Archive for December, 2009

From all of us to all of you: HAPPY NEW YEAR

31 December 2009

churumuri.com wishes all its readers, in every part of the globe, a very happy new year. May all your hopes, dreams, prayers and fantasies come good in the year ahead. And may each day turn out just the way you want it to.

Also read: Five qualities you can pick up from a pencil in 2010

The nurse, the married man, and the minister

31 December 2009

The inclusion of the dissident BJP legislator M.P. Renukacharya into the B.S. Yediyurappa council of ministers despite the charges against him, has been roundly condemned by the media and civil society.

Now, the woman at the centre of the alleged “sexual harassment” case, nurse Jayalakshmi, has taken to the streets, questioning how the chief minister could induct such a man and demanding that he be dropped.

The facts of the case, so far, are:

# The lady herself released pictures of the married minister kissing her in 2007 claiming she was his victim.

# She said the minister was forcing her to marry him against her wishes, and filed a petition before the state women’s commission.

# A non-bailable warrant was issued against Renukacharya as he was absconding.

# In the middle of all this, the minister said he had at least 500 pictures of Jayalakshmi in compromising positions. Some of these pictures made their way to the media.

# Jayalakshmi who alleged the minister tried to kill her, is reported to have made two attempts to commit suicide.

# She says the minister owes a “huge amount of money“.

The power minister K.S. Eswarappa says Jayalakshmi should shut up and keep quiet because she herself is not above blame when she was going around with a married man.

Does the nurse have a case?

***

Photograph: Nurse Jayalakshmi (centre) with members of women’s organisations staging a dharna at the Town Hall in Bangalore on Thursday demanding resignation of minister M.P. Renukacharya (Karnataka Photo News)

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Should ‘Nurse’ Renuka stay/ go?

When Mr Ambarish did a better job than Mr Bidari

31 December 2009

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: I love Karnataka.

I love Kannada, I love Kannadigas.

I love Bangalore, I love Mysore.

I loved Raj Kumar, I loved Vishnuvardhan.

But I have to say this on the morning after: I don’t love Bangalore Police.

Like the rest of the film-loving humanity, I sat glued watching Vishnuvardhan’s funeral procession and cremation on television yesterday. And, after seeing the clumsy, chaotic and disgraceful send-off to a graceful and gentle man, it gives me no joy to report that Karnataka Police advertised their incompetence, ineptitude and inefficiency to the world.

Yet again.

We had seen it before, of course, after Raj Kumar’s death: When the so-called top cops of Bangalore, the fat cats—Ajay Kumar Singh, Bipin Gopalakrishna et al—were captured on camera looking like circus buffoons who had been run over by a Reva.

Four years down the line, if you thought the new lot would have learnt their lesson from that experience, well, think again.

From what I could gather from the TV images, the scene at Abhiman Studio when Vishnuvardhan’s mortal remains arrived, was no better than what it is when the early-morning vegetable trucks arrive at Kalasipalya.

Only, this time, there was a different set of fat cats presiding over the sad spectacle: chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa and his flunkeys, and Bangalore police commissioner, Shankar Bidari.

Make no mistake, the police had to counter surging crowds and all the attendant troubles from early morning. And all through the funeral procession, they had to counter the stonethrowing, the vandalism, the arson, etc.

The inability of the police to counter the mobs in these circumstances, I could somehow understand. Because there was no way the police could have sanitised the entire route. Because excessive use of force can result in even worse damage.

As S.V. Rajendra Singh Babu’, the director of such fine films as Bandhana and Muttina Haara, said on TV: “Civilised behaviour somehow seems to be far beyond us on occasions like these,” and there was little the police could do to retrieve it.

What I could not and cannot understand for the life of me is how poorly prepared, how utterly unprepared the police and other authorities were at the cremation ground, where they had all the time in the world before the body arrived.

Especially after the Raj Kumar experience.

# There was no clearly demarcated area for the family to conduct the final rites or watch the proceedigs.

# There were no barricades to segregate different sections of the crowd—VIPs, Press, general spectators—from each other.

# There were clearly not enough policemen to keep nuisance makers and gatecrashers at bay.

# And there was absolutely no leadership at the very top as the situation developed.

Obviously, crowd management is not as easy as sitting in front of a computer and banging a few words in anger. But to see the CM and the top cops making a show of “personally inspecting” the funeral preparations and then to see such a mockery in the end was a shame.

“So what, no one died,” you might say.

Well, yes, no one died but that wasn’t because of the police.

No one died because Vishnuvardhan’s great friend, Ambarish, showed what a truly great friend he was by picking up the microphone and driving some sense into the skulls of frenzied fans.

As for our police, they were too busy sucking up to the VIPs to bother with Bharati Vishnuvardhan or her daughters, or Vishnuvardhan’s close friends and relatives.

Or, they were just content to watch the stars like awestruck spectators, like they do at one-day international matches at the KSCA.

Shame, I say.

If pictures of the widow and family having to fight their way through crowds doesn’t make you angry, if pictures of ‘Rockline’ Venkatesh and Shivaram having to shoulder bystanders to pour ghee on the funeral pyre doesn’t make you angry, I would say we deserve the kind of police we get.

Maybe, organising star funerals is not the raison d’etre of the police. Maybe they shouldn’t be judged by how smoothly a funeral procession goes. Then again, if Karnataka Police can’t handle a funeral procession properly, I can well understand why Veerappan was so far beyond their reach.

And for so long.

