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  • 12/07/17--16:28: Can cancer be genetic?
  • Cancer is now one of the top causes of deaths in India, after heart attacks, up from seventh position in 2000. Whats more alarming is that by 2020, 70% of the worlds cancer cases will be found in developing countries, with a fifth in India. Nearly seven lakh Indians die of cancer every year, while over 10 lakh are newly diagnosed with the disease. Some of these cancers are hereditary.

    What is hereditary cancer?

    All cancers are caused by changes in genes in our bodies. When genes are damaged, they can develop mutations. And when these mutations occur, cells can grow and cause cancer. For most people who develop cancer, the gene mutations happen over the course of a lifetime, leading to cancer later in life. Some people are born with a gene mutation that they inherited from their mother or father. This damaged gene puts them at a higher risk for cancer than most people. When cancer occurs because of an inherited gene mutation, it is referred to as "hereditary cancer."
    Lets look at how cancerous genes are carried in family:
    * Cancer in a close relative, like a parent or sibling, is more cause for concern than cancer in a distant relative. Even if the cancer was from a gene mutation, the chances of it passing on to you gets lower with more distant relatives.
    * The age of the person when the cancer was diagnosed is also important. For example, colon cancer is rare in people under 30. Having two or more cases in close relatives under 30 could be a sign of an inherited cancer syndrome. On the other hand, prostate cancer is common in elderly men, so if both your father and his brother were found to have prostate cancer when they were in their 80s, it is less likely to be due to an inherited gene change.
    Here are some types of hereditary cancers:

    Breast & ovarian cancers

    The main hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC) syndromes are caused by mutations in one of two genes: BRCA1 or BRCA2. The risk of breast and ovarian cancer is high with mutations in either gene, but tends to be higher with BRCA1 mutations. Along with breast and ovarian cancer, this syndrome can also lead to fallopian tube cancer, primary peritoneal cancer, male breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, as well as some others.

    Non-polyposis colorectal cancer

    The most common inherited syndrome that increases a persons risk for colon cancer is called hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), or Lynch syndrome. People with this syndrome have a high risk of colorectal cancer. Most of these cancers occur before age of 50. HNPCC also leads to a high risk of endometrial cancer (cancer in the lining of the uterus) in women. Other cancers linked with HNPCC include cancer of the ovary, stomach, small intestine, pancreas, kidney, brain, ureters and bile duct.

    Li-Fraumeni syndrome

    This is a rare syndrome that can lead to the development of a number of cancers, including sarcoma (such as osteosarcoma and soft-tissue sarcomas), leukaemia, brain cancers, cancer of the adrenal cortex and breast cancer. This syndrome is most often caused by inherited mutations in the gene for p53 (TP53, a tumour suppressor gene). People with Li-Fraumeni can also be affected by more than one cancer in their lifetime.

    Genetic counselling & testing

    People with a strong family history of cancer may want to find out about their genetic make-up. This may help the person or other family members in planning health care for the future. The best way to decide if your cancer or the cancer in your family is caused by an inherited mutation is to consult a genetic counsellor. A genetic counsellor can provide you and your family with information about genetic testing and your cancer risk. Genetic counselling and testing may be recommended for some people with a strong family history of cancer. Here are a few advantages of genetic testing:
    * It helps understand the cancer risk to guide medical decisions about the best way to manage the risk.
    * It provides information to help people who have been diagnosed with cancer make treatment decisions.
    * It affects eligibility for some clinical trials and research studies.
    * It helps your relatives understand and manage their risk for cancer.

    (The author is sr consultant, Medical Oncology & Hemato-Oncology, HCG)

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  • 12/07/17--16:30: With a pinch of salt
  • If youre confused about salt, Im not surprised. Theres been a steady back-and-forth on claims that reducing dietary sodium (which represents 40% of the salt molecule) is crucial to our well-being, countered by claims that following this advice can sometimes be a health hazard.
    While some studies have concluded that only people with hypertension on high-salt diets need to reduce salt intake, the overwhelming strength of scientific findings bolsters advice from major health organisations that most of us should cut back on sodium for the sake of our health. Excess sodium is responsible for most cases of hypertension, and hypertension is a leading risk factor for heart attacks, strokes and kidney failure.
    Because salt added to our foods by processors and restaurants, not that from our salt shakers, is the main source of sodium in our diets, protecting the health of the most vulnerable requires a society-wide reduction in sodium.

    Going overboard

    The recommended daily intake for healthy adults - 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day, or the amount in about 1 1/8 teaspoons of salt - will be reflected in the new nutrition facts label. Currently, the average person consumes more than 3,400 milligrams a day, an amount often found in a single restaurant meal. A lunch of soup and a sandwich can easily add up to a days worth of sodium.
    However, an expert team reported last year in The New England Journal of Medicine that an average reduction of just 400 milligrams of sodium a day could save 28,000 lives and $7 billion in health care costs a year.
    Around 75 countries have adopted or advocated salt-lowering goals, and wherever this is happening, rates of hypertension and deaths from cardiovascular disease are declining. Indians consume 119% more salt per day than the World Health Organisations prescribed limits.
    To be sure, sodium is an essential nutrient, as is chloride that makes up the rest of the salt molecule. We evolved from ocean-dwellers, and human tissues still swim in a salty sea.
    Our kidneys are fine-tuned machines for keeping blood levels of sodium within a physiologically healthy range; when theres too much sodium on board, the kidneys dump it into urine for excretion, and when more is needed, they reabsorb it from urine and pump it back into the blood.
    Unfortunately, faced with a chronic excess of sodium to deal with, the kidneys can get worn out; sodium levels in the blood then rise along with water needed to dilute it, resulting in increased pressure on blood vessels and excess fluid surrounding body tissues.
    So why, you may wonder, is there any controversy? Shabby science, resulting in claims that is it unsafe to reduce sodium intake below 1,500 milligrams a day, is one reason, according to Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a health advocacy organisation in Washington, DC.

    Smart servings

    "Very few people consume so little sodium, and most of those who do are sick to begin with, so they eat less and consume less sodium," she explained. "Its a phony issue." But when a study is published that runs counter to prevailing beliefs, it tends to get undue media coverage. "The media like man bites dog stories, and studies with surprising results make headlines," Liebman said.
    Also feeding the debate is resistance from the food and restaurant industries, which fear that consumers will reject a change in recipes. However, two developments indicate no negative effect on sales or consumer choice when salt is reduced.
    "Consumers are sometimes wary of low-sodium products, thinking they will lack flavour," Liebman observed. But when sodium is reduced gradually and without fanfare, they hardly notice it.
    That, in fact, is the key to cutting back on salt generally: Do it a little at a time to give taste buds a chance to adjust. While I still like some salt, highly salted foods I once enjoyed, like corned beef, cured olives and smoked fish, are now unpleasantly salty to me.
    A culinary trick worth trying is to prepare foods without adding salt, then sprinkle some on at serving time. Youll get a bigger bang for that salt buck while consuming less sodium. Some producers of chips rely on this tactic - consumers taste only the salt on the surface, which to my taste is more than enough on chips labelled "low sodium."
    Likewise, when buying canned or packaged soups, select ones labelled low-sodium and, if desired, add some salt at the table. Better yet, enhance the flavours of low-sodium soups with herbs, peppers, garlic and other salt-free seasonings. Also helpful, for reasons beyond sodium reduction, is to eat more fruits and fresh vegetables. They are naturally low in sodium and many are high in potassium, which helps to lower blood pressure.
    Often, most of the salt in a restaurant dish comes from the sauce or dressing; ask for it served on the side and use only a small amount on the food. For dishes cooked to order, ask for them prepared without salt; you can always add some at the table, if desired.

