Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Be blunt about your tresses

The spanking new salon in Bangalore is all set to spruce you up and let your tresses do the talking. 
Picture this. You walk into India’s largest (read 6000 sq ft) ‘b:blunt’ salon, near Garuda Mall on Magrath Road and you are welcomed by a handsome guy, looking casual chic in a pair of blue jeans, a white tee, with garters hanging loose on the sides, a grey hat and piercing deep blue eyes that look right into yours waiting to pamper you. 

The only thing that can steal your gaze from his is the hot pink that’s thrown around in the form of butterflies in a separate Blow-Out bar, or the fuchsia colour of the AC duct or the pink lamp shades that add the spunk to an otherwise black, white, grey and steel themed salon. There are separate rooms for Kerastase hair spas and another one for Manicure, Pedicure and Facials. 

Run by Adhuna Bhabani Akhtar (she is Farhan Akhtar’s wife who has made a mark in the hairdressing industry for 20 years on her own) and Osh Bhabani, b:blunt is a brand that has made its mark in snipping, straightening and styling hordes of socialites and film stars’ manes. 

Deepika Padukone who was flown down to launch the salon recently vouched for her tresses being snipped by Adhuna for a movie. After I surrendered mine to the care of Brent Barber, the salon’s chief hairdresser, I knew just what she meant. 

Brent Barber
Piqued by Brent’s surname, I can’t help but inquire; “It came from my grandfather who was a barber”, he says. After asking keen questions about my lifestyle and the kind of clothes and accessories I like, Brent suggests a layered look, as I didn’t want to go short on the length. (Haircuts start at Rs 650 upwards here).

Brent who began his hairdressing career over 17 years ago in his home city of Melbourne, says, “I was all of 14 when I knew I wanted to make a career out of hairdressing. At that age, it was the creative streak that I could give vent to with people’s hair that led me in.” “It was also the fact that I could come to work dressed quirky and cool,” quips Brent with his charming smile.

It was ultimately the bright lights of London that kept him going strong till his big break in 2005 when he won the title of ‘British Men’s Hairdresser of the Year’. Styling the rich and famous and the bold and the beautiful - from the sublime Agyness Deyn and Kiran Rao to the ridiculous Rowan Atkinson to big wigs like cricket legend Shane Warne - it has been an interesting journey for Brent who is now all set to explore the Bangalore waters.

Walter who handles the Colour Bar and also trains people is full of interesting tales, post the success of the fun flick ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’; he shares, “I travelled to all shoot locations and as part of b:blunt, styled the complete look of the stars. We also did ‘Dil Chahta Hai’, ‘Dhoom 2’ and ‘Rock On’ and now we are going to be working on ‘Don 2’.”

If you are worried about being in or out with the current trend, fret not; Brent assures, “It’s never generic. Every colour and cut can’t be industrial, it has to be for the individual, it has to be tailored for you.” His words reflect his firm belief in ideas, his passion, hard work and dedication in ensuring a consistency in offering the latest trends, qualities which have put Adhuna, Osh Bhabani, Avan Contractor and Brent at the top of their profession today. 

- Namita Gupta/ Raintree Media Features/ www.raintreemedia.com  
Read the story in Goa Herald on link below  

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Sunday with a soul

An eclectic mix of food, clothing, music, fashion & accessories were up for grabs at the Sunday Soul Santhe or fair at the famous Palace Grounds in Bangalore. 
Perhaps people are bored with air-conditioned malls but there was genuine appreciation of the laid-back open-air bazaar, with glitterati and tweeple finding common ground in the bargain hunt. One of the most well-attended events in Bangalore, the Santhe in its fourth edition was essentially a Sunday carnival that brought Bangalore’s creative culture all at one venue. 

An effort to blend or bring together creative potential of artistes and designers in the city and even some from across the country, it was created by Asha Rao and reflected her warmth and attention to detail. 

Rao, who has been doing Soul Santhe since 2010, says that the event is also an avenue for people to relax and have fun as well as to encourage Indian culture, craftsmanship, artists and heritage. 

The hot Sunday afternoon was ideal for chilled beer, but though Kingfisher was the main sponsor, it did not retail beer, as an alcohol ban had been imposed at the Palace Grounds. A bit strange but then, such arbitrary decisions have come to be the norm in Bangalore. The thirsty crowd found succour in eating ice creams. 

Delhi-based TooSid's hand-painted t-shirts at the Santhe 
Some of the quirky and creative stalls at Santhe were of Glasshopper which creates objet d‘arts out of old broken glass, and Pitaraa which retailed a nice line of accessories like wallets and funky bracelets. Pitaraa even pegged social media for people who bought their products, featuring them on their Facebook page. Pitaraa was started by Rachana Nagranee in 2010; it currently retails in Bangalore and plans to expand this year to Delhi, Mumbai and Pune. TooSid from Delhi was another worthy mention with its hand-painted, out-of-the-box t-shirts inspired by eye-catching motifs. 

Amongst the hottest haunts at the venue was the Counter-Culture space. Founded by Vishwaraj Mohan, Counter-Culture is a new open space with a bar and restaurant located on the outskirts of Bangalore just outside the bustling IT area of Whitefield. At the Soul Santhe, Counter-Culture allowed fellow artists to relax and sell their wares, besides curating the music for the evening. The music featured popular names like DJ Ivan and upcoming artists like Arjun Chandran and Aman Mahajan.

