Saturday, 18 November 2017

How have south Indian actors fared outside their own industry?

From Kamal Haasan to Dulquer Salmaan and Parvathy, many south Indian actors have ventured into Bollywood. One look at some of their roles and we realise that it never falls in the typical mould of a Bollywood hero. They are either a character with a south Indian background, or with some patent difference in behaviour, characteristics or ethnicity, writes Neelima Menon on the News Minute. Read on: 

Malayalam superstar Dulquer Salmaan has just wrapped his first Hindi film Karwaan, written and directed by debutant Akarsh Khurana, co-starring Irrfan Khan and Mithila Palkar.  He is only the second male actor of his generation from the Malayalam industry to have taken the ‘big leap’ into Bollywood. Prithviraj tried it in 2012 with Aiyyaa opposite Rani Mukherjee.

While Dulquer fans professed their delight over the actor’s new innings, he had this to say—"I don’t think I want to play a fancy lead role in Hindi films just for the sake of it. I would prefer to do interesting roles. If I get a memorable role, it would have a bigger impact than debuting as a lead in a film where nobody knows me.”

The message is loud and clear; he is just testing waters in Bollywood, and has no intention of setting base there. Malayalam cinema will always be the priority. It’s probably this sense of security on home ground that often curtails south Indian male actors’ exploration of Bollywood at length.

Drawing a trajectory: from Kamal Haasan to Dhanush
“All of them had hits. Chiranjeevi had Gentleman, Rajinikanth had Andha Kanoon and Kamal Haasan had Ek Duuje Ke Liye. But they didn’t move bag and baggage to Bollywood unlike Sridevi or Jayaprada. I think proximity to the industry was a major part, they didn’t want to give up their mega stardom down south,” - Baradwaj Rangan, Film Companion South editor.

Though Sivaji Ganesan had a cameo in Dharti (1970), it was Kamal Haasan who made his big Bollywood debut as a hero in K Balachander’s Ek Duuje Ke liye (1981). He played a Tamilian who falls madly in love with a north Indian girl (this thread was later reconstructed in various Hindi soaps and films).

Out of the 18 films he did, most of them were either remakes or dubbed version of his own south Indian films. Probably Ramesh Sippy’s Saagar (1985) and Raaj Tilak (1984) are the only quintessential Bollywood films he was part of. Despite his talent, Kamal Haasan was never a sought-after hero in Hindi.

Rajinikanth has done around 20 films in Hindi, and there have been quite a few hits, but he was never able to replicate the phenomenal success from down south. Unlike Kamal, Rajinikanth took on original roles in Bollywood. Interestingly, both actors put a lid on their Bollywood goals post their superstardom in Tamil cinema.

Malayalam superstars, Mammootty and Mohanlal were also part of an odd film or two. Mammootty was the hero in a highly forgettable Dhartiputra (1993) and Sau Jhooth Ek Sach (2004). While Mohanlal won rave reviews for his Palakkad based Police Commissioner in Company (2002), he gained nothing from being part of the awful Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag (2007).

Chiranjeevi and Venkatesh, superstars of Telugu cinema have also starred in one or two Hindi films (most of their Telugu superhits were dubbed into Hindi) but it’s Nagarjuna who tasted some amount of success with films like Criminal (1995) and Khuda Gawah (1992).

Kannada superstar Kichcha Sudeep surprisingly made more fruitful inroads into Bollywood than many of his contemporaries (with Ram Gopal Varma films like Phoonk, Rann, Phoonk 2, Raktha Charitra 1 & 2).

Prithviraj made an unconventional debut with Rani Mukherjee in Aiyya where he played a Tamil man who becomes a Marathi woman's object of lust. He played a character with grey shades in Aurangzeb and had an extended cameo in Naam Shabana, but success still eluded the young actor in Bollywood.

Chiranjeevi’ son Ram Charan’s Hindi debut, Zanjeer (2013), which was a remake of the Amitabh Bachchan starrer of the same name, sank without a trace. Then there is Dhanush who made a notable debut with Raanjhanaa (2013), won the Filmfare for best debut actor and starred alongside Amitabh Bachchan in Shamitabh (2015).

Not many of the young male superstars down south seem keen to experiment in Bollywood. There have been infrequent outings (including Ajith in Asoka, Surya in Raktha Charithra) but only two actors have managed to make some headway in Bollywood -  R Madhavan and Siddharth. While the former has been adept at balancing both industries, the latter has made an impact with the few Hindi films he did.  Telugu star Rana Daggubati has also done his share of Hindi films (Department, Dum Maro Dum, Ghazi Attack) without being pigeonholed as a south Indian character.

