Anand Neelakantan is a serious (and seriously good) writer. Five years ago, the 42-year-old published his debut novel, Asura: Tale of the Vanquished. It was an instant bestseller. Telling the story of the Ramayana from Ravana’s point of view, Asura was a smoother read than most mythological retellings. And both,Anand Neelakantan is a serious (and seriously good) writer. Five years ago, the 42-year-old published his debut novel, Asura: Tale of the Vanquished. It was an instant bestseller. Telling the story of the Ramayana from Ravana’s point of view, Asura was a smoother read than most mythological retellings. And both the story and the author’s research were deep enough to sustain readers’ moral quibbles with the author’s perspective. His next pair of books, the Ajaya series-telling the Kaurava side of the Mahabharata-was similarly notable. His PR folks estimate he’s sold a million copies of those three alone, all translations included.However, those three books-all retellings of beloved Hindu epics-were ‘safe territory’, of a sort. The novel that was launched on March 31, The Rise of Sivagami, marks Neelakantan’s first foray into crafting a new world: a three-book series based on S.S. Rajamouli’s 2015 film Baahubali: The Beginning. Sivagami, as befits its role as a prequel, is set 30 years before the movie. It begins the story of the warrior princess Sivagami, the mother of Rajamouli’s title character. The next two books will complete Sivagami’s back-story, establishing a secondary arc for the Baahubali franchise. (At the launch, Rajamouli also mentioned plans for a mini TV series based on Neelakantan’s books.) Given the scale of this enterprise-the first Baahubali movie had a budget of Rs 180 crore and grossed Rs 650 crore-the novel’s commercial success is virtually assured. Nonetheless, Neelakantan as author is a positive sign. His attention to detail and palpable love of mythology set him apart from contemporaries. Rajamouli choosing him as resident novelist suggests that Indian cinema is cottoning on to the value of a well-crafted story.advertisementLike many Indian authors, Neelakantan already had a career before publishing found him. “I’m from a small town,” he says. “I was forced to study engineering. Just like in 3 Idiots. And coming from a small town, being an ‘artist’ was not encouraged. Most artists you see there are drunkards.” A sudden smile disappears as swiftly as it blooms, and the serious engineer (who still has a job with the Indian Oil Corporation) is back. “But that’s where the stories are. In small towns.” Growing up in Thripunithura-a town in Kerala that is home to over 100 temples-Neelakantan says that mythology was a “daily thing, expressed in entertainment, in temple stories, in dance. Our mythology is something that needs to be experienced, not just read.”Neelakantan has at least six more books in the pipeline-the success of Asura earned him several slots with his publisher, Westland (and one with Jaico). For that matter, Sivagami is not his first brush with the world of film; he has already written scripts for Star TV, Sony and Colors. Novels based on movies, rather than the opposite, are a new phenomenon for India. And Sivagami itself is more closely related to film than literature. Baahubali 2 is set to release on April 28, and the launch of Sivagami was undoubtedly timed to keep interest in the films high. Neelakantan has said that scheduling meant he completed the book in just over three months. That may be the reason for a certain roughness evident in the language and plot-but only in comparison to the high bar set by Asura. ???-Aditya WigCITY OF STARSPhotographer Mark Bennington’s book Living the Dream-The Life of the ‘Bollywood’ Actor, strips away the glamour to look at the real people behind the reel stars. The New York-based lensman’s book gives readers a peek into the thoughts of the who’s who of Bollywood: Ranbir Kapoor, for example, says he wouldn’t want to disappoint his fans, while Riteish Deshmukh wishes fans were more considerate; Deepika Padukone says she’s still nervous, and Hema Malini would like to own a house in the Himalayas.”One of my goals was to humanise the narrative of the actor,” says Bennington. That said, not all the voices featured are insightful or informative. The ones that resonate the most are of actors in independent cinema and what Bennington calls the “fringe” group. They include the strugglers (mimic Gabbar Singh’s moving account) and the outsiders (transgender actor Bobby Darling on her fraught journey). Bennington also succeeded in getting one actress to open up