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Menon in US to discuss bilateral ties, Afghanistan

Washington: Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon arrives here today on a four-day visit focusing on how to take the India-US relationship forward after the change of guard in Washington. Besides Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Deputy Secretary James B. Steinberg, and his counterpart Under Secretary for Political Affairs William Burns, Menon would have talks at the Pentagon with defence officials, leading lawmakers and think tanks.

The threat posed by terrorism emanating from Pakistan and progress made in the probe into November Mumbai terror attack, particularly in the context of actions taken by Islamabad, is also expected to come up during the talks.

Besides bilateral issues, Menon is also expected to provide Indian perceptions on how to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan when he meets US special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta were here last month for what was described as a "valuable and unprecedented meeting" as part of an ongoing US policy review.

Holbrooke had invited India, considered a key player in the region, to provide its inputs for the policy review when he visited India after a fact-finding listening tour of the region that took him to Kabul and Islamabad and New Delhi.

President Barack Obama last month decided to send an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan, bringing US forces there to 55,000 by this summer. The surge is part of the Obama administration's plan to "refocus American resources on the greatest threat to our security-the resurgence of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan." (IANS)

Musharaff accuses India of fomenting trouble in Pak

New Delhi: Former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf Saturday accused India of whipping up war hysteria after the Mumbai terrorist attacks and asked the intelligence agencies of both countries to stop the path of confrontation for the sake of peace in the subcontinent.

"Both ISI (Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence) and RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) must stop their confrontationist path. Your RAW does exactly what ISI does," he said in his characteristically blunt remarks.

He was addressing a conclave organised by the India Today magazine.

"The past has been dirty. But we should stop the blame game and move beyond history," he said. "We must have done tremendous damage to each other."

He accused India of whipping up mass hysteria after the Mumbai attacks and for targeting the Pakistani Army and the ISI for extremism in the region.

"Let's address issues and disputes with a new approach," he said.

Calling for "an attitudinal change" among people and the governments for better relations, Musharraf exhorted the two countries to "move beyond the burden of history" and jointly combat common problems like extremism and terrorism.

Congress 'sorry' for Babri Masjid demolition

Lucknow: Congress leader Digvijay Singh on Saturday apologised for the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 when the party was in power at the national level.

"We would once again like to say sorry to the nation for the demolition of the Babri Masjid as at that time the P V Narasimha Rao led-Congress was in power.

"We would also like to clarify that we will not have any kind of association with (former Bharatiya Janata Party leader) Kalyan Singh who was the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh when the (mosque) was demolished," Singh said.

Singh, Congress general secretary and in-charge of party affairs in Uttar Pradesh, was in Lucknow to flag off and address a rally organised by the minority cell of the party to press the Uttar Pradesh government for utilising the funds allocated by the central government for several schemes for the minorities.

Earlier in the day, he said the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) government in the state had a lethargic attitude in implementing central government schemes.

"The central government had sanctioned Rs 1,300 crore to the state government for various schemes for the minorities. However, the fund has yet not been utilised and will lapse on March 31," Singh said.

Lesson from Lahore: terrorism spares none

Cricket fans in the Indian subcontinent cherish one myth: that nations may fight and feud but their cricket icons will never be harmed.

Cricket is a religion in the subcontinent and nobody would dare the blasphemy of attacking its gods, according to the myth. The myth was shattered on Tuesday when a dozen gunmen attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore.

The brazen attack left six police officials and a driver dead and wounded seven players and a coach. The security was so poor that the gunmen ambled away and vanished into the city. The attack raised new fears that Pakistan was in danger of becoming a failed state.

Will cricket ever be the same again after the attack in Lahore? CNN-IBN’s Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai asked a distinguished panel comprising author and cricket writer Mukul Kesvan; India's former high commissioner to Pakistan, G Parthasarathy; former cricketer Maninder Singh and managing director of 21st Century Media, Lokesh Sharma.

CEO of Sri Lanka Cricket, Duleep Mendis and former chief of the Pakistan Cricket Board, Shahryar Khan joined in from Colombo and Islamabad.Things have gone from bad to worse in Pakistan, said Parthasarathy. “Right now you question the Americans or the British, whether its is Barack Obama or Gordon Brown, they say Pakistan is one of the most dangerous places to be in the world.”

“Pakistanis are passionate about cricket but there are these crazy Taliban elements who believe it’s a sport which is un-Islamic and therefore has to be targeted. It is a very small minority but they are there.”

Did the gunmen in Lahore choose cricketers as their target because they knew harming them would draw the world’s attention immediately?

The subcontinent myth that cricketers will never be harmed was unfounded, said Kesavan. “Ever since the Mumbai assault happened, for an irrational reason I felt the greatest unease about cricket being staged in the subcontinent. When the English toured us I am glad it went off well but I felt a profound unease right through the tour.”


Cong to rope in Slumdog kids for poll campaigning

Mumbai: The Congress party may rope in child actors of Slumdog Millionaire - Azhar and Rubina - for Lok Sabha poll campaign, Mumbai Regional Congress Committee (MRCC) president Kripashankar Singh said in Mumbai on Thursday.

