Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Siege in Mumbai: Who to get pissed at

All through the 59 hours that the Mumbai siege lasted, I talked to a number of people: over the phone, via SMS, IM, Facebook and Twitter . I kept my inputs mixed - I didn't just focus on those who were social media savvy.

I watched as much of the Indian news channels as I could humanly take. Its a very punishing way to spend four days off for Thanksgiving.

When the city had been reclaimed, a lot of post mortems began. There was outrage - innumerable people doled out advice. A lot of searching questions were asked.

And yes, as is the case in circumstances such as these - people needed to hang the blame somewhere. I'm not being critical of the need to blame: its a fairly natural reaction. And its necessary to help with the outpouring of emotion.

Which is why I jotted down the most significant entities that were identified as culprits.

The Terrorists

This is a no-brainer. Tremendous baddua for the perpetrators of terror and their progeny (although you have to assume there won't be any) poured out from the anya relatives I spoke with. One crazy uncle detailed an alarmingly violent method of punishment to be carried out immediately. But most of the terrorists are either dead or largely faceless (given that some escaped). As such they don't feel concrete enough for focussed wrath. Most of the junta feel the need to latch on to a larger target for their anger.

Pakistan

Most Indians assumed that Pakistan was integral to the attacks . What a lot of people were wondering was - was this a state sanctioned attack? The chances of that seem to be dim - Pakistan wouldn't muck around with something of this magnitude officially, not with the Americans breathing down their back. And increasingly, they have less incentive to do so. But as is well accepted, the state is scarcely in control of the country. Terrorism can still emanate from Pakistan without an overt state sponsored engagement.

But going down this route represents a no-win situation for India. Share evidence with them and the reportedly corrupt secret service will use it to plug their intelligence leaks. Get into a war of words and you'll lose valuable time and energy towards doing something meaningful. Deploy troops along the Kashmir border and it'll be downright madness.

The Government

Politicians are an easy target - they always have been and justifiably so. Once an incident like this occurs, no reconciliatory action seems acceptable. The people of Mumbai are pissed - especially when Netas call for the city to fight back. No one, it seems, wants to bounce back. They just want someone to start taking steps to prevent this from happening again. You can't counter terrorism with pure defense (and the aggressive approach - regardless of what criticism you level at it - is something the US has been largely successful with post-911).

But you need the right competence in the right places to solve this problem. And above all, you need someone focussed on terror intelligence and accountable for it.

The Media

There are a number of reasons people are pissed at the TV Media. First is the type of coverage: sensationalist, almost predatory. It felt like the media was spinning a mammoth tragedy for personal profit. Second, the media might largely be responsible for fulfilling the terrorists' eventual mission - large scale global exposure and mass hysteria. Third, the media's constant need to keep the story refreshed, which resulted in them breaking information on the air that was sensitive to the operation in progress.

There will eventually have to be parameters set up for the press to operate in at times like this. It should create a more responsible media. But for now, despite the detailed, constant and in some cases, innovative coverage - this wasn't TV Media's finest hour.

Israel

Scan through the Al Jazeera forums and you'll find plenty of people laying the blame at the feet of Zionism . What they are essentially asking for is a consideration of the entire ecosystem in place that gives rise to terrorism. Its not a crazy argument purely in terms of its systemic approach - although at a time like this it seems like one. Whether you agree with it or not, its a trivial bit of argumentation. Everything begins somewhere. Cause and effect is cyclical. It doesn't justify an act of this proportion.

America

When America tightened up security post 911, things started looking bleak for India. How so? Because starved of easy targets, the terrorists had to look elsewhere. And there is no country that is a big target for terrorists and full of security holes more so than India. For every security arrangement I see in the country I can think of two ways to circumvent it - and I don't have to think really hard either.

We the People

People may disagree about the Mumbai Siege on a number of things, but they all seem to agree on one thing: complacency will eventually set in. This apathy is what leads to lapses in security, an opening for terrorists to exploit. Give the Indians enough time, the thinking seems to be, and we'll prime ourselves for another one of these.

There is some truth to this: life goes on and especially in a country where you have to meet innumerable challenges on a daily basis, its easy to push national security on the back burner. In addition because Indians tend to apply a lot of topical and local intelligence to every situation, prescribed security processes seem almost impossible to implement uniformly on a large scale.  Ironically this very nature of how our country operates means that the key to stopping terrorist activities, at least in the short term, may well come from the citizens themselves.

Raj N. Sippy

Ok, Raj Sippy didn't have anything to do with this. But in what we all hope will be a new era of accountability in India, shouldn't the director of Jimmy be held responsible for something?

BBC's timeline of the events, key site map
Dipity's video timeline
Tweeting the Mumbai Attacks

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Jasmin Shah on life as a professional photographer (and three of her favorite pictures)

Born to an Indian father who grew up in Ethiopia and an American mother, Jasmin Shah grew up in Kenosha, Wisconsin. She grew up hearing about different cultures. At Christmas, she remembers eating Indian food, Ethiopian food and a small token turkey. And it opened up her world.

Armed with an innate curiosity derived from her multi-cultural background, she first visited India at the age of 29 as a professional photographer. She recalls it was strange going to the country, knowing it was part of her heritage but not knowing much about it at all. Jasmin took pictures on that trip to learn more about herself.

She's been back several times since, traveling to photograph distant lands in between making her living as a photographer in Chicago. I asked her to share her unique perspective on the Drift and tell us about life as a person who takes pictures for a living.

I also asked her to pick three of her favorite pictures and tell us all about them.

AspisDrift.com: Jasmine, tell us how you got serious about photography

Jasmin: Well, I was pretty good at Math and Science in High School and Mechanical Engineering sounded good. I actually wanted to be an astronaut! But once I got to Purdue it got kind of boring. I realized my chances of being an astronaut were so dim – I would be probably be working in an office all my life. So I started thinking about a change. And once I took a photo class it all changed for me.

There was an opening at the local paper for a position as a chief photographer. I interviewed and got it. But it was very demanding. I remember I ended up doing really poorly at studies that semester!

But I got to go the NCAA tournament (Purdue is big in Basketball). I got to do all these cool assignments when I was only nineteen. My parents saw me on TV. I was the only woman photographer there. I thought to myself: this is pretty cool!

So I moved to the University of Montana and studied Photojournalism.

AspisDrift.com: What's life as a professional photographer like?

Jasmin: I do photography full time as a freelancer. Life is interesting and different. I started off with photo journalism but now I do more portraiture. As a photographer, you are constantly meeting new people. You are in situations that most people wouldn’t encounter. Every day can be different which is fantastic and exciting.