It’s another matter that the skies opened up and poured down, putting the Santhe fun on momentary hold, but then such is Bangalore’s weather.

With an entry fee of Rs 49/- Sunday Soul Santhe is certainly my pick of things to do if you ever happen to be in Bangalore during its occurrence. 

- Aditya Mendonca/ Raintree Media Features 
Read the story in Goa Herald on link below

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Boy meets girl, err, girls

With ‘Lifeu istene’, Kannada film industry has joined the new breed of Indian films that are fresh, realistic and entertaining. After the bad press evoked by l’affaire Darshan across the country for Sandalwood in general, this is indeed good news for the industry. 
Lifeu istene poster
The directorial debut by Pawan Kumar is running to packed houses and it is not the urbane audience in Bangalore alone but those in smaller cities and towns that are also applauding the film. Its title translates roughly to “this is all that life is about”, approximating to the emphatic French “c’est la vie”. 

The premise is simple: the hero, hottie Diganth Shetty, keeps falling in love with a succession of girls. He feels each infatuation deeply as he is a decent chap at heart and not a womaniser. The story charts his growing up years and his weaning from the obsession with romance. Life is surprising and so is this film. I will not reveal all on the off chance that some of you, dear readers, might get to see it. 

Pawan has done justice to every character and has taken trouble to add nuances to each of them. The hero’s parents are lovable and ditsy, with the Mother encouraging the son to woo his love on Valentine’s Day. Pawan told me that they were the kind of parents he would have liked to have had. 

A still from the movie
It is mercifully free of hard-to-believe fisticuffs; even the mandatory dream sequence songs shot in picturesque Ladakh are done tastefully. 

I must confess that we only went to watch the film as we know one of the female leads, Samyukta. This young collegian essays a character that is pretty close to her real life. Her family is rooted in theatre and films; her grandmother Bhargavi Belawadi and mother Sudha act in TV serials, her uncle Prakash Belawadi is a director, actor (read my Wordpress blog for my review of his recent play) and journalist, another uncle, Pradeep is an expert in lights. Her late grandfather Nani was legendary for his skills in make-up. 

Samyukta Belawadi
Her father MG Satya is the go-to man for shoots – be it films or tv commercials. He is the author of the Swades script. Samyukta carries the weight of this impressive pedigree lightly and has acquitted herself with ease in this first film. 

The film though belongs to the director; he has brought in unusual elements such as a quartet of musicians and dancers who appear at crucial times. The music is remarkable too, offering an amazing contrast with modern lyrics sung in the style of folksongs. 

Pawan was a theatre actor himself in Bangalore and Mumbai before switching over to filmmaking. After learning the ropes making corporate films, he started working with filmmaker Yograj Bhat. Pawan wrote the scripts for three films after which Yograj offered to produce a film that Pawan could script and direct. 

Director, Pawan Kumar
“I wrote and rejected four scripts; I know from experience that only a story that appeals to the youth can be successful. I got married last year and one day, my friends and I were reminiscing over the crushes that we had when were younger. Over time, those infatuations hardly seemed as devastating as they felt when they went wrong. This script grew from that conversation”. 

He admits to apprehensions before the release about the movie going over people’s heads. Weeks after, this happy man said to me, “I don’t think that film makers need to dumb it down for the Kannada film audience anymore”.

Now if he only sub-titles it and sends it across the country, he might be equally pleasantly surprised with the reaction. He feels that Kannada filmdom might oppose the move to have English sub-titles; I wonder why. In fact in a cosmopolitan city like Bangalore, it would spur people to understand and learn Kannada. To argue my point, I only need to point to Hindi films and songs that do far more to teach the language than lessons in school.

- Sandhya Mendonca 
Sandhya Mendonca writes a weekly column for Herald Goa. View the story on Herald on the link below

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

In The Pink of health

A 100% vegan kitchen, an array of fresh organic produce at its ready disposal and eco-friendly interiors – this ‘Healthy Cooking Workshop’ could not have wished for a better setting than Bangalore’s ‘In The Pink Organic Bazaar & Restaurant’. 
Dr Nandita Shah shows how its done
In The Pink which offers Bangaloreans the unique experience of eating and shopping organic, played the perfect host to SHARAN’s latest of vegan food programmes last week. SHARAN (Sanctuary for Health and Reconnection to Animals and Nature) is a non-profit organisation based in Auroville, Puducherry, working to spread holistic health and ecologically sustainable lifestyle awareness through seminars, training programmes and live cooking workshops across the country since the last six years. 

On Saturday, the earthy interior of the restaurant – characterised by Atthangudi floor tiles, wooden columns and bamboo chick blinds – was abuzz with housewives, fitness experts, students, professors, writers, entrepreneurs and media professionals with one common interest – healthy, vegan food. In the next three hours, SHARAN’s Dr Nandita Shah literally had them eating out of her hands as she served up a sumptuous four-course meal with twelve dishes whose preparations would have knocked the socks out of any meat-eating or fast-food fanatic. The words you are looking for here is ‘zero oil and zero animal product’ – yes, not even dairy! 

