IN THIS ISSUE
INDEPENDENCE DAY FEATURE
Unshackling the Spirit : A Patriot's Journey
Financial Services : An Exciting Career Option?
BY PIYUSH KAUL
India Festival 2001
BY SUBHASH BAGGA
Publisher’s Note • Infotech India
Communication: Cheap Fast Courier
Innovation: PIN Free Calling
Government: Social Security
Community News • Obituary
Auto Review: 2002 Lexus SC 430
Bollywood • Tamil Cinema
Recipe • Horoscope
August is the month of India’s independence, when Indians reaffirm their ties with the old country.
Siliconeer’s interest is in science and technology, and we can surely congratulate India for the dramatic strides it has taken in information technologywhat a strange change a few decades make, whoever thought developed countries would begging Indian professionals to come to their countries?
August is also a time of taking stock, and one cannot run away from the fact that the fruits of independence have not been equitably shared. Isn’t there more than a hint of unease among some of us about the digital divide? Isn’t there good reason to ask whether the hoopla of the IT boom is irrelevant to huge masses of Indians?
Along with excellence in IT, the Bay Area has also happily seen a different kind of boomIndian Americans of good will raising money for self help projects, education in India.
In this issue we carry a special story of an Indian engineer’s journey from Berkeley, Calif., to Princeton, N.J. What is fascinating is the long tortuous path he has traversed. Sandeep (he chooses not to use his last name), who got his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of California at Berkeley, is not now in Princeton do continue some abstruse engineering research.
Sandeep is in Princeton as a research fellow to gain knowledge on nuclear disarmament. He is a full-time social activist now. After returning to India he joined IIT Kanpur, but left, disillusioned with what he considered injustice, and went to his grandfather’s village to set up schools and other self help projects. In time he became involved in nationwide political causeshe met his wife Arundhati at a protest rally against the Narmada dam, and took a 1,500 km march to protest India’s nuclear blasts.
Before leaving the U.S., he helped found Asha, an organization that supports basic education projects in India. Today Asha has 35 chapters in the U.S. In 10 years it has raised over a million dollars to support over 200 education projects in India.
Sandeep is that rare professionalhe had the courage of his conviction, and decided to live his life according to his beliefs. Most of us prefer philanthropy on the side. It is Sandeep’s total conviction, shorn of the hypocrisy that afflicts so many of us, that makes his story so heartwarming, despite the fact that we may not necessarily share his views and political stands.
I did not know for quite some time what to do.
Many years later, when Srivatsavoy, a TIFR chemistry post-doc student in Berkeley, came up with an idea of starting a group, I thought maybe this is what can be done outside the political arena. I had just one year to go in my Ph.D., it was 1991 summer.
My inspiration came from Gandhiji. I had read his autobiography in his college days. I knew I wanted to do something, but I had no clear idea how I would do go about it, and I definitely did not have the courage to leave my studies and plunge into it.
Srivatsavoy wanted to do something on the technology levelresearch of latest scientific ideas in India, technology transfer, and all that. But to me it appeared that any kind of social change would have to be brought about through the process of education. So I brought up the proposal in the first meeting that I would like to be part of the group, but I would like to work for basic education. My thinking was very naïve at that time. I got this book by political scientist Myron Weiner which told about how half of India’s children do not go to school and 25 percent don’t go because they are in a child labor kind of situation.
So since we had got the benefits of education, we thought everybody could derive similar benefits, and everybody should be put in school. So our group started. We called it Asha. Since we were hoping to provide education to poor children, we thought we could do it by raising money.
My friend Deepak Gupta (presently a professor at IIT Kanpur) joined. Deepak was more sensible, always. By the first year we were already supporting five projects. Right now we have 35 chapters in the U.S. and we have raised over $1.2 million in 10 years and supported over 225 projects.
However, when I returned to India, I got disillusioned with Asha. I started working with the laborer population in Vilaspuri in Kanpur. This was after I had joined IIT Kanpur as a faculty member. This was 1993. There was already a movement going on in campus for minimum wage for the construction workers, and Deepak had already been there and told people about Asha, and as soon as I reached these people contacted me. An IIT physics professor, his son, they told me they were running a campaign, we have formed a cooperative of workers, and we want workers to get their contracts directly from IIT, instead of having to go through the contractor. They wanted me to become part of the movement, and it seemed natural for me to join, because their cause seemed rational and just.