Photograph: ‘Rockline’ Venkatesh (second from left) staves off bystanders while the chief minister’s “parliamentary secretary”, A.Ramadas, stations himself strategically for the cameras, as Bharati Vishnuvardhan bids a final goodbye to her departed husband (Karnataka Photo News)

15 degrees of separation between Raj and Vishnu

31 December 2009

BELLUR RAMAKRISHNA writes: Kannada cinema has lost both its eyes in the space of 44 months: Dr Raj Kumar in April 2006 and Dr Vishnuvardhan in December 2009.

I have compiled a list of similarities and differences between the ‘Natasarvabhouma‘ and the ‘Abhinava Bhargava‘ in their life and death.

1. Raj Kumar was born on the 24th: 2+4 =6; Vishnuvardhan was born on the 18th: 1+8 =9, both 6 and 9 are multiples of 3.

2. Raj Kumar died on the 12th: 1+2 =3;  Vishnuvardhan died on the 30th: 3+0 =3, again multiples of 3.

3. Raj Kumar died in ‘06; Vishnuvardhan in ’09; both years are multiples of 3.

4. Raj Kumar died two days before new year’s day as per the Souramana calendar;  Vishnuvardhan died two days before new year’s day in the Gregorian calendar.

5. Raj Kumar and Vishnuvardhan both died on Wednesday.

6. Muthuraju: 9 letters; Sampath Kumar: 12 letters, again both multiples of 3.

7. Raj Kumar was born on the 24th and died on the 12th, a difference of 12 days; Vishnuvardhan was born on the 18th and died on the 30th, again a difference of 12 days.

8. Raj Kumar died in Ramaiah hospital: Rajkumar and Ramaiah, both starting with R; Vishnuvardhan died in Vikram Hospital: Vishnuvardhan and Vikram, both starting with V.

9. Raj Kumar’s birth and death was in the same month, April; Vishnuvardhan’s birth and death was in the same city, Mysore.

10. Raj Kumar’s film career started in ’54: 5+4 = 9; Vishnuvardhan’s film career started in ’72: 7+2 = 9.

11. Raj Kumar received honorary doctorate from Mysore University in 1976, 22 years after his first film; Vishnuvardhan received honorary doctorate from Bangalore University in 2005, 33 years after his first film.

12. Raj Kumar’s 100th film was released in 1968; Vishnuvardhan’s 100th film was released in 1986.

13. Raj Kumar and Vishnuvardhan both took 14 years to reach the 100 film mark.

14. Both Raj Kumar and Vishnuvardhan died after a massive heart attack. Raj Kumar died on the 12th day; Vishnuvardhan died in the 12th month.

15. Raj Kumar was cremated in Kanteerava Studio, north Bangalore; Vishnuvardhan was cremated in Abhiman Studio, south Bangalore.

The Kannada constellation is now two stars less

30 December 2009

12 April 2005: Kannada thespians Dr Raj Kumar and Dr Vishnuvardhan come together at Sarthaka Suvarna, a felicitation for Raj Kumar organised by the State government at the Palace Grounds in Bangalore. Now both are gone.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Brother, father, son. Leader, protector, nice guy.

30 December 2009

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: I woke up, like the rest of Karnataka and the rest of the world, to the news of the sudden demise of a man Kannada filmdom and Kannada film buffs were so used to knowing as Vishnuvardhan.

The name on his passport, though, would have actually read: Mysore Narayan Rao Sampath Kumar.

Born 1950, Mysore.

Vidyaranyapuram, if I may add.

As I sit down to pen my thoughts on the man whom I had liked, admired and enjoyed watching on screen right from the 1970s, there comes a visage so handsome and smart that I yearn to see it all over again.

***

Kanagal Puttanna, a futuristic director of mingboggling vision and range that the Kannada film industry has never been able to replace even to this day, was the one who triggered the entry of 23-year-old Sampath onto celluloid in 1973, after rechristening him Vishnuvardhan.

The film was Nagarahavu based on a novel by the legendary author, Ta Ra Su. A story set amidst the glorious ruins of historic Chitradurga, about a boy named Ramachari belonging to a traditional Madhwa Brahmin family.

A rebellious, haughty, hot headed, turbulent and emotional boy, but with a heart of gold which yearned to be understood and loved.

The boy falls in love with his classmate’s sister, a role essayed by another Mysorean, Aarti. The affair is short-lived since the girl’s parents are simply against the alliance, because Ramachari is not a nice guy in whose hands the future and fate of their daughter cannot be entrusted.

Ramachari and his father-like benefactor, guide and teacher, the venerable and extremely caring Chamayya meshtru, a character the illustrious Ashwath from good old Saraswathipuram played to such wonderful perfection that it brings tears of poignancy to my eyes even to this day,  their tender relationship, the rules of  which were seemingly unwritten.

The much-maligned Ramachari finally commits suicide by jumping off a cliff along with his old class mate and new found beau, Margaret. An act of sheer mutiny against the iron-clad brahminical religiosity of those times.

The portrayal was stunning.

Actor Vishuvardhan was born.

The song, “Haavina Dwesha, Hanneradu Varusha…..” still lingered on in memory long after the curtains came down at theatres across the State.

Then came the famous Gandhada Gudi, set in the beautiful jungles of Kakanakote. The great master, Raj Kumar, was a range forest officer and Vishnuvardhan, his lost brother, kidnapped and reared by the criminal Venkatappa Naika, who grows up to be his bete noire.

***

As the years rolled by and Vishnuvardhan began to get into the consciousness of Kannada cinema, it began to emerge that he had class and a style that many of his contemporaries could not match.

An endearing mannerism on screen punctuated by the slight shrug of the shoulders with the index finger pointing ahead, and a walk all his own with one side of his body slightly bent to a side, either while approaching his lady love or making a stern point to the villain before embarking on the smashing up of the bad man’s face.