“We may use their services if they volunteer to campaign for the Congress,” Singh told reporters.

He also informed that the copyright of the film's song Jai Ho was with the party.

“Congress president Sonia Gandhi will decide on the allotment of tickets for the Lok Sabha polls. We will forward all applications to AICC after discussion, Singh added.

Pakistan identifies those who attacked cricketers

Lahore: Pakistani authorities have identified the people responsible for this week's attack on Sri Lanka's cricket team, a senior government official said on Thursday.

The ambush on the team and its police escorts as they drove to the main stadium in Lahore shocked cricket-mad Pakistan and raised new fears about the nuclear-armed US ally's ability to overcome the threat of rising Islamist militancy.

Seven Pakistanis -- six policemen and the driver of a bus carrying match officials -- were killed in Tuesday's attack.

Police issued sketches early on Thursday of four of the gunmen who attacked the team and their escorts with AK-47 rifles, hand grenades and a rocket-propelled grenades, as they drove to Lahore's main stadium.

Later, provincial governor Salman Taseer, said authorities knew the identity of those responsible. "We have identified the people who did the operation. We have made arrests, we are chasing them, we have rounded up people," Taseer told a news conference.

He declined to elaborate, saying: "I am going to give you details in the next few days." There has been much angry finger-pointing over the failure of the police to protect the team, despite a warning about just such an attack.

Taseer said a report on the team's security would be sent to the government on Friday.

City police inspector Asif Rashid said sketches of four of the gunmen, who appeared to be 25 to 30 years old, were made from descriptions provided by a motorist and rickshaw driver.

Six Sri Lankan players were wounded along with two team officials, including a British assistant coach. They flew back to Colombo along with the rest of their party later on Tuesday.

Two Australian umpires and an English referee caught up in the attack slammed the security arrangements and said they were abandoned by Pakistani security forces once the shooting began.

"We were caught in a war zone," umpire Simon Taufel told reporters on his return to Australia. ICC match referee Chris Broad told a news conference in Manchester he and other match officials had been left like "sitting ducks" when the attack began.

The Pakistan Cricket Board said it would lodge a protest with the International Cricket Council over Broad's remarks. SUSPECTS There is a long list of possible suspects.

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said in Islamabad on Wednesday it was the first attack on Sri Lankans outside the country and he did not rule out the possibility the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were involved.

Speculation has otherwise focused largely on two Pakistani Islamist militant groups -- Lashkar-e-Taiba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi -- as well as the Pakistani Taliban. Whoever was responsible, the consequences for Pakistani cricket would appear dire.

Even before the attack many countries refused to come to Pakistan and on Thursday Bangladesh postponed a visit there by the Pakistani team this month over security concerns.

Pakistan were due to arrive in Bangladesh on Saturday to play two Twenty20 and five one-day internationals against the hosts. Former president Pervez Musharraf said Pakistani cricket was almost finished.

Musharraf, who has been keeping a low profile since stepping down as president in August, also told reporters the special police guarding the Sri Lankan team should have responded and killed the attackers in less than three seconds.

"That should be the level of training that I expect from an elite force ... we need to improve that standard," former army chief Musharraf said. Pakistan, beset by economic problems, has reeled under a wave of bomb and gun attacks in recent years, mostly carried out by militants linked to the Taliban or al Qaeda.

The civilian government which came to power a year ago is also embroiled in a confrontation with the main opposition party over a court ruling banning its leaders from elected office and forcing the party's government from power in Punjab province.

More trouble is looming. Anti-government lawyers backed by opposition political parties are due to launch a cross-country motor convoy on March 12 to press for an independent judiciary and plan to begin an indefinite sit-in near parliament on March 16.

Commentators have mentioned similarities between the Lahore attack and November's assault on the Indian city of Mumbai in which nearly 170 people were killed. India blamed Pakistani militants and their security agency handlers for that attack.

Satyam gets approval to sell 51 pc stake

Singapore: Fraud-hit Satyam Computer Services said it has received approval from the market regulator to sell a 51 percent stake in the company in a global bidding process.

As part of the two-phased sale process, a chosen investor would acquire newly issued equity shares representing 31 percent of Satyam's share capital and then make a mandatory minimum public offer to buy a further 20 percent stake, the company, which has been mired in India's biggest corporate scandal, said in a statement.

Satyam has wanted to bring a strategic investor into the company to restore the confidence of its roughly 50,000 staff and more than 600 customers, including General Electric, Cisco and Qantas Airways.

New York-listed Satyam was left struggling for survival after its founder and chairman Ramalinga Raju quit in January, saying profits had been overstated for years and assets falsified.

Satyam's potential suitors include the country’s top engineering and construction firm Larsen & Toubro, Hinduja Group and Spice Group

Chidambaram game for IPL, wants new dates

New Delhi/ Hyderabad: Home Minister P Chidambaram on Friday gave hope to organisers of the Indian Premier League, saying the government would ensure security for the cricket series but rescheduling the event could not be avoided.

