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The year that is about to end will go down in the history as one that reorganized entertainment as never before in our lifetime. With cinema theatres shut down owing to the pandemic, home entertainment became important, and with television in India having crossed its saturation point long ago, digital was the way to go.
OTT brought its own storytelling culture and, in turn, a new set of actors who would fit into such stories.
Not surprising, screen ‘heroes’ have been wholly different this year. This has been the year of Pratik Gandhi’s Harshad Mehta and Abhishek Banerjee’s Hathoda Tyagi. It is a year that will go down as one when Pankaj Tripathi’s menacing Kaleen bhaiya became a pop icon of sorts, and Sushmita Sen as Aarya Sareen gave crime a wonky twist as never before.
IANS takes a look at the actors who made their presence felt and continue to stay alive in the minds of the audience, primarily owing to their work in the OTT space this year.
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Hansal Mehta’s biographical drama, “Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story” has turned around Pratik Gandhi’s career. Primarily an actor in Gujarati theatre and cinema, no one quite kept track that Pratik had worked in a couple of Bollywood films such as “Mitron” and “Loveyatri”.
Being Harshad Mehta changed all that. The role made him an overnight sensation. By his own confession, Pratik had thought the shoe would not be binge-able, given its business jargon-heavy dialogues. Yet it went onto become a sleeper hit, and Pratik, essaying “Big Bull” or “Amitabh Bachchan of Dalal Street”, was an overnight stay.
“I will continue with more zeal and excitement. There are good projects coming my way and I hope to add more memorable characters in 2021,” he told IANS.
From her intense avatar in “Mirzapur 2” to her suitable stint in “A Suitable Boy” to the comedy affair in “Lootcase”, Rasika dominated the OTT space this year and wowed viewers with her diverse roles.
This year, her web series “Delhi Crime” became the first Indian show to get an International Emmy. Now, she will soon be seen in the next season of “Out Of Love”, which revolves around marriage, infidelity, and insecurity.
CHANDAN ROY SANYAL
He made waves all those years ago playing Shahid Kapoor’s buddy in the 2009 release, “Kaminey”, and after doing the odd role in many Bollywood films for long, finally came on his own playing the vile Bhopa Swami in Prakash Jha’s “Aashram” this year.
To Chandan’s advantage, the series had two seasons in quick succession within the same year, letting the actor stay in the popular imagination with assuredness. As the right-hand man of the nefarious Kashipur Wale Baba, played by Bobby Deol, Chandan has become a talking point character of the popular show. Fans can’t wait for season three.
After dominating cyberspace with his viral videos, Jitendra arrived in the OTT scene with the hilarious satire series “Panchayat”, which has emerged as one of the surprise blockbusters of the year, and one of the most-watched shows of 2020 on Amazon Prime Video.
Jitendra was lauded for his portrayal of a young secretary of a Panchayat office in a remote village, a job he is forced to take up owing to circumstances. Also starring Neena Gupta, Raghubir Yadav, and Chandan Sanyal, the show will get a second season.
He has been on the fringes of Bollywood with roles in films such as “Rockstar”, “Gangs Of Wasseypur”, “Raees” and “Raazi”, but it was the role of an underrated police officer Hathiram, in “Paatal Lok” this year that brought him to the limelight.
“People are admiring a police officer’s character who is fighting through a corrupt system trying to prove his self-worth and seek justice in a post-truth world. I even received messages from people saying that they could very well relate to the character and the struggle. It feels great to see your work being appreciated by people. It gives me a renewed sense of vigor to do more such brilliant work,” Jaideep said after the success of the show.
You might forget his appearance from “Mirzapur”, but you cannot ignore the deranged serial killer Hathoda Tyagi in “Paatal Lok”. During the lockdown, he entertained people with his sinister roles on OTT shows like “Paatal Lok” and “Kaali 2”. He has shared that the role and success of “Paatal Lok” kept him busy through lockdown, and diverted his attention. He is also seen in the anthology film, “Unpaused”.
He doesn’t belong to any particular box. He doesn’t come with the conventional idea of a hero or a villain, yet he manages to outshine the GenNow brigade and emerge as the unlikely star of the OTT world. This year, he has showcased his brilliance as an actor in projects as diverse as “Mirzapur 2”, “Ludo”, “Extraction”, “Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl” and “, “Criminal Justice: Behind Closed Doors”.
“It finally feels like this is my time and may it never pass. I want to give the audience one memorable film after another, one great role after another. Entertaining the world has been my long-standing wish and I want to do one helluva job at it,” he said.