The delicious spread
And the winners were: three kinds of salads, nut milk, nut cheese, nut butter, Shepherd’s Pie with mince soya nuggets and nut cheese crust, stuffed lady’s fingers, dry beans (poriyal), daal makhni with nut butter, sprouts-and-veggie patty and banana ice cream without the cream. Prepared without a single drop of oil or any animal product, the dishes were baked (not in a microwave), steamed or simply roasted. Assisting Dr Shah along her gastronomic journey was the eager restaurant staff and the participants. 
Participants lend a helping hand
Interspersed with nuggets of information and tips, the interactive workshop made for the perfect induction to new age cooking. A highlight was when Dr Shah passed around her very own substitute for milk cheese – cashew nut cheese. Ground into a paste and fermented over 2-3 days, it smelled like cheese and tasted, well, almost like cheese but nuttier. The amazement was quickly followed by apprehensions on the high calorie content and cholesterol production which was as quickly assuaged: “No plant ever produces cholesterol”. 

“This workshop is about how to cook food we eat daily in a healthier way, it’s all about techniques. You can eat as much as you want as long as you eat in the right way. We endorse plant-based, whole foods,” explained Dr Shah. 

A 100% vegan since the last eight years, she took up the cause of healthy eating seriously after she helped a 70-year-old heart patient cut down her medication from a page-full to a quarter of a tablet in two months and later, a 21-year-old diabetic to cut down his insulin intake from thrice a day to none at all in just three days! 

“It was beyond my wildest expectations! That’s how we got the guts to start our 21-day reversal programme.” 

One among SHARAN’s several offerings, the 21-day residential programme for reversal of illnesses like diabetes and heart diseases is held at Swaswara Resort in Gokarna, just five hours from Goa. The patient is introduced to a healthy food guide while daily blood sugar level and blood pressure tests are conducted. “They can see their achievement with lab reports to vouch for it. A patient cut down 70% of the medication. Of course, there is no real reason that everyone needs a 21-day programme. You attend a cooking class like this, a seminar, try a few recipes from our website and you can do it right at home. The reason why 21 days is because it is the minimum it takes to change a habit.” 

Host for the day, G Paneesh Rao, MD, In The Pink
For SHARAN’s amicable host for the day, G Paneesh Rao, MD In The Pink, the experience was in tune with his own mantra in life. “In The Pink was envisaged when I started consuming organic produce myself and felt the difference. I wanted to make such an experience available to other Bangaloreans. 

Lots of people ask me why a restaurant and a store together: well, someone who is not familiar with organic food will have lot of questions when he or she walks in. Our solution: taste the food and then buy the produce. Simple.”



- Remuna Rai/ Raintree Media Features

Monday, September 19, 2011

Love is in this Shack

Love Shack has captured the fancy of Bangaloreans as much with its name as with its ambience. This bamboo and thatched roof al fresco pub clearly bends to the vein of those Goan shacks. Four floors above ground, open to starlit sky terrace, the beach-styled pub faces a tech park with night-lights on palm trees. The ambience urges one to kick off the shoes and loll on the mattresses. 

Himesh Arora at the Love Shack
Love Shack the lounge bar, besides some interesting cocktails, serves innovative Maa Ki Daal Pizza and Tandoori Chicken Pizza; these seem to a big hit along with the attractive price. Its twin, the Tandoori Hippie serves authentic North-Indian cuisine. 

Tarun Arora at the Tandoori Hippie
Started by brothers Tarun and Himesh Arora, who have made their mark in their fields of acting, modelling and photography, the Goan themed lounge bar and Punjabi dhaba are first of many they plan to open. 

Tarun played the role of Kareena Kapoor’s dream lover Anshuman in the runaway success ‘Jab We Met’ and after spending 15 years in the modelling and acting industry, joined hands with brother Himesh Arora, a popular face in Bangalore’s party circuit to enter the hospitality industry. 

Says Tarun, “My modelling and acting stints took me to various parts of the world and during my travels I liked trying out new restaurants and setting up my own restaurant was always at the back of my mind. I was sated with modelling. After acting in films like ‘Sheen’, ‘19 Revolution’, ‘Ghutan’, I had moved to Bangalore to set up my restaurant venture when I got the call for ‘Jab We Met’. They signed me up in half an hour and I realised that it’s best to do just one quality role once a year than do many small ones.” Tarun is a hotel management graduate and along with Himesh had been advising friends who had set up their own ventures. 
Himesh says, “I was officially behind setting up The Beach and also was a partner in the Ivy on Outer Ring Road. We come from a business family and decided that it was time to realise our concepts”. To Himesh goes the credit of starting the ladies nights on Wednesdays many years ago, offering free or concessional prices on drinks for women, a concept that’s now firmly in place in all the bars in the city. 
While Tarun handles the design, personnel and food, Himesh handles the business development, sales and promotions. “We are planning to set up at least three more restaurants and pubs in the city. We also plan to set up more diners and lounges in Goa, Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune and Hyderabad,” avers Himesh. 

Tarun adds, “Our USP is a casual, fun place, nothing uptight or stiff, where anyone young or old need not feel out of place, whether you’re dressed in black tie or even your track pants or shorts”.

- Namita Gupta / Raintree Media Features

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Elegant messengers of peace and harmony

One of the virtues of the Raj Bhavan is that it hosts programmes that need an influential platform. And what better cause than that of music which soothes troubled souls?

Purani Dilli or old Delhi was for a few hours transplanted to Bangalore as against the backdrop image of the Red Fort, an elegant and gentle evening unfolded before an intimate and receptive audience. The setting was apt, at the impressive Banquet Hall of the Raj Bhavan, and we were treated to mellifluous music, poetry recitals and a dramatic narration that brought alive a by-gone era.
 The overwhelming sentiment was of peace and harmony. “Culture is the greatest tool in building bridges and promoting understanding between communities”, says Mr. Zafar Saifullah, Trustee of the India Harmony Foundation and former Cabinet Secretary.

