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December 31, 2005

Nanopses

The Monster Jilebi Strikes Again

Paheli

Inspired by the original Bollywood lexicon and the notion of short shorts, here are some nano film synopses (or nanopses, if you will) for 2005. If anything, I was even more stringent:

  • Paheli - Love conquers gall.
  • D - Pre.
  • Black - Eyewash.
  • My Wife's Murder - My Husband's Blunder(s).
  • Ramji Londonwaley - High carb, low fibre.
  • Kya Kool Hai Hum - Kya Bozo Hai Tum
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- December 31, 2005 3:30 PM // Bollywood , Review

December 30, 2005

Happy New Year!

And a lovely New Year to all of you. I've taken this opportunity to add a sidebar to the site called "The Dishum Primer." Essentially, this is a collection of posts that, while not necessarily being a best-of, did stand out in some way. Hopefully, this will give the newer readers a flavor of what went on in the past. If you want to jump ahead to the entries, they're also collected here. Cheers and, as always, thanks for reading!

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- December 30, 2005 7:08 PM // DishumDishum

December 27, 2005

The 2005 Bollywood Lexicon

We're all familiar with sites such as Bollywhat that have lexicons mapping showbiz Hinglish. You know, stuff like:

USP: Unique selling point. "The USP of KNPH was Hrithik Roshan. Or more specifically, Hrithik Roshan's killer abs. And killer biceps, and killer dancing, and his hair looked cool..."

Paisa Vasool Means something akin to "worth every penny," I think. "Wow, I've had this toothbrush for three years now--that sure was a paisa vasool investment!"

Item Number The totally gratuitous dance number, often a show number, in which a scantily clad young vixen who has nothing to do with the plot bounds out, shakes it for a few minutes, and disapears. Item numbers can star men ("One Love" from Rakht) and don't have to be racy ("Chamma Chamma" from China Gate was pretty family-friendly). "Sonali Bendre really rocked that item number in Mani Ratnam's Bombay."

And of course:

Dishum-Dishum is the sound made while people are hitting each other IN the end scenes of violence....when the villian gets his comeuppance. So it stands for violence; "I don't like this movie, too much of dishum-dishum."

For the more cynical and filmi-familiar, Mahesh Nair uses this device for an excellent summation of Bollywood in 2005. Some choice definitions:

Aashique Banaya Aapne (n): when a picture is worth one song.

Black (adj): the emotion you feel when you watch a fantastic film wherein a deaf, mute and blind girl narrates how a ranting old man taught a mentally retarded child to eat with a spoon.

DVD (n): another term for "original idea" or "script". When a director says, "I worked on the script for two years", you know instantly that he has been watching DVDs of Man on Fire (Ek Ajnabee) or OldBoy (Zinda).

Item Number (n): a skin show to lure people away from the theatre's toilet to the screen.

Mangal Pandey (adj): to look silly after five years.

Multi(per)plex (n): a place where filmmakers are clueless as to which film will click. The only success guaranteed here is of Pepsi and popcorn.

Myth (n): as in Jackie Chan spoke to Mallika's breasts.

(Aishwarya) Rai (n): a misguided opinion that Indians are creating ripples in Hollywood.

Swades (n): when you love your country but it does not love you.

Yashraj (v): an old Indian proverb that means packaging is profit. (n) a place where superstars hang out.

I don't necessarily agree with all of them but they're hilarious. Enjoy!

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- December 27, 2005 7:33 PM // Bollywood

December 23, 2005

Christopher Doyle Interview

I came across this Fall 2005 Filmmaker interview with Christopher Doyle when he was in the NYC area, shooting M. Night Shyamalan's Lady In The Water. First, the introduction:

Save for Gregg Toland and perhaps Vittorio Storaro, no cinematographer in history has achieved the kind of iconic status as the kind currently enjoyed by Chris Doyle. An Australian by birth, Doyle has lived in Asia for nearly 30 years, and his work has largely defined the look of new Asian cinema. Best known for his collaborations with Wong Kar-wai on such films as Chungking Express, Happy Together and In the Mood for Love (which won him the Technical Grand Prize at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival), Doyle is equally comfortable with a handheld camera as he is with meticulously composed, static imagery. Yet despite the variation in technique, Doyle still manages to leave an indelible authorial stamp on every one of his films, even though it's nearly impossible to say why Zhang Yimou's archly formal Hero and Wong's hyperactive Fallen Angels both feel like a Chris Doyle shot movie except for the fact that his mastery is apparent in every shot. He's also directed one feature, 1999's Away With Words.

As befits the title of the article (The Wild Man), Christopher Doyle minces no words when it comes to his thoughts on Asian Cinema and the state of US independent films. An excerpt:

FILMMAKER: You are currently working on a U.S. film. Is there a fundamental difference in the process of filmmaking between the U.S. and Asia?

DOYLE: No. I think the real difference is the level of energy. In Asia now it's like the Australian new wave, the cinema novo in Brazil, the French new wave. Why? Because there was this confluence of intent and economics, and all those elements sort of matched up at that time. What is strange in the west is - well, not strange I guess - is that people are lost. Let's be honest. [laughs] People are lost, whether you blame 9/11 or whether you blame the lack of education in schools. Whatever you blame it on, it doesn't matter. Whereas in Asia, people are finding their voice. It's been a long journey, you know. Everyone in China is on a roll, [laughs] there's no question.

And, he was just getting started:

FILMMAKER: Do you feel like you're in hostile territory right now?

DOYLE: You know, I was in Kazakhstan two weeks ago, and that was nothing. This is hostile territory, this is bullshit. I dont know if it should be said so bluntly, but [laughs] every people gets the government they deserve. Sorry, that’s a reality. The present climate in most of the western world is of course anti-artist, because the function of an artist is to open people's eyes, and that's not the function of a Texas oil-based meritocracy. Hello! And every single person in the real world looks at this, and that's why we make our films the way we do. Because you don't have the freedom, you don't have