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  • 12/07/17--16:32: Art of staying calm
  • It started off as a trivial argument but soon escalated into a huge fight. Tirades of bitter words were exchanged. Accusations, counter arguments, ranting and yelling, together made for an unpleasant experience, for the hard-working spouses. Though they were doing their best, they felt edgy and constantly stressed.
    Back in the office, the couples work scenario is no different. Both in the middle management level reported to a higher authority and had others reporting to them. Work pressure, deadlines, differences of opinions and sundry other responsibilities in no way helped keep their stress levels under check. Frazzled and frenetic, their daily grind is exhausting and induces anger in their interactions. This in turn leads to conflicts and saps energy, enthusiasm and wellness.
    Just like this couple, what many of us need is to learn the art of staying calm, which can be practiced and mastered for lasting wellness and happiness. Heres how you can grasp this skill:

    Gaining perspective

    We view every situation and perceive every truth not as it is, but as we think it is. This can cause undue anxiety and distort the reality, causing us to lose our cool. But when we learn to see things as they are without preconceived notions and personal bias, we gain a better perspective of every event or outcome. When we view the world pragmatically the maturity to let go of events, which are beyond our control, comes naturally. Reflective questions such as "Can I do anything to change this situation?" come to mind at ease. And when the situation cannot be changed the thought process easily shifts to "Can I accept this situation?" This results in less conflict and leads to a calmer state of mind.
    Paying attention to the present with the right perspective also buys us some time when nothing seems to be working. Statistics prove that over time things change, usually for the better. Relaxing, staying calm and going with the flow has a way of resolving things when the time is right.

    Improve your mood

    Staying calm is all about staying in the right mood and avoiding extreme mood swings. Experts in the field suggest myriad ways to improve moods during the day to stay calm and composed all day.
    We can start with our immediate environment for getting into a better mood whenever fatigue sets in. Feeding our senses with beautiful sights and sounds has a soothing effect on our mood. The rhythm of the rustling of leaves, the canopy of a Gulmohar tree, the blue sky above, the beauty of magnificent monuments, the laughter of children playing in the streets are powerful calming influences for the mind.
    "We become that which we behold," wrote poet William Blake. Taking in the beauty of the world around and the message of peace that the vast silences of nature speak can both calm and balm the mind from stress and worry.
    Mood also lightens when we find ourselves amidst a happy setting. Flowers, candles, calming incense and mild lighting triggers happy sensation in our mind. When an issue overwhelms us, taking the mind off it by listening to music or watching a funny movie or reading inspiring books will restore composure to the troubled mind.
    Taking care of our physical well-being is yet another excellent mood enhancer. Outdoor activities such as taking a ride on the bike or a brisk walk around the park will boost the production of serotonin, a happy hormone that can calm the mind.
    Eating right and getting adequate sleep are definite ways to combat stress and to be on the path to calmness. A balanced natural diet, low in saturated fats and sugar and high in protein and nutrients will help in a steady supply of happy hormones into the system pushing us to a state of being calm.

    Matter of choice

    Eventually, the want to lead a stress-free life and the need to pump in composure into our lives should be consciously welcomed and practiced. We live in a world where the "hurry sickness" has invaded our lives. Locked in a constant battle to achieve more in less time, stress is our constant companion. Even so, positive affirmations, such as "I choose to stay calm," repeated deliberately during the day, can get absorbed by the mind and the mind begins to accept it as a way of life.
    Another simple route to calmness advocated by experts is the use of the anchoring technique. Recalling the moments when complete control was achieved and to focus on such times, reinforces the composure one has gained in the past. Finally, developing empathy and taking a compassionate view of others around promotes tolerance and helps in keeping our moods composed. This also strengthens our well being and the happy state of mind helps the body produce oxytocin that is both a neurotransmitter and a hormone often called the love hormone. Researchers have linked the release of oxytocin to life satisfaction levels and stress is said to block the release of this hormone.
    So the next time, an argument is brewing or a confrontation is escalating, chose to take control of yourself. Hum your favourite tune or go out for a brisk walk; listen to music or pick up a comic book; visit a friend or simply get some rest and sleep. These may seem irrelevant and far-fetched to get you into a clam mood. However, there is enough proof from research that these are some simple, yet powerful techniques to master the art of staying calm.

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    A new entrant on the list of the eateries in Vidyaranyapura, B1 is gaining a lot of attention. The bar-lounge concept is a first in the area which is why food lovers often head to this place to enjoy an evening after a tiring day.

    Be it the colourful and spacious ambience or the collection of popular classic rock music, this place has everything to set the mood right. Another attraction are the wooden interiors; the high-rise stools, tables and the door frames all made of wood give a vintage feel.

    Coming to the food, the menu is an elaborate affair. Plating a variety of cuisines, ranging from continental, North Indian, Asian and Italian, one can choose their favourite according to the mood.

    A plate of Mexican finger chips, crispy chips topped with selected herbs and spices, can be a good start to your meal. You can also ask for a plate of Mushroom spicy Kung Pao, if Asian cuisine is what you are looking for. For non-vegetarians, the Andhra chilly chicken is a must try. If you have a kid with you, ask for the finely fried Chicken lollipop. Dont be surprised if it becomes their favourite.

    You can sip on a glass of selected wine and unwind while you wait for your order. For the main course, all the pasta lovers can go for Chicken penne creamy cheese pasta. The Straganoff chicken is another dish that can surprise you pleasantly. The taste of the creamy-brown sauce with herb rice can quite possibly turn the dish into one of your favourites.

    The staff is well aware of the menu and very courteous. If you are caught in the web of options, they can suggest some dishes too.

    B1 is located at 1259, Opposite Canara Bank, 3rd Block, BEL Layout, Vidyaranyapura. For details, call 23640642.

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  • 12/08/17--00:58: It's smokin' hot
  • For those who know the owners of Cafe Thulp, Gautam Krishnankutty and Padmakumar Pillai, the opening of their new venture The Smoke Co. doesnt come as a surprise. They have been teasing meat lovers across the city with some of their creations and a few months ago, they finally opened the doors of the restaurant for foodies.

    It took a little over two years to perfect every item that is offered on the menu and there will be a few more added to the menu very soon.

    Unlike the normal practice of discarding food that was prepared a couple of days before, The Smoke Co. believes in serving certain dishes that have been stored for months. It is a combination of age-old European and Southern American practices of curing and ageing of meats.

    But just before you get started with the food, you have to appreciate the decor of the restaurant. It actually comes as a breath of fresh air on the busy streets of Koramangala. It is designed in earthy tiles, with glass walls and an open kitchen. The steps will take you to the formal dining area and restrooms. There is also the second floor for Primal Bar, which is a live music hub that serves some delicious smoked, cured and aged meats with signature drinks.

    And now, lets start with the menu. The perfect way to taste some of the popular items on the menu is to select the Charcuterie platter which allows you to choose any four items. The Country aged ham has the right amount of saltiness while the Bresaola and genoa salami has a slight tinge of sweetness to it, but not in a way that it overpowers your palate. For fish lovers, the Teriyaki smoked mackerel is definitely a dream come true. Pair your meats with the fruit compote for the complete experience.

    The Smoke platter offers the Eight-hour smoked and pulled pork, Maryland pit beef, St Louis rib and Kielbasa. Each of these meats has distinct flavours that will leave you wanting for more.

    There needs to be a special mention of their in-house special - the Smoked bone marrow. The bone marrow has a crispy top layer and when you scoop it out with the sourdough bread, youll get the most buttery marrow that gives you the perfect kick of spices and caramelised flavour. There will also be a maramalade that you can spread on the marrow and bread.

    Theres a lot that you can eat here but leave room for dessert. The Flourless chocolate cake is the definition of heaven on a plate with the rich coffee flavour that oozes out of it. The surprise element is the magic rocks that pop in your mouth! For those who want to enjoy a lighter dessert, the Flan with burnt caramel, served with orange brandy sauce and honeycomb, is just perfect.

    Overall The Smoke Co. is one of those places that you have to find time to visit. The meats, sauces and breads are all made in-house, which makes it all the merrier.

    The restaurant is located next to The Koramangala Club, CA-17, 6th Cross, 6th Block Koramangala. For details, call 46218500.

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  • 12/08/17--01:02: Songs of the season
  • The City is in the Christmas mode. Independent groups, church choirs and bands are practising hard to put up an impressive show during this season.

    The next couple of days will see choral renditions across venues in the city. Each of these groups will present a repertoire of songs that will in some way tell the story of Christmas and ring in the spirit of the season.

