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THE UNSUNG GERMAN HERO OF INDIAN CINEMA

Best known for the exquisitely shot Pakeezah, Josef Wirsching’s talent and innovation with the camera has made him an immortal part of the history of cinematography—and cinema—in India.

Bhuvan Lall

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Kamal Amrohi, Meena Kumari and Josef Wirsching.
Kamal Amrohi, Meena Kumari and Josef Wirsching.

In the year 1928, Carl Josef Wirsching, driving from Munich to Rangoon in a Mercedes-Benz, set up his small handheld 35 mm Leica camera to film the Indus River. The talented Munich-born cinematographer was shooting a two-part travelogue of his overland trip. A soothsayer, on the banks of the Indus predicted that the young German would do awe-inspiring things if he stayed in India. This forecast was then repeated by a naked mendicant in Benares while a court astrologer in Jaipur remarked that Wirsching had “returned to the birthplace of a previous life”.

This was Wirsching’s second visit to India. Earlier, he had served as the cameraperson during the production of Die Leuchte Asiens, a silent film on the life of Buddha in the 1920s. The film directed by Franz Osten, a pioneer of the German cinema industry and chief director of the Münchner Lichtspielkunst AG – Emelka Film Company, was shot entirely on location in India. Based on Edwin Arnold’s Light of Asia, it was the first-ever Indo-German cinematic collaboration and the most expensive movie then in India. It was released in 1926 to rave reviews throughout Europe due to its vivid visual authenticity.

Now on his journey to India by road, Wirsching reached Bombay, where film producer and actor Himanshu Rai furnished him with a five-year contract to offer his technical expertise to Indian cinema. Earlier in 1924, Indian nationalist Himanshu Rai, a Middle Temple-trained Barrister in London, had travelled to Munich, the centre of global cinematic excellence in that period. He wanted to lure German filmmaking talent for producing and directing Indian films for the world market. His accidental meeting at a birthday party with Devika Rani, Rabindranath Tagore’s grandniece, changed the course of Indian cinema’s history. An associate of Subhas Chandra Bose, Devika Rani had trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and the Royal Academy of Music in London. She had learnt architecture, assisted filmmaker Fritz Lang, met Josef von Sternberg, attended classes by Georg Wilhelm Pabst, and even held the makeup tray for Marlene Dietrich during the filming of Blue Angel to study the fascinating medium of cinema. Despite an age difference of twenty years, Rai and Devika Rani got married and began one of the greatest partnerships in Indian cinema to project and build the cinematic culture of India, then an enslaved nation. After producing three silent films in collaboration with Franz Osten – Light of Asia (1925), Shiraz – Das Grabmal Einer Gorssen Liebe (1928), and Schick Salswurfel – A Throw of Dice (1929) – the couple decided to apply in Indian cinema what they had witnessed at Universum Film Aktiengesellschaft in Babelsburg, Germany. With the transition from silent to sound cinema, Bombay Talkies, India’s first international style film production studio that was listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange, opened its doors in May 1935.

Meanwhile back in Munich, the thirty-year-old Josef Wirsching, now married to Charlotte Mühlberger, worked on a variety of geopolitical films at the Emelka Film Studios. At that time, there was increasing pressure on German filmmakers to produce propaganda film material for the Nazis. The film talent in Europe not keen on becoming propagandists headed to Hollywood. Wirsching, still holding the offer letter from Rai and Devika Rani, toyed with the idea of relocating to India to be part of their ambitious enterprise. Then one day, he packed his bags and, along with Charlotte, set sail for India to work in Hindi cinema. On arrival, he accepted the position of director of photography at Bombay Talkies. The company, managed by the crème de la crème of Bombay’s business tycoons, had built a production facility on Parsi philanthropist Sir Framroze Edulji Dinshaw’s palatial summer estate in Malad on the outskirts of Bombay. The innovative studio with the latest state of the art film hardware including Bell and Howell cameras and RCA sound systems had a sound stage, a recording room, a laboratory, a library, a preview theatre, and even a small school for child performers.

After moving from Munich to Malad, Wirsching went on to work with the biggest film stars and directors in Indian cinema. Bombay Talkies’ first major picture, Jawani Ki Hawa (1935), shot by Wirsching, was a crime thriller featuring Devika Rani as the lead opposite the young, tall and handsome Najmul Hasan. The film, shot entirely on board a train, was a box office success. However, during the shooting of the next film, Jeevan Naiya, a major scandal erupted in the lives of Rai and Devika Rani. Subsequently, Hasan, the lead star of the film was sacked. Rai asked Wirsching to trash all the film scenes shot with Hasan and the search for a new lead actor began. Wirsching’s handsome laboratory assistant Kumudlal Kunjilal Ganguly was rushed into the studio and a hurried screen test was conducted. After filming the shabbily dressed lab assistant, Wirsching was content with the outcome, though director Osten wasn’t. But studio boss Rai persevered, and soon Kumudlal was announced as the hero of Jeevan Naiya. A new screen-name was needed for the lead actor and, finally, the film starring Ashok Kumar, was released in 1936. With this accident of fate, the star system in Hindi cinema was born and soon Ashok Kumar, the shy young lawyer from Khandwa, became the first Indian actor to be paid Rs. 100,000 for each film, a lot more than the Rs. 75 per month he earned earlier as a lab assistant. The St. Stephens College science graduate Rameshwar Dayal Mathur, who had been trained in cinematography and film processing at the MGM studios and the Fox Film Corporation in Hollywood and New York, replaced Ganguly as Wirsching’s assistant at Bombay Talkies. Mathur later went on to shoot the magnificent Mughal-e-Azam.