about the ‘casting couch’. “It is a very real part of the business, but almost no one will go into detail [at least, on record] because they feel they have too much to lose,” he says.Having met over a hundred actors, Bennington noted that while nepotism is prevalent, “in India nobody takes anything for granted”. “Everyone I met was very hard-working and positive,” he says. “It was refreshing, because in the States there is a lot of bitterness and apathy.” Bennington also singled out Dev Anand, who died in 2011, a year after being photographed. “He really stood out. He was so inquisitive and engaging with me about my own career and [even] gave me advice.”advertisement-Suhani SinghTILL DEATH DO US PARTAt the beginning of Mukti Bhavan, an arthouse film that releases in India on April 7, an elderly father tells his work-obsessed son, “Mera waqt aa gaya hai (my time has come).” Because he wants to spend his last days in tranquility, 76-year-old Dayanand (Lalit Behl) prevails on Rajiv (Adil Hussain) to take him to Varanasi. The film’s title comes from the Ganga-facing establishment that they check into to await Daya’s demise.Shubhashish Bhutiani’s feature debut, the film elegantly portrays the difficulties of filial responsibility, a complex father-son relationship and the arduous wait for a loved one’s death. The film, which premiered at the Venice International Film Festival last year, releases in India on April 7.Like Piku, Mukti Bhavan highlights the burdens of managing an ailing, demanding parent, and like Masaan, it is set in a city which has a flourishing commercial industry based on death. Yet despite the focus on death and aging, Mukti Bhavan’s gaze is tourist-friendly and Bhutiani tempers the sadness with regular doses of humour. Behl and Hussain do a fine job as the focal characters, whose amusing tiffs and frank conversations keep audiences engaged. Geetanjali Kulkarni and Palomi Ghosh are fine additions as Rajiv’s wife and daughter, respectively.Mukti Bhavan emphasises the importance of forgiveness before salvation, but the biggest accomplishment of Bhutiani’s script is that it keeps mawkishness at bay while honestly addressing the fact of death.-Suhani SinghPRIDE AND PRODUCEPunjabi entrepreneur Harinder Singh showcases a new line of contemporary Phulkari embroidery from April 6-13A quirky streak runs through all of Harinder Singh’s enterprises. A former garment exporter, Singh now runs a chain of boutique stores that sell Punjabi memorabilia. Named ‘1469’, after the birth year of Guru Nanak, the chain is best known for T-shirts bearing smart alecky Punjabi quotes like “Jadon strong si odhon wrong si (when we were strong, we were wrong)”. The T-shirts are all the rage among urban Punjabis and NRIs who see in them “a celebration of Punjabiat”, in the words of singer Jasbir Jassi. The success inspired Harinder and his wife Kirandeep to reinvent and popularise Phulkari, the traditional, painstakingly embroidered shawls that are given to Punjabi brides as part of their trousseaus. The couple created a line of products including key chains, potli pouches, upholstery covers and stoles, using the geometric patterns of Phulkari embroidery. The aim was to create “contemporary design interventions for young, upwardly mobile customers”, says Harinder. When he expressed these ideas on a morning walk-cum-meeting with curator and art historian Dr Alka Pande, the idea of Mela Phulkari was born. “Phulkari needed a platform,” says Pande, who was instrumental in making the Mela an annual event. This year, along with art and music, the Mela also celebrates the Gurmukhi script-calligraphed onto pottery, antique vessels and woodblocks. It will be held at the Palm Court Gallery, India Habitat Centre, from April 6-13.-Bandeep SinghadvertisementAN ARCHIVE OF THE MINDFive years after the documentary Celluloid Man, Shivendra Singh Dungarpur revisits the cinephile, archivist and legend Paramesh Krishnan Nair-who headed the National Film Archive of India from the mid-1960s to 1991-to whom goes the credit of single-handedly safeguarding India’s cinematic history.Film lovers will find much to appreciate in Yesterday’s Films for Tomorrow. Published by the Dungarpur-founded Film Heritage Foundation, this book is an anthology of P.K. Nair’s writings, and is filled with the legendary archivist’s uncensored views on everything cinema-from his unabashed admiration for India’s first filmmaker Dadasaheb Phalke to his take on Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas (all “technical gloss and gimmicks”, and otherwise “soulless”).Some of the more delightful