As for his dialogue delivery, it was impeccable and unambiguous with the exact intonation and clarity; a voice not so resonating but undoubtedly impressive. His words were uttered with the right mixture of a pause and a flow depending on the mood of the scene and the situation at hand.

Vishnu, in his heyday, was perhaps the most handsome of them all; the thick mop of wavy hair beneath which lay two extremely expressive eyes and an aquiline nose. The smile was so endearing and the gait so apt, although he was not extremely tall or even athletic.

Only Anant Nag came close with his dashing looks. But then, he belonged to a completely different genre of acting.

***

The 1970s and ’80s saw some highly entertaining films made. And Vishnu invariably featured in most of them including the critically acclaimed off-beat Vamsha Vruksha.

# Singapore Nalli Raja Kulla, the first-ever Kannada film to be shot in a foreign locale.

# Nagarahole, S.V. Rajendra Singh “Babu”’s first film as director, with Vishnu too just then married to the famous star Bharati.

# Sose Thanda Sowbhagya,  a film made by a man called called Ankalagi and his friends, men who made films with a social theme and message in those days.

# Bhootaiyana Maga Aiyyu, that made a telling impact too came about.

# Naaniruvude Ninagaagi, Asadhya Aliya, Guru Shishayaru, the most expensive Kannada film of its time with a budget of twenty-five lakhs.

# The highly successful Bandhana.

There was a time in the industry when director Bhargava, cinematographer Raja Ram and Vishnuvardhan combined as a team to make a series of films that captured the imagination.

As many as 25 films in fact: Jana Nayaka, Karunmayi, Ondagi Baalu, Dr. Krishna, Bangarda Kalasa and Hrudayavanta as I can recall.

Not epochal by any stretch of imagination but then, those were times when the entire family went out to watch a film in a theatre in a celebratory mood on a holiday perhaps, and never came back disappointed.

No blood, no gore, no dubious dialogues, no double entendre.

Simple plain story telling with a message thrown in somewhere.

The good son, the sacrificing brother, the concerned village leader, the protector and saviour of women’s dignity.

The nice guy around the block, if you will.

Directors Tiptur Raghu, K.S.R. Das and Joe Simon swore by Vishnu. Naga Kala Bhairava, Kalla Kulla, Khaidi, Rudra Naga, Sahasa Simha, Nanna Rosha Nooru Varusha, Simha Jodi; they all helped make Vishnuvardhan a name that cannot be forgotten.

Then there was Muttina Haara, a story much ahead of its time, of the futility of war, made by Rajendra Singh Babu. It unfortunately did not do too well at the box office although it was lavishly mounted and shot in exotic locales in the Himalayas.

It was a measure of Vishnu’s concern for the plight of the producer that he agreed to star in a film called Neenu Nakkare Haalu Sakkare. Directed by Dorai-Bhagawan, it went on to rake in the monies for the same producer who had lost quite a bit of it with Muttina Haara.

Vishnuvardhan, like his legendary contemporary Raj Kumar, studiously kept himself away from the lure of politics.

There was a time in the early 1980s when R. Gundu Rao as chief minister and Jeevaraj Alva as the minister of Kannada and Culture were after Vishnu. Vishnu refused. The story goes that it was mainly Ambarish among others who dissuaded him from getting into the murky world of politicking.

Another icon of the Kannada film world, Dwarkish, and Vishnu had a roller-coaster ride as far as their personal and professional relationship went.

One of the biggest producers of his time apart from being a famous comedian, Dwarkish made films like Indina Ramayana and Rayaru Bandaru Maavana Manege with Vishnu, as I recollect through the fogginess of my memory. They also acted in tens of films together right from the 1970s.

But strangely their relations were not consistent. It is said that the souring of the partnership would happen every now and then because of the more voluble Dwarkish making statements to the media about his displeasure of Vishnu’s association with certain producers in the industry.

KobriManju, Soorappa Babu and Rehman, all producers, made a lot of films with Vishnu at various times. Was this the reason, one does not know. Eventually the patch up would happen. The most-famous Aptha Mitra too came into existence.

Vishnu through all this never uttered a word.

Like when he was almost persecuted by ‘fans’ of Raj Kumar during the early part of his career when an innocuous incident concerning a rifle during the making of Gandhada Gudi was held so seriously against the young Vishnu.

His posters were torn to pieces, cow dung splashed on them at most places, vicious attacks on him in the press, the maligning of his reputation, the bitterness with he was perceived by certain sections of the industry, the loneliness of battling all these forces of vice and wickedness.

Vishnu had gone through this all. And the point is, he not only survived but made a mark as a fine actor and a man too.

Not once did he call a press conference or shout or rail or complain in public about the unjustness of it all. All he did in his characteristic style was to point a hand heavenwards every time a journalist asked him for his reactions. And press the same hand to his heart.

One can imagine the anguish and discouragement, the disillusionment and pain that could have come about his way during those hard times when the state was made to believe by vested interests in the film industry that he had attempted to ‘kill’ Raj Kumar during that infamous incident up on Masale Betta in the Kakankote jungles during the making of Gandhada Gudi.

Although the two men met in public at various functions, with Vishnu even touching Raj Kumar’s feet in reverential acceptance of his seniority, I’m sure the wedge could never be removed from his heart.

I heard that Vishnuvardhan had taken to the pursuit of adhyatma. Long sessions with Bannanje Govindacharya of Udupi and all that. Why, he himself had begun to look like a Sufi saint, clothed in flowing white robes with a white cloth covering his head and a string of large beads running down his neck.

