Vanity fair


Compiled By Nisha Susan

Is she back?

Is Chitrangada Singh really making a reappearance next month in Yeh Saali Zindagi? We will believe it when we see it. We have been in transports of joy, sloughs of despair and other extravagant emotional states each time we heard that she is in the next Sudhir Mishra project. Now all this loose talk of her item number and how she is doing another movie with Mishra has ceased to move us. Everytime we felt any excitement we subjected ourselves to aversion therapy. Our newest method to achieve self-hatred is by reading newspapers that spell MK Azhagiri as Alagiri.



More Challenge for the Loins of Punjab

So perhaps you thought the weirdest thing the huge Deol clan was subjected to by Abhay Deol was a special, private screening of an uncut version of Dev.D. No one fainted but perhaps Paro touched their hearts. But now that dear lovely Abhay is going to be in his second Dibakar Banerjee film,Shanghai, the family will face a new hurdle. The film is an (please note, official) adaptation of a Greek political thriller. Now, until the movie comes out, we shall entertain ourselves (cheaply, yes) by imagining the kindly Deols saying the author’s name: Vassilis Vassilikos.


Monkey Business

It is too easy to make fun of  Madhur Bhandarkar doing a comedy so we will desist. Instead let’s turn our gentle attention to AR Rahman and Gurinder Chadha cooperating in all seriousness to make a monkey musical — Monkeys of Bollywood! A title more mercenary than that Gurinder Chadha classic Bride and Prejudice. Why not the Cricket-Playing Monkeys of Bollywood? Perhaps we should look at the bright side. Since they are monkeys we can stop worrying that a character will suddenly decide to namedrop Jackson Pollock, like one did in Bride.


More Puris

Forget the damn Jaipur Litfest. Nandita Puri, journalist and wife of Om Puri has a new book out. The previous book, her biography of Om Puri had the kind of results Oprah would want on cable. The juicy stuff was so juicy it not only shocked subject/ husband Om Puri but seemingly, the writer herself. After a televised and teary almost-divorce, she is now back with a book that “spans centuries and cities, explores Bengal’s nationalist movement, the murky Hindi film industry and the nexus between the media and glamorous Bollywood”.



‘Will is what separates me from my opponent’


By Nishita Jha

What do you remember about Akhil Kumar, age 10?
I was born in Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh, but I grew up in Haryana. I had one elder brother and two elder sisters. So I was always the pampered one. At 10, I was living in my own world. I played cricket all day at fields, gullies and backyards. I had just got my brother’s cycle, so my day was spent discovering new places to play. I was absolutely crazy about cricket. When I travelled to Bhiwani for my first match, my mother cried a lot. My father was posted at Gurgaon District Jail, so I used to play at the Nehru Stadium nearby. Around that time, my brother advised me that it would be better for the family if I devoted my athleticism to an individual sport. I started boxing at 13. Whenever my brother explained something to me, I would understand it right away, more so than when my parents tried to tell me something. Sometimes he would rough me up, but he’d always take me out for sandwiches and coffee.

Did you feel resentful about having to let go of playing cricket?
Maybe initially. It was such a big part of my life, so it was hard to let go of. I still love cricket but I don’t follow it fanatically. The story of cricket is more interesting because I hope it will be the story of my sport one day. Once cricketers had to rely on the government for financing. Now they make more money than the government itself because the sport has become so mainstream.

The thing with boxing is that it is not an expensive sport to learn — it’s sasta, tikau and bharosemand like all the detergents in India (laughs). You don’t need loads of equipment, just a bandage and a foam teeth guard — you are sorted in Rs 150 so it was the perfect sport for me to take up given that I belonged to a lower middle-class background. I learnt early on that the most important things in boxing were will, skill and determination.

Ever lost your will?
No, because like I said, it’s all that keeps me going, it’s all that separates me from my opponent. When I’m in a boxing ring, within 15 seconds, I have to gauge my rival’s skill, his footwork and weaknesses. What I will never be able to gauge is his will, so I have to make sure mine surpasses his.