So I gave up pant, bush shirt, started wearing kurta pyjama, started participating in their protests, demonstrations. In 1993 I went on a fast demanding their rights.
I created all sorts of problems in IIT. I said I will not work in my research area, which was control systems, which has direct application in defense. I changed my research focus to biogas, because that can only benefit human beings. I did not have any academic background in that area, so I requested two other faculty members at IIT to help me. The authorities were angry about this. When the Barbri Masjid demolition took place in December 1992, I was part of relief efforts and took students with me. We were performing street plays against communalism.
Initially the head of my department had told me they would not bother what I was doing as long as I taught properlyand I did thatbut I started questioning more and more things. The final straw for them was the fast I took. There was a contract for Rs. 800,000 for whitewashing and the workers’ cooperative was saying that they would like to have it, and they had filed their tender application. The administration refused to give the coop the contract. Our bid was lowest. The administration was worried about a trade union movement. They prevented us from bidding, throwing a bunch of bureaucratic rules at us. After my fast, I was called by my head of the department. He said that I had to be like other professors and confine myself to teaching and research, or I have to be out. I was given one semester to rectify my ways. Anyway, I had to leave.
I went to Ballia in U.P., to a village of my grandparents. It is a rural area, 28 km outside Ballia city. I had by this time visited every grassroots movement and experimentAnna Hazare, Baba Amte and Medha Patkar. I had visited RSS experiments, I had visited Shankar Guha Niyogi’s movement in Chhattisgarh. Ultimately I decided to go on my own. Because I realized that if I had to conduct some experiment, it would have to be in an independent setting. I had some ideas about what I wanted to do with education. My grandparents were supportive.
Then I started forming my group and started to work. When I went to Narmada Valley in 1994 I met Arundhatimy future wife. My group in Ballia was also called Asha. Initially we tried to involve everybody in the education experiment, but now we are into other things also, like cooperative farming and women’s tailoring program.
Initially it was about education, though. I had all these ideas about how education should be more joyful, how we should not have exams. We don’t conduct exams. We have our own evaluation process, where every child is evaluated independently. We don’t give marks. There was a lot of resistance from the conventional teachers. So it took us quite some time to convince people of our ideas.
I can certainly say that in my system a child may not be very good academically, but the amount of confidence they acquire, and the general overall personality development is better than conventional schools.
Now we have a lot more activities besides education. Bee-keeping is our most successful activity. Asha has its own training program in bee-keeping outside Varanasi. We make chyawanprash, we have a health care program, we have a doctor who goes to the village. We are forming a village fund where everybody contributes 10 rupees per month, so that they can have their own fund and not go to the moneylender. We try to solve the village disputes within the village, so that people don’t get trapped in the court system.
My transition to more political causes started soon after I went back to India. I started working with laborers’ children in Kanpur and I realized that mainstream education system was not a universal answer to everybody. In fact, the education system was only meant to discriminate and filter out only certain type of people with certain skills who were needed to be IAS officers and engineers and doctors.
Then I slowly started thinking about issues, and my marriage to Arundhati was certainly the most crucial factor. She was already in the Narmada movement for 10 years when I met her.
Initially my role was supportive. For instance, I would help Medha when she was in Delhi. After the nuclear tests in 1998, we decided to question its rationale. We were quite shocked the way everybody was celebrating. Even somebody like my motherwho never taught me violence she was supporting the idea of having a nuclear bomb because we had to take on Pakistan.
I and Arundhati decided to go to a meeting on Hiroshima day. The meeting was very successful. But we realized that we were essentially talking to the converted. So we decided to take a peace march which would give us a real chance to interact with people.
We took out the march to mark the anniversary of the nuclear blasts. We went from Pokhran to Sarnath. We started May 11, 1999 and ended in August 6. We walked 1,500 kilometers. It took us 88 days. Continuously there were only three people including myself, but overall, about 250 people came. At any given time, the maximum number of people was 60. Our experience was that in the beginning of the meeting everybody would be pro-weapon, but when you started talking and had a good decision for two, three hours, in the end everybody would get convinced, unless they were very clearly associated with the RSS, BJP. Our march was stopped in two places, and stones were thrown at us in one place. Elsewhere, the hospitality was great. I realized that India has this great tradition of people going on marches, mostly for religious reasons, so you are seen as doing something very sacred. We did not have to spend anything on food.