Maybe there was an inner calling in him to make an attempt to understand the unknown; to delve into the dark depths of spirituality and convince himself of the reason for his existence.

To endeavour to unravel the mystery of life and feel it.

As a man and as an actor.

By then, The Great Director up in the skies high above had come to the end of his script for Vishnuvardhan. He decided to write the final line of the story of a man who came from one of the bylanes of Vidyaranyapuram in Mysore to go on to become one of the most famous men of Karnataka.

When Vishnuvardhan breathed his last early today, his time had come to meet up with Him, strobe lights and all.

Photograph: Family, friends and relatives pay their last respects to actor Vishnuvardhan at his J.P. Nagar residence in Bangalore. His wife Bharati is at fourth from left, standing. (Karnataka Photo News).

CHURUMURI POLL: Vishnuvardhan’s top-5 films?

30 December 2009

Vishnuvardhan starred in tens of memorable songs, but his brief guest appearance as a lecturer in friend Ravichandran‘s Grease2 takeoff, Prem Loka, brought an admirable lightness to the superhit film.

Which are Vishnuvardhan’s top-5 songs?

And which are his top-5 films?

***

Below, Vishnuvardhan with Suhasini in Muttina Haara. Both these songs, the first in Kannada, the second in Kodavatak, come from the quill of Hamsalekha.

***

IMDB: Vishnuvardhan Filmography

***

Also read: ‘Bollywood: India’s most moronic cultural export’

‘Bollywood’s a scam. Farah Khan is a big, fat con’

Adoor: Do only Bollywood beauties possess glamour?

Mammootty: Is Hindi cinema Indian cinema?

Girish Kasaravalli: Why national media ignored national awards

Before the Sahasa Simha received Honoris Causa

30 December 2009

Vishnuvardhan‘s long and happy marriage with the actress Bharati was one of Kannada cinema’s warm and wonderful stories; the couple one of the industry’s most dignified, on and off screen.

In this 2005 file photo, the wife helps the husband with the gown before he proceeds to receive the honorary doctorate at the 41st convocation of Bangalore University from the hands of then governor T.N. Chaturvedi.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: Press Trust of India obituary

NDTV: What did Vishnu mean for Karnataka?

The only time the two legends came face to face

30 December 2009

The rivalry between the two titans of Kannada cinema Dr Raj Kumar and Dr Vishnuvardhan, more real than imagined, was one of the ever-green stories emanating from Gandhinagar.

Oddly, the two of them starred together in only one movie, Gandhada Gudi, directed by M.P. Shankar. After that, their professional paths never crossed, but the friction of their first and only on-screen face-off remained forever.

SUNAAD RAGHURAM: The day Vishnu nearly shot Dr Raj

Passion for Cinema: Why stars like Vishnuvardhan can’t say no

Vishnuvardhan, the Decent Star, is no more. RIP.

30 December 2009

churumuri records with deep regret the passing away of the Mysore-born Kannada superstar H.N. Sampath Kumar, known to the world as Vishnuvardhan, following a heart attack in his home-town on Wednesday morning.

He was 59 years old, and is survived by his wife Bharati and their adopted daughters, Keerthi and Chandana.

Like Rahul Dravid who has always had to play under the shadow of Sachin Tendulkar, Vishnuvardhan’s career coincided with that of the gigantic Dr Raj Kumar, although the two starred together only once.

But, to Vishnuvardhan’s credit, he carved his own niche and won popular and critical appeal with a range of stellar performances in Vamshavrusksha, Nagara Haavu, Muthina Haara, Bandhana, Suprabhatha, Nagara Hole, Nishkarsha and Aaptamitra.

Unlike most Kannada stars, lef-hander Vishnuvardhan bravely tested his star value  in other languages, including Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Hindi, acting alongside Sivaji Ganesan, Rajnikanth and Mammootty. And like his good friend Gundappa Vishwanath, he brought grace, style and an essential decency to the acting (and living) crease.

In an industry filled with all kinds of self-appointed stars, to Vishnuvardhan goes the worthy and weighty title, “Decent Star”.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Passion for Cinema: Dr Vishnuvardhan passes away

Can IT-BT Bangalore produce another C. Aswath?

29 December 2009

churumuri mourns the passing away of C. Aswath, an iconic voice that emblazoned Kannada theatre and cinema with folk and light music, on his 71st birthday, in Bangalore on Tuesday.

In this video-grab of the 2007 film, Matha (starring Jaggesh), Aswath brings home one of life’s truisms: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

***

Staggeringly, Aswath worked with the Indian Telephone Industries (ITI) in Bangalore for over 25 years, retiring as executive engineer. All through the public sector behemoth allowed his talent to blossom and bloom.

How many of our modern companies, including “IT-BT” companies, hire employees from outside their area of operation? How many would encourage and allow employees to develop their talents?

In short, does modern industry have any role to play in society, except to generate “shareholder value”, also known as profits, and building a few toilets or donating a few wind cheaters with their signage so that the public can see what their corporate social responsibility is?

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: Why don’t we hear of IT men excelling in sport?

Is private sector really superior to public sector?

‘Masth maja maadi for I am a WorldSpace widow’

29 December 2009

RAMYA KRISHNAMURTHY writes from Bangalore: Dozens of fine people decided to take leave of our company in 2009: Gangubai Hanagal and D.K. Pattammal, Gayatri Devi and Leela Naidu, Tyeb Mehta and Manjit Bawa, T.S.Satyan and C. Aswath.

