The actor has three films - 'Kadai Kutty Singham', 'Junga' and 'Gajinikanth' - lined-up for release.
  • Wednesday, June 20, 2018 - 12:03

She may be just a few films old but actor Sayyeshaa has a great lineup of films this year, working with some of the prominent names in the industry. Coming from a family of stars - her mother Shaheen and father Sumeet Saigal have done a good number of Hindi films - Sayyeshaa is also the grand-niece of popular Bollywood couple Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu. In this TNM exclusive, the star talks about her passion for dance and on what the audience can expect from her upcoming films. Excerpts from the interview.

You began your acting career very young - you were 16 when you did your first film. Did you always want to become an actor?

I was always passionate about dancing and from a young age I knew I wanted to become an actor. It is not that I didn’t like academics. I also love baking and I did my diploma in patisserie from Cordon Bleu, London. But I’ve always been passionate about acting. If not an actor, I might have chosen to become a dancer. I’d like to stay closer to the creative/performing fields.

Coming from a film family, would you say you’ve had an easy entry?

Honestly, we’re a very non-filmy family. Even at home, we never talk about films. I never felt I belonged to a family of actors. Our conversations are not around films or on actors. In fact, the first time I saw a film camera was on the sets of Akhil, my debut film. My entry into films, therefore, are not because I come from a family of actors. It happened very gradually.

You’ve been appreciated for your dance moves. Tell us about your passion for the art form.

I began dancing very young - when I was about 8. I’ve had the chance to learn different forms - Latin American Dance, Kathak, Odissi, Hip Hop, Belly Dancing. Even today when I’m not on sets, I like training and practising.

Tamil is a language you’ve picked up fairly quickly. Is this a conscious effort to learn more languages? 

Tamil is a very new language for me. I hadn’t heard it until I actually started working on the film. But I have this interest to learn the language and I’ve been working pretty hard for it. I’ve got a lot of people around me who speak the language. But I’d say, by now, I’m used to acting even in languages that I don’t know. Tamil, however, is my most comfortable language to act in.

You’ve made your debut in Bollywood, Tollywood and Kollywood. Tell us a bit about your experiences in three different industries.

Akhil was my first film before which I hadn’t even seen a film camera. I didn't know much about how films were made and I should say director VV Vinayak sir was more like a parent on sets. Shivaay with Ajay Devgan sir was a completely different experience. It was a six-camera setup, extravagant film and it was my first big film. 

Vanamagan, however, offered me the right launch pad. I’d call director Vijay anna the Yash Chopra of Tamil Nadu. I loved working on the film.

You once mentioned that your mother doubles up as your costume designer and your manager. Does your mother, who was once an actor, help you prepare?

My mother is my backbone. She does everything right from managing my work to designing my costumes. She is also my PR and stylist and above all my driving force. Although she very rarely compliments, she’s very honest with her feedback and so she’s my biggest critic. However, she does not interfere with my work. We also don’t discuss work when we’re together.

You’ve got three big films lined up for release this year. Tell us a bit about your roles in it.  

The three characters that I’ve done in the films are poles apart. It was a conscious decision to choose different types of roles to avoid being typecast.

In Kadai Kutty Singham I play a rural girl. Initially many did not think I could pull it off. My makeup is four shades darker and I had to spray my hair black every day. The accent in this film too is different so there was a lot of practise.

In Junga on the other hand, it is a very modernised, glamorous character. Almost all my scenes were shot in Paris, so every frame looks very grand.

I play a very feminine, girl-next-door in Gajinikanth. The film itself is extremely funny. It’s one of my favourites so far.

The industry itself is not what it used to be ten years ago. A lot of them are opening up about sexual harassment and pay parity in the industry. What are your thoughts on this?

The world, in general, is becoming so much more aware about a lot of things and I believe, celebrities have the power to influence people. I am not a feminist but I believe people have the right to open up and now is a great chance to speak out loud.

When it comes to pay parity, the kind of films I’ve done so far are run by the heroes. And people watch films for the hero, not because its Sayyeshaa’s film. At least, not yet. So I don’t feel pay is unfair in such cases. Also, I’ve done pretty good roles so far and I’ve not felt the disparity harshly.

Also, we are having a good number of female-centric films being made and I’m all for women getting to do more important roles. I guess the gap is bridged to an extent in such cases.

Tell us about your upcoming films.

Right now, I’m focusing on Tamil films. I’ll be starting work on a Tamil project with a great director-actor combination, which you’ll be hearing about soon enough. I’m also listening to a lot of scripts so it is pretty early to tell.

In this TNM exclusive, the lyricist shares her experiences on penning some of the latest earworms.
  • Sunday, June 17, 2018 - 14:38

Music has the power to conjure worlds, to heal wounds. And lyrics work a whole different kind of magic. The romantics like me will tell you that the battle is real – is it the song’s lyrics, or is it the music? Which triumphs? Which becomes indispensable for a song? Ensnared by the charm of its lyrics, caught in the web of its music, a song can also be a dying man's last wish.

