Elephant Whisperers: Oscar Winner

Indian film industry produces large number of movies every year. Most of them are in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and other regional languages. While Hindi movies were having national base, most of the regional movies were limited to regional viewers. But now with the availability of subtitles and rising good taste of the audiences the regional movies are also being enjoyed pan India. In fact the regional movies particularly from South India are better in quality and content than Hindi cinema. Yet there were hardly any entries from India to the Oscar Academy awards. But all this is changing now.

In the 95th Oscars or Academy awards this year India has done exceptionally well. It has won the oscar in Best song category and Best Documentary Short Subject category. The Elephant Whisperers, a tamil langauge short story movie has won the Oscar in the short documentary. It competed with Haul out, The Martha Mitchell Effect, Stranger At The Gate, and How Do You Measure A Year?


Movie is directed by Kartiki Gonsalves and produced by Guneet Monga, Kartiki Gonsalves and Doug Bush. It is the first Indian film to win an Oscar in this category and the third to be nominated after The House That Ananda Built and An Encounter With Faces which competed for Best Documentary Short in 1969 and 1979 respectively.

The Elephant Whisperers, set in the Mudumalai National Park located in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu India. A section of the park rescues and cares for the orphaned elephants. The story revolves around one such elephant who was on the verge of death when a couple Bomman and Belli, an indigenous couple take it under their care. They name it Raghu. The elephant calf grows up into a beautiful adult. The couple who lost their girl child treat it as their son. The documentary celebrates not just the bond that develops between them as well as the natural beauty of their surroundings. The Elephant Whisperers was released on Netflix in December 2022. It has English subtitles. The duration of the film is 39 minutes. It is a must seen movie.

Silver Fox

Names of animals to which humans are likened are not neutral. These have either postive connotations like “a man like a lion” or negative connotations like “rat like”.

A fox is the animal which is known to have to cleverness as well as being handsome. A silver fox is referred to a man who has transitioned to old age with white or partially white hair and look very handsome.

Some Hollywood actors which are in more demand and have a huge fan following seemed to have become more attractive with age.

Navjot Singh: Laughing Sidhu

Navjot Singh Sidhu is again in the news. Actually the men his ilk are designed by the God to be in the news. It is not for the better reasons but most of the times for wrong reasons.

The man is an compulsive liar and a hypocrite. There is not even an iota of remorse in him. From his body language one can see the arrogance dripping.

He has created a upheaval in his own party government in Punjab. He has manoeuvred to dethrone the chief minister Amarinder Singh. After this feat he was expecting to get Chief Ministership. But party high command has other ideas keeping in view the upcoming elections. He was bypassed.

For few days, he was acting very brotherly with the newly appointed chief minister but suddenly on an impulse he resigned from the post of State Congress Chief. He must be having hopes that either BJP or AAP will lap him up but this didn’t happen.

His whole life has been like that only. There is not an iota of truth in whatever he is saying.

You must have watched him on Kapil Sharma’s show. He was paid for laughing and denigrating many in the audience.

When he was in his twenties, he was sentenced to 3 years jail punishment by high court in Chandigarh on the charges of beating a old man of 61 years age and in the process killing him. But hailing from an influential family with political links nothing came to harm him.

Navjot Singh Sidhu

At that time he was acquitted of the crime and he forgot it as a bad dream. But sometime dreams chase you and caught you in the end. Sidhu who is having a gift of gabbiness; who does not allow anyone to speak because he talks incessantly, invokes the name of god and great sufi saints of punjab who taught us all the love of mankind and compassion.

The fact is that Sidhu is the son of an influential person of Punjab and must have been spoiled brat when the incident occurred 32 years back; he was 20 then. After this he has simply forgotten the incident. Became a TV anchor, cricket commentator and was having the best of fun when suddenly this judgement prompted by political situation in  Punjab was handed out to him.

But the man is so arrogant, remorseless and obdurate that not even once he has gone to the bereaved family to say sorry. He has taken the life of a person and even then after the judgement he was invoking the couplets of God.

