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November 30, 2005

Carma

Anand Chandrasekaran, in addition to a scorching career as a Bay Area entrepreneur, is proving himself to be a real renaissance man. He is the executive producer of Carma, the feature debut of self-taught filmmaker and former Bay Area resident Ray Wang. The synopsis is as follows:

Taking place 04/04/04 over the course of four days, CARMA is a chilling American tale about an abandoned car haunted by psychopathic killer's dead mother. Trapped in the car, the spirit of the deceased Kate Burns (the voice of Academy Award nominee Karen Black) encounters four average Americans who each discover and use the car for their own personal gain. But Kate has other plans, namely a reunion with her son, recently escaped convict Norm Burns.

Sounds suitably chilling! You can find a teaser trailer here. The film is going on the festival circuit next year.

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- November 30, 2005 9:42 PM // Bay Area , Film

November 29, 2005

Naatak

Sandip Roy has a nice writeup on Naatak, the premier Indian Bay Area drama troupe and its latest production, "Everyone Loves A Good Tsunami":

During the week, they wear the uniforms of Silicon Valley -- jeans and shirts, often sporting the logo of the company they work for, from Oracle to Lockheed Martin.

But on weekends these South Asians shed their engineer personas to indulge in their passion -- theater. Some actors have been part of Naatak, one of the Bay Area's most dynamic South Asian theater companies, for 10 years.

Naatak, which means ``drama'' in Hindi, has presented three films and 18 plays in Hindi, Tamil and English. ``Everyone Loves a Good Tsunami'' in English, opens Friday at the Eagle Theater in Los Altos. Sujit Saraf wrote the play after watching the post-tsunami outpouring of ``real and pretended grief.''

``It ridicules our long-distance armchair philanthropy,'' says Saraf. And it highlights how disasters can become ``an opportunity for mediocre artists to perform, and social climbers to socialize.''

In this play, he skewers the ``vanities of the Indian community in the Bay Area'' as two factions of the local India Association jump on ``a fortuitous tsunami'' to hold competing fundraisers.

Sounds like fertile material for a play. Anyone familiar with Indian organizations knows the level of infighting and backbiting present, particularly in the regional groups. Just consider the number of Bengali associations present in the Bay Area alone! Anyway, as the article points out, putting on a play is a significant investment of time and energy:

Many obstacles still exist: After grueling Silicon Valley workweeks, Naatak's all-volunteer cast and crew give up their weekends for two to three months at a time to practice their lines, build sets, design fliers, do makeup and lights, and sell tickets. An actor from one production might become the publicist for another.

From my experience with ENAD, I can attest to the levels of commitment required. The fun part is selling tickets - not! Getting audiences to come to a play in Bengali is a little like herding cats. Everyone has commitments, nemontonno (invitations) or huge work deadlines which just happen to fall on the day of the show itself. Bah! Anyway, on a brighter note, ENAD-ite Sayantanee Dutt gets a mention in the article:


``Tsunami'' is Sayantanee Dutt's first time performing with Naatak. ``My husband helps me,'' says Dutt, who has a 5-year-old. ``I encourage him with his football and cricket and he eggs me on with my theater.''

Congrats Sayantanee and best of luck! Of course, in addition to cricket and football, Sayantanee's husband also happens to be proficient in the small matter of set production and design. But he needs no encouragement there :-)

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- November 29, 2005 11:58 PM // Bay Area , Theater

November 25, 2005

Diaspora Director Roundup

Ever wonder what our favorite diaspora directors upto these days? Never fear, here's a summary:

  • Mira Nair has bought the rights to Munnabhai MBBS with the intent of remaking it into English as Gangster, MD. According to Rediff, this is actually not the first remake for Munnabhai MBBS:
    The film went on to become such a big hit that it inspired Kamal Haasan to remake it in Tamil (called Vasoolraja MBBS), and Mira Nair to buy the rights of the film. She hopes to remake it in English as Gangster MD, and cast Chris Tucker in the lead.
    IMDB classifies Gangster, MD as being in production currently.
    Thanks to Amar Parikh for the tip.