By the late 1930s, Wirsching had shot sixteen films for Bombay Talkies directed by Franz Osten including Izzat (1937), Jeevan Prabhat (1937), Nirmala, (1937/38), Kangan (1939) and Durga (1939). Wirsching was also behind the camera, filming Bombay Talkies’s Achhut Kanya, the revolutionary film about untouchability, starring the hit pair Ashok Kumar and Devika Rani. The film had a universal resonance in Indian society that was beginning to question the barbarous caste based discrimination. In India, Wirsching came to be known for his characteristic German expressionist cinematography, a dark and melancholy style of filmmaking. The dynamic use of shadow and light became Wirsching’s signature style and his camera worshipped the Indian heroines. He was the pioneer of the most influential camera techniques including playback singing in Indian cinema in those early days. He mostly used the German Arriflex film cameras and suggested innovative changes to the German manufacturers Arnold and Richter. The later models of the cameras were suitably improved based on his practical recommendations. In between films, the soft-spoken cinematographer went out on road trips around India with Charlotte and extensively photographed the nation. This also helped him in location scouting for future shoots. He also photographed the arrival of Subhas Chandra Bose in Bombay soon after his election as the President of the Congress Party in 1938. Meanwhile the Film India magazine protested against the “German experts with their wives and children who had begun to play such an important role in the industry”. On the other hand, Bombay Talkies’ screenwriter Saadat Hasan Manto found the German involvement most natural.

On 26 February 1939, the Wirschings had a son and they named him Wolfgang Peter. Then just six months later on the first day of September, as Wirsching was busy on a movie set at Bombay Talkies, World War II began. Within days, the United Kingdom and France officially declared a state of war with Germany. Immediately, ‘Hukumat-i-Britannia’ gave orders to arrest all German nationals living in the British colony of India. Wirsching was detained as an enemy alien and taken to the internment camp in Ahmednagar, then moved to Dehradun, where mountaineer and writer Heinrich Harrer was also lodged. Wirsching was finally dispatched to the Satara internment camp. Secluded and with no camera, film negatives or lenses to work with, the famed master cinematographer of Hindi cinema along with others started a small toy factory known as SAT Toys, manufacturing wooden toys for children. All this while, with all their savings and assets confiscated by the Hukumat-i-Britannia, Charlotte and Wolfgang survived in a small apartment on the first floor of the Bombay Talkies, waiting for the war to end. Released from internment after nearly seven years, Wirsching was reunited with his wife and son. He had plans to retire and move back to Munich but he discovered that his family home was completely destroyed in Allied bombing raids in 1944. Also lost forever was his extensive photography collection, negatives and other documents. As Wirsching entered the gates of his old studios at Bombay Talkies, it too had undergone several changes including new management. During the war years, studio chief Rai had suddenly passed away on 16 May 1940 and Devika Rani had met the artist Svetoslav Roerich, son of the celebrated Russian painter Nikolai Roerich. She wanted to convert Bombay Talkies into an international company with collaborations in Hollywood but her shareholders disagreed. Subsequently, she sold off her shares in Bombay Talkies and retired from films. Wirsching’s original collaborator Osten had returned to Germany to become a director of a spa in Bad Aibling where he died in relative obscurity in 1956. Even though the world as he knew it had changed, Wirsching decided to settle down in India, a nation he had fallen in love with years ago. He moved with his family to a new home near Mount Mary church in Bandra, knowing that his best work in cinema was yet to come.

In the post-war years, Wirsching shot his next film with a young handsome Punjabi boy, Dharam Dev Pishorimal Anand, titled Ziddi (1948). That film launched the career of Dev Anand, one of the most popular stars of Indian cinema. By now, Bombay Talkies had become the go-to place for Indian filmdom’s emerging talents and many youngsters blossomed there, including Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar, Pran, Madhubala, Leela Chitnis, Khwaja Ahmed Abbas and Mehmood. Wirsching was the man behind the most fabulous cinematography in the haunting suspense thriller Mahal (1949), based on a script written by Kamal Amrohi. This was a landmark film in Indian cinema with its use of live action special effects and compositional techniques. Wirsching’s camera played with shadow and light in an exquisite manner and filmed the striking close-ups of the leading lady Madhubala to create scene after scene full of dramatic tension. With Mahal, Madhubala became a star overnight. Interestingly, famous cinematographer V. K. Murty, who served as a production secretary in Mahal, later filmed Guru Dutt’s classics Pyaasa and Kagaz ke Phool. In 1960, Wirsching and Charlotte, now a part of the inner circle of the Hindi film industry, made a brief appearance on the silver screen along with the young Helen and Om Prakash during the filming of a song, ‘Itni badi mehfil’, in Kishore Sahu’s Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai.

However, Wirsching’s career-best was the opulent masterpiece Pakeezah (1972) the film that took over twelve long years to complete. Working with 70 mm cinemascope and in Technicolor for the first time, Wirsching’s camerawork effectively transported the viewer into a wistful age of bygone formality and grandeur of Lucknow at the turn of the century. With its swirling romanticism and languid, dream-like cinematography, Pakeezah directed by Kamal Amrohi became one of the most extraordinary Hindi musicals ever made. For shooting the famous train scene for Pakeezah, Wirsching decided to take lead actor Meena Kumari near Kasara Ghat railway tracks, where nearly two decades earlier, he had shot scenes of Achhut Kanya with Ashok Kumar. The film’s song visualization with Meena Kumari and Raaj Kumar remain masterpieces even decades later.

