The lone sultana



Bollywood’s biggest female sufi voice talks about why it’s a great time to be a singer

LAST month, singer Sona Mohapatra initiated an important discussion on her social media page, asking why female performers can’t headline events sans the entourage of men. Having headlined several concerts and gatherings across the globe herself, singer Harshdeep Kaur agreed with a sigh. “Sona is speaking from experience. I think it’s subjective, however, because we see people flocking to say, a Sunidhi Chauhan concert as well,” she says, not wishing to blindly lay a stamp. Basking in the success of her latest number for the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer RaeesZaalima, the Mumbai-based artiste talks about the changing tide in the country’s music fraternity and why reality shows may not be the tickets to success they once were.

Collateral damage


A still from the song from Raees (2016)

She may have sung for a Pakistani film before, but hasn’t had an experience of the studio environment there, considering she recorded through Skype, lending her voice to Mahira for Balle Balle from Bin Roye (2015). Talking about the difference in the characters of the two fraternities, she points out a blatant difference in the barter of talent, saying, “Artists from there have come here and made a huge name for themselves, but the flow back from us to Pakistan isn’t balanced. That does, however, even out if you look at the popularity of our content and performers there.” Meanwhile, she also throws light on how times have changed for performers across the spectrum. “Today, people look at the comfort of singers a lot more than they used to before. For instance, earlier, the track was prepared and we had to go and sing over it. Now our individual pitches and scales are also considered, as are our timings,” she points out, referring to how Arijit Singh and she recorded their parts for Zaalima separately.


Quantity over quality
Winning two reality shows left her with the title ‘Sufi ka Sultana’ and a string of chartbusters that cemented her position in the mainstream. However, she insists that the glorious days of reality show successes are nearing the end. “We have five to six shows going on at the same time. Usually, we had one show that we would dedicate all our time to. Now that’s not possible. So that affects recall value. The number confuses the audience,” says the Heer singer. Busy with her concert schedules for the next few months, Harshdeep will be seen crooning for a number in the Naseeruddin Shah-starrer Irada. She also hints at a few independent singles this year.

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I love playing the bad guy: Rana Daggubati


rana-daggubatiThe brawny six-foot-three inch Rana Daggubati looks like a made-to-order hero, but there’s more to him than just that. As a producer in Prakash Kovelamudi’s Bommalata, he bagged the National honour and as a VFX supervisor for Sainikudu, he took home the Nandi Award, Andhra Pradesh’s highest honour for excellence in Telugu cinema. He also took the critics by surprise when he nailed the character of Arjun Prasad in his Telugu debut, Leader (2010), with a mature and effortless performance. While his Bollywood debut saw the 31-year-old as the brooding hero in Dum Maaro Dum (2011), Tamil audiences were introduced to the Chennai-born actor when he played Ajith’s gun-toting best friend, ACP Sanjay, in Arrambam (2013). But, of course, his moment of glory is undoubtedly the portrayal of the ruthless Bhallala Deva, the main antagonist in SS Rajamouli’s magnum opus Baahubali: The Beginning (2015). Working on a host of projects, including the final schedule of Baahubali: The Conclusion, a sequel to Leader, Ghazi—India’s first submarine film based on the Indo-Pak war of 1975—and Madai Thiranthu, a bilingual period film set in 1945, among others, the actor will also be the voice for Tom Hanks in the Telugu version of Inferno. Currently shooting in Karaikkudi, he took some time off to speak to us about playing the bad guy, the challenges of body transformation and his penchant for war films.

What does Baahubali: The Conclusion have in store for Bhallala Deva?
It’s the continuation of the story and tries to explain why we are what we are in part one. Expect more drama and action. The set pieces are so much bigger and the scale is higher in every which way. Saying yes to Baahubali is almost like a childhood dream because I grew up on war movies and I loved Amar Chitra Katha as a kid. So when someone was trying to recreate that world in cinema, I had to do it. The movie is almost done. We have a final schedule due in November.

Do you like playing the bad guy?
I love playing the bad guy. Especially if it’s something of this scale, in a period mythology film, with such grandeur. Mythology isn’t just restricted to a Ramayana or Mahabharata. We have stories that emulate the scale of those characters and this is one such story. Be it your Ravana or Duryodhana, the villain guides a large part of a tale, or even a film for that matter. So playing the antagonist was an amazing experience.