  • As for Gurinder Chadha, Guardian Film reports:
    It looks as if there may be extra time for Bend it Like Beckham. The Sun reports that Gurinder Chadha, who directed the British footballing hit, is making a sequel to the 2003 film. Apparently she also has signed up the film's stars, Keira Knightley and Parminder Nagra, to reprise their roles.
    Bride & Prejudice was nowhere near as big as Bend It Like Beckham, Miramax's marketing efforts notwithstanding. Remember Aishwarya Rai's "most beautiful woman in the world" USA tour earlier this year? Perhaps this Ms. Chadha's insurance in case any of her intervening projects don't work out.

  • After opening the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival, Deepa Mehta's Water has been released in Canada. Eye weekly writes:
    Water marks a return to relevance for Deepa Mehta after the twin disappointments of Bollywood/Hollywood and Republic of Love.
    Don't know about the US release date. Meanwhile, looks like the plagiarism case filed against Mehta may be coming to a settlement:
    Famed Bengali litterateur and former Mayor of Kolkata, Sunil Gangopadhyay, was irked a few years ago when a journalist, Anuradha Dutta, pointed out the almost word-for-word resemblance between his classic novel, Sei Somoy, and an upcoming film. ...
    Crossover filmmaker Deepa Mehta, predictably with much fanfare, had announced a film called Water in the year 2000, and Datta was aghast at the script's resemblance to Gangopadhyay's book and its English version, Those Days.
    In March 2000, the incensed journalist filed a case against Mehta, the self-alleged writer of the film, on behalf of Gangopadhyay, publisher Badal Basu and translator Aruna Chakravarthy. The claim was a simple case of utter and blatant plagiarisation. ...
    Finally, things seem to be coming to a close now as Mehta informed the Delhi High Court on November 8 that she is "willing to settle" the case. The writer, who has not been directly involved in legal proceedings, is merely relieved. Speaking to us over the phone from Kolkata, Gangopadhyay said, "Though I was not too involved in the legal wrangle, and did not keep a tab on the case's progress, I am relieved to know that Mehta wants to settle it amicably."
    Sei Somoy (Those Days) is a landmark book in modern Bengali literature - I'll be curious to find out how closely the film tracks the book.

  • Finally, the teaser trailer to M. Night Shymalan's latest, The Lady In The Water is out. You can find it here. Thanks to Aintitcool for the pointer.
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- November 25, 2005 1:18 PM // Bangla , Bollywood , Diaspora , Film

November 22, 2005

Age Of Propaganda

In the 1991 edition of Age Of Propaganda, a treatise on manipulation via media, there's this eerily prescient passage:

Political pundits and consultants are increasingly learning that appeals to our self-image make good politics. Candidates for political office are given attractive personalities; images are created by making speeches about the American flag, by posing in an Army tank, and by being photographed with schoolchildren in prayer. All we need to do to be patriotic, to be strong and tough, to be holy is merely to cast a vote for the right candidate. It would be sad indeed if we lost our 200-year old tradition of democracy because ... we were never motivated to scrutinize the candidate's self-image and evaluate the substance of his or her message.

Oops.

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- November 22, 2005 9:37 PM // Books , Politics

November 19, 2005

Indians Dressing Badly

Why do so many desis dress badly in Silicon Valley? Shallow as this makes me appear, it's a question I can't help but ask. I don't think this is true for Indians in India at all - walk around in a major metropolitan area in India and you'll see folks wearing a mix of well attired, trendy, traditional and functional clothing (plus the usual share of eyesores just like anywhere else). One exception - bell-bottom pants stuck around a full decade longer in India than elsewhere but with the India fully plugged in to the global media network and a major producer for textiles, it's become fascinating to track fashion hybrids emerging from the subcontinent. This brings us back to our original question - when it's possible to find Indian-influenced clothes in your local Bay Area Macys, when your countrymen are nattily dressed at home and elsewhere, why do so many first generation Indians in Bay Area continue to putter around in jeans, t-shirts and sneakers?

