Tag Archives: film

FACTS FIGURES & QUOTES (FFQ): THE MAKING OF FILM BENHUR

Copyright@shravancharitymission

    The making of a movie is extremely taxing. After watching a movie for three hours in a theatre we do get the flavour of the movie but not the aches and pains suffered by the team that brings the movie to you.

    Benhur is a 1959 American epic historical film directed by William Wyler, produced by Sam Zimbalist, starring Charlton Heston as the title character. It was actually a remake of the 1925 silent film with a similar title. It was adapted from Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel Benhur: A Tale of the Christ.

    I will not go to the plot of this movie as it a famous one. But yes let me take you through the film production of this great all time movie. Especially, the chariot race.  It may not be difficult to film such scenes today because of numerous computer aids available. But way back in 1958 it was one humungous task to accomplish

    The budget of Benhur was approximately $132 million. The chariot race in Benhur was directed by Andrew Marton and Yakima Canutt, both filmmakers The “pageantry sequence” before the race, is a shot-by-shot remake of the same sequence from the 1925 silent film version.

    Marton and Canutt wrote 38 pages of script that outlined every aspect of the race, including action, stunts, and camera shots and angles. Producer Sam Zimbalist was deeply involved in the planning and shooting of the chariot sequence, and the construction of the arena.

    The chariot arena was modelled on a historic circus in Jerusalem. Covering 18 acres (7.3 ha), it was the largest film set ever built at that time. Constructed at a cost of $1 million, it took a thousand workmen more than a year to carve the oval out of a rock quarry. The racetrack, featured 1,500-foot (460 m) long straightaways and five-story-high grandstands. Over 250 miles (400 km) of metal tubing were used to erect the grandstands. Matte paintings created the illusion of upper stories of the grandstands, and the background mountains. The production crew researched ancient Roman racetracks, but were unable to determine what a historic track surface was like. The crew decided to create their own racecourse surface, one that would be hard enough to support the steel-rimmed chariot wheels but soft enough, to not harm the horses even after hundreds of laps. The construction crew laid down a bed of crushed rock, topped by a layer of ground lava, and finely grounded yellow rock. More than 40,000 short tons (36,000 t) of sand were brought in from beaches in the Mediterranean to cover the track. Other elements of the circus were also historically accurate. Imperial Roman racecourses featured a raised 10 feet (3.0 m) high spina (the center section), metae (columnar goalposts at each end of the spina), dolphin-shaped lap counters, and carceres (the columned building at the rear that housed the cells where horses waited prior to the race). The four statues atop the spina were 30 feet (9.1 m) high. A chariot track identical in size was constructed next to the set and was used to train the horses and lay out camera shots.

    Planning for the chariot race took nearly a year to complete. Seventy-eight horses were bought and imported from Yugoslavia and Sicily, the largest Mediterranean island, near Italy in November 1957 that were exercised into peak physical condition, and trained by Hollywood animal handler Glenn Randall to pull the quadriga (the Roman Empire chariot drawn by four horses abreast).

    Andalusian horses (pure Spanish horses) played Benhur’s Arabians, while the others in the chariot race were primarily Lipizzans (originating in Lipica in Slovenia). A veterinarian, a harness maker, and 20 stable boys were employed to care for the horses and ensure they were outfitted for racing each day. When a blacksmith for making horseshoes could not be found, an 18-year-old Italian boy was trained in the art of blacksmithing in order to do so. The firm of Danesi Brothers in Rome built 18 chariots, each weighing 900 pounds (410 kg). Out of that nine were practice chariots. Principal cast members, stand-ins, and stunt people made 100 practice laps of the arena in preparation for shooting. Because the chariot race was considered so dangerous, a 20-bed infirmary, staffed by two doctors and two nurses was also built next to the set to care for anyone injured during shooting.

    Actors Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd both had to learn how to drive a chariot. Heston, an experienced horseman, took daily a three-hour lesson in chariot driving after he arrived in Rome and picked up the skill quickly. (He also learned sword fighting, how to throw a javelin, camel riding, and rowing). Heston was outfitted with special contact lenses to prevent the grit kicked up during the race from injuring his eyes. Stephen Boyd, however, needed four weeks of training to feel comfortable (but not an expert) at driving the quadriga. For the other charioteers, six actors with extensive experience with horses were flown in from Hollywood. Local actors also portrayed as charioteers. Among them were Giuseppe Tosi, who had once been the bodyguard for Victor Emmanuel III of Italy.