The women who charmed the boundaries
“In the 80s there were a lot of heroine oriented films being made that required a certain level of acting proficiency than glamour. But now it’s more a sporadic event. Look at how Aramm is being celebrated as a heroine-oriented movie,” - Baradwaj Rangan.

There have been widespread discussions on the dwindling success rate of south Indian male actors in Bollywood in contrast to female actors. Female actors have always succeeded in blurring the linguistic and topographic boundaries in cinema—from Padmini, Vyjayantimala, Hema Malini, Rekha, Sridevi, Jayaprada to Asin.

The heroines who made the crossover were all fair-skinned and once there, they were quick to fit into the Bollywood mould. Sridevi had a lot of substantial roles come her way but she was careful to even it out with enough glamour outings.  Ditto with Rekha.

Hema Malini was sought out mostly for scripts that had a meaningful woman lead. And they stood head and shoulders with the reigning superstars in Bollywood.

“Also at that time south heroines came with a certain skill set. They could dance, emote,” says Rangan.  However, no woman actor from the south has since been able to create that kind of impact in Bollywood. Although Aishwarya Rai is from the south and she made her debut in the Tamil film Iruvar, she grew up in Mumbai for the most part.

Among the younger lot, though Asin struck gold with the Hindi remake of Ghajini, she soon found herself being relegated to playing the ‘girl-next-door’. Her innings hardly went beyond 7 films. “There has always been a flavour of the month in southern industry. Not so much about acting, but about looking good and that means fair skin was the need of the hour. Especially post '90s. As the profile of the movie changed, the actresses also changed,” recalls Rangan.

At the same time, Tamannaah and Kajal Aggarwal are north Indian women actors who have set their base in the south, with occasional and forgettable Bollywood outings.  Taapsee Pannu is an exception in this case as, unlike her peers, she has invested in better characters in Hindi. Ironically, it’s when she migrated to Bollywood that she was accepted as a good actor.

Dubbing artist-turned-actor Bhagyalakshmi once said in a TV interview, “When it comes to north Indian actresses doing films in south, since their voices are dubbed, it’s easier to find acceptance in regional cinema. Simran and Jyothika had the same dubbing artist. It’s only recently that even Nayanthara started using her voice. Initially Sridevi and Rekha had dubbing artists and it’s once they were established that they started doing their own dubbing. Asin dubbed for herself in Hindi and Tamil. That’s also one reason why male actors struggle in either industries because voice is part of their popular image.”

But Parvathy who recently made her Hindi film debut in Tanuja Chandra’s Qarib Qarib Singlle opposite Irrfan Khan was received warmly by the critics and audience alike.

“This film’s beating heart is Parvathy. She is such a breath of fresh air, such a break from the dressed-up dolls of Bollywood: a breathing, alive young woman, sensitive to those around her, searching, but not too desperately, not for that mythical One, but for Someone who may be a right fit,” says Indian Express film critic Shubra Gupta in her review. Another notable aspect is that she has dubbed for herself in the film.

Bollywood was largely ruled by south Indian women actors for a long time but not a single male actor was able to gain a foothold in the industry. The marked 'south Indian' look of many actors doesn’t work in a typical Bollywood rom-com or potboiler, and their heavily accented Hindi also acts as a deterrent.  One look at some of their roles and we realise that it never falls in the typical mould of a Bollywood hero. They are either a character with a south Indian background, or with some patent difference in behaviour, characteristics or ethnicity.

The two-way street of typecasting...
 And it’s a two-way street when it comes to male actor’s acceptance in either industries. Except for cameos by Amitabh Bachchan, Amjad Khan, Shah Rukh Khan or Anil Kapoor, Bollywood male actors have never dared to play leading roles in any south Indian film as the same rule applies to these actors of north Indian origin. They have instead preferred to remake some of these mass films into their language. Four out of Akshay Kumar’s ten top grossers have been remakes of south Indian films (Rowdy Rathore, Singh is Bling, Holiday, Gabbar is Back) while five of Salman Khan’s all-time biggest hits (Kick, Ready, Bodyguard, Wanted, Jai Ho) were remakes of Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu films.

Interestingly the south has also always beckoned the north Indian actors for the role of hard-nosed villains. For a long time, every mass Telugu/Tamil film featured a blue/grey-eyed, russet haired villain:  Atul Kulkarni, Sonu Sood (who made a successful career out of it), Sayaji Shinde, Rahul Dev, Pradeep Rawat, Vidyut Jamwaal to name a few.

