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Bollywood 2000 and River of Fire

Recently I saw two brilliant plays at Hammersmith, London which provoked lots of questions about the Indian life. The life that is seen in Britain through different perspectives, especially the ones formed by the Bollywood films.

The first play Bollywood 2000 at the Riverside Studios, and now touring throughout the country, is a comical spoof on Hindi films. It is an unending saga of laughter though refrains itself from ridiculing Bollywood movies. Through mimicry of filmi dialogues, we explore in this play an interaction between the heroine and the hero, the family values, crime and punishment, and the triumph of good over evil. Ajay Chhabra, as the Thakur father was especially impressive in his delivery of dialogues, Rajasthani accent, sense of timing and comic portrayal of a respectful elder. During the intermission, I met up Rachel Dwyer, a senior Lecturer of London University who specialises in the Hindi Cinema who pointed out that the expressions of love are always made in the English language. The mixture of Hindi and English dialogue with dozen a minute costume change was the highlight of this play. Keith Khan's sets projected on the screen added new dimension to the play's fast tempo. A must see for anyone who is keen on the Bollywood.

The other play, The River of Fire by written by Ruksana Ahmad is a study of mixed religious marriage. The heroine of this play dies earlier on in this play but looks with dismay what happens to her family when it comes to the last rites. It is set in the background of the communal riots in Mumbai following the Ayodhya Mosque demolition. Profound statements about religious bigatory are made in this play about Hindu-Muslim relationship. Apart from a couple of monolgues which could be tiring, there is an impressive flow of events and development of personas in this otherwise grim play.

Ruksana Ahmad's play also talks about the influence of the media including the Hindi movies on the Indian psyche. For example, one of the daughters is a Hindi film heroine. Through her, we see the tinsel realm of Bollywood. The commercial pressures on a film director and conflict between the traditions and modernity are very well explored. The actress during the filming of a Bollywood film, wants to do Kathak dance in the traditional Gharana style but the film director and so-called choreographer wants her to do a kind of 'mujra' which would appeal to the basic senses of the audience. Gauri Sharma Tripathi's choreography during this interlude to the theme of the play comes as a privileged relief.

Both these plays are on national tour. For more information, contact, sumanbhuchar@lineone.net

Your Chance to become a star on ZeeTV

On 13th October, anyone has a possibility of becoming a presenter on Zee TV like Tej, Mayur, Sophia or Maz. I have been told by the publicists of the Zee TV, "with the finals being held at the Zee TV Asia Live Show at Wembley Exhibition Halls, London, on 13th October, this promises to open up the door to becoming a star of the future."

Monica Dalton, Chief Executive of Zee TV says, " It is important for us to recognise the great untapped talent that we have here in the UK. We want Zee TV Asia Live! to become a showcase of new talent as well as playing tribute to the ones who have already made it big. The event has generated immense support from the community and we want to give something back, by helping someone break into a traditionally tough industry."

How do you enter?

It is easy. If you are aged between 16 and 26, all you have to do is send a video of you presenting a short piece to camera on your favourite subject along with a short profile of yourself and a photograph. Get filming now as the closing date for the entries is 18th September 2000.

One lucky winner will be chosen from a panel of Bollywood celebrities and Zee TV stars to present a special feature on Music Asia on Zee TV.

On 13th October, Wembley Exhibition Halls will play host to five pavilions with exciting and interactive stands and features from all walks of Asian life......including fashion and weddings, the food court, careers and commerce, the fusion village and the much awaited Zee entertainment stage.

As part of the three-day celebration, Zee TV Asia Live will also give four budding youngsters a step into the worlds of fashion and media. The two competitions will be launched in the weeks leading up to the show, giving all budding superstars plenty of time to get into practice.

Monica Dalton elaborated, "Last year, we created a show filled with the top stars from the UK, India and Pakistan. This year, we want to build on that, but I think it's important for us to also recognise the great untapped talent that we have here in the U.K. We want Zee TV Asia Live! to become a showcase of new talent as well as paying tribute to the ones who have already made it big."

For entry details, terms and conditions and more information, contact Nazira Bemath at Media Moguls on telephone number 020 8902 5575

*******Rakesh MATHUR*******

Updated June 2000

A Castle for dot.com millionaires

During my recent travels, I was invited to stay in Skibo Castle in the Highlands to have a taste of the luxurious life style led by traditional and nouveau millionaires.

