Back to the roots

Kumara Varma talks to Parbina Rashid about his dreams of going back to Kerala after he bids adieu to the Indian Theatre Department of Panjab University in April next

HE came from Mavelikkara in Kerala to Chandigarh with a dream to teach whatever he had learnt at the National School of Drama in New Delhi. It was in 1973 that he first stepped into the city to work with Balwant Gargi. He taught and he learnt, for as long as 34 years in the Indian Theatre Department of Panjab University. But his dreams are not yet over. Only this time, they are taking him away from us – taking him back to “God’s own country”.

Getting ready to bid adieu to the department in April next, Kumara Varma does not paint the picture of a man who is at the end of his career. In fact, as he shares his dreams with us, he fills the atmosphere with so much ‘positivity’ that one cannot help but support his decision to resettle himself, though it means missing him from Chandigarh’s own theatre circuit.

After staging memorable plays like Ashadh Ka Janvadi(top) and Leedli Nagari ki Neeti Katha, Kumara Varma is all set to start a new innings in his home state Kerala.
THE SHOW GOES ON: After staging memorable plays like Ashadh Ka Janvadi(top) and Leedli Nagari ki Neeti Katha, Kumara Varma is all set to start a new innings in his home state Kerala. — Photo by Pradeep Tewari

“I feel so nostalgic about the whole thing, leaving Chandigarh and going back to my own place,” says Kumara Varma, setting the conversation in motion. But according to him, now is the payback time, “I want to work in my own language. I feel I owe it to my people, my place.”

Varma has selected Thrisoor as his work place. “Thrisoor with its academic environment is the most happening place,” he says. But there is another factor that links Varma to Trisoor, the cultural capital of Kerala. “This is also the place where I had done my studies before coming to NSD,” he adds with a smile.

We understand his enthusiasm to go back to his native place but wonder if he is ready to face the changing scenario in Malayalam theatre, especially now that he had stayed away from it for so many years?

“In reality I never lost touch with Malayalam literature. I subscribe to all the major magazines and buy books. I actually have a well-stocked library of Malayalam books and magazines,” he says.

Neither did he give up his contacts with Malayali literary figures, i.e., people he came into close contact with during his NSD days. “During the sixties the hub of Malayalam literature was not Kerala, but Delhi. Legendary writers like the late O.V. Vijayan, M. Mukundan, Kakkanadan and Kavalam Narayana Panikkar were part of the Kerala Club in Delhi.

As a student of NSD, I was part of the circle and meeting such writers had greatly influenced me,” says Varma. Perhaps this is the reason that influenced Varma to take to translation work. He recently translated one of M. Mukundan’s novels into Hindi, which was staged by the NSD last year under the title Ek Dalit Yuvti Ki Dukh Bhari Dastan.

“I have recently discovered that I enjoy doing translation work. It is indeed a challenge to leave one’s mark as a writer while translating a novel and remaining true to the original author,” he says. But then looking at his career graph, which include directing more than 35 plays (Raja Oedipus, Urubhangam, Abhinjana Shakuntalam, Aashadh Ka Ek Din, Agg De Kaleere, Leedli Nagari Ki Neeti Katha to name a few), a majority of the plays had been translated by him.

Apart from his desire to give something back, there are a few other factors that are luring him back to his native land, like Carnatic music and the folk theatre forms like Kathakali, which he wants to experiment with.

And guess what, he is picking up elements from Punjabi literature and Sufi music to take back home. So we ask him if Malayalam theatre will witness some North-South fusion work? “Not consciously but maybe subtle fusion will be there as so many aspects of Punjabi way of life have been ingrained in my mind now,” he assures us.

So with the bubbling enthusiasm, there is a pang of sadness that comes from having to leave the city, which he had adopted as his work place for so long.

“That goes without saying. Once I get there, I know I am going to miss this place— its architecture, its people but most of all, my students.”

We will miss you too Varma, whom we knew as a teacher, a talented director but, most of all, a fine human being!

