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Exclusive: Indian origin Singapore-based producer of Award-winning film says Mithila Makhaan is just the beginning

Mithila Makhaan is the first Maithili language film to win National Award for the Best Feature Film. Samir's production house Ashwatha Tree Pvt Ltd in Singapore provides quality entertainment that inspires and brings about social change.

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National Award for Mithila Makhaan. Image source: NewsGram
NewsGram presents an exclusive tête-à-tête with the cast and crew of this year’s National Award winning Maithili film, Mithila Makhaan. In the first part of the series, Shillpi A Singh caught up with the movie’s Singapore-based producer Samir Kumar. Read on as he takes you to the magic of the moment on a glorious night, and shares his dreams of tomorrow and the wind of change that is blowing wild and free to give wings to the regional cinema, taking it many notches higher.
Ages ago, the Bard had said, “What’s in a name?” Perhaps, there’s a lot. A name adds certain qualities and values that a person inevitably happens to live with all through his life. And it is true for Singapore-based Samir Kumar whose first name when translated in Hindi means the wind. And he is living up to his name by bringing along a refreshing change in the world of regional cinema. A technocrat turned bureaucrat, he is currently an investment banker with a leading multinational bank in the Lion City.

Producer of the film Samir Kumar. Image source: NewsGram
Producer of the film Samir Kumar. Picture by SnR Dance&Events for NewsGram

A passionate movie buff, he has also forayed into film production. His production house’s debut outing, Mithila Makhaan, has won the National Award for the Best Feature Film in the Maithili language, a first of its kind honour for a regional language film from the twin states of Bihar and Jharkhand. Ecstatic and overwhelmed at this honour, he said, “It was great to receive the National Award. I had the privilege to speak to the Hon’ble President on the dais. I told him that this was the first Maithili film to win an award. And he politely responded, ‘Yes, I know’. The President wished me good luck. His kind words are still ringing in my ears. This recognition is our biggest motivation; it has raised the bar for all of us and we would keep up the good work in our future endeavours.”
A Good Start, A Good Beginning
Born in Bihar’s capital, Patna, Samir grew up in Sasaram, the second most literate city in the state, completing his studies till Class 12 from the state Board there. A brilliant student, he cleared the tough entrance exam and entered the hallowed portals of India’s top-notch technological institute, the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, in 1997. After completing his undergraduate degree in mining with top grades from IIT-Kgp, he was engaged as a Consultant with the Ministry of Coal, Government of India, for a short stint. From there, he moved on to pursue a management course at the premier management college, the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, in 2002. Armed with the best of degrees, Samir was flooded with offers from companies, both in India and abroad. He chose to work overseas for a while but the best of monetary compensation could not lure him to stay there for long; he yearned to do something for his motherland. Samir returned to India in 2009 to take the Civil Services exam for he thought it would give him an opportunity to make a difference at the grassroots level. The global exposure in his previous assignments stood him in good stead and he cleared UPSC exams in the first attempt itself, but the bureaucratic tag wasn’t enough to hold him to the coveted position for long. Realising that the allied service would not provide him with the kind of opportunities that he was looking for to serve the country, he put in his papers in 2010. “The wind then moved to foreign shores, and for good,” he laughed, fondly reminiscing how he moved to Singapore after dabbling in bureaucracy for a while. Today he is the Director of an international bank in the island state.
Reel-ty Check
He established his production house Ashwatha Tree Pvt Ltd in Singapore to provide quality entertainment that inspires and brings about social change. It may come as a surprise to many that the firm is owned and funded by Samir from his hard-earned income. “Every penny spent by Ashwatha Tree is well accounted. While making the film, I made it a point to keep the accounts clear by making all the financial dealings, big or small, through cheque. It was quite unusual for the industry. But that is how I wanted it. So it was,” he said.
It is the first Maithili film to be extensively shot in the US, Canada, India and Nepal. “There were certain budgetary constraints and operational challenges while making the film, but as they say, all is well that ends well. The Award has made us forget all the lows that we encountered en route our dream of making a sleek movie in Maithili,” said the filmmaker. The film has been produced by Neetu Chandraa’s Champaran Talkies and Samir’s Ashwatha Tree and co-produced by Illuminant Films.
The Dream Seller
But what prompted him to foray into films? “I am a financial markets trader by the day and a film producer by night,” he said with a chuckle. He quickly added, “I am passionate about making movies. I have been learning the nuances of digital film-making as a hobby. Nitin Neera Chandra is a dear friend. I met him two years ago. We bonded well as two of us have common interests — to do something meaningful for the region from where we hail. One thing led to another and Mithila Makhaan happened. And today here we are with the Award in our hand.”
Apart from bagging the National Award for its first Maithili film, Ashwatha Tree has also produced a Hindi film, Once Upon a Time in Bihar, which was a remake of the award-winning Bhojpuri film Deswa. Chandra directed the film starring Ashish Vidyarthi, Pankaj Jha, Arti Puri, Kranti Prakash Jha and Deepak Singh in the lead roles and it was released last year.
Talking about his association with Samir, Chandra said, “I was ready with the story of Mithila Makhaan in 2012 but failed miserably in scouting for financiers. Samir was the first one to come on-board and readily agreed to invest money in this film. I will always be grateful to him for believing in me and my vision.”
It’s Made in India
The award-winning Maithili film is an honest attempt to make a good film in a regional language that is spoken by millions across Bihar, neighbouring Nepal and many other countries of the world. “The film showcases the best of Maithili culture and encourages entrepreneurial spirit among the youth of the region and in a way promotes the idea of Make in India. The Mithilanchal region in Bihar is famous for the Madhubani paintings. It is the largest producer of fox nuts and betel leaves, and a meal for Maithils is incomplete without a generous helping of fish, all of which are an integral part of the Maithili culture,” said Samir.
Big Screen Outing   
The film that stars Pankaj Jha, Anurita Jha and Kranti Prakash Jha has been written and directed by Nitin Neera Chandra and is all set to hit the theatres in September this year. About the plot, he said, “Mithila Makhaan is the story of a young entrepreneur Kranti Prakash, who is based in the downtown financial district of Toronto, miles away from his mother and motherland. On his mother’s insistence, he returns to his native village Darbhanga, Bihar, after 23 years to perform a family ritual. But he is shocked to find that a lot has changed, and not for the good. The Kosi deluge of 2008 has devastated his village. The turn of events during his stay in the village changes his life forever. It is a story of the astute young man’s grit and determination to bring a change in the region, instil pride in the younger generation and revive its glorious past.”