About an hour drive from the Inverness Airport in Scotland, this castle is frequented by Hollywood as well as other stars such as Kapil Dev from Indian cricket. Skibo Castle is well known internationally for its Golf courses but during my visit there, I discovered a number of magnificent 'divertissements' that appealed to my taste.

To begin with, its traditional aristocratic Scottish lifestyle strikes a chord. The morning wake up call is the sound of a bagpipe. Afterwards, you have breakfast with other guests in the company of organ music. No sooner than you have finished your breakfast, the guests are welcomed by the falcons inside and outside the castle.

Falconry is one of the oldest games enjoyed all over the world. I enjoyed holding 'Bindi' a young falcon from South America who is so tamed that he sits on your arm looking lovingly in your eyes.

Instead of playing golf, I went for fly-fishing in the adjoining fresh water lake. I was taught the basic rules of throwing the bait: in the nines and twelve's movements of a clock. The instruction was impeccable. A trout was caught but immediately released back to its right place in the fresh water lake.

Afterwards, we went for clay pigeon shooting. There is real shooting available too which is very popular among its distinguished guests. I prefer to see animals living and playing in the open than dying.

Following this I went for the horse riding. The land of the castle is so vast and diverse that one needs a vehicle to take all in. I went along with a group of international journalists on horses to see the adjacent wood, lakes, bridges and amazing view of the castle from various directions.

Horseriding was followed by a much deserved session of Swedish massage by one of the ClarinParis trained beauty therapists. Using the expression, 'absolute luxury' would be an understatement to describe my experience.

Skibo Castle has been visited by a number of old and new Hollywood stars such as Jack Nicholson, Elizabeth Taylor and Sean Connery. Michael Douglas is a regular member of this castle. There is an unconfirmed report that he has booked this castle for about two weeks for his much publicised wedding in autumn.

Last time, when he visited the castle, Michael Douglas and his fiancee took their meal in the kitchen instead of eating with others on a large dining table. One can understand the need of privacy and during the fortnight of their wedding, none except the staff members and the guests of Michael Douglas would be allowed in the castle.

"We want to be high profile by being low profile," Charles Oak, the General Manager of The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle revealed. This may be another reason why filming is not allowed in the castle though a large number of their visitors are media personalities.

Charles Oak is a flamboyant executive of this castle who says, "Skibo might be a place where time stands still but the wealth of activity taking place behind and around Castle walls, from the many of our guests lead to exciting developments on and off the sporting fields."

Special celebrations take place in Skibo Castle on a regular basis. According to Henrietta Fergusson, Club Secretary, the most recent happening was 'Finest Things in Life Weekend.' "We held a celebration of all those little and large luxuries in life. It was a weekend of total indulgence! We rode in classic Rolls Royce and Bentley cars, we ate caviar and drank champagne, we were treated to some of the wines. To top it all, we had a marvellous showing of the very best designer cashmere from Belinda Robertson." 'Finest thing' weekend will be repeated on 10th November 2000.

For more information about Skibo Castle, one can look up at the website: www.carnegieclub.co.uk or email; charles.oak@carnegieclubs.com

Ghazals and other food for love.

Recently I noticed a very healthy development in the music scene of the Subcontinent.

Ghazals, a well known art form of expressing poetry in Urdu is now finding its place among the British gentry. Thanks to the articulate explanations of its subtle nuances by Sanjeev Loomba, Ghazals composers such as Akbar Hyderabadi can now take pride in making their sentiments known to mainstream audience.

I have been in touch with Sanjeev and Karuna Loomba's emerging singing talent for many years and at many venues in Britain, France, Dubai and India. One of the outstanding concerts was in Christie's in aid of the Spink Foundation.

They have worked hard to build up a repertoire of amazing choices in Farsi, Urdu and Hindi. Their renderings represent various trends from thirteenth century (Ameer Khusrau) to Mirza Ghalib and then to the contemporary ones.

Mirza Galib's main topic of poetry was love but Faiz Ahmad Faiz wrote about the toil and turmoils of his country. Recently, Ismail Merchant, the renowned film producer launched a CD of their gazals with commentary in English and French. For more information about the singing duo or CD, once may contact Isabelle Henry at ghazals@ghazals.co.uk

The next concert of Sanjeev and Kuruna Loomba will take place at Brunei Gallery, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London on Friday 23rd June at 7pm. For more information, contact Salman Asif on his email: salasif@hotmail.com

While Sanjeev and Karuna have been charming the audience with their music repertoires from the subcontinent, a number of artists of Indian origin have been playing western music to enthral the audience in Europe. I heard Patricia Rozario from Goa/Mumbai in a very exciting concert of Classical music in German at Wigmore Hall. Patricia, well known for singing John Taverner's new compositions, on this occasion captivated the audience at Wigmore Hall with her poignant voice singing Schubert and Brahms.

Another famous London venue for the western classical music, St. John's at Smith Square saw the celebration of padmashree Naresh Sohal's 60th birthday concert. It was organised by The Naresh Sohal Society with distinguished Jane Manning (soprano), Susan Milan on flute, Rivka Golani on viola and our own dashing cello player Anup Kumar Biswas who also oversees the running of the Naresh Sohal Society.

The programme was very well organised. Those who need a reminder, Naresh Sohal, son of an Urdu poet Des Raj Sohal came to Britain in 1962 to pursue his interest in Western Music. He made his debut as a composer at the Royal Festival Hall with London Philharmonic Orchestra. His works have been played all over the world by well-known performers and conductors including Andrew Davis, David Atherton and Zubin Mehta.

Naresh Sohal's amazing composition, The Wanderer was performed at the Royal Albert Hall with BBC singers and the BBC Symphony Orchestra as a major commission for the Proms. Since then, he has written two Chamber Operas entitled, Madness lit by lightning and Maya. At present, he is writing a large choral/orchestral work on Creation to be sung in Sanskrit and English for the BBC.

For more information, contact nareshsociety@hotmail.com

Ismat J. Amin

The Tagore.

If music be the food of love play on so Shakespeare wrote and in fact both music and food is the language of love if you want a romantic night out. You will get both these at The Tagore .

Couples won't be disappointed by their choice of restaurant as the decor is authentic without being plush with pleated sari wall-hangings and a beautiful canopied ceiling (Shamiana) reminiscent of a moghul's tent.

That's the whole idea since the The Tagore specialises in Paktoon dishes which originated in the North West Frontier province of India.

If the place doesn't impress you, the food certainly will, as it has already won two coveted Michelin stars in the former restaurant in Montparnasse, Paris. And well deserved too, as I found the starter Kashmiri Lamb Tikka delicately spiced without being overpowering.

The chef's speciality Kadai Ghost Massala was wonderfully cooked with a rich sauce that you will remember for a long time. It complemented the Pillau rice topped with fried onions superbly. The mixed vegetable was a dish to savour with just the right amount of spices.

The dessert was equally as good as the starter and the main course a lovely chocolate chip and nut Kulfi with rosewater syrup a blend of eastern and western promise. As an added bonus the prices were very affordable, considering the high quality.

The owner Nur Monie, an Economics graduate turned to the restaurant business to transform Indian cuisine into an art format. He has succeeded in this as chefs as famous as Joel Robouchon frequented his restaurant in Paris. He wants to repeat that success in England, starting in Welling as a testing ground then move to more exclusive areas. The secret of his success in France lay, he says is in hispassion for food .

He wants to keep the restaurant small, it seats 40, emphasizing quality of food rather quantity. His restaurant is favoured by international critics, in this country, America and India.

The Tagore has moved to 4 Neville St., Tunbridge Wells, Kent. Apparently it is as popular as ever so it will be worth your while to make the visit.

Tel:01892 615 100

Rakesh Mathur

Grafton Manor in Worcestershire, England is known for its style and exclusivity. Its cuisine is par excellence and the clientele very discerning.

Until 6th February, the Grafton Manor is celebrating Indian Food Festival which is offering cuisine researched by the well known chef Simon Morris. Simon Morris is the author of the book, 'Cardamom and Coriander' which was acclaimed by various critics. 'A really exciting book, full of delicious things. I am longing to cook', said Clarissa Dickson Wright wrote in its praise.

The book and the food festival at Grafton Manor are the result of Simon Morris' continuing researches into the finer echelons of Indian food. Immediately after the festival, Simon will leave for Goa and Ahmedabad to research some more unknown range of fine cuisine.

At the Grafton Manor, one can find Juhu Chowpatty Bhel, derived straight from the food-on-carts at the beaches of Mumbai. From the same city comes Pao Bhaji, the favourite snack of the Mumbaiwallas. The main course at the food festival is Kochin Fish Curry infused with Kokum, Duck and Black Pepper Kofti, Lamb cooked in Spinach, Mint and Coriander juice or Sali Goa Chicken Caffrael.

Under the section of sweets, one can find mango and banana falooda, cardamom floating islands with a mango and pineapple soup and served with a ginger and lime caramel sauce. Extremely delicious to end the haut cuisine experience from the rustic cultures of India.

On 30th January Simon will give masterclass with Mike George of BBC Hereford and Worcester and on Sunday 6th February, he will have exclusive masterclass for discerning audience. A great way of spending Sunday afternoon in the country.

Bookings either for the masterclass or the food festival are essential. The address is: Grafton Manor, Grafton Lane, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire B61 7HA, Tel: 01527- 579007

Asian Lifestyle in London.

When it comes to Asian Lifestyle, London has a lot to offer. The first week of March sees the opening of a selling exhibition of antique Indian furniture, architectural fittings, decorative wood, stone and metal sculpture. A lot of textiles and paintings are there to see and own. I was overwhelmed by the beauty and depth of all this treasure when I went along to the private view this week.

Joss Graham is well known for his passion for oriental antiques and craft. He travels all over Asia and buys unusual stuff from villages and local dealers. His small showroom in Belgravia is frequented by Lords and Ladies and the creme de la creme of the British society. I was delighted to see the display of our heritage in the most colourful and accessible way.

A Pierced wood panel depicting Krishna and the gopis was the central piece (please see the enclosed picture). it comes from Orissa and dates back two hundred years.

Joss Graham can be reached on the following e-mail:

Talking about the Lords and Ladies, the Christie's in London is hosting a Mughal Garden evening at their elegant premises at 8 King Street, SW1 on Wednesday 15th March. A number of Lords and Ladies such as Lord Paul, Lord Hinklip, Lady Mowbray, Merchant-Ivory, the famous production team, actress Felicity Kendall and The Countess of Clarendon will be attending this evening.

The evening is organised by Henrietta and Michael Spink in aid of disabled children in India. The Garden will be set up in the grand room of Christie's with palm trees and fountains. There will be lots of Mughal art and artefacts on display. The highlight of the evening will be Ghazals sung by the husband and wife Karuna and Sanjeev Loomba.

For more information, contact Hallie Campbell at the following e-mail address:

Asian Images Festival

Infocus is a woman's group in London which organises unusual events to create awareness about Indian woman's creativity. A couple of years ago, they organised a festival of films starring Shabana Aazmi, Now, in the month of March, they are organising a festival of films made by Aparna Sen, a famous actress and director from Calcutta. She made her first feature film, 36 Chowringhee Lane in English way back in 1981. It starred Shashi Kapoor's late wife Jennifer Kendal.

On March 12, Aparna Sen's last film, 'Yugant' will be shown and on 13th March, her film 'Paroma' will be screened at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Mall, London.

'Yugant' is a film about an estranged couple who come back to the little fishing village where they had spent their honeymoon 17 years ago. the film develops in a series of fluid movements between the past and the present, examining the nature of a man-woman relationship against the backdrop of a civilisation, threatened by ecological disasters, changing moral values and disintegrating relationships.

'Paroma', the second film of Aparna is about a 40 year old married woman who falls in love with a young expatriate photo journalist. When her family learns of this affair, her husband rejects her and she has a mental breakdown. This experience allows an examination of the familial and social structures which define the woman as a wife and mother from which Paroma has to liberate herself to find her own identity.

In '36 Chowringhee Lane', Aparna deals with a portrait of loneliness and old age of Violet Stoneham, an Anglo-Indian school teacher in Calcutta. A psychological study of a culturally marginalised figure is wonderfully realised in Jennifer Kapoor's performance. The film won several national and international awards for Aparna Sen and cinematographer Ashok Mehta.

Aparna Sen will be present to discuss these films after each screening. For ticket and information, contact, ICA on Tel: 0207 930 3647

Keith VAZ to look into the British visa regime.
By Rakesh Mathur Keith Vaz who has just completed 100 days of becoming Foreign Minister to the British Crown will be visiting India and Bangladesh from 29th January to 4th February 2000.

