Books, Lit Fests, News, Movies, Art, Fashion and TV of course... "I must say that I find television very educational. The minute somebody turns it on, I go to the library and read a book." - GROUCHO MARX

My Photo

I'd write more, like you said I should. If only, there was more to me.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


It keeps getting better.

An email from Shirley Ng of MPH Distributors, Malaysia informs me about another book - a collection of 11 short stories.

The author is Wena Poon and her stories examine the quiet lives of Singaporeans living abroad and those in Singapore who are often torn between worlds in their search for an imaginary homeland. There is the model student who breaks his parents’ hearts when he drops out of medical school to study fashion design in London. The shampoo girl who leaves Singapore for the hustle and bustle of New York’s Chinatown. The schoolteacher whose anxiety about white people cripples his dream retirement in Toronto. The mother who dreams of an old world amidst changing landscapes, and an unlikely Singaporean family in Nevada cut off from the rest of the world by an obsessive patriarch.

Themes of home and away have been explored before though the lives of displaced Singapore though in this case it is interesting to see the Singapore connect.

Poon’s 'Lions in Winter' are portraits of lives that share a common, constant yearning to belong in a place made foreign by time or space.

Beyond these stories, is the story of the Editor. Eric Forbes it is. Good Books Guide. Another blog name moved into real life at the Ubud Writers Festival, though we never quite got to chat. A brief hello it was in September, another brief hello i
t turned out to be at Singapore Writers Festival in December. The promised cup of coffee and conversation never happened. Eric's been great at book and author spotting and getting writers on the right course. Having edited copy and written features along the way, I can vouch for the fact that every writer, however gifted, needs an Editor. I've had several wordsmiths to thank for making my copy sing on occasion. The most recent one being a piece on Bollywood, that I was putting together on the way from Genting, at the KL airport and punching away to beat the deadline. If it weren't for Ross Wallace (then with Today newspaper), the story wouldn't have read the way it did. A lot of what Editors or Subs in news do goes largely unrecognised. That's because they'd rather have their copy do the talking. It always does! While I haven't had the fortune of working with Eric, (we haven't even had a decent chat yet), his blog posts are indicative of the effort he puts in, not just in talent spotting but in ensuring the final product is as good as it gets. Given that he has had a lot to do with 'Lions in Winter' is another good reason why you should read it.

Now, for, credit where it's justly due. The promising young author, Wena Poon was born in Singapore and has lived in Hong Kong and the US. Her fiction, poetry and nonfiction work has been widely anthologised and published in the US, Europe and Asia. She studied literature and law at Harvard University and currently lives in San Francisco. Wena will be in Singapore on 26th and 27th January. I'm certain book readings/signings have been planned. I'll be sure to look out for them.

Also read Sharon's post on Wena's Big Break.
Author photo - Zubin Shroff

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


More encouraging news. This time from Phil Tatham, Publisher, Monsoon Books. If you've got a great book idea, I can guarantee he'll be all ears.

Monsoon has had a great run this year and I'm heartened to see Phil's hard work pay off. I was introduced to Monsoon's work thanks to Pam Fahey, who was briefly a publicist for Marshall Cavendish and then for Harper Collins. I still remember Pam telling me to keep an eye on Monsoon even as she packed her bags and bid adieu to Singapore. She predicted growth. And grown they have. Monsoon Books finishes the year with top-ten bestsellers in Malaysia - 'Growing Up in Trengganu' by Awang Goneng, in Indonesia, its 'Jakarta Undercover II' by Moammar Emka and in Thailand 'Escape' by David McMillan. Two short stories have been adapted for television.

To celebrate it all, Monsoon rings in some more festive cheer. A 30% discount for all titles and they're also giving away books every month. This month its copies of Nigel Barley's 'Rogue Raider.' It's off to their website for all the book deals.

Labels: ,


That's Pete Spurrier of Blacksmith Books in Hong Kong. Lots of things had happened when I read 'Hong Kong on Air.' Mercifully, I'm grounded for a bit and not too many things will go wrong when I start reading 'King Hui: The Man Who Owned All the Opium in Hong Kong' by Jonathan Chamberlain.

I've yet to get the book, though Pete's media announcement has me eagerly waiting for a package in the post....

Nelson was an ordinary American serviceman who had spent too long in Guam. Now, for the first time in years, he was on R&R (rest and recreation) in Hong Kong. It was the late 1960s and he had money to burn. He made his intentions clear to the hotel staff the minute he got in and they passed the word to Peter – and a short time later Peter was knocking on the door of Nelson’s room. Nelson wanted clothes – they all wanted clothes – and he wanted a woman – they all wanted a woman. And there were plenty of women to be had.....

Peter made his living selling the clothes and from being a friend to servicemen like Nelson. So Peter took Nelson in hand and introduced him to a girl. He next saw Nelson some days later and Nelson was in love. He had bought his girl an apartment and well, the last Peter heard, Nelson had spent all his money and had been shipped back to Guam. And the girl? Well, she had an apartment. Not a bad reward for providing a week or so of constant companionship. Just another crazy story from a crazy time?