I reluctantly turn down the volume on singer Ananthu’s version of 'Kannamma' that has been playing for the 100th time as I prepare to interview lyricist Uma Devi over the phone. When I tell her that I’ve been addicted to the song, there’s a pause and the faint sound of a smile on the other end.

Uma Devi is among the very few who’ve tasted success in their very first attempt in the film industry. A literary scholar, poet and a language professor, Uma Devi shares that becoming a lyricist happened for her only by chance.

Born in Athipakkam village in Vandavasi taluk of Thiruvannamalai district, Uma Devi did her schooling and undergraduation in her hometown. She then moved to Chennai to pursue her master’s. Coming from a family of artists, Umadevi’s foray into writing came very early.

“My parents are koothu kalaignargal (folk artists) and my brother too is a poet. I’ve always been surrounded by a very creative environment,” she tells us.

Having obtained a PhD from the International Institute of Tamil Studies, Uma Devi is currently an assistant professor at Ethiraj College for Women in Chennai. She also regularly publishes her poetry in prominent Tamil magazines and is a well-known figure in literary circles.

Director Pa Ranjith, before becoming a filmmaker, was a painter and a devoted literature aficionado, and the friendship between the two dates back to before either of their debut in the world of cinema.

Already acquainted with her work, Ranjith requested Uma Devi to pen lyrics for one of his film’s songs. Out came the poignant and subtle ‘Naan Nee’ rendered beautifully by Shakthisree Gopalan in Pa Ranjith’s Madras in 2014. And this set the stage for Uma Devi the lyricist. The young poet has penned over 20 songs so far.

“I was given the tune and the baseline of the story. In fact, 'Naan Nee' is a very story-like song,” begins Umadevi. She recalls the line ‘Uyir vaazha mulkooda oru paravaiyin veedaai maaridume’ and explains that it is the most basic imageries from life that she’s alluded to. “If you’ve observed birds, they pick up almost every object they can find to build their nests – thorns, wires, they don’t mind even if it hurts them. Isn’t that the most basic instinct of life?”

Soon after Madras came Kabali in which Uma Devi penned the lyrics for two chartbusters – ‘Maya Nadhi’ and ‘Veera Thurandhara’. The songs also won her Norway Tamil Film Festival Award for Best Lyricist.

There’s an aching sadness in both 'Maya Nadhi' (Kabali) and 'Kannamma' (Kaala). Yet the songs are strikingly different in the images that they conjure up. “Both 'Maya Nadhi' and 'Kannamma' are about lovers reuniting. Both the songs are of intimacy but while you can feel the warmth in 'Maya Nadhi', it leaves you with a void in 'Kannamma'. It’s the kind that slips past your hand. I felt the heaviness while writing 'Kannamma',” shares Uma Devi.

Her 'Veera Thurandhara' too was widely appreciated by many. “People often expect women writers to write love songs or songs that have feminine expressions. I feel I’ve broken that stereotype with 'Veera Thurandhara'. It was a challenging piece and my favourite to this day,” she shares.

The workings of a creative mind are often a puzzle. Uma Devi shares that imagination is crucial for a creative person. “The experience of imagining a particular situation, something that I’ve not been through personally, is almost like teleporting from one body to another (koodu vittu koodu payardhu). This is how I’ve been able to create.”

She goes on to add that a song gets more memorable when the picturisation is done right. “Sometimes I convey the image I have in mind to the music director or director,” she says.

But in 'Kannamma', when the lines ‘Kaayangal aatrum, thalaikkodhi thetrum, kaalangal kaikooduthe’ play, Kaala literally tousles Zareena’s daughter’s hair. Was she present when the song was directed?

“I was indeed surprised when I saw that picturisation. I would say it is the kind of understanding Pa Ranjith has of my work. Because we share similar ideologies, I’d say it has come through in the song,” she explains.

A successful woman is often asked about being underrepresented, of how she manages to tackle the odds lined up against her. Uma Devi, however, says that the odds are not stacked up against her in this case.

“I would say, of all the languages in the country, only Tamil has a good number of women lyricists. Writers like Thamarai have been able to sustain for over two decades in this industry. We do have great minds like Kutty Revathi, Tamazhachi Thangapandian, Rohini and others.”

Uma Devi talks passionately about gender equality, both in real life and in her songs. Her ‘Vaadi Thimira’ from Jyothika’s Magalir Mattum, ‘Puthu Varalare’ from Nayanthara’s Aramm, are a few examples.

“It was my way of expressing my anger and my longing for a society that treats its women fairly. This is not something new. We’ve been asking for it for over 2,500 years,” she says, adding, “If a woman asks for or talks about equality, she’s asking for everyone’s equality. But it is not the same when a man talks about it.”

Uma Devi also refuses to acknowledge the constraints society has foisted upon women.

“For most of my songs I decide the male and female parts. In Kaala’s 'Kannamma' song, I was asked why I made a man sing the lines, ‘Oottadha thaayin, kanakkindra paal pol, en kaadhal kidakkindrathe.’? Common sense might tell you motherhood is just a physical expression but it is more than that. I believe everyone can feel motherhood. If a woman were to sing these lines, it might sound normal. The effect is accentuated coming from a man,” she says.