For OTT addicts, he is Munna bhaiya of “Mirzapur”, and that goes on to show the popularity of his role in the world of “Mirzapur”. He got a headstart with his role of Liquid in the 2011 release, “Pyaar Ka Punchnama”, but it was Munna bhaiya in the web-series “Mirzapur” that made him a household name, over two seasons. While season one of the show happened earlier, this year’s second season brought his character to the center of the story. Diveyenndu also impressed in the web series “Bicchoo Ka Khel” recently.
Want to read more in Hindi? Checkout: कार्बन फुटप्रिंट के बारे में भी जागरूकता बढ़ाएंगी अभिनेत्री भूमि पेडनेकर
The year marked Sushmita’s comeback in the acting space, in a powerful role. She made her comeback through the web series “Aarya”, which is about how her character Aarya is pulled into the narcotics business when her family is threatened. Now, Sushmita looks forward to the second season of the show.
His career in films had hit a plateau of sorts, and the web series “Asur” happened earlier this year. The psychological thriller series clicked, and Arshad was suddenly back in the limelight, winning accolades from fans.
“Digital media has been fantastic for actors. I can talk for myself, as far as experiments and risks are concerned. I am not experimenting or risking anything, I am finally getting to do the work I have been longing for and enjoy doing,” he told IANS.
Amit Sadh created a unique record this year. He had three releases in the same weekend. The films “Shakuntala Devi” and “Yaara”, and the web series “Avrodh: The Siege Within” opened on July 30, barely 20 days after “Breathe: Into The Shadows”.
Amit, who has found success on television as well as the Bollywood screen, is focused on an OTT sojourn for now. His next release in the series “Zidd”. He also has a series titled “India Strikes: 10 Days”.
After “Lipstick Under My Burkha”, Aahana found a way into the digital space and has been exploring it since then. Her year started on a dramatic note with “Marzi”, which navigates the fading line between power, deception, and trust. She then went into the zombie zone with “Betaal”.
Aahana’s upcoming OTT tryst is Rohan Sippy’s sitcom show “Sandwiched Forever”, where she stars alongside Kunal Roy Kapoor. She also has a series coming up based on the French show “Call My Agent”, also featuring Soni Razdan, Rajat Kapoor, and Ayush Mehra.
The actor has got a second chance to prove his skills, thanks to the digital domain. And he is making the most of it. He was seen as Dean Vijay Singh in the digital film “Class Of ’83”, and in the successful series “Aashram” by Prakash Jha. His role as a fraud godman in the crime drama “Aashram” has been lauded by all. (IANS)
As kids growing up in different states, Shoba Narayan and Michael Maliakel shared a love of one favorite film — "Aladdin." Both are of Indian descent, and in the animated movie, they saw people who looked like them.
That shared love has gone full-circle this month as Narayan and Maliakel lead the Broadway company of the musical "Aladdin" out of the pandemic, playing Princess Jasmine and the hero from the title, respectively.
"Growing up, there was such little South Asian and Middle Eastern representation in the American media, and Princess Jasmine was really all I had. She was a huge role model to me as someone who was intelligent and strong and independent and beautifully curious, and that's who I wanted to be," says Narayan, who grew up in Pennsylvania.
The pair arrived at "Aladdin" in very different ways. Maliakel is making his Broadway debut, but Narayan is a musical theater veteran, having made her Broadway debut in "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812" and touring with "Hamilton" as Eliza Hamilton.
She was in "Wicked" as Nessarose when the pandemic shut down Broadway in March 2020. Her agent called in April with the prospect of auditioning for Jasmine. She sang "A Whole New World" over Zoom on gallery mode, pretending to be on a magic carpet. "It was a very unique experience," she says, laughing.
Disney producers flew her to New York to meet face-to-face and go through the material again. Narayan was asked to read with different Aladdin potential actors. She got the gig: "I went from a wicked witch to a Disney princess. Can't complain."
Maliakel, a native of New Jersey, came from the world of opera, a baritone who studied at Johns Hopkins University and the 2014 winner at the National Musical Theatre Competition. He trained his voice to be flexible, waiting for the right window to open.
"I didn't really see a lot of people doing what I wanted to do in the world," he says. "There just wasn't a whole lot of representation. So it's really hard to imagine yourself in those scenarios when you have no one to look up to as a role model or an example of how it could be done."
He played Porter and understudied Raoul in a national tour of "The Phantom of the Opera," which ended its run in Toronto just before the pandemic hit.
