Thursday 30 April 2020

Life itself: Rishi Kapoor (1952-2020) embodied romance and an irrepressible spirit

His output was unwaveringly steady and dependable, the shield of trust that came free with a movie ticket.

Rishi Kapoor, third-generation movie star, unofficial record keeper of Hindi film history, and widely acknowledged bon vivant, died on Thursday in Mumbai. He was 67. He is survived by his wife Neetu, his son Ranbir, and his daughter Ridhima and her family.

Kapoor was battling cancer, and had spent close to a year in New York City in treatment. He returned to Mumbai in September. He had been admitted to a hospital in Mumbai with breathing problems a few days ago.
Rishi Kapoor in Bobby (1973). | RK Films.

According to a statement issued by the family, “Our dear Rishi Kapoor passed away peacefully at 8:45am IST in hospital today after a two-year battle with leukemia. The doctors and medical staff at the hospital said he kept them entertained to the last. He remained jovial and determined to live to the fullest right through two years of treatment across two continents. Family, friends, food and films remained his focus and everyone who met him during this time was amazed at how he did not let his illness get the better of him.”

Kapoor had shot some portions of his comeback film, the comedy Sharmaji Namkeen, in Delhi in February. He was also on track to star in the Hindi remake of the Hollywood comedy The Intern.

His death has robbed show business of a seasoned entertainer. A member of the Hindi film industry’s most storied clan, Kapoor first appeared before the camera as a child in the 1950s. After he started his career in earnest as an adult in the 1970s, his choice of roles spanned romances, comedies, socially themed dramas, thrillers, historicals and melodramas. His films often had impassioned declarations of love, innocence, humour, chart-topping songs, trendy dancing and colourful costumes (most notably a series of bright jerseys).

Whatever the quality or outcome of the project, Kapoor’s output was unwaveringly steady and dependable, the shield of trust that came free with a movie ticket.

Given his spontaneity and ease before the camera, could he have stretched himself further, experimented a bit more? This true believer in mainstream Hindi cinema’s biggest pursuit – a positive commercial outcome – might have punched below his weight, but even in his most trite movies, he was a twinkly-eyed charmer, doing what was required without betraying too much effort.

Rishi Kapoor in Kabhi Kabhie (1976). Courtesy Yash Raj Films.

Some of this professionalism was learnt on the job and some of it was inherited. Like the doctor’s child who is familiar with medical jargon and the policeman’s kids who can distinguish between “handcuff” and “handkerchief”, Rishi Kapoor understood the pleasures, peculiarities and pitfalls of show business very early.

He was born on September 4, 1952, in Mumbai, the third of the five children of Raj and Krishna Kapoor. The family was already heaving with legends. Rishi Kapoor’s grandfather, Prithviraj Kapoor, had been a renowned stage and film performer since the late 1920s. His father Raj Kapoor directed, produced and starred in his own films, and had already rolled out one of his finest works, Awara , the year before Rishi Kapoor was born.

Raj Kapoor’s brothers, Shashi and Shammi, were leading men, and their wives were actresses (Shashi was married to Jennifer Kendal and Shammi to Geeta Bali). Rishi Kapoor’s uncles – Prem Nath, Rajendra Nath and Narendra Nath – were all actors. Rishi Kapoor’s mother, Krishna, was Prem Nath’s sister. Another of their sisters was the wife of screen villain Prem Chopra.

Rishi Kapoor’s brothers Randhir and Rajiv became actors too. Rishi would marry his co-star, Neetu Singh, and his son Ranbir would follow in his parents’ footsteps. So would some of his nieces and nephews, with Kareena Kapoor continuing to rule the roost.

“Acting was in my blood and there was simply no escaping it,” Kapoor wrote in his autobiography Khullam Khulla. The memoir, co-written with Meena Iyer, benefits from Kapoor’s refreshing honesty and prodigious memory. “My childhood was a dream, like an unending mela,” he wrote. “People from the film fraternity constantly streamed in and out of our home… The Kapoors have always been proud of our profession; nobody has ever been apologetic about belonging to the entertainment industry.”

As a child, he was frequently taken to the sets. Along with his siblings Randhir and Ritu, he was featured in the song Pyar Hua Ikraar from Raj Kapoor’s Shree 420 in 1955. Rishi Kapoor also appeared in a couple of plays as a child.

His first full-scale role was in his father’s Mera Naam Joker in 1970. When filming began in 1968, Rishi Kapoor was 16, and was recruited to play the younger version of Raj Kapoor’s character Raju, a circus clown. As a schoolboy, the tubby Raju has a crush on his svelte teacher Mary (Simi Garewal). Rishi Kapoor’s performance won him the National Film Award for Best Child Artist.

Rishi Kapoor in Mera Nama Joker (1970). Courtesy RK Films.

The sparkling eyes, robust complexion, ready smile and selfless romantic disposition were already on display in Mera Naam Joker. In the coming years, Kapoor sealed his reputation as the ideal lover boy, resulting in such popular romances as Hum Kisise Kum Naheen (1977), Laila Majnu (1976), Sargam (1979) and Prem Rog (1982).

“Rishi Kapoor comes across as the nice boy who wasn’t just led by his raging hormones but loved with his soul as well,” Madhu Jain wrote in the biography The Kapoors. “He danced like a dream, effortlessly. The star-crossed or tragic lover label fit him well, especially in films like Laila Majnu. He also came at a time when screen romance was about love, not obsession… He symbolised a sense of masti and youthful energy, not to forget those magic dancing feet.”

Rishi Kapoor hit the ground running with his debut as a leading man in 1973. Raj Kapoor made Bobby, a story of star-crossed lovers, as a way to recoup from the financial debacle of Mera Naam Joker. Rishi Kapoor, now slimmer but still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, played Raj Nath, who falls in love with the Goan Catholic Bobby Braganza (Dimple Kapadia in her screen debut).