Today’s sad reality is that the fragile fabric of accord is increasingly being torn asunder. Voices of reason are drowned by shrill rhetoric that guarantees megabytes of news time. All the more reason then for movements like these which seek to spread their message gently, through music and dance.

“Indians, deep in their hearts, earn for the old days of social harmony” is Mr Saifullah’s belief, firmly shared by his wife, the graceful and charming Kulsoom.

The Purani Dilli show celebrates an era when culture and harmony was at its peak – the time of the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, 1775 –1862.
The last Mughal’s kingdom did not extend beyond the Red Fort; most of the Mughal territory was taken over by the British. Zafar set out to conquer the minds and hearts of the people through literature, poetry, music and art. The forty years of his rule saw the meeting of diverse cultures and traditions in India.

Explaining the theme, Kulsoom says, “Bahadur Shah Zafar understood the role of culture in promoting universal harmony. He was a distinguished poet and his court comprised of a galaxy of poets such as Zauq, Mir, Dagh, Momin and the redoubtable Ghalib”.

The show is a paean of praise to the philosopher – king, whose work covers a gamut of emotions ranging from romance to philosophy to pathos. With his encouragement of all forms of art and architecture, Dilli had for a few brief moments attained the pinnacle of glory celebrating the grace of the human spirit. The courteous manner of life, music and food of that era belong to all Indians of diverse faiths and regions, the Saifullahs believe and this is what the show affirms.

With a moving introduction to Urdu by Prof Urshila Chanana, the narration by Salima Raza was captivating. The soaring voice of Reni Singh moved from pathos to hope with Bangalore’s own Roshan rendering robust Qawwalis.

The abridged recreation of the full-fledged cultural show flirted at the boundaries of the elegiac, but did not sink into a lament for times past. There was nostalgia yes, as the words and music spoke about a gentler era of yore. It certainly whetted our appetite for another show that is on the cards.

- Sandhya Mendonca (Sandhya Mendonca writes a weekly column for the Herald Goa)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Spinning silken dreams

With an in-house designer whipping out unique creations based on their choice of fabric, Bangaloreans are flocking to the Sara Silk Store.

Have you ever found yourself clutching at a beautiful piece of fabric you paid through your nose for, fearing what lies at the other end of your tailor’s glistening scissors – sheer divinity or pure horror? Highly unlikely, if you are a regular at Bangalore’s Sara Silk Store.

Located on the up-market Museum Road, the Sara Silk Store retails in high-end fabrics ranging from the finest silk and silk-blended fabrics to crepes, nets, chiffons and georgette to the exquisite French chiffon and French Chantilly lace. And diligently churning out most fabulous designs based on these fabrics to woo customers with is a young fashion designer, tucked away in the back quarters of the store.

Oblivious to her modest surroundings - a plain wooden table inside a narrow room barely enough to fit two people at the same time - 21-year-old Aloka Gloria D’Souza eagerly flips through a thick stack of papers, proudly exhibiting her creations spun with nothing but water colours and a vivid imagination.
In a nutshell, Aloka’s job is to help customers visualise a desired fabric in a desired outfit – be it a salwar-kameez, ghagra-choli, saree, evening gown or even bridal trousseaus. This way the customer is saved any regret later (or the heart-pounding anxiety referred to earlier), while the store gains a satisfied patron. 
Aloka at work
Aloka explains her unique role, “Sara has so many different fabrics in several varieties that people tend to get confused. Many times, the customers are apprehensive of how it may shape out in a particular outfit or in a mix-and-match with another fabric; sometimes, they fall in love with the fabric but don’t know what to do with it. That’s where I step in.” 

“I sketch the designs for different fabrics and combinations and keep them ready for customer reference, but many times customers have asked us to create something especially for them based on the chosen fabric. We once had a Bengali woman picking a fabric for her wedding saree. All she knew was that it had to be in red-and-green with an embroidered velvet pallu. I came up with a silk brocade ensemble which she loved.”

The brainwave for such an in-house designer is that of Suraj Devatha and his cousin Vivek who started the Sara Silk Store together. It is the first retail unit of Niranjan Silk Palace, an established silk wholesaler, manufacturer and exporter in Bangalore. 

“We wanted to expand the family business and start something new. Unlike Bangalore, Delhi and Punjab have many stores retailing exclusively in silk materials and whom we supply to. We’ve seen their roaring success and we wanted to recreate something like that here. There are a lot of misconceptions about silk - people think silk is only for traditional outfits but there is so much more you can use it for, such as Western wear. We also wanted to educate people about silk,” explains Suraj. 

- Remuna Rai/ Raintree Media Features/ www.raintreemedia.com 

Desi Silicon Valley Dreams Big

This city’s lack of infrastructure gets so much flak, and has been doing so for several years now that one has to admire the grit and perseverance of companies that continue to function as well as they do. It is this same ‘can-do’ spirit that perhaps prompted the Confederation of Indian Industry to have as the theme of the Seventh India Innovation Summit ‘Making Bangalore the innovation hub of Asia’. 
Just before the conference, a financial daily quoted local technology companies who repeated in unison what they have been saying for most of the last decade. This city, once touted as the desi Silicon Valley, has lost ground to others outside the state. 