It’s not always the most glamorous. I had to go to the Fish Feeding room to shoot at The Shedd Aquarium. I had to go to a huge landfill in the Western burbs while doing a story about the journey of a water bottle for Red Eye (a free daily published by The Chicago Tribune).

AspisDrift.com: Sounds Adventurous!

Jasmin: Yeah! I get to go to pretty fabulous parties if I happen to be photographing them.

I can be introverted or extroverted depending on the situation. For photojournalism, you need to only be observing. So you step back. But when I’m doing wedding or portraits or photos of kids and families I have to jump out there and be more social.

AspisDrift.com: You've taken all kinds of pictures: weddings, pregnancies, people, countries, even food. What among all this has been the toughest to photograph?

Jasmin: I remember doing a kids’ portrait the day after Halloween. Never again! They were all hopped up on sugar! No, actually really they are all good.

Weddings can be nerve racking because it’s the biggest day of a couple’s life and you are in charge of getting all the pictures right. But when you give the photos to the couple and they get to see it, it’s pretty special because the bride and groom don't really get to see much when they are in the wedding.

AspisDrift.com: I see lots of people, casual and amateur photographers, take great pictures. What do you think are the elements that distinguish a professional photographer?

Jasmin: You need commitment and consistency. When I talk to potential client for weddings and they tell me they met someone who was very cheap. I ask them: did you see that person’s whole shoot and was the whole thing good? Because only a good professional photographer can show great consistency across the portfolio.

AspisDrift.com: My friend Sarboo takes terrific pictures on the cell phone. Most phones are still terrible for photography, but their portable nature makes them really useful. What would be the one thing I should always keep in mind to get the best pictures on a phone?

Jasmin: Yes, quality on the phone is not the greatest and the flashes aren’t good either. So you have to think a lot about natural light. (Good) Light on the subject you are photographing – that is the most important thing.

AspisDrift.com: I've always wanted to ask this: do people expect you to take your personal pictures like a professional too? Let's say you snap the dog or your nephews and the pictures don't come out right. Do you get funny looks?

Jasmin: No one has really said anything negative about any pictures I take casually. But I get lots of questions about which camera to buy. And I know this makes me sound awful, but I don’t know anything about consumer grade cameras. For professional cameras, like say Canon, there are only a few you can afford that you also like so the choice is simpler.

So I’ve recently been thinking I should go to a camera shop and look at cameras so that I have something ready when I get asked.

AspisDrift.com: You travel a lot for your photography. How do you manage your cameras during international travel?

Jasmin: I carry all my equipment with me! In my last trip to India in June I took all my cameras with me. My carry-ons are really heavy – in fact I have to constantly pretend my bags are really light, which they aren’t!

Once I lost all my check-in bags for five days. I hadn’t packed anything to wear in my carry ons! On my next trip to Ethiopia, I am packing at least one change of clothes between cameras.

All my carry-ons are casual (non-photography related) because I travel alone a lot and don’t want to attract attention.

AspisDrift.com: Ok Jasmin, let's talk about three of your favorite pictures you've picked out for us.



Jasmin: This picture (above) was taken during my first trip to India a few years ago. It’s on Dal Lake in Srinagar. There is an Indian photographer who has since passed away – Raghubir Singh. I was looking at a lot of his stuff before going on this trip. It’s all so layered – he has a lot going on in his frames.

In this picture there are four people – a mother, baby, a grandma and a boy playing cricket. I took the picture from a boat on the lake across this house. I like those orange pants hanging in the window. The colors are muted but a few things pop out like the green ball between the legs of the boy.



My last trip to India was as a volunteer for Operation Smile which is a non-profit group. Operation Smile fixes cleft lips and cleft palates. I photographed the mission for them so they could use the pictures for fund raising.

I’ve wanted to make a difference in life and I’m not a nurse or a teacher or a doctor. With this opportunity, I felt like I could make a difference so I volunteered.

I followed this little girl you see in the picture (above) everywhere. She was the darling of the whole mission. She was really cute and happy and excited to see everyone.

I took this last November. I saw her in June again. She remembered me. I almost started crying. She looked really good and it made me so happy.



This picture (above) was taken in Chicago on Randolph Street over the I90-94 freeway. A couple of weeks ago, I was assisting my friend at a wedding (sometimes we help each other out because its much nicer when there are two people photographing a wedding) when this picture was taken.

I shot this with a tilt-shift lens so I got this slim line of focus and everything else was diffused around it. I like that light behind the man’s hair – that was a street lamp!

You once pictorially documented life in Chicago. Let's say someone came to visit this wonderful city, how would you recommend they spend their day?

Jasmin: Chicago is a city of neighborhoods. One of the best things to do is to pick out some neighborhoods and go through them. I live in the Ukrainian Village, I’m close to Wicker Park and Bucktown and I love these neighborhoods.

You get to see people walking and interacting. I recommend people get away from Downtown Chicago at least once during their trip.

You can ride the Brown Line (on the Chicago L) and look at peoples’ back porches and experience the neighborhood in a way you can’t on foot. You get an insight into people’s lives a lot that way. And the food is great in all these places!

AspisDrift.com: Jasmine, its mandatory to pester all guests on the Drift with this last question: can you fold a fitted bed sheet?

Jasmine: Oh, I am horrible at folding fitted sheets. Usually I just do this weird rolling fold with the sheets between my arms and then just pat it down and shove it in the closet. It is definitely not a skill of mine, though nor is it one that I am that concerned with having.

Jasmin's web site

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Things that make me go Grr! by guest blogger Karen Johar

Hi, my name is Karen Johar. I am one of Bollywood's big cheeses - high on most power lists. I am an actor, writer, producer, director and yes, a TV talk show host (remember Krappee with Karen?)

I am here to tell everyone how loved I feel by everyone's show of support for Dostana. Now you may ask: Karen that's not your movie. But it is: I produced it - I'd like everyone to know that. Its under my very own production house Pharma Productions - which I'm very proud of.

But I am indeed very hurt about some people saying the movie is offensive to homosexuals. What?! We made it with great sensitivity and care. Our intent was to entertain - it wasn't just to cash in on the 'gay is chic' phase urban India is entering.

I invited a bunch of people from the gay community to watch it before hand. Sure, they were all my friends. And they had downed a few martinis beforehand. But they loved it! Would your own friends lie to you? Have I lied to any of my....Okay, maybe that's not such a good example. But you're smart. You get my point, no?

