Monthly Archives: October 2017

Dialysis Olympiad: 6 dialysis patients go riding high for a bike expedition  


In the run-up to the second edition of world’s only Dialysis Olympiad, a first-ever bike expedition by patients on dialysis was flagged off from Ludhiana on October 9, 2017. The rally culminated with the felicitation of six bikers at the hands of Arjuna Awardee Rajinder Singh Rahelu on October 12, 2017, in New Delhi. Six bikers drove 400 km across eight cities in three states over a period of four days to give a strong message to others like them that dialysis is not a limiting factor to aim high and fly higher if they desire.

Organised by NephroPlus, a dialysis delivery network, the rally was driven by a guest-centric (as patients are referred to as guests) approach. The daring event involving those who have to undergo dialysis twice or thrice a week challenged many misconceptions and aimed to encourage many others who are suffering from a similar health condition to lead normal lives, working, traveling and having fun all through.
The youngest participant in the rally was Prikshit, 25, while the oldest was Sudhir Sehgal, 56. The others who biked all the way from Ludhiana to Delhi included Hariom (26), Sumeet Kumar (28), Balwan Nath (30) and Srikrishna (42). All participants are from Rohtak except Sumeet who hails from Moradabad.
Overwhelmed at the enthusiasm shown by these bikers, Rahelu said, “This is a great opportunity to create awareness, and I’m glad NephroPlus took this initiative. It will encourage people and help them tide over their mental block. Kidney failure doesn’t mean the end of life. In fact, one must remember such a condition is a reminder of the fact that life deserves another chance and everyone needs to live life to the fullest, come what may.”
Sehgal, who has had an open heart surgery along with kidney failure, goes through dialysis thrice a week. But unmindful of his debilitating health condition, he was quite enthusiastic about being a part of the bike rally and thoroughly enjoyed biking, from start to finish. “We were taken good care of during the expedition. Experienced and well-equipped doctors were also available around the clock for us. Participating in a competition like this made me stronger, and I’m thankful to the organisers for giving people like us a chance to shine. Dialysis is certainly not the end for us,” said Sehgal.
The others who were a part of the rally go through dialysis twice a week. Moradabad-based Kumar who runs a small-time cloth business, said, “The bike rally was a rejuvenating experience for me. It provided a much-needed break from my monotonous routine. I had biked around places in and around Moradabad, but covering a distance of 400 km was a first of its kind experience for me.”
The expedition started from Jalandhar, with pit stops at Ludhiana, Khanna, Ambala, Kurukshetra, Panipat, and Sonipat and concluded with a felicitation ceremony in New Delhi. “The longest ever bike expedition by six of us who are undergoing dialysis was meant to reinstate that with the backing of expert care, we can also dare to dream big and achieve what we aim for,” said Kumar.
The format of the expedition was a relay, with individual riders covering a pre-set distance, after which the baton was passed on to the rider at the next location. Knowling well the health condition of the participants, a team of doctors and nurses in an ambulance accompanied the bikers throughout the expedition. The bikers even went about their routine dialysis while biking without any interruption. The dialysis took place at NephroPlus centers at these locations.
Vikram Vuppala, founder and CEO, NephroPlus, said, “A lot of the people undergoing dialysis, unfortunately, believe that they cannot lead a normal life or cannot do things an otherwise healthy person can do. I am proud to say that we are creating a guest-centric culture at NephroPlus where all the 10,000+ guests are empowered to lead a normal life owing to our emphasis on holistic care. This bike expedition and Olympiad are part of our overall vision to make those on dialysis realize their full potential.”
The event serves as a curtain raiser to the second edition of world’s only Dialysis Olympiad to be held at Thyagaraj Sports Complex, New Delhi on October 29, 2017. “Dialysis is a solution to kidney failure problem, and that is the way it needs to be seen. NephroPlus is working relentlessly in redefining dialysis care in the entire country,” added Vuppala. The event will have a series of Olympics style activities like running, cycling, basketball, etc. exclusively for those on dialysis. The first edition of the event was held in 2015 in Hyderabad, and it saw participation from hundreds of champions across the country, who fought their illness to reveal their extraordinary talents.
Extending special thanks to the heroic riders for participating in this event and for their contribution towards the cause of improving the morale of people on dialysis, Sohil Bhagat, Vice President, Strategy, NephroPlus, said, “We have always resorted to innovative solutions to enhance the quality of lives of our patrons. The event revealed how courageous, determined and full of life people such people are. They can lead normal lives. We are positive that seeing fellow people on dialysis take part in this expedition will dramatically improve the confidence of kidney-disease patients across India.”
The event proves to the hilt that people on dialysis across the world can lead long, happy and productive lives if they want to because where there’s a will, there’s undoubtedly a way too.