Sometimes I jokingly say that after the marching I have been flying. This is my third foreign trip since the march. The way it happened was that after the march I got involved at the national level in the nuclear disarmament movement. I got invited by anti nuclear activist and author Praful Bidwai to Sweden for a conference. Because of Admiral Ramdas, I got to make a trip with two Pakistani peace activists to Bangladesh and Nepal. One of the two Pakistanis was Zia Miah, a Princeton physicist whom I met for the first time in February. He started asking me why I don’t come to Princeton and work with them.
A bunch of scientistsmostly physicistsare here, and they call this the Center for Energy and Environmental Study. All of them without exception have taken a stand against nuclear weapons and nuclear energy.
The most interesting aspect about this was supposed to be an institute for defense strategy and war planning and it was shut down after the protests during the Vietnam war.
I have definitely gained from my visit. As an activist you are actually relying on rhetoric, it was a stand more as a pacifist. Now I have also begun to understand some of the technical issues involvedlike how much uranium and plutonium India and Pakistan have, and how many bombs they can produce and what is the state of readiness, and what would it involve if India and Pakistan were to go for nuclear disarmament, how would they go about doing it.
The peace movement is bringing Indian and Pakistani people of goodwill much closer. A recent visit of Pakistani children to Lucknow was unbelievable, everywhere they went, they were treated like VIPs, and everybody wanted to have them over.
After I go back I will continue to work for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace. Besides that, my work for the less privileged continues, as it always will.
Interested readers can reach Sandeep by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sandeep got his PhD in mechanical
Citibank CEO Victor Menezes, who is also head of emerging markets business for Citigroup, Aug. 13 inaugurated the FLEXCUBE Center of Learning at the I-Flex facility in Bangalore.
The center will focus on providing I-Flex’s financial institution customers and partners access to a comprehensive curricula and intensive training programs in both banking operations and technology platforms. It will also offer courses on various banking operations such as retail banking, risk management, trade finance, securities processing as well as technology platforms such as Windows 2000, Unix and Oracle.
In his inaugural speech, Menezes said I-Flex Solutions had established itself as a leading provider of packaged applications to global institutions. It was also a glowing example to other Indian software companies.
I-Flex Solutions chairman Rajesh Hukku said the center was particularly relevant in the context of FLEXCUBE being the choice of more than 80 financial institutions across 36 countries within just three years of its launch.
State government-owned Keltron and Bill Junction, an initiative of ICICI, signed an agreement Aug. 13 for introducing electronic bill presentations and payment service of recurring bills in the city in Thiruvananthapuram..
Regular payments of electricity, water, telephone, mobile phones, credit cards and insurance bills, among other things, can be made through the new system, which will be available from December.
The agreement was signed by industries secretary and Keltron managing director Ajay Kumar and Bikramjit Sen, chief operating officer, Bill Junction, in the presence of Industries Minister P.K. Kunhalikutty.
Delhi-based 1.2-billion-rupee technology giant Agilent Technologies has announced the launching of a state-of-the-art telecommunications and networking laboratory, the first of its kind in India, at the University Institute of Technology under Burdwan University.
In addition to mark Kolkata’s emergence as the country’s fastest-growing technology hub, Agilent has also set up its first and the only research and development center in the country in the Salt Lake area here with an investment of over Rs. 30 million, mostly for purchasing sophisticated instruments.j
Agilent Technologies president Kewal Khanna said about 400 B-tech, M-Tech and Ph.D students would be admitted every year to the networking laboratory’s electronics, communications and computer science courses to conduct critical examinations in the fields of microwave engineering, lightwave technology and satellite communications.
The experiments would focus on modulation, transmission and detection of radio frequencies and computer networking among others using fiber optic cables.
The project cost Agilent nearly Rs. 10 million. Khanna said the grant would go a long way in facilitating quality education and advance research in the fields of science and technology for students from the backward regions.
On why Burdwan University was chosen for the setting up of such a sophisticated program, Khanna said apart from providing all infrastructural support and the entire faculty, they took the maximum interest.
The Agilent chief said a similar proposal had come from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur, and preliminary discussions were on before embarking on it.
Lycos India, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lycos Asia, said to be the largest Internet network in Asia, has announced a strategic partnership with Bollywood Stock Exchange, one of the popular destinations for entertainment and gaming on the World Wide Web.
The alliance will bring together two leading Internet players with complementing strengths and provide netizens in India with a site offering online entertainment, a Lycos release said.
For many ambitious infotech professionals, life is beginning to seem like a big hangover. The meteoric rise of dot-coms has been followed by an equally spectacular debacle, and as information technology heavyweights reel from the downturn and slash jobs, more than a few people are wondering whether this is a good time to consider a change of career.