Film Poster. Image source: NewsGram
Film Poster. Image source: NewsGram

Cinema Wise
In some measures, regional cinema often gets a step-motherly treatment from the film-goers and filmmakers alike. The language is spoken and understood by millions, but all those people seldom watch a film in the regional language. This apathy affects the box-office collection. The returns are often minimal as compared to the investments. The lack of infrastructural support for small and medium budget filmmakers has created an unsustainable environment for regional cinema to flourish, especially in Bihar, he said. The other obstacles are online availability of films, piracy, poor marketing and apathy of multiplexes, all of which act as spoilers. But the wind of change is blowing straight into the face of time for regional films in Bihar and Jharkhand. “This movie aims to change that popular perception. It is a baby step in the right direction,” he said.
Future Perfect
The production house is busy with Mithila Makhaan’s release later this year. “But apart from this, there are a few regional language and Hindi films in the pipeline. The team is currently working on those ideas,” he said about his upcoming projects. The filmmaker believes that things are indeed looking up for regional cinema but there is a lot of work to be done to make it popular in the country. He added, “we need good stories, catchy themes that will have an instant connect with the audience, lilting music, soulful lyrics, crisp editing and sharp camera work but all of it set against the backdrop of the twin states with an enviable star cast that will help pull crowds to the theatres.”
On an optimistic note, Samir said, “A closer look at the issues grappling regional cinema in our state can help in setting up a global film industry there. I have submitted a paper to the state government with my thoughts and I am hoping that it is being reviewed.” If it is so, then it will herald good times for regional cinema in twin states that will go a long way in creating meaningful movies from the region.
To cater to the global audience, he has big plans. “The films — Deswa and Once Upon a Time in Bihar — will be available on Muvizz.com, a platform for independent cinema and a boon for cinephiles, in July this year. Mithila Makhaan will also be available there but a little later,” he said.
It’s Trending 
Being the first Maithili film to be feted with the National Award has made people keen and eager to watch Mithila Makhaan on the big screen. “Also, the National Award and its outing at the international film circuits may bring about a welcome change in the way the masses and classes will perceive and receive it,” he said. The film has managed to create the right buzz among the Maithilis across the world. Anupama Jha Kumar, an entrepreneur, model and accomplished classical dancer, who is working for a media company in Singapore, said, “Mithila region is rich in history, customs, food, music, language, literature and art. For Maithils, life is a celebration and this film has given us another reason to rejoice. The film will promote the ancient culture by taking it to a global platform. I am anxiously waiting for its release.”
Livin’ it Up 
A globetrotter, Samir has worked and stayed in different cities but having lived in Singapore for eight years now, he calls the Garden City his second home and has decided to stay put here with his entrepreneur wife Tulika and two lovely children till life takes him someplace else. He has come a long way, traversing the arduous distance from Sasaram to Singapore, but there is no resting on his laurels yet. “The journey has just started. I have miles to go.”
The winds are blowing and Samir is busy harnessing the change and ready to sail off on another adventure. Watch out, world!
In part two of the series, NewsGram catches up with Mithila Makhaan’s Director Nitin Neera Chandra, who has also written  story, screenplay, dialogues for the film. Watch out for this space!
The author can be reached at shilpi.devsingh@gmail.com 
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Rs 10,000 cr will be given to top 10 Universities to make them World-Class, says Prime Minister Narendra Modi