The publicity-shy Josef Wirsching did not live to finish the shooting of Pakeezah that was completed by his former assistant R. D. Mathur.  At the age of sixty-four, he died on 11 June 1967 due to a massive cardiac arrest, just a fortnight after he had lost Charlotte to cancer. Their son Wolfgang Peter Wirsching trained as an automobile engineer at Mercedes-Benz and was offered an opportunity to relocate to Hollywood, where the former head of the Bombay Talkies laboratory, Wilhelm (Willie) Zolle rented film equipment, but he preferred to stay on in India, the country that was so lovingly photographed by his father. Five years later, at the star-studded premiere of Pakeezah, Kamal Amrohi introduced him as the son of the man who shot the film.

The twenty-four feature films, numerous documentaries, and thousands of photographs Josef Wirsching filmed over thirty years made him immortal in Indian cinema. His brilliant painting with light will remain a tutorial in the art of cinematography for generations of filmmakers to come. This German cinematographer is the unsung hero of Indian cinema.

The writer is the author of ‘The Man India Missed The Most: Subhas Chandra Bose’ and ‘The Great Indian Genius: Har Dayal’. He is now writing the biography of Sardar Patel. He can be contacted at writerlall@gmail.com

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A panel discussion on maintaining mental well-being in Covid times

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Psychonnect recently presented a thought-provoking panel discussion on ‘Mental well-being in the new normal’ on NewsX. The discussion revolved around mental health, building resilience in the new normal, overcoming insomnia, and how an organisation like Psychonnect is leading the way towards maintaining one’s mental well-being in the new normal.

The discussion was joined by Divya Ganguly Mallick, senior academic and psychotherapist based in the UK, co-founder of Psychonnect; Professor Michael Gradisar, director of Wink which is a website dedicated to sleep education; and Professor Amanda Kirby, CEO of ‘Do-it solutions’ and is also an academic who holds expertise in neurodiversity.

In her introductory remarks, Divya talked about the challenges that one has to deal with after the pandemic, “The world might be a different place when we get out of this pandemic because this new normal that we are talking about has undergone a lot of changes and we have seen all types of changes emerging out of these times which might turn out to be both shocking and unpleasant. Once we go back to our respective colleges, schools, and workplaces, we will notice that a lot of social gatherings or even social interactions will have to be limited, daily activities like boarding a train or a bus might feel strange and scary. Initially, these changes will seem hard to accept and it will take some time to sink in.”

She also spoke about how radical acceptance and letting go of the bitterness shall help individuals in embracing the change. “I encourage everyone to be emotionally aware, understand their emotions while also respecting the range of other perspectives that you might come across. Reflect on whatever you have learned during this lockdown. Please seek help early because every individual’s response is going to be different towards unexpected changes. Feelings of anxiety, irritability, lack of appetite, and even sleep, are all signs that you might need some extra support to cope up with certain challenges,” added Divya.

Taking the conversation ahead, Professor Michael talked about how every individual reacts differently to certain changes and how seeking help in the early stages can help one tackle anxiety and severe depression. He said, “I think a lot of people have realised that when it comes to sleep, especially when you sacrifice some of your sleep, you start to notice that you don’t feel the same way and probably one of the first things you notice when you go through a bad sleep considering the situation has been the same for a few nights in the row, you start to have less of an appetite. Studies have shown that when people are sleep-restricted, they are always in a bad mood and are unnecessarily intolerant towards having personal interactions.”

Talking about how early diagnosis of insomnia and the early treatment is important and might save one from depression, Professor Michael asserted, “Insomnia is a very serious issue and one should never be negligent about it. To put it simply, it can be difficult in waking up or getting back to sleep. Another symptom of insomnia includes the feeling when you get up and don’t feel energised, now if something like this goes on for months, and perhaps a year, then you are at serious risk of developing depression. One of the very first symptoms of depression is insomnia and unlike depression which is very difficult to treat insomnia is comparatively easy in terms of treatment. While depression takes around 10-12 sessions of mental counselling, insomnia can be treated within half the time. So, if you are facing issues or differences in your sleeping pattern, take note of it and seek help as soon as you can.”

Addressing the reopening of schools for children and how they are going to deal with it, Professor Amanda spoke about how the lockdown has been difficult for many families and especially for parents with children suffering from ADHD, Dyslexia, and Autism for whom learning is a patient process and is challenging. “The key lesson is that most parents are not teachers, balancing work life and children is not easy, and for some people who don’t have the required capital or the resources and lack the computer skills because of poor literacy were not able to cope up well with the pandemic. So, the primary thing is we were not ready for this and whether we will be ready or not is a question that persists. For some families, it has been particularly challenging, the way their children attend, communicate, and deal with learning is a very different process and is possibly difficult. These children require constant care and patience and children of different age groups have different demands,” she said. Professor Amanda further shared how routine and structure should be encouraged in children so that they know what to expect and how to regulate their curriculum, develop healthy habits, and balanced sleeping patterns.

Speaking about the smartphone obsession that is relevant among teenagers and the significant impact it has on their well-being, the panellists discussed how the content needs to be regulated and the screen-time needs to be reduced so that it doesn’t take a toll on a child’s mental health. They addressed certain queries from the audience and gave solutions on how to reach out to organisations in India to seek help, helpline numbers for professional help, and how Psychonnect is paving the way and working towards addressing mental health issues.

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BHASKAR MENON: THE ICONIC INDIAN IN THE GLOBAL MUSIC INDUSTRY

From discovering phenomenal talent to producing almost 30% of the world’s recorded music at his prime to nourishing long-term associations with the likes of The Beatles and Freddie Mercury, Bhaskar Menon has been a force to reckon with in the music industry.

Bhuvan Lall

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On the wet Sunday afternoon of 1 August 1971, Pandit Ravi Shankar, the best‐known ambassador of Indian music to the western world, played before a crowd of over 20,000 at the Madison Square Garden in New York City. Accompanied by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan on the sarod, Kamala Chakravarty on the tambura and Ustad Alla Rakha on tabla, Ravi Shankar performed “Bangla Dhun”. The renowned sitar player was the moving force behind what was labelled as the greatest rock spectacle of the decade—The Concert For Bangladesh.

