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    The past year was a good one for actor Shraddha Srinath. After impressing the Kannada audience with Operation Alamelamma and the bilingual project Richie, she is all set to charm movie buffs with the political drama Godhra. She took some time off her busy schedule to talk to Tini Sara Anien about films and more.

    Is working in other film industries different from Sandalwood?

    No. The style of working is the same everywhere. The obvious difference is the production value that each industry has. Its great to work in multiple industries as I am spoiled for choice. After working with Kannada, Tamil and Telugu films, I now have more choices to work with. Apart from the language, the procedures are all the same. I would love to work in more Kannada movies though.

    Tell us a bit about Godhra.

    Godhra is a political drama and has three parallel stories in it. The script draws inspiration from real-life incidents too. I play Satish Ninasams partner in the movie. The story is about Satish and my journey and the things we undergo.

    Do you analyse a lot before choosing your roles?

    When I had just stepped into the industry I was ready to take up anything. I feel I am more cautious now. Even risks have to be calculated. I think a lot before taking up a film.

    Do you get nervous when a film is ready to release?

    I dont get nervous when my film is about to hit the screens. Its normal to be nervous as an actors career depends on each project. One bad film could get one out of the race. I dont have that kind of fear though as I am always confident about the movies Im a part of.

    Of the films you have worked on, which is your favourite?

    Many would expect me to answer this as Vikram Vedha as the film was a huge success. It was a result of a lot of things. But I still hold U Turn close to my heart. I played the protagonist; it was my first film and it garnered good reviews. The movie was like a big pat on my back.

    Do you like a particular genre of films?

    I like films that make people think. I wont stick to a particular kind of role though as I do not want the audience to think that I do only intense serious films. I like dark humour and I feel it is an unexplored segment in Indian movies. I would also love to be a part of a beautiful love story.

    How often do you take a break and watch movies?

    Not as much as I would like to. There are some days I go on a movie marathon and there are months where I might not have watched a movie at all.

    Has the industry changed over the years?

    I feel the audience is more accepting now. Female-oriented characters and films draw a big crowd now.

    Whats on your mind
    now?

    I am in a happy space but I am not satisfied.


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    DJ Sheizwood, who has made a mark for himself in the music industry by churning out hits like Something Something with Mika Singh, Tu Dis Da, Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon, Haadsa and so on. After having produced and remixed more than 150 chart-bursters, DJ Sheizwood is today, one of the most celebrated DJs in India. In a chat with Surupasree Sarmmah, the DJ talks about his journey in the industry.

    How would you describe your style?

    I started as a music producer after which I adopted DJing. Progressive House music is something that I feel comfortable with. Production wise too I experiment with my music. My latest track Parde Main Rehne Do was hiphop and my biggest hit Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon was again progressive house.

    Any memorable experiences from your journey?

    There are a lot of memories that I will cherish from my journey till now. When I was doing a song which belonged to the Sufi genre and we made it into a hiphop genre it was a hit. It was an unexpected and a different experiment. This is an experience I will never forget it.

    The best mix you have created...

    Haadsa is one of the finest mixes that I have created.

    How did you decide to become a DJ?

    I have always been a music producer. I did a lot of mythological songs from the early 90s to 2000s. It so happened that I wanted to remake an old song into a new version. One of them was Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon. Slowly, it became a hit among people. I started learning this art and started playing.

    Musicians you look up to...

    R D Burman inspires me a lot and Pritam Chakraborty is another musician who I look up to. He is a dear friend. Michael Jacksons music is also an inspiration.

    What do you think of the DJ scene in India?

    There are a lot of DJ in India, but the problem is the lack of music knowledge in them because of which they are not being able to fill the voids. I personally feel that if a person wants to become a DJ, he or she should prepare themselves by learning music first and then jump into becoming a DJing, singing or music production.

    Your mantra for spinning such popular tracks...

    I create melodies as I believe melodies have a longer life.

    Whats next for you?

    I am creating a track called Teri Yaad with Babbu Maan Saheb, which will release this valentine.


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  • 02/01/18--23:58: Music venues try theme weeks
  • Whatever your favourite choice of music, you will be able to catch more focused events soon. A concept known as a gig per week or the gig week is gaining in popularity.

    The concept is simple: the shows are focused on a genre or group of artistes, and run on all days of a week or a particular day of the week for a full month.

    Gaurav Govilkar from the two-piece art rock band Iram, loved his recent gig at Orzuv restaurant in Whitefield. "The dining space and performance space were segregated, which brings the spotlight on the music. People are attentive at such concerts, which is gratifying for the artiste," he says.

    Music lovers can plan according to their interests and artistes have more guaranteed spaces to perform at, he adds. "A soft rock music fan might not like a trash metal performance. With this concept, making a choice is easier," says Gaurav.

    While conventional music festivals with a variety of genres continue to be popular, a gig per week helps create more networking opportunities. "One is a part of a brand which adds to the profile. And one meets many like-minded people," says Subhash Rao, member of hard rock and alternative rock band Switcheroo.

    Hiphop artiste Rohan Ramesh aka Neff feels the concept helps newcomers. "Such an event provides exposure," he says. Suhas VK, event and music promoter, believes that for genres like hip-hop, such a format works as a regular platform.

    "I concentrate on hip-hop as not many places take up the genre. Such events promote the venue as well as the artistes," he adds. From Bollywood-themed nights to acoustic, these events are a big draw.


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  • 02/02/18--00:00: Snack away
  • With the cafe culture that the city holds dear to itself, new cafes spring up at almost every nook and corner regularly. Among these, Cafe Kaara at Ulsoor aims to bring in relishing options in food and an ambience that one can be oneself in.

    With a simple setup, the cosy cafe which has seating inside and outside attracts Bengalureans from four to 65 years of age. Radha Nair, owner of the cafe wishes every customers experience at the place to be a personal yet memorable one. "I strongly believe in the concept that food cant be forced on anyone. This is why we keep our menu relaxed. We have listed out items that we have but we are open to tweaking it according to availability," she says.

    Barely two months old, the cafe lures many with its tasty delights. From options in shorteats to an elaborate meal, and interesting desserts to sum ones day up, the cafe has something for everyone. "It all depends on if you are looking to nibble on something or looking to satiate your hunger. We have the Green Smoothie for vegans, which has bananas, spinach flax seeds and coconut milk in it. The drink acts as a perfect meal replacement. The Chia Seed Pudding which is made with granola and hung curd is another favourite among quick bite lovers," she says. One must try the Herb Mushroom Crostini and Potato and Leek Soup too.

    For those who would like to indulge in a full-fledged meal, there are the risottos, spaghetti, Thai Curry and steaks. "Our space has a homely touch to it, which makes every bite a comforting one," says Radha.

    Desserts like the Caramel Cake, Keylime Pie, Flourless Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Tart and Tiramisu are other popular items. For the coffee lovers, the eatery offers the perfect blend. "Most people who like Americanos and Espressos, love our coffee for its blend," she adds.

    Ask Radha about the story behind the name of the cafe and she quickly adds, "The cafes name comes from my childrens names Karthikeyan and Ragini. They have been my inspiration for everything and this is my way of remembering them in everything I love doing."

    For those who would like to relax and spend quality time with a dear one or just chill by themselves, the cafe is the perfect place to be. It offers free Wi-Fi and a good parking space.

    Cafe Kaara is located at no 29, Ulsoor Main Road, opposite Salarpuria Windsor.

    For details, call 25586860/9449573082.


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    Popularly known as the live queen, singer Ambili Menon, has quite a fan following. The singer, who recently launched her debut original single, Behti Paaniyan, feels this piece is special because it literally kick-started her journey as a singer and songwriter. She wants her compositions to reflect her experiences and help her discover more of the singer in her. She wants every song to document the journey of a her life.

    In an interview with Nina C George, Ambili, talks about her latest project and journey so far.

    What is Behti Paaniyan about?

    Behti Paaniyan is a song that is very close to my heart. The song is an exploration into the concept of alter egos. Its a song where you will see Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde so to speak, you will see two conflicting personalities in juxtaposition with each other. I think for this reason it is such an interesting single to debut with. Its not conventional, not "Bollywoodised," it is just me.

    Where do you draw your energy from?

    That is an interesting question. If you talk about live gigs, the energy always comes from my audience - they are my fuel. On a philosophical note, however, I think the energy comes from having an incredible source of inspiration, which can be anything. It can be an artist who you admire and love who perks you up, it can be a song that youve heard on the radio or it could even be an amazing session in my studio.

    What do you think sets you apart as a musician?

    I am not trying to be different. I am just trying to be myself - finding myself with each new song I sing, discovering more facets to me and my persona. I think that in itself is the biggest achievement that you can have not just as a musician but as a human being.

    What inspires you?