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Wikimedia

Patna, October 14: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday said it was a “blot” that Indian universities do not figure among the top 500 of the world and noted that the government has decided to give autonomy and Rs 10,000 crore to top 10 public and private universities over the next five years to make them world-class

.Addressing the centenary Celebrations of Patna University here in presence of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Modi said Indian universities such as Nalanda and Takshashila attracted students from all over the world.

“We are not among the top 500. We should remove this blot or not. The situation should change through our determination and hard work,” Modi said.

He said the government has come with a scheme to make 10 private and 10 public universities world-class by providing them autonomy from the constraints of government rules and freedom to grow.

“They will be given Rs 10,000 crore in the next five years,” Modi said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the selection will not be on any recommendation. “The universities will be a selected on the basis of a challenge in which they will be required to prove their mettle. The selection will be based on factors such as history, performance and its roadmap reach global benchmarks. A third party professional agency will be involved in the selection process,” Modi said.

Referring to demands for making Patna University a central university, Modi said it should strive to be among the globally-ranked varsity based on the competition and “this was many times ahead of being a central university”.

“Patna University should not stay behind (in the challenge),” he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said reforms in the country’s education sector have progressed at a slow speed and there have been differences among educationists which had hampered innovation with the governments too not measuring up to the task.

The Prime Minister said that for two years he heard arguments for and against granting more autonomy to Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and then a big decision was taken.

“It is for the first time that the IIMs are out of government control and have been professionally opened up. This is a big opportunity for them and they would make the best use,” he said.

Modi said that Patna University was known to produce IAS and IPS officers and in the same manner IIMs are known to produce Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of global companies.

He also urged universities to move from conventional teaching to innovative learning and involve alumni associations more actively.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said 65 per cent of the population of the country was below 35 years in age and the dreams of development can be fulfilled.

“We need to understand the changing trends across the world and the increased spirit of competitiveness. In that context India has to make its place in the world,” Modi said.

He appreciated the efforts Nitish Kumar towards development of the state and said the progress of eastern India is the Centre’s topmost priority.

“The commitment of Nitish Kumar towards the progress of Bihar is commendable. The Centre attaches topmost importance to the development of eastern India,” Modi said.

He said when the country celebrates the 75th anniversary of Independence day in 2022, he wants to see Bihar standing among the list of prosperous states.

Modi also said that many top level officials of civil services are students of Patna University.

“In every state, the top levels of the civil services has people who have studied in Patna University. In Delhi, I interact with so many officials, many of whom belong to Bihar… I consider it my honor to visit Patna University and be among the students. I bow to this land of Bihar. This university has nurtured students who have contributed greatly to the nation.”

He said that Bihar is blessed with both ‘Gyaan’ and ‘Ganga.’ “This land has a legacy that is unique,” he said.(IANS)

One response to “Rs 10,000 cr will be given to top 10 Universities to make them World-Class, says Prime Minister Narendra Modi”

  1. Grant of money alone does not make great institutions of learning, just as making large grand buildings, and setting up large sophisticated laboratories. It is the high ideals, learning & character in honest pursuit of knowledge and service that facilitates to create an atmosphere of pursuing higher & higher knowledge for the sake of welfare of humanity. An the open atmosphere of freely sharing the expertise & experience of seniors with development of young brains is equally important . This aspect has been pointed out by our Prime minister by the involvement of Alumni for the development of great institutions of learning.
    Another aspect that has not received due attention in the field of education in India so far is that we have not addressed properly the question of training and developing teachers of right caliber & character right from nursery and primary school levels of education to postgraduate levels in university in all fields of education i.e. humanities, engineering and medical schools by taking in to consideration present needs of society.
    Another point to note is that the famous All India Institution of Medical Sciences in Delhi was not set up to provide super speciality hospital services to the country, but to develop excellent faculty of teachers in collaboration with Harvard. This objective got lost on the way.