People itna jalte hain! Dostana is a great movie! It stars John Baberaham's body. Its got music by Visual and Skater. Do you even need a plot?

This reminds of the witch hunt that ensued when I made TANK - Tubhi Alvida Na Kehna. I made that movie with the biggest superstar in the world Starlook Khan. And yes, there were a bunch of other people in the movie too. But does it matter? Starlook was in it!

I'll admit this movie lived up to its name and tanked at the box office. But it was the viciousness with which people called me The Enemy of Marriage that shook me up. I remember crying for days afterward. Pani Lookerji walked up to me and said "Karen you need to make family friendly movies!"

I told Pani: "With all due respect dear, I make family friendly movies for single people who like to party. Or inebriated DINKS. Is that so bad!!"

Bollywood conservatism disgusts me. I want to change it all.

But that is where I have a big problem. I also want to be loved by all. You have no idea how much work it is in Bollywood to love Starlook and still keep my feet in other camps. There are days when my cheeks hurt from having to smile constantly at people I barely like. And maroing maskaa to everyone? Exhausting! Its taking years off my life!

But my shrink has helped me in this regard. You see as a child I was not a cool kid. Why even at birthday parties that Adweebya Chopra would hog all the attention. Such a faker! He would pretend to be above Bollywood and insist he wasn't into doing the whole filmi thing. And then during dance competitions, he'd mysteriously nail Bollywood dances and win the first prize. I SHOULD HAVE BEEN WINNING THE DANCE COMPETITION! Never mind. Those early experiences left me with a need to be loved by all.

I'd like to say that even though I have a reputation for being a bit nasty, I'm actually a rather sweet person. Remember that gift hamper I used to give my guests on my show Krappee with Karen? Wasn't that super sweet? Bollywood stars love freebies! You should have seen how Brinjal threw herself all over that fairness cream I pack in the hamper.

Why just yesterday Glory Khan stopped by to show me her new Versace handbag. Did I tell her to turn down the setting on her fake bake? No! Instead I graciously smiled and told her she looks like the queen that Starlook deserves! Wasn't that nice of me? Yes, it was.

But back to the challenges at hand. I'm making more movies. Starlook is in one of them. I need all your support. Let's all join our hands and bring positive change to Bollywood. Let's include everyone in our world.

Life, I love you! And everyone in my life, I want you to love me too!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Darkwati: A look at Bollywood's Fair and Lovelys

Just a few weeks ago I was talking to a friend and we got around to discussing Drona. Which led us both to Priyanka Chopra. Which in turn led my friend to say: "She is so dark!"

This surprised me a bit because I hadn't thought of Priyanka being, you know, like dark. But I was instantly interested because we all know how dark women get the shaft. Whether you prioritize marriage or your career, the amount of wheat in your complexion might well determine the pace of your progress.

I recall watching those hugely amusing Fair & Lovely advertisements on TV. Why, Maxdavinci even ranted about one a while ago. Remember when Fair & Lovely launched its line for men? I chuckled through one where a man is trying to save his fairness by applying the cream. Another man shows up and makes fun of him for using a girlie cream.

I could see the brainstorming session at the ad firm prior to nailing down the concept for that one. "Its not enough that we're racist" someone must have said. "We need to amp it up with cloaked misogyny wrapped around emasculating men!" Heads must have nodded.

To be fair, ads need to deliver a message clearly and quickly. So the more poorly constructed ones try to latch on to the basest of stereotypes. Still, those stereotypes exist within us.

I'm not just picking on desi commercials: you'll often find similar messages coded in commercials universally. For example, you'll hear the word "silky" a lot when it comes to hair although no one will come out and say "straight". Ditto for the use of the word "glowing" when it comes to skin.

Its often hard to categorically state if the lightness of someone's complexion is playing a role in their progress because there are so many variables at play. But most of us understand it. How else does one explain the prolonged career of gora chitta Zayed Khan? But I digress.

Back to the matter at hand: did Prachi Desai get the lead in Rock On over a more rounded performer like Shahana Goswami because she was fair or because she had a connection with Ekta Kapoor (cousin to Rock On director Abhishek Kapoor)? Did Prachi feature in the promos more than Shahana because she was fair or because she was the lead actor's chick?

You see what I mean? Arguments in the film industry are rife with all kinds of details you have to consider. Its hard to get absolute data points. And getting mired in the subtleties is one of the reasons why this system of discimination is in place, no?

With that in mind, I thought the time was ripe to do a Frivolous and Silly analysis of how the lightness of skin complexion plays a role in the making of a Bollywood superstar. I looked at as many Bollywood actresses as I could and divided them up into three categories.

The A-list: these actresses have enough hits under their belt that they have built a power base. They bow only to the biggest directors. Smaller directors refer to them as Madam and brag to their friends about how they have saved Madam's number in their cell phone. If you are A-lister, your chamchaas can fill a small stadium. Some have the box office clout to open a film on their own. All have a crowded appointment book.

The A-list is dominated by Fairwatis: Aishwarya, Katrina, Kareena, Preity, Rani are among others like Priyanka, Kajol and Bipasha.

Since I'm indulging in this rather crass exercise I gave them a fairness rating from 1 (Palewati) to 5 (Darkwati). In the Darkwati graphics in this post, 1 is the top of the scale, 5 is at the bottom.

The A-list has an average rating of 2.13. The median was 2, which is just short of really fair.

The B-list: one or two hits can lift an actress into the B-list. Here, you start showing up fairly regularly on Page 3. You still can't open a movie, your salary sucks but you don't have to audition as much and the parties are good. If one of your movie flops, you can always sign up for a Reality show on TV to feel better. Your chamchaas at this level can fit into in a medium sized school bus.

The B-list didn't fair as well on the Darkometer as the A-list did. I picked 12 actresses in this list: Vidya, Deepika, Amisha, Genelia, Esha, Shilpa Shetty, Tabu, Lara, Kangana, Amrita Rao, Gracy Singh and Diya Mirza. Average: 2.50, median: 3, which is bang in the middle of the Darkometer.

The C-list: these actresses are the ones who have made a lot of movies but are still trying to get cast. Often they have to audition. Most still carefully collect all press mentions in a scrapbook. A number of them wonder if they should just chuck it all and get married to a decent looking moneybags producer. At this level your entourage might fill up the gondola on a roller coaster. But barely.

