India Insight http://blogs.reuters.com/india Perspectives on South Asian politics Sat, 01 Oct 2016 12:30:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.5 Q&A: Prakash Padukone on India’s Olympic dreams http://blogs.reuters.com/india/2016/10/01/qa-prakash-padukone-on-indias-olympic-dreams/ http://blogs.reuters.com/india/2016/10/01/qa-prakash-padukone-on-indias-olympic-dreams/#comments Sat, 01 Oct 2016 12:29:32 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/india/?p=18483 Former Indian badminton player Prakash Padukone speaks during an interview with Reuters in Mumbai, India, June 16, 2016. REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade/Files

Former Indian badminton player Prakash Padukone speaks during an interview with Reuters in Mumbai, India, June 16, 2016. REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade/Files

In 1980, when India barely had a badminton stadium of any repute, Prakash Padukone won the All England tournament by defeating reigning champion Liem Swie King and topped the world ranking. That was a feat no Indian player could have dared to dream at the time.

India’s indifferent performance at the Rio Olympics hasn’t dampened his spirit. At 61, Padukone continues to work towards achieving excellence in Indian sport through his badminton academy and Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ), a non-profit sports promotion foundation.

Reuters met Padukone at his academy in Bengaluru where he shared his insights on how India should prepare for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and beyond.

Q: In the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the UK finished 36th with just one gold medal. Soon after, they overhauled their structure and in the Rio Olympics they finished second, ahead of China. Does India need something on similar lines?
A: There’s a major difference between any other country and India. What India lacks is professionalism of sports federations. Unless you professionalize the federations and the Indian Olympic Association, and unless they start becoming more accountable, responsible and transparent, and appoint the right people, no amount of funding, no amount of effort, no committee will yield results. In the UK, the moment you give funds then everything else is in place. Everybody is accountable, everybody is responsible and if you don’t meet the target, you are out. Here, that’s not the case.

Q: So you are saying first we need the right people to run the federation?
A: Yes, the right people will have the resources and the bandwidth. For everything, you need permission here. Even if a private enterprise, let’s say Reliance or some other company, wants to put in 1,000 crore rupees ($150 million) and take over all sports. You still cannot run the sport the way you want unless you have the cooperation of the federation. In everything, the federation intervenes. If you want to reach 50 medals in eight years, unless you revamp this system, it’s not going to happen … Everything is manipulated here. When you go, your nephew or niece comes, takes your place and you still control the federation … It’s a deep-rooted malaise, which I hope we change at the earliest but it’s definitely going to take time.

Q: What kind of people should be involved in sports administration? Athletes?
A: The right people need not know anything about sports, but should be willing to learn. The Indian Institute of Management guys who know finance, marketing, etc. are the right people.

In fact, federations should be run like a corporate house. In England, badminton associations have a CEO and then they have different departments like marketing, development, sponsorship, coaching, youth development, etc. Each department is headed by somebody and each year they have a target to meet.

Here, even if you give them money, it’ll still produce the same result it had been delivering earlier. Here, they don’t have plans, they will blow up the money. The Rio Games was a classic example. There was no shortage of money. There was no proper planning and suddenly when the money came, they didn’t know what to do. I don’t think any federation has any plan.

Q: After putting the right people in the sports federation, what’s the next step?
A: Then things will automatically happen. I don’t need to tell them, those people will know what to do. We just need to take the right decisions and the implementation will happen automatically.

Q: You’ve been a part of the OGQ and sports administration in general for quite some time. How do you think India should prepare for the Tokyo Olympics and when?
A: The preparation for Tokyo Games should start from yesterday. I think we should be very realistic and aim for 10 medals, nothing more than that.

Q: You think we should identify a small number of areas where we should devote our resources in Tokyo?
A: There are only five or six sports where we can get a medal at the moment. Even the government has identified the sports in terms of priority sports and non-priority sports. We have chances in archery, boxing, badminton, wrestling, shooting and in team sport – hockey.

Q: Do you think India needs to invest in coaches and training of coaches in a big way?
A: Every sport needs to have a short-term and long-term plan. They need to have proper targets, and more than anything else, it’s the monitoring that is important. In those sports, where we don’t have the expertise, we should hire top coaches in the world. One of the major flaws which we need to address is to coach our coaches. For the long term, maybe for the 2028 Olympics, we need to hire best coaches in the world and pay them whatever they want. These coaches should train our coaches.

Our coaches have the talent, they are willing to learn, but they don’t have the latest training methods. They are not sent abroad, no world-class coaches are brought here to train them. How do you expect them to deliver? If you want to prioritise, first get the best coaches. In one year, these foreign coaches can train 100 coaches. We need to create a separate institute for coaches where they are provided every possible facility in terms of theoretical knowledge, practical training and scientific support. These 100 coaches can then produce so many good players.

Q: And what about support teams?
A: If I have to prioritise, I’ll put that in number two. In this area, we lack knowledge. Slowly we are catching up, but we are still 20 years behind the U.S. or Europe. Things like peaking, periodisation and how to do it, all should be laid out on paper, so that athletes peak at the right time. During the week when you are at the Olympics you deliver your best performance. And support team will only help when the athletes are already there. It cannot be substitute for talent and effort.

Q: You think another option could be to encourage athletes for sports scholarships in U.S. universities, such as Oregon for athletics, California for swimming, the UCLA for gymnastics, etc.?
A: It depends on the sport and the athletes. It’s definitely an option, provided the athlete has the hunger.

Q: In the U.S., UK and even Kenya, they have a school-college/university-club model to produce elite athletes. Do you think India should follow this model as a long-term plan?
A: Yes, we should have that model. But then we can talk about it and we can write anything about it, but it’s not going to happen soon.

Q: The U.S. has a multi-discipline, high-altitude Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, where over 500 elite athletes can train at the same time. Do you think India should also build such facilities?
A: Of course, it will help a great deal. But it depends on the faculty, what kind of freedom they are allowed. The moment it’s in the Sports Authority of India’s hands, it’ll have restrictions.

Q: In India, sports federations depend a lot on government funding. Shouldn’t they market their sport the way Indian cricket board has?
A: I have always said that federations, instead of blaming Indian cricket, should learn from it. Federations should learn how to market their sport and generate money through corporate sponsorship. But again, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. I may sound pessimistic, but I’m being realistic.

Q: Indian badminton has produced results. You think other federations should follow this model?
A: Basically, you need some good private academies. If you don’t get right opportunity at the right time, the talent fades away.

Q: How do you see India’s performance in badminton at the Tokyo Games?
A: I think we have a good team until the 2024 Olympic games. In terms of medals, I can’t promise. Overall, for the next eight years we don’t have to worry, especially in men’s singles. We have good depth. Players are doing well at various levels, starting from age group of 13 to 23 years. With the right kind of support from government and private sports foundations and more media coverage, it will only get better. Probably the base will widen and more players will come up.

If you see the entries in the junior tournaments, it’s mind-boggling. And the way the sport is spreading, every second or third day we get enquiries about building courts, stadiums and academies from all over the country. It’s definitely on the right track. I wish the federation is little more proactive and gets right people involved. A lot more can be achieved because there’s plenty of talent.

Q: Do we need more specialized doubles coaches in badminton?
A: Doubles is much more physical, played at much more fast pace… Internally, we don’t have the expertise in doubles coaching. If we want to excel in doubles, then we need to hire foreign coaches because the technique used in doubles is so different. I think there is no coach in India, including Gopi (Pullela Gopichand) or me who can produce top-level doubles players.

Q: You think it’s possible to win multiple medals in badminton at Tokyo Games?
A: It is difficult to predict medals, but it’s definitely possible. It’s extremely difficult, but it’s possible to get medals in men’s singles and ladies singles or maybe two in men’s singles or two in ladies singles. But we have to work extremely hard for it. It’s not a strong possibility, but definitely there’s a possibility. There’s more possibility in men’s singles than in ladies singles.

In ladies’ singles, there’s a gap after Saina (Nehwal) and (P.V.) Sindhu. I have not heard or seen anyone who is of that standard. In men’s singles, we have six or eight players among the top 10 to 40 (world ranking), such as K. Srikanth and P. Kashyap though they have not done as well as Saina or Sindhu. There are more players in men’s singles and I feel there are greater chances of success, but again I’m not taking anything away from women’s players.

(Editing by Robert MacMillan)

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Movie Review: Sultan http://blogs.reuters.com/india/2016/07/06/movie-review-sultan/ http://blogs.reuters.com/india/2016/07/06/movie-review-sultan/#comments Wed, 06 Jul 2016 10:35:17 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/india/?p=18467

Handout photo

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

The distinguishing feature in Salman Khan’s last two Eid releases –“Bajrangi Bhaijaan” in 2015 and this year’s “Sultan” – is that there are no bad guys. The conflict in both these films does not come from the quintessential Bollywood villain but from existential issues.

Khan, though, is still beating up people to a pulp in “Sultan” and breaking bones with alarming regularity. He plays a wrestler, a plot point that must have been pencilled in just so it could contribute to the high-octane action quotient that is a known part of Khan’s brand of blockbusters.

Handout photo

When we first meet Sultan, he is a broken man – working in a ramshackle government office, riding a rickety bike and waiting for a glimpse of his lady love Aarfa (Anushka Sharma), who looks through him every time she sees him. There’s a history there, we are told – the greatest love story the village has known that went horribly wrong. Through a series of flashbacks, we meet a younger Sultan who is touching 30 (a difference of 20 years from Khan’s age in real life), a happy-go-lucky DTH dealer who falls hook, line, and sinker for Aarfa, a wiry young wrestler who is driven, ambitious and determined to win an Olympic gold medal for India.

Blinded by love and convinced that the only way he can win over Aarfa is by learning to wrestle, Sultan trains hard. After a particularly harsh talk-down from her about his lack of purpose, he turns into a world-beating wrestler almost overnight.

Medals in international competitions are hard to come by, but Sultan pockets them like they were loose change and even wins an Olympic gold medal to be crowned “King of the Ring”. When it all goes bust, Sultan goes into hiding, only to be resurrected by Akash Oberoi (Amit Sadh), a promoter who runs a pro-wrestling league and is looking for a “son of the soil” hero to save his venture from failing. The second half of this 170-minute film is full of well-shot fight sequences that give Khan ample opportunity to flex his muscles.

“Sultan” works because director Ali Abbas Zafar injects enough wry humour into the proceedings and eschews melodrama. Sultan and Aarfa’s romance is low-key and the interactions between them are the only time where Khan is forced to bring out his deeply-hidden and limited acting talents.

Sharma is luminescent as Aarfa and tries her best to inject some chemistry into her romance with Khan. Randeep Hooda, in a brief role as a fighting coach is the perfect foil to Khan’s often sardonic demeanour, and Anant Sharma shines as Govind, Sultan’s sidekick and long-time friend.

The bad guys may be missing, but “Sultan” has everything else that makes for a satisfying Bollywood film.

(Editing by David Lalmalsawma; Follow Shilpa on Twitter at @shilpajay and David @davidlms25. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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Interview: Tara Patkar on feeding the poor through ‘Roti Bank’ http://blogs.reuters.com/india/2016/07/06/interview-tara-patkar-on-feeding-the-poor-through-roti-bank/ http://blogs.reuters.com/india/2016/07/06/interview-tara-patkar-on-feeding-the-poor-through-roti-bank/#comments Wed, 06 Jul 2016 07:24:39 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/india/?p=18459

Photo taken from Tara Patkar’s Facebook page

“Roti Bank,” or “bread bank,” is a year-old effort to provide free food to needy people in the Mahoba district of the Bundelkhand region of India, a place that is suffering from a prolonged drought and a decreasing supply of subterranean water. Reuters spoke to Tara Patkar about how the programme works. Here are the edited excerpts of the interview:

Q:  How does the Roti Bank work?
A: Initially it started with five to 10 people, all of them friends. We decided to bring two rotis each from our homes, along with some curry. We thought we must complete this by 7 p.m. to have enough time to distribute the food. Now, we collect food from around 700 families. There are some centres where people come and take food, while we distribute it door to door also. It’s not possible to cover each and every area door to door, so we have also installed boxes at 21 places in Mahoba where people can drop food between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Q: How many people do you feed every day?
A: Around 1,000 people.

Q: Do you provide the food absolutely free?
A: Yes.

Q: I am sure it was not at all a smooth ride.
A: When we went to important areas of the city to distribute food, everyone would start looking at us curiously. That made us uncomfortable. Some people even asked what were we doing. But when we told them, they appreciated our efforts.

roti3

Photo taken from Tara Patkar’s Facebook page

Q: Did they offer to help?
A: Within a few days. This is how the movement spread, by word of mouth, from one person to other. In the first month of Roti Bank, we had 50 people with us and in three months, there were around 450 volunteers. Now we have around 1,000 people.

Q: How do you cover each and every needy?
A: I can’t claim we cover everyone. But we have provided helpline numbers and requested people to let us know about anyone who needs food.

Q: Bundelkhand generally is facing a food crisis because of droughts. Did you try to connect with those villagers?
A: Drought is one of the main reasons for food crisis. This area is traditionally arid. Also, not everyone owns farmland. A lot of people from this area have migrated to big cities like Delhi and Mumbai in search of jobs but they don’t earn enough to take care of their families back home. We contacted Pradhans (village heads) to know about such families facing acute financial hardships.

Q: Is it limited only to food?
A: At times, we provided clothes also. We requested people to donate their used clothes which were in good condition.

Q: Do you pay people to work?
A: There is no money involved at any stage. We even brought some doctors to our centres for health check-ups, and they didn’t charge anyone.

Q: How do you differentiate between people who need food and people who are just looking for a free meal?
A: Mahoba is a small town, so it’s relatively easy to figure out. But yes, sometimes some people do sneak in. We cannot stop the whole initiative just because of a few people.

Q: I read many similar ‘Roti Banks’ have started in various other parts of India. Are they all associated with you?
A: No, we are limited to Mahoba. But when the news about Roti Bank spread, many organizations contacted us to know how we work. I have been told there are around 100 such Roti Banks in India now. We got calls from countries like England and Sweden too. A man from Mahoba who lives in London posted about it on Facebook. Some people also offered financial help, but we didn’t need money, as there is no need of money in our model. We just asked them to do what we do – simply collect some food and give it to the needy.

Photo taken from Tara Patkar’s Facebook page

Q: What were the main problems you faced?
A: Initially when we went to give food to people on streets, they refused. Possibly they were suspicious. Also, since a few youths were also involved, they were questioned by police to make sure they were not distributing items like drugs. We were also stopped at railway stations because the administration discourages passengers from taking food from unknown people. Usually burglars befriend the passengers and loot them by offering food laced with sedatives. Then we issued identity cards to volunteers. People also asked, why were we doing so much hard work? Did we have any political motive? However gradually, we managed to gain their confidence.

Q: Did the government administration help you?
A: Initially they didn’t take much notice, but when this initiative got highlighted in the media, district officials came to us and sought names of our beneficiaries this winter to provide them blankets. But when we checked with the beneficiaries, they said they didn’t get anything.

Q: Does this kind of charity discourage people from trying to be independent?
A: I agree it’s not a permanent solution. But most of the people who come to us are not in a condition to work. Most of them are elderly people whose children have migrated to big cities and don’t earn enough to send money back home, or they are too old to cook for themselves. After all, neighbors won’t help them every day. Also, there are beggars who are too weak to work.

(Editing by Robert MacMillan; You can follow Amit on Twitter @leosamit and Robert @bobbymacReports | This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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A Ramadan away from home for Rohingya http://blogs.reuters.com/india/2016/07/05/a-ramadan-away-from-home-for-rohingya/ http://blogs.reuters.com/india/2016/07/05/a-ramadan-away-from-home-for-rohingya/#comments Tue, 05 Jul 2016 07:26:34 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/india/?p=18448

Rohingya migrants gather near a cycle rickshaw to collect food being distributed before the iftar meal at a refugee camp in Shram Vihar, New Delhi. Photo by Himani Singh

It’s a grey sunset on a hot and humid evening in the smoggy outskirts of India’s capital. In a barren wasteland between New Delhi and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, the muezzin of a makeshift mosque calls Muslims to prayer. Dozens of men gather for a traditional iftar meal to break their Ramadan fast.

A charity is picking up the tab for the day’s feast. Sliced mangoes, dates and pakoras (fried snacks) are served on paper plates. As the aroma of chicken biryani wafts through the mosque, the children waiting outside grow restless. The early diners are shunted off by the local imam. There are more stomachs to be fed.

Life is a daily struggle for the 300-odd occupants of this shanty town hundreds of miles away from home. All 70 families are Rohingya — an ethnic Muslim minority in Myanmar — who have fled persecution in their homeland. It’s been four years since the refugees started settling here on the banks of the Yamuna river, in the shadow of unfinished concrete pillars that will eventually prop up a bustling metro line.

During the fasting month of Ramadan, the families here pause to reflect on the things they are thankful for — even if it’s a roof over their heads in a dustbowl with no access to electricity, potable water or toilets.

“Ramadan is the time when Allah bestows his gifts on the faithful and every good deed gets rewarded 70 times more than the rest of the year,” says Abdur Raheem, one of the few refugees who can speak Hindi.

Raheem, a businessman in Myanmar, fled his village in 2012 after a wave of anti-Muslim bloodshed.

“The police stood by while all the houses and colonies were burnt to ashes,” says Raheem. “Many of the people I knew were killed.”

A child plays near an open drain before the iftar meal at a Rohingya refugee camp in Shram Vihar, New Delhi. Photo by Himani Singh

A child plays near an open drain before the iftar meal at a Rohingya refugee camp in Shram Vihar, New Delhi. Photo by Himani Singh

A New York Times report last year said India hosts more than 10,000 Rohingya refugees.

There are at least 13 widows in the camp near Delhi, women who lost their husbands in the riots. They keep to themselves, take care of children, and retreat behind closed doors when strangers enter the camp.

Raheem, 65, is one of the leaders of this group of Rohingya refugees. He says he has given up on Indian politicians’ promises of help, and worries that the refugees could be evicted anytime.

At the other end of the camp, Mohammad Tahir and his family of six sit outside their tarpaulin shelter, the last in a row of ramshackle shanties. The weather is sultry outside, but it’s worse inside.

“We are not used to this heat,” says Tahir, his sweat-drenched vest clinging to his chest in various shades of yellow. “The weather in Myanmar was cooler and more pleasant than Delhi, and the fasts were easier to observe.”

Tahir has fond memories of celebrating Eid at his village in Myanmar. Life had been peaceful, until the day landlords forced the villagers into bonded labour. Anyone who asked for money was either beaten or killed. Tahir escaped and made his way to India, eventually reaching the camp near Delhi in 2012. His parents still live in Myanmar.

Women fill water at a handpump before the iftar meal at a Rohingya refugee camp in Shram Vihar, New Delhi. Photo by Himani Singh

Women fill water at a handpump before the iftar meal at a Rohingya refugee camp in Shram Vihar, New Delhi. Photo by Himani Singh

“They say they will die there, but will not leave their motherland,” says Tahir. “I have children and did not want them to die, so we walked through dense forests at night to reach India.”

Tahir’s children play next to black garbage bags in the camp’s vicinity, oblivious to their father’s remarks and the dangers of disease.

Niharika Awasthi, a student at the Jamia Millia Islamia university nearby, has been raising money for the Rohingya refugees. She is especially worried about the women in the camp, who often give birth in their huts and don’t have access to doctors.

“They remain indoors and behind veils,” says Awasthi, who was drawn to their plight during a photography project.

Many refugees in the camp say they are grateful for the money, food and clothing they have received from their Indian neighbours.

“Both Hindus and Muslims have helped. We are overwhelmed by the affection and help we got in a foreign land,” says Tahir.

The 40-something Tahir, who earns a meagre living as a labourer, says the hope of a better future for his children gives him the strength to carry on. He has put aside money to buy them new clothes for the festival of Eid.

Children gaze at the camera before the iftar meal at a Rohingya refugee camp in Shram Vihar, New Delhi. Photo by Himani Singh

Children gaze at the camera before the iftar meal at a Rohingya refugee camp in Shram Vihar, New Delhi. Photo by Himani Singh

“As adults, we can train ourselves to curb our desires, but the children can’t,” he says. “They don’t understand.”

As he prepares for the two-hour Taraweeh prayers, Tahir says his faith has become stronger. There is only one thing that he wants.

“I pray that in some years we can return to our villages. Elders say bad times are followed by good ones,” says Tahir. “There is nothing like home.”

(Editing by Tony Tharakan; Follow Zeyad on Twitter at @zeyadkhan and Tony at @TonyTharakan | Photos by Himani Singh | This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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Movie Review: Shorgul http://blogs.reuters.com/india/2016/07/01/movie-review-shorgul/ http://blogs.reuters.com/india/2016/07/01/movie-review-shorgul/#comments Fri, 01 Jul 2016 09:14:03 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/india/?p=18440 Handout Photo: Actors Hiten Tejwani and Suha Gexen in "Shorgul"

Handout Photo: Actors Hiten Tejwani and Suha Gexen in “Shorgul”

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

Director duo P Singh and Jitendra Tiwari’s “Shorgul” (cacophony) is a supposed exploration of the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots and the reasons behind it. It would be too much to expect a nuanced, honest film that attempts to look at mob mentality and the socio-political reasons that lead to communal riots, but the film doesn’t achieve even 10 percent of its objective.

Melodrama and clichés rule in this 130-minute film and you even hear a character talk about “insaniyat ka dharm (the religion of humanity), a phrase that you thought belonged to the 80s. In the world of “Shorgul”, everything is black and white – the villain will give you a nasty snarl in his very first scene, and the hero will smile beatifically at the camera while romancing the coy leading lady. There is no room for doubt.

The lady in question is Zainab (Suha Gezen), a wide-eyed and giggly college student who is betrothed to Salim (Hiten Tejwani) and completely oblivious to the fact that her childhood friend Raghu is madly in love with her. Things become complicated when Salim’s cousin Mustaqeem (Ejaz Khan), who has just moved from Gujarat and is convinced that his religion is under attack, enters the picture.

One thing leads to another, and soon the whole town is burning and there are sword-wielding mobs running through the streets. Zainab, who is seen as the root cause of the riots, becomes a hunted woman and seeks refuge with Raghu’s father, an influential farmer leader who she considers a father figure. But against a toothless police force and politicians on both sides engineering violence, even he cannot do much.

“Shorgul” is too busy splashing fake blood on its characters to give you any real insight. In the end, it plays out like a Prakash Jha movie. It paints politicians as the main villains, which is easier than accounting for historical and social reasons for communal strife.

Of the cast, Hiten Tejwani and Ashutosh Rana (as Choudhary, the farmer leader) are a pleasure to watch and they bring a sense of reassuring calm to the proceedings. Jimmy Shergill plays Ranjeet Som, a dapper politician who has national ambitions and uses the riots to further his agenda.

While the intentions may have been in the right place, the real voice of “Shorgul” is lost in melodrama and fake blood.

(Editing by David Lalmalsawma; Follow Shilpa on Twitter at @shilpajay and David at @davidlms25. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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Movie Review: Raman Raghav 2.0 http://blogs.reuters.com/india/2016/06/24/movie-review-raman-raghav-2-0/ http://blogs.reuters.com/india/2016/06/24/movie-review-raman-raghav-2-0/#comments Fri, 24 Jun 2016 04:39:19 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/india/?p=18429 (Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

In Anurag Kashyap’s “Raman Raghav 2.0”, a serial killer bludgeons three people to death. In the next scene, he saunters out with a smirk on his face and walks with an unmistakable swagger. The scene is shot in slow motion, and a punchy, upbeat song plays in the background.

There is a thin line between making a film about a serial killer and glorifying his actions. With “Raman Raghav 2.0”, Anurag Kashyap seems to be unsure which side of the line he’s standing on.

Publicity material for the film asks people to be “ramantic” instead of romantic, exhorts fans to take “ramantic” selfies, and ape the character’s style. You have to wonder at the bloodthirsty-ness of it all. Asking people to imitate a man who kills indiscriminately and suffers from an incurable mental illness isn’t the most prudent promotional strategy.

The man at the centre of the film is Ramanna – an unhinged, ruthless psychopath. “Killing comes as naturally to me as breathing,” he tells another character. Ramanna is inspired by Raman Raghav, a real-life serial killer who murdered more than 40 people in the 1960s for no apparent reason. He prowls the streets of Mumbai at night, dragging an iron wrench and looking for his next victim.

Raghav is a cocaine-snorting police officer with daddy issues and a girlfriend whom he treats like dirt. He is investigating the gruesome murders Ramanna has committed, but can barely focus on the job at hand, given he is either acting like a petulant five-year-old or snorting cocaine.

The scales, therefore, seem tilted in Ramanna’s favour. Of the two, his is the more etched-out character and Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays him with relish. Raghav (Vicky Kaushal), on the other hand, seems hurriedly put together and tacked on for some conflict in the film. He pales in front of Siddiqui’s Ramanna and his problems seem too clichéd and too trivial to care about.

Director Kashyap is obviously inspired by Sriram Raghavan’s short film on Raman Raghav, lifting several scenes. But in his attempt to make it an edgier, contemporary narrative, Kashyap loses out on the potency of the plot.

Raghav’s relationships and his anger issues are dealt with rather carelessly, and even though the film is supposed to be about the parallel lives of these two men, Kashyap and co-writer Vasan Bala don’t devote enough screen time to that relationship. Thus, the final encounter between the two men seems out-of-place and a little superficial.

Not that “Raman Raghav 2.0” is without plus points – Siddiqui being the biggest one. His portrayal of Ramanna is spot-on. The glint in his eye, the snarl on his face, the menace in his voice – all enough to give you chills. Shot in squalid slums and deserted godowns, Jay Oza’s camera twists and turns through narrow alleys, ably capturing the horror unfolding on screen.

But again, I keep coming back to the morality of it all. And somehow, a film that almost revels in murder, rather than seeing it for the crime that it is, makes me more uncomfortable than I’d have liked to be.

(Editing by Tony Tharakan; Follow Shilpa on Twitter at @shilpajay and Tony at @TonyTharakan. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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Q&A with Anurag Kashyap on ‘Raman Raghav 2.0′ http://blogs.reuters.com/india/2016/06/23/raman-raghav-anurag-kashyap/ http://blogs.reuters.com/india/2016/06/23/raman-raghav-anurag-kashyap/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 16:39:24 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/india/?p=18424 A year after the debacle of his big-ticket period drama “Bombay Velvet”, Anurag Kashyap is wooing Indian audiences with a modern-day take on a real-life Mumbai serial killer.

Nawazuddin SiddiquiRaman Raghav 2.0“, a fictionalized retelling of a series of apparently motiveless murders in the 1960s, opens in Indian cinemas on Friday.

The film premiered during the Director’s Fortnight at the Cannes festival in May, Kashyap’s third project to be screened there.

The film-maker spoke to Reuters about “Raman Raghav 2.0“, the international language of cinema and why he didn’t want to make a period film.

Q: What’s the secret to regular appearances at Cannes? A lot of Indian films don’t make it.
A: I can say very proudly that I am there based on merit, every year. Nothing else. Our films don’t have an international language. The biggest of our films have premiered at Cannes and nobody buys them. We still go there and our films are looked at as Bollywood films. My films don’t release to the diaspora. They release internationally to the non-diaspora.

Q: Do your films have an international language then?
A: That depends on how anyone else sees it. I try to make a film that you don’t have to understand India to know the film. From world over, the films that come to Cannes have to have language that is easily understandable and give a picture of your country. We make such hygienic, sanitized films and people come to India and see a chaotic country and realize that this is not what the films are showing. And when I shoot in real locations, I am asked why your films are so dark?

Q: What about Raman Raghav made you want to make a film about him?
A: Anybody who has read about Raman Raghav will be curious about him. And that curiosity for me is so overwhelming that I wanted to make a film about him. But I couldn’t make Raman Raghav, so I made Raman Raghav 2.0.

Vicky KaushalQ: Why couldn’t you make Raman Raghav?
A: Because it costs a lot of money. It’s a period film. And I have already burnt my hands with a period film (Bombay Velvet). I was obsessed with the story, so I rewrote it. When I am not creating a time period and I am not hiding what already exists, it’s easier to shoot and the cost is much lesser. I am focusing on the story and not on the time period.

Q: We’ve seen the troubled cop and psychopath villain before. How is “Raman Raghav 2.0″ different?
A: Genre is completely new. The characters don’t seem new – you feel like you have seen them before. But what comes together when you put them in the same kadhai (wok), what comes out is very different. If it was the same serial killer story, the same genre, the same movie, then it wouldn’t have created the kind of excitement where it would go to a festival like Cannes. But that is something I cannot reveal now. You have to watch the film for that.

(Editing by Tony Tharakan; Follow Shilpa on Twitter @shilpajay and Tony @TonyTharakan. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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Bollywood actor Salman Khan in hot water over rape remark http://blogs.reuters.com/india/2016/06/21/bollywood-actor-salman-khan-in-hot-water-over-rape-remark/ http://blogs.reuters.com/india/2016/06/21/bollywood-actor-salman-khan-in-hot-water-over-rape-remark/#comments Tue, 21 Jun 2016 10:13:14 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/india/?p=18416 Salman Khan, one of Bollywood’s most successful movie stars, prompted outrage in India after saying on Saturday that workout sessions for his latest film made him feel like a “raped woman”.

Bollywood actor Salman Khan (R) reacts on the green carpet for the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards in Colombo June 5, 2010. Colombo is playing host to the annual awards which are held in a different city each year -- a sign of Bollywood's efforts to broaden its global appeal. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte (SRI LANKA - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT) - RTR2ESMHKhan made the remark during media interviews over the weekend to promote the film “Sultan“, in which he plays a professional wrestler.

“It is the most difficult thing,” the 50-year-old actor told reporters in Mumbai when asked about his training schedule. “When I used to walk out of that ring, it used to be like a raped woman walking out.”

The remark sparked outrage on social media. The National Commission for Women, a government-run body for women’s rights, has written to Khan demanding a public apology within seven days.

“He has demonstrated the patriarchal mindset that is prevalent in this country – unfortunately, he will get away with it,” Lalitha Kumaramangalam, the group’s chairwoman, told a television channel.

Khan has not commented and his manager did not answer phone calls.

Khan’s remark is a particularly flat-footed one for an Indian celebrity to make. Several rape cases in India in recent years made international headlines. One gang rape, torture and murder in 2012 led to New Delhi being dubbed “India’s rape capital“.

The frequency of rape reports in India in recent years has prompted discussions and arguments over the traditionally inferior place of women in Indian society.

The rape remark is Khan’s latest brush with controversy.

Last year, a Mumbai court overturned the actor’s conviction in a 13-year-old hit-and-run case, in which he is accused of running over a homeless man.

In 2007, Khan was jailed for nearly a week for shooting an endangered gazelle on a hunting trip in the desert state of Rajasthan. He is also out on bail in a case over the killing of protected antelopes.

(Editing by Tony Tharakan and Robert MacMillan; Follow Shilpa on Twitter @shilpajay, Tony @TonyTharakan and Robert@bobbymacReports. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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Movie Review: Udta Punjab http://blogs.reuters.com/india/2016/06/17/movie-review-udta-punjab/ http://blogs.reuters.com/india/2016/06/17/movie-review-udta-punjab/#comments Fri, 17 Jun 2016 07:53:19 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/india/?p=18409 (Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

In the dark of the night, a scooter splutters along a bumpy road. It stops and three men get off. One wears a sports jersey with ‘Pakistan’ printed on it and swivels his arms before flinging a packet across a barbed wire fence. That packet lands in a field in India’s Punjab and sets into motion events that form the crux of Abhishek Chaubey‘s “Udta Punjab“.

Handout still from "Udta Punjab"In Chaubey’s film, it would seem such packets are raining down all over the state. This is not the Punjab that Bollywood has portrayed over the years — the land of yellow mustard fields, energetic dances and lively weddings. In this avatar, Punjab is engulfed in a drug-induced stupor. Teenagers slump around abandoned houses, surrounded by syringes and white paper. Huge consignments of illegal substances make their way around the state with the complicit approval of a corrupt police force, while politicians distribute deadly drug cocktails as election favours.

Chaubey and co-writer Sudip Sharma are inspired by the narrative style in Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic“, and choose to highlight the rather prickly issue through four characters. Alia Bhatt plays a Bihari migrant worker who finds the packet (mentioned above) in a field where she works for a pittance. She wants to sell it, hoping the money will help her escape her miserable existence. Tommy Singh (Shahid Kapoor) is a singer with the petulance and brains of a six-year-old. His songs and his life seem to be driven by drugs, before a sobering experience sets him on the path to redemption.

Handout still from "Udta Punjab"Diljit Dosanjh plays a police officer who thinks nothing of making money from the drug trade, blind to the fact that his younger brother is an addict. Preet Sahani (Kareena Kapoor Khan), a doctor who runs a rehabilitation clinic, makes him see the light and together they set off on a mission to find those guilty of drug trafficking.

At 148 minutes and four character tracks to follow, the screenplay is overcrowded and resorts to contrivances in an attempt to resolve some issues. “Udta Punjab” is at its heart a rather simplistic tale that doesn’t really have the time to delve into socio-economic factors that led to this crisis in the northern state. If this film had lesser actors, it would have been a whole other story.

It is to the credit of the four actors and the ensemble cast that “Udta Punjab” is mostly a triumph. Shahid Kapoor and Alia Bhatt deliver the performances of a lifetime. Bhatt sheds her skin to emerge as a freckled, troubled migrant girl desperate for a way out. Kapoor turns Tommy Singh into a tragi-comic character who is a “fuddu” (loser) masquerading as a macho, adrenaline-fuelled rock star. Dosanj and Khan are equally proficient and share an easy chemistry that makes their scenes a pleasure to watch.

For all the controversy surrounding this film and its print being leaked two days before release, the main talking point about “Udta Punjab” should be that it is, by far, one of the best-acted Bollywood films in the past few years. That alone is worth the price of your ticket.

(Editing by Tony Tharakan; Follow Shilpa on Twitter at @shilpajay and Tony at @TonyTharakan. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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Movie Review: Dhanak http://blogs.reuters.com/india/2016/06/16/movie-review-dhanak/ http://blogs.reuters.com/india/2016/06/16/movie-review-dhanak/#comments Thu, 16 Jun 2016 12:36:24 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/india/?p=18402 (Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

Nagesh Kukunoor’s “Dhanak” (Rainbow) is a two-year-old film that is releasing in cinemas now after having done the rounds of festivals all over the world. The 106-minute film focuses on siblings Pari and Chotu, who live in a village in Rajasthan with their slacker of an uncle and a wicked aunt — a staple character in old Bollywood movies.

Handout still from "Dhanak"Undeterred by their poor lot in life and Chotu losing his vision due to an illness, the siblings go through life rather cheerfully, bickering over their respective idols Salman and Shah Rukh Khan, watching movies with their uncle and frolicking in the desert.

Determined that Chotu should get his eyesight back, Pari decides only her idol Shah Rukh Khan can find a way to help her brother. When she hears that the actor is filming a movie in Rajasthan, she runs away with Chotu in the middle of the night, convinced that Khan will solve their problems.

Pari and Chotu meet a motley group of characters on the road as they make their way towards their destination. There is a kindly truck driver, a wedding singer and a warm-hearted godwoman. There’s even a jolly American hiker who sings songs about peace and harmony while roaming the arid desert.

Handout still from "Dhanak"Of course, not everyone is a Good Samaritan and the kids do come across obstacles, but even these are so predictable and tired that it is unlikely to move the viewer.

Director Kukunoor spends more time trying to make his protagonists look cute and play to the gallery. And while Pari and Chotu do have their moments, for the most part “Dhanak” comes across as forced and superficial rather than a heartfelt story of two siblings.

Of the cast, Hetal Gada as Pari is superb, playing the exasperated elder sister to the hilt. Krrish Chhabria as Chotu has the glint of mischief in his eyes, but both he and Gada are let down by a middling film that tries too hard.

(Editing by Tony Tharakan; Follow Shilpa on Twitter at @shilpajay and Tony at @TonyTharakan. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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