Priyesha Deshmukh makes history in World Deaf Shooting Championship; Grabs Bronze

She couldn’t hear the snap of her rifle when she surged it and neither could she hear the thousands of excited cheers at the stadium in Russia’s Kazan. That didn’t keep 23-year-old Priyesha Deshmukh from making a historic grab for the bronze medal at the World’s first Deaf Shooting Championship on Saturday.

In her maiden international participation, Priyesha secured third position in the 10 metres air rifle category, bagging the medal with a total of 180.4, having surpassed the qualifying round with a massive score of 404.9.  Ukraine’s Svitlana Yatsenko and Serbia’s Gordana Mikovic slashed gold and silver respectively.

Though the Pune based shooter’s liaison with the sport started a mere 3 years ago, her passion for rifles began way earlier. It was way back in 2008 when Priyesha discovered her curiosity to know the rifle, in a school camp. Her father Sharadrao mentions in an interview with the TOI that out of all the athletic sports, shooting came naturally to her, since it was the one sport where she could do her own thing, aided by minimal communication.

“Generally, deaf people have some insecurities and suspicious. They have sharp eyes. This helped Priyesha in improving her shooting. The sport also keeps her away from insecurities,” the elated father expresses.

She might have been winning the national gold for the sport in the handicapped category, consecutively for three years. However, winning across shores was a rocky road ahead for an aspiring shooter with hearing imparity like Priyesha.

The unfortunate absence of a shooting body for the deaf in India did not make things easier for the 23-year-old. The All India Sports Council of the Deaf (AISCD) being the sole establishment for the sport does not have a shooting category part of it, while the Indian Olympics Association does not cater to the deaf category. Though the National Rifle Association of India does take care of the para-shooters, hearing disability does not feature under the para-shooter’s umbrella.

Sharadrao then remembers the scrambling and running around that he endured to get his daughter the rightful chance that she deserved. Gaining the permission from the AISCD was far from a cake walk. However once Sharadrao managed to get their nod, the sports ministry too agreed, after which there was no stopping Priyesha. “The medal win is a big morale booster for Priyesha, as she worked really hard for the event,” he exclaimed.

Sources: Times of India

Stray dog menace: Magic collars to the rescue

In the wake of rapidly increasing stray dog nuisance in Kerala, the state government hastily announced to cull ‘violent dogs’, setting off a huge uproar among animal lovers galore, earlier in August.

Pressures have been mounting upon the government, whilst instances of the menace intensified in the state. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court while accepting compassion towards the animal also declared firmly that these strays shouldn’t be an annoyance to the public.

With the stray dog population steeply snowballing, dog bites aren’t the only concern to be looked closely at. These canines are also the cause of numerous hit and runs, an on-going nightmare to motorists. Tackling this problem with a novel initiative is Chennai based animal welfare NGO, People for Cattle in India (PFCI), which has introduced glowing, reflective collars for strays, in an aim to prevent road mishaps.

“Low-visibility on roads is one of the pivotal reasons for the motorists to get into accidents. Wandering stray dogs aren’t doing these drivers any help,” explains Arun Prasanna, founder of the project.

PFCI which started out as an animal rescue service, used to get abundant calls regarding animal accidents in the city. Disturbed by the alarming number, the organisation first approached local truck drivers and motorists, which triggered Arun to ideate magic collars.

Made of reflective cloth with orange nylon, the collars are claimed to be visible at a distance of 1000 feet in the dark, giving the motorist enough time to swerve without any setbacks. Menially priced at Rs 65 a piece, these magic collars are not just restricted to canines. The NGO is looking at fitting these glowing Velcro collars to cattle too.

Inspired by a similar initiative in Pune (motopaws), PFCI has now covered over 2,000 dogs in the city and 4,000 in other parts of the country. They are further looking at a target of 10,000 dogs just for Chennai, by the end of the year.

“Stray dogs play a very important role in the society. To call them a menace is anything but appropriate,” he retorts to the SC announcement. “Culling programs are often futile and new dogs will replace the space in no time,” he continues.

“When the Government can tackle various problems like garbage, rodents, burglars and many others, why can’t they find an amicable solution to handle stray dogs,” he declares.

Romancing the genre of found footage: Remembering Blair’s witch

It wasn’t long ago when the San Diego’s comic convention, gave horror cinephiles worldwide, a revelation that they had been yearning for over a decade. The Lionsgate studio announced the much-awaited surprise sequel to the iconic found-footage psychological horror milestone, The Blair Witch Project, precisely 16 years since its original release.

