaking to us.

SF: Thank you very much.  You take my message to the international community also.  We want them to be with us, to build the country, and clear the name of the image of this country.  And we need their assistance.  And we are ready to cooperate and work with the rest of the world any time.  Thank you.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Study says schools need more information to help ethnic minority students

Schools in Britain should record more information on the languages spoken by pupils from minority communities to better support students who struggle with education, a new study has found.

Researchers from London Metropolitan University said simply recording students' ethnicity was insufficient as Britain becomes ever more diverse.

The team analysed GCSE records from 2007 to 2011, looking at the proportion achieving five good grades (A* to C), including maths and English.

They found in particular that speakers of other languages lagged behind in Yorkshire, Humber and the North West.

The report states: "Overall, many of the widest attainment gaps are present in local authorities with substantial Pakistani ethnic minority groups - for example Peterborough, Oldham, Bedford, Bury, Derby, Sheffield and Calderdale, who tend to speak Urdu, Punjabi or Mirpuri and experience economic disadvantage.

The aim of the study was to identify those ethnic minorities who struggle in education in England and where they are located.

Previous studies have suggested that pupils whose native tongue is not English did better than the national average at GCSE's.

But the researchers found that while this was true in inner London it was not the case in other regions.
They also found that in some regions the data being collected about pupils' first languages and ethnicity was imprecise.

Report author Ayo Mansaray told the BBC: "Britain is becoming more ethnically and linguistically diverse every day, beyond London and urban areas typically associated with multi-ethnic populations.
"But the statistics being collected and the research being done are not keeping up with this diversity."

- UKAsian Staff/Reports

Anurag Kashyap gets India interested...via Cannes

Director Anurag Kashyap is creating waves in India all the way from France.

His latest movie, “Gangs of Wasseypur,” is India’s first mainstream film to be screened in the Director’s Fortnight section at the Cannes Film Festival. The epic follows a feuding family over 60 years in the rural eastern coal district of Dhanbad.

It stars Manoj Bajpayee, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Richa Chadda.
Kashyap says being at Cannes has increased interest in his movies in India. He says Indian movies that are not Bollywood are too often “sidelined as very boring and art house, and they don’t often get released “ in his native land.

But he said when “people everywhere are endorsing the film, back home they suddenly take it very seriously.”

Kashyap has another film titled “Peddlers” showing in the festival’s Critic’s Week section.
- Associated Press

"He's old enough to be her dad!"

A friend recently asked what I thought of the song “Chammak Challo Chel Chabeli” from the upcoming movie “Rowdy Rathore.” My unfiltered reaction was something along the lines of “Ugh,” not because of any particulars of the music or choreography but because once again a mainstream Hindi film has given us a jodi in which the man is ridiculously older than his female co-star.

Heroine Sonakshi Sinha will be 25 when the film is released in June, while hero Akshay Kumar will be 45. Ms. Sinha’s debut film, the 2010 smash “Dabangg,” saw her paired with Salman Khan, almost 22 years her senior. Mr. Khan’s last big hits, “Bodyguard” and “Ready” (2011), coupled him with Kareena Kapoor and Asin Thottumkal, who are respectively 15 and 20 years younger than he is.

Last year Ms. Kapoor also starred in “Ra.One” opposite Shah Rukh Khan, who is the same age as Salman Khan. Ms. Thottumkal made her Hindi film debut in “Ghajini” (2008) opposite Aamir Khan, who is also two decades older than she is. The list goes on: Sonam Kapoor with Salman Khan in “Saawariya” (a gap of 20 years), Deepika Padukone with Shah Rukh Khan (21 years), Anuskha Sharma with Shah Rukh Khan (23 years).

All this makes the 10-year age gap between real-life romantic partners Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor seem downright miniscule, doesn’t it?

But enough arithmetic—you get the point. The Hindi film industry isn’t alone in routinely making such lopsided casting decisions. It happens in Hollywood all the time, even in the notable occasions when major stars actually express concern about it, as Cary Grant did about his 25-year gap with Audrey Hepburn in “Charade” half a century ago.

For me, the problem with May-December romantic pairings is not as much what it reflects and proscribes about gender roles — though I do wonder about films’ implicit messages about power dynamics and choice in these relationships (and that’s a question that deserves a much longer investigation than this column has room for) — as it is about the sidelining and downplaying of the talents of women in the film industry.

Male superstars play the hero year after year, but their female colleagues are left with fewer career options as they age. If they get married and have children, they tend to be ineligible for primary heroine roles because they’re viewed as unsuitable for portraying a complicated mix of romance, sex appeal, propriety and naivety.

An article in The Guardian last week used superstar and new mother Aishwarya Rai Bachchan as an example of the conundrum facing many female stars: they’re expected to have children, but they’re also expected to look like fashion models.  Toss stereotypes of wifeliness into the mix, and what’s a young actor to do?