Any of those elements could become fashionable statements in themselves - it's easy enough to find designer brands for all three. But no, the pattern is invariably the same: the jean pants are tapered and conical in shape, the tees have horrible horizontal convict-like stripes and the shoes are gleaming white tennis sneakers. And it's not always men we're talking about either. Desi women are invariably in that same uniform, barring occasional relief in form of the salwar-kameez and sneaker combo! I think it's stating the obvious when I say ladies hold themselves to much higher dress standards than men. Hence, it can be argued, this slippage by the desi sisters is that much more egregious.

What are the reasons for this? Is it financial? I think we can rule that one out, given the sheer amount of moolah in play in the Valley. Could it be the desire to conform to the geek chic present here? Maybe - after all, a portion of the first generation Asian population in the Valley also sport similar garb, so I suppose that's part of it. Could it be the eternal North-South divide? As stereotypes go, there's the one about North Indians being much more ostentatious and showy and the South being precisely the opposite. And it's my sense, the South has a greater presence in the Valley, so perhaps there's some correlation there. One last thought: consider the greater society in which we live. In India, there are norms, dress codes and expectations for Indians resident there. In this part of the world, that's not necessarily the case, particularly when it comes to the mainstream US media where desis are still mostly invisible. Has that led to a desire to "let go" when it comes to appearances, especially in a part of the world where your job skills supposedly count far more than the way you present yourself?

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- November 19, 2005 5:27 PM // Bay Area , Diaspora

November 16, 2005

Desis In Odd Places Part II

More from the desis in places where you least expect 'em dept: here we were browsing through the exhibits in Victoria's Royal BC museum in British Columbia, when we spotted something odd. Tucked away in a glass case in a room of exhibits depicting Vancouver in the '60s was a vinyl album. Featured on that album cover was a Sardarji as one of the members of a band. On the left is the only picture of the album cover I could find online. Not a pristine print but have a look at the second guy from the right. The cover art leaves no doubt as to the times that produced this work - '60s flower-power. But, when you think of the entire '60s hippie movement, how many actual Indian musicians (other than Ravi Shankar) come to mind? So, I dug a little deeper. The name of the band was the Poppy Family and the album was "Which Way You Goin' Billy". AMG says:

Susan Pesklevits and Terry Jacks met in the band Powerline. They later married and formed the Poppy Family in 1968. With guitarist Craig McCaw and percussionist Satwan Singh, the duo's third single, "Which Way You Goin' Billy," became a hit in the U.S. and their native Canada, selling over two million copies. The group recorded three albums in the early '70s: That's Where I Went Wrong and Which Way You Goin' Billy in 1970 and Poppy Seeds in 1971.

Apparently, Satwan Singh had played percussion with Ravi Shankar. The AMG album review has some more tid-bits:

The album's two international hit singles, "Which Way You Goin' Billy?" and "That's Where I Went Wrong," are both tales of lovers on the run that sound as desperate as Del Shannon and as lonesome as Brian Wilson's worst nightmare, and such lost classics as "You Took My Moonlight Away" and "Beyond the Clouds" are every bit as strong, boasting clear but emotive vocals from Susan Jacks, brilliant if oddball Indian percussion from Satwan Singh, and melodramatic string arrangements from Graeme Hall.

It turns out the album is long out of print, unfortunately. So, what became of the group?

Terry and Susan were divorced by 1973, however, and both began solo careers. Susan released Dream (1976), Ghosts (1980) and Forever (1982), but Terry became more successful when his "Seasons in the Sun" single went platinum in Canada (more than 150,000 units).

Yes, that "Seasons In The Sun" - it's tougher to be more sentimental and mawkish, I tell you. But what of Satwan Singh? I could only find this:

Terry Jack's dislike for playing live led him to let McCaw and Singh go from the Poppy Family fold in 1970.