How did you and Rajamouli work on your character? baahubali_640x480_71475568517
I take a detailed brief from the director. With Rajamouli that’s easy because he’s very clear about his characters. There are no doubts about the requirements. You just need to be in character. He is someone who pushes you to achieve the mould he has carved for his character. So it’s always a mix of both—the director’s vision and your own touches.

How was the experience of dubbing for Tom Hanks, especially since it’s the first time you’re lending your voice to another artiste?
It was amazing. Tom Hanks is one of the finest actors of the West and most of us have grown up watching him on screen. I had a little fanboy moment. Their cinema has a lot more maturity and experience. While dubbing for him, I was trying to catch his pauses and pitch, and I learnt so much. The challenge was that he is an older guy and I didn’t want it to sound like a younger guy was giving the voiceover. I only dub for myself and I know the pace at which I speak and the pauses I take. Initially, I started imitating his style, which didn’t work as well for the narrative. But it got better with practice.

What’s a typical day like for you these days?
Schedules have been so packed that there’s hardly been any time for us to relax. I leave for the shoot at Ramoji Film City at 6 am. Work takes a good 12 hours, after which I head out for dubbing. I love reading and catching a movie, but that’s not been possible for the last few months. I am basically Bhallala Deva by day and Robert Langdon by night. As exciting as they are, these films are not easy. Especially Baahubali, with its tiring schedules and hot, sultry sets.

How do you treat a sensitive story like Ghazi when adapting it for the big screen?the-ghazi-attack_148421767910
Ghazi is the first Indian war film shot inside a submarine and based on events that actually transpired. It was challenging because it’s a cross-border film and we didn’t have a reference. Some of the events actually happened here at the Vizag Port and not many people know about it. It is sensitive and there are many conspiracy theories surrounding it in history. We spoke to naval officers who served during the time. The submarines were recreated to scale with material from Russia, keeping the original in mind.

As an artiste, do you think remakes do justice to the original?
Even if the remake is far more superior to the original, we will still like the latter because of the image we have of it. I loved Aamir Khan in Ghajini. But Surya’s image in that role is so strong that I sometimes can’t think beyond him. It’s the first vision of what you get to see, which can’t be recreated. In Bangalore Naatkal, for instance, I tried pitching my performance to be very similar to Fahadh Faasil’s, except that we changed my look for the biker portions. I grew my beard out and my styling was different for those scenes. In the original, Fahadh looked more or less the same when he switched between the two personas. People who have watched him in the original will not be able to place me in that frame, and rightly so.

How do you evaluate your own performance?
When you finish a film, you’re so invested in that performance and story that you are blind to its flaws at that point. So I go back to my movies a little later and evaluate my work, seeing what I can do better. My biggest critics are my family. Being at home really feels like being at a film school. Though we have discussions about each other’s work, at the end of it, everything boils down to our individual choices.

Packing a punch
Having lost close to 20 kilos for his role in Baahubali, Daggubati took to his Twitter handle earlier this week to share an image of his chiselled body. For the last six months, the actor says he has been lifting weights twice a day, with intensive workouts, boxing and martial arts sessions as part of his routine, paired with small meals eight to nine times a day. “Baahubali is a war film and, in that context, when you establish a character who can kill a bison with his bare hands, it really needs a lot of work,” he says.

Style quotient
Rana Daggubati’s look has changed along with his role choices. The actor, who once liked to maintain a neat stubble, now sports a signature moustache and beard. According to his stylist Geetika Chadha, the Rudramadevi actor likes mixing his outfits, with a preference for fusion wear and handloom. He can be spotted in brands like Burberry and Tarun Tahiliani, and is most often spotted in grunge-inspired or semi-formal ensembles.

Baahubali 2: The Conclusion is slated to release on April 28.–1.html

I haven’t stopped trying to take chances: Abhay Deol


Back on the big screen after two years, Abhay Deol is excited about his forthcoming release. Happy Bhaag Jayegi is a romantic comedy that follows Happy (played by Diana Penty), a bride who runs away from her wedding, crosses borders and gets into acool-abhay-deol-wallpapers_3788 whole lot of trouble along the way. The Mumbai-based actor plays Bilal Ahmed, a submissive, foreign-educated Pakistani who doesn’t relate to his people or surroundings. We catch up with him in the midst of the film’s Mumbai promotions.

