Tollyworld turns techno
Unknown cops charged with poll day death
Month-end date for ISC, ICSE results
Nimble at 95 and raring to run
Man shot dead in brawl
Rail volunteers fleece commuters
AIDS show finds youth in the dark
Melodies, fond memories
Koijam drops six ‘tainted’ ministers
MLAs lobby for spoils of war

 
 
TOLLYWORLD TURNS TECHNO 
 
 
BY AVIJIT NANDY MAJUMDAR
 
Calcutta, May 14: 
Scene I: Three cars zig-zag down crowded streets. The hero in hot pursuit of the bad guys. There is a staccato burst of gunfire. The hero jumps, gets a grip on the side of a speeding Tata Sumo, leaps up to the roof, rolls to the other side. A jeep carrying the villain’s machine gun-toting cohorts spins out of control, turns turtle, rolls off the edge of the road, bursting into flames.

Scene II: After a never-ending chase, the climax. The hero has his sights set on the bad guys, with a rocket launcher. He takes careful aim and fires. The missile flies out of the nozzle, slams into the villain’s car. A defeaning blast, a ball of fire and mushrooming clouds of red-and-gold. The four-and-a-half minute sequence has the audience on the edge of the seat.

Reel-life sequences from a new generation of big-budget Bengali films. The first is from the Prasenjit-Arpita Pal starrer Pratibad, currently running to packed houses in the city and districts, amidst the cinema hall strike. The second is from Sunil Sharma’s Prem Pratigya, scheduled to be released by the end of this month.

The sequences may be hackneyed, but the treatment is not. The gimmicks display a finesse hitherto unknown in Tollygunge. The action shots have less of dummies and stunts and more of computer graphics and digitised precision work, a la Bollywood.

Technology is the new star over Tollywood. Armed with big budgets and an attitude to match, a new generation of Bengali filmmakers is churning out box office hits which stand out for breaking new technological ground.

Industry sources say the producers and distributors of Pratibad have already recovered costs, with collections reaching as high as 90 per cent. Rakhi Purnima and Chupi Chupi, two low-budget films released around the same time, have fallen far short in box-office collections.

The success formula appears to combine editing and mixing, dubbing on sophisticated machines in well-equipped laboratories, state-of-the-art special effects created by qualified technicians, all on expensive sets and in snazzy locales. HaPratibad, says the producers had earmarked 60 per cent of the budget on special effects, editing, sound, dubbing, mixing, besides locales and sets. “Technology is definitely the big buzz in the Bengali film industry,” adds Sunil Sharma, the young producer of the big-budget Prem Pratigya.

According to Sharma and director Sujit Ghosh, money and machines being pumped into camerawork; post-production work like editing, processing, dubbing, music and sound; the dance and fight sequences; special effects and locales — have made all the difference.

Director Prabhat Roy feels the Arri-Flex camera with Kodak or Fuji films provides better quality and clarity. “It requires a different set of lights and crane, and costs Rs 4 lakh more than the conventional camera,’’ explains Sharma. Editing, too, is going hi-tech.

Director Sujit Guha says “quality dubbing” has its distinct advantage. “For digital sound, the track has to be converted into a video, then the sound-dubbed, the track mixed digitally and then converted back. It’s expensive, but the recording is very clear.’’

Bollywood professionals are being regularly roped in for big-budget Tollywood films. They include Pappu Khanna and J. Srinu for song-and-dance sequences, choreographer Chinni Prakash, and fight directors Judo Rahu, Masood Patel, Srinivas and Imtiaz.

Special effects for car blasts, with the vehicles hurled into the air and flames leaping up, are ‘in’. “They require hydraulic pressure to lift the cars and special effects to create blasts and fires. This can add around Rs 4 lakh to the cost of the film,’’ Sharma says.

Trade sources say Sasurbari Zindabad, of Shree Venkatesh Films, was the trendsetter. “About 50 per cent of the Rs 70 lakh spent on the film was on technology, grandeur, sets and locales,’’ says director Chakraborty.

   

 
 
UNKNOWN COPS CHARGED WITH POLL DAY DEATH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 14: 
A case has been lodged against the “unknown policemen” who beat up Trinamul Congress activist Rabindranath Das on poll day, resulting in his death in Subhas Sarobar, Beleghata. The cops have been accused of “culpable homicide”.