Well, guess what? Insurance giant Prudential Financial is looking for South Asians to help them crack the South Asian market. The company is a canny observer of the business scene, and it recently made an impressive pitch to woo the best and brightest South Asians at a career information session in San Jose, Calif., July 28.
Of course, there’s a lot more to Prudential than insurance. Prudential serves millions of individual and institutional customers worldwide and offers a variety of products and services, including life insurance, property and casualty insurance, mutual funds, annuities, pension and retirement related services and administration, asset management, securities brokerage, real estate brokerage franchising and relocation services for companies.
Prudential serves its individual and institutional customers in over 30 foreign countries.
As of December 31, 2000, Prudential had more than $371 billion in assets under management and over $1 trillion of life insurance in force.
The 125-year-old company is one of the largest life insurance companies in the U.S. and one of the largest financial institutions in the world.
The company’s multicultural market director Anthony Pilone was on hand to talk about career prospects with Prudential. Pilone said Prudential’s motto was simple: “Grow wealth, protect wealth.”
The financial services field, he said, was recession and depression-proof, unlike technology markets. While there were various kinds of companies out there who provided various services, Prudential was a full-service provider, a one-stop shop comprehensive mix of advice and products, he said.
Prudential is particularly interested in the South Asian market, because it realizes how the community has grown and prospered. It is trying to increase its visibility in the community by helping to sponsor events. It has recently sponsored the India Festival 2001 in Santa Clara, Calif., the Indian medical doctors’ major event AAPI convention, and has given $100,000 for Diwali festivities in New York.
Prudential hopes to use its strategy of upper middle-class market penetration in the South Asian communitytargeting people with annual income of $100,000 or morewith a focus on insurance and long-term investment products rather than short-term savings, and it plans to retain customers by using advice-based financial services with long-term relationships. Unlike other companies, Pilone said Prudential shuns quantity-focused strategy and prefers a quality-focused strategy for the upscale market, and need-based selling.
So exactly what kind of job was Prudential offering?
Prudential calls it a Financial Services Associate, where an accepted candidate would participate in a special, two-year salary plus bonus-based career development program.
Their career development program introduces an applicant to a financial services career that is founded on a relationship-based sales approach and strengthened by in-depth product knowledge. Financial Services Associates participate in this 2-year salary-plus-bonus-based career development program, offering insurance and investments to help clients meet their financial goals.
After successful completion of the Financial Services Associate program, many will continue to be financial services generalists, advising clients on a range of insurance and investment need, others will go on to develop a specialty such as fee-based financial planning, insurance for business needs, or estate planning.
Prudential gives extensive training in the program. “The best classroom training is an integral part of Prudential’s development process,” say the company. “But so is the job hands-on. Our Financial Services Associates learn and grow through structured one-on-one training. Paired with a manager, financial services, who serves as your trainer and coach, you’ll learn to understand how to build and manage productive relationshipsand what your clients will expect from you. You’ll attend client appointments jointly, evaluate client needs, and discuss potential solutions.”
An FSA’s responsibilities include creating a business plan, gathering client information, determining a client’s needs, exploring alternatives and options and implementing product solutions.
Pilone said the best way to get started is to begin with the base market. He said the base market consists of the first 200 people one knows. That will produce 100 interviews; 100 interviews will produce 350 referrals; referrals will lead to 75 sales. Sales will yield 400 additional referrals, and base market referral activity will add to 150 sales per year.
If this has started your entrepreneurial juices flowing, you can get in touch with Prudential. Of course, it’s competitive, only four out of 100 applicants are accepted, and the company is looking for people who are knowledgeable about insurance and investment products, market-savvy, strategic thinkers, technology proficient and superior relationship builders.
Piyush Kaul is freelance writer.
Add to that the advantages of having an ally like USPS, which delivers everywhere, and is the only universal mail service in the U.S.
Overnite Express promises delivery to all US destinations, including post office box addresses, and says from Delhi it will take 4-5 days. Deliveries will be on Saturdays as well, and confirmation will be available on its Web site.
Anjali Parekh is a freelance writer
PIN-free India Calling
Enticing New Offer By Urvanshi Majmundar
A phone company is offering the cheap rates of phone cards without the hassle of dialing long PIN codes, claiming it gives huge savings over the well-known long-distance phone companies, writes Urvashi Majmundar.
