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  • 10/27/17--04:32: All eyes on fries!
  • Are you one of those who goes for a burger meal, just for those crispy fries? Well, now you don't have to anymore! 'Tall Blonde French', the newly opened outlet in Koramangala 5th Block, is charming its customers by serving all their French fry needs.

    From the classic cheese and chilli to the exotic butter chicken and sweet potato, this place serves about 30 different kinds of fries. These freshly procured and handcrafted delights are sure to take your love for fries to a higher tier.

    If you love cheese in its molten form, go for the 'Bae' fries. The chilli garlic and cheese sauces topped with sliced jalapenos will truly be a classic start. However, if that's not what you are looking for, try their 'Spill the beans' fries, served with beans and chipotle sauce with a hint of lime, the smoky flavour is one of its kind and is a must try.

    If you like a little sweetness in your food, a must have is the 'Brunette chicken' fries. As quirky as its name, these French fries are served with barbecue and cheese sauce, topped with smoked chicken sausages.

    To add a little fusion to your taste, you can try the 'Butter chicken' fries.
    The goodness of the in-house butter chicken gravy will just spice up your day.

    That's not all, another highlight of this place is the shakes. The perfect blend of cakes and cookies in your favourite flavour will leave you wanting for more.
    While you enjoy your fried friends, ask for an 'Oreo mint shake'.

    The slight hint of mint blended to perfection with the Oreo cookie is a delight for your taste buds.
    If you are a dark chocolate person, a 'Dark choco cake shake' is the best thing you can ask for.

    You can also try out their dessert section if there is a little place left after the wholesome cheesy delights. Though the options are limited, you won't regret choosing from one of

    'Tall Blonde French' is located at 50/1, opposite Jyoti Nivas College, Koramangala 5th Block.

    For details call, 9880614444.

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  • 10/27/17--04:46: Pizza of my heart
  • Located on Infantry Road, 'Cafe Imroze' packs a punch when it comes to combining decor aesthetics with some mouth-watering dishes. Big glass windows and rustic interiors make for a perfect setting to enjoy the beautiful Bengaluru weather while a menu loaded with nachos, pizzas, burgers, pasta and shakes warms the cockles of the heart and the pits of the tummy.

    The menu starts off with soup of the day and salads like 'American salad with ranch dressing', for those who want to eat healthy. The next page looks promising with options in vegetarian and non-vegetarian starters to choose from. The 'Paprika potato wedges' are a reasonably good option. The non-vegetarians should surely give the 'Buffalo hot wings' a try with the 'Spicy cajun chicken fingers' being another delicious choice.

    Next come the burgers and there are a host of alternatives here. The 'BBQ chicken burger' is a hit among the customers with its flavourful filling and accompanied by fries and Coke at a reasonable price. Green-lovers can choose between the vegetarian version of the 'BBQ burger', 'Ground pepper corn burger', 'Mushroom and cheese burger' and so on.

    Pastas are next in line and the 'white sauce pastas' are highly recommended. Go ahead and experiment in this section as everything is a safe bet. Next come the personal favourites and overall winners — pizzas! The cafe says that the thin crust wood-fired pizzas are their speciality and rightly so. The 'Brick pizza' is an Imroze special and you can't go wrong with this one. The classic 'Margarita pizza' deserves a special mention for the lovely presentation.

    Sandwiches are another good option to cure a particularly bad case of the hunger pangs. The vegetarian version of the 'Special sandwich' makes for a great meal with its distinct yet harmonious flavours. All sandwich variants come in vegetarian and non-vegetarian versions.

    There are a couple of sides that serve as the perfect foil for your main dish. The 'French fries with the peri peri dip' are a must try while the 'Nachos with chicken and cheese' are a safe bet. Apart from this, there are a couple of options in seafood too.

    Dessert — our favourite part of the meal! Apart from a section devoted to the waffles, they have an extensive selection to cater to your sweet tooth. The hot chocolate is to die for but don't go by our words. Try out the different varieties on display like cupcakes, lemon tarts, cake pops and pies. Be sure to give the 'Batman shake' a try. It's gastronomic sin, served in a glass jar and is a chocolate shake with wafers, sticks of chocolate, ice cream and sweet sauce piled on top of it. Other popular desserts includes the 'Nutella Tiramisu'.

    Coming to the nitty-gritties, this place is value for money with reasonable prices and generous portions making for a delectable combination. Another bonus is the home delivery and late night opening hours. Cafe Imroze is located on 21, Prestige Copper Arch, Next to Safina Plaza, Infantry Road.

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  • 10/27/17--04:54: For the lunch break
  • The new pre-fixed lunch menu at Sly Granny is curated for the busy bees who need a quick and satisfying lunch break during weekdays.

    Take your pick from a range of 'small plates', 'large plates' and desserts. Start your meal with a light portion of 'small plates'. Select from a range of appetising starters like the delicious grilled figs and goat cheese with creamy goat cheese spread, grilled figs on crusty bread with a pomegranate balsamic drizzle or a healthy quinoa salad made with quinoa, brown rice, roasted bell peppers, toasted almonds, asparagus, broccoli pesto and tahini cream.

    For vegetarians, there are options from bread and tomato served with Roasted cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, fried crusty bread, 'Kalamata olive tapenade', 'Chili and lemon vin' and option of anchovies, 'Falafel pita pockets' with house-made mini falafels with hummus and pickled vegetable slaw and pumpkin and 'Feta stuffed kulcha' served with roasted pumpkin and feta with a walnut and sage crumble.

    Non-vegetarian options range from a South style pulled chicken taco with tomato chutney and pickled onion, a classic orange chicken, a roasted spice marinated chicken thighs served with a herb chutney and slaw or popcorn shrimp cornmeal, crusted
    fried shrimp with a pickled cucumber and curry leaf dip.

    Whether you're taking a solo lunch break or are here for a family style meal, large plates will cater to all your mid-day cravings. The vegetarians can choose from veg dishes like 'Eggplant Parmigiana', a sandwich of crispy fried eggplant, sundried tomato and caper sauce, Parmesan cheese and a truffled mustardricotta whip, or everyone's favourite mushroom risotto made with Kerala red rice risotto with wild mushrooms, white wine, Parmesan cheese and truffle oil.

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  • 10/27/17--05:00: Off the beaten track
  • It is passion for cinema that drove IT professional Sreesha Belakvaadi to quit a cosy job and step into filmmaking.

    A voarcious reader of subjects related to psychology, occult, philosophy and how the subconscious mind works, Sreesha wanted his first project to have all these elements and yet be commercially viable.

    Sreesha has in fact managed to achieve all this and more in his first offering 'Mojo' which released on Friday.

    The film made news and bagged several prestigious awards even before its release. It does well to draw one's attention to how a gripping story can be told in an experimental format and still appeal to masses.

    "The story is a mix of mystery and horror but it does not follow the typical format of filmmaking. I didn't want the film to be typecast. Most of the actors have a strong background in theatre. This is because I wanted actors who can absorb the story and interpret the character the way I wanted it," explains Sreesha.

    Talking more about the film, Sreesha says that the two central characters of the film — Manu, who plays a photo journalist and Anusha, who essays the role of a psychiatrist — appear in a natural way.

    "The idea is to give a realistic touch to the characters. I wanted people to relate to the characters and understand the story," he adds.

    'Mojo' has been screened at some of the most prestigious film festivals across the globe. The story, script, dialogues and direction is by Sreesha, who began working on this project in 2015.

    "I took my time to develop the story and I have conceived every character after a lot of thought. Many people asked me if I worked on the film expecting to win awards. I just tell them that all I wanted to do was to make a product that will appeal to a global audience," adds Sreesha.

    He says that he has spent almost two years on this project.

    "I wouldn't have been able to complete the project without the support and encouragement from my wife Shanthi, daughter Pramiti and my mother Vasudha," he adds.

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    Actor Tilak dons the role of a film director in his latest release 'Sarvasva'. The actor feels that his job was made easier because the director of the film, Shreyas Kabadi M, had a definite vision and idea about what he wanted from him. It is the opportunity to work on a fresh script with a new team that made Tilak accept this film.

    He feels that here there's a visible change in the way the director and scriptwriter have experimented with a new subject.

    In an interview with Nina C George, Tilak talks about the making of the movie and

    What made you accept 'Sarvasva'?

    I liked the way the story was written. It is a romantic-thriller that talks about how most youngsters are stuck between spending time with the one they love and concentrating on building a career. Youngsters can easily relate to the situations shown in the film.

    What is the story like?

    It is about two friends and their struggle to fulfil their dream. These two young men, who happen to be childhood friends, come together to build a career in the world of cinema.
    Whether they manage to strike a balance between their love life and careers forms the crux of the story.

    How was it to play a director?