    Metrolife interacted with a few groups in the City to see what they have in store for Christmas. The Fernandes Fusion, a multi-genre band from Goa, are known for their lively performances. Led by Ozie Fernandes, the band comprises the members of the Fernandes family.

    Reuben Ambat, events coordinator for the band says, "We will be performing popular Christmas carols and songs that remind one of the spirit of Christmas. This season is all about spreading love, getting together with family and friends and bringing a smile on the faces of the less fortunate, all this will reflect in the songs that we will be performing."

    The band will render popular Christmas carols such as Jingle Bells, Marys Boy Child, White Christmas and Feliz Navidad. The other popular songs that will be rendered are Last Christmas, Shape of You, Despacito, Cheap Thrills and Hymn for the Weekend. Fernandes Fusion will perform on December 17, 7 pm at Toit.

    The East Parade Malayalam Church Choir is known for its flawless rendition of Western classical pieces and Christmas carols. The 50-odd members of the choir have put together a Christmas concert on December 9, 6 pm at East Parade Church, MG Road. Jackson Geo Cherian, choir secretary, says "The theme this year is The Glorious Impossible and we will be performing compositions by Handel, Bach, Pepper Choplin and Brian Lewis, in addition to Malayalam songs," says Jackson.

    The members of the junior choir will render Christmas Canon Rock, popularised by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

    The Bangalore Men has chosen songs that fall under the theme of tradition and fun. "We are presenting a mix of the essential classics like Jingle Bells, O Holy Night and Deck the Halls. We will also have jazzier pieces like Let it Snow and White Christmas. This year we are very excited to also work with accomplished vocalist Bhumika Anantharaman who would be singing with the choir," says Olsson Jonas, conductor of the choir.

    He says that the choir began practising at the end of October. "We start our rehearsals for the Christmas concerts pretty early. But the real spirit comes in December. When the cold sets in during the evenings, we warm ourselves after rehearsals with some mulled wine or saffron-spiced coffee together with some Swedish ginger cookies and saffron buns. Then Christmas is here," explains Olsson. The choir will perform on December 15, 7 pm, UB City and on December 17, between 6 pm and 8 pm, at BIAL.

    The St Marks Cathedral will hold their Christmas carols on December 17, 6 pm. The choir, comprising all age groups, will be presenting a mix of songs in exciting formats.

    Anjana Samuel, convener, programmes committee, says, "We will be performing simple hymn-based songs like Have you heard the story to classics like Judas Maccabaeus Victory Mass from George F Handel. We will also be singing Dona Nobis Pacem by Mozart. We have also included simple pieces like Little David, Play on Your Harp and Glory Hallelujah"

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  • 12/08/17--01:07: Highway to heaven
  • On the dusty highway that connects Mysuru to Bengaluru, it is a common sight to see vehicles whizzing past as revellers go about their weekend roadtrips. However, hunger pangs dont help driving skills and most drivers stomp on the brake and pull over at a certain spot.

    Srinidhi Sagar Deluxe, located on Mysore Road, is a veggies delight with its simple yet filling meals. From authentic South Indian dishes to tasty North Indian cuisine, the place has been filling hungry stomachs for the past seven years. Apart from the sporadic bursts of tourists, the place sees a steady stream of regular customers that includes some well-known names in the Kannada film industry.

    The breakfast section comprises all the usual items like Idli, Vada, Kesari bath, Rava idli, Bonda soup and so on. The idlis are soft and fluffy and the Sambhar is as authentic as one would expect in a kitchen with a Udupi chef (which is the case here).

    There is a separate section for Dosa with varieties like Masala dosa, Set dosa, Rava dosa, Onion dosa and so on. "Apart from the usual options, we also create a special variety every day. Exotic combinations like Palak dosaand Tomato omlette dosa are served to customers," says Jayakar M, who runs the place in partnership with Vasanth K.

    "Our button idlis are also very popular with the regulars. So are the Rava idlis. Actor Shankar Ashwath loves them," he says proudly.

    Next on the menu are the main course options with a mind-boggling variety in South Indian, North Indian and Chinese dishes. For those who love the cuisine down South, opt for the South Indian meal. Others can choose from the likes of Dal, Gobi masala, Stuffed capsicum, Malai kofta and many more. The Butter kulcha is a good try for its softness and fluffiness while the Mushroom masala has just the right amount of spice. The North Indian meals comprises soup, two rotis, couple of curries, rice, papad and ice cream. Its a good option if you want to save yourself the hassle of choosing.

    The Chinese section includes options like Gobi manchurian, Mushroom chilli, Spanish manchurian and more. "Our Mushroom pepper dry is quite popular. Apart from that, the Paneer butter masala and Paneer chilli are also favourites," says Jayakar.

    There is a wide variety of Indian breads, rice and noodles to serve as the perfect accompaniments. End your meal with their selection of beverages or ice creams. The fresh fruit juices or the cold coffee is a good try.

    Other plus points include ample parking space, quick service and a seating capacity for around 180 people. The cost is reasonable and the portions quite generous.

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  • 12/08/17--01:10: A slice of life
  • Filmmaker and theatrician Pawan Kumar has portrayed his innermost thoughts through the play The Woman in Me. This play will be staged at the Deccan Herald Theatre Festival, curated by Sandbox Collective, on December 9, 7 pm at MLR Convention Centre. The cast also has Salmin Sheriff in it.

    Pawan is all excited about the performance. "The team and I have been working hard on the play and I think we will do good. I am bringing back the play after 10 years and it is a big change from then. The play has hard-hitting content and after so many years, I keep wondering about what made me write the play then," he says.

    Pawan points out that working with Salmin Sheriff was a different ballgame. "My first run of the play
    was with someone who was younger to me. Salmin is a veteran actor and has seen more in life. When I started working with him, the text meant something else right then," he elaborates.

    The play intends to explore what women mean to men and what men mean to women and the contemporary experiences made Pawan read the lines quite differently, compared to the past.

    "The play questions what men do. Its not somebody outside who is asking these questions but the women component inside themselves. When I read the play, some lines reminded me of incidents from my own life and made me think of what I had done too," he says.

    What was shocking for Pawan was that a play he had written 10 years ago is more relevant now. "In these many years, nothing has changed. Things have only gotten worse," he says.

    The play has been edited and worked around in todays context, which was an interesting experience for both Pawan and Salmin. "I am more sensitive to certain details now," he adds.

    Salmin observes, "Some of the factors that determine if I want to work on a play are things like agreeing on the subject and how the playwright reacts to changes. Things have changed including opinions about certain aspects of this play and we worked on the script accordingly."

    The subject showcases the reality of men taking women for granted, Salmin points out.

    "The play reflects the patriarchal component initially and later on how the protagonists other voice inside him questions him. I liked the way the play is structured. Thats what attracted me to it," he says.

    "The play was more like a therapy," says Pawan on directing it.

    "Take the #MeToo campaign for instance. Women can keep saying Me Too, but what is the whole point unless men own up their actions. I read somewhere that the healing happens when the perpetrator admits to the wrongdoing," says Salmin.

    Tickets to The Woman in Me are available on

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  • 12/08/17--01:13: Smuggling hearts
  • Actor Priya Hassans latest release Smuggler is special for her because she has not only directed and produced the film but also acted in it. The actor admits it wasnt easy to manage all the aspects of the film, but says it was a task worth taking up.

    She says Smuggler is one of those rare projects where she has juggled contrasting roles to perfection.While people have always seen her in an action role, she has two shades in this film.

    "In one, I appear as a smuggler and in the other, I slip into the role of a traditional village girl. The body language, costumes and makeup for both roles have been carefully chosen to draw peoples attention to these characters. We havent adopted the regular pattern of filmmaking in this project. The style of narration has been kept very different," she explains. The story is woven around smuggling and its repercussions.

    The people involved in smuggling and the tactics they use to get things done have been captured in the film. "Ive had to quickly change my attitude from that of a smuggler, with tough action sequences and expressions, to a traditional Iyengar girls role in the next sequence. It was quite challenging to pull it off but I enjoyed every bit of it," she adds.