The idea for a concert originated in June 1971 when Ravi Shankar heard that Pakistani troops had destroyed the property of his guru, Ustad Alauddin Khan, in East Pakistan. TV networks broadcast heart-breaking images of millions of refugees relocating to India to escape the genocide unleashed by military dictator General Yahya Khan. An anguished Ravi Shankar poured his heart out to his friend George Harrison. The quiet Beatle, deeply moved by the unfolding humanitarian crisis, decided to speak loudly with his actions. The musicians organized two benefit concerts to raise $25,000 for the homeless refugees. Devoted to the study of Eastern beliefs, Harrison consulted with an Indian astrologer before setting 1 August as the date for the mega event. Then he worked the phones twelve hours a day and called his fellow rockstars. Within four weeks Harrison lined up the all-star cast of Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, Klaus Voormann and Badfinger for the concert. Even though the Beatles had split, Ringo Starr dropped everything to participate in the concert at the Madison Square Garden.

This act of conscience captured the imagination of the Americans. Thousands waited overnight in super-cool New York to buy tickets for the show billed as ‘George Harrison & Friends’. In ten hours, 36,000 tickets were sold for the two shows – an afternoon set and an evening set. As the concert began, Ravi Shanker drew tremendous applause even while he fine-tuned his instrument. Next, the two former Beatles, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, thrilled the cheering fans with many songs plus “My Sweet Lord” that filled the venue with chants of “Hare Krishna, Hare Rama”. Then Harrison, in a white two-piece suit with the Om symbol embroidered on the lapel, brought out a surprise guest, revealing, “I’d like you to meet Bob Dylan”. The overjoyed spectators went wild, and Dylan in his usual Levis jacket, sang his most famous songs, including “Blowing in the Wind”. The audience responded with a tumultuous ovation. A seven-minute Dutch TV documentary regarding the tragedy on India’s eastern border was screened and the concert ended with a performance of Harrison’s appeal for the refugees in his heartfelt single, “Bangladesh”. Millions of people worldwide heard and read the name Bangladesh for the first time. Dramatically, it became a solid entity culturally and cerebrally, though it was not yet a physical actuality. Eleven days after the concert, the gate money of $243,418.50 was presented to UNICEF for the refugees. On 16 December 1971, the Indian Armed Forces liberated Bangladesh, and three days later, Ravi Shankar and George Harrison’s “The Concert For Bangladesh” was released globally as a beautifully packaged three-album box-set. It topped the charts, eventually winning the Grammy for Album of the Year. The first of a kind, it has since raised over $17 million and inspired the multi-star Live Aid along with thousands of other major charity concerts around the world.

One significant individual behind the worldwide promotion and success of “The Concert For Bangladesh” album was Vijaya Bhaskar Menon. Decades before Indians routinely became CEOs of top American companies, Menon was the first Asian to break the glass ceiling in corporate America as the Los Angeles-based President and Chief Executive Officer of one of the world’s largest music companies, Electric and Musical Industries (EMI). In fact, Menon as an industry leader in the 1970-80s singlehandedly changed the face of the international music industry. 

Bhaskar Menon, the son of K.R.K. Menon, the former Finance Secretary of India, studied at the Doon School and completed his graduation in Economics at St. Stephens College in 1953. A favourite of Professor Keshab Chandra Nag, young Menon also excelled at tennis in the inter-university matches. Groomed for the Indian Foreign Service, he entered Christ Church College at Oxford where, serendipitously in 1956, Joseph Lockwood, Chairperson of EMI, impressed by his brilliance, recruited him as an Executive Assistant. In December 1957, he was directed to the EMI-owned The Gramophone Company of India in Calcutta (Kolkata now). This incredibly sharp and attention-grabbing executive rapidly rose up the EMI ladder in India, first as Commercial Manager and then as Chairperson, Managing Director and Chief Executive in 1964. Under his leadership, the company dominated over the Indian film market. It was here that he befriended Raj Kapoor. With the launch of His Master’s Voice’s (HMV) inexpensive record player, EMI cornered the hardware business too. In mid-January 1971, Menon was dispatched to Los Angeles to scrutinize the $18 million loss made by EMI’s Capitol Records. Subsequently, Lockwood on his annual trip to Hollywood fired the two Presidents at Capitol and on 22 April 1971, The New York Times reported that the 37-year-old Indian Bhaskar Menon had assumed the Presidency at Capitol Industries Inc. Tasked with making the companies profitable, he entered the distinctive 13-story Capitol Records Tower that resembled a stack of records and was one of the iconic landmarks in Hollywood, California. Above his office, a blinking light spelled out the word Hollywood in Morse code. Here Menon created music history. A great team-builder, his dictum for his workforces was simple: “Uncompromising excellence in what you do goes without saying. We expect more than that!” Although his hard-nosed treatment of the complicated situation earned him adversaries in every section of the American music industry, Menon after marathon all-night meetings turned around the financially troubled Capitol. In two years, he showed a profit of $4 million. Greater success and fame awaited him.