Matka chowk
Sarkari tarika
Sreedhara Bhasin

Last year, I was at a CITCO cafeteria, trying to get myself a cup of coffee. I paid for a cup of ‘coffee’, using the generic name. I was given a coupon for coffee against my payment. As I walked over to the coffee dispenser, I asked for a coffee without sugar, my usual. The attendant looked at my coupon with great concentration and said – “Yeh galat coupon hai.”

I verified that was indeed a coupon for coffee and went back to him. This time he elucidated - “Yeh coupon shakkar wala coffeeka hai, aapko shhakkarwala coffee hi lena padega.” I enquired if the prices were different and he said no. I asked if sugarless coffee came from another machine or if something extra was required for that? He said no. I asked again, what difference would it make if he gave me sugarless coffee against my coupon? He gave me a contemptuous look and said “Yeh, sarkari tarika hai – aap kuch bhi kaho, aapko shhakkarwala coffee hi milega.” He stuck by his coupon rules and I had to drink a sweet beverage.

I was at a government nursery the other day. Such places make you feel that Chandigarh is truly a jewel of a city. They have sprawling greenery right in the heart of the city – huge shady Palm trees lining the walkways leading to rows of blooming plants, foliage and evergreens. One can spend an entire afternoon there soaking the mild winter sun while looking at the gardens and exploring the winding pathways.

As I made my inquires an ancient mali was summoned to help me with my selections. He trudged along with me as I enthusiastically browsed the garden, remembering names from my childhood – so many winters, when horticultural shows were annual pilgrimages. As I picked up some saplings and pots, he busily started to put away my purchases. As I wandered around, picking up tender stems, sniffing at flowers and touching leaves – he started to look rather restless. When I asked him if I could look around to locate any ‘bleeding heart’ or ‘double-petal bougainvillea’ he very certainly shook his head and said “Yeh sab aapko nahi milega.”

With that final proclamation he deftly steered me away from the far reaches and towards the cash counter. When I expressed my desire to explore more, for I thought they have an incredibly beautiful place, he said – “Madam, ab to apko jana parega – ab to roti khana hai – lunchtime hone hi wala hai.” I looked at my watch. It was 11: 55 am. When I protested, he said – “Yeh sarkari niyam hai, kuchh nahi kar sakte.”

With an unfulfilled heart I came back. 

Lallan comes calling
Smriti Sharma

He doesn’t like being known as a ‘comedian’ (rather an ‘Entertainer’) and yet he manages to tickle your funny bone. He doesn’t have a mentor but likes Peter Sellers for his versatility in bizarre comic situations and given a chance he would love to put an act together the way he did in Pink Panther, the movie series. He is Lallan aka Sunil Grover from Chandigarh actually Punjab, he quickly adds. “I studied in Chandigarh and this is my City”. His Lallan act (one man show as he likes to call it) on Filmy Channel has become a household name now. Interestingly, his air-tickets for travelling to Chandigarh to act Lallan during the screening of Baabul and promoting his Channel at the same time were booked in Lallan’s name.

Curious to know what Lallan is all about, read on! In between all the movies telecast on Filmy Channel, Lallan would pop out for a minute or two, dressed in his special straight from ‘Jaunpur’ costume. And if you don’t know about his Jaunpur connection, here is the backgrounder! Lallan is a simple, not so smart guy from Jaunpur, a few Kilometres away from Benaras and has a typical Bhaiyya accent. He comes to Bombay aiming to make it big in films but lands himself in awkward situations every now and then.

Is there any similarity between Lallan and Sunil as to ‘make it big in films’? “Yes there is” comes the reply promptly. “Lallan’s innocence, positivism and his dreams are what I relate to”, says Sunil. Apart from Lallan, this commerce graduate from S D College, Chandigarh and Department of Indian Theatre, Panjab University has many voice-overs for some of the most popular advertisements such as of Heinz Tomato Ketchup, Mc Donald’s et al to his credit. Although he had offers for tele serials but felt his commitment with the channel has to be honoured first. Sunil has done bit of roles in movies like Family, The legend of Bhagat Singh and Insaan but feels actors like him; need to carve their own tracks to survive in the mad world of entertainment. Jokes apart, according to Sunil, it’s no laughing matter to make others laugh and he feels his vivacity is completely God gifted.