What did it feel like when you lost the first bout representing India? How do you deal with defeat? Does it decimate your ego?
Harder than losing my first international fight was losing the first state-level bout that I ever played. It was my first fight, I was younger, and took it harder. I made sure I would train harder than ever because I couldn’t deal with the thought of coming home and facing my parents without any medals in hand. If I won a bout, my whole family would tell everyone in the colony, everyone would want to shake my hand. If I didn’t, they would assume that I wanted to be alone. Eventually, when I won my first gold, I hung it up in my room where I would look at it all the time and tell myself no other shine could ever compare to it.

Are you an aggressive person outside the ring? What about your temperament keeps you grounded in a violent profession?
I’m a good decision-maker and quite calm. I’m always joking around when I’m not fighting, so that keeps me in a good mood. I make friends easily but I have a few close ones from childhood that I spend my time with when I’m not travelling. I don’t even go for a cup of coffee by myself, I don’t like doing things alone. Except once I went to watch Devdas alone because I thought it was the kind of film one should experience by oneself.

The thing about knowing exactly where to hit someone to really injure them is that it trains you to be less violent because you know you can cause serious damage. I wouldn’t hit anyone unless they really crossed the limit outside the ring. Thankfully that hasn’t occurred yet and if it does I hope there’s someone around to stop me.

When you are about to punch someone you have never met before, what goes through your mind?
(laughs) At the international level, I don’t think of them as people, but as countries. Before I get to the point of hitting them, I have usually researched on their boxing style and I keep myself away from personal details because it’s the sort of thing that can distract you from your performance — like thinking about how many kids the guys has, etc.

Do you find that the more famous you become, the more friends you attract?
It’s true, but I think I have a good sense of how to separate real friends from fake ones. To tell you the truth, the only way to find out is to spend a little time with them. But like I said, I don’t like to do things by myself so I have enough time to test them.

How has the glamour circus been treating you?
I never imagined that I’d be in an Asha Bhonsle video one day, or that I’d be dancing in front of Madhuri or Malaika. They are all very good to me, everyone has always shown support because they know this is not my area of expertise. But at the same time I feel like it’s a bit of a show — the only reason I’m there and that they are treating me a certain way is because I have won certain honours for the country. And frankly, while dancing really is hard — especially for someone like me who doesn’t even dance in a discotheque — acting is not. I’m a total film buff, and I’m not so glamour-struck that I can’t tell bad actors from good ones. If they can make me emote, they can make even an idiot act like Dilip Kumar.

How does your wife Poonam help you stay grounded?
She was my girlfriend for quite long, so we already knew each other quite well. I had met her in Patiala where she came to take her diploma in boxing, which she topped. I don’t have enough money to take her with me wherever I travel, but the thing is her father is a boxing coach, her sister is a boxer and her brother is a tennis player. What I’m getting at is that there is a total understanding at home of the life of an international-level athlete and what it involves. I always discuss my strategies and dreams with her. Any marriage works with a good understanding of each other so Poonam and I are very in sync — boxing is my life, it made me everything that I am and she gets that completely. I’m not sure if any other girl would have understood that. In today’s age it’s very hard to find a girl like her, she is simple and good and most women are not like that anymore. I consider myself lucky to have found a perfect match in her.

Are you religious?
I do travel to Vaishno Devi or Tirupati whenever I can because it gives me peace, but my true moment of connection with god is usually right before a match. People have commented on how I look relaxed and smile before getting into the ring but in my head I’m just praying to god for his protection. Even during a match it’s like I’m in conversation with him and he’s guiding me.

How did you deal with the culture shock of travelling to so many foreign countries? What was particularly hard to deal with?
When I was younger I used to feel uncomfortable because there were things going on around me that were not part of my desi orpindu understanding. Drinking, partying, dating so many girls it was all an alien world. In India we have to wait for things more so we value them more. I used to save up for festivals like Diwali or Dussehra so that I could go out with my friends, I would plan where to take my girlfriend and think about it for weeks. There it’s all too easily available, too open and I think maybe because of that people value it all less.


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