“Cricket in India is completely safe,” said Chidambaram in Hyderabad. He clarified that the government had never demanded that IPL be postponed but rescheduling it is unavoidable.

State governments have expressed their inability in providing security for the IPL, which coincides with the Lok Sabha elections.

"I did not say IPL should be postponed,” said Chidambaram. "IPL and election schedules are overlapping. I don't blame the IPL management at all. They finalised their dates earlier. But once the election commission announced the election dates on Monday, I saw that the election and IPL schedules were completely overlapping."

The Minister said that the "IPL has come up with another schedule now after I asked them to. We will try to help the IPL to the overcome all issues in holding matches."

Chidambaram added that some rescheduling of IPL matches "seems unavoidable", but "the government is ready to help as much as it can".

"Cricket must be played in India; cricket is always safe in India. We will ensure safety when the matches are played," the Home Minister added.

Chidambaram was on a visit to Hyderabad on Friday as part of his security review of every state ahead of the general elections.

Vijay Mallya buys Gandhi items for $1.8 million

New Delhi: Mahatma Gandhi’s memorabilia went under the hammer at the Antiquorum Auctioneers early on Friday morning (India time) in New York after hours of high drama.

Lot 364, featuring effects of Mahatma Gandhi, had a reserve price between $20,000 and $30,000.

The room inside was packed and included officials of the Indian Consulate in New York who had earlier spent the day conferring with the highest bidder, a representative of Vijay Mallya.

After frenzied bidding, the lot drew a bid of $ 1.8 million, for a total cost of $2.1 million including the buyer's premium.

"I think Dr Mallya is probably going to take it to India, to his home and give it to India," says President, UB Group America, Tony Bedi."We are well aware of the historical significance of these things and we knew that there will be a lot of passion for Gandhiji not only from India but from all over the world," Chairman, Antiquorum Auctioneers, Robert Maron.

The last time a piece of Indian heritage went under the hammer, Mallya paid up Rs 4 crore (Rs 4 million) for the Sword of Tipu Sultan and got it back to India.

The auction went off despite the the consignor of the lot, James Otis, saying he had decided not to sell the items in the light of the controversy.

Just a day after making specific demands of the government of India in return for withdrawing the items, Otis said he wanted the auction house to take the lot off the block.

"Amidst the controversy, I decided not to sell the items. I have personally requested the Antiquorum to remove it from auction list," Otis said.

But the auction went ahead anyway.

Since the Delhi High Court's injunction against the sale was delivered to the auction house through the US Department of Justice, Antiquorum announced that they would delay delivery of the items in Lot 364 to the buyer for two weeks to leave time for any claims that may arise during this period.

A spokesperson of the Indian consulate in New York said the Indian Government itself did not participate in the auction as that would have been a violation of the Delhi High Court order.

But in the end, it appears that the Indian Government had good reason to be satisfied with the final result of the day.

Free for all in Andhra politics: from TVs to power

Hyderabad: It is raining promises in Andhra Pradesh ahead of next month's polls to the Lok Sabha and state legislative assembly with opposition parties promising to give voters free colour televisions and even outright cash.

Hoping to counter the Congress government's populist schemes implemented during the last five years, the main opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the newest entrant in the political battlefield, actor Chiranjeevi's Praja Rajyam, are promising the virtual moon.

Taking a leaf out of the DMK in Tamil Nadu, the TDP has offered free colour televisions to all poor families not having one. It has also promised cash doles.

Under the Cash Transfer Scheme (CTS) borrowed from Latin American countries, the opposition party has promised Rs.2,000 every month each to the poorest of the poor, Rs.1,500 to the poor and Rs.1,000 to middle class families.

In an attempt to woo women voters, it said the money would be paid to the female member of the families.

TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu, who was a strong votary of economic reforms and opposed freebies during his nine-year rule (1995-2004), defended the promises saying that colour TVs were necessary for "infotainment" while CTS would provide social and economic security to the poor.

Interestingly, Naidu, who ridiculed the Congress' promise of free electricity to farmers, has also assured that his party would continue the scheme if voted to power. Besides, he has promised to continue construction of irrigation projects though he has been a bitter critic of the Congress government for taking them up "to earn kickbacks".

The free TV scheme would require an estimated Rs.50 billion (Rs.5,000 crore) while CST would impose a burden of Rs.150 billion (Rs.15,000 crore) annually on the state exchequer.

The Congress has criticised Naidu saying his promises would mislead the people. "Whatever Mr Naidu has promised contradicts what he said in his book 'Plainspeaking' in which he called for doing away with all the sops as they amount to cheating the people," said the state's Finance Minister K. Rosaiah.

Not to be outdone, actor-turned-politician Chiranjeevi has promised free school education for all.

Chiranjeevi, who launched the Praja Rajyam in August last year, has promised to continue the free electricity scheme and has assured the people of 10 hours of supply every day instead of the present seven hours.

Praja Rajyam, if voted to power, would also ensure free education from "KG to PG" for girls and all students belonging to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, backward classes and economically backward classes.


