Govt chisels Ayodhya model
Aamir attire test before big night
Big guns hold up Lagaan flag
Prayer and long fax
Vajpayee stitches safety net
Naidu hosts Buddha, not Basu
Woman, 3 children found dead
Calcutta Weather

 
 
GOVT CHISELS AYODHYA MODEL 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, March 23: 
The Centre has shaped the broad contours of an Ayodhya settlement plan but, given the charged political temperature, is wary of pursuing it in public.

The scheme takes off from the Kanchi Sankaracharya’s formula, which was rejected by the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board on the ground that it had nothing to offer the minorities.

This time round, the government wants both Hindus and Muslims to make a few compromises and hammer out a solution on the basis of give and take.

The government is also keen to involve the Supreme Court in the final settlement as a non-partisan authority which will be respected by all the parties involved in the dispute.

The new plan aims to persuade the Muslims to allow the Centre to hand over the undisputed land for the construction of the Ram temple.

In return, the VHP must submit the blueprint of its temple plan to the court and abide by any modification the judges suggest.

The judges would ensure that the temple plans do not block access to the critical 2.77 acres of disputed land on which the Babri masjid stood. The VHP and the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas can begin construction so long as it follows the blueprint approved by the court.

The Muslims must wait till the title suit is finally cleared by Allahabad High Court. The Lucknow bench of the high court has already upheld the Centre’s petition to hold daily hearings to speed up the case. If the pace actually picks up, the statements of witnesses can be rewarded within a year or so.

The title suit will decide if the disputed land belongs to the Muslims or the Hindus.

If the courts decide that the disputed area should go to the Muslims and the community wants to rebuild the mosque, the apex court-approved temple plan will ensure that access is not blocked.

The plan is on hold at the moment as the government wants passions to cool. Senior members of the Cabinet will discuss the plan and suggest modifications.

But the Centre does not want to be directly involved in test-firing the plan. The government is in search of a Muslim petitioner to put the plan before the court, but has not yet found anyone willing to take the risk.

Even if one is found, there are many ifs and buts, primary among them being the reaction of the VHP.

Though the government is optimistic about prevailing upon the VHP to consider the plan, there is no guarantee that the VHP and the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas will accept a verdict that goes against them.

   

 
 
AAMIR ATTIRE TEST BEFORE BIG NIGHT 
 
 
FROM SUMAN BHUCHAR
 
Los Angeles, March 23: 
As Aamir Khan prepared to go to the Oscars to discover the fate of Lagaan, he was deciding which of three outfits to wear for the biggest night in his life.

Aamir realises, that he and Ashutosh Gowarikar, the film’s director, are representing India.

“I was pretty certain I wanted to wear formal Indian attire and, therefore, I thought a black sherwani and churidar would be most appropriate,” he explains.

Three designers, Tarun Tahiliani, Shahab Durazi and Anand Jon, have made him the clothes.

“Once all the outfits are here, I shall be trying out all of them to see which I like best and am most comfortable with.”

Although Aamir has been in and out of Los Angeles over the last couple of months, he has now been here solidly for three weeks promoting Lagaan against stiff competition, mainly from the French film, Amelie, by Jean Pierre Jeaunet, which is widely considered the frontrunner.

Aamir said that he was happy that Lagaan had been nominated for the Oscar. “I think it’s really exciting to be nominated and it’s a great opportunity for Indian cinema and talent. It will bring it more to the notice and attention of audiences all over the world.”

He has been staying at the Wyndhams-Bel Age hotel, at the junction of Sunset Boulevard and San Vancinte Boulevard, where he has given press interviews by the rooftop poolside, against the backdrop of Beverley and Hollywood hills.

Speaking exclusively from his suite, he revealed that Lagaan had taken over his life, but it was all positive.

“I have had a lot of people coming to meet me who are part of the business. I have had scripts sent to me. This has happened on its own after seeing Lagaan, People have liked it and they have expressed keenness to work with Ashutosh and me.”