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Halimah Yacob is Singapore’s First Woman President, Elected Without a Vote

"I am a President for everyone," said the newly elected Halimah Yacob, whose post is more representative than executive

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Halimah Yacob
Halimah Yacob who was the only candidate to get eligibility certificate, is now set to be Singapore's next President Wikimedia

Singapore, September 13, 2017 : Halimah Yacob became on Wednesday the first woman President of Singapore, being the only candidate who met the requirements for the presidential elections.

However, Yacob’s selection was overshadowed by criticism that it was undemocratic to give her the top post without a vote. Halimah Yacob, a 63-year-old Muslim of Malay descent, will take her oath of office on Thursday in a ceremony due to be held in Istana, the presidential residence and office, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s office said.

Yacob was the only presidential hopeful among three potential candidates to qualify for the post. This year’s election was reserved for Malay candidates. Two other contenders, businessmen Mohamed Salleh Marican and Farid Khan, did not meet one of the minimum requirements to run, Channel NewsAsia reported.

Yacob, accompanied by her husband and greeted by about 750 supporters, spoke outside the People’s Association building and called for unity in a speech delivered in English and Malay.

“We need every Singaporean to stand together shoulder to shoulder … we have not reached the peak yet and the best is yet to come,” Yacob said, urging citizens to “focus on the similarities that we have and not on the differences.”

In 2016, Singapore’s Parliament approved a constitutional reform which stipulated that the presidential elections would be reserved for one of the ethnicities of the multicultural city-state if no candidate from this group has occupied the post in the previous 30 years.

“I am a President for everyone,” said Halimah Yacob, whose post is more representative than executive.

Yacob was born in 1954 to a Muslim Indian-origin father and a Malay mother.

The mother of five started her political career with the People’s Action Party (PAP), which has been governing the country since 1959, and entered the Parliament in 2001.

She secured her first portfolio in 2011, as State Minister of Community Development, Youth and Sports, and became the Speaker of Parliament in 2013.

In August 2017, Halimah Yacob stepped down as Speaker and resigned from the PAP to be able to run for President. (IANS)

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Lalu Yadav is Shamelessly Corrupt and a Fake Secular

The author Gaurav Tyagi asserts that Lalu’s party RJD, should be disbanded and a life ban should be imposed on Lalu plus his kin from pursuing political careers. Read on to know why!

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Lalu Yadav
Does Lalu Yadav portray himself as the ‘messiah’ of Muslims by aligning with fundamentalist Muslim preachers? Wikimedia


– by Gaurav Tyagi


New Delhi, September 5, 2017 : 
26th July witnessed a big political drama in India, when Nitish Kumar, the C.M. of Bihar submitted his resignation.

The government in Bihar was a coalition of three political parties; Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), Lalu Yadav’s RJD and Congress.

Nitish was back in the C.M’s chair, the very next day due to the support extended to his party, JD (U) by BJP to form the government in Bihar.

The coalition of the aforesaid three parties thereby collapsed, which annoyed Lalu Yadav, the head of RJD a lot.

Lalu Yadav hijacked the plank of secularism to indulge in blatant corruption and promote his family in politics.

Secularism implies the principle of separating government institutions as well as politicians from religion and religious figures. In India the meaning of secularism has entirely been altered by politicians like Lalu, who openly woo Muslim fundamentalists from Mosques and waste government funds in order to appease them.

Lalu keeps on harping upon keeping Muslims safe in Bihar. Maintenance of law and order is the foremost task of any elected government, what’s the big deal in it?

ALSO READ Dynasty syndrome: Lalu chosen as RJD chief for 9th time

Lalu’s politics involves developing vote banks from his caste comprising of Yadavs and Muslims.

He portrays himself as the ‘messiah’ of Muslims by aligning with fundamentalist Muslim preachers and gangsters like Shahbuddin.

Lalu never addresses the root cause of poverty and backwardness among Indian Muslims.
It is largely due to the community shunning of mainstream educational institutes and going to worthless madrasas, (Muslim religious schools) which primarily focus on students, rote learning of the Muslim holy book; Koran.

In the absence of modern knowledge, madrasa graduates are unable to improve their material prosperity and face the challenges of contemporary society.

The Ulemas or the Islamic scholars’ regressive attitude is reflected in the following statement of Maulana Samiul Haq, of the Haqqania madrasa, a prominent Deobandi madrasa; “Young minds are not for thinking. We catch them for the madrasas when they are young, and by the time they are old enough to think, they know what to think.”

Fake seculars like Lalu would never tell Muslims to study in proper schools because an educated Muslim can easily decipher the tricks played by such politicians.
A large number of illiterate or madrasa brand Muslims suit Lalu because then by showing the fear of BJP and Hindus, these Muslims can be easily turned into vote banks for his political party.