But who was Peter? What was his story?

Well, before he took to being a tailor he had been variously a famous kung fu fighter; a rich playboy; a gambler; an associate of triads – and, before all that, he had been the owner of the biggest string of Mongolian ponies at the Hong Kong Jockey Club – that was during the war years when he was a leading collaborator of the Japanese. He had once, for a very short time, owned all the opium in Hong Kong!

This is the true, bizarre story of a man who knew everybody and saw everything. He wasn’t an evil man. But it is not just one man’s tale. It is the story of a time and place – colonial Hong Kong, Portuguese Macau and the South China hinterland between Hong Kong and Canton – seen from the unique point of view of a man who was at home at all levels of society.

Book Details
Title: King Hui: The Man Who Owned All the Opium in Hong Kong
Author: Jonathan Chamberlain, with a foreword by David Tang
Pages: 348
Cover price: US$17.95
Publishing Date: December 2007

Labels: , ,


Above you, the whirring fan
insists all journeys are circular
as if you have returned
to a place all quite familiar.
The strident sounds repaint a picture
seen long before this first day
waking up again in India.
Just unplug your foreigner's brain
and start to dream in Hindi.

- Hotel Room, Delhi, 1989

Lost on the North Shore Line,
I'm travelling Sydney, station
by station, starting from quiet suburbs. The sun's honey
drips down through the foliage.
Back to tie up loose ends
I see this is no longer my city.

- Lost on the City Circuit

Above me, there are books on an Ikea shelf,
though I live on Ithaca time. A two decade
journey far from my gum tree birth land,
I have travel tales in me and past life epics
collected from continents, carried all the way
by jet, train and bus. Now I am grateful,
waking next to her - my one soft constant
- Views from My Apartment

Excerpts from Chris Mooney-Singh's 'The Laughing Buddha Cab Company.'

The poems are a reflection of Chris's journey through life. A former journalist, who wrote poems along with articles, Chris embraced Sikhism in 1989. Born in Australia of Australian-Irish descent, he spent over a decade in India before moving to Singapore. His writing shows his deep love, understanding and appreciation of places visited, lived in and loved. He's performed at various literary festivals and in 2003 he
started organising literary events full time. Over the next couple of months, he founded the Poetry Slam in Singapore. Next year, the successful slam, which has drawn several young ones to the world of performance poetry travels to Malaysia. The biggest achievement of Word Forward though is the birth of several young ones. This is reflected in the work of Marc Daniel Nair, Pooja Nansi and Bani Haykal. Their work gets due justice through the covers that tell a thousand poems too. Ketna Patel, the creator of Asian pop art - think Rupee Room, think colour, think character, think stories - has designed more than the covers. As you read the poems, sketches tell another tale. Speaking to Ketna is another journey into the life of the book. Looking at the finished product for the first time, she remembers which one of the sketches was born at Coffee Bean, which one at home, the interviews. Hearing that process is much a joy as reading these poems. They leave me with things to ponder about, the biggest of which is why Chris-Mooney Singh's voice was ignored in a recent anthology that brought together the works Australian and Singaporean poets?

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, December 21, 2007


When it comes packaged by The Economist. I'm learning so much everyday. Like:
"News gives The Economist most of its pictures, but every so often we need to set up a photo shoot.....For a cover on insider trading, our present Europe editor drew on his experience as a Treasury man and dressed as a convict.

Even so, this issue of Intelligent Life is making a little piece of history, with the launch of Flair, our section on shopping and fashion, and - as far as I can tell - the first fashion shoot in The Economist's 164 years. Don't worry. This time we didn't pick our models from among Economist journalists."

With his opening line, the Ed, Edward Carr had me hooked. Every little blurb, headline, even the art of making tea - em, green tea, is brilliant.

In Lazy Language, Lazy Thought, John Grimond says:
"......Once it took a face to launch a thousand ships; now a slam dunk is enough to send America to war. "Our business is to see what we can do with the English language," wrote Virgina Woolf. "How can we combine the old words in new orders so that they survive, so that they create beauty, so that they tell the truth."

Speaking of words, Page 63 can help you start with the perfect bit of paper to pen your thoughts.

If paper isn't your kind of thing, head straight to page 67 and read all about Philip Pullman who thought his epic tale of two 12-year-olds would appeal to a few clever kids. It went on to sell 15 million copies and 'The Golden Compass' is a film starring Nicole Kidman. Opinion on the film is divided in our house, Pullman's story though has its requisite share of fans.

"It all began in the last 15 minutes of a wet Friday afternoon in a classroom in Oxford. Or that's how you would want to tell it.... He is the most successful writer since Roald Dahl to have worked in a shed. "My real life began," he says, "when I came home from the job and sat at my table and wrote three pages for the day."