Second coming

“The characters were written so well by Mudassar (Aziz), the director, that I just had to live out what he had already sketched,” the 40-year-old says. The movie also marks Deol’s second collaboration with producer Anand L Rai, having worked with him earlier in Raanjhanaa. Though pundits have touted this film to be his comeback, the star is unfazed. “There’s Anand L Rai and Eros. So I am nervous, yes, but secure that nothing is riding on me, which is the case otherwise,” says the Shanghai actor.

Formula vs offbeat

But Deol admits that all films finally boil down to commerce. Talking about the concept of commercial and non-commercial cinema, he says, “I think even an offbeat film strives to be commercial; every film needs commerce.” And for someone who rose to fame with unconventional movie choices like Dev D and Ek Chalis Ki Last Local, a commercial film does fuel some fears. “People might start thinking that I’ve stopped trying to take chances. I haven’t. It’s just that it’s very difficult to be doing that, despite success,” says the actor, adding that India isn’t opening itself up to different cinema as much as it should. happy-story_647_082016034745

“For any parallel movement to survive, it needs to be a movement. And by movement I mean groups of people who support each other. If real change was happening, we wouldn’t be seeing all actors and actresses trying to out-dance and out-six-pack each other,” he admits. Tightlipped about his future projects, Deol shares, “I have read a script that has the superficial trappings of a commercial film, but with the kind of edge you saw in Dev D. I’m hoping someone finances it.” He also plans on returning to producing films soon.

Happy Bhaag Jayegi is set to release on August 19.

Journalist diaries


Tanishaa Mukerji on her upcoming movie and being a director’s actor.

img_0161Making a comeback after five years, Tanishaa Mukerji is brimming with excitement. Anna, the biopic of anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare, will see the actress back on the silver screen after Be Careful, in 2011. She plays the role of a journalist in the movie. “This film is an attempt to inspire everyone and is not meant to stir any controversy,” clarifies the Mumbai-based actress. Tracing Anna’s life from his days in the army to the recent Lokpal campaign, it tries to demystify the motivation behind Anna’s stand.

For her role in the film, she intensively researched mainstream TV journalists in the country and says that director Shashank Udapurkar’s clear vision also helped her a lot.


With Anna Hazare during her film’s promotions

“You have to be a mix of a director’s actor and one who lives the role on their own terms. One doesn’t exist without the other,” the 35-year-old star adds. Talking about shooting for the film, she says, “Sequences at Anna’s village were the most memorable. It is humbling and inspiring to see so many people turn up to be a part of this project just because of one man’s conviction.”


Mukerji, who made heads turn during her stints in Bigg Boss and Khatron Ke Khiladi, looks forward to television projects as long as they pose a challenge. “Be it films, TV or even a web series, I am open to doing anything,” she concludes.

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Raise the lid


The next time a friend visits from Hyderabad, I will have to ask for something other than a parceled portion of the famed Paradise biryani, because now we have our own outlet in the city. From a tiny canteen in Secunderabad six decades ago, Paradise has grown to become a biryani powerhouse —with 16 outlets in the country, the latest located down OMR. With a seating of over 160, the restaurant has simple interiors with brick walls featuring photographs of all the food from their menu. We are joined by head corporate chef, Vijay Bakshi, who hails from Hyderabad. He introduces us to his list of Paradise’s specials, starting with an assorted platter of kebabs, in varieties like chicken tikka, kalmi and hara bhara. Vegetarians have a subz aur moongphalli seekh to try, a first for all their outlets.
As we are discussing the legacy of kebabs and their oath keepers in Lucknow and Old Delhi, our biryanis arrive, after being cooked in handis for over six hours. I choose the double spice variant of the mutton biryani for a piquant smack. Its tender meat falls apart easily and the signature masala flavour—which is made centrally in Hyderabad—turns out to be worth all the hype. From desserts, I opt for the popular qubani ka meetha—a quintessentially Hyderabadi dish. The apricots are well soaked, with a semi-solid jammy consistency, which along with the sugar syrup, provide a lasting aftertaste. Bakshi says it’s best had with ice cream and I couldn’t agree more.
Meal for two from Rs 600.
Details: 45566713