Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A palace for pachyderms (Travel/Mood Story)

Fifty years ago on June 26, the first group of 16 elephants moved into their new home at Punnathoor Kotta near Guruvayoor, Kerala. Today, the palace, which once housed members of the royal family, has 64 elephants living in its premises. Rajeev Nair writes

There are the rogues and the wicked, the tame and the grateful, and the champions and the film-stars... in elephants.
And they are all there at Punnathoor Kotta, some three kilometres away from Guruvayoor, a township in Kerala, India.
Every elephant, here, comes with a story. Of love, hate, fame and the inevitable — death. If the killers feel remorse, they aren't showing it. Nor does the sheer fear of watching the huge mammal who has a history of blood on his ivory tusk encourage you to see the animal in a kinder light.
Palpable fear is a self-conscious reality, even in front of a chained elephant. And you are not comforted any bit when the mahout explains that the elephant, if it indeed wills, can break free of the huge chain that shackles it to the tree.
They say, fear breeds hatred. At Punnathoor Kotta, it can turn to awe, even empathy. And that very minute, the he-elephant Nandan, who was having a leisurely bath, rolls on his body and sits up.
The ruckus makes you nearly bolt, and you realise, once again, that with elephants it makes better sense to keep a comfortable distance.
The mahouts disagree. They rest by the pachyderm's huge hind-limbs, some even sleep in the shade of the elephant's hind-quarters. They know that their means of livelihood could anyday be smeared by the red of blood but it is a pact man and animal have forged.
In death and life, together they will stay.
Elephant tales need not be all this melancholic. It can be one of cheer too. Like that of Asiad Appu alias Kuttinarayanan, who gleamed in Indian national spotlight for his uncanny resemblance to the Asiad Games mascot, Appu.
He grew up to become one eunuch of an elephant — neither he or she, neither blessed with an awesome tusk nor becoming a leading matriarch. And he died, one limb limping from a sad fall. Joy to gloomy melancholy again — oh yes, isn't it nature's rule?
Punnathoor Kotta is rich in proffering elephant tales. Well, the palace, which Malayalam film-goers might recognise as seen in the super-hit film, Oru Vadakkan Veera Gatha, in itself boasts many stories.
Once under the possession of Punnathoor Valiya Thampuran Godhashankara Valiyaraja, the palace has interested historians for a debated visit of Tipu Sultan. The ruler, from neighbouring Karnataka, had made a victorious run through much of northern Kerala. A local guide points at a wooden sculpture on the main door of the palace. It is a series of dancing figures; one is cleanly chopped away. He says it was from a swipe of Tipu Sultan's famed sword.
The palace once featured awesome murals; today, the walls bear graffiti. For some time, the mahouts used to stay in the palace. Now, it is all dirt and dust, and efforts are on to restore the building.
The palace passed on to receiver administration following the death of the Valiyaraja in 1968. Punnathoor Kotta, just over 20 kilometres from Trichur, was eventually converted into an elephant yard in 1955. On June 26, the first batch of elephants, 16 in all, led by the legendary pachyderm, Guruvayoor Keshavan, stepped into its portals. Since then, the number has gone up, so have the comforts for elephants.
At Punnathoor Kotta, the animals are fed palm trunks and leaves, which arrive by tonnes daily. They are bathed by mahouts, and often taken out for processions.
Many elephants were donations to the Guruvayoor temple, and they automatically came under Punnathoor Kotta. Elephant care is costly business, and now it is mandatory for donors to also furnish Rs4 lakhs (approx Dhs40,000) as elephant maintenance expenses, says a mahout. This has dampened donor enthusiasm, he adds.
The current crowd favourites at Punnathoor Kotta are Jayakrishnan and Lakshminarayanan, both tiny-tots about 6 years old, gifted by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Dr J Jayalalitha and Malayalam film actor Suresh Gopi, respectively. The two look pampered, and mahouts won't exhaust with tales of their little pranks.
The wide courtyard of Punnathoor Kotta has elephants either caught from the forests in Kerala (that practice is banned now) and many more that come from Bihar and Assam. There are specialists middle-men who facilitate elephant purchases.
Less graceful than Kerala elephants, according to mahouts, the Bihar ones are relatively shorter. A perfect elephant, which has its trunk sweeping the ground and 18 nails on its limbs, can be bought for about Rs14 lakhs (approx Dhs140,000), says a mahout.
Elephant-owners, normally, earn back the money by despatching the pachyderms for pulling logs or doing tough menial tasks, and renting them out for film-shoots or processions; the latter fetches about Rs2000 to Dhs4000 (less than Dhs200 to 400).
At Punnathoor Kotta, the elephants are spared of the tough tasks; they are mostly used for processions.
Sometimes, an odd one would go cranky during its outing. The situation could go out of control leading to people being trampled upon or gored to death. The rogue one returns to isolation at Punnathoor Kotta until it is tamed. Many elephants show symptoms of "rogue-ness," which are treated by veterinarians who are on call round the clock.
Just as they consume tonnes of palm trunks and leaves, the elephants' waste also bulks to tonnes, which are carted off as manure.

Among the lot of elephants at Punnathoor Kotta there are running-race champions like Gopikannan and film stars like Murali of Valiyettan fame. Padmanabhan, who has earned the Gajarathnam title, is a favourite of the mahouts. He is well-behaved and has an imposing frame. He is also renowned to fetch the highest remuneration when taken out on processions.
Ramu has only one tusk but while out on a procession he would have another one clamped on to his face. In fact, clamping extra tusks is common enough among elephants because it is not uncommon for the animals to lose one or both in fights or due to diseases.
Radhakrishnan is the one shackled furthest from the palace. He gets irritated when crowds mill around the premises and has reason enough to be angered: He had once lost his way in a small township near Palakkadu, and the local residents grouped together, chased him and chained him down.
The oldest at Punnathoor Kotta is a she-elephant: Thara, who is going on 66. She is ordinarily cool but bring a hen near her and she gets cranky. Kuttishankaran is 55 and he cannot eat solid food; he is on a rice-gruel diet.
Documentary makers often make a beehive for Punnathoor Kotta. At first glance, there are elephants and more elephants. But hear their stories, watch their eyes, study their movements, and linger on through their routine — a water bath, a roll on the mud, their sumptuous feast...
That is when the fear in you for the animal dies down, and like the mahouts, you believe that short-sighted or not, elephants triumph in their imposing individuality.
What the heck, they have character!

Interview - Dr Bob Nelson (Guru of Thank You)

Thank your staff
The Guru of Thank You, Dr Bob Nelson, says recognising staff for a job well done isn't necessarily about monetary rewards. Rajeev Nair met him in Dubai

Photograph: Prashanth Mukundan

Dr Bob Nelson was once approached by a manager who insisted that one of the ways listed in his best-selling book, 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, wouldn't work for his company.
Nelson ripped off the relevant page from the book, handed it back, and said: "Well, here are another 1,000 ways."
The Guru of Thank You narrates the anecdote to explain how managers often stall employee recognition programmes under the pretext of constraints, mostly financial.
According to Dr Nelson, president and founder of Nelson Motivation Inc., money is only one element in thanking the staff for a job well done. From a heartfelt "Thank you" to convenient incentives in kind, there are, well, 1,001 ways (for starters) to motivate them.
He says it is demeaning to employees and hypocritical when current employers promise to match salaries after they have decided to switch jobs. The management should have been doing it on the first hand.
In the same vein, he insists that there is no faster beeline for mediocrity than treating unequal performances equally and rewarding marginal performers on par with the star performers.
An ideal motivation strategy therefore should be to "single out the star performers, rally around them, and keep on track all the people who make it happen."
Dr Nelson cites research to illustrate the direct co-relation between employee motivation and loyalty. "The number one factor of how long some one will stay at given organisation is directly related to the relationship he or she has with his immediate supervisor."
A graduate in communication studies, Dr Nelson became a celebrity of sorts with his first book, Job Hunt, written when he was 25 years old. Since then, his books have been on best-seller lists with 1,001 Ways finding acceptance the world over. He followed it up with 1001 Ways to Energize Employees, 1001 Ways to Take Initiative at Work, and The 1001 Rewards Recognition Field Book.
Easy with words and at ease in person, Dr Nelson was in Dubai for a management workshop hosted by Right Selection.
Excerpts from an interview:

Whose side are you on — the employers' or employees'?
(Laughs) I like to think that I represent the interests of both sides, though, normally, my workshops are attended by managers, owners and CEOs. I help them understand how they can better motivate the employees to perform at a higher level and stay with the organisation longer. Ultimately, it helps the employer earn the reputation as one that can attract and nurture talent.

You ask employers to give more incentives, rewards, money to employees. Doesn't it annoy them?
There are many misconceptions in this topic. The big one is thinking that employee motivation is obviously money. What I have found from my research is that while money is important, what is quite crucial is how the employees are treated on a daily basis, how they are made to fulfil their role in the business, how they are involved in decision making, and how they are supported when they make a mistake.
Bill Gates once observed that you can tell a lot about the long term viability of any organisation by looking at the way they handle mistakes. If you reprimand and embarrass some one in public, he or she might not repeat it but what the organisation loses in terms of the employee's loss of self-esteem, their willingness to take risks and the use of better judgment can never be got back.

Is convincing employers that motivation is not just about money the most difficult part of your job?
It is one but not the only one. Not all of us have the time to do things that we don't think are important to us. It is therefore imperative that the job of managing is redefined to stress how important the organisation's biggest resource — the people — are. You must tap into their level of commitment and maximise their performance by focusing on them.

For one who first prescribed 1001 ways to reward employees, does this mark a shift in your thinking — from material rewards to intrinsic motivation?
Yes, that is a very clear movement from the more tangible merchandise stuff and awards programmes to a more intangible level where employee relationships are built on a daily basis based on trust and respect.

