of real heroes
bother getting married
of real heroes
His life story reads like a movie script. A rickshawpuller, smitten by the idea of becoming a film hero, Waqar Khan actually went on to realise his dream. Today, his movie Ishq Na Karna has set the cash registers ringing in Uttar Pradesh and he already has a couple of Bollywood assignments in his kitty
HE slogged for years pedalling a cycle rickshaw on the streets of Kanpur and Lucknow, and dreaming of having some famous film personality as his passenger who would spot natural talent in him and give him a break. Later, he graduated to driving an auto-rickshaw in Mumbai with the same hope.
When no godfather appeared to launch him, he did what few others would have dared to do. Thirythree-year-old Waqar Khan struggled hard to save money to launch himself on the silver screen.
Today his maiden venture Ishq Na Karna is running to packed houses in cities across his home state of Uttar Pradesh. Beaming, he shares a news item appearing in a Hindi daily about the mad rush at Durga theatre in his ancestral town of Shahjehanpur a few days ago. The police had to resort to a mild lathi charge to disperse the excited crowds that had broken the cinema hall gates in their eagerness to see the film.
Just back from the shooting of an Aziz Khan-directed film Undertrial in Thane jail with Rajpal Yadav and Mukesh Tiwari as his co-stars, Waqar proudly announces that a song was picturised on him. He already has half a dozen acting assignments in Bollywood films safely under his belt.
Talking about his launch pad, Waqar Khan said that finally he has fulfilled his life-long ambition. Today when films are made on extravagant budget of Rs 50 crore or more, Waqar has directed and produced his film at a shoestring budget of Rs 65 lakh and completed it in just eight months. When no distributor came forward to release his creative endeavour, he plunged into distribution too.
Paucity of funds restricted the prints to five. He decided to first test the film in his home state—Uttar Pradesh. At present, he is moving from city to city holding functions and visiting theatres to inform people about the making of his film. And as the incident at Durga theatre at Shahjehanpur amply illustrates—people are ready to listen to him. Similar gusto was witnessed at Bareilly, Farukhabad, Lakhim Khiri and other cities where the film is running to packed houses.
"Now when the film is doing well, distributors are chasing me to hand over the film rights. They are even putting pressure on me by roping in netas to convince me," laughs Ahmad.
He does not remember since when he’s had this burning ambition to become a hero. "My father was a watchman in Mumbai, where I was born. But soon the family fell on bad days. I along with my mother and siblings returned to our village, Bhunara, in Shahjehanpur district."
As soon as Waqar was old enough to earn a living, he moved to Kanpur and then to Lucknow pulling a cycle rickshaw to keep body and soul together. "In reality I was a rickshaw puller. But in my eyes I was a film hero waiting for the world to discover me."
Realising that his yearning to see himself on the silver screen was not possible by being so far away from the tinsel town, he moved to Mumbai, where his father still worked as a watchman. "Here I drove an auto-rickshaw for 16 to 18 hours in a day." Soon he saved Rs 50,000 and started his own business of selling auto-rickshaws.
"Whenever I had the time I visited Film City and quietly observed shoots. Just like Eklavya learnt his art from his Guru, Dronacharya, I learnt my art from a string of directors I secretly watched."
With financial help from the auto-rickshaw union in Mumbai that knew him well as a supplier and hard-working colleague, Waqar finally plunged headlong into realising his lifelong ambition.
Ishq Na Karna is a conventional love story with a bit of suspense, comedy and the works. "No it is not even remotely inspired by my life. Perhaps some day I will dare to make a film on my life" says the actor. Punjabi actress Urvarshi Chaudhury plays the female lead. Kumar Sanu, Shreya Ghoshal, Udit Narain and Shaan have sung six melodious songs in the film.
Rather reserved when it comes to talking about his family, all that Waqar shares is that everybody is now happy with his progress. "Initially, my father was very angry with my decision. But now that things have worked out well, he has come around to acknowledging that I have it in me."