As the iconic prelude’s offspring (titled The Blair Witch) hits the theatres today, let us reflect upon the cursed Blair’s witch, and its distinctive rendezvous with the genre:

“The woods around the Halloween time are a creepy enough phenomenon. I want to really avoid any cheese. The legend is unsettling enough,” retorts Heather Donahue, less than 3 minutes into the film, putting in her two cents about the plot’s titular legend of the Blair witch. Interestingly, the very dialogue is a fitting foreshadowing to the film’s simplistic approach.

A brainchild of directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, The Blair Witch Project released in 1999, tells the fictitious tale of three student filmmakers- Heather Donahue, Mike Williams and Joshua Leonard, who venture into the deep black woods of Burkittsville, Maryland, trailing to document the local legend of the Blair witch.

Young people, they interview tag the legend, ‘tell-tales’ that make children go to bed early, while some of the older ones paint a scary, gruesome picture of the witch who haunts the black hills. To figure things out for themselves, the sceptical trio hike into the woods, documenting every single exhaustive detail. The camera intersperses seamlessly between monochrome (footage for their documentary) and colour (footage which cover their every move).

The remainder of the film indulges into the agonizing few days that lies in front of the 3 friends. Substandard lighting conditions (which almost borders into dingy ), replaces stellar illumination, while the eerie noise of the wood’s void replaces sound effects, which still manages to somehow produce numerous jump-scares, throughout the film. The last 5 minutes of the film is undoubtedly one of horror cinema’s finest culminations.

Fashioned out of spectacular performances painted with unnerving improvisations, the film in all its hand-held footage glory still gives you the crawls, over a good 15 years later. Blair Witchmight not have been the genre’s debutant (read: Cannibal Holocaust, 1990; The Last Broadcast, 1998), but it certainly is the first to have popularised, while swooning over the genus.

“When we were in college, we both thought the scariest movies out there were the documentaties…Why not do that with a horror story?”, said director Sanchez, in an interview with USA Today. Who knew the very same thought would later go on to redefine horror in American cinema?

US Elections 101: How does it all work?

With the long and sprawling road to the United States Presidential Elections barely two months away (November 8), the race to the White House is anything but a straightforward pursuit. Let us now find out how the world’s most powerful nation gets its new leader.

Who can run for President?

A ‘natural born’ US citizen, who is at least 35 years old, also having been a resident of the nation for 14 years, is eligible to run for the post. However, every President since 1933 has either been a governor, a senator or a military general. If the current Republican candidate and business tycoon Donald Trump gets elected, he would be the first such President to not have any experience in American politics.

Further, no person would be elected to the office of the President more than two terms.

United States Congress:

The Parliament (Congress) of the United States has two houses:

  1. The House of Representatives
  2. The Senate

The House of Representatives is designed to give a voice for the locals in the nation, with the members of the house re-elected every two years. Each state is split into various districts, where each district votes for one representative. The number of these districts depends on the population of each state. Example: California being the most populous state has 53 districts, which translates into 53 representatives. Alaska on the other hand, has just one representative.

The candidate with the most votes in each district wins the seat in the House. Ultimately the party that wins the most amounts of seats in the house takes control.

The Senate, like in the Indian context is rightly called the Upper house. Their responsibility is to basically question and scrutinize the actions of the House of Representatives and the President.

Senators in the house, who are voted by the public, enjoy 6-year terms. However, every 2 years, a third of the senators run for re-election.

Serving as a significant difference between both the houses is the fact that each state is represented by two senators, regardless of population. The first past the post voting system applies here as well.

Nominating the Presidential candidate:

The states in the US use two systems to zero in on their presidential candidates- Primary and Caucus.

A Caucus is essentially a voting party for the nominee, which is held at a designated Public space. Any registered voter can attend a caucus where the gathering discusses the candidates, finally narrowing down on the candidates through an in-person voting process. Caucuses are funded by the political parties themselves.

A Primary is a secret ballot system of voting. There are two forms of primaries. An Open Primary is the one where the registered voter can vote for any party’s candidate (A democrat voter can vote even for a Republican candidate). In a Closed Primary, however, the candidates can vote only for the party to which they are affiliated to. Primaries are funded by the State.

Voting for POTUS

Presidential elections in the United States take place every four years. With the two main parties being Republicans and Democrats, the public vote to see their new leader emerge as the President. But it isn’t as easy as it sounds.

The Public does not directly vote for their leader but they vote for the electors, who are affiliated to the party of their choice.

