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Must music be genre-bound, and if that is the case, how would you describe your own style of music?



IshQ Bector Hip Hop artiste


National award-winning art director and actor in the Kannada industry who came second in the recently concluded first season of the reality show Bigg Boss (ETV Kannada). Indo Canadian singer, songwriter and composer who has also worked in Bollywood, where he has written and sung music for movies like Pyaar ke Side Effects, Dhoom 2 and Allah ke Banday. IshQ has performed with wellknown international artistes such as Sean Paul. His latest release Saali Bitch, the single, was released online due to censor regulations. He recently performed live in Bangalore.


I've been bouncing around between different genres, but I'm basically and urban musician. I don't think you have to just stick to one genre. You'll get bored of yourself even before people do. I'm not a trained musician, but I'm a studio geek.


Experimenting and mixing genres is a great way to grow and expand your music. If you spend enough time in the laboratory, you're bound to come up with some good material, so I just work insanely hard.


You have often faced the wrath of censors, and were accused of being derogatory towards women, especially for your new single Saali Bitch. Is it the shock value that you're after?


Derogatory? Me? No way, man, spread ishQ is what I say. Well, I wanted to name that album 'Sifar,' and in retrospect Saali Bitch is a scary title! The thing is, it started off as something of a private joke. Then somebody at Universal Music heard it, and they wanted to release it officially. That said, usually I don't censor my music, it depends on my mood. I can make a very bad song and just keep it to myself. I know I'm being compared to Yo Yo Honey Singh. Despite the trouble he has faced due to his song lyrics, he's doing a great job. I don't see what all the fuss is about. It's about using everyday language in music… and that's what pop culture is about!


What did you expect at your Bangalore show? Anything in particular that you were looking forward to?


I have been to Bangalore a few times before, but not for shows, so I had no expectations at all. I was looking forward to seeing some crazy Tamil film posters on the streets, actually!


Arun Sagar Bigg Boss runner-up IshQ Bector Hip Hop artiste


National award-winning art director and actor in the Kannada industry who came second in the recently concluded first season of the reality show Bigg Boss (ETV Kannada).


Did you think you would complete 98 days at Bigg Boss?


Normally, I don't think hard when I do something. At Bigg Boss, though, I was getting worked up about everything. I never work intending to reach some destination, but my work takes me places. I believe that is what happened at Bigg Boss as well.


On social networking sites, viewers are commenting you are the real winner and you deserved the title more than Vijay Raghavendra. Your comments?


I'm happy to hear that from the audience. But no one knows how voting takes place. Maybe Vijay really got more votes than me and won the show. Vijay is more than a friend and brother to me, and I'm extremely happy about his win. We were like a family in the Bigg Boss house and I think he really deserves it. I'm certainly not sad about losing the game to him.


Do you think you lost because of your closeness to actress Chandrika?


No, definitely not. We spent time together and are just friends. Such statements might hurt her, and I don't want to hurt any women. Bigg Boss was not an election; people who liked us voted for us. I would like to say sorry if I have done anything wrong, but the truth is we always lived like a family inside the Big Boss house.

When tragedy is the stuff of comedy

Written by Friday, 05 July 2013 06:03


Tahatto's Romeo and Juliet takes off from the original text to create a hilarious version of the Shakesprean classic, with memorable performances and professionally produced music


This is the play that won Prashanth Nair of Bangalore-based theatre group Tahatto the Metro Plus Playwright’s Award last year. Romeo and Juliet - No Strings Attached premiered last weekend at Jagriti Theatre, and though it takes off from the famous tragedy, this one is an out- and-out comedy.


The play opens with four string puppets, including one musician, tied up in a routine of staging Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet . Their strings fall away suddenly and they find themselves craving to go the world outside to live lives of freedom. But the musician in the lot, who goes by the name of Stringeri (Christopher Avinash), convinces the others to perform one last show of the play—for old times’ sake.


The former puppets take to the performance they were forced to play along with impish glee, and what follows is a hilarious, cock-eyed take on the tragic original. The puppets’ clown-like costumes and the concept of a play within a play may bring to mind Rajat Kapoor’s META winning Hamlet - The Clown Prince, but the similarity ends there.


