« June 2005 | Main | August 2005 »

July 31, 2005

Definition of Dishum Dishum

So, what exactly does "Dishum Dishum" mean? The actual origin of the name comes from the fight scenes in a Bollywood film, specifically from the sound of the punches thrown. They have a distinct cardboard drum like sound, not surprising because perhaps that's what was used in the foley process! Here's an audio sample. In a more general sense, however, dishum-dishum refers to action as an ingredient in a Mumbai potboiler. People will tell you, "go see this film, there's a lot of dishumdishum in it!" In that context, dishum-dishum conjures up images of a very specific type of stylized action sequence i.e. cheesy blaxploitation/kung-fu type gyrations. Think of it as the Indian version of chop-socky!

Want more? Have a look at this clip from Dil Hai To Mangta Nahin, a huge Bollywood blockbuster from the early '90s. In this excerpt, Aamir Khan single-handedly beats up the baddies and rescues the damsel in distress. Wasn't that fun?

However, for the record, dishum-dishum, like chop-socky, has evolved with the '90s and beyond. Serious productions from Bollywood have genuinely thrilling action sequences and Aamir Khan is one of the main folks responsible for this update. Check out his work in Ghulam for example - serious jaw-dropping material. However, current frivolous efforts, instead of being lame kung-fu knockoffs, are now lame Matrix copies.

Spread the dishum:  digg it del.icio.us reddit furl My Web

- July 31, 2005 10:08 PM // Bollywood , Film

July 29, 2005

Brimful of Asha

Asha Bhosle is coming to SF in September! But, this is not a standard greatest-hits concert. She'll be playing at the YBCA together with the Kronos Quartet:

India Calling

Songs from Rahul Dev Burman's Bollywood. Featuring special guests Wu Man, pipa, and Debopriyo Sarkar, tabla

This spectacular event will play only four venues (Premium ticket packages available. Call 415.321.1341 for info.) worldwide - Carnegie Hall, LA, London and YBCA! The Bay Area's own Grammy Award-winning Kronos Quartet will perform with living legend, Indian film singer Asha Bhosle, who has released more than 20,000 songs to date! This exclusive tour celebrates the new album by Rahul Dev Burman, Bhose's late husband and one of India's most influential Bollywood composers. Don't miss this pairing of musical luminaries!

Asha Bhosle routinely sells out theatres across the USA. So, what is she doing playing at a hall that seats less than a thousand? And what's YBCA doing hosting Asha? I suspect this is more a reflection of India's growing economic clout (rather than a sudden re-evaluation of the art of Bollywood) as well as Ms. Bhosle's desire for a wider audience to perpetuate her and her former husband's (R.D. Burman) quite considerable legacy. The tie-up with Kronos, in that sense, is somewhat reminiscent of AR Rahman's collaboration with Andrew Lloyd Webber. There's already an album, You've Stolen My Heart: Songs from R.D. Burman's Bollywood, reflecting the Asha and Kronos Quartet union. Can't wait for the show! If we can afford to get in that is ...

Spread the dishum:  digg it del.icio.us reddit furl My Web

- July 29, 2005 12:15 AM // Bay Area , Bollywood , Music

July 26, 2005

Bollywood On Demand

Comcast has finally figured it out. Us desis just can't seem to get enough of this stuff:

In response to Dish Network's and DirecTV's success with multicultural programming, Comcast of Northern California this year launched ``Bollywood & Beyond,'' its latest ethnic video-on-demand (VOD) service that's becoming a hit with the Bay Area's growing Indo-American community.

More details:

B&B, which was launched by Time Warner Cable in New York last August, offers Comcast's 800,000 digital subscribers a chance to purchase seven Indian films each month for $3.99 each.

Among the 17 festival titles that will be available ``on demand,'' which allows subscribers to pause, rewind and view movies as many times as they want over a 24-hour period: ``Chokher Bali,'' starring superstar Aishwarya Rai as a widow who moves in with another family, and ``Khwahish,'' with the popular Malika Sherwat as a low-born daughter who marries into a prominent business family.

An interesting contrast between arty and earthy fare. But very limited, both in terms of title selection and time for rental. Given the length of the average film, getting through them in 24 hours, particularly on weekday can't be easy. So, Mukesh, our local grocery/video rental store owner can relax for the time being. He might lose out on some popular recent releases but his huge back catalogue of masala films will continue to keep him in business. Another point from the article:

Veena Kamath, an elementary school teacher who lives in Los Altos, is a fan of the new service. She stumbled upon the Bollywood movies three months ago and saved herself a trip to her favorite video store.

``It's great to be able to watch a Hindi film when you want, and share it with your children, who may be losing touch with their culture,'' said the mother of two who emigrated from Bombay 24 years ago.