With a sense of achievement, he points out that his son will not have to struggle like him. He has already made his debut in Ishq Na Karna as his reel-life son.
Humbly giving all credit to Allah, Waqar philosophically remarks: "Allah has been very kind to me. Yes, I had worked hard. But then so many others also work hard. Not everyone gets crowned with success."
YEAR after year, we see reports of boat tragedies, caused by overloading of boats and absence of safety measures. Yet, the same mistakes are committed again and again. That’s because we pay no attention to safety and even equate foolhardiness with bravery. And look at what has happened in Jammu and Kashmir. As many as 21 children have died because neither the teachers who accompanied the children nor the sailor who took them on the boat ever thought of the consequences of overlooking safety measures.
I am talking about the Wular lake tragedy. From what one can see from newspaper reports, a busload of schoolchildren visiting the lake, about 70km from Srinagar, wanted a joyride. The children, all said to be below 10 years, were accompanied by two teachers, who requested a sailor to take them for a boat ride on the lake. The sailor obliged and took them on an assault boat, which however capsized while taking a sharp turn.
What is most shocking is that the teachers should so casually take such young children on a boat ride, without safety precautions. The reports say that 37 people (33 of them children) were on the boat that had a capacity of 16. Overloading has been the cause of many a boat tragedy in our country. Yet, we do not seem to bother about this basic safety precaution — that a boat should not be overloaded. And then, obviously, there were no life jackets, life buoys.
This tragedy reminds me of the case of Wg Cdr P.S.Sandhu vs Union of India, where the apex consumer court held the Army authorities, which ran the Boat Club at the Barapani lake, near Shillong, guilty of negligence for failing to provide safety measures like life jackets, life buoys, qualified life guards and first-aid facilities. Wg Cdr Sandhu and his colleagues had gone on a picnic to the boat club along with their family members. After sailing for about a kilometre and a half from the shore, the boat had suddenly capsized as a result of overloading. And the accident had resulted in the untimely death of four passengers — Wg Cdr Sandhu’s wife Guddi Sandhu, Wg Cdr Kapoor and his two minor daughters.
Said the Commission in this case: The provision of adequate number of life jackets in the boat is a mandatory requirement for ensuring the safety of passengers in the event of any mishap occurring during the boat cruise and in not providing sufficient number of life jackets or at least life buoys on the boat, there was a grave deficiency of service on the part of the Army authorities. If the life jackets or life buoys had been provided and the boatman had sufficient training and experience to instruct the passengers about the timely wearing and mode of use of the life jackets, the loss of four precious lives by drowning could have been avoided."
The Commission also observed that in these days of highly sophisticated modes of communication such as walkie-talkie, etc, one would expect the Boat Club run by the Indian Army to at least have a communication link with the personnel on board to send alarm signals. Unfortunately, there was no such arrangement. "To make matters worse, there were no life guards employed by the Boat Club nor even any personnel who had been trained for rendering first aid for the purpose of resuscitating the persons who had become unconscious as a result of drowning," the Commission said.
Here, the Army authorities argued that the boat ride was free and therefore outside the purview of the consumer courts. The complainant, however, said he had himself made advance payment towards boating charges — he had paid Rs 95 to the Havaldar who was present at the Boat Club, calculating the charges at the rate of Rs 5 per head.
In so far as the Wular lake tragedy is concerned, it does seem like the boat ride was free. If it was so then the parents cannot file a case against the Indian Navy (Under the Consumer Protection Act), but they can certainly file a case against the school. It was sheer negligence on the part of the teachers too to have taken the young children on that boat ride.
I would use this occasion to once again remind consumers not to take boat rides unless there are adequate safety measures, including life jackets for each person (they must be in good condition and worn the way they should be) and life buoys on the boat. In addition, check the capacity of the boat and ensure that it is not overloaded. Find out if there are life guards around and good communication and first-aid facilities in case of an accident. Do not take chances. Life is precious.
bother getting married
IN no other aspect of human behaviour have age-old religious traditions been so thoroughly secularised as in the matter of one man/woman for life (hopefully) formerly known as marriage.