...Ending in misrepresentations!
Baahubali 2, which is the second highest grossing film in India after Dangal can be credited for obscuring the wide margin between south and north Indian cinema in the recent past. But at what cost we may wonder? A lot of cinemagoers in north India now believe that this epic fantasy action film represents all cinema down south. It speaks a lot about the Bollywood-isation of Indian cinema.

Even as Bollywood continues to feed into the dark, huge, curly haired rowdy stereotypes (remember Chennai Express) for south Indian men, and pale, pretty and blue-eyed stereotypes (remember, well, everyone from dusky-turned-fair Rekha to Aishwarya Rai!) for all women, we hope that in times to come with independent cinema swallowing the gap between mainstream and offbeat, the south-north demarcation in Indian cinema will take a backseat.  Perhaps then, quality content and quality actors will triumph over topography and ethnicity. 

Husbands stress women twice as much as children

A middle-aged man jokes with his work friends, saying, “I love being a dad- I have 2 great kids…. but my wife has 3!” The group might laugh and allow the conversation to move on, but the truth is, many women today really do feel like they’re left to parent their partners instead of relying on their support with family life. Left to play chef, chauffeur, teacher, nurse, maid, special events coordinator, and correctional officer, many moms feel like they’re always running out of steam- especially if they work outside of the home as well.

It’s Not The Kids… It’s Hubby!

Unfortunately, for many women, as demanding as motherhood can be, their husbands can have an even greater impact on their stress levels. In fact, a survey conducted by Today of over 7,000 moms found that the average mom rates her stress levels an 8.5 out of 10, and 46% of women say their husbands are causing more stress than their kids! Researchers summarized: (1)

Moms stress most about not having enough time in the day to do everything that needs to be done
3 in every 4 moms with partners say they do most of the parenting and household duties
1 in every 5 moms says not having enough help from their spouse is a major source of daily stress
What’s more, researchers from the University of Padova have recently discovered that this carries over into a difference in health further down the road, when one partner passes away. When husbands lose their wives, their health deteriorates, but when women lose their husbands, they actually become healthier and are better at coping with stress and depression. (2) The researchers suspected this was because the men relied more heavily on their female partners than vice versa.

Why Are Husbands Stressing Their Wives Out? 
Husbands Can Step Up More
There’s definitely more than one underlying theme here at play. On the one hand, moms are expecting equal support from their partners to take care of their families; things like organizing play dates, doctor appointments, and homework duties. But even in families in which both parents are working full-time, it’s still pretty commonplace for the women to be left with those responsibilities.

How To Fix It: If you notice you and your partner don’t have an even split of at-home responsibilities, talk with him about it! If it helps, try to make a list together of all of the little things that need to get done every week and see how you can make things more equitable. Try starting a shared calendar that both of you can easily access on your phones and computers, so no one has to be worried about forgetting important dates.

Wives Can Step Back More
There’s always two sides to a story. It might be easy to blame your partner for not taking more responsibility at home, but more often than not, they really do want to be the best father and husband they can be! The problem can sometimes be that moms aren’t fully trusting their partners to take on more.

How To Fix It: Women can have fantastic visions for their family and their children. But if not executed exactly right, it might seem easier just to do things yourself than to ask your partner to step in. Resist the temptation! Remember to value your own time to re-charge and care for yourself. If that means your kids are out in public with clashing outfits, so be it.

Put Some Spark In Your Relationship
When the flurry of parenthood starts, it can be all too easy to put your relationship on the back-burner. But that’s not how relationships work! You’re not just parents, you’re partners… and you’re individuals! Nurturing a loving relationship between the two of you will make a world of a difference both in the short term and in the long run.

How To Fix It: Do your best to commit a certain amount of time just to each other every week: no kids, no work, no distractions. Keeping the connection strong between each other can help you face those challenging days when all you want to do is scream or cry or hide in the closet with some comfort food. The truth is, both you, your partner and your kids will benefit from your family being founded on a strong partnership.

(Source: Healthy Holistic Living)

North Korea 'sentences Donald Trump to death' in state newspaper editorial

'He should know that he is just a hideous criminal sentenced to death by the Korean people'

North Korea's people have sentenced Donald Trump to death, according to an editorial in its state newspaper.

The article says that the President offended the country when he denounced its "cruel dictatorship" during his tour around Asia. And for that he should be killed, the article suggested.

“The worst crime for which he can never be pardoned is that he dared [to] malignantly hurt the dignity of the supreme leadership,” the ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun wrote.

“He should know that he is just a hideous criminal sentenced to death by the Korean people."

The article also said that Mr Trump was a coward for cancelling a visit to the North Korean border, a decision that was made because of bad weather. But the article said that in fact the President "was just too scared to face the glaring eyes of our troops", according to AFP, which first reported the belligerent piece.