With an ear for recognizing phenomenal talent and the skill to nurture it, Menon went on to score quite a few hits. In January 1973, the British quartet Pink Floyd finished recording compositions with heavy lyrical reflections on the human condition at EMI’s state-of-the-art Abbey Road Studios in London. Menon later remembered, “Hearing that record for the first time was one of those extremely rare personal, mesmeric experiences I had only known twice before when I first heard, pre-release, “The Beatles’ White Album and Sgt Pepper”.” Menon straightaway took the audacious decision to put Capitol’s entire weight behind the revolutionary album. Released on 1 March 1973, “The Dark Side of the Moon” was a career-defining achievement for Menon as it sold more than 45 million units worldwide and ultimately spent a mind-boggling 937 weeks on the Billboard 200. Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason, confirming Menon’s power held, said, “The other thing that has to be recognized was a man called Bhaskar Menon…  Bhaskar set out making this record number one, and he did it. He motivated the company… he did whatever was necessary… I think without Bhaskar, the record would have done better than the others, but certainly wouldn’t have picked up the momentum it did.” Music critics applauded the album and Menon humbly acknowledged, “Each of us who was closely involved with the project… were pretty intuitively certain that we were unlikely to ever encounter a comparably stunning experience again soon in our professional careers.”

The debonair Indian sporting a French beard also knew the value of cultivating long-term professional associations with the talent. In her memoirs, Linda Ronstadt recalled meeting Menon, “I had never met him before and was surprised to find a charming, refined and intelligent gentleman from India with beautiful manners. His sensitive, kindly demeanor was quite a change from the cigar-chomping American record industry men I had come to see as a defining stereotype”. Later in 1973, Menon signed an unknown British group called Queen with a sensational lead singer – Freddie Mercury – who acknowledged Menon as one of his true friends in the music business. One night in 1974, Menon’s phone rang at 4:30 am. An executive of Capitol excitedly spoke about meeting a writer with a marvelous song called “Rhinestone Cowboy”. In the next hour, Capitol’s entire decision-making team was closing a deal with the singer, Glen Campbell, at Menon’s home in Beverly Hills. That evening, the company recorded the unforgettable song. By 1975, Capitol’s recovery was complete. It landed gold albums by George Harrison, Glen Campbell, Helen Reddy, Linda Ronstadt, Natalie Cole, Paul McCartney, The Beach Boys and Tina Turner, plus its best-selling catalog comprised of The Beatles, Cliff Richard, Kenny Rogers, Neil Diamond and Olivia Newton‐John. Capitol also signed several recording stars including Blondie, Bob Seger, David Bowie, Diana Ross, Heart, Sheena Easton. Venturing into classical music, Capitol represented Maria Callas, Yehudi Menuhin and Herbert von Karajan. Later, Capitol had considerable success with newer performers such as Billy Idol, Dr. Hook, Duran Duran, Grace Jones, The Pet Shop Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Richard Marx and Roxette. Additionally, the company had a 50 percent interest in Britain’s Thames TV and also produced such masterpieces as the multi-Oscar winning Deer Hunter, Murder on the Orient Express and David Lean’s Passage to India.

In his prime, Menon was responsible for the production of almost 30 percent of the world’s recorded music and as the commander-in-chief of a multinational enterprise managed offices in 46 countries. He was respected as an equal opportunity employer and Billboard recorded that his intense expressions were matched by the intensity with which he conducted his business. However, in between his demanding schedules, he found time to get married to Sumitra Paniker in 1972 and they raised a family in California. During Menon’s many decades as the head of a global music giant, he was the most powerful man in the music industry and New Musical Express termed the self-made Indian multimillionaire CEO as “The Man Who Runs Rock & Roll”.

Menon was closely connected with the careers of numerous superstars, however, his bond with The Beatles was exceptional. In 1968, George Harrison had arrived in Bombay (Mumbai now) to work on a soundtrack for a 1960s hippy movie—Wonderwall. Besieged by numerous fans, he autographed a The Beatles’ album for Lata Mangeshkar. Recalling his time in India, Harrison appreciated Menon’s role in generously making resources available for recording his soundtrack and stated, “I worked with Indian musicians at the EMI/HMV studios in Bombay. Mr Bhaskar Menon brought a two-track stereo machine all the way from Calcutta on the train for me, because all they had in Bombay was a mono machine.” Then on 13 November 1971, following The Concert for Bangladesh, a misinformed Harrison on The Dick Cavett Show alleged in barroom language that Capitol and Menon were holding up the concert recording for monetary purposes. Maintaining the sanctity of the charity concert, Menon courteously contended, “Harrison is clearly not in possession of all the facts’’. Harrison, on learning that an unethical middleman was trying to bring Capitol to its knees, profusely apologised to Menon for his outburst. A week later, Capitol harmoniously resolved the dispute and subsequently the album became a musical phenomenon.

Menon who brought out several The Beatles albums also settled the timeworn lawsuits between Apple Records and Capitol, asserting, “We see not the slightest value or benefit of pursuing this long, drawn-out, dust-laden series of litigations. … In some quarters, there is somebody who is benefiting from this. I can certainly say we aren’t, and I can’t imagine the Beatles themselves are.” Then on the cold and sad evening of 8 December 1980, gunshots rang out at the entrance of the Dakota, an apartment building overlooking the west side of the Central Park in Manhattan. It was the last day in the life of John Lennon. Waking up to the shocking news in his Mayfair apartment in London, Menon, a close friend of Lennon, felt a personal loss. He immediately rushed off to Heathrow to board the next Concorde for JFK to meet with Yoko. Outside the commercial side of the intensely profit-driven music business, he was sincerely involved in the lives of his artists. Even now Lennon’s private handwritten letter to Menon from the 1970s concerning the promotion of Yoko Ono’s new album and The Beatles not reuniting is displayed at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in New York City.

The words of John Lennon, “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans”, are perhaps apt for Menon. Knighted by the Government of France in 1990, the legendary CEO is not some top executive living in the past. He continues to provide consultancy services in the entertainment sector. Decades after accidentally stumbling into the world of music and being a celebrity that celebrities wanted to meet, Bhaskar Menon remains ever passionate conceding, “There’s one thing about this business, it spoils you for anything else. Once you get into this you can’t ever work in any orthodox business again.”