While Champak (Rijul Ray) is a convincing Romeo, Panauti (Anshul Pathak) and Nautanki (Shashank Purushotham) aren’t happy about the multiple characters they are set to play and constantly vie for Romeo’s role. Stringeri, part clown and part sutradhar, is the one who keeps the act together, lest his friends get carried away by their newfound freedom.


The play follows a linear path just enough to keep in order the key events of the original: the street brawl between the Montague and Capulet soldiers, the Capulet ball and the famed balcony scene. However, these are interspersed with ordinary banter by the puppets and comical backstage situations that are hinted at, all of it peppered liberally with Bollywood and pop culture references from Sholay and DDLJ, all the way to the likes of Backstreet Boys and Coldplay. The rendition of Backstreet Boys’ I Want it That Way especially, left the house reeling with laughter.


While Tahatto’s version is definitely not for the die-hard Romeo and Juliet fan, it’s possible to watch and enjoy the play even without being acquainted with the original text, and this where the pop culture references come handy. But, as is typical in slapstick, the one-liners may bring in plenty of laughs, but hardly any stay with you.


The script occasionally borrows its lines from the original—often unexpectedly, the sudden contrast adding to the effect—but keeps the focus on the stage lives of the puppets intact throughout. The classic lines by Shakespeare are met with original and witty desi comebacks by the other characters.


Juliet, who initially takes the form of a hand puppet, takes the form of a flesh and blood girl (Kalyani Kumar) along the way, and does it in time for her encounter with Champak/Romeo in the balcony scene. That, and the cleverly produced starlit backdrop easily makes this one of the most memorable scenes in the play, and also one of the few where you’re not laughing out loud. The stage and lighting design of the play seemed merely functional, with no higher purpose than to keep audience attention where it belongs; the lines.


The play has the makings of a complete entertainer, thanks to the strong performances by the four male characters. Juliet, though, is largely forgettable, and one almost prefers her hand puppet version. Some of the best moments of the play lie in the puppets’ idiosyncrasies— Nautanki’s reluctant shift from the character of Friar Laurence to Nurse, Champak’s earnestness, Panauti’s touching proposal to Juliet and Stringeri’s devotion to the call of duty.


While not exactly a musical, the characters do tend to break into song and dance—they are just-liberated puppets after all—with ease. Stringeri’s guitar renditions of both Bollywood and pop melodies are accurate and lively, it could well be the quality music produced by this musician and composer (Avinash) that take you back to a re-run.


Romeo and Juliet - No Strings Attached will be staged at Ranga Shankara on August 27 and 28


In a Talk essay last week, well-known academic Vivek Dhareshwar highlighted ‘a new research milieu’ exploring the fundamentals of Hinduism, caste and vachana literature. A fellow scholar responds, calling the group’s work ‘superfluous and premature’


This is in response to Vivek Dhareshwar’s notes on the condition of contemporary research in India and Karnataka (The intellectual excitement is palpable and unprecedented in recent memory, Issue 46).


Proposing a rethink of the human sciences, he excitedly advises the ‘metropolitan intelligentsia’ to pay attention to a research programme initiated by SN Balagangadhara’s book The Heathen in his Blindness...


A spin-off of Balu’s Heathen is Dunkin Jalki’s thesis on vachanas and the caste system. This is enthusiastically endorsed by Dhareshwar as testimony to the u n p r e c e d e n t e d research carried out by his own group of researchers.


Dhareshwar’s claim that only Prof HS Shivaprakash has read Jalki’s thesis is absolutely unwarranted. I have written a long review of the thesis with a focus on its limitations. I have also asked several questions to Balu and his group about their claims, and I have not received any convincing answers (Ladai Prakashana blog, April 21, 2013).


I have strong reservations about how the colonial history of vachanas is studied in the thesis, which is critical of “Western constructs” and “Western experience”. It gives the impression that researchers of colonial history should adhere to this framework, and any non-conformity makes a study ‘stagnant’, ‘vicious’ and ‘baleful’. If we follow Dhareshwar’s suggestions, we end up drawing the following conclusions:


1. There is a unified and homogenised world of Europeans and Lingayats in the colonial and the post-colonial periods.


2. A monolithic colonial power once determined interactions between Europeans and Lingayats. (Dhareshwar conflates colonialism with Christianity and the European influence).