Pullman spent seven years in a shed at the bottom of his Oxford garden, doing his three pages a day (no more, no less). About one in ten pages made the cut. The mathematics alone is impressive.

Can't get your copy, then head to

Labels: , , ,


'In The Valley of Elah' gets to heart of the mission, which should have long been over. As in life, there are no easy answers. Tommy Lee Jones, Susan Sarandon, Charlize Theron lead this evocative cinematic rendition inspired by true events. I salute them and the unsung heroes.....

Labels: ,


Find out in 'The Kingdom'

Labels: ,


"The minute we finish talking, I want you to go buy this book."

It's the stroke of the midnight hour, the Spice Queen has a had a long day. A literary dinner followed by our chat.

"It's a complete book, it's beautiful, it speaks to the heart."

When its getting such rave reviews, who am I to disagree?

"I was doing the audio for this book, I'd keep calling Tahmima, checking the pronounciation, finding a little more about the story each time."

I want to read it, I want to read it now.

"When you read it and if you ever speak to her can you tell her Madhur Jaffrey recommended it."

The next morning I was at Borders. I found four copies of the book tucked on the top most shelf, fiction under 'A'. A bout of conjunctivitis couldn't get me to put the book down. I cried through my infected eyes, I want you to know about Rehana. I want you to know more about what happened in Bangladesh. I'd like you to do it now. Here's one of many reasons why:

Labels: , ,


'The Japanese Wife', Kunal Basu's collection of short stories releases at the Jaipur Literary Festival on 28th January 2008.

The film based on the short story will be released in 2008 as well. It is directed by acclaimed director Aparna Sen and stars Rahul Bose, Raima Sen, Moushumi Chatterjee, and Japanese actress Chigasu Takaku in the title role. It is the story of Snehmoy (Rahul Bose) and Miyage (Chigasu Takaku), pen friends who exchange wedding vows through letters. Fifteen years pass but they never meet, though the bond of marriage remains strong. This unusual relationship comes under a cloud when a young widow, Sandhya (Raima Sen), comes to stay with Snehmoy along with her eight-year-old son (Rudranil Ghosh). What about the wedding vows? Will the intimacy of words be tested by the intimacy of life.

Basu’s short story collection holds the answers. We got a sneak peek into this world at the Singapore Writers Festival and I can't wait to read the rest.

In addition to the lead story, the collection includes other stories about unexpected love and accidental gifts; about living among strangers; about living elsewhere and in ones’ dreams. The stories have a full cast of characters whose lives are never quite as ordinary as they seem.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


He is one of the most blogged about author on my blog. He has been sent the links for these posts. He has read them. He has thanked me profusely for it and wondered why he deserved the honour. Yet, an hour before his book launch, as I enjoy the Latte he is treating me to, he finds himself in the midst of an animated bunch of bloggers (Sharon, Zafar) and asks us all:
"What is a blog?"
Yes, my tone bears those exclamation marks.

In the company of friends that tone doesn't seem strange. He has for the longest time urged me to shed the 'Captain' address. While he was at SQ, I had the perfect excuse. "It isn't everyday that I meet a real Captain who is happens to be an award-winning author too."

After he retired and started training pilots, the Captain was stuck like glue. And they knew it was alright. After all, Dil and Elmo feel like my Sri Lankan family. Over the three years that I've known them, they've opened their home and their heart to not just me, but my family as well. They have hosted us in The Riverhouse (read Sam's Story), they have given us a first hand account of the AFLAC projects and they have shown us how easy it is to fall in love, all it takes is the heart. But I must stop feeling special because this is how anyone who knocks on Dil, Elmo's and AFLAC's doors feels.

That explains why on the day he launched his collection of short stories - Rainbows in Braille, over 22 nationalities were in attendance. There were pilots, their wives, prison officers (Elmo had done talk there as part of the festival), people from the Singapore Airlines office (where he was till a couple of months ago), and others from Sri Lankan Airlines (his new professional abode). That also explains why despite a gruelling day of sessions and interviews Kunal Basu and Janet de Neefe showed up to make a special man feel even more special.

Zafar has captured the spirit of the evening in this post making it easy enough for me to skip the details.

I'd like to use this post to answer Jessie's question post session - was all of it scripted?

Some parts were, others weren't. Getting Janet and Kunal to speak before the Q&A with Elmo was part of the plan. I loved Janet's observation about Elmo's ability to capture the extra-ordinary in the ordinary and his sign off - "Blue Skies." Kunal, in his speech, turned out to be just the kind of friend an author needs. He spoke about literary tensions when authors happen to be together, with Elmo, its just feelings of warmth all round. Elmo in turn made it clear that everything that had happened in his life was thanks to Dil.

Getting Dil to speak wasn't part of the plan. I was just curious about hearing her out and I'm glad it worked. Just as did the accounts of tennis matches lost, tennis matches to be won and other co-pilots speaking about what an honour it was to have shared the cockpit with the Captain.