Stunned by strike, Pak launches a manhunt

Islamabad: Pakistani Police on Wednesday launched a hunt for gunmen who mounted the bold attack on Sri Lanka's cricket team in Lahore and officials scrambled to figure out who was behind it.

The attack that killed eight people, six of them Pakistani police, plunged Pakistan into a "state of war", the Prime Minister's Interior Adviser, Rehman Malik, said.

"Be patient, we will flush all these terrorists out of the country," he added.

Six members of the Sri Lankan team and a British coach were wounded in the daylight attack as their bus approached the cricket stadium. None was so seriously hurt they had to be left behind when the squad departed for Colombo on Tuesday night.

The Sri Lanka cricketers were reunited with their families early on Wednesday. "It's great to be back in Sri Lanka with our families and loved ones," Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene said after the team's arrival home. Five players and assistant coach Paul Farbrace were sent to Nawaloka hospital in central Colombo for checks on their injuries.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, cricket officials said they expect to cancel this year's scheduled tour of Pakistan and play the series in a neutral venue in the wake of the attack. "We are not going. I think that's pretty clear. I don't see any international team will be going to Pakistan in the forseeable future," New Zealand Cricket chief executive Justin Vaughan told local radio on Wednesday.

Shortly after, Vaughan released a statement partly backtracking, saying no official decision had yet been made. Vaughan said the tour was unlikely to go ahead but New Zealand officials needed to consult with the Pakistan Cricket Board and international cricket officials.

Separately New Zealand Football announced cancellation of the Indonesian leg of its national team's upcoming tour of Southeast Asia. It said the decision was over security concerns but unrelated to the Pakistan cricket attack. Pakistan has reeled under a wave of bomb and gun attacks in recent years, mostly carried out by Islamist militants linked to the Taliban or al-Qaeda, but arch nationalists would relish a link being found between rival India and the Lahore attack.

The incident had echoes of an attack on the Indian city of Mumbai last November in which around 170 people were killed and which led to the Indian cricket team cancelling its planned tour of Pakistan, and a Sri Lankan team taking its place. The group blamed by India for the Mumbai attacks, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) came from Pakistan's Punjab province whose capital is Lahore.

The police chief in Punjab province announced some arrests, without saying if any gunmen were among those picked up. Journalists were shown weapons found at the scene and at other locations, including 10 AK-47 rifles, two rocket grenade launchers, 32 hand grenades and plastic explosives.


The United States wants Pakistan focused on fighting terrorism, but there are worries President Asif Ali Zardari's civilian government could be engulfed by multiple crises less than a year after taking power.

US Vice President Joe Biden will consult NATO allies in Brussels next week as part of a strategy review on Afghanistan and Pakistan ordered by Obama, his office said on Tuesday. Aside from militancy radiating across the northwest from the borders with Afghanistan, Pakistan desperately needs billions of dollars of aid to supplement a bail out by the International Monetary Fund last November.

Pakistan has arrested a few LeT members. India and other governments are watching to see how forcefully Pakistan follows through on its investigation as LeT has had close ties with Pakistani intelligence agencies in the past.

The Governor of Punjab Province, Salman Taseer, initially said the same people who carried out the attack on Mumbai were responsible for the latest in Lahore, but was more circumspect addressing a news conference late on Tuesday.

"We are not blaming anybody or holding anybody responsible like India did," Taseer said.

A former Pakistani spy chief with Islamist sympathies speculated the attack could have been carried out by Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger rebels backed by Indian intelligence as a payback for what happened in Mumbai.

"It's all too obvious that it is the handiwork of the Indian intelligence," retired general Hamid Gul said.

Taseer called for people to unite, but the country is anything but united. Elections to parliament's upper house, the Senate, will be held on Wednesday under the shadow of a crisis that gripped Pakistan for the past week and sent share prices tumbling.

Zardari dismissed the provincial government in Punjab led by his arch rival, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, after the Supreme Court decided Sharif and his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif were disqualified from holding elective office. The Sharifs say Zardari was behind the court decision and their party has begun street agitation in cities across Punjab.

Sri Lanka players arrive home after Lahore attack

Colombo: Sri Lanka's cricketers were reunited with their families after returning home early on Wednesday following an attack by gunmen in Lahore.

The players were welcomed home to Bandaranaike International Airport by friends and families, cricket officials, sports minister Gamini Lokuge and a large media contingent.

Around a dozen gunmen attacked the team's bus on Tuesday with rifles, grenades and rockets, wounding six players and a British assistant coach and killing at least eight Pakistanis.

"It's great to be back in Sri Lanka with our families and loved ones," Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene told Reuters after the team's arrival home at 3.20am (2120 GMT).

"We are still shocked by what has happened but we are relieved that no one in the team suffered more serious injuries or were killed," he added.

Five players and assistant coach Paul Farbrace were transported straight to Nawaloka hospital in central Colombo for checks on their injuries.

The most seriously injured player was Thilan Samaraweera, who was shot in the leg. Doctors will decide on Wednesday whether to try to remove the bullet. Early reports suggest he would be unable to play cricket for between six to eight weeks.