    My Guru Pandit Ravi Jule is a huge source of inspiration for me. Someday, I hope to sing like him. But I am also inspired by the works of Beyonce, Rihanna, Adele and Taylor Swift. I am also inspired by musicians who write and produce their own music.

    What category would you slot your music?

    Hip-Hop is my first love. Electronic and dance pop comes next. So most of my work will revolve around these genres.

    How would do you describe yourself?

    Insanely happy, hyperactive and also as a rider on the storm.

    How do you overcome negativity?

    I am extremely emotional and I take my work very personally. Negativity messes with my head quite a bit. It takes me a while to shirk negative energy. Luckily, I am quite the bundle of positivity, so I meet nice people but trolls rattle me quite a bit. In fact thats my resolution for the year - to not let someone dampen my spirits.

    The challenges you face...

    For me the challenges are more internal than external. They are more in my journey of self-discovery. Who am I as a songwriter, how do I get an idea across to a discerning audience, where do we go from here musically? I think thats a process of self-discovery - that challenging albeit, will be extremely gratifying. I love the ride and I love the high.


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  • 02/02/18--00:04: Steaks are high
  • It was a quiet Sunday evening when I visited The Grill House located in Kalyan Nagar. The wooden structure of the place, that resembles an old cottage house, was the first thing that grabbed my attention. The terrace converted into a restaurant lets you can enjoy the outside view and the cool Bengaluru breeze while you tuck into your meal.

    The restaurant is quite spacious and has enough room for people to move around. The walls are decorated with posters and guitars converted into bookshelves. The ambience is dimly lit which gives out a relaxed vibe. Ask for a glass of Mint Cooler or Blue Bolt to refresh yourself. The drinks are instant energisers.

    While you take slow sips, ask for a plate of Chilli Cheese Toast and Crispy Fried Chicken. Though the Chilly Cheese Toast is a good start, the Crispy Fried Chicken doesnt go down too well. The chicken seems undercooked and extremely oily.

    If you are looking for an alternate option, you can try the Buffalo Wings. The finely fried wings tossed in the signature hot sauce is a mouthwatering choice. You can choose the spice to be either mild, medium or hot according to your mood. Dont be shy if you cant resisting licking your fingers a little.

    The main course is on its way, so try not to stuff yourself. You can go for a plate of Cheese and Chicken Steak. The chicken is perfectly cooked and quite soft. However, the dish can come across as
    too spicy for some people.

    The Fiery Chicken Leg steak is another sumptuous dish that you can try if you are looking for something extremely hot. What impressed me is the quality of service of the restaurant. It is fast, so your hunger pangs dont die down due to waiting. If stars matter, I would give this place a 3.5 on 5.

    The Grill House is located at 507, first floor, 4th Cross, 2nd Block, CMR Road, Kalyan Nagar. For details, call 7676554493.


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    Poor things. No matter how fat their bank balance, netas just cant flaunt their expensive tastes.

    Gone are the days when white and white was the hallmark of the Indian neta. Today, the sartorial preferences of politicians are closely watched. The moment they are caught wearing a luxury brand, they are drenched in dripping sarcasm.

    Rahul babas jacket dance in Shillong

    Rahul Gandhi
    Congress president

    Desperately trying to get out of the race for the post of the most trolled politician, Rahul unwittingly wore a Burberry jacket at a recent music event in Shillong. While the BJP, whose government he had ridiculed as suit boot, went berserk with criticism. Congress members came up with all sorts of explanations, from cheap copy to unsolicited gift. The young leader will have to go back to his crinkled white kurtas for the time being.

    Burberry jacket: Rs 70,000

    When even Modis suit said Modi Modi

    Narendra Modi
    Prime minister

    Narcissism touched all-new levels when he wore a dark pinstripe suit embroidered with his own name. Social media laughed itself hoarse while political rivals had a field day criticising the outfit. One can only imagine the pain our self- and selfie-loving PM must have gone through when the suit was auctioned off. And by the way, it entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the most expensive suit (clothing) sold.

    Custom embroidered suit: Rs 10 lakh

    Watch you doing, chief minister?

    Siddaramaiah
    Chief minister

    The leader with a socialist background invited flak for wearing a flashy Hublot wristwatch. From claiming to not remember the name of the gifter initially (how ungrateful!) to offering to sell the watch to political rival H D Kumaraswamy (why on earth?), Siddaramaiah indulged in a series of gaffes before declaring it a state asset and handing it over to the Speakers office.

    Hublot: Rs 70 lakh

    Mamata and her Rado to popularity

    Mamata Banerjee
    Chief minister, West Bengal

    She has escaped scrutiny because people mostly only see her mundane white sari and Hawai chappals. Look closely and you can spot the Rado watch and iPhone.

    Rado watch: Rs 22,000 onwards; iPhone: Rs 25,000 onwards

    Audi, Cooper and communism

    Kodiyeri Balakrishnan

    This senior CPI-M leader from Kerala and his son are fond of four-wheel beauties. Balakrishnan took a Rs 44 lakh Mini Cooper for a rally, and his son Binoy faces charges of financial fraud. A Dubai-based tourism company says he took a loan from them to buy an Audi A8 and cheated them.

    Mini Cooper: Rs 44 lakh; Audi A8: Rs 1.75 crore

    Other leaders who got a dressing down:

    Hina Rabbani Khar, the then Pakistani foreign minister, hit the headlines during her maiden visit to India in 2011 for her jaw-droppingly expensive Hermès Birkin bag.

    Melania Trump wore Manolo Blahnik stilettos during a trip to hurricane-ravaged Texas, that were denounced as impractical and elitist, adjectives commonly used to describe her husband Donald.

    Theresa May: The British prime minister wore leopard-print heels and costly leather trousers, and the tabloids went to town with stories about them.


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  • 02/02/18--21:55: Snippets Jan 16
  • This worm lost a quarter of its DNA

    Inspecting the tiny roundworms Caenorhabditis briggsae (C briggsae) and Caenorhabditis nigoni (C nigoni) through a microscope, youd have trouble telling them apart. Both are about a millimetre long and transparent. The key distinction between the two nematodes is their sex lives. Sex in C nigoni takes place between a male and a female. But only a small minority of C briggsae are males. The rest are hermaphroditic females that reproduce by self-fertilising or selfing. This sexual switch may have caused profound changes at the genetic level for C briggsae. In a study published in the journal Science, biologists reported that C briggsae lost thousands of genes - a staggering quarter of its genome - since it diverged from C nigoni a million years ago.

    In their study, the biologists compared C briggsae and C nigoni, and discovered that C briggsae has about 7,000 fewer genes. Digging into a specific example of what C briggsae lost when it dumped all those genes, the researchers studied male secreted short genes, which have been found in all studied Caenorhabditis species except those with selfing hermaphrodites.

    4D physics in two dimensions

    For the first time, physicists have built a 2D experimental system that allows them to study the physical properties of materials that were theorised to exist only in 4D space. A team of researchers from USA, Switzerland and Israel have demonstrated that the behaviour of particles of light can be made to match predictions about the 4D version of the quantum Hall effect in a 2D array of waveguides.

    A paper describing the research appeared in the journal Nature along with a paper from a separate group from Germany that has shown that a similar mechanism can be used to make a gas of ultracold atoms exhibit 4D quantum Hall physics as well.

    When Will Humans Live on Mars?

    Up until very recently, space travel and exploration has been an activity that only government-funded mega-ventures have been capable of taking part in. Advancements in aeronautics and space engineering have opened the door for private companies to enter this arena, and VICE spinoff Motherboards documentary When Will Humans Live on Mars? profiles some of the leading companies working to make space more accessible. As has often been the case throughout history, the drive to make a buck is the primary intent of what the filmmakers coin Space 2.0. It also offers insights into the growing space tourism industry. To watch, visit www.bit.ly/1z60dSo.

    The key molecule in cell fate regulation

    One of the most important steps for understanding our brains is the regulation of the development of neurons and glial cells from a common progenitor neural cell. Unlocking the specifics of this neuronâ€"glial cell-fate switch is perhaps crucial to understanding how a functional nervous system is built.

    In this light, researchers from India and Belgium have discovered a key molecule called Dmrt5 involved in this cell fate regulation. While studying the mouses hippocampus, scientists had previously shown the role of another molecule - Lhx2 - in this decision. They had demonstrated that higher levels of Lhx2 promoted the production of neurons and suppressed the production of glial cells in the mouses brain, whereas lower levels of Lhx2 had the opposite effect.

    Now, they have shown that Dmrt5 can also mimic Lhx2 to produce the same effects of increasing production of neurons and suppressing the production of glial cells. They also observed that both Lhx2 and Dmrt5 were seen to compensate for each others loss in the mouses hippocampus. The findings could be an important step towards unravelling the neuron-glial cell-fate switch.

    Odd directional preference

    Scientists analysing results of spinning protons striking different sized atomic nuclei at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) found an odd directional preference in the production of neutrons.