"I always dreamed that Broadway might happen someday," he says, laughing. "I'm just kind of dipping my toes into the waters in one of the biggest male roles in the business right now, and it's kind of surreal."
'Aladdin' featured as a Broadway Musical with a cast of Indian origin playing the main roles Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Broadway's "Aladdin" is a musical adaptation of the 1992 movie starring Robin Williams. The musical's story by Chad Beguelin hews close to the film: A street urchin finds a genie in a lamp and hopes to woo a princess while staying true to his values and away from palace intrigue.
Key Alan Menken songs from the film — including "Friend Like Me," ″Prince Ali" and "A Whole New World" — are used. The lyricists are the late Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Beguelin.
The show — and it's two new leads — had a few performances to celebrate Broadway's return from the pandemic this fall before it was forced to close for several days when breakthrough COVID-19 cases were detected. The actors say the safety of the cast, crew and audience are paramount and closing was the smart move.
"This is how we keep theater going in the pandemic," Maliakel says. "The other option is to just not do it at all. And that's not an option. A week's worth of lost performances, when we look back on things in a year or so, I think will just be a little blip on the radar."
They both look back with heart-thumping appreciation at the early performances when they welcomed back theater-starved audiences, who gave the company 3-minute standing ovations just for singing "A Whole New World."
"It is every brown girl's dream to be singing that song on an actual flying carpet," says Narayan. "And the fact that I got to do it on Broadway in the full costume with the lights and the 32-piece orchestra beneath me — oh, my gosh, I really had to hold it together. It was emotional overload for me."
Maliakel recalls that he and his brothers wore out their VHS cassette version of "Aladdin." He remembers having lunchboxes, pajamas and bed sheets with the film's theme. Aladdin was "every little brown kid's prince." Now he is that prince.
"Now, finally, to get to get paid to do it on the world's largest stage — it's not lost on me how crazy that is," he says. "The responsibility of my position right now feels really great. This moment sort of feels bigger than me in some ways, and I don't take that lightly. I think it's a really exciting time." (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Aladdin, Broadway, Musical, Indian Descendant cast,
Jack Daniel's is the world's most popular whiskey brand, but until recently, few people knew the liquor was created by Nathan "Nearest" Green, an enslaved Black man who mentored Daniel.
"We've always known," says Debbie Staples, a great-great-granddaughter of Green's who heard the story from her grandmother. … "He made the whiskey, and he taught Jack Daniel. And people didn't believe it … it's hurtful. I don't know if it was because he was a Black man."
But people believe it now — in large part because Brown-Forman Corporation, owner of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, has acknowledged the foundational role Green played in the brand's development.
"The truth of the matter is, Nearest Green was the first head distiller of Jack Daniels whiskey," says Matt Blevins, global brand director for Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey. "We're very proud of this story and are very committed to amplifying it and acknowledging that. In the past, we did not amplify it the way that we could have in earlier eras, but we're about the future and moving forward."
America's first-known Black master distiller
The story begins in Lynchburg, Tennessee, current home of the Jack Daniel Distillery. In the mid-1800s, Green's slaveholders hired him out to a local preacher named Dan Call. Green, who had a reputation as a skilled distiller, made whiskey for Call, using a sugar maple charcoal filtering process that is believed to have originated in West Africa. Daniel, a boy who worked for Call, became Green's apprentice and learned the special technique that gave the Tennessee whiskey its smooth taste.
After emancipation in 1863, when all enslaved people were freed, Daniel purchased Call's distillery and hired Green as Jack Daniel Distillery's first master distiller.
"The best knowledge that we have is that they had a mentor-and-mentee sort of a relationship, and I would say, a friendship," says Blevins. "The stories that have been passed down [talk] about the care that Jack Daniel took to always acknowledge … the Green family."
Historic photo of Jack Daniel (in white hat) seated next to George Green, the son of Nathan "Nearest" Green Image source: VOA
There are no known pictures of Green, but there is one of Daniel with Green's son, George, sitting next to Daniel, rather than being relegated to the back.
"That photograph shows the respect that they had for one another and for their families," says Stefanie Benjamin, an assistant professor of tourism management at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. "To be not only allowed in that photograph, but also positioned in the foreground and sitting right next to Jack Daniels himself."
Search for the truth
Green's role in the history of the brand was uncovered by a writer and entrepreneur named Fawn Weaver, who became fascinated by Green's unheralded contribution to the world's most popular whiskey. After extensive research, including interviews with Green's descendants, Weaver shared her documentation with the company.
