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Indian classical music legend Shivkumar Sharma dies



Indian classical music legend Shivkumar Sharma has died at the age of 84.

Sharma was an exponent of santoor, a dulcimer-like instrument. He suffered a heart attack at his residence in Mumbai on Tuesday morning.

Sharma is credited with converting the santoor, which was mainly played in Kashmir, into a major instrument of Indian classical music.

Sharma was also part of a duo – along with flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia – who worked on classical and film music.

Shiv-Hari, as they were called, composed music for at least eight Bollywood films, including Silsila, Chandni, Darr and Lamhe.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the tributes to Sharma.

“Our cultural world is poorer with the demise of Pandit Shivkumar Sharma Ji. He popularised the Santoor at a global level. His music will continue to enthral the coming generations,” Modi wrote on Twitter.

Sharma was born and raised in Jammu in a house by a river where, in his words, “from dawn till dusk, someone or the other was singing or playing an instrument”.

His father, Uma Dutt Sharma, came from a family of priests, and was himself a classical vocalist and played the tabla, the traditional Indian drum.

In the early 1950s, when he was handling music programmes for a state-run radio station, Uma Dutt began researching the santoor, a traditional instrument of Kashmir used in local Sufi music.

He bought home a 100-string santoor and encouraged his young son to try playing it.

Years later, Sharma recounted that he had initially resisted playing the instrument.

“My father told me, ‘You have no idea what is going to happen with your name and the santoor. They are going to become synonymous. So you have to play this’, Sharma told interviewer Ina Puri.

By 17, Sharma was playing both the santoor and the tabla for the local radio station. He flowered into a versatile musician, later playing the tabla for maestros such as Ravi Shankar (sitar) and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (sarod).

Singer Vijay Kichlu once said Sharma made the santoor a major component of Indian classical music.

“Unlike the santoor, the sarod, the shehnai and the violin were considered major instruments, with the sarangi being used as an accompanying instrument to vocalists,” Kichlu said.

Also, playing the santoor was not easy: the instrument is not played with the fingers. Instead, its strings have to be struck with a mallet held in each hand.

Sharma once said he had modified the instrument to “suit the requirements of Indian classical music – specifically to enhance its tonal quality”. Interestingly, he was also the first musician to play the instrument, weighing eight kilograms, on his lap for hours at a time – traditionally the santoor was kept on a wooden stand when played.

Some critics were “harsh”, saying the santoor would never be accepted as a classical instrument, and told his father that his son had chosen the “wrong instrument”, Sharma recounted in his autobiography, Journey with a Hundred Strings.

But Sharma persevered.

In 1955, when he was 17, he had turned down an offer from V Shantaram, a Bollywood director, to compose a song in his film – saying his calling lay elsewhere.

But five years later, he arrived in Mumbai looking for music-based jobs in the film industry – by then, he had also acquired a master’s degree in economics.

“His work, for much of the sixties and some of the seventies, kept running like a train on two tracks – his work in cinema, and his opus on the [classical] concert stage,” said Manek Premchand, a historian of film music.

Over the years, he played to packed audiences at classical shows, where he would never play his popular music. Ravi Shankar once called Sharma a “superstar” who would be always “mentioned as a pioneer in elevating santoor to the height of classical refinement”.

A rare musician who effortlessly straddled both classical and popular music, Sharma played the santoor for least 40 popular Hindi film songs sung by greats such as Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar and Mukesh.

In the eighties, his collaboration with Chaurasia spawned many hits, beginning with Silsila, starring superstar Amitabh Bachchan.

Bachchan once remembered a New Year’s eve during the shooting of Silsila when the duo played well past midnight at the hotel they were staying in Delhi.

“When it was all over, we could see not just a physical exhaustion on the part of Sharma but as though his very soul had got exhausted,” Bachchan recalled.

In 1998, Kumar and Chaurasia became the first Indian musicians to play at a Nobel prize ceremony in Oslo alongside Alanis Morissette, Elton John and Phil Collins. The duo also performed in the central hall of India’s parliament.

Sharma received some of India’s greatest honours: the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1986, the Padma Shri in 1991, and the Padma Vibhushan in 2001.

He is survived by his wife and two sons. One of his sons, Rahul, is also a santoor player of repute who has recorded with Richard Clayderman and Kenny G.


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Review: ‘Barbenheimer’ films are everything



It is, of course, brilliant.

Oh, you’d like me to be more specific? Right you are, then.

They are, of course, brilliant.

We haven’t had a weekend of cinema like this since before the pandemic. Two mega-hyped blockbuster films, going head-to-head for audience eyeballs. Two very different films and – even though both are based on some form of pre-existing IP – neither has the security of a franchise to fall back on.

Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer has a cast of luminaries as long as your arm and a topic no less weighty than the end of the world. Nolan is one of the few filmmakers we have for whom every new release is now a global cinematic event – a ‘stop the clocks’ moment.

I would venture that it won’t be too long before Barbie’s Greta Gerwig is also in that league. After the ‘making grown men cry’ triumph of Little Women in 2019 she now follows up with a film that couldn’t be more different in terms of style and content but the themes – female self-determination and self-realisation – are still at the forefront. That’s what an auteur is, folks.

Oppenheimer publicity image of Cillian MurphyPhoto: Universal Pictures
Oppenheimer is a biopic about the revolutionary physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) but because this is a Christopher Nolan film it does not follow a straight line from birth to death, there are two stories running in parallel. The first is Oppenheimer’s journey from awkward student to the “father of the atomic bomb” followed by disgrace as post war anti-communist politicians set out to destroy his reputation, all shot in vivid IMAX colour.

And, Nolan being Nolan, there is also a bit of a puzzle to be solved as a key piece of information is withheld from us until the end, a piece of information that unlocks all of the giant themes the film has been wrestling with and provides an unsettling but dramatically satisfying conclusion. Satisfying but manipulative all the same.

The second (in grainy black and white) is about one of those politicians, Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.), attempting to win a cabinet position in 1959 and finally having to deal with the fallout from his own battles with Oppenheimer.

This might seem like an odd place to put your attention: a relatively minor contretemps between two proud and headstrong men over the future of atomic energy and planet killing weapons but Nolan – and the book American Prometheus upon which the film is based – sees this battle as the first skirmish in an ideological anti-science movement which has reached a point where evidence and facts are now underdogs in almost every debate.

A still from Oppenheimer by Universal PicturesPhoto: Universal Pictures
Nolan brings all his skills to play in this film which is composed largely of men in suits and ties debating and it is quite thrilling to see a big screen epic take those things seriously. There is spectacle – of course – but the giant closeups of the contradictory genius’s monumental cheekbones are the great special effect here.

As an aside, I saw this picture in digital IMAX – the second favourite of Nolan’s picture formats after the 70mm IMAX which is only available in 30 cinemas worldwide and which necessitates a reel of film over 11 miles long – and was surprised to see that the taller IMAX frame format was only used for certain shots – for the most part the screen is a traditional but very large widescreen shape.

There are some shots – effects and landscapes – where you can see why that frame would be chosen but it in some scenes the ratio can change from shot to shot for no apparent rhyme or reason. Perhaps it is like James Cameron deciding to use a high frame rate in some shots in Avatar: The Way of Water and not others. It just looks cool at that moment and because he can.

Anyway, with the focus so squarely on ‘great men’ there isn’t much time left for other stories that might have been told: the Native Americans on whose sacred burial grounds the nuclear tests occurred; the unwitting New Mexico citizens who became irradiated by fallout when the wind changed after that first Trinity test; the countless thousands of Japanese victims of Fat Man and Little Boy; and also Oppenheimer’s women (Florence Pugh and Emily Blunt) who are reduced to one-note each – depressive and needy or alcoholic harpy.