Rishi Kapoor in Bobby (1973). Courtesy RK Films.

Although Bobby was a box-office scorcher, Rishi Kapoor was soon exposed to one of the axioms of showbiz – you win some and then you lose some.

“I didn’t have to struggle for fame and fortune,” he said in Khullam Khulla. “But not even my extraordinary family legacy could prevent me from the realities of life.”

Bobby was immediately followed by the flop Zehreela Insan (1975). Rafoo Chakkar (1975), which was based on the Hollywood cross-dressing comedy Some Like It Hot, fared better although, as Kapoor wryly remarked, “…since I was made up like a girl for the major part of the film, I could not be endorsed as a bona fide heart-throb”.

The success of Khel Khel Mein in 1975 wasn’t just a much-needed breather. The romantic thriller cemented the pairing between Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh. She was a former child actor who was among the early candidates for the lead role in Bobby. Their shared delayed-1960s sartorial style – bell-bottoms, floral-patterned shirts, mini-skirts, floppy hair, oversized sunglasses – made them “fashion templates for teenagers before the MTV era”, Madhu Jain observed.

(Source: Scroll)

The story behind Irrfan Khan's moving speech in Ang Lee’s ‘Life of Pi’

Edited excerpts from Aseem Chhabra’s ‘Irrfan Khan’ reveal the actor’s contributions to the Oscar-winning movie.

After Delhi-based actor Suraj Sharma was cast to play the 16-year-old Indian boy (Suraj was 19 when the film was released) from the nearly 3,000 auditions, Ang and his casting agents started to look for an actor to play the adult Pi. Irrfan’s name was on top of the list. For one thing, he was taller than Suraj, and that made sense to Ang. The director had already seen Irrfan in Slumdog Millionaire, The Namesake (2006) and A Mighty Heart (2007).
Irrfan in Life of Pi (2012) | Fox 2000 Pictures

‘There were only a couple of actors to choose from in India and he was the top choice,’ Ang says. ‘Obviously I wanted to make an international film, but I also chose him for his good acting. It wasn’t like I had a list of five people to choose from. And his height was working.’ Ang cast another fine Indian actor, Adil Hussain, as younger Pi’s father. Tabu played Pi’s mother. Although the two played mother and son in the film, Tabu and Irrfan did not share any screen time.

Ang says that Life of Pi was ‘unfilmable’ for several reasons, but especially because it challenges the notion of narration. Irrfan’s Pi starts the film with a voiceover, giving the narrative a first person feeling. But much of the narration is also in third person, as we see the actual action taking place with the younger Pi and his lifeboat mate, Richard Parker, the CGI-created tiger. And Irrfan’s toughest task was to wrap up the movie emotionally, Ang adds.

The story that Pi narrates actually forms two narratives—and it is for the audience to believe in one of the two stories. ‘Irrfan had to emotionally develop his character and also grasp, both the philosophical way of the narration and also the trickster kind of a narrator,’ Ang says. And he adds, ‘I told Irrfan that Pi is bullshitting. Because it is tricky to believe in either of the stories. And the question that is asked—‘Which story do you prefer, not like?’—also makes one think.

Irrfan also had to match the innocence of the younger Pi, played by Suraj Sharma, and develop the cynical tone of an adult. ‘People might believe this way or that way,’ Ang says. ‘It has to be right on the edge where it would work for everybody. You can have two versions of the story and they all can debate, make sense. That was the most difficult task, other than creating a tiger in the ocean digitally.’

When the film’s shoot started, Irrfan went to Taiwan. But then Ang and his crew went off to shoot in India and returned to Taiwan to recreate the scenes of the lifeboat lost on the sea. Irrfan returned to Taiwan many months later to shoot the interior Montreal scenes. And later, the crew travelled to Montreal to wrap up the exterior scenes of the film. ‘He had not seen what we had shot and he would not see it until a year later when the film was finished, because a lot of it was going to be digital,’ Ang says. ‘And even I didn’t know how the digital scenes would shape up. I was just guessing. I told him what I had in my mind. I described the story, the pictures, how we were planning to shoot the rest of the film.’

Then came the key scene when Irrfan’s Pi talked about the lifeboat landing on the stranded beach and an emaciated Richard Parker walking away without looking back to say goodbye to his boat mate.

‘I was certain he was going to look back at me, flatten his ears to his head, growl,’ Irrfan’s Pi says in a voiceover, a long monologue, as he narrates his story to a writer, portraying Yann Martel, and played by the British actor Rafe Spall. ‘That he would bring our relationship to an end in some way. But he just stared ahead into the jungle. (By now the camera is on Irrfan’s face.) And then Richard Parker, my fierce companion, the terrible one who kept me alive, disappeared forever from my life.’ Then he adds, ‘I wept like a child. Not because I was overwhelmed having survived, although I was. I was weeping because Richard Parker left me so unceremoniously. It broke my heart.’

It is an emotionally devastating speech and Irrfan actually broke down, crying with tears rolling down his eyes, and it happened twice. Ang says he did not demand the tears from Irrfan. He simply explained the emotions, the background and how he felt thinking about the scene. ‘With actors I just want to see the results,’ he says. ‘I don’t care how they pull it off. What experience they use, they can keep that to themselves. But that was the effect I wanted, what the speech meant to me.’

Despite Irrfan’s fine acting, Ang Lee had to struggle with one concern—that the Indian actor mumbles while saying long dialogues. But Irrfan is not alone, he says, adding, ‘There are other great actors, Robert De Niro for instance, who mumble. It’s not that I couldn’t loop the voice. But it was a long dialogue so I just wanted to make sure that it was clear. He had to be understandable.’