Ignoring these talented women, either by not casting them or by putting them in secondary or tertiary roles, deprives audiences of great performers. I don’t resent men in their mid- and upper forties propelling an industry, but I resent that women don’t seem to have anywhere close to the same chance. Since performers are the people we literally see when we engage with films, this is simply the most visible face of the overall gender discrepancies across the industry: types of roles, work behind the camera, earnings, power and maybe even respect.

It’s the face of a system that rewards certain men who keep on going… and going… but does not provide many opportunities for women to even try.

The way heroes are constructed in films is also a telling component of these extreme age differences. The hero is someone who can save and defend, and maybe it’s easier to maintain the fantasy of a woman needing to be protected if she looks a lot younger. Does the casting simply reflect and reinforce what male-dominated audiences are assumed to want: youth in sexy and submissive permutations? Or maybe it’s just another part of the masala world, like songs that magically teleport characters to Russia or California, inviting us to suspend our disbelief.

My frustration with the actual age gap of actors is somewhat mollified by how seldom the characters are clearly marked as being of significantly different ages. And if the characters seem like a good match and the actors do a good job at creating and enlivening them, the details of their realities remain irrelevant.

To its credit, Bollywood has occasionally addressed the issue of older man/young woman romances head on. In those movies, casting people with big age differences not only makes sense but is called for. Two films from 2007 feature Amitabh Bachchan, perhaps one of just a handful of actors with reliable dignity, in such stories. “Cheeni Kum” depicts the complications in a romance with a 30-year gap played by Bachchan, then 65, and Tabu, then 36.

The poster of “Nishabd” states “He is 60. She is 18” and pictures the smiling lead actors (Bachchan and Jiah Khan, whose real-life 46-year age gap is slightly more than that of the characters). “Anoka Rishta” (1986) saw then-44-year-old Rajesh Khanna as the object of a teenage girl’s affection — and not acting on it, much to the relief of viewers.

I wonder what would inspire the industry to cast more age- and talent-appropriate romantic leads with the male superstars. If the cash registers ring for heroes old enough to be the fathers of their love interests, then surely the pattern will continue and talented women will age past their preserved colleagues from lover to mother, just for having the gall to grow up.

Does a 20-year difference between romantic leads bother you? If so, who would you rather see opposite box-office heavies like Salman and Akshay? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section.
- Beth Watkins

Watkins has been blogging for more than five years at Beth Loves Bollywood. She is an expert on Bollywood history and lore as well as contemporary movies and actors. You can follow Ms. Watkins on Twitter@bethlovesbolly.

South Asian Cinema Foundation to Honour Shyam Benegal

The South Asian Cinema Foundation is set to honour the work of pioneering Indian filmmaker Shyam Benegal with a series of events in London this June.

Benegal is one of the most prolific screenwriters and directors in India and has often been called the father of the Indian New Wave: a genre which sprang up in the 1960's and 70's as an alternative to mainstream Bollywood.

During its heyday in the early 1970's, Benegal spearheaded the movement with such classics as Ankur (1973), Nishant (1975) and Bhumika (1977).

The underlying socio-political themes of his movies prompted Bollywood to demystify its portrayal of India.
Benegal also paved the way for such acting stalwarts as Shabana Azmi, Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah to shine.

Presented by the South Asian Cinema Foundation in association with BFI Southbank and The Nehru Centre, 'Honouring Shyam Benegal' will include screenings of Bhumika and Junoon, a filmmaking masterclass as well as a lecture on the current state of the Indian New Wave.

For more information, visit
- Poonam Joshi
Programme of Events:

Bhumika (The Role), 1977
143 mins. Hindi & Urdu with EST. PG. Dir: Shyam Benegal. With Smita Patil and Amol Palekar
This powerful exploration of the tragic life of a Bombay studio screen actress was a crowning achievement for actress Smita Patil and a career highlight for this notable director. Screen roles of virtue and self-sacrifice conflict with the reality of domestic violence, adultery and despair as actress Usha tries to break free of the constraints of gender and class. Shot on authentic locations, and using montage as well as colour tinting and contrasting film stock, this is emotionally intense, visual storytelling and a rare insight into the history of Indian cinema itself.
Sat 9 June, 13:30, NFT 1

SACF Excellence in Cinema Award to Shyam Benegal
Benegal will discuss his life and work with film historian and SACF Director Lalit Mohan Joshi & Q&A
The South Asian Cinema Foundation, in partnership with the Nehru Centre, will present him with the SACF Excellence in Cinema Award. Benegal and film historian, filmmaker and SACF director Lalit Mohan Joshi will discuss a rich, enduring career, and the conversation will include clips and an opportunity for the director to take questions from the audience.
Sat 9 June, 16:15, NFT 1

Bhumika Masterclass with Shyam Benegal conducted by Rosie Thomas
Attendees will be able to share the director’s view on the making of this masterpiece.  As a counterpoint to critical or academic perspectives, join this masterclass and share a film director's own insight into the making of this major work. Taking a shot-by-shot look at fragments of Bhumika, director Shyam Benegal will reflect on some of the key creative and practical challenges in the production process of this remarkable film. Attendees of the masterclass should be familiar with Bhumika (screening on Sat 9 June) so that they can fully appreciate this session.
Sun 10 June 13:00 NFT3