    The original shoot production schedule, called for the chariot race to be shot in the spring season, when the weather was cooler for the horses and when Wyler would not be placing heavy demands on Heston and Boyd’s time. But sadly, the arena surface was not ready; the arena set was not finished, and the horses had not finished their training. Shooting of the chariot sequence began on the same day as the principal photography (Principal photography is the phase of film production in which the bulk of the movie is filmed). So, for various reasons once again the filming was delayed. The racecourse surface provided was so soft that it slowed the horses down and a day of shooting was lost as the yellow rock and all but 3.5 inches (8.9 cm) of crushed lava was removed.

    Marton and Canutt filmed the entire, chariot sequence, with stunt doubles in long shot, edited the footage together, and showed the footage to Zimbalist, Wyler, and Heston to show them what the race should look like and to indicate where close-up shots with Heston and Boyd should go. Seven thousand extras were hired to cheer in the stands. Economic conditions in Italy were poor at the time, and as shooting for the chariot scene wound down, only 1,500 extras were needed on any given day. On June 6, more than 3,000 people seeking work were turned away. The crowd rioted, throwing stones and assaulting the set’s gates until police arrived and dispersed them. Dynamite charges were used to show the chariot wheels and axles splintering from the effects of Messala’s barbed-wheel attacks. Three lifelike dummies were placed at key points in the race to give the appearance of men being run over by chariots.

    The cameras used during the chariot race also presented problems. The 70mm lenses had a minimum focal length of 50 feet (15 m), and the camera was mounted on a small Italian-made car so the camera crew could keep in front of the chariots. The horses, however, accelerated down the 1,500-foot (460 m) straightaway much faster than the car could, and the long focal length left Marton and Canutt with too little time to get their shots. The production company purchased a more powerful American car, but the horses still proved too fast. Even with a head start, the larger American car could give the filmmakers only a few more seconds of shot time. Since the horses had to be running at top speed for the best visual impact, Marton chose to film the chariot race with a smaller lens, with a much shorter, minimum focal length. He also decided that the car should stay only a few feet ahead of the horses. This was highly dangerous, for if the car did not make its turns or slowed down, a deadly crash with the horses could occur. The changes, however, solved the problems the camera crew was encountering. As filming progressed, vast amounts of footage were shot for this sequence. The ratio of footage (raw unedited material) shot to footage used was 263:1, one of the highest ratios ever for a film.

    John Dunning and Ralph E. Winters edited the footage of the chariot sequence. The two editors decided that, once the race was under way, one of the charioteers should be killed immediately to demonstrate to the audience that the race was a deadly one. Inserts of the sharp barbs on the hub of Messala’s chariot were inserted repeatedly throughout the sequence to make it obvious that his chariot was highly dangerous. As the footage was shot, it was edited by Ralph Winters. If the footage was poor, the stunts didn’t come off on the camera well, and if the coverage was lacking, then more footage had to be shot. So, with all these uncertainties at the end of three months, Dunning says, ‘Winters had so much footage in hand that he asked Dunning to come to Rome to help him edit together the final sequence.’

    One of the most notable moments in the race came from a near-fatal accident. Joe Canutt, Yakima Canutt’s son, did Heston’s most dangerous stunts during the sequence. When Judah Benhur’s chariot jumps over the wreckage of a chariot in its path, Benhur is almost thrown out of his chariot. He hangs on and climbs back aboard to continue the race. While the jump was planned (the horses were trained to leap over the wreckage, and a telephone pole had been half-buried in the earth to force the chariot to jump into the air), stunt man Joe Canutt was tossed into the air by accident; he incurred a minor chin injury. Marton wanted to keep the shot, but Zimbalist felt the footage was unusable. Marton conceived the idea of showing that Benhur was able to land on and cling to the front of his chariot, then scramble back into the quadriga while the horses kept going. The long shot of Canutt’s accident was cut together with a close-up of Heston climbing back aboard constitutes one of the race’s most memorable moments. Stephen Boyd did all but two of his own stunts. For the sequence where Messala is dragged beneath a chariot’s horses and trampled to near death, Boyd wore steel armour under his costume and acted out the close-up shot on his back, attempting to climb up into the horses’ harness to escape injury. A dummy was used to obtain the trampling shot in this sequence.