And what is it that makes him laugh? “Side-Splitting performances by the eternal Kishore Kumar and Chesto Mukherji and our very own Jaspal Bhatti. And as far his future plans go, all this self-assured humorist wants to is (hold your breath!), grow five times more as an entertainer and be able to make ten times more money than now. So it’s the Moolah that makes the world go around.

Well, this one seems to be a existing example of dreaming with open eyes!

Fun with fashion
Get glitzy
Anandita Gupta

The City Beautiful’s appetite for life seems immense, especially when we look at the party circuit here. Even in this biting chill, when all one can think of is getting wrapped up in a snug quilt, drinking that adrak wali chai, Chandigarh fashionistas are busy partying, and yes, flaunting that glam looks around.

And thanks to the growing exposure of chic fashion trends, the city ladies no longer wanna flaunt their style via expensive jewels. The resplendent flushes that the city’s parties are awash with, hence, are now haute couture. Attend any social do and one after another, images of women draped in designer outfits, fleet past your eyes. And in case, you too wanna get drenched in some glamour for your next evening bash, we tell you where to go.

Like a delightful secret that remains hidden from the public eye, we have Monisha Goel’s ‘Studio Strings tucked cozily at Sector 39, Chandigarh. Started just a year back by Monisha and her young daughter Rishika, the store is a haven for all those collegiates and ladies, who have a penchant for western, flamboyant clothes. Right from jazzy jackets, shrugs and chic kurtis, to shimmery, glittery coats and cardigans, the store has it all. “Since Rishika is herself a BA-1st year student, she’s really clued in to what all is in fashion among the youngsters. And so, our store’s always brimming with everything from party gowns to flowing, brightly hued skirts,” beams Monisha.

And the mother daughter duo is custom making a lot of stuff too. “Chandigarh women have become very fashionable and trend conscious. So many a times, young girls want a specific design in their favourite cloth and so we rustle it up for them at our manufacturing unit at Delhi,” informs Goel, who’ll make your favourite outfit in any stuff, ranging from georgettes and chiffons to the scrumptious silks and plaid cottons.

And the price? “The range is diverse. Starting from Rs 100 to Rs 1500, it would go up to anything,” avers the lady, who’s all set to exhibit her stuff soon at hotel Aroma on 23rd and 24th December and in Ludhiana on 15th and 16th December. “ The highlight here will be my brightly hued winter party collection, in colours like red, black, violet and gold, jazzed up with studded crystals,” she informs. So all those of you who can’t visit Studio Strings, here’s your chance to visit these forthcoming expos and grab some glitzy party outfits!

Sabse fav
Smriti Sharma

The bandwagon arrived in the city amidst all the hype and hoopla. And this is not just any other promotional campaign. This one is Star Gold’s opinion poll SabseyFavourite Kaun that is all set to come back on Star Gold in December 2006 and this time on an international level. In a young crowd in Sector 8, the ‘Fan Van’ arrived with all its crew after travelling to Rajasthan and UP. After getting the forms from the Fan Van to vote for their Sabse favourites, movie buffs from the city cast their votes as well.

And a quick insight at the leading stars of the poll. If the facts are to be believed then leading the favourite hero category is the evergreen, Amitabh Bachhan followed closely by the King Khan (Shahrukh) who interestingly is topping international voting charts. Arshad Warsi is leading the pack of Sabse Favourite comic hero and in the favourite film category, there seems to be a tie between Lage Raho…and Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna.

Coming back to the picture in Chandigarh, amongst a large gathering, a local anchor was busy testing people’s ‘Bollywood Quotient’ and asking them movies related questions. For the high-spirited Chandigarhians it was all about having fun to rack their brains and take home a few goodies. So in the clash of the bollywood titans, Chandigarhians have contributed a bit of their parts too.