3. The Raj was an all-encompassing cultural power in colonial India and Indians were mere mimic men.


Such an approach to the colonial history of India or Karnataka is simplistic, sweeping and reductionist, I contend. The research proposals of Dhareshwar’s group are premised on the dichotomy of colonialism vs nationalism, which has come under severe criticism from several national and international scholars. In the thesis on the vachanas, this binary is sustained throughout. This helps it declare the Lingayats were trapped in a web of “vicarious and derivative discourse”. But the colonial history of the Lingayats and the vachanas does not lend itself to such simplistic formulations. Before we make any efforts to “reconstruct Indian intellectual traditions” (in the words of Dhareshwar), we need a comprehensive picture of colonial history in which both Europeans and Indian intellectuals (and not just nationalists) participated. The thesis is inadequate to accomplish this , and fails to take into account the myriad, contradictory and multilayered colonial experience.


The theoretical and epistemological proposals of Dhareshwar do not allow us to look into the internal and external fissures, differences and conflicts experienced by Lingayats in the colonial period. My study over the last 15 years makes it clear that Western normative structures predating modern vachana scholarship were ideologically heterogeneous even among Europeans. The Western phenomenon of defining modern Lingayat scholarship/literature was contested, and alternatives were proposed. For instance, the most important pioneer of modern vachana scholarship, Fa Gu Halakatti, was not ready to accept Western constructs about the Lingayats and their literatures.


The thesis’ analysis and insights are not as new as Dhareshwar portrays them to be. Some questions it raises are colonial themselves. If we dig into our past, it is clear resolutions to these questions did not always come from within the framework of colonialism or nationalism. By and large, Jalki’s theoretical framework blinds him to the complexities of colonial history. Dhareshwar does not seem sensitive to this problem. Consequently, his research proposals prove superfluous and premature.

Theatre for life

Written by Thursday, 27 June 2013 11:01


 Talk revisits the oft-asked question, ‘Is English-language theatre a viable career option in Bangalore?’ The answer is a conditional yes. Over long chats, artistes bring us the drama of their lives off-stage, and reveal how they make ends meet


Written by Friday, 05 April 2013 08:36

For the first time ever, All India Radio's Kodagu unit brought together all the major tribes in the district for a day-long mela. This was no sleepy government event but a festival that tapped into the primordial energy of the adivasis, writes Deepa Bhasthi


There is something deeply intoxicating about drums. Perhaps it is that they bring to mind ancient times when shamans danced around the fire to please their ancestors or invited spirits into themselves to solve discord and cure illnesses. Or perhaps it is the repetition in the beats that puts you in a trance like state. Whatever it is, there is something heady about the beats, even if the ‘drum’ is just an overturned plastic vessel.


It was the promise of those drums and the lure of actually seeing adivasi lives up close that drew me to the day-long adivasi festival in my hometown of Madikeri, Kodagu. The occasion was the Kadina Makkala Radio Habba, literally ‘the radio festival of the children of the forest’, organised last Wednesday by the local station of the All India Radio, immensely popular in the hilly district. It was also a full moon night, the day of the spring festival Holi, locally called Holi Hunnime.


Before I got there, I had imagined it would be something like the Hornbill Festival in Nagaland held every December, which is a congregation of tribes put on display by the government to bring in the tourists and perk up business. The origin of the idea might have been similar, but the Radio Habba turned out to be a celebration of pure joy that showcased the dance and music forms of Kodagu’s many tribes, and got to talk to each other, catch a bit of city life, and meet non-adivasis.


It was the first time ever that the tribes, spread far and wide in the forests and in deep set villages of the district, have been brought together in one place. Meant to be a noon to midnight celebration, the programme listed stage performances, ending with dancing around three or four bonfires.


Three friends and I set out to the Gandhi maidan, despite the almost painful afternoon heat. But the adivasis couldn’t be bothered. The women were busy checking each other’s clothes, and adjusting jewellery strung around their necks. The men had bells on their feet, long sticks and cymbals in their hands, and swirling lengths of cloth around their heads. The Honey Bee liquor bottles were conveniently hidden behind the dainty thatched huts erected for the event on a slope near the stage.