I spotted leading terror expert Dr Rohan Gunaratna in the audience too. In fact, the first time I met Dr Gunaratna was at the launch of 'Sam's Story.' And he summed it all up vividly:
"Elmo has tremendous capacity to observe and chronicle human life. Whenever I meet him, we end up discussing things. I still remember, in one discussion we were debating whether there are good people or bad people. In the end, we came to the conclusion that there are no good people and there no bad people, there's only good circumstances or bad circumstances. And as the previous speaker (Kunal) alluded, he has tremendous capacity to empathise with other human beings which is why his books have struck a chord with readers everywhere and are selling so well everywhere. We thank you and we salute you, Elmo."

Labels: , , ,


Not by the looks of it.

World Wide Web of Words - the panel of literary blogs which brought together old friends and new faced tough competition. The contest was from Bei Dao. The Chinese poet was exiled in 1989, his award-winning work has been translated into 25 languages and he has been repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature. There were queues snaking all the way to the entrance of the Arts House.

The Blue Room may have been packed, but there was no trouble at all right across, in The Living Room. We started off with about 12 people in attendance and would have ended with an audience of anything between 20-25. For those of you who spared your time, I hope it was useful.

Ivan aka the Rambling Librarian was busy punching stuff and I did for a moment think he was live blogging. Turns out he was taking notes. Wish I was that smart.

I was too busy hearing the stories. Isolation, connectivity, content, how the online world made us one happy community, I knew Sharon, the blogger way before Sharon the person. With Zafar, it was the other way round and Ivan, whose blog I hadn't discovered till before the panel discussion was a real revelation. It's one of my must reads now and as it always happens when bloggers sit together, there are so many more places to visit and learn from.

I have been inspired along the way by many, many insightful bloggers. As always, I was quick to roll the credits.

Sharon remains one of my inspirations. It's wonderful to see her move into the top 20 list of Malaysia's top bloggers, to see her and her blog quoted extensively. When you watch her in action, see her eyes light up when she delves into stirring thoughts, arguments, you know why she is up there with the very best.

It's always nice to sit Zafar down for a chat. It was isolation, he said, that drove him to the world of blogging and it sure has helped him break his silence and form a community of friends in Singapore and beyond.

Ivan's already explained his side of the story. If you haven't visited his blog yet, book mark it and read the rest of the stimulating blogging conversation there. We'll all be happy to repeat it real time, should there be enough listeners out there.

P.S.: Was running the spell check. Found out bloggers isn't recognised. The alternatives are:
- Blogger
- Loggers
- Floggers
- Blockers
- Logger's

Take your pick.

Labels: , , , ,


Of which there were plenty.

I don't know if you heard them all, but I sure heard a lot. So, in the honour of the critic here goes:

Q : Why was there no publicity?

Really? Over, the past couple of years, I've amassed a contact list of over 300 names, many of whom profess to love books. I emailed every one of them. Out of that long list, I could count the numbers who showed up at my sessions. It doesn't go beyond three fingertips. But that's just me.

There were plenty of blog posts, on this blog alone. Apart from that, Off The Shelf (the television show) had been highlighting authors and events since the first week of November.

The National Arts Council and The Arts House had been actively networking with like minded groups way before that. On a weekend, if you did a reading, you could count on Michelle, Yi Lyn and Phang Ming Yen to show up, record their appreciation and show their support. Several meetings were held in the run-up to the festival (I was part of some of them) and a diversity of views is what Crossings set out to accomplish and in my view it did.

In addition to that, there were the pre-event pressers, pre-event stories, information on the net. I spotted the shocking pink copy of Crossings at several coffee places including my favourite McDonalds at West Coast Park. Yes, the news may not have been everywhere but is being everywhere always possible?

Q : Where were the people?
There were over 70 people at the Professional Symposium 'The Business of Books' seminar, The Chamber filled up when Jung Chang spoke. Entrance into The Blue Room was next to impossible when Chinese poet Bei Dao's session was on. Elmo Jayawardena's book launch was packed too. Considering it was on a Saturday evening, it went to show people were interested. While Rainbows in Braille was being launched A Samad Said and Az Samad were 'Tuning Into Test' and a literary dinner with Jung Chang was on at the restaurant 1827. Literary festivals are always about tough choices and if at some sessions it seemed there were too few in attendance, its often because the audience is:
a) taking a break
b) deciding to attend the next one
c) flitting between sessions (I'm guilty of that. Always want to fit in as much as I can and it isn't always possible)
I'm sure official figures will be out soon though on the whole I'd say the festival was well attended.

Weren't the organisers too ambitious?

Would you like it any other way? A diversity of voices was what it hoped to present and it did that. Over the course of 9 days I'd gone from hearing writers like Tan Twan Eng, Gail Simone, Philip Jeyaretnam, Goh Poh Seng, Daren Shiau, David Davidar, Kunal Basu, Madhur Jaffrey, met a host of bloggers, learnt so much more about publishing and am still wishing there was time for more.