Margot Robbie as Barbie in a still from the Barbie moviePhoto: Warner Bros. Pictures
Someone who, as you would expect, has no trouble writing women, is Greta Gerwig. In Barbie, she’s attempted to fashion a deeply political treatise on feminism and objectification alongside a fun plastic poolside romp with the primary purpose of promoting a toy company. I think she has largely succeeded at both objectives.

This is the first in a proposed series of films where Mattel, the second largest toy manufacturer in the world, attempt to mimic the screen success of Hasbro (Transformers) and Lego. Thankfully, Mattel appear to have a sense of humour as the company itself is the butt of many of the jokes but the promotional engine that has been running for over a year on behalf of this film makes clear that more toy sales is the primary objective.

Gerwig – and co-screenwriter Noah Baumbach – have bigger fish to fry. Like many stories about inanimate objects brought to life – as far back as Pinocchio and even further – Barbie is about being human. Is it a desirable state when so much of life is about disappointment, loss, anxiety and pain. Barbie goes a step further, though, and asks whether the ‘real world’ even thinks of women as human at all?

Ryan Gosling and the other Kens of the Barbie moviePhoto: Warner Bros. Pictures
Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) is living her perfect life in Barbieland – with all her different Barbie friends, plus the Kens, a Midge and an Allan – when she starts having uncomfortably human thoughts about things like death. Turns out there is a psychic bond between the Barbie in Barbieland and the child in the ‘real world’ who plays with her.

Advice from Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon) is to travel through a portal to the real world, find her child and repair the psychological damage and restore the equilibrium. Barbie’s lovelorn Ken (Ryan Gosling) stows away only to discover that in the real world, men like him are not second-class citizens and that he should bring his dim-witted version of the patriarchy back to Barbieland.

Often very, very funny (and can I say ‘barbed’), Barbie has some wonderfully deranged set-pieces, all justified by the fact that the rules of Barbieland are set by children who care not for logic and consistency and have no patience for things as boring as ‘walking down stairs’.

Everyone involved is giving it their all – except for Will Ferrell as the CEO of Mattel who is giving a slightly subdued version of his Lord Business performance from the Lego films. He’s alright but for a change his is not the wackiest performance in the film.

This is a profoundly entertaining film made by serious people.

Dan Slevin’s film review newsletter can be found at



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RNZ series, journalists winners at NZ Radio Awards



RNZ has won seven awards at the NZ Radio Awards which were announced tonight, while one of its longest serving presenters has been honoured for her contribution to broadcasting.

RNZ had 27 finalists across the presenting, producing, journalism and podcast categories.

Our Changing World and The Detail were announced joint winners for Best Factual Podcast – Episodic. The Aotearoa History Show was judged Best Factual Podcast – Seasonal. In its 25th anniversary year Country Life prevailed in the Best Daily or Weekly Feature – Factual – category.

Midday Report presenter Charlotte Cook’s podcast Hair and Loathing won Best Documentary or Factual Talk Feature.

The RNZ Concert recording of Ka Pō, Ka Ao which featured Rob Ruha with the Auckland Philharmonia won Best Music Feature. This recording of the special Matariki concert also recently won a gold medal at the New York Festival’s Radio Awards.

Jimmy Ellingham was the joint winner of Best New Broadcaster – Journalist alongside Newstalk ZB’s Jason Walls.

RNZ National All Night presenter Vicki McKay was announced as the recipient of a special Services to Broadcasting award.

McKay has been on air with RNZ for three decades.

“During this time she has been the one to handle a number of major breaking news events for the people of Aotearoa, always with compassion and respect,” said RNZ’s head of radio David Allan.

Source RNZ

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At 83, Al Pacino expecting baby with 29-year-old girlfriend.



Legendary actor Al Pacino who is dating 29-year-old film producer Noor Alfallah is all set to become…
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