Her ‘Thoranam Aayiram’ in Aramm is another song with powerful lyrics. The song fetched her Best Lyricist Award in Vijay Awards 2017. “The song is about a necessity making someone murderous. I felt deeply about Anita’s fate while writing it. Education that is a basic necessity became murderous in her case. In the film too, water (a basic necessity) became murderous. I get to express the angst I feel through words,” she says.

A devout literary enthusiast, Uma Devi talks at length of the beauty that can be found in Sangam era pieces. “I always believe that those who write with an affection for the language, its grammar and its ancient literature are the ones who’ll be able to bring out work that’ll last longer. Everything else will fade,” she finishes.

Uma Devi has a number of projects lined up for this year, including Vijay Sethupathi’s 96 and Ashwin Saravanan’s Iravaakaalam starring SJ Suryah. A teacher during the day, she shares that most of her works are the fruits of night labour.

After hanging up, I turn up the volume on 'Kannamma', playing it yet another time that day, but listening to it with a more nuanced understanding of having spoken to one of its creators.

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The narrative that helped ‘Goli Soda’ does not work the same magic for this film.
  • Thursday, June 14, 2018 - 19:29

The one-line story of Vijay Milton’s Goli Soda 2 would be the same as the one for Goli Soda – the underdog, the powerful don and the story of rising above it all. While the makers have made it clear that Goli Soda 2 is not a sequel, parallels can be drawn between the two in several instances. However, the narrative that helped Goli Soda cruise does not work the same magic for GS 2.

The film begins with a police officer, Raghavan (Gautam Menon), interrogating Natesan (Samuthirakani) in the case of three missing people. From this point onwards, the film tracks the backstory of the three protagonists – Oli played by Esakki Bharath, Siva played by Vinoth and Maaran played by Bharath Seeni. The three are in no way related to each other and Natesan is the thread who connects them all.

While Goli Soda was set in Koyambedu, GS 2’s characters are from north Madras. The three youngsters are basically nobodies, wanting to create a space for themselves, to live peaceful lives. Yet society’s class system and prejudices gets to them fairly quickly. Whether they chose to stand and fight or run and hide forms the rest of the story.

The director may have gone a bit overboard with Samuthirakani’s permanent neck brace and repeated references to missed opportunities. The dialogue ‘Naama enna thappu pannom?’ (what mistake did we do?) from Goli Soda is heard in this film as well, but it seems a little too dramatic this time around.

The element of love is done weakly in the film – in all three cases. Another aspect in which the film falls flat is in establishing the characters. While the relationship the four children share in GS makes the film more endearing, the lack of adequate bonding in GS 2 is a major let-down.

Chemban Vinod Jose plays the typical don. Rekha and Rohini, who play the role of the mothers, have been underutilised. The film’s narrative exasperates at times fuelled by the predictability of the story. Actors Subiksha and Krusha Kurup, who play the love interests of Bharath Seeni and Esakki Bharath respectively, have enacted their parts well.

Music by Achu Rajamani sounds familiar. While the stunt sequences are nicely done, it gets excessive as the film progresses. Cinematography works well in GS 2. In terms of dialogues, we might have been watching Goli Soda with a different set of characters – ‘Opportunity comes only once. If you miss it, you’ll end up regretting all your life’, ‘Who are you to decide what I should do with my life?’, ‘No one gets to choose what caste they belong. Why are they discriminated all their life?’.

While GS 2 could have been a simple yet effective drink like its namesake, it ends up trying too hard and losing its fizz altogether.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.

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TNM caught up with the actor between shoots for a brief chat on her upcoming films, on how she chooses her projects and on her love for dance and languages.
  • Tuesday, June 12, 2018 - 18:13

Very few actors have been able to break through into different industries and fewer even have managed to make it big in each one of them. Tamannaah, undoubtedly, is one among the few actors who feature on this list.

Born and raised in Mumbai, Tamannaah began acting at a young age of 15. Her debut in 2005 was with the Hindi film Chand Sa Roshan Chehra followed by Telugu debut in the same year with Sri. Her foray into Tamil was with Kedi in 2006. The star in her, however, was recognised only in 2007 with Shekar Kammula’s Happy Days in Telugu and Balaji Sakthivel’s Kalloori in Tamil.

13 years since her debut, Tamannaah has featured in over 45 titles and has an interesting mix of films this year. The songs from her upcoming Naa Nuvve have been well received by fans and Tamannaah is gearing up for more releases this year.

TNM caught up with the actor between shoots for a brief chat on her upcoming films, on how she chooses her projects and on her love for dance and languages.

On her films

Tamannaah has an exciting line-up of films this year - Naa Nuvve in Telugu, Kanne Kalaimaane alongside Udhayanidhi Stalin in Tamil, remake of the award-winning Hindi film Queen titled That is Mahalakshmi in Telugu, Kunal Kohli’s first Telugu directorial, multi-starrer Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy, Anil Ravipudi’s F2 and Chakri Toleti’s Khamoshi (reprisal of Nayanthara’s Kolayuthir Kaalam) in Hindi.