Of course! Who better than Bollywood to teach your kids about "family values" and what a fairyland India really is - especially those parts in Switzerland and New Zealand.

Spread the dishum:  digg it del.icio.us reddit furl My Web

- July 26, 2005 10:04 PM // Bay Area , Bollywood

July 22, 2005

Humble suggestions for TV shows

Recently, the US TV industry seems to have started testing the waters for multiethnic fare. Unfortunately, the ones I keep hearing about don't seem particularly inspiring. Consider Nevermind Nirvana - Indian-American guy gets engaged to a Caucasian woman, causing family issues. Yawn. So I thought, surely it can't be that difficult to come up with some pitches for TV shows featuring Asian content that are, while cliched, might be teensy weensy better. You be the judge:

Wright and Wong: Jim Wright and Frederick Wong first meet in law school at Georgetown and, years later, decide to set up a criminal law partnership. They find their idealism and relationship continually tested by the barrage of white collar cases. Jim feels this is but par for the course, yet Frederick continually sees double standards that allows such criminals to get away with lighter sentences than dope dealers. Further complications occur when law intern Ayesha Bose joins their practice for the summer. Both Jim and Frederick fall for her but is it right for them to take advantage of their status? Who gets the girl? Stay tuned and find out!

Patel Motel: It's a wild and wacky world at Nishith Patel's Fairview Inn in Santa Cruz. From dealing with itinerant vagrants to disaffected hippies looking for a quiet spot to light up in ("get your kundalini on somewhere else!) to one night stands gone wrong ("His ling-what? Lady, I don't charge by the hour you know!") to midwestern families ("Apu is a cartoon! Thank you and come again you #@@$#!) . On top of this aggravation, he has to deal with his nagging wife and his unemployed son is happy to mooch off him but is rarely around to help. Things start to heat up further when his cousin Amar, who had lent him the original seed money for the motel, wants his money back. With interest. Then a Holiday Inn Express, owned by his arch enemy, Piyush Shah, opens next door ...

Yallah Alley Blues: Maggie Habib is up against it. Being a recent widow is tough enough but now her sandwich shop is under investigation by the city authorities because of anonymous complaints, her brother Nasr has become one of the local FBI branch's "usual suspects" despite never having been to the Middle East since 1979 and her teenage daughter, May, prefers flautas to falafel and rap to rai. To add to her troubles, she finds herself falling for the City Health Inspector who is dropping by a little too frequently. But he's Catholic. And married!

Spread the dishum:  digg it del.icio.us reddit furl My Web

- July 22, 2005 9:16 AM // Diaspora , Select , TV

July 19, 2005

Khaled and Co @ Stern Grove (July 10)

Stern Grove is one of the summer delights in San Francisco. One of the highlights of our stay in the Bay Area thus far is the concert that Zakir Hussain, Bill Laswell, Karsh Kale and DJ Quik put on in Stern Grove that year. Courtesy my mother-in-law, all of us were able to sit up front and we had a grand view. The concert made its way into an album (Live in San Francisco at Stern Grove) as well. I bought a copy as a gift and, before I parted with it, I studied the crowd pictures to no avail, alas. So close to being on an album cover! Anyway, many things have happened since then and we just never had a chance to attend another show. Finally, upon hearing Khaledand DJ Cheb I Sabbahwould be playing at Stern Grove, we jumped at the opportunity. Here are some snaps and observations.

It was a full house with a diverse variety of folks, as you can see for yourself. If you squint hard enough, perhaps you can catch my friend Chi-Chao and his two lovely daughters. Er, they are behind the small trees. It was baking hot around 2pm but had cooled down considerably towards the end.

This time around, Indian iconography seemed to be stronger than ever amongst the cultural backpackers. I just couldn't believe this one though, hence I had to take a picture. Click for a larger image. The hand in the foreground isn't mine, BTW. An entire illustration of a Devi complete with shlokas. What next? Kamasutra tattoos in more private body areas? I shouldn't joke, most probably they exist already!

DJ Cheb-i-sabbah opened the proceedings together with percussionist Wilfredo Reyes. He mostly played tracks from his new album, La Kahena. It sounded grand but I have a bone to pick with his opening acknowledgements. He gave call-outs to Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. But not India. For a man, who has made a living off its musical idioms (not to mention the large number of desi fans in the Bay Area and outside), it would have been a nice gesture, particularly given the constituency of the audience that afternoon.

The main event, Khaled's concert, was a treat. He was in sharp form and his voice easily scaled the heights. The band was tight and his most ardent fans in the dance-pit knew all the words. The real surprise off the day was the guest appearance of Santana. Very cool, particularly the way he blended his guitar seamlessly with the rest of the band. Khaled saved his two biggest hits, Aicha and Didi, for the last. All in all, a sweaty, uplifting experience.