He points out that there has been a lot of curiosity building up over years towards India and Indian cinema. As a consequence, Lagaan is also getting the mainstream international release that Aamir was so keen on, when the film initially opened on June 15, last year.

“All Indian films get released all over the world but that is to an Indian audience living outside of India. We are finally getting a cross over release, and I am really happy that it is now going to get a world audience. This will be an opportunity for them to see a mainstream Indian film.”

The film was originally distributed by Sony Entertainment Television Asia, an Indian television company part of the Sony empire, but now it has been picked up by the bigger brothers, Sony Classics, (which did Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) and Columbia Tri-Star, which have stepped in with their formidable muscle.

The former will release the film in the United States while the latter in Europe on May 10.

Aamir is not daunted by the fact that American and European audiences may not understand cricket.

“Cricket is very important to the story but the viewer understanding the game is not important.”

He cites the response the film got at Lucarno Film Festival, where it was shown to an 8000 strong audience and took the “Best Audience Award”. “If it (understanding the game) was important, then audiences in Lucarno would never have reacted to the film, because the last one hour is about cricket.”

Aamir says this audience identified with the story completely and “felt the problems of the village farmers more acutely”.

These signs are encouraging, as is the fact that Americans are beginning to become aware of Bollywood, and Lagaan is getting celebrity supporters.

The director, Roland Joffe, has seen the film, while Baz Luhrmann, whose own film, Moulin Rouge, borrows from this genre has described it as “David Lean meets Busby Berkeley”.

Sitting in LA, the home of Hollywood, Aamir is keenly aware of the cinema he represents. He has had a rethink about what he feels about the term “Bollywood”.

“I used to have strong objections seven or eight years ago because it was used in a derogatory manner, but I think now people are using it as a name with no negative meaning attached to it. I would not use the word in my conversation. I am not comfortable doing it, but I don’t mind other people using it.”

Nevertheless, he still remains sensitive to the portrayal of Lagaan and he has expressed strong disapproval about a new book, From Balham to Bollywood, written by one of his British actors, Chris England - he played fast bowler Yardley in the film — who takes a light-hearted look at his involvement in the project.

“I didn’t think it was a good book,” he reveals, “because I think his book belittles the exercise of so many people coming together to make the film.”

Aamir feels strongly that England’s book doesn’t give an accurate impression of the contribution of 700 or so people from actors to the villagers of Bhuj. “I think the book really more than showing what went on in the film, reflects more of his personality.” He does generously admit that “his attempt at humour is good”

He recommends another forthcoming title, by Satyaji Bhatkal, on the making of Lagaan, an independentally written book. “It’s an amazing book,” he enthuses. “He really captured what went on.”

In LA, Aamir has stayed away from pressing flesh and networking but has confined himself to formal events organised by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. He and Ashutosh have attended talks and symposiums.

Mostly people have come to visit him at his hotel. He reveals that he has had many agents wanting to represent him and has meetings about that. “I have yet to decide who its going to be. But I would want one based in LA.”

Aamir confessed that the idea of working on an international project was attractive. “I would like to do a one off international film if I like the script,” he said.

One Hollywood luxury he has permitted himself to have is a joy ride of Sunset Boulevard in the stretch limo provided by the Academy.    


 
 
BIG GUNS HOLD UP LAGAAN FLAG 
 
 
FROM AMIT ROY
 
Los Angeles, March 23: 
Lagaan’s importance to India is being emphasised by Lalit Mansingh, the Indian ambassador, who has flown from Washington to Los Angeles to lend support to Ashutosh Gowarikar and Aamir Khan.

Mansingh was due to hold a glamourous pre-Oscar party to celebrate Lagaan’s nomination in the foreign film category and rally the troops on the eve of battle. “I am here to raise the flag for India,” Mansingh told The Telegraph.

Explaining the significance of Lagaan’s Oscar nomination, Mansingh said: “I have always believed that films are an important instrument of our diplomatic and foreign policy. The reach of Indian films is more global than we realise.”