    In all, the chariot scene took five weeks (spread over three months) to film at a total cost of $1 million and required more than 200 miles (320 km) of racing to complete. Two of the $100,000 70mm lenses were destroyed during the filming of the close-up shots. Once the “pageantry” and victory parade sequences of the race were finished, Wyler did not visit the chariot race set, again. Yet according to Zimbalist, Wyler said “it’s one of the greatest cinematic achievements” he had ever seen. Wyler did not see the final cut of the chariot race until the press screening of Ben-Hur.

    A total of 1,100,000 feet (340,000 m) was shot for the film. According to editor John D Dunning, the first cut of the film was four and a half hours long. William Wyler stated that his goal was to bring the running time down to three and a half hours. The most difficult editing decisions, according to Dunning, came during scenes which involved Jesus Christ, as these contained almost no dialogue and most of the footage was purely reaction shots by actors. When the film was edited into its final form, it ran 213 minutes and included just 19,000 feet (5,800 m) of film. It was the third-longest motion picture ever made at the time, behind Gone With The Wind and The Ten Commandments.

     We often belittle a movie that we don’t like. Henceforth before doing that think of the hard work that has gone to make that film.

 By Kamlesh Tripathi

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Shravan Charity Mission is an NGO that works for poor children suffering from life threatening diseases especially cancer. Our posts are meant for our readers that includes both children and adults and it has a huge variety in terms of content. We also accept donations for our mission. Should you wish to donate for the cause. The bank details are given below:

NAME OF ACCOUNT: SHRAVAN CHARITY MISSION

Account no: 680510110004635 (BANK OF INDIA)

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Our publications

GLOOM BEHIND THE SMILE

(The book is about a young cancer patient. Now archived in 7 prestigious libraries of the US, including, Harvard University and Library of Congress. It can also be accessed in MIT through Worldcat.org. Besides, it is also available for reading in Libraries and archives of Canada and Cancer Aid and Research Foundation Mumbai)  

ONE TO TANGO … RIA’S ODYSSEY

(Is a book on ‘singlehood’ about a Delhi girl now archived in Connemara Library, Chennai and Delhi Public Library, GOI, Ministry of Culture, Delhi)

AADAB LUCKNOW … FOND MEMORIES

(Is a fiction written around the great city of Nawabs—Lucknow. It describes Lucknow in great detail and also talks about its Hindu-Muslim amity. That happens to be its undying characteristic. The book was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival of 2014)

REFRACTIONS … FROM THE PRISM OF GOD

(Co-published by Cankids–Kidscan, a pan India NGO and Shravan Charity Mission, that works for Child cancer in India. The book is endorsed by Ms Preetha Reddy, MD Apollo Hospitals Group. It was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival 2016)

TYPICAL TALE OF AN INDIAN SALESMAN

(Is a story of an Indian salesman who is, humbly qualified. Yet he fights his ways through unceasing uncertainties to reach the top. A good read not only for salesmen. The book was launched on 10th February, 2018 in Gorakhpur Lit-Fest. Now available in Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha)

RHYTHM … in poems

(Published in January 2019. The book contains 50 poems. The poems describe our day to day life. The book is available in Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha)

MIRAGE

(Published in February 2020. The book is a collection of eight short stories. It is available in Amazon, Flipkart and Notion Press)

(ALL THE ABOVE TITLES ARE AVAILABLE FOR SALE IN AMAZON, FLIPKART AND OTHER ONLINE STORES OR YOU COULD EVEN WRITE TO US FOR A COPY)

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BOOK REVIEW: THE DOGS OF WAR BY FREDERICK FORSYTH

Copyright@shravancharitymission

Khidki (Window)

–Read India Initiative—

This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about.