Tharanga Paranavitana, a 26-year-old playing his first international tour, was the next most seriously injured after being shot in the chest. The bullet, which narrowly missed his heart, was later removed by Pakistan doctors.

"I am fine now," Paranavitana said at the airport. "I feel very lucky." The other players injured, all of whom suffered minor shrapnel wounds, included Jayawardene (ankle), Kumar Sangakkara (shoulder), Ajantha Mendis (head) and Suranga Lakmal (leg). Jayawardene was the only player not sent to hospital on the team's return. Sangakkara paid tribute to the team's bus driver, Mohammad Khalil, for saving lives.

"The truth is that we owe our lives to Khalil for the courage he showed in getting the bus going again after the initial attack and into the stadium," Sangakkara told Reuters.

"After the first shots the bus had come to a halt on the roundabout and we were sitting ducks for the terrorists, but he got us out of there just in time."


Sri Lankan cricket team attacked in Paksitan


Sri Lankan team attacked in Pak, players safe

In a daring raid reminiscent of the Mumbai attack, terrorists in Lahore targeted the Sri Lankan cricket team that is currently touring Pakistan on Tuesday morning.

Unidentified gunmen, believed to be 12 in number and armed with Kalashkinov rifles and rocket launchers, opened fire on the bus carrying the cricketers to Gaddafi stadium in the city, Dawn news channel reported.

Initial reports said the attackers came in a white car and reportedly surrounded the bus at Liberty Chowk in the heart of the city and first fired rockets at the bus. They then resorted to indiscriminate firing with automatic firearms.

The attackers then started firing at a police van which was providing security to the Lankan team.

City police chief Haji Habibur Rehman said five policemen died in the attack.
A Pakistani Cricket Board official said six players were injured and admitted to a hospital.

"I had a shrapnel inside my shoulder, Ajantha had a few in his scalp and he also had a thigh injury. We are fine now. I don't regret coming to pak to play cricket because that is our profession. We are all out of danger now. I am very happy that I am safe"
— Sri Lankan cricket player, Kumar Sangakkara to NEWS 24 LIVE

The players reported injured are Thilan Samaraweera, Kumar Sangakkara, Ajantha Mendis, Mahela Jayawardene, Tharanga Paranavithana and Chaminda Vaas. Vaas was reportedly carried off on a stretcher while Samaraweera was reportedly shot at.

Six policemen are reported dead. The van carrying the umpires was also attacked. Assistant coach Paul Farbrace has also been reportedly injured.

The Sri Lankan tour has been officially called off.
The audacious attack in the heart of the city is reminiscent of the attack on Mumbai hotels. It is a clear pointer to what the perpetrators had on their mind — a Mumbai-like reaction and outrage from international community.

Speaking to the media after the attack, Punjab Governor Salmaan Tahseer said: "They are the same people who attacked Mumbai. It's a Mumbai-like operation. These were trained killers and are not ordinary criminals."

The impunity with which the attack was carried out, especially when cricketing events in the country sees unprecedented security measure, is sure to rattle the international community about security measures in Pakistan.

After initial postponement, India had officially called off its cricket tour to Pakistan on December 18 after the government refused permission to the team in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

That cancellation followed after relations between the neighbours deteriorated further following the 26/11 attacks.

Indian cricket team was scheduled to play three Tests, five One-Dayers and a Twenty20 match from January 4 to February 28 in Pakistan.

Security concerns in Pakistan have troubled tours in that country before as well. As many as three tours were cancelled in the last year alone.

Australia pulled out of their scheduled visit, while the International Cricket Council (ICC) postponed the Champions Trophy one-day tournament in September.


Young turks bollywood

Aamir Khan who plays a struggling musician in Akele Hum Akele Tum makes a pertinent point after bagging his first big contract in the film. He says, “Industry mein kuch aise bhi log hotein hain jo kaam ko dekhte hain, naam ko nahin.” This dialogue is still significant. Bollywood, once considered a closed door industry, is now welcoming talented technicians.

Ram Mirchandani, COO, UTV Rampage, attributes this trend to the multiplex culture. “While previously the single theatre culture made it vital for commercially viable films to be released, that is not the case now. There are multiplexes in every nook and corner of the country with five to six screens. If owners are playing commercial films on three screens, they still have two screens to showcase films like A Wednesday, Aamir, Bheja Fry. Audiences who have lapped up these movies have proved that there is a requirement for such films. So producers are willing to invest in newcomers like Neeraj Pandey, the director of A Wednesday or Rajkumar Jha, the director of Aamir,” he says.

So now you don’t need to be an industry kid to stake a claim at the box-office.

Ayananka Bose,
Dostana’s cinematographer

He’s the man with the Midas touch. Priyanka Chopra can’t stop raving about how gorgeous he made her look in Dostana. But Ayananka is as low profile as you can find. Trained under the guru of cinematography, Ravi K. Chandran, whom even SRK swears by, Bose began by assisting Chandran in Bollywood blockbusters like Dil Chahta Hai, Koi Mil Gaya and Black. He branched out on his own with the Ajay Devan starrer Main Aisa Hi Hoon followed by Umrao Jaan, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom and Tashan. The latter movies may not have created magic at the box-office but Bose’s romance with the camera was appreciated.