    After playing a series of negative roles in my previous projects, my character in this film has come as a huge relief. A director's job is not an easy one but I have tried to deliver exactly what was expected of me. I enjoyed playing a different character here.

    Have you undergone a makeover for your role?

    We have tried to keep the looks very simple and straight. We haven't gone overboard with either the makeup or the body language because we wanted the people to relate to the characters and make a connection with them.

    How was it to work with a young crew?

    It was a great learning experience. I loved the energy and enthusiasm of the newcomers. They were always willing to explore and experiment with their characters. It was nice to see how open they were to learning.

    On the surge of new talent in the Kannada film industry...

    It is a great time for the Kannada film industry because there are a lot of youngsters who are coming in with new ideas to create experimental cinema.

    The audience too are embracing the changes very well. This is an encouraging sign.

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  • 10/27/17--05:07: 'I'm a happy person'
  • After being a part of the web series 'Bengaluru Queens' and upcoming film 'Vasu - Naan Pakka Commercial', actor Chaithra Achar is all set to explore herself as an actor in a detailed role in the 'Curious Cases of Yedebadita'. The actor talks about movies and more in a chat with Tini Sara Anien.

    How did you start acting?

    It was during my engineering course at MSRIT that acting and other extra-curricular activities happened. During my third year, I played the role of 'Silent Swathi' in 'Bengaluru Queens' and in the fourth year of my engineering, I acted in 'Vasu...'. I always wanted to get into singing and explore other artforms and it all happened in a flow.

    So how did 'Curious Cases of Yedebadita' happen?

    A friend who acted with me in 'Bengaluru Queens' told me that auditions were open for the film. I auditioned and before I knew it, I was in. Ashwin detailed me about my character Inchara and we were soon discussing the details of the role.

    Tell us about your character...

    Inchara is a bold and dominating person. She is very different from what I am. Portraying someone entirely different from what I am was quite challenging. There was a lot of homework required for the role. My character falls in love with Ashwin Rao Pallaki's character and the story progresses.

    Every project teaches one different things. What have you learnt about yourself here?

    One gets to live many different lives as an actor and learn about different people. As an actor, I have realised that I can adapt easily to any character.

    Coming from a theatre background, how different was it to act in movies?

    The camera picks up the smallest detail and thus acting has to be natural and subtle in movies. Theatre requires a lot of exaggeration. When in
    theatre, concentrating on one's part isn't that hard but on movie sets, there
    are a lot of distractions and it can be quite a struggle.

    Three traits every actor should have...

    Patience, spontaneity and a creative streak.

    What attracts you to a movie?

    The team behind the movie and its script.

    Singing is your passion. How important is music to you?

    I trained in Carnatic music for eight years and music plays a big part in my life. It is a big stressbuster. Listening to a track can leave me rejuvenated.

    The last track you heard and loved...

    I was listening to the song 'Ondu Malebillu...' from the film 'Chakravarthy' recently. It is a track I love to pieces.

    What makes you smile?

    I'm a happy person. I am always brimming with energy. Anything and everything around me can make me smile. I really love people with a good sense of humour.

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    Actor Kalki Koechlin will play an urban woman who faces trouble at her work place because of an unplanned pregnancy in Rakhee Sandilya's 'Ribbon'.

    "It's about a couple, educated and liberal, who undergo innumerable problems. The story spans around four years, from pre-pregnancy to when the baby is four years old," said Kalki.

    She adds, "I read a lot about pregnancy, so much so that I started getting news alerts on Google about articles around it. I met some mothers too, who told me what it feels like to give birth and after it. It was hands-on work."

    (Contributed by Jaideep Pandey)

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  • 10/28/17--02:32: Choice is yours!
  • The first time I heard the term 'vegan', I thought I had misheard. Surely that person must have said 'vegetarian' and I must have misinterpreted it. Then the term was explained to me. My jaw dropped.
    What in the world was this new fad? Turns out, veganism is neither a fad nor is it new.

    For every living being, life revolves around food, and Man is no exception. But unlike other living creatures, Man is a thinking and rapidly evolving human being. His discovery and harnessing of fire and farming revolutionised the concept of food, and today's practices of steaming, sautéing, frying, grilling, baking and broiling have transformed food for him, while all other species on earth are still on a raw-meat or veggies-and-fruit diet.

    But Man's think-ability to contemplate does not stop with wondering what to do with food. His ability to reason has also led him to cogitate on what foods he should eat and why, and that, not only from the health point of view. Somewhere along the way, Man encountered the idea of ethics and scruples, and right and wrong, and that changed the very way in which he thought.

    The human species evolved to be omnivorous, which is one reason we climbed to the top of the food chain. However, a number of people have wondered if it is right to use or feed on other species. Is compassion to be extended only within the species, or can it encompass all other creatures as well? Is it only the killing that should be prohibited, or is it the very usage of animals for the benefit of mankind that should stop?

    It is this school of thought that led to the practice of vegetarianism and veganism. Vegetarianism is the practice of using only plant-based products for food. In most cases, this also includes the use of milk and milk products like butter, ghee, curds and cheese, and sometimes chicken eggs, too. People who consume milk and milk products are lacto-vegetarians, while those who eat eggs are classified as ovo-lacto-vegetarians.

    Off the list

    But veganism is something that pushes the envelope a little further. It is the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products not only in food, but in general lifestyle as well. This means saying a big fat goodbye to meat, eggs, and dairy milk or milk products. In addition, it also means no more silk, leather products or fur, and using only a few select cosmetics that are completely free of animal products such as bone ash, lard, and even beeswax.

    Since veganism can be considered an offshoot of vegetarianism, it shares a common history with it. Historians say that vegetarianism existed during the Indus Valley civilisation. Many Indian philosophers such as Mahavira, poets like Tiruvalluvar, and emperors like Chandragupta Maurya and Ashoka were reputed to be vegetarians, as were Greek philosophers such as Pythagoras, Empedocles and Theophrastus, and Roman poets like Ovid, Seneca the Younger, Plutarch, Plotinus and Porphyry.

    But the earliest known vegan was probably Al-Ma'arri, a blind Arab philosopher, poet and writer who lived in the 10th century AD. He opposed violence totally and ate no meat, even avoiding other animal products. His eloquent poem on veganism must surely have converted many a meat-eater in his day.

    In the modern Western world, veganism began to gain a firm hold in England and the United States in the 19th century. Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, doctor William Lambe, and self-described socialist James Pierrepont Greaves advocated the boycott of meat, milk and eggs in England, while in the United States, religious reformer Sylvester Graham and philosopher Amos Bronson Alcott (father of Louisa May Alcott, the famous author) propounded the practice of veganism in America. Finally, in 1944, the secretary of the Leicester branch of the Vegetarian Society coined the term 'vegan', meaning non-dairy vegetarian, and started a quarterly newsletter called The Vegan News. Recently, interest in veganism has increased, and many specialty stores have opened. Even supermarkets are beginning to stock vegan products.

    Today, many people have embraced this practice, including celebrities like Mallika Sherawat, Ayesha Takia, Jacqueline Fernandez, Anne Hathaway, Beyonce, Natalie Portman, Paul McCartney and Alec Baldwin.

    No matter where it originated, or who follows it, Veganism has always had its justification rooted in two important arguments — morality and health. And both these arguments can seem pretty convincing.

    The ethics of veganism are pretty straight-forward. In 1951, the Vegan Society defined veganism as 'the doctrine that man should live without exploiting animals.' This links veganism to ahimsa, which is non-harming of all things. Killing animals for meat is destroying another creature's right to live. Even livestock farms, where animals are bred to be killed for meat, are overcrowded, dirty places where animals are raised simply to put on weight before being killed, often in inhumane ways. While avoiding meat and consuming plant products, as do vegetarians, consuming milk, eggs and honey can be unfair to animals too. As Al-Ma'arri says, to rob unsuspecting birds by taking their eggs is grave injustice, while taking the honey which bees work hard to get, is plain wrong, because they did not store it for others to take. Furthermore, even milch cows and egg-laying chickens are killed once they are too old to be of use.

    People often say that they 'don't eat anything with a face', or 'anything that had a mom'. But for vegans, that is not enough. They argue that it is time for humans to come off the top of the food chain. Says singer-songwriter K D Lang, "We all love animals. Why do we call some 'pets' and others 'dinner'?" The use of animals to produce milk and eggs is also a kind of exploitation, according to vegans. "People are the only animals that drink the milk of the mother of another species," says Michael A Klaper, an American physician and veganism advocate. "All other animals stop drinking milk altogether after weaning. It is unnatural for a dog to nurse from a mother giraffe; it is just as unnatural for a human being to drink the milk of a cow."

    Even the use of animal derivatives in everyday products exploits animals. Innocuous stuff like toothpaste, paints, cologne and perfume, shampoo and conditioner, wood glue, crayons and soap all have chemical substances derived from animals.