Each year since 1992, there have been more civil weddings than religious in the UK. After 1994, they were no longer confined to either the church or the registry office, but permitted in a range of other approved premises. Stately homes, hotels and cruise ships all enjoyed a bonanza of weddings.
The driving, aesthetic reason for non-believers to prefer church weddings - that registry offices were universally glum and depressing - was blown away as remote locations with dazzling settings came into their own. Bali beaches did a roaring trade. By 2004, almost 68 per cent of marriages were civil ceremonies in Britain.
But plenty of couples resisted even that. Today, one in six couples in the UK is living together outside marriage, that's some 4 million people, with many of the women believing in the concept of "common-law wife" - that, given the crunch of separation, it will somehow allow her parity of rights with her married sister.
Such ideas are a little out of date: common-law marriage ended in 1753.
It was only then, in the 18th century, that the state entered the arena and the whole shift towards its overarching power began. Before that it was religions and their priesthoods that decided. Romeo and Juliet were considered married the moment the hopeless Friar Lawrence had declared them so. Henry VIII's trouble divorcing Catherine of Aragon resided in his defiance of the Pope, and his subsequent need to set up his own ecclesiastic authority, which separated us from Rome. Civil authority didn't come into it.
Even within my lifetime, marriage in church, chapel or synagogue (there were few mosques in the UK in the 1950s) was the considered norm, the thing to do. It followed prescribed routines of courtship, engagement, wedding, honeymoon. Stag and hen nights on an orgiastic scale are a relatively recent and secular innovation. Signing the register was merely a quirk of administration, happily relegated to the vestry where the bride had a chance to adjust her veil before the triumphant procession down the aisle.
All this ritual, bonded into church practice and liturgy, is what politicians mean when they speak in hallowed terms of family values and the true nature of marriage. It's what, in some Utopian dreamland, they would like to see prevail.
The opposite is the case. Society is in flight from marriage at an accelerating rate, and the Law Commission proposals will make it easier. Of course, there were always unmarried partnerships, those who dared the scandal usually identified as Bohemian types, radicals, artists, and such riff-raff. They were regarded by many with social disapproval and secret envy, suggesting a liberty of spirit, fine in novels and poetry but hard in real life. The uxorious "my wife" and "my husband" set the conventional tone. In the mid-60s, as feminism flourished, there was a doomed attempt to speak of "my significant other". It did no more than raise a giggle. Now it is commonplace to introduce and speak of "my partner".
The Law Commission proposals have been drawn up at the request of the Government, which has promised a draft Bill by the summer of 2007. This is predicated on the prospect of the number of married men and women falling below 50 per cent of the population within five years, and the number cohabiting without marrying rising to some 3.8 million by 2031. Issues of property, inheritance, exemption from inheritance tax need attending to.
But the talk is all about money, and rights to property, as though we were negotiating business mergers and splits.
So where, if these proposals go forward, will the difference be drawn between marriage and cohabiting? The most conspicuous difference will be in the marriage ceremony itself, the public declaration before family and friends. The marriage industry will hope this model survives. With the average wedding costing some `A310,000 and the average wedding dress `A31000, there are other commercial considerations than those of the couple to consider. Who would hire all those marquees, and caterers; what about the chauffeured cars, the cascades of flowers? Think of the racks of wedding clothes in the summer shops and the hats! Think of the milliners, trimming emporia, feather farms, confetti factories all going to the wall, simply because people are preferring to cohabit. And what a killjoy lot they must be - no parties, no colour, no sense of occasion.
It clearly remains for the truly religious to save the day. For them, marriage is a sacrament of their faith before it is either a legal contract or a financial settlement. Marriage, in its centuries-long tradition, will survive among believers because it springs from their deep conviction.