There was also the concern about Irrfan’s English accent. As the film progresses, Pi matures from the teenager on the lifeboat to an adult living in Montreal and how he speaks English also changes. The film’s production team got a Montreal English accent coach for Irrfan. But despite the coaching, Irrfan’s dialogues—emotionally moving as they are—sound like they are being spoken by a man who does not speak English with ease.

At least one admirer of Irrfan was honest enough to say so.

‘I was delighted he (Irrfan) got roles in Hollywood films,’ Naseeruddin Shah says. But Naseer is known to be opinionated, calling a spade a spade. ‘Only in Life of Pi I didn’t care for his performance because he tried to put on a Canadian accent and it didn’t work. Angrezi woh itni achee nahi bolta ke accent badal sake. (He does not speak English well enough to change his accent.) That’s what I told him and he accepted it.’

But Ang Lee will always be grateful to Irrfan for what he did in the film. ‘I thank him for that. It’s very inspiring for a lot of people around the world. His speech was a dream for a filmmaker. He should have been nominated. He should have gotten an award for that speech.’

(Source: Scroll)

Irrfan (1967-2020): A powerhouse talent gone too soon

The acclaimed actor died in Mumbai on Wednesday. He was 53.

Irrfan, who died in Mumbai on Wednesday at the age of 53, had only just begun.

After years of slaving away in television shows and a string of critically acclaimed but little seen films in the 1990s, the actor had entered the Bollywood big league in the early 2000s. He was one of India’s most well-known exports to Hollywood. Films such as Haasil, Maqbool, Talvar, Paan Singh Tomar, The Lunchbox, Piku and The Warrior owe as much to this late-bloomer as to their makers.

Irrfan had many more emotions and experiences to share with his fans. Had he not been cut down by poor health, his would have been one of the richest careers in Hindi cinema.

Irrfan had been diagnosed in March 2018 with a neuroendocrine tumour, and had spent several months being treated in the United Kingdom. He had returned to India in 2020, and was admitted to a hospital in Mumbai for a colon infection earlier this week. He is survived by his wife, television writer and producer Sutapa Sikdar, and sons Babil and Ayan. His mother, Saeeda Begum, had died in Jaipur on April 25 at the age of 86.

According to a note shared by his publicist on behalf of the family, “It’s saddening that this day, we have to bring forward the news of him passing away. Irrfan was a strong soul, someone who fought till the very end and always inspired everyone who came close to him. After having been struck by lightning in 2018 with the news of a rare cancer, he took life soon after as it came and he fought the many battles that came with it. Surrounded by his love, his family for whom he most cared about, he left for heaven abode, leaving behind truly a legacy of his own. We all pray and hope that he is at peace.”

In March 2018, Irrfan made his medical condition public with a bolt-from-the-blue tweet. Two productions that had been previously filmed followed the announcement, Blackmail and Karwaan. Irrfan managed to headline another movie in 2020, Angrezi Medium. It was the last Bollywood release before India went into a lockdown in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Angrezi Medium was a sequel to one of Irrfan’s biggest hits, Hindi Medium (2017). But success was measured unconventionally for the tall and trim Rajasthani with reddened eyes and red-hot talent. Irrfan will be remembered not for top-billed roles or blockbusters, but for entering a scene and taking charge of it. Sometimes, his mere presence was enough to raise the temperature. At other times, he played along, shovelling the snow for a fee.

Along the way, he amassed a pile of roles his fans might prefer to forget. Because of his commitment and perseverance, another set of parts will survive the test of time and the unkindness of memory.

Irrfan was born on January 7, 1967, in Tonk in Rajasthan, as Sahebzade Irfan Ali Khan. His family was middle class. His father, Yaseen Khan, died when Irrfan was 18.

Early in life, Irrfan wanted to be an actor but he wasn’t sure he had the looks for it, he told Anupam Kher in the celebrity talk show Kuch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai in 2015. But when he saw Mithun Chakraborty in Mrinal Sen’s Mrigayaa (1977), he was encouraged: if a dark-skinned and earthy-looking actor could make it, so could he.

After completing a two-year course in Dramatic Arts at the University of Rajasthan, Irrfan enrolled in the prestigious National School of Drama in Delhi in 1984. Some of his classmates remembered him as a quiet, intense young man, buried in his thoughts and trying to make sense of and take control of this new challenge called acting. Among his classmates was his future wife, Sutapa Sikdar.

“My feeling is that Irrfan didn’t have a friend in class, except for Sutapa,” legendary NSD teacher Ram Gopal Bajaj told Aseem Chhabra for the 2020 biography Irrfan Khan. “He was basically a loner and that is why I noticed him. There was some kind of inner gentleness in that boy, which perhaps carries on.”

 Irrfan’s ambition was to be in the movies, and he got there one small role at a time. His first big-screen appearance was in a single scene in Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! in 1988. He played a professional letter writer.

Irrfan collaborated with Nair in more substantial ways in 2006 in the feature The Namesake, the short film Migration (2007) and her contribution to the anthology film New York, I Love You (2008).

Before the movies came television, which paid the bills and honed Irrfan’s ability to excel in intimate settings. He had a walk-on part in Shyam Benegal’s Bharat Ek Khoj (1988-’89), and was also in Govind Nihalani’s TV productions Jazeere (1991) and Pita (1991). Irrfan went on to appear in numerous TV shows, including Chankaya (1992), Chandrakanta (1994) and the popular Banegi Apni Baat (1995).

Irrfan in Bharat Ek Khoj (1988). Courtesy Sahayadri Films.