    The Dogs of War (1974) is a war novel by Frederick Forsyth featuring a small group of European mercenary soldiers hired by a British industrialist to depose the government of the fictional African country of Zangaro.

    An eponymous film was also released in 1980, based on the novel directed by John Irvin. The movie was filmed in Belize in Central America.

    The story details a geologist’s mineral discovery, followed by preparations for the attack that entails: soldier recruitment, training, reconnaissance, and the logistics of the coup d’état. Like most of Forsyth’s work, the novel is more about the protagonists’ art of espionage occupational tradecraft than their characters. The source of the title, The Dogs of War, is Act III, scene 1, line 270 of Julius Caesar (1599), by William Shakespeare: Cry, ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war.

    The mercenary protagonists are professional killers—ruthless, violent men, heroic only in the loosest sense of the word. Thus, they are anti-heroes. Initially introduced as simply killers, as the novel progresses they are gradually shown to adhere to a relatively moral mercenary code; however as the mercenary leader Shannon tries to explain at one point, it is difficult for civilians to understand this. I’ve divided the narration into three parts.

Part 1: The Crystal Mountain: Year 1970: The prologue shows “Cat” Shannon and his fellow mercenaries leaving a West African war they have lost, saying their goodbyes to the General, who employed them for six months.

    A few weeks later, a prospector employed by British based company, ‘Man-son Consolidated’ sends mineral samples, acquired from the “Crystal Mountain” in the remote hinterland of the African republic of Zangaro, to headquarters. When they are analysed, ruthless British mining tycoon Sir James Manson realises that there is a huge platinum deposit in Zangaro. The president of Zangaro, Jean Kimba, is a Marxist, homicidal, insane, and under Soviet influence, so any public announcement of the findings would benefit only the Russians. Confiding only in his top assistants, security chief Simon Endean, financial expert Martin Thorpe and Manson himself, they plan to depose Kimba and install a puppet leader who, for a pittance, will sign over Zangaro’s mining rights to a shell company secretly owned by Manson. When Manson Consolidated eventually acquires the shell company for a fair market price, Sir James Manson and his aides pocket £60 million.

    On the recommendation of a freelance writer (a thinly-veiled allusion to Forsyth himself), Endean hires Anglo Irish mercenary soldier “Cat” Shannon to reconnoitre Zangaro, and to investigate how Kimba might be deposed. After visiting the country posing as a tourist, Shannon reports that the army has little fighting value and that Kimba has concentrated the national armoury, treasury and radio station within the presidential palace in Clarence, the Zangaran capital city and principal port. If the palace is stormed and Kimba killed, there will be no opposition to any new regime. Because there is no organised dissident faction in Zangaro, the attacking force will have to be assembled outside the country and land near Clarence to launch the attack. Shannon prices the mission at £100,000, with £10,000 for himself. Although Shannon has dealt only with Endean who is using a false name, he has had Endean tailed by a private investigator and has discovered his true identity and his involvement with Sir James Manson.

    Although Manson has taken steps to silence the few people aware of the Crystal Mountain platinum deposit, the chemist who analysed the samples has inadvertently revealed his findings to the Soviets, who assign a KGB bodyguard to Kimba while they prepare to send in their own geological survey team. Manson learns from a Foreign Office bureaucrat that the Soviets have got wind of the deposit. He commissions Shannon to organise and mount the coup, to take place on the eve of Zangaro’s Independence Day, one hundred days hence, although he does not tell Shannon of the Soviet involvement.

Part 2: The Hundred Days

Shannon reassembles his old team to execute the attack on Kimba’s palace that includes: German ex-smuggler Kurt Semmler, South African mortar expert Janni Dupree, Belgian bazooka specialist “Tiny” Marc Vlaminck, and Corsican knife-fighter Jean-Baptiste Langarotti. Semmler travels Europe looking for a suitable cargo ship to transport them and their equipment to Zangaro. Dupree remains in London to buy all their uniforms, boots, haversacks and sleeping bags. Langarotti travels to Marseilles to acquire inflatable boats for the amphibious assault. Vlaminck accompanies Shannon to Belgium to obtain one hundred ‘Schmeisser’   submachine guns from a former member of the SS, then remains in Belgium to prepare them to be smuggled out in oil drums. Shannon then travels to Luxembourg to establish a holding company to handle the purchase of the ship, to Spain to buy walkie-talkies, foghorns, flares, and 400,000 rounds of 9mm ammunition for the Schmeissers with a forged end user certificate, and to Yugoslavia to buy bazookas, mortars, and ammunition for them.