All these accomplished individuals had led full and wonderful lives. But if there is one death that will touch me even more, one death I will mourn even more, it is the death foretold: the premature passing away of WorldSpace, the satellite radio station.

When my JVC receiver will crackle no more two days from now, an inanimate but inseparable partner over the last nine years will suddenly vanish from my life.

I will become a WorldSpace widow.

It is a loss difficult to explain; even more difficult for those unaware of the phenomenon to understand what it means. But that is the nature of death; the sky darkens for a close few; the rest will wonder what the fuss is all about.

To the former, I offer my commiserations.

To the latter, I offer my heartfelt sympathies.

***

Radio was an integral part of our lives while growing up in Vontikoppal in Mysore in the 1970s and ‘80s. With television mercifully a long way away, it was our window to the world, like it was for thousands of families.

Pradesha Samachara on All India Radio at a little past seven. Old Hindi songs on Radio Ceylon (later Sri Lanka Broadcastig Corporation) with a mandatory K.L. Saigal number as the clock inched towards eight. Aap hi ke geet from 8 to 9.

Kelugara Korike in the evenings, with sports news at 8, followed by Yuva Vani. Soundtrack on Vividh Bharati on Sunday afternoons.

Much of this was standard fare in most homes and it provided us all at school and college, a set of common points to discuss and debate. For those of us assigned to read the news at the morning “assembly”, it provided the cutting edge.

But my father, a radio-head, opened our eyes (and ears) even more.

A long wire-mesh antenna that ran from the front of the house to the rear, spread the net far and wide. The daily catch brought us Radio Netherlands and Radio Deutsche Welle, Radio Australia and Radio Moscow, Voice of America and Armed Forces Radio.

I vividly remember that October 31 morning when Sir Mark Tully broke in to announce that Mrs Gandhi had been shot. Or the night of May 21, when Rajiv Gandhi lay splattered in Sriperumbudur.

The voices of correspondents like Phillip Short (Paris), Humphrey Hawksley (Hong Kong) and Red Harrison (Sydney), and anchors like Willis Conover (Jazz Hour, VOA) and Suzanne Dowling (Soundabout, Radio Australia) are still fresh in my memory.

V.M. Chakrapani, anyone?

The initiation wasn’t easy. Initially, we had a “Murphy” diode radio at home, that took its own time to flicker to life. Fine tuning it was a precision-art, like threading the needle; just a bit more produced static, just a little less woke up the world.

The entry of a Grundig transistor radio at first and then a Sony 12-band world receiver made listening a lot easier. Thus, writing fanmail to the stations, requesting for schedules and freebies, and collecting QSL cards become a hobby that gave a decisive edge over those collecting stamps, coins and feathers.

It was WorldSpace that completed the radio revolution.

***

Suddenly, on one nifty little receiver, you could receive near CD-quality music and crystal clear news and views of every kind. All you needed was a cute little antenna that had radio-illiterate neighbours wondering what it was.

I picked up my JVC receiver at Suleiman Sait’s Radio Shack on Brigade Road the day it was launched in Bangalore. And thus began a nine-year love affair that ends suddenly at the stroke of midnight on 31 December 2009.

For nine years, I have woken up with one constant partner by my side, and truth to tell, it has not (always) been my gallivanting husband.

It’s WorldSpace.

Carntic music on Shruti in the mornings. Western classical on Maestro in the mid-afternoons. Jazz on Riff during the afternoon snooze. Alternative rock on Bob in the evenings. Plenty of National Public Radio in between.

And the odd couple of Punjabi Tunak and Radio Vatican, plus WRN.

Where will I now go for my daily fix when the peddler has fallen prey?

***

Two things fascinated me about WorldSpace from the very beginning.

The first was that it was DTH before DTH. The radio signals came into our homes, rooms and hearts through the antenna without the cable operator deciding what we should listen, like it was for television.

WorldSpace gave me the power to listen to what I wanted, when I wanted.

The second was the realization that, like satellite TV was a gift India gave to the world (SITE, satellite instructional television experiment, gave Rupert Murdoch the idea for satellite broadcasting), satellite radio was a Third World gift to the globe.

The man behind WorldSpace was Noah Samara, an Ethiopia-born Sudanese space engineer, and he brought satellite radio to Asia and parts of Africa and Europe, long before the Americans got it through XM and Sirius.

But the reason WorldSpace became so much a part of my life as it did thousands of others was the quiet, unintrusive manner in which the world wafted into our homes— educating us, entertaining us, engaging us—without expecting too much in return.

The beauty about radio is that unlike television and unlike the newspaper, it doesn’t demand your full attention. You can do what you are doing, like I am writing this or you are reading this, and still be listening to it.

Going about her daily chores, which Carnatic fan on Shruti can say, hand on heart, that she has not been touched by the dedication of Srividya Prakash morning after morning?

Or the sincerity of Mahadevan with his artiste interviews?

Above all, unlike the illiterate’s picturebook that is television, radio, satellite or otherwise, enables you to imagine.

Somebody paints the words on the air waves, you fill the images in the mind. With WorldSpace’s clarity, there was nothing lost in translation.

***

Initially, when I purchased my receiver, there was no subscription price and I was over the moon. The introduction of an annual subscription fee a while later did little to dampen my enthusiasm for it, such was the way in which it filled a vital blank.

Looking at the complete lack of advertising on the three-dozen-plus channels and given the low subscription fees and the glitzy schedule they mailed subscribers, I often wondered how long WorldSpace would be able to sustain itself, when its American peers had merged to survive or done strange things to stay in the business.

I saw a brief ray of hope when A.R. Rehman came on as brand ambassador to coincide with a subscription drive, which saw WorldSpace receivers even being given away free with magazine subscriptions.