How long can its celebrated weather and the cosmopolitan tag remain attractive? For businesses to survive and thrive, they need infrastructure – give us power, water, roads - is the common refrain that successive governments of varying political hues have become deaf to. The new BJP Chief Minister DV Sadananda Gowda made the same assurances but one can’t expect him, lame duck as he is portrayed to be, to really do much. But who knows, he might well surprise us, and one can live on hope. 
Industry does that remarkably well; Dr. Sridhar Mitta, who left Wipro to start NextWealth, a social enterprise that takes IT to tier-2 and 3 cities, is confident that Bangalore will soon give birth to a company like Google or Microsoft. “Innovation comes out of adverse conditions and India is a good place for it because of the chaos”. Businesses do well in spite of the government, he repeated.

I really wish that this were not so. We have a few enormously successful businesses driven by NewGen technocrats. Imagine how many more would have come up if the government had the right attitude? How much faster would have been their growth?

Instead of listening to snide remarks about lack of original ideas, the homegrown companies that have now set their sights on scaling up the value chain, would have perhaps already incubated original business ideas.

The good news is that the spotlight is on R & D and on an ecosystem that supports innovations. Large multinational technology companies are already at it. Cisco’s ‘smart campus’ is its showcase to global customers and Yahoo India’s R & D centre here is its second largest globally. Dr Praveen Vishakantaiah, President, Intel Technology India proudly pointed out that India is quoted as a model within the global operations of Intel.

Talent has been scarce with a lack of domain expertise especially in the higher levels, and several companies said they were working with universities to up the knowledge quotient. Representatives from universities who need these companies to hire their students were in plenty at the session.

Researchers also need soft skills, as it is critical for them to sell their ideas internally and many engineering students used to be not very good at doing this. This seems to be changing too, going by Yahoo’s VP and CEO Yahoo India R &D Shouvick Mukherjee who said that he has seen a positive change in how young recruits articulate their goals.

More PhDs and more patents will place Bangalore and India as an innovation hub. Now all we need is the political will to ensure that labs that are currently unused for lack of power and water can work at peak capacity.

- Sandhya Mendonca (Sandhya Mendonca writes a weekly column for OHeraldo Goa)

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Fresh, innovative & funky sounds

Dualist Inquiry’s grinding progressive electronica, combined with some pretty good guitar solos has a growing fan following across India. Guitarist, composer and producer, Sahej Bakshi, chose the name Dualist Inquiry because it represents his personal belief in the idea of dualism, an “encapsulating philosophy” that “these extremes are always balancing and cancelling each other out”.

Dualist Inquiry kicked up a storm of a crowd at Bangalore’s best Drum & Bass venue, Bacchus. With a different vibe, the crowd was electric and totally entertained.
Sahej Bakshi in performance
Bakshi is different from other electronica musicians; he’s often called Delhi’s missing Moby, he composes and produces each and every track during his live performance.On stage, the 24 year old, in addition to busting out beats from behind his laptop (with the aid of his trusty sequencer, the Native Instruments Machine), he also plays the guitar. But the electro-rock sounds do not stick to any one genre; Bakshi has been known to jump styles “I’ve stopped caring about genres, as a rule of life”.

Bakshi who learned to play guitar at age nine, formed a school rock band with actor-musician Imaad Shah while they were at Doon School in Dehradun. Bakshi was exposed to a world of electronic music that shook him out of his rock foundations. In 2005, he began working with music production software to create a sound of distinct, rock- influenced electronica. He graduated from the Thornton Music School at USC in Los Angeles, CA.

Since returning to Delhi in March 2010, Bakshi has been touring India extensively, in addition to being selected to perform at the Berlin Music Week in Sept 2010. He was ranked No.1 nationally in the Burn Sasha Tour remix competition (2010) and was the Second Runner Up in the MTV Submerge Ultimate Pro DJ Championship 2010.

Excerpts from an interview:
What is Dualist Inquiry? 
Dualist Inquiry started as my way of chronicling my life experiences when I was just writing music in my dorm room in college. But now it’s started shaping my life in return, so it’s quite interesting to think about the change of perspective. I need my songs to have a friendly, groovy, percussive beat to them, and a certain degree of the repetitive electronic element.

What are your views on the EDM scene in India - the current state and how you would like to see it evolve? 
Currently, the Indian EDM scene in India is at a very special juncture, where people in large numbers are beginning to take electronic and other music very seriously, both in a musical and business sense Increasingly, Indian music fans are taking a serious look at Indian bands (which are not playing covers anymore) and finding that they quite like what they see.

Two DJs / songs that your currently Digg? 
Gramatik – ‘So much to love’
Opiou - ‘Robo Boty’

Tell us about the latest EP “Dualism” - what can new listeners expect from it? 
It’s got a personal meaning. To me, it’s a balance of how everything is composed. With this EP, I've tried to represent myself as truly and fairly as an artist as I possibly can. There’s some chillout, there’s some midtempo, there’s some party music, and there’s some concrete spoken thoughts to chew on. Listeners can expect to hear four tracks that are very closely related to each other, yet very distant in some very obvious ways.

Bakshi believes there’s no better place for an Indian indie musician than India right now. “Being Indian, there was less meaning in my being in LA. Here, we’re starting something. Every year, there’s a new festival. I wanted to contribute to the scene here”.