Junoon (Obsession), 1978
134 mins. Hindi & Urdu with EST. Dir: Shyam Benegal with Shashi Kapoor, Jennifer Kendal, Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah, Ismat Chugtai, Nafisa Ali
Junoon means 'obsession' in Hindi and this theme underlies this passionate, sensual and violent story, set against the turbulent period of the so-called 'Sepoy mutiny' of 1857. Often considered as the First War of Independence, it is a period that still resonates in India today. Casting star names include Shashi and wife Jennifer Kapoor (née Kendal).  Benegal has adapted Ruskin Bond's A Flight of Pigeons and developed a tale in which an infatuated Pathan soldier interacts with the women of an assimilated colonial family, dividing loyalties and challenging connections between coloniser and colonised.
Sun 10 June 17:45 NFT2

Shyam Benegal to Release Kaal, a New Novel by Sangeeta Bahadur. (By Invitation only)
Mon 11 June 14:30 House of Lords, Committee Room 1

Phalke Memorial Lecture: “New Indian Cinema Circa 2012” by Shyam Benegal
Mon 11 June 18:30 Nehru Centre
Benegal to open SACF’s Shyam Benegal Exhibition curated by Dr Kusum Pant Joshi with Uttara S. Joshi

US webcam spy student Dharun Ravi jailed

An Indian student in the US who secretly filmed his gay roommate kissing another man has been sentenced to 30 days in prison.

20-year-old Dharun Ravi, an Indian citizen who has lived in New Jersey for most of his life, had posted the video of the encounter on Twitter and Facebook.

Days later, in September 2010, his roommate - 18-year-old Tyler Clementi - killed himself.

The subsequent trial made front-page headlines around the United States and even prompted comment from President Obama.

Ravi had been facing up to 10 years in prison.

Apart from the 30-day sentence, Ravi was placed on three years probation, ordered to complete 300 hours of community service and pay $10,000 to a public organization that helps victims of hate crimes.
The court heard how Ravi - then a student at the prestigious Rutgers University - used a webcam in his dorm room to film Clementi kissing another man.

Prosecutors said the video was viewed about a dozen times by fellow students.
Clementi, they said, had viewed Ravi's Twitter page 38 times in the two days before his death.
As he handed down sentence on Monday, Judge Glenn Berman said he had not heard Ravi apologise once, adding that Clementi's own words - "wildly inappropriate" - best described his actions.

The judge added that he did not believe Ravi had acted out of hate for Clementi, but said he had been guilty of "colossal insensitivity".

- UKAsian

Monday, 21 May 2012

Change Pakistan lifts ban on Twitter

Authorities in Pakistan have restored public access to Twitter, just hours after blocking the social networking site for publishing what it called "messages offensive to Islam".

Reports say the 8-hour long ban was enforced over a Twitter competition calling for the submission of images of the Prophet Muhammad.
Images of the Prophet are forbidden in Islam.

The chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, Mohammed Yaseen told the Associated Press on Saturday that Twitter was blocked after it refused to remove the material.

Despite the ban, AP reported that many people in Pakistan were still able to access the site by using software that disguises the user's location.

Over the past year thousands of websites have been blocked without warning in Pakistan, including pornographic sites and those considered to be "anti-government".

- UKAsian Staff

LIFF 2012: 'A rollercoaster ride of great Indian Cinema'

Organizers of the 2012 Cannes Film Festival have resolved – it seems – to confine to the vault of distant, unpleasant memories, the rather injudicious inclusion of Aishwarya Rai in its venerable jury by this year feting a far more apt ambassador for India and its’ rich cinematic history.

The doyen of the subcontinent’s independent cinema, Anurag Kashyap, will premier his latest project, ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ at the Festival’s prestigious Director’s Fortnight: a showcase for unconventional filmmakers from around the world that runs parallel to Cannes’ main competition.

But for those unable to journey across the Channel to enjoy the festivities at the Little Cross Drive, Kashyap’s epic thriller will also be screened as part of the London Indian Film Festival, which returns to the capital for the 3rd time this June.

‘Gangs’ is a 2-part tour de force, based on the coal industry mafia in the impoverished Indian state of Bihar and is part of an impressive list of cutting edge films that will be shown during the two-week long LIFF.
The film is also the latest high profile, non-mainstream motion picture to open the Festival.

In 2010 - the year of its inception - LIFF opened with Love Sex Aur Dhoka; Dibakar Banerjee's controversial portrayal of the sensationalist Indian media.  And in 2011 the Festival hosted the international premier of Delhi Belly: the occasionally crass, often sublime, excrement-laden, two-fingered salute to Bollywood convention.
The selection of films at the Festival's two previous iterations have been routinely outstanding and is testament to LIFF's growing stature as Europe's premier showcase for independent Indian cinema.
Speaking exclusively to The UKAsian, Festival Director Cary Sawhney says the 2012 roster will be electric:  "We have everything from an acclaimed children's movie to a really sexy film that you wouldn't take your granny to.