chapters chronicle Nair’s earliest movie-going outings, and shed light on his crazy hunt for silent films. Lists such as his “most moving movie moments” and films he fears we may have lost forever are a great historical resource as well. The book also contains a discussion-in depth-of the significance of regional cinema (Malayalam cinema gets a whole chapter) and the relevance of documentaries. There are also posters and stills illustrating some of the gorgeous artwork from yesteryear’s films.Taken together, the essays paint a portrait of a man who wanted cinema to be seen as more than just a means for escapist entertainment, one who felt the need to balance technology and creativity in the arts. Towards the end of the book, what Nair’s knowledge and thoughts most succeed in doing is to make readers embark on a new cinematic discovery by offering them a fresh perspective.-Suhani SinghLEGENDARY MEMORIESRunning through May 6, a new exhibition of photos at Jaipur’s Jawahar Kala Kendra offers a compelling retrospective of Ebrahim Alkazi’s theatre work. Spanning a period of 50 years, Alkazi’s career ran parallel to the Independence movement and the birth of Indian modernism in theatre.Curated by Amal Allana and designed by Nissar Allana, the exhibition features rare photographs, objects, archival documents and models of stage sets. The multimedia approach effectively showcases Alkazi’s vision and ideas, as well as some of his work from the 1940s and 1950s that has rarely been seen anywhere in India.A legendary figure in Indian theatre and director of the National School of Drama (NSD) from 1962 to 1977, Padma Vibhuhshan winner Ebrahim Alkazi introduced revolutionary changes in set design and lighting, and wove together international theories of drama and acting with traditions from India. Sceptical of intellectualism, he developed training methods for actors, directors and stage designers and spoke of a new ethics and philosophy in theatre.”My greatest challenge in designing an exhibition on a great legend like Alkazi, was [the challenge of] living up to the high standards that Alkazi [himself] stood for, and to be able to communicate that greatness in a manner befitting Alkazi,” says Allana. ???-Rohit Parihar INDIA GOES ULTRAJoining the International Ultra-running Association will allow India to send teams for global competitionsWhile every selection trial is important to a runner, Indian ultra-runner Kieren D’Souza is particularly thrilled about an upcoming one. Having become a member of the International Association of Ultra-running (IAU), the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) can now select a team to compete in the 2017 Trail World Championships in Italy, on June 10. The race runs through national forests in the central Apennines (between Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna) for 49 kilometres.”India’s membership is a big boost to ultra-runners,” says 24-year-old D’Souza, who became the first Indian to participate and finish the Spartathlon-a 246-km race from Athens to Sparta in Greece that ranks among the most competitive ultras worldwide. “I am sure this will help the Indian presence in the global ultra- and trail-running map,” he adds.Female competitors could benefit in particular, says Delhi’s Meenal Kotak, another of India’s leading ultra runners. “India does not provide the best conditions for women to train effectively,” says Kotak. “That might change with this international recognition.”Some ultras are races over a set distance. Others are races to cover the most ground within a time limit. Some are road races and others run over hills and rivers, through deserts, forests, and snow. Despite the sport’s gruelling nature, ultra-running is one of the fastest growing adventure sports in the country, with nearly 1,500 people taking part in races held across India, and some competing abroad as well. That enthusiasm was what drew AFI to the sport, points out AFI president Adille Sumariwalla.The membership also grants the AFI the authority to organise ultra-marathons and mountain trail runs in the country and promote Indian endurance runners abroad. For that reason, some see the development as a mixed blessing. “As of now, ultra-running is pure and corruption-free. But no one knows if that’ll last once a government-run federation takes over,” says an ultra-runner who did not wish to be named.