“I remember when my initial movies didn’t do well, my mentor Chandran had commented that I needed to be careful since a hit film mattered. I have heard that if a film doesn’t work in totality, it can affect one’s career. But I’ve never really bothered about these things,” says the soft-spoken Bose who is currently working on the Hrithik Roshan-starrer Kites.

This Chennai Film Institute graduate believes in working on one film at a time. “When I work on a film, I do so with all my passion and commitment. I’m totally involved with the product. The script is of utmost importance to me,” he says.

Can he sustain himself financially? “My needs are simple. I drive a small car and don’t yearn to live in a penthouse,” he quips.

Clearly this cinematographer is not concerned about competition even as he admits that it is the demands of a highly competitive market that has led to the influx of talented newcomers. His confidence stems from the fact that he could recreate Miami in Mumbai after a 40-day shoot for Dostana in that city and nobody would have guessed the difference. So is direction on the anvil? “No, I’m happier being the eyes of the director and believe that filmmaking is a collaborative effort,” he says.

And no, he is not affected by all the adulation that surrounds him. “Where is it? I don’t see it and still have my feet firmly planted on the ground.”

Mithoon Sharma,
Music director of Maula mere, maula mere fame

You can’t miss the song, Maula mere, maula mere, which topped the charts. While the movie, Anwar, did not cast a spell at the box-office, one man walked away with the accolades. That was music director Mithoon, who had won the Stardust award for best music director for his melodies in Bas Ek Pal. Mithoon has another reason to feel proud. His protégé Shilpa Rao won the best playback singer female for Khuda Jaane from Bachna Ai Haseeno, at the recent Screen awards.

“I like working with newcomers. I don’t really follow a pattern while selecting a singer. The voice has to suit the genre and that’s the only thing that works for me,” says Mithoon who is not too hung up on working with big banners. He also believes in the mantra that the script is king. “I do not have a bank of songs with me. I compose music depending on the demands of the script. It is also important that my vision matches that of the director,” he adds.

Mithoon, who is currently working on his private album, is looking forward to Rahul Dholakia’s Lamhe, “This is an interesting script and has a beautiful narrative. I also have Bas Ek Pal director Onir’s next film and also a Tips production,” he says.

And like Bose, he is not perturbed by the commercial factor. “The music of Anwar did very well and it would have been great had the film worked at the box-office too. It would be nice to be associated with a successful product. But a film’s success is beyond my control.”

Shiraz Ahmad,
Screenplay writer for Race

Thrillers are his forte, the racier the better, so it comes as no surprise that the screenplay writer of Race won an award at the recent Screen awards. “I had been nominated for Humraaz and Aitraaz but did not win. It was still a great feeling to be nominated.”

Tell him that many felt Race was too racy, and pat comes the reply, “The many twists and turns in the film were deliberately planned. I wanted to experiment with the concept of multiple twists,” he says.

Ask him whether it’s tough writing a script that involves several stars and he says, “If you have churned out hit scripts in the past, then the stars show confidence in your work. At any rate, it’s the producer who decides on the star. In fact, we are working on Race 2 and Saif has already approved the script.”

Shiraz is rather disappointed by the failure of his latest release Karzz. “I accepted the film because of my friendship with Himmesh. He expressed his desire to work with me and I couldn’t say no. There was a lot of pressure while working on the script. There were demands to retain five scenes along with the same dialogues from the old Rishi Kapoor starrer, so there was little I could do,” he says.

So will he be more selective in choosing his director the next time? He says, “I’m a writer and an emotional person. I can’t say no to friends. Also, in this industry you need to work on two to three projects a year to survive. One has to work hard and passionately to make a mark in this industry as there is a lot of competition.”

Shiraz is now working on Boney Kapoor’s Wanted and an untitled Tips film. “Things have changed a lot. Producers are looking for good content, that’s why they are willing to experiment with new names,” he says.

Shilpa Rao,
Playback singer of Tose naina lage re fame

This Jamshedpur-bred lady is already making waves in the five years that she’s been in Mumbai. There is a fresh raw appeal in Shilpa Rao’s voice, evident in the song Tose naina lage re from Anwar. She also won the best playback singer award at the recent Screen awards. “I had never been nominated before so this came as a surprise. An award by the jury comprising talented people from the industry is a good feeling,” says the lady with husky voice.

Shilpa is a trained classical singer but was nervous about singing Khuda jane and almost threw up at the audition.

“I had never sung a romantic song before and I was quite scared. But Sidharth Anand, the director and Vishal-Shekhar, the music directors were very supportive,” she says.

Shilpa modestly attributes her success to Karmic energy that worked for her. She began her career by singing jingles and gradually moved her way to the top.