There are action-packed gangster films with plenty of violence and gore to a colourful film about transvestites.  It's going to be a rollercoaster ride this year with films never before seen in the UK or Europe."

Festivals showcasing Indian cinema have been held in cities as far afield as Florence and Los Angeles - not to mention in London itself - for a number of years, with varying degrees of success.

Despite its status as a relative newcomer however, the London Indian Film Festival has managed to capture the imagination of cinema fans and filmmakers alike by providing an international platform for movies that not only portray the self-assurance and vibrancy of modern India but its' myriad frailties as well.

"There is a new breed of high quality cinema that is coming out of India at the moment and LIFF strives to reflect that" Sawhney continues.  "There is a new zeitgeist powered by India’s younger generation.  They are not just interested in Bollywood as we know it.  Interestingly enough, it’s not just the multiplexes that are being sold out but the smaller 200 or 300-seat cinemas as well.

These films are a mixture of East and West.  Obviously the younger generation in India have been exposed to MTV and the internet and they are more aware of their surroundings as well as what’s happening in the outside world.  They are more attuned to the Tele-Visual quality of films and they are demanding that Bollywood and the Indian cinema industry embrace that level of quality."

Apart from providing a platform for talented filmmakers from India, events such as LIFF are helping to take uniquely Indian stories beyond the vast and omnipresent Indian Diaspora which has helped provide Bollywood with an apparently 'global' appeal.  "In the British context, there’s very little crossover from Bollywood to the mainstream", Sawhney says.

"However, what is happening is that there is an increasing proliferation of independent Indian cinema that has the capability to crossover to mainstream audiences. 

The trouble is that most critics for instance, think that all Indian cinema is Bollywood, and distributors are nervous to take on these projects.  So we are in a bubble that needs to be broken out of.  We need to show that independent Indian films can be sold out and reach a wider audience.  If we can sell out a cinema at the Southbank or the Cineworld in Ilford, that’s a triumph.

It tells people that independent Indian cinema can work.  25% of our audience are non-Asians and it’s growing every year."

And in the new digital age, when the sub-continent is projected warts and all through an endless stream of news feeds and social media updates, there is a growing appetite for a view of India that is not rose-tinted: "India represents a whole host of different things to different people and that’s what I think, people want to see.

The media – particularly mainstream media – have embraced us and our aim is to get a mainstream audience much like Brazilian cinema or French cinema has in the UK."
Part of the reason for Bollywood's relative lack of crossover appeal has been the industry's often bizarre emulation of Hollywood: whilst recent mainstream films such as Ra:One and Players have been ambitious in terms of technical nous and style, a lack of stories that are authentically Indian have rendered them staggeringly expensive follies devoid of all heart.
It's a problem that an ever increasing number of independent filmmakers and a handful of individuals from the Bollywood mainstream are slowly attempting to rectify.  "I think Bollywood is embracing independent cinema.  Aamir Khan’s championing of films such as Delhi Belly and Peepli Live has allowed other independent filmmakers to come to the fore.

He’s done a great service to the industry I think.  What's more, people are understanding the need to be rooted in authentically Indian stories but perhaps infusing some Hollywood flare into the movie making process.  Not having a dance sequence every five  minutes for one thing!  Delhi Belly was a really good example of that.

There is a western style to it but it’s an authentically Indian story even with some Bollywood elements to it.  That’s why it was so successful; some of it is rude, some of it crass and some absolutely beautiful. That’s the kind of combination that we want to showcase at LIFF."

That ambition has helped the London Indian Film Festival attract a quite formidable list of partners, not least Film London, the British Film Institute and perhaps most notably, the venerable Satyajit Rai Foundation, which sponsors LIFF's £1000 short film competition. 

"This year we have had entries from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh as well as from Europe.  The aim of the competition is to highlight films that reflect the work of arguably India’s greatest filmmaker; not just his skill in creating great cinema but also his love for India and the humanitarian nature of his work."
Apart from the Short Film Competition, the 2012 edition of LIFF will feature an experimental Indian film presented by Tate Modern curated by Shahid Iyer.
For industry professionals, the Festival will host a number of networking events where UK-based producers can explore productions in India and get an understanding on issues such as taxation and co-production.  "These networking events are one of the most important aspects of the Festival because not only do we want to be a showcase for great Indian cinema but we also need to get people exchanging ideas and expertise and making great movies in India about India."
- Viji Alles

The London Indian Film Festival runs from June 20 to July 3 and will stretch city-wide opening at the Cineworld Haymarket  and continuing at BFI Southbank, Watermans, Cineworld Trocadero, Feltham, Wood Green, Wandsworth, the O2 and ICA.
For more information, visit

Pakistani-Romanian people smuggling gang smashed

The UKAsian has helped uncover a gang of people smugglers secretly transporting illegal immigrants and criminals out of the United Kingdom.

As part of a wider investigation with The People newspaper, a reporter from The UKAsian went undercover, posing as an illegal Sri Lankan immigrant desperate to flee the UK to France where he could obtain EU documents to return to Britain legally.