The C-list fared a little worse, but not that much. This list has Malaika, Celina, Konkana, Soha Khan, Raima Sen, Mallika Sherwat, Minissha, Shahana, Koena, Sameera, Amrita Arora and Jiah. Average: 2.67, median: 3.

But enough number crunching. Looking at isolated cases is far more interesting.

If you are fairer than most, you fit a wide variety of roles. If you are dark, a couple of obvious career paths are available to you.

You can position yourself as a "dusky sex siren". This is the Bipasha Basu route. A newer actress barelling down this path is Jiah Khan.

Or you can compartmentalize yourself in the "serious actress" category. This is the Konkana Sen route. This seems to be the route of choice for Shahana Goswami. Waffle in between and you'll end up like Sameera Reddy.

There are a couple of exceptions in this space. Kajol is a bit of an anomaly. Besides being dark, she also has a fondness for her unabrow that defies explanation. She has managed to buck all of that to become one of Bollywood's most luminous stars although she's had to work extra hard in the acting department. And Priyanka has commandeered her considerable political savvy to grab a lot of attention despite being a 3 on the Darkometer. A wide variety of roles are offered to and availed of by both actresses.

This new emerging career path - where you don't have to commit to being either sex siren or serious - is entirely driven by early box office success. Kajol hitched her box office star to Shahrukh Khan and never looked back. Priyanka's career got an early boost through the back to back box office successes of Mujhse Shaadi Karoge and Aitraaz.

Without a doubt box office hits matter to everyone (Fairwati Katrina's against all odds ascension to the top of the Bollywood list of actresses has been fueled by serial hits), but lighter skinned actresses do seem to get a longer ride. Just look at this list for starters!

This new Darkwati career path is available to Genelia D'souza, who clocks in at 4 on the Darkometer. She's done sweet, wholesome roles that are entirely frothy. She's delivered hits (Masti, Bommarillu, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na).She's not slick enough to be Priyanka, but she could be a Kajol in waiting.

I wish her luck! (And while we are at it, guess who's done a Fair & Lovely ad before?)

A hazaar thanks to Joules for lending me her characteristic Stylista advice in this post!

Also:

Monday, November 17, 2008

Why Niharika Singh is here to stay - An Exclusive Drift Interview

There is an Indian restaurant in the Chicago burbs that seems to be a particularly popular in the area. And whenever I'm there I find myself looking at a wall filled with pictures of the Bollywood A-list. There is a picture of Katrina, Bipasha and Kareena. There's Hrithik, Saif, Abhishek, Bipasha again (there is a reason I don't mind eating at this place), Salman, Preity, Aishwarya.

But there is one anamoly on this Wall of Fame. Right there between a picture of Amitabh Bachchan and Priyanka Chopra is a framed photograph of...Niharika Singh.

Clearly, a lot of people even halfway across the world from Mumbai believe she is on her way to being a major star.

How exactly is she going about doing it? In 2005, at age 21 she was Pond's Femina Miss Earth. She followed it up by building an impressive modeling portfolio on TV (Milk n Roses, Sony Wega, Samsung, Asian Paints, Vagh Bakri tea) and print (Unitech, Samsung, and Oasis Telecom). She featured in music videos for Lata Mangeshkar, Jagjit Singh and Babul Supriyo.

Last year she broke into Bollywood by signing two movies with Himesh Reshammiya: John Matthew Mathan's A New Love Ishtory and Seema, Sudhir's Mudh Mudh Ke Na Dekh Mudh Mudh Ke.

I invited Niharika to stop by the Drift and tell us how things were going with her.

AspisDrift.com: Niharika, you are such a strikingly beautiful woman. What were you like growing up? Did boys throw themselves at your feet? Did you have to tie a zillion rakhees to keep them at bay? Did the girls either love you or want to be your best friend? Tell us about Ms. Niharika, school ki ladki.

Niharika: Thank you for the compliment...but you'll be surprised to know that I was a complete tomboy in my school days. I was in an All Girls Boarding School (All Saints, Nainital) and never cared much about my looks. It was only after leaving school did I realize what male attention was. Girls have always been very comfortable around me but I always chose my friends with care.

AspisDrift.com: You are doing two films with Himesh Reshammiya. Let's talk about those. I've heard you play a woman with way too much cash in A New Love Ishtory. What's the role like in Mudh Mudh Ke Na Dekh Mudh Mudh?

Niharika: My role in Mudh mudh ke.. is very different from the one I play in A new Love Ishtory. In Love Ishtory I play a rich successful businesswoman whereas in Mudh mudh ke.. I play a young NRI Gujrati girl who is modern and yet traditional at the same time. Another difference in both the films is that in Love Ishtory, Himesh is in love with me and in Mudh mudh ke.. I'm in love with him.

AspisDrift.com: Are you done shooting for Love Ishtory? What is the schedule like for Mudh Mudh Ke?

Niharika: I'm shooting for both the films simultaneously. We've finished shooting a major chunk of Love Ishtory and completed one long schedule of Mudh mudh ke.. as well. Both the films will release next year.

AspisDrift.com: How did you get the offers for both movies?

Niharika: There is no great story behind this one. Himesh called me one day and narrated Love Ishtory to me over the phone and asked me to go meet John Matthew Mathan. John auditioned me the next day and I was signed for the film soon after. I guess they must've liked my audition tape coz I was offered Mudh mudh ke.. right after that and I signed it even before I started shooting for the first film.

AspisDrift.com: Himesh is a pretty unconventional hero – he'll be the first to tell you this. Honestly did you catch yourself wishing you had Shahrukh Khan as your costar in at least one of those movies?

Niharika: I'm not retiring after these two films. I promise you that! I'm sure I'll have the opportunity to work with other actors in the future. Himesh spotted me and gave me a fantastic debut and I'll always be grateful to him for that.

AspisDrift.com: Tell us about your first meeting with Himesh. He seems to be a tremendous source of positive energy and encouragement. Did he sing Mashallah Subhanallah as soon as he laid eyes on you?

Niharika: Not exactly :) But you'll be surprised to know that I met Himesh face to face for the very first time (only) after I'd signed both the films. And the first time I saw him, I thought he had the kindest face I'd ever seen.

AspisDrift.com: Anything about Himesh that surprised you because you weren't expecting it?

Niharika: The one thing that surprises me and impresses me about Himesh is his ability to multi-task. He's extremely hardworking and shocks me with his energy.

AspisDrift.com: You were crowned Ponds Femina Miss Earth in 2005. You've done modeling. You are now an actress. What were the hardest things you had to learn in each profession?

Niharika: The hardest and the most important thing I've learnt at every stage in my career is PATIENCE!