Mera naam Jacob
Smriti Sharma

He started his career as a singer at the time when there were only a handful of music takers. Only a few thought that singing was a respectful line of work and that is what struck him. He still aims to prove his mettle in singing and earn respect. Perhaps one of the oldest singers in Chandigarh, Naresh Jacob started singing in the early eighties and formed a band called ‘Vibrations’.

And just like any other Indian household, he too faced his share of hurdles at home. “At first my father didn’t believe it when somebody told him about my singing” tells Jacob. It was way back in 1988, that he joined Hotel Mountview and sing there everyday for three hours, a practice that still continues. “At that time, the hotel had only 33 rooms and I used to sing in the lawns outside.” For him it’s the respect that counts more than money and perhaps that is why even after getting an opportunity to go abroad and make a career, he refused.

This otherwise ‘satisfied’ singer can also play the drums equally with ease. So what is it that he likes to sing? “Song by Rafiji, Kishore Kumar, Mukesh and Gazals by Jagjit Singh and Ghulam Ali is what I like to sing the most,” comes the earnest reply.

Though now beats have taken over melody, Jacob believes it’s the lyrics is the backbone of a song. And his take on the music shows that are aired on almost all the satellite channels these days? “When the voting system has not worked in choosing the right leaders, then how can it work in selecting the genuine singer?”

After going through many rough patches in life, Naresh gives the credit to music that helped him survive and make a comeback. It was one of his high moments in life when he performed live in the War Memorial Concert held in September 2006. Probably the only live performer to use a sampler (a kind of rhythm machine) while performing, he can sing well in English and Punjabi as well.

And when he is not singing, it’s a bit of social work that he likes to do. He would be performing for the children of Mother Teresa Home in Sector 23 on the Christmas eve. Mera Naam Joker is one movie that he relates his life experiences to and he fondly likes to call himself as Mera Naam Jacob.

Write to Renee
Give meaning to your existence

I am in my mid-thirties and have this problem of not being able to sleep. Although there is no reason for me to be stressed I feel that the moment I go to bed I start feeling wide-awake. The strangest of thoughts start racing in my mind. The next morning I am tired and listless and have no energy at all. In spurts I can manage to sleep during the day but I seem to dread the night as I feel I am going to be awake again. I have everything going in life a nice husband, two kids in the boarding school, a beautiful home and a fairly comfortable set up. I am looking for more meaning in my life. I keep wondering as to what is the purpose of my existence and why am I here at all. These questions bother me the most when I seem to lie in bed.

Seema Malhotra, Chandigarh

You just need to relax, please do not fret so much over your state of affairs. You have everything going for you in life you just need to change your attitude. Most people feel they are not getting enough sleep if they are tired, but there are psychological indicators, which you can miss. Normal healthy adults need around seven hours of sleep every night and if you do not sleep enough you are irritable, jittery snappy over excited or euphoric even. You do have reason to worry as sleep affects brain function and mood. But find out what is bothering you so much. As far as the meaning and purpose of life is concerned these are deep- seated issues, which need many hours of discussion and inner search. As far as your immediate life is concerned, I think you should try to find a focus for yourself. Find something that interests you, so that your thoughts and energies can find a channel. Once you are busy following your interests you it will give you a level of fulfilment, sleep will naturally come to you the moment you step into the bed. Try this it will surely work for you.

I am a 27-year-old guy and am still not very settled in a career situation. I started working at a very young age. I was only 23 years old but ever since I have changed my line of work many times. The last one year I decided that I will do nothing and just unwind from the past few years of work and perhaps think about what I really want to do. None of the jobs I took really seemed to hold my attention for long I always wanted to move on. Now I have been living on my savings for the past year but I feel It is about time I got into something that is more settled. I do not want to spend my life jumping from one job to another. I feel if I can find the right niche for myself life will be more steady and good. Even my girlfriend is tired with my attitude and she wants me to settle down.