Value Communications Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Rediff.com India and a leading provider of long distance calling services, announced the launch of VC Direct, its direct long distance service which now allows consumers to call overseas without the hassles of a phone card.
The long distance market to South Asia is divided into two categories: prepaid phone cards and direct-dial carriers. Value Communications Corporation promises to beat the prices offered by direct-dial carriers with an extremely aggressive pricing plan, while maintaining the simplicity and high quality of direct dialing. Consumers will now be able to dial to over 200 international destinations without the hassle of a calling card or PIN numbers using the newly launched VC Direct service.
The offer is compelling. There are several plans a customer may choose from depending on their needs. A caller to India, for example, can get connected to any city for just 39.9 cents a minute, all-inclusive, on the national plan, or 29.9 cents to certain specific cities on the city plan. There are no additional charges. Yet direct-dial companies typically charge multiple additional fees and taxes over and above their advertised rates.
Commenting on the new service, company CEO Arvind J. Singh, said, “This is a truly innovative product in response to the needs of the South Asian consumer in the United States. It stems from our undying belief that we need to provide our customer significant savings, ease of use and ultimate flexibility in calling. That, to us, is true value.
“The South Asian customer is very discerning. They are smart, and always know a good deal when they see one. We need to reach out to them as we have attempted to over the last five years.”
Urvashi Majmundar is a freelance writer.
Many of today’s young workers don’t recognize the value of Social Security in their lives. They’re more likely to think of their Social Security taxes only as buying into a retirement program that’s many years into their future. But there’s more to Social Security than retirement benefits.
It’s never too early to start planning for retirement. But it’s also important that young workers realize their Social Security taxes make them and certain family members eligible for disability and survivor benefits during their working lives.
We never know what’s ahead of us. Disability can happen at any age. For example, the latest Social Security statistics show that about 200,000 workers under age 25 are disabled and receiving Social Security disability benefits. And about 1.5 million workers between 25-35 years of age are receiving disability benefits.
Survivors benefits are also there to help the young worker’s family if he or she dies. Nearly 5 million children under age 18 are receiving monthly Social Security benefits today because one or both of their parents are disabled or dead.
One of the best features about Social Security is that it’s portable. No matter how many times a worker changes jobs throughout their working lifetime their Social Security record follows them from job to job. This is rarely the case with company pensions and benefits. Another important feature workers often overlook is that employers match their contributions to Social Security dollar for dollar.
How can workers learn about Social Security and what it means to them and their families? A good start is to read the Social Security Statement they receive each year about three months before their birthday. The Statement, which lists their earnings record and Social Security taxes paid, also provides estimates of benefits workers and their families may be eligible to receive now and in the future. For more information about Social Security, visit www.ssa.gov or call 1-800-772-1213.
- Cal Gee works in public relations in the
- Subhash Bagga is a volunteer for
In a colorful event featuring a folk dance competition by high school students, organizers recognized youth excellence and reaffirmed the Indian-American community’s committment to the next generation.
The community is well known for the high priority it gives to the development of its youth; The results were evident in the highly competitive event where award winners had formidable academic records and most were headed to top U.S. universities.
Top cash prizes went for academic achievement: First, second and third prizes were $2,000, $1,000 and $500 respectively. The prizes in the other three categories were $500, $250 and $125. Future contestants can visit the organizations Web site at www.tiaf.org.
MDRT is an international, independent association of more than 24,000 of the world’s best insurance and financial services professionals from around 65 nations. Members demonstrate exceptional product knowledge, strict ethical conduct and outstanding client service. Consequently, MDRT membership is internationally recognized as the standard of sales excellence in the life insurance and financial services business.
Bajoria is a registered representative with MetLife Financial Services.
Gupta was born in Kolkata in 1929 to industrialist and banker Ram Chandra Tijoriwala and Imrati Devi. After graduating from Presidency College, he spent a successful career as an accountant and industrialist in India before he moved to Grand Rapids, Mich.
He started his career in 1957 as an articled clerk for K.N. Gutgutia and Co. He joined the Empire Jute Company, a large manufacturing plant producing packaging materials with over 3,000 employees, in 1964 as an accountant and rose to become CEO and co-owner later.
He moved to the U.S. in 1984, after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and started his own print shop in Grand Rapids and later moved to South San Francisco after he retired.
He was the director of a slew of Indian companies and a trustee for charitable organizations. He was editor and director of Sanmarg, a leading Hindi daily, published from Kolkata. He was a trained chartered accountant and had a law degree.
