Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Poetry in Singapore

Ever wondered why the poets in Singapore generally outnumber the island state's prose writers?

Here comes an explanation from none other than Dr K K Seet, the Singapore Literary Prize's (SLP) chief judge. Dr Seet, an academic with the National University of Singapore's English Literature and Language Department, has been judging the prize since 1992.

He says: "While I don't believe poetry will become the de facto literary form here, I do discern that there's a richer tradition of poetry here and more practitioners in that genre. The reasons (and I'm merely speculating), is that historically, we've had many more mentors, role-models and authorial antecedents in poetry, that is, Edwin Thumboo, Arthur Yap, Lee Tzu Pheng, Robert Yeo, Leong Liew Geok etc.

"Secondly, poetry represents the crystallisation of an idea, insight or epiphanic moment and agrees with the Singapore literary psyche more than prose, which demands a sustained narrative and drawn-out perspective.

"Perhaps this has to do with time and the way Singaporeans deal with time. One can be inspired to write and complete a poem very quickly. Though the product can be (and usually is) subjected to endless refining and polishing, there's still a complete, organic first draft.

"Prose, particularly a novel, demands a much larger template and a long view, so to speak. There is invariably more references and by extension, more research needed. There's something about a poem being concise and self-contained that's in accord with the stress-ridden Singaporean who is always engaged in a perennial, cosmic struggle with time, schedule and deadlines."

Interesting observation there. Perhaps in our over-crowded lives, poetry provides instant satiation, and I am speaking from a reader's point of view.

Also, for the first time in 11 years, Singapore literary prize has gone to two poets. More details here.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Shankar Ehsaan Loy in Singapore

NEARLY a decade ago, something unusual happened in the musical bylanes of Bollywood. Three disparate musical talents — each with some success in the world of music — came together to form the industry's first music "supergroup".

Classically-trained artist Shankar Mahadevan, blues-rock guitarist Ehsaan Noorani and jazz-loving keyboard player Loy Mendonsa joined hands to create what fans of Hindi film music now know as Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy.

The trio will perform at the Esplanade Concert Hall on Saturday.

"They (Ehsaan and Loy) were established music composers in the advertising industry and I used to sing for them," Shankar told Today over the phone from Mauritius, where the trio were performing. "We 'vibed' very well and then Mukul Anand offered us a film, Dus, and that's where the story began."

Though the untimely death of its director meant Dus (1997) was not released, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy's music became a hit.

In bringing fresh energy and style to Hindi film music, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy echoed the sensibilities of a young, effervescent India with the foot-tapping music of Dil Chahta Hai (Do Your Thing, 2001).

Their recent successes include Kal Ho Na Ho (Tomorrow May Never Come, 2003), Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (Never Say Goodbye, 2006) and Don (2006).

Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy are able to maintain the freshness of their music because of eclectic influences drawn from the East and the West. "You can't have only film music influence to do film music. That's when you fail miserably," he said.

The team has also been trying their luck as solo artists. Shankar's album, Breathless, owes some of its success to its inclusion of a song where he sings for over three minutes without pausing to take a breath.

Still, the trio have no plans to go their separate ways anytime soon.

"We are planning an album as Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and will launch it next year," said Shankar, who will be making the latest of many trips to Singapore. However, the concert on Nov 11 will be his first show here as part of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy.

"People are going to have a blast and they are going to enjoy every song in the repertoire," said Shankar.

Published in Today.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Johnny Lever Aala Re

Bollywood funnyman rolls into town

The faces of many Bollywood movie fans light up when they see Johnny Lever's name in the credits of a Hindi film. Even if the film turns out to be a dud, the thinking goes, at least Lever is sure to have some rib-tickling scenes.

Fun. That's what Lever's name has long stood for in India and it is what made the 56-year-old actor — who will be in Singapore on Saturday for a performance at the University Cultural Centre — his generation's best-known funnyman.

"For 10 years, there was no Hindi film without Johnny Lever," the comedian, whose real name is John Rao, told Today last week over the phone from his home in Mumbai.

That decade-long span was the 1990s, when Lever was at his peak and there were still a host of Hindi films with comedy sub-plots in their storylines.

"Now the villains in films also play comic parts and they don't want to give credits to comedians," Lever said of an ongoing trend that has seen fewer meaty roles for gagmen.

Once a mainstay of Hindi films — where like other comedians he tended to play the bosom friend of the protagonist or a relative of the villain — Lever became a master of creating funny situations after mirthless scenes to lift the spirits of audiences. In carrying out this time-honoured role in Bollywood movies, Johnny became the latest — and perhaps last — in a line of Hindi film comedians that also boasts stellar names such as Kishore Kumar, Johnny Walker, Mehmood, Keshto Mukherjee and Jagdeep.

"I used to imitate actors like Kishore Kumar and Mehmood — how they talked, how they danced — and people used to love it," said the actor, whose stage name derives from the fact he once worked in a Hindustan Lever factory.

Despite — or perhaps because of — his short stature and lack of matinee-idol good looks, Lever made his name as stand- up comedian and impressionist starting at age 17 before getting his big break in Hindi films.

In the years since making his debut with 1981's Ye Rishta Na Toote (May This Relationship Not Come Apart), Lever has appeared in about 300 films. Now the host of the TV comedy show Johnny Ala Re (Here Cometh Johnny) on Zee TV, Lever still dabbles in film but is nowhere near as prolific as he once was.

"I do films very selectively as I have to turn down roles where I'm asked to do routine comedy work," he said.

Among his forthcoming films are Full and Final, Hera Pheri (Part 3) and Kash Tum Hote (I Wish You Were There).

As for what comedy fans can expect from this weekend's show — his first here in seven years — Lever said simply: "Singapore, get ready to have total fun."

Published in Today dated Nov 2, 2006

PS: The sad news is that Johnny's Singapore show has been postponed indefinitely. One just hopes it will not be cancelled.