Amarjit Tiwana, Patiala

The power to make things happen is rather elusive and mystifying. You have to learn to overcome you natural instinct to procrastinate, which, must have surfaced staying at home for a year. Develop a will power to hit a target, which you have to find for yourself. Finding a goal for yourself should be your first priority. I am sure you have had enough time to think by now as to what really makes you happy. It may sound basic but only you can tell what it is that really makes you tick, one reason most people remain unhappy is that they are motivated by other people’s goals and desires. Research tells us that we can strengthen our motivation by training our thoughts just like we train our bodies. Do yourself this favour spend time on thinking about what are your best talents, and what is it that truly motivates you to perform at a higher degree than you have always done. Once you have placed a finger on this one, things will naturally move on form there.

Rush in your queries to Renee at or care of Lifestyle, The Tribune, Sector 29-C, Chandigarh

Radio hoaxes and pranks
Tuning-In with Hardeep S. Chandpuri

Radio hoaxes are as old as radio itself. Sometimes radio jockeys, looking for more ratings and listeners, have perpetrated them intentionally. But, other times radio has simply been the medium where a single phone call or a smart and creative bystander innocently started them. Usually these kind of hoaxes are a part and parcel of Fool’s Day specials but, their use or misuse cannot be ruled out on other days too.

Well, the most famous radio hoax, was the one aired on October 30, 1938, when Orson Wells and the Mercury Theatre performed a radio play based on an H.G. Wells story entitled “War of the Worlds”. The national broadcast caused panic and mass hysteria, as listeners began to believe that Martians had landed in New Jersey and were taking over the world. It was so frighteningly real.

Some years ago, when the US government changed the look of the twenty-dollar bill, radio personalities in more than 12 states aired false broadcasts that the old twenty-dollar bills would be worthless. Thousands of listeners panicked and placed calls to stations, banks, the government and other businesses and agencies. These erroneous reports began airing on September 20, four days prior to the debut of the new twenty-dollar bills. It began when Ron Olson and Steve Conley at WMC-FM in Memphis, received a call from an anonymous listener who had stated that the bills would lose their value.

On April Fools Day, 1992, John Hockenberry on National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation” show, pulled off a classic hoax. He enlisted the help of comedian Rich Little who impersonated the voice of Richard Nixon. Hockenberry announced that Nixon had decided to run for President again and aired the Rich Little-created audio clips to lend credence to his claim. In one clip, Nixon said, “I never did anything wrong, and I won’t do it again.” Hockenberry then asked real guests for their astute, political analysis. Listeners were baffled and phoned NPR in masses to express their emotions. Hockenberry disclosed the ruse later that day, in his programme.

Recently Bill Fox, a Radio Jockey at WBHT-FM in Pennsylvania, told his listeners that Britney Spears, the teen idol of pop music, was going to appear at the radio station. Thousands of listeners and fans showed up. But, when a limousine arrived, somebody got out holding a Britney Spears doll. The Associated Press reported that someone on the scene quoted Fox as saying, “See, I told you she was a real doll to work with.” People were visibly upset; kids were crying and parents were outraged. Fox had achieved his objective and the station’s ratings shot through the sky and he became a household name.

High on emotion

John Abraham and Rani Mukherjee in Baabul
John Abraham and Rani Mukherjee in Baabul

Baabul released on Friday at Piccadly Chandigarh, Fun Republic Manimajra and K C Panchkula is a B R Chopra film and that raised huge expectations. The filmmaker has once again trusted the reliable pair of Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini as the lead pair of the film after much acclaimed Baghbaan. Baghbaan was an eye opener about depressed parenthood then Baabul is a tearjerker. The viewer comes out of the cinema hall little satisfied. To begin with the story is just okay — for a director Ravi Chopra film — a typical family drama.

Like the other B R Chopra films this one too is technically sound. And there are a couple of good songs composed by Aadesh Srivastava. There are some serious sequences in the film.

Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini give good performances. Salman Khan, Rani Mukherjee and John Abraham are convincing and stand out. From director who smartly handled a good theme in Baghban, Baabul is just average.

— D. P.

Health tip of the day

With age feet not only increase in length but the forefoot tends to widen. Therefore, old shoes should be changed with new ones that does not cramp or squeeze the foot.

— Dr Ravinder Chadha


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