- Aditya Mendonca/ Raintree Media Features/ www.raintreemedia.com 

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

This Little Cloud has a story to tell

Bangalore’s popular theatre Ranga Shankara’s innovative storytelling session is a welcome escape for TV-addicted children and their parents

Padmavati Rao or ‘Pinty Akka’ is the quintessential storyteller with long gypsy skirts, flowing tunics, silver bangles and a brilliant smile. She has previously conducted storytelling events for parents and children. Her ideal environment is one with minimal audio-visual noise.
As Rao makes the room come alive with the sounds of the animals in her tales, “ooh”s and “aah”s escape the children’s lips. The walls seem to burst with brilliant colours painted by the imagination of the children, as the words conjure up images with the strokes of her emphatic fingertips. With the sunlight pouring in from the large windows, the children are free to curl up or sprawl out as they please. 

Rao treated curious youngsters with her animated storytelling at Ranga Shankara’s ‘Little Cloud’. It is the newest offering from the AHA!, a programme of Ranga Shankara which aims to bring theatre in all of its forms to the younger generation. The storytelling session was conducted over two weekends and elicited an enthusiastic response from parents and children alike. A series of four sessions with Rao and Abhishek Majumdar for children aged 4 to 9, it was a relief to parents looking for a weekend educational activity for their kids. 
“We subtly teach children what is generally not learnt in a school setting,” says Rao. She believes in giving her audience creative space and indulges the kids in a clay-molding activity. “Unlike most storytellers, I’m not hooked into having my audience’s eyes locked with mine.” 

Folk tales or family lores, stories have always intrigued children of generations past, whether narrated by their grandmothers, parents or by the vagrant passing their town. History was narrated so colourfully through these tales giving them an awareness of their present. Until a few decades ago, children were accustomed to curling up in their parents’ lap and listening to stories. Stories not only had the power to broaden a child’s imagination but to inspire and heal them.

With the onset of the digital age, children are glued to the TV, and a dry narration of a story does not interest them. It is now becoming difficult to narrate stories without being sceptical of their child’s response. Rao herself was once confused when a parent asked, “How does one narrate a story?” She replied very simply that she had grown up listening to stories from her father and that he had passed it on to her.
In her sessions, Rao takes the stories she’s been brought up with and recreates them, retaining the essence. Sustaining a child’s interest is difficult, she agrees, but voice and the rhythm of the story can engage the attention of any child. Her folk tales are not merely moral stories, but tales from around India. She wants to highlight the pleasure of being, while maintaining the distinctiveness of who we are and where we come from.

“I was used to waking up in the morning and seeing rangolis being drawn on our porch - where is our culture reflected in the homes we live in now?” she questions.

For Rao, it is important to uphold the storytelling heritage. “Stories are like dreams; they help us retain the belief that even dreams are possible.”

- Huma Mariam Hussain/ Raintree Media Features/ www.raintreemedia.com 

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

A French love affair with Indian fabrics

Flowing dresses, smart jackets, elegant trousers and exquisite scarves of the finest silk in delicious colours, from fuschia to emerald to peach to sapphire, adorned with intricate hand-embroidery, sequin work and block prints– these are some trademark creations of ‘Takla Makan’, a Pondicherry-based French design label inspired by the rich heritage of Indian fabrics. 
Melissa models one of her creations
Melissa de Valera started Takla Makan in 2008 with her partner, following a ten-year love affair with Indian fabrics which began while studying her Masters in Indian Studies at the Sorbonne University of Paris. Her course work subsequently brought her to India where exposure to the rich culture of fabrics and local craftsmanship spurred the decision to pursue a double Masters, this time in Textile Design. Melissa sought the National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad for her the final year submissions - two projects in Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan. 

That was in 2002. Melissa then spent the next six years, travelling across India, working with traditional craftsmen - an experience which eventually gave birth to Takla Makan.

“I was compelled with a strong desire to help the local craftsmen and promote and help sustain this rich heritage. That is the idea behind Takla Makan,” says the designer. Takla Makan has tied up with NGOs to work with weavers in Himachal Pradesh and Chattisgarh, block printers in Rajasthan and Gujarat and kantha embroiderers in West Bengal’s Murshidabad district. “It is more expensive to get the work done in these places but the money goes into education of their children so it is more satisfying.” 
Quiz her on the choice of name for her label and she blurts out: “It means ‘bald house’ in Hindi!” Upon the puzzling look evoked by her answer, she explains, smiling, “The Takla Makan desert lies on the ancient Silk Route and that holds significance for me since I use a lot of silk in my designs. Also, this name was easier for people to pronounce, as opposed to a French name.” That certainly makes more sense.

Coming back to the clothes, while traditionally designers think up a particular design before choosing the fabric, with Melissa, it’s the fabric which inspires her designs. “It’s because I am originally a textile designer. I buy a fabric and the design follows. This is also why most of my garments are unique pieces or are very limited editions.”

She confesses that at times, it takes her as long as an entire year to conceptualise the design. “I have sat with some fabrics for a very long time – sometimes an entire year. I’ll be just sitting, waiting for the design to click and meanwhile not daring to cut the fabric because I don’t want to ruin it. Sometimes, the idea just comes instantly.” 

With her fascination for fabrics, Melissa couldn’t have been wished for a better muse than India. “I am lucky to be in a place which has such a rich history and variety of textiles and traditional craftsmanship. I try to use Indian fabrics in a different way, mixing in my sense of aesthetics and colours which are more subtle than what you see in traditional Indian outfits.”

