the 5-minute interview – All in good spirit

Dr Timothy John Woods, quality manager for Distilling at Whyte and Mackay, the company which has made the Dalmore 62 Year Old the most expensive single malt Scotch whisky yet, was in town recently to deliver a lecture on blending single malts. A scientist who took to alcohol rather well, Woods has been chairman of the Society of Chemical Industry at Scotland, leader of Whyte and Mackay’s nosing panel and a member of the Scotch Whisky Research Institute.
In conversation with Rishi Majumder

Photographer: Deepak Turbhekar

Dr Timothy John Woods

So how did a chemist become involved in the whisky industry?
Well, it so happened that I was given a grant to research wheat and barley processing. From there the makers of Gelnfiddich recruited me. I left that job for a brief detour in the oil industry but was back to whisky soon with Whyte and Mackay.

The Indian whisky?
It’s top end! I love Royal Challenge, for instance. It might not have the com
plexity of a single malt but it has very interesting tastes and flavours and a distinguishable peated element.

What’s your personal favourite?
Dalmore, because of its warm mouthful of aromas, and Talisker as it is unusually oily.

A place after Scotland, suited to whisky making?
Japan. Like Scotland, it has the sea, mountains, running streams of water and an ideal climate. The Japanese also have excellent research going on.

Single malt with soda or water?
I personally can’t see the appeal in having it any other way than pure – but to every person his or her own poison!

Why do so many whisky names start with Glenn, meaning valley?
Because valleys are where the streams supply the water and where whisky makers used to hide from excise officers.

A Dalmore whisky anecdote?
The guys at the distillery were so dedicated that each worked right up to New Year’s Eve even at the end of the millennium. Then of course they drank what they’d made in celebration.

This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India:


Rishi Majumder goes behind the arc lights and reports the daily grind that is the life of many TV actors

is TV a serial killer...

This serial was important to me, so I gave it my all. But I have learnt my lesson now.” This is what TV actress Roshni Chopra has to say about passing out on the sets of Kasamh Se. But the dilemma about whether to burn out on one job or fade away doesn’t end with one person, unfortunately. TV stars, writers and producers in the film and television industry admit to killer work schedules and play the blame game when it comes to the source of this problem.
“I’ve worked 24 hours a day and shot 10 days non-stop, and I still have 30 working days a month. And schedules will remain just as hectic,” says TV actor Ronit Roy nonchalantly. Roy does not hold anyone responsible for his busy work schedule. “It’s the way things are. If you want to work you have to comply,” he adds.

chetan hansraj

Others are not as forgiving. “Just like doing your time in jail, you have to do your time here,” opines Chetan Hansraj, one of the busiest actors on TV today. Hansraj is now taking it easy because he doesn’t want to “kill” himself; and that is because he can afford to do so. “As a new actor
I did eight to 10 scenes a day. I had to prove myself for the first three years. Only after that could I sit back and focus on quality rather than quantity,” he rounds up.

roshni chopra

But why does even a new actor have these
schedules? “The script for each episode comes in late because of TRP demands from the audience. These effect changes like scenes being re-written and re-shot,” explains TV actress Pooja Ghai. When Ghai started off, she was shooting for four months with about two hours of sleep everyday. When this led to her losing her consciousness on sets and being hospitalised, she remembers her crew members asking the doctors, “When are you going to discharge her? She has a lot to shoot?” before even checking on her. While such health break-downs among TV actors is common news, one actor called Jyoti Chanakya actually “overworked himself to the extent that his unhealthy lifestyle led to cancer”, claims a TV actress who doesn’t want to be quoted.

ronit roy

At the center of this vortex is the daily soap opera. Rekha Modi TV script writer for dailies
claims, “A daily soap is
like running a factory. Creativity roz karni hai (Translation: ‘You have to use your creativity everyday’, I suppose.). Due to the manic competitiveness in the industry, this will have to be according to the TRPs the channels receive. So the writer can’t write their plots and characters in advance.” Which means that the actors don’t get their schedules till the last minute because one never knows how a scene is shaping up. “Often after going on floor you realise that the drama in the script isn’t coming through, so you have to rewrite, maybe bring in more characters,” Modi adds.
Kinnari Mehta, producer of current soap Sinndoor, explains further, “We’re in the middle of a boom. With serials on five days a week, we work 16 hours everyday. Even while talking to you now I’m working out the forecast for Wednesday and ahead, and my production house is one of the most organised. Imagine the mess the unorganised ones will be in.” Mehta also points out
that people are “glued” to daily shows, and that hence “there’s nothing the TV industry can do but meet the trend”.

