Presenting The Chand Taara Orchestra

We’re sitting in an open-air restaurant, located in a secluded area of defence. Babar Shaikh, Glen John and Rizwan are positively brimming with excitement. They’ve just had their first show as the Chand Taara Orchestra at the Indus Valley School of Arts and Architecture’s (IVSAA) Alumni Show, and they’re looking forward to doing more. For each them, this journey into experimental music has been long in the making.

About a year ago, director musician Babar Shaikh was invited to play at a Spanish Film Festival. There he joined other world musicians as they played live improvisational music to silent animation movies being played on the screen. It would prove to be an experience that he wouldn’t forget anytime soon. His recent musical ventures include his own band Dusk, which continues to evolve to this day.

As he returned back to Pakistan from Spain, the first person Babar contacted was Rizwan. “Musically, whatever I’ve done, I’ve always involved Rizwan.” Their initial foray into music began with 1996’s Ganda Banda and the 3d Cats, along with Ahmad Chagla and Ali Alam (now associated with The Aunty Disco Project). Ganda Banda was perhaps a phenomenon of its time, achieving cult status to this day. “Post-GandaBanda, Rizwan and I were getting into a lot of world music,” recalls Babar. “It was also very simple, just complete raag-based songs,” adds Rizwan. But both agree it was the diversity of Ganda Banda that made it the success that it was.

Rizwan’s journey has been long and winded in music, “I’ve played different instruments and I started playing in a band in 1988. It was a rock ‘n’roll band, but at the same time, I was really interested in classical music. From rock, I progressed to psychedelic, then blues and reggae and ultimately, world music.” Regarding his input in the band, he said, “I don’t have a particular style in mind when I play, perhaps I mimic a style, but for me it’s just about playing diverse music.”

The commonality between Babar and Rizwan was not just diversity, but the diversity of world music. In 2002, the two musicians teamed up with Areeb Azhar and performed a few gigs. It would be Areeb’s diverse sound that would further solidify Babar’s and Rizwan’s journey towards where they are today. Then, upon Babar’s return from his experience with the Trans Orient Express, Glen John came into the picture. John, the son of revered musician S B John, has his own band Gurus Trilogy, met up with Babar and the two discussed possibilities of perhaps forming a band together. “This is something that I always wanted to do, something experimental, something that made me feel good inside, the kind of music that would appeal to me,” Glen said. “My own band – Gurus – does appeal to me, but it has a very commercial aspect to it and one needs to earn their bread and butter, but one also needs to satisfy their creative self.”

Both Babar and Glen agreed that whereas commercial music serves its purposes, it doesn’t satisfy them as musicians. Glen was immediately taken by the idea and possibilities from that meeting, but it wouldn’t be until the IVSAA invited Babar to perform at their first Alumni Show that the hard work would come to fruit. The three of them rehearsed together to establish the base of the Chand Taara Orchestra. “Initially, it was just Babar and me rehearsing,” remembers Glen, “I was so excited that I had worked on a few things even before Babar showed up for the rehearsal.”

“The thing that makes this work is the synergy,” Babar states, “It’s the fact that Glen had already worked out something before I joined him, and the fact that when Rizwan joined us afterwards, he brought in something new that added to the whole ambience of the band.” The purpose of the band wasn’t just to play guitar with a raag, a practice common amongst fusion bands, but to achieve a totally different kind of sound with the addition of other instruments, (particularly world instruments) such as a harmonica, electric tanpura, and an Arabic duff, to name a few. “It’s not your typical fusion,” adds Rizwan. And indeed it isn’t. The band’s strength is its diversity, whether it is Babar’s rock influences, Glen’s experience of classical music and Rizwan’s world music.

The result is a fresh sound of experimental fusion music, made in the spirit of making music with a purpose of more than just earning money. The band currently has one track, and at almost 25 minutes, it is a sheer display of love for music, if anything else. Again, for one to comprehend on such a track length, one has to understand the band’s motives and the fact that this isn’t a commercial venture. The track sways in with the electric tanpura and carries the listener along with it. One doesn’t even catch each of the instruments coming in, such is the subtly of the music. The guitar and bass blend in with the aura of the sound and the harmonica and duff – instead of sounding off beat or out of tune – create that perfect harmony to take the track onwards.

Already there is praise for them after their first show. They have been approached by fellow musicians to be a part of the proverbial orchestra. “That’s the general idea,” says Babar – and both Glen and Rizwan agree with him, “the three of us are the nucleus of the band but other musicians will come and add on their inputs according to our sound.”

At the end of it all, Babar sums up his own vision. “I read someplace that if a music listener goes back home from a concert and thinks, ‘wow that was a good gig, the guitar player was amazing, the drummer was amazing, etc’ – you really haven’t fulfilled your purpose as a band. But if that same listener says, ‘wow what a band’ then you’ve hit the mark.” The three of them agree in unison that whatever music they play, it should impart itself upon the listeners, touching their lives in some sort of way.

Surely then we can expect to hear more from this unique group as they continue their journey as the Chand Taara Orchestra.

Who wants to be a Slumdog Millionaire?

Jamal Malik is about to experience the biggest day of his life.

Based upon the novel Q&A by Vikas Swarup, Slumdog Millionaire is the story of Jamal, a young tea boy working in a call centre in Mumbai, desperately seeking his long lost love. Through his persistence he winds up crossing an underworld gang leader, gets caught by the police on suspicion of being a cheat, and ultimately is on the verge of winning 20 million rupees.