Besides silk, she also works with wool, cotton and other natural fabrics. “I purchase the silk mostly from Delhi and Chattisgarh and more recently, from the Sara Silk Store in Bangalore which has great fabrics and colours. The silk in Tamil Nadu is very heavy and they don’t fold as well for the kind of clothes I work with. Also, the colours here are brighter than what I usually prefer.”

Apart from the workshop-cum-showroom in Pondicherry, Takla Makan has a retail outlet in Coimbatore. Abroad, it has a showroom in Paris and also retails in Belgium and Germany.
“In Pondicherry, my clientele is mainly foreigners and people from Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. So far, we have focused on export, but for the near future, we are looking at retailing in the Indian metros which have great market potential.”

Takla Makan, 222 Lal Bahadur Shastri Street, Pondicherry 605001, T: 0413 4308372
- Remuna Rai/ Raintree Media Features/ www.raintreemedia.com

Monday, September 05, 2011

Tech that!

Fusion Lounge, touted as the world’s first fully automated pub, is set to leave Bangalore techies dizzy with its sophistication

Jim Morrison had to croon,” Well, show me the way to the next whiskey bar, oh don’t ask why. For if we don't find the next whiskey bar, I tell you we must die.” But our techies couldn’t have got it better than one bang in the midst of the technology park that houses some of the city’s swankiest IT companies.

Embassy Golf Links is touted to be Bangalore’s landmark, what with Fusion Lounge, spread over multiple portable bars, with an indoor hi-tech lounge bar and an al fresco seating area overlooking the greens. A Turnstile entry from the food court to the bar is equipped with a face scan/Rfid card and a thumb card reader. First timers are issued a Swipe card that bears all your personal details, so the next time you walk in your details are already in store, including your music, tipple and food preferences. 
The experience is a marked departure from how most pubs in the country operate and might leave the geek in you breathless. Pick your choice of music from an iPad, or let the automated DJ do the honours for you or better still, just get the karaoke mode on and sing along. For us, it had to be, “Tonight’s gonna be a good, good night”. Want to further indulge, get gaming with the 3D virtual gaming on the large audio visual screen. 
The ambiance is very upbeat with LED and neon lights giving the bar a very mystical touch. Black and white couch and bar stools facing the bar area make for chic interiors, while rocking swing seats outside allow for an intimate and relaxed drink with friends. 

You are here for the booze, of course. And you get it just right - not a drop less or more. Move to the auto bar where an automated cocktail and hard liquor dispenser will pour an exact amount of 30 ml needed for your drink, bidding goodbye to those days when you thought your drink could be less or more potent. Or even wondered if the bartender cheated on you and gave you 10 ml less. No wonder on the night we stopped by, our orders of a Sex on the Beach and a Mojito were spiked and mixed to perfection. 
For those who are wondering if they would miss a bartender’s touch need not fret, as they holler all around in black tees sporting LED name display. Once the machine pours the alcohol, the bartender then shakes and stirs it up and gives it that finishing touch. 
There is also an automated draught beer dispenser that chugs in just the amount needed for a bevel, mug or a pitcher if you please. Now that’s an ale adventure that might leave you feeling ale and hearty after a hard day’s night.

Lap up some more technology as you place your orders on the laptop order system that gets transferred straight to the auto kitchen through the android touch tablets. We called in for some Jalapeno Cheese Sticks which came highly recommended by the waiting staff and were crispy on the outside and the melt-in-the-mouth fries. The Prawn Kebabs that were served also surpassed our expectations. Also on offer is Sheekh Kebabs, Sausages, Rolls and Samosas besides the main course comprising Biryanis, Dal and Rotis, but that’s for our next visit.

- Namita Gupta/ Raintree Media Features/ www.raintreemedia.com

Saturday, September 03, 2011

“Politics is a man’s world but I’m a survivor”

Dressed in a cool cotton sari Margaret Alva is a picture of understated elegance. That is part of her charisma. For her, it’s not been important to be the most well-dressed woman in Parliament, or the most glamorous. “It’s your contribution ultimately that sets you out - your preparations, your participation in debates, your contribution to the committees”.
Her Excellency Ms Margaret Alva, Governor of Uttarakhand
She certainly has made valuable contributions, spearheading major legislative amendments for women's rights, marriage laws, equal remuneration and women’s reservation in local politics.

These days, as the benign Governor of Uttarakhand, she is non-partisan but having been the Minister for Women and Child Development in the Rajiv Gandhi cabinet and a power within the AICCI, who better to answer my queries about women and politics?

“Mahatma Gandhi was the first liberator because unknown women came out during the movement who after Independence became governors, ambassadors and ministers. Somehow after that, women began to fade out, and it was in 70s, after the International Decade for Women and UN initiatives that the focus on women in governance came about.”

“It’s a man’s world in politics. Many younger people were brought into the mainstream by Indira Gandhi directly - we owe our process of identification to her keen eye. We worked with the men and gradually made our own places. I worked for the party for 45 years, since 1969, and literally grew up in the party. It’s the Congress Party that has built me up, given me a platform and an opportunity to be what I am”.

Many would feel that coming from a political family was an advantage – Alva’s parents-in-law were both MPs – but Alva says the critical issue in politics is to survive and move up. “That requires lot of courage and accommodation. You have to learn to survive in a man’s world which means you can’t always have your way. You have to learn to take defeat and continue to work with the determination to survive”.

Survival is something that she knows; she’s lost electoral battles and she was removed from her post in the AICCI after charging that there were deals for seats within the party. The party however desisted from taking disciplinary action against her, and later appointed her to the ceremonial post of Governor of Uttarakhand.

