Utpal Borpujari

September 29, 2009

Rajpal Yadav going international

By Utpal Borpujari

Rajpal Yadav, the talented actor whom Hindi cinema very often reduces to roles that require onscreen buffoonery, could soon find his international calling through a film that requires him to perform rather than prance around in outlandish get ups.

Yadav, the ubiquitous funny man of Hindi cinema, has donned the serious hat this time, playing the protagonist in Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain, an English film which has Martin Sheen and Kal Penn as his costars. With a backdrop of the Bhopal gas tragedy, the principal shooting of the film has just been wrapped up in Hyderabad studios, since its makers apparently did not want to shoot in Bhopal to avoid any controversy. So excited is Yadav about this film that he refused a few other English films since he wants this to be his first international film to release.

The alumni of National School of Drama (NSD), who has done around 150 films in last one decade or so, has a proven flair for the comic, but the roles offered to him quite often requires him to be overly in the slapstick mode than doing any cerebral comedy. To break with the monotony, he keeps doing a film here and a film there that gives the actor in him a chance to explore other human emotions too. One such film was Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon, and this was the film that landed him the role in Ravi Kumar-directed Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain.

As Yadav puts it, “It is going to be my first international film. It has been shot in Hyderabad and Mumbai. It will be a great film and I am playing the lead role in it. I was contacted for the role after they saw me in Main Madhuri Dixit… This is the kind of film with which I wanted to debut in international arena. And I have left quite a few English films because I want this one to be my first international film.” Yadav, who is a journalist’s delight – ask him one question and he shares his philosophies about a whole lot of issues with you – says that acting in this film has been a completely different experience for him. “They (the production unit) are completely disciplined, completely systematic, very dedicated and very passionate about their work. We enjoyed it immensely,” he says.

So, will this film help him break the funny man image? Yadav seems not to agree with the question, and reels of names of films like Main Madhuri Dixit…., Main, Meri Patni Aur Woh and Undertrial to counter-argue. “Yes, I have been doing a large number of comedy films because these are the roles I am offered. But to break the monotony, I have also been essaying serious characters,” he says. To prove the point, he refers to his latest release, N Chandra’s Yeh Mera India, in which he plays the pitiable character of a poor Bihari labourer who has just landed in Mumbai with the hope that he will be able to earn enough to survive and also send back home, but undergoes a traumatic experience before luck smiles on him. “I have 8-12 films where I play different characters, but until they are ready, there is no fun in talking about them,” he says with a matter of fact tone.

But there is something going on in his mind that he does not mind talking about. And that is his plan to act in at least one film in every Indian language in which films are made. He says he has a reason for deciding to do so, but would divulge it only after completes doing at least one film in each language. “Hindi is our mother, but film is not about the spoken language for me. I was born in a Hindi-speaking family and so got into Hindi cinema, but I do cinema in our national language. If that language happens to be my mother, all our regional films are my Mausi (aunt), and don’t we all visit our Mausi’s families?” he says. Yadav has already completed one Marathi, and is going to do a Bhojpuri film soon while talks are on for a Bengali and a Gujarati film.

Quite evidently, Yadav is none too happy if he is described as a comedian. Call him one, and he would reply, “These days Akshay Kumar, Salman Khan, all are doing comedy. I have never been afraid of an image, whether it is of a comedian or not. But I am very grateful to people of this country, because Main Madhuri Dixit… was released three weeks after Hungama, and while my character in the first made people cry, the one in the second made people roll with laughter. I passed in that examination with 100 per cent mark. Whenever there has been an occasion that I would be stuck in an image, by the grace of gods and of my guruji Panditji Prabhakarji Shashtri, I would get one role that would reverse that. That is my struggle – I don’t’ have to prove it to anybody, and I will break the image you want to tie me down with.” And then he proceeds to the name the kind of characters he has portrayed – comic, positive, negative, small, big, guest appearance.

The man, who started his career doing theatre in Lucknow and then graduated from NSD before shifting to Mumbai, strongly believes that nobody can show reality better than media. But in illusion of reality, which is cinema and theatre, the emotions are shown with a touch of entertainment.

“The effort is to give society something through entertainment,” he says, giving the example of “Yeh Mera India”. “Today who will do what is decided by the script, unlike earlier when people would go by image. We would betray our art if we don’t go by the demand of the art. There are two kinds of comedies – one to make people laugh and the other to make people’s minds laugh. How to balance it is important,” pontificates the actor whose upcoming flicks include Do Knot Disturb, Chai Garam, Banda Yeh Bindass Hain and Fauj mein Mauj.