    She points out that there have been several films with heroes playing negative shades but there hasnt been a film made with a woman playing the lead negative role.

    "It is tough for a woman to fight like a man. I had to build my stamina and instead of worrying about how I would do it, I took it as a challenge. Most of the action sequences are shot in Bangkok. What we have attempted to portray through my character is a stylish lady don. The many tomboyish roles that I have played so far has earned me the reputation of being a rough and tough person. This experience has come in handy for this role," explains Priya.

    The actor has also roped in some big names from the Tamil and Telugu film industries to play negative roles in the film. "There were a few villainous characters required for this project and I have picked the best from these two industries. This is a big-budget film but as a producer and director, I didnt want to compromise on the quality and content of the film," says Priya.

    Sharing her experience of working on this project, Priya says, "It was tough and I have had sleepless nights but I have learnt a great deal in the process. When you know that you shoulder a huge responsibility then you automatically tend to work hard," she signs off.

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  • 12/08/17--02:44: Of love and a roaming spirit
  • Mr Perfect

    Kannada (U/A)

    Cast: Shalini, Ramesh Bhat, Anoop Sa Ra Govind, Bullet Prakash.

    Director : A Ramesh Babu

    Rating: Average

    Producer Sa Ra Govindus son Anoop, who made his debut in Dove, is back as Mr Perfect this time. Touted as a suspense-thriller-cum-romance, Mr Perfect turns out to be rather tiresome.

    The film kicks off in a horror thriller mode with the death of a person at an abandoned building. Then comes the main romantic track involving a sleepwalking beau.

    The man is in love with Sirisha. However, he has to pass muster with the father-in-law who believes in perfect health. Hence the films suggestive title. Knitted into this is the spirit of a woman haunting the abandoned building and how the man tries to win over his flame.

    The film is all about the connection between these two disparate tracks. Brimming with the regular commercial claptrap, including action sequences, songs and dances, the films saving grace is its comedy track between Pavan and Bullet Prakash, who plays a security guard at the building.

    The film is a futile attempt, with nothing much to hold ones interest. Stay away.

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  • 12/08/17--04:05: Not a patch on the original
  • Hindi (U/A)

    Cast: Pulkit Samrat, Varun Sharma, Richa Chadha, Manjot Singh, Pankaj Tripathi, Ali Fazal

    Director: Mrighdeep Singh Lamba

    Rating: **

    The oddballs return, but not all are on a roll.

    Choocha (Varun Sharma) makes the most of the Fukrey comeback, dreaming more and goofing up non-stop.

    Deja vu? Deja choo, he corrects.

    Choocha was instrumental in several lottery wins in the 2013 original. This time, he sees flashes of the future, starring a tigress, her cub and a hidden treasure. Welcome to a stroll in the zoo.

    The others - Hunny (Pulkit Samrat), Lali (Manjot Singh) and Zafar (Ali Fazal) - follow Choochas dreams and fall into deeper zoological traps.

    And when they are back in civilisation, its only for a snake bite on the bum, or a cracker swishing its way to, again, the bum, or for a few jokes on the human dump.

    Jailed lady don Bholi Punjaban (Richa Chadha) comes out for another dirty battle with a politician - a menacing Rajiv Gupta as the leader who makes his secretary drink from his pedicure bowl.

    Ms Chadha also gets a good share of the madcap pie, doing a snake dance now and wielding a gun the next moment.

    The other women (Priya Anand and Vishakha Singh) are as clueless as their men.

    Then there is Pankaj Tripathi. The man is a riot even when he speaks in monosyllables. As the deadpan panditji, Tripathi accounts for all those stray laughs.

    Otherwise, its a slow and laboured comeback.

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    Cricket and gambling have always been inextricably linked. In 1744, the sports laws were codified largely to make betting on the game easier, and allegations of match-fixing have dogged the sport ever since. Most recently, cricket was ravaged by a series of scandals affecting the top of the mens international game in the 1990s and early 2000s.

    Now cricket officials fear a new fixing epidemic is not far off. This year, five Pakistani international cricketers have been suspended for breaking anti-corruption protocols or banned for fixing matches during the Pakistan Super League. In the past two months alone, three international captains reported being approached by match fixers, including two - Zimbabwes Graeme Cremer and Pakistans Sarfraz Ahmed - from the dozen elite nations that play Test cricket, the five-day version of the sport.

    While all three captains reported the approaches to cricket authorities - the offers were said to be for sums of up to $150,000 - the incidents reinforced the troubling concern that cricket is still regarded as ripe for fixing.

    "Its a reminder that the threat of corruption in the game is not going away," said Tony Irish, the executive chairman of the international cricket players association. "Cricket as a whole has been slow to adjust to the risks of corruption."

    Irish said he believes there is "a serious risk to the reputation of the entire game."

    The International Cricket Councils (ICC) Anti-Corruption and Security Unit, which polices the sport, has expressed alarm at the recent spike in incidents, and it is conducting seven investigations into suspected fixing.

    In September, the unit gained the power to request that players, coaches and administrators surrender data from their mobile phones, including from WhatsApp, during investigations of suspected corruption cases. While it cannot compel suspects to hand over their devices, any who refuse face a charge of noncooperation, which could lead to a ban of up to two years.

    Safeguarding the integrity of cricket has never been harder. During the mid-1990s, the golden age for cricket fixers, virtually all betting in cricket was concentrated on matches involving the nine leading nations. As such, the potential pool of players of interest to criminals looking to fix matches numbered in the hundreds. Now, with the growth of newer forms of the sport and the higher profile of womens and junior matches, the pool of potentially corruptible players is in the thousands.

    Twenty20, the short format of the game begun in 2003, has galvanised domestic cricket - and the amount bet on matches.

    Around $200 billion a year is gambled on cricket worldwide, according to estimates by the Qatar-funded International Centre for Sport Security, with a sizable portion of it drifting down to lower-profile games, both in official and unofficial tournaments, that are broadcast to eager fans, sometimes over social media platforms. Womens cricket and mens junior games are also considered increasingly vulnerable; in legal markets alone, $7 million was bet on last months U-19 Asia Cup.

    At the same time, technology has allowed corrupting matches to become more intricate, as fixers can manipulate a portion of matches - so-called spot fixes - to lock in a profit regardless of who wins. And the ICCs anti-corruption unit is only responsible for monitoring international matches; national boards are in charge of anti-corruption activity in their domestic leagues.

    "If the threat remains in international cricket then there should be even greater concerns about the leagues, where there are no minimum consistent standards," Irish said. "In some leagues the anti-corruption measures are good, and in others they arent. There are no enforced minimum standards, and there are no minimum player education requirements."

    For example, neither the Bangladesh Premier League nor the Pakistan Super League - which have both had fixing cases - invites the ICCs unit to monitor their matches or support their own security measures. And even those involved in running Twenty20 domestic teams are not immune from corruption: In 2015, Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League were suspended after senior officials, including a co-owner of one of the sides, were found guilty of betting and of passing on inside information to bookmakers.

    But for all these new challenges, the problems remain very familiar. Most countries that play top-level cricket lack specific laws against match-fixing, which can make it harder to prosecute fixers. Most fundamentally, gambling in India remains illegal - rendering it nearly impossible to follow betting patterns, and thus trace suspicious bets in that underground economy.

    Worldwide, only around 15 per cent of sports betting is done through legal means, according to ICSS estimates. So while the International Cricket Council, like other sports bodies, is optimistic about its use of algorithms to identify suspicious betting patterns, those methods can succeed only in markets where legal gambling can be tracked and monitored.

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  • 12/09/17--02:30: Substance over style
  • Manchester Uniteds players lined up at the edge of the podium, waiting patiently to mount it and lift the Europa League trophy. Around them, their beaten opponents, from Ajax Amsterdam, had arranged themselves into a guard of honour.

    Jose Mourinho, Uniteds manager, stood at the head of the line. Behind him, led by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, was a contingent of Uniteds injured players, in club suits or training gear; after them, the team that had played in that game in May at the Friends Arena near Stockholm.