Dhak Dhak Song

Ever since Madhuri Dixit returned to India she is trying very hard to enter the Indian film industry. She is sitting as one of the judges in the dance show on television channels where her songs are extolled by the dancers.

Also doing a couple of advertisement endorsing the toothpaste that remove all the tooth troubles and shines our teeth. She has appeared in item songs against Ranbir Kapoor and worked in the Dedh Isquiya against Naseerudin Shah.

But she is still to hit the limelight. One of the negative factors is her advancing age and availability of fresh faces in plenty. She seems to be desperate.

In her hey days, she really set the screen ablaze with her sensuous dances. One of these was from the movie Beta and it was titled “Dhak Dhak”. It was so provocative that she earned the eponym of being the “Dhak Dhak” girl.

Madhuri Dixit

The song was not original as is the case with many songs which have been lifted from South Indian movies and foreign movies. It has been happening since old days. The only difference is that in those days due to the lack of so many sources of information nobody could suspect the copy. But today with the explosion of information available through internet nothing remains hidden long and soon becomes exposed.

So this song was adapted from an Illayaraja composition called “Abba nee teeyani debba” from the Telugu movie Jagadeka Veerudu Atikola Sundari featuring superstar Chiranjeevi and Sridevi. Sridevi looks much graceful and devoid of any sensuousness.

Original Song

A whiff of Freshness: Poetry of Irshad Kamil

I am sure many young people may not be knowing his name but be humming the songs written by him. The young writer hails from Malerkotla, Sangrur, Punjab. His name is Irshad Kamil. He has breathed a freshness in the Bollywood film songs. It is just a beginning. I am sure, he shall blaze a trail in this field.

Man of many gifts, he has dabbled in various professions like a reporter for newspapers in Chandigarh. He wrote scripts of many serials for television. Some of the films he had written the songs for are Jab We Met, Rockstar, Ajab Prem Ki Gajab Kahani.

Recently, I watched his interview on Rajya Sabha television. Besides discussing so many things, he told the interviewer about a popular romantic song from Jab We Met. He met a woman who told him that she listens this song daily in the morning as a prayer song. Just have a look at the lyrics.

Na hai yeh pana,
Na Khona hi hai,
Tera Na hona jane Kyun,
hona hi hai
Tum se hi din hota hai
Surmaiye shaam aati hai,
Tumse hi tumse hi
Har ghari saans aati hai,
Zindagi kehlati hai,
Tumse hi tumse hi

It is just a matter of perspective. Lyrics are just like a prayer. Kamil said he was himself surprised and went through the lyrics in his mind and realised that they are really like a prayer in the praise of God.

Nadiya Ke Paar

A few days ago, while surfing the channels on my television, I suddenly stopped because one of the channels was telecasting the Hindi  movie of the past years. It was called as “Nadiya Ke Paar” which in English means “On the other side of the river”. The movie was a huge hit in its time. Its scoring point was simple and honest plot set in the rural area of Bihar.

The movie transported me to the good old days when we lived in the village in Punjab. There might be difference in the language, features of inhabitants but overall conditions are almost similar. There is family living in a village. The head of family lives with his two nephews. He falls ill and is treated by the village Vaid, who lives in the village situated on the opposite shore of the river. In lieu of the fees of treatment, the Vaid proposes to marry the elder nephew with his daughter.

It is agreed and the daughter comes to the house as the wife of elder brother. The house now has a woman who sets the house right, makes it neat and tidy. She becomes very fond of her brother-in-law known locally as “dewar”. It generally happens in the rural India, that there is a sort of relation between the two of teasing and joking. The dewars generally are spoiled by the sister-in laws. After some time, the wife becomes pregnant. As is the customary, either the pregnant women go to their parents house for delivering the child or some female member of her parental side comes to her and stays there till the child is born and becomes a few months old.

In this case, the Dewar who is called “Chandan” is deputed to go to the other side of the river and fetch the younger sister of his Bhabhi for this purpose. While coming back in boat, they fall in love. It continues to become deeper during her stay in her sister’s house. Once by chance the elder sister comes to know of about them. But it remains in her heart and she does not tell about it to anyone. A child is born to the Bhabhi.