She asserts, “I have survived all these years despite many efforts to pull me down. I was also a minority besides being a woman. I have seen both victory and defeat, but I think each step has made me stronger and as you asked, it was difficult at the beginning – being young, inexperienced but I think one has to have your feet firmly on the ground. Many get carried away by the glamour of politics. But if you are sensible, you are respected and you survive. There are no shortcuts in politics. You have to fight the battle and make your contribution”.

As Governor it’s an easier, retired, glamorous life but she seems energetic as ever; Alva holds programmes for street children and seminars on improving education and especially to bring uniform development between the plains and the hills in Uttarakhand. A seminar on reviving agriculture in the hills resulted in the Nainital Declaration which is now with the Planning Commission. “We also hope to make the old Raj Bhavan in Naintal into a heritage building. It has been an exciting two years and I’ve done more than I imagined”.

Somewhat wistfully, she admits to missing active politics. “I miss Delhi, the hustle and bustle of it; as the party’s General Secretary for five years, I used to travel to the states, I miss that. Now I’m writing my memoirs. I’ll be 70 next year, I think I have worked long enough”.

Is politics different now from the early days? “It is no longer considered a service, but a career where people want to move up like they would in the corporate world. That’s the problem”.

Alva says there’s a big difference between the two; politics is not just position, power and money, but a means of changing India. “Things won’t change if everybody wants to become a Minister and that’s the frustration in society today that has led to anti-corruption movements. The general perception is that all politicians are corrupt. The honest politician is considered a good-for-nothing”.

Now, she says, is the time for youth to introspect about getting into politics. “We need dedicated people who know the value of development and how to go about it and who are prepared to give their time and their professional training to change life in rural India”.

- Sandhya Mendonca (Sandhya Mendonca writes a weekly column for the Herald Goa)

Friday, September 02, 2011

Ré of hope

Artist Shan Ré’s latest exhibition is a retrospective of her ten-year journey of joy, wisdom, struggle, survival and hope

“I feel I have more wisdom than knowledge, more intuition than intellect and that I am more gifted than talented,” is how artist Shan Ré perceives her evolution over the last ten years. Her latest exhibition, titled ‘The Unfolding of the Self’, seeks to resurrect this period of her life.

The exhibition unveiled at Galerie De’ Arts last week features unseen works from Ré’s landmark series, tracing the reinforcing progression of the Bangalore-based artist as she explored a wide array of subjects and genres - abstract expressionism, minimalism, figuration and geometric abstraction - from 2000 to present.
One of India’s most versatile artists, she has displayed her works in Bangalore, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco.  Though she started painting publicly only in 2000, Ré muses that in her mind, she was already ‘a great artist’ since a child: “I would daydream about which collector I would sell my works to!”

Painting was limited to being little more than a hobby until much later when Ré sought out her canvas to get her through what she calls a difficult period in her life: “Everything was going wrong then. I was looking for an emotional support and I found my painting.” For someone whose work is ‘guided purely by flashes of intuition’, any other choice would have made little sense.
Since then, she has produced an overwhelming volume of work, with each series representing a newer, exciting phase - be it the lyrical vivacity of ‘Colourscapes’ (2000 to 2001) or the soulful solemnity of ‘Figuration’ (2002 to 2006) or the boldness and harmony of lines in ‘Geometric Compositions’ (2005 to 2011) or the blissful burst of colours in ‘Eternal Spring’ (2009 to 2010).

“To me, life is an opportunity to create meaning, an empty canvas and I have an irresistible impulse to make it colourful,” says Ré whose works don the private collections of His Highness Srikantadatta Wodeyar (Mysore), filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola (San Francisco) and actress Jackie Collins (Los Angeles), to name a few.  

Ask her which phase has seen her ‘suffer’ the most, she quietly replies, “None. My paintings are spontaneous emotive eruptions. When my mind is perfectly in tune the power of intuition unfolds within me and creation happens by itself. It is involuntary, like breathing.”
Ré’s ‘Free Association Drawings’ (2003 to 2010) are perhaps the rawest example of this ‘involuntary’ process. These iconic drawings are derived with an individualistic approach demanding total freedom from preconceived concepts. The works remain minimalist where the colour-scale is almost monochromatic and the drawings linear.

“I clear my mind to withdraw to an altered state of consciousness and let my pen move automatically. Drawings of a particular session usually have a common thread and I know what I have drawn only after I’ve finished. You need to have inner peace to do this. I discovered this technique by chance and the experience was life-changing - drawings can reveal much more about you to yourself.”
 Ré’s daughter, Romicon Revola, is a sculptor herself. Any artistic differences there? “Not at all. We get along very well because we support each other.”  On the exotic choice of her name, Ré smiles: “People keep asking me how I got this ‘artistic’ name, but actually, it’s my father’s name - Reshan Ré.”

As the guests begin to steadily pour in, the artist quickly beckons towards the balcony – there, her portrait of her late husband, Italian artist Don Revola, hangs on a wall. Stuck on the side is a small piece of paper scribbled with a poem beginning with: ‘Life is a Picasso hung upside down…’

“He wrote that for me,” Ré says.  

- Remuna Rai/ Raintree Media Features/ www.raintreemedia.com

A high five from Innovate Publishers

If you needed to meet the most brilliant minds in Bengaluru, well, you had to be at the Innovate Bengaluru Festival on 11/4/19, at WeWor...