    Shannon also finds time for a brief sexual liaison with Julie Manson, Sir James Man-son’s daughter, from whom he learns the bare essentials of Manson’s true plans. Simultaneously, Charles Roux, one of Shannon’s rivals, tries to have Shannon killed since he is frustrated that Endean did not approach him for the contract despite the freelance writer recommending him. Upon this, Langarotti tips Shannon off and they lure the assassin hired by Roux into a trap, sending his severed head to Roux to permanently silence him.

    Martin Thorpe has in the meanwhile secretly purchased the controlling share in Bormac Trading, a mining and plantation-owning company which has long ceased trading, from Lady MacAllister, the ailing widow of the company’s founder. His and Manson’s involvement is concealed behind the names of several fictitious shareholders. Endean has simultaneously obtained the agreement of Colonel Antoine Bobi, a former commander of the Zangaran Army who fell out with Kimba and is now in exile, to participate in Man-son’s scheme. Once installed as president, the venal and illiterate Bobi will sign over the mineral rights of the Crystal Mountain to Bormac Trading for a nominal price but a large bribe for himself.

    The mercenaries get underway after Semmler acquires a nondescript cargo ship Toscana, for the operation. Hidden in oil drums, the Schmeissers are smuggled across the Belgian border into France and loaded aboard the Toscana at Marseilles, along with the uniforms and inflatable boats, marked supposedly for watersports in Morocco. They then sail to Ploce in Yugoslavia to load the mortars and rocket launchers purchased legitimately from an arms dealer, without telling the Yugoslavian authorities that they already have arms aboard. These weapons are then concealed below the deck and the ship sails to Castellon in Spain to collect the ammunition (supposedly sold to the Iraqi police force). The ship then travels to Freetown in Sierra Leone to pick up six African mercenaries, disguised as casual stevedores, who will also participate in the attack, and Dr Okoye, an African academic.

Part 3: The Killing Spree

    The attack on President Kimba’s palace takes place as planned. In the early hours of the morning, the mercenaries land on the shores of Zangaro and set up foghorns and flares to disorient the defenders and light their way through the attack. Dupree and two of the African mercenaries begin the assault by using mortars to bombard both a nearby army camp and the interior of the palace compound, thereby eliminating the palace guard, while Vlaminck destroys the compound gates with anti-tank rockets. As the bombardment ceases, Semmler, Shannon, Langarotti and the other four African mercenaries storm the palace, with Semmler shooting Kimba as he tries to escape through his bedroom window. Kimba’s KGB bodyguard escapes the firefight and shoots Vlaminck in the chest, but Vlaminck retaliates, killing him with his last bazooka rocket as he dies. Following the bombardment, Dupree and his two African mercenaries attack the nearby army camp. A Zangaran soldier throws a grenade at them as he flees and one of the African mercenaries throws it back, but it falls short and Dupree, deafened by the gunfire and shelling, fails to hear the warnings and is accidentally killed in the blast.

    Around midday, Endean arrives in Clarence to install Colonel Bobi as the new Zangaran president. He has his own bodyguard, a former East End gang enforcer. When Endean and Bobi arrive at the palace, Shannon lures Bobi into a room where a shot is heard; just as Endean realizes that Shannon has killed Bobi, Shannon then shoots Endean’s bodyguard as the enforcer, tries to draw his gun, and casually introduces Dr. Okoye as the new head of the government. At Shannon’s request, the Soviet geological survey team’s request to land in Zangaro is permanently refused.

Now we come to the aftermath

    As Shannon drives Endean to the border, he explains that Endean’s otherwise comprehensive research failed to note the 20,000 immigrant workers who did most of the work in Zangaro, but were politically dis-en-franchised by the Kimba government. A hundred of them, in new uniforms and armed with Schmeissers, have already been recruited as the nucleus of the new Zangaran Army.