Tragedy happens and elder sister dies in some accident. The parents of the girl decide unknowingly to marry the younger sister who actually loves the younger brother, to the widowed brother to take care the child. But just at the time of marriage, the love is discovered and Chandan is married to younger daughter.

The movie ran packed houses for  years in U.P and Bihar. It caught the pulse of the rustic villagers who again and again visited the theaters to watch the movie. The movie cast almost unknown actors not the stars. It was all set in a village house. There was a boat, few villagers, a river and a bullock cart. It must have been a very low budget film. It became so popular, that the movie was remade after many years by transporting the milieu to city and this again was a very popular movie. It was called “Hum Apke hain Kaun”. Though it was not as realistic as the old version, it celebrated the Indian joint family, family ties and customs of upper middle class. Everyone in that movie seems to singing, dancing and doing pretty nothing except girls and boys making merry.

The music and songs which are an integral part of an Indian movie were very sweet and were situational and graphical. Some of them like the marriage songs were the folk songs occasioned for the ceremony in those parts of the country side. The music was composed by Ravindra Jain. The male songs were sung by Jaspal Singh, the long forgotten singer. He had a very sweet voice and definitely possessed a voice which was superior to many of today’s singers.

Harking Back the Old Days

These days rewinding of the tape on the spool of life is taking place frequently. This may be a indicator of many things. One of them may be that the person is not at ease in the present circumstances and since one cannot run away easily, the only escape is to take shelter in the past memories.

The events of the past, good or bad, which become memories. As they have now become history and rewriting them is beyond our capacity, so begin to like them. We are lost in the reminisces!!

The childhood of every person is greener as compared to the present status. The longer you go back into the past, we were more nearer to the mother nature. Of course my memories have been stirred by watching the oldest TV channel in India. DD Bharati channel airs old recordings.

On such recording I watched a few days back, was a documentary on the revolutionary poet Makhdum Mohiuddin by Muzzaffar Ali.

Who can forget the songs of movie “Bazaar” ? This film was also made by Muzzaffar Ali. He makes a movie after a hell lot of research and has a great eye for detail. He does not seem to be bothered by the expenditure and strives to bring back the milieu of the settings of the story to life. This is called the creativity.

Makhdum Mohiuddin was born in a village in the Medak district in 1907. It was the time when the British ruled India. Hyderabad had a Nizam. Mohiuddin studied till MA and taught in a college.

Makhdum Mohiuddin

He joined the marxist party of India. Many a times he went to jail. His poetry reflects the struggle of an ordinary man and the love.

Hyderabad has a strong Udru base in its own right due to being ruled by Nizams. It is also said that Nizams were richest rulers in the world though the disparity between rich and poor was very high.

Long back, he wrote one Nazm called “Ek Chameli Ke Mandve Tale” which was quite lengthy. It was a very popular song of the time. The song of Bazaar called “Phir Chhidi Baat raat phulon ki” was also hugely popular. It was sung by Lata and Talat Aziz and music was composed by the inimitable Khayaam.

In the documentary, this song was sung as a quawaali by some quawaals in such a beautiful way that it seemed even more ethereal than the song sung by Talat Aziz and Lata.

I tried unsuccessfully to find it the internet because nowhere in the documentary the names of singers appeared. Most of his poems are compiled in the book “बिसात-ए-रक़्स” . One of his poems starts with following lines.

Muzzaffar Ali

Hayat le ke chalo, kayenat le ke chalo, chalo to sare zamane ko saath leke chalo… (Take the life with you, take the universe with you, when you go, take the people with you…)

This clearly shows that he was a people’s poet. He draw the material and ideas for his poems from the life of the common people.

What is in a name?

“What is in the name, a rose smells as sweet by any other name” said the most famous bard Shakespeare.

In Bollywood, if a movie becomes hit then the character name of the star is repeated in many of his upcoming films because it is thought to be lucky.