Since 1964, there have been 538 electors in each Presidential election. How did they arrive at this number? The number of electors is equal to the total member voter ship of the US Congress (which roughly translates into 435 Representatives, 100 Senators and 3 electors from D.C.). Surpassing a vote bank of 270 is what a party needs to triumph.

In simple words, the number of electors in each state is equal to the number of representatives and senators.

The voting for the Presidential candidate happens through Primaries

Safe States:

They are the states that have a long history of voting for a particular party, which in other words is a party’s stronghold. Maryland, Michigan, Massachusetts and Oregon are the Democrats’ stronghold while Mississippi, Alabama, Kansas and Idaho are the safe states that the Republicans can count on.

Swing States:

States that have been wavering on their votes in the past cycles are Swing states. Ohio and Florida have been swing states for the past four cycles.

In most of the 50 states in the US, except Maine and Nebraska, the ‘winner takes it all’ technique is applied wherein the candidate gets all the seats in the state if he wins. (For example, if electors pledged to Donald Trump wins majority, in California, he/she acquires 55 seats)

With the rat race to the White House being a tedious process, one has to now wait and see how the game unfolds on Election Day.








Remembering The Beatles, 50 years past their final gig

The strumming of the bass meets with a roaring applause, when all of the Candlestick Park in San Francisco comes out alive as Lennon goes ‘Just let me hear some of that rock and roll music’. On 29th August 1966, little did the crowd know that the very electric moment was the last time The Beatles would come together on stage, live.

It has been fifty years since their last gig and more than half a century since the band came to be in Liverpool, way back in 1960. In the due course of a little over eight years, the foursome is often regarded to be one of the most influential acts of the rock era, not only in England, but interestingly, nationwide. On this day in the road down the Beatlesque memory, let us delve into their evolution, the phenomenon in India and the ‘fab four’ themselves.

Where it all began

In 1957, a 16-year-old boy from Liverpool, formed a skiffle (music genre played on rudimentary instruments) group with many of his friends from the Quarry Bank School. That boy was none other than John Lennon, the lead vocalist of the band. The Quarrymen, they called themselves. The band of teens soon became a local group, after which Paul McCartney joined the band, thanks to his fine guitar tuning skills. As time passed, The Quarrymen soon changed into The Beatles, along with the addition of new band members George Harrison and Ringo Starr (who joined much later as a replacement drummer in 1962)

Shortly, with music columnist Brian Epstein as their manager, the band finally made the cut when producer George Martin signed them up. Towards the end of 1962, their debut single Love me do was recorded, marking a foremost moment in the era of rock music.

This was then followed by sets which broke the charts, while the band gradually spearheaded the one million clubs. Soon they became to be one of the best-selling bands in history, with the estimated sales of records crossing over 600 million, worldwide.

India and Beatlemania

The frenzied popularity of the foursome began to erupt between 1963 and 1966, which was dubbed by the press as ‘Beatlemania’. And England wasn’t the only nation to be bit by the bug. India is no stranger to the fan frenzy.

India’s early interest in The Beatles deepened when the band travelled to Rishikesh to attend a session with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the late 60s. Harrison, in an excerpt to the Beatles Anthology was wildly surprised to find frenzy in the Indian capital!

As the band culture in the country settled, the Beatles was certainly one among the notable ensembles that influenced Indian rock. “I think at one point in time, every musician would be influenced by them. It is the Beatles we are talking about. Bands like ours grew up with them,” proclaims Vikram Vivekanand, from a leading Rock n Roll band in Chennai, Grey Shack.

Vikram, the lead guitarist of the band then strugglingly picks a favourite. “George Harrison is hands down, one of the most unconventional guitar players in the even now. He is one of the reasons I first picked up my guitar,” he says, going on to speak of Grey Shack’s earliest shows in 2007, which happened to be their first tribute show for The Beatles.

Nrithya Maria Andrews, another musician based out of Bangalore speaks about how The Beatles inspired her to pursue the genre. “It is always nice to see the audience get up and sing along when you perform. Well, whenever I do a cover of The Beatles, I get to see that rare occurrence,” she smiles. “Like every band, The Beatles too suffered from shortcomings and erratic in-house squabbles which finally led to their break-up. Yet, it is alluring how they still somehow stay on with us”

The beginning of the end

So why did the band bid adieu to big gigs? There is no easy answer to that.

“In 1966 the road was getting pretty boring,” recalled drummer Ringo Starr in the Beatles Anthology documentary. From the screaming crowds who played foul with the meagre 1oo-watt vox amplifier (because of which they couldn’t hear themselves play) to the raging wrath that Lennon’s several anti-religious statements caused (“Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink… We’re more popular than Jesus now” said Lennon in an interview with Maureen Cleave in 1966), their musicianship began to falter.

