The queen of mujra moves #Sundayreading

Moupia Basu | April 6, 2013, TimesCrest

Chic in a trouser-kurti ensemble, former actor and dancer Minoo Mumtaz is completely at ease as she reclines on the sofa in her Pune home. She has a flight to catch in a couple of hours as she heads back to home and family in Canada. “I can’t wait to be with my grandchildren, ” she says excitedly. At 72, she has seen it all – the glory of being a Bollywood diva and its pitfalls. Unlike most of her contemporaries from the golden era of Hindi cinema, Minoo Mumtaz leads a contented life today. “My family is my strength, especially my husband who has never let me shed a single tear in our nearly 50 years of marriage. ”

It is difficult to picture her as the original item girl, who played the seductive courtesan in “Saaquiya aaj mujhe neend nahi aayegi” (Guru Dutt’s Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam), one of the best mujra sequences of all times. But she takes umbrage at being called an ‘item’ girl. “We were not ‘item’ girls, but professional dancers and actresses. I feel ashamed watching them today gyrating in scanty clothes to obscene lyrics. ”

There was something about Minoo Mumtaz, born Malka Begum, that endeared her to millions of moviegoers. It could be the smile, the nakhras, the come-hither look, but her hypnotic grace lingered long after the dance ended. Although she never rose to the height that Madhubala or Meena Kumari did, her presence in a film could not be ignored.

Mumtaz‘s performances were free-spirited and spontaneous, especially her dance numbers. This applied to her classical compositions also. “I surrendered myself to the dance director. I knew no technique but dance came easily to me, ” she says. “I would watch my father (Mumtaz Ali), a very good dancer, and mimic his moves in front of a mirror, much to my mother’s horror because she was dead against movies. ”

Mumtaz grew up in a conservative Muslim household of Nawabi descent. But the family, which once supported at least 35 residents in a huge bungalow in Mumbai, fell on hard times when Mumtaz Ali took to drinking. “I decided to help out financially although I was only 13. Those were the worst two years of my life because I also lost my mother, ” she says.

But she loved life too much to give in. “My sister and I would walk on the railway tracks from Malad, where we lived, to Mohan Studios in Andheri and wait – often in pouring rain – until producer-director Nambhai Vakil took us in. I started off with a substantial role in Sakhi Hatim, my very first film. I was paid Rs 500 for the film and Rs 200 for a dance. My price quickly shot up to Rs 800 and within three months, I bought my first car. ” Within three to four years, Mumtaz had bagged important roles including that of a heroine, with top actors of the time like Balraj Sahni.

It was her professionalism and no-nonsense attitude that took her to the top. “I was not interested in anything other than my role. I would carry my knitting to the studios and once the cameras were switched off, I would knit. Those who came to me with dishonourable intentions were shooed away, ” she says. Moreover, her brothers, especially legendary actor Mehmood, were always around to protect her.

As she speaks, Mumtaz’s slender fingers often curl up in a mudra. “Dance is in my blood, ” she says. “If I get into the mood, I can dance even today, but where are the songs, where’s the music?” She is unhappy with modern Bollywood music. “Hindi film music lacks the lyrical quality today, ” she says.

At the peak of her popularity, she married assistant director Ali S Akbar. “Although we belonged to different Muslim sects, Mehmood Bhai went ahead and organised the wedding. And, he did it in style. Parts of the Sheesh Mahal sets from Mughal-e-Azam were used to do up the wedding venue. But, Bhaijaan forbade me from acting thereafter, ” she says.

It’s been a long time since she faced the arclights, but the memories have not dimmed. “I feel sad for Meena aapa, it was she who rechristened me Minoo Mumtaz. An unhappy and childless marriage led to her collapse, she simply wasted away. She was one of the greatest actresses ever, with no nakhras!”

But she smiles at the mention of Madhubala. “She was like a sister and I was her confidante. When her romance with Dilip Kumar broke off, she turned to me. ” But Mumtaz’s first meeting with Madhubala was not all that pleasant. “She ignored me completely as I waited for our first shot together in Ek Saal Baad. But I walked up to her and asked her why she chose to behave so badly with a devoted fan. Her arrogance crumpled, and we went on to become the best of friends, ” she says.

As for her male co-stars, she has a special corner in her heart for Dev Anand. “He was a thorough gentleman and one of the most handsome men ever, ” she remembers. Guru Dutt is another actor she was very fond of. “Dada was not just a creative genius, he was very humble as a person. Each time I walked on to the sets, he would get up from his director’s chair to welcome me, and I was not even the heroine. ”

The years have flown past and Minoo Mumtaz has accepted all that came her way with a rare grace. As she gets up to leave for the airport, she flashes a smile and says, “I thank Allah for bestowing me with so much. ”


An Open Letter to Anurag Kashyap and his 12.12.12 project. #kractivism




( Within 3 hours after putting this post- picture abhi baak hai dost :-P)

“Shilpa has been refunded the expenses she incurred on making the film and Showhouse’s Large Short Films has promised to give her copyright over her work soon subsequent to the circulation of the open letter. She is waiting for it in writing. She stands by the issues she raised and thanks everyone for the immense kind support” Thanks Kamayani this would not have been possible without you. You are really awesome!

I am a Mysore based woman filmmaker who was chosen by you to be part of the Mega Movies project 12.12.12 executed by Showhouse Entertainment’s Large Short Films Wing. I am writing this open letter because I think public discourse is important given that over the years you have come to occupy such an important space within what you call ‘independent cinema’.

Also no one from the company that you endorse, as well as you, thinks it is important to have a dialogue with me about unpaid wages, disrespect and unfair dismissal which has caused me tremendous amount of financial, emotional stress. There is also a much touted save indie cinema doing the rounds and what it fails to add to the discourse (not surprising going by the kind of signatories it claims) is what I want to talk about. Changing the look of how you produce cinema and being backed by big studio capital isn’t really independent. I think it is important to bring this into the public domain as the silences around working practices result in the perpetuation of exploitative systems and weed out filmmakers based on their class, caste, gender, religion and language.

It was absolutely no surprise when I saw that the list of 12 directors included no woman. So apparently out of 600 entries only I, the sole woman, made it to the shortlist and because I decided to speak up and not be quiet about how my film was going to tortured and beaten into becoming the kind of objects that you seem to grant your blessings to, 12.12.12 is now officially an all male production.

I bring your notice to this because the tone of the company with regard to objections I raised has been patronising, condescending and dismissive. Well meaning friends and critics will tell me that’s how it works, that’s the industry,
the industry that works on free labour, meant for those who have the money to afford the time to chase dreams. It’s not meant for women like me who have no big daddies or brothers or husbands supporting them. It isn’t meant for women
like me who choose to work in a language other than Hindi and it definitely isn’t meant for women like me who don’t know how to waddle along consenting to practices that make people like you and the companies you endorse just richer
on the back of such exploitative practices.

You sent me an email stipulating that I would not be in touch with any of the other 11 directors (an effective way I must say to curb dissent and this goes by the name of being collaborative!) The contract also stipulated that I would be paid once I handed over the film contrary to what the rules on the contest page initially stated wherein I was supposed to have been given the money before Ivmade the film. This I was informed after having worked a full month on the project. I did sign it and I take full responsibility for that sign because you were the carrot dangled to me, the one ruling the roost in the film festival circuit and of course the Indian public funding circuit, what seemed like the only way to make one’s film. And since you must have been paid handsomely to be the carrot, I only ask that you own up to the full responsibility of it and be accountable to the carrot desirers you create.

After insisting that I get paid at least half I went ahead, after funds were released, and borrowed money to complete it. I hand over the film and fulfil my contractual obligations and then am bullied into changing and reshooting it for a mistake made by Asmit Pathare (Project director not the 12th discovery – check the shortlist!) and Abhijit Das (the godfather of short films in the making). So I naturally said no. You must understand how difficult it is for a director to hurt their stories? It’s kind of like being okay with Abhijit Das (Creative head of Largeshortfilms) adding on a scene where Manoj Bajpai spouts Feminist Marxist dialogues in Gangs of Wasseypur and without telling you! Wouldn’t really fit with the ethos of the film no? Your company even told me that since I do not have the resources I cannot be involved in the reshoot. At such a juncture I asked you not to use my film if I was not being reimbursed and no, you go ahead and use it. The matchbox still from my film is still up on the company’s website.

In a country with absolutely zilch funding for independent films you exploit the hopes of thousands of aspirants. You reiterate a certain way of working which accommodates only a certain type of filmmaker. This in my world is called cheating, it’s called immoral and it’s called unfair. In your world all this is grey, this hijacking that you do of a space that has seen so much struggle and such amazing cinema, this hijacking of language – calling it collaborative when it’s more dictatorial, this hijacking of image, of new film waves, of new ways of working. One of the most exciting things about globalised capitalism’s current avatar (as Hardt and Negri will tell you) is that even though it creates systems like you it also provides for ruptures like me.