Yes, there will always be room for improvement. And I can assure that if you wrote in, your voice will be counted. But, please just for a moment, do acknowledge the effort that has gone in to make the Singapore Writers Festival a success.

I say this not because I was a part of it, I say it because I run a little reading group and I can tell you from experience that even putting together one author reading takes a lot. But when the people show up and leave the room with a smile on their face, you know you'll put yourself through it once more.

Having said that, one always knows there is room for improvement. Over the three years, that I've been actively involved in literary festivals, I've learnt from many of my mistakes. I have been helped along the way by great writers, great readers and people who simply walk up to me and offer advice. I always have my little note pad, I write it down and I always listen.

After spending time with the organisers of the Singapore Writers Festival, I know they will too. Here goes:
1) I'd like to see it as an annual festival to sustain the momentum. I'm sure some writers have left unhappy, but an equal number would have left happy. It is to those one needs to turn to, in a bid to grow the numbers of readers, writers and listeners.
2) More Partnerships: While this has been done rather well in the Singapore context, the festival now needs to look at forging deeper partnerships in the region and beyond. For instance, the Ubud Writers Festival benefits greatly from Janet de Neefe's presence in the Australian Literary Festival scene. It is such partnerships that the SWF needs to look at as it grows into the next level.
3) Official Media: Greater use of the official media. More pre-event stories, more coverage during the festival and after that too.
4) New Media: It's there, it's for all to use and imagination is all that's needed to ride on it.
5) The Website: No fancy features, just a simple and easy to navigate website would do. The Galle Literary Festival has a slick site and can provide some online ideas.

With that, I shall rest my case and look forward to being a part of the next festival, whenever it happens.



Sharon Bakar, Ivan Chew and Zafar Anjum were doing a fabulous job blogging about the festival.

Those of you who've followed this blog long enough, you'll know the pattern. It does take me time to collect my thoughts. This time, it's taken a little longer than usual as I let the literary party roll on a tad longer than the festival. Since there's a new camera as well, connecting it to the Mac has proved to be an even bigger struggle. I've spent the better part of the morning attempting to do that and have given up on it. For now, thoughts will have to do. For the pictures and the bigger picture head to all three blogs mentioned above.



The clouds kiss the trees
Gently they move
Leaving raindrops in their stride
That hilltop looks magical
How long it will survive
I know not
I dare think not
In the here and the now
If there were a lake somewhere beyond those trees
I'd call it heaven

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Don't get too busy pairing your wine with your food, leave some room for words this Saturday.

A book launch preceded by this is just the kind of fix a literary doctor would recommend.
Saturday, 8th December, 1pm
A Tale of Two Cities features David Davidar and Kunal Basu
At the Chamber, The Arts House



Cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom - the ingredients to stir up a delightful curry, Shetty style. Think Goan Vindaloo or Sri Lanka's famous Elolu (Vegetable) Curry or Singapore's famous fish head curry and pepper crabs. As the heady aromas of the food hit you senses, which drink would you think of?

I popped the question in studio and the answer was unanimous:
"Give that man a Tiger."

Aha, the taste buds they are a-changing.

"What about wine?" I asked.
"Yes, wine to give all this spicy stuff."
"Which one."

Not pretending to sound like anything I'm not, I pull out a book that promises to take you to "new frontiers in taste."

Wine with Asian Food by Patricia Guy and Edwin Soon takes you to China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka to pair wine with your food.

Its a selective process, the interaction of wine and its interaction with Asian flavours and cooking is extensively explored to present the best pairings. There are five flavour profiles while the wines are organised into seven style categories based on flavour, texture and body.

If you've ever wondered if wine does go with Asian food, the answers are all in here.

Flipping through the pages is stirring my appetite. Is it time for lunch already?

For the record, Indian chicken korma takes Australian Shiraz. Vindaloo a well made Recioto di Soave and Shabu Shabu is best savoured with Italian sweet wines.

Wine with Asian Food - New Frontiers in Taste
Pages : 165
Price : $42
Publisher : Landmark Books
Year : 2007

Labels: , ,


The statistics in Asia are alarming.

Only about 40,000 survive today. Previously, Thailand alone was home to 100,000 of them. We are taking about the trials, travails and the sheer survival of the Asian elephant. The picture remains grim as human population grows, forest cover is lost, elephants are taken out of their habitat, their trails blocked, their tusks hunted, their life reduced to that of a 'working animal.'

It's a story that was brilliantly narrated by Jin Pyn through her charming book and video.

Now, that story has another worthy addition. This time through a compelling picture book by noted photographer Palani Mohan.

In the foreword to the book, Jason Gagliardi rightly sums up the story as he points out:
"It’s a love story, and a war story, a history of animosity and attraction, a study of shattered symbiosis.