The Pakistani-Romanian gang are believed to have raked in tens of thousands of pounds over a 3-year period by smuggling mostly Pakistani illegals to as far afield as Finland, Lithuania and Latvia.

Our reporter's first point of contact was a Pakistani man named Talet - a chemist by day - who arranged for passage to Dover and on to the French port of Calais on the back of a truck transporting rolls of wrapping paper to Belgium.

On the day of the sting, Talet and two other smartly dressed Pakistani cohorts had arranged illegal passage for 9 other men; all Pakistanis ranging in age from 19 to 26, who were each charged £1050.
It's believed the gang carries out 2 to 4 such operations every week.

The desperate immigrants, most of whom had either overstayed their visas or were fighting against a return to their homeland in one form or another, were first driven in windowless Ford Transits to a car park in Walthamstow on Friday evening.

There, they were handed over to a group of Romanians who drove the men to a lay-by in Maidstone, Kent where they were transferred to a German-registered transporter driven by another Romanian.
The Romanian part of the gang was spearheaded by Marcella Nedea, 27, a cleaning company owner from Harlow Essex who boasted to our reporter about her extensive property portfolio in Romania and how she did everything 'Cash to Hand'.

When asked of the dangers of the crossing from Dover to Calais, both Talet and Nedea, reassured the fugitives that they had never been caught and that "nobody checks the lorries when they travel out of the UK".

However, the truck carrying the immigrants was intercepted at Dover by police and Border Agency officials late Friday night after the undercover team tipped off the authorities.

The gang has cashed in on the government's failure to effectively deal with the thousands of visa overstayers and failed asylum seekers who find it easier to obtain documentation such as Eastern European passports or fake EU Identity Cards which enables them to travel freely.

Talet told our reporter: "We send all people. There was one man who married a girl and before that he tried to get asylum. He got documents under one name then married a girl under another name.

"He is running from the Home Office. The Home Office are trying to get him. We sent some girls from my country, Pakistan. They can't get visa or get papers. So they go to Germany and get papers easily."

- UKAsian Staff

Sunday, 20 May 2012

'Anonymous' attacks Indian sites over censorship

Several high profile Indian websites have been targeted in a series of attacks by campaigning hacker group Anonymous.

Websites for the Indian IT ministry, the Indian Telecoms department, the Supreme Court, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Indian National Congress were among those targeted.

Anonymous said the attacks were in retaliation against the blocking of file-sharing websites Vimeo, DailyMotion and The Pirate Bay in India.

Chennai based anti-piracy company Copyrightlabs won a court order in March which forced Indian Internet Service Providers and telephone firms to stop their customers reaching the sites to download Bollywood films.

The website of Copyrightlabs was also "down for maintenance" during the attacks.
In tweets documenting its ongoing hack attacks, Anonymous said they were being carried out in retaliation for "internet censorship" in India.

To knock out the sites, Anonymous bombarded them with data, a tactic known as a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack.

- Malinda Dharshana

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Pictures of World's Most Expensive house revealed

The first pictures of the world's most expensive house - Anil Ambani's 'Antilia' - have been released.

Ambani's wife, Nita, opened the doors to the 27-storey tower for a spread in the latest issue of Vanity Fair.

Located along one of Mumbai's most fashionable streets, the house reportedly cost $1b to construct and features helipads, a vast library, marble floors and even a snow room.
Mr Ambani and his family however have remained silent about details, until now.

Vanity Fair reporter James Reginato was given unprecedented access inside the 400,000 sq ft property last November.  He writes that many of the floors are double or triple height, so the building rises to 570 feet, the equivalent of a 40-storey building.

One photo shows a room with floor-to-ceiling windows and a seating arrangement that resembles the lobby of a 5-star hotel lobby.  "It's a modern home with an Indian heart," says Mrs Ambani.

The tower also features a multi-storey garage, a ballroom, spa, theatre, numerous guest suites and a number of terraced gardens, according to the article.

Media speculation in India has been rife about whether the family actually lived at the property with one report claiming the Ambani's had decided to not move in because the Vastu Shastra on the building was not correct.

Mrs Ambani however confirms the family moved there in September 2011.

The design, she says, is based on the lotus and the sun, and is decorated using rare wood, marble, mother-of-pearl and crystal, crafted by Indian artisans.

As with many Indian households, it also has a Hindu prayer room, "getting my temple right was so important," she said.

Apart from speculation about whether it is inhabited, the house has attracted criticism with some commentators saying the Ambanis' largesse was inappropriate in city where millions live in fetid slums while hundreds of thousands of others remain homeless.

- UKAsian Staff/Reports

Friday, 18 May 2012

Bristol authorities to allow Hindus to scatter ashes in the Avon

Authorities in Bristol are considering allowing the Hindu community in the city to use the River Avon to scatter the ashes of loved ones rather than travelling to the River Ganges in India.

Bristol’s new Mayor Peter Main said providing an appropriate site for the ritual was a priority.

Mr Main said: "It's their tradition to scatter ashes on water and quite often now they're flown back to India to do that.
"They're Bristolian, most are born and bred in Bristol, why shouldn't they have somewhere in Bristol to scatter their ashes?"