There was an air of camaraderie around each hut. Groups from different tribes practised their songs and dances inside, and got their dresses ready. Everyone was nervous. It was only one group of Jenu Kurubas, traditionally honey gatherers, who kept slipping in and out of their designated hut and breaking into impromptu dance throughout the day. These people instantly became our favourite.


One of them wore different coloured feathers in her hair, necklaces of wild berries and a fancy belt of leaves and flowers around her waist. A slightly older woman seemed the Rastafarian of the group; she kept her mated hair hidden under a traditional flowing head cloth, until the bonfires lit up later in the night and she broke free of the shackles of the headgear to dance with abandon around the fire.


The announcers of AIR, all local celebrities, introduced the groups; there are over 20 of them. They included the Jenu Kuruba, Betta Kuruba, Panjari Yerava, Pani Yerava, Devasoliga, Poomalekudiya, Tenmalekudiya, Kembatti, Medha, Kapala, Kodava and Arebashe tribes. Each performed a song, and or a song and dance. Almost every group seemed uncomfortable being on stage; after all, they normally sing to appease their deities or celebrate marriages. Most didn’t wait for a cue from the technicians to begin—they were anxious to finish their number and get off the stage.


There were songs for weddings, harvest songs, prayer songs and songs to abuse their Gods in unspeakable terms (a popular adivasis festival in the district, is called ‘Kunde Habba,’ the festival of abusing God). On the sidelines, there was a small exhibition of the baskets, prayer items and boxes they use, the wild fruits and vegetables they eat, and the roots and nuts they use for medicines. There were performances of Ummathat and Bolukhat, traditional dances of the Kodava women and men respectively, performed in a circle with slow, synchronised, warrior-like movements for the men, and graceful and reverential ones for the women.


The most commonly recognised song “Cauveramme devi thaaye…” telling the story of River Cauvery’s birth, took me back to school days when it was a regular number at every annual day function. There was also the characteristic Valaga (pipe) recital, with its music slow and fast by turns, designed to send the dancer into a trance. By the time they took to the stage a second time, the full moon was up in the sky and the audience couldn’t resist breaking into dance. One from our little group, a Kodava, needed only a nudge before he joined the party.


Then the fires. Large logs were lit and small circles formed. Different groups played for the cameras for a while, and then took their dance elsewhere, closer to their huts. Our favourite Jenu Kuruba group was still at it, with the same vigour, with the same infectious energy, for several hours. Heedless of the city people, unmindful of the town lights in the background, they raised the dust below their fast moving feet and danced round and round the fire. As we left, I for one could not help but feel incredibly jealous.


Once the full moon rose, the audience broke into dance


love of life


The Jenu Kurubas became an audience favourite at the adivasi festival



Written by Friday, 08 March 2013 11:26

Despite the overly detailed battle descriptions and the trademark literalism, Vayuputras is much better written than the others


Writing a trilogy does not mean you start a book with a sentence that follows from the last sentence of the previous book. But Amish Tripathi’s big fat The Oath of the Vayuputras does begin this way, such literalism being par for the course.

It has been a while since I finished his second instalment in the re-imagined story of Shiva, so it took me several pages before the story came back to me. But when it did, problem number one was immediately clear: he has cut one very long book into three parts, or so it seemed.


Amish makes it all too easy for you. You cannot help but notice the poor editing and find yourself mentally correcting the grammar. And then there is that rather annoying habit of his (or that of his editors): italicising Indian words like ‘prasad’, and ‘darshan’ and giving their literal meaning, in italics again. It is probably because his books are now released abroad as well, but I find it ridiculous when the missile Pashupatastra is explained literally as the weapon of the lord of the animals.


But before you pursue your nitpicking further, Amish surprises you. Just when you’re imagining having to groan through the book, the war—and this one’s all about war—it draws you in. The next several hundred pages are only about war: complicated strategies are discussed, battle lines are drawn, alliances forged. Bits about dharma and righteousness are thrown in.


If it had not been such an exciting read, The Oath would have been a war manual, describing as it does tortoise formations, subvert attack tactics and such like. Shiva doesn’t swear as much as he does in the first two books. Though he continues to flirt with his wife Sati, the romance is kept to a bare minimum; it comes as a welcome breather from passages that detail swordfights and knife maneuvres at length.