“Touring was killing the Beatles by 1966. Perhaps not literally, but that seemed like less of a guarantee with each passing day… The Beatles were dying as musicians. Playing for a crowd had once been their lifeblood, but fame had robbed them of everything that made it joyful and fulfilling.” says Jordan Runtagh, speaking about the beginning of their downfall, in an elaborate piece in Rolling stone.

The rest was history as they say. The disintegration of the band in 1970 is a cumulative process throughout 1968 and 1970. Starting from the sudden demise of Brian Epstein (who is said to have held the group together by many) to Yoko Ono’s (Lennon’s then new bride) intrusive presence in the band, speculations regarding their fall-out have been galore.

However, Candlestick Park in 1966 is widely held to have been a litmus test of the band’s impending doom. While that fateful Monday might have been the last time they got together on stage, The Beatles had one last quirk in store. Marking the end of an era, they got back together one last time on January 1969 on a rooftop in London, surprising locals with an impromptu performance.

“Unpredictable as they were, a few months before The Beatles had unofficially disbanded, they got together one random day on a rooftop, singing their hearts out while the police ascended to the roof,” reminisces Vikram Vivekanand. “Who does that?”


To Bull or not to Bull

While the controversy surrounding the bull-taming sport, Jallikattu emerged 10 years ago, the ethnic sport which was banned recently has been acquiring quite the limelight, dividing people into opposite ends of the scale. With proponents of the sport tagging it an intrinsic part of tradition, correlating the sport with religion, the hypocrisy behind the justification is nothing starkly existent.

An affidavit filed in the Supreme Court by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change tried to rationalize the cruel sport, by tagging it a ‘centuries-old-custom’. Though this defence was met with a fitting response from the court comparing the scenario to that of child marriage (“There were 8,000-odd child marriages in 1899. Should we continue with it?” retorted the two-member bench earlier this month), the thought that goes behind the preposterous argument is problematic.

“… an animal is not a human being, and what may be cruelty to a human, cannot be always regarded as cruelty to animals,” the affidavit proclaimed. Is the incessant force-feeding of alcohol not considered cruelty? Or are the stud-bulls tolerant enough to readily take the chilli powder thrown at them?

Some validations also go to the extent of labelling the ban a grave danger to the native bull breeds. While it is rumoured that farmers cannot afford to retain these bulls if not for the sport, reports claim that each village has a common bull which is used to reproduce.

With facetious defences and exaggerated accounts masking the tormenting bull-fighting sport as a harmless form of entertainment, it is high time the pretence is shed.





An elevated Rajini phenomenon keeps the faltering Kabali going

If there is one thing Rajinikanth is willingly identified with (aside from the actor’s irrevocable star power), it is his whistle-worthy entrance sequences, which almost unfailingly resounds with a roaring fandom.

Muthu (1995) gallops away in a horse-carriage which readily sprints to his cue, Padayappa (1999) valiantly rescues a serpent and Baashha (1995) is seen striding down a flight of stairs, donned in a suit of silk. The ageing Kabaleeswaran, however, is quietly engrossed in a copy of ‘My Father Baliah’, before walking away from prison after 25 years. He might tread away in a three-piece suit, coolers sitting perfectly on his nose, drowning us in a rush of familiarity. But the Rajini in Kabali is nothing like you have ever seen before.

Kabali tells the story of a veteran don (Rajini) in Malaysia, who seamlessly fights for the rights of Tamil Malaysians, fighting a gang headed by the ridiculously Tamil spewing Tony Lee (Winston Chao). An evident ode to the actor’s earlier gangster films- Billa and Baashha, Kabali, is a do-gooder who doesn’t mind taking out thugs with a dagger or a pistol (which he slides off his coat with suave) for his community.

While director Pa. Ranjith attempts to thread the storyline with a subject that hasn’t been explored before, the film somehow lacks lustre. Bogged down by a narrative that loses pace, a few scenes into the film, performances keep the film going. Radhika Apte’s effortless rendering of Kabali’s wife, makes us yearn for Kumudhavalli, a little bit more, every time she comes on screen.

However, Rajini’s final transition into the ageing artiste that he is, is what Kabali shines bright with. He might be slow on his feet, his shoes lagging with every ‘tak-tak’ clatter. He might not be the agile Manik Baashha which we all hoped for. Instead he is the placid Kabaleeswaran who still gives us the chills every time he utters ‘Magizhchi’.