From playing the protagonist in Queen remake to doing a crucial part alongside big names in Sye Raa, it seems she may have carefully chosen projects that’ll help her stay away from being typecast.

“I am teaming up with director Seenu Ramasamy after Dharma Durai in Kanne Kalaimaane and this has a stronger character than what I played in Dharma Durai. Now, in the time that we’re in, I also feel more number of good, female-oriented roles are being made,” says Tamannaah.

Tamannaah is also not the one to shy away from doing small roles. While her role in Baahubali: The Beginning won her awards, including a nomination for the 42nd Saturn Awards, the actor had a very small part to play in Baahubali: The Conclusion.

Tamannaah explains that films being made in parts follow a whole different format. “Baahubali is a big story with many characters, culminating in part 2. It is not a typical hero-heroine story. I felt very happy being a part of it and it wasn’t disappointing at all,” she adds.

Her upcoming films too are a diverse mix - for instance, Khamoshi is a reprisal project with a strong female-centric lead and its Tamil version will be helmed by Nayanthara and Sye Raa is a multi-starrer with big names from the industry on board.

The star shares that the important thing is to make sure her character makes an impact. “It is not about how big your part is. It is how much of your character is remembered by audiences,” she says.

She goes on to add that she loves doing commercial films. “I don’t believe in films made for art. I think everyone should be able to watch a film. In that sense, I love doing commercial films that are accessible for everyone.”

Item numbers and female-centric films

Tamannaah has a good number of strong female roles to her credit. From playing the simple and naive Shobhana in Kalloorri, the free-spirited Anjali in Kanden Kadhalai, the feisty Avanthika in Baahubali to the strong Subhashini in Dharma Durai, she has been seen in a variety of roles that have challenged her caliber as an actor. However, she has also appeared in a good number of item songs, like Bachelor Babu in Speedunnodu, Mandara Thailam in Jaguar, etc. Do they ever clash with her ideology?

“It is not female-centric roles as opposed to item numbers. I enjoy that fact that we can also do glamorous roles. To look glamorous is also playing a part. Everyone likes to look at someone who’s pretty. Looking good is important. There is nothing to feel shy about it,” she says adding, “I enjoy dancing and when I get an opportunity to do an item number I take it up with the same enthusiasm as I would for a female-centric role.”

On her flair for languages

In the industry and outside, Tamannaah has been appreciated for her knack in picking up new tongues. The actor has been lauded, since the very beginning, for her ability to mouth lines perfectly. Tamannaah dubbed for herself in Telugu in Oopiri and in Hindi for Baahubali. “While it is important to know the language, there are those who have survived without knowing it at all and that in itself is an art. I also believe learning a language gives you a good insight into the region's people and their culture,” she shares.

Tamannaah also adds that learning a language has helped her express differently. “The accents, pauses - everything is different when you know a language,” she says.

On pay parity and sexual harassment

Tamannaah is known for her diplomacy and this comes through in her responses sometimes. While she agrees that the industry needs to address the disparity in payment, she also adds that such numbers are decided by the market. “We may have stronger female scripts now but when it comes to payment, it depends on the individual actor’s stand in the market. But I do hope the huge pay gap between male and female stars gets smaller in the future,” says Tamannaah.

On sexual harassment in the industry, Tamannaah has maintained that not having experienced it herself, she has nothing to add. “But if someone has experienced it, they are open to talk about it. It is based on individual experiences.”

While Tamannaah dabbles in Tollywood, Kollywood and Bollywood the actor shares her hopes of entering Mollywood and Sandalwood sometime in the future. “It is all about making good content. Today, theatre is not the only form of entertainment for people. It’s all about churning out interesting content,” she finishes. 

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Constitution Replica
Upon its completion, the physical copies will be made available in hardcover, and a leather-bound collector's edition.
  • Tuesday, June 12, 2018 - 13:47

The first edition of the Constitution of India is a work of art. Each one of the 230-odd pages was hand-written, and artists from Shantiniketan created the artwork on the edges. Around 1000 copies were made – litho printed, on handmade paper. But today, 68 years since the Constitution came into force, very few of the original copies remain, and even those are in a poor condition.

For Vijay Anand from Chennai, this is a dire reality that he confronted when he wanted to gift a copy of the original to his niece and nephew. So he did the next best thing – and embarked on a journey to create a replica.

“The original Constitution in Delhi is frozen in its first page, locked inside a helium capsule. Moreover, of the 1000 photo lithographed copies, less than 250 remain today and we cannot vouch for the state in which they might be maintained. I wanted to replicate the Constitution so I can gift something of value for my niece and nephew in Germany,” Vijay, an entrepreneur and a member of the Chennai Tricolour Initiative Trust, tells TNM.

The process of creating the replica is tedious. Using a low-resolution digital copy that is available online, and using photographs of the original copies that he has come across in his research, Vijay has been meticulously tracing and enhancing the 230 pages. The work began in June 2016, and Vijay has been putting in the hours after 10 pm each night – after he finishes his day job – on this ambitious project.