Before you come back with a reply to this I ask you to re‐look at emails that you sent me and words you relayed to me through the company about my filmmaking. Everything that I have said is backed by evidence (I know too well
how important that is) I know this open dissent will cost me. I’m not naïve not to understand as to how you rule visibilities around distribution and production but I will walk away knowing that I have spoken and that this is just the beginning not the end of the road for me. For those of you reading this I understand that within the larger framework of what we call injustice in this country this is nothing but when we start to look at continuums everything does matter and support for this would really help not just me but for all those who are engaged in changing the way images speak.

From the 12th director who so mysteriously disappeared
Shilpa Munikempanna

contact- 9611843981

Fearless Nadia Hunterwali, once more #Sundayreading #cinema

India may have forgotten Mary Ann Evans, but the world is heaping praises on her. As Australia, her birth country, pays a tribute to India’s original stunt queen, Saadia S Dhailey ruminates on the life and times of Fearless Nadia


FEARLESS Nadia, aka Mary Ann Evans, burst onto the screen in the 1930s, juggling whips, swords, guns, and sometimes even landing mean punches with her bare hands, to set the villains straight. In this blonde, blueeyed ballet dancer, filmmaker JBH Wadia found his feminist icon, who could carry a social and political message at a time when Indian actresses played dainty damsels in distress, waiting to be rescued by their knights in shining armour.
From her first film, Hunterwali (The Princess and the Hunter) in 1935, Evans was a huge hit and went on to redefine the image of a woman on screen. She changed her name to Nadia after being advised by a fortuneteller and her nom de plume ‘Fearless Nadia’ was acquired from her days as a circus acrobat. To the pre-Independence era audience, Fearless Nadia was the first of her kind.
She would single-handedly fight a gang of men, jump from one moving vehicle to another, hang from chandeliers, and spout dialogues like no woman ever had till then, anywhere in the world. Author and documentary filmmaker Nasreen Munni Kabir watched Diamond Queen sometime in the late 1970s, and she will always remember Nadia’s famous dialogue that still rings true: “If India is to be free, women must be given their freedom. If you try and stop them, you’ll face the consequences”. Says Kabir, “In the early days of Indian cinema, our stunt films copied the Hollywood films of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. But it was Nadia who made this borrowed genre uniquely Indian by her very presence and unique stunts. Fearless Nadia represented a significant model. She played an original character at a time when the role of women in society was largely conservative and repressive. The
audience knew that she was not Indian, and perhaps the fact that a Westerner was fighting on our side was doubly appealing to them.”
A blonde, blue-eyed girl with Indian character names — Mala (Jungle Ka Jawahar), Savita (Miss Frontier Mail), Madhurika (Diamond Queen) — championing the common man’s causes and fighting for women’s rights was unheard of and unseen before.
Nadia went on to star in about 50 films, (some sources say 60), but as she mainly performed in the stunt genre, unfortunately, she was seen as less of a thespian, largely ignored by Indian cinema historians. That, however, changed in 1993, three years before her death, when Wadia’s grandson, the late Riyad Vinci Wadia, introduced her to the world through a documentary on her life called Fearless: The Hunterwali Story. Screened at various international film festivals, it brought her to the attention of the world, including Australia, where she was born as Mary Ann Evans. Riyad’s brother Roy Wadia, director, Wadia Movietone, tells us, “The documentary generated a lot of interest. When Australians realised the connection Mary had with them, she became very special.”
The ongoing Oz Fest in India has a segment dedicated to her. Australian composer Ben Walsh, who has been providing the music score in an unique live-orchestra format, as one of Nadia’s most famous films Diamond Queen is screened all over India, says, “Why India? I don’t think she still has parallels in the rest of the world.”
Australian journalist Michelle Smith after watching Nadia’s work recently, described her unique style as “a 1930s-esque innocence, juxtaposed with incredible stunts and spiels about women’s rights”. As a gift to India, the Australian High Commission has also undertaken the task to restore the print of this film. “It’s the most mature Nadia film of its kind and really elevated the stunt genre to story-telling,” Roy tells us. Filmmaker Shyam Benegal credits Nadia for giving Indian cinema its first angry young ‘man’. He explains, “She stood for the good and the right in society, which is what Amitabh Bachchan did as an actor in the late 1970s, and became a champion of the common man. Without Fearless Nadia, there would be no Amitabh Bachchan’s angry young man.”
Roy, who had the good fortune of knowing her (Mary was married to JBH Wadia’s brother Homi Wadia), says fondly, “She was the only grownup in my family who cracked adult jokes. One among the boys, she loved whisky and had no airs. Mary aunty didn’t buy into her legends and myths!”
Veteran film journalist Rauf Ahmed says, “In those days, Fearless Nadia did stunts that even men didn’t attempt.” Nadia’s grandnephew, Bollywood choreographer, Shiamak Davar, reveals how Nadia’s onscreen persona even charmed Angelina Jolie, who told Shah Rukh Khan once, she would love to play Fearless Nadia if her life is ever captured on celluloid.
With a renewed interest in the life, times and art of Nadia, a film on her, played by one of the most recognizable faces in the world, may not seem like a pipe dream anymore. But Davar still rues the lack of interest in her by the Indian film fraternity. “They pay tributes to everybody, but they have forgotten Mary mai.”

Mary Ann Evans, aka Fearless Nadia, was born in Perth, Australia, and came to Bombay in 1913, when she was five. She lived in Colaba with her father Herbert Evans, a Scotsman in the British army, and mother Margaret. After her father’s death in World War I, Evan’s mother took her to Peshawar. There, Mary learned how to hunt, fish, shoot. In 1928, she returned to Bombay with her mother and a son, Robert Jones, about whom not much is known. Nadia decided to learn ballet and recognizing her star quality, her dance teacher invited her to join her troupe that would travel all over India. And not much later, Indian cinema got its first feminist icon. After her glorious stint in films, in 1959, Nadia married Homi Wadia after a long-standing relationship. She then took a sabbatical to enjoy her domestic life and took to breeding race horses.
There’s a lot of interest worldwide about Fearless Nadia. Hollywood star Angelina Jolie has shown interest in playing Nadia’s role if a film on her is ever to be made

An Artist’s Demons- #Sundayreading

By AKSHAY MANWANI | 1 November 2012, The Caravan
Piyush Mishra in the title role of Hamlet. Directed by Fritz Bennewitz, the play marked Mishra’s acting debut at NSD in 1985.

ACTOR, MUSIC DIRECTOR, lyricist, singer and scriptwriter Piyush Mishra finds it difficult to explain his famously limitless talent. Depending on how he is disposed on a given day, the answer can range from a dismissive “Main ghanta struggle nahin karta (I don’t struggle at all)” to a spiritual “Pata nahin, shaayad koi karwa raha hai (I don’t know, perhaps there is a higher power at work)”. But the longer you persist, the more aware you become of anger as a driving force behind his art. “Jo bhi create hua, usi gussey ke wajah se hua aur jo kuch destroy hua, woh bhi usi gussey ke wajah se hua, (Whatever was created, it was due to that anger, and the same anger was responsible for all that was destroyed),” he said in the midst of one of our many conversations.

Our first conversation—agreed to after some persuasion on my part because Piyush feels there isn’t anything more to add to what has already been said or written about him— was at his house in Mumbai’s Goregaon East on a Saturday evening in August.

His three-bedroom apartment is located in a typical middle-class Mumbai housing society, bereft of any grandeur, the kind of place where most residents are supposed to have bought homes with a lifetime’s earnings. Overlooking the verdant Aarey Milk Colony on one side and close to the sprawling Oberoi International School on the other, the apartment complex stands for the constant conflict between Mumbai’s shrinking greenery and the rapidly expanding concrete landscape of the recent decades.

We were seated in his study, with his writing desk at the far corner of the room and a bookshelf, with a glass façade, in the corner facing the entrance. Between those pieces of wooden furniture was a single bed, indicative that the room was occasionally used for hosting guests as well. Piyush lay on the floor in front of the bed on his side, with his right arm cradling his head. Portraits of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Marlon Brando lined the wall behind him. At first, he was particular about wearing a newsboy cap for our photo shoot and interview. A few minutes into the conversation, though, he tossed the cap aside and spoke candidly, his distinctively coarse and raspy voice betraying years of smoking. His comments are frequently interspersed with the choicest expletives in Hindi, invoking relatives long gone. It is part of his charm, his no-holds-barred style.

PIYUSH MISHRA IS WELL KNOWN TODAY for the seemingly effortless fusion of range and depth in his art, from the stinging music he composed for Gulaal, to his portrayal of the sombre, self-persecuting Nasir in the two-part Gangs Of Wasseypur, and his rendering of the haunting song ‘Husna’, also composed by him, for MTV’s Coke Studio Season 2. He is happy that his talent is finally acknowledged, even if it is late in his career. Coming from what he calls an “unremarkable childhood”, he still remembers a time he doubted he would get very far.

