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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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The Fall of the poster boy of Indian politics – Nitish Kumar

How Nitish Kumar gave his career a downfall drift

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Chief Minister of Bihar
Nitish Kumar

Amulya Ganguly

At one time, he was the poster boy of Indian politics. Not only did he slay the villain of Bihar’s “jungle raj” in 2005 by rounding up lawless elements after winning an election and launching social and economic development projects, he also scored another resounding electoral victory in the company of a new set of friends, including the “villain”, in 2015.

It appeared at the time that he could do no wrong. So much so that he was seen as a possible prime ministerial candidate of the “secular” front.

But, then, the rise and rise of Nitish Kumar came to an abrupt halt. He remains Bihar’s Chief Minister, but the halo round his head has frayed.

The reason is not only his switching of friends in what is seen as an exercise in crass opportunism, but also his pursuit of policies which are out of sync with the modern world and threatens to reinforce Bihar’s reputation for backwardness by turning the entire state into a virtual dehat or village.

The first step in this bucolic direction was the imposition of prohibition which has robbed Bihar’s clubs, hotels and intellectual watering holes of cosmopolitanism. Now, Nitish Kumar has taken yet another step backwards by demanding 50 per cent reservations for the backward castes in the private sector.

To begin with the second step, it is obvious that by threatening to take the quota system to such an absurd level, the Chief Minister has scotched any hope of industrial growth in a state which is crying out for investment.

In 2012, Bihar received investment proposals worth Rs 24,000 crore. In the post-liquor ban period, they have dropped to Rs 6,500 crore.

If his new ally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had any hope, therefore, of making Bihar the beneficiary of his Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas goals, he can bid it goodbye.

Nitish Kumar’s latest pitch in favour of the backward castes is all the more strange because he cannot seriously expect that his proposal will pass muster at the judicial level.

Like most Indian politicians, he is more interested in posing as a champion of whichever group he is courting at a given moment than in adopting measures which have a reasonable chance of success.

He merely wants to impress his targeted audience by showing that he did make an honest effort, but was stymied by the “system”.

Whether it is prohibition or reservations, Nitish Kumar’s ploys tend to underline crafty political manoeuvres rather than any genuine intention of acting in the state’s interest.

Unfortunately for the Janata Dal (United) leader, his gambits are too palpable to deceive anyone. In the case of the reservations, it is clear that Nitish Kumar is still battling his old adversary-cum-ally-cum-adversary, Lalu Prasad Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).

Since Nitish Kumar belongs to a numerically small and politically less influential caste — the Kurmis — than the RJD’s powerful Yadavs, he has never been at ease in Lalu Prasad’s company whether at the time of their camaraderie during Jayaprakash Narayan’s anti-Congress movement or when they were a part of the state government after the 2015 election victory.

The focal point of Nitish Kumar’s political career has been to establish himself as the foremost leader in the state. Lalu Prasad’s conviction in the fodder scam case enabled Nitish Kumar to be the No. 1 in the Janata Dal (United)-RJD-Congress government.

But he appeared to be forever looking over his shoulder to check whether he was being undermined by the RJD which has more MLAs than the Janata Dal (United).

Prohibition was the policy which he embraced to win over the lower middle class and rural women to his side. But, predictably, the liquor ban has led to an increase in drug abuse with 25 per cent of the cases in de-addiction centres now dealing with the users of cannabis, inhalants and sedatives.

Unlike prohibition which is not aimed at any caste, the demand for the 50 per cent reservations is intended by Nitish Kumar to bolster his position vis-a-vis Lalu Prasad since both are intent on playing the backward caste card.

It is also a message to his partner in the government, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), about the importance of the quota system for the Chief Minister, especially when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief, Mohan Bhagwat, is in favour of doing away with reservations altogether.

Nitish Kumar's self demolition
Bihar’s chief minister gave his political career a U-turn.

When Bhagwat expressed his views during the 2015 election campaign, the BJP quickly distanced itself from them for fear of losing the backward caste and Dalit votes. Even then, the BJP’s reputation as a brahmin-bania party remains intact. Besides, it is now more focused on playing the nationalist card than on wooing the backward castes.

Nitish Kumar must have thought, therefore, that the time was ripe for him to up the ante on the caste issue if only to let the BJP know that he cannot be marginalised as the BJP has been tending to do since tying the knot with the Janata Dal (United).

But, whatever his intention, Nitish Kumar cannot but be aware that his position is much weaker now than when he was in the “secular” camp. Nor is there any chance that he will regain his earlier status any time in the near future.(IANS)

 

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These 8 successful Muslim women are showcasing Freedom their way!

Though there are forsure many but here we present to you the some handful of success stories of Muslim women in modern world. Totally independant and unbounded, they have carved a niche for themselves in many fields through their creativity, talent and self - belief

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Muslim women
Bashing unfreedom-The new age Muslim woman.Pixeby

Not everyone is following rigid fundamentalism these days. In 2017, people and specially some inspiring Muslim women are embracing freedom and individuality through their inspirational work in global markets. Be it fashion, lifestyle,sports or politics- they are setting standards in every domain, breaking stereotypes all the way long!