“Replicating the copy is a step by step procedure – tracing, blending, trimming, touch-ups, vibrancy adjustments, recolouring, etc. The designs are so elaborate that one page can take up to a week,” says Vijay.

But this, Vijay says, is not even close to the effort that took to make the original and litho print the copies.

The Indian Constitution was single-handedly calligraphed by Prem Behari Narain Raizada over a period of six months. The illustrations on the borders represent styles from the different civilizations of the subcontinent. These illustrations were done by Shantiniketan artists, including Beohar Rammanohar Sinha and Nandalal Bose.

The process of litho printing, too, was time-consuming. “No one does it anymore. It is a very elaborate process where ink and oil is used on the page to print letters from the original onto the copy. I also read that they used several nibs to make the original,” says Vijay.

Another interesting fact about the Constitution is that Prem Behari Narain Raizada used 432 Pen holder nibs for the calligraphy of the two original copies. According to Prem Foundation, a Google community in memory of the artist, these nibs are in possession of Prem’s nephew Yoginder Saxena.

Furthermore, the Constitution has eleven pages of just signatures! 284 members signed to make the Constitution complete. The first to sign appears to have been Jawaharlal Nehru.

Vijay says, he expects to complete the work by October or November this year, and print a small number of copies. “Many people have been asking for copies – we hope to run a small print batch. But we also intend to make copies for school libraries – the artwork is something that the future generations should see, I believe. The sheer ability to produce something like this in 1950 sounds like an achievement. It is also for all measures, a national treasure – and it doesn’t look like the government is going to do this task, so here we are,” Vijay says.

Upon its completion, the physical copies will be made available in hardcover version and a leather-bound collector’s edition. A pdf version will also be made available for free download. A remastered version of the Preamble (page 2 in the Constitution) has been made available for download and in just a few days, they've crossed 2500 downloads shares Vijay.

So has the law set any restrictions on replications? “I did check with a couple of my lawyer friends. The content, in fact, is open and is published by a few. And since it’s an only replica, the artwork is not sabotaged in any way,” explains Vijay.

Indie Film
Bengaluru-based Seby Varghese, the film's director, is an auditor with a passion for filmmaking who was inspired to shoot his debut on the iPhone.
  • Sunday, June 10, 2018 - 17:56

Award-winning director Steven Andrew Soderbergh, known for films like Erin Brockovich and the Oceans Trilogy, shot Unsane, a psychological thriller starring Claire Foy, entirely on an iPhone 7 Plus. The film released in March of this year and is available to stream online for free. Three years ago, Sean Baker shot the film Tangerine entirely on iPhone 5s, which went on to win several accolades. Progressive filming has reached a point where nothing can deter the storyteller, as long as there’s a narrative.

It is precisely this notion which encouraged Seby Varghese to pick up the camera, or in his case an iPhone 7 Plus, to begin shooting what would be India’s first road trip film shot entirely on an iPhone 7 Plus phone.

Titled Unfateful, the film’s cast and crew is entirely made up of novices who’ve got little or no experience in the field. Seby himself is in fact an auditor with a passion for filmmaking. “I’m not completely devoid of experience. I’ve made low-budget corporate films and I did a one-month internship with Nirvana films to perfect the craft,” says the Bengaluru-based director.

A trip to Gokarna with friends inspired him to shoot a road trip film and the iPhone came in purely by chance. “It is half the price of a DSLR and when my friend Karthik got an iPhone 7s we decided to use the phone for filming,” he says, “I also found the car I wanted to use by chance at a friend’s house. It all fell into place.”

Seby then plunged into two months of research and in April 2017 applied for a nine-month sabbatical from work. While his entire crew is based out of Chennai, his cast comprises of actors from Chennai and Bengaluru. Covering over 15,000 kilometers, the film has been shot across the states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh.

Unfateful revolves around four strangers who end up carpooling together on a journey. Following a script-less approach, Seby says that works by directors like Ridley Scott, Satyajit Ray and Sean Baker inspired him to work on the movie. “Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Ozhivudivasathe Kali is one of the most important Indian films and also my main inspiration. Film’s like Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi and Christopher Nolan’s Following made me wonder how they were able to pull of such brilliant films with a very little budget,” says Seby.

While making a film is no easy task, coming from a completely different background also has its own advantages says Seby, “Having no knowledge in the field gives you a unique perspective. I know no boundaries and everything is an experiment.”

The team has spent a little over 25 days shooting, which was split into three schedules. With its production completed, Seby is now looking to raise funds to work on post-production of the movie. “The film comes to life in the editing and we need ten lakhs to complete it. So far we’ve shelled out 15 lakhs for the film’s production,” says Seby adding, “This kind of experimental filming may not have been possible 20 years ago but things have progressed for the better, so much now, it's very encouraging.”

The film’s crew is made up of Ajay Siva, Karthick Raj, Anmi Elizabeth, Aakash Poojith and Jophina Joseph while its cast comprises of Sharath Prakash, Janavi Nagarajan, Aakash Mohanty from Mumbai, Bharat Simha, Sanjith Ballal, and Darshan Shankar.