Piyush Mishra was born in 1962 in Gwalior as Priyakant Sharma. He grew up as the adopted child of his bua Taradevi Mishra, his father’s eldest sibling and a fierce woman with no children, who had brought Priyakant’s father, a young Pratap Kumar Sharma, along with her to her marital house to help reduce their family’s financial burden.

After her husband’s death, Taradevi Mishra established her absolute, authoritarian rule on the household. “She was against everything. Everyone was afraid of her and nobody really knew what would upset her,” said Piyush. “She would just have to utter a word and everyone would cower in fear.”

According to him, it was a “very boring house”. His parents admitted him to a “wrong school” called Carmel Convent with the notion that, “A child is like raw material. If you put him in a convent, he will come out ready for IPS, IAS or Medical.” Priyakant, though, had no interest in academics. It was the extracurricular activities at school that appealed to him, such as singing, acting and painting. “It [art] had been bestowed on me in a strange way,” he said. “I was compelled towards it and whatever I did, I found success in it.” He remembers making an oil painting to help his friend, who had boasted to a girl he liked that his friend was a very good painter. “I had never done it before, but I did a landscape and it came out really well,” Piyush said. He remembers taking to the harmonium and the mouth organ, and even sculpting in those years. The anger he felt at Taradevi’s oppressive behavior shaped his earliest approach towards art—his first sculpture, made as an eighth standard student, was a large fist emerging from a stone.

However, because Priyakant fared miserably at academics, his family members thought of him as a complete failure. “My father could see my artistic talent,” said Piyush, “but he didn’t want me to take it up as a career option.” Ajit Lhane, Piyush’s friend from his college years, explained that this was the usual mentality of the middle-class in a small town like Gwalior, “In every house the thinking was that if the child did not turn out to be an engineer or a doctor, then the child was useless.”

“I was terribly confused, like a torpedo without a target,” said Piyush of his childhood. “I would leave things without seeing them through to completion.” Gradually Priyakant also began to question his parents’ unwillingness to stand up to Taradevi. Piyush recalled the matriarch yelling abuses at his mother if there was even the slightest hiccup while preparing food for the house. “Why did they tolerate her?” he asked tersely as he recounted the time. His frustration with their subservience is clear in the very first poem he wrote, again in the eighth standard:

Zinda ho haan tum koi shak nahin, saans lete hue dekha maine bhi hain

Haath aur pairon aur jism ko harqatey khoob dete huey dekha maine bhi hain

Ab bhale hi yeh kartey huey honth tum dard sehtey huey sakht see lete ho

Ab hain bhi kya kum tumhaarey liye, khoob apni samajh mein toh jee lete ho

Yes you are alive; of this there is no doubt. I, too, have seen you breathe

I, too, have seen you move your hands and legs and body perfectly

Although while doing this, you sew your lips shut and suffer the pain

It is no minor achievement for you, after all, to feel so very alive in your own perception

Piyush remarked that when he was slightly older, “I had no regard for my parents. I didn’t speak to them for the longest time.” The resentment was particularly directed towards his father. “I would address my father as ‘sir’, a habit I continued with until about a few years before his death. I felt that he should have said something [to Taradevi] when he could see his son had an artistic streak in him.” After suffering his aunt’s whims for a few years, Priyakant began rebelling openly. “I started going against her and my father as well.”

To start with, he changed his name. “Main tenth mein gaya, maine kaha, behnchodh, bahut ho gaya yeh saala Priyakant, Priyakant. Kya hai yeh saala Priyakant Sharma, chutiya naam hai. (When I entered class 10, I realised I was fed up of being called Priyakant Sharma. It was a stupidname.) People even started calling me Priya, Priya.” Sometime after class 10, Priyakant Sharma filed an affidavit in the district court to change his name to Piyush Mishra. “When my marks sheet came home with my new name, my parents asked me whose marks sheet is this? I showed them the affidavit, ki yeh lo behnchod, aaj ke baad, I will be known as Piyush Mishra.”

“In a sense, Priyakant Sharma was like the life I had put behind me,” said Piyush.

AROUND THIS TIME, Piyush began to be drawn to theatre—it was at places like Kala Mandir and Rangshri Little Ballet Troupe in Gwalior that his talent for the medium was first identified. While Kala Mandir was a small cultural institute located on Nayee Sadak, meant specifically for theatre, the latter was an offshoot of Mumbai’s prestigious Little Ballet Troupe, and had a space on the outskirts of Gwalior. It was founded by eminent dance personality Shanti Bardhan, and patronised by the royal family of Gwalior.

Piyush’s first significant role in theatre was of Hakloo, a character who stammered, in a Kala Mandir production based on the uprising of 1857 called Dilli Teri Baat Niraali, which was directed by the then National School of Drama director, BM Shah, a regular figure on the Gwalior theatre circuit. Shah, who had earlier cast Piyush in the Sanskrit play Bhagavadajjukam while he was at Gwalior’s JC Mills school, where he had moved for high school after Carmel Convent, had been impressed enough to seek him out. “It was a small role, but it made a huge impact. It was BM Shah’s favourite character,” said Piyush, the pride discernible in his voice. From Kala Mandir, Piyush went on to Rangshri Little Ballet Troupe, where he was cast as the lead in Arre! Shareef Log!, a social satire written by the late Marathi playwright Jaywant Dalvi and directed by local Gwalior theatre personality DK Jain. “It was a huge hit,” recalled Piyush.

He was getting hooked to theatre. In his own words, “I could dictate terms to the audience. If I told them to cry, they would cry. If I told them laugh, they would laugh.” Theatre was also a medium through which Piyush could calm the restlessness that was constantly simmering within him. “Perhaps, it was because of the fame. I came from an ordinary family where nobody really bothered about us. Theatre gave me a sense of importance, something which painting etcetera did not give me. When I performed, the whole world was tuned in, with me as their sole point of focus.” There was also, he admitted, a false sense of intellectuality associated with being recognised as a theatre artist, an aspect he enjoyed in those years. “It was shallow, but I found myself indulging in it readily. I would tell people how much I had to immerse myself in the character. Ek inch, do inch ya paanch inchYeh sab baatein main uss waqt karta thaa. (One inch, two inches or five inches—that is what I talked about in those days). But I enjoyed it. It gave me the opportunity to feel like an intellectual,” he said.

Despite the sustained appreciation in the small theatre circle of his hometown, he recalled being forced by his family members to stop doing theatre. “I was asked to concentrate on my studies, with the message that theatre was not for me.” It was a message Ajit Lhane recalls resonating throughout Gwalior because, “People thought Piyush had strayed. Gwalior was a small town where people were totally alien to the idea that a career could be made out of theatre.” By this point, in 1981-82, Piyush had enrolled himself in the Government Science College for his graduation, but he had no intention of sticking around. Unable to bear the pressure, he even slashed his wrists with a blade before his second year examinations, not with the intention of committing suicide, as he insists, but as a way of registering his protest. “I just wanted to tell my family members that I WILL NOT STUDY. I didn’t know what I would do, but I just didn’t want to study,” said Piyush as he showed me the fading scars on both his arms.

Finally, he decided to leave Gwalior. He took the entrance test to the National School of Drama, Delhi in 1983, but not with any particular desire to study there. “I wanted to get out of Gwalior. By then, I was tired of my loneliness as well,” he said.

He landed at NSD at a turbulent time, with a students’ strike shaking the institution to its core. “There was a lot of vandalism which took place because of the strike. It cost BM Shah his position as director of the institute. I hadn’t come to NSD for this,” he said. Piyush also found the big city culture intimidating. “Ladki kandhey pe haath rakh de toh pareshaani hoti hain (If a girl placed her hand on my shoulder, I would feel awkward),” he said, recounting the kind of pressures he faced in his first year in Delhi.

But towards the end of the first year, when the strike at NSD had ended, things gradually fell into place. It started with Piyush composing music for a Parsi play called Mashreeki Hoor. “It happened by accident. The music teacher, Mr Mohan Upreti, was unavailable. The students were getting impatient, so I took on the job.” It was the first time Piyush had composed music; his only previous experience had been fiddling with a harmonium left behind at home by his aunt from Bhilwara. “Bajaaya maine usko, bajaaya toh woh baj gaya behnchodh! (When I tried, I realised I could play it and how!)” he said, vehemently dismissing questions about formal training. Piyush continued to use that harmonium until very recently, when he had to replace it with a newer one. “The harmonium was of German make from the 1930s. I often say that Hitler must have touched it, because the only music that has emanated from it has been rather explosive in nature,” he said.

Although Piyush mentions Mashreeki Hoor in passing, his knack for music didn’t go unnoticed at the school. Anuradha Kapur, current director of NSD, who taught Major Movements of World Drama at that time, recalled, “He would work a lot on student projects which involved music, [such as] projects in the Parsi theatre which involved students to sing individually or in chorus. He was very good at that. His ability with music and lyrics was quite apparent.”