State-funded arthouse cinema was on its last legs when Irrfan sought to make his mark on the big screen. He continued to accept parts that gave him incremental exposure to the different modes of acting required in the movies. In Basu Chatterjee’s Kamla Ka Maut (1989), he was Ajit, the untrustworthy boyfriend of Geeta (Roopa Ganguly). When Geeta berates Ajit, he gives her a flash of the soon-to-be-famous Intense Irrfan Look and says, you must come over.

In Govind Nihalani’s Drishti (1990), Irrfan played the smouldering lover of Dimple Kapadia’s older and disaffected housewife. The blazing eyes stood out in the slim frame, and there was already the ability to suggest a brooding nature and repressed feelings.

There were also roles in children’s films, including Karamati Coat (1993) and The Goal (1999), and offbeat dramas, such as Bada Din (1998).

Irrfan was still being credited in these years either as Irfan or Irfan Khan. He added an extra “r” in his name, presumably for luck, and dropped his surname in 2003.

Irrfan and Dimple Kapadia in Drishti (1990). Courtesy Udbhav Productions.

Among the early films that gave Irrfan a bigger platform was Tapan Sinha’s Ek Doctor Ki Maut (1990). The film stars Pankaj Kapur as an upright scientist struggling to be recognised for his groundbreaking research on a leprosy vaccine. Irrfan had a crisp but meaty role as a sympathetic science reporter.

By the 2000s, the length and quality of the roles began increasing. Irrfan began a new balancing act between well-written parts in which he could show off his range and mainstream productions that kept him in the public eye while also lining the bank account.

This was the decade in which Irrfan played a samurai-like enforcer in Asif Kapadia’s The Warrior (2001) – a movie that got good critical notices for its crew and further established Irrfan’s ability to evoke mystery and a sense of quietude.

This was also the decade in which Irrfan played disreputable lawyers and terrorists, gadabouts and police officers. One of his steady employers was Vishesh Films, run by the brothers Mahesh and Mukesh Bhatt. In their Gunaah (2002), Irrfan utters the memorable words, “Get naked, baby!”

Tigmanshu Dhulia, an old friend from Irrfan’s NSD days, directed him in Charas in 2004 as a policeman who becomes a blonde-haired drug dealer. The performance was centimetres away from self-parody.

The more worthy Dhulia-Irrfan collaboration, which finally got Irrfan the attention he deserved, had actually come the previous year. In 2003’s Haasil, Irrfan played a student union leader who sees himself as a revolutionary and a connoisseur (“I like artists,” he says) but is really a glorified street ruffian. Jimmy Shergill played the hero, but Irrfan’s villain got equal attention too.

The Dhulia-Irrfan duet resulted in a career best for both director and actor in 2012. Paan Singh Tomar, the biopic of the Indian Army soldier and athlete who became a dacoit, is one of Bollywood’s finest sports films. Irrfan won a National Film Award for a performance that traced Tomar’s complex arc from national hero to social outcast.

Also out in 2003, in the same year as Haasil, was another career-altering role – as a gangster aiming for the big game and his boss’s lover in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Macbeth-inspired Maqbool.

“After much thinking, Vishal decided to take a risk with Irrfan Khan, having seen him perform in Haasil,” Aseem Chhabra wrote in his biography. “Irrfan would be the youngest NSD graduate in the cast, including other alumni – Naseer, Om Puri, Pankaj Kapur and Piyush Mishra. In fact, towards the beginning of the film, there is a scene where all these actors are sitting in Abbaji’s living room. Irrfan was the juniormost of all, but now his time had finally come. He sat in the midst of all the senior actors with the confidence of a veteran.”

The gush of assignments continued after Maqbool. The smouldering continued, but a more self-deprecating side revealed itself too. The year 2007 saw some of Irrfan’s most well-regarded roles. These include Anurag Basu’s Life… in a Metro (2007), in which Irrfan played a potential groom with rough manners and an irrepressible romantic streak.

Meanwhile, three films from 2007 decisively continued the journey towards Hollywood that had tentatively begun with The Warrior. In Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited, Irrfan had a small part as a grieving father. In Michael Winterbottom’s A Mighty Heart, based on the killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan, Irrfan portrayed a local investigative officer who is troubled by the spread of religious fundamentalism.

And in The Namesake, Mira Nair’s screen adaptation of the Jhumpa Lahiri novel of the same name, Irrfan fit right in as Ashoke Ganguli, a Bengali professor who seeks a new life with his wife (played by Tabu) in the United States.

Irrfan and Tabu, who had also been paired in Maqbool, rekindled their chemistry for Meghna Gulzar’s police procedural Talvar in 2015. Inspired by the Arushi Talwar-Hemraj Banjade double murders in Noida in 2008, Talvar includes a deceptively casual performance by Irrfan. His government investigator is irreverent but honest, committed to the system and yet aware of its imperfections and absurdities.

Even as Irrfan continued to draw good notices for his Bollywood projects (among them Haider and D-Day), his stock was rising in Hollywood. He was in the multiple-Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire (2008), the Marvel Comics superhero adventure The Amazing Spider-man (2012), Ang Lee’s acclaimed Life of Pi (2012), the critical darling The Lunchbox (2013), the global blockbuster Jurassic World (2015), and the Tom Hanks-led Inferno (2016).

A measure of how global Irrfan had become was his casting as a businessman of Middle East extraction in Jurassic World and the sardonic and ruthless Harry Sims in Inferno. “Young people are disappointing,” Sims declares. “I find they become tolerable around 35.”

Irrfan also appeared in the third season of the HBO television series In Treatment in 2010 and the Japanese mini-series Tokyo Trial in 2016.