Seby has started an online crowdfunding campaign to complete the rest of his film and those wishing to contribute can do so here.

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The 12 students, all from economically weak families and mostly first generation learners, coached this year have cleared the entrance.
  • Sunday, June 10, 2018 - 10:26

The state of Tamil Nadu has been deterred by setbacks ever since CBSE made NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test) a compulsory entrance examination for medical aspirants in the country. While TN students were largely unprepared for the exams in 2017, 2018 came with its own set of challenges, with CBSE muddling up the exam centre allocations for applicants from the state.

Therefore, it was not surprising that the state could muster only a poor 39.6% pass percentage. Of the 1,14,602 Tamil Nadu candidates who appeared for NEET 2018, only 45,336 passed. Last year, 83,859 students appeared of which only 32,570 passed.

These numbers may not be encouraging but the efforts by a small group of professors from New College in Chennai, along with a few of their friends, to help more aspirants prepare better for NEET is heartening.

Professor Ansar of Creating Hands shares that the group was formed in 2015 during the Chennai floods and has continued functioning since.

“We are not an NGO, just a few likeminded people coming together to help more people. Last year, even when no one thought that NEET exams would take place, we spread the word through WhatsApp and Facebook and took in 120 students from economically weaker sections of the society,” he begins.

These 120 students – 80 girls and 40 boys – were selected from across the state to be coached in Chennai.

“A friend offered his place near Aamir Mahal and that is where the classes took place. Students from Kanyakumari, Velur, Vaniambadi also came for the classes. We also gave free boarding at our college hostel for those who needed it. Few friends opened their houses to accommodate girl students from conservative families,” says Ansar.

While only 3 students were able to secure government college seats that year, the professor explains that it was a trial for them and helped them understand NEET coaching better.

“In 2016, not many knew what needed to be done. Moreover, none of us from Creating Hands are science professors. I’m a commerce teacher. While we were able to bring in experienced teachers and provide study materials for free, we still needed to understand more,” he says.

In 2016, of the 450 students who applied, 120 were shortlisted based on their Class 10 marks. This year, in addition to a screening test, they also interviewed the candidates to make sure they were focussed on pursuing MBBS.

“Some students sounded confident when their parents were with them, but when we spoke to them alone, they confided that it was actually their parents who wanted them to take up the exam. Last year, of the 120 who were trained by us, many signed up only because it was for free. This spoils the chance for a student who is passionate,” says Prof Ansar.

Armed with some experience, the team took in interested students and classes were conducted in two other centres in the state. “A few teachers from other districts were very interested to get on board. So in 2016, we had a small group of students being trained in Thakalai in Kanyakumari and another batch in Pudupettai in Chennai. Classes were conducted every Sunday from 6.30 am to 2.00 pm from August 15 to January 26. We called this the ‘Independence to Republic Batch’,” he adds with a smile.

A small group of 12 students – 8 girls and 4 boys – were selected this time to be coached for a full month in Chennai. Study materials and breakfast were provided for free.

“Four of these students were from Thakalai, who were staying with their relatives, and the others came from different parts of the city,” he says.

Professor Ansar goes on to explain that these students come from economically weak families and are mostly first generation learners.

“We made sure all students who were selected deserved a fair chance at the entrance. The main problem that is plaguing our students is lack of facilities,” he says.

It is apparent that TN students who study in the state board are at a disadvantage when it comes to NEET.

“State board syllabus is not on par with CBSE syllabus and the method of education is result-oriented as opposed to concept-oriented in CBSE,” he explains, adding, “The only good so far seems to be the Class 11 state board examinations. Schools often skip Class 11 portions which is crucial for Class 12 and subsequently for such entrance examinations. We hope for a change in the coming years.”

Professor Ansar shares with much joy that all 12 of his students were able to clear NEET this time, with Salman Farsi scoring the highest at 88.7 percentile. The journey for them, however, is far from over.

“Given the kind of family backgrounds these children come from it is hard for them to decide or to even understand what needs to be done. We have planned counselling sessions for them next,” he says.

Thowfia, the daughter of a courier load man, is one among the 12 students who has cleared NEET 2018. But the 17-year-old has very little idea about what to do next. Even though she has scored only 68 percentile, the reservation quota might give her a better chance, says Professor Ansar.

“Most often, these students think they’ve scored very less and do not try any further. Without guidance, they won’t know how to fill the application forms either,” he adds.

Professor Ansar further explains that their idea is to not compete with reputed centres who offer better coaching for such entrance examinations but to make available a level playing field for students from poorer sections of society who harbour great dreams.

“These students lack access to good facilities. The education system that is currently in place leaves them at a disadvantage,” he rues, adding, “In our small group of 12 students, everyone matters. We’ll have at least 9 doctors.”

The group has rented a small space in Royapettah and hopes to continue providing entrance coaching for free.