Do you regard 'Thank You' as the single most important motivation tool?
It is one aspect. In a research culled from employees over the years ranking the importance of 52 types of recognition, it was shown that at least 36 of them don't require a dime. Money has a motivational value alright but once your bills are paid, you start looking for the value part, whether you are valued by the employer, by whom you work with, and whether the work brings meaning to your life.
Right now, we have at least four generations of employees. Their values towards work are different. No employer makes a guarantee that you are going to work with them life-long. Nor can the employer expect blind loyalty simply because they gave the job. They must show how the job can lead you on in life.

With employee recognition programmes, aren't you putting an extra burden on employers, asking them too much?
(Laughs).. Yes... But I am also saying that if you don't have an employee recognition programme, don't be surprised if your people leave. Walt Disney had made to commitment to himself that if he was to be in a managerial position, he will treat his employees as if they were his customers. IBM regards hiring as a million dollar decision. Indeed, you are hiring a potential; you must bring their best judgment and skills to this opportunity and make the most of it.

In today's workplace dynamics isn't it inevitable that the staff would move on? So where does that leave you as an employer who invests in spending time and money on your staff?
That is one of the ironies. The more you help people learn, develop and grow skills that by definition can be taken elsewhere, the more they are likely to stay with you and grow with you. They would feel they are in a special place and that they are valued for their contribution.

Artist profile: Shola Akintonwa

A story in every stroke

For modern contemporary artist Shola Akintonwa, paintings are an emotional story-telling experience. Rajeev Nair met her in Dubai, where she hosts her first exhibition in the Middle East at ArtSpace gallery

Photographs: Chandra Balan

That Shola Akintonwa narrates a story in every painting couldn't have been accidental. A Nigerian, who grew up in London, she discovered the essence of painting in the story-telling tradition that marks African art.
The rest of her life, she says, has been a series of happy coincidences... (even her first exhibition in the Middle East, now on, at the Artspace Gallery in Dubai. It was a series of incidental meetings with people, one leading to the other.)
She recalls drifting through her formative years in London. She ran a model agency fully aware that it wasn't what she ought to be doing.
She was always into colours but not art per se, and eventually discovered her strengths through her association with a formidable trio: Her former boyfriend Simon, a singer with an Irish band; and his friends, Bono of U2 and Guggi Rowan, "a fantastic Irish artist."
An untrained artist, Rowan was the first to convince Shola that she could paint. And so she tapped into interesting emotional experiences from her own life. "Those were things common to women, things that happen to them, no matter where they come from," she recalls.
Her first piece was purely instinctive and totally unrestrained. She had no audience to play to, none to impress, and she simply hung her painting on her living room wall, unsigned.
The responses encouraged her; so did the £2,000, it fetched in less than two weeks. "I was very charged," says Shola. "I can't believe that people are allowing to me to make this (art), which I love so much, my profession."
However, she says the influence of the threesome in her life has been formidable. "I am awed by the fact that these three people came from nowhere and they are all accomplished in different ways, being the most excellent in their kind of work."
Following her first painting, some ten years back, she returned to Nigeria. "I examined the paintings, the pigments, the carvings, and realised that in everything they do, there is a story. Art in Nigeria is a very living thing, not something you do to be bought or sold for the living room," she says.
Shola took that learning back to London and subsequently integrated that with her learning on the chemistry of painting, of mixing various media.
For the last five years, she has been living in Rome, opting for the more relaxed Italian lifestyle than the hectic UK one. The artist in her too demanded the shift. "I like to use natural daylight. In London, half the year, I do not see natural light," she says.
Shola says an African influence — "the fact that there is always a story" — in her works is rather sub-conscious. "If you look hard enough, you could interpret the story, perhaps more related to women. Even in the abstract pieces, there is a very meditative thread."
Her primary palette comprises red, black and white. "Red is strong, makes people happy; white is clean, pure and just so right; and black, mostly as a tool, a background," she explains the logic.
An instinctive artist and human being, Shola paints what she feels and sees, often starting without any idea. "Whatever I have got in life and painting, has been through my instincts. And often what I paint, comes out as an inner feeling with a story."
Shola says she realises that she is an African, a black woman, wherever she is. "It isn't a negative thing. It is part of my identity. And this thinking never leaves you, and it perhaps reflects in the paintings too."
She combines a variety of textures with oil to create a sort of three-dimensional feel to her works. "A blind person can actually feel the contours of the paintings," she adds.
Sure enough, for Shola, art is to be seen, experienced and lived. After all, aren't her paintings stories from within?

Shola Akintonwa exhibits her paintings at ArtSpace Gallery on ninth level of Fairmont Dubai. The show, sponsored by EFG-Hermes, runs through Oct. 26.

Interview - Mallika Sherawat (Actress)

Queen of hearts
Mallika Sherawat, regarded as India’s ‘post-feminist icon’ for her uninhibited on-screen acts and caustic off-screen comments, is bored of the ‘bold’ tag the media has attributed to her. She wants to be simply regarded as a forthright girl. Rajeev Nair met her in Dubai
Mallika Sherawat doesn’t flaunt her image. At least, she didn’t in Dubai. She was far removed from the glam siren mould that she had projected for herself through her headline grabbing one-liner-heavy interviews and a ready-to-bare attitude.
The Indian actress, who froze the photographers’ attention at the Cannes International Film Festival, appearing alongside Jackie Chan, could have passed for “just another beautiful Indian, perhaps a model,” when she climbed down the 4WD, denim-clad, to open the Popley 22 jewellery showroom in Bur Dubai.
Earlier, she was heard mulling the possibility of hiding herself under a burqa ("It's a must for me"). She wanted a little anonymity, and perhaps stroll the streets of Dubai, free and unbridled of her celebrity status. There weren’t too many stares thrown at her at the Grand Hyatt Hotel’s lobby, from where she had proceeded to Bur Dubai.
But here, a massive crowd had formed — all eagerly waiting for her arrival. One glance, an autograph, and possibly a handshake, that is all every one wanted. She couldn’t oblige them all, of course.
Dubai must have a special place in Sherawat’s mind. Her acting career was launched here, when she shot for Jeena Sirf Mere Liye in a supporting role while Kareena Kapoor, the film’s heroine, basked in media attention. After all, Sherawat hadn’t become mallika (the queen) then. She was Reema Lamba, a philosophy graduate who aspired to be model and actor. Her ads for an automobile with Shah Rukh Khan landed her the role that was to change her career, for ever. Director Gautam Menon signed her for Khwahish (Desire), which went on to grab headlines for Sherawat’s “17 kisses.” And with the promos highlighting her beachwear, Mallika had arrived. Ready to conquer hearts.
She did it effortlessly with Khwahish. The film was a runaway success and Mallika became the "hot" name in Bollywood. Here was one actress, the industry believed, who could carry a film on her own. So what if hers is a titillating act, aren’t there others too ready to go any length? Why don’t they ensure hits? Mallika proved that audiences still loved to see her when her next film, Murder, became the first certified hit of 2004. It established her in Bollywood, and she became bolder in her comments. More caustic. More bold. More self-indulgent. More at ease about flaunting her body on screen.
Her true triumph came when she was chosen by Jackie Chan to star with him in The Myth. She attended the Cannes International Film Festival to promote the film. Back home, however, her films failed to work the box-office magic. Both her releases this year, Kiss Kiss Ki Kismat and Bach Ke Rehna Re Baba, tanked. And her name hit headlines when an explicit MMS clip surfaced in the media, purportedly featuring her. Later, it was proved that the clip featured her look-alike.
Yes, Sherawat is a survivor: She is learning from her mistakes and moving on. She is looking forward to the Southeast Asian release of The Myth on Sept. 23. She has also signed to do a film for Subhash Ghai titled Shaadi Ke Pehle and another with Ram Gopal Varma.
Excerpts from an interview, in which she was diplomatic, evading controversies, resorting to platitudes, and yet not letting go of that outspokenness that is vintage Mallika Sherawat: And yes, on her table, lies the book she is reading now – Madonna by Andrew Morton.
You made your acting debut in Dubai, shooting for Jeena Sirf Mere Liye. But you were Reema Lambha then. How much have you changed personally and professionally ever since?
I have grown as a person, as an actor. As and when you do more projects you learn better. You make mistakes and work experience always helps you grow and change. So far everything has been very positive and good for me. I feel really blessed. My fans have supported me and to be in the position that I am today, yes, I feel blessed.
How as your Cannes experience?
Fantastic. To go to a foreign country, conquer it and come back... it made me feel very important, very special. Out there I was competing against the best. There was Salma Hayek, Penelope Cruze, Halle Berry…. and there was me.
But do you think the Indian media wasn’t too enthusiastic about your presence compared to Aishwarya Rai who too was in Cannes?
I don’t think so. I didn’t feel any difference. I thought every one was great to me. The media has always supported me, and I want to thank you all for supporting me.

You are perceived as a bold, outspoken lady, who speaks her mind…
Can you believe this? Why are you all obsessed with this word called ‘bold?’

Why? You aren’t…?
I am just forthright. And I am not a hypocrite.

Your recent films haven’t done as well as Murder or Khwahish. How do you take these failures?
I have learnt that you shouldn’t get too exhilarated with success or too depressed with failure. It is part of an actor’s career. Some movies do well, some don’t. Your job is to do your work as an actress to the best of your ability. That is what I have tried to do… I have made mistakes and I have learnt from them. And I have moved on.

What has been your biggest mistake?
Moving away from technique…

In what way?
Not being true to your character and deviating a little bit.

Why does that happen?
It happens because of my own stupidity and negligence and my own inability to not listen to the director.

Could these mistakes have been due to your willingness to expose on-screen, which sort of branded you with a certain image?
Not at all. It was just in certain scenes, where I thought as an actress I should have been more careful and I should have listened to what the director was saying.