    Imagine playing a game of billiards, putting a bit of counter-clockwise spin on the cue ball and watching it deflect to the right as it strikes its target ball. Now imagine your counter-clockwise spinning cue ball striking a bowling ball instead, and deflecting more strongly - but to the left - when it strikes the larger mass.

    This what the scientists noticed when analysing results of spinning protons striking different sized atomic nuclei. Neutrons produced when a spinning proton collides with another proton come out with a slight rightward-skew preference. But when the spinning proton collides with a larger nucleus, the neutrons direction switches to the left.


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  • 02/01/18--15:36: He's getting serious
  • In Hindi, the word jawan means both youthful and a soldier. Sidharth Malhotra, who made his debut in Student Of The Year (2012), has kind of combined the two in his latest film, Aiyaary, scheduled for release on February 9.

    As a youthful army colonel in this film (complete with a romantic angle), the young actor, who has exhibited an amazing variety in his roles and films so far, plays an officer who has learnt everything from his mentor, a major (played by Manoj Bajpayee), but then has a clash with him.

    For good measure, the young man also celebrated his birthday on January 16 with the Border Security Force (BSF) jawans at Jaisalmer.

    In reality

    When we meet Sidharth, we ask about his experience of spending time with the soldiers, and of sharing his birthday with them. "It was fascinating," smiles the actor. "There are more than a thousand jawans there, and there were almost 20 of them who shared my birthday, so we cut a cake with all of them."

    We believe they all also did a lot of army activities along with the real soldiers. Sidharth nods, "When we shared their activities, we realised how hard they work for our country. We just wanted to spend a day with them and give them good memories with some recreation, singing and dancing. We wanted to make them laugh and smile. That is all we can give back to them, because what they all do for us is too high in value. I thanked them for making my birthday special."

    The knowledge that Sidharth gained from them first-hand was priceless. "We get fed up with our day-to-day jobs and take occasional breaks, but they cannot! They are always on guard, often looking in one direction for hours, holding a gun. Their resilience and discipline make my stress look so tiny," he raves.

    Sidharth also came out amazed at the many aspects he gleaned from the enriching days with the jawans. "How our border is manned, and the manpower that is being used, and the money that is spent by our government is insane. We all take such things totally for granted, especially in the big cities."

    Sidharth smilingly admits that he was also clueless "like most of us" about many other things. "Did you know that the BSF and the Army have different jobs and come under different ministries? Then we have the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW), the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Military Intelligence - all different organisations. The BSF is on-ground 24/7, but we appreciate them only in times of war. But whatever the weather, these people have to keep relentless vigil."

    Coming to the films title, did it not whet his curiosity? "It did! It did!" he grins. "The intriguing part was not knowing its meaning and yet finding it interesting. My first conversation with Neeraj-sir was about what Aiyaary means. He told me that it was a Persian word that he had read in the book Chandrakanta. It translated into "the ultimate trickster". These are shape-shifters who can change their form at will, and the term is so apt for military intelligence agents."

    Does the film also talk about ones internal enemy, like Prahaar and Sarfarosh did? "Yes, it does talk about ones point of view on corruption and politics," he says. "But in this thriller, the actual tussle is between Manojs character and mine. You see, Manoj has taught me everything I know. When we clash, he tries to stop me, and I run away. Within that cat-and-mouse game that follows, there are a lot of messages. Also, there is a lot of grey and no clear blacks or whites, which makes it even more exciting."

    The impressive ensemble cast (Anupam Kher, Naseeruddin Shah, Kumud Mishra, Adil Hussain) are all first-time co-stars for Sidharth, apart from Manoj. How was it working with them all? "I am happy that there was space in this for me," he quips. "The point is that I have sequences almost exclusively with Manoj-sir, not all of them. But I found out about the rest of the cast only after signing the film. And that kind of ups your game, because these are experienced names that have done credible work across all mediums."

    About Manoj, he says, "Like all of them, Manoj-sir treats acting like a true loyalist to theatre. We had acting workshops and I saw the preparations he did. He was also sweet enough to talk to me about Urdu diction and the techniques he followed. When we shot this crucial scene in London, where I am speaking a lot to him, it was daunting. There were no crutches to hold as an actor, and I was just up and close with my anger. But I knew actors like Manoj-sir do not falter. That gave me the confidence and made me prepare more."

    Competition galore

    Sidharth is completely confident about Aiyaary. "Neeraj-sir gives a lot of thought to every word he writes and to every frame he shoots," he says. "Ideally, every film should release solo, but we moved ahead when Padmaavat had to release opposite PadMan." (Exactly an hour after the interview was over, PadMan was shifted because of Padmaavat and now the two films are again competing on February 9!)

    As an outsider, how does he find his journey so far, with respect to industry contemporaries Varun Dhawan, Ranveer Singh, Tiger Shroff and Arjun Kapoor? "Its too early to comment on this when even senior actors are assessed only after 10 or 15 years," he says after a moments thought. "All my films so far have been varied. There have been action films, romantic films, family films and ensemble-cast films. I think that is the way forward. Aiyaary, in that sense, is my first real and relevant film that will make a difference."

    How does he deal with criticism, especially the constructive kind? "Oh, I have hardly got that, its been mostly destructive," he laughs. "Even with my last film, A Gentleman: Sundar, Susheel, Risky, I did get some cool reviews, but many trolled me. The release date was bad luck - Mumbai faced a deluge and the Ram Rahim arrest problem wiped out key North Indian territories. In hindsight, I came to know that even the title did not reflect a tough, mainstream actioner. But all my films are dear to me."


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  • 02/01/18--15:38: She's a dove in the wind
  • As a songwriter, SZA is known for her acute self-awareness - she writes about the mechanics of desire and insecurity with such a penetrating gaze, her music can feel almost indecent to listen to. But that extraordinary instinct for self-examination can cause complications, too. The R&B singer, born Solána Rowe, second-guessed her debut album so thoroughly that it was delayed for a year. The head of her record label says that self-doubt is her "kryptonite."

    In a rehearsal space on the edge of Manhattan in December, where the Los Angeles-based artiste was practising for a performance on Saturday Night Live, her kryptonite announced itself. She recalled the stinging experience of working on her album Ctrl, released last year.

    Not so sure

    "My anxiety had been telling me the whole time that it sucked," said the singer, 27, soft-spoken and unreserved in a fluorescent-lit office. In an oversized woolly sweater, with one foot in a chunky Balenciaga sneaker slung reflexively over the top of a wooden desk, she could still enumerate the records flaws.

    Its sonic palette was too shallow, she said; its concepts and word choices were too redundant; its hooks could have been stronger. At one point while recording it, she threatened on Twitter to quit music altogether. When her label intervened and scheduled the album for release, she said, she "just wanted to hurry up and fail."

    But the opposite happened. Ctrl emerged as one of the years most critically acclaimed albums and became a talisman for young women, particularly young women of colour, who saw themselves in its unflinching parables of sexual liberation and emotional liability. At the 60th annual Grammy Awards, she was the most nominated woman, with five nods, including best new artist.

    After last years ceremony, where Beyoncés best album faced defeat and Frank Oceans abstention prompted sharp criticism and sparked the #GrammysSoWhite hashtag, SZA is at the forefront of a wave of ethnically diverse young artistes (including the 19-year-old singer Khalid and Donald Glovers hip-hop adjacent alter ego Childish Gambino) who swept nominations in many of the top categories this year.

    All the accolades have left her inner critic bereft. SZA said the experience - of persistent self-suspicion colliding with overwhelming external praise - had so unmoored her that she came up with a name for the condition: "dysmorphia."

    "You wonder, Are you delusional? Is something wrong with you?" she said. "I never imagined anything like this would happen in a million years."

    Part of her still cant. "I guess Ill have to re-evaluate my life," she said, asked what shell do if she ends up winning a Grammy. A compliment, for her, has become a kind of crisis, too. "Because then the dysmorphia would really be hitting a peak."

    In an industry where the youngest stars radiate the most heat, SZA was a relatively late bloomer. She self-released her first EP at 22 and came to music as a refuge from jobs as a bartender and a sales assistant on the floor at Sephora. She was born to a Catholic communications executive mother and a Muslim television producer father in St. Louis. The family moved to suburban Maplewood, New Jersey, when she was 10.

    As a child, her life was circumscribed by gymnastics practice and Islamic prep school, realms where discipline and accountability were sacrosanct. Music was freeing, low pressure. "I was just kind of stumbling through it, very novice," she said of the first songs she wrote at the urging of her brother, a rapper. "It was music made in a closet with beats stolen off the internet."

    In 2011, SZA was working part-time for a streetwear company in New York when she met the president of Top Dawg Entertainment, Terrence Henderson, known as Punch. He was in town for a concert headlined by the labels star artiste, Kendrick Lamar, which happened to be sponsored by her employer. Mr. Henderson heard SZAs music - a friend took the initiative and played it for him, to the singers horror - and didnt bite at first. But he kept in touch and ended up signing her three years later.