Das, 32, was beaten up by the police during a clash between two political groups on Beleghata Main Road, in the Phoolbagan police station area, on Thursday afternoon, and chased when he tried to escape. With the cops close on his heels, Das jumped into Subhas Sarobar. According to eyewitnesses, he pleaded with the policemen waiting on the banks to help him reach the shore as he did not know how to swim.

But instead, the cops jumped into the tank and rained blows on him with their batons. At this, Das fell unconscious in the water. The cops left his body on the edge of the tank and fled. Das was declared “brought dead” at a local hospital.

Sadhana, the victim’s wife, lodged a complaint with Phoolbagan police station and the chief electoral officer, demanding punishment of the guilty policemen. The cops, meanwhile, accused Das of rioting and lodged a case against him.

The state human rights commission directed the police department to submit an inquest report. The post-mortem was carried out on Friday in camera. The statements of the eyewitnesses were also video-recorded. According to police sources, the post-mortem report reveals “blood clots” on the left side of Das’ forehead. “There were also injury marks all over his body, specially on the neck,” a police officer said, adding that Das may have died of suffocation after he lost consciousness in the tank.

Though deputy commissioner, eastern suburban division, Mihir Bhattacharyya, who lodged the case against the members of his force, was not available for comment, detective department chief Banibrata Basu said on Monday that the case has been transferred to his department. The guilty cops have yet to be identified. “The FIR lodged by Das’ wife does not name anyone. But we will try to identify the men involved,” Basu added.

Election dues: Traffic was disrupted in Howrah on Monday after some home guards blocked G.T. Road demanding payment of their election dues. They also gheraoed Bally police station. The gherao was lifted after police officers assured the home guards they would look into the matter.

   

 
 
MONTH-END DATE FOR ISC, ICSE RESULTS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 14: 
The ICSE and ISC results will be announced by the end of this month. The Madhyamik results should follow, by mid-June.

Officials of the Delhi-based Council for the Indian School Certificate Examination confirmed on Monday that “the results of the Class X and Class XII examinations are likely to be announced within two weeks”. The Council’s secretary and chief executive, F. Phantom, said: “The target for announcing both ICSE and ISC results is before June 1.”

Sources in the Council later said the ISC results are likely to be announced on May 26, with the ICSE results following on May 28. They will be first released on the Internet. According to Phantom, around 50,000 students had appeared for the two examinations from nearly 200 schools in and around Calcutta.

Officials of the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education said on Monday that the Madhyamik results should be published in the second week of June, around 15 days before schedule.

“Most of the answer scripts have already been examined. We are trying our best to announce the results within June 15,” said Board president Arun Kiran Chakraborty.

Nearly six lakh students had appeared for the exams, which ended in March.

   

 
 
NIMBLE AT 95 AND RARING TO RUN 
 
 
BY SUDESHNA BANERJEE
 
Calcutta, May 14: 
Event: 100m sprint; Timing: 23.45. Event: 200m sprint; Timing: 57.39. Event: 400m run. Timing: 2.23.78.

Not impressed? Think again. For the runner in question was just 91 years old when he recorded these timings to bag a triple silver at the XII World Veterans’ Athletic Championship at Durban, in 1997. Jehanbax Aderji Kapadia, now 95, is busy warming up for a trip to Brisbane, where the XIV Veterans’ Championship will be held from July 4.

“I missed the last meet in London because of a cardiac arrest,” smiles Uncle Kap, as he is known on the circuit, revealing his toothless gums. He has lost his left eye, and his hearing is not what it used to be. But he has lost none of his spirit. Back on his feet, he’s raring to run.

The regimen he follows is simple but strict: Half an hour of yoga in the morning and two hours of practice at the Calcutta Parsi Club on the Maidan in the afternoon. “At around 3.30 pm, he sets off from our Chandni Chowk residence for the Maidan,” informs daughter Zarin.

After a change of gear at the club, Uncle Kap is off on his customary three laps of 70m each. A brief breather later, it’s time to walk back home.

The man from Baroda, who settled in Calcutta in 1956, took to competitive athletics at the age of 78 when he chanced upon an insertion in a newspaper and signed up for the West Bengal Veterans’ Athletic Meet. “Since there were no other ‘boys’ in my age group, I took part in the 70-75 category and won easily,” Kapadia recalls.

Thus began his record-breaking stint at the national and international levels. His first lap abroad was in Melbourne, 1987, where he claimed fourth place in both 100m and 200m, despite breaking the Indian records.

He has only got better with age — bagging National golds in 100m and 200m in 1989 and 1991, and then 200m and 400m bronze medals in World Veterans ’95 at Buffalo, in the 85-89 category.