How do you expect The Myth to change your career? Do you believe it will make you a truly international star?
It is a very different role. I play an Indian princess. Jackie Chan has shown great faith in me by casting me in the movie and then launching me at Cannes, which is the best platform for any actress internationally. I have great expectations for The Myth, so do Jackie and the entire team. It is a very international mix; there are Koreans, Chinese, a lot of different cultures and races have come together.

Does the fact that you were representing The Myth and not India in the true sense at Cannes affect you?
Why should it? I was launched there internationally. I had gone there to promote my film. I could have been any film, Spanish, Mexican… my job is to promote my film to the best of my ability. That is what I tried to do at Cannes.

You were dragged into the MMS clip controversy recently…
Please, let us not get into that.

And that was it. She stood up to try the burqa, and wearing it over her face, she screamed: "This is fantastic. This is the best thing ever made... the burqa."

Interview - Shyamaprasad (Indian film director)

Craft of integrity
Award-winning Indian film director Shyamaprasad is fond of Andrei Tarkovsky's idealisation of making cinema that does not deliberately try to please an audience yet hope that the picture will be accepted by all who see it. Rajeev Nair met him in Dubai

Photographs: Mohammed Rasheed

A beard would have been a burden on filmmaker Shyamaprasad. He doesn't need the unkempt looks and associated intellectual superiority that are an abused cliché of offbeat filmmakers.
There is an air of intense personal discipline to the man, which invariably rubs off on his works too. His milieu in films can be defined without ambiguity: Good cinema that does not compromise on his own and his work's integrity.
A touch of irony marks his journey to become filmmaker: He worked almost simultaneously on two genres of films. While his eventual debut Agnisakshi fetched him the best director award and international recognition, the other, Kallu Kondoru Pennu, an out-and-out commercial flick was a near wash-out. But the film was part of a learning curve that reinforced his faith in "upholding integrity in what you want to do."
His next film Akale, an adaptation of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie won six state awards and two national awards. He has wrapped up Bokshu, an international co-production, based on the celebrated Hindi novel by Ganga Prasad Vimal, starring veteran actors like Stephen Berkoff. His next foray is into the heart of the modern Malayalam classic, Khazakkinte Ithihasam, a novel by OV Vijayan.
Literary adaptations have come to be the signature statement of Shyamaprasad. Agnisaskhi is the award-winning work of Lalithambika Antharjanam; Kallu Kondoru Pennu is a successful play based on the life of expatriate Indians in the Gulf by SL Puram Sadanandan.
For television, he has adapted the works of Anton Chekhov (Vivahalochana); Albert Camus (The Just); Vaikom Mohammed Basheer (Viswavikhyathamaya Mookku); Kamala Surrayya (Venalinte Ozhivu); N Mohanan (Peruvazhiyile Kariyilakal); Sarah Joseph (Nilavariyunnu) and K Radhakrishnan (Shamanathalam), among others.
Expatriation is a recurring theme in Shyamaprasad's repertoire. His Manalnagaram (City of Sand) based on a story by UAE-based writer Surab, was a well-received television series on Gulf Indian expatriates.
A graduate in Theatre Arts who won a Commonwealth Scholarship and did his Masters in Media Productions at the Hull University, UK, Shyamaprasad has reached films from theatre through television. A slow journey, if you may, but rewarding nevertheless.
He took the learning as intern at BBC and Channel 4 to Indian television and redefined the parameters of tele-serials and documentaries. He continues to push the frontiers of television in his role as president, Programming, Amrita Television.
He was in Dubai recently to announce the opening of Amrita TV's Middle East operations. In a freewheeling interview, he speaks about his films. Excerpts:

You seem to have a fixation for Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie. You did a theatre production, Laura, based on the play, in 1982. Now, you have made Akale...
Yes, come to think of it, indeed, there is a fixation (with the play). It has been over 20 years since I first did The Glass Menagerie on stage but during all these years I have been thinking about adapting it for television and film. It took some time to mobilise the right production resources. The play basically deals with the very essential aspects of humanity, our concerns for each other and how happiness is achieved in this life...

The Glass Menagerie resonates the ghetto culture and the impoverishment of New Orleans way back in the 1930s. Why did you define Akale in the context of the 1970s?
Akale, like The Glass Menagerie, is a story of memories so the key events happen many years in the past. And the 1970s is the sort of idealistic past that I can identify with.

Was the choice of an Anglo-Indian family too deliberate?
I thought the tale was best placed in an Anglo-Indian context because the community has the kind of customs and ambience that go down well (with the theme). Secondly, I was always curious to know more about their lives. They mirror so much of the angst of the characters (in the play) — their isolation, the desolate-ness, fragility....

Do you think the play could have been adapted to a thoroughly Indian context, say, against the backdrop of a Hindu family?
It could have been....

Was it ever considered?
Never. When I did the initial theatre production in 1981, I had based it loosely on a translation by Vijayagopal. He had given it the ambience of a Nair family, which I thought never worked.

You have also followed close to the original, even retaining some motifs and dialogues...
Those were equally important aspects as the central theme...

But, set aside the opening and how the film ends, don't you feel you were going by the book a trifle too much?
That is interesting... You are probably the first person to say that. Many people thought I went away from the book. I think using some of the dialogues was critical because they are important in revealing the psychology of the characters at a given moment. These dialogues are so interwoven with the theme that I can't rip them off from the structure.

You did so even in Agnisakshi...
Absolutely... Anyway, I have no qualms about adopting a play and using the dialogues in a film as long as they work.

You have maintained that you are not a writer as a justification for adapting literary works for television or cinema. Doesn't that limit your own evolution as a total filmmaker?
I really don't know what a total filmmaker is. I deal with a story, period. It is essentially the job of any artist to identify with the other voices in humanity. If I can identify with Tennessee Williams and I can attempt to make my own story, I think, that is the magic of art. I don't see any divinity in conceptualisting a 100 per cent original story. Look at the masters... well, take Satyajit Ray. Most of his brilliant works are based on written works (by others). The point is that he could recreate them in a different age, medium and point of view. That process is what is more important.

What grabs you into a story provoking you to film it?
I don't know. These are all very subconscious decisions involving the many elements of your own life that connects you with the story. With The Glass Menagerie, I could identify with all the characters and their predicaments.

Do you think there were certain aspects of Akale that you wanted the audience to assimilate but went unnoticed?
I don't think so. Akale is more accomplished of my works. I was much more in control of the various elements basically because there were very few elements — few characters and locations. If at all there was any problem in communication or the structure, it may be due to my own inadequacies.

In your web-site, you quote Andrei Tarkovsky's observation: "There is no contradiction in the fact that I do nothing in particular to please an audience, and yet hope fervently that my picture will be accepted and loved by those who see it." Twisting it a little, is it your eagerness that Akale should be appreciated by the masses that made you conceive a song specifically for television marketing?
It is only natural that I look for some tool that takes the film to the audience. Television is a right one for that but I didn't want to hamper the flow of the film or its structure in any way. That is why I kept it out of the film; in fact, the song's score had nothing to do with the film. Tarkovsky's is a statement that I am fond of. It is the constant preoccupation of an artist — of wanting to reach as many as possible and yet not wanting to dilute or compromise...

The last play you did was Woody Allen's The Death. Do you have no plans to return to theatre?
No, I would love to. But theatre needs constant practise and involvement. Currently, I am involved with a play based on Padmarajan's Kallan Pavithran as producer. I don't have time to direct a play now.

As one who initially did television and now heads the programming of Amrita TV, do you feel television as a medium is underutilised in India?
Yes. Television is used as a platform for entertainment programmes like music and dance. It isn't being discovered for its own properties as a medium. Amrita TV is definitely trying to understand and realise its true potential.

What is your bottom line with Amrita TV?
Explore the possibility of giving quality entertainment within the framework of mass appeal. It is possible as long as you keep the communication free-flowing and you approach it with honesty and integrity without prejudices.

For one who does not believe in the art versus commercial cinema dichotomy but in entertainment as being simply good or bad, aren't you disturbed that the good never gets popular?
True. Good is never as popular as the bad ones but it is due to many reasons. First of all, many people do not know what is good; secondly, the good is not available to them; and thirdly, many of the so-called good ones are so closed that they are unable to reach the people. Many of these "good" ones are not honest jobs. But you can't make a broad statement that the good is not accepted.

Given the background of Amrita Enterprises, how much of Amrita TV is influenced by religion, and how much of your father's (O Rajagopal, a former union minister in the BJP government) ideology influences you?
My father's ideology has nothing to do with anything that I do. As for Amrita TV, we do have programmes on different religions as religion is a part of society but it is done in a broad-based and proportionate manner. The audience in Kerala have realised our sincerity and respect our credentials.

What did Hull University teach you that Pune didn't?
Pune taught me a lot of things. I was watching at least five films every day for many months. I also learnt a lot about the practical aspects of television production. Hull University was more academic. And the experience of interning with BBC and Channel 4 was invaluable. This was at a time when satellite television was non-existent in India.

You worked with a predominantly Western crew in Bokshu - The Myth. How different was the experience?
It was a great experience working with a production team that is meticulous about the arrangements. I also could work with international actors like Stephen Berkoff, and many trained theatre and film actors like Irfaan Khan and Nandana Sen. The film's genre — an adventure, mystery — was also new to me.

Do you regret doing Kallu Kondoru Pennu early in your career?
Yes, in some ways. But it also taught me about the industry and the importance of upholding integrity in whatever one wants to do. It is not that I am totally free from it; there are some elements that nag me but I am more careful now about selecting stories.

What is the progress on Khazakkinte Ithihaasam?
It is a big production; the canvas is huge and the story is many layered. Two to three versions have already been written but I am not happy. I also need a good producer who will understand the true scope of the film.

Malayalam cinema is progressively having a lesser haul at national level awards. Do you feel there is a deterioration in the quality of Malayalam cinema?
Certainly. But you must also understand that even mainstream Indian cinema, Bollywood, has changed. They are incorporating elements of aesthetics in a commercial framework and exploring new turf thematically. In Malayalam, we are still going round the arthouse cinema formula.

