India Insight

Remembering Reshma, Pakistan’s ‘first lady’ of folk music

Folk singer Reshma was born in 1947, the historic year when India and Pakistan gained independence from British rule. She was born in India, but her family migrated to Pakistan when she was a month old. Small wonder, then, that Reshma’s unconventionally husky voice won admirers on both sides of the international border.

Reshma, who died earlier this week after a battle with throat cancer, was best known for her distinctive rendition of Punjabi folk songs. For her fans, she was the “Nightingale of the Desert” and her death at the age of 66 was a fresh blow to the arts in Pakistan, coming a year after ghazal singer Mehdi Hassan’s death.

Despite her fame, Reshma was modest. She dressed conservatively in a salwar kameez and was rarely seen without a dupatta covering her head. And her mehfils (public performances) were devoid of histrionics.

“Reshma was a magician who could kill with her voice. She was the first lady of Pakistani folk music,” Shaukat Ali, Reshma’s friend and a folk singer, said by phone, speaking from Lahore, Pakistan.

Reshma’s talent was discovered in the 1960′s by a former Radio Pakistan producer, who heard her singing at the shrine of a Sufi saint. The young girl, used to singing in the open, was petrified when she saw a recording studio for the first time.

Movie review: Satya 2

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

To expect Ram Gopal Varma’s “Satya 2” to be even half as good as the original is unfair, given the filmmaker’s recent work, but even Varma’s staunchest supporters would find it difficult to defend his latest atrocity of a film.

In “Satya 2”, Varma intersperses gruesome violence with titillating song sequences, ludicrous dialogue and a surreal story. He does it with the brazenness of a man who either is confident of his mastery of the craft, or one who has stopped caring about it.

Either way, the result is bad. Really bad. It might be “tops-them-all” bad.

Indian women get a new look, with some help from Pernia Qureshi

In a country where styling has not always been recognized as a worthy craft, Pernia Qureshi has put her profession at the forefront of Bollywood fashion.

Qureshi styled actress Sonam Kapoor for 2010′s “Aisha“, ushering in trendy outfits paired with designer handbags that overshadowed the film, a modern-day take on Jane Austen’s “Emma“.

Styling suddenly became serious business and the 28-year-old Qureshi found herself a pioneer in India. The Indian film industry woke up to the trend, shedding its garish costumes, and hiring stylists to mould a more glamorous image for Bollywood’s A-listers. Other celebrities followed suit.

Fandry puts a harsh spotlight on India’s caste system

Nagraj Manjule grew up as a Dalit, an untouchable, scorned by a caste system that he says never lets you forget how low you are. The short-film director channeled the shame and the ridicule of his childhood into his first feature film, “Fandry” (“Pig”) which won the Jury Grand Prize at the Mumbai Film Festival last month.

The movie is about a Dalit schoolboy named Jabya (Somnath Awghade) who  lives on the outskirts of a village and struggles against the caste system by daring to dream, and eventually rebelling against the perpetrators of that system.

He harbours a crush on a fair-skinned, Brahmin class-mate, dreams of buying fancy new blue jeans, and uses talcum powder to try to make his dusky face fair. Through scenes with his father, his best friend and the village maverick who becomes friends with Jabya, Manjule tells the audience that little has changed. The powerful climax gives the audience a glimpse into Jabya’s insecurities, his reluctance to accept his identity, before he finally snaps, retaliating against those ridiculing him and his family.

Bollywood banks on superhero saga “Krrish 3″

Actor Hrithik Roshan returns as Krrish this Friday in the third instalment of the namesake film series, which pits the Indian superhero against a new villain out to destroy the world. “Krrish 3” opens two days before Diwali, India’s festival of lights and traditionally a time of Bollywood blockbuster movie premieres.

The film, made for an estimated 800 million rupees ($13 million), is coming out in 3,600 movie screens across India — a record — and is expected to pull in crowds with Hollywood-style special effects and a healthy dose of Indian “family values”.

“This is a film that appeals to pretty much everyone, and kids especially. They are the ones who will drag the families in,” said Shailesh Kapoor of research firm Ormax Media. “Also, it is the Diwali weekend, and a time when people are looking for entertainment and willing to spend.”

Singer Manna Dey dies at 94

Singer Manna Dey, whose versatile voice charmed fans of Bollywood cinema for more than 60 years, died in Bangalore on Thursday, a hospital spokesman said. He was 94.

He had been suffering from a lung ailment for several months.

Dey was part of the golden era of Bollywood, when Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar reigned supreme, and carved a niche for himself with his lilting, husky voice.

(Twitter reactions to Manna Dey’s death)

Manna Dey, whose real name was Prabodh Chandra Dey, was born in 1919 and grew up in Kolkata. Dey accompanied his musician uncle to Mumbai in 1942 and started assisting him and other composers.

Costa-Gavras prefers Bollywood fantasy to American action

Filmmaker Costa-Gavras, best known for the 1969 political thriller “Z“, has documented prickly themes such as dictatorship, dissent and oppression over the past half-century.

“Z”, which won the Oscar for best foreign film, was a fictionalized account of the assassination of Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis and inspired the 2012 Bollywood film “Shanghai“.

The French director of Greek descent made several critically acclaimed films, including the 1982 American drama “Missing” which won him an Oscar for best adapted screenplay.

Movie Review: Shahid

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

The best thing about Hansal Mehta’s “Shahid” is that the filmmaker tries to tell a fascinating story. In a way, it is the story of the city of Mumbai — beginning with the riots that followed the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, and leading up to the attack on Mumbai that killed 166 people in 2008.

These events are depicted through the real-life story of Shahid Azmi, a teenager who gets caught up in the Mumbai riots, and a few months later, finds himself in Pakistan at a training camp for militants. A disillusioned Azmi returns to India but is tortured and imprisoned under the country’s anti-terror laws.

Azmi completes his schooling in jail, and after his release, studies law to help defend those he believes were wrongly accused and jailed on charges of terrorism.

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.

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.

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