    Vegans do not go to circuses, rodeos or riding where animals are used for entertainment either. Some strict vegans don't even go to the zoo, because animals are being imprisoned there against their will.

    Alice Walker sums it up best. "The animals of the world exist for their own reasons," says the American novelist, author of the book The Color Purple. "They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men."

    But, is a vegan diet healthy? Yes, say a lot of health studies. Vegetarian and vegan diets cause significantly lower rates of ischemic heart disease and cancer. Vegans also have healthier guts, gentler menopause symptoms, lower stress levels and greater weight loss. Vegan diets are rich in dietary fiber, magnesium, folic acid, Vitamin E, iron and phytochemicals, and have been known to reverse diabetes.

    However, there are a few problems with going completely vegan. Veganism relies heavily on soya beans — soy milk, soy cheese, soy protein, soy cereal, tofu and tempeh. Soy is rich in phytoestrogen, and so using too much soy can cause hormone imbalances. Moreover, these soy-based foods are more like fake foods because they contain many ingredients and are highly processed. For example, a non-dairy butter often used by vegans is made with palm fruit oil, canola oil, safflower oil, flax oil, olive oil, salt, natural flavour, pea protein, sunflower lecithin, lactic acid and annatto colour, whereas all real butter contains is… butter.

    Healthy, but...

    Vegan diets also do not provide some essential vitamins like vitamin A, D, B-12 and K2, and minerals like calcium and iron. Vitamin B-12 is especially important because its deficiency causes severe and irreversible damage, especially to the brain and nervous system. In 2001, a 10-month-old baby died from being fed an exclusively vegan diet. Children on an unbalanced vegan diet are prone to anaemia, rickets or cretinism, while adults may get osteomalacia or hypothyroidism among other things.

    But with good planning, vegan diets can be healthy. For instance, nutrition supplements can be taken, that provide essential fatty acids, iron, zinc, calcium and vitamins B 12 and D. In fact, the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, dietitians of Canada and the British Dietetic Association regard well-planned vegan diets as appropriate for all stages of life, including infancy and pregnancy.

    There is another aspect to veganism — the environmental impact. It is a little acknowledged fact that raising animals for food requires massive amounts of land, food, energy, and water.

    According to the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), a lot of water and land is used up in growing crops for animals or for grazing livestock. Firstly, the growing demand for meat drives deforestation and destruction of species-rich habitats to increase the land available for agriculture. Animals also consume a lot of water. It takes 683 gallons of water to produce just one gallon of milk, while it takes 2,400 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. But it takes only 244 gallons of water to produce one pound of tofu. Also, huge reserves of grain go to feed livestock, which could otherwise be used to feed humans. Add to all this, the cruelty to the animals themselves, the danger to public health by the overuse of hormones and antibiotics in meat production, and the pollution caused to air and water, veganism seems to be the way to go in the future.

    However, this seemingly benign practice has its own problems. There is the problem with malnutrition, but it is something that can be overcome. Then there is the question of ethics. Unfortunately, Death feeding Life is a primary law of Nature, and impossible to stop in its tracks. Even in the production of vegan food, rats, rabbits and other subterranean animals will be killed. Next, while vegetarian and vegan diets do consume fewer resources to produce, they need a large quantity of good quality agricultural land. And let us not forget that huge tracts of poor quality land all around the world, which can sustain only grass, can still support cattle, thus being useful in producing food for a population which is seven billion and counting, worldwide. Also, vegan food, like mock meat, is highly processed, with a lot of additives.

    Practically speaking, veganism can pose some difficulties. The main thing is that you have to become more aware of what you are consuming. And you have to be specific about animal products being used. For example, you may not order a meat dish at a restaurant. But you may not be aware that lard or pig fat is used to make pie crusts, and meat stock is used to make soups, even vegetarian soups. However, in the West, the concept of veganism is understood everywhere to some extent or another, so ordering off a menu is relatively painless - just ask for the vegan items they serve. Plus, they have a number of fake meat products, like fake bacon, fake cheese and so on, made with plant-derived products.

    As Indians in India, it is actually very easy for us to go vegan in our diet. Delicious vegetarian food is already available, and we only need to make sure that our food has no milk, butter, ghee or paneer in it. Finding it difficult to cook favourite Indian dishes without these? There are some substitutes available. Instead of milk, you could use soy, rice, coconut or almond milk. For paneer, you can substitute tofu. And jaggery can be used instead of honey and sugar, if you suspect that sugar has been refined with animal bone charcoal.

    There are also vegan recipes galore from traditional to fusion foods. Why, when I searched online, I hit upon a vegan butter chicken recipe with soy curls and channa almost instantly. There are also delicious recipes for pies, puddings, kheer, cakes and cookies.

    Okay, still finding it hard to go vegan in your food? You don't have to go all out and change your lifestyle completely. Instead, you can act on being more compassionate by going vegan a few days every week, and by cutting down your use of animal products.

    As for other products like cosmetics, soaps, perfumes etc, just be sure to look for organic or vegan products. Amar, Colgate and Vicco make vegan toothpaste, Soul Tree makes ayurvedic lipstick and kajal, Kama Ayurveda makes ayurvedic face cream, soap, moisturiser, and so on. You can also order most of these products online.

    When it comes to veganism, the bottom line is compassion. It is the wish to live in harmony with other living beings, recognising that though they may not be your equal, they still have a right to life. In this quest, there are bound to be some rough patches and hardships. But the feeling of satisfaction that you get for having done the right thing is immeasurable.

    In the words of Gary L Francione, distinguished professor of law at Rutgers University School of Law-Newark: "Veganism is not about giving anything up or losing anything; it is about gaining the peace within yourself that comes from embracing non-violence and refusing to participate in the exploitation of the vulnerable."

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  • 10/28/17--03:19: Dancing through life...
  • She holds the Guinness record for performing 93 spins in a minute in kathak. She recently wrapped up a performance at the National Centre for Performing Arts in Mumbai to a roaring ovation. Her telly show, Ek Shringaar -Swabhimaan, a Barjatya production, concluded sometime back on high TRPs. And she barely had time to celebrate Diwali, and the success of her last movie, Judwaa 2, before she began the next schedule of Anubhav Sinha's Mulk. The soft-spoken actor Prachee Shah Paandya is busier than the proverbial bee and loving her state of busy-ness as it validates her.

    "It was a beautiful experience working with film-maker David Dhawan in Judwaa 2. This is the third time I have worked with Varun (Dhawan). We shot together earlier in Student of the Year and ABCD 2. He is certainly a hardworking and gifted actor," she says. Prachee played his genial mommykins in the movie that has clambered into the multi-crore club with its box office collections. Her recent short film on the telly, Aaj Likhenge Kal, got over 1.2 million views on YouTube. Prachee plays a pallu-clad bahu who goes on to fulfil her ambition of becoming a doctor. The plot circled the dilemma of her oath-taking ceremony coinciding with her daughter's wedding, and how her family rallies around her to encourage her to follow her dream. "The response to this was simply overwhelming," says Prachee. "I have worked in so many films, but the kind of reach television has is unparalleled. Combined with social media presence, this has redefined the dynamics as an actor."

    Prachee considers herself blessed to be able to space out projects. She has been part of an impressive line-up of projects including the iconic telly serial Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Kesar, Piya Ka Ghar, Manzil Apni Apni and films such as Haunted- 3D, Akaash Vani and more.

    Prachee juggles her pursuits with remarkable elan while dealing with the guilt pangs that every working mother can identify with. She bounced back into shape once her little one arrived to resume her passion for acting and kathak. "My nine-year-old is currently vacationing with my brother's family in Abu Dhabi with her grandparents. While she is away, I am busy winding up many pending jobs in and around my house (including grocery lists!), because when she comes back, I leave the following day for a 15-day shoot schedule. It is going to be challenging for both of us as her exams start soon, but she is used to it. I have my own support system, as my parents stay close to my house and are always around for her," she shares.

    Of course, she believes in going along with the flow. Just back from inaugurating the first day of the festival of music and dance, 'Chakradhaar', in Chattisgarh, she fuels her love for kathak with a practice on every Sunday to perfect her form. "I find it therapeutic. I also find listening to music very soothing. Classic, old, filmi songs, especially Lataji's renditions, are my favourites. So, whenever I am walking or jogging, I plug in immediately," she says.

    Talking about life lessons, she says, "My biggest learning till date has been that your hard work never goes waste. You must be honest about your work, enjoy your pursuits passionately, and the rewards will follow. If you want to spread light in life, you must first glow yourself."

    "Also, I do not plot and plan. I believe in destiny, and things have simply worked out on their own for me," says Prachee. Next on her bucket list is a vacation with her family to Switzerland.