Thus superstar Amitabh’s character has been called “Vijay” in as many as 19 movies. We had a boy who was attendant in our office whose real name was also “Vijay”. I asked him his name and when he told “Vijay”, I jokingly said that this is the name Amitabh has in many movies, to which he said reel life is not the real life. Although, in most of the films, Vijay came from a very poor background and destiny catapulted him to riches- all rags to riches kind of stories. May be our Vijay was in the initial stages of his role in the life although the chances of his becoming a man covered in moolah seem to be remote.

Similarly, there is another name which is very popular in Hindi movies and that is Rahul.  This name has been adopted by Shahrukh Khan in as many as seven movies. Before that he had repeated another popular name called “Raj”.

Then Salman Khan thought that “Raj” is also lucky for him, so this was repeated in four of his movies. But now he thinks “Prem” is very lucky for him.

Similarly when in some of Salman’s hit movies, the songs for him were sung by southern singer S.P.Balasubramaniam, he insisted on the music directors to get the songs synced by him to be sung by this singer only.

As for as the girl’s names are concerned, Pooja is the most popular name. Almost all the popular modern heroines like Karishma Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Kareena Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit used this name for their characters in movies.

Ethereal Whistling

When we were growing up, whistling was considered a bad habit. Many of the boys dared to attract the attention of young girls by whistling and invariably landed in trouble.

But in many songs whistling has been so sweet that everyone likes to try it or at least enjoys it. Who can forget the whistling by Aamir Khan in the song  “Chaand Sifarish” from the Bollywood movie “Fannaa”. It totally dominates the whole song.

In fact, the music director duo of this film Jatin-Lalit complemented the man who actually did the whistling and not without reason. In fact it is the leitmotif of background music in the film.

The man is Nagesh Surve also known as Rishiraj, who is now about 68 years of age and considered as the unchallenged king of whistling in Bollywood. He is in this industry for more than 41 years. His range and whistling is so melodious that it is often thought that the notes are issuing from the flute not from the lips of any human being.

In fact, when late Pandit Bismillah Khan of Shehnai fame, happened to hear whistling snatches of raga Yaman Kalyan, he assumed that Surve was playing it on the flute. Kishore Kumar’s compliment too rings in his ears: “You whistle just as I sing — effortlessly and flawlessly.”

Every music director who has used his whistling lavish praises on him. From Pyarelal — of the Laxmikant Pyarelal team — to Pritam , who has used his whistling prowess Dhoom II, everybody agrees that he is par excellence.

From Julie to Karz, Hero to Tezaab, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai to Koi Mil Gaya, Satya to Lage Raho Munnabhai, not to forget the bird calls in Paheli and Krrish, Surve has provided whistling to so many films in the Bollywood. His career span about 1400 movies.

His recording studio is in a flat which is his residence also. He lives in Goregaon East. The room — with its perforated walls, two huge sound boxes, spools and microphones — exudes old world charm.

He keeps a low profile. He told an anecdote that his doctor was praising the whistling in Subhanallah ring tone is just incomparable without knowing that it is me who is doing the whistling.

In an interview to a TV channel, he told how he developed the whistling into this art. All the friends will stroll on Chowpatti after dinner. Since they lived in different places in the neighborhood, he used to call them by whistling. He is also unhappy about the lack of recognition for his work. He says that his whistling is used as ringtones by mobile service provider companies without paying him anything. Interested readers can listen to his interview on the TV channel.

Most people in the locality know him as music director Rishiraj, who has done the background score for several Hindi and Marathi films. In fact, last year he won a state award for his score in the Marathi film, Mi Tujhi Tujhich Re. “In the Seventies, there was another person in the film industry by the name Nagesh. So I decided to rechristen myself,” he explains.

Surve has a firm grounding in both eastern and western classical music — he is both a sitarist and a violinist. He spent his childhood in Dadar which in the older times was the nucleus around which the Mumbai grew.

There were so many studios and many high names likes of Laxmikant Pyarelal, Vasant Desai and Jaikishan lived in Dadar. “I was friends with Pyarelal. We went to the same Bombay municipality school. It was from his father, Ramprasad Sharma, that I learnt to play the violin. Of all the musical instruments, I think playing the violin is the toughest,” he says.