    Mourinho mounted the podium first.He shook hands with Edwin van der Sar, Ajaxs chief executive; Ed Woodward, Uniteds executive vice chairman; and Theodore Theodoridis, UEFAs General Secretary. Then he approached Alexander Ceferin, UEFAs recently installed president, who was waiting to give him his winners medal.
    Mourinho shook Ceferins hand, took his medal, then leaned in close for a few seconds, trying to make himself heard in the noise. He had something to whisper in Ceferins ear.

    He was now, Mourinho said proudly to Ceferin, the first manager to receive a winners medal from three UEFA presidents: Lennart Johansson, Michel Platini and Ceferin. With that, he walked off, smiling broadly, toward his latest trophy.
    It may seem a rather arcane bit of trivia, but it mattered to Mourinho enough to mention it to Ceferin and to text it to others in the days afterward.

    It mattered because it was another record broken, another piece of history made, by a coach who defines himself by every victory, by every first-place finish.
    Mourinhos worldview is a simple one, best encapsulated by a story from the height of the feud between his Real Madrid side and Pep Guardiolas Barcelona. In April 2011 - as the teams were in the middle of a run of four Clasicos in 18 days - Johan Cruyff wrote a scathing critique of Mourinho in a Catalan newspaper.

    He was, Cruyff wrote, the sort of manager who "only thinks about the result, not about the game at all." He dismissed Mourinho as a "title coach, not a football coach." It was intended as an insult: For Cruyff, as for his disciple Guardiola, winning alone was not enough; the journey was just as important as the destination.

    Mourinho, though, insisted that he took it as a compliment. "Thank you," he said, in response to Cruyff. "All of us here work hard so we can win titles."

    That has always been Mourinhos standpoint. He has never had any time for those of his peers who talk about fanciful ideals or high-minded philosophies. What matters is who wins the league or the Cup, who finishes first, who breaks the record, who writes the history. Everything else is sophistry. After all, as he said after that game in Stockholm, "There are lots of poets in football, but poets - they dont win many titles."

    It is on this point, of course, that the roots of his long-standing enmity with Guardiola can be found. They have spent much of the past decade in direct competition: for the Barcelona managers job in 2008; in the Champions League semifinals in 2010; and in La Liga in the years that followed. Now, with Mourinho at United and Guardiola at Manchester City, they are in the same city, in the same Premier League title race and, on Sunday, in the same stadium.

    But what makes their rivalry so compelling is the sense that they stand for alternate visions of what football is, or should be: Guardiola, the poet with prizes, and Mourinho, the unapologetic pragmatist; the romantic against the realist; one coach focused only on the outcome, and the other obsessed with perfecting the process. As Italian journalist Paolo Condo puts it in, The Duellists, his book about the pairs time in Spain: "Mourinho wants to win. Guardiola wants to create."

    While at Real Madrid, even Alfredo Di Stéfano queried Mourinhos caution; journalist Diego Torres wrote a searing book in which, citing sources among Reals players, he claimed that Mourinho had encouraged them not to keep possession of the ball because "whoever has the ball has fear." Earlier this season, Jürgen Klopp suggested that no Liverpool manager would be able to play as defensively as Manchester United had at Anfield.

    Mourinhos response has always been the same: not just to point to all the victories recorded and trophies won, but to take pleasure in stifling his more celebrated opponents.

    In Madrid, he suggested that anyone complaining about his style "ask Inter Milan if they are tired of sewing badges onto their shirts." After stymying Klopps Liverpool attack last year, he witheringly referred to them as "the eighth wonder of the world." He has admitted that winning with style is "perfection," but in the meantime, he insists he is more than happy with proving the pointlessness of poetry. Yet for all the bombast, the criticism does seem to cut Mourinho. In Madrid, he frequently used the record-breaking number of goals - 120 - his side had scored to win La Liga in 2012 as a defense against accusations that he lacked an attacking instinct. How could a team that productive possibly be accused of being defensive? That here, too, he was seeing output (the number of goals) rather than process (the nature of them) did not seem to occur to him.

    In an interview with The Times of London this year, Mourinho asked which of the last three Premier League champions - Leicester City, Antonio Contes Chelsea and his Chelsea - had played "more offensive football. Which played more quality football?" he said. "It was mine, but nobody says."

    Similarly, although he has been curiously quiet on the subject of Guardiola in the past few months, Mourinho has taken every opportunity he can to belittle Contes Chelsea. "If you look at the last winners of the Premier League, they played defensive football, counterattack football," he said of the Blues. After the goalless draw with Liverpool this year, too, he criticised Klopp for not opening the game by adopting a more attacking approach late in the match.

    Perhaps this is all simply retaliation, a rebuttal to all those years of criticism for not playing the right way. Perhaps it is an inherently defensive measure, seeking not to lift himself up but to drag others down: I may be cautious, but so are they.

    Or perhaps it is a hint that, although Mourinhos career and image are built on the records broken and the history made, he knows that others use different criteria. Poets do not win titles, but they do win praise, and the status of greatness. And what Mourinho, aware of even his most arcane achievements, craves more than anything else is that.

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  • 12/08/17--17:24: Kullu warmth for the cold
  • Its that time of the year again when the nip in the air forces us to wrap ourselves in warm shawls. As I wrapped myself in a Kullu shawl that was not only warm but also soft, I was reminded of my visit to Kullu, where I had interacted with the simple, ever-smiling and friendly natives of the small hilly town who weave shawls in breathtaking designs and colours.

    The story goes back to the late 90s when I was on an official trip to Naggar, Himachal Pradesh. I had a day to spare, so I decided to head to Kullu and hired a taxi. Fortunately for me, my driver Rabta, a middle-aged local, was talkative and engaged me in an interesting conversation about the many specialities the scenic Himalayan state had to offer. However, on top of his list was the Kullu shawl.

    On our many stops on the way for hot cups of chai and beautiful scenery, Rabta showed me these shawls in not only elegant designs but in soft textures, too. I knew I wanted them, and also learn more about their weaving.

    Loom connection

    I was in luck. For, Rabtas cousin Sobha was married to a weaver family, and they resided in a village on the outskirts of Kullu. He drove me to Sobhas place. On the way, I saw men chatting with their friends and shearing sheep as naturally as drinking chai.

    At Sobhas place, too, in the courtyard, a few elderly men were either shearing wool or cleaning it, or wrapping different-coloured wool on bobbins, or spinning yarn on wooden spindles. I saw loom with a weft- and-warp arrangement. Sobha told me the entire family participates in the weaving procedure, off and on, throughout the day.

    While the young ones actively sit at the loom to weave, the elderly help out in other related ways, depending on their physical abilities.

    Rabta shared that since its peak winter, their fields were barren, and nobody steps out fearing the cold, and the only way they can keep themselves engaged is by weaving. No wonder, the village was teeming with people, and every courtyard bursting with activity.

    The raw materials for Kullu shawls are mostly sourced locally but sometimes sourced from the neighbouring states and countries, too. For instance, Merino, Angora and Pashmina are imported for variety. The weaving, Shoba said, begins with the preparation of the warp frame on the loom. The weft runs across the warp and is responsible for the shape of the design.

    Talking of designs, a typical Kullu shawl has geometric designs though floral ones are not uncommon. Some common motifs are trishul, swastika, crosses, and Vs. According to research, Kullu shawl designs owe their origin to Kinnauri woven patterns. However, Kullu weavers have given Kinnauri designs their own touch of creativity, modified them, and made them their own.

    The traditional colours are the natural wool shades of white, cream, beige, brown and grey. According to Sobha, customers ask for bright colours, and so they have started dyeing wool in chemical colours.

    Like they say, every mountainous region of India has its own weaving customs and traditions. And Kullu is no exception.

    Where to watch

    What sets the Kullu shawls apart from the variety of shawls available across India are their vibrant borders in striking patterns. It was fascinating to see them weave intricate decorations deftly on their looms. There were stoles, mens shawls locally known as lohis, traditional womens wear known as pattu, blankets… Watching the family at work was so engrossing that I had lost track of time and the number of chai cups I had consumed. The friendly banter, the warmth of their hospitality, and their innocent ways had clearly floored me. I quickly made my purchases and headed back to Naggar, proud of the fact that I was taking a piece of Kullu with me.