CBI, ED and other government agencies recently conducted large number of raids on Lalu and his family. They discovered Billions amassed by this so called ‘champion of oppressed’.

Lalu accumulated large number of farm-houses, land holdings, companies etc. in the name of his family comprising of his illiterate wife and 9 children; 7 daughters and 2 sons.

Both his sons, Tejashwi Prasad Yadav and Tej Pratap Yadav, are school drop-outs. The former was the deputy CM of Bihar with various ministerial portfolios, while the latter was the Health Minister of the province in the coalition government.

Lalu Yadav
Tejashwi Prasad Yadav and Tej Pratap Yadav at a public event. Twitter

Lalu was declared guilty by the courts for his lead role in the Bihar fodder scam worth thousands of Crores. Lalu Yadav was jailed for 135 days in 1997 but he was lodged in a Bihar Military Police guest house with all comforts.

Before his incarceration, Lalu installed his uneducated wife Rabri Devi as the C.M. of Bihar. Lalu was jailed on various other occasions for his involvement in the aforementioned swindle.

Every time, Lalu was put in prison, he received 5 star hotel facilities and got bail easily. Lalu continued being the de facto C.M of Bihar by inducting his wife as the rubber- stamp C.M. of Bihar.

He was finally sentenced to a 5 year jail term in October 2013 by a special CBI court.
Instead of being in a jail, he is again out on bail, busy in enriching and establishing his progeny in politics.

A poster for Lalu Yadav’s political rally in Patna on Sunday, 27th August depicted one of Lalu’s foolish son as Lord Krishna while the other buffoon is shown as Arjun. Lalu’s daughter and Rajya Sabha M.P, Misa Bharti is depicted as the famous freedom fighter, Rani of Jhansi; Lakshmibai. Lalu and his wife Rabri are blessing their children in this poster.

What a mockery of historical and religious characters.

Lalu is saying that he and his family are being victimized. These utterances constitute ‘heights of shamelessness’.

Lalu indulged in blatant corruption and misuse of office for personal gains. On getting exposed he started parroting; this is a conspiracy of BJP and law would take its own course.

These terms in India mean that court cases would drag for 20-30 years. The politician will die but the court proceedings would still remain pending.
Classic example is Jayalalitha, the court cases against her were continuing since, 1996 but the final judgment was passed in 2017 after her death.

Lalu’s son, Tejashwi Prasad, the Ex-Deputy C.M of Bihar was a member of IPL cricket team, Delhi Daredevils for 4 years from 2008-2012.

ALSO READ Lalu’s son Tej Pratap faces his first electoral test in Mahua

During these 4 years, Tejashwi didn’t play a single game for Delhi Daredevils.

Which sporting team in the world would keep such a useless player in its squad?

Delhi Daredevils is owned by GMR group. This business house must be investigated, as to what were the compelling reasons behind continuous retention of this trash cricketer, who wasn’t competent to play even a single game during 4 seasons.

What were the financial benefits given to Tejashwi? Did the GMR group receive concessions from Lalu Yadav in exchange for keeping his son in Delhi Daredevils team? These are serious issues and need further investigations.

Misa Bharti, eldest daughter of Lalu Yadav is a Rajya Sabha M.P. She topped the MBBS examination of Patna Medical College Hospital during the late 90’s.

Misa never excelled in her classes, either at school or college. At her convocation, the presenter of the degree requested her not to treat any patients ever.

Lalu through his clout in Bihar first got her admission into MBBS and then deceptively made her a topper.

Misa Bharti after topping her MBBS studies and obtaining her medical degree did not work as a Doctor even for a single day, neither did she start her own medical practice.

This is humbug Lalu Yadav, the ‘self- styled’ protector of Muslims and ‘self- declared’ skipper of the Indian opposition political parties, comprising of so called secular forces but in reality just corrupt family controlled political dynasties.

Lalu and his political clan should be imprisoned for at least a minimum period of 10 years with provisions of no bail plus hard labor in the jail.

All undeclared properties; including land parcels, bank accounts, commercial businesses, residences etc. unearthed by the authorities during raids on Lalu and his family must be confiscated by the central government.

Lalu’s party RJD, which is nothing more than a corrupt family enterprise should be disbanded and a life ban imposed on Lalu plus his kin from pursuing political careers.

An exemplary example needs to be made of this corrupt, Lalu so, as to deter other existing as well as budding ‘Lalu Prasad Yadavs’, abounding in the Indian political system from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.

 

– The author is a Master Degree holder in International Tourism & Leisure Studies from Netherlands and is based in China.