To hear WorldSpace in pubs and bars and in shops and malls, was a sign that the clientele was growing. Rumours that WorldSpace would be soon available on car radios convinced me that the concept had come of age.

When somebody from WorldSpace contacted me to ask if I would be willing to test devices that WorldSpace was rumoured to be making—like a USB device that would bring WorldSpace to computers—I was convinced WorldSpace had it all worked out.

But it was too good a story to last.

And it was.

***

Reading the almost-clerical reports of WorldSpace’s impending demise on the business pages of our newspapers and the reports of the execrable FM stations thriving makes me wonder if we even realise what we are about to lose.

And if we care enough.

What WorldSpace’s fate shows is that while it is fashionable for the chatterati to talk about the lack of “quality” in our media, it is crap that the Indian masses really want, and it is crap that really sells—and survives.

Obviously, we do not know the circumstances under which WorldSpace has to down its shutters and whether it might not come back in a new avatar, but what it tells me is that quality is a very small and finite market and it is possible to overestimate the intelligence of the Indian listener.

Above all, looking at WorldSpace’s fate, makes me wonder about our entrepreneurs and investors who are willing to put in hundreds of crores on junk (24-storey houses, me-too TV stations), they cannot put their money in institutions that ought to another day.

It is a cliche to say all good things must come to an end.

It is also a cliché to say it is not the end of the world.

But surely it is not a cliche to say we are a nation of dumb suckers?

***

While you work that out, may I take the opportunity to wish everyone at WorldSpace who brightened my life over the last nine years, a big thank-you and a happy new year?

On the ground, reality is no longer what it seems

29 December 2009

Our riots are OK, because the Congress did it, too. Our corruption is OK, because the Congress was in it, too. Our unholy alliances are OK, because the Congress had them it, too.

Cartoon: courtesy E.P. Unny/ The Indian Express

Verily, the fruits of power can be so deceptive

28 December 2009

To those on this side of the fruit cart, life in Vidhana Soudha—the power, the status, the intoxicating influence—is the stuff of pure fantasy. To those on the other side, or at least some of them unsure when their dream run will come to an end, life must surely seem sweeter across the road?

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Justice delayed is justice delivered to the wallet

28 December 2009

VIDHI LIKITHA forwards a lawyer’s prayer advertised on the back of a car with a “Press” sticker in Bangalore. “May the case be adjourned, may the case go on for months, but let the fees come to my pocket every month,” it reads.

True as it is, is this message something any lawyer would want to tell the world, or has it been photoshopped onto the rear windshield?

CHURUMURI POLL: Should Nurse Renuka stay/go?

28 December 2009

The Andhra Pradesh governor, Narain Dutt Tiwari, has been “ejected prematurely” from his post, in the imaginative words of one headline writer, after a TV station aired a sting operation showing the octagenarian in a “compromising position” with women a third his age.

Meanwhile, Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa has rolled out the red carpet for the sex-tainted M.P. Renukacharya. The induction of the dissident MLA has, for the moment, solved one minor headache and met the demand of the Reddy brothers. But it has spawned dissidence across the BJP.

Questions: Should the “party with a difference” retain Renukacharya or drop him? Should the BJP set an example or should it do what it pleases because the Congress does so too? Is curbing dissidence more important than setting a high benchmark? Will Renukacharya’s inclusion prolong Yediyurappa’s reign or is this the beginning of the end?

The compassionate humanism of T.S. Satyan & Co

28 December 2009

Star of Mysore editor K.B. Ganapathy, a close friend of T.S. Satyan for decades, on the legendary lensman and his brother T.S. Ramachandran:

“Though born to a Brahmin family, Satyan did not allow himself to be bound by the caste, tradition and rituals. In fact, his mother Rajammal and father Dr. Subramanya Iyer, a medical doctor by profession, had long broken the barrier of caste and creed that our society was steeped in….

“A few days after Satyan’s last hurrah, a meeting was held at Maneyangala in Kalamandira to condole his death. Among the speakers was a senior scientist from CFTRI, now retired, Dr. Javaraiah Nanjundaiah, a Dalit by birth. What he spoke on that day was a great revelation about the concern and compassion of Satyan’s parents as also his siblings towards Dalits.

“Dr. Javaraiah Nanjundaiah, while studying in Hardwicke High School, was staying at the Dalit Hostel in Jayanagar.

“One Brahmin youngster T.S. Ramachandran, brother of T.S.Satyan, used to visit the hostel to give tuition. As such, Ramachandran was aware of the poor condition of the hostel where the quality of food served was bad and on many occasions not served at all. As a result, some of the students had to starve.

“Seeing the predicament of Dr. Javaraiah Nanjundaiah, Ramachandran arranged for food and shelter in his house with the permission of his parents, which was granted without reservation.”

Also read: Hurgaalu and Black Dog on the way to Vaikuntapura

‘Hinduism is in a crisis; there’s a civil war within’

Dreaming in technicolour, DTS, cinemascope

27 December 2009

In the film neighbourhood where a hundred-odd dreams take celluloid shape every year, Gandhinagar in Bangalore, a tramp gives his best friend company on a cold (and noisy) Saturday afternoon.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Can Carnatic music do with a little more sax?

27 December 2009

An evergreen debate on tradition versus modernity in Carnatic classical music has been revived with the music season on in full swing in Madras.

Last Sunday, T.M. Krishna, while arguing for preserving the integrity of the Carnatic tradition, wrote in The Hindu that instruments like the saxophone and keyboard were just not cut out for the south Indian classical form.