    The two EPs SZA released on her own in the interim - See.SZA.Run (2012) and S (2013) - were early salvos in a revolution in R&B. They shared as much DNA with hip-hop, Björk and left-of-centre electronic music of artistes like Toro y Moi and Purity Ring, as they did with Brandy or Jill Scott, inspiring comparisons to contemporary iconoclasts like the Weeknd and Frank Ocean.

    Her lyrics at the time were a world away from the open diary of Ctrl. Songs like Time Travel Undone and Aftermath were saturated in oblique imagery and abstract symbolism. And, as if to complete the obfuscation, her vocals were submerged in reverb and atmospherics, giving them a disembodied quality.

    When critics accused her of mistaking style for substance, she took it to heart. "People would say (expletive) like I dont know who she is, I dont know what shes talking about, this is boring, " SZA said. "And I realised that I was bored with myself. I was just feeling and emoting with no structure and no intent."

    As real as it gets

    On Ctrl, her objectives were transparency and humanity. She wanted to exhibit a red-blooded mind and body at work, to give voice to everything that she had once concealed. On Supermodel, the albums opening track, she jabs an absent beau with spiteful taunts ("You was a temporary lover") before turning the knife on herself ("Why am I so easy to forget?"). On the single Drew Barrymore, a confession of putative sins ("Im sorry Im not more ladylike, Im sorry I dont shave my legs at night") becomes a defiant rallying cry.

    The writer and producer Issa Rae, who used multiple songs from Ctrl in Season 2 of her series Insecure, said it was SZAs sharp turn toward candour that made her take notice. Like Insecure - and the surprise blockbuster of last summer, the movie Girls Trip - the specificity of Ctrl gave it particular resonance among a generation of young black women who have been underserved by mainstream entertainment.

    SZA said Ctrl was inspired in part by stereotypes about overbold black women and her desire to reclaim them in her personal life. Its a theme she had previewed before, in songs that ended up on projects by Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé (Feeling Myself, 2014) and Rihanna (Consideration, 2016).

    "I dont feel ashamed to be loud, which is an argument Ive had with lots of men, who thought I was too sassy and unladylike," she said. "A lot of black women get that rap, Youre loud, and unsavoury, or crass or abrasive. But I feel like that (expletive) is beautiful as hell."

    The albums unblinking, value-neutral depictions of sex and lust fed into a wider thread of visible female musicians asserting their sexual agency in their art. Like recent work by Cardi B, Tove Lo and Rihanna, it disavowed ingrained scripts in popular music, in which promiscuous men play and virtuous women get played. In her videos for Supermodel and The Weekend, she seduces the camera without being objectified by it.

    "I think a lot of sexuality was only taboo before because women werent allowed to talk about it - but women arent waiting for permission right now," SZA said.

    Though she forgot to vote for herself at the Grammys. She was up against the rapper Lil Uzi Vert and the singers Julia Michaels, Alessia Cara and Khalid - SZA said she was encouraged that the Recording Academy had recognised so many artistes of different racial backgrounds. "I think music is honest and will make you do honest things," she said.

    Her nominations have inspired her to rededicate herself to making more ambitious music, including a planned collaboration with the producer Mark Ronson (Uptown Funk) and Tame Impalas Kevin Parker, with whom she said she had recorded three songs.

    Since Ctrl was released, her concerts and meet-and-greets have become a kind a group therapy. Fans tell her about their love lives, deepest fears and private traumas. "I thought that these were just my lonely thoughts and that I was going to put them out to pasture," SZA said. "But they werent out to pasture. Other people said, Hey, I have lonely thoughts, too."

    The outpouring has shifted the artistes estimation of her work. If "dysmorphia" is a distortion of perspective, the treatment may simply be recognising that the distortion is there, and surrounding yourself with reliable witnesses. Recently, theyve given her inner critic some competition. "Its like God is slapping you in the face," SZA said of the response to Ctrl. Then she translated what God had to say: "Theres something happening and you need to be grateful and you need to be present. Im sorry that youre scared, but this is your job."

    "Ready?"


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  • 02/01/18--15:40: Excelling in varied roles
  • With both her parents pursuing the legal profession, it was but natural that Parvathy also felt drawn towards a career as a lawyer. But then, fate intervened and she ended up as an actor. In the one decade that she has been around, Parvathy has turned into a multilingual star, winning plaudits and awards galore for her riveting performances. She was first noticed by a film-maker when she was anchoring programmes in a Malayalam channel. The director offered her the role of a college student in the film Out of Syllabus.

    But Parvathy caught the eye of the audience only in her second film Notebook. A story revolving around the lives of three schoolgirls, Notebook featured Parvathy in a pivotal role and the directors gamble in casting her paid off as the film did well commercially, and the performances of the lead stars won critical acclaim. Following the success of the film, Parvathy landed roles in a few more Malayalam films, notable among them being Sathyan Anthikaads Vinodayathra.

    Her first role in a film starring a superstar was Flash, where she shared the screen with Mohanlal and Indrajith. Although the film was directed by reputed director Sibi Malayil, it had little impact at the box office. Several other lacklustre films like City of God followed before Parvathy came into her own with captivating portrayals in films like Bangalore Days, Ennu Ninte Moideen and Charlie.

    The turning point

    Ennu Ninte Moideen was based on a real-life romance in the 60s and 70s between a young Muslim youth Moideen (Prithviraj) and a Hindu girl Kanchanamala (Parvathy) from an orthodox family. An engaging film that held the attention of the audience, Ennu Ninte Moideen won a bagful of awards too. The role gave Parvathy an opportunity to reveal a whole gamut of emotions, and the films success took her several rungs up the ladder as a performer.

    Charlie proved to be another feather in her cap as Parvathy excelled in the role of a spirited lass, a graphic designer who hunts for the elusive hero. But her crowning glory came when she was adjudged the Best Actress at the recently held International Film Festival of India
    (IFFI) for her role in the film Take Off.

    In this movie, her role of a nurse caught in the eye of a storm and fighting tooth and nail to get out alive from a terrorist abduction was vividly captured on screen. Her next release in Malayalam will be My Story, where she has been paired again with her Ennu Ninte... co-star Prithviraj.

    Language no barrier

    Parvathys debut in Tamil was with the film Poo. The city-bred girl, who had until then worked mostly in urban-oriented films, was cast as a young village girl in Poo. It was a challenging role as she had to familiarise herself with the language, script, and also act out intensely emotional sequences. It was her portrayal in Poo that landed her a film opposite Dhanush, Maryan. Parvathys lip-lock in the film raised a few eyebrows but the actor remained unfazed by the barbs that came her way. She then played an inconsequential role in Kamal Haasans Uttama Villain, which almost went unnoticed.

    Her first film in Kannada was Milana with the topnotch hero Puneeth Rajkumar. It was a big hit and Kannada film-makers began to make a beeline for her. She has since starred in films like Male Barali Manju Irali and Prithvi. She also has Andhar Bahar with Shivarajkumar to her credit. Parvathys maiden outing in Bollywood where she played the lead with internationally renowned actor Irrfan Khan was the Tanuja Chandra-directed romantic comedy Qarib Qarib Singlle. Her understated portrayal in the lead role here impressed the critics and audiences alike.

    Parvathy has always been outspoken on issues like misogyny in Malayalam cinema and has recently been subjected to vicious online attacks for her condemnation of a scene in the Malayalam film Kasaba, where the hero Mammootty is seen addressing a female colleague in a highly derogatory manner. What irked the actor all the more was that an actor like Mammootty spoke such dialogues, which she felt was an affront to the dignity of women.

    When last heard, a truce had not yet been declared in this issue. Although Mammootty himself advised her not to bother about the issue, the actors fans have already begun to target her next release. The actor, who is also a part of the Womens Collective in Cinema, formed by the women working in Malayalam cinema, is determined to work hard to uphold the dignity of women in the film industry.


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  • 02/01/18--15:40: She's a pretty crusader
  • The New Year kickstarted on a fresh note for actor Dia Mirza. She has recently been appointed as the United Nations Environment Goodwill Ambassador for India. A resounding first for our country. And a first for Dia as she aligns herself in the same space with global stalwarts including Gisele Bündchen, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Angelina Jolie, Katy Perry and Emma Watson.

    "It has been a crazy week!" she enthuses as we meet in her office in suburban Mumbai (she owns the film production house Born Free Entertainment) over a cup of hot coffee. She has been the same graceful self over the years, handling work pressure with remarkable elan. At the moment, Dia is yet again busy straddling multiple assignments: Sanju, a biopic on actor Sanjay Dutt, is her latest movie project that releases in June 2018. Here, she plays the role of his wife, Maanyata. After winning hearts through her lovable performance in movies, including Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein (that marked her debut), Parineeta, Lage Raho Munnabhai, Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd., the charming, soft-spoken actor is set to unveil her next screen outing with signature panache after a long gap.