Though running is his passion now, Kapadia had once earned his spurs as a wireless operator. “I belong to the first batch of Indians to be trained by the British government as wireless operators in 1928 to take over from Marconi’s men,” he recounts. The training of the select 16 took place in Calcutta. Then it was off to sea with the Scindia Shipping Company, followed by a stint with the Anglo-Persian Oil Company in Iran and back in Gujarat on the staff of the Jamsahib of Jamnagar. “After India became a republic, the Jamsahib pensioned us off and we set up a chartered flight company in Calcutta, to ferry cargo to north Bengal. This is what I did till I failed a vision test at 60 and retired,” he explains.

Nimble at 95, up and running when younger men have taken to their armchairs, what more does he seek in life? “My horoscope says I will live till 100. God willing, I want to participate in the world meet that year,” the “young” nonagenarian says wistfully.

   

 
 
MAN SHOT DEAD IN BRAWL 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, May 14: 
There was tension in the Thakurpukur area on Monday after a 32-year-old man was shot dead early in the morning.

The victim, Harjit Singh, and some of his associates were gambling and drinking country liquor at Keorapukur, where the killing occurred.

In course of a quarrel, one of the men brought out revolver and shot Singh. The incident occurred in full public view. But even though Singh lay writhing in agony, no one dared to come to his help.

Some residents informed Thakurpukur police station and arranged to have Singh sent to hospital. He was shifted to R.G. Kar Medical College and Hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries.

A police picket has been posted in the area to maintain law and order. All the shops and markets in the area have downed their shutters, apprehending trouble.

Additional superintendent of police, industrial, Gyanwant Singh, said Harjit was wanted in dacoity, extortion and murder cases. He came from Punjab a few years ago and worked as a mechanic in a garage.

Gyanwant Singh added: “The police have long been on the look-out for him. But he used to give us the slip every time we went after him.”

Deputy superintendent of police, town, Subhankar Chatterjee, said: “A driving licence was found in his pocket but the address on it was fictitious. He was a resident of the Tollygunge area but the address in the licence showed him as staying in Behala. We have cross-checked this with his brother, who also lives in the same area.”

The gang members have been identified and will be arrested soon, he added.

Gyanwant Singh said: “We have sent messages to Harjit’s parents in Punjab. The body has been sent for post-mortem, after which it will be handed over to his relatives.”

   

 
 
RAIL VOLUNTEERS FLEECE COMMUTERS 
 
 
BY DEBASHIS CHATTOPADHYAY
 
Calcutta, May 14: 
Sealdah station can be quite nightmarish for commuters if they happen to encounter the ‘volunteers’, a group of people recruited by Eastern Railway to assist its officials. Commuters often fall prey to a nexus of volunteers, local criminals and a section of railway staff, who intimidate them to extort hefty sums. The harassed and duped commuters seldom register complaints with the authorities for fear of a backlash.

Presently, the volunteers accompany railway officials for checking tickets at different stations. Volunteers were inducted into the railways about more than a decade ago to help the officials in their work. Most of them were later absorbed into the railways.

The volunteers force passengers to display their tickets. If someone refuses, he is harassed and even manhandled. Vendors without valid tickets are the main targets. The free-trippers are never handed over to the authorities. Instead, the men strike a deal with the vendors, who are easy prey. Moreover, railway officers, who may be standing nearby and are empowered to take action, sport an indifferent attitude, said Swapan Bharati, member of Suburban Railway Users Consultative Committee.

Santosh Roy, a resident of Sonarpur, said: “Everyone here is aware of these ‘volunteers’, who loiter on the platforms and on special trains, but is scared to take action. With the help of a section of railway police and local goons, they extort money from passengers and vendors. The amount soars up to about Rs 15,000 to 20,000 daily. However, no slips are issued.” The sum is then distributed among the members of the racket. So, no one responds when a passenger reports to the officials, Roy adds.

“The railways is a large department and there may be some unscrupulous people in it. But we take action whenever we receive complaints. Some steps have already been taken to net those involved in this racket. But, these people are very heinous and can even kill a ticket-checker if they can catch him alone while on duty,” said chief public relations officer of Eastern Railway, K. Mukhopadhyay.

“The divisional railway manager, Eastern Railway, Sealdah, has requested us to advise passengers not to show their tickets to volunteers without armed bands and identity cards,” said Bharati.

