Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

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Alaka Sahani won the National Award for the Best Film Critic for the year 2013

Alaka Sahani received the National Award for the Best Film Critic for the year 2013. She received the award for her phenomenal writings on Indian theatre and new facets of documentary film making, for writings that took Indian entertainment beyond the staple of glamour. No wonder when entertainment journalists in India are obsessed about chasing glamorous stars for their pictures, quotes and interviews, Alaka chooses to stand apart and says she finds Tun Tun, fascinating. In a no-holds-barred interview Alaka Sahani talks about current state of entertainment journalism in India and why she rarely takes selfies with the stars.

Do you feel that there is an obsession with glamour?

Definitely, yes. As a movie-crazy nation we all are interested in gossip, glamour and stars’ private lives. Most leading newspapers and tabloids cater to this. They have special sections and supplements that feature such pieces along with glamorous photos of stars. An array of websites too feed on Bollywood gossip as well as photographs of stars making an appearance at events, walking the red carpet or sneaking into their lover’s pad. Even an insipid photo of an actor having dinner or coming out of an airport can create a buzz.

However, my understanding is that such obsession is more acute in urban centres. In the Tier-II and Tier-III towns of India, people are more interested in politics, developmental issues and sports.

What kind of articles you feel work with readers but are rarely written or researched?

We hardly come across a piece, unless it’s a blog, which goes beyond an A-lister’s stock replies and brings out his or her quirks, concerns and insecurities (A case in point is this piece I had read long ago http://www.theguardian.com/film/2008/may/16/ewanmcgregor). Also, it is rare to find a star who does not stick to politically-correct answers. That’s the reason Kangana Ranaut’s straight-speak on Anupama Chopra’s show The Front Row was so refreshing and went viral in 2013.

Do you feel the internet has changed journalism to a great extent?

Yes, it has. It gives previously unimaginable reach to all kind of film-related writings – be it a news break on Twitter, Facebook post or blogs. The online department of leading publications too religiously upload Bollywood-related tidbits with attention-grabbing headlines. YouTube has been yet another major gamechanger.

Are stars and PR people manipulating the media?

Absolutely, yes. And this is not a startling fact anymore. In fact, both the parties — stars and their PRs as well as media — feed off each other. Today, money can buy the stars, or for that matter anyone, space and visibility in media.

Gone are the days when journalists and stars shared a very informal rapport. Even though some prominent journalists might have access to top stars, the latter mostly speak to the media only when they want to. For example, when the release date of their movies is nearing or they are keen to clear their stand in a controversial matter or they want to push their pet cause/project.

An article/interview that you would want to write but haven’t managed to write yet.

Someday, I would like to write about popular and talented supporting actors of India such as Tun Tun, Mukri, Kanhaiyalal, Leela Mishra, Om Prakash and Iftekhar. I have grown up on a heavy dose of black-and-white classics as well as movies of the 60s and 70s thanks to my parents. So those worlds continue to fascinate me. I find these actors with their mannerisms and character traits so endearing even though they were typecast.

Tun Tun was called the first woman comedian of India

Tun Tun was called the first woman comedienne of India

How has winning the national Award made a difference to your life and work?

It has not made any major difference in my life so far. But, thanks to this, today I am connected to a lot more people from various fields — the film industry, writers and, most importantly, people from Odisha, my home state. After the award was announced, I received immense warmth and love from all around — my office, family, friends, lost friends and cinema lovers. Recently, my father, a former deputy commissioner of Income Tax, received a thunderous applause at the annual meet of his department’s pensioner’s association which celebrated my award. This was priceless.

In an age when journalists are doing everything to show how happening their lives are you are very low profile despite being a National Award winner. Why?

I am a bit inhibited when it comes to showing off every little achievement. I would like to change that about myself to some extent. To begin with, I will post my bylines on Twitter and Facebook more often.

Alaka Sahani receiving the National Award from the president of India

Alaka Sahani receiving the National Award from Pranab Mukherjee, the President of India

Most journalists publish selfies with stars on FB I have never seen you doing that. Why?

I believe selfies should be for fun, not to show off that I just met this actor. Since most journalists are fans of stars as well as movie-buffs, I understand there is natural urge to take selfies. Later on, they post it on social media partly due to the pure joy of meeting a film star but mostly to have more followers or grab attention on social media. Stars too understand this and rarely decline a request for selfies.