Throughout the trip, Mr Trump attempted to unite Asian governments in an attempt to crack down on North Korea's nuclear weapons, as well as insulting the current leadership.

In Seoul, for instance, he delivered a sharp warning to North Korea, saying: "Do not underestimate us. And do not try us." But he also signalled for the first time that he might be open to discussions with Mr Kim.

As the trip came to a close, he posted on Twitter: ""Why would Kim Jong-Un insult me by calling me 'old,' when I would NEVER call him 'short and fat'?"

The state newspaper, which is seen as a mouthpiece for the government, has regularly been used to attack Mr Trump in aggressive terms. This year, it has called him a "rabid dog", a "psychopath" and suggested that it could "reduce the US mainland to ashes any moment".

(Source: Independent)

The benefits of a lousy passport

Having to choose from a limited number of holiday destinations can be strangely liberating, writes Leo Mirani in The Economist 1843. Read on: 

“What are you doing here?” is a question I got used to hearing pretty quickly in Kiev. It’s not that people were unhappy to see me – quite the opposite. But nobody in Ukraine could figure out why I was spending my summer vacation in a country that is the second poorest in Europe (after Moldova), at war (with Russia), and expensive to get to (a planned Ryanair route never took off). Perhaps, they ventured, I had an interest in Communist history and post-Soviet countries? Or maybe (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) because Ukrainian girls are very pretty?

The real reason is deeply unsexy. I went to Ukraine because Ukraine would have me. I hold an Indian passport – ranked 159th out of 199 countries on a list of the world’s most powerful passports measured by ease of travel. In April the Ukrainian ministry of foreign affairs announced that it would grant visas on arrival to citizens of nearly three dozen countries. Earlier this year, the president of neighbouring Belarus decreed visa-free access for citizens of 80 countries. Both lists included India. So I went.

The top five slots in the ranking of powerful passports are shared by 22 countries, two thirds of which are within the European Union. EU citizens can go to more than 150 countries visa-free or get a visa on arrival. People from Canada, Japan, Singapore and America have similar privileges. At the other end of the scale are Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Somalia and Yemen, which occupy the bottom five ranks. Each one of those passports grants its holder access to, at most, 35 countries. The Indian passport is more useful, but not by much. It gives me easy access to a paltry 51 countries. The rest, including North America and all European countries, require a visa.

On the plus side, this means Indian passports tend to be full of stamps and stickers. On the minus side, getting a visa is hard. It requires lots of money in the bank, pre-booked flights and hotels, the disclosure of tax returns and payslips, proof of intent to return home, hefty fees and ritual humiliation. When a visa is rejected, it means losing money on application fees, plane tickets and other bookings as well as having to explain yourself the next time you make a visa application.

If you work in a profession that requires you to travel abroad at short notice, like journalism, having to apply for visas can hold you back. Once, in a previous job, I had to decline a free trip to report on a cocktail-making competition in Athens because I couldn’t get a visa appointment in time.

When I am travelling for leisure, I prefer to avoid the hassle of applying for a visa. I do not choose destinations so much as they choose me. That is why I have gone on holiday twice to Iran. I have ended up in countries where people are surprised and genuinely happy to meet a visitor. In Isfahan, a city in central Iran, a friend and I were stopped by a gang of excited youths as we crossed a bridge – they wanted a picture with us. (Europeans relate similar stories about feeling like mini-celebrities in small-town India.)

In Minsk, complete strangers I emailed agreed to meet for drinks and acquaintances of acquaintances offered to show me around. I’ve gained valuable insights into how societies operate. In Kiev, I spent an afternoon sitting in an ancient flat chatting to a bunch of undergraduates about everything from Ukrainian education standards and the local indie music scene to the situation in Donbas and corruption in the judiciary. I have experienced extraordinary acts of generosity. In Albania a few years ago, a complete stranger drove me halfway across the country after a bus driver decided against plying his route that day.

Letting the world’s bureaucrats choose my destinations has led to enriching, unforgettable holidays. I hope there will be many more to come. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have recently started granting e-visas to Indians. Over the past few years south-east Asian countries have liberalised their visa regimes, with the result that Indian and Chinese tourists have started pouring in. In September, Serbia abolished the visa requirement altogether. For the first time, I find myself confronted with a choice of where to spend my money. It is nice to feel wanted.