   

 
 
AIDS SHOW FINDS YOUTH IN THE DARK 
 
 
BY AMIT UKIL
 
Calcutta, May 14: 
Most calls made to a 12-episode weekly FM radio programme on HIV/AIDS have been enquiries from students on how the virus spreads and whether they could have been infected with it for the “risky behaviour” they had taken part in recently. The programme, which crossed its half-way mark on Sunday, is aimed at the youth and has so far revealed a fairly high level of ignorance and misinformation among the youth in the city and surrounding areas.

Conceived and produced by Thoughtshop Foundation, the programme, called Gyaner Alo Zindabad, is aired between 7 pm and 7.30 pm. The first part comprises a quiz for students from Classes IX to XII, in which questions on pre-determined topics are asked. The topics include basic facts about HIV/AIDS, role of parents in imparting sex education, drugs and HIV, blood and HIV, safe and unsafe sexual behaviour, HIV and motherhood, testing for HIV, treatment and care for the infected, AIDS at the workplace and rights of people living with HIV.

The second part of the programme is devoted to telephone counselling. Calls coming in during the past week at the foundation’s helpline (417-6128) are answered by formally-trained counsellors. “We get up to 25 calls a day,” said Himalini Varma, a spokesperson of the organisation.

“The most frequently-asked questions have, till now, been by students in the age group of 17 upwards, who want to clarify whether the action they took part in could cause AIDS. On hearing them and gleaning more information, our counsellors advise if he or she should go in for testing.” Queries on where HIV tests are conducted, whether blood transfusion can lead to infection, symptoms of HIV/AIDS and other basic questions have also been asked.

“Several callers have wanted to know how to get their partners tested before tying the knot,” said Varma. Surprisingly, most in this category have been males, though in India, it has been the husband that has transmitted the virus to the wife. The calls have come in from a wide cross-section and region. Being in Bengali, students of a village school in Usti, South 24 Parganas, have called up. So have students of institutions like Loreto schools and college.

“One disturbing factor is the lack of sex education among most of the callers above 13 or 14 years of age,” Varma said. “Not only do they not know what AIDS is, they do not even know basic things about menstruation and masturbation,” she added.

   

 
 
MELODIES, FOND MEMORIES 
 
 
BY MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA
 
Calcutta, May 14: 
She’s a politician, journalist, fashion designer, educationist, model, actress, broadcaster, mother and wife. But Calcutta remembers her for the magical voice she brought to the city one dusky summer, four decades ago. Doreen Finlay-Davies, who spent three months as a singer at the Oberoi Grand during the 60s, came back to the city — and the hotel — for the first time last week.

Doreen, in town with husband Ronald Harris, retired University of London professor, was researching a book she is writing on education in England and India. She is studying the feasibility of setting up a skills-based learning system in India, such as the National Vocational Qualifications in the UK, as well as schooling alternatives for young children.

For the petite lady with billowing grey hair, it was “a pleasure” to be back in the city that had “become her home” so long ago. Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn were her favourites when she used to sing at the Scherazade with the Oberoi brothers’ band, Pipo Caserini. She caused quite a ripple, too. “I recorded two albums with HMV here, No Arms Can Ever Hold You and Bella Notte,” recalled the crooner, refusing to disclose either her age, or the year she had come to Calcutta. Though Doreen felt the “excitement and the magic” was still alive in Calcutta, there have been a few unwelcome additions, such as growing poverty. “We had a frightening experience with the porters at the airport,” she recounted.

She would be happy to return to India, especially if the NVQ programme is launched here.

“I have spoken to the British Council, and they are thinking of launching such a course,” said Doreen, who is an NVQ assessor in the UK. Also a knitwear designer, Doreen would love to “set up a few weavers here”, to produce her collections.

She took the time to look up old family friend, drummer Nondon Bagchi, or “Londen” as she thought he was called. “We used to know his parents when we all lived in Uganda,” smiled Doreen. She has, unfortunately, lost touch with the “many friends” she had made here.

Back home, she’s going to stand for elections from Chipping Norton Ward of the West Oxfordshire District Council. The Tory is preparing for the balancing act of knocking on doors for her campaign, and getting back into the groove of teaching at her art design and technology training Centre, New Sight. She also hopes to write about her return to Calcutta, “soon”.

   

 
 
KOIJAM DROPS SIX ‘TAINTED’ MINISTERS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, May 14: 
The Samata Party and the BJP, two allies in the ruling National Democratic Alliance at the Centre, are heading for a major political showdown in Manipur.