    And yes, she is one of the very few beauty pageant winners who has leveraged her celeb wattage for serious humanitarian causes as well, way beyond her tenure as a beauty queen. She has been an ardent campaigner and a zealous environmentalist pouring in efforts for saving wildlife and forests (as the ambassador of the Wildlife Trust of India and as a member of the Sanctuary Nature Foundation), and has sponsored animals in zoos across the country, while working tirelessly towards the betterment of children in the health sector as the first Indian ambassador for Save the Children foundation.

    Conversant with the length and breadth of the country (her erstwhile adventure travel and food documentary Ganga â€" The Soul of India got her to deeply explore this treasured realm), Dia grew up, with both her school and her family making her understand that our environment is the pivot of our existence. "The concept of need versus greed was ingrained in us right from the very start," she shares. "So, I am used to questioning myself each time I make a purchase, as in do I really need what I am buying?" shares Dia.

    It has been an organic growth for her, from enjoying sunrise picnics with her folks as a child to planting trees, learning the names of butterflies and composting. Even in space-starved Mumbai, she has carved her own green patch in a lush terrace garden (in an apartment where she lives with her husband Saahil Sangha) that beckons about 18 beautiful parakeets at the crack of dawn, every day, amidst a cluster of other feathered friends and bees.

    "My logic is that if I use something, I need to know where it is going to go," she says simply. Dia has been working towards reducing her carbon footprint in her own way by using locally grown and available goods, shunning plastic (using bamboo toothbrushes and glass bottles), segregating waste (including e-waste) and biodegradable options for sanitary health. Her perspective is to enjoy the abundance of nature for a healthier life.

    "I believe convenience is a lie. We need to go back to basics to trim the health hazards that we have created for ourselves and our future generations. Environmental degradation and climate change have crossed dangerous levels and are impacting millions of people across the globe, now more than ever before. Therefore, it becomes our responsibility at this critical junction to cultivate some consciousness and compassion towards our environment, create awareness among people, mobilise their support in making lifestyle changes, and build sustainable innovations for sustainable development," she enthuses as she rallies support for the Swachh Bharat Mission.

    "Honestly, I want to encourage people to make better choices in life. After all, every little bit counts. I strongly believe that I am a citizen of the planet first, and then belong to a nation."


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  • 02/01/18--15:42: It's a matter of taste
  • One of the popular TV faces in the country today, Australian chef Gary Mehigan is all set to explore Indias bustling culinary scene in a new way. He has teamed up with Fox Life for a new show titled Masters of Taste with Gary Mehigan to discover and unearth the new age and innovative cooking and food presentation techniques that are taking the Indian food industry by storm today.

    Through a number of episodes, Gary will visit some upmarket restaurants of the country and experience first-hand the countrys evolving culinary landscape. He will also meet some of the finest chefs of the country and work with them in kitchens trying to create some great dishes. Through this new show, he is also poised to learn how Indians are evolving socially and looking for fresh and out-of-the-box experiences. This self-confessed fan of Indian food will also demonstrate how viewers can recreate restaurant-style dishes in the comfort of ones home through this show, which is his first-ever Indian production.

    Here are edited excerpts from an exclusive conversation:

    Tell us about your new show on Fox Life.

    The new show is called Masters of Taste, and I basically get to meet a whole lot of inspiring chefs and cooks, and some celebrities then join me in my studio, so I can show them a thing or two about what I have learned and been inspired by.

    What can viewers expect from this show?

    They can expect lots of culinary diversity, different styles of Indian cooking, as well as desserts, Asian food, and some of my favourite dishes. And of course, lots of great conversations about food, too.

    Culinary shows on television are dime a dozen today. What differentiates this particular show from others?

    I think there are a lot of shows out there because there is a lot to talk about and discover when it comes to food. This is my Indian food journey, wherein I dig my fingers into the local culinary scene and unearth the very best of Indian food, chefs and trends. We get to have a bit of fun with local foodies and some big celebrities in my kitchen, and watch them get their hands dirty too.

    This is your first ever Indian production on TV. How was the experience?

    It was a great experience. The production team became friends, they were a great crew who worked hard, were passionate about what we were doing, and made the experience fantastic for me.

    Do you have any memorable episode or incident from the show that you would like to share with us?

    I think cooking and eating with Chef Ranveer Brar at Mukesh Mills, Mumbai, was an incredible way to start the series. Located opposite Sassoon Docks, its a special place, a little surreal and maybe a little eerie, but I felt very privileged to be there. Ranveers cooking was generous and wonderful. He shared several traditional Lucknowi recipes that were close to his heart, which made the experience even more special.

    You have always talked about how you love Indian cuisine and have many traditional utensils in your kitchen also. What about Indian cuisine excites you?

    Most of all, I love the fact the food here is such a huge part of everyday life. It is so often at the centre of conversation or argued about endlessly. Each region is immensely proud of its traditional ingredients and recipes, so for a foodie like me, its heaven. There is so much to discover and taste, and I want to be a part of that everyday conversation.

    How different are the Indian restaurants in India and back home in Australia?

    Most Indian restaurants in Australia are serving the same thing. If you understand that like many countries around the world our first taste of Indian food was born out of waves of immigration, and for Australia, it was about 30 years ago. Its mainly heavier northern Indian curries adapted to ingredients they found when they first came here. Not bad but stuck in a time warp and ready for an update. I think the time is right to export brilliant regional food from all over India and believe me, we would lap it up.

    Do you make any New Year resolutions? If yes, what are they?

    In my life, I make resolutions every day… Some I stick to, others I dont. And occasionally, I revisit and have another go. Life aint over till its over, and the basket is never empty!

    What are your future projects? Do you have any aspirations to open a restaurant
    in India?

    I certainly like the idea and I also like the idea of opening a cool Indian restaurant in Australia. I plan to do a lot more in India over the coming years and Id love to find something that would tie everything together. However, right now, Im having way too much fun doing what Im doing.

    (Masters of Taste with Gary Mehigan goes on air on February 26 on Fox Life at 9 pm)


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    Mary J Blige was honoured with a Hollywood Walk of Fame star on January 11, her birthday, and it gave the 47-year-old singer and actor ever more affirmation that she made the right move three years ago when she left New York for Los Angeles. She needed it.

    Bliges marriage was falling apart when she landed the role of a sharecroppers wife, Florence, in Dee Reess lauded film Mudbound, and she poured her pain into the performance, earning multiple awards nominations. Her divorce has become tabloid fodder, but, undaunted, Blige has continued to campaign and show up at awards ceremonies.

    I spoke with Blige in Beverly Hills on the eve of the Golden Globes, where the star joined the movement to wear black in support of victims of sexual harassment. She said she intimately understood the pain of keeping such secrets, having been abused herself for much of her childhood. "From the time I was 5 up until almost adulthood, Ive had those exact kinds of things happen to me," she said. Here are edited excerpts from our interview:

    Do you consider Mudbound a breakthrough performance?

    Definitely. Its the one that people are taking me seriously about. Its not a game for me. Its not, Give Mary J Blige a role, and because shes a singer, she can play games with it. Theres too many women that have paved the way, like Queen Latifah, and (Taraji P Henson), and all of those really strong women. I dont ever want to insult them by not taking the craft seriously.

    Dee Rees has said that your concerts are like therapy for 30,000 people because youre so raw with your emotions. How did you channel that into acting, where, especially cinematically, its on your face so closely?

    That character was a place for me to just give everything that I was dealing with.
    I was dealing with my own personal pain. I was really suffering. This was the place to just rest all this pain, and rest all of this confusion, but still at the same time trying to be a strong woman.

    Youre a glamour icon. You had to strip down everything for this role. No makeup, no wigs. Did that make you feel extra vulnerable?

    The first couple of days it was hard, because I didnt realise I was depending on so many things to make me feel beautiful. So when Dee was, like, No, we want your all-natural hair, and I said, No, well, can we do a lace front? Can she have wavy hair? I didnt want my own textured hair. Because its not the nicest textured hair. And I didnt really want that to be seen. Those are the things I didnt even realise that I was so insecure about. I didnt realise I was so vain. I didnt realise I was not that deep.

    Thats not really fair to say, though.

    But it taught me a lesson. It taught me to love myself deeper. Because once I just exposed and let Florence live, I just went against the fear. It filled me up with a newfound love and a newfound confidence. It was tough at first. It was tough because I was really trying to get rid of Mary J Blige, who was used to wigs and weaves and make-up.

    What was your reaction when you saw the first daily of you as Florence?

    I couldnt believe it. I was not looking at myself; I was looking at a character. When I saw it at Sundance, I just broke down and cried.

