Champion of Distance Education

Recalling a dated interview with Secret Superstar director Advait Chandan.

Pic courtesy

Frankly, expected much more from Chandan's debut effort...but he simply prefers to pedal the TZP cart in self-congratulatory fashion. Despite Aamir looming large in what was a foregone conclusion, there was enough Chandan could have done to protect the tender cocoon of the story which begins well.

Among the artistes, kudos to Raj Arjun and Tirth Sharma for their stand-out performances - super actors. Zaira is outstanding but I fear she may lose her way with all the attention she's getting. That would be tragic for she still has untapped potential.

Anxiously waiting for a film where Aamir the actor touches the heights he truly deserves.

Here's the Chandan interview courtesy:

Still only in his vibrant twenties, Advait Chandan has come a long, winding way in tinsel town - from being just another creative kid of starry eyed ambition to becoming the whole and sole manager of India’s non-conformist super star, actor-producer-director Aamir Khan. His unconventional voyage of umpteen trials and triumphs only reinforces the time-tested belief: that conviction unleashed is mission accomplished. The lanky, bearded unassuming young man spoke his mind in a freewheeling breakfast chat with Sudhir Raikar at Bandra's idyllic pub Just Around the Corner (now renamed Eat Around the Corner).

Advait’s growing years were seeped in creativity. “Thanks to my mom and dad, I became aware of the potent possibilities of creative expression at a tender age, when they got me hooked to the wonderful Prithvi Theatre workshops” he reveals. Learning about theatre and activities like mask making from age 11; he left his indelible mark in most workshops. One of the faculties Neeraj Kabir soon got him to volunteer for back stage and production work. Now, he was doing his bit to stage all kinds of performances - from theatre plays to music concerts. “I was only 16 and yet, I was exposed to the intricacies of production. I couldn’t have asked for more” he says.

Advait’s father, a noted SAP consultant, though happy with his son’s creative exploits, urged him to look at software as a potential career post matriculation. But Advait was intent on Arts and that too, only at St. Xavier’s, Mumbai. His father’s logic was simple: Get the threshold 80 percent and you are free to get into Xaviers” To his father’s disbelief and delight, his academically average son secured 81 per cent in the board exams. As luck would have it, Xavier’s closed the list at 82 per cent that year. Yet, Advait managed to get through, thanks to his father’s grit and gumption in gatecrashing into the principal’s cabin with Advait’s 8th, 9th and 10th mark sheets to substantiate his son’s ‘big leap’ in matriculation. “He will make your institution proud” was the honest plea. The principal surely would have been moved, given that he eventually made a sweet exception to enroll Chandan junior as a special case.

But once he was in, Advait’s inherent aversion for classroom learning only strengthened his affinity for extra-curricular activities especially the Malhar Festival. For one of his experimental creations during Malhar, he roped in celebrated adman Pralhad Kakkar as the judge. Thrilled at what he saw, Kakkar dropped his Genesis Films card and casually asked Advait to keep in touch. Kakkar soon forgot all about it, Advait did exactly what he was advised… a tad more diligently than what Kakkar would have imagined. After several failed attempts, Advait finally saw Kakkar succumb in inimitable style “Let it be loud and clear that you are not my assistant, you’re my slave, and slave no. 4 at that”

Advait had no reason to complain and thus began his bizarre tryst with advertising. He was rechristened as Mojo, the convenient man Friday on all days across all projects. Needless to say, he sacrificed his Xavier’s attendance in the process. He eventually dropped out of college to take the plunge in the chosen sphere. The melodramatic entry into Xaviers thus paved the way for an unceremonious exit. But Advait was extremely happy with his new, non-formal university of learning.

“What I learnt and the manner in which I did could have happened only at Genesis. Prahlad makes you do anything and everything – from production, lighting and casting to sourcing, logistics and travel arrangements, notwithstanding the occasional threats to make you clean toilets as well. But he’s equally sensitive to your orientation, regularly intervening to help you grasp the finer aspects of the job. I was given rich exposure to all aspects of production. All my jobs were pretty thankless but very fruitful.”

Advait’s enthusiasm knew no bounds, whatever the job, transactional or transcendental. “I still remember the Lehar 7up commercial that was to be released in Pakistan. The plot involved a boy and a girl exchanging sweet nothings from across balconies facing each other on the same floor of opposite buildings. I spent days together, scouting for suitable locales in Pune, had them clicked them from all angles, painstakingly shot mock rehearsals and finally organized the real shoot in the chosen building, proactively befriending the society officials and inhabitants with ‘thank you’ letters, cakes and pastries.”

With time, Advait soon realized he was doing the same things day in and day out. Now, he desperately wished for greener pastures. During this time, he saw the movie “Dil Chahtaa Hai” and was possessed with a burning desire to work with Farhan Akhtar. His innocent ambition took him to the reception lounge of Excel Entertainment where he was given a brutal reality check.

“Banking on my ‘Genesis’ credentials, I offered to help the Excel team on their then proposed remake of ‘Don’. They ruled me out on the spot but with a sound advice. I was free to apply for another small budget movie called ‘Honeymoon Travels’. I promptly did the needful and got selected as a production assistant on a good stipend.

It was a dream break but things didn’t work out well to begin with. In fact, a goof up on the first day threatened to end his stint. It was the magnanimity of Zoya Akhtar that helped settle the dust in Advait’s favour. Since then, he has never looked back. In due course, he worked on several esteemed projects including ‘Taare Zameen Par’ (as assistant production manager) and a Dutch film ‘Bollywood Hero’ (as second assistant director). His moment of glory came in 2010 when he was appointed first assistant director for Kiran Rao’s directorial venture ‘Dhobi Ghat’. Rao was all praise for his contribution and ensured a coveted poster credit for him, the first ever for a first assistant director across the globe.