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  • 12/08/17--17:28: Into the deep blue
  • Cameras and curiosity reach above and below the oceans, and bring back many spectacular behaviours of sea-beings in the BBC documentary Blue Planet II. And some of these actions have been filmed for the first time ever, says 91-year-old Sir David Attenborough, the narrator of the seven-part series. He even promises there are creatures beyond our imagination in the depths.

    Each episode explores a habitat: kelp forests, corals, coasts, deep waters, etc. So, through beautiful scenes and photography, we learn that somewhere in South Africa, the bottlenose dolphins surf the waves only for pleasure and social bonding; see a tuskfish crack open a clam using a tool in the Great Barrier Reef; gape at a trick a female fish pulls off after a period of growth; quiet down to watch if the clever octopus can trick his predator with a decorated armour; and wonder at the cruelty of giant trevallies (fish) that leap from water to prey on birds learning to fly in the lagoon of an Indian Ocean atoll.

    These are small yet mighty glimpses of life that unfold inside the worlds largest habitat. The four years of making the documentary include 125 expeditions, 6,000 hours diving underwater, 39 countries, and spells of disappointments.

    In a first, the second episode reaches the deepest point in the ocean (almost 11 kilometres from the surface), the Mariana Trench. The environment is harsher with crushing pressure and no light. And yet, fishes with feet, a shrimp love story inside a coral, and bone-eating worms are all lives that thrive there.

    There is a strong reminder of city life in coral habitats where varieties of fish swim in strong numbers and bright colours. Some species like green turtles approach coral cities for a dose of cleansing. And some dolphin species make it their playground with corals as their toys.

    The most dramatic moments of the series are laced with fantastic background music; other times, natural underwater soundscapes keep the story going.

    And the last 10 minutes of every episode accommodate a behind-the-scenes segment called Into The Blue. Here, in complete underwater darkness, a pair of cameramen are seen filming the crazy dance of mobula rays that causes trails of light (a phenomenon called bioluminescence).

    When Sir David Attenborough remarks that new science and new technology have allowed them to go deeper into the oceans, he also refers to the many kinds of cameras adopted for the series.

    The iconic scene of a mother and baby walrus on an iceberg is captured by a megadome camera, which allows viewers to see both above and below water at once. Or tow cameras, suited to follow the fast movements of dolphins.

    As jaw-dropping as the visuals may be, the show makes it a point to address the failing health of the oceans. A protective walrus mother and her baby scouting for space on the ever-melting ice float is caused by the rise in temperatures, says the narrator. Will the walruses find their haven?

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  • 12/08/17--17:30: All the world was his stage
  • In his breakthrough film, the 1965 blockbuster Jab Jab Phool Khile, Dadasaheb Phalke award laureate and Padma Bhushan Shashi Kapoor, born Balbir Raj Kapoor to screen and stage doyen Prithviraj Kapoor, played a Kashmiri boatman warbling the cult song Pardesiyon Se Na Ankhiyan Milana, which meant, Dont fall in love with those from another country.

    Almost a decade before that, however, Shashi had done exactly that, when it was love at first sight with British stage actor Jennifer Kendal, also travelling like him in her father Geoffrey Kendals theatre group Shakespearana, while Shashi was touring with his fathers drama company Prithvi Theatres. The couple married in 1958, bore three children, Kunal, Karan and Sanjana, all of whom tried to be actors but failed in a more conservative era where their half-British features and a bit of accent came in the way of stardom. Today, Kunal and Sanjana manage the new Prithvi Theatres, while Karan is a photographer living overseas.

    Fascinating filmography

    When I called up the actor in the late 90s, he politely declined an interview stating that he was no longer an actor. But he gave me 90 solid minutes for his fathers centenary in 2006! Striding like a tiger in his satin gown, he presented his book The Prithviwallahs, and in the context of Jennifer, said, "Jennifer was an extraordinary woman, who was beautiful both to look at and as a person. She struck an instant rapport with my father. We moved out of his Matunga home only after my first child was born, and the immense love my father inspired in Jennifer made her put in her all to set up and establish Prithvi Theatres in his memory, when I mentioned the idea."

    Shashis attraction towards foreigners did not end there - he even worked with his in-laws (including sister-in-law Felicity), with James Ivory (and Indian partner Ismail Merchant), Conrad Rooks, and many other film-makers and actors. With a plethora of crossover and international films spanning four decades, Shashi Kapoor became the first-ever Indian actor to act in leading roles in their films. He even ended his film career (which technically began as a child actor in brother Raj Kapoors 1948 Aag) as a narrator in the UK-based production Jinnah 50 years later, alongside another foreign film as an actor, Bruce Weisss Side Streets in 1998.

    His impressive filmography overseas includes Shakespeare Wallah, The Householder, A Matter Of Innocence, The Deceivers, In Custody and the TV mini-series Gullivers Travels. His last film as a producer, which he wanted brother Raj Kapoor to direct, was Ajooba, an Indo-Russian co-production, and a bi-lingual titled Vozvrashcheniye Bagdadskogo Vora aka The Black Prince in Russian. This 1991 film had his elder brother Shammi Kapoor, nephew Rishi Kapoor, and Amitabh Bachchan heading the cast. Shashi made his directorial debut with this movie.

    Like his brothers, Shashi rose through the ranks with no special treatment as the Prithvi Theatress supremos son. He had told me, "My first ever conscious memory of my father was when I got to see his film Sikander, and his play, Prithvi Theatress classic Shakuntala, in which he played Dushyant. I remember being completely fascinated and amazed. Even at that age, I could not help but marvel at the difference between the humble giant who was my father at home and the powerful persona I was watching on screen and stage."

    Shashi recalled, "I went home, completely fascinated by his art as well as the storytelling, and somewhere, this was the beginning of my inclination and inspiration to become an actor. Soon, with his consent, I began doing small roles in my fathers plays. I was six then."

    He goes on, "Prithviraj had a gentle, unique technique for teaching anything. It was a tradition at Prithvi Theatres that four to five hours of talking sessions were held daily with my father. We would all listen as he spoke - about everything, including life." Later, Shashi graduated to playing juvenile leads in his plays.

    Prithvirajs general outlook led to Shashis own foundation of dedicated professionalism. Shashi found that his father never took work home, worked with people of all conceivable religions, and treated everyone with complete respect and on par with himself. "He was like a monarch who never gave the impression that he was lowering his status in treating you at par - his principle was to raise you to his level and look at you as someone equal to Prithviraj Kapoor!" he said.

    For Shashi, this was the base that helped him survived flops galore (despite rare successes like Dharamputra, Aamne Saamne, Pyar Ka Mausam and Abhinetri and rarer hits in Jab Jab Phool Khile, Haseena Maan Jayegi and Sharmeelee) until he broke through. Punctual to the hilt, humble and immensely talented, he was also the first big star to declare that he would never work on Sundays.

    Taste of success

    Big success finally happened between December 1973 and April 1974 with Aa Gale Lag Jaa and Chor Machaye Shor. From late 1974, his films Roti Kapada Aur Makaan and Deewaar set the multi-star trend, and Shashi not only became a compulsion as Bachchans fave co-star but worked in the biggest and best setups, with the cream of directors too numerous to mention here. Sanjeev Kumar and Shatrughan Sinha were his other frequent co-stars.

    Among heroines, he had an array of co-stars who loved him enough to pair in many films - Sharmila Tagore, Hema Malini, Raakhee, Rekha (who also did three of his productions Kalyug, Vijeta and Utsav), Parveen Babi and Zeenat Aman. But Shashi had a special regard for veteran Nanda, who as a top star was his heroine in his 1961 lead debut Char Diwari and did six more films with him. When son Kunal signed his first film Ahista Ahista two decades down, and Nanda was making a comeback in it as the heroines mother, Shashi told his son to touch her feet as "she is the woman who launched your father."