Having said that, I am not immune to such temptations. I do take photographs with the stars I love as well as with whom I end up having a memorable conversation. In the past, I have put up a photo with Naseeruddin Shah (it’s my favourite. The camera that was focussed on him had caught a hazy reflection of mine on a mirror behind him) and Wong Kai Wai whom I met at IFFI, Goa. I will admit to you that I have selfies with Hrithik Roshan, Varun Dhawan and Dimple Kapadia on my phone. Someday, I should be able to post it on social media. Someday.

What is your opinion on the current state of film journalism?

It is an exciting time for film journalism, given the multiple platforms and wide reach that it enjoys today. While magazines and newspapers continue to carry regular stories related to cinema such as interviews with film personalities, trend stories and gossips, some of the websites and blogs have been putting up in-depth and well-researched pieces. What makes some of them a nice read is the quality of writing.

 

About Alaka Sahani: 

For the year 2013, Alaka Sahani received the National Films Award for the Best Film Critic. She was presented the award for her writings that highlighted facets of cinema beyond glamour and gossip. Currently, she is working as a Senior Assistant Editor with The Indian Express, Mumbai, and heads its Features section.

During her eight-year stint at The Indian Express, she has written extensively on cinema and theatre, apart from covering the Mumbai Film Festival and IFFI, Goa. She have also worked for some of India’s leading newspapers including Hindustan Times (Kolkata and Mumbai) and The Times of India, Kolkata, during her journalistic career spanning over 15 years.

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Swati Singh worked with designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee for four years

Swati Singh worked with designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee for four years

I was meeting my old school pal Swati Singh after more than a decade. But I don’t know why sitting by the window of Café Coffee Day on Ekdalia I was filled with anticipation. Maybe this was because the Swati I knew was one of the prettiest girls in our school, she was a great dancer, a superb singer and a fantastic painter and I was waiting to see how she’d turned out after so many years.

Swati was working as an assistant designer with Sabysachi Mukherjee, the man who probably commands the highest price in India when it comes to his creations, and gets away with it too.

But during our conversation over the phone when we were planning our meet Swati told me, “I have quit!”

“Why…?”

“I will tell you when we meet,” was all she said.

I waited for Swati looking out for her red Maruti, the car in which we had travelled to so many movies, birthday parties and luncheons, not realizing that it probably hadn’t stood the test of time.

Swati emerged from a white car in a bang-on-trend black and white striped maxi dress looking like a dream.  When it came to complimenting her I did not know where to start and where to end.

“It’s all make-up yaar. If I want to convince others to hire me as a make-up artist the first thing I should show them is my own make-up, right?”

Swati likes to work on her own make-up to give people an idea of what they can expect

Swati likes to work on her own make-up to give people an idea of what they can expect

She told me she wanted to start off as a make-up artist on her own so she tossed up her four-year-old job with Sabyasachi that involved overseeing the production at his Topsia workshop and ensuring that each piece met the standards he had set.

“It was a wonderful experience, I learned a lot and I am grateful to Sabyasachi for giving me this opportunity but I wanted to pursue my own creativity.”

While she was excelling at her work at Sabyasachi’s workshop, her personal life was all about dealing with ups and downs. Being in an unhappy marriage for several years and later on dealing with the consequences of a separation was draining for Swati. But she believed in fighting it out.

“I knew that I had to start my life from scratch. I had to stand on my own feet, I had to move on. So many times I was on the verge of having an emotional and physical breakdown but I didn’t give up. While dealing with the mental trauma of a disturbed personal life I struggled to keep my creativity alive…”

Swati with Marvie at her hair and make-up academy in Mumbai

Swati with Marvie at her hair and make-up academy in Mumbai

She’s taken a professional make-up and hair styling course at the Marvie Ann Beck Make-up and Hair Academy in Mumbai and she is all set to step into the glamour world as a make-up artist. Swati’s also got back to painting, something she always wanted to do but never had time for because of her busy schedule and she is selling her work through her Facebook page which she has aptly named Colours of Hope.

“I know I am setting foot in a tough profession as a make-up artist because here nothing but word-of-mouth publicity will work for me and it won’t be easy but we have only one life and I don’t want to live with any regrets. It’s never too late to pursue your dreams,” she said with conviction.

She is starting off with bridal and party make-up but she wants to test her creativity with photo shoots and ramp styling too.

A Bengali bride before make-up

A Bengali bride before make-up

The same bride after Swati worked her brush strokes

The same bride after Swati worked her brush strokes

“I am taking one step at a time. I don’t want to rush things. There are some well-known make-up artistes in Kolkata and I respect the work they are doing. I hope and believe I will be able to make a space for myself here,” she said.

When I left CCD that day I kept thinking of the Swati I knew – a talented girl bordering on the shy sometimes, who never believed in breaking any rules and I thought of the Swati now – brimming with confidence, not afraid to live her dream.