Director Danny Boyle once again shows off his ability to tell diverse stories filled to the brim with emotions. He startled audiences with Trainspotting in 1996, took them on an adventure on The Beach in 2000, and startled them in 28 Days Later in 2002. In 2007, Boyle opted for a science fiction story: Sunshine. But the story didn’t shine on audiences as Boyle hoped it would.

Hence, Boyle is back at doing what he does best: making small movies about real characters in real situations. And it doesn’t get much real than the story of Jamal Malik whose rags-to-riches story can almost be compared to Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. But to properly tackle the fact that the story was Indian, Boyle chose his casting director, Loveleen Tandan, to be his co-director. A smart decision on the part of Boyle, as Tandan’s previous work on movies such as Brick Lane, Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake, to name a few, brought a wealth of experience for Boyle. Her experience impressed Boyle, who said, “Initially it was obvious how she helped us with the casting. We’d be trying to audition seven year olds in English, and it wasn’t working with them, and she said: “I’m horrified to tell you, Danny, but you should do it in Hindi.” I said: “Okay, we’ll do it in Hindi.” It was like a million times better straightaway.”

At first there was panic in the studio when Boyle began re-tooling 75 per cent of the film’s English dialogue into Hindi. Now that Boyle found the cultural connection with Tandan, he wanted the writer to find his own connection too.

Written by Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty and Yasmin), there are drastic differences between the book and the movie, smartly made by the writer. Beaufoy traveled to India, befriended local filmmakers and even spent time with street children to get a feel of the story. There is also something interesting presented by Beaufoy – overlooked by the western media – is his attention to the persecution of Muslims in India. It’s only a small part of the story, but a vital one for Jamal’s character. And hence, even the writer connected to the culture.

Jamal is portrayed by British actor Dev Patel. Boyle considered hundreds of young male actors, although he found that Bollywood leads were generally “strong, handsome hero-types”, not conflicted and different, like Jamal. Boyle’s 17-year-old daughter showed him Patel, who at that time was starring in a British TV drama.

Jamal shares his screen time with renowned Indian actor Anil Kapoor, who portrays the host of the show Prem Kumar. Kapoor, aka Mr India, steals most the scenes he’s in with the young Patel. His devious intentions stand in the way of Jamal, who continues to look for his long lost love, Latika. Model Freida Pinto stars in her first theatrical role as Jamal’s love interest, Latika. Besides the conflict of the world, Jamal is shown to always be at odds with his brother, Salim, a role played by Madhur Mittal.

A special note should be given to the young actors, Ayush Mahesh Khedekar and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, who played younger versions of Jamal and Salim. If it not for them, the entire build up of the story would be flawed from the start. Their performances, both innocent and naive, and cunning and malicious, show us a glimpse of what each character will be at the end of the movie.

And although this is British production of a movie set in India, Boyle acknowledged that the only way to achieve a proper authentic feel for the movie would be to have the proper music. Enter Indian music composer maestro A. R. Rahman. The composer planned the score over two months and completed it in two weeks. He stated he was aiming for “mixing modern India with the old India with the music, but that the film and soundtrack “isn’t about India or Indian culture. The story could happen anywhere.” Boyle hated sentiment and told Rahman not to “put a cello in the film”. Instead he imagined an “edgey” and “sharp” score. Rahman appreciated the director’s praise for Bollywood music, saying the director wanted “edgy, upfront” music that did not sound suppressed. Composing pieces to fit the images, he noted: “There’s not many cues in the film. Usually a big film has 130 cues. This had just seventeen or eighteen: the end credits, beginning credits.” And with each cue, Rahman captures the mood of the characters and the beats of the story. The soundtrack is perhaps the best score released in 2008 so much so, that Rahman received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score.

And that’s not the only Golden Globe nomination the movie has received, it has also been nominated for Best Motion Picture (Drama), Best Director (Danny Boyle) and Best Screenplay (Simon Beaufoy). But what is more impressive is the amount of awards the movie has won so far. Amongst the critics circle alone it has won a staggering 62 awards. Slumdog is not only a hit amongst the critics; it is a hit amongst the people too. It’s a simple story that has won hearts and amid a time of terror and hopelessness, provided a moment of hope for movie goers all around the world.

It's safe to say that Slumdog Millionaire is movie that you won’t forget anytime soon.
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Jett Travolta, the 16-year-old son of actor John Travolta was found dead, in the family’s home in the Bahamas. Travolta has said that he and his wife, actress Kelly Preston, are “heartbroken” over the death of their son. Both of them and their daughter, Ella, were present at the home when Jett died.

Jett had a developmental disability that his parents have linked to Kawasaki disease, an inflammatory disorder of the artery walls that most commonly occurs in young children and can lead to heart disease. In 2001, John Travolta revealed in a TV interview that his son had a near brush with death related to the condition. He went on to speak about how it changed the actor’s living practices. “I was obsessive about cleaning – his space being clean, so we constantly had the carpets cleaned. And I think, between him, the fumes and walking around, maybe picking up pieces or something, he got what is rarely a thing to deal with, but its Kawasaki syndrome.”

Dedicated Scientologists, Preston and Travolta credited a detoxification program from the writings of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard with helping improve their son’s health. In past times Scientology has stirred controversy when clashing with the world of medicine – particularly with the world of psychology.

An autopsy on Jett Travolta will be performed Monday, family attorney Michael Ossi said last week. The boy hit his head after the seizure, but the exact cause of death is not known. He is scheduled to be buried in Florida. John Travolta gained fame in the 1970s, starring in Saturday Night Fever and Grease. His career got a boost in 1994 with his second Best Actor Oscar nomination, for his role in Pulp Fiction. Preston has numerous TV and movie credits, including a supporting role in 1996’s Jerry Maguire.