    Meanwhile, we await her next film move on the silver screen in Mulk that brings her together with a melee of great actors in Rishi Kapoor, Taapsee Pannu, Ashutosh Rana and Neena Gupta. "It is a delight being a part of this movie: a family drama that centres around a circumstantial crisis, and how the family deals with it."

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  • 10/28/17--03:48: In perfect harmony
  • At home, Vani Harikrishna is a busy housewife and mother. At 11 am on a Wednesday morning, I find her managing her household, having just sent off her son to school. But outside, Vani is a songbird, flitting from one tree to another, trying to find that perfect spot to croon her heart away.

    Vani has a beautiful 'vani'. Throughout our conversation, her honey-coated voice brings to fore her underlying emotions, aspirations, and even struggles. We begin at the beginning. Vani tells me she was born into a family of singers. Calling her parents her first gurus, she says that they taught her the basics of classical music. It was her grandpa, the famed music composer of Kannada film industry, G K Venkatesh, who led her on into the world of playback singing. "When we would go to Chennai for holidays, we would accompany him to his studio where he used to arrange small bits and chorus for Ilaiyaraja. We used to sit there all day and watch them work their magic. Grandpa schooled me in the nuances of music, including the early morning riyaaz, basic jumping notes, the art of kirtane and more," Vani explains.

    Ditching education for music, Vani and her melodious voice went on to perform in orchestras. It was also in one of these orchestras that she met her husband V Harikrishna, one of the top music composers of the industry today.

    In 1993, Vani bagged the opportunity to sing her first playback song, but unfortunately, the song didn't release. In 1997, she sang a duet with L N Shastri, but that wasn't enough to seal her reputation as a singer. Vani says, "My big break came with 'Madhuvana Karedare' in 2008, for which I even bagged the State award. But then, there were no offers for almost two years after that."

    Of challenging projects

    But soon, Vani found herself singing songs such as 'Maleyali Jotheyali', 'Hesaru Poorthi' (which is her favourite), 'Mussanje Veleli', 'Kanna Muchche' and more. Vani makes it very clear that she hates being typecast. She says, "Once I sang 'Mussanje Veleli', everyone started offering only 'pathos' songs to me! I want something different, something challenging. I haven't had a single challenging project so far."

    The conversation naturally veers towards the topic of women singers in the Kannada film industry when Vani says, "Since this is a hero-dominated film industry, female singers don't get as many opportunities as male singers. And whenever there arises a need for female singers, music directors and producers always look towards Mumbai. The fact is that we have so many talented singers here, but when you don't give them opportunities, how will they be able to show their talent?"

    Is this why there are very few female music composers too, I ask. Vani, who herself has composed music for three films, states, "Yes, and also the fact that many times, even when the director or producer has no knowledge about music, he would want a very particular music. This requires us to compromise with our musical sensibilities."

    Coming to her personal life, Vani has many wonderful things to say about her husband. But she is quick to point out that he is a man of few words, which is why it was quite difficult for her to realise that the keyboard player she kept meeting at orchestras was actually in love with her. "I am very innocent when it comes to matters of the heart. But one day, he came to my mother for lessons in veena and told her that he wanted to marry her daughter," Vani blushes.

    So, what kind of conversation does an innocent woman have with a man of few words? "Music, of course! One common thing between us is that we both love Ilaiyaraja's music," says Vani. But as close as these two music-lovers are at home, things take quite a turn when they step into the recording studio. "I only sing once or twice a year for him, and he gives me only those songs that are completely in sync with my talent. I can never sing when he's in the studio, as I fear his criticism. So, an engineer records my voice and sends it over to him; and then he sends his feedback over the phone," says Vani who loves listening to ghazals, old Hindi melodies and bhajans in her free time.

    Looking ahead

    Undeterred by all the household responsibilities and reality restrictions, Vani has many aspirations hidden beneath her smiling demeanour. For starters, she wants to compose and direct a music video of her choice, on her own. Then, she wants to do shows that will feature all kinds of songs: vachanas, bhajans, film music and more. Naturally, you would expect a music school also down the line. "Let me get a little older first," she laughs. "In 20 years, I have sung only some 30 songs or so! Moreover, I feel I still have a lot to learn myself. For instance, I want to learn Western vocals. I want to compose and sing songs that appeal to all age groups, like Raghu Dixit. I want to contemporise Dasara Padagalu for the younger generation," she goes on.

    Nevertheless, Vani still does her part for aspiring singers by being a part of the SaReGaMaPa music reality show. She says, "People today are lucky as they have a platform to exhibit their talent and also learn from the best in the industry. Through such initiatives, we are creating a bank of quality singers right here."

    As we bid goodbye, Vani gets back to her household demands, instructing people in that honey-coated voice yet again!

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    I had only two or three questions for Jon Hamm. I wanted to know if fame had rattled him. I wanted to know if, more than two years after the Mad Men finale, he had plotted out a second act worthy of his talent. I wanted to know if he still wanted to be a star.

    If you still picture Don Draper when you think of Hamm, it may strike you as odd to see him emerge from a Nissan NV200 yellow cab, which has a boxy look very much at odds with the elegant midcentury universe of Mad Men. He was wearing a white linen dress shirt with the two top buttons undone, khakis and white sneakers with black laces. A Timex Blackjack Watch and a St. Louis Cardinals cap with a vintage logo completed the look.

    Since completing his work on the show that made him famous, Hamm has gone through changes in his personal life while trying to get a movie career going. In 2015, he spent a month in treatment for alcohol addiction at a rehab facility. Some months after that, he and his partner of 18 years, the writer, director and actor Jennifer Westfeldt, announced that they had broken up.

    The movies came out one after another: Million-Dollar Arm, in which Hamm plays a sports agent who grows a heart, thanks to a saucy medical resident (Lake Bell); Keeping Up With the Joneses, an action comedy in which he and a pre-Wonder Woman Gal Gadot portray spies; and Baby Driver, a crime fantasy in which he appears as a somewhat deranged third banana.

    "I always say I make the movies where people go, 'Hey, I never saw it, but when I finally did, I really liked it,'" Hamm said. "People saw Baby Driver, though. I was pleased with that."

    His most recent film, the melancholy Marjorie Prime, is a well-reviewed adaptation of a Jordan Harrison play directed by Michael Almereyda that includes a much-buzzed-about performance by Lois Smith. "I watched Michael Almereyda's movies and I read the script and I thought: I like his movies, I like this script, let's put this chocolate and peanut butter together and see if we can get a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup," Hamm said. "I didn't know what the movie would end up being, and then I watched it right before Sundance and I was moved."

    I mentioned that the final scene, with its focus on a character's relationship with a dog, is affecting without being sentimental. "Don't even talk to me," Hamm said. "I just lost my dog yesterday." He was talking about Cora, a shepherd mix he had gotten with Westfeldt in the early years of their relationship. "Cora was the best," he said. "I was scheduled to fly in at 8 am, and she passed away right before I got there. It's been a real hard 24 hours for me and Jen."

    He took a sip of his coffee. "What is this coffee, Grumpy? That's the one from Girls, right?" he said. He studied the frowny-face logo on the cardboard cup. "I'm a big dog fan. They're the best. They make life better, although they're hard to deal with. But complications in life are actually what make it fun. I've had the incredible fortune to meet amazing people, sometimes out of dumb luck, but mostly out of being famous for 10 minutes on a TV show. I could listen to Lorne Michaels tell stories for a hundred years. And he wouldn't run out. Mike Nichols. Diane Sawyer. Marlo Thomas. Patti LuPone. Meryl Streep. And then friends of mine, also."

    In this category, he mentioned Jon Stewart and Hannibal Buress, whom he had seen perform the night before as part of Dave Chappelle's run of shows at Radio City Music Hall. He also noted his Mad Men colleagues Elisabeth Moss ("Lizzie") and John Slattery ("Slatty"), the directors Greg Mottola and Edgar Wright, and Rosamund Pike ("Roz"), his co-star in High Wire Act, a yet-to-be-released thriller written by Tony Gilroy. "Like, how are we friends?" he said. "How did I get here? I'm from Nowheresville, Missouri. But it was instilled in me from an early age: Why not you? Just because you're x-y-z from Nowheresville doesn't mean you're nothing."

    His parents divorced when he was two. He lived with his mother in an apartment complex after that, and she died when he was 10. His father, a gregarious man who was in the family trucking business for most of his working life, sometimes parked the young Hamm in front of Saturday Night Live at parties. The boy ended up spending a lot of time at the houses of two friends. The mothers looked out for him through his time in high school, where he was the rare teenager who excelled at both sports and theatre, and again after his father died when he was 20.

    "When you're a kid, you're just not equipped to deal with some of the stuff that life brings you," he said. "It's why you have parents. And then, when you don't, there better be somebody who fills in that gap, or you're going to be rudderless for a while."