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 27-09-2009)


Shanti Mantras carry a power of their own: Bhargav Mistry

By Utpal Borpujari

Shivoham is a band with industrial designer-cum-Sarod exponent Bhargav Mistry at its centre. After its successful album Shankara, which musically explored poems of Adi Shankaracharya, Shivoham is now back with another album that concentrates on ancient Shanti Mantras. The purpose of the album released by Silk Road Communications, says Mistry, is to re-interpret and transmit to the new generation some of the oldest prayers of mankind which have travelled from generation to generation through an unbroken chain of oral transmission. The album is the result of collaboration of an international group of musicians. It has French Saxophonist Luc Joly, Iranian composer/performer Pedram Derakhshani who has played the Daf, Iranian Sitar and Iranian Santoor, and Korean master Kim Jung Wook who has contributed to some of the tracks with instruments like Kayagum, Aejang, Daegum, Haegum and deep low drums. Mistry speaks with Deccan Herald’s Utpal Borpujari on the philosophy behind the album:

Is this album a sequel to Shankara?

Yes, this is a sequel, but I wanted to give it a different musical treatment in comparison with Shivoham Shankara. While the first album was only Sarod, voice and keyboard, here there are tracks with orchestral music, oriental instruments. I have kept a few tracks that bridge these two albums, musically. This album is more of a travelogue with a lot of inspirations coming in from my visit to South Korea on music tours.

What exactly are Shanti Mantras, and how they are important musically?

These are from the Upanishads, each of which is associated with a Shanti mantra. They are used at the beginning and end of spiritual rituals and their function is to bring about peace and a higher level of consciousness to the performer as well as the listener. When these are recited in a proper meter, pronunciation, rhythm and intonation, they carry a power of their own, independent of the person uttering them.

The album comes with the accompanying text of the mantras in a booklet. Why was that necessary?

Universal Music is planning to release this album in several countries and so we thought it prudent to give some explanations and meanings of these Sanskrit verses.

What kind of experience you have while composing music around such ancient hymns?

It is indeed soul satisfying. And challenging. To put ancient verses into a musical form with an aim to enhance its feeling is indeed a challenging task. It is subjective and different people will have different approaches, and the results we can see on the music shelves. My aim was to internalise the meanings and provide what I thought was an appropriate musical ambience to it. The music itself must induce a feeling of peace and calm.

What has been your experience from working on such albums and what kind of response you have received from listeners?

Experience of working with different musical cultures of the world has given one a wider perspective and understanding of it. The basic notes are the same but the presentations are different, as are their instruments. So it is fun and rewarding to work with various cultures of music. It is difficult for me to tell about response of all the listeners, but at least those I have met or interacted with over media, give very positive responses. Generally no one criticizes when in direct communication, but when my publisher strongly approves of it, I know it has great value worldwide.

Do you see a difference in the acceptance of such albums between Indian and foreign listeners?

The overall response from both Indian and foreign listener is similar: compositions which induce a feeling of peace and timelessness. The Indian listener further may try to associate each composition with Raga scales and if some do not strictly adhere to it, they may comment. In reality most of the compositions are more general from music point of view, and do not elaborate as a classical music presentation. In the earlier album, however, all six were strictly based on Ragas. This album has a more general musicality with a number of musicians being from various parts of the world.

This is not the first time that you have worked on ancient hymns. What kind of experience you undergo when you start working on them? Are you scared, apprehensive, or anything else when you start to work on them at first?

One lesson I’ve learnt from Ustad Amjad Ali Khan is confidence.  It’s the music idea that flows through you and we’re just the media for it.  As long as we don’t offend the note (swar), there’s nothing to fear. He often says, `Swar hi Ishwar hei’.  For the correct intonation of Sanskrit, I was lucky to be able to take advice and blessings of Swami Vivitatmanand who was so kind as to speak out each verse and explain their meanings. I consulted with him at various stages of development to seek his approval. In fact his voice also has been recorded in one of tracks

From industrial design to setting ancient mantras to music for new-age listeners, how has been the journey so far for you? And has your decision to live in Udaipur, rather than a metro that could have given you much more visibility in media, been an advantage for you in creating your kind of music?

For me, the journey in design and music has been parallel. Design for me is music, just as much as music is design.  Earlier I was living in Ahmedabad, a much bigger place than Udaipur. This gave me good time to work on music. It’s the peace and quiet and beauty of this place that often is inspiring. True, if one was in a metro, there could have been a better visibility. But then, who knows, the priorities might have been different!

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 26-09-2009)


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