“Irrfan is a person who is always saying ‘Kuch aur karte hain [Let’s do something more],”’ writer and producer Shailja Kejriwal told Aseem Chhabra for his Irrfan biography. “I think he has such a fertile mind that he just feels, ‘Oh, I have not done this, so let me break that barrier for myself.’ He doesn’t want to be a person who is resting on his laurels. He could be saying, ‘Now I have a Hollywood film, so let me do it.’ But he is always looking to do something new for himself.’”

In the 2010s, Irrfan continued to balance populist fare with arthouse productions, among them Qissa (2015) and The Song of Scorpions (2017), both by Anup Singh. The actor’s restlessness encouraged him to make his own films. He produced as well as headlined the Hindi-language vigilante movie Madaari in 2016 and the Bangladeshi drama Doob (No Bed of Roses) in 2017.

In an interview to before the release of Madaari in July 2016, Irrfan rejected the possibility of writing screenplays or directing films himself. “If I could write, I would not be an actor,” he said. “And I can’t be a director – for that, you need to know how to multi-task, and I am a single-track guy.”

This “single-track guy” had, by then, developed a healthy and cynicism-free approach towards the lax standards in mainstream projects and the demands of more rigorous-minded productions.

“In our cinema, we can live without nuance,” Irrfan told “If we can deliver a line properly, our job is done. Hollywood needs nuances of behaviour. Our cinema needs attitude. You can deliver a superficial performance and it will still work.”

In recent years, Irrfan had begun playing older versions of his character in Life... In a Metro – men with a sense of humour, a laissez-faire attitude towards propriety and an abiding faith in romance.

He was paired with Deepika Padukone in Shoojit Sircar’s Piku (2015), in which he stole scenes from under Amitabh Bachchan’s nose. In Tanuja Chandra’s Qarib Qarib Singlle (2017), Irrfan wooed Parvathy Thiruvothu and in Akarsh Khurana’s Karwaan (2018), anybody who was watching.

Irrfan’s illness was a bolt from the blue and a tragic interruption to his steady progress. In June 2018, he spoke candidly of his ordeal. “The suddenness made me realise how you are just a cork floating in the ocean with UNPREDICTABLE currents! And you are desperately trying to control it,” he told the Times of India newspaper in an email interview.

He was grateful for the support from his fans and admirers. “…I feel all their prayers become ONE,” he said. “One big force, like a force of current, which got inside me through the end of my spine and has germinated through the crown of my head.”

Irrfan proved his resilience in Angrezi Medium. Homi Adajania’s 2020 sequel to the 2018 hit Hindi Medium featured Irrfan as a small-town sweet shop owner who moves heaven and earth to get his daughter enrolled in a posh college in the United Kingdom.

Reviews of Angrezi Medium were effusive about the light touch that Irrfan brought to his performance. The desire to see this arguably underutilised actor return for yet another round was unmistakable. Irrfan had stacked up a long list of credits, but for his admirers, he hadn’t yet reached his peak. He had only just begun the climb.

(Source: Scroll)

A cut above: Tokyo barber launches 'telecut' service as COVID-19 hits business

As a 'quick fix,' customers of Mr. Brothers Cut Club get real-time tutorials via video-conferencing

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many services and events to go virtual in Japan, leading to the advent of online classes, online nomikai (drinking parties) and even online hostess bars.

But online haircuts?

Not a chance, you might say, but one barbershop in Tokyo is trying to make the impossible possible.

In what may be an industry first, Mr. Brothers Cut Club, whose flagship store is located in the fashion mecca of Harajuku, has launched what it calls a “telecut” service, in which its barbers will offer customers self-haircut tutorials in real time via the Zoom video-conferencing app.
Saito Kon, a barber at Mr. Brothers Cut Club in Harajuku, demonstrates how he teaches customers how to cut their own hair using video conferencing app Zoom. | TOMOHIRO OSAKI

“We figured many people are getting annoyed at how their hair keeps growing while they’re staying at home,” said Saito Kon, one of the Mr. Brothers barbers.

“But the only option they have at the moment is either to risk infection by venturing outside to get a haircut, or to do nothing as their hair keeps growing.”

So the barbershop decided to offer a temporary solution to that problem.

Customers interested in the telecut service need to prepare a simple collection of necessary paraphernalia themselves, such as scissors, clippers, a garbage bag and a portable mirror. There are two service options — one for parents trying to trim the hair of their children, and the other for adults looking to cut their own hair. English-speaking staff are also available, too.

Mr. Brothers admits the telecut initiative is more of a “quick-fix” measure, unlikely to blossom into a viable business model. No matter how adept barbers have become at online tutorials, “We can’t really guarantee that customers can get the perfect, high-quality haircut they would look for at barbershops,” Kon said.

“The best we can do is teach them how not to mess up,” he said, adding that the initiative boils down to him and his colleagues trying to “make a social contribution.”

The service is free of charge.

But the project also reflects a message that barbers at Mr. Brothers want to get across to men nationwide who are growing increasingly indifferent to self-grooming as they go out less and less.

“I know many guys are taking perfunctory care of how they look during this stay-at-home period, but we hope this initiative will make them stay motivated about their appearance,” Kon said.

Like many barbershops and beauty salons across the nation, Mr. Brothers has not been immune to the economic fallout of the pandemic.

“Customers have halved from the period before COVID,” Kon said with a sigh. “Not that there’s much we can do about it. We just need to hang tough.”

(Source: JT)

UK lockdown: Calls to domestic abuse helpline jump by half

Calls to a national domestic abuse helpline rose by 49% and killings doubled weeks after lockdown, a report by MPs has revealed.

Following the "surge" in violence, the report called for a government strategy on domestic abuse during the pandemic.

MPs also said "safe spaces", where victims can seek help, should be rolled out to supermarkets and other shops.

The Home Office said it was increasing funding to support helplines and online services.