For all through Asia, it seems, a love-hate relationship thrives where elephants and humans co-exist. Even as we venerate this mighty beast, we also abase him. These pages will lead you on a voyage of discovery: the elephant as pan-Asian icon, as faithful companion, as beast of burden, as free spirit, as deity, as protector of the herd, and as lonely nomad. Enjoy the book as a bravura display of the photographer’s art. Be moved by its chronicle of the heartbreaks and epiphanies of an endlessly fascinating and troubled relationship. Above all, treat it as a call to action, so that the title might serve as a rallying cry, rather than become the epitaph of a truly amazing animal."

Palani Mohan shot Vanishing Giants (2001-2006) in the streets and jungles of twelve countries. The series received the second prize in the nature category at World Press Photo in 2006.

He was born in Chennai, India, and moved to Australia as a child. His photographic career began 20 years ago at the Sydney Morning Herald and since then he has been based in London, Hong Kong, Bangkok, and now Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. His work has been featured in many of the world’s leading magazines and newspapers. Vanishing Giants is his third book.

Read and see more of his work on his website.

Labels: ,


He's one of the top actors in television thanks to one of the longest running television series - Kasamh Se. It's helped him bag several acting awards, put him firmly in the limelight and won him fans - young and old alike, quite something for someone who was never interested in acting. Things fell into place when Ram Kapoor was pushed into it by his school headboy (Tarun Deo, it was) at Sherwood.
"Sherwood is known for its theatre but I was never interested in theatre. When I was in the 9th standard, Aamir Raza Hussain came to direct our Founders Day play, I was pushed into going for the auditions by the school's head boy. I didn't think anything would come out of it. I just went for it, auditioned and ended up getting the role. Three months of rehersals, then the performance. Somewhere in that process, I realized that I really liked doing this, plus school gave me a very good response. I started taking theatre very seriously, I did a lot of theatre with Aamir Raza Hussain, then I went abroad, studied for it."

While he makes it sound very simple, things weren't all that easy. He didn't have the heart to tell his parents he was off to study theatre in the US and this is how he ended up charting his theatrical course:
"I went to America on the pretence of getting into UCLA at the film school. Once I got there I couldn't get into the theatre school I wanted to study in. So I stayed in America for a year, did odd jobs, sold cars, sold credit cards, insurance, just about everything to sustain myself. On my second attempt I got into the theatre school."

Once he got entry into the school of his choice, it was a lot of tough work, which involved the intense study of 'method acting', something that's always been his inspiration:
"Method acting is a very intense, very old way of learning acting. All my inspiration for acting comes from people who have studied method acting like Marlon Brando, Pacino, De Niro, so I wanted to go those kind of schools, which is why I applied for method acting. The easiest way to explain it is its internal acting. They teach you how to feel what you are performing. Not just perform but to feel it too. It's a very long drawn process but I'm very happy that I got to learn it."

That training has come handy for the persona he plays on television today. While he has a huge fan base, Ram Kapoor is best associated with playing the role of a much older man on the small screen. But he isn't afraid of being typecast:
"It's a fantastic role. I've never had a problem with playing a character much older than I actually am. My method acting training in fact, has taught me to play roles that I'm actually not. If I just have to be myself then I don't even need to act. If I act, I want to play every possible role - older, younger, positive, negative - that's where the challenge lies for me. So when I was told I have to play a role that's 10 years older than I actually am, I had no problems. There are people who do have problems but I have absolutely no issues playing an older man."

Just as he has no problems taking on roles that may make him look older,
Ram Kapoor also has no problems staying put in television:
"It's a very exciting time to be in Indian television. I'm very proud of the fact that I'm in the television today. Lots of reporters and journalists who interview me back home always ask me if I want to make the transition to film and I always say I'm very happy being in television. I've done some cinema, parallel or art films as you'd call them, but the draw of television has been too intense. The exposure is a lot all over the world. This year alone, I've travelled to five different countries and the response everywhere has been phenomenal. Television is just booming in India and I can say with certainty that this is just the beginning and I'm extremely proud to be associated with it."

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


"How are you going to grill me - rare, medium, well done?" he asks me.
"How would you like to be grilled?" I fire back.
"Man, never ask a journalist a question."

Yes, I know it. This interview is going to be lots of fun, never mind the dark glasses that Zayed refuses to take off during the interview.

"Long flight," he explains.

Sure, thing we'll leave it at that. After all, Zayed Khan would easily rank as the most non-starry Bollywood insider. Being Sanjay Khan's son meant he grew up surrounded by lights, cameras and lots of action, but movies wouldn't have figured on his agenda, if his Dad had his way. He was meant to get a degree in Business, but finance soon lost its allure. Zayed turned to study film-making, then acting and the rest as they say has turned out be something straight out of the movies.