    I brought up the rehab stint. Did it give him a chance to reset himself? He replied in almost a whisper: "Recalibrate. Re-evaluate. Just sort of re-establish where you are. You're coming off of this Tilt-a-Whirl that's going 9,000 miles an hour, and so many things have come unfixed. If you think about navigation, you're trying to stare at a fixed point. When you navigate to something that's whirling, it's difficult. It's all a learning experience."

    He said he has high hopes for the success of High Wire Act, although he described it as "the kind of movie they don't really make anymore because it's not based on a comic book or a theme-park ride."

    Does he still feel as driven as he was back then? "If anything, even more so," he said.

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  • 10/28/17--03:54: When talent reigns
  • He's known to be a chameleon as an actor. The multi-awarded Padma Shri Paresh Rawal has done it all — cinema, television and theatre with roles of every kind — villainous, dramatic and comic. His many cinematic milestones include his turns as the evil Veljibhai in Sir, as the eunuch in Tamanna, as Sardar Patel in Sardar, as the now-iconic Baburao in Hera Pheri, as the henpecked husband of a shrew in Awara Paagal Deewana, as the buck-toothed village simpleton in Malamaal Weekly, as the shopkeeper who fought for a cause in OMG-Oh My God! among many, many others.

    A diverse portfolio

    A hit actor in Telugu movies as a villain in the 90s, Paresh has had a very successful run in Gujarati theatre and has also done television. That said, he is now a BJP MP and is also planning to play Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a biopic that he will produce. Production, of course, is not new to him — he has produced TV serials as well as the suspense thriller Maharathi.

    Of course, on sheer public feedback, his dominating image today is that of a comic performer, and like his other work, he is outstanding in that too. In his last release, Guest Iin London, he was the sole redeeming point!

    How does he look back at his career, which began in 1984? "Whatever came my way, I did my best," he says humbly. "I was not a star's son and had no relatives in films, so it was perhaps my good luck that I was good at every kind of role," he explains.

    But, did he not consciously move away from villainy to comedy after Hera Pheri became a hit in 2000 and his Maharashtrian character of Baburao Apte achieved cult status? "I did not try and change anything," he says. "The combination of a great role and a great director can create wonders. Priyadarshan has always extracted the best from me, even in other films like Hungama, Garam Masala, Malamaal Weekly and Bhool Bhulaiyaa."

    Dharmendra, as revealed by director J P Dutta, wanted more time to prepare when he had a scene with Paresh in Hathyar way back in 1989, when Paresh had yet to achieve real fame. This was simply because the senior star had sensed what a powerful actor Paresh was and did not want to come off as inferior and spoil the sequence's impact. What does Paresh have to say about this?

    "It's the greatness of such people," is how the veteran actor interprets this with a smile. "You feel nice, of course, when we hear things like what you said now. Even before I became a star, a few directors like Rahul Rawail and J P Dutta would repeat me, and I thus had the satisfaction of knowing that whatever I was getting was only because of my talent!"

    He smiles again and quips, "After all, I had no 'Greek God looks' or a great physique, and I could not even dance like Michael Jackson or Mithun Chakraborty!"

    We ask his views on numerology, which was used in the titles of a couple of his films (like his last) and has been used by colleagues in their names as well? Does that show a deficit in confidence, which clearly the actor has in sackfuls? "I do not understand numerology," he replies. "But then, no one leaves any stone unturned to get success and so they will use the maximum things to help. Having said that, I must say that success can never make anyone secure," he states.

    What does he look for in his roles now? "A challenge!" he answers simply. "It is the fear of possibly being unable to play a character well that motivates me. What is easy is not thrilling anymore. In fact, even taking money for doing such roles is no fun at all. If mann ka santosh nahin hai (if the mind is not satisfied), what is the use of just money coming in?" he wants to know.

    How is he approaching the Modi biopic? "We are still brainstorming on the script, though it is 75% ready. With a leader like Modiji, it may be clear where to begin, but where will the endpoint be? Will we stop at his Lok Sabha victory? Or will it be on his later achievements? It is indeed a tough call," he reveals.

    What is the single quality he admires most in the Prime Minister? The answer comes instantaneously. "Iraade (goals)! He is a born leader, and you have to understand that leadership cannot be forced upon you. Look at JRD Tata, for example."

    To return to films, we have been hearing a buzz about the OMG-Oh My God! sequel. What is happening there? "We have been making a lot of effort, but we must have a good story. We don't want to just cash in on a brand and make money. And we are also wondering which god to take up now after Lord Krishna," he smiles broadly.

    When not on the screen

    Now that he has become quite choosy, what does he do in his spare time? "I have always read a lot, and I watch all kinds of good films and keep searching for good stories to dramatise," he says. "But in cinema, I am glad to be working in this era. I truly call it the golden era for Hindi films," Paresh says.

    He further explains, "We now get bound scripts that were never there earlier. We have fantastic actors like Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Irrfan Khan and Rajkummar Rao, and even a star like Varun Dhawan who, early in his career, experimented with films like the wonderful Badlapur. Among the big stars too, there is Aamir Khan. He's made of some different kind of clay."

    Paresh makes a special mention of the Sanjay Dutt biopic in which he plays Sunil Dutt's role. "To work with writer-director Raju Hirani, his co-writer Abhijat Joshi and an actor like Ranbir Kapoor is so satisfying that it is like a Chaar Dhaam ki yatra," he exclaims.

    Had he ever met Sunil Dutt? "No, but I always respected him as a father-figure and knew him through his work in films and politics. He never had any mannerisms as an actor, and that is why I had to catch his spirit and his emotions to portray him. In any character, you have to catch what you cannot see. You must have the strength to blend into the character." Among other films to come of the actor are Manto and Tiger Zinda Hai — clearly, the spectrum could not be wider for any actor.

    What does he have to say about never doing a film with his wife, ex-Miss India, film, television actor and educational activist Swaroop Sampat? "We tried a lot. But as of now, we have never got a good enough script to work together," he says seriously. "The search is on. Without a good script, our chemistry will never bloom on screen."

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  • 10/28/17--03:59: Singing her own tunes
  • You need extraordinary luck to get a break with Aamir Khan Productions, a little more so if the chance is as an actor. But you need humongous luck to do an encore — which is what young Zaira Wasim from Srinagar has managed to do!

    After playing the childhood version of Olympian Geeta Phogat in Aamir Khan's all-time blockbuster Dangal last year, Zaira recently portrayed the protagonist in Secret Superstar, Aamir's latest production. She is playing a teenager who aspires to be a star singer and faces implicit encouragement from her mother and explicit hostility from her conservative Muslim father.

    Managing it all

    Zaira, despite her Dangal fame, still resides in hometown Srinagar and studies (11th standard, Arts) in St. Paul's. She has achieved fame not just for her earlier film but also for the trolling and death threats she invited on Twitter when she met the chief minister and put up a post with their joint picture.

    However, she apologised and deleted the tweets and is cool about it today. "Everyone is entitled to their opinion," she trills in her sweet voice.
    This conviction extends to whether she thinks her forthcoming film will be liked as well as to reactions in her town and among her extended family and friends to her doing the two roles. "I have never come across anyone who stood in front of me and said, 'You are doing something wrong by doing films!'" she chirps.

    Her school was also generally encouraging. "It was only when I was shooting for Dangal that they said that I had to pass my 10th standard Board exams, or they would not be able to keep me in school. Then Kiran ma'am (Aamir Khan's wife Kiran Rao, co-producer of Dangal) came and spoke to them," she explains.

    How have her friends in school reacted? "For them, I am Zaira, their classmate, still. They still tease me! I wish I was treated specially after doing two films," she laughs.

    Fun journey

    Zaira considers herself "lucky and blessed that I was hanging around with almost the same crew" in both her films, besides "Aamir-sir". "For Secret Superstar, it was like working with friends. Both journeys were fun. I am indeed lucky that I am a part of two wonderful scripts with powerful and important messages," she says.

    Asked about life pre-Dangal, Zaira says that unlike in the film, she comes from a family where the girl-child is even more pampered than the boys and says that her father is so supportive that he is the exact opposite of the dad shown in the film.

    "I never wanted to be an actor, and was never a movie freak," says Zaira, who is still keeping her future career options open. "I was a very shy girl in school, but when I played an unborn foetus in a school play on foeticide, I was spotted by a team-member of casting director Mukesh Chhabra-sir and got two ads first, and then auditioned for Dangal."

    The challenging part was learning to play a guitar and how to play a singer as Aamir was very particular that she should look believable. "At one point, my director Advait Chandan wanted me not to do Dangal since I had the main role here," she reveals. "But there was no question of that as I had already begun shooting for it. Then, the Secret Superstar teaser was launched just before Dangal released, as the shooting had already begun."