Researchers at the Counting Dead Women Project told MPs 14 women and two children had been killed in the first three weeks of lockdown.
The rate of increase of helpline calls has been growing (Picture posed by model). Getty Images

The figure is the largest number of killings in a three-week period for 11 years and more than double the average rate, they said.

Meanwhile, the number of calls to the National Domestic Abuse helpline run by Refuge was 25% above average in the second week of lockdown and 49% higher than normal after three weeks.

Male victims of abuse have also been calling for help in greater numbers, with the Men's Advice Line seeing calls rise 35% in the first week of lockdown.

Without a comprehensive government strategy to cope with the consequences of this violence, the home affairs select committee said "we will be dealing with serious consequences for a generation".

It said the strategy should include raising awareness, prevention, victim support, housing and a criminal justice response, supported with dedicated funding and ministerial leadership.

MPs have also called for more help to allow victims access support at times when they may be unable to use the phone or ask friends for help.

That could include expanding the Safe Spaces scheme piloted in pharmacies, where victims can indicate to staff they need help, to other shops such as supermarkets.

Staying home was essential to prevent coronavirus spreading, said Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the committee. But "for some people home isn't safe" and "urgent action" was needed to protect them.

While the government's national public information campaign is welcome, she said it "needs to go much further".

'Scars last a lifetime'
"Things are particularly hard for vulnerable children. We can't abandon them in the middle of this crisis," Ms Cooper said.

The committee said there will also be an "acute" need for support when restrictions are eased, as victims may face escalating violence if they try to leave.

"The emotional, physical and social scars from domestic abuse can last a lifetime," said Ms Cooper.

The report also highlighted a lack of space in refuges, with 64% of requests for a space for victims declined in 2018-19.

Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, said the need for funding had "never been greater", with cuts since 2010 having "decimated" services while the pandemic has sent demand soaring.

"All women who need to escape during lockdown and beyond must be assured of a safe place to stay with specialist support," she said. 

This should also apply, she added, to those with people with insecure immigration status who are not allowed to access most government benefits.

Safeguarding Minister Victoria Atkins said that as well as a national awareness-raising campaign, the government was providing additional funding for helplines and online support, and was helping charities access some of the £750m aid announced by the chancellor earlier this month.

"The government has prioritised those at risk of domestic abuse in this national health emergency," she said.

Domestic abuse in lockdown
  • 16: people killed in first three weeks - highest is 11 years
  • 49%: rise in calls to abuse helpline, compared with average
  • 35%: rise in calls to Men's Advice Line, in first week
Source: Counting Dead Women Project, National Domestic Abuse helpline, Men's Advice Line

Information and support: If you or someone you know needs support for issues about domestic abuse, these organisations may be able to help.

(Source: BBC)

Betraying my hometown

Some people spend their entire lives in their own home, village, or city, while others spend their lives elsewhere. There are also some people who end up constantly traveling back and forth between home and another place.

When I was twenty, I left home to join the army. This was the first time I took a train, the first time I watched television, the first time I heard about Chinese women’s volleyball, and the first time I had the chance to eat limitless amounts of dumplings and meat buns. It was also the first time I learned that there were three categories of fiction: short stories, novellas, and novels. It was also back in 1978, while I was living in the military barracks, that I became enthralled by the solemnity and even the smell of China’s literary journals, People’s Literature and Liberation Army Literature and Arts. It was around this time that I happened to see, on the cover of a book in the city library, a picture of the blue-eyed Vivien Leigh. I was shocked by her beauty, and for several minutes I stared dumbfounded at the picture. I couldn’t believe that foreigners looked like this, that there could be people in this world who appeared so different from us. So I checked out all three volumes of the Chinese edition of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, each of which had a cover with a picture of Leigh from the film adaptation, and over the course of three nights I finished the entire thing. I had assumed that the rest of the world’s fiction was identical to the revolutionary stories and the Red Classics that I had read, and this was how I came to realize how limited and warped my understanding of literature was.

I began excitedly reading works by Western authors such as Tolstoy, Balzac, and Stendhal. While reading Hugo’s Les Misérables, I felt my palms grow sweaty, thinking that Jean Valjean might step out from the book’s pages, a thought that was so disturbing that I frequently had to close the volume and crack my knuckles just to distract myself. Similarly, while reading Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, I would wake up in the middle of the night and go out to the military drill grounds, and only after running a lap in the frigid cold would I return to my dormitory and continue devouring the novel. But it was Margaret Mitchell who truly transported me to another world, a casually dressed maid leading me into a solemn church.

It was at this time that I began to commit myself to reading and writing, and even submitted manuscripts for publication. In 1979 I published my first short story, which unfortunately is now lost. For that work, I received eight yuan, which made me more excited than an 800,000 yuan payment would today. I used two yuan to buy candy and cigarettes for my company and platoon leaders, as well as my fellow soldiers. Then I pooled the remaining six yuan with the earnings I’d saved up from the preceding three months, leaving me with a total of twenty yuan, which I mailed home to help pay for my father’s medicine. Over the next few years I managed to publish one or two stories a year, from which I earned between a dozen and several dozen yuan. I sent almost all of my payments home, and my mother or elder sister would give the money to the town pharmacy or hospital for my father’s medicine and treatment. Eventually I was promoted to cadre and got married, but I secretly still dreamed that one day I might be able to become an author. If I did, my father would feel that I had truly succeeded in establishing both a career and a family—meaning that he could now depart from this life.

The same way that a tree can bear fruit, and the fruit can decay, die, or yield a new fruit tree, over time, a single household can grow into a village. Everything is merely a repetition or a reenactment of this same basic process of growth. Regardless of whether you spend your entire life on a single plot of land or leave home and seek your fortune elsewhere, it is impossible to escape your destiny.