    Why?

    Just to see that character and how strong she was and how much pain she was dealing with at the same time. Every other movie Ive been in, Ive seen myself. Rock of Ages, I see Mary J Blige. Prison Song, I saw Mary J Blige. But I didnt see myself (in Mudbound), which was creepy. I was, like, Who is that? Yeah, so mission accomplished.

    Has Mudbound opened other doors acting-wise?

    A lot of scripts are coming in. People want to work with me. And it doesnt change anything. Im still going to work hard. Im still going to get whatever coach I need to bring whatever character to life. So many beautiful things are happening.

    Is faith helping you as well with this?

    Of course. If it wasnt for faith, if it wasnt for God, Id be dead, seriously. From 2016 to now, this is all God. This is all a blessing. Theres so many things that are being completely pruned and wiped away to prepare me for this.


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  • 02/02/18--21:10: Silambam in sari
  • Meet Aishwarya Manivannan, the multifaceted young woman from Chennai who has opened the eyes of millions to the ancient martial art of Silambam. Wrapping martial arts in a timeless sari, she makes a powerful statement on feminism.

    Does the distance between duel and duet get bridged anytime? Such is the intriguing case of martial arts, the ancient Silambam of Tamil Nadu in particular.

    Swirling a bamboo stick, not missing a step, power and grace in tandem… Aishwarya Manivannan makes you understand why Silambam is called a martial art - a choreographed physical foray that is about self-defence and warfare, and about coordinated choreography and grace.

    For Aishwarya, Silambam is also about reconnecting with her roots and exploring the horizons of art and history. A bharatanatyam dancer and an art-and-design educator too, Aishwarya puts it this way, "Silambam is an aspect of where I come from; it springs from the root cause of all I do," she says.

    Originating some 3,000 years back in ancient Tamil Nadu, documented by Rsi Agastya among others, with its earliest documentation discovered so far being Kambu Sootram in Silappadikaram and other Sangam literature, and patronised by Chola, Chera and Pandya kings, Silambam is the mother and the most ancient of the worlds martial arts.

    Stick to it

    Obviously, the bamboo stick is key to this art, Silambam originating from the word silam meaning hill in Tamil, and perambu meaning bamboo. The other weapons are the maan kombu maduvu or deer horn, vel kambu or spear, vaal or sword, surul vaal or metal whip, sedi kuchi or short slender bamboo sticks used in pairs, and the like.

    Silambam was a key part of ancient Tamil warriors defence/warfare tactics. Somewhat known is the fact that Silambam was employed by the warrior queen Velu Nachiyar, who fought against the British long before the legendary Rani of Jhansi.

    In time, forced by colonisation, Silambam was performed in temples to the beat of music, the urumi drum in particular, and the martial art morphed into a performing art.

    In the last few decades, Silambam has emerged as a sports form, in combat and non-combat categories, and as individual and team events. There are world championships and federations dedicated to Silambam today, with contenders to the title from Uzbekistan and Taiwan to Portugal and the Philippines.

    It is a registered sport, with a belt system like that of Karate. In the 2016 Asian Silambam Championship, Aishwarya had won five medals - four golds and a silver. And then, today, Silambam is seen as a powerful method of meditation and an activity for achieving whole-body fitness.

    Five years back, Aishwarya took up Silambam to enhance her dance movements, as advised by her bharatanatyam teacher, who believed that traditional martial arts could improve the body language of dancers.

    Aishwarya started training under Power Pandian Asan (a much-sought-after name in film stunts, who in turn learnt the art from Madakulam Ravi Asan, who had learnt the art from Alagar Sami, the stunt master and teacher, actor and former chief minister of Tamil Nadu M G Ramachandran.) There has been no looking back ever since.

    Silambam became a passion, much more than a method to enhance body language. Then came a period of forced bed rest consequent to an injury. It gave Aishwarya time to muse on what she really wanted to pursue, and she chose Silambam over bharatanatyam. "Silambam is an ocean… The more I practised, the more I discovered that its depth is endless, and even a lifetime isnt enough to explore it," she says. "And it thrills me that I am learning the magnificent martial art my ancestors perfected ages ago in this very land.

    "Silambam practice brings forth self-awareness, confidence, self-respect, and also awareness and respect for people and things around you. It is a complete mind-body activity. On the physical side, it brings fitness, muscle tone, strength, stability, flexibility, agility, footwork, balance, core strength, enhanced breath and cardio strength even as it conditions the mind into 100% focus and awareness.

    "In todays world, with so much sensory and intellectual information coming in from all around, it is so difficult to focus on just one thing. When you practice Silambam, this focus happens spontaneously. And more, since Silambam calls for movements on the left and the right side of the body equally, it triggers optimum functioning of both, thereby enhancing ones logical skills and creativity, and lateral thinking, too.

    "India has thousands of ancient martial art forms; Silambam is one such, and relevant and effective," she says, adding, "No martial art form instigates its practitioners to pick up a fight. The accent is on defence. Learning martial arts makes a person more stable, not violent."

    V for viral

    And then, in August 2016, the video happened, throwing Aishwaryas life into another orbit. Wearing a simple handloom sari in the Nuari style of Maharashtra, the video has Aishwarya performing Silambam, shot without props in her terrace. Released on National Handloom Day, the video went viral and has registered over a million views by now. "I love handloom, I love wearing the sari, and I love Silambam. The three came together in this video," she shares. When she made it, all she hoped for was to be able to share through the video her passion for Silambam, the sari and handloom fabric. But what resulted was an avalanche of sorts. People from all over the world started emailing her, and many urban parents enrolled their children into Silambam training rather than kung fu or karate, and she has been invited to many workshops, demos and talks on Silambam.

    Education is something Aishwarya is passionate about. "For me, the video was a way to bring about awareness and change, a way of educating. We are not aware of much of our glorious heritage. It is our duty to know and to pass it on," she says.

    Silambam in a sari? That was to encourage people to notice the dynamism of sari and to understand the charm and value of handlooms. Recently, she performed Silambam to the music of kulintang, an instrument of the Marawi region of Philippines, at the Indo-Philippines lit fest. And now, Aishwarya is also planning to document the history and journey of Silambam. Her relation with Silambam is as much a journey into the past as into the future.


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  • 02/02/18--21:18: Belonging to music
  • Ennodu nee irundhaal/uyirodu naan iruppaen... ( If you are with me, I will stay alive ) - When Sid Sriram sang these two lines as he received the Filmfare award, he dedicated the song and the award to his late grandfather, R Rajagopalan, a musician-composer "who never received his due in his lifetime"(as he expressed on stage). That his music lives on through Sid is definitely there for all to see and it seems miraculous that the lyrics also express his deepest sentiments.

    There is an innate charm in the young singer who never forgets his mentors who handheld him in his growing-up years. His maternal grandfather showed him that "pure joy and emotion could be communicated through music," and he states that his grandfather and his mother were the first people to show him "the infinite beauty of music."

    Latha Sriram, mother and first guru of the young Sid Sriram, taught by the Bay area when they moved to San Francisco, and Sid was all of one. He grew up listening to and absorbing music as his mother taught, and by the time he was three, Latha knew he was hooked on music.

    Lessons began in earnest, but there was "an openness in her teaching," says Sid about his mother. She began with the formal teaching, gently introducing him to other voices which would in his later years have a tremendous influence - M S Subbulakshmi, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Madurai Mani and so on. Semmangudis rendering of Navasiddhi Petralum had little Sid glued to the cassette player!

    Away from the shore

    Sid recalls his mother bringing him over to India to spend time with his grandparents, and soon he was spending his vacations in India , where he not only spent memorable times with his family but also absorbed a lot of good music. His love for Thiruppugazh too began during his vacations in summer. When he was about nine years of age, his mother felt the need for him to come under the guidance of a guru who would help him explore the various dimensions of the ocean of Carnatic music. Vidwan P S Narayana Swamy (PSN) soon became Sids guru, and it must have been Providence that the music he so enjoyed of Semmangudi would continue to enthral him, for PSN was one of the finest disciples of Semmangudi.

    Back home in the US, Latha continued her teaching by accommodating PSNs methodology so that there would be continuity in the training and it wouldnt seem out-of-touch when he resumed classes in summer. One day , his parents gave him the best gift - an FM set. As he played around moving from one station to another, he listened to what he calls "beautiful music that drew him closer."

    It is true that he was introduced to classical music, but his mother had never stopped him from listening to other kinds of music. In fact, he admits his mother would play amongst other music A R Rahmans hits, and it seemed that it was Providence once again that brought Sid in contact with a musician-composer he so admired.

    It was on an FM channel that he discovered singers like Stevie Wonder and he realised somewhere along the line this kind of music actually was a part of him, too, just as Carnatic was. He was a boy of Indian origin who lived on American soil, and it was inevitable that the influences of the country he lived in would also pour into his being. As he grew older, his classes also increased and he began visiting India during its famous Margazhi Season, too. His mother instilled in him the breath-technique along with his open throat exercises.