This has drawn a response from the pianist Anil Srinivasan in the Sunday magazine of The Hindu:

“Tradition has become indelibly linked with the past. This is where the problems begin. We get autoregressive when discussing the preservation or conservation of a tradition. Trapping it in a time capsule and not allowing it to breathe or acquire newer characteristics is antithetical to the very notion of an intergenerational transfer….

“Historically, traditions were largely oral and were passed on from one generation to another….

“Music cannot be classified. To the human mind, the illusion of control or self perception leads it towards instant and automatic categorisation. We want to label everything we encounter because it makes us feel at least temporarily in control of the environment. And hence terming Carnatic music a tradition becomes a hook on which we hang our approximations of what we think South Indian classical music ought to be.”

In the same issue of The Hindu, Aruna Sairam tells Dr Srinivasan:

“Tradition exists to show you who you are. Innovation should be encouraged to show you who you could be…. Innovation is an approach to an existing body of work that has not been thought of before. In that respect, each of us is innovating constantly…. Only two things matter: be true to who you are, and be sincere in what you want to articulate. If this happens, the music will transcend categorisation and analysis.”

Also read: Can Carnatic music change the cheri pasangal?

Not this or that, this and that is the zeitgeist

Balamurali Krishna: If it sounds good, it’s Carnatic

‘Carnatic music can innovate, expand, grow’

At last, a truly sensible view of Carnatic music

How a mellifluous genius relaxes at rush hour

Ranji Trophy & the David Coleman Headley chase

27 December 2009

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: I saw the the Ace Political Expert (ACE) near Nalpak Restaurant in Vontikoppal.

It was a long time since I had had the benefit of his political insight. I jumped at the opportunity and we sat down at Nalpak’s new open-air lounge where you can eat while looking at the traffic passing by.

“What do you make of the David Coleman Headley issue?” I asked as we started attacking the bisi bisi ragi roti with two different types of chutney.

“Headley traveled all over the country planning terror attacks left, right and centre. He freely met film and filmy people in Bollywood who gave him a red-carpet welcome. He even spent a night with his wife at the Taj Mahal Hotel, ate at the Oberois. Yet our intelligence knew nothing about his visit.”

“Don’t we have intelligence bureaus precisely for such things?” I asked.

“And we will not give visa to known Pakistan cricketers. What’s more, our Karnataka Police arrested a member of the Jammu and Kashmir Ranji Trophy cricket team member under the impression he was a terrorist! KSCA and police thought he might terrorise our players and win the Ranji tie!”

“How come our intelligence totally missed any information on him and our external affairs ministry cleared his visa?”

“It can happen only in a  Mahesh Bhatt film! We had no inkling until US authorities caught him and all the information is coming during his interrogation in Chicago. There’s one more thing…,” continued APE.

“Yes?”

“It appears their FBI had clear information about the impending attack on Bombay, but our supposedly closest friends kept quiet about the whole thing! Now we know how close our friendship with the world’s strongest democratic power is!”

“This is a crying shame! Our Prime Minister swears friendship with all US Presidents after the nuclear treaty.”

“And we signed a nuclear treaty with Russia without breaking in to a song and dance! We have to get this straight. To the US, we come after their security which means keeping Pakistan in good humour with billions of dollars as a toffee so that they don’t hand over the bombs to the Taliban and others to the target US. We come after China because of their huge economic interest; forget human rights, Tibet etc.”

“That’s true.”

“India isn’t even protesting why the US didn’t share the information on Headley. They will say he was a triple or quadruple agent and they will use him to their advantage. Thanks to our bureaucratic bungling we are not sure if we have his visa papers.  S.M. Krishna, Shashi Tharoor and MEA spokesman say different things on different days on the same subject!”

“It’s pathetic. Maharashtra Government did the same thing with protective tunic of Hemant Karkare feeding contradicting bits of information to the media.”

“This is an expertise that is developed over the years. Reject the charge outright and gradually admit it step by step.”

After we had coffee, I asked him who will become the next CM as one hears the BJP government might fall any minute.

The APE said, “That’s a long story. We will keep it for the next time as so many are aiming for the position. We have to find a process of elimination before we zero in on one,” as we walked out.

One question I’m dying to ask… N.D. Tiwari

26 December 2009

The most surprising part about this grainy video of a young woman smooching an almost-comatose body is not that it belongs to a greasy Congressman, but that he is four score and six—86 years—old.

For long, the Andhra Pradesh governor—a name once mentioned as a potential prime minister—has had to live under the shadow of a telling stanza: ‘Na nar na naari, main hoon Narain Dut Tiwari.”

And now this, a voiceover which grandly makes public his daily maniacal menu: a massage from a young girl in the morning; a post-lunch session; and then a threesome every night.

What is the one question you would like to ask “His Excellency”, the congress man?

Keep your queries young, sharp and gubernatorial.

What is the governor telling the chief minister?

24 December 2009

On the day the new BJP president, Nitin Gadkari, was grandly announcing that “indiscipline” would’t be tolerated in the party with a difference, Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa was decorating his delicate crown with a very affectionate thorn.

A “loyal and disciplined soldier” of the party and a proud upholder of Hindu values, Honnali MLA M.P. Renukacharya, better known in the gutter press as “Nurse” Renuka, took the blessings of an elder and then took oath as a minister in the name of all the mutt heads.

Now what could Governor H.R. Bharadwaj be telling Yediyurappa? (Of course, even Renukacharya doesn’t know judging from his blank look.)