Few are aware that Shilpa also sang Raghupati Raghava in Gandhi My Father. Shilpa has a slew of projects lined up. Dev D, Onir’s Kill Chabra, UTV’s Agge Se Right, Piyush Jha’s Sikander and Lahore. Quite an impressive line up this…

Anvita Dutt Guptan
Lyricist of Khuda jaane , screenplay and dialogue writer

She loves words, whether written, spoken or sung. So it comes as no surprise that Anvita Dutt Guptan won the Screen award for best lyrics for Khuda jaane in Bachna Ae Haseeno. “Khuda jaane was so loved and appreciated that winning an award for it just made it even more wonderful for me. I am new to the industry and had no contacts, yet I have got good work and earned accolades,” she says.

Tell her that many old-timers and youngsters feel that lyrics which once had a timeless quality have now become very commercial. She concedes, “Lyrics, like dialogues, are a reflection of the language and attitude prevalent at any given point in time. As long as the emotion remains true, people will continue to enjoy the songs.”

Anvita has written songs for Bachna, Heyy Babyy, Neil and Nikki and Dostana. But when it comes to selecting her favourite, she says it’s a close call between Dostana and Bachna.

Anvita wrote the screenplay for Dostana. Tell her that the gay portions were more of a spoof and she responds, “Dostana has been loved by the audiences. I don’t think the film was meant to be a serious commentary on being gay, neither was it meant to caricaturise the same. The film was about two guys wanting to live with one girl… at any cost.”

Anvita, who spent 14 years in advertising, is enjoying every moment of her foray into Bollywood. “I want to be writing songs and scripts for the rest of my life,” she adds.

Amrita Mahal Nakai,
production designer for Dostana

Priyanka’s fabulous Miami penthouse apartment in Dostana was actually a set created by this talented youngster. She trained under Sharmistha Roy of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai fame. “I had done my degree in commercial art and was actually looking for a break in advertising in Mumbai but things didn’t work out.

Meanwhile, my sister Sabrina who is a stylist was working on an ad film and I tagged along. I bumped into Sharmistha who was working on Bunty Aur Babli and looking for an assistant. I joined her and worked with her for three years. I assisted her for the India shoot of Salaam Namaste, The Namesake besides KANK and Tara Rum Pum.”

Meanwhile Amrita met Dostana director Tarun Mansukhani who soon became a good friend. “I remember telling him that I wanted to be a part of his first film and I guess he felt I could handle the designing. I had also worked on Sooni Taraporewalla’s Little Zhizou earlier,” she adds.

Amrita is presently working on Ayan Mukherjee’s Wake Up Sid and says, “I believe in working on one film at a time and don’t want to spread myself too thin.”

B’ soaps beat ‘K’ mania

The ‘K’ serials based on saas-bahu sagas churned out from Ektaa Kapoor’s Balaji camp have given way to a whole new trend now. Production houses and channel heads are now betting their money on B serials.

With serials like Balika Vadhu, Bidaai, Bandhan and Bandini ruling the TRP charts now, everyone seems to have a B fixation.

Colors’ Creative Head, Saurabh Tiwari, however, says it’s just a coincidence. “The ‘B’ factor is not the taking the lead. It is just a coincidence that both of our hit serials Balika Vadhu and Bandini begin with ‘B’. But that doesn’t mean other shows like Uttaran and Jai Shri Krishna aren’t doing well. They are equally successful even though they don’t begin with ‘B’.

Saurabh Tiwari also denies that they consult numerologists before naming their shows. “It’s all in the mind. Some people believe it in numerology and some don’t.”

The producer of Colors’ hit show Balika Vadhu, Comall Wadhwa too echoes the same sentiment. “I don’t believe in either the ‘K’ or the ‘B’ factor. It’s not fair to give all the credit for the success of a soap to numerology. It’s about your concept, acting and storyline. We never thought of having a soap with ‘B’. Balika Vadhu just happened to be an apt title and we all decided to go ahead with it.”

While Comall does agree that some producers bank on numerology for their show’s success, she says, “I totally disagree with with this superstition.”

It’s not just Colors. After her much-hyped Kahanii Hamarey Mahabharat Kii flopped miserably, ‘K’ queen Ekta Kapoor too seems have realised that ‘K’ isn’t all that lucky for her anymore. In fact, she is moving on and following the current trend of ‘B’ soaps. Ekta’s new show on NDTV Imagine is titled ‘Bandini’.

What’s more, Ekta is also said to have changed her numerologist now. Noted astrologer Sunita Menon who is said to have recommended the alphabet ‘K’ to Ekta Kapoor, says, “Yes, I did suggest Ekta that she should start everything with the alphabet ‘K’. But as an astrologer, there’s only so much I can do. My role is to guide. But at the end of the day, it’s not about whether it’s the ‘K’ factor or ‘B’ factor. It’s about the person’s hard work.”

She goes on to add that nothing went wrong with ‘K’ factor. “everyone goes through ups and downs, irrespective of whether it’s a ‘K’ or ‘B’ they bank on for luck.”
Sources say that a peeved Ekta Kapoor, who
was told ‘success is a result of hard work alone’ has moved on to numerologist Sanjay B. Jumaani now, in the hope of restoring luck in her life.