Spread the dishum:  digg it del.icio.us reddit furl My Web

- July 19, 2005 7:03 PM // Music , Select

July 18, 2005

Retrospective: Black

Note: This review was originally written on March 24, 2005, when the film was still playing in the movie halls.

After hearing much hype about Black, its truncated length of two hours (as opposed to three hour bladder busters) and "performances of a lifetime" from Amitabh Bachchan and Rani Mukherjee, I have to admit I was curious to see whether Sanjay Leela Bhansali had overcome the excesses of Devdas and delivered a taut, art-house type feature. So, we went to see it at the Naz in Fremont on Tuesday. It had been miserably wet in the Bay Area over the past couple of weeks - yet the theater was packed.

blackTheFilm.jpg The storm und drang inside the theater started right from the opening frame and didn't really let up (with a couple of merciful moments), until the very end. I would have been surprised if the projectionist hadn't taken mounds of towels to dry down the film reels before the next showing, so intent was the film in wringing out juice from every scene, every character, every prop. It rained incessantly. It snowed. There was a water fountain in case the first two weather elements didn't come through. The plot? Rani Mukherjee plays Michelle, a blind-mute girl and Amitabh Bachchan is her teacher, who sticks by her despite all the odds. Mr. Bachchan has easily any number of films where he gave performances far superior to this. You only have to look as far as Khakee to see his real ability. Here, his performance becomes a wholehearted tribute to William Shatner - no scenery was left unchewed. As for hers, well it is always tough to evaluate the performance of someone who is playing someone disabled. Play someone like this and the decks are stacked in your favor - but I wasn't sure whether her wild flailings were typical of folks similarly afflicted or because of what the director had deliberately asked her to wildly overact. After all, Sanjay Leela Bhansali did make sure we know of his nod to Charlie Chaplin through her physical performance! And in case we missed the point, a Charlie Chaplin flick plays in the local theater which the characters walk past - I kid you not! But did the film really intend to pay tribute to The Exorcist? It certainly seemed that way, particularly during the younger Michelle's histrionics, rolled eyes and all.

As for trimming down the fat, well, yes there were no songs. But all the other elements of a standard Bollywood masala film were present. The ever present score, replete with deep drums and throaty aahs, hammered away in the background, filling in emotion when the words weren't enough. The gestures were grand, the dialogue grandiose ("it is not the eyes that dream, it is the mind"), the setting a burnished, grand India that really never existed (except as India-on-the-Alps or wherever this film was shot). But I was left wondering - were they substitutes for character development? For effective storytelling? The film is a big hit and so, I suppose it did click with many people. It is being hailed as being Oscar material but I seriously doubt it'll get that far here. Just seems that it's a lot easier to gain audience sympathy if your leading character is disabled in some way. And if you look at past Bhansali productions, a certain pattern arguably does arise in this respect. Khamoshi featured a mute/deaf family. The titular character in Devdas was an emotional cripple - and an alcoholic. Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam was the exception and, in my personal opinion, the best thing he's done so far. Anyway, I boldly predict that Mr. Bhansali, for an encore, will do a film featuring a wisecracking (but autistic), gin swigging quadriplegic. Should be a triple hanky feature.

Spread the dishum:  digg it del.icio.us reddit furl My Web

- July 18, 2005 10:19 PM // Bollywood , Review , Select

July 5, 2005

Mike's World Tour

The best way I've heard India described...is that it is "an assault on all the senses" - ubiquitous poverty, odors of the garbage heaps, noise of traffic, the crowded streets, random cows, the heat, etc. One the other hand, the food is amazing and the landscape beautiful. It's taken sometime but India is beginning to grow on me. It's a country of contradictions - it's rich and poor, spiritual and material, cruel and kind, angry but peaceful, ugly and beautiful, and smart but stupid.

So writes Mike Novak, a comrade from my grad school days, in his excellent photolog. Mike quit his job recently, sold his house in DC and, prior to focusing on his passion for filmmaking in NYC, is undertaking a world tour - Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Iran, India, Nepal, Tibet, China, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Australia. Seems fairly comprehensive, doesn't it? The only thing that seems to be missing from the itinery is Shangri La and, given that getting there involves a plane crash, perhaps it's best avoided...

One thing though - Mike describes India as "an assault on all the senses." I don't know if I can claim credit for instilling that line in Mike, but I do have a pithier description now - "India is a mindfunk." 'nuff said and best of luck to Mike! I'm suitably envious.

Finally, let me share Mike's advice on the one essential thing to pack before you leave the USA for a trip of this type: at least 3 "I Love Canada" t-shirts!

Spread the dishum:  digg it del.icio.us reddit furl My Web

- July 5, 2005 5:23 PM // India , Travel