Q : Zayed, you hail from one of the first families of Indian film. What was it like when you were growing up? You actually ended up studying business administration, didn’t you?
A :
Yes, but that was only because my Dad wanted me to and he pestered me to go in for it. He thought I was a really good negotiator because I would always crack deals with him over the dining table so he wanted me to be a lawyer and pushed me to be this kind of guy who is very chic, suited, booted and could recite the entire Constitution. But deep down, I wasn’t like that at all. I was a very playful person. As a kid growing up, I was more interested in the birds and the bees outside. I was the kind of person who liked to express himself. Whether it was dressing up like Superman and trying to fly from the roof terrace or whether it was playing mock kiddie roles in our home-made movies. As children one of our favourite playtime activities used to be ‘let’s make a movie together.’ Of course, my sister would be the Director, another one would be the Editor, another one the Producer, they’d pick the meatiest roles and then they’d go:
"Zayed, you are the spot boy."

Every time, I’d try and ask "why am I always the spot boy?"

They just bullied me silly. I’d get the odd jobs, be the gaffer, be the side kick, be the spot boy which often depleted my moral spirit to become an actor. Though I always tell them now that "you guys made me an actor by condemning me all the time, by giving me all those odd things to do while we were all making our short home videos." But it was fun growing up.

Deep down, I knew I was going to be an actor since I was 10 years old. I was born in the cradle of the industry, I had people coming in and out for dinner. At that time, when Dad was the star, being on a set was the most glamorous thing. There was nothing more entertaining. If one person was shooting, you’d have close to 5,000 people watching you. Today, of course, you don’t have the same kind of adulation. Really I grew up in front of the camera, with people who were constantly being very filmi, so it must have rubbed off somewhere.

Q : And you ended up getting one of your first filmi breaks alongside Shah Rukh Khan. Actors would die for a role like the one you had in ‘Main Hoon Naa.’ You got lots of recognition for it. What was it like considering it came fairly early in your career?
A :
Man, as far I’m considered it was a complete default. I was never meant to be in the film. As fate has it, as destiny has it, I ended up in it. It’s a really interesting story actually. I was in touch with Farah (Khan) and wanted her to choreograph a song in my movie called ‘Chura Liya Hain Tum Nain’, I was in touch with her and I was pestering her. She is really hard to get and I think she only does songs for people she loves. I was not one really one of those at that time. To cut a very long story short, she called me one day and I came into Shah Rukh’s office and I was quite taken aback as to why I was even there. It had nothing to do with my song, or her choreographing my song. The next thing I know she’s offered me this role in ‘Main Hoon Naa.’ And Shah Rukh just tells me:
"Dude, can you act, Hindi bolnein aatein hain naa?" (Do you know how to speak Hindi?)
I responded "Hahn, Hindi bolnein aate hain." (Yes, I can speak Hindi) and I was born to act. It was one of those things that just fell into my lap, you never quite put a finger to it. But it was one of those roles that completely re-defined, that gave me a new birth in the industry, lots of recognition. In fact, I walk around and people call me ‘Lucky’ (his name in the film). They don’t even know what my real name is and that’s quite endearing, quite sweet. And I hope I always do justice to my characters like that so that people forget who you are and remember you by the character you portray.

What followed after Main Hoon Naa was a string of flops. Hear about Zayed's plans to reverse his box office fortunes in part two of this post.

Labels: , ,


Think about it – how often do you come across an award-winning actor who counts 11 minutes of screen presence as "one of his toughest roles," admits that working with Mani Ratnam is "never easy" or jokes about the amount of weight he needed to lose in one of his movies. That’s not all, he also makes a bold admission of his limitations in Bollywood and how critical success doesn’t necessarily translate into commercial success. Madhavan, "call me Maddy" talks about it all and a whole lot more....

Q : Maddy, they say good guys serve the Army or become doctors or engineers. You almost got there and then made a radical career shift. How did your parents respond to your decision to join the film industry?
A : (Laughs) Thank you for your backhanded compliment about good guys, it’s a tough reputation to live up to. But you’re right, I tried to be a qualified engineer, I was about to join the Defence forces but I think it was just meant to be that I become an actor. I almost became all of these before I quit to become an actor. I just couldn’t imagine my life in an office, doing a 9-5 job, working for the Tatas, which is what was dreamed for me by my parents. Then there was of course the Army. I wanted to be in it. I wanted to be a fighter pilot and I almost became one but they wouldn’t give me MiGs to fly, they were giving me helicopters. Can you imagine my disappointment? I’d watched ‘Top Gun’ and like guys my age then I imagined flying around like Tom Cruise. As a 22 year old, who wasn’t getting what he wanted, you can imagine my sense my sadness at that. I pretty much walked out of all of that and became an actor.