"I was very pleasantly surprised when they embraced my research and updated their records to reflect that," Weaver told VOA via email. "I think it said a lot about the character of their company that they moved that quickly to course correct."
Jack Daniel's has incorporated Green's contributions into the official history of the brand, but Weaver has gone a step further. She invested $1 million of her own money to establish Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, which is now the fastest-growing independent American whiskey brand in U.S. history.
Fawn Weaver (center in red) with her leadership team at Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, including master distiller Victoria Eady Butler (far left), the great‐great‐granddaughter of Nearest Green. (Photo courtesy Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey) Image credit: VOA
The company's master distiller is Victoria Eady Butler, Green's great‐great‐granddaughter.
"Uncle Nearest is the most-awarded American whiskey or bourbon of 2019, 2020 and 2021, and the fact that it is the bloodline of Nearest Green blending and approving what goes into our bottles is something I marvel at regularly," Weaver says. "Victoria is an absolute natural when it comes to blending, and to watch her work is to see something pretty darn close to perfection."
Seven generations of Green's family have worked at the Jack Daniel Distillery, a tradition that continues today with Staples and two of her siblings. But the Green family did not benefit when the Daniel family sold the Jack Daniel distillery to Brown-Forman for $20 million in 1956.
"Although they [the Green family] were very well off in terms of finances [in the 1800s] in that time, they were not the owners or co-owners of the Jack Daniel distillery," Benjamin says. "And so, those millions of dollars have been passed down through generations of the Jack Daniel family, and not necessarily the Green family."
Maturing barrels of whiskey in a barrel house on the grounds of the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. (Photo courtesy Jack Daniel's) Image credit: VOA
Weaver's Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey has joined forces with Jack Daniel's to launch a program that provides support, expertise and resources to African-American entrepreneurs entering the spirits industry.
Staples says her family is thrilled their great-great-grandfather is finally being recognized.
"It's kind of mind-boggling … and we are so proud," Staples says. "And to think that from here to Africa, that recipe goes all the way back. And to think that he played such an important role in establishing this company. It sometimes seems unreal. It really does."
Because of Weaver's tenacity, Green's story, although left untold for more than a century, will not be lost to history. But that's not the case with so many other stories of Black achievement and contributions to the nation.
"Part of telling his story and sharing his legacy is to give credit and to give attention to a person who, if it wasn't for him, we wouldn't have the Jack Daniel whiskey as we know it today," Benjamin says. "It showcases yet another example of how formerly enslaved people, Black people, African American people who have really built this country, are left out of the dominant narrative that we tell." (VOA/RN)
(This article is originally written by Dora Mekouar)
Keywords: Jack Daniel's, Whiskey, Nathan Green, Slavery, Black achievement
Cricket fans can now book the ultimate experience with the official accommodation booking partner for the ICC Men's T20 World Cup, Booking.com. The T20 Pavillion, a bespoke cricket-themed luxury stay that transforms the Presidential Suite at Grand Hyatt Mumbai Hotel and Residences into a classic cricket stadium.
The suite offers guests an all-inclusive once-in-a-lifetime experience during the India vs Pakistan ICC Men's T20 World Cup match on October 24, 2021, packed with quirks and luxuries that is sure to satisfy even the biggest cricket enthusiast. Additionally, as a part of the experience, guests will also have the exclusive opportunity to meet Bollywood actor Shraddha Kapoor at The T20 Pavilion.
The booking window that opens at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and will be booked on a 'first come, first serve' basis with check-in date on October 24, 2021 and check-out on October 25, 2021. | Photo by Alessandro Bogliari on Unsplash
For one night only, guests can soak in the energy of a roaring stadium to enjoy the epic match on a life-sized screen while seated on comfortable sofas -- just like the luxury box seats at the stadium. They can also head to the locker room (dining room) next to the field (living room) to have some energy drinks, just like a cricketer would do or head to the bedroom, transformed into a net practice area. It's got the field, the pitch, the locker room, pitching nets and cricket memorabilia infused in every element of the room.
The booking window opens at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and will be booked on a 'first come, first serve' basis with check-in date on October 24, 2021, and check-out on October 25, 2021. The T20 Pavilion is priced at Rs 6666 only in honour of all the great sixes smashed at the T20 World Cup. The T20 Pavilion can accommodate up to four guests. Cricket fans can visit the website or mobile app to book this cricket-inspired stay. (IANS/ MBI)