Have a look at the success stories of these leading Muslim ladies and what they believe in.

SAUFEEYA GOODSON

Dubai based fashion entrepreneur Saufeeya is a global figure appearing in many fashion magazines. Being the co-owner of Modest Route, she has re- branded Modest fashion in a very stylised manner grabbing the attention of 2million followers on instagram page. She is frequently mentioned in Vogue or Teen Vogue under the trademark of her bold, daring and contemporary outfits made for modern age Muslim woman. This trendsetter with her avant garde style has been revolutionizing Islamic modest clothing in world.

CAROLYN WALKER-DIALLO

Carolyn hit the headlines when she was sworn in with the Quran back in 2015, becoming the first ever New York City Civil court judge to do so. She bravely stood up to the backlash that resulted later but her strong act inspired many Muslim women around the world. It somehow relieved them from communal stigmatization that they go through.

LINDA SARSOUR

Linda Sarsour- civil right's activist
Linda Sarsour- civil right’s activist.wikimedia.commons

 

Linda, a Palestinian- American civil rights activist, is popularly known for her key role in helping to organize the 2017 Women’s March in Washington.It was a public demonstartion led by women coming together from all walks of life. With her resolute, Linda instilled in a belief in thousands of women to fight for their vanity,esteem and rights.

BEHNAZ SHAFIEI

it is hard to imagine a female road racer/motocross rider and being a Muslim woman makes it a rare case, but Behnaz is exactly that. Born in Iran- a country where women are not allowed for exercising such liberties and are often ridiculed for their driving skills, Behnaz enjoys the fact that many men cannot do the stunts she performs with ease and confidence on her motorbike. She is the only Iranian female to be involved in road racing professionally challenging the preconceived notions of the society in regard to women.

RUMA

Known for her fashion blogs, Ruma recently got mentioned on the Twitter page of H&M where she was applauded for her distinctive panache that voice traditional modesty. According to her the haute hijab empowers feminine sensibility.Being a dreamer as well as achiever, she looks forward to inspire her followers with stories and lessons learned from her life by using social media to promote the art of fashion.

HALIMA ADEN

Halima is a model known for being the first Somali-American Muslim woman to take part in a beauty pageant donning a hijab.With all grace and modesty she hit news by reaching the semifinals of Minnesota USA pageant. She even graced the fashion runway for Kanye West at his show Yeezy season 5. Keeping at bay all Muslim stereotypes, this flamboyant model appeared on the front cover of Allure, wearing a Nike hijab with a caption saying, “This is American Beauty.” 

SHAHD BATAL

As a YouTuber and blogger, Shahd’s focus is mainly on providing viewers with her own original tips on how to attain healthy skin or apply makeup. Sudanese by birth but now living in Minneapolis, her tutorial videos are popularly hitting the internet since 2014. They were recently rehashed and showcased via her new sleek channel. From wearing a classic head-wrap and making pen perfect eyebrows, to her very personal stories with regard to the Hijab, she has been earnestly devoting herself to portray Hijab as a motif of modern age accessory.

 

SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY     

Muslim Women
SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY- Pakistani filmaker.wikimedia.commons

 Sharmeen has been mentioned by esteemed Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. A Muslim woman filmmaker, journalist and activist born in Pakistan, most of her films highlight the inequalities that women face. She has received two Academy awards, six Emmy and Lux Style award for her bold vision. Even the Pakistani government has honored her with the second highest civilian honor of the country, the Hilal-i-Imtiaz for her dauntless contribution to films.

These handful examples of empowering, influential and compelling Muslim women express a great deal- to come out of the shackles of a society that restricts you and your creative energies.Not just to the Muslim women of today, they are inspirational for all women who seek for self – actualization.

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Indian short film ‘The School Bag’ based on 2014 Peshawar School Attack Wins ‘Best Short Film Award’ in Montreal

The film recreates events that happened in Peshawar in December 2014 when terrorists mowed down hundreds of school children.

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short film
Rasika Dugal in a still from 'The School Bag'. Youtube

New Delhi, November 6, 2017 : Indian short film “The School Bag”, which tells a story based in Pakistan, has won the Best Short Film Award at the South Asian Film Festival of Montreal (SAFFM), says director Dheeraj Jindal.

“While making the film, each member of the team literally put their heart and soul and we didn’t know what will happen with the film. For many people, I included, it was the first experience working on a short film. So it’s a great feeling when your debut work gets international recognition,” Jindal told IANS.

SAFFM concluded on Sunday.

The movie’s plot is based in Peshawar and tells a story about the relationship between a mother and her seven-year-old son who wants a new school bag on his birthday, but fate has something else in store for him.

The film recreates events that happened in Peshawar in December 2014 when terrorists mowed down hundreds of school children.

Actress Rasika Dugal plays the mother in the short film.

Jindal, who is from Delhi, is happy that short films are getting visibility.

“In India, now there are platforms that are supporting and funding short films and because of that the quality of the films have drastically improved. The acclaimed actors have also started working in them as there are many good stories which don’t need to be long but can be as impacting as a feature film.

“Therefore, short films are becoming a serious business, which is going to grow further,” he said. (IANS)