His acting breakthrough at NSD had to wait until the start of his second year, when he played the title role in Hamlet, directed by Fritz Bennewitz, a German-born theatre personality known for his productions of Bertolt Brecht and Shakespeare. Bennewitz had been associated with the NSD since the 1970s and his involvement with Indian theatre, across the country, continued into the late 1980s. Bennewitz cast Piyush in the title role based on the inputs of teachers and his own observations during reading sessions of Hamlet.

To Bennewitz, then, goes part of the credit of turning Piyush’s fortunes; Piyush called him the “cork opener”, the one who introduced him to technique. “Initially, I didn’t understand anything. I didn’t know that acting could be done with technique as well.” But Bennewitz pushed Piyush to deliver, often by being condescending to him. “He would tell me I didn’t deserve to be an actor, that I should go back to Gwalior and join bank service. Finally, when we had the last rehearsal, on Christmas day of 1984, he told me ‘Whatever you have performed today, is like a Christmas gift for me.’” Piyush said that he had no idea what Bennewitz meant until the play opened.

Piyush now refers to Hamlet, which opened on January 1, 1985, as his “first tryst with stardom”. “That turned the tide and ignited my passion for acting,” he said. Mohan Maharishi, then NSD director, said, “It was one of the finest Hamlets we had seen on stage in India.  Fritz challenged him as an actor.” Piyush agrees: “I thought acting happened just by getting into the mood. He taught me how to get into the mood. He taught me how to interpret each and every sentence in a play.” To this day, a black and white photograph of Bennewitz stands on Piyush’s study. (Ironically, Bennewitz and Piyush’s father, two men with vastly different influences on Piyush’s life, died on the same day—September 13, 1995.)

His next big role came through veteran theatre director and scriptwriter Ranjit Kapoor, who directed Piyush in Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nekrassov. Kapoor had been impressed by Piyush’s intensity in Hamlet. He wanted an actor who could display a similar energy with Nekrassov, which was a farce. Piyush managed to exceed Kapoor’s expectations. “He had charisma. The moment he would start speaking, he had the audience by their throat.” Piyush also started to be recognised for his creative range.  “His ability with music and with acting was very clearly etched. It wasn’t so usual to get students whose various facets are apparent when they are students,” said Anuradha Kapur.

Yet, despite the high praise he received, Piyush remained oblivious of the effect he had on people. “I couldn’t get a sense of my achievements. I just wanted to get away,” he said. Ranjit Kapoor admitted to having noticed this troubled side to Piyush’s personality, “Sometimes, he came across as very disturbed and irritable. There was a lot of anger within him. Nobody knew towards what his anger was directed, but it was there.”

It was perhaps this internal strife that led Piyush to ignore producer Raj Kumar Barjatya’s movie offer in his final year at NSD. According to the story that has hounded Piyush Mishra through his life, Barjatya—a name to reckon with in Bollywood—visited NSD in 1986 to find an actor to star in his son Sooraj Barjatya’s directorial debut, Maine Pyar Kiya. Mohan Maharishi recommended Piyush, who was about to graduate from NSD, to the filmmaker, but Piyush didn’t show up in Mumbai despite Barjatya giving him a written invitation. “I don’t know why I didn’t go,” said Piyush. “Even when I got to know later which film it was, it didn’t matter to me.”

When he finally got to Mumbai in 1989, realising that there were few opportunities in Delhi besides repeating his college performances at NSD’s repertory company and unsubstantial roles in theatre and TV, he returned within a year. His only noteworthy stints in Mumbai from this time were an appearance in Shyam Benegal’s Bharat Ek Khoj and a role alongside Naseeruddin Shah in an adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame. Piyush blames these unsatisfying years on his muddled state of mind.

Tigmanshu Dhulia, filmmaker and 1989 NSD graduate, offers a more plausible explanation. Having known Piyush well while he was at NSD, Tigmanshu recalls his senior being constantly surrounded by people at the institute or at Mandi House, which was the nerve centre of Delhi’s theatre community. “You don’t get that kind of attention in Mumbai because everybody is so busy. Probably, he felt alienated when he came [to Mumbai] initially.” Sudhanva Deshpande of the Delhi theatre group Jan Natya Manch, who has known Piyush for two decades, sees his discomfort with Mumbai as the consequence of the decline of Hindi cinema. “It wasn’t a very creative industry. The high of the ’70s was gone. I remember there was this feeling when Piyush came back to Delhi from Mumbai that, look at our film industry, what a useless industry it is, it has no place for a man like Piyush Mishra.”

PIYUSH’S RETURN TO DELHI, then read as defeat, would go on to have a definitive influence on his artistic style. While in Delhi, he had been good friends with NK Sharma, a well known theatre director. NK, as he was known, had first met Piyush at a performance of Nekrassov. “We used to hang out together. We had a shared interest in theatre, we used to talk about the plays we had seen together,” said NK of his bonding with Piyush between 1986 and 1988. When Piyush came back from Mumbai, NK asked him to join his new theatre company, Act One. The early 1990s were notable years for a pronounced churning in Delhi’s political and social theatre, predominantly a response to market liberalisation, and the communal environment marked by the Babri demolition and Bombay blasts. The theatre groups significant for their engagement with the national discourse were NSD’s Repertory Company, Ebrahim Alkazi’s Little Theatre Group, Barry John’s Theatre Action Group (TAG) and Sakshi Theatre Group. NSD faculty members Robin Das and Devendra Raj Ankur were running their own companies, while Jan Natya Manch had continued performing street theatre after the murder of founder Safdar Hashmi. Habib Tanvir’s Naya Theatre Company was a regular presence with its productions like Ponga Pandit and Dekh Rahey Hain Nain adding to the vigour that characterised the theatre scene in Delhi at the time.

Act One was trying to find its niche in this charged environment. “Those were very dynamic days. The country was in the midst of communal tension. A few very dynamic, conscious people joined the group and we did some great work,” said NK. This marked the beginning of a productive, rewarding phase in Piyush’s career, one which he terms his second stage of stardom. Working alongside peers like Manoj Bajpai, Gajraj Rao and Ashish Vidyarthi, Piyush acted in, wrote and composed the music for a number of Act One’s productions, all directed by NK. After Mashreeki Hoor at NSD, it was at Act One that he had the opportunity to put his writing and composing skills to extensive use. The very first Act One production that he wrote and composed for was a montage of street songs called Hamaarey Daur Mein, through which Act One highlighted the communal tension sweeping through the country. He had mixed his own songs with the reworked compositions of renowned songwriters like the Urdu poets Sahir Ludhianvi and Kaifi Azmi and the Punjabi poet Pash. “I would adjust the words in their poems to fit my compositions,” said Piyush. “I didn’t want to request or plead with anyone to maintain harmony. My only message was chutiyon, sudhar jao,” he said, the anger in his voice palpable.

The other Act One productions he worked on were similar—entertaining, with a social message. Holi, adapted from Marathi playwright Mahesh Elkunchwar’s play of the same name, to which Piyush added songs, dealt with the malaise in the education system and campus politics. Jab Sheher Hamaara Sota Hai, the first play Piyush independently wrote for Act One, was a musical love story on the theme of communal harmony. Maha Kund Ka Maha Daan and Woh Ab Bhi Pukaarta Hai touched upon casteism in the Indian rural hinterland, while Aaney Bhi Do Yaaron was a lighthearted satire on the increasing commercialisation and materialism gripping urban India.

Piyush talks about drawing inspiration from the environment at that time, an ability he has preserved through the years. “Just keep your eyes open and pay attention to what all is happening around you,” he said about the sources that influence his lyrics. The other noticeable feature that started to define his work was his use of chaste, colloquial Hindi in songs like ‘Ri meri sanskriti’, ‘Dharam naam ka chidiya balla’, ‘Baje badariya’ and ‘O Mrignayni’ that he wrote for theatre. Piyush says this grew out of his voracious hunger for Hindi literature as a student in Gwalior. “I learnt the language from there. I would read up everything, matlab pathya-pustakon ki maa ki (school textbooks be damned), I would go beyond what was prescribed by the teachers,” he said triumphantly.

Act One’s productions were receiving increasing attention—Sudhanva Deshpande remembers the group bursting onto the early ’90s theatre milieu with fresh energy. “The way in which their plays were done was new. There was a huge amount of collaborative energy that went in. Their plays were scripted very well. Piyush’s songs were superb,” he said. Other observers emphasise the collaboration between NK and Piyush. Shoojit Sircar, an active member of Act One at the time, and now known as the director of movies like Yahaan and Vicky Donor, said, “Their combination was very good. NK was a brilliant director. There was a lot of socialism and Marx in our plays. The kind of writing that [Piyush] did, especially his songs, even we would get stimulated by it.”