He was a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, an associate member of the British Institute of Management, London; Association of International Accountants, London; fellow of the Institute of Commerce, London.
He had also passed his exams for Tax Preparer’s License in California and has acted as a Notary Public.
He is survived by his wife Shanti, three sons, daughters-in-law, one daughter, son-in-law, three grand sons, three grand daughters and a great grand son. All live in the U.S.
About 12 miles west of Redding, Calif., lies the small burg with the strange name. One of those “if you blink, it’s gone” backcountry towns. Just outside of Igo is the wonderfully named Zogg Mine Road that seemingly leads nowhere. Narrow, potholed, as curvaceous as San Francisco’s Lombard Street, it actually leads to one of California’s most unique bed-and-breakfast, Brigadoon Castle.
Named after a German émigré who made a fortune mining for gold in the area, Zogg Road and its lead-in Placer Road are the consummate roads to check out Lexus’ new motoring exotica. Placer Road begins in the center of Redding heading west to Igo. Six miles later the wide, smoothly paved road becomes a fast, sinuous series of sweeping curves and bends. At Igo we turn right onto Zogg Mine Road and spend the next five miles challenged by a seemingly non-stop labyrinthine narrow country road.
Powered by a 300 horsepower, 4.3-liter, 4-cam, 32-valve V8 with Toyota-derived Continuously Variable Valve Timing (VVT-i), the SC 430 is muscle with the grace of a ballet dancer that tames the likes of Zogg. Driving the SC 430 on such snaky backcountry roads is like watching a pat of butter slip and slide on a hot Teflon grill. Yet the feel of the road and car is palpable at the fingertips, the feet and the seat of your pants. The sports-tuned suspension artfully ingests the cragged macadam and potholes with no loss of integrity. Created at Toyota’s European design center, the SC 430 is continental suave with Bavarian panache.
You arrive at the gated entry of Brigadoon Castle with a smile on your face and a burgeoning respect for one of the best European luxury/performance cars built in Japan. The automatic gate opens and your first view of the Brigadoon landscape is a large and quiet pool, filled with fat trout and a spouting fountain in the middle. A few more turns up the entry road and there on the high end of the road sits a real castle, overwhelming with its ivy-covered walls, slate turrets and massive oak door.
Built in 1982 by a Redding physician and his wife, they lived in it until 1996 when its current owner, Geri MacCallum, purchased it and turned it into arguably the most unique bed and breakfast inn to be found anywhere in America. The interior is a wonderlandsome say a fairylandof beautifully warm and inviting rooms such as the Great Hall with its 30-foot high vaulted ceiling, Appalachian white oak paneling and floor to ceiling windows.
Brigadoon Castle offers two charming bedrooms and a large suite, each with its own decor and all with private baths. The rooms are all comfortably appointed, with large beds, colorful comforters and Italian marble baths. Across from the quiet pool, embraced by trees and lush greenery, is the 2-story cottage with a four-poster bed beneath an airy skylight. The downstairs living area features a handsome stone fireplace and tartan plaid sofa.
As you might suspect, Brigadoon Castle is not for everyone, set deep in this remote corner of the North State. It is a total “get away from it all” hideaway with deep and lush forestry, a musical Clear Creek burbles nearby and an outdoor hot tub sits high among the trees above the castle. Because Geri serves only breakfast, most guests bring their own food they can prepare in her state-of-the-art kitchen.
But, we’re here doing double duty. Reporting on the intriguing Brigadoon Castle and the equally enchanting Lexus SC 430. And I can think of no better location to test such a remarkable automobile than the country skirting the Trinity Alps. For starters we turned out to Platina Road and headed west skirting towns with such marvelous names as Hayfork, Peanut, Knob and Beegum. Our target was Weaverville and the Joss House State Historic Park.
Much of joy these roads gave us is the synergy of driver and car attributed to the 5-speed automatic transmission with Intelligence (ECT-1) and manual shift override. With the manual override shifter the challenging roads are yours to command. The front and back double-wishbone independent suspension is solid, firm and comfortable. All this sophistication beneath the sheetmetal is complimented by an alphabet soup of helpmates such as 4-wheel anti-lock brakes (ABS), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), Traction Control (TC), Vehicle Skid Control (VSC) and Brake Assist (BA). And yes, if you’re wondering, the SC 430 is rear-wheel-drive.