pallavi joshi

But all actors aren’t so fatalistic about this trend. Actor Sumeet Sachdev, for instance, says, “Even when I start
ed out, I had the options to do many more shows, but I didn’t take them on. I’ve never taken on more work than I can handle. It’s not true that an actor has to do as many shows as he can fit into a day to prove himself. He could do that by doing one show and putting everything into it.” But while Sachdev blames the actor’s greed for money and fame for taking on so much work, Hansraj disagrees. “There is so much competition in the industry today that if a new actor gives up work, it’ll go to someone else, and make his chances of survival shaky,” he reasons.
Strangely enough the film industry, earlier known for erratic schedules, has eased its load. Says film producer Boney Kapoor, “This is because we’re functioning as an industry. There’s more dependability where commitment is concerned. Actors and producers nowadays insist on
a complete script, before shooting, and stick to that. We’re shooting films in a short span now, but that’s because people are working on one film at a time. Every thing is much organised.” Not having the burden of a daily deadline helps, perhaps?
All this brings us to another vital question – the quality on offer. Producers, writers and actors involved in the ‘daily’ phenomenon, defend it tenaciously, with Modi and Mehta claiming, “The output in one day is the same another would come up with in five days. It’s up to the artists to meet the challenge.”
Yesteryear’s TV, film and theatre character actor A. K. Hangal however, has a different take. “Yahaan sab sirf paise banaanein ke chakkar mein hai. Kaam se kisi ko matlab hi nahin,” he dismisses. He claims that earlier too, TV serials were prepared hurriedly to be sent to Delhi for Doordarshan, but at least they were meaningful. “Like Tamas”, he cites. Directed by Govind Nihalani, it was an exploration of the communal riots in 1947 and analysed relevant social complexities.

While Hangal does blame the absence of such fare to the lack of “progressive, able and educated” directors, in the TV industry, he does not override the crazy TV deadlines as a factor as well. “I had played Vallabhbhai Patel in a serial called Mountbatten, The Last Viceroy, produced by a UKbased production house. They had prepared the script six months in advance and I had four days to go through it before I started shooting. Can you imagine that happening here?” he asks pointedly.
Actress Pallavi Joshi, once much seen on TV, actually claims to have retracted from the industry because of its daily grind. “The industry has gone crazy! Showing the same thing day in and day out exhausts both the actors and the viewers!” she exclaims. Joshi further elucidates that dailies exhaust all character and story options, leaving nothing for the viewer and at the same time exhausts the actor so much that he or she can’t perform. “There’s no definite character or line of thought. These might suit women who’ve come here to earn quick bucks before they get married and settle down, but not for someone like me who wants a career in acting,” she argues. Joshi claims that she’s praying and waiting for the weeklies to return. Maybe we all should!

This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India:


From Vijay Mallya to Ravi Shastri, this small shop in Lakda Market boasts of an enviable celebrity register, finds Rishi Majumder

Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

lakda craft - opening doors...