Tuning in to Chhath festivities

02e9deeb-442c-42b4-9264-c260e35fffb8Gone are the days of stereos and radios that used to play Chhath songs. Today these songs are just a click away on YouTube channels and can be played on smartphones too. Here’s an amplified look at the rise of the digital wave in the festive milieu. 
Till a few years ago, legendary folk singer and Padma Shri Sharda Sinha’s mellifluous voice wafting out of the stereos and speakers filled the air with festivities across the nook and corner of the twin states of Bihar and Jharkhand, parts of Uttar Pradesh, especially during Chhath. Her name was and is still synonymous with by far the grandest, most significant festival celebrated by the natives of these states all over the country and even world. Bihar Kokila as she is fondly called had released her first album on Chhath way back in 1977, and that was quite a feat. “Convincing a music company to release an album in Bhojpuri featuring Chhath songs was an ardous task then, but I am glad to have spearheaded that movement to give respect to our musical culture, language, tradition, and festival,” she says beaming with pride. In a first of its kind, she went on to release two of her songs Supawo Na Mile Maayi and Pahile Pahil Chhati Maiyya on YouTube in collaboration with Neo Bihar and Champaran Talkies last year, and both the releases had taken the social media platforms by storm. “People can tune into the Chhath songs at the click of a button on their smartphones. Technology has made access easier, audience base wider, and reach deeper,” Sinha adds.
Her contribution to the world of music can be gauged from the fact all the singers who have grown up listening to her have followed in her footsteps, trying to make a mark in the space of Chhath songs with their offering, year after year, but knowing well that nothing can beat her popularity. You may choose to love some, hate others, but one thing is for sure, you can’t ignore them and the opportunities that have come their way, thanks to the digital platform like #YouTube. They need not go to a music company to release their album; the power to do so rests with them, and it is just a click away. Their channels on YouTube boasts of lakhs of fans (subscribers), and the number of views is a measure of their popularity that further translates into monetization, and sets the cash register ringing. These young brigade is scripting the new era of Bhojpuri music, resurrecting it in their unique way, jostling to grab eyeballs and vying for attention from one and sundry, loving to hate each other in the process. Even then the bottom line remains that each one of them has a loyal fan base, and the other one can’t make a dent in that.
Another interesting trend is the popularity of an FB page, Chhath Parv, managed by Ankit Verma and his team that has emerged as the one-stop destination for the Chhath doers, and watchers alike all over the world. “It has more than 10 lakh followers, and our posts get an average of 10K shares,” says Verma. It provides a virtual connect to many who visit the page to watch the hues of festivities from across the country and also different parts of the world.
One step at a time is what binds them together in this feature on Chhath. The popularity of these songs, music, lyrics, theme, etc., depends on the likes and spikes, because ultimately, the good, bad and ugly rests with the public who knows it all. But as Delhi-based Namitha Chaudhary says, “Many singers have Chhath songs to their credit, but on this auspicious occasion, it is Shardajee’s voice that sums up the religious fervor. It touches the chord of our hearts.”
Here’s our rundown of the major Chhath releases that created ripples on the digital platform this year.
Nitin Neera Chandra | Tradition keeper 
Buoyed by the overwhelming response to his last year’s video Pahile Pahil Chhati Maiyya sung by Sharda Sinha, featuring Kranti Prakash Jha and Kristine Zedek, National Award-winning filmmaker Nitin Neera Chandra’s Chhath offering this year is Kabahun Naa Chhooti Chhath. The story is a sequel to last year’s video but has a more profound message for the masses. “Our first story was about a Punjabi girl married to a guy from Bihar who commits to doing Chhath so that there is no break in the family tradition. Our story this year is how her husband takes up the responsibility to fill in for her pregnant wife by fasting on Chhath. Our idea was to tell the world that it’s not only the girls, who have to carry our family tradition, but boys can pitch in to do the same when needed.” Chandra roped in Hindi film playback singer Alka Yagnik and Bhojpuri Samrat Bharat Sharma Vyas to croon the song penned by Ashok Sheopuri that subtly highlights the fact that it is only in Bihar that people worship the setting as well as rising Sun. He also went on to release an instrumental version of the song by flautist Sudhir Karandikar and a Karaoke session on Neo Bihar’s YouTube channel.
Kalpana Patowary | Unity in diversity
The Assamese singer Kalpana Patowary, who is the uncrowned queen of the Bhojpuri music industry, hit the right notes with her Chhath video on the theme of communal harmony. Patowary sings in 30 languages and sang her first Chhath song in 2002. “I don’t belong to Bihar so didn’t know the much about it, except the fact that the Sun is a source of live energy and Chhath is an occasion to thank it for its benevolent presence in our lives,” she says. The video touches upon how Muslim families have been worshipping the Sun God, following the rituals to the T. Her rendition of Ug Ho Suraj Dev was originally sung by Vindhyawasini Devi with music by Bhupen Hazarika. The soul of this version is its mesmerizing storyline, and captivating vocals that show Patowary invoking the Sun God dressed the traditional Assamese way with orange vermillion smeared from forehead to nose. “I have a personal connection with the festival as I am married into a Muslim family. There’s an old lady in Jamalpur, who fasted and prayed for me during Chhath when I was expecting. I went to pay my obeisance after my twin boys were born to thank the deity for blessing me with motherhood,” says Patowary, adding, “Such songs are needed to combat the wave of religious intolerance and negativity floating around us.”
Khushboo Uttam & Dr Ranju Sinha | Noteworthy songs  
As a young girl, Khushboo Uttam idolized Sharda Sinha and entered the world of Bhojpuri playback singing with high hopes to make it big. But Uttam’s dreams came crashing with every attempt. The lyrics of her songs were to be blamed for it. “She was undoubtedly the choice of masses, but crass for the classes. But that never dampened her spirits and every time, she tried to bounce back, stronger and better,” says Dr Ranju Sinha, lyricist, and filmmaker, who has been collaborating with the singer since the last few years. Blessed with a trained voice, she had her basics in place. Uttam’s tie-up with Dr Sinha gave her songs the much-needed sanctity that took her popularity notches higher. “I have tried to capture the many moods of Chhath with my songs. Rahe Daura Ke Raur Fharmaish talks of raging issue of GST, Aai Gaile Katik Ke Mahinawa helps one soak in the festive spirit while Dhukur Dhukur Chale Garnetor portrays the banter between a couple,” says Uttam, adding, “the music is peppy and catchy.” Both Sinha and Uttam are grateful to the digital medium for reducing the dependence on music labels and distributors, paving the way for young and budding talents to win their share of audience attention.
Megha Sriram Dalton and Amit Jha | Melody on Track 
Filmmaker Amit Jha grew up wondering why don’t the elderly in the family pass on the tradition of doing Chhath to the daughter. “Why is the daughter-in-law favored over the daughter? Why is it the boy who is the keeper of tradition and never a daughter?  It is gender biased,” he says. The nagging thought led him to make a short film, Dhiya Poota that means daughter and son in Bhojpuri that was released on YouTube last Sunday. The other idea that he has touched in his offering is how families yearn for a male heir. “A girl child is a blessing in the truest sense, but that doesn’t deter parents to wish for a boy,” he rues. Another nuance is the use of an inflatable pool to offer arghya (prayer to the Sun). Once he had the idea in place, everything else came around including lead actor Seema Biswas. He wanted a singer who had a touch of folk in her voice for his film. A popular singer on the Bollywood circuit, Megha Sriram Dalton was the perfect fit. “I approached Megha, and the only things she asked me is, when can she come for the recording,” he quips. For Megha, it was a God-send opportunity, who had been relegated to the chorus when it came to Chhath songs, in her decade-long musical career. “I was longing for an opportunity to lend my voice to a Chhath song. I am glad that this opportunity came my way with Chhathi Maiya Dihin Na Asis,” she says.

Theme of healing emerges strongly in The Song of Scorpions: Anup Singh

Filmmaker Anup Singh’s third feature film, The Song of Scorpions, starring Irrfan, Golshifteh Farahani, and Waheeda Rahman in lead roles, had its world premiere at Locarno International Film Festival 2017 and was screened to a packed house at the MAMI Film Festival in Mumbai in 2017. Excerpts of an email interview with the filmmaker:

1 . What made you decide to become a filmmaker in the first place?

AS: I was born in Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania, in East Africa. We lived very close to the small harbour and I would watch huge ships float past and disappear into the horizon. My school was right next to Pesident Nyerere’s estate. Just separated by a metal fence. Deer and ostriches and giraffes and zebras were left to wander wild on the estate, but there were Masai caretakers, in their long, red cloaks and carrying spears. 

Often we would meet the Masai at the metal fence and they would introduce us to a newly-born zebra, or show us an ostrich just hatched from its egg. There are so many stories I heard from them about their life in the African jungle, folk-tales about animals and legends about their gods.

That’s the landscape and school I come from.

In the early 1970s, with the disturbances in Idi Amin’s Uganda, there was some run-over effect in Tanzania as well and my family was forced to leave Africa to India and then to Europe. 

For the many years my family made Mumbai their home and I graduated from the Mumbai University with a double MA, in English Literature and Philosophy. Already I was writing for various newspapers and magazines and I also had my own theatre group. Writing and theatre pointed me towards cinema and I joined FTII in 1983 and graduated from there in 1986 with my diploma film, called Lasya, The Gentle Dance, winning the main prize at the Oberhausen Film Festival, Germany and then being invited to festivals all over the world.

My parents, in the meantime, had moved on to London. After FTII, I worked for many years as assistant director, script writer, and set designer with India’s two great avant-garde filmmakers, Kumar Shahani and Mani Kaul.

In the late eighties when I tried to raise money for my own film, I could find support only in the UK, from the British Film Institute. But, soon, NFDC, India, decided to support my film, too, and that’s how I made my first film, Ekti Nadir Naam. In the meantime, I had been teaching cinema at various universities and film schools in the UK, and I got an offer from an arts school in Geneva, Switzerland. That’s how I first went to Geneva and have now been living there for near to 20 years.

2. How do you divide your time between projects here in India and abroad? 

AS: I actually came to the movies very early in life. I was hardly a teenager. When my family had to leave Africa, we travelled by ship from Dar-es-Salaam to Mumbai. We were all almost in a kind of mourning at the thought of leaving Africa and hardly came out of our cabin in the first few days of the trip. But on the third night, a screen was raised on the deck of the ship that we were travelling on. That night a film played bright and loud between the sky above and the sea below. I think the film was Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam, or at least I would like to believe it was! And I knew at that moment that as long as I could invoke this experience of cinema, I would never be homeless. Cinema has been my home ever since.

The division of my time between Europe and India has more to do with each project rather than any fixed agenda. All my films as yet have been set in India. While most of my writing and raising of money is done in Europe, I do travel a lot to India for research, to look at locations, to begin the casting process. And, of course, when I’m ready to shoot.

A still from The Song of Scorpions.

3. How did you go about casting for your films? How did you zero in on Irrfan for two of your projects? 

AS: I had the untiring effort of Pushpendra Singh, my assistant on both these films. Pushpendra has been an acting teacher at FTII and is now also steadily establishing himself as one of India’s important young filmmakers. Once I had established the look, age, and the quality of performance I was looking for in each of these films, it was Pushpendra who travelled through most of North India looking for actors amongst theatre troupes – he travelled through small towns, villages, big cities, holding workshops and documenting and photographing actors. It is from this research that that I started choosing the possible cast for my films. After that, I would meet all the actors and work with them, sometimes for weeks, before, finally, dropping or casting them.

When I first started writing the script of Qissa, I had Balraj Sahni in mind. For the fierce role of the father in my film, I knew needed an actor who could carry an immense secret hurt within himself even as he did some really horrendous things within his family. I wanted the actor to carry both fragility as well as threat. Since Balraj Sahni was dead many years, it was obvious to me that Irrfan was the only other actor who carried the skill and vulnerability to give me the performance I was looking for.

Initially, Irrfan did not really want to do the film. He was hesitant because he thought the character was too dark. I suggested to him that we watch some recordings of Nusrat Ali Fateh Khan. I pointed out to him the agony and almost a kind of violence that we saw in Nusrat Saab’s face and body as he sang. But, finally, the song that emerged from him was fragile and affirmative. Irrfan understood immediately what I was trying to tell him and accepted to do the film.

And, after working on Qissa together, we have achieved a tremendous respect and trust in each other’s imagination and courage to go into unknown regions of performance. It was with joy that I could cast him for The Song of Scorpions too.

4. What is the guiding thought behind choosing the subject of your films? From Qissa to The Song of the Scorpions, how has been your cinematic journey? 

AS: I believe cinema’s the only art that confronts and questions us physically, conceptually, spiritually about how we live within the limits and possibilities of time. Cinema foregrounds time with an urgency that no other art does. Thus it confronts us directly with our mortality and questions us persistently – how in our span of life, the time we each have on this earth, how do we choose to live? This is the primal question that leads me to the various themes that emerge in my films: violence, boundaries, exile, the play of gender.

From my first film, The Name of a River, through Qissa and now The Song of Scorpions, these themes have been dominant. But with The Song of Scorpions, a new theme has emerged to the forefront: the theme of healing.

Given the world of violence we live in, we are breathing in some kind of poison into ourselves at every moment of our life. The critical question not only for me, but for all of us today is: when we breathe out, do we want to breathe out the same poison we have breathed in? Or do we choose, instead, to breathe out a song?

A still from Qissa.

5. What special efforts went into making these films? 

AS: Well, Qissa took 12 years of my life to make. And to do the kind of films I do, everything takes a special effort! From convincing producers, funding agencies, and actors to spending months travelling in the desert looking for the right locations and then finding out that you can’t get permits to shoot in those areas! But, seriously, all the special effort goes in the preparation. Writing and rewriting the script, working for months with the cinematographer trying to understand the light and dark that would carry the themes of the film. Checking the fabrics, colour schemes of the costumes, which is always a delight because the costume designers who worked with me on both Qissa and The Song of Scorpions, Niddhi and Divya Gambhir, are just as finicky and unhappy till every stitch is just the way it should be!

I’ll stop here. As I said, making a film like mine, everything takes a special effort!

6. Please give a rundown on the amount of research, choosing the actors, challenges, major take aways, etc. from your cinematic journey. 

AS: To answer this question would compel me to write a Ph.D thesis! I think I’ve already answered the question about casting and the many challenges. As for the research, the truth is that I’m interested in every aspect that could affect the film. For instance, you could ask me what is the structure and size of a grain of desert sand in Jaisalmer and I could answer that! 

I spent months visiting the community that is the subject of my film. My costume designers travelled for days sometimes to find the right fabric among the women of this community in various parts of Rajasthan. Golshifteh with some of my actors from Mumbai spent a couple of days living in the house of one of the families.

Rakesh Yadav spent months learning the architecture and materials that go into the making of this community’s houses. I spent many days learning the language and calls the camel traders use with their camels. My assistant, Pushpendra Singh, and I travelled vast distances to listen, discuss and record the music of the desert. 

And what we take away from this experience is the inspiration and creativity the vast journeys over hundreds of years from all kinds of countries gifted this region. The caravans that travelled through here, from Iran and Iraq, from Mongolia and China, from Spain and Africa, each journey planted a seed here that has flourished to become music, fabrics, songs and stories. We hope this celebration of plurality is something we’ll be able to bring to our audience through our film.

7. What do you enjoy more? Writing or Directing?  

AS: I enjoy both immensely. The writing for the solitary struggle with myself. The directing for the creative exchange with a diverse group of extraordinary talents.

8. What makes The Song of the Scorpions a must-watch? 

AS: With two of the finest actors in the world, this is a love-story that questions the very basis of love. And yet affirms love as our most creative gift.

9. Any interesting anecdote that you would like to share?  

AS: Waheeda Rehman will not like my mentioning this, but on her last day of shoot, she had a personally chosen gift for every one of the cast and crew. When I say every one, I mean every one! A personal gift for every light boy right up to the director! She had shopped for every item herself in the markets of Jaisalmer. As though that was not enough, she left a generous part of her fee for the film to be distributed equally to the light-boys and spot-boys.

10. The film has received an overwhelming response abroad. How does it feel and does it up the expectation quotient from Indian and other overseas audience?

AS: Mumbai is my home-town. I’m, of course, anxious but also very keen to see how an Indian audience responds to the film.

A still from The Song of Scorpions.