It was not long before the roving eyes of a certain rebel with many a cause and without a pause fell on him. Aamir khan offered him the opportunity to manage his professional schedule and affairs. It didn’t take much time for Advait on the deliberation. A thinking individual that he is, he was only too happy to play Boswell to a man who had arrived in life on his own terms, an alchemist of rare substance that media clumsily labels as a perfectionist. If Samuel Johnson was traced by Boswell’s pen and Satyajit Ray was captured in Nemai Ghosh’s photographic frame, Aaamir Khan has Advait by his side, as his diary and calendar.

“Each day is a learning experience with him, an avant-garde film school out in the open. I gain a great deal simply by observing how he interacts with the world around him. Most important, having heard from Aamir about me, my parents are now doubly reassured of my prospects in a field reckoned as uncertain terrain in the conventional sense” Advait remarks.

Advait’s ultimate aim is to turn a filmmaker. (With Secret Superstar, he has indeed become one though the debut leaves much to be desired)

Having already won accolades for his short film ‘Kala Khatta”, he’s brimming with new ideas and fertile concepts. His creative faculty is intrinsically tailored to take on filmmaking, given his exceptional resilience that defies age and experience as also his insatiable urge to move up the value chain. Having dropped out of college earlier, he managed to complete his graduation through distance education, a mode that he seems to have a natural affinity for. Whether backstage for Prithvi plays, as a set runner for Genesis Films or on the production floors of many a film, ad and TV serial, Advait has always been learning the ropes from a distance, gleefully simulating the periphery as his epicenter. A true champion of distance education…

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Happy Birthday Shammi Saab

Tumsaa Nahi Dekha

India Infoline News Service | Mumbai |

All his life, he defied age and ailment with the same rebellious spirit that shaped his melodic frolics on the silver screen. Today, he is no more but the legend called Shammi Kapoor lives on. Sudhir Raikar recalls one hallowed evening of sparkling interaction with the eternal style icon.

It was a seemingly desolate evening of June 2007. The downpour was steady if not savage. I reached his apartment in Mumbai’s plush Malabar Hill, a stone’s throw from the CM’s bungalow ‘Varsha’.The security at the entrance was astonishingly helpful, not the usual tight-lipped folks who terrorise you with their barrage of questions. I was quickly escorted to the modest living room which I presumed would stage a long wait before the man appeared.

No way, he was before me within minutes. Wheel chaired and weary from the thrice a week dialysis regime post his renal failure, his eyes still spared a twinkle or two for the non-entity guest representing a Mumbai tabloid. He took me to the adjacent room which he fondly called his ‘den’. In the two and a half hours that followed, he recalled his strife and success, grief and gratification of his life and times with remarkably detached introspection -...whether the formative lessons in theatre and classical music or the early rejection and dejection playing second fiddle to Bharat Bhushan and Pradeep Kumar, the turning point in the form of ‘Tumsa Nahi Dekha’ or the ensuing golden period of name and fame, the tryst with personal tragedy or the gradual fade out of the popular image... The only instance where the emotions flowed unchecked was when he spoke of his celestial chemistry with singer Mohammed Rafi. “Rafi was my soul” he exclaimed with moist eyes.

The eternal style icon relished talking about his past but refused to cling to it - precisely why he insisted that I used his present-day snap for the story, not the usual photographs from his yesteryear hits.

“Duniya ko pataa to chale mein aaj kaisa dikhtaa hun” (Let the world know how I look like today)

Shammi Kapoor won worldwide attention as a maverick star but the fact remains that he was also an actor par excellence - an aspect that was rarely acknowledged by filmmakers and audiences alike. Precisely why acting legend Naseeruddin Shah considers him as one of the most underestimated actors of Hindi cinema. But Shammi Kapoor shrugged off the accolades with characteristic humility.

“Bhai Mere, Acting is the forte of doyens like Dilip Kumar and Balraj Sahni. If I should get credit of any sort, it’s only as an inventive expressionist of music” he pointed out with child-like fervour.

A compulsive ‘Apple’ user for years, his obsession with the internet and the ‘Safari browser’ is well known. But even his ailment could not keep him inactive. During the later years, he took it upon himself to spread awareness on kidney ailments at forums organized by nephrologists and kidney foundations. And once in a while, he got rid of the wheelchair to speed his Merc to Lonavala for a rejuvenating drive. “I’ll do everything what’s possible in the given constraints” he said of his passion for driving.

After the interview, he generously kept in touch through occasional phone calls, sporadic emails and twitter PMs but lately, even the public posts were missing. He did mention the desire to pen his autobiography for which we were to meet at leisure some day. But destiny had other plans.

How I wish someone like Ranbir Kapoor - his grand nephew - digs the memoirs out of his den and publishes them as they are. Given the prolific speaker that he was, his written expression would surely be worthy of print and more important, of universal significance.

Every time I think of that wonderful evening, I remember the fag-end chat on his illness. When I mentioned about Pranayam’s healing powers as a possible antidote - Kapaal Bhaati and Anulom Violm in particular - he did a little boogie woogie in his wheelchair, mocking the breathing exercises with a smile.

“Sab kar ke dekh liya yaar, Koi farak naahi padtaa” (I have tried everything but to no avail).

That little dance act epitomises the indefatigable spirit of Shamsher Raj Kapoor - the musical non-conformist of timeless charisma. May his soul rest in peace!