The Environment Agency and Bristol City Council are reportedly trying to identify a site.
A community spokesperson said there were currently about 10,000 Hindus in Bristol and the surrounding area.

Parag Bhatt, from the Bristol Hindu Temple, said it would be welcomed by other communities as well: "It's not just the Bristol Hindu community that's going to benefit, it will be other communities like the Sikh and Buddhist as well.

"The only reason we take them (ashes) to the Ganges is because they don't have a place in Bristol or nearby where they can disperse the ashes.

"If there are elderly people in the family it can be difficult and if it's a large family you're going to incur large costs as well for flights.  It's just a matter of making it easier for the family who has just lost a loved one" he told the BBC.

- UKAsian Staff/Reports

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Mumbai Cricket Association threatens to "ban" SRK from Wankhede

The Mumbai Cricket Association has threatened to ban Bollywood superstar from the iconic Wankhede Stadium after the star became embroiled in a heated exchange with security officials following an IPL match at the stadium Thursday night.  

Khan is the owner of the Kolkata Knight Riders IPL franchise which had played the local Mumbai Indians team at the Wankhede stadium earlier in the evening.

Reports say the star and his entourage scuffled with security guards who had allegedly tried to prevent SRK and a large group of children entering the pitch following the match.

An audio recording released by the Indian Express reveals the angry exchange between Khan and the security guards, with both parties accusing each other of "not talking properly" before the exchange becomes tense and abusive.

Khan defended his actions, telling reporters that he became angry when security "mandhandled" the children who included his son and daughter.

Speaking outside his Mumbai residence, SRK said: "They were extremely aggressive. Some of the things they said I don't even want to repeat. And yes I got angry."

Khan said he would lodge a police complaint against the abusive stadium officials.

Earlier, the MCA president Vilasrao Deshmukh the Association would "consider a proposal to ban the actor from entering the stadium."

The incident is the latest in a series of transgressions involving Bollywood's biggest star, including a bust-up with the husband of one of his closest friends and a fine for smoking in public.

- Poonam Joshi

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

“Sex grooming case is race-related”: Equality Commission Chairman

Claiming that race was not a factor in the Manchester sexual grooming case is “fatuous”, the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission has said.

Trevor Phillips told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show the fact that the victims were white and their abusers were Asian must not be ignored.

He said it would amount to a “national scandal” if authorities failed to intervene in such cases for fear of “demonizing” the Muslim community.

Echoing comments made by Mohammad Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation, Mr Phillips added that the “closed community” the men came from may have turned a blind eye to their activities, either out of fear or because the girls were from a different community.

The gang of 9 men, ranging in age from 24 to 58, were convicted in Rochdale last week of sexually abusing the vulnerable girls – one as young as 13 – after plying them with drinks and drugs.

Judge Gerald Clifton told the men that they had treated their victims as “worthless and beyond all respect” at least in part because “they were not of your community or religion”.

Police officials and politicians have insisted that race was not a factor in the case.

Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee and one of the most prominent British Asians in Westminster, said: “There is no excuse for this kind of criminality, whoever is involved in it, but I don't think it is a particular group of people.”

Speaking after the men were convicted, Steve Heywood, Assistant Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police said: “It just happens that in this particular area and time, the demographics were that these were Asian men.”

"However, in large parts of the country we are seeing on-street grooming, child sexual exploitation happening in each of our towns and it isn't about a race issue.”

Mr Phillips had a different view: “Anybody who says that the fact that most of the men are Asian and most of the children are white is not relevant – that's just fatuous.

“These are closed communities essentially and I worry that in these communities there are people who knew what was going on and didn't say anything, either because they're frightened or because they're so separated from the rest of the communities they think 'Oh, that's just how white people let their children carry on, we don't need to do anything’.”

- Vijitha Alles

Raghu declares Diamond Jubilee concert “Amazing”.

A thrilled Raghu Dixit declared he had “kicked some serious ass” following his historic performance at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert at Windsor Castle on Sunday night.

The Hey Bhagwan singer was joined on stage by a dozen dancers performing a routine created by Raghu’s wife Mayuri Upadhya: the contemporary dancer, choreographer and artistic director of Bangalore’s Nritarutya Dance Academy.

Speaking to The UKAsian after the performance, Raghu said: “It’s the first time that my wife and I have collaborated on a project and it was an amazing experience to bring it all together in front of the Queen.  We definitely kicked some ass!”

The event, titled All The Queen’s Horses, was an international, theatrical extravaganza meant to celebrate the Queen’s standing in the countries of the Commonwealth as well as her lifelong love of all things equestrian.

Some 556 horses from across the Commonwealth – from those serving with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to India’s famed Marwadi horses – joined more than 1000 performers, including Rolf Harris, Susan Boyle, Helen Mirren, Sanjeeve Bhaskar, classical quartet Il Divo, Country musician Abigail Washburn, South African performers from the West End show The Lion King and, of course, Raghu Dixit in celebrating the Queen’s 60th year on the throne.