Business nowadays is slow because people aren’t going for ‘recyled wood’. They want ‘custom made’,” sighs a timber mart manager while offloading a stack of large broken wooden door, window and closet pieces from a truck. Welcome to Mohammadi Timber Market, alias ‘lakda’ market – a colony of near-ancient timber shops off M S Ali Road. They scrape, chop and chisel wooden doors and windows from demolished buildings to sell them as new. “Rs 200 per square foot.” “What about Rs 150?” “Not one rupee less than 200, and you’ll pay for transport.” Meet Girish Rai, alias ‘Girish Bhai’ bargaining in his antique teakwood canopied cabin set amidst endless woodwork and raw wood in the 95-year-old Om Timber Mart. In an otherwise
floundering market, Rai makes an enviable profit providing doors, windows and staircases to some of Mumbai, Alibaug and Lonavla’s best known bungalows. How? The buildings he demolishes have “antique fittings”. “Making a Burma Teak masterpiece like I provide, will coast you Rs 600 per square feet, hai na?” Girish Bhai parades his inimitable Gujarati business sense in his inimitable Gujarati accent. “But I’ll give it to you for Rs 300 per square feet!” Saru Che…
The idea struck him when an Irish decorator bought an entire container load of French and Georgian windows. “I then contacted the Mumbai decorators and architects I knew who were doing ‘reech’ homes and sold them the idea.” His break came with Neelam Kothari’s Lonavla home. And then: “The ‘rich and famous’
move in a fixed set, hai na? So anyone who saw my stuff in another’s house, asked for it!” And since, this dingy ‘lakda’ store has furnished the homes of “Admiral Ramnath, Vijay Mallya, Ravi Shastri, Aishwarya Rai, Sushmita Sen, Alisha Chinai, Leslie Lewis, Anjali Menon… and many more. Main kitna bataoon.” The demand for such antiques that Rai claims he started, now centers around delicately curved French windows with motifs, Georgian doors and windows with arched tops, traditional Rajasthani and Gujarati house gates and Swiss spiral staircases. “We first clean them, scraping the old paint off. Then smoothen them before handing them over to an architect or interior designer,” smiles Rai proudly, caressing a white Georgian door as a child would his favourite doll, even his booming voice drops to a murmur. “And I have some of the best decorators and architects on my client list.” Indeed, for liaisons with such was this machiavellian wood seller’s next move. “Hai na?” Rai laughs in agreement. “There is Niti Merchant, Shimul Zaveri, Daras Rafat, Hafeez Contractor.” Small wonder then, that his supplies to distant Delhi and Uttaranchal grew as he got to know designers in these cities.
Enter Rai’s son Amit: “My father handled the business before me. And now Amit is already 10 years in it!” he smiles, using Amit’s help to stand up. “You see, since this accident, I can’t walk – else I’d move my stuff myself!” And what’s Amit’s most precious lesson from his father? “Frankness. Tell people who you do business with, everything you expect and know. It always saves losses,” he answers. Hai na?

a shop worker

This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India:


Rishi Majumder floats into a new zone of acquirable affluence. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Club Privada, a yacht membership scheme that has set anchor in Mumbai recently…

Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

Yacht, a penny more...

The Club Privada, India’s first luxury motor yacht membership plan, launches at the Taj Mahal Hotel today. This marks an important tryst with destiny for shining India’s lifestyle yuppies. Once upon a time, the art of living it up was simple. You bought a luxury motor yacht if you wanted and could afford it. Then came the yacht charters and share-buying schemes. Still share buyers had to deal with immense maintenance expenses, and charterers with the cost of rentals imposed on them – to recover such expense, some yacht owners attempt to charter their yachts when not using them. This explains why most yachts chartering centres operate from places like Goa, the Lakshwadeep and Andaman and Nicobar Islands, instead of Mumbai, which doesn’t afford enough getaway areas to compensate for the cost.
Club Privada’s membership scheme operates on a time share basis that allows you to book a yacht for a certain number of days (around 10) per year, if you really ardently wish to add that extra zing to your upper-crest-ish lifestyle. The target membership comprises those who cannot buy a yacht, but would like to buy the experience, and those who can, but care only for the experience anyway. At membership schemes that stretch to Rs 15 lakhs for two years, this club may seem a little exclusive. But figure this – buying the Azimut 50 (Club Privada’s best yet), for instance, could cost you up to seven crore rupees, and main
taining it up to rupees 40 lakhs a year. “The Larsen Cabrio is more my kind of boat,” says Karan Valecha, director of Club Privada. This translates into the fact that he’s in his twenties and feels more in touch with this hardtop mid-cabin cruiser of American make than the Italian Azimut 50, which just about fits into the super-yacht segment. The Cabrio comes with a cabin, which comes with DVD, 15-inch flat-screen TV and stereo system which plays on the sundeck above as well. It’s ideally suited to one-day cruises with a party of six to eight people. The Azimut, on the other hand, takes in its ambit eight to nine couples, replete with a salon area and a master bedroom (very plush), guest bedroom (plush) and additional guest bedroom (with a bunk bed – for the kids). It lasts far longer too, enabling a trip to Goa (eight hours if you cruise non-stop) and back.
“I think it’ll be a while before Mumbai finds the market for luxury motor yachts – for charter or sale,” says Shakeel Kudroli Director of Aquasail, dealing primarily in sailing yachts, though Aquasail did sell a Benetaeu Monte Carlo (French) some time back. “Unlike sailing yachts which evince interest from those who are into yachting as a sport, luxury yachts, considering their cost, don’t have as many ardent followers in Mumbai.” Yet Privada, with four Larsens and one Azimut, claims to be flooded with applications for its scheme accommodating only 60 members yet, and is looking to increase their fleet soon. But will the quintessential status symbol lend itself to a new standard of uber-chic in maximum city or will it meet the fate that the Mercedes met here? Only the sands of time will tell.

sailing in...

This article originally appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: