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CALL OF THE WILD

After being cooped up for months at home, chasing a tiger’s call through the mystery-laden Ranthambore jungles, locking eye balls with a crocodile on the Chambal river, and eating dinner with royalty under the stars may seem fantastical, but it may just be the adventure you need.

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CALL OF THE WILD

It could have been a scene straight out of Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Two Brothers, a film about two tigers Kumal and Sangha. The sun moves towards his place of rest casting a golden glow on every piece of free creation, turning the whole space an unreal verdant moss colour. Dusk settles in on the cool evening, creating an almost surreal glow on the shimmering tree leaves. Frogs exercise their vocal chords almost as if they have rehearsed their musical piece to outdo each other in a guttural jugalbandi, while crickets sing in unison. Birds direct your eyes from one bunch of glowing leaves to another. At the end of our drive through the jungle, where we have crossed paths with a herd of sambhars and chatted and fed some colourful parakeets, and have almost given up hope of any real adventure, we are stopped in our tracks by a heart-plummeting wild call.

Our guide and the driver exchange one look, reverse the vehicle off the path and turn around. With his foot pushed hard on the accelerator, the driver flies the vehicle on the dangerously uneven winding jungle roads, through rustling trees, as we hold on for dear life, chasing the call of the tiger. Yet another deep guttural call comes from the other side. Our vehicle slices through the almost physical sound waves to reach a center point. Where the driver kills the engine. We wait in eerie silence. The world comes to an almost pandemic like standstill. And then we see it. The majestic tiger walking towards us in all its beauty. A collective taking in of breaths and all eyes are transfixed on the tiger as he languidly walks towards us. We are in his territory. And he looks right into my eyes. I do not want the blood of my family on my hands, so I suppress the rising blood-curdling scream deep in my throat, almost choking in the bargain. As I gasp for breath, he walks past the vehicle, to the other side of the jungle. That gaze stays with me for a long, long time. As anyone who has locked eyes with a tiger will tell you, the experience is surreal, at the very least.

THE WILD AND THE SURREAL

As we drive out of the jungle still in a daze, the magnificent Nahargarh Palace Fort looms ahead, as if magically rising out of the sands. The surreal does not desert us. This stunning fort palace, which every year is the setting for the Music and Wildlife Festival, invites us in through a large fort gate into a world of yore. Visible from the entry gate is the majestic building, built around three courtyards, numerous gardens and fountains. A 21st century fort built organically by Gaj Singh of the Alsisar family, is unique as Gaj Singh explains, “Rajasthan has always been about preserving legacies; this fort is all about creating one.” We chat next to a fountain in a beautifully designed courtyard, surrounded by trees, turrets and arches, regal yet decidedly relaxed and languid. The architecture is balanced and elegant in its simplicity. Despite the magnitude of the property, it does not overwhelm you, but quietly and seductively beckons you into its various spaces.

The predominant feeling is that of spacious outdoors. Which works well for today’s times when indoor, air-conditioned spaces are to be avoided. In fact, the safety measures start right from the time your vehicle approaches the fort palace gates. Temperatures are checked. You are greeted at a safe distance and since you are required to send all details while booking, the transfer takes place quickly in a large open area. All surfaces, handles, rooms, linen, toiletries are sanitized every day. The spacious open-air public spaces are perfect for keeping social distance while you wind down in this calm, spacious resort.

Ranthambore boasts of many such wonderful resorts and camps that extend the excitement of the outdoors while giving you an experience of the famous royal hospitality of Rajasthan. From Taj and Oberoi to standalone resorts, lodges and camps, there is a wide variety to suit every taste and fit any pocket.

Nahargarh has a special magic that in safer times, has wooed many artists to perform there. From Farhan Akhtar to Rasika Shekar to electronic music star Gully boy Naezy to folk artists Arko Mukherjee and sufi singer Mame Khan, the mesmerising spaces at the fort palace have been filled with soulful music and an energy all its own, many foggy winters. Even now, as the sun sets, its mysterious spaces seem to gather an energy of their own.

A special dinner is laid out at the beautifully lit Hathi Kund (the stepwell pool). Banana leaves rustle in the wind, lights glow in niches all around and water ripples into patterns as marble elephants preside over the pond. The stunning beauty of the place transports you to a magical land, where the dazzling canopy of stars watches over you while you experience a meal so divine you could well be in heaven. The magic of this trip has many dimensions, as we soon discover, where you trapeze delicately between the wild and the surreal almost as in a dream. 

THE SAVAGE AND THE SERENE

At dawn or dusk, you could take a trip to the jungle and if you are as lucky as I was, a tiger might cross your path. The Ranthambore National Park is home to no less than 71 tigers, tigresses and cubs, many with legendary stories, that the rangers will be only too happy to divulge. You could also visit the magnificent thousand-year-old Ranthambore fort on the hill, where you could chase stories of passion, romance and valour lurking in the turrets and corridors, even as you look down on a breathtaking view of the Ranthambhore jungles.  If you feel more adventurous you could book a boat ride on the Chambal river and lock eyeballs with the sitting-to-stare-you-out crocodiles. The serene boat ride on calm waters in the midst of a vast languid landscape at dawn can lull you into a dreamy state. Till an urgent whisper wakes you out of your smiley stupor and you find your guide pointing at a family of ghariyals (crocodiles) crawling on the riverbeds sleepily welcoming the sun. Your heart may do a quick beat or two at the sight of these magnificent creatures. Their savage beauty may well beat you into silence, but If luck favours you, you might get to witness the gentle beauty of the Gangetic dolphin leading you a merry dance up the river, while you try to identify the many beauteous birds on the water through your binoculars.

Once back from this exciting experience, a sumptuous beer brunch in the soft autumn sunshine in the courtyard awaits, followed by a long walk in the picturesque lawns and an amazing spa session.

The atmosphere is languid, the vibe magical, the landscape vast, the tiger majestic, the experience surreal. A mere 350 odd kilometres from Delhi, awaits this unique celebration of wildlife and nature—probably one of the few places one can drive down to rejuvenate oneself in today’s times.

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Vidya Balan and Raj Arjun starrer ‘Natkhat’ exposes deep-rooted patriarchy in Indian society

Murtaza Ali Khan

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Short films offer a great platform for young and upcoming filmmakers to showcase their talents. But, making a short film is always a tricky proposition. For, the financial prospects are quite uncertain. However, the one thing that drives such productions is passion as the constant threats and fears often serve as fuel that end up stirring the deepest artistic urges of the filmmaker. One thing, however, is more or less certain. What these films lack in scope they more than make up for it in terms of vision. Of late, the short films are becoming more and more mainstream with big names from the Hindi film industry joining the bandwagon. Also, the pandemic has given a further fillip to this emerging trend of making short films with established stars. Natkhat, co-written and directed by Shaan Vyas, is a fine example of what storytellers can achieve using the shot film format.

Natkhat stars Vidya Balan in the role of a mother who takes it upon herself to teach her young son an important lesson about gender equality that he will never forget. The short, co-produced by Vidya Balan and Ronnie Screwvala, has already traveled to many international film festivals. Ever since its premiere at the ‘We Are One: A Global Film Festival’ last year, Natkhat has found a spot on many most-anticipated short films lists. The short film is now being streamed by Voot Select as part of Voot Select Film Festival—a direct to OTT Film Festival that will showcase more than 15 critically acclaimed movies across genres over an eight day period.

The Shaan Vyas directorial succeeds in singularly pointing why despite so many reforms and new laws patriarchy has still managed to endure in our society. Let’s try and examine the story of Natkhat to understand this better. The short follows Sonu (portrayed by Sanika Patel) who one day along with his friends at school decides to teach a girl a lesson she would never forget. At dinner time when the grown-ups discuss a female politician who is causing them some trouble, Sonu offers them a suggestion with the ghastly admission of the sinister act he committed at school. The bunch of boys had taught the girl who had dared to hit one of them a lesson by dragging her to the woods and threatening her to cut off her pigtail. When he offers the same advice to the grown-ups at the dinner table in order to teach the female politician a lesson, the father (essayed by Raj Arjun) gets up in a fit of rage to scold his young son but he is stopped by the grandfather (played by Atul Tiwari). The old patriarch consoles his enraged son by reminding him about the boy’s gender privilege: “Boys will be boys. What do you expect? Will you crucify him for this?”

Now, the servile mother (essayed by Vidya Balan) in a ghunghat is listening to the conversation from a distance. She is not even allowed to sit and eat with the men of the family even as she serves them hot food and rotis. She can only eat inside her room after they are finished. But even from within the ghunghat we can sense her dread and uneasiness on hearing her son’s ghastly admission of an act he committed at school. She is deeply disturbed by the toxic machismo her young son with an impressionable mind is in the process of inheriting from those around him. So she takes matters into her own hands and decides to teach her son the principles of equality using the age-old art of bedtime stories.

Natkhat is a powerful reminder that the root cause of all oppression that women are subjected to in our society is a direct result of patriarchy. What children see while growing up has a lasting impression on their impressionable minds. Their conditioning already begins long before they even realize it. By the time they grow up into adults the damage is already done. If, however, the parents can make conscious efforts to educate their children about the importance of gender equality then the dark influences of patriarchy can be greatly mitigated.

There is so much that remains unsaid in Natkhat and so the onus is on the actors to convey the same non-verbally and they are up to the mark. In particular, Vidya Balan, Raj Arjun and young Sanika Patel need to be commended for their brilliant performances in the short film. It’s really heartening to see a leading Bollywood actress like Balan taking such keen interest in a project like Natkhat and not just as an actor but also as a producer. While there still there is still a long way to go before the short films start enjoying the same reverence and recognition that’s generally associated with feature films, Natkhat proves that short film format is more than capable of delivering a strong message in a most effective manner possible.

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TAHIRA KASHYAP UNVEILS HER LATEST SHORT FILM ‘QUARANTEEN CRUSH’

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MUMBAI: After the success of ‘Toffee’ and ‘Pinni’, author-filmmaker Tahira Kashyap Khurrana unveiled her third short film titled ‘Quaranteen Crush’ as a part of Netflix’s anthology series ‘Feels Like Ishq’.

Tahira penned a heartwarming post to express her gratitude to the entire team. She captioned the post, “My happy place! Dekhna zaroor aaj #feelslikeishq @netflix_in par! Had the most amazing time making #quaranteencrush big thank you to the entire team.”

Having shot for the short film in just four days in Chandigarh between the first and second lockdown, ‘Quaranteen Crush’ depicts an innocent love story between two teenagers with the innate quirky zing of Tahira. Utilising her quarantine to the fullest, Tahira has been working on different things through the lockdown, including her book ‘12 Commandments of Being A Woman’, that released last year, ‘Quaranteen Crush’ and her upcoming book ‘7 Sins of Being A Mother’.

Tahira is also gearing up for her upcoming project, for the same the author-filmmaker was seen doing a recce in Chandigarh.

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AJAY DEVGN GETS NOSTALGIC AS ‘SINGHAM’ CLOCKS 10 YEARS

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MUMBAI: Reminiscing the movie that saluted the spirit of today’s frontline warriors – the cops – actor Ajay Devgn on Thursday got nostalgic as his action-thriller ‘Singham’ clocked ten years.

Taking to his Twitter handle, the actor shared a video that featured different shots of the film. Along with the video, he tweeted,”Jismein hai dum, toh fakt Bajirao Singham. Singham sirf ek film nahin hai, Singham ek jasba hai, emotion hai, ek salaam hai uss police force ke naam jo apni parwah kiye bina, imandaari aur sachhi nishtha se apna kaam iss desh ki seva mein kar rahe hain,” (Singham is not just a film, it is a passion, an emotion, A salute to the police force who are doing their work in the service of this country with honesty and true devotion, regardless of their concern)

“I want to thank the team and all the fans for the super successful 10 years of Singham. And dedicate it to all the frontline workers out there,” the actor added.

The video shared by the ‘Golmaal’ actor features different shots from the film, featuring the actor in the uniform of a cop. It showcases Ajay with Kajal Aggarwal who essayed the role of his love interest in the movie.

Directed by Rohit Shetty, ‘Singham’ is the first installment of the ‘Cop Universe’ and a remake of the 2010 Tamil film ‘Singam’. The film features Devgn in the lead role as Inspector of Police (S.H.O.), Bajirao Singham, and Prakash Raj as the antagonist. The sequel to the action-thriller, ‘Singham Returns’ was also released in the year 2014.

Inspired from the flick, a spin-off, titled ‘Simmba’, starring Ranveer Singh as the titular officer, ACP Sangram Bhalerao hit theatres in 2018. A second spin-off, ‘Sooryavanshi’, too, is slated for release in the near future, featuring Akshay Kumar reprise the role in the lead, with both Devgn and Singh reprising their respective characters Singham and Simmba in a climactic sequence.

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JACQUELINE FERNANDEZ SHARES SULTRY PICTURES FROM LATEST PHOTOSHOOT

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NEW DELHI: Setting the temperatures soaring on social media, Bollywood diva Jacqueline Fernandez shared stunning pictures from her latest photoshoot, accompanied with a powerful message for society.

Taking to her Instagram handle, Jacqueline shared a couple of pictures where she could be seen posing effortlessly in a bathroom while wrapping her body with a bright reddish-orange blanket. In the pictures, Jacqueline is seen sporting a high glossy make-up look while flaunting her flawless skin. With her luscious locks open, the actor showcased her toned body on Instagram.

She captioned her photoshoot pictures with a strong message about self-love. “You.. you’re not ugly.. society is #liveyourlifenow,” she wrote. With the post hitting the photo-sharing platform, it garnered more than one million likes. Scores of fans chimed into the comments section and left multiple hearts and raising hands emoticons in awe of the post.

“Damn right,” one user wrote. “The moment we remove context, we find our own process,” wrote another. Meanwhile, on the work front, Jacqueline has her kitty full with some interesting projects like, ‘Cirkus’, ‘Bhoot Police’, ‘Kick 2’, ‘Ram Setu’, ‘Attack’ and ‘Bachchan Pandey’.

She will also be a part of South star Kichcha Sudeep’s multilingual film ‘Vikrant Rona’, for which she recently shot a dance number. Additional details regarding her character in the film have been kept under wraps. 

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KARTIK AARYAN TO PLAY A PILOT IN HANSAL MEHTA’S ‘CAPTAIN INDIA’

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MUMBAI: Bollywood actor Kartik Aaryan is all set to headline RSVP and Baweja Studios’ ‘Captain India’, which will be directed by ace filmmaker Hansal Mehta. The upcoming film is inspired by one of India’s successful rescue missions from a war-torn country. Kartik took to his Instagram account to unveil the first look poster of ‘Captain India’ which features him in a never-before-seen avatar. The actor captioned the post, “When a man goes beyond the call of duty. With great pride and honour, we bring to you #CaptainIndia @hansalmehta sir @rsvpmovies @bawejastudios #RonnieScrewvala #HarmanBaweja.”

Produced by Ronnie Screwvala and Harman Baweja, the inspiring action-drama will star Kartik as he steps into the shoes of a pilot who spearheaded the operation and displayed exemplary bravery and courage in the process.

Speaking about the upcoming film, Kartik said, “Captain India is inspiring and thrilling in equal measure and it gives me great pride and honour to be a part of such a historic chapter of our country.”

“I have immense respect for Hansal Sir’s body of work and this was the perfect opportunity to collaborate with him,” Kartik further said about the filmmaker who is best known for projects like ‘Aligarh’, ‘Shahid’ and ‘Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story’.

National-award winning filmmaker Mehta said the film will revisit a moment where a man goes beyond his own pain. He said, “Captain India which is inspired by true events will revisit a moment in time where a man goes beyond his own pain and suffering to save thousands. I’m happy to collaborate with Ronnie Screwvala and Harman Baweja on the film and I look forward to working with Kartik.”

Talking about the film, producer Ronnie Screwvala said that ‘Captain India’ is “not just a story of one of the biggest humanitarian operations ever but also about the indomitable human spirit, one that rises above failure despite the odds.” He added, “Hansal Mehta is one of the finest filmmakers of our time and has always beautifully captured the true essence of humane stories. Kartik Aaryan’s fans are surely in for a treat as he steps into all-new territory with ‘Captain India’.” 

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A musician is never alone

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As I sat for my online concert last month, I was compelled to deliberate on how Covid isolation has changed the tapestry of the classical music concert scene. From the grand stage with fancy acoustics and live instruments, we have now moved to the Zoom or Facebook interface with our electronic sur peti, the itabla pro app and our electronic tabla box. In some cases, artists call some accompanists home to accompany them on the tabla and the harmonium for the live relay. But still it is a very different scene from the feel of a live concert with applause and cheer of live audiences.

Even so, I noticed some things still remain the same. Artists still have found a way around to reach their audiences and collaborate with other artists albeit virtually. Which means the instinct for music and artistry to be innately collaborative and social still remains. This made me ponder about the life of a musician and how it is shaped from childhood till late adulthood as a senior artist.

As a child one is always brought into the fold of music by a parent and a guru. The child remains under the aegis of the guru when she learns to grow her musical practice through training and influence of peers. There is an unsaid rule that overrides competitiveness and rivalry. The love for music itself and the desire to experience the grandeur and divinity of ragas is supreme.

As the artist grows as a musician, she learns to sing with the support of the accompanying artists on the tabla and the harmonium or in the case of Carnatic music, the violinist and the mrindangist. The three artists on stage learn to blend their music into a wholly fulfilling experience. Music is always taught and performed in social and collaborative settings.

Even as the student grows into a mature artist, he or she attracts more people to the process of making his music. Organisers, audiences, students, instrumentalists, artists from other genres, etc. The artist while on the one hand grows in his individual artistry, also grows in a community of art lovers and fellow artists. This testifies to the unifying powers of music. It testifies to the power that has kept music alive and growing in this lockdown.

Never before has music been so easily accessible. Never before have artists had the access to audiences all over the word so easily and so quickly. Never before has music been so omnipresent.

The musician is, was and will never be alone because she is engaged in something which is intrinsically all encompassing and divine. The nature of music is to connect people through the experience of collective emotions. Of joy, of sorrow, of happiness, of longing, and of grief and love. The musician is bound viscerally to humanity through his audiences, through his fellow artists, and through the music itself.

In this fact lies the beauty of music. A gift that music offers to those who choose to engage with it.

A musician will always remain from beginning to end in a bubble of positive energies of people around. A musician is never alone.

The writer is a vocalist of both Hindustani and Carnatic Classical music, with over three decades’ experience. She is also the founder of Music Vruksh, a venture to make classical accessible for its aesthetic and wellness benefits.

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