He recalled that when he had once gone to the Ivory Coast to canvass support for India’s membership to the UN Security Council, the host president was keener to discuss the finer points of Aan, the Mehboob Khan film.

“So far as Lagaan is concerned, there really is a tremendous buzz about it in America,” he said. “There is a great deal of excitement.”

The embassy in Washington was making a special attempt to promote Indian films, particularly after a visit by Sushma Swaraj, the information and broadcasting minister.

“We have been showing a retrospective of Satyajit Ray’s films and we had Mira Nair to talk about Monsoon Wedding,” he said. “It’s a wonderful time for Indian cinema. Now somehow we need to break through.”

Mansingh recalled he had offered to host a reception to promote Lagaan well before the members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences voted for best foreign film.

“We have been talking to Aamir throughout,” he said. “He has been in touch with our people. I felt if we give a party it would help him. But I was persuaded by Aamir not to (host the party) because he felt such a party would be seen by some people as too political,” Mansingh pointed out.

There has been widespread criticism at what is seen as excessively aggressive campaigning by Miramax, which is behind Lagaan’s main rival, the French film, Amelie, widely regarded as the frontrunner. This year, 51 countries, a record, submitted entries, which were whittled down to five.

Gowarikar told The Telegraph: “Once I saw Lagaan’s name flash on the screen, I believed we could win.”

The Oscar authorities have done what they can to give an edge to the fight for the Best Foreign Film, normally one of the less high profile categories. On Friday, the directors of the five films were lined up at the Academy at what can only be described as a sort of beauty contest. Gowarikar stood out in a designer white kurta as he and the others cuddled up to giant mock-ups of the Oscar statuettes.

If the attitude of the press is anything to go by, the French director of Amelie, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, whose film has taken America by storm, is likely to edge Lagaan out. He received maximum attention from journalists and photographers. But Aamir and Gowarikar also received considerable attention.

Jeunet, who has already garnered a host of other awards and taken $100 million worldwide for his “feel good movie”, is still looking for an Oscar. “I wouldn’t change 10 Caesars (France’s top award) for an Oscar,” he told The Telegraph. “But what we have in the contest are five positive stories. We have had one party and will have a bigger one if we win the Oscar.”

The other entries are No Man’s Land from Bosnia, Son of the Bride from Argentina, and Elling from Norway. None of Lagaan’s rivals admitted to having seen the film.

Juan Jose Campanella, the director of Son of the Bride, rolled his eyes at the prospect of seeing a four-hour film built round cricket. But he was generous enough to admit: “Everyone who has seen the movie has said they liked it. I have a DVD and I am going to watch it.”

   

 
 
PRAYER AND LONG FAX 
 
 
FROM CHANDRIMA BHATTACHARYA
 
Mumbai, March 23: 
It happens only in India.

With only a few hours remaining for the Oscars, a one billion-plus people seem to be wishing the film success in rousing language borrowed from its own songs. The film’s fate is being seen as the fate of the country — as “apni jeet” — and never before, since Pokhran and Kargil, has there been such hysteria.

Possibly as a first for an Oscar nomination, a prayer meeting will be held tomorrow morning at Novelty cinema hall in the city for the film’s prospects. It is not known what scriptures will be quoted from, but the entire cast of the film will be there, wishing the film gets the big “O”. (Sans Aamir Khan and director Ashutosh Gowarikar, who will attend the Kodak Theater ceremony in flesh, Aamir in a Shahab Durazi/Tarun Tahiliani/Anand Jon sherwani.)

In possibly another first, a restaurant, Indian Summer, has offered 33 per cent discount on the total bill on D-day Monday, if Lagaan wins. Indian Summer also plans a theme day on its premises, with the film’s songs playing and waiters floating around as Lagaan characters, in case of a victory.