    By the fall of 2008, he started attending Berklee and by then, he had already realised that music was to be his profession. Berklee contributed to his musical persona in a huge way - on an academic level, he learnt a "lot about vocal technique and culture," but since he graduated in Music Production and Engineering, he also understood "the technical and creative aspects of making a record." But the best thing about Berklee was "its very environment," says Sid.

    Anchoring self

    By the time he graduated in 2012, he began to understand his position in the music world as someone entrenched in two worlds - West and East, and he found he was completely at ease in both these worlds and did not feel as an outsider in either. This openness allowed him to welcome the harmony in chords with a good understanding of melody of Indian music and harmony of Western jazz. He understood that any collaboration would require an intrinsic understanding of the form and being open to intellectually resonate and relate to it. By 2011, Sid had a good fan base globally. One of his videos got a million clicks, and it was the Internet once again that provided Sid the opportunity to collaborate with his Oscar-winning idol, A R Rahman (ARR). Sid sent an email to ARR along with some of his original recordings sometime in 2010. In 2011, he was surprised when he was invited to the studios. Finally in early 2012, while he was still finishing college, he did a long-distance recording, all the time being guided over Skype by ARR. When his song Adiye for Mani Ratnams Kadal finally released, he discovered that ARR had opened the doors for him into the world of film music. One song led to another - Ennodu Nee Irundhaal soon placed him firmly in the world of film music.

    Sid has been making waves on the West Coast with his Kanye covers and original tracks like Moments of Weakness, Insomniac Season, and videos. Today, this 27- year-old is at ease in not only different genres of music, but also in his varied capacity as vocalist, director, composer and songwriter.


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  • 02/02/18--21:22: Flavourful platter
  • They came to bury us, but they forgot we were seeds are the morale-boosting words celebrity chef Vikas Khanna always carries in his pocket.

    While other children played cricket and football, little Vikas played with pots and pans in his beloved Bijis kitchen. The twinkling-eyed boy was born with misaligned feet, which his brave and determined mother got corrected by surgeons when he was just one month old. Thereafter, he had to wear corrective footwear which was so heavy that he couldnt run around and play like other kids. This ingrained in him an important lesson early in life: how to turn a disadvantage into a strong ability.

    Buried Seeds: A Chefs Journey: The Story Of Vikas Khanna, by Karan Bellani, is replete with such life-affirming lessons. Michelin-starred chef Vikas Khanna, author of numerous books, global television celebrity, film-maker, and appreciated for his skills by the likes of former US President Obama, Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama, discovered most of his talents in his Bijis modest kitchen, its sooty walls notwithstanding.

    It was here that Vikas fell in love with the world of food. And it was here, on moonlit nights, when there would be power cuts, that he would recite lines from poems that his Bauji had recited to him on their walks to buy ice cream. Food and words became his twin passions as he grew up, each feeding the other, while he went from strength to strength, opening iconic restaurants and writing path-breaking books like Khanna Sutra, UTSAV, Return To The Rivers and many more.

    The celebrity chef was fortunate to have a supportive family that nurtured his interests and helped him find his feet, literally and otherwise, in a ruthlessly competitive world. From the narrow alleys of Amritsar to the avenues of Manhattan, this journey would never have been possible without the unstinted encouragement he got from his extended family members.

    From Baboo Chacha, who first introduced him to the world of five-star dining by treating him to a dinner at the coffee shop of Maurya Sheraton, to his brother Nishant who egged him on to follow his dreams, and his sister, mother and grandmother, everybody played a crucial role in shaping his amazing career as an internationally renowned and awarded chef.

    Of course, no amount of nudging and pushing by family members would have produced any result if Vikas, himself, had not made an effort to work on his strengths and overcome his weaknesses. Running away initially from the oral interview for admission to Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Management (WGSHM) in Manipal, insecure about his poor command over English, he later gathered the courage to phone the institutes principal and explain in nervous Punjabi why he had run away. Fortunately, the kind principal gave him another chance, discerning in his garbled words his love for food and hospitality.

    It was a chance that Vikas made the most of during his tenure at WGSHM, despite his inhibitions and complexes. After his graduation, he did stints at some of the biggest hotels in the country.

    But, in 2000, he decided to take a leap into the unknown and migrate to the US. It was a land of dreams, but a tough one to make a mark in if you land up there without a prospect in hand. Vikas did what most struggling outsiders do in this democratic country - washing dishes, playing delivery boy, handing out flyers et al. Struggle was not new to him. Back home in Amritsar, as a young teenager, he had augmented the family income by knitting sweaters (the inner jacket of the book wrongly states he made blankets), running a small catering unit, and cycling in the heat to deliver videos to his fathers clients.

    In the US, when he finally got a job in a deli, the chef there took a violent disliking to him, and spitefully locked him up in the freezer one day. Luckily, the dishwasher opened the freezer to steal some ice cream after the chef had left, and Vikas was rescued from a chilling death. Frightened out of his wits, Vikas quit the deli. With no job in hand and no money in his pocket, the graduate of WGSHM was forced to seek shelter in the New York Rescue Mission. Poetry and songs by Simon & Garfunkel kept his spirits going during this bleak period.

    How he blossomed forth thereafter, like seeds buried in darkness, is not clearly explained in this non-linear narrative. That grit, hard work and a fertile imagination were his strengths you are repeatedly told, that he was spotted by the right people at crucial junctures of his life, is also something you learn from this inspirational story; but the events in Vikass life are not presented chronologically. Writer Bellani goes back and forth in time in an often confusing and repetitive manner, which takes away from the narrative flow.

    If you are already familiar with Vikas Khannas life and all his achievements, this book will inspire you to follow your dreams. But if you are looking for an informative read about an Indian chefs rise to stardom, you will have to join the dots yourself, often painstakingly.


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  • 02/02/18--21:28: Cruelties manifested
  • There are a lot of explosions in Frankenstein in Baghdad, Ahmed Saadawis intense and surreal novel. People are knocked down, blown backward, tossed into the air. Sometimes a foot or an arm is left in the street. Sometimes all thats left is pink mist.

    Saadawi is an Iraqi writer, and this novel, his first to be translated into English, is set in US-occupied Baghdad. Sectarian violence has metastasised. Car bombs go off with almost metronomic regularity, each crunching blast a fresh bulletin from hell. Through this madness toddles Hadi, a junk peddler, as if he were Charlie Chaplins tramp. Hes a simple fellow who likes to drink ouzo and, when he can afford it, sleep with the local prostitutes.

    Hadi is used to picking up stray objects. One day he starts to bring home body parts, left in the streets from the days explosions. He feels they deserve a proper burial. He begins to stitch these bits together, in the hope that if he can create a whole corpse, someone will bury it. You can see where this is heading. Hadi returns home one evening and his oozing creature has fled, without bothering to leave a note. What follows, in this assured and hallucinatory story, is funny and horrifying in a near-perfect admixture. Funny because Saadawi wrings a good deal of black humour out of the way the monsters pieces fall off at inopportune moments.

    He delves into its "serious putrefaction problems." The creature is blamed for a series of murders. All the authorities know is that hes terrible to look at, so they begin rounding up all the ugly people in Baghdad as suspects.

    Saadawis tone can be sly, but his intentions are deadly serious. Hes written a complex allegory for the tribal cruelties in Iraq in the wake of the US invasion. His book is especially moving about women who have lost their sons and husbands, and who wonder if they are alive and will ever return. In Iraq, the dead sometimes really do return, from dungeons among other places. Frankenstein in Baghdad is about many things other than a creature who terrorises the city at night. Its a real estate novel in which there are struggles over old houses and hotels. Its a journalism novel; one central character is an editor who chases the creatures story. We meet barbers and hotel guards and astrologers and film directors. A lot of kebabs and tripe and boiled beans are consumed, washed down with glasses of arrack. Shishas are smoked; lusty thoughts are entertained. Saadawi wedges a lot of humanity into his narrative.

    Like the monster in Mary Shelleys Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus (1818), Saadawis creature feels he is misunderstood. Hes not a bad guy, he wishes to explain. Hes not killing at random. Instead, hes after revenge. He is killing the men whose bombs created his parts. The creature becomes a media obsession. It grants interviews. It thinks things like, "Because Im made up of body parts of people from diverse backgrounds - ethnicities, tribes, races and social classes - I represent the impossible mix that never was achieved in the past. Im the first true Iraqi citizen."

    If the creature is after revenge, you begin to wonder, why does he not commandeer a jet and lumber after George W Bush and Tony Blair? If this monster thinks globally, however, he is committed to murdering locally.

    Some think the monster is merely a manifestation of peoples fears. He assures them he is more than that. In any case, as Toni Morrison put in Song of Solomon, "What difference does it make if the thing you scared of is real or not?"