I never stop to ponder things beyond fate, because accepting fate is my only way of approaching the world. When my father told me to go seek my fortune, I began struggling to achieve that “fortune.” 

When Margaret Mitchell showed me a new world, I began exploring it. I set about reading and writing, establishing my career and earning money, and when I was tired I would return to my family home and chat with my mother and my siblings, and do what I could to help out the other villagers. After recovering my strength I would leave again, only to return when I was tired. I believe that this process of traveling to and from the village is a trajectory arranged for me by heaven.


In 1985, my son was born, and my mother moved from our hometown in the countryside to the old city of Kaifeng, to help with the baby. That also happened to be the same year that I published my first novella in the now-defunct journal Kunlun. Running just under forty thousand Chinese characters, the novella earned me almost 800 yuan, and our family was almost more excited to receive this vast sum than we had been by the birth of our son. To celebrate, the entire family went to a restaurant and wolfed down a meal, and we also purchased an eighteen-inch television set. From the 1979 publication of my first short story to the 1985 publication of my first novella, I had endured six years of hardship and toil, and my family understood how this was bittersweet. My mother, however, took that thick copy of Kunlun and leafed through the twenty-odd pages containing my story, then remarked, “You were able to earn 800 yuan for such a short piece? This is much better than a peasant farming the land. If this is the deal, then you should spend the rest of your life writing!”

I similarly felt that this line of work was much better than being a peasant. I didn’t have to endure adverse weather, and had the opportunity to attain a degree of power and fame. This was definitely something to which I could devote my whole life. When I had left home, my father had exhorted me to go seek my fortune, and my mother was now recommending that I continue writing—so what reason did I have to stop? Later, during the golden age of contemporary Chinese literature, a television series for which I had written the screenplay was broadcast on CCTV at prime time for three years, and royalties for this script were larger than the ones I received for my fiction. I was able to send my mother so much money every month that she felt she wouldn’t be able to spend it all even if she ate meat every day. Furthermore, every New Year the town mayor, county mayor, and county party secretary would come to our house to offer us their greetings, and consequently all the other villagers realized I had become famous enough for the county mayor to visit me and invite me out to eat. It was as though a household had, in the blink of an eye, succeeded in becoming not merely a village but an entire city, and during that period our home’s appearance and spirit were like the arrival of spring after a bitterly cold winter. Even the calls of the sparrows on the tree branches and the house’s eaves sounded different from before.

In 1994 one of my novellas ran into trouble, and consequently I had to spend six months penning self-criticisms. During this period I spent all day writing self-criticisms and all night working on my own fiction, until in the end my lumbago and spinal arthritis began flaring up. Eventually my health deteriorated to the point that I had to write while lying flat on my back in bed. I even needed someone to bring me food and put it right in my hand. During this period, my mother, elder brother, and elder sister came to the barracks to visit me. When my mother saw that I was unable to walk or even sit up, and instead was lying flat on my back on a stretcher the Federation for Disabled Persons had built specifically for me, with a movable board positioned directly above my head so I could still write, she exclaimed, “Have you driven yourself insane with your writing? Have you taken a perfectly good person, and transformed him into a disabled one?” My elder brother looked at the stretcher and the frame holding my writing board, and asked, “Why bother with all of this? … Isn’t living well ultimately more important than these things you want to write?” Meanwhile, my sisters both said the same thing: “We are already living quite comfortably now, so there is no need for you to lie here every day and continue writing these things people don’t like.”

There was a period of silence, after which my family began urging me to stop writing, adding that if I felt I really had to continue, I should at least focus on things people like—such as screenplays for television series on CCTV. Thinking back, I realize that these were not merely my family’s own words, but were the voice and the sentiment of the entire village. At the time, however, I couldn’t understand this collective voice and spirit and, instead, nodded as earnestly and piously as if I were writing a self-criticism. After my family left, I continued lying on that stretcher, writing my novel Streams of Time. After Streams of Time, I wrote the novella The Years, Months, Days, as well as the novels Hard Like Water and Lenin’s Kisses. After the publication of Lenin’s Kisses, however, I was forced to leave the army and find a new employer, following which I wrote two more novels that incited even greater consternation. 

During that year’s Lunar New Year festival, our county’s mayor called me up and announced, “Lianke, I want to tell you something undeniably true: you are now our county’s most unwelcome resident!”

Upon hearing this, I abruptly realized what kind of transformation my relationship with that region had undergone. It was as though an ox had accidentally trod on the body of the farmer charged with looking after it.


After I learned that I was our region’s most unwelcome resident, three days passed without my leaving the house. I didn’t find the mayor’s remark humorous, nor did I see it as a drunken rambling. Instead, it was an articulation of the region’s attitudes and positions, given in the local accent. At this point I began to ponder the relationship between my writing and this land. I noticed that while the land could very easily do without me, I couldn’t survive without the land. Without me, the land would just follow its current trajectory. The sun would continue to rise and set, and life would go on as it had for more than a thousand years. However, without that land, I would no longer be myself. Without that village, I would be nothing. I reflected that perhaps I had strayed too far from that land, that I had forgotten the color of the soil. I had eaten and drunk my fill from that land, and then had taken enough food and essentials to move forward for a long time without looking back. This is how I ended up straying so far afield, to the point that I almost forgot where I was born and had grown up. Even the relatives still living on that land didn’t believe that I still had any close ties there.
I had to return again to that land.

When I came home for the New Year celebration in 2012, I was prepared to ignore the people disparaging, critiquing, and cursing my family. But as it happened that year our family enjoyed an unusually peaceful and congenial holiday period. When I went to visit my relatives, I heard the flowing river, which reminded me of how I would sing exuberantly in the fields when I was a child. 