    And after Aamir Khan played her doting but strict father in Dangal, how was her experience working with him as an eccentric composer here? Zaira starts laughing at the memory. "He was so weird! He wore weird jewellery, tacky clothes, and said the funniest things. He was so funny that while doing almost every scene, I would burst out laughing! It was a completely different experience." But today, Aamir is more than a co-star to her. "He's both a father-figure and a friend. He is like family and I know that whenever I want any advice or guidance, he is just a call away!"

    So, is she doing any film today? No, she is not. But is she getting offers that she will think about? "I am reading scripts," she nods her head.

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    One of the oldest tribal arts in India is mandana. And, one of the oldest tribal communities in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, Meenas, specialise in this fashion of painting.

    Within the Meena community, mostly its women paint mandanas. They do not get any formal training, nor is it recognised as a discipline. On the contrary, the new generation learns the art by observing and helping their mothers.

    Mandana is derived from the word 'mandan' meaning decoration and beautification. In the local language, the art refers to drawing in the context of chitramandana or 'drawing a picture'.

    The art has been practised for centuries by the women of the community to be used as decorations on special or festive occasions.

    These paintings usually depict the main deity of the festival. The motifs, called shubhmanglik, denote good omens. The other patterns seen in mandana paintings reflect Vedic yagna, vastupurasha mandalas, and the floor plans of ancient temples.

    Mandana paintings often decorate the walls and the floors, both within and surrounding the house, in order to ward off evil and invoke god's blessings.

    It is said that in Rajasthan, mandana goes on the walls and the floor, while in Madhya Pradesh it's usually restricted to the floor.

    There is a specific way to draw the perfect mandana. First, the walls or floors are plastered with clay, along with a mixture of cow-dung and water. Tools like brushes made of date twig, a clump of hair and cotton are used for drawing. But usually, the women like to draw with a piece of sari turned into a ball.

    They dip it in a colour mixture and make patterns, usually drawing the syllable 'OM' in the centre and other figures and motifs around the word. Once the motifs are made, they are then filled with the basic colours of white and red, derived locally. White paint is khadiya, made of chalk, while the red pigment is geru, made of brick.

    The drawings are delicate depictions and do not follow any set pattern.

    The themes are elements of nature such as flowers and plants, birds and animals. Peacocks drawn in different ways is the all-time-favourite design.

    The other prominent designs in this art form include deities or others who are perceived to have taken the form of an animal (zoomorphs), as well as humans depicted in the earliest forms of wall art, known as anthromorphs.

    Certain mandanas are inspired by geometric forms. Tapki kemandanas uses a number of points that are plotted in a specific manner in order to accurately mimic a graph, resulting in geometrical shapes.

    Another popular motif is that of a jaali or a lattice screen, inspired by the jaalis work commonly seen in Indian design and architecture.

    Tonk and Sawai Madhopur in Rajasthan are two among the few villages where this art form is prevalent.

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  • 10/28/17--04:10: In abstraction
  • In August 1962, an artists' coalition — 'Group 1890' — was formed in Bhavnagar, Gujarat. Led by the legendary artist and intellectual Jagdish Swaminathan (1928-94), the Group envisioned an indigenously fashioned modern Indian art based on Indian folk art and mysticism. It did not advocate any specific aesthetic or artistic style, but firmly rejected "the vulgar naturalism of Raja Ravi Varma and the pastoral idealism of the Bengal School, down through the hybrid mannerisms resulting from the imposition of the concepts evolved by successive movements in modern European art."

    Group 1890 comprised only male artists, and Ambadas Khobragade (1922-2012) was the only Dalit among its members. Artists like Jyoti Bhatt, Himmat Shah, Ghulam Mohd. Sheikh, and Jeram Patel, who were part of the Group, went on to make substantial contribution to the Indian modern art scene. The Group's ideas were endorsed by Octavio Paz (1914-1998), who was Mexico's ambassador in India at the time. The Mexican writer and poet (who went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992) penned the catalogue essay titled Surrounded by Infinity for the Group's exhibition in October 1963.

    The show, inaugurated by the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, evoked enthusiastic response. Hungarian Indologist and art/theatre critic Charles Fabri (1899-1968), in his review for The Statesmen, declared that the event was comparable to the exhibitions in Paris, Berlin, Rome or Amsterdam. "Abstracts dominate," he wrote, "the artist claims total freedom to follow his fancy, and there is here — as in Europe — a strong tendency to surprise the spectator with novelty and originality."

    Not giving up

    No artwork, however, got sold out during the exhibition. Worse, this first exhibition turned out to be the Group's last. Despite efforts by Swaminathan and others to keep it going, the Group disintegrated with several members leaving the country either to study or seek greener pastures. Among them was Ambadas, who went to Norway in 1972 and remained there till his death in May 2012. Before the shift to Norway, he travelled on a scholarship to the United States of America and Germany.

    Born in Akola, Maharashtra, Ambadas reportedly grew up close to Mahatma Gandhi's extended family and got indoctrinated by Gandhian values and ideals. He was trained in the well-established academic style and received his diploma from the J J School of Art, Mumbai in 1952, but chose abstraction early in his career and remained committed to it all his life. He was part of a generation of artists that was swayed by the many social, political and cultural churnings of the 1950s and 60s, and got attracted towards following abstract and non-representational art.

    Ambadas developed a compelling style and technique with oil paint that complimented his powerful brushstrokes on canvas. His images created a sensitive dialogue with medium, surface, form and textures. He believed that colour alone had 'character', which helped him eliminate any form of representation in his art. Along with colour, he focused on textures, gestures and movements, which came to characterise his work.

    Following Group 1890's exhibition, his abstract canvases caught the attention of viewers and reviewers including American art critic Clement Greenberg. (It was Greenberg who later arranged for Ambadas to tour America's art centres and interact with major abstractionists of the country.)

    Ambadas's work was praised for evoking 'the feeling of an unstructured terrain, a mysterious expanse, that held many other worlds in it.' Critics also saw that his paintings marked with the unpredictability of the final image.

    "For all the enthusiasts who understand texture as a kind of façade to the painting and innovate endlessly upon that, without concern for its total intention, Ambadas is a good painter to watch," wrote eminent art critic Geeta Kapoor. Elaborating on his technique, critic and historian Krishna Chaitanya observed: "Ambadas dilutes oils with kerosene to enable him to weave his surface with broad, continuous, ribbon-like strokes which have a fibrous feel, looking as if composed of numerous parallel strands. These strokes meander all over, getting knotted into distinct visual foci at some places, more loosely spread elsewhere." Over time, Ambadas unburdened his work of the hitherto strong impasto strokes and opted for a lightness and subtlety, which could be seen particularly in the images he painted in the 1990s when he returned to his first love — watercolours.

    Involved & uncompromised

    Ambadas's wife, Hege Backe, was a long-time witness of the artist's creative process. "When Ambadas paints, he goes into a trance, his speech goes all slurry, and he forgets his self in the act of painting," she once revealed. "He has been uncompromising; he has not changed in five decades of painting abstracts."

    Several factors — like his subaltern origins and the Dalit identity, admiration of Gandhian values and ideals, Indian spiritual traditions, and carving a career in a foreign soil — are cited to have contributed to Ambadas's overall approach to art. "His work and his life were part of his Gandhian philosophy that rejected materialism — perhaps the reason that his art too remained spartan and endowed, like him, with a suggestion of nature and spirituality," says Kishore Singh, president of DAG Modern gallery and author of Memory and Identity: Indian Artists Abroad. "By his own admission, Ambadas drew inspiration from the Indian mystical thought Vedanta. He believed that Vedanta had affinities with abstract expressionism in that both regarded art as revelation."

    Singh also believes that Ambadas's love for and memory of the land of his birth fed his soul. "In its resonance he found a way to communicate what he remembered of the country. There was its immense heat, riot of colours, hot spices, festivals, chaos and camaraderie, all of which he missed acutely, and which he recreated on his canvases, even though it was a sign language which no one understood as well as he did."

    Five years ago, when Ambadas passed away in Oslo, he was 90. In his sunset years, he is said to have yearned for the country of his birth, 'its sounds and smells, and food'.

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  • 10/28/17--04:15: Building on his beats
  • Legend has it that Nandi played the mridangam to the cosmic dance of Shiva (Nataraja). Mridangam thus occupies a place of importance in the sacred hall of bharatanatyam. Yet, it is not easy to walk the path ridden with many unwritten and unspoken codes.

    One can observe a clear demarcation between vidwans who play for Carnatic vocalists and vidwans who play for dancers.

    It is felt that everything in bharatanatyam is preset and rehearsed, leaving no scope for manodharma, whereas in Carnatic music, the mridangam vidwan seldom knows in advance what the vocalist is going to sing for the day's concert, but yet has the scope to show his prowess in thani avarthanam (appreciation of rhythms). Nevertheless, the mridangam artiste for dance can never be undermined because the rhythm provides the soul, and it's only in the rendition for the two — mridangam for dance vis-à-vis vocal/ instrumental concert — that it takes a different garb.