Two more hits followed in "That's Where I Went Wrong" and "Where Evil Grows" which saw Jacks under great pressure to put a touring version of the Poppy Family together. While working with Valdy on a studio project in Vancouver, Jacks came across the guitar work of Norman MacPherson who he brought on board to replace not only McCaw as a live guitarist, but to help in the studio on the 'Poppy Seeds' album. MacPherson left the live roster on good terms in the Fall of 1971. Terry Jacks would then call Bob Nelson to replace MacPherson on guitarist. At first, it was Terry Jacks, Susan Jacks, Bob Nelson & Satwant Singh. They played quite a few gigs across Canada and in the United States. But Nelson eventually left the group and the Poppies returned to studio life.

And that's it. Damn shame - I'm curious to find out whatever became of, possibly, the first Indian percussionist in a psychedelic band. He would have some stories to tell!

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- November 16, 2005 8:13 PM // Music , Select

November 9, 2005

Dwarves Living In Oblivion

It had to happen eventually. Remember Living In Oblivion? There was a great rant in it about dwarves and dream sequences. Specifically:

Tito: Why does my character have to be a dwarf?

Nick: He doesn't have to be.

Tito: Then why is he? Is that the only way you can make this a dream, to put a dwarf in it?

Nick: No, Tito, I...

Tito: Have you ever had a dream with a dwarf in it? Do you know anyone who's had a dream with a dwarf in it? No! I don't even have dreams with dwarves in them. The only place I've seen dwarves in dreams is in stupid movies like this! "Oh make it weird, put a dwarf in it!". Everyone will go "Woah, this must be a fuckin' dream, there's a fuckin' dwarf in it!". Well I'm sick of it! You can take this dream sequence and stick it up your ass!

"How much longer," I hear you ask, "before dwarves start appearing in Bollywood dance numbers?" After all, for all intents and purposes those are interchangeable with dream sequences anyway and India is progressing so rapidly on all fronts. Well, worry no more. On the bonus materials for the DVD to D, a recent offering from Ram Gopal Varma's Factory production arm, we spotted the music video Dhokebaz replete with muscled men, vamp and, yes, this:

We've come a long way, baby.

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- November 9, 2005 11:29 PM // Bollywood , Film , Select

November 8, 2005

There But For The Grace Of ..

I came across this incident in the papers and for some reason found it disturbing. It all started when a bozo, high on crystal meth, ran a four way stop sign on Skyline Boulevard in Millbrae. He then led the police on a chase down Interstate 280:

Boldt entered northbound I-280 at Millbrae Avenue and drove south at speeds of up to 110 mph in the northbound lanes, according to reports.

That's right - at 1:30 in the morning, he was going at 110 mph in the wrong lane. There was one lucky escape:

Upon entering the freeway Boldt's car struck 29-year-old Vincent Pascua's Toyota 4-Runner on the passenger side while driving in the slow lane of the freeway.

`I noticed these two bright lights coming toward me,` Pascua said in San Mateo County Superior Court. `They just kept coming closer.`

According to Pascua, the collision could not be prevented and Boldt continued to drive after he sideswiped Pascua's Toyota.

`It just happened. It happened too fast,` Pascua said. `Then it was gone.`

But Boldt's run ultimately ended with tragic consequences for his co-passenger and the other driver:

The 18-mile pursuit didn't cease until Boldt's vehicle rammed into 28-year-old Redwood City resident Girish Wadhwani's 2000 Toyota Corolla on the highway at 1:45 a.m.

Kleinheinz, who was reportedly not wearing a safety belt, crashed through the windshield onto the pavement and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Wadhwani, who suffered broken wrists, was stuck in his car until rescuers from the Palo Alto Fire Department extricated him.

A distant cousin of mine passed away in a front on collision under similar circumstances. This was in Flint, Michigan. She was sixteen years old. There was a difference though - she was the one driving on the wrong side of the road. Apparently, this was a mistake on her part as she'd just learned to drive. But the combination of events on I-280 coupled with the fact that it's a road I use frequently makes the whole thing pointlessly stupid, yet poignant. Instead of Wadhwani, it could've as easily been me on that highway. True, he escaped with his life. But I'm sure he'll be forced to go on disability - you can't type with broken wrists!