Shiva here is the barbarian tribal from Tibet who migrates from the mountains and is reluctantly cast in the role of a living god. He is righteous but forgiving, an excellent dancer and singer even. He is also merciless when it comes to destroying that which he knows is evil. He errs too, like a human; it is only in later times that his “…descendants, in many ways unworthy… behold gods in what were great men of the past, for they believed that such great men couldn’t possibly have existed in reality.”


In the last sentence of the book, Amish hints at what he might be writing about next. (His publishers have already given him a Rs 5 crore advance, and it’s going to be another trilogy.)


In The Oath of the Vayuputras, Amish is much better than his last book, The Secret of the Nagas, and I at least was (almost grudgingly) forced to pull up one notch higher my opinion of his writing. It is a pity though that you have to suffer through the first two to get to what is the best in the Shiva trilogy.


The Oath of the Vayuputras is published by Westland Books. Price Rs 350



Written by Friday, 08 March 2013 11:11

While large gifts like the ones made by Azim Premji make news, Bangalore can boast both a history of charity that goes back decades as well as a culture of generosity on the quiet


When the legendary US investor and philanthropist Warren Buffet visited Bangalore in March 2011, he stressed it was important for “big time charity to tackle things that may fail.” His reasoning is that if philanthropists are giving to easy causes, they might not be doing enough.


Indian philanthropists, whether inspired by Buffet or not, don’t necessarily agree. They believe it is crucial to take on doable projects that can show results, particularly important in a still-developing country struggling with a range of problems.


And while it is nobody’s case that there is anything “easy” about reforming India’s education sector, it is clearly emerging as a preferred channel for making a difference.


After all, the oldest cliché in helping out one’s fellowman is not to give him a fish, but actually teach him to fish. Statistics suggest that 20 per cent of India’s poor have no access to education. Nearly 85 per cent don’t have access to technical and vocational training and 45 per cent drop out of school before eighth standard. And the woes of our higher education system are numerous too.


Buffet’s efforts to rally around billionaires ready to give wealth away is now well-known, and days after Wipro Chairman Azim Premji signed the Buffet-driven ‘Giving Pledge’ earlier this month, he made his biggest philanthropic gift.


Premji donated nearly 300 million Wipro shares, worth some 2.2 billion dollars (Rs 12,000 cr), to his Azim Premji Foundation, which works in the field of education. The donation brings down Premji’s personal stake in Wipro from 70 to 58 per cent. It takes the foundation’s holding to almost 20 per cent, coming as it does on top of earlier such donations.


(When he set up the foundation in 2001, Premji gave 125 million dollars worth of shares. In December 2010, he pledged 213 million shares worth 2 billion dollars (Rs 11,000 cr).


Forbes magazine, which tracks Indian and global philanthropic giving, reported that with this new endowment, Premji joins the ranks of the world’s top five givers. His 4.2 billion dollar gift (Rs 23,000 cr) bests that of the world’s richest person, Carlos Slim Helu, who has gifted 4 billion dollars to his foundation.


Towards the end of May last year, Premji also played host in Bangalore to a number of top business leaders and philanthropists, including Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, Warren Buffet’s partner in his philanthropy campaign. According to a media statement released then, the “group expressed belief that philanthropy and social service are integral to the development of any society.”


The statement added: “Noting that India has its own significant tradition of philanthropy and social service, the group reaffirmed the view that there is vibrant thinking and action on philanthropy in India.”


The 2012 edition of the India Philanthropy Report, brought out by management consultancy firm Bain and Company, bears this out. Bain partner and report author Arpan Sheth says in the report that more than half of High Net Worth Individuals (HNWI) in India planned to increase their charitable contributions in 2012, with a large chunk planning to boost their donations by 10 per cent or more. India has one of the fastest-growing HNWI populations in the world. An updated report is due for release early March.


Also encouraging is a strong commitment to “giving back” from HNWI donors under the age of 30. The majority of the HNWIs surveyed by Bain are under 40.