A night club, Mikanos, will not be left behind. Its invite says: “It’s crunch time for Lagaan and on the eve of the Oscars we’re going to send (Aamir Khan) a reeeally, reeeally long fax with thousands of signatures on it wishing team Lagaan the very best of luck.”

The invite is topped with the by now legendary lines from Lagaan laying down the mantra of success: “Baar baar haan/ Bolo yaar haan/ Apni jeet ho/ Unki haar haan...”

The Amul hoarding has the lines turned around, saying: “Apni jeet ho? Amul, baar baar haan”, while a Cartoon Network billboard has its main characters posing as the Lagaan team.

“Never has there been such noise around a film,” says Rauf Ahmed of Zee Cinema. “‘L’ seems to have become a beleaguered word, with every copywriter running after two words beginning with it: luck and Lagaan. Everyone has something or the other to say about the film. Even our channel is running a scrawl till tomorrow wishing the film luck.”

Then there’s the Lagaan team. The 10 remaining actors of Lagaan will meet at the residence of one of the group on Sunday evening to watch the Oscars live on television on Monday morning at 6.30 am. “We will win,” says Daya Shankar Pandey, who played Goli in Lagaan. “Like we did in the film.”

Lagaan has all the elements that the nation takes pride in: cricket and victory over the British. “That has helped the film link up with national pride,” says Ahmed.

   

 
 
VAJPAYEE STITCHES SAFETY NET 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, March 23: 
Government managers have succeeded in bringing over six Lok Sabha MPs to the National Democratic Alliance in a welcome boost to the coalition threatened by dissenting allies.

Besides the six who formally joined yesterday, the Centre’s strategists are working on the 14-member Bahujan Samaj Party, the 11-member ADMK and eight MPs of the Nationalist Congress Party. With their issue-based support, the alliance can boast of direct and indirect backing of 39 more members.

Counting the six new entrants, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government has the support of 310 MPs in the Lok Sabha, where the majority mark is 273.

BJP leaders are thinking of getting an alternative combination ready, especially after the latest bout of Sangh parivar bashing by allies like the Telugu Desam Party, the Trinamul Congress, the Janata Dal (United) and a section of the Samata Party.

Though there is no perceived threat yet to the government from the allies, developments like West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s tête-à-tête with Desam chief Chandrababu Naidu in Hyderabad today has made the BJP restive.

“In case the 28-member Desam chose to do the unthinkable, that is pulling out of the NDA, parties like the ADMK, BSP and the NCP could come to the rescue,” said an alliance leader. The three have distanced themselves from mainstream Opposition parties on a number of issues and will support the anti-terror Bill when it comes up at the joint Parliament session on Tuesday.

But the numbers game could collapse if the DMK, which has 12 members, withdraws support, unable to co-exist with the ADMK in the coalition. The government could be in for bigger trouble if the Trinamul and the Indian National Lok Dal also choose to quit along with the Desam.

The BSP’s support hinges on the Uttar Pradesh situation, the quid pro quo being BSP backing in Delhi in return for the BJP propping up a Mayavati-led government in Lucknow.

New faces could also mean a different kind of headache for the Prime Minister as he would have to find berths for them in the already overcrowded council of ministers.

Of the six who joined yesterday, at least three are hoping for ministerial berths. They are P.C. Thomas, who was expelled from the Kerala Congress (Mani group); Anwarul Haque, a Rashtriya Janata Dal rebel; and Pappu Yadav. They had recently formed the Indian Federal Democratic Party along with an Independent MP. The other two MPs, Sukhdev Paswan and Nagmani, had last year split the RJD parliamentary party with Haque.

Thomas today issued a statement pledging support to the NDA and urging the alliance “to stand together and make efforts to foster secularism and find (a) solution to communal disturbances”. Minorities, he added, should be given protection and taken into confidence. Thomas said his group would support the anti-terror Bill on March 26.

   

 
 
NAIDU HOSTS BUDDHA, NOT BASU 
 
 
FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA AND TAMAL SENGUPTA
 
Hyderabad, March 23: 
The one-time partners met for the first time after four years, but the cast had changed.

