From war-torn Syria to a windswept island off the west coast of Scotland, nine newly-arrived refugee families are struggling to adjust to new lives in a very unfamiliar world. “It’s hard. We don’t know anyone!” said a woman from Aleppo, who was helping a fellow refugee from Homs pick out …Read More »
India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has concluded that British-Indian actress Jiah Khan committed suicide following a “disturbed” relationship with actor Sooraj Pancholi. The CBI was directed by the Mumbai High Court in July last year to investigate whether the death at the age of 25 of the promising young …Read More »
On Remembrance Sunday, 8 November, in many parts of Britain and the Commonwealth, millions of people will fall silent to mark one hundred years since the First World War – the Great War – got into its stride on its destructive path. By the time the guns fell silent in …Read More »
Davis Guggenheim has made movies about world leaders (Barack Obama, Al Gore) and rock stars (U2, Jimmy Page, Jack White), but it's his new film about a girl and her dad that affected him most.
Of course, Malala Yousafzai is no ordinary girl.
Guggenheim spent a year and a half with the Nobel Peace Prize winner and her family to make the documentary "He Named Me Malala".
He came away deeply moved.
"She's my favourite," the Oscar-winning documentarian ("An Inconvenient Truth") said.
"You're not supposed to have favourites, but she's incredible. I've fallen in love with this family."
Even more than Malala's activism, Guggenheim was inspired by the Yousafzai family dynamic, how they value tradition, education and fun.
"I wanted my family to be more like their family," said the 51-year-old father of three.
"I wanted my family to have this joyous love for each other, this very expressive sense of love."
"He Named Me Malala" is a personal portrait of the teen activist, who was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012 for advocating for girls' education in Pakistan.
She recovered and continued her work globally, addressing the United Nations in 2013 and winning the Nobel Peace Prize last year.
The film centres on Malala's close relationship with her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, a teacher and public speaker who knew his daughter's gender didn't limit her potential.
"I have two daughters, and my daughters are mysterious to me," Guggenheim said. "I want to know what he did, what she did in that relationship. I want to unpack that relationship somehow."
He learned about Malala's family history of public speaking: Her grandfather was a cleric and her dad has long defended education and liberty in the face of religious extremism. The filmmaker learned about the Pashtun heroine she's is named for: Malalai of Maiwand, a brave young woman who rallied Afghani troops against the British Army in 1880 and was killed for being outspoken.
He followed Malala and her father as they travelled to Kenya, Nigeria and Jordan to support children's rights. Guggenheim also filmed Malala at home, where she does her homework, teases her brothers and blushes as she looks at pictures of Roger Federer online.
But even after hundreds of interviews and countless hours spent with the Yousafzai family, Guggenheim says 18-year-old Malala is still "a complete mystery to me."
"Clearly, she's a combination of all these wonderful things: her father's dream for her, her mother's intense spirituality," he said. "But also (it's) just who she is."
A world icon and a regular teenage girl, she's Guggenheim's favourite.
"This movie has been my favourite movie because it really has changed my life. It blows me away," he said.
"I want what they have. I want to be the father that Zia is. I want my daughters to feel the love that he gives Malala. I want them to feel that love and respect."Read More »
Randeep Hooda as Charles Sobhraj in the new film, 'Main aur Charles'.
The first trailer for one of this year’s most-anticipated Indian films has just been released and it’s as chilling as the subject.
‘Main Aur Charles’ stars Randeep Hooda as Charles Sobhraj, widely reputed to be Asia’s most prolific serial killer.
But who is Sobhraj? Or, to give him his full name, Hatchand Bhaonani Gurumukh Charles Sobhraj?
Sobhraj was also known as “The Serpent” – for his uncanny ability to shift and evade capture and escape from prison using various disguises – and, most famously, the “Bikini Killer” for targeting young women in tourist spots across Asia during the 1970’s.
While the true number of victims is unknown, some experts put it as high as 24.
Sobhraj was born on 6th April 1944 to an Indian father and Vietnamese mother in what was then Japanese-occupied Saigon.
His father, a wealthy Sindhi merchant, shunned him and his mother – a shop girl. She later married a French army lieutenant stationed in the country and Sobhraj thus became a French citizen.
But the young Charles was traumatized – first by his father deserting him and then his mother and step-father favouring their later children over him.
In fact, he once wrote about his father: "I will make you regret that you have missed your father's duty.”
Sobhraj once also described his killing sprees as “cleaning”.
One cleaning spree – in 1976 – saw him befriend and then murder 10 travellers through the “Hippie Trail” of Thailand, India and Nepal.
A lean, handsome and charming man, Sobhraj’s malevolence was well hidden by his larger than life personality..
He spoke several languages fluently and often targeted young backpackers.
Sobhraj in his heyday, in the 70's
He was also calculating. His victims probably thought there was nobody kinder, more genuinely friendly, than Charles Sobhraj, until he made them groggy with sleeping pills, drove them out into the countryside and viciously murdered them.
“I can justify the murders to myself,” he once said after being captured. “I never killed good people.”
Sobhraj also liked to brag about his crimes.
He confessed the details of his killing spree, which lasted between 1975 and 1976, to his two Australian biographers, Richard Neville and Julie Clarke.
But, as he warned them, “in the unlikely event I will ever appear in court in Thailand I will deny everything.”
Sobhraj's favourite method was to make his victims ill, using anything from diarrhoea-inducing pills to itching powder, and then when they were weak and totally reliant on him, he would strangle them, mutilate them with a knife or shoot them.
Then he would disfigure their corpses.
Many of his victims were backpackers and small-time criminals.
He was also adept at manipulating India’s police force and its’ judiciary.