AspisDrift.com: Ok Niharika, you've appeared in advertisements for lots of products. But I'm going to ask you about products you personally use.

What brand of soap do you use?

Niharika: I don't use soap. I use soap free liquid bodywash and a mild cleanser for the face.

AspisDrift.com: What brand of shampoo do you use?

Niharika: I love my hair and I take great care of it...so I prefer using a herbal shampoo to protect it from any unnatural products

AspisDrift.com: Are you a tea drinker? What brand of tea do you drink?

Niharika: I don't drink tea or coffee

AspisDrift.com: Which cell phone do you own?

Niharika: Nokia N95 8GB

AspisDrift.com: Which MP3 Player do you own?

Niharika: Philips Home Theatre and my car's music system

AspisDrift.com: Where do you buy most of your clothes from?

Niharika: I love shopping...and I can shop anywhere! But I mostly pick up Western Casuals from Mango, Zara, Bebe, River Island, Forever 21.

I pick up Indian Wear from Ritu Kumar, Anita Dongre, Mandira Wirk and a couple of other Indian designers.

AspisDrift.com: Finally, this is a mandatory question for everyone on the Drift: can you fold a fitted bed sheet properly?

Niharika: I went to a boarding school as a kid and have been living on my own for the last seven years. I guess that should explain that I can do everything that needs to be done with bedsheets, pillowcases, curtains or upholstery of any kind :)


More: Niharika's catalog for Sia Lifestyles


Niharika in Babul Supriyo's video for Tere Liye






Niharika for Hair O Max

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Salman and Katrina on Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2009

There are two types of Salman you always get to hear about in the film industry.

One is Salman, the creative, loving, dildaar superstar. And the other is the paaji, shaitan Salman, prone to mischief and fiery bursts of temper. His repution is such that the worst is said about him in his relationships, yet there is no denying the fact that Salman also lands cosily in the laps of primo babes.

And much to my entertainment, both Salmans were on display during his appearance to shill for the upcoming Yuvraaj.

First let me congratulate the producers of SRGMP. Why? Well, Salman - clearly trying to outdo the recent hair missteps of Shahrukh Khan and Abhishek Bachchan, but in one fell swoop - showed up looking tame and strutted on stage casually. No sooner had he settled down in his seat that SRGMP regaled him with a montage of his cavalier and sharaarati behavior during previous appearances.

In essence, SRGMP was priming the pump. And with his engine warmed up thus, Salman went hammer and tongs at everything thrown at him with much gusto.

What I absolutely love about Salman is the way he talks when he's in the mood (catch a couple of episodes of Dus Ka Dum when you get a chance). Salman's speech is like a train wobbling on a narrow guage - he demonstrates scant respect for Hindi as it was meant to be spoken. He breaks his sentences in all the wrong places - prompting me to start quick family room pools as to whether he will finish the sentence at all. He's positively Christopher Walken-like in this regard. (For the record, I love both Salman and Walken.)

So it was that Salman provided bharpoor entertainment by engaging with the contestants. And here is where that other Salman showed up in flashes.

One of the first things he did when the show started was ask about how the contestants from previous years were doing. SRGMP minimized it by playing a laugh track over it, but I can't remember someone returning to the show who stopped preening enough to ask about some acquantainces from years past.When told that everyone seemed to be doing well, Salman happily settled back in his seat.

And it was in the way he played along with the singers that gave you glimpses as to why he is such a people's superstar (certainly the press and parts of the industry would have liked him to have gone under long ago). Nothing was off limits with him. He regaled Pratibha, dispensed relationship advice to Soumen (Chowmein, if you know whats good for you, avoid!), sparred verbally with Asma and in general did things that many would consider below their celebrity.

When his costar from Yuvraaj, Katrina Kaif showed up - looking simple and whip smart - things got a bit more interesting. She showed little patience for Salman's gallivanting. Eye rolls ensued. At one point she slapped Salman's hand. Yet again she picked up the mike and asked Salman and Asma to zip it. When she is genuinely tickled a vein pops on her forehead - its a bit endearing. She told Head that Udit Narayan was her favorite singer and had him sing a song for her.

No Salman appearance would be complete on SRGMP without a pangaa with Himesh, of late dumped by the shirtless one in favor of Sajid-Wajid.

When Asma finished essaying an arabic song, Salman told her she had made a huge mistake because Himesh would now copy that song. Himesh muskuraya and said "When have I ever copied a song?" Some sparring ensued with Salman. Inexplicably Himesh blurted out: "I copied only that one song when you insisted! That Santana song - for which I had to take so much shit from everyone!"

Hilarity! Now, what would Salman go after Pritam too? Sadly Salman only braises the ones he loves (kind of like the Drift) and so Pritam escaped with a minor reprimand: "your singing is all wrong!"

Monday, November 10, 2008

The music of Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi

By hitching their star to Yash Raj Films, Salim and Sulaiman Merchant have catapulted themselves to the A-list of Bollywood music composers.

They've followed up on this slice of fortune by producing crisp, tight compositions that neatly balance the modern with the (filmi) traditional. Sure, they are are a little awkward composing club songs - which is almost a rite of passage for composers in this zamaana - but they make up for it by delivering hugely moving songs, visceral even.

Consider the stage for the SRK starrer Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. Yash Raj Films is a banner in some trouble. At the top of almost every Bollywood Power List, its status has been seriously dented: Laaga Chunari Mein Daag, Tara Rum Pum, Aaja Nachle, Tashan and Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic were high profile box office failures.



Now, YRF's biggest talent behind the camera, lost in the hustle of running the business, is back. Aditya Chopra is writing and directing a movie for the first time since Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. Here he has reunited with Shahrukh Khan.

He's hired Salim and Sulaiman to compose the music for the film. There are five songs on the album - one flagship ballad that is repeated. And Salim-Sulaiman, off all the singers they can pick in Bollywood, give the song to Roop Kumar Rathod.

Happily, this gutsiness pays off. Tujh Mein Rab Dikhta Hai is a genuine melody - it doesn't require any funky music programming to rescue it although Salim-Sulaiman use a cool bass line under the dhol to give the song additional texture. But its in the way Roop sings the song - an octave higher and it would have sounded too hopeful, lower and it would have been too raundu. But just as it is, Roop is able to infuse a loving wistfulness in the song. Its a great way to start the CD - and Salim-Sulaiman build on it to deliver a smooth clutch of songs that, while aligned with very specific situations in the movie, grow you on.