Of course, India’s HNWIs are newcomers to philanthropy — 80 per cent are novice donors compared to 74 per cent in the US who consider themselves experienced. But fellow Bangaloreans and corporate stalwarts like NR Narayana Murthy, Kris Gopalakrishnan, and Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, to name a few, are all known for their generosity to charitable causes. And genorisity can take different forms. Murthy’s Infosys has given away some Rs 50,000 crore worth of employee stock options. Elsewhere, other groups like the Tatas also have a track record of giving to charitable causes. But there is no doubt that over the last few years, there has been increased interest.


At the same time, it is important not to forget that Bangalore, and India in general, have had their own illustrious history of giving. Take for instance, Arcot Narrainsawmy Mudaliar who set up numerous schools in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Chamaraja Wodeyar conferred the title of “Dharmaratnakara” on him.


And over the years many of Bangalore’s educational institutions, like National College and the NMKRV College, have benefited from donations.


Ravi Venkatesan, former head of Microsoft in India and a founder of the Bangalore-based philanthropy group Social Venture Partners (SVP), notes that a lot of work is being done on the quiet, as befitting a culture of giving that emphasises anonymity in charity.


“Our idea of philanthropy is quite different from that in the US, where there is an inheritance tax and you can stand to lose as much as 50 per cent of your wealth. So there they do big ticket philanthropy. Our traditional model is quite different. In the middle class, for example, we take care of our parents, we might finance our niece’s marriage, not turn away any beggar who comes for food, and so on. They are small amounts, but the sigma is a big chunk of whatever modest means we have,” he told Talk.


Of course now that India has a growing group of HNIs, big ticket giving is happening, not all of it publicised. “While this change is good, our traditional model should not go unappreciated or ignored,” Venkatesan emphasises.


What is more, the work being done quietly is substantial. Since the donors wish to remain anonymous, many of the schools they are now running, at significant cost, cannot be named. “Big ticket giving is not what changes the world. It is the drops that add up,” says Venkatesan.


SVP itself now has some 60 partners, who have come together. “We have just started the grant making process. Soon we will have Mumbai and New Delhi chapters. In a few months time, I’ll be able to give you numbers and the impact,” Venkatesan said.


HR Ananth, managing director of the venerable Bangalore Press, who have been adding their own “drops to the ocean” over the years, makes another point. “I have noticed that a lot of giving comes from the generosity of people who have made Bangalore their home, rather than from our own people. Our own people should be sensitised to giving, sharing,” he told Talk.


The Bain report warns, not surprisingly, that continued growth in big ticket giving will be “contingent on organisations raising confidence in the returns on giving….Philanthropists cite a lack of accountability as the biggest obstacle.”


This is probably the main reason why for large givers, it makes sense to operate with their own private foundation. “With the Azim Premji Foundation and others like the Shiv Nadar Foundation leading the way, the model for private foundations in India is gaining traction, similar to the role they play in the US,” says the report.


Anurag Behar heads the Premji foundation and is also the Vice-Chancellor of the Azim Premji University, which the foundation runs. For Anurag, education is the most “organised, social means of building a better society — a better society defined as one which is just, humane and equitable.”


And within the sector, “school education is the most direct means available,” he told Talk. The foundation aims to improve both access and quality, and is currently working with some seven state school systems, which have some 3.5 lakh government schools under them. Obviously, their level of direct engagement with the schools will vary, but they hope to impact them all, with efforts covering everything from curriculum to capacity building.


The quality vision is ambitious in scope. It is multi-dimensional, in that they hope to impact the school child on ‘ethical, social, emotional and cognitive” parameters. The child has to “fulfill its potential” and play out her role as an “active citizen.”


And in the university, which offers masters level programmes, Anurag is seeking to create “education sector experts.” For example, someone might do an advanced programme in curriculum and pedagogy, or child nutrition.


While Premji’s wealth is estimated at about 16 billion dollars (Rs 87,000 crore), ranked 50 in the world’s rich list after fellow Indians Mukesh Ambani and LN Mittal, Buffet is worth some 53 billion dollars (Rs 2,90,000 crore) — he has pledged to give away 99 per cent of his wealth.


The upward momentum in India will hopefully continue, as the upside is large. Bain’s Arpan Sheth writes: “Our most affluent individuals have a strong desire to donate a portion of their wealth ...we are only a few steps away from better supporting that need.”


And projects both big and small will help.


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