“It was awesome, superb, memorable, a milestone.  It will be etched in my memory forever”, Mayuri said.  “Visually, it was amazing.  The performers, the horses, it was just a phenomenal event.  We were definitely not prepared to experience what hit us.”

As the dancers took to the stage - elaborate designed to resemble Buckingham Palace - alongside myriad Rajasthani puppets and with dozens of gallivanting horses before the stage, Raghu - resplendent as usual in his traditional get-up - gave a stirring rendition of Mysore se Aayi.
It was a typically exuberant performance by a man whose very presence at the event spoke volumes about his phenomenal popularity in the UK.

Raghu, Mayuri and the other performers were greeted by the Queen and Prince Philip prior to the event.  “The Queen was exceedingly polite and courteous and she thanked me for coming all the way from India for the performance, which was very sweet of her”, Raghu says.

Asked about his impressions of the monarch, he added: “The Queen has a tremendous amount of energy.  I had a completely different picture of her.  Normally we expect someone in her position to be stoic and quite grave but she just came across as the grandma next door!”
‘All the Queen’s Horses’ will be broadcast on ITV1 on June 3.

-    Vijitha Alles

Photo Credit: Press Association

Visa appeals to be scrapped for family visitors to UK

Foreign nationals will not be allowed to appeal if their visa application to visit family members is rejected, the Home Office has announced.

A new law – which will come into force in 2014 – will remove the right of appeal for those visiting cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces or nephews.

Applicants will instead be expected to re-apply for a visa at a cost starting at £78.

According to the Home Office, the number of appeals from those wanting to visit family living in the UK has risen to almost 50,000 a year, with failed applicants accounting for nearly 40% of all immigration appeals.

This, the department says, is "burdening the system and diverting resources which could otherwise be used to settle asylum claims and foreign criminals' deportation cases".

Ninety-five per cent of decisions on fresh applications are taken within 15 days, whereas the appeals process can last up to eight months.

Immigration Minister Damian Green told the BBC: "We are not stopping anybody visiting family in the UK. If an applicant meets the rules they will be granted a visa.

"However, it is grossly unfair that UK taxpayers have had to foot the huge bill for foreign nationals who, in many cases, have simply failed to provide the correct evidence to support their application."
Labour's Commons Home Affairs Commitee chairman Keith Vaz has criticised the change, arguing it will stop relatives coming to the UK to attend family occasions.

"It is a system that works and it gives people the opportunity of challeging decisions," he said.
But Mr Green told MPs the current system of appeals was "an absolute goldmine for immigration lawyers".

The new legislation still requires parliamentary approval but an interim measure will reportedly be put in place beginning this July.

-    UKAsian Staff

Sunday, 13 May 2012

RGV new 'Department' promises a thrill a minute

He may be petulant and forthright to the point of grating but Ram Gopal Varma has few equals in Bollywood when it comes to creating great cinema.

And Varma is back this week, doing what he does best, with his latest release, ‘Department’: a film that’s been dogged by controversy, financial difficulties and even a lawsuit or two but one which promises to join the long list of classic RGV blockbusters such as ‘Satya’, ‘Company’ and ‘Sarkar’.

Varma has always been obsessed with the various and nefarious ‘institutions’ that dominate life in his country: from the mob to the police to the government.  That obsession continues with Department: specifically the Mumbai police department and the notorious ‘encounter’ squads who contrive to gun down suspected criminals instead of wasting on such frivolities as the due process of law.

The film was reportedly shot using a number of handheld Canon D5 cameras, giving the picture a certain grittiness that has become Varma’s hallmark.  Insiders say the action is epic with gore galore.
Aside from an intriguing story line involving gangsters, politicians, cops and a power struggle, Department also boasts a fantastic cast.  After months celebrating the birth of his granddaughter, opening IPL 5 and settling the debts of dozens of farmers in Andhra Pradesh, Amitabh Bachchan returns to the big screen as Sarjerao Gaikwad, a Machiavellian gangster-politician who alternates between roles according to the circumstances.

Sanjay Dutt, most recently seen stealing scenes in Agneepath, plays police inspector Mahadev Bhosle, the leader of an encounter squad.  Hot young thing Rana Daggubati plays inspector Shivnarayan; a man who looks particularly fetching in a police uniform and is an encounter specialist.  The exceptionally talented Vijay Raaz plays Mumbai don Sawatya.

The action-packed thriller will hit cinemas May 18th.

- Poonam Joshi

Anish Kapoor says public access to Arcelor Mittal Orbit 'too expensive'

Turner Prize winning sculptor Anish Kapoor has admitted that the cost of entry to his new Olympic Orbit sculpture in Stratford was “a hell of a lot of money”.

The twisting red steel tower, the tallest sculpture in the UK and known as the ArcelorMittal Orbit, was officially unveiled last week and is set to dominate the Olympic park in East London.

Kapoor said: "£15 is a hell of a lot of money, frankly. This thing has to be paid for, and there are all sorts of equations, but there's a push to keep that cost as low as possible and make it as available as possible."