On Haule Haule, Salim-Sulaiman use a catchy peti hook to offset the central melody. Its a trick they employ on one more song later. Sukhwinder sings this song - and as it has been lately with him, he sounds great when he leashes his voice and delivers a restrained performance. Haule Haule is a cute little ditty about letting life (and love) take its time. It also has the briefest interludes of all the tracks on the CD, making it the most accessible composition.

Sunidhi Chauhan is barely recognizable on the early lines of Dance Pe Chance, which is a club track. There are a lot of elements at play on the track - the best of which is a synth hook that plays differently from the main hook. Salim-Sulaiman use backing vocals from Labh Janjua and break the song down a number of times to keep it from getting stale. You could argue that there is too much going on in this song or that the composers are trying too hard - and you wouldn't be wrong. But its a matter of preference - most people I've talked to haven't liked RNBJ, but they've liked this song.

Dance Pe Chance has another version - called Dancing Jodi - which is essentially a remix that sounds like a background score.

The only real disappointment on the CD is Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte - a bit of a stunt song (read: situational) that contains lyrics made up of songs and titles from older movies. In all fairness its hard to get a song like this right - stringing together a bunch of diverse tunes is disastrous in terms of establishing a melody. Salim-Sulaiman take some playful liberties with the tunes in an effort to gel the song together. It works only in bursts. But its interesting to note that they've invited Sonu Nigam to sing the song. Of all the singers we have today, if there is anyone who can sing any song from our past (or will die trying) its him - so its a nice tip of the hat.

The CD will depend heavily on RBNJ's prowess at the box office for its own commercial success. Its not a particular piercing observation to make on my part - most CDs in Bollywood are that way. RBNJ requires multiple listens to get stuck in your ears. And if there is one commodity music releases can't afford these days - its time.

The Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi trailor
The heroine - Anuskha Sharma
What IS the closely guarded plot of Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi?

Listen to the songs from saavn.com below

Friday, November 07, 2008

Why Meiyang Chang will save Indian Idol 4 (If SONY will let him) - An Exclusive Drift Interview

Let's not mince words: Indian Idol is under siege. It's failed to throw up a genuine superstar in any of its seasons save the first one.

Its contestants have struggled to make a mark in the music biz. Some have had playback opportunities that haven't gone anywhere. Others have tried to make a name for themselves on the reality show circuit. But might I remind everyone that the name of show is Indian Idol, not Indian Hopeful! In the rising face of competition, both from other reality shows and shows that produce big names - Idol ended last season with the risk of being overrun.

Worse was to come. Idol started season 4 with a clutch of raw, inexperienced singers. And in the early Piano rounds, it lost almost all the really good ones. Crisis mode, engage!

But Idol 4 got one thing right: inviting Meiyang Chang to host the auditions and then promptly extending the offer to continue through the Piano rounds.

Meiyang's tall, easy rider presence has been a sparkling one - he's struck up a  bromance with co-host Hussain and his punchy introductions inject much needed life into the show. He is able to mingle easily among the contestants - allowing their stories to come to the fore (the show's USP) but still commands respect from them and the judges.

Forget the guys who have won the competition, Meiyang has the potential to be the show's biggest idol since Abhijit Sawant. And if SONY is watching the same show I am, they'll be quick to recognize this and invite Meiyang to host the Galas for them.

I invited Meiyang to stop by the Drift and tell us about what life has been like on Indian Idol this season. And he's so engaging that a short exchange turned into a long one and we added in pictures from Meiyang's personal photo album in as well.

NOTE: All pictures and their captions are the property of Meiyang Chang. Don't copy those without his permission. The text in this article on the other hand, is mine and something you can go to town with. Here is the Drift Copyright for reference.

AspisDrift.com: Meiyang, how did you end up hosting Indian Idol this year?

Meiyang: After Idol 3, I was fortunate to be approached by Sony BMG to sign up for Artiste Management as well form a Boy Band with two others, the perks of which were having our own music album and videos.

Six months passed by, performing live and meeting people, learning the ropes. In this entire period, it was impossible to let go of the memories of the life altering time I had spent as a contestant in Indian Idol 3. I wanted to be associated with the show once again, but I wondered how it would be possible, since as per the format of the show, I am not allowed to participate again.

Around March 2008, I came to know that the auditions of Indian Idol 4 would be held shortly. I was excited and called up Mini Mathur ma'am, our host for last year and was excitedly chatting her up, telling her how eager I was to see her on the show again. It was she who told me that she was not doing the show this year due to personal reasons and that Hussain sir was not available for the auditions period. There was an audition going on FOR the person who would host the auditions! Many prominent TV personalities were being discussed.

At this point I thought, THIS would be a perfect manner to be re-associated with the show I love the most. But at the same time, I also knew how fruitless my attempt could have been, considering the names that were up for grabs. Still, having my record of popularity last year, plus the fact that I am a decent orator and my looks are novel and work for me, and that I am part of the show, I put forward a request to the production house to consider me.

After watching me audition, they were impressed but thought I'd do a better job in a younger show like something on MTV, and that I looked too 'young' (I guess they wanted to say not authoritative-looking enough) for a premium show like Indian Idol. I was dejected but took heart from the fact that I had made a good impression.

Fortune shone upon me and within 2 weeks time I got a call telling me I was in. I thank the channel and the production house for taking the risk of casting someone who was a newcomer and who also did not fit the image they had for an Indian Idol anchor, a gamble that thankfully seems to have gone down well with the viewing audience. The channel also tweaked the format of the show since Idol does not accomodate ex-contestants as anchors in any of the versions worldwide.

Initially, I was offered only the auditions phase which was a hurricane - hectic and fast paced!!! But then they decided to continue with me in the Ru-Ba-Ru segment as well. The biggest surprise came when they called me to co-host the Piano rounds with Hussain sir (who was back by now) as an equal! Now I'm anxiously waiting to see whether they retain me for the rest of the show as well

AspisDrift.com: What is a typical week for you like schedule-wise these days?

Meiyang: I shoot three days a week for Indian Idol that includes two days for Piano rounds and one day for Ru-Ba-Ru. These three days are extremely unstable in terms of timings. We always try to shoot smoothly and finish within the stipulated time but depending on the technical acuity, celebrities joining us and many other unavoidable things, the end-time always fluctuates.

I usually take 1-2 days off completely to relax or spend time with friends and family. Of course, the remaining days go into music classes, daily chores, networking (and being in a humongous traffic city like Mumbai, every simple chore takes an eternity to finish).