What is your definition of good cinema?
Let us not just talk of cinema. Take any art or communication, a good one should change you in some way. It should have the potential to motivate and move another mind.

Do you see that happening in current Malayalam cinema?
Very rarely. I can't remember a film that has moved me in the recent past.

Considering that cinema is a very subjective medium, where every individual takes home what relates to his or her individual sensibilities, do you think international cinema that moves all cross-sections of audiences is possible?
Yes, definitely. The binding forces that unite humanity are the same. Look at The Glass Menagerie. It moves all audiences because the essentials of humanity are the same, we are all confronted with the same existential issues.

Read Akale review at:


Interview - M Jayachandran (Indian composer)

Tunes for all seasons
Engineer turned music composer M Jayachandran has learnt the art of balancing popular music with a connoisseur's selection. One fetches him instant fame, the other lasting satisfaction. Rajeev Nair met him in Dubai

M Jayachandran had a bubbly enthusiasm as a graduate student. He was also deeply passionate about music, which was noticed by acclaimed music composer MB Sreenivasan (MBS).
Jayachandran became one of 62 students hand-picked for the first Kerala University Music Choir led by MBS. Since then, the other members have taken many routes — some married film stars, others do office work, a few slog in Dubai, a handful struggle to sustain the legacy of the MBS Choir.
Jayachandran continued to sing. And make music.
Now, a Kerala state award, a Filmfare award and at least 15 other recognitions later, Jayachandran does one thing that helped him mature as a musician: Listen to World Music.
That perhaps explains the eclectic sounds, tunes and melodies he creates. He is at home in foot-tapping racy beats (Pineapple penne, Komalavalli), in novel sounds (Chakkarmavinte kombathirikkana), sweet melody (Kallayi kadavathe, Chentharmizhi, Manikkuyile) and soulful compositions (Akale, Raakili than, Innaleyente..)
Jayachandran mesmerised Malayalam film audiences to such an extent that at one point last year, virtually all the film chart-busters were his compositions.
Jayachandran has been a familiar face for television audiences presenting a Carnatic classical music-based show. He also made a mark in the non-film circuit with Ormaykkayi, a music album that triggered countless clones.
The music composer was in Dubai for a show that showcased the heritage of Malayalam music as well as paid tribute to composer Ravindran. Excerpts from an interview:

As a popular music composer, do you feel you are being too prolific for your own good?
In the film industry, when you are busy, you are too busy. But it hasn't affected me much. Firstly, the films I did were of different genres and naturally their musical base was different. Secondly, I continue to be a music student, listening to and learning from World Music. The more I learn, the easier it is to compose.

You are a hard-core classical musician, one not expected to dabble in playback singing and music. Aren't you diluting your core capabilities by moving over to films?
I agree that film music is not a classical art but my grooming has been under two legendary masters, Devarajan and MB Sreenivasan, who saw playback music from two different lights. According to Devarajan master, film songs must be so simple that the moment you walk out of the theatre, at least one song must follow you. MBS' music, on the other hand, was very music-oriented, full of expressions. By training under them, I can simplify or strengthen songs as the situations demand. I get equal satisfaction from composing film songs as well as doing classical concerts. And with film songs, there is the satisfaction of actually creating music.

But when you do a Pineapple Penne or a Komalavalli, aren't you compromising on your own learning? Don't you feel bad about that?
No, I don't feel bad. This is my job. And there is no job that gives 100 per cent contentment. Every job has its negatives and positives, and these are perhaps my negatives. But these days, I enjoy doing such songs too because when you work on them constantly, you crack their formula, and the process becomes easy.

But what is the challenge in doing songs of the same genre, of the same style?
That is where exposure to World Music comes handy. This is especially true of foot-tapping songs, where you must create new sounds for racy numbers. I particularly like the African rhythms — there are many innovative touches in their music.

Was that an obvious influence in the songs for Athbhuthadweepu?
Yes, no doubt. World Music has been my primary inspiration. I should thank my brother for that. Wherever he travels, he picks up the native music. He gifts them to me, and also sees to it that I listen to them. He is responsible in shaping my musical inclinations.

Are today's achievements what you dreamt when you decided to make music your career?
Certainly. Music for films like Perumazhakaalam, Akale and Balettan is precisely the sort that I had wanted to do. I have always wanted to do original, innovative music. But often, as film music composers, we are dictated terms, and forced to go by trends.

But then why not make your own music, your own albums that bring out what you truly want to do?
I am working on two projects now. One is to bring out the romantic poetry of accomplished poets like Changampuzha employing good orchestration. The other is to showcase the entire Geetha Govindam. I am leaning Sanskrit to understand the nuances of the work. I want to make it a truly international project.

You are credited with having introduced quite a number of newcomers to Malayalam playback singing. Considering that you too are rather new to the field, wasn't it a risk?
It was but I believe in promoting genuine talent. Take Madhu Balakrishnan, for example. He is one of the few singers in Malayalam who has this thrithrayee shaareeram (the ability to sing three octaves easily). What he needs is the right training and a good composer, and with experience, he could become the best around. I am not into filmy politics, nor am I bothered about cliques. My criteria for selection is talent based. Some of them have succeeded, a few others have not been noticed because their films didn't do well. My father always used to say that you can keep aside talent for some time but you can never suppress it.

Critics have pointed out rare instances of plagiarism in your songs. The Balettan number is a Ra Ra Rasputin rip-off, for example...
My brief for the song was to create a tune that stays with the audience. I could have created a hundred tunes but when we finally chose the Ra Ra Rasputin bit, we were going by the fact that the song is familiar to many generations of music lovers. And it is only that Baletta, Baletta bit that has a Rasputin flavour. The rest of the song is thoroughly original. I was apprehensive about using it but the film's director said such compromises are inevitable in cinema. Ultimately, our effort is to make the film a success.

You are also known to work on classical ragas to make them sound more popular. You often use multiple ragas to make one song. Are you at any time bothered that they might not work with the audience?
When I did Manikkuyile, mixing several raga, I was skeptical abut whether the audience will like it. It worked, and I realised that the more you decorate a song, the more your make it hummable, people will enjoy it irrespective of its classical under-currents.

What is your take on the music composers of your generation?
Jassie Gift, Deepak Dev, Alphonse... they are all very talented. But I have my concern about many others. I feel that musical learning, not classical music learning, is not given sufficient emphasis. You must be curious, always trying to imbibe new lessons in music.

As a television personality, don't you think today's youngsters have an easy ticket to success and fame. Doesn't their overnight success affect their quality?
Of course, that is the biggest problem now. They have the talent — but they need to realise that only hardwork and dedication will fetch success in the long run. Now, you win one television contest and the next day you are invited to do shows in the Gulf. Their life changes, they think they have become accomplished musicians, and they stop learning music.

You are Kuttettan to the new breed of singers. Despite some of them being in your own age-group, their respect for you is perceptible. How do you feel about all this adulation?
Everything about me has happened through God's grace. I don't tell this in my interviews but I do have a very strong spiritual side that helps me realise who I am, and it keeps me low profile. I believe that every tune is alms from God. The moment the alms stop, you are finished.

Interview - Shaan (Indipop/playback singer)

Hearty success
Shaan is rocking Bollywood music lovers with his song from Salaam Namaste, 'My heart goes mmm...' The Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa television host, who was in Dubai recently for Music Festival 2005, says that singing must be natural and never aimed to project the singer. Rajeev Nair met him

Photograph: Prashanth Mukundan

Mmm.... — that, at this moment, for Shaan is the melody of success, of recognition, of having arrived.
It has been one arduous journey, no doubt. Despite a pedigree in music (his dad, Manas Mukherjee is the music composer of films including Shaayad and Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aaata Hai) Shantanu Mukherjee had to work his way up the ranks.
Remixes were the first step. Steered by remix guru Biddu (who also named him Shaan), he took to RD Burman hits with a vengeance. He was noticed but not sufficiently enough to make him an instant music idol.
He teamed with his sister Sagarika and gained moderate success. Cutting his solo album, Loveology, did not change much. He seemed stuck in his own groove when Tanha Dil happened. The album was a sensation and Shaan was in the spotlight. Films started trickling in including a non-happening actor's garb for Kalpana Lajmi's film Daman.
The four years hence has been him mature — as a television personality hosting Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa, and as a playback singer, right from Woh Ladki Hai Kahan (Dil Chahta Hai) through It's the Time to Disco (Kal Ho Na Ho) to Dus Bahane (Dus) and My Heart Goes Mmm (Salaam Namaste).
He worked with international band Blue on a remix version of One Love and Samira Said on his latest album, Aksar. Apart from winning a clutch of awards, he will also be heard in an international compilation of John Lennon's song 'Give Peace a Chance' sung by various Asian artists.
In Dubai to perform at Music Festival 2005 organised by MMI Events, Shaan was at his confident best. He breezed through a press conference with his wit, winning more fans with his unassuming attitude. Excerpts from an interview:

Your career has shaped up remarkably well in the last four years. How do you look back on this popularity?
Oh yes, I think the last few years have indeed marked the turning point of my career, and I am enjoying it. But let me be honest. There was no plan, no strategy. There wasn't even an ambition to make it. It could be just destiny and luck...

But while doing odd jobs and struggling as a singer, have you ever dreamt of this sort of success?
I have always led a rather contented life. I dream of old times, my school, the good times I had with friends and other dreams that I can't mention (smiles). Today's success isn't much about ambition. I enjoy every bit of this but I have no qualms in saying that there are, out there, a lot more talented, accomplished and hardworking singers than I am. I don't probably deserve whatever I have got but at the same time, I don't want to squander away my achievements by being callous.