-Anil Nair A WRITER, REBORNPenguin Books has reissued two translations of novels by Perumal Murugan-Current Show (Nizhal Muttram) and Seasons of the Palm (Koolla Madari). The writer, long popular among Tamil readers, became a national figure two years ago after controversy surrounded his novel, One Part Woman. Threats from caste-based groups forced him to apologise, agree to delete portions of his work, withdraw unsold copies, and ultimately, leave his home in Tiruchengode, Tamil Nadu. In despair, Murugan announced that he would give up writing altogether.But readers and fellow writers rallied in support and in July 2016, the Madras High Court quashed criminal cases against him, explicitly encouraging him to write again. Now, the noise has died down and Murugan’s poetry and novels are out in new editions. “As his official English-language publisher,” says Ashish Mehta of Penguin Random House, “we want to make his entire fictional oeuvre available to readers who are unable to read the original Tamil. When we learned that these two novels had been out of print for quite some time, it made sense to bring them back into circulation.” Murugan’s writing is raw, and you can nearly smell the urine and feel the sticky floors underfoot in Current Show, where street kids are hired ad hoc at a cinema and constantly menaced by their employers. In Seasons of the Palm, children are bonded to work on farms, shackled by their parents’ endless debts. Here they live with the open sky, howling storms and dark-fruited palm trees, but also the brutality of caste oppression.The uproar over One Part Woman still shadows his writing, Murugan says. “I cannot write the way I used to. I don’t think I can continue with those forms of realism and naturalistic writing.” He is not writing anything at the moment but is seeding ideas for future work. Penguin will also be publishing Murugan’s Songs of a Coward in September 2017, a collection of poems written in the months between his “death” and “resurrection”.-Latha Anantharaman TALKING LOVEAhead of the year’s most awaited Kollywood release, Kaatru Veliyidai, director Mani Ratnam talks films, love and relationshipsKaatru Veliyidai is being called Roja redux. Are there similarities?The film is an emotional story. I wouldn’t compare it with Roja.You’ve made several love stories. How would you describe the love in Kaatru Veliyidai?Every story is a love story in some sense, and every film is about relationships. Even when we are dealing with conflict, it is a relationship we are talking about. In Kaatru Veliyidai, I would say the love is a bit more classical.What did you think of OK Jaanu, the Hindi remake of your film?If I ever remake a film, it would be my take on it. That is the only way it should be done. Shaad (Ali) is a good friend and we talked about several aspects. [One] wants the director of the [remake] to have as much freedom as [possible].All your films have dealt with relationships. Which one of them is closest to your own life?Relationships between fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, all come out of things seen and shared. But it is the man-woman relationships in a film that get talked about the most.A.R. Rahman’s soundtrack for Kaatru Veliyidai has been well received. Which is your favourite track?My favourite would have to be Nalla Allai.-with Prachi Sibal AFRICAN TASTES FOR INDIAN DINERSWhile ignorant, racist attacks against Africans stun the capital, a new crop of restaurants is celebrating African culture and cuisine. This week it’s not just a matter of taste to sample exotic eats like the fluffy injeras of Ethiopia-it’s also a statement of solidarity.GalitosFor the past few years this QSR in Bengaluru’s Whitefield has been giving patrons a taste of South Africa and Mozambique with its popular peri-peri chicken, kebab-like Afrikaaner sosaties and mealie pap soup that’s made with corn meal and flavoured with tomato and basil. Exotic appeal: chicken boerewors sausages with tangy bean-rich chakalaka sauce.Green onionWhile prima facie there may be nothing remotely Nigerian to the look and feel of this Marine Lines, Mumbai, restaurant, a glance at the menu will throw up myriad surprises in the form of the tomatoey jellof rice with a huge hunk of deep-fried chicken, served with fried plantain slices as accompaniments and the funky smelling, dried fish redolent goat onugbo curry, best mopped up with balls fashioned out of the log-shaped semovita fufu that’s flecked with pieces of okra. Exotic appeal: chicken egusi soup with bitter leaf, thickened using melon seeds.AbyssinianOffering a range of Ethiopian delicacies from teff-flour bread (known as injera) to the national dish of chicken doro wat spiced with traditional berbere spice mix, this six-month-old Chennai restaurant in Alwarpet has almost everything brought in from Ethiopia. Exotic appeal: raw tenderloin kitfo seasoned with the Ethiopian version of ghee, mitmita cheese and cardamom.FezWith decor that seems straight out of a story from 1,001 Arabian Nights, and living up to the promise of its name, this Moroccan and North African restaurant in New Delhi’s Chanakyapuri area is a repository for all things North African. From the lamb tajine it serves-jazzed up with preserved lemons-to its Tunisian stew served with cous cous, this restaurant offers patrons a genuine taste of the exotic. Exotic appeal: the tajeh al-kamroon harissa-marinated prawns that are charcoal grilled and served with a walnut sauce.Blue NileRun by the cultural wing of the Ethiopian embassy in Chanakyapuri, eating out at this ber-authentic Ethiopian restaurant-cum-caf is both educational and palate-pleasing. The staff are on hand to guide you through the nuances of this Northeast African cuisine that has as its flagbearers the fluffy injera bread made from rice, teff or corn; the black lentil rich defen mesir and the begg tibs which is sliced lamb fried with onion garlic and fresh chilli. Exotic appeal: a potent shot of salty, muddy Ethiopian coffee with a few drops of niter (Ethiopian clarified butter), served with popcorn.-Raul Dias ALL IN THE BREWTapaswini Purnesh, the 29-year-old Classic Group heiress, talks of her preferences, food pairing and the importance of brewing techniques What do you think of the newest coffee trends like micro-roasteries?The cafe culture is now slowly moving towards coffee appreciation, and that is a good sign. We had our own roastery-cafe and wine lounge called Berries and Barrels as early as in 2014, but it seemed ahead of its time.Tells us about your journey with Classic Coffees?I joined Classic Coffees seven years ago after a degree at Le Cordon Bleu, and have had a keen interest in food and coffee pairing. We will soon be organising workshops titled ‘The Coffee Art’ that will introduce enthusiasts to coffee and dessert pairing. We are also in the process of launching a range of affordable premium coffee for different times of the day, a concept that is relatively new here.How do you pair coffee with dessert? Is it very different from tea pairing?Food pairing too has a lot to do with how the coffee is brewed. A light-bodied pour-over coffee can be paired with a piece of apple or pear, a medium-bodied texture pairs well with custard, lemon curd or a fruit tart and an espresso or Aeropress demands creamier flavours like chocolate or salted caramel.What was the last ‘most memorable’ cup of coffee you had?During a vacation in Bali, I had an interesting cold brew with lime and sugar. It was quite unusual.-with Prachi Sibal FILMY FUNDASTaapsee Pannu, actor, on acting, movies and family Q: You play a spy in Naam Shabana. If there was one person you could spy on, who would it be? A: Akshay Kumar. He is my favourite rags-to-riches story. I’d like to know how he gets it right almost every time. How can someone grow so exponentially?Q: Favourite spy novel or movie? A: I find the on-screen spies too flashy and glam. Instead I’m a fan of the X-Men series. I also like the adventurous Lara Croft.Q: One thing you can’t do without when you’re shooting on location? A: Jokes. I love to pick on people. I’m a big bully. Thanks to people like Neeraj [Pandey], I’ve picked up more sarcastic humour. He calls me a drama queen.Q: What’s your most prized possession? A: My family and friends, because they have nothing to do with films. They don’t care what’s a hit or a flop or what I’m doing next. They make me feel normal.Q: An actor, living or dead, that you’d like to work with? A: I really want to do a film with Ranbir Kapoor. He is one of the most versatile actors around.
YELLOWKNIFE — Voters in the Northwest Territories were willing to give newcomers a chance in a territorial election on Tuesday that was tough on incumbents.Seven politicians who were running again, including two cabinet ministers, were defeated.Voters also elected a high number of women, who will represent nine of the territory’s 19 seats in the legislature — up from two elected in 2015.Bob McLeod, who was premier for eight years, did not run for re-election and his successor won’t be immediately known.Under the territory’s consensus-style government, politicians run individually instead of under a party banner.The winners meet shortly after the election to choose a premier and who will be in cabinet.The new premier then assigns portfolios.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 2, 2019. The Canadian Press