As of now, all my concentration is on Indian Idol. I have live shows lined up in the next few months, and am also going through a couple of movie scripts. I wouldn't say I'm a very busy man. I'm living a chilled out life but am raring to find more work and slog it out!

AspisDrift.com: What is co-host Hussain like to work with?

Meiyang: I would like to thank Hussain sir immensely for giving me the confidence that radiates on screen. Working with Deepali for auditions was easy since we're good friends and at par. But he is someone who's been in the industry for a long time and has carved a niche for himself on television. And I knew him as a TV personality then and was completely in awe of him.

I remember the first day I met him I told him "The problem is how do I address you on the show, because I'm used to calling you sir?"

And he said, "Brother, in terms of achievement you might be my junior, but on this show we are equals. And from now on, let's be friends rather than junior and senior"

And that's how, he came up with the idea of "Partner-Buddy" to make it comfortable for both of us. He has taken immense pressure off my mind and constantly keeps giving me tips without being preachy. He is extremely supportive. We share many light moments on the sets where we talk about anything under the sun (read- studio lights lol ;) - from judges to contestants to our future plans to fitness etc.

Very few people would be so generous as to let a newcomer get equal standing and make them so comfortable, and he is one of them. And I'm immensely grateful and love him for that

Thursday, November 06, 2008

A Wednesday: why it didn't work as well it should have

I finally caught up with Neeraj Pandey's A Wednesday on DVD. And I completely enjoyed myself watching it. I have a few notes to share.

If you expect an arty film because it has a color-washed Naseeruddin Shah and Anupam Kher in it, you'll be disappointed. A Wednesday is a hugely commerical, relentless thriller. Sure it doesn't have songs in it, or a suffering mother - which I recognize are the commercial trappings of regular Bollywood fare. But nonetheless, Pandey is out to primarily entertain.

This is an aspect I enjoyed most about the movie. I'm sick and tired of director's hiring people like Naseer and Anupam and then trying to create "a great work of art". For crying out loud, Pandey has the right idea! Hire these guys because they are among the best actors in India. And make them work hard and honestly in a commercial movie. Press them to deliver.

Neeraj puts Naseer and Anupam through their paces. He works them hard - especially Anupam. Importantly enough, even though he doesn't fully flesh out any character, he makes them people who do things that are consistent with their character. Because Naseer and Anupam have had to work in so much junk to pay the bills, I was really happy to see them sink their teeth into their respective roles.

A Wednesday is derivative but makes up for it with some clever writing. There is a brief but nifty satire of Bollywood, some casually underplayed metaphors, biting comedy when you least expect it and small turns of story that create an edge in the movie.

Yet the movie has one crucial flaw - I could see the big twist coming from a mile - well before the intermission. The Drift Memsaab is hugely pissed at me for ruining the movie. But if you are remotely interested in analyzing scripts while watching the movie, you'll note that the script paints itself into a corner more than once. Which makes it easy to unravel the end.

There is another problem in A Wednesday. And its worth mentioning because the solution to that problem would also have applied to the aforementioned crucial flaw.

A Wednesday is unable to put anyone in a genuinely threatening situation. Think about this: an unidentified person (played by Naseer) plants several bombs in a city of millions. Yet at no point did I feel anyone was under genuine threat. Sure, Pandey shoots the requisite pictures of 'a bustling city in motion' but it conveys chaos more than vulnerability. And this results in a vacous thriller - not overtly but just ever so.

If Pandey had been able to convey a rising sense of insecurity through some carefully written scenes, or if he had paced the subplots around two officers (Jimmy Shergill, Aamir Bashir) a little slower he might have been able to bring gravity to the situation and distract us enough from guessing the end game.

With time Pandey will learn to not rely on MTV video-style punch ups to pump up the adrenalin. Hopefully he'll also spare us scenery chewing monologues - the only time Naseer's character rings false and almost derails the movie.

Pandey, some phaltu Drift advice: rent the entire (non-kiddie) filmography of Robert Rodriguez and watch him mature with each flick. And then take your time building each scene instead of trying to assault us with it.

But still, great job!

Protecting Barack Obama

It was at a Diwali party recently (pre-election) that the whole question of Obama's safety came up.

"The only way he'll lose is if someone assassinates him" said one political pundit.

This had been an overriding concern among Obamites in Chicago - and it is one that will continue even after his election to the presidency of the United States. Needless to say Michael Chertoff's decision to place Obama under secret service protection earlier than any candidate has ever been now appears seismically prescient.

But when this whole topic came up someone - let's call him Balamurali just because I love that name - had a story to tell, which I'll dramatize enough that it can't be linked back to anyone.

Balamurali runs a packaging facility. One day late in Summer, while Balamurali sat in his office, rubbing his chin and trying to figure out how to make his Q4 revenue, a couple of strapping men in black suits stepped into his office.

They identified themselves as US Secret Service agents by flipping open their identification badges. Balamurali would later note that they were extremely polite - almost like bankers seeking your business in these times - eager to ensure everyone's comfort. But boy, they sure didn't mess around when it came to business.

"Someone from your facility has issued a potential death threat to presidential candidate Mr. Barack Obama" said one of the agents. "We need to you to turn over your records to us so we can investigate its legitimacy"

Balamurali's head spun. He clutched the arm rests on his chair for support and mumbled: "Yes, yes, but I need to speak to my lawyer first!"

Balamurali's lawyer advised him to ask the agents to seek a subpoena before handing them his records. "Its Thursday" the lawyer said. "No judge in Chicago will issue a subpoena before Friday. So they won't be back till Monday and that gives us some time to mobilize our resources and get the information they need without handing over our records"

Balamurali conveyed this to the agents who smiled and said they'd be happy to return with a subpoena. It was 9:30am on a Thursday. Balamurali went back to worrying about his revenue goals.

At 11:00am the same day, the agents returned with a subpeona. Caught unawares again, Balamurali's head spun anew. "Please!" he pleaded. "Give me a day and I'll have the information you need!"

The agents smiled and left again. But not before letting Balamurali know that the potential threat had been issued in the form of a comment on a popular Chicago newspaper's website. It referred to Obama and said "Blow his brains out before its too late"

This worried Balamurali even more. He visited the bathroom twice that day. In between he woke up his IT partners in India and asked them to track down who might have accessed that web site in the last few days from his facility.

A few hours later an IT manager from India called and identified a couple of computers for Balamurali. Unfortunately, those computers were open for anyone to access on the packaging floor for a reason - a number of people needed to perform lookups on the Internet as part of every day workflow.