    The main reason why Shashi cashed in on his newfound saleability in the 70s to do films by the dozen in multiple shifts was to finance two key passions: his dream of restarting Prithvi Theatres in memory of his father (which was achieved in 1978), and his being able to produce films with an offbeat and usually literary bent. His first dream has been a resounding success, giving Indian theatre and cinema some fabulous talents and brilliant plays, and becoming an iconic Mumbai hub for artistes as well as audiences. Seen sitting outside the auditorium on most days until recently, legend has it that Shashi was earlier known to pay for his ticket to watch plays in his own theatre!

    As a producer, he could only make two successes: Junoon and Utsav. For the rest, he had to contend only with critical acclaim, including for the classic that was Jennifers swan song as an actor: 36 Chowringhee Lane.

    Rest in peace, Shashi Kapoor. The film world and the stage will miss you terribly.

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  • 12/08/17--17:34: A graceful dynamo
  • On a recent afternoon on his expansive estate in California, in a beautifully appointed living room the size of a mead hall, Jean-Claude Van Damme suddenly fired a high kick at my face, stopping short of crunching cartilage and bone. I didnt ask him to do it, but it was a thrill nonetheless. After all, he has aimed that very same foot at the heads of action superstars like Dolph Lundgren, Bolo Yeung and Sylvester Stallone.

    "I still love martial arts," he said, breaking into a broad smile. "Martial arts changed my life. If you were born in the dojo, you will die in the dojo."

    Hes all brawn

    Its hard to picture Van Damme, famed for his devastating reverse roundhouse and epic splits, not kicking somebody. Even in his lousiest pictures - "I made lots of low-budget movies," he admitted - hes a thing of beauty, a graceful, whirling dynamo. Hes Jean-Claude Van Damme, the Muscles from Brussels, in every movie he makes. So, its perhaps not such a surprise that, in his latest project, hes playing himself, sort of.

    On December 15, Amazon Studios will release the first season of Jean-Claude Van Johnson. In the metaseries, part comedy, part drama, he plays a broken-down action star who makes terrible films - like a kung-fu-filled remake of Huckleberry Finn - as cover for his real gig as a lethal black ops agent, code-named Jean-Claude Van Johnson.

    The series may be his weirdest project to date, no small feat for a guy who, in a career spanning four decades, has punched a rattlesnake (Hard Target), been crucified by pirates (Cyborg) and saved a baby from a wild tiger with the help of former NBA star Dennis Rodman (Double Team).

    In Jean-Claude Van Johnson, his first television drama series, the 57-year-old actor tackles no fewer than three roles. He plays a fictionalised version of himself, a time-travelling doppelganger and a simpering, squeaky-voiced Bulgarian factory worker.

    Its a remarkable turnaround for the Belgian-born actor, who became a bankable action star in the 1980s and 90s in films directed by some of Hong Kongs greatest action directors, then watched as personal troubles - an addiction to cocaine, contentious divorces - scuttled his career.

    Rather than dodge the actors sometimes rocky past, the series lovingly mocks it. Throughout the six-part series, references are sprinkled to Van Damme films and life stories from the past, including parodies of training sequences and nods to his years filming in places like Bulgaria and China.

    Dave Callaham, the shows creator and showrunner, and a longtime aficionado of Van Dammes work, leapt when he heard, in 2014, that Scott Free Productions, Ridley Scotts company behind TV shows like The Good Wife and The Man in the High Castle, was trying to come up with a TV series for the action star.

    A writer on Godzilla and The Expendables, Callaham knew action, but he had more than just another Van Damme martial arts flick in mind. He envisioned something high-concept, like the critically acclaimed 2008 Belgian film JCVD, which starred Van Damme playing himself as an unwitting participant in a post office robbery. "I told them Id like to play with the notions of who he is and what he represents in the culture," Callaham said. "He was my favourite actor growing up, so I wanted to talk about the ups and downs of his career, and to do something that involved all those different worlds. And they said, great, we dont know what youre talking about."

    But Callaham was very apprehensive about how Van Damme would react when he pitched the show. "I didnt know J C personally, and I didnt know what his appetite would be for making fun of himself," he said. "A lot of those guys, those 80s guys especially, are not open to that."

    He neednt have worried. "JC was really friendly and nice," he said. "He was aware of my credits, so he mainly wanted to ask me questions about Godzilla. He had a lot of questions about Godzilla."

    Recalling gone times

    With the new show, Van Damme, a native French speaker, has no problem mocking his image. Dressed in a black Brussels, Belgium T-shirt and jeans, he spoke candidly about his early days in Hollywood trying to convince casting agents that he spoke English ("it was a catastrophe") and about past roles. "I made 40-plus movies where you see me with a gun and that one neutral face," he said.

    The series riffs on themes from those films, including time travel (the 1994 cult classic Timecop) and doppelgangers (Double Impact, from 1991), and spoofs the "anything for a buck" nature of Hollywood action films. In Huck, the shows film within a film, the hero is a brawling superpatriot in a straw hat ("I pledge allegiance to kicking ass," he says), Tom Sawyer is a woman (and Hucks lover), and Hucks runaway slave pal is changed from African-American to Chinese mid-production, in a shameless scheme to exploit the Asian market.

    The series also shows the softer side of Van Damme, who, in the film is often his own worst enemy. "I feel like hes on this real razors edge between wanting to be very big and outgoing, and wanting to really keep to himself and be very private," said Kat Foster (Weeds), who plays his black ops sidekick and ex-girlfriend. "I think JCVJ is a homage to the quieter parts of him, the parts of him that he prefers to hide."

    As he awaits the international reaction to the show (which is set to air in more than 200 countries and territories), Van Damme is keeping busy on a variety of projects. Hes helping train mixed martial arts fighters (in the past, hes worked with the Diaz Brothers and UFC champion Georges St.-Pierre) and working to create a sanctuary for endangered animals in Australia. But hes most excited about the series, which he calls the highlight of this year, and which will have its world premiere on December 12 at the Grand Rex theatre in Paris.

    "When I lost my Timecop fame because of some stupidity, and then I didnt do any theatrical film for nine, 10 years except Expendables 2, I said to my mother, Before you go, Mama, Im gonna make sure Im back in theatres, and well have a big premiere in Paris," he said. "And now its happening. Shes 83, and everything I told my mama is happening now."

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  • 12/08/17--17:36: She's the boss lady
  • A female boss? Shes just having a bad day. Dont bother with her, shes PMSing. Shes just out to show her power. God forbid, if youre a woman and have a lady heading your team. God forbid if youre a man and have to contend with a lady boss!

    Heard these cringe-worthy statements before? Well, Neha Dhupias Maria from Tumhari Sulu breaks these stereotypes with such a resounding whack that you want to stand there and applaud just for her. Its so difficult to put her character down in words - shes what any right-thinking person is - rational, warm, fun-loving, strict, yet understanding. In Maria, Neha Dhupia has arguably given one of her best performances till date.

    "Thanks, it feels good to know that people found my character interesting, and my acting worth their while. Of course, we wanted Maria Sood to shape up in a certain way that would make people think differently about the women workforce, especially about female bosses. If we have managed to do that, its a great feeling," says Neha Dhupia, as we caught up with her over the initial response to her film.

    For friends

    The actor, who has worked in Malayalam, Telugu and Punjabi films besides Hindi, seems immensely pleased by her choice. But she confesses it was less of a choice and more of a diktat from her friends whom she would give anything for. "Atul (Kasbekar) and Tanuj (Garg) are very close friends. They just called one day and told me, Neha you must do this role, and I said yes without even batting an eyelid," says Neha smiling. "It helped that Maria is practically me. I didnt find it out of place to play her, it was rather natural. There was not a thing amiss."

    The near-all-woman ensemble was another incentive! "Really, how many times do we get to work with an all-women cast? And this one breaks all stereotypes at various levels; one in your face, one is that the director is a guy. There you go!" says the actor who has worked alongside Vidya Balan and RJ Malishka Mendonca in this one.

    Neha admits that Tumhari Sulu is a special film in various ways. "It is one of the films you would cherish for life, or at least, I would. Lovely and warm, a slice-of-life sort of cinema. The story is fresh and my co-actors are so talented," she says speaking about her experience with not just Vidya and Malishka, but the entire gamut of female actors she worked with in the film.