Sobhraj was first arrested in India in 1971. He was on the run soon after, conning the prison guards into believing he was ill, before making good his getaway from a hospital.
He was then re-arrested on 5 July 1976 after drugging a group of French tourists.
But Sobhraj confused his doses, and as his victims writhed around with diarrhoea inside a Delhi hotel, staff contacted police.
A year later, Sobhraj was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment for passport forgery, theft, the drugging of the young tourists and the 'culpable homicide' of a French traveller, Luke Soloman, in Benares.
By 1985, his jail term in India was nearly finished and extradition to Thailand loomed.
The cerebral Sobhraj soon found a solution – to escape what he thought would be the far harsher conditions and tougher charges over in Thailand.
What’s more, escaping from even high-security prisons was something of a Sobhraj speciality.
In 1971, he had jumped from an upper-storey window of a police station in Greece.
The same year, he faked an appendicitis attack and fled a Bombay prison.
In 1972, he slipped out of a Kabul jail by drugging his captors. His most spectacular flight was from the Greek high-security prison on Aegina island, when he set fire to a police van and fled in the confusion.
Even in Thailand, when his house was finally raided, Sobhraj convinced police he was an innocent American professor.
In Delhi's high-security Tihar jail – one of the largest in Asia - his exploits were well-known among inmates. Sobhraj was treated with awe, even by the convict gang leaders.
Finding volunteers to assist in his getaway was simple.
He roped in three infamous bandits, Brij Mohan, Laxmi Narain, and Raju Bhatnagar, who had contacts in the Delhi underworld.
Sobhraj needed cars, train tickets, several pistols and a hand grenade.
His most trusted cohort was an Englishman, David Hall, a veterinarian in his mid-twenties who had been caught trying to smuggle one and a half kilos of hashish back to the UK.
Convicted in 1985, Hall had begun a 10-year stretch in Tihar prison.
Once he had lured Hall into the game, Sobhraj arranged for the Briton to be released from Tihar jail.
In two of his past escapes, Sobhraj had faked vomiting blood and a bleeding ulcer, and now applied his expertise to Hall.
A prison doctor diagnosed Hall as having a damaged kidney and released him on 12,000 rupee (£120) bail.
Instead of fleeing India Hall remained in Delhi to help Sobhraj escape.
Hall was also aided by Sobhraj's lawyer, Sneh Sengar, a vivacious young woman who had fallen in love with the murderer.
For several weeks prior to the escape, Sobhraj had been buying food and presents for the Tihar guards, so they were not suspicious when Hall appeared on
Sunday 16 March 1986, loaded with grapes and a tray of sweets for Sobhraj's birthday. The food had been doctored and infused with 820 sleeping pills by Hall. Less than an hour later Sobhraj, Hall and three other escapees were headed towards Rajasthan.
Their freedom however, was short-lived.
Two weeks later, Sobhraj and Hall were picked up in Goa.
Sobhraj was sent back to Tihar jail, with his legend as the king of jail-breaks enhanced.
To ensure that the jail-break trial would drag on for years, Sobhraj had instructed Hall to photograph every aspect of the escape, from the Llama pistol, to the fugitives' switch from car to train in Alwar, Rajasthan.
This meant that every item they had photographed had to be tracked down by investigators. The trick worked. It took eight years for investigators to prepare the dossier against Sobhraj.
Once he was found guilty and sent to prison, the time limitations were fast running out for Thai authorities.
Sobhraj’s tactics were unsurprising. He was the acknowledge ruler of Tihar jail and was referred to as “Charles Sahib”.
He gave money from a number of mysterious overseas bank accounts to help the children of the poorer prisoners and of the under-paid prison guards.
After finishing sentence in 1997, Sobhraj was released from jail.
He eventually returned to France, living a comfortable life just outside Paris. The mysterious bank accounts were regularly topped up as he charged thousands for interviews.
According to one report, he was paid a staggering $15 million for the rights to his story by one French film producer.
Retirement however, was not for Sobhraj. For reasons only known to him in 2003 he returned to Nepal where he was still wanted for the murders of two tourists back in 1975.
He was spotted on a Kathmandu street by a journalist who reported him to the authorities.
He was soon tried and convicted despite a shoddy trial.
He tried to escape from prison in 2004, but failed.Read More »
An exclusive excerpt from The First Life of Vikram Roy, the latest in ‘The Ruby Iyer Series’ by Mumbai-born, London-based author Laxmi Hariharan. I hear the staccato of shots being fired, followed by yells and howls of pain. Then, the sound of something being smashed and everything goes quiet. The …Read More »
Last year, Indian pharmaceutical major Cipla announced a £100m investment into the UK aimed at the launch of a range of drugs in the areas of respiratory, oncology and antiretroviral sectors. Dr Reddy’s Laboratories bought a contract development and manufacturing site in Yorkshire around a decade ago, with the company …Read More »
Renowned Bollywood director Farah Khan was invited as a guest speaker to the recently-concluded London Asian Film Festival where she conducted choreography and directing masterclasses. The events provided a fascinating insight into the life of one of Bollywood’s most enigmatic figures. Her easy-going manner and approachability is, at first, at …Read More »
British-Pakistani One Direction star Zayn Malik says he just wants to “live a normal life” after quitting the hugely popular boy band on Wednesday. Malik, 22, apologized to the band’s millions of fans for his decision which came days after he dropped out of One Direction’s Asia tour due to …Read More »
The Waterman’s Theatre in West London has long had a reputation for bringing in theatre artists and productions from all over the world and for being open to experimentation. The theatre has brought in Lillete Dubey’s The Primetime Theatre Company on numerous previous occasions with ‘Boiled Beans on Toast’ being …Read More »