Balamurali called in his manager Ringo and went about narrowing down the list of potential users in the last few days to four. "Let's split them up and talk to each individually" Balamurali said.

Someone called Tom was the first one in to see Balamurali. And bluntly he was asked: "Tom, did you leave some incendiary comment on any blog recently?"

Tom's face turned pale. "Oh sh*t!" he said. "I did something really dumb and stupid!" And boom! Just like that Balamurali had his man.

Now that Balamurali had identified the person, he moved swiftly. First, he suspended Tom without pay for unauthorized use of computer resources per company policy. Then he called the secret service agents over. When they showed up, he narrated what had occured in the past few hours and gave them Tom's contact name and address. The agents left the building and thanked Balamurali for his cooperation.

Balamurali then ordered an independent psychological evaluation for Tom. He was told the cost would run into the thousands of dollars. Balamurali cursed under his breath but approved the expense.

The evaluation lasted three weeks. Tom got a clean chit from the evaluation. He returned to work a happy but much chastised man.

"So what did the secret service do with you?" Balamurali asked him upon his return.

"They turned over everything in my house!" Tom said.

Balamurali was informed by the secret service that their investigation had showed that Tom wasn't a credible threat to the presidential candidate. Balamurali's qeasiness around Tom lasted for a few weeks before mostly disappearing.

More fun reading

Author Stephen King analyzes Obama's superior TV presence and contrasts it with McCain's
"Barack Obama looks like the grave and intelligent news anchor on a major-market station. John McCain, on the other hand, looks like the slightly dotty commentator who rants about the local sports teams and obscure bond issues on a small-market station."

The BBC reports on Obama starting his new job
"The President's Daily Brief (PDB) occupies a fabled place in American politics. It is an ultra-secret compilation of the latest intelligence presented to the President every morning. And later on Thursday, Barack Obama will start to receive the PDB as president-elect."

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2009: The Final Eight Contestants

Say what you will but Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2009 has better singers overall than last year. I'm not surprised - the music industry now has genuine money in it, creating a swell of new talent willing to exercise patience for a break. SRGMP has now become one of their premier platforms to get noticed. And its driving them all to the show.

Plus, SRGMP has the concept of judges right - they pick music directors. It works on so many levels that I'd have to write a new post just about that. So back to the contestants which is the focus of this post. Here are the remaining seven in order of my own level of anticipation when they come in to sing.

Yashita Yashpal Sharma

Every year SRGMP throws up a winner and a breakout singing star. Often they are not the same person. This year's singer who will get much roji roti in Bollywood - despite where she finishes - is Yashita. She has a strong voice that can be downright powerful in a few years. As far as I am concerned her pitching is a work in progress. But she has great focus and spunk.

Vote Appeal Angle: Bindaas Mumbai babe ke liye vote karo!
Sounds Like: Sunidhi Chauhan on a pub crawl with Suzanne D'mello
Among her best: Yashita sings Suneeta Rao's Pari Hoon Mein, Vaishali Samant's Aika Daji Ba

Pratibha Singh Baghel

Easily this year's most accomplished voice, Pratibha is genuine talent blended with early training and hard work. She seems incapable of singing badly - her worst performances are better than anything you would hope to hear on say Indian Idol. Lately SRGMP has rather amusingly been pairing her up with a fellow contestant - they've been doing it with the roving camera, the TV equivalent of the filmi akhiyon ke isharo se.

Vote Appeal Angle: The girl from the Heartland needs your help to win!
Sounds Like: The love child of Shreya Ghoshal and Shobha Mudgal
Among her best: Pratibha sings Abida Parveen's Baghban

Debojit Dutta

The Virender Sehwag of the show - capable of monster performances and dismal failures. Interestingly with Debojit you can tell he'll bomb within the first few lines. He might be great economic option for some music directors if they pick the song carefully.

Vote Appeal Angle: I'm adhura but I'm happy!
Sounds Like: Suraj Jagan imitating Kishore Kumar on one of their saner days
Among his best: Debojit sings James' Hamari Adhuri Kahani

Sara Raza Khan

Sara sings in two voices - one is a kitchy-koo girly voice that entirely limits her range. Once in while she'll break into a full throated voice which sounds terrific. Unfortunately that doesn't happen often. But forget the consolation praise the judges heap on fellow competitor Asma for marked improvement, the fastest improving singer on SRGMP is Sara.

Vote Appeal Angle: Vote for your cute neighbor from up north!
Sounds Like: Suraiya before she hit puberty
Among her best: Sara sings Himesh's Mashah Allah

Soumen Nandi

Vastly underrated as a singer on the show, if Soumen (who I like to call Chow-mein) has a killer voice in the middle octaves, his low notes ain't bad either. But he gets a little screechy on the high notes, which limits his appeal as a playback singer.

Vote Appeal Angle: Please, I'm trying really hard to look cool here. So vote for me!
Sounds Like: KK. But on the high notes, sounds like KK after he just found out he lost another song to Shaan
Among his best: Soumen sings Kailash Kher's Saiyan

Vaishali Made

Vaishali's excellent range if somewhat shrill voice texture is an indicator of how deep talent runs this year on SRGMP - she's barely been among the top singers. Sure Himesh is building a rather eye-roll worthy back story for her (she sings for her husband!) and she sings boring songs, but her approach to life and singing are both genuine and touching.

Vote Appeal Strategy: I worked really hard all my life, now its time to be a star!
Sounds Like: Lata Mangeshkar Lite
Among her best: Vaishali sings Lata Mangeshkar's Der Na Ho Jaye

Zaheer Abbas

Hugely capable, wonderfully dedicated, refreshingly down to earth. He's a niche singer who hasn't yet found his precise niche. If he finds a supportive music director, that niche can be found.

Vote Appeal Angle: Vote for the god-fearing bandaa!
Sounds like: Sukhwinder Singh after riding a bike with a very small, hard seat
Among his best: Zaheer sings AR Rahman's Khwaja Mere Khwaja

Asma Mohammad Rafi

Easily the weakest singer on SRGMP, Asma is the train wreck of the season. But she has a vulnerable, semi-loony personality that audiences seem to connect with. And riding that wave, she has negotiated repeated finishes in the bottom three with safe passage into the next round.

Vote Appeal Angle: I'm a ditzy Arab girl with an amusing accent. Vote for continued humor on the show, I mean me!
Sounds Like: Mauli Dave on a cell phone
Among her best: Asma tackles Himesh's Jhalak Dikhla Jaa