Perhaps, as more and more of us opt for a civil service or none at all, it may be that the real meaning of the marriage service is about to re-assert itself. — By arrangement with The Independent
ON the upper floor of a library in north Kolkata, is a motley group of women. There’s singing—clear and lilting—and the hustle-bustle of a play rehearsal in progress. You notice that a space, evidently meant to stand in for the stage, is clearly marked off with coir ropes. And sometimes the director leads an actor by the arm.
That is when it dawns on you that these women, rehearsing for Rabindranath Tagore’s Chandalika, are visually impaired. The story about an ‘untouchable’ girl who realises her worth as a human being when a Buddhist monk asks her for water, seems to strike a chord. "The religion that neglects and insults me, I don’t recognise," is what the chorus sings in the background.
Most of these women are members of the Blind Opera, the only performing art ensemble of its kind in India. The Opera, explains founder-member Subhashis Gangopadhyay, has both male and female members. But this particular production is their first all-woman affair. Gangopadhyay explains that the idea was to encourage greater involvement of women, including women who are not members of the Blind Opera, and to involve visually impaired women from the fringes of Kolkata as well.
The women in this play are of different ages, and from different backgrounds; some can see partially, some not at all. Their common bond is their love for theatre, and a disability they want to surmount using theatre as a medium. This also gives them an opportunity to express the creativity hidden behind layers of denial and discrimination. Says 20-something Alpana Dutta, "I find an outlet here for my pent-up emotions. I was at home after my school finals, doing nothing and feeling hopeless as blindness slowly crept up. Then my mother heard about this group and encouraged me to join it. It has been a great boost to my self-confidence."
For director Dola Chakraborty, the experience has been a novel and challenging one, though she has been involved with Kolkata’s vibrant experimental theatre movement for a long time. "I hope I have been able to bring these women to a common platform through theatre, where they can voice their inner thoughts, pain and desires, and share their experiences," she says.
Do the women in the Blind Opera have specific concerns, separate from their male counterparts? Chakraborty tends to think so. Women with disabilities, she says, are "doubly discriminated against". Gangopadhyay adds that where a visually impaired woman feels unwanted, theatre has the scope to build their confidence.
Not all the women in ‘Chandalika’, however, are members of the Blind Opera. Some of them turned up for the audition when they heard about the project. The women feel that "sometimes you can’t talk about your problems, ‘womanly’ concerns in a larger group. A space for ourselves gives us that opportunity."
The women in the group are mostly from lower-middle class or rural backgrounds, which means they have even lesser access to other outlets of expression. The Opera arranges workshops in rural schools and in the fringes of Kolkata. A movement for empowerment has to come from the grassroots, they believe.
While planning the play, Chakraborty first organised a workshop with about 45 women; those who were not in the main roles were accommodated in the chorus. "The other advantage is that while listening to the dialogues, all of them get familiar with every role. They have a very keen auditory sense and so getting understudies is no problem. When necessary, they fill in for each other comfortably."
Choreographer Poulami Basu, trained in Kathakali and Bharatanatyam, says working with visually challenged women—for the first time—has been a great learning experience. "They are very receptive. But I found it tough to decide how to direct their movements because they have no visual reference. I had to change the whole choreographic design. But the women learned fast and have done splendidly."
For Gangopadhyay, theatre is a tool of empowerment through drama therapy. "Theatre helps build confidence and the ability to communicate with the sighted world. It also helps blind people feel they belong to the mainstream, a fact that shows in their body language," he says. The Opera regularly gets rave reviews.
Gangopadhyay himself is sighted, and was part of a well-known theatre group in Kolkata. He thought of setting up the Blind Opera when he and a few like-minded colleagues conducted a workshop at the Calcutta Blind School. After the event was over, the participants wanted to continue their training in the performing arts. Gangopadhyay and his friends saw this as an opportunity for social change, and broke away from their regular group to develop the Blind Opera. Launched in 1996, the Opera is a registered theatre group.