    Yet, a senior dancer who has learnt mridangam confided, "The acid test that dancers give to a mridangist is to ask him/her to play the rhythmic tonal variations; the creativity of the artiste will come through in that test."

    Hierarchies have existed and continue to exist in many aspects of life. In the context of music and dance too, hierarchical structures continue to flourish. It's in this atmosphere that KSR Anirudha, a mridangam vidwan and an advocate, balances deftly his two passions.

    Accustomed to the sound

    It was not unnatural for Anirudha to get drawn to mridangam, which he had heard as a child as he watched his mother, the legendary Sudharani Raghupathy, dance to the beats of its rhythm. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay gifted him several skin instruments when she found the little boy with a remarkable talent for rhythm and percussion. Yet, his mother consciously kept him away from the instrument for as long as she could, encouraging him to concentrate on his studies.

    "But it is the forbidden fruit that always leads us on," says Anirudha. He forged ahead with his academic life, but unknown and unnoticed by his mother, he simply kept at the percussion.

    He used everything from chairs to tables. And soon enough, the tables turned in his favour when he was noticed for his talent at his school as a percussionist of immense promise. He was writing jathis and poems besides playing the percussion as an accompanying artiste to lead dancers.

    It was in 1998, when he was awarded the Yuva Kala Bharati by Bharat Kalachar that his mother realised that he was serious. It was in 2000, at Krishna Gana Sabha that he worked on the importance of being an accompanying artiste to the dancer, whereby he would only embellish the dancer without upstaging the dancer, exhibiting his prowess on stage.

    The paper was received well and dancers began to relook into the way they knew and understood mridangam.

    His arangetram in mridangam went unnoticed not because it did not make an impact; it was because no one expected it to be the arangetram of the mridangam vidwan who played so well, when it was actually the arangetram of the dancer.Anirudha thus moved from one phase to another, gliding ever so gently.

    Trained well under mridangam maestro Umayalapuram Shivaraman, he also plays deftly three mridangams or triangam — sama, madhyamam, panchamam. He was chosen as the recipient of the Kalaimamani (2003) at a young age. 'Moorthi chikkadadaru keerthi doddadu' is what he established when he was once again conferred with the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar award in 2007.

    Path of surety

    He absorbed and took in so much of dance by observing his mother and watching other leading dancers from close quarters that he knew the path that he was taking. When Sangeet Natak Akademi chose him and created a category, he belonged to a league where mridangam was the bridge between music and dance.

    He soon went on not only to write scripts and create soundscape for his home productions (Mamudha, Tripada, Na Margam), but also brought together the best of talents. He didn't stop thinking about the needs of dancers even when he began practising as an advocate. He not only helped artistes with legal issues, but even brought out a CD of jathis for dancers.

    "When you draw a matrix, ask an artist to paint within a square, and exhibit his talent, that is when he can show his strength, overcoming limitations, where his creativity is put to test. Just as roots of a tree search for venues to expand and grow by breaking the shackles of the confining compound wall, seeking sunlight and freedom, so also a creative artiste can never be shackled," says Anirudha, adding, "That which is real, exists."

    Today, Anirudha wields the sacred mridangam, considered as the instrument that Nandi, the bearer of truth and righteousness, played. It seems so perfect because he has also taken up the responsibility of being the instrument of bringing about righteousness as an advocate.

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  • 10/28/17--04:20: From the hills to the ramp
  • It was like going back to my roots," says Delhi-based designer Amit Sachdeva, recalling his visit to the North-Eastern states of India, where his love for handlooms, cotton, eri, gicha silks and other beautiful natural yarns from that region got rekindled a couple of years ago.

    For more than a decade, Amit was identified for his stunning wedding trousseau that included embroidered saris, lehengas and gowns in chiffons, georgettes, silks and more. But recently, Amit presented an all-natural fabric collection titled 'Serendipity' under his brand 'Has' (Handlooms by Amit Sachdeva), which offers Western silhouettes, bomber jackets over shorts, short dresses, jumpsuits and more.

    Weaves that impress

    'Has' is the outcome of the weeks that he spent with the weaver communities of Assam, especially from villages like Bijoynagar and Boko. Amit reveals that the time spent in the North-Eastern states made him nostalgic and also showed him the real beauty of the
    local textiles.

    For his degree in 2001 from the Pearl Academy of Fashion Technology in Delhi, Amit had done a research project on the weavers in Nagaland and Kohima. Even then, he was highly impressed with their lives, the dedication with which they wove the yarns, and also the beauty of the yarn which is so different from the yarns found in the other parts of the country.

    "That difference had always intrigued me. But after graduation, it was like a struggle for existence for me. I never wanted to take any help from anyone. So, I had to start the profession by catering to the popular demand of designing wedding trousseau,'' states the young designer.

    Amit lost his father at a young age and was brought up by his mother and his paternal family. Like most parents in India who give utmost importance to academics, even his mother wanted him to earn a good degree first. So, even though he was interested in creative arts, especially designing textiles, he decided to get a degree in Commerce. Once that was achieved, he enrolled into a textile designing course with Pearl.

    There was never any direct influence of fashion or textiles on him from his family of business people, but he perhaps had unwittingly inherited the penchant for embroidery from his grandparents who hailed from Lahore and had migrated to Delhi. So in all his designs, one thing that stands out and can be said to be his trademark is a piece of embroidery. Even in his latest collection of cotton, he makes it a point to place a subtle embroidery motif at some place on the garment.

    "I won't say I am influenced by the embroidery from Lahore. There are so many intricate and beautiful styles of hand embroidery in our own country. Embroidery brings alive a garment. And over the course of time, I would like to explore all varieties of embroidery, with as many karigars as possible, through my clothes," explains Amit.

    Amit had fun working on the wedding garments, but he had an entirely different experience interacting with the weavers from the North-East. However, he encountered many hurdles during this process. First was the language as some weavers spoke only the local dialect. For this, he took the help of his friend and the local NGOs of weaver clusters with whom he worked.

    The second hurdle was the size of the looms. "They use small-sized looms as most of their clothes are of smaller dimensions. We had to change that. And the third hurdle was the colour of the yarn. Clothes from the North-East are very colourful and look beautiful on them, but a majority of Indians prefer pastel shades," Amit shares.

    So, the yarn was dyed in fusion-ish hues like soft, milky shades of powder pink, light blue, peach, etc. The dyes are free from a strong chromatic content. Besides cotton, Amit preferred to design using only sustainable yarns like mulberry silk, handspun muga, eri and their blends.

    The signature hint of bling in his clothes was obtained by using lurex yarns with eri and muga silk. "That slight touch of lurex gives the clothes a festive look, which is so subtle that one can wear these clothes even for non-formal events," explains the designer.

    Changing with times

    Next, he had to request them to weave differently shaped motifs on the garment as they mostly used geometric motifs. "I wanted curvy motifs and it took subtle coercing to change their style. I found it very intriguing that even though they were traditional weavers who had been following the same patterns for generations, they were ready to learn new things and adapt to changing times. They have realised that to survive and to come into mainstream fashion, they have to contemporise and innovate," explains Amit.

    In fact, he feels that every designer should try to bring grassroot weavers and karigars into mainstream fashion to help them survive, and to help preserve our traditional weaving techniques and textiles. Currently, some designers are already doing it. But Amit opines that everyone should join hands to save our heritage.

    "Only showcasing Indian weaves in typical Indian garments may not be that successful. If we can incorporate our textiles in Western silhouettes without compromising on their originality, it will benefit our weavers and open a new market for them,'' feels Amit.

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  • 10/28/17--04:52: Bachelors need not apply!
  • Being in your 20s in the 90s was a sweet-sour thing. The sweet part was that women had started making a presence in the workspace in a bigger way; the sour thing was that they still needed to get married before they were 25 years old.

    Those unfortunate ones who turned 26 without getting married gave their parents (and neighbours) ulcers. The astrologer was summoned and remedies like fasting for 16 Mondays or marrying a dog to ward off the evil eye were suggested.

    And, if they reached their 28th birthday and were still single, the dog was culled and they were forcibly made to marry the closest possible they could find to a groom: male, some limbs, presence of basic internal organs. If they were really lucky, he had a job and a scooter.

    Now, at 26, I was still single. To make it worse, I was working. The two girls I had been living with had gotten respectably married and left by then. And, I had to look for a new place to stay — a smaller accommodation, anywhere close to work, but most importantly, any landlord who was willing to accept a 'single' (shudder), 'woman' (shudder-shudder) who was 'working' (heartbeat fading, call the ambulance).

    "How old are you?" the landlady asked me in the preliminary interview.


    "Yes." (Sad smile, pity-pout)

    "At your age, I had three-three children."

