India Insight

Stamp collecting stages quiet comeback in India’s digital era

Rajjesh Mittal spends 20 minutes each morning placing bids for postage stamps on eBay. The IT entrepreneur began flirting with philately, or stamp collecting, two years ago, and has become such an ardent collector that he wants to demonstrate his love for postage by getting a tattoo of independent India’s first commemorative postmark.

Mittal is part of a generation of urban, educated Indians celebrating all things postal in the age of e-mail and Twitter. Though numbers are hard to come by, philately appears to be staging a revival in India, with estimates ranging from 25,000 to over 100,000 active collectors. Like Mittal, working professionals are taking up the hobby, joining stamp-collecting clubs and fostering friendships with enthusiasts from all walks of life.

“I want to have fun with philately,” says Mittal, 41, who helped found the Philatelic Society of Delhi and is working on three books on the hobby. “My wife hates it. The money which I spend, I have to give her equivalent money … It’s another thing I don’t give her the exact numbers.”

The embossed 19th-century issues of the Scinde Dawk, valid for postage in the British Indian province of Sindh, were the first Indian stamps. Four stamps featuring Queen Victoria were released in 1854 and were the first to be used across India. The stamps of British India and princely states, issued until India’s independence in 1947, constitute the classical period of Indian philately and collectors prize them.

Collectors such as Mittal are keeping philately alive in India even though postal mail — a beginner’s source for stamps — and pen pals have gone out of fashion. As demand for stamps at post offices waned, administrators reduced the number of issues with drastic cuts leading to renewed demand among collectors, said philatelist Gautam Rohatgi, who has been collecting stamps since 1957.

Raj Kumar to play real-life lawyer after ‘Kai Po Che’ success

When Raj Kumar signed on for his first Bollywood acting role, the director asked him to lose weight. Kumar was fresh out of film school and determined to make it big, so he started running. And he’s been running for an hour each day since, come rain or shine, even on the notoriously congested roads of Mumbai.

Since his 2010 debut in Dibakar Banerjee’s Love, Sex aur Dhokha, Kumar has worked with some of India’s best known filmmakers but it was his turn as the quiet and industrious sports goods entrepreneur in Kai Po Che this year that got him noticed.

The 29-year-old actor’s next release sees him play the real-life role of lawyer and human rights activist Shahid Azmi who was shot dead in Mumbai in 2010. Azmi had spent a few years in prison under India’s anti-terror laws before studying law to help defend those he said were wrongly accused and jailed on charges of terrorism.

Interview: Chidambaram on Modi, Rahul Gandhi and becoming PM

By John Chalmers, Frank Jack Daniel and Manoj Kumar

(This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

P. Chidambaram, now in his third stint as finance minister, spoke to Reuters about Narendra Modi and the 2014 elections in an interview on Monday ahead of a trip to the United States. Here are edited excerpts from the interview:

If Congress returns to power in the elections next year and Rahul Gandhi is the prime minister, do you see yourself as finance minister?
That’s a question you should put to the prime minister. I am glad you acknowledge Prime Minister Rahul Gandhi but that is a question you should put to him.

What about Narendra Modi and the momentum he appears to be gaining?
I don’t know if he is gaining any momentum. I concede that he has united the rank and file of the BJP. The rank and file of the BJP was divided, the leaders are still divided, the rank and file was equally divided. But he has been able to unite the rank and file. Perhaps he has gained some traction among urban youths but I think it would be a gross exaggeration to say that people are not worried about his positions, his policies, his past, his track record. It will be a gross exaggeration to say that he is sweeping the countryside. It’s a gross exaggeration to say that he will win in every state. All this is largely media created.

Interview: Chidambaram on the state of India’s economy

By John Chalmers, Frank Jack Daniel and Manoj Kumar

(This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

The Indian government will have to rein in spending and cut subsidies to meet its fiscal deficit target, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said on Monday, underlining that an austerity drive will not be blown off course by an election due next year.

The urbane Harvard-educated lawyer, now in his third stint as finance minister, spoke to Reuters in an interview ahead of a trip to the United States. Here are edited excerpts from the interview:

Do you think that the government has done enough to pull the economy out of the crisis that we saw it in several weeks ago?
One can never say we’ve done enough. We’ve done a lot of things, but we have to do many more things, and I think we will do them in the next few weeks and months, both by the government and by the central bank.

Modi, Kejriwal become latest video game characters as developers focus on elections

Politicians are becoming the Super Mario Brothers equivalent for Indian video gamers as 2014 election fever starts to settle over the country.

Software developers have been developing all kinds of new games and apps in recent years as Indians increasingly shift to smartphones of companies such as Samsung, Apple, Micromax and Karbonn. Now politics has crept into the mix.

In ‘Modi Run’, which debuted in July, players help the kurta-clad Narendra Modi — the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate — navigate various obstacles in a run through India’s states to become the country’s premier.

Woody Allen stops “Blue Jasmine” India release because of anti-tobacco ads

(We have updated this post with a statement from Allen’s publicist)

Woody Allen’s latest movie “Blue Jasmine” will not debut in India this weekend after the filmmaker objected to anti-tobacco ads that the Indian government requires cinemas to play before and during movies that feature scenes with characters smoking.

Allen refused to make “customisations” in the film to accommodate the ads, which led to distributor PVR Pictures cancelling the release, said two sources familiar with the matter. Both sources declined to comment because they were not authorized to talk about it with journalists.

“Blue Jasmine,” which critics have praised as the 77-year-old Allen’s best work in recent years, stars Cate Blanchett as a wealthy New York socialite who endures a humiliating fall from grace after her husband is arrested for financial crimes. The film was supposed to come out in India this weekend, three months after its U.S. release.

Movie Review: Besharam

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

Handout still from Besharam.Ranbir Kapoor is often hailed as the next big thing in Bollywood — a young star who knows what he is doing, chooses his scripts with care and delivers top-notch performances nearly all the time. If that is the case, Kapoor must have had a very bad day at work to say yes to “Besharam” (Shameless).

Abhinav Kashyap’s second film as director is crude, packed with toilet humour, and has no semblance of a plot. “Besharam” is a case study in lazy filmmaking, one that lowers the bar on good taste just to make money at the Bollywood box office. It insults the viewer’s intelligence and is an example of the Hindi film industry’s reluctance to let go of hackneyed storylines that were all the rage two decades ago.

Kapoor plays Babli, the protagonist in this Indian version of Robin Hood. He is a thief who steals swanky cars, sells them and donates the proceeds to the orphanage where he was raised. His talent catches the attention of a gangster (Jaaved Jaffrey) who hires him.

Wedding photographers in India beat economic gloom

Rising costs and a slowing economy haven’t darkened the mood of wedding photographers in India. More couples than ever are willing to spend thousands of rupees on photo albums, pre-wedding shoots and videos, allowing photographers to take a bigger slice of India’s $30 billion weddings business.

“People are willing to spend more money now compared to what they were spending three years back,” said Delhi-based photographer Vijay Tonk, who charges around 100,000 rupees for clicking pictures at a two-day function, 10 times more than what he charged in 2010. “It’s a status symbol now to spend money and have good (pictures).”

Professional photographers, some of whom charge as much as 100,000 to 300,000 rupees ($1,600 – $4,800) for a single day, have not seen any slowdown in client queries. With 20 confirmed wedding assignments in the next three months, 26-year-old Tonk has been forced to say no to some couples.

Meet Prakash Tilokani, the man who clicks India’s rich and famous

When Prakash Tilokani started taking pictures at the age of 16, he had no clue that one day he would be the man behind the lens at India Inc’s weddings.

From selling pictures at 20 rupees (32 cents) each in 1984 to charging at least 300,000 rupees ($4,800) for a day now, it’s been an eventful journey for 47-year-old Tilokani, one of India’s most famous wedding photographers.

Today, with offices in Delhi and Baroda in Gujarat, Tilokani has a team of 40, including his son Rahul, who specialises in video editing. Other than India, the team travels around the globe to shoot the weddings of the rich and influential. Their client list includes families of the billionaire Ambani brothers, Essar’s Ruias, Hero MotoCorp’s Munjals, Videocon’s Dhoots and Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty.

India’s Oscar fight: Batra offers an apology, and some advice

(This post has been updated)

Ritesh Batra, director of the “The Lunchbox,” apologized to the Film Federation of India after accusing the group of corruption because it did not pick his movie as India’s contender for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2013 Academy Awards.

Batra said his intention was to participate in the “vigorous debate” that arose over the selection process for the country’s Oscars entry. His letter to the group came after the federation, which chooses India’s entry for the Academy Awards each year, demanded an “unconditional apology”.

The FFI’s choice of Gyan Correa’s Gujarati-language film “The Good Road” drew heat from the makers of “The Lunchbox”, a film with backing from prominent Indian directors and other producers. The movie screened at the Cannes, Telluride and Toronto film festivals, and was listed by several U.S. publications as an Oscar hopeful.

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