“More teachers have expressed interest to do this in their districts. We’ve been getting more requests now. This looks like a positive development. Our hope is to make sure we don’t have one more Anita or Pradeepa,” he concludes.

Creating Hands welcomes patrons. Those wishing to contribute can reach out to Professor Ansar at 87544 03752. 

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Several fans wore black to theatres to watch 'Kaala' - and they knew the significance of it, too.
  • Thursday, June 07, 2018 - 16:52

Even before Kaala released, the colour black’s significance in this film was one of the aspects that was discussed widely. The film’s teaser had clear references to the black-white divide that is of political import - “Kaala na Karuppu” (Kaala means black), “Karuppu uzhaipoda vannam,” (Black is the colour of the proletariat) are some of the dialogues that touched on it.

Evidently, Thalaivar fans were quick to pick up on this and the sea of black that descended upon theatres in Chennai will tell you how. Donning black clothes, many sporting unique black T-shirts specifically designed for Kaala, these Rajini fans confessed their allegiance to their star.

“The colour black has all colours in it. Didn’t Thalaivar refer to it? It is the colour of the working class. And I belong to the working class,” says Ramesh, before his friend Ananda Ganesh pipes in, “Kaala nale karuppu!” 

Another fan confessed to have stitched clothes in black specifically for the film, and ever since Rajini began wearing black outfits off-screen, her affection for the colour also has increased.

“For every Thalaivar birthday I began wearing black colour. This movie also has an important part for the colour black. I’m very happy to see this colour on screen,” she gushes. 

Associating a particular colour with a certain brand of politics is common all over the world, more so in India. While saffron is associated with Hindutva, representing a faction of the country that has a violent history of oppressing the downtrodden, red has usually been the colour chosen by rebels who fight against it.

In the south, however, black holds a special place in Dravidian ideology, and is often used to signify the condition of the oppressed. The colour stands for revolution, especially in Tamil Nadu. It was Periyar who encouraged members of the Dravidar Kazhagam to wear black as a symbol of protest against oppression. Since then, rationalists and Periyarists in the state routinely wear the colour to mark their politics.

However, in many cultures, black signifies death and mourning, and most times, people steer clear of wearing black clothes during festive occasions. Needless to add, world history is testimony to the prejudices black skin has faced. The history of the colour black, therefore, is steeped with stories of oppression.

While people associate all that is pure and clean with white, black is considered dirty and impure. And that is precisely the traditional symbolism that Pa Ranjith’s Kaala hopes to overturn.

There is one other colour which features prominently in Kaala - blue, the colour of Dalit resistance. Kaala is always dressed in either blue or black and the references are hard to miss. Red, which stands for communism and socialism, also makes an appearance in the climax when the screen explodes in a riot of colours.

Rajinikanth’s Kaala comes at a time when the actor has made his political intentions clear. It is hard not to notice the glaring differences between Rajini - the actor and Rajini the politician, but his fans, however, have been floored by Kaala’s ideology. While it is widely believed that Rajini the politician has made saffron his colour, Rajini the actor is all for black and defends it on screen.

In an average film, most people would not ponder the significance of colours on screen. Not many film releases in the country have hoards of fans sporting a colour theme.  But Kaala leaves an impact on the viewers and the way they look at the colour black. In Ranjith’s Kaala, the colour black is respectable; it is the colour of hard work, the colour of the working class. And it is precisely this point that has resonated so well with the audience. 

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From Kaala cakes to cocktails, here's how Chennai is gearing up for the release.
  • Wednesday, June 06, 2018 - 20:18

The release of a Rajinikanth film is nothing short of a festival in Tamil Nadu. While paal abishegam (the act of pouring milk) on huge cut-outs of the star and bursting crackers is the norm, a few fans are celebrating the film’s release in their own special way. There’s Kaala merchandise, Kaala cake and a Kaala mocktail, and the list keeps growing.

For Raana, a die-hard Rajini fan, the plan was put in place several weeks ago. He and 150 of his friends will flood theatres in the city wearing their custom-made Kaala t-shirts. “We make sure we’ve got the t-shirts printed and ready before every release. This time, we’ve also ordered for a 70 kg cake to celebrate the release,” he says. “Paal abishegam and crackers are part of our usual celebrations,” he adds, nonchalantly.

Speaking of cakes, Chennai’s CK’s Bakery has a limited edition Kaala cake, complete with the film’s first look poster on edible sugar paper. The choco-mocha cake is an all-black chocolate and coffee flavoured pastry and sold like, well… like hot cakes!

“Even though our marketing was very minimal, we sold 70 cakes in just 24 hours. With its success, we’ve planned to extend this limited edition for a few days longer than we originally intended,” says Arjun, who works with the team. The cakes are also priced at an affordable Rs 333 per for half a kilo, and can be bought from any CK's bakery outlet.

Lokesh and Karthik, bar manager and operations manager at the Wire Room, Chennai, have taken the Kaala craze a step higher. These self-confessed Rajinikanth fans have concocted a special Kaala mocktail/cocktail to quench Chennai’s thirst.