At the last moment, Telugu Desam chief N. Chandrababu Naidu wriggled out of a breakfast meeting with CPM leader Jyoti Basu, but he met the two Marxist chief ministers — first Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and then Manik Sarkar of Tripura — at his spacious Jubilee Hills residence.

Four years ago, when the Desam and the CPM were members of the then ruling United Front, Basu had regularly kept in touch with Naidu. But after the Desam parted ways and joined the BJP-led alliance at the Centre, the two leaders have hardly spoken.

Today, their proposed meeting had set the rumour mills working overtime with speculation that Naidu was pulling closer to the Third Front, which was revived at Basu’s initiative. But Naidu, who had initially made clear his displeasure with the Centre’s Prevention of Terrorism Bill, avoided sending any more anti-NDA signals by only meeting the two chief ministers.

“It was a courtesy call,” Bhattacharjee later told reporters. “We had a very good interaction.”

Asked whether they had talked politics, the Bengal chief minister said: “I cannot clarify that. When two politicians meet, they do discuss politics.”

Naidu said they had discussed problems common to the two states. “We (Bhattacharjee and I) discussed issues ranging from devolution of funds to states to the need to strengthen the law and order machinery to combat terrorist and extremist violence. We planned to prepare an agenda with which we could tackle the Centre at future meetings,” Naidu said.

Sources said Naidu also discussed the political compulsions because of which he was sticking with the National Democratic Alliance though he did not believe in the ideology of the “Delhi rulers”.

They added that Naidu has reached a deal with the Centre after agreeing to vote for the anti-terror law. The Vajpayee government is believed to have rewarded Andhra with five lakh tonnes of rice for the food-for-work programme in addition to the 16 lakh tonnes given so far.

Naidu’s meeting with Sarkar is believed to have centred on measures to tackle the extremist menace. Naidu advised him on raising a counter-extremist force and offered assistance in the technical sphere.

Naidu said the Bhattacharjee had expressed concern over the political turmoil and communal violence.

“We are not bound to the NDA with any strings and we are free to take any action we feel necessary,” he said.

That’s why we have not even joined the Union Cabinet even though they (the BJP) are ready to vacate some seats in the Cabinet — even today,” he said.

   

 
 
WOMAN, 3 CHILDREN FOUND DEAD 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, March 23: 
A 22-year-old woman and her three children, including a four-month-old boy, were found dead under mysterious circumstances this afternoon at their Shivtala residence in Entally.

The victims were identified as Dulia Shaw, Punam (5), Suman (3) and Chottu (the infant). Dulia’s husband, Surbindar, had committed suicide six months ago in their home state, Bihar.

Police are yet to conclude whether it is a case of suicide or murder. “Nothing can be said until we get the post-mortem report,” said Sanjoy Mukherjee, eastern suburban division deputy commissioner of police

However, the officer-in-charge of Entally police station, Abharnshu Kumar Majumdar, said circumstantial evidence points towards murder.

Dulia’s mother-in-law, Sushila, and father-in-law, Kameshwar, are absconding. Kameshwar had informed Entally police station that a “suicide” had occurred at his home.

Police said Kameshwar and his son were once locked in a property feud. “We will contact the Chhapra police to find out the reason behind Surbindar’s suicide,” said an officer.

Mukherjee said the door of the room was bolted from outside and the bodies, covered by a bedsheet, were lying on a bed. “Four knots were hanging from the ceiling. There was a strangulation mark on Dulia’s neck. But there was no injury mark on the bodies of the three children,” he added.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Max: 36.1°C (+1)
Min: 24.4°C (+2)

Relative humidity

Maximum: 91%
Minimum: 35%

Rainfall

0.1 mm

Today

Partly cloudy sky. Maximum and minimum temperatures likely to be around 36°C and 24°C
Sunset: 5.45 pm
Sunrise: 5.41 am    
 

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