The exposure to both eastern and western classical music helped hone his skill as a musician while his visits to a nearby recording studio where he would attend sessions for hours on end drew him gradually into the vortex of Hindi film music.

Initially, he played the sitar and then the violin in the orchestra. Whistling happened by chance. “Kishore Sharma, who was then assistant music director to Usha Khanna, heard me whistling once and said that he had never heard such melodious notes before. He said that they would use my whistling in the film Pyasi.” Later, Lakshmikant Pyarelal gave him a break in Subhash Ghai’s Hero.

That marked the turning point of Surve’s career. Whistling took centrestage though the whistler himself preferred to remain in the wings. “Anyone can whistle,” says Lalit. “But Surve whistles by just looking at the notations. He knows how to improvise, and his sense of cadence and technique is excellent.” Pritam, Dhoom II’s music director, agrees. The whistling in Dhoom II is restricted to a song which virtually has no musical instruments. “It has the sound of objects of daily use like, say, the trash can. So whistling is an integral part of that number.”

Surve has set himself another goal now. He plans to cut an album of ragas. “Many companies have asked me to whistle tunes of old Hindi film numbers. But that doesn’t excite me. What I would like to do is cut an album comprising Indian ragas.” His face glows as he puckers his lips and gives a quick demonstration of how he would whistle an alap or a jhala.

That denotes a long journey for whistling which hasn’t quite been able to rid itself of its derogatory association with eve teasing. “That is why it’s not taken seriously,” Surve laments. True, there have been singers in the West — like Roger Whittaker and John Lennon — who have been known to whistle and sing with equal dexterity. Back home, the late R.D. Burman made it an indispensable component of filmi music.

Whistling as a source of melody, will always have to come from within. It can never be reproduced digitally as the keyboard — which dominates today’s world of music — can never capture the subtle nuances of the sound of whistling.

But Surve is continuing the whistling art by grooming his younger daughter Rupali who has whistled alongside him in films like Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Dhoom II. And with Eves like Rupali taking to whistling, maybe they will succeed in teasing out the derogatory connotation of whistling and help it gain due recognition.

Zul Vellani

A few days back, I was searching for clips of movie Siddhartha on the youtube. I found a few. The movie was directed by Conrad Rooks and the river features prominently in the story. The river is the best teacher tells the movie at many places. We should look towards it for peace of mind because it lives in the present. Today is everything because yesterday is gone now and tomorrow is unpredictable.

The movie seems like sketches made by an artist with the boat being rowed by the characters on the river. It is like celluloid poetry. In one of the clips, a very lean and handsome Shashi Kapoor is rowing the boat with another person who have beard and covered his head with a cloth. He is a man full of wisdom and delivering the knowledge to Siddhartha (Shashi Kapoor). Then there is scene in which the old man is taking leave of Siddhartha and before leaving he talks philosophically to Siddhartha. I was mesmerized by his voice. Such a mellifluous modulated voice. It transported you somewhere out of this dull routine. I searched for his name and found out that it is Zul Vellani.

Not much is available on the net about him. May be because he was mostly associated with English theatre and acted in so many plays written by Shakespeare and other masters. Although he came to India from Africa where his family must have migrated. He was the main person behind  so many documentaries made by Films Division of India. Indira Gandhi liked his voice and she had specially written a note directing that it is to Zul Vellani who shall be called to be the compere about her death news. He was specially flown to Delhi after her assassination. He also lent his voice in the LP record cut by HMV and sung by Lata Mangeshkar about Sant Dnayneshwar and Bhagwat Geeta.

He is no more and breathed his last on the last day of 2010. The man who has such beautiful voice is said to stammer in the childhood. This was due to his uncle who was very harsh and Zul was very much afraid of him. It was only in the school where he found a very encouraging teacher that he overcome the problem. But he never ever stammered during his acting.

I wish we could find more about him. I could find only following few links.


Remembering Zul Vellani

Curtains come down on the voice of an era

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