Playback singing in India has heated up. There is a lot of competition; singers are branded to suit certain actors; every singer has mentors... how do you see the whole scene?
Very honestly, I do my job and switch off. I don't want to check who sings for whom, where the competition is going, what kind of work I had or I will have tomorrow. I believe that there is life beyond this. There is my family and I enjoy being with my wife and two sons, and friends. Probably, the one thing that I have some control is on my music albums.

In your latest one, Aksar, you also incorporate international talent while most singers just want to project themselves...
That in a way promotes me too. The international talent in Aksar is bigger than I am. Sameera Said, in the Middle East, is as big as it gets, as is Blue, the world over. I am going to do more of these collaborations because at the end of the day, music is a universal language, it does not need any barriers.

As a television personality and a singer, how do you react to the trend of television channels 'manufacturing' overnight singing stars through countless shows?
Television can make a star, a popular figure, but never a singer. A singer is born, and he or she will sing whether or not there is television. And stardom without talent is going to be short-lived. I understand that a lot of these people do not deserve this stardom but if someone gets lucky, then you can't blame them. Let them enjoy...

Is the Singers Association of India, on the cards, going to be a caucus that blocks the entry of new singers?
No, I don't think so. Every one is welcome to SAI; every one is going to be a part of it, and it has basically a very loosely woven agenda, which is to take care of our rights and interests as and when the situation arises.

Songs in Bollywood are invariably identified with the actors than the singers. Does that bother you?
I agree that people do not identify my songs from Kal Ho Na Ho or Salaam Namaste with me. But that is the whole reasoning behind albums. That is where you do your own music, which must sound different from film songs.

Have you started work on your next album?
Yes. I am collaborating with Ranjit Barot. I think he is the most prolific music producer in the country. I will also have a few international collaborations. I believe that to have one singer, sing all eight songs in an album, irrespective of how good he may be, is stretching things a bit too far. That is why even with my film songs I have consciously tried to not make my own style.
I don't want people to identify with the singer but with its lyrics and emotional content. The playback singer as a medium must be transparent and non-interfering in his style or projection of the song. It shouldn't be another Shaan song with the usual Shaanism. A lot of singers believe that singers must have their style imprinted in every song they sing. That is the difference between actors and stars. Whatever the stars do, they still come across as stars. I would rather be the actor-singer.

That takes us to your stint as actor. Will you take up acting?
No. It would be very difficult now to pull me into a project unless it is really, really worth it.

You started with remix songs and now your songs are being remixed. How do you feel about it?
Remix as an idea is international and a lot of bands have done fantastically. The difference is that in the West, remix artists still respect the original composer, singer and creative team. Their details are presented on the CD, money is exchanged and every thing is done rightfully. As long as that respect and royalty are met, I have no problem with remixes. After all, remixes work only because the original song is popular.

You appear more confident in person, and more natural in your singing style now...
It is nice to be natural. That is one element I find missing in today's singing. We create all kinds of excuses for singing, which needn't be. I believe that when I sing I try to put myself in the song's true emotional context. That is why it comes across as natural and confident.

UK Touring Theatre in Dubai

Theatre sans frontiers
UK Touring Theatre, currently in Dubai to stage a black comedy, Abigail’s Party, at Madinat Theatre through Sept. 22, takes British theatre out of its confines to a wider world. Their first destination has been the Middle East. Rajeev Nair writes
Two years of a touring theatre and already into its second play in Dubai – that is the mark of the response UK Touring Theatre has elicited. The Middle East has, indeed, been one great stage for them starting with Qatar, Bahrain and now, Dubai.
Commercial, accessible theatre is the bottom line of UK Touring Theatre, founded in April 2003 by Libby Machin. It takes classic and contemporary plays to English speaking audiences in a range of worldwide venues.
UKTT flagged off their Dubai season with The Woman in Black, and after the second play, Abigail’s Party, to be staged through Sept. 22, they will end the season with Private Lives in November before returning with probably a Shakespeare play next year.
Abigail’s Party is a funny, black comedy adapted from the 1977 television piece by Mike Leigh. There are only five characters, and notably, Abigail never makes an appearance. The play centres on Beverly and Laurence, who have invited their new neighbours Angela and Tony to a welcome party. Susan is another invitee, whose daughter Abigail is holding her own party three doors away. Starting off with small talk and niceties, the play moves on to the strains in the relationship between Beverly and Laurence, and Susan’s anxiety about Abigail before ending in a “shocking climax.”
Machin says the play’s 1977 setting is not a deterrent in communicating to the Dubai audience. “Perhaps, ten years ago, the play might have jarred. But now, 1977 is a long way into the past. It is like doing a Shakespeare. If the story, situations and characters work, the play touches audiences. I hope they (the audience) understand the characters. The play is quite a classic in terms of the clothing, sets and other accessories, and we have a perfect visual comedy on hand.”
She is particularly pleased with performing at Madinat Theatre. “Running a theatre company, for me to have a proper theatre in the Middle East is simply wonderful. Madinat Theatre is amazing; it has great acoustics and we have sets designed in London put up with a production team that works closely with us.”
In bringing a play from one part of the world to the other, UK Touring Theatre works the play to suit the audiences. For Dubai, with its cosmopolitan crowd, the group makes the plays very energetic with a lot of movement on stage.
With over 19 years in theatre, Machin says that despite the preponderance of television and cinema, theatre is here to say. “Theatre is live; it happens now and the audience is part of the action. It makes for a special and unique experience for both the actor and the audience,” she says.
The strong allure of the stage is predominant in the cast too. Mario Vernazza, who plays Laurence, has just completed shooting for Da Vince Code with Tom Hanks; Adam Scott (Tony) comes to Dubai from the Edinburgh Festival having starred in the critically acclaimed production, Parade. Tess Dignan (Angela) is a West End regular and international voice coach; and Amanda Osborne (Susan) has just returned from starring at the English Speaking Theatres in Frankfurt and Vienna. Machin has many television credits including Make My Day, Shelly, Casualty and The Bill.
Vernazza says the passion for theatre is what often drives many actors to do television. “The theatre is very much an actor’s medium. In television and cinema, many decisions are made by somebody else. With plays, you step on to the stage and it is yours. You are in charge, and that is different every night. You invent the journey every time you make it.”
He says the Da Vince Code film experience was “fabulous” but essentially, it wasn’t much different from doing a big play. “Inside, it is the same; everything is part of the technique and craft.”
The level of artistic commitment to touring theatre is the same as with any other mass entertainment media, says Adam Scott. “You are away from friends and home. You must make a quick relationship with the people around you and understand their needs very fast.” Of course, it also gives the opportunity to travel. Three weeks ago he had a hoarse throat, feeling mellow in a rainy Edinburgh. Now, he is in sunny Dubai.
The cast say Abigail’s Party will be a bleak comedy, where the characters don’t think they are comic but are real, reasonable people. But in them, the audience discovers the laughter. “It is essentially five ordinary characters with some extraordinary happenings on stage,” says Machin.
And much to UK Touring Theatre’s delight, they discover that Abigail works in the Middle East as much as in Britain because very often humanity speaks one language of emotions.
(UK Touring Theatre can be accessed at www.uktt.net; tickets to the play are priced Dhs125 and are available at the Theatre Box Office, Souk Madinat Jumeirah. Doors open at 7.30 pm; show commences at 8.30 pm)

Indian art in the UAE

A flourish of Indian art
Contemporary Indian art is going international. The response to a recent exhibition in Dubai of modern day artists signals the cross over of Indian art to the global arena. Rajeev Nair has the details
Photographs: Chandra Balan
Elizabeth Rogers is confident. The curator of Indian Art Unbound II, the second edition of an international showcase of contemporary Indian artists in Dubai recently, looks forward to the art auctions in New York and London, later this year.
“You will finally see non-Indians buying Indian contemporary art at a serious level,” she asserts.
Rogers understands the pulse of the global art lovers. More involved in museums than in galleries, she was invited to India by the Dalai Lama to document the works of art at the Tibet House. An art historian, she had graduated in Buddhist Art and Asian Art, a passion ignited by a family tradition of collecting Buddhist works of art.
An artist friend introduced her to Nitanjali Art Gallery, founded by Anjali and Nitin Bhalla, art collectors for the last three decades. She worked with them on a photography exhibition of Mohit Midha, a photographer with National Geographic Channel, India, and continued the association as curator for Indian Art Unbound II, organised at Grand Hyatt Dubai by Nitanjali Art Gallery and Kanika Subberwal.
The three-day exhibition featured the works of illustrious artists including MF Hussain, Anjolie Ela Menon, Jatin Das, Madhuri P. Bhaduri, Sachindra Nath Jha, Satish Gupta, Kishore Roy, Sujata Dere and Subash Awchat, among others. It was an eclectic showcase of Indian art, reflecting its “cosmopolitan character and myriad aesthetic and creative lexicons,” according to Rogers.
Indian Art Unbound I was earlier held in London and the next stop in the international showcasing of Indian art in Dubai was a “fantastic experience,” says Kanika Subberwal. “I am glad I brought the project to Dubai. The city has welcomed Nitanjali Art Gallery.”
She reiterates Rogers’ observation that Indian art is now more universal in appeal. “We had visitors from all nationalities; it was a perfect blend and I am amazed at the response.”
The exhibition also marked the arrival of Nitanjali Art Gallery to Dubai on a more regular footing. “London is very educated on art. For me, therefore, it was challenging to come to Dubai because we realised that the market is not well researched. While a few know a lot about art, many know nothing,” says Anjali. “Fortunately, we have evoked a lovely response. We love to educate more people about buying art – not just as a fashionable hobby but also as a fabulous investment.”
Encouraged by the initial response, Anjali plans to showcase a photography exhibition of Mohit Midha, for the public in November in Dubai. A cross-section of his works was on private exhibit at Grand Hyatt. “The way the market has welcomed us here, there is no looking back now,” says Anjali.
Nitanjali had brought to the Dubai exhibition, Indian artists from all corners of the country. The sheer diversity of the selection is also a pointer on how difficult it is to brand contemporary Indian art. “It is impossible to pinpoint one single trend in modern Indian art,” says Rogers. “Thank God, it is still evolving. It gets diverse with every artist.”
Their influences too are myriad. Rogers says that while it is not essential that each artist must depict his or her inspirations, there is a lot of Western influence in the works of many artists. It isn’t a definitive observation, though. “Some have an overt Buddhist influence; in others it could be Christian or Muslim; some artists stick to classical mythology,” Rogers quickly adds. The single important feature, however, is that most artists appeal straight to an international audience, she says. “They need no interpretation.”
Rogers does not want to stereotype Indian art. Her own affinity springs from the artists’ “sense of colours and richness of texture. They don’t mind mixing traditional and modern motifs, and all the paintings are so alive. They are never cold.”
Indeed, the riotous colours, varied themes and self-assured brushstrokes that characterised the paintings on display exuded a rare level of vibrancy. “The exhibition uncovers and reveals interior landscapes,” observes Rogers. “They inspire one to journey further and to participate in the creative activity of becoming ‘unbound’ as the artists explore, provoke and expand universal imagination.”
And in Dubai, the journey indeed fetched welcome patronage. That should auger well for Indian artists, who have for long been sidelined in the international arena. 