I don't particularly enjoy motoring in the Bay Area, particularly on 101. That's a road that's bristling with tension, especially on weekdays. I-280 is the only one that's bearable but, as we can see, not immune. On a related note, MC Masala writes about her experience on 101:

EVERY TIME I ride past the stretch of Highway 101 where it happened, I imagine it happening all over again. Traffic suddenly slowing down in front of me as I am merging. I brake too late.

It was my first accident. My only accident, since I haven't driven since.

The insurance company told me, almost apologetically, that it was 100 percent my fault. It's more like 200 percent.

I should have taken BART to visit my friend, instead of driving. But he didn't have a car to pick me up from BART. He would have needed to ask his friend to get me, and I wanted to spare him the inconvenience.

You can read more here.

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- November 8, 2005 9:27 PM // Bay Area

November 6, 2005

Rick Steve's India

Rick Steve, everybody's favorite Euro-travel author, has his own favorite destination - India. He puts a different spin on my India-is-mindfunk line though. In an interview (Rick Steves: His top sites, pet peeves, best advice) with the San Jose Mercury News, he says:

India rearranges all your cultural furniture. I thought I knew what music was, I thought I knew what pain and love and faith were, but India changes everything. Everything is different. It was great travel, but it's very frustrating to talk about it. You can't explain India to people. I can explain Ireland, Norway, the Alps, but I can't explain India. It's like travel squared.

Nicely put. However, there are a couple of things I observed in my last trip. Double standards do exist. White tourists are the real sacred cows over there - most locals know this and accordingly will be amazingly hospitable. Unfortunately, they tend to view NRIs as cash cows. I don't exactly know where this comes from - it seems to be a mixture of resentment, annoyance and envy. Just consider the moneyed, boorish NRI stereotype that used to pop up in Bollywood films. Anyway, you have to be on your guard constantly as a consequence.

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- November 6, 2005 7:00 PM // India , Travel

November 4, 2005

Happy Diwali!

We just returned from Vancouver and the desi presence there is decidedly stronger than in the USA. I can't imagine official government Diwali posters in a public space anywhere around here, at least not in a major city. So here goes a picture of Shari posing next to a Vancouver bus stop and Happy Diwali to all of you!

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- November 4, 2005 7:43 PM // Diaspora , India

November 3, 2005

Halloween At The Castro

Halloween at the Castro in San Francisco is always an occasion to marvel at the creativity of the costumes on display. In addition to the usual pregnant nuns, togas and vikings, we spotted George Bush in a flightsuit from the "Mission Accomplished" era. That was good as was the guy impersonating an iPod. One person in a Indian raja costume and a couple of folks in saris as well (two were authentic - no doubt aunties up here to see what the fuss was about). But we thought the following was the best of the lot. Click for a larger image:

These guys were going up and down Noe all night and getting a lot of attention - a tad icky if you ask me, but I have to give credit where credit's due! If you want other snaps of Halloween, the Chronicle has more.

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- November 3, 2005 11:44 PM // Bay Area

November 1, 2005

Cary and Doris

Sometimes, desis will pop up in the oddest of places. In this particular instance, in the middle of North By Northwest, we are treated to the sight of Cary Grant spending some quality screen time with "UN Reception Girl" aka Doris Singh. Click on image for bigger picture. Unfortunately, I couldn't find much on Doris, other than that link.

Of course, finding Indians in Hollywood films is not particularly easy now but back in those pre-Civil Rights days, even Yetis were more visible. Perhaps Hitch wanted some ethnic flavor what with Cary Grant heading into the UN building and all. There was one exception to this scarcity of course: Sabu, the first desi to make it big in Hollywood, pre-dating Kal Penn by a couple of decades.

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- November 1, 2005 1:12 AM // Diaspora , Film