“We’ve got two versions - the Kaala mocktail comes with pineapple, karupatti (black jaggery), lime and sugar syrup. The cocktail has gin in it,” says Lokesh. The newly launched lounge bar also has a number of other Madras-themed drinks to choose from that are flavoured with planeer soda, nannari sherbet, etc. The Kaala mocktail is priced at 250 and cocktail at Rs 600. Launched on April 23, they’ve sold close to 600 glasses so far.

Rajinikanth being a part of pop culture in Japan is a well-known tale. The star’s 1998 film Muthu, called Dancing Maharaja in Japanese, was a phenomenal success that ran for 23 weeks, grossed $1.6 million, and created a strong fan base in the country. It is estimated that Rajini has close to 3000 fans in Tokyo alone! While the film’s release date in Japan is not known yet, it has not stopped two die-hard Japanese fans from flying down to Chennai to catch the first-day-first-show of the film.

In a video posted on Kasi theatre’s Twitter page, two Japanese fans - Yasuda and Satsuki - are seen standing in front of Kaala’s poster. One of them is even seen delivering the famed “kya re? setting ah?” dialogue with much swag!

Star worship is nothing short of a culture in the South. People go all the way to show their love for their on-screen idol and while it may appear excessive to the outsiders, it’s a more of a necessity for the locals. 

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Human Interest
Janaki Lenin talks to TNM about how reluctant she was to move to the paddy field, and how it became home to her later.
  • Tuesday, June 05, 2018 - 13:16
Janaki Lenin

This is the story of a paddy field that gave way to a verdant forest. A story of how the golden-green rice field was replaced by a dense, brown forest, of tall palmyras that followed the dainty paddy stalks.

This is the story of how an arid landscape is now a bountiful jungle that houses several varieties of flora and fauna.

When Janaki Lenin moved into this 13-acre rice field in 1997 with her husband, the snake man of India, Romulus Whitaker, she absolutely hated it. “I wasn't inspired at all. I didn't want to be here and the first time we visited this place was in May - the worst time of the year,” says Janaki.



The field, located 30 kilometres outside Chennai, was surrounded by hillocks on one side and was within driving distance from the Madras Crocodile Bank. This fact and that it was fairly close to the airport worked in its favour. “Back then, we were both filmmakers and were away for about 9 months in a year, so it wasn't much of a problem for me,” adds Janaki.

At first, they tried transplanting trees from the Madras Crocodile Bank in the field. But when this failed, they decided to do it the old-fashioned way. “We had done this in some other places, including Dakshinachitra, where the transplanting had worked successfully. But not here in the hard clay of our farm. Every single tree died. There was no choice but to go through the longer route - germinate the seeds, grow the seedlings in bags and then plonk them in the ground,” she wrote on Twitter.

However, this too failed as the hot summer breeze was not favourable to the growth of the saplings. “That is when the Dude said we have to change tactics. We planted the Australian acacia - auriculiformis or earleaf acacia,” she continues.

The Australian acacia protected the saplings from shrivelling up and soon enough they were able to  grow. Later, they cut down the acacias to let more native trees grow. They planted a number of native trees like nava maram, badam, tamarind, Arjuna, Kudukka and Iluppai. They also planted species like Gmelina arborea, lannea coromandelica, cassine glauca and pterocarpus marsupium, increasing the forest cover of the area. 

A feat like this, however, is no mean task. But did they get some kind of support from the locals? “Of course we had no local help, we were undoing everything their forefathers had done. Also, we never explained why we were doing it. It was a very utilitarian task for us and not social,” says Janaki. She also shares that later they learnt from the Irulas that the area was once a forest that was plundered for its timber. 

From her initial reluctance to live there to growing an entire forest, Janaki chronicled her experiences in her book ‘My Husband and Other Animals 1 and 2’. The area is now home to several species of birds, animals and reptiles.

Jungle cats

Spotted Civets



“We’ve been able to identify close to 200 species of birds, some not well known in the area - Oriental dwarf kingfisher, Paradise flycatcher, Indian Robin…” she names a few.

Janaki also lists some of the other animals that frequent her lawn and sometimes her house. “Rock agamas, common toads found in unlikely places inside the house, hares, palm civets that feast on ripening fruits, the ruddy mongoose and porcupines that frequent in the nights,” she adds.

Bonnet Macaques



Rock Agama

Common toads

Tree frogs

Her experience with a leopard, however, was something that changed her as a person. “When the leopard took away one of my dogs, I was furious. I wanted it caught. But then Dude asked me, ‘If it can’t be here, where else can it be?’ When people who’ve lost their goats and cattle (their monetary sources) to these predators and can co exist with them, what do I have to lose? It made me rethink my view of the world,” she says, adding, “It is the process of acceptance - to live and let live.”

Their land now stands out - a patch of green in the middle of the brown earth and the lighter rice fields.

All photos courtesy: Twitter / Janaki Lenin

Along the way, Janaki has grown fonder of the place that she was once reluctant to move into. “You invest all this time and energy into the place and you begin to develop an affection for it. It is now a hard decision for us to move from this place that has now become home,” she says with a smile.