Together with my mother, sisters, and sister-in-law, I watched the television series My Fair Princess and ate New Year dumplings and stir-fried dishes. That entire visit, until I left home on day five of the new year, I didn’t hear a single critique of me or my writing. But, after the festivities had concluded and I was about to depart, my elder brother smiled bitterly and said, “When you go back, perhaps you could write other sorts of things? You could write something different!” And as I was driving back to Beijing, the nephew escorting me murmured, “Uncle, my grandmother asked me to speak to you on her behalf, and tell you that it is still possible to live a good life without writing. There is no need for you to hang yourself from this tree of writing … ”


I really was going to hang myself from this tree of writing.
I knew I had strayed too far from the original wishes of my parents, my sisters, my elder brother and his wife, and my fellow villagers. I felt like a child who runs away from home when he is young, and when he approaches sixty and finally decides to return to his hometown and live out his old age, discovers that he can’t even find the house where he grew up. In fact, he can’t even find the village. I felt like a child who adopts a religion but then rarely encounters a church or mosque, or a Buddhist or Taoist temple, and consequently although he might have God in his heart, over time he might forget what a church or temple is, and when he returns home he might not even recognize these places of worship.

In this case, it is not the church that rejects the believer, but rather the believer who abandons the church.

Some might say that a home to which one cannot return is the only true hometown. My hometown never rejected me, and whenever I return almost everyone welcomes me and appears to be proud of me. However, I don’t dare tell them what exactly I spend my days writing. I am this region’s unfilial son, an enemy agent, and the reason everyone still smiles when I return is that they don’t know that I’m a traitor to their land.

I heard that during the War of Resistance against Japan, in a village in the Northeast there was a traitor who was able to enjoy a good life by selling out his relatives. It was said that every time he went into the city pretending to do business but actually to deliver intelligence reports to the Japanese, he would always return with many small goods that were scarce at that time, and would distribute them to his neighbors and fellow villagers. The neighbors and villagers all viewed this traitor as the most generous person in the village, and even in the entire northeast region. Even after he was executed following the end of the war, none of the locals could believe that he was an unfilial son and a traitor.

I often wonder whether it has been by betraying my land that I have managed to achieve fame and fortune, whether this is how I have managed to live a comfortable life. However, even if I completely abandon my home and my land, our family’s front door will still be open, awaiting my return. Whenever I return home, which I do sometimes several times a year, all of my relatives, neighbors, and fellow villagers know that I’ve come back, but I am the only one who knows that I have not truly returned to the home of my youth. My body may have returned, but my spirit continues to hover over the fields beyond the village. I do not want my family and neighbors to know what I have said, done, or written while I was away—the same way that that traitor from the Northeast did not want those in his village to know what he had said and done in the city. So whenever I return home, I am meek and silent with my mother, siblings, and other relatives. I smile and nod pleasantly and, regardless of what is said, always feign a look of devoted attention. Nevertheless, I know that between me and that piece of land there is a wall I have built and which only I can see.

It might appear that the world and human affairs are static, but in reality things are constantly changing. Not long ago, during the first half of 2018, I once again returned home to rest and recover my strength. After dinner, everyone sat around awkwardly, silence pressing down on us like a black haze. My father’s funeral portrait was sitting on the table staring at me, while my mother, my sisters, and my brother and his wife all remained silent and stared down at the ground. At that moment—after perhaps a few seconds, though maybe it was a few years or even centuries—my elder brother began to speak.

He said to me, “Lianke, you’re already sixty, right?”

I laughed. “Yes. From the time I left home to join the army, it has already been forty years.”

No one could believe it had already been four decades since I left home, just as even I couldn’t believe that I was already sixty. Everyone was struck by this reminder of the inexorable passage of time, like someone who is hit on the head by a club but can’t believe that the attack has occurred, though the blood seeping out through the cracks in time proves that it is true. My elder brother then adopted a tone similar to our father’s, and said, “You are already sixty, and have read many books. While you are away from home, you should do whatever you want.”

Then my mother said, “I’m already eighty-five. While you are away from home, you should write whatever you want, just as long as you return every year to visit me and this home.”

And then … and then I suddenly felt relaxed. There was silence again, the silence between people who meet again after a long separation. It was as though the physical architecture of a church had recognized a believer who had returned after a long absence, and then used its bricks and tiles, its beams and rafters, as well as the pictures and objects hanging from its walls, to embrace its lost child.

This church would welcome this person to sit in the center of the building, where he could rest, reflect, ponder, and murmur. It would say to him, “If you continue going away, and want to go even further, then this church will follow along behind you. You don’t need to worry that you’ve left the church behind, since regardless of where you go, and regardless of how far you travel, your home and your land will always be under your feet.”
—Translated from the Chinese by Carlos Rojas

Yan Lianke is the author of numerous story collections and novels, including The Day the Sun Died; The Years, Months, Days; The Explosion Chronicles; The Four Books; Lenin’s Kisses; Serve the People!; and Dream of Ding Village. Among many accolades, he was awarded the Franz Kafka Prize, he was twice a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize, and he has been shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, the Man Asian Literary Prize, and the Prix Femina Étranger. He has received two of China’s most prestigious literary honors, the Lu Xun Prize and the Lao She Award.

Carlos Rojas is the translator of several books by Yan Lianke. He is the author of Homesickness: Culture, Contagion, and National Reform in Modern ChinaThe Great Wall: A Cultural History; and The Naked Gaze: Reflections on Chinese Modernity, as well as many articles. He is a professor in the department of Asian and Middle Eastern studies at Duke University.

Excerpted from Three Brothers © 2009 by Yan Lianke. English translation © 2020 by Carlos Rojas. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.

(Source: The Paris Review)