With only three stand-alone options available, the SC 430 comes fully equipped with no assembly needed. The options are run-flat tires ($400), spoiler ($440) and the Navigation System ($2,000). Ours came with spoiler only and we found that perfectly fine.
Saying goodbye to our captivating hostess, Geri, and the equally bewitching Brigadoon Castle is not easy. When the automatic gate silently swings open it is much like Alice returning from the other side of the looking glass. There was little conversation as we cruised down I-5, back in the real world. Even the Lexus SC 430 seemed too good to be true.
Al Auger, our automotive editor has been writing about cars for over 30 years.
Bollywood: | Guftugu | Hindi Film Review |
She certainly won’t be the first to lead the way for siblings to enter Bollywood. Shilpa Shetty has brought in sis Shamita, Padmini Kolhapure has made the path easier for sis Tejaswini and who can forget Kareena, the adored sis of Bollywood queen Karisma?
Ashmit, though, has quite a lot more going for him than just sis Amisha. He is quite a hunk, towers at over six feet, and has eyes that speak volumes. Chances are, Amisha is going to be a very happy sis, huh?
To Greater Glory
Well, our new sensation is not one to let the grass grow under his feet. Rumor has it that Farhan is already busy planning his next new venture, and guess who he is roping in for the main role? It’s Bollywood heartthrob Hrithik Roshan, no less.
Talks are still going on, and nothing is final, but with even fastidious star Aamir Khan also quite impressed, there can be no doubt that this young fella is going to go a long, long way. And it’s not a moment too soon. Lord knows Bollywood badly needs fresh ideas to hold its own in a globalizing world.
Which might be just the thing the doctor ordered for poor Aseem, who has been haunted by tragic suicides in the family.
But don’t think it’s all play and no work for the beautiful Chopra. Unlike the tough initial challenge faced by previous beauty queens Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai, Priyanka has been very savvy in getting her foot in tinseltown. She has already signed a film with cuddly comedian hero Govinda. Now all she needs to do is to show Bollywood and the world that she can act.
Well, not so fast. Madhuri fans, rejoice. She is still one of the most sought after stars, and watch out for her soon to be released films Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke and Rajkumar Santoshi’s Lajja. This is one talented woman who still has a lot to offer Bollywood and her million fans.
Well, now he is moving to Star Plus, where he will do a weekly show and it is called, aptly enough, Simply Shekhar.
In the meantime, his acting career is beginning to look better, and he will play nine rolesyes, you read that rightin a David Dhawan film. His Simply Shekhar show will begin with a bang, too. How can it be anything but a crowd-puller when his first guests are the redoubtable rustic populist leader Lalu Prasad Yadav and his better half and Bihar Chief Minister Rabri Devi? Maybe Shekhar will have the last laugh, after all.
The poor kid is finding out the hard way how talent alone will not take you to the top. Film making is a composite art, you need a good director, decent script, top-notch production values, and even then you have to pray that movie buffs like your film.
Abhishek’s Refugee held a lot of promise, but then things have been going downhill. Abhishek made a few bad moves. For instance, he removed himself from an Abbas Mustan film to please Yash Johar, who dropped him.
Meanwhile, the box office has brought even more bad news. Bas Itna Sa Khwab Hai has sunk like a lead balloon and Shararat’s release has been postponed.
Now directors and producers are deserting him in droves. And the poor kid is wondering what the heck went wrong.
Our advice is simple: Keep your cool, Abhishek. Everyone knows you can act, and remember, the number of stars who struggled and were written off in the beginning, and yet persevered and ultimately made it in Bollywood, is legion. With a bit of patience, you can join their ranks, too.
Hindi Film Review
Over the past decades, there is no question that Bollywood has come quite a distance in terms of production values. In fact, one can go back as far as Sholay to note how Bollywood film makers had been successful in creating an engaging visual spectacle.
However, it was in the substance, the story telling and the values that Bollywood seemed reluctant to jettison hackneyed sentiment and Neanderthal values. Think of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayengeexquisitely photographed in Switzerland it may have been, but the pathos and values it evoked were of rural rustic Punjab: A stern patriarch whose patriotism blends unpleasantly with sexist tyranny.
Times have changed, though. With satellite television and videos, it is no longer as easy to hoodwink audiences, and Bollywood had a rude awakening this year before Lagaan and Gadar when Mumbai’s cinemas were littered with the corpses of slickly made vapid potboilers which richly deserved a quick death at the box office.