The Orbit cost £22.7m - £19m of which was put up by Lakshmi Mittal’s eponymous steel company – and will open to visitors to the Olympic Games and Olympic Park in July with adults paying £15 and children £7.

Andrew Altman, chief executive of the London Legacy Development Corporation, which is in charge of the Olympic Park's future, told the BBC that a lower pricing system for 2014 was yet to be worked out.

The 35-storey structure has divided critics.

One described the orbit as "the Eiffel Tower after a nuclear attack" and "a catastrophic collision between two cranes".

An industry magazine editor declared it “a contorted mass of entrails.  And the way it towers over the Olympic stadium is particularly objectionable."

Art critic Richard Cork however, told the BBC: "You struggle to take it all in because it is completely mind-boggling. It is utterly unlike all the photos we've seen of the Orbit from the outside."

"We wanted to make something that was kind of a deconstruction of the tower," Kapoor told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"Towers are almost always symmetrical," he continued, saying the Orbit's twisted loops were "the refusal of a singular image".

The Orbit has two observation floors, a 455-step spiral staircase, a lift and restaurant.

The uppermost observation floor is flanked by two concave mirrors which disorientate the visitor before they get to see the skyline beyond.

The sculpture is the result of a chance meeting between London Mayor Boris Johnson and Lakshmi Mittal at the 2009 World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

Kapoor said on Friday that controversy was part of the deal. "There will be those who hate it and those who love it - that's okay.

"The Eiffel Tower was hated by everybody for 50 years, or something like that. Now it's a mainstay of how we understand Paris. We'll see what happens here."

It is hoped the tower will help to attract 1 million visitors a year to Stratford's Olympic Park, when it reopens as the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park after the Games.

-    Reports/UKAsian Staff

Friday, 11 May 2012

Toilet fumes cause adjournment of Indian parliament

A rancid odour caused by a “poorly maintained” toilet has caused the adjournment of the Indian parliament.

Lawmakers in the upper house of the legislature – the Rajya Sabha – were forced to evacuate twice on Thursday due to the foul smell.

A spokesman told the media the smell was due to “poor maintenance”.

Congress party MP Rama Chandra Khuntia told the BBC: “"Everyone in the Rajya Sabha, panicked. Initially, we thought it was a gas leak. But then we realised the stench emanated from the toilet."

"We were told the smell from a toilet adjacent to a canteen found its way inside the House through air-conditioning ducts," Mr Khuntia said.

The incident comes three days after brief power cuts interrupted parliament proceedings.

Television news channel NDTV quoted the main opposition party BJP's Ravi Shankar Prasad as saying: "We talk of nuclear safety, we should at least ensure safety of smell in the House."

- UKAsian Staff

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Venkys will not sell Blackburn Rovers

Their brief ownership of Blackburn Rovers has been derided by fans and the media alike, particularly after the 1995 Premier League winners were relegated to the Championship.

But Indian poultry company-turned-premier-league football owners Venky’s have responded to their critics by saying that they have no intention to sell the club.

The company’s joint managing director Venkateshwara Rao told an Indian news channel: "It is a company of ours and there is nothing whatsoever (in rumours of a sale). These allegations are not correct".

Rao also dismissed speculation that club CEO Paul Hunt had been sacked because of a letter he had written to Venky’s management asking that manager Steve Kean be sacked following a string of poor results.

"The sacking was not because of that," Rao added. "Some staff have to keep the budget down. Nothing to do with it."

Blackburn were relegated from the Premier League following a 1-0 defeat by Wigan Athletic on Monday after a tumultuous season marred by fan protests prompted by the club's lack of success and unpopular moves by the owners who completed a £43m takeover in November 2010.

One pundit said the club's owners were disconnected "geographically and philosophically” from one of the grand old institutions of English football.

Rao however, dismissed criticism of the owners from club supporters, saying: "Fans have the right to do whatever they want.

"It's bound to happen when somebody loses...We have to come out of this situation. Nobody is to be blamed."

-    UKAsian Staff/Reports

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

‘Iron Lady of Manipur’ featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

An Indian woman who has spent the past 12 years on hunger strike in protest at a law giving special powers to the armed forces has been featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

Irom Sharmila Chanu began fasting in November 2000 in the northeastern state of Manipur and has been force fed through a pipe in her nose.

She has been calling for the government to withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

The government says the Act is required to combat lawlessness in the state but rights groups claim it has been used by police, paramilitary and army troops to commit scores of human rights violations.

The Ripley's website displayed a cartoon of the 40-year-old activist, describing her as “the iron lady of Manipur”.

Ms Chanu's action has made her an iconic figure in Manipur; a state with a population fo about 2.5 million people and large numbers of army, paramilitary and police troops who have been fighting a number of insurgent groups since 1980.

Ms Chanu's embarked on her hunger strike after soldiers from a paramilitary outfit allegedly killed 10 young men in November 2000.

She has been arrested many times and taken to hospital where she has been force-fed a liquid diet in a bid to keep her alive.

- UKAsian Staff