Bhuvan Lall is the author of “The Man India Missed The Most: Subhas Chandra Bose” and “The Great Indian Genius Har Dayal”. He is currently writing the biography of Sardar Patel. He can be reached at writerlall@gmail.com.

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Chemical-free living is here to stay and is the way of the future, says I Say Organic CEO Aakanksha Kapoor

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NewsX was recently joined by Aakanksha Kapoor, the CEO of I Say Organic for its special series NewsX India A-List. She shared her journey of working in the fashion and retail industry and how all that led to I Say Organic.

Sharing how candid and unpredictable her journey has been, Aakanksha said, “I landed in I Say Organic very unknowingly but I’ll start from the beginning. I did an undergrad and then studied a little bit in New York. I was there for about two and a half years, studied marketing at Parsons and then worked in fashion, moved back to India in 2012 and continued working in fashion in the luxury space as a brand consultant. While all of this was happening, I Say Organic was growing on the side; it was launched in 2012 and Ashmeet started the organisation and was looking to hire somebody in the marketing team; the company became what it is in front of me.”

She added, “While having unofficial work-related conversations and seeing this opening in the space, I realised what I Say Organic stands for—clean eating, responsible consumption, and production was very aligned with how I led my life like eating well, overall interested in the well-being, and personally dealing with minor health issues but having overcome them through regular good food habits. I just thought it was a very interesting time in the startup space and my personal vision aligned with the company so it was a great move.”

Aakanksha moved to I Say Organic on a full-time basis in 2014 and joined the marketing team. Since then, she has been working with the company in leading marketing and eventually leading their retail in 2015, setting up their offline stores and taking on as a CEO as of 2020.

Throwing light on how I Say Organic works, she said, “I Say Organic essentially started as a home-delivery company and as an e-commerce platform providing organic certified farmers across the country a platform to sell their products directly to the consumers. Getting into the offline space was one of the things that we wanted to experiment with and it ended up being a really good space for us as well. Our vision is to provide the safest and the purest form of food that’s available out there to the consumers, making it easy for anybody to go completely chemical-free in their living and get the option of eating safe food.”

Aakanksha further said that a person can order seven days a week from their website across Delhi NCR as they deliver seven days a week. Their portfolio is primarily fresh produce to grains, lentils, spices, oils and they’ve also ventured into value-added products like healthy snacks and savoury items that they manufacture on their own using their produce. According to her, I Say Organic has a huge variety of products needed to run a kitchen.

“A few years ago, when organic came into being the biggest question was what is organic and will this stay. We have been in the business for the last eight years, chemical-free living is here to stay and is the way of the future. It is how one should live their life but the biggest concern is that there’s a big misconception on what is organic and what is farm fresh. So, you’re hearing the word ‘farm fresh’ a lot, newer companies are coming into this space and using that term. I think the consumer is a bit confused and probably not fully aware that farm fresh does not necessarily mean organic,” said Aakanksha.

To give more clarity on farm fresh and organic, she expressed, “Farm fresh doesn’t necessarily mean it’s chemical-free, organic means that it’s completely chemical-free, without the use of pesticides, and how nature has intended it to be. It’s growing produce without any external chemical inputs into your agriculture. As an organisation, our goal is to get the most genuine and the most authentic practices to the customer’s doorstep. We want to work with farmers who are dedicated to growing produce that is good for the environment and good for us. We have everything under the sun on our website that you need to go completely chemical-free. We are authentic, genuine, and transparent about who we work with, where our products get lab tested from, which farmer is certified, and which farmer is in the transition period. We share this information regularly with our customers, especially if they ask we have all the certifications to show to our customers about our farmers.”

Talking about the future goals of the organisation, Aakanksha said that until now I Say Organic has been a Delhi NCR specific brand, and they are yet to explore it pan India. They want to do it with their dry produce and snack items. In the next five years, she expects I Say Organic to start making an appearance in different cities whether it’s through their own home delivery model, through different retailers or their offline stores which are their branded stores.

“I get very motivated when I hear other successful women entrepreneur stories and honestly if there’s anything that has pulled me back, it’s just doubting myself. Begin conversing with the right people and identifying people that you want to network with. Just go out there, you don’t need to fully set up a company, if you have an idea just start piloting it and then eventually it will brew into something,” said Aakanksha.

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TOOLKIT CASE EXPOSES THE DANGEROUS HYPOCRISY OF LIBERALS

The online ‘toolkit’ shared by Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg has exposed the pseudo-liberal brigade which is speaking on matters it has no idea about just for the sake of opposing the Modi government. However, it is more alarming to see some Indians at home, including the Opposition, collaborating with the people who wish to harm India’s image on the global stage.

Vishwas Pathak

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Since the 2014 general elections, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge as the leader of this nation, a new trend of conspiring and mobilising people on the basis of false and motivated allegations has begun. Prior to 2014, the moot issue of discussions in the political arena had been the embarrassing corruption scandals by the Congress-led UPA government. However, with PM Modi walking the talk on his strong pitch for anti-corruption in the government, the Opposition has now resorted to leading people astray on the basis of false allegations.

If the chronology of the same has to be understood, it all began with the selective intolerance of the Award Wapsi gang in 2014, the balloon of which was quick to burst. That was followed by allegations of attacks on religious missionaries and churches, which again was refuted by enforcement agencies of the country. In the recent past, the controversies revolving around the CAA and NRC have shown how the political opposition of this nation did not leave a single stone unturned to corner the government on the basis of their hypocritical and insensitive presumptions. However, the people’s faith in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intentions remained strong and this conspired controversy also came to an end with the political parties of the Opposition falling flat on their short claims.

Now in the sixth year of holding the office of Prime Minister, PM Modi has maintained the sanctity of his post and continued to walk on the honest path of “Minimum Government, Maximum Governance” with efficiency and no corruption. However, his political opponents have now found a new way to attack the government.

The passage of the three historic and revolutionary farm legislations in the Parliament have irked a few anarchist elements of the country who had for a long time monopolised the supply chain of agricultural commodities in the country, especially in the states of Punjab and Haryana. As these three farm legislations brought in by the Government of India aimed at ensuring a free market for farmers, along with countless other benefits for the sector, the agents of chaos have come together in opposing the bills.

While a negligible percentage of the population, disguised as farmers of this nation, sat together to protest, the chronology of events began with the political opposition of the country taking a plunge into the issue and glorifying it with false statements or misleading facts. What was a nadir to these developments were the drastic and horrifying incidents led by these protestors on Republic Day which went on to become the day of sorrow for all Indians.

The intent of these elements which were causing unjustified disruptions was to tarnish the image of India on the global platform. Perhaps this was the reason why the protestors caused such violence even on Republic Day. Although the nation stood strong against this conspired and shameful act by miscreants, further execution of the plan was deemed necessary by these anti-national elements or the so-called liberal lobby, to keep up with the planned agenda as per the “toolkit”.

After 26 January, the nation witnessed a sudden foreign interest in the farm protests where nationally irrelevant international opportunists started speaking up for something which they have absolutely no knowledge of. Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg shared the orchestrated script, which is popularly called as a “toolkit”, that reflected the idea and planning behind creating a conspiracy against the country with the sole intent of maligning its image. The suspected international angle to this entire controversy also came true when Thunberg removed the toolkit after tweeting it. The toolkit did not just have details of how to conduct agitations in the capital, but was also something very dangerous for a democratic country like India.

Apparently, Greta Thunberg is known for her work in the field of environment. Here I want to highlight the hypocritical mindset of the pseudo-liberals who are tight-lipped when it comes to environmental erosion in the states of Punjab and Haryana but are quick to exhibit sympathy for farmers, while absolutely uninformed about the issue.

Unfortunately, these irrelevant international elements were being helped by some misled Indians like Disha Ravi, who allegedly played a role in the entire controversy. It has been alleged that Ravi is an editor of the document and a key conspirator in its “formulation and dissemination”. “She started a WhatsApp group and collaborated to make the toolkit document,” the police have stated.

According to the police, Disha Ravi was the one who shared the document containing the toolkit with Greta Thunberg. Later, 21-year-old climate activist Disha asked the international environmentalist to remove the main document after its incriminating details accidentally got into the public domain.

The visuals of 26 January, where police personnel were seen helpless, cannot be forgotten for a very long time. What happened on Republic Day was shameful for all of us. However, the culprits of it do not shy away from taking pride in what they did, disguised as innocent farmers.

Some unscrupulous and fame-hungry international elements talking about the issue for self-motivated benefits of the pseudo-liberal ideology is one thing to consider. However, the fact that our fellow Indians are being accused of collaborating with these people is an alarming sign. What is absolutely a nadir is the fact that politicians sitting on the opposition benches, in their quest to corner PM Modi’s popularly accepted government, have forgotten the limits of the opposition. It is the need of the hour for the nation to ask these supporters of the farm protests, orchestrated by such international miscreants, how far is too far?

The author is Media Head, BJP Maharashtra. The views expressed are personal.

The visuals of the 26 January tractor rally, where police personnel were seen helpless, cannot be forgotten for a very long time. What happened on the Republic Day was shameful for all of us. However, the culprits of it do not shy away from taking pride in what they did, disguised as innocent farmers.

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‘Our USP is personalised education’: Rohit Jain, Founder & CEO, uFaber

In an exclusive conversation with NewsX as part of NewsX India A List, Rohit Jain, Founder & CEO, uFaber spoke about the growth of uFaber, how it is revolutionising online education and his vision for the company.

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Rohit Jain, Founder & CEO, uFaber recently joined NewsX for an exclusive conversation as part of NewsX India A-List.  uFaber is one of the fastest-growing Edutech companies in India, specialising in personalised training with the latest technologies and high-quality content. Spearheaded by IITians with over 10 years of experience in education, uFaber has one of the largest course catalogues across languages, entrance exams and skill enhancement subjects

Talking about his journey with uFaber, Rohit Jain said, “uFaber started in 2014, and since then it has been like a roller coaster journey. From a two people led team back in 2014 to now being almost 2000+ people team, uFaber is growing every year at almost 2x and  3x every year. We are glad to contribute to the growth of the industry and sector by making a lot of people learn online from home without any constraint of time and location and obviously, partnering with a lot of people, having an amazing team together, giving the opportunity to a lot of women who work from home and become a part of our trailer community. So, it’s been an amazing journey so far.”

He added, “The pandemic has contributed a lot into the surge in the industry. So, that is one reason. The second reason is that some players are getting very aggressive and a lot of funding is coming into this space so that is opening up a market, giving more awareness to the parents, especially in K12 space, where people were very limited to sending the school’s students to their schools, or kids to their schools. But now, because of the pandemic, the schools were not available, and there were these several options available outside of school. That has suddenly given exposure to the parents and it is visible into the numbers also. At the same time, online education has been around for a while now. It was growing at a little lesser growth rate, but now people have started seeing a lot of benefits of it. The pedagogy has improved, the internet speed has improved, the content quality has improved. People are seeing that online is as good as or maybe in some cases better than offline. That is why more and more people are shifting to it.”

When asked about the kind of educational courses  offered by uFaber, he responded, “uFaber is not sector-specific. We are not limited to K 12, or entrance exams or any space. We have our USP and our offering is basically personalising education. We offer a personal tutor, a personal trainer for every student and whenever we see that there is a learning requirement, there is a good number of students who want to learn that particular subject, we provide personalised courses for that. Currently, we offer programs for entrance exams like UPSC, teacher training programs and courses for school students like programming, communication and robotics. It is a very diversified portfolio that we have started from school to college to post-college and working professionals as well.”

Speaking about the increasing competition in the market, he said, “Adaptation as an industry is not like typical e-commerce or travel industry, where everything is digitised and people are just becoming a marketplace and selling the same thing. Though there are many players but everybody is selling different stuff. Even in the same space as in K12, there are many players but everybody has a different product to offer, a different USP to offer and a different program to offer to the parent. How we are keeping ourselves differentiated and liked by a lot of students and parents is that we focus a lot on personalisation. We are not taking away the role of the teacher, which is essential for education. We all have learned from teachers and have liked some of the other teachers in our learning experience in school or college. A teacher plays an important role in the education of the child, no matter what content or technology you have. Hence, we focus a lot on the teacher quality and offering the teacher to the student. Along with the teacher, we obviously provide you with good quality content and assessment and technology and all those things. One of the things that we really emphasise on and are proud of is a very good quality of teachers, which is very limited in offline space, as well as in other offerings because providing a personal tutor at a large scale with better quality. That is a big problem and that is where we are focused on.”

Commenting on effectiveness of government policies, he said, “Government is already doing good in terms of supporting startups and coming up with policies in education like the NEP, which was launched last year. As far as the government support is concerned, it is quite good. There is nothing specific that this particular industry needs from the government because there is a lot. Rather the industry, especially the private industry, exists because of the inefficiency in the government system, especially in education. If had the public schools been really good, and had colleges been very good, there would be no need for any private player in applications.”

At last, sharing his vision for uFaber, Rohit Jain said “We want to become a leading player in the personalised education space and our growth depends on the number of trainers that we have and the number of programs that we have. We are planning to grow about 5x.  So by 2025, we would reach a milestone that we plan to have. The growth is both horizontal as well as vertical. Currently, we have five different offerings and we want to extend that to about 10-12 different offerings, more and more skills, and at the same time, we want to expand our trainer base. Currently, we have about 2000 plus teachers teaching us from all part of the country and we want to increase it to about 10,000 trainers or 15,000 trainers in next couple of years.”

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Our vision is to change bamboo perception from poor man’s timber to wise man’s timber: Yogesh Shinde, Founder, Bamboo India

Founder of Bamboo India Yogesh Shinde recently joined NewsX for an thought-provoking chat as a part of NewsX’s special series ‘NewsX India A-List’. In an exclusive chat, Mr. Shinde said that the motto of Bamboo India is to reduce the usage of plastic by replacing it with bamboo in our daily lives.

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Yogesh Shinde, the founder of Bamboo India, recently joined NewsX for an exclusive chat as part of its special series NewsX India A-List. In an exclusive interview, Mr Shinde talked at length about the necessity to reduce plastic, which could be possible only by the advent of bamboo. Bamboo India has been manufacturing local grown bamboo, which can be the most effective solution to reduce the usage of plastic. “To contribute something to India’s economy brought me back. In any time in the future, when the history will be written, I will be known as a contributor, not as a spectator. ” exclaimed Mr. Shinde, who had been a part of the corporate culture but decided to walk on the path of social entrepreneurship owing to his growing concern over increasing pollution in India. 

Tracing the journey of the inception of Bamboo India, Mr Shinde said, “The inception of Bamboo India occurred with the vision of ‘Brush, Collosion, Awake’. The motto behind the establishment of the company has been the reduction of plastic with bamboo. India is the second largest bamboo growing country but is not contributing to the bamboo world market. We are not even in the top ten list to import the products. On top of that, we are the world largest bamboo importer. That made me very scared and I thought that we must do something about it. Our target is very simple. We want to reduce plastic waste from our mother Earth.” 

Interestingly, Bamboo India is also known to make very innovative products, one of them being the bamboo toothbrush. Emphasising on the need to reduce plastic and shift from plastic toothbrushes to bamboo ones, Mr. Shinde stated, “Plastic toothbrushes are one of the leading pollution contents in the world. As every one of us have been talking about the increasing global warming, I, as an individual, thought of manufacturing bamboo toothbrushes in India. We are one of the first companies to have started manufacturing bamboo toothbrushes with local grown bamboo”. He believes that the usage of sustainable products will be a long term affair. Applauding those individuals for their effort in promoting the principles of sustainability on social media and playing an important role in the reduction of plastic, Mr. Shinde calls them ‘the real superheroes’. 

The path to sustainability, which has been led by Bamboo India, has also provided inspiration to other companies to manufacture bamboo toothbrushes. Commenting on the journey of Bamboo India so far, Mr. Shinde said, “To convert the bamboo perception of poor man’s timber to wise man’s timber is what our journey is all about.”

When asked about the challenges one has to confront while running a social entrepreneurship enterprise, Mr. Shinde said, “The first challenge is definitely fundraising. As Bamboo is not a traditional business in India, we faced difficulties in terms of financing. None of the single companies has offered us a loan because they did not understand the potential of bamboo and that is not the end of the world for us. We get funds from friends and family”.

Sharing his vision of the company, Mr Shinde said, “In the next five years, all our products will be available at local medical stores. Till the last four years, we have been a small startup. We have reduced 14 kilograms of plastic with our own initiative. Once the media starts showing interest in the venture, it will be a wildfire and more plastic would be reduced. Bamboo toothbrushes would be available in the supermarket across India by end of this year and maybe the next year, this product will be available all across the globe”.

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