Lagaan and Gadar were like a breath of fresh airfar from perfect, mind youbut nevertheless intelligent attempts at telling stories set in a historical period, and the wondrous thing about it is that the care shown by the film makers has paid off handsomely.
Dil Chahta Hai is something else again. It is, by Bollywood standards, an unusually sophisticated piece of storytelling that tells a story of three young men, their friendships and their relationships with great flair and wit.
Siddhartha (Akshaye Khanna) is contemplative, Akash (Aamir Khan) is a bohemian and Sameer (Saif Ali Khan) is a skirt-chaserthe three are also inseparable, close friends. Wealthy, hip, but also to some degree vulnerable as they navigate through the rites of passage to adulthood.
Siddhartha befriends a depressed divorcee Tara (Dimple Kapadia) whom he loves, but Tara shuts him out, though she remains his friend. Siddhartha goes off to a remote hill station to paint. Akash goes to Australia to tend to business, Sameer keeps getting into trouble with women. A Swiss woman dumps him and then he chases a woman with who already has a boyfriend.
The film follows the rollercoaster romantic developments of the three characters and the shadows it casts on the friendship of these three youths.
Yet this skeletal summary doesn’t do justice to the superb execution of the film. In the amazingly skilled hands of debutant director Farhan, the four sub-plotsthree love stories and the tale of their friendshipis deftly woven together in a warm, wittythe dialogues are wondrously funny at timestale where humanity and tenderness shine.
Deftly etched characters give the main characters an excellent opportunity to show their stuff, and Aamir, Akshay and Saif step up to the plate to give some of the best performances of their careers.
What makes this film remarkable is its confident and refreshing avoidance of the hoary old chestnuts that are stock sequences in Bollywood fareno tearjerker melodrama with cloying pathos here, or pointless, contrived mayhem. It’s just a very plausible tale of three upper middle-class youths, their joys, sorrows, love and despair, told with superb, sophisticated cinematic style.
The production values add considerably to the film’s appeal. The photography is exquisiteSydney steals your heart. The music matches the hip, Western approach of the film quite well, and the sets are done with great flair. All individuals with responsibility in these department deserve unreserved praise, but the greatest credit must go to the confident debutant who shows such enormous promisea film is at the end of the day the director’s baby.
Farhan Akhtar has dared to tread where many seasoned directors don’tin fact, there are already rumblings among some critics that the film is too sophisticated and urbane for mass tastes. The point has almost certainly been raised when he was making the film, but more power to this intrepid debutant director who had the courage of his convictions and respect for his craft. He decided to make intelligent cinema, and who knows? The movie-buff may prove all his naysayers wrong.
Rating: **** (Superior)
Tamil Film Review:
The story goes like this: Dhanushkodi (Raghuvaran) holds district collector Ramnathan (Vijaykumar) responsible for the death of his only son at the hands of a forest brigand and plans to retaliate by killing Ramnathan’s son Santhosh. But Ramnathan pre-empts any such action by secretly sending his son abroad. It is twenty years since, and the scene shifts to the present day. Ramnathan makes yearly trips abroad to meet his son. Dhanushkodi’s goons keep trailing him each time, but are apparently unable to discover his destination and the whereabouts of Santhosh. Ramnathan, meanwhile, hits on an idea to find a fall guy who will pose as his long-lost son. Dhanushkodi would definitely kill him, and then Ramnathan could get his real son back to India. Ramnathan zeroes in on Murthy, a jailbird. A reluctant Murthy (Prashanth) agrees, when he discovers that his ladylove Preithy (Jyotika) is Ramnathan’s niece and staying in the same house too. Dhanushkodi, as expected, makes many attempts to kill Murthy, and as expected, fails each time. Matters are made worse when Santhosh, the real son, an alcoholic and a drug addict (Pravinkanth) lands in India in search of his parents. After a few more listless scenes, Santhosh is killed and the lovers are reunited.
Rahman, probably knowing the worth of the script, has handed over the old tunes he had composed for a Hindi film. An artist can rarely rise above a bad script. Consequently Prashanth’s attempts to infuse some life through fight scenes and dance numbers turn futile. Jyotika’s expressions are becoming repetitive. One feels sorry for Raghuvaran. All his attempts to look menacing are marred by the shabby longhaired wig he sports, which makes him look more like a scarecrow.
Grind into a thick paste in a blender.
Add onions, green chillies, coconut powder and salt.
Mix and make into small doughnut shapes.
Deep-fry in oil.
Serve hot with chutney.
Seema Gupta is a homemaker
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