    When Shannon tells Endean that the coup was really conducted on behalf of a Nigerian General, Endean is furious but Shannon points out that this government will at least be fair, and if Manson wants the platinum, he will have to pay the proper market price. Endean threatens revenge if he ever sees the mercenary in London, but Shannon is unperturbed with the warning.

    In the novel’s epilogue, it is revealed that Dupree and Vlaminck were buried in simple unmarked graves near the shore. Semmler, later sold the Toscana to its captain, and died while on another mercenary operation in Africa. Langarotti’s fate, is ambiguous; the novel tells only that after he took his pay, he was last heard of going to train a new group of Hutu partisans in Burundi against Michel Micombero, telling Shannon “It’s not really the money. It was never for the money.”

    The epilogue reveals that before embarking on the Zangaro operation, Shannon was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer (skin cancer in some American editions) with only a year to six months to live. Three months after the coup, he posts the remainder of his earnings to the surviving family members of his fallen teammates, and also sends a manuscript (presumably outlining the entire plan) to a journalist in London (presumably the aforementioned freelance writer). Lastly, Shannon walks into the African bush, whistling a favourite tune (“a Spanish Harlem”), to end his life on his own terms with “a gun in his hand, blood in his mouth, and a bullet in his chest”.

    Although each work by Forsyth stands individually, there are certain similarities which may be described as his stylistic formula for success: There is always an efficient hero who is at odds with the establishment; a historical backdrop frequently places the hero in contact with known public figures in known historical situations; intricate detail is offered, lending authenticity to the work; and ingenious plots, which resemble large jigsaw puzzles of seemingly disconnected actions or events, are developed. Other writers use one or more parts of the formula, but it is these four facets that, when used collectively, distinguish a Forsyth work.

My take eight out of ten.

By Kamlesh Tripathi

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https://kamleshsujata.wordpress.com

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Share it if you like it

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Shravan Charity Mission is an NGO that works for poor children suffering from life threatening diseases especially cancer. Our posts are meant for our readers that includes both children and adults and it has a huge variety in terms of content. We also accept donations for our mission. Should you wish to donate for the cause. The bank details are given below:

NAME OF ACCOUNT: SHRAVAN CHARITY MISSION

Account no: 680510110004635 (BANK OF INDIA)

IFSC code: BKID0006805

*

Our publications

GLOOM BEHIND THE SMILE

(The book is about a young cancer patient. Now archived in 7 prestigious libraries of the US, including, Harvard University and Library of Congress. It can also be accessed in MIT through Worldcat.org. Besides, it is also available for reading in Libraries and archives of Canada and Cancer Aid and Research Foundation Mumbai)  

ONE TO TANGO … RIA’S ODYSSEY

(Is a book on ‘singlehood’ about a Delhi girl now archived in Connemara Library, Chennai and Delhi Public Library, GOI, Ministry of Culture, Delhi)

AADAB LUCKNOW … FOND MEMORIES

(Is a fiction written around the great city of Nawabs—Lucknow. It describes Lucknow in great detail and also talks about its Hindu-Muslim amity. That happens to be its undying characteristic. The book was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival of 2014)

REFRACTIONS … FROM THE PRISM OF GOD

(Co-published by Cankids–Kidscan, a pan India NGO and Shravan Charity Mission, that works for Child cancer in India. The book is endorsed by Ms Preetha Reddy, MD Apollo Hospitals Group. It was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival 2016)

TYPICAL TALE OF AN INDIAN SALESMAN

(Is a story of an Indian salesman who is, humbly qualified. Yet he fights his ways through unceasing uncertainties to reach the top. A good read not only for salesmen. The book was launched on 10th February, 2018 in Gorakhpur Lit-Fest. Now available in Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha)

RHYTHM … in poems

(Published in January 2019. The book contains 50 poems. The poems describe our day to day life. The book is available in Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha)

(ALL THE ABOVE TITLES ARE AVAILABLE FOR SALE IN AMAZON, FLIPKART AND OTHER ONLINE STORES OR YOU COULD EVEN WRITE TO US FOR A COPY)

*****