How the zombie fungus takes over ants’ bodies to control their minds

The infamous parasite’s methods are more complex and more sinister than anyone suspected, writes Ed Young in the Atlantic. Read on: 

To find the world’s most sinister examples of mind control, don’t look to science fiction. Instead, go to a tropical country like Brazil, and venture deep into the jungle. Find a leaf that’s hanging almost exactly 25 centimeters above the forest floor, no more and no less. Now look underneath it. If you’re in luck, you might find an ant clinging to the leaf’s central vein, jaws clamped tight for dear life. But this ant’s life is already over. And its body belongs to Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, the zombie-ant fungus.

When the fungus infects a carpenter ant, it grows through the insect’s body, draining it of nutrients and hijacking its mind. Over the course of a week, it compels the ant to leave the safety of its nest and ascend a nearby plant stem. It stops the ant at a height of 25 centimeters—a zone with precisely the right temperature and humidity for the fungus to grow. It forces the ant to permanently lock its mandibles around a leaf. Eventually, it sends a long stalk through the ant’s head, growing into a bulbous capsule full of spores. And because the ant typically climbs a leaf that overhangs its colony’s foraging trails, the fungal spores rain down onto its sisters below, zombifying them in turn.

The fungus’s skill at colonizing ants is surpassed only by its skill at colonizing popular culture. It’s the organism behind the monsters of the video game “The Last of Us” and the zombies of the book The Girl With All the Gifts. It’s also an obsession of one David Hughes, an entomologist at Pennsylvania State University, who has been studying it for years. He wants to know exactly how this puppet master controls its puppets—and his latest experiments suggest that it’s even more ghoulish than it first appears.

Hughes’s student Maridel Fredericksen used a special microscope to julienne infected ants into slices that were just 50 nanometers thick—a thousandth of the width of a human hair. She scanned each slice, compiled the images into a three-dimensional model, and painstakingly annotated which bits were ant and which bits were fungus. It took three months to mark up just one muscle. To speed things up, Hughes teamed up with computer scientist Danny Chen, who trained an artificial intelligence to distinguish ant from fungus.

“Something much more intricate must be going on.”

When the fungus first enters its host, it exists as single cells that float around the ant’s bloodstream, budding off new copies of themselves. But at some point, as Fredericksen’s images show, these single cells start working together. They connect to each other by building short tubes, of a kind that have only ever been seen before in fungi that infects plants. Hooked up in this way, they can communicate and exchange nutrients.

They can also start invading the ant’s muscles, either by penetrating the muscle cells themselves or growing into the spaces between them. The result is what you can see in this video: a red muscle fiber, encircled and drained by a network of interconnected yellow fungal cells. This is something unique to Ophiocordyceps. Hughes’s team found that another parasitic fungus, which fatally infects ants but doesn’t manipulate their minds, also spreads into muscles but doesn’t form tubes between individual cells, and doesn’t wire itself into large networks.

Whenever Hughes or anyone else discusses the zombie-ant fungus, they always talk about it as a single entity, which corrupts and subverts a host. But you could also think of the fungus as a colony, much like the ants it targets. Individual microscopic cells begin life alone but eventually come to cooperate, fusing into a superorganism. Together, these brainless cells can commandeer the brain of a much larger creature.

But surprisingly, they can do that without ever physically touching the brain itself. Hughes’s team found that fungal cells infiltrate the ant’s entire body, including its head, but they leave its brain untouched. There are other parasites that manipulate their hosts without destroying their brains, says Kelly Weinersmith from Rice University. For example, one flatworm forms a carpet-like layer over the brain of the California killifish, leaving the brain intact while forcing the fish to behave erratically and draw the attention of birds—the flatworm’s next host. “But manipulation of ants by Ophiocordyceps is so exquisitely precise that it is perhaps surprising that the fungus doesn't invade the brain of its host,” Weinersmith says.

In retrospect, that makes sense. “If such parasites were merely invading and destroying neuronal tissue, I don’t think the manipulated behaviors that we observe would be as compelling as they are,” says Charissa de Bekker from the University of Central Florida. “Something much more intricate must be going on.” She notes that the fungus secretes a wide range of chemicals that could influence the brain from afar.

So what we have here is a hostile takeover of a uniquely malevolent kind. Enemy forces invading a host’s body and using that body like a walkie-talkie to communicate with each other and influence the brain from afar. Hughes thinks the fungus might also exert more direct control over the ant’s muscles, literally controlling them “as a puppeteer controls as a marionette doll.” Once an infection is underway, he says, the neurons in the ant’s body—the ones that give its brain control over its muscles—start to die. Hughes suspects that the fungus takes over. It effectively cuts the ant’s limbs off from its brain and inserts itself in place, releasing chemicals that force the muscles there to contract. If this is right, then the ant ends its life as a prisoner in its own body. Its brain is still in the driver’s seat, but the fungus has the wheel.