    With adman-turned-filmmaker Suresh Triveni, best known for his Mauka-Mauka ad series for the 2015 Cricket World Cup, at the helm, Neha feels that the film was always in expert hands. "The beautiful part was that a man was helming this project that had a motley of women, each of whom had strong writer-backed roles. Moreover, our director is also the writer of the film. That speaks so much for feminism and what the thought stands for, doesnt it? I personally feel Suresh is a talent to watch out for in the coming years," says Neha.

    Ask her about her experience filming the iconic Hawa Hawai song of Sridevi from Mr India and she gets all excited. "I couldnt contain my excitement when I first learnt that they are going to rework the song and Vidya, Malishka and I are to shake a leg for it!" she beams. "The thing is I am a huge fan of Sridevi, and Hawa Hawai is an absolute favourite since back then. Add to it the company I was to dance with - just beyond exciting."

    No labels for her

    If there is one thing that Neha is certain she doesnt want to be stuck in, it is in any role - as an actor or as a person. So, apart from acting in films, the actor kicked off her own production firm Big Girl Productions last year. Her first show #NoFilterNeha is a series of unadulterated, uncensored audio podcasts with Bollywood celebs, most of them friends she has cultivated over the years in the industry. The podcasts have since then had two successful seasons on the Saavn app. "I am happy that #NoFilterNeha has worked with the audiences. See, I am now in a space where I can afford to experiment and move away from the expected norm. My production house is an extension of this thought," she says, hinting at more digital content in the coming months.

    Life ahead looks exciting for the lady. She has been invited to feature in a Karan Johar short film, a sequel to Bombay Talkies. Like in the 2013 film, the sequel too will have four segments to be directed one each by Karan Johar, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee and Zoya Akhtar. Neha is also hosting the BFFs show on Colors Infinity and is also slated to host the next season of Roadies.

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  • 12/08/17--17:36: Right under the spotlight
  • Actor Karthi is a happy man. His latest film Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru has not only set the cash registers ringing but has also been getting widespread praise from different segments of the society. The film is based on a real-life incident of a team of Tamil Nadu police officers who brought to justice dreaded dacoits who were wanted in connection with a number of brutal killings and robberies in seven states across the nation. The film is being hailed as one of the finest cop films in Tamil so far.

    Talking about the film, Karthi says, "This is a story that came searching for me. I think the cops who worked on this case must have resigned themselves to the thought that the world will never ever get to know about their hard work. Maybe that is the reason why the story kept coming back again and again to us. First, it came as a newspaper report to director Vinoth, and then it came to me at different times."

    The actor is all praise for his producer S R Prabhu, who, he says, handled several problems that the team had to encounter while making the film. "It was a very demanding script and we shot it in Rajasthan. But Prabhu had a foresight about the problems the team would encounter in this long schedule and had already made suitable arrangements. But even then, there were several problems that kept arising now and then. For instance, we had to get permission from different people to shoot the sequences. Each place had a different leader from whom we had to get permission. Also, Prabhu ensured that the entire team was flown to Rajasthan rather than having half the team travel by trains. Also, he made sure that the entire team was provided good food the entire time as he knew that the only relief we had on such a gruelling schedule was food."

    In the film, the team of cops launch a nationwide hunt for the dacoits. In the process, they go from state to state checking fingerprints of established criminals to see if any of them match the prints of the criminals who have committed a series of gruesome crimes in Tamil Nadu. Interestingly, the man who plays the fingerprint expert in the film, Dhananjayan, is a cop in real life too. In fact, Dhananjayan was the fingerprint expert who travelled with the real team that cracked the difficult case.

    Talking about Dhananjayan, Karthi says, "He has acted well in the film. He would often explain to us about the aspects of reading fingerprints while shooting for the film. There is a sequence in the film that shows the fingerprint expert seeing an animal in the fingerprints of individuals. That is actually true. If you remember, the fingerprints of the criminal we were looking for in the film resembled that of a cobra. The information Dhananjayan sir gave about how the real team went about tracking the criminals was very helpful in recreating those sequences."

    Karthi also makes it clear that it is not just gratitude that he feels for the entire police force but also admiration. "Dhananjayan sir would often say while shooting that all that they would get while they were working on the case was just a jalebi and a glass of tea in the morning. They would work long hours going through fingerprints one by one to check if there were any matches. One cannot do such work just for the sake of salary. That level of commitment and dedication is possible only when one loves and respects their profession," he says.

    The actor is very pleased that it is not just the public who are impressed with the film but also the cops who actually solved the case almost two decades ago. Says Karthi,"Several police officers spoke to me after watching this film. They congratulated us for making this film and expressed their happiness. More importantly, one senior official who was part of that operation watched the film and admitted that he was moved by it."

    Now that this film is done, Karthi is gearing up for his next movie. Giving details of his upcoming project, Karthi says, "It is a big family film that is set in a village. The film is being produced by my brother Suriyas firm 2D Entertainment. It is being directed by Pandiraj sir. The film will have Sayyeshaa as the female lead. Sathyaraj sir too plays an important role in the film."

    The actor, whose career graph is heading northward, has a couple of requests for parents. Says Karthi, "Today, our kids get upset for even the smallest of things. It is not important to buy an iPhone or an iPad for our kids. What we need to teach our children today is the fact that failures are an integral part of life. Only then will they grow stronger. Today, if we chide a youngster for coming in late to work, they dont even turn up for work the next day. They cant even subject themselves to a small correction. Instead of buying them gadgets, spend some quality time with them."

    He adds, "The other issue that I want to raise is the amount of pressure that we put on kids. It is that time of the year again when exams are around the corner. Parents tend to put pressure on children saying, I am struggling to make you study. Please score high marks. We cannot afford to pay huge sums of money to get a medical college seat. Please dont put pressure on children. My dad has never asked me how much I scored. He would say, If you study well, your life will be good. I understood what he meant and began studying well. As I have a daughter myself, these thoughts keep coming back to me. We need to guide our children correctly," the actor signs off.

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  • 12/08/17--17:38: Multitasker, chording genius
  • He is a big fan of Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran. His favourite genre of music is acoustic pop. And yes, he dreams of making big waves in Bollywood soon, as a Brit-Indian singer. Meet the young and effusive Akash Mehta, who works full-day in Paris as a digital project manager, as he moonlights as a singer by passion.

    Of course, celebrations are in the air as Akash has just touched 3,00,000 followers on Instagram, and qualifies as a mid-tail influencer.

    Quite a coup, at 23. Prod him a bit and he shakes his head, visibly baulking at the idea of turning into a full-time influencer. "My posts primarily circle fashion, food and fitness, but my social media success... I would dub that as a happy accident," laughs Akash. "My music career in 2012 trickled down to my Instagram account, the following from which continued to grow steadily when I starting to blog," he says. What sprung him to the international limelight zone was his charity single with the cricket legend Chris Gayle, for UNICEF. "Chris and I are good friends and ended up discussing music over dinner one day. That led to the making of the song We Heroes, and the rest is history," he shares.

    Akash recorded his first venture at the famous Arcadium Studios with music producer Sam Kennedy. He was mentored by The X Factor finalist Ruth Lorenzo and produced the song End of Time with her. At 23, he is also a verified Spotify artiste with a cover of Miley Cyruss Wrecking Ball reaching over 6,00,000 plays.

    What about his formal training? "Honestly, Im mostly self-taught, and this involves a lot of shower singing. However, during the past year, Ive taken some intense vocal lessons conducted by a celebrity vocalist. These sessions have helped me tremendously in understanding the range and scope of my voice, and in bettering my performances," says Akash, who has sung extensively as part of A cappella group, Techtonics, during his university days in London. "Every Saturday, regardless of rain or shine we used to assemble at Portobello Road in London and sing on the streets!" he recalls.

    Next is the release of his new single, Runaway Girl (part of an extended play). "It is my dream to have my music played all over the world, and hopefully end up inspiring some people, too!" he says with his signature smile.

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