Villain on screen & a gentle soul off it

 

SRID9586He may be a villain on screen, but in real life, he is an erudite polyglot who wears his fame very lightly and is sensitive to social imbalances. Prakash Rai aka Prakash Raj has adopted a village that he hopes would become a model.

This Bengaluru huduga has shot to national fame, but when he spoke to us at the Rotary Club of Bangalore last Monday, there were no starry airs. He preferred to answer questions from the audience. Three key points have stayed with me:

Persistent demands for him to quote dialogues from his film were met with the stoic and dignified reply, “I get paid to say my dialogue”. When someone asked him yet again, he cited the example of veteran Hindi actor Raaj Kumar who when asked to say dialogues at a party by an army officer, retorted, ‘Why don’t you do a march past?’.

Prakash is an avid reader, and can speak and read all the languages of the films in which he acts. “I would just be a parrot if I said the dialogue without understanding the context of the culture.” He added, “ Learning to speak a language shows that you respect the people of the land.” (Will all those who crib about learning Kannada or the language of any region that they live in, learn from this great person?)

What would he have been had he not been an actor? “Even had I been a mechanic, I would have been an award-winning mechanic”, he said without sounding the least bit boastful. This is my motto too, and as you can see, I acted like a complete fangirl.

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There is a little backstory that I want to share too. When I published Allen’s novel a few months after he passed away in 2009, I relied on our friend and old colleague Prakash Belawadi to help me with the launch. He wanted Prakash Rai/Raj to be present, as Allen Mendonca who was also a film critic had apparently shared a rapport with the actor. But Prakash Raj was away at a shoot, and couldn’t be at the launch. Yesterday, six and half years later, the President of the Rotary Club presented him with a memento and without knowing what it was, Prakash opened the gift wrap and smiled when he saw the cover of Sentinel House.

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President of Rotary Club o Bangalore Ranga Rao hands over a memento to the speaker of the day, award-winning actor Prakash Raj.
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Aditya Mendonca is thrilled when Prakash Raj holds up the book authored by Allen Mendonca.

The ‘green’ man of theatre

In 36 years of theatre, Bimal Desai has been around the park several times. I refer to Cubbon Park, to save which Desai has battled over the years. “I have achieved very little and lost quite a bit”, he says. But it is thanks to him that gates came up, entry banned for traffic in the mornings, shooting of films stopped, political and other sundry public rallys were banned totally inside the park.

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In one of life’s coincidences, I was at Cubbon Park one Sunday morning to watch a young colleague and her friends perform ‘A midsummer night’s dream’. The same night I went to Lavina and Bimal Desai’s utterly gorgeous home to celebrate the 36 fun years he has spent in theatre. Just a few days earlier, he had directed ‘Twice around the park’ at a theatre festival.

The characteristic that strikes you most about Desai is his down-to-earth attitude. For him theatre is entertainment, and he lays it out there, plain and simple. Not for him the exploration of angst or complexities of interpretations.

His theatre company Theatre Lab has done 40 plays so far, notable among them being ‘God’ by Woody Allen, ‘Plaza Suite’ by Neil Simon, ‘Catch me if you can’, an adaptation of Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert’s work and ‘Rough Crossing’ by Tom Stoppard.

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Ashok Mandanna heads the list of his favourite actors, who include Judith Roby, Tuffy (Darius) Taraporevala, Coco, Brian Nobbay and Prakash Belawadi. “My most memorable moment was acting for the first time opposite Ashok Mandanna. It was a dream come true”, he confesses in fanboy candour.

“It was during college in MES that my interest in theatre came alive. I was the pioneer in starting inter class English plays in college. I was a member of BLT in 1980’s. It was very difficult to get a break as an actor. Both Mahesh Dattani and I used to do production work. The frustration of not getting a break motivated me to ask Mahesh to direct his first play for Theatre Lab. That’s how it was born.”

From acting, Desai moved on to set design and direction, taking a course in this specialisation at North Western University of Chicago. “It has always been my aim to make an audience laugh, have a good time and send them home happy! Entertainment, entertainment, entertainment is what I believe in!”

His forte might be laugh a minute but he is a very successful businessperson. Apart from a variety of  other family businesses, he and his brother run Mothers Recipe, an ethnic food company whose range of popular pickles and preserves are present in 40 countries. He also owns the Four Points by Sheraton, a hotel in Whitefield. “During the day I spend my time by working and I dedicate my evenings to theatre”, he says.

Apart from the laughs, Bengaluru owes him big for saving what is left of an important lung space in the city centre. Desai is the original green crusader, who hired a lawyer and filed public interest litigations which found favour with Justice Michael Saldanha who passed bold orders to protect the Cubbon Park from further decimation. From 300 acres, the park has been whittled down to 190 acres with several chunks parcelled out to various buildings. Some heartening moves such as stopping traffic movement through the park on weekends have been long in the coming, and Desai feels that some of the people in the vanguard of ‘developing’ the park could have different agendas.

Do read Allen Mendonca’s lyrical prose here about the man who put on war paint to save Cubbon Park: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/Possessed-by-the-spirit-of-Beantown/articleshow/70444840.cms

Desai’s green battle is also detailed here: http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/mp/2003/01/20/stories/2003012001410200.htm

The sunny Sunday morning that began with a Shakespeare play in Cubbon Park ended fittingly over dinner with the theatreperson who saved the park. Wonder what the Bard would have made of this.

 

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.

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 that he would have liked to have had.

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 Hornad. 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 and 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.
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.
“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.