Sanjay admits, “I am the one who named her new soap ‘Bandini’. This alphabet will prove to be more lucky for Ekta.”

Vivek Bhal, Creative Director, Star TV, however, scorns at this superstition. “I don’t believe forcing a K or a B into a title will matter eventually. In fact I have decided to call Star’s next big show ‘Ye Rishta Kya Kehlaata Hai for’ and no one has objected. The title should suit the show and also appeal to the viewers and that’s what’s important. Whether or not it begins with a K or a B is secondary.”

Well, in a world ruled by fickle-minded folks, everything is subject to success. If Ye Rishta... proves to be a hit, then ‘Y’ might just emerge as the next lucky letter.

NCP wants national alliance

Nationalist Congress Party supremo Mr Sharad Pawar on Sunday laid down some conditions for power-sharing with the Congress after the coming elections, and called on the Congress to rethink its decision not to
go in for a national-level alliance with its UPA partners.
Speaking to reporters after an NCP meeting at Nashik in Maharashtra, Mr Pawar said: “We hope that the Congress rethinks (its) decision of not having a
pact with UPA allies at the national level. Our worry is that if we are forced to go in for local-level adjustments, we will have to include those who are opposed to the Congress."
Mr Pawar’s move comes at a time when the deadlock on seat-sharing between the Congress and the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh appeared
to continue even after an hour-long meeting between Congress president
Sonia Gandhi and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav here on Sunday night.
The UPA partners are now mounting pressure on the Congress leadership for power-sharing after the latter made it clear that alliances would be state specific and not at the national level.
Top NCP leaders vowed to ensure that Mr Pawar becomes the country’s next Prime Minister. The Congress has already declared that Dr Manmohan Singh would continue as Prime Minister if the UPA government was re-elected.
NCP spokesman Mr D.P. Tripathi said, “The NCP wants 50 seats both in the Lok Sabha and in the Maharashtra Assembly.”

SP leaders meet Sonia

The Samajwadi supremo, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, met the Congress chief Ms Sonia Gandhi, in a bid to break the deadlock over seat-sharing in Uttar Pradesh in the General elections, even as the former chief minister said he was confident of striking a deal with the UPA’s lead party “very soon”.
There was no word from either parties on the outcome of the meeting at Gandhi’s 10 Janpath residence amid indications they were still unable to resolve their differences.
Mr Yadav and his party colleague Amar Singh did not speak to waiting newsmen while SP sources said more talks are likely in the coming days to hammer out a consensus.
But shortly before the crucial meeting, Mr Yadav told reporters, “We are willing to give 15 seats to Congress though they should be getting 12 seats)...we will be glad if an alliance would be formed.” To a question on Congress’ demand for 25 seats, Mr Yadav said “let the talks conclude.”
Samajwadi Party has already declared 59 candidates in the politically crucial UP where 80 Lok Sabha seats are at stake.
SP sources said while the party was willing to give 17 seats to Congress, the grand old party was not ready to settle for less than 25 seats.
Sources said due to the diverse positions, no understanding could be apparently reached tonight and more talks were likely.
However, before the meeting Mr Yadav had said that he would arrive at a settlement “very soon”.

Hyderabad : Seat sharing rocks Kutami

The seat-sharing issue has become a headache for the TD chief, Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu, since no party in the Mahakutami (Grand Alliance) is ready to sacrifice its seats for other parties.
There are as many as 10 Assembly and two Lok Sabha seats which are being claimed by both the TD and the TRS.
The TRS wants to field its candidates from Aleru, Station Ghanpur, Dommat and Secunderabad Assembly segments. However, former ministers in the TD, who represented these seats several times, like M. Narasimhulu, K. Srihari, Ch. Mutyam Reddy and T. Srinivas Yadav are not willing to let go of their seats to the pink party.
Apart from this, the TD and the TRS are fighting over who should contest from seats like Mancherial, Sircilla, Jedcharla and Parkal, where both the parties are equally strong. Lok Sabha seats like Adilabad and Malkajgiri also being equally claimed by the TD and the TRS.
Moreover, the TRS chief, Mr K. Chandrasekhar Rao’s unilateral announcement of his party candidates from some seats like Kukatpally, Serlingampally and Makhtal has made TD leaders angry. TD’s aspirants in these segments are making hue and cry over the decision of the TRS chief and are stepping up pressure on Mr Naidu not to leave these seats to the TRS.
Even the Left parties are also unable to arrive on a mutual agreement over seats-sharing issue between them. Both the CPI and the CPI(M) are asking for Assembly seats like Araku, Wyra and Huzurabad simultaneously.
Meanwhile, the TD, the TRS and the CPI(M) have not agreed on who should contest from Warangal East, Uppal and Musheerabad seats. There are some seats like Vinukonda, which are equally claimed by the TD and the CPI.
Moreover, sources said, seat-sharing discussions are stuck over the Bhongir Lok Sabha seat which is being claimed by all the partners in the Grand Alliance.