Photographs: Karnataka Photo News

Editors Guild of India on ‘The Paid News of India’

24 December 2009

The following is the full text of the statement issued  by the Editors’ Guild of India on Wednesday, 23 December 2009, on the issue of “paid-for news”:

***

The Editors Guild of India is deeply shocked and seriously concerned at the increasing number of   reports detailing  the pernicious practice of publishing “paid news’” by some newspapers and television channels, especially during recent  elections.

The Guild, at its annual general meeting held on 22 December 2009 has strongly condemned this practice which whittles the foundations of Indian journalism and calls upon all editors in the country to desist from publishing  any form of advertisement which masquerade as news.

The Guild noted that it had always stood for publication of news which is in public interest; news which has been gathered due to the professional efforts of journalists; and news which is not influenced by malice, bias, favouritism or monetary influence.

The Guild recognises that news media in print and electronic form, has a genuine right to publish and broadcast advertisements on all issues, subject to the voluntary Advertising Standards Council code and the News Broadcasting Standards Code.

It is imperative that  news organisations have to clearly distinguish between news and advertisements with full and proper disclosure norms, so that no  reader and viewer is tricked by any subterfuge of advertisements published and broadcast in the same format, language and style of news.

It is disturbing that this “paid news” practice is also  being used by companies, organisations and individuals, apart from political parties.

The Guild  further deplores the practice of  “private treaties” where news organisations accept free equity in unlisted companies in lieu of promoting these companies through news  columns and television news programmes.  The news organisations should disclose their commercial and equity interests in such companies to the readers and viewers in a transparent manner.

The Guild decries the unsavoury and unacceptable practice of some political parties and candidates offering payment for “news packages” to news media and its representatives to  publish and telecast eulogising and misleading news reports on the political parties.

Both the media organisations and editors who indulge in it, and the customers who offer payment for such “paid news” are guilty of undermining the free and fair press, for which every citizen of India is entitled to.

Such irresponsible acts by a few media organisations and journalists is discrediting the entire media of the country, which has a glorious tradition of  safeguarding democratic rights and exposing all kinds of injustices and inequities.

Editors and journalists have been at the vanguard of the movement for creation of a just society, both during the days of colonial rule and Independent India. The ugly phenomenon of “paid news” will be a blot on the country’s democratic fabric.

The Guild calls upon publishers, editors and journalists of media organisations to unitedly fight this creeping menace of commercialisation and bartering of self respect of the media.  During the coming months, the Guild will join hands with other media organisations to sensitize the media and civil society, including political parties and the Election Commission, on the need to eliminate  this unacceptable practice.

The Guild will be shortly unveiling an initiative to encourage transparency  regarding “paid news” and “private treaties.”   We appeal to all stakeholders to join us in pushing for a clean, transparent media.

Rajdeep Sardesai, president of the guild, announced the formation of an ethics committee headed by T.N. Ninan,  editor in chief, Business Standard. The members are B G Varghese,  editor & columnist; Sumit Chakravartty, editor, Mainstream, and Madhu Kishwar, editor, Manushi.

***

Also read: Pyramid Saimira, Tatva & Times Private Treaties

Times Private Treaties gets a very public airing

SUCHETA DALAL: Forget the news, you can’t believe the ads either

Does he who pays the piper call the tune?

SALIL TRIPATHI: The first casualty of a cosy deal is credibility

Selling the soul? Or sustaining the business?

PAUL BECKETT: Indian media holding Indian democracy ransom

Does he who pays the piper call the tune?

PRATAP BHANU MEHTA: ‘Indian media in deeply murky ethical territory’

The scoreline: Different strokes for different folks

A package deal that’s well worth a second look

ADITYA NIGAM: ‘Editors, senior journalists must declare assets’

The brave last words of Prabhash Joshi

‘Only the weather section isn’t sold these days’

All Manmohan Desai needed was a one-rupee note

23 December 2009

ANAND SANKAR forwards a advertisement from The Indian Express. The purpose is noble, to reunite the missing children with their families.  And the details are all there: kid’s name, father’s name, age, identifying features. But the department of social welfare has also gone the extra distance… by measuring the intelligence quotient (IQ) of the children.

Just so that it matches with the IQ measurement done by their parents?

CHURUMURI POLL: Bangalore airport, a disaster?

23 December 2009

The joint house committee of the Karnataka legislature has slammed the holy cows of Bangalore and the multinational corporations that built the Bangalore International Airport (BIAL) at Devanahalli for “faulty” design and construction, and “poor quality of workmanship”.

The panel has said the new airport looked like an “industrial shed” and not an airport of international standards; that did not reflect the “culture and glory” of Karnataka; that the public-private partnership (PPP) is not a boon but a bane; and it has accused BIAL of coming up with patchy, non-scientific and thoughtless solutions.

The panel has indicted Infosys chief mentor N.R. Narayana Murthy and Rajya Sabha member Rajeev Chandrashekhar, and top bureaucrats V.P. Baligar and K. Jairaj. It has recommended appropriate action against officers responsible for the current state of affairs, and wants Larsen & Toubro, Unique Zurich Airport to be blacklisted for a minimum of five years.

Questions: Do you agree with the panel’s conclusions and recommendations? Has Bangalore missed a trick and been shortchanged? Or are politicians up to their usual tricks? What has your “user-experience” been? How does it compare with airports within India and elsewhere? Can the situation be rectified?

Has BIAL’s move to name the airport “Bengaluru International Airport Limited” flopped with the panel recommending that it be named after Kempe Gowda?

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Tipu Sultan vs Kempe Gowda?

Us & them: brick and mortar vs click and cursor

PPP is where public is a puppy of the private

Bangalore’s best building since the Vidhana Soudha?

Country cuisine crashlands in new airport


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