Interview - Hariharan (Indian singer)

A rare breed
Indian singer Hariharan has tried virtually all genres of music, and won over loyal fans for each genre. He, however, would like to be known as a singer who made people happy. Archie Nair met him in Dubai

Photograph: Mohammed Rasheed

Hariharan once described himself as a rare breed. And why not? Ghazal moulded him, Indipop nurtured him and film songs made him — a celebrity, that is. Three genres, three signature statements and one man doing them all.
He recently celebrated his 50th birthday and the bash turned out to be a vintage Page 3 function with most Bollywood celebrities turning up. That is no surprise if you watch the man go about. So seemingly at peace with himself, he simply melts into a crowd, the only stand-out trait being his pony-tail.
It is a style statement that has given him an individuality which not many singers have been able to attain. He is not the average Indipop artist who needs scantily clad models to boost up his album sales. His music sells, without much ado.
One of the most successful teams ever seen in Indipop, the coming together of Hariharan and Leslie Lewis to form Colonial Cousins is now a landmark moment in contemporary Indian music's annals. Even as Colonial Cousins readies to celebrate its tenth anniversary next year with an album, Hariharan has clinched a musical scoop: He has made 'Destiny' with Daler Mehndi.
The son of Carnatic classicist HAS Mani, who was among the first batch of students from the Swati Thirunal College of Music, Thiruvananthapuram, Hariharan was initiated into music through his mother Alamelu. Learning Hindustani music under Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan, he trained extensively on his Urdu diction. Awed by the soulful ghazal renditions of Mehdi Hassan, he took to the genre. A prize at a national level radio competition, and Hariharan had found the first footing to the world of fame.
Music director Jaidev signed him to sing a ghazal for the film Gaman, which fetched him a state award. Singing for television, cutting ghazal albums and playback singing in Hindi movies, Hariharan's teaming up with composer AR Rahman fetched him more laurels. With Colonial Cousins, he had charted out a new turf: Fusion music. Most recently, he was honoured by the Indian government with the civilian honour, Padmashri.
Excerpts from a chat:

You have celebrated your 50th birthday recently. What is your learning from music and life?
You have to keep moving — in music. You have to keep innovating. Music is the same, the same sa ri ga ma pa dha ni sa. But the lyrics, the presentation and the composition need subtle changes because each generation gets used to a sound. Earlier, a change would happen every 20 years but now trends change in two years. You must keep up with the change. You must keep your minds and ears open and practise your music but also listen to the world around you because everything is getting globalised. Music is becoming one, like the cultures of the world. Art is a reflection of the society and when the society gets global, art must also become global.

Has your career shaped up the way you wanted?
I don't know how my career should have gone because I haven't planned anything. But yes, I am happy at this moment in life. I am happy because I have done all genres of music with success be it film songs, ghazals, Indipop. I am identified and respected in each genre, and I have a profile in all (genres).

Among the three distinct genres, Indipop, ghazals and playback singing, which is your ideal comfort zone? Which genre would you like to be associated with your name in the long run?
I would like to be known as a singer who made people very happy, as one who gave them peace and nice memories. Luckily for me, I have got songs that people remember throughout their lives. Those songs are not as if they were a hit and then were gone out of memory.

You have worked with many different composers and on many songs. Can you sense whether a song will be a hit during its making?
I can sense whether a song is going to be good. With film songs, much depend on their picturisation and how the film fares at the box-office. These are things out of my control. But yes, surely, I can know if a song would be loved by the people.

Are there songs in your repertoire which you feel were not acknowledged enough?
Yes, of course. A lot of songs have not been recognised because the film did not do well or the songs weren't well picturised.

We haven't heard of Colonial Cousins of late...
We are completing a decade next year, and we would be bouncing back with a new album.

How different will it be?
It will be as different to how different we (Hariharan and Leslie Lewis) are now.

But how will you define your style now? You are into many genres...
See, you don't plan these things. The album happens and you must learn to get it go and do things (out-of-the-box)...

You are a singer who is heard as well as seen (on television). Is performing, as in emoting on-screen, important to a singer?
Yes, it is very important to be noticed. And anyway if you are singing for a hero, why don't you be the hero? (Hariharan did that by acting with Khushboo in a film)

Do you believe that singers must retire after a point in time?
Yes. I too will retire, whenever I feel that I ought to stop. But right now, I still sing well. I do practise and I am happy with my singing.

Friends of Yoga in the UAE

A solidarity for body-mind harmony
Friends of Yoga, a teaming up of yoga enthusiasts, has been conducting free, open-air yoga sessions in the UAE's public parks since 15 years

Photographs: Mohammed Rasheed

Fifteen years ago, in Dubai, yoga wasn't a healthclub fad. The ancient practice that promotes mind-body harmony wasn't hijacked by high-flying yogis or healthclub therapists.
Yoga, then, was a personal passion for many, some initiated into its postures since childhood. There were others, including Western expatriates and Arabs, quickly won over by the simplicity of its philosophy.
KB Madhavan, managing director, Astic General Trading, Dubai was already familiar with yoga. He has always believed in three simple essentials for human life: Food, sleep and exercise.
If no one doubts the necessity of food and sleep, he wonders, why do they feel exercise can be avoided? He discovered in yoga, with its written history dating back to 5000 to 2000 BC, a total exercise that kept the body fit while ensuring total harmony of the mind too.
Derived from the Sanskrit word "yuj" (meaning, to yoke), yoga in common parlance has come to denote the integration of mind and body through a series of breath and physical exercises.
Moving in from Mumbai, India, Madhavan had initially confined his exercise routine to early morning walks. He met KB Rai, a yoga practitioner, during one of those outings, and that meeting was to change the lives of many hundred people soon.
Together they decided to do open-air yoga sessions, in which any one was free to participate — for free. Teaming together under the banner of 'Friends of Yoga,' they had started off with a handful of people. Keeping a low profile, the friends' circle grew through word of mouth publicity. Today, Friends of Yoga work to promote yoga in 13 locations in six countries including the US, the Philippines, New Zealand, Singapore, Oman and Pakistan.
In the UAE alone, Friends of Yoga practise yoga at pubic parks in Dubai (two), Sharjah (four) and Abu Dhabi (one). And all of the Friends of Yoga classes in the rest of the world are founded by former UAE residents, who used to practise here.
Dubai residents would be familiar with the sight of the Friends of Yoga classes at the park near Deira taxi stand, the very first venue of the group. The yoga classes are held every day from 5.30 am to 6.30 am and 7.30 pm to 8.30 pm. Madhavan says the classes were rarely suspended and that too, only to mark events of national mourning. All other days, come summer or winter, the 'Friends' meet for yoga lessons.
No money is charged for the lessons and every one is free to join and leave, according to his or her will. "There is no discrimination on any grounds," adds Madhavan.
A typical Friends of Yoga hour starts with a prayer (according to one's faith), followed by warming up exercises, yoga exercises and breath exercises for lungs and heart. Madhavan says that individuals improve on any given yoga posture as time goes by.
On any given day, about 200 people take part in the yoga classes held in any given location, says Madhavan. Over the years, some 7,000 people have benefited from their association with Friends of Yoga. At least 11 members who had joined in the 90s' continue to practise yoga at the Friends of Yoga get-togethers in Dubai.
He says many people join the yoga classes after they are identified with some health problem. Once they recover, many of them leave only to return again. It is not uncommon to find people in wheel-chairs attending the Friends of Yoga sessions.
Madhavan says yoga has been found to be particularly effective in people with stress-related problems, asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, insomnia, depression and even obesity. "In fact, we even have dozens of doctors, allopathic practitioners, who endorse the health benefits of yoga," he adds.
One trend Madhavan has observed over the years is the increase in awareness of the efficacy of yoga. The acceptance of yoga as an effective physical and mental exercise is reflected in the participation Friends of Yoga has fetched.
Apart from its multicultral composition of children and adults, men and women, including those from the Sub-continent, Friends of Yoga has Western expatriates, UAE nationals and other Arab expatriates. "They come from all walks of life: From chief executives and business tycoons to blue-collar workers," says Madhavan.
Personally, Madhavan says, yoga has helped him tremendously at work and in his personal life. "I can tackle any pressure. I have no mood swings and I can take any ups and downs with equal calm," he says.