Q : Well, you weren’t exactly Tom Cruise but you sure got to live a bit of your dream in Rang de Basanti – a movie that is widely credited with re-defining Indian cinema in a sense. It was a small role but an enormously significant one. What was getting and playing the role of Ajay Rathod like?
A :
I am lucky because I got a character like that, a character defined and written by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra. It was not just as a guest appearance. It was one of my toughest roles to date. A lot of people don’t understand why. They keep asking me "Why do you say it was your toughest role? Do you say it because it did well?" I always say no to that. In Rang de Basanti, I had precisely 11 minutes on screen and a total of seven odd scenes and in those seven scenes I had to prove that I was a great guy as a friend, that I was a good lover, that I was a good son and that I was actually a latent patriot and at the same time a guy who his friends would think is worth dying for. All these things had to work simultaneously and if any one of them failed then the film would look that much shallower when it’s released. When Aamir Khan called me, I told him, you’ve got so many stories to narrate in this film and on top of that you’ve got me in it. I don’t know if I can do it all. Aamir said, "the reason I’m calling you is because I know you can do it." It was a lot of responsibility. Then Rakeysh and I discussed it and we hit upon a way of doing it. I told him Rakeysh don’t direct me in this film, let me just be myself, let me just be Maddy. Let me not have a mannerism or a style that is different from what I am. So that when I die in the film, let people think that Maddy died, not Ajay Rathod. The whole film was just about me being me, I wasn’t acting at all. It was a very exciting phase of my acting career.

Q : I'd think your toughest role was in Mani Ratnam's 'Guru'.....

Watch this space for Madhavan's response.

Labels: , ,

Monday, December 03, 2007


What a difference two years make. With a perfect setting, chambers rich in history, each seat inspires you. What would a journalist from The New Paper be thinking when he sat in the seat you are in. Would it have been a fiery debate? A debate that would spell out major changes, what were those words like? It's only fitting that 'The Chamber' at The Arts House should play host to some of the most stimulating exchanges of words. For it is when words cross, that ideas are formed and journeys defined.

I embarked on mine at The Singapore Writers Festival on Sunday. Over the past year, I've had the fortune of meeting the people who are scripting the action. Yvette, who hasn't a moment off since it all started. Michelle who has shown up all things literary. Yilyn who remains a picture of poise, never mind all the endless requests you continue making. Phan Mingyen, who'd rather discuss Michael Ondaatje than get down to eating that meal he sorely needs. When you see passion like that, you know you can hope for visions of grandness. And that's what I saw at the five things literary I engaged in.

Packed sessions. Yes, what authors and moderators love to see is - no standing room. And no standing room is what I saw as I flitted between several sessions. Oh, the choices, these lit fests force you to make.

Enormously enjoyed listening to Goh Poh Seng, who rightfully dismissed the moderators question of the dearth of the Singaporean novel: "There's too much pessimism," he rightly pointed out. "You can't rush a novel, you need time, perseverance and continuity," he added. Take a look around you, it took Kiran Desai 7 years to come out with her Booker award winning effort 'The Inheritance of Loss.' At the end the day, its the quality not the quantity that matters when it comes to the art of the novel. At the end of the day, what's the point of pushing shelves full of novels which will fail to find readers if they've been too rushed.

Equally impressive on that panel was Daren Shiau who was at ease speaking about his failure with the poetic form, his shift to short story and the writing of 'Heartland', which he admitted happened "almost by accident." It was an attempt to show, among other things, that the Heartland in Singapore was not an intellectual wasteland. The author himself would count as its finest product. A Fulbright scholar, he's a practising lawyer and his is a voice I'd suggest you hear more of.

Philip Jeyaretnam is known to pack the punches and he sure did as he spoke about writing being "an extension through which I could get into the heads of people who are very different from me." He called writing "a way to dream and dreaming was almost an act of resistance." It was thoughts like these and the stimulating exchange that followed that elevated 'Dreaming Singapore' to a top-notch panel discussion.

There was lots to learn from Booker longlisted novelist Tan Twan Eng, who is at ease doing the stuff he's doing. I still recall my first meeting with him, the pauses, the doubts about how the book would be received. Those doubts no longer exist. 'The Gift of Rain' has got the attention it deserves and its helped Twan the writer shape up as an eloquent speaker. Squeezed in two of his sessions and the note pad brims with thoughts:

- Getting from Point A to Point B wasn't planned. I can only suggest you absorb, assimilate and be open to ideas.
- When asked if his characters rebelled, he was quick to point out "they couldn't rebel because I was in charge of them."- On short stories: "I don't read short stories as I often don't understand their endings. From the start I knew I was going to write a novel and that was it."
- On life post Booker: "It feels the same but things are a lot easier for my publishers and agents. Their phone calls are returned."
- What sells: "Long books that read like short books sell well."

With that, the final word, "you have to write the right book at the right time." The only thing is not to wait for that moment, I guess.

Lots more lined up this weekend. A good place to start would be the literary tour that's got P C Abraham's stamp of approval. Take that man's word for it, he's done the rounds and his nod means a lot.

In between the walking and the talking also take a moment for Between Land and Sea: The Life and Times of Joseph Conrad: Polish writer Joseph Conrad lives again through this travelling exhibition curated by the Adam Mickiewicz Museum of Literature in Warsaw. The political writer's works, such as Under Western Eyes and The Secret Agent, remain as fresh as ever today, 150 years on.

The Singapore Writers Festival is happening at The Arts House, 1 Old Parliament Lane. It ends on 9th December.