Manipur chief minister Radhabinod Koijam, who belongs to the Samata Party, today dropped six dissident ministers on charges of corruption and for allegedly having links with militants.

The dissident camp struck back with seven ministers — five from the BJP, one from the Nationalist Congress Party and one from the Janata Dal (Secular) —resigning from the People’s Front ministry. These ministers who quit include two of Cabinet rank. The rest are ministers of state.

However, senior BJP leader and higher education minister Col. (retd.) Haobam Bhubon Singh did not resign. Bhubon Singh is opposing the “oust Koijam” campaign led by Dorendra Singh, his arch rival in the BJP.

O. Haokip, chief whip of the People’s Front, has also put in his papers but Koijam has refused to accept the resignation. G. Doungel, chairman of the Hill Area Council of the Assembly, also resigned. The Koijam ministry faces a threat since 33 MLAs, including 13 ministers of the ruling People’s Front led by BJP Legislature Party leader R.K. Dorendra Singh, have revolted against his leadership. Demanding a change in the leadership, the dissident MLAs have been camping at Speaker Sapam Dhananjoy’s residence since May 6.

Koijam announced that six “tainted” ministers would be dropped at a news conference here this afternoon. The chief minister said the Union home ministry has issued instructions that action should be initiated against some of the politicians who are alleged to have a nexus with militants and indulge in corrupt practices.

Koijam said the home ministry has asked the state government to furnish the action taken report within a month. He said cases regarding these six ministers will be handed over to an external agency like the CBI.

The ministers who have been dropped include five Cabinet ministers and one minister of state belonging to the BJP and the Federal Party of Manipur. They are forest minister Gangmumei Kamei, transport minister Kashim Ruivah, sports minister S. Rajen Singh, industry minister M. Kunjo Singh, food and civil supplies minister Kshetri Biren and minister of state for finance A. Biren Singh.

   

 
 
MLAS LOBBY FOR SPOILS OF WAR 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Guwahati, May 14: 
The Congress leadership today braced for the Herculean task of working out a formula to keep everyone happy as newly-elected party legislators arrived here in droves to stake claim to the spoils of the just-concluded electoral battle.

The tally of 71 seats — 11 more than the exit poll prediction — has given the Congress much to cheer about, but the challenge of putting up a united front appears to be already weighing down the party leadership.

Congress legislators began arriving here from their constituencies to lobby for plum posts in the new government. They will hold a meeting here on Wednesday to elect their leader.

Outgoing chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, his dreams of a second consecutive term in office shattered by the Congress’ surge, resigned this afternoon.

With the results of elections to the Silchar and Sipajhar seats yet to be declared, the AGP-BJP combine’s tally stands at 26, a colossal slide from the 59 seats the AGP won on its own steam in 1996.

For the Congress, however, things could not have been better. The party’s tally of 71 seats is even better the mandate it got under Hiteswar Saikia in 1991. It had won 65 seats in that election.

Though the selection of PCC president Tarun Gogoi as the leader of the Congress Legislature Party is believed to be a mere formality, sources said “power centres” within the party had become very active.

At Rajiv Bhavan, the state Congress headquarters, there were indications that the Gogoi camp would be under tremendous pressure. Gogoi’s aides, however, said AICC general secretary Kamal Nath and former Union minister Ghulam Nabi Azad had publicly acknowledged that he was the man for the post.

The Kamrup and Nalbari units of the party have jointly emerged as a force to reckon after wiping out the AGP in its own “backyard”.

Congress sources said party leaders from Lower Assam were sure to “demand” key portfolios, if not the chief minister’s chair.

There are reportedly two leaders — one a former chief minister — who aspire to head the government. “They will be the key players in the developments taking place in the next few days,” said a Congress leader from Upper Assam. But Gogoi, Lok Sabha member from Kaliabor, showed no signs of nervousness as he addressed his first press conference after the declaration of the election results.

Spelling his agenda for governance, the former Union minister said he would accord priority to economic development and the need to fulfil the “hopes and aspirations of all sections of society”.

The Governor has asked Mahanta to continue as chief minister till a new government assumes office. The outgoing chief minister had initially refused to accept the results of the exit poll, which clearly indicated his party’s defeat and a victory for the Congress.

He kept claiming till the last moment that the four-party alliance comprising the AGP, the BJP, the Autonomous State Demand Committee (U) and the All-Bodo Students’ Union would form the next government.

   
 

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