Interview- Blessey (Indian film director)

Zooming in on love
Malayalam film director Blessy's debut Kaazhcha bucked trends and, in doing so, brought back family audiences to theatres. Like his mentor, the late director Padmarajan, here is a man who romances life and love. Archie Nair met him in Dubai

Blessy, award-winning film director of Kaazhcha, was in Dubai to scout for new talent. He is directing Thanmathra (Molecule), his second film, with Mohanlal on the lead. Talent hunting in Dubai is his way of thanking the Gulf-based Keralite expatriates, who were charmed by the nostalgic expanse of his film.
Blessy says he was awed by the phenomenal feed-back his film fetched abroad. He attributes that to the horde of memories Kaazhcha opened up before expatriate audiences — through visuals of villages, the backwaters, and the film's unpretentious message of "love over language."
Kaazhcha portrayed it through the easy camaraderie formed between Madhavan (essayed by Mammootty, a 'mobile' film operator) and a boy orphaned in the Gujarat earthquake.
When Blessy conceived the film initially, the earthquake wasn't part of the story. The boy was meant to be a Naga, who finds himself in Kerala. The film's thread hung on the 'love over language' clause as much as the associations man forms with animals.
Notwithstanding the rave reviews for Kaazhcha, Blessy feels such elements weren't effectively appreciated about the film. That, he is humble enough to admit, might be because of his deficiencies as a writer-director.
The Gujarat earthquake, however, the gave the film a larger context. It portrayed how men could bury differences, form allegiances and learn to respect nature. "It is when we start being good, doing good that we realise how insignificant we, as individuals, are in the overall scheme of things," he explains.
Such philosophical inclinations in filmmaking is the result of the many years Blessy spent patronising the Film Society Movement (which popularised arthouse cinema in Kerala's villages). He recalls carrying the "film-box" of KG George's film Kolangal from Ernakulam to Thiruvalla to screen it before enthusiastic supporters of "good cinema."
But "good cinema" as in "art cinema" wasn't the ideal launch pad for a newcomer, Blessy realised. As much as he would have liked to make a serious film, one that reflected his Film Society hang-ups, he was sure to be sidelined, out of work, with the baggage of an "intellectual" identity.
So he took the path that best shaped his mainstream cinema aspirations: That of his mentor Padmarajan, the late director and writer. Blessy had worked with him on films from Innale until Njan Gandarvan. He then worked with Jayaraj, Lohitadas, Sunderdas and IV Sasi.
Now, with Kaazhcha, Blessy is regarded as carrying the flag of the Padmarajan-brand of cinema, which, better explained, is mainstream cinema that tries not to tease the sensibilities of the audience.
But he hastens to shrug aside comparisons. "I would be more than honoured to even find a place in Padmarajan's shadow," he says. "But as a filmmaker, I believe, I must not blindly imitate the techniques of any one, not even my teacher's." He says many filmmakers have made the mistake and burnt their fingers.
Blessy disagrees that directors like Padmarajan and Bharathan would have been out of their depth in today's filmmaking scenario. "Padmarajan made films for tomorrow. In fact, his Oridathoru Phayalvaan is one for posterity, unique for its blend of hard-hitting reality and sublime fantasy. Even his last film, Njan Gandharvan was way ahead of its time."
Asked to pick five films that he falls back on, as reference points or inspiration, Blessy picks Phayalvaan as one. The others include Battleship Potemkin and Bicycle Thieves. He was so fascinated by the filmcraft in Battleship Potemkin, he incorporated a little of that film in his own Kaazhcha. "I wanted every Malayali to see at least one frame of that classic," says Blessy.
He agrees that the success of Kaazhcha has put pressure on his new work, Thanmathra. "When I was writing Kaazhcha, I had no audience or the media before me. Today, there are expectations, but I think I must overcome that. But my second film is in fact the one I was to have made first."
Blessy says Thanmathra was sparked off by a story by Padmarajan. And he has bought its rights despite the alterations he has brought into the content. The film is about three generations of a family played by Nedumudi Venu, Mohanlal, and a new face chosen from the UAE. The bottom line is once again love: How, through one person, you can discover the bonding that continues on to his earlier or future generations.
Kaazhcha, despite the four state awards and 15 other awards, was sidelined at the Indian National Awards. Blessy is disturbed but he is learning to be diplomatic, to avoid controversies and to continue on with his work.
He has completed the script of Thanmathra. In scripting, he is a die-hard Padmarajan loyalist. "He always works with a thorough script, where even the last minute detail is sketched out."
Blessy says newcomers in Malayalam cinema tend to fall into set-patterns and grooves. "They are not daring to experiment; they still hang on to cliched cinematic techniques. This could be because, unlike in Tamil or Hindi, most Malayalam directors depend on others for story and script."
Blessy's quest is to be different and to push frontiers. It isn't easy. "Kaazhcha, for all practical purposes, is not a film that will enthuse distributors and producers," he says.
That the film worked at the box-office has made Blessy more responsible. "I had moviegoers calling up met to say they are recommending the film to others. They wanted people to see the film so that good films will not go unnoticed," says Blessy.
That kind of trust is what deterred Blessy from doing an out and out commercial film after Kaazhcha, the way many Malayalam directors do. "Kaazhcha's success was a realisation that there are people out there who love cinema for the sake of it," he says.
And he is not going to compromise on their good taste. After all, isn't his raw material, going to be love? Unconditional and unrestrained...

Event management industry in Dubai

The E factor
E for entrepreneur meets E for events in an innovative educational (that’s another E) option in the Event Management Development Institute (EMDI), Dubai. The brainchild of three MBA college buddies, EMDI has taken wings in the emirate. Rajeev Nair has the details

A Void is a “lipogram,” a 300-page literary work by George Perec, which does not feature the letter, E. The French author couldn’t possibly have steered clear of the “e” in his name, which simply goes on to show that you can take "e" out of your novel but not out of your name.
Three MBA batchmates in India, however, found their calling in the world of E. And thus was born the Event Management Development Institute (EMDI), its Dubai campus ready to roll out 50 trained event personnel. E is big business in Dubai, and the "E for events, E for education" mantra has worked well for EMDI, which is helmed by founder and international operations director Nowshir Engineer (how’s that for the reach of E?) in Dubai.
Engineer is young and raring to go. Well, he has been going places – from the 120-students EMDI campus he first set up with his two partners in Mumbai to other Indian cities, Bangalore, Pune and Hyderabad, and now Dubai. EMDI at Knowledge Village is completing one year and Engineer has given it the niche of an educational institution for event management training, which struck a chord among youngsters in the region.
Fifty aspiring event management professionals have completed their hands-on training and graduate in June. And Engineer is already looking at increasing the seats and enhancing EMDI’s faculty and internship facility network.
On the face of it, EMDI has a simple concept: Bring industry people into the training arena of event management. And it took three fresh MBAs to tap into it. The three were into diverse fields like education, corporate events and entertainment, when they had the brainwave to “provide structured training in events.”
“We realised that the best way to get into events was to actually get industry people come and lecture so that the industry practically supports the institute,” says Engineer. “Yes, Mumbai had places that groomed event management professionals but we were the first to follow a 100 per cent industry model.”
That meant creating a “strict programme that had lectures conducted by industry people,” he explains. “Secondly, we had already created a network with over 300 event companies that could use our students, who are trained to become event mangers, create concepts, ideas, executive marketing, raise funds and sponsorships, and execute events on the ground.”
The students were not simply trained for event agencies: “We had a huge area covering advertising agencies, shopping malls, hotels, television channels, radio, media houses – in short, everything that needed event mangers.”
It was a concept tailor-made for Dubai, which over the last five years or so has evolved as a key turf for event mangers cutting across show genres. Thus, EMDI, then a two-year-old enterprise in India, found its international footing in Knowledge Village, Dubai, in 2004.
Engineer says reaching out to Dubai took about one year of planning. “In India, it was easy to build on our network. Dubai, on the other hand, was new territory, and we also had to understand an international clientele.”
But once EMDI checked in, the opportunities simply seemed to fall in place. Events were flourishing in Dubai, and the students here had the advantage of working hands-on in world-class sporting and entertainment events. “Dubai has some unique concepts, the Dubai Shopping Festival and Global Village, for one. Here, we also have to prepare our students for the booming retail and mall sector while in India, the emphasis was more on entertainment, promotions and roadshows.”
More than 1,000 students have passed out of EMDI India says Engineer. The first 50 from Dubai will soon enter the industry. Though the minimum educational qualification for enrolling at EMDI is plus two, Engineer says the “basic degree is passion: Why do they want to be event managers? Do they have the required communication capability and ability to become one?”
The one-year programme with thrice weekly, two-hour sessions has been so structured to facilitate those who pursue other jobs or courses to avail of an educational opportunity that could see them rubbing shoulders with the stars from the glamour world. But then, the first lesson they learn would be “demystify the glamour element.”
Engineer says that in Dubai too the course is conducted through industry people – from event agencies, and advertising, media and entertainment professionals. Apart from interning with several agencies regionally, the first batch of students have already worked on prestigious events like the Dubai World Cup, Global Indian Film Awards, Temptations, Dubai Tennis, Asian Bollywood Music Award, Rugby 7, and a lot more.
“The organisers are happy to hire our students because they get people who are not only trained for the job but are also passionate and keen to make a career in the industry,” says Engineer.
The EMDI advantage, he explains, is that the “students are short-circuited to know better about the industry; they know what to anticipate, they know the pitfalls and by the time they pass out, they have actual experience learnt from the industry people.”
It isn’t easy to be event managers, he observes. “You must be a people person with an ability to handle a lot of stress. You have to co-ordinate it all but nothing is directly under you. If anything goes wrong, you take the flak. You must multi-task and work long hours.”
Despite it all, the profession attracts more girls than boys. Engineer isn’t surprised because that has been the case in India too. “Girls believe they are better in creativity and are well-planned when it comes to the details. And anyway it is said that a homemaker is the best event manager.”
Finally, when it comes to events, those who thrive under pressure are the ones who will triumph. And that takes us to the final “e” element: Enthusiasm. It has no short-cut, no learning alternative. This E must come from within, perhaps, your “Ego.”