I met him earlier today at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in London where he explained the purpose of his visit to New Delhi, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Dhaka and Sylhet.

He will be the first British Minister of Asian origin to visit the area to look into the entry clearance matters from both British and local perspectives. He said, "our visa services in India and Bangladesh work extremely well. But during my visit there, I will be discussing ways in which we can further improve our service, particularly to applicants in regional areas. I will be launching a feasibility study to see whether our resources are located where they can be most effective". Keith Vaz since becoming Member of the British Parliament in June 1987 from Leicester East, has been incessantly looking into the immigration problems faced by the Asian relatives of his constituents. He urges all British citizens whose relatives are facing problems in obtaining the British visa to contact their local MPs. In order to facilitate the representation by the MPs, Keith Vaz has set up a visa surgery in the Parliament. More than 30 MPs have so far benefited from this surgery to discuss visa matters of their respective constituents.

Recently, more than 40 MPs alongwith Keith Vaz met the Foreign Secretary Robin Cook to look into the entry clearance system. This meeting was the first ever meeting that took place at a high level to discuss problems faced by the visa applicants.

"We have a firm and fair immigration policy in this country," Keith explained further, "It is upto the applicants to make sure that all necessary documents like the bank statements, sponsorship letters, invitations etc are submitted carefully." Any false information will cause an application rejected. Those applicants who want to join their spouse have to apply at least four to five weeks before their travel takes place as interviews and medical examinations can cause delay in granting a visa.

Keith Vaz also told me that the Right to Appeal in immigration matters, which was withdrawn by the previous Conservative Government, will be reintroduced this year but those who seek to come to Britain illegally will definitely be prosecuted.

Keith Vaz is looking forward to having discussions with Atal Behari Vajpayee and Sheikh Hasina during his forthcoming visit. In a lighter vein, Keith told us that he would not like to be mobbed in Chandigarh and Ahmedabad by visa applicants as he is not looking forward to grant anyone entry clearance while he is there.

Timeless Exhibition
By Rakesh Mathur

We visited The Queen's House in Greenwich for a preview of a mojor exhibition, 'The Story of Time.' This exhibition looks at the concept of time and space from all perspectives, western and eastern, prehistoric and future, traditional and innovative.

Indian art has been given it due place in the current exhibition. I noticed in the first room the Chola Style of Dancing Shiva in his manifestation as nrtya-murti, the cosmic dancer. Shiva, is shown as an embodiment of the eternal energies set within five categories: 1. creation through unfolding and pouring forth, 2. Maintenance, 3. destruction or taking back 4. veiling his transcendetal essence through the garb of appearances and 5. bestowing grace through the manifestation that accepts a devotee.

The other Indian objects on display are Kali mata, Surya, the Sun God, 9th century statue in black basalt, Vishnu, as the supreme creator, and a wood carving of the game. 'snake and ladder.' The captions written by the curator Dr Kristen Lippincott are very enlightening indeed. She says that in the game, 'snake and ladder', the idea is to move from the level of human existence upwards towards the realm of the Gods. All of the lowest squares are devoted to the human vices. The top row leads towards the throne of the God."

More than 550 objects from over 100 museums around the world are on display in this exhibition. Hindu concept of 'time' was the most difficult for Dr Kristen to present in the exhibition as the Hindu thinking is not linear.

According to Dr Kristen Lippincott, "there are several elements of timekeeping that do apear to be uniquely Indian. The first is the division of the 24-hour day. Though the day began at the sunrise, the periods of day and night are divided into 30 muhrtas (each 48 minutes long) or 60 ghatti or ghatikas (each ghatika is 24 minutes long) an hour is 2.5 ghatikas. Each ghatika is further divided into 30 kala (each is 48 seconds) or 60 palas. Each palas being 24 seconds. Each pala is divided into 60 vipala (a vipala is 0.4 sceonds long). Unquestionably, his 60-based, sexagesimal, timekeeping system is Mesopatamian in origin, but the way in which it was developed appears to be indeigeneous to India."

"The Story of Time" by Dr Kristen Lippincott is a book which accompanies this exhibition. for more information, contact the Merrell Holberton Publishers, E-Mail: merrholbo@dircon.co.uk

Further information on this exhibition can be obtained on the following web site: www.nmm.ac.uk