    The creature experiences its own sort of mission creep. He starts by killing only bad men. Before long he realises that he needs replacement parts. He begins killing nearly at random in order to acquire them. "Who among us is not part evil?" he rationalises. In this translation from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright, Saadawi blends the unearthly, the horrific and the mundane to terrific effect. It is no surprise to learn that he won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, a kind of Booker Prize for the region, for Frankenstein in Baghdad. Theres a freshness to both his voice and vision; he is working through a countrys trauma from a series of unusual angles.

    There are moments you feel you are reading a war story. At other moments, the book unloads a freight of black magic. We meet a journalist who is compiling an anthology of "the 100 strangest Iraqi stories."

    We learn of the activities of the Tracking and Pursuit Department, which monitors unusual crimes, investigates urban legends and makes predictions about future attacks. Ghosts hover over bridges. Four beggars are found dead in a weird tableau, each with his hands around the neck of the one in front of him. A womans phone number is 666, only the first sign she might have boundary issues.

    You get the sense, throughout Frankenstein in Baghdad, that Saadawis creature, alive with malevolent intelligence, is feeding off its own destructive energy.

    The reader feeds off it as well. What happened in Iraq was a spiritual disaster, and this brave and ingenious novel takes that idea and uncorks all its possible meanings.


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  • 02/02/18--21:38: Book Rack
  • Victims for sale

    Nish Amarnath

    Harper Collins, 2018, Rs 299, pp 324

    Sandy Raman, a stringer for the BBC, lives as a paying guest with a quiet Indian family. Or so she thinks, until she wakes up to a woman with a knife and dark secrets. While running a sting operation on a home for the differently abled, she makes a connection, but must evade the clutches of a sex racket and expose the predators before time runs out.

    A Brief Guide to Business Classics

    James M Russel

    Robinson, 2018, Rs 399, pp 296

    This book is a comprehensive guide of business classics, covering every aspect of commerce. It includes an array of books that may not be termed as the quintessential business books. Expert advice, social research and other business-related concepts are all compiled into a bite-sized manual.

    The Silver Music Box

    Mina Baites

    Amazon Crossing, 2018, Rs 299, pp 251

    Jewish silversmith Johann Blumenthal engraved certain words on a singing filigree bird inside a tiny ornamented box. He crafted it for his young son before leaving to fight a war. Half a century later, Lilian Morrison inherits the box after the death of her parents, with a letter telling her that she was adopted.

    Titans of History

    Simon Sebag Montefiore

    Hachette, 2018, Rs 699, pp 620

    In his collection of short stories, the author introduces his choice of kings, empresses, sultans and conquerors, as well as prophets, explorers, artists, actresses, courtesans and psychopaths. Its a comprehensive historical narrative from the ancient times up to the 21st century.

    The Immortalists

    Chloe Benjamin

    G P Putnams Sons, 2018, Rs 825, pp 352

    Its 1969. Word has spread in New York Citys Lower East Side that a mystical woman has arrived. A travelling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. Four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness sneak out to hear their fortunes.

    Touch the Sky

    Rashmi Bansal

    Westland, 2018, Rs 199, pp 203

    This book is a tribute to the courage and confidence of the Indian woman, from Korba to Kashmir. It is a set of inspiring stories of women who are writing their own destiny. In each story lies a tale of personal triumph and boldness of women rising to take their place in the sun.

    White Chrysanthemum

    Mary Lynn Bracht

    Vintage, 2018, Rs 449, pp 313

    Hana and her little sister Emi belong to the island community of haenyeo, where women make their living from diving deep into the sea off the southernmost tip of Korea. With the arrival of a Japanese soldier, their story of separation begins.

    Stark Raving Ad

    Ritu Singh

    Hachette, 2018, Rs 350, pp 273

    This book is a guide to Indian advertisements. It makes an attempt to analyse the famous and the controversial ads in India. Here, one finds un-business-like stories from Indian advertising through
    ages - the hits, the misses, and the banned.


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  • 02/02/18--21:46: Nothing fancy
  • I am looking at a motley orchestra playing soul-stirring music, costumed monkeys playing different instruments, a ballet dancer twirling, and an actor powdering herself in front of a mirror! The puppet orchestra has more than 30 figures encased in a beautiful wooden cover made of walnut and mahogany, with the end panels decorated with angels playing on harps. When the orchestra plays, its a rich sound of clarinets, flutes, trumpets and bass. This mechanical orchestra was built in 1892 in the US by Bernhard Dufner, who immigrated to the US from the Black Forest.

    I am in Rudesheim on the Rhine, a charming wine town in Germany with half-timbered houses, cobbled lanes, window boxes bursting with blooms, and attractive toy shops.

    Off the main stretch of Drosselgasse is Siegfrieds Mechanical Music Cabinet, a delightful museum filled with one of the largest collections of automated musical instruments.

    The setting

    The museum is housed in the 15th-century Bromserhof, one of Rudesheims oldest buildings which used to be home to the Knights of Bromser. With a maze of little rooms, corridors and even a medieval chapel, embellished with frescoes of biblical scenes and coats of arms, the museum showcases more than 350 self-playing, functional musical instruments from the 18th- and 19th centuries. Puppets come to life, birds sing, and automatic pianos play music like ghosts.

    My guide Lucia, dressed in period costume with a hat, tells me it all began with the owner of the museum, Siegfried Wendel, collecting antique clocks. One day, a scrap dealer brought a beautiful music box called the polyphon(e) to him, with its lid decorated with motifs. He was attracted by its appearance and succumbed to the temptation. His collection grew, as he started to rescue these beauties from scrap dealers and second-hand stores. He also learnt to reassemble and repair the instruments. "Nothing in this museum is electronic. Everything works with mechanical innovations," says Lucia.

    The first musical instrument she shows me is the most impressive one - Weber Maestro Orchestra, a contraption of belts, wheels and pulleys that produces sounds of as many as 19 different instruments. "It can be a dance orchestra or even a Jazz band, and can never go out of style," says my guide. It just works with rolls of paper with perforations. The thundering music from the orchestra is even better than digital surround sound.

    I see an ancient record player, where a metal disc with perforations plays Die Lorelei, the classic German folk song. This instrument, the Symphony No 131, was privately owned and in mint condition. I also see jukeboxes (with simple wind-up mechanisms) entertain its visitors.

    The most stunning instrument, the Gebruder Bruder, is housed in an old cellar; it is from the town of Waldkirch in the Black Forest region, famous for building carousel and fairground organs in the end of 19th century. It was found by the owner in 1995 in Budapest, in an old barn. He painstakingly restored and reassembled the merry-go-round organ, which plays stirring music. It combines the sounds of bass flute, trumpets, tuba, drums, cymbals and violin, and plays March of the Gladiators.

    I am also entranced by the stunning imagery of rajahs in turbans, pretty queens, oriental domes and motifs. Lucia shows me what actually makes the music - a book of perforated paper that looks like an accordion much like the ancient fax.

    Playing papers

    The Hupfeld Phonoliszt-Violina is made of six violins mounted vertically that turn and play Verdis Rigoletto in perfect harmony. "It was built in 1909 and was often called the Eighth Wonder of the World," says Lucia. There are reams of music, from Verdi to Bach, stored in paper rolls. More than 3,500 of these bestseller musical machines were sold between 1909 and 1930. Today, about 60 of them survive in private collections and museums worldwide.

    There are first attempts at reproducing the human voice: old-style Edison phonographs, when reproducing the human voice was a miracle. It was a complicated process involving a membrane and a needle. The only way to amplify sounds was by using a large horn. One scratchy gramophone record wheezes out Doris Day singing Que Sera Sera.

    Most of all, I love the quirky pieces in the collection - the musical chair from 1890, on which you sit to play a tune. It was found in a bad condition in a second-hand store by the owner and restored lovingly; a revolving musical box for cigarettes; small snuff-boxes with birds singing. Another silver snuff-box consists of 376 parts with a bellow and a piston as well. The company still makes reproductions of this and sells them at as much as 6,000 euros!

    One section has exquisite barrel organs that are hand-cranked to produce music. "These were taken around by wandering musicians or at fairgrounds to entertain people," explains Lucia. I get a chance to hand-crank a barrel organ and produce the music, with Lucia taking a photograph of me as a souvenir!

    An interesting section of the museum showcases an atelier where the instruments are built and restored. There is an assortment of tools, from chisels and lathes to drills and set-squares. We see how brass wires are cut, crafted into pins and used to mark music with perforated cards, and paper tapes.

    I end my visit at the museum shop - there are replicas of instruments and bird cages next to modern musical boxes. I pick up a small merry-go-round that plays music when it is wound, to remind me of this beautiful journey through time, to an era before radios, record players, televisions, and other forms of home entertainment.


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