Life has put her through the tests but she has transformed her negative experiences to emerge a positive person. She has mustered the courage to be what she wants to be. I couldn’t help but admire her for that.

Swati at work

Swati at work

Some quick questions I asked Swati and here’s what she said:

What’s the biggest make-up mistake we all make? Not blending the blush-on well which makes it look patchy and also neglecting the neck while applying the foundation only on the face.

One make-up item that can alter your looks drastically…..A well defined kajal or eye liner

A quick fix for unruly hair…Hair pulled back and tied into a tight ponytail at the centre or on one side of the neck. Taking small sections of the loose hair, twist and pin up forming a messy bun. Spray hair fixer generously. It looks very chic and works with every look.

A Bollywood actress you want to work with…Kangana Ranaut

A Tollywood actress you want to work with…Swastika Mukherjee

A model you want to work with…Noyonika Chatterjee

A challenge you want to take up…Life is full of challenges but the biggest and toughest challenge is to ‘maintain your smile’ at all times. I just want to keep smiling.

Swati's all-new visiting card

Swati’s all-new visiting card

 

Writer Sushmita Bandopadhyay and (right) Manisha Koirala playing her in reel-life in the Hindi film Escape from Taliban

Writer Sushmita Bandopadhyay and (right) Manisha Koirala playing her in reel-life in the Hindi film Escape from Taliban

The year was 2004 and the time was past midnight. I had just returned to the Times of India office in Kolkata, India, after a glitzy awards function where Manisha Koirala was given the best actress award for her role in the film Escape from Taliban. I just wanted to write the copy for the event I had covered so that I didn’t have to do it from home next day, which was my off day.

I was at my workstation when I got a call from security downstairs saying that a lady named Sushmita Bandopadhyay wanted to meet someone from my department. Puzzled, I looked at my watch. It was 1 am. Since I was the only one in my department at that time, I invited her upstairs.

Sushmita Bandopadhyay was a writer who gave Bengal a glimpse of the life of women in Afghanistan during Taliban’s dominance through her book Kabuliwalar Bangali Bou (Kabuliwala’s Bengali Wife) in 1997, a decade before Khaled Hosseini took on the world with his best-seller A Thousand Splendid Suns that delved into the same issue.

I had read about her daring escape from Taliban-dominated Afghanistan and at that moment I could feel the adrenaline rushing through my veins at the thought of meeting her. It took her some time to find her breath after her climb up the stairs.

After a glass of water, she gave vent to her anger – the reason that had brought her to my office at such an odd hour. She was livid with the organizers of the award ceremony (that I had just covered) for not inviting her to the function, considering the Bollywood film Escape from Taliban was based on her book. She also felt that if Manisha Koirala was given the Best Actress Award, then she too deserved some kind of mention or invitation at the ceremony.

“I am amazed that I am the writer of the book, sitting right here in Kolkata and they didn’t bother to invite me!” Sushmita said angrily.

That was Sushmita Bandopadhyay. She did what she wanted to do, even if that meant marrying and running away with a Kabuliwala to Afghanistan, escaping the country by digging a hole in the wall of her husband’s house, or even visiting a newspaper office at 1am.

At that point I felt her anger was probably justified. But as an entertainment journalist I knew for a fact that being the bestselling author of the book that had sold 700,000 copies was not enough. She would have probably found herself sitting next to Manisha Koirala had she been slimmer and prettier and had worn a designer salwar kurta instead of a how-dare-you attitude.

She was clearly upset, but the fact that I gave her a patient hearing and noted down her words calmed her down considerably. After that night I spoke to her often on the phone asking her for quotes for my stories.

In my interactions with her I realized that even if she had escaped Afghanistan, that country defined her. It was because of her experiences there she found fame as a writer and as the years passed by and she receded in public memory Sushmita wanted to reclaim her status as the Kabuliwalar bangali bou, who had taken Kolkata by storm with her story.

What I read from the reports yesterday was that Sushmita went back to Afghanistan to write another book and film a series on the life of women there. People who knew her say she was foolish to have gone back there and can’t seem to understand why she went.

I think I know why. She once again wanted to be the woman, who could dare the worst and write the truth. She probably wanted to see her name flashed across TV screens and in the pages of newspapers all over again.

In the last two days, she is not only everywhere in the Indian media, she has also made it to New York Times, CNN and BBC.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/06/world/asia/woman-who-wrote-about-life-under-the-taliban-is-killed.html?_r=0

I am sure she would have been happy if the headlines had been about her next book and not about her bullet-ridden body.

May her soul rest in peace.