    "Aunty, you hadn't heard of
    Copper T?"

    Of course, I did not say that! My tenancy-lease was expiring and I had been turned down by three 'bachelor'-phobics already. I was almost on the roads. So, I smiled and schmoozed, and complimented everything in sight, including her badly behaved progeny. The lease was signed and I was given a place to stay in the flat below theirs.

    The condition: no male visitors. I abstained from everything male from my life from that day, including male capsicums and flowers with stamens. It was code pink. Till my cooler stopped working in the peak heat of June: I was in utter distress. That is when I asked my then-boyfriend, now father of my children, to come over and help me fix it.

    He came that weekend. Well, let me spare you of the gory details. Let me just say we did not need to repair the cooler. The half-opened boxes were repacked the next day: the busted cooler, too, went in there.

    The landlady personally supervised the packing, like it was some cockroach-exterminating operation. I was on the roads again.

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  • 10/28/17--04:58: Sleep... all I will
  • Recently, there was this test in Facebook which put down my age as 25. This was based on my responses to questions like whether I like to get up early or go to bed early.

    Now, getting up early and going to bed early — these have been two unresolved issues between my appa and me, and later, between me and my husband. Appa never allowed us to sleep beyond six in the morning. We would sulkily listen to his discourse on Saraswathiyamam and how good girls always got up early.

    Even later, when I was home for vacation with my kids, he would tolerate my 'bad' behaviour for just two days. And then the reprimand would start, now with a difference: "How can you hope to be a good role model to your kids?"

    In those days, getting up early was considered the hallmark of an ideal girl/wife. In fact, when I was married off, such a fear was put into my heart and soul that I used to get up now and again to check the time and sit shivering in the Bengaluru cold, waiting for the household to get up.

    My survival instincts were strong and I managed my Jekyll & Hyde act cleverly: getting up early while at my in-laws's but sleeping my head off everywhere else possible.

    My husband took up from where my father left off. 'Early to bed and early to rise' is his maxim. He bravely fought single-handedly to reform. When we went on those LTC tours to places like the Himalayas, we would prefer the cosy blankets to the sunrise at Tiger Hills.

    I don't know how, but my husband would use the same tone and words as my appa's: "How can you be a good model to the kids? Sleep, you can, any day, any time, but not on trips like this!"

    My daughter took after her dad, but the son had more of my genes. With a mother who refused to get up before sunrise, his job was much easier. "Wait till you get a daughter-in-law. That will be your day of reckoning," my husband would threaten with anticipated glee. That day also arrived.

    Being a NewGen DIL (daughter-in-law) not set out to impress anyone, she keeps the same routine: getting up and going to bed late, whether she is here or there. I look on helplessly at my bahu, and my husband enjoys my predicament. No lengthy lectures this time, but only a sly smile towards me in a meaningful: "Now let me see how you handle it."

    I know when a game is lost. A conscientious MIL (mother-in-law) with pronounced vices should not even try to reform a non-conforming DIL. But when you can't beat them, you can always join them. Thus, I get up only after she has. As for my husband, it is still lonely at the top.

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  • 10/28/17--05:06: Tropical treats
  • It is pitch dark and there is no moon. The air hangs heavy with humidity and the smell of luxuriant wood. In the weak glow of a few torch lights, do I see a swift shape cloaked by night, scurry past me! A many-legged quiver of fear slithers up my spine as the dark wall of trees merge with the darkness of night to look like the ramparts of a sinister castle. Add to this the eerie silence that is broken only by the sounds of the jungle. I might as well be in the thick of a menacing thriller plot!

    Even as I wonder if I had made the right decision to come out on this nocturnal journey, a six-year-old in our group squeals with glee having spotted some creature up a tree trunk. A fluttering in my belly threatens to grow into a paralysing weakness as I imagine this creature, whatever it is, pouncing on me. Our guide cautions us to silence and flashes his torch on the tree to reveal a furry spider, one of the deadliest of arachnids species. He remains immobile, majestic against the trunk's mossy background, seemingly impervious to the streaks of light flashed upon him. Our digital devices click away furiously as he seems to oblige us by remaining motionless.

    A little more than a dozen of us, tourists from all over the globe, of all ages, are on a Night Jungle Walk at Taman Negara, Malaysia's largest national park and one of the world's oldest tropical rainforests. Skirting the forest for a short distance is the resort where we are staying. The jungle tour begins barely 200 m from our cottage as we step on to a well-laid elevated wooden pathway that is actually a cleavage through the maze of a dense forest.

    I calm the tremor in my limbs, wishing my visual senses could have been a match for these nocturnal beings! However, I continue to follow our guide who has his ears and eyes keenly perked to identify sounds and sights to point out to us little-known inhabitants from the insect world. Taman Negara, our guide tells us, is a haven for several endangered mammalian species including the tiger, leopard and the Asian elephant. "But you'd be lucky if you get to spot anything more than some deer, or a tapir, perhaps," he adds. Paradoxically, I feel a sense of relief and disappointment in equal measure on hearing this.

    We see a couple of scorpion species, a centipede or two, and a few other insects including the stick or twig insect, which kindles our curiosity. Well, the creature could easily be mistaken for twigs, from which it derives its name. We learn that it's a slow-moving creature that mostly confines itself to the ground level and can remain motionless for hours together. We are fine with this for we are able to leisurely capture him on our lens without fearing he would scuttle away. Our destination for the night is the overlook or observation deck from which we could spot the more challenging natives of the wild, should we get lucky.

    Of course, we don't! The deck overlooks a waterbody, and far away on the other side, our guide points out to what looks like a pair of headlights. There is a rush of adrenaline as we flock to a corner of the platform to catch a glimpse of the majestic feline as our fertile imagination supposes the creature to be. Only to discover it is a deer come out for his nightcap!

    I am happy and relieved to get back to the safe confines of our chalet at the end of an hour-and-a-half of jungle trekking, only to return to it the next morning, albeit along a different and denser route.

    Morning shines pearly light on the mist-kissed rainforest as we embark on the three-hour trek to experience the world's longest hanging-bridge canopy walkway. We take a five-minute boat ride from the cottage to reach the base of our trekking trail, which is itself at an elevation of a few hundred feet. The menacing woods of the previous night take on a different hue as nature unveils herself in all her stunning glory. The rays of a morning sun ignite the treetops in a burst of myriad shades of emerald. Beneath hugely tall and ramrod- straight trees flourishes a whole world of closely packed flora that includes climbers, creepers, palm fronds, foliaceous and variegated plants.

    Wilderness for company

    We are a lot more Homo sapiens undertaking the hike this morning, suitably attired in trekking shoes and summery cottons. Loud whooping bird call rings through the trees, signalling the beginning of another busy day in the life of these jungle avians. The ambience looks less intimidating than the previous night. But even now we do not get to see any creatures of the wild, but the journey itself is a revelation. We are stunned by the amazing variety of forest flora, the insect world, and not the least by our own physical well-being to negotiate steep inclines, almost vertical in places, against slippery soil made wet by dew. Of course, there are a couple of tricky stretches that give me goose pimples, and my heart is in my hand because there is no rope or support to hang on to! A little slip and I would go diving into a fathomless abyss.

    As we prepare to make our first halt in the midst of the thicket, we see some creature dash up a liana and quickly disappear from view. Awo, our guide for the morning, tells us it is the common agamid lizard on the lookout for his breakfast.

    An hour into the canopy trail, it is a trudge for many of us. Following brief breaks at two or three vantage points, we are finally at the base of the canopy walk. We gingerly climb a flight of wooden steps to enter a cabin on stilts. It opens out to the half-kilometre walkway, the world's longest hanging bridge suspended at a height of 40 m. We are advised to keep a safe distance of at least five metres from each other while walking on this 'dancing' walkway, and not indulge in any acrobatics.

    Speeding on water

    It doesn't matter that I have walked the Lakshman Jhula in Rishikesh several times and the walkway in Karnataka's Nisargadhama. Butterflies somersault in my belly as I step on to this swinging bridge, hoping to reach the other end in one piece. A few tens of metres into the walk and I'm thoroughly enjoying myself, absorbing the brilliant vistas of the greens and the muddy waters of the Tembeling river below, dotted with several boats and rafts. Three hours of trudging, half an hour of walking in air and I'm now ready to take on the rapids. A whirring sound and our wooden raft throbs to life, coursing smoothly on the still-muddy waters. There is a rush of adrenaline as we come upon the first of the rapids. Six more follow by the end of which we are drenched and tipsy from the thrilling experience.

    Of course, no stills or video on this aqua trip to capture our squeals and shrieks as the boat threatens to turn turtle. We and our digital devices are safe and happy for our adventure in Taman Negara National Park, established in 1938-39, covering the three peninsular states of Pahang, Kelantan and Terengganu.

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