Caption: Nowshir Engineer

Urban Echoes: Profile of a UAE music band

Music as attitude
There is a new sound in town: Urban Echoes. It reflects the musical aspirations and attitudes of the UAE’s young Indian expatriates, writes Rajeev Nair

Photographs: Rajan

On first hearing, the debut of Urban Echoes, a new concept in music, sounds itself caught between two worlds. And as you talk to the team, a group of young, twenty-somethings, you realise that it isn’t deliberate.
Urban Echoes is the bye-product of a new wave of thinking, a new style of living, a new sort of attitude that is simply hip, happening and very “now.” It is about youth discovering their own identity – one that is defined by their roots and nurtured by a global lifestyle that they live every day of their life.
Do we hear the words ABCD and British Deshi? ABCD Рthe American-born Confused Deshi is a clich̩ now. British Deshi, too. But both sparked a new cultural wave. The ABCDs gave new cinema (Hyderabad Blues, for starters) which petered out without much ado. British Deshis, however, gave us the rocking Asian Underground sound of music that is still going places.
In that mould, Urban Echoes is perhaps the Gulf’s offshoot of a cultural identity that young Indians, who spend a considerable part of their lives in Arabia, uphold. It is an attitude spelt out in music, and if you need a parallel of sorts, look no further than the ubiquitous FM airwaves, particularly City 101.6 and Hit 96.7 FMs, which – good or bad – have won over loyal listeners in remarkable numbers.
It could be purely coincidental that Urban Echoes has dished out its edition one as a Malayalam album. Binu Joy, who has composed, arranged and programmed all the tracks, apart from being the prime mover of the concept, takes pride in his own cultural roots. Yes, the lyrics by Raju George and Gopi Krishnan are in Malayalam. But the music, simply put, cuts through geographic and even cultural barriers.
That is not only because of the rap element infused by Sanjit Bardhan, a “non-Malayali.” While he gives an “extra flavour,” according to Binu, the overall mood of Neeyum Njanum (You and I) is one of unpretentious joviality, which isn’t bound to languages or parochial musical influences.
Naturally, it is hard to bracket the music of Urban Echoes in one mould: Binu says it is a new concept in music. “It is not traditional; it is very jazzy and funky.”
It is jazzy and funky with a reason; it is music as understood and appreciated by youngsters who have been exposed to diverse musical streams and have been trying to carve out an identity that could set apart them. If there is an overt element of fusion – the rap, the jazzy grooves, the thumping beats and the sheer melody – again, it isn’t forced.
Binu says the first edition, Neeyum Njanum, launched on Sunday by Vanilla Music in Dubai, took almost two years to roll out. The whole process of the team-members coming together and working out the music was like a chain reaction. Binu knew Rijo Chacko, who knew Sanjit Bardhan. Both are supported on the album’s vocals by Shobana Chandramohan and Neetu Saju Paul.
Binu says the album’s seven numbers were evolved with definite themes. From the theme came the lyrics, and the music followed. The seven songs tackle seven emotions, seven moments that one goes through in life, he adds.
The key members are largely self-trained in music. Neetu had formal music training but working with Binu was an entirely new experience, she says. Freedom was the essence of the teamwork – everyone came up with inputs, improvisations, and each pushed one’s own individual musical sensibilities.
Binu says he looked out for “just talent” in picking up his team. In that vein, he adds, the second edition of Urban Echoes, which he resists from calling a band (it’s a concept, he insists), might have a fresh group of singers too.
Vital inputs for Urban Echoes have come from Vladimir Persan, Sidhart Mishra, Anish Gohil and KJ Singh apart from Joy Varughese, the executive producer, and Iju I Jacob, who designed the international feel for the concept.
Much of the production work was done in Dubai itself with additional mixing and mastering done in Mumbai, India. The album will be launched in India within a month.
Deepinder Kapani of Vanilla Music says Neeyum Njanum is an extension of the music company’s renewed focus on the Malayalam segment, which is sizeable in the UAE. Despite the threats of music piracy and Internet downloads, he says the audio business of Vanilla has grown by 40 per cent in the last two to three years thanks to its large basket of products.
“It has been no joyride,” explains Binu Joy on the amount of work that has gone into creating the album. “And we have a very well-planned marketing strategy.”
Sanjit Bardhan is “super confident” of Urban Echoes’ success. “It is much better than the sounds you hear on radio here; it has got the power,” he asserts.
Underscoring it all is the young team’s desire to spell out – in no uncertain terms – the evolution of a new music culture in Dubai, one that is reflective of a new generation of young expatriate Indians, one that crosses over, one that “opens yourself to a new world...”
Now, that is hard to define in words but easy to understand in the music.

Meet Alix, the first female instructor at Dubai Autodrome

Alix for adventure
Alix Capper-Murdoch is the first female instructor at Dubai Autodrome's Race and Driving School, 'the only female deejay in Dubai,' and also a radio presenter. She says her eclectic job profile represents different facets of the same person — one who loves being herself and doing what she loves. Rajeev Nair met her

After the day is way past behind her and the night has eased into a new dawn, Alix Capper-Murdoch will park her Jeep Wrangler, reach home, switch on the television, slide it on silent mode and sit back.
She will stare at those pictures, simply watching them, taking in hardly anything. She is a passive observer, trying to silence down all those noises that whirl up inside her head.
It is the calm after the high-decibel thunder of the dance floor. It is the soothing silence after hours of non-stop music. It is also the stillness after adrenaline-pumping sessions on the race track.
Alix and adventure are inseparable. It is hard to take one from the other. The adventurer in Alix is also an achiever, a 'first-(or-only)-one-to-do-so' on many counts.
To start with, she is the first female instructor at Dubai Autodrome's Race and Driving School. She is also "the only female DJ" in Dubai's happening dance club scene. If those two responsibilities aren't enough to keep her busy, she RJs for Dubai Eye on her pet passion: Motor racing.
None of the three phases in her breakneck busy career was planned. They simply happened, as one logical extension of the other.
Alix recalls that she had always wanted to join the Air Force, which she did at the age of 16. She enrolled as a driver and got "all the licences and drove cars, trucks, motorbikes, buses and forklifts..."
"Because I was in the Air Force, by the time I was 17, I had more licences to drive (virtually all vehicles) when none of my friends could even drive a car," Alix smiles.
From her Air Force stint, she moved to studying broadcasting. She interviewed for a radio station at a racing circuit and with her vehicle licences and new educational background, she was hired as a pit lane commentator — and became the first female to do so.
Broadcasting experience took her to deejaying, and she integrated both, working at the racing circuit during day, and in the evenings, spinning the discs. She eventually got to become team manager and team co-oridinator for the racing team and travelled through most of Europe.
Dubai happened through chance. She had come down to check out the new racing circuit. Her return ticket is still with her but she hopes to stay here for another ten years. ("Why ten? Oh, it is just a good number?")
In Dubai, she landed her first job as a deejay — her residency is now at Madinat Jumeirah's BarZar; the race course instructor job followed; so did the radio contract.
A typical weekend for Alix is one whirlwind tour of activity. "I deejay during the night, reach home at 4 am, get up at 11, go to the race track, finish my work by 7, go on air at Dubai Eye, and get back to deejaying..."
She plays very dance oriented songs, the sort of repertoire that men opt for, normally.
That streak of unbridled enthusiasm comes right from her childhood. "As a child, I was very hyper," says Alix. "My mom wanted me to do ballet. I wanted to play ice hockey. I started figure skating and ended up in the ice hockey team."
Racing in the UK is way different from the burgeoning motorsports culture in the UAE, says Alix. "The UK is the home of motorsports and most people are into Formula 1 some way or the other. Here, apart from the race culture being relatively new, most people come with different expectations and driving skills. Many are not sure what to expect."
That wouldn't take long to change, she is optimistic, especially with the Dubai Autodrome. "People can only dream of a circuit like this. It is really, really amazing, miles better than those in the UK."
Speed is intrinsic in racing. Alix has hit heavy winds — how about 320 kilometres per hour — but she is also aware of the risks therein. "You are on the edge and you could lose control any time but you must manage to stay calm."
She has lost a few friends in racing but, she says, over the years, safety standards in motor racing have improved incredibly. "The two most dangerous things are not having a roll cage in the car, and the driver not having a good safety harness and helmet," explains Alix.
She had met with an accident earlier and was hospitalised for over two months. But within days of leaving the hospital, she headed straight for the race course. "I had to get back in the car as soon as possible to overcome the fear," Alix says.
For all the motor racing experience, yes, the drivers on Sheikh Zayed Road do make her nervous. But no, she isn't fast on the road. "I am quite calm, I take it easy on the road," says Alix.
A female race course instructor can lend a psychological advantage, she feels. "When you have a woman instructor inside the racing car, you tend to listen to her more carefully and take her seriously."
With the diverse roles that she plays, if you ask Alix to describe herself, she simply spells out: "I am Alix, and I am... mad."
"People say I don't look like a tomboy. I have the girl habits too, like say, trying on ten different dresses... And then I am deejaying and some one turns up with a problem with his car, and the next minute I go beneath the vehicle to fix it..."
Alix, thus, does not conform to any set notions about any of her work profiles.
Though she deejays, Alix isn't a party person who goes clubbing. "When I am not on radio, I listen to classical or country music. When I am not at the club, I am at a coffeehouse doing sudoku...."
She says there are no contradictions in these. "Nothing is forced about any of these. They are all different facets of myself. I love whatever I do, and I am happy to be myself."
Her biggest fear is the "feeling of not being able to get any further. I have been doing many things already, and what happens if in another year I am not doing anything more than these?"
She has dreams of her own radio show, of doing more racing and deejaying, and trying to write some songs...
And her weakness is "not knowing when to stop. I am a hyper personality, and I end up constantly burning bridges at both ends..."
But she likes going around in circles and keeping on going...
As in the race track, so in life. Keep moving.

Photographs: Rajan