When Piyush recounts this period, it is with uninhibited fondness. “It was a great phase, my first taste of family. There were a lot of bright people—Manoj, Shoojit, Gajraj—around me. I got avenues [for my creativity]. I was composing, writing songs, writing original plays. I opened up.” Anuradha Kapoor said of his increasing command over his talent, “He had different ways of delivering dialogue. He would work on his speech, turn it around to make it different for each character. It wasn’t always one person speaking. There was great detail in his work—in his posture, in his actions. It helped him to crystallise every role.”

Among Piyush’s growing list of admirers during his Act One days was Anurag Kashyap, then a student at Delhi’s Hansraj College and an avid theatre follower. Kashyap’s earliest memory of Piyush is watching Jab Sheher Hamaara Sota Hai, which Piyush had written the songs for, a few of which the filmmaker later used in Gulaal, such as the title song Jab Sheher Hamaara Sota Hai’, ‘O Raat Ke Musafir’ and ‘Yaara Maula’. “For me, Piyush bhai was something else. When he would talk to people, I would just watch, listen, hang around,” said Kashyap. Piyush confirms Kashyap admitting to him much later, “Aap se baat karne mein badi dum nikla karti thee (We were petrified of speaking to you).”

But it was during these heady times that Piyush began his descent into alcoholism. He had begun drinking when he joined Act One in 1990. What started as a way to celebrate Act One’s success (“Wine, women and work is how we used to describe it.”) turned into a drinking problem by the time he quit Act One in 1995. “People started idolising him. He had to drink to be himself,” explained Kashyap. Kashyap also suggested that alcohol enhanced his creativity, that when he drank, “he just wrote magically”. Piyush did, in fact, write some of his most celebrated songs like ‘Husna’ and ‘Ik bagal mein chaand hoga’ from Gangs Of Wasseypur in the early to mid-’90s, when he was deep in the grip of alcohol.

Despite the adulation he received, Piyush left Act One in June 1995. He said it was because of the persistent restlessness within him: “I wanted to leave everything and go away. I wanted to leave my parents, my friends, my philosophers and guides, institutes, Act One—my only tendency was to run away.” Those around him noticed he was drifting aimlessly. “Piyush bhai was very restless, bitter, like a raging bull, constantly huffing and puffing,” said Dhulia. Piyush’s exit from the only place that gave him a sense of belonging could also have been a result of ideological disillusionment. When he joined Act One, he had been won over by NK’s committed leftist ideology. “It gave me a purpose,” he said, and that purpose was reflected in the kind of writing he did for the group. However, as he evolved his own identity, he realised that he wasn’t a leftist. He found that the political class that represented the left was no different from right wing or conservative establishments. “All of them were the same. They all wanted to go to America and buy expensive shoes,” he said scathingly.

The leftist themes in his writings continue to be pronounced, however, something he was quick to explain. “If standing up for what is right makes one a leftist, then I am one.” He went on to add animatedly, “Even my mother, who was a housewife and was a villager, said people should not fight. Does that make her a leftist? The only difference between her and me was that I was able to articulate what I felt.” He admitted that his exit from Act One strained his relationship with NK, but the latter insisted he bore no grudge against Piyush. “In fact, he was the guy who stayed in Act One for the longest time. People have to move on,” NK said.

Even after he left Act One, Piyush remained fiercely driven to do theatre, a motivation that led him to acclaimed Hindu writer Nirmal Verma’s novel Doosri Duniya.  He had already performed a version ofDoosri Duniya, a touching story of a man’s relationship with a small girl, as a solo performance under NK’s direction at Act One. Now that he was on his own, he realised this would be the easiest performance to revive. In the absence of resources, Piyush put on shows at friends’ houses, either in their bedrooms or on their terraces, for the princely fee of R11. “Bada mazaa aaya, (I had great fun)”, he said of the experience. Soon after, in early 1996, Piyush did another solo performance, as a woman in Betty Lemon Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hain? which was directed by Roysten Abel for the British Council. Betty Lemon was based on British dramatist Arnold Wesker’s play Whatever Happened to Betty Lemon? where a handicapped woman rants against socialism and communism. “In a way, I was airing my own grudges against communism through the character of Betty Lemon,” said Piyush. His third solo act was Duvidha, presented at NSD’s festival of solo performances in March 1996. Duvidha, which he adapted for stage himself, was based on Rajasthani writer Vijaydan Detha’s story of the same name, and explored the dilemma faced by a newlywed bride who is forced to make a choice between the material and the spiritual.

The three solo acts became the three-hour An Evening With Piyush Mishra when Piyush joined Arvind Gaur’s Asmita Theatre Group. As per his arrangement with them, Asmita would organise the venue, take care of publicity, and keep the entire ticket proceeds. “I only needed a space to perform,” Piyush said. An Evening With Piyush Mishra went on to become Piyush’s third tryst with stardom.

Manu Rishi Chadha, who starred in Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! as Bangali, Lucky’s endearing sidekick, and who was a part of Asmita when Piyush joined the theatre company, recalled, “People would leave in silence after watching Piyush. They were not able to express their admiration in words, but their speechlessness said everything,” Piyush, too, doesn’t hold himself back on the subject: “It was a roaring success. They [the audience] would wonder how could one man enact three distinct characters non-stop for three hours?”

BUT, IN 1998, just as he was settling in at Asmita, having written the script, played the protagonist and composed the songs for Operation Three Star, an adaptation of Italian playwright Dario Fo’s play Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Piyush left the group. Today, he isn’t very sentimental about the time he spent with Asmita. “NK yaar hai. Arvind se kabhi main jud nahin paaya (NK was a friend. I could never bond with Arvind Gaur).”

His exit pushed him into desolation. “I was tired of doing solo performances,” he said, but added that he also did not know what he wanted to do next. As Piyush struggled to find his next platform, his addiction to alcohol peaked. “I didn’t know where my career was headed. I felt I couldn’t do without liquor. Initially, it was whisky, then rum.  And then I started drinking alone. I needed more than half a bottle every night.” Piyush remembers this time as one of accidents and fights. By his own admission, he developed an image at Mandi House of a respected artist who got drunk and spoke to himself.

It didn’t help that most of his comrades from Mandi House had moved on. By 1998, Manoj Bajpai, Ashish Vidyarthi and Vishal Bhardwaj, his closest friends from his Act One days, had already established themselves in Mumbai. Vidyarthi was noticed for his performance in Is Raat Ki Subah Nahinand offered a number of character roles in films. Bhardwaj’s music for Gulzar’s Maachis had won him considerable acclaim. And Manoj Bajpai was a star after playing Bhiku Mhatre in Satya, Ram Gopal Varma’s hard-hitting Mumbai underworld film from 1998. Piyush also made his film debut around the same time, with Tigmanshu Dhulia, who was writing dialogue for Dil Se, getting him the CBI officer’s role in the film. But Dil Se tanked at the box-office and Piyush’s film career didn’t quite take off. Piyush said the disappointment pushed him towards alcohol, “I did it in anger. I did it because of lack of recognition. My friends had already made it big.”

His fear of Mumbai hadn’t yet abated. (Piyush had shot for Dil Se in Delhi). Mumbai’s emphasis on profit over content, which drove the kind of cinema that was produced in Bollywood troubled him, used as he was to the economically unviable but challenging work that defined Delhi theatre. “Mumbai can sometimes be insensitive to a creative person. Piyush knew a lot more than many other mediocre people who were around Mumbai. It could have frustrated him, to leave theatre and come to Mumbai and do mediocre work,” explained Shoojit Sircar.

At NSD’s convocation program in 1999, Piyush Mishra performed Hamlet Kabhi Bombay Nahin Gaya, an unscripted musical solo performance with 20 songs, with the intention of finding out “for how long could I improvise on stage, without any script dictating the flow of the performance”. But the play was equally significant for how it reflected the dilemma that was tearing him apart. The main plot ofHamlet Kabhi Bombay Nahin Gaya involved Hamlet, a young man from Gwalior, confronting Shakespeare about his confused state, with Bhagwan, the chaiwala of Mandi House witnessing the argument. Hamlet’s main contention in the play was that Shakespeare should have left him either ‘To be’ or ‘To not be’ instead of leaving him eternally confused. Piyush agrees today that Hamlet Kabhi…, in many ways, was an allegory for his life.

BETWEEN 1999 AND 2001, Piyush Mishra made a couple of more failed attempts to reenter cinema, but the projects, one of them Ram Gopal Varma’s, didn’t come through. Friends like Manoj Bajpai and Vishal Bhardwaj kept asking him to shift to Mumbai, but he didn’t. Instead, he immersed himself in campus theatre in Delhi, directing college productions at institutes like Lady Shri Ram College for Women and the School of Planning and Architecture. When he did go to Mumbai in 2001, it was on director Rajkumar Santoshi’s invitation to write the script for The Legend Of Bhagat Singh; but the filmmaker’s reluctance to acknowledge in the credits the inspiration from Gagan Damama Bajiyo, Piyush’s Act One production on Bhagat Singh, made him walk out of the film and return to Delhi.

Piyush found himself at a low yet again. By this time, he had a wife (Priya Narayan, whom he met in 1992 while directing a play at the School of Planning and Architecture and married in 1995) and a son, who was born in 1998, to provide for. He recalls going to Mandi House and drinking and crying as he thought, “I have not given anything to my wife, my mother and my son.” The conflict in his mind between Mumbai and Delhi had reached a tipping point. Unlike earlier, Delhi had no new challenges to offer him, while Mumbai, with its cinema at the beginning of a new turn, was brimming with possibilities. When his wife urged him to make another attempt, Piyush gave in. “There was no other option,” he said of the decision. That’s when, he added, “the marriage with Anurag Kashyap happened”.

Piyush had first spoken with Kashyap following the release of Shool in 1999. Impressed by Kashyap’s dialogues, he had decided to compliment him. “This is Piyush Mishra. I am calling you from Delhi. I saw Shool and I really liked your work. Mubarak ho!” Kashyap recalled Piyush telling him. It was a surreal moment for Kashyap, who had idolised Piyush since his student days in Delhi.

Arriving in Mumbai in September of 2002, Piyush got in touch with Kashyap, who was looking for a music director for Gulaal, after having tried a number of people and being disappointed by their work. Piyush, who was at Kashyap’s office on what was another frustrating day for the latter, grabbed a harmonium and started playing. “It was magical,” said Kashyap, who then asked Piyush to compose music for Gulaal, an ambitious film about student politics and an imagined secessionist movement.

Gulaal’s release was stalled till 2009, but Piyush continued on to other work. In Kashyap’s, Black Friday, he shot for the role of Thapa, the customs officer who facilitated the consignment into India of the RDX used in the Mumbai blasts of 1993. The director dropped the character after it was decided thatBlack Friday would be made into a movie instead of a television series. Nevertheless, Piyush contributed lyrics to the movie’s songs, like ‘Arrey ruk ja re bandey’ and ‘Bharam bhaanp ke’, composed and recorded by the band Indian Ocean.

Gradually, Piyush explains, he started getting more work, first through old friends and later through word of mouth. “I did Maqbool. Manoj Bajpai got me 1971 [screenplay], while Shoojit offered meYahaan [screenplay and dialogues]. Then, when Yash Raj Films were looking for someone to write an opera song for the climax of Aaja Nachle, I happened to impress them.” Piyush went on to work in a number of films in different capacities—he made a cameo appearance in Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, wrote lyrics for Tashan, dialogues for Ghajini.

Yet, it wasn’t until Gulaal released in 2009 that Bollywood noticed Piyush. “Gulaal is Piyush Mishra’s voice. People valued his work,” said Kashyap on Piyush’s contribution as actor, composer, singer and lyricist to the film’s critical acclaim. “Piyush’s poetry made it so much easier for me to tell the story.” Piyush said about his work in Gulaal, “Anurag’s story dealt only with separatism, but my choice of poetry and my idea for those lines [“sale hai, sale hai”] helped him to expand the scope of Gulaal.”

Rahul Ram, bass guitarist of Indian Ocean describes Piyush’s compositions in Gulaal as “theatrical”. Referring to lyrics like “Jaise door des ke tower mein ghus jaaye re aeroplane” (Like in a distant country, a plane crashes into a tower), from the song ‘Ranaji’, Ram said, “The political look that he gives does not exist in Hindi cinema.” Kashyap said the rage had its genesis in Piyush’s youth, which continues to be the source for a lot of his writing. “I liken him to [Henry Charles] Bukowski, who experiences things and pours it out,” he said. “He himself does not know where it comes from, it comes from deep within.”

AS HE WAS COMING TO TERMS with his creative anxiety, Piyush decided to confront his dependence on alcohol, realising it was harming him “physically, mentally, emotionally, ethically”. With support from his wife, and professional assistance, Piyush largely gave up drinking over the past five years. His struggles with the addiction even inspired him to write a couplet to warn people of the consequences of alcoholism:

Aadat jisko samjhey ho woh marz kabhi bann jaayega

Phir marz ki aadat pad jaayegi, arz na kuch kar paaogey

Aur tabdili ki gunjaayish ne saath diya toh theek sahi

Par usney bhi gar chodd diya, toh yaar bade pachtaogey

What you think is routine, will soon turn into addiction

Then you will be bound by habit, incapable of delivering anything

And if you wish to change, it will be a good thing

But if it gets too late, you will regret a great deal

As with all things in his life, Piyush likes to get philosophical about his alcoholism. He believes that, like his bua Taradevi Mishra, liquor came into his life for a reason. Without the lows, he could have never seen the highs. “The moment he got recognition, he automatically left liquor,” noted Manu Rishi Chadha.

Today, Piyush no longer has to look for work—he is swamped with it. “When I was looking, I struggled,” he said. He proudly mentioned featuring on an episode of The Dewarists, the music travelogue show on Star World, where he collaborated with English rapper Akala. He also spoke with great satisfaction of one of his forthcoming projects, The Playback Singer, an independent film written and directed by Suju Vijayan. Vijayan, who had been referred to Piyush by a common friend, said she was “blown away” by his online audition. “It was clear he understood the character inside and out. I had never felt that way about an actor I had auditioned,” she said.

At 50, Piyush Mishra might have found his niche in Bollywood, but Kashyap wonders if a man of his depth can ever get the recognition he deserves in the Hindi film industry. “His versatility and his talent has a lot of gravity,” he said. “Our film industry does not like gravity. They don’t know what he can contribute to them. He is a man capable of creating incredibly great cinema. They just like everything on the surface, which is why he has not been explored, exploited.”

Piyush responded to his fear by telling  a story about a man who refused to drink the water from the village well because he knew it had been poisoned. He warned the villagers repeatedly, but they paid no heed—the water was sweet and they continued to drink it. The poisoned water caused the people in the village to lose their minds. Since the man was the one who now appeared to behave differently, the entire village started calling him mad. But the man stuck to his decision to avoid the water. “I am like that man,” Piyush said, “I will only do what I believe in.”

Akshay Manwani is a freelance writer based in Mumbai. His book on the poet-lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi will be published by HarperCollins in 2013.

When going to the Movies was an art #Sundayreading #cinema

When going to the movies was an art
As Regal cinema enters its 80th year, here’s a look at the ‘theatre of firsts’
Yoshita Sengupta , Mumbai Mirror , Oct 27, 2012

It was a regular school day back in 1957 when a group of primary students of Rosary High School from Dockyard Road in Mazgaon made the trip to Colaba. It was to catch a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller Rope. The venue — Regal cinema.
One of the boys, then five, was hooked enough to spend the rest of his life making repeated trips. Rafique Bagdadi, now a noted film critic and one among Mumbai’s bestknown amateur historians, is brimming with stories of the glorious days. “Going to Regal was like going to Rome or another European city. Behind it was the Taj Mahal hotel. In front of it stood the majestic Cowasji Jehangir Public Hall, which is now the NGMA. The insides of the theatre were as dreamy as the set of Hollywood films screened here,” he says of the Art Deco architecture style that Regal shares with other South Mumbai cinemas like Liberty and Eros. Inaugurated on October 14, 1933 by Mumbai governor Sir Frederick Sykus, Regal was built by film exhibitor Framji Sidhwa and his friend KA Kooka. And it had quite a few firsts to its credit. Asia’s first centrally air-conditioned theatre, it was also the first to introduce Cinemascope and offer basement car parking to its patrons.

The reinforced concrete structure built at a lavish cost was conceived by Charles Stevens, son of famous 19th century English architect Fredrick Williams Stevens, while the interiors were designed by Czechoslovakian artist Karl Schara. Old-timers remember the sun ray Cubist motif in orange and jade green in the atrium.

For Deepak Rao, retired IPS officer and member of the Bombay Local History Society, Regal stands for an afternoon Arlem beer. While working at the Mumbai police headquarters across the road from the cinema, he’d hop over to its refreshment room that could house no more than six guests.
Regal’s historic value preceeds its construction, says Rao. “The lane behind Regal is not named Battery Street for nothing. The site at Apollo Bunder on which the cinema stands was owned by the British army, and was occupied by an old saluting battery. When viceroys and VIPs arrived, they were greeted with a gun salute. The British government decided to lease the property in 1926, which is when it was acquired by Mr Sidhwa and Mr Kooka of Globe Theatre Ltd.,” says the 62 year-old.

Sidhwa’s life, say documents, was as dramatic as the movies he screened. Born in 1883 in Tarapore, Gujarat, in a middle-class home, he moved to an orphanage in Parel before gaining admission to Bharda New High School, which stands right beside the theatre he would build in 1928 — Capitol at VT. The student of St Xavier’s College had to drop out due to thinning finances and move to Rangoon in 1903 to find a job. Starting out as a clerk in Singer, he later took up an insurance job.
It was in 1913 that he established a small syndicate and launched his film exhibition business in Rangoon. Two years later, Globe Theatre Ltd. was born.
Behram Contractor, in one of his essays, said going to the cinema was an art,” says Rao. And Regal played its part.
Baghdadi calls it an “experience” — South Bombay movie lovers would book tickets way in advance, dress up in finery and land up at the movies. “There was a soda fountain, a pantry for balcony audiences, and we’d dig into ice cream while musicians would perform live,” he shares.
Social worker, champion bridge player and MP Milind Deora’s mother Hema Deora’s memories of Regal stand testimony to Baghdadi’s description. As a 10 year-old in the early 1960s, Deora didn’t understand cinema, but that hardly mattered. “For me, the draw was the ice cream served in the cinema’s restaurant. The cup resembled a wine glass. It was a family affair. I’d wear my best dress, and we’d return home in a tonga,” Deora reminisces.

#India #Bollywood –Creatively challenged #sundayreading

Anvar Alikhan | October , 2012, Times Crest Edition

Frankly, I blame Sanjay Leela Bhansali. He’s the one who started it all, with his Black and its themes of sensory disability and Alzheimer’s. Then came Aamir Khan with his Taare Zameen Par and dyslexia. And thanks to its success, the ‘disability’ genre seems to have become a bandwagon that everybody in Bollywood who’s anybody must climb upon briefly, to prove their talent and sensitivity, before they can move on to other things. Amitabh gave us progeria in Paa;Shahrukh gave us Asperger’s Syndrome in My Name is Khan;Hrithik had, of course, already paid his dues with arrested development in Koi Mil Gaya. Even Shahid Kapoor felt he had to do speech impediments in Kaminey. And now we have Ranbir doing mutism in Barfi. The question now is, oh God, what next?

What distressing condition is Saif Ali Khan thinking up for his next film, for example? Parkinson’s disease? Muscular dystrophy? Prostate problems, perhaps? And then there’s the female of the species. After Rani Mukherji’s sensory disability and Priyanka Chopra’s autism, who’s next? Kareena, with her famous size zero, could probably give anorexia a shot. Preity Zinta, meanwhile, might want to try bulimia.

But let’s get serious. The thing is, Barfi, for all its hype and slick marketing, is a tiresome film, with a phony ‘smile-with-a-lump-in-your-throat ‘ quality about it (at least in the first half, which I saw before walking out). The larger point, however, is that I believe – at the risk of being called politically incorrect – that this whole new genre of disability films that Bollywood has been churning out is in bad taste. It’s exploitative, self-serving and cynical. For one thing it becomes a great vehicle for the star to show off how far he can stretch his talent in mimicking the affliction in question (something like advertising agencies cynically doing public-service ads because they’re an easy way to win awards for creativity). But, that apart, these films are often one part emotional manipulation;one part an insidious attempt to make us feel guilty for our own wellbeing;and one part an opportunity to affect an air of sanctimoniousness for supposedly “supporting the cause”. Just compare today’s new genre of sacharine-y disability films with the simple, shining honesty of Sai Paranjpe‘s classic Sparsh, or even Gulzar’s Koshish, and you’ll know what I mean.

The formula, nevertheless, is a powerful one. In fact, it’s a formula that Hollywood has long exploited, in its own way, beginning perhaps with Ronald Reagan’s transcendentally awful King’s Row, where he plays the wealthy young man who comes out of anaesthesia after an operation, looks down and asks, “Hey, doc, wh-wh-where’s the rest of me?” Hollywood has gone on to inflict various disability movies on us over the years, very effectively and profitably. In the 1980s alone we had three major productions: Elephant Man (John Hurt and gross deformity), Rain Man (Dustin Hoffman and autism) and My Left Foot (Daniel Day Lewis and cerebral palsy) – which managed to reap various Oscars between them, including two for Best Actor and one for Best Picture.

The high point (or low point) of Hollywood’s disability trip, however, was in 1969, when there was actually a neck-and-neck race for the Best Actor award between two disability roles: Alan Arkin in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and Cliff Robertson in Charly. Arkin played the role of a mute, but despite his masterly performance, he was beaten by Robertson, playing the intellectually challenged Charlie, who undergoes experimental brain surgery to cure his problem – a procedure that goes tragically wrong.

If audiences are emotionally vulnerable to disability movies, juries are probably even more so, because of the moral halo these films sport. And when juries tip in favour of a rival offering, controversies are often not far behind – as when, in 2002, Russell Crowe’s clunky performance as a schizophrenic mathematician in A Beautiful Mind, lost outto Denzel Washington’s bad cop in Training Day. Maybe this is the reason why Barfi won out over the savagely brilliant Gangs of Wasseypur as India’s official entry to the Oscars;I really can’t think of any other conceivable reason.

Some disability groups have begun to see through the phoniness of this genre of cinema. They ask, for example, why we must have abled actors to play disabled roles, and present the analogy of black roles in the movies. Like Othello, for example, where the most recent remake had an actual black actor, Laurence Fishburne, playing the role, instead of merely Laurence Olivier, wearing blackface, as in one famous earlier version. And before we offer any excuses, let’s not forget the hearing-impaired Marlee Maitlin’s Oscar award-winning performance in Children of a Lesser God, and the double amputee, Harold Russell’s Best Supporting Actor award-winning performance in The Best Years of Our Lives.

The question is how much longer will Bollywood’s phony new disability trip continue? And how many more awful afflictions will we be subjected to, which will manipulate our emotions and our sense of guilt, in equal measure? Be aware: even as you read this, Salman Khan might be at work, practicing on some rare and disturbing syndrome – physical, mental or emotional – for our supposed moral improvement.

The author is a Hyderabad-based advertising professional and columnist.

Poster purge: Mumbai targets Jism 2 #Censorship #Moralpolicing






MUMBAI: An NCP MLC has succeeded in goading the city’s mayor into playing the moral police. The latest victim is the film Jism 2, starring Sunny Leone, whose posters will now have to be removed from all BEST buses.

NCP MLC Vidya Chavan knocked on the doorsof chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, state home minister R R Patil, the special branch of Mumbai police, BMC commissioner Sitaram Kunte and ultimately city mayor Sunil Prabhu over the last couple of days, finally eliciting the response she was looking for from Prabhu.

The mayor took up the matter with the BEST and the BMC administrations and, by Wednesday evening, every “objectionable” poster was removed from 75 BEST buses and 25 depots, besides electricity poles and bus shelters.

The strange alacrity with which the BMC and the BEST responded drew sharp protests from legal experts and Bollywood fraternity and even other politicians.

IPS officer-turned-lawyer Y P Singh found the entire exercise a violation of personal freedom. “There are specific laws to deal with this. People having objections should have approached a court of law and it was for the court to give whatever directives it deemed fit,” he added.

A Congress MLA from the western suburbs thought it was unfair to judge the film by its posters. “Aren’t we jumping the gun and infringing on someone else’s freedom?” he asked.

Legal expert Mihir Desai felt it was completely unjustified. “The level of tolerance is going down in Mumbai and, instead of focusing on law and order, the administration wants to impose its own morality on the city,” he added.

Filmmaker and writer Mahesh Bhatt, whose daughter Pooja was the producer of the film, said he had decided to remove the posters from all over Mumbai as “it was a battle not worth fighting”. He said he had decided to replace the old posters with new ones.

“Censoring images created by the human mind has been going on since the dark ages. In recent times, I remember Qurban’s posters were pulled down by the moral police. I guess the more things change, the more they remain the same. Individual freedom has always been trampled upon under the name of larger good by the political class,” Bhatt said.

But will all this affect the film’s business? Trade analyst Amod Mehra said, “This will not affect the box-office business of the film.” Another trade pundit said there was a lot of curiosity about the film.

The moral brigade, however, saw things differently. “What is the film industry’s definition ofentertainment these days? Is making money their only motto? We talk about sexual harassment of women and the next thing we see nude posters on BEST buses and electric poles. What is the message we are giving to the youth? The Jism 2 posters are downright vulgar. Even school-going kids get to see them on roads,” was Chavan’s logic. Chavan was actively involved in closing of dance bars in the past.

Prabhu said instructions were issued to the BEST general manger to issue notices to advertising contractors to remove the posters immediately. BEST general manager Om Prakash Gupta said, “We received a message from BMC officials that the posters were objectionable and I immediately advised the contractors to remove them.”

A representative from Rakesh Advertising that handles the advertising rights for BEST buses, told TOI: “We had overlooked the posters and it was not done intentionally. I personally received a request from Gupta and ordered my men to go to all 25 depots and remove posters from 75 buses within an hour.” The posters were also removed from other areas including bus stops and electricity police subsequently.

Civic chief Sitaram Kunte said the BMC was “concerned only with properties belonging to the BMC”. “There was a complaint from Chavan and I asked the BEST general manager to check for violations in obscenity clauses and take the necessary corrective action on BEST stands, buses and electric poles. We have nothing against the movie. We shall verify about the obscenity,” he added.

(With inputs from Rebecca Sammerval)


Obituary- French film-maker Chris Marker ( 1911-2012)

French film-maker Chris Marker dies

The controversial Left Bank Cinema director scored an arthouse hit with Sans Soleil and made the brilliant, haunting, highly influential La Jetée

The Guardian

Film director Chris Marker, who has died aged 91

Film director Chris Marker, who has died aged 91

Chris Marker, the enigmatic master of left-field French cinema, has died at the age of 91. The artist and film-maker was best known for his award-winning documentary Sans Soleil and for his haunting drama La Jetée, charting the quest for memory in the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse.

  1. La Jetee
  2. Production year: 1962
  3. Country: France
  4. Runtime: 29 mins
  5. Directors: Chris Marker
  6. More on this film

Born Christian François Bouche-Villeneuve, Marker fought for the French Resistance and then cut his teeth as a journalist and a critic for Cahiers du Cinéma. He made his film debut with Olympia 52, a documentary on the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, and went on to become a leading light of the Left Bank Cinema movement alongside his friends Agnès Varda and Alain Resnais. In 1961 he sparked controversy with the documentary Si Cuba, a film that praised Fidel Castro, denounced America and was promptly banned in the US.

Marker’s other notable pictures include 1985’s AK, an essay on the work of the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, and 1977’s A Grin Without a Cat, charting the socialist struggle in the period before and after the 1968 Paris uprisings. He scored an arthouse hit with 1983’s Sans Soleil, his elliptical meditation on travel and memory that darted from Japan to Africa via an appreciation of the 1958 thriller Vertigo. Hitchcock’s movie, said the director, was the only film “capable of portraying impossible memory, insane memory”.

Yet Marker’s most influential production remains 1962’s La Jetée, a 29-minute drama composed almost entirely of still images and tracing one man’s attempt to reclaim an image from his past. Marker’s poetic, provocative meld of global catastrophe and human frailty went on to inspire the 1987 drama The Red Spectacles and Terry Gilliam’s 1995 blockbuster 12 Monkeys.

The teasing, elliptical nature of Marker’s work was reflected in the man himself. He refused to give interviews, hated being photographed and claimed to have born in Mongolia despite contradictory sources that suggested he was a native of Paris. All of which, wrote the critic David Thomson, fostered the notion of Marker as “some mysterious if ideal figure, a hope or a dream more than an actual person”. He was, Thomson added, “the essential ghost”.

Invitation for a Film Treat at TISS- May 8, Block it !!

The School of Media and Cultural Studies invites you to a screening of  a series of five final films by the Class of 2012. The film screenings will be followed by an interaction and discussion with the filmmakers.

Date: May 8, 2012
Time: 10 am to 1 pm
Venue: Library Conference Hall, TISS Main Campus, Opp Deonar bus depot


The details of the films follow.

2012, 33 Mins, Hindi with English Subtitles
A film by Aakriti Kohli, Sandeep Kr. Singh, Shweta Ghosh, Gin Khan Siam and Sumit Singh

Gani, a 21-year old, has done many things for a living: bag-making, embroidery work and working at a call
centre.18-year old Aman studies in school. He loves eating mangoes and chenna-murgi. He sketches and
plays cricket. The two have very little in common, but there is one thing that binds them- Breaking, a dance form that started back in the 70s in the Bronx, New York. Since then, it has grown popular across countries and has moulded itself to fit into specific cultures.

This film looks at what it means to be a breaker in Mumbai, how breaking becomes a site of expression of
subaltern youth cultures and what it means to win and lose battles. Through the personal lives of Gani, Aman and their friends, the film tries to understand the dynamics of  breaking, and explores questions of space and the avenues for leisure in Mumbai.

The Women of Mumbra
2012, 21 mins., Hindustani with English Subtitles
A film by Shazia Nigar, Sharib Ali and Ufaque Paikar

The riots of 1992-93 changed the spatial character of the city of Mumbai.While some Muslims left the city out of choice others were forced to leave in search of security. It was in this context that Mumbra, a Muslim ghetto, was established. Niswa-E-Mumbra is a film that explores the lives of Muslim women in Mumbra, through two central characters. Shireen Kamal Dehlvi is a journalist working with an Urdu daily. With her stories of struggle she brings to life what it means not just be Muslim but also a woman in contemporary times.

Kausar is an activist working with a women’s organisation called Awaaz-E-Niswan. Through her working on women she throws light on the present infrastructural problems in Mumbra and the struggles they pose for women. The film dwells on questions which attempts to answer weather the life of a Muslim woman is any different from that of other women.

The story of a single-screen theatre in Mumbai’s mill country
2012, 28 minutes, Hindi, Marathi and English with English subtitles
A Film by Avadhoot Khanolkar, Amol Ranjan, Anurag Mazumdar, Arpita Chakraborthy and Shweta Radhakrishnan

At the heart of Mumbai’s mill country, Lalbaug-Parel, stands Bharatmata Cinema, one of the remaining single screen theatres that plays only Marathi films. The theatre is an iconic reminder of a colourful working class culture which is now on the decline in Mumbai. Through the narratives of Kapil Bhopatkar, the owner, and Baban, one of the oldest employees of the theatre, the film explores the history and development of Bharatmata as a space for articulating the cultural identity of Mumbai’s working class and ponders on its existence and survival. The characters, though from widely disparate socio-economic classes, come together in their passionate love for cinema and their celebration of the main character in the film, Bharatmata Cinema itself.

2012, 23 mins, English with subtitles
A Film by Vikram Buragohain, Kaikho Paphro, Joyashree Sarma, Daisy Leivon, Abhishek Yadav

From the echoing hills of the North east to a bustling city of Mumbai by the sea, the film is about the people who have made this journey in search of better life. But does the journey end here?

Amidst the changes and negotiations, the search for familiar faces and flavours of food lead them all to Kalina. In the film, a musician, an entrepreneur, a researcher, a homemaker and a martial art trainer, reflect on their lived experiences and the efforts to recreate their homes and maintain their identity in the city.
The film explores Kalina as a space and the elements of food and music which link them to their homeland and its memories.

30 min, Marathi with English subtitles
A Film By Devendra Ghorpade, Manoj Bhandare, Prakash Sao and Raju Hittalamani

This is a film on the performing artists of Tamasha and the changing facets of art form itself. Women have been an integral part of Tamasha contributing on and off stage. Their lives and struggles are a result of the interplay between social constructions, the changing location and form of Tamasha. Kanthabai Satarkar is a veteran Tamashgir. With her first performance at the age of nine, she grew as an artist to manage one of the biggest Tamasha troupes in Maharashtra. With over six decades of experience, her life bears witness to the journey of Tamasha and lives of those associated with it.

Sunday Reading –Shah Rukh Khan, Islamophobia and a message for Bollywood


Shah Rukh Khan‘s two-hour detention at a US airport may not be as random as US authorities claim, says Satyen K Bordoloi as he profiles Islamophobia and its roots in cinema.
(With invaluable inputs from Monica Wahi and Shama Zaidi)

Three people stepped out of the private jet owned by the second richest man in Asia. Two of them were the man’s wife and daughter while the third was a film star whose global fan base outnumbers that of the biggest Hollywood star.

Yet, the film star was picked up for ‘terror’ screening in the US airport and detained for two hours. Though no one said so, everyone knows that the star’s fault lay in his name – Khan, Shah Rukh Khan.

So what if Khan means ‘leader’ or ‘commander’ and that he is perhaps the most well known ‘Khan’ on the planet.

The hilarity, however, had only begun. After Indians protested, the US authorities claimed that this was a random screening and that thousands of people get screened every day.

Random? Private Jet… one in three people… with the family of the second ri

chest man in Asia… a hugely popular star who needs only a 0.278 second Google search to confirm… Perhaps the US foreign policy on India is devised by watching the country’s illogical commercial cinema for them to believe that the Indian public will buy any nonsense.

Shah Rukh Khan downplayed the incident with his characteristic wit saying, ‘Whenever I start feeling too arrogant, I take a trip to America. The immigration guys kick the star out of stardom.’

The film industry, aware of the King Khan‘s megalomania, would have smirked in acknowledgement at this tongue-in-cheek self-flagellation. Yet, for the umpteenth time, this incident has put the spotlight on the tornado called Islamophobia that has left no one untouched – presidents and superstars included.

Aamir Khan was strip-searched in 2002. Irffan Khan had so many trysts, especially in 2008 and 2009, that he dropped the surname Khan from his name.

Former Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam was frisked twice in one day in 2010 at New York airport.

If this happens to such globally affluent Muslims, one can only imagine the kind of ‘random’ search common Muslims are perhaps subjected to.

Ironically what has been used the most in spreading this Islamophobia, is the medium of cinema itself.

History of Hollywood’s anti-Islam propaganda

Read more below


Kractivism-Gonaimate Videos

Protest to Arrest

Faking Democracy- Free Irom Sharmila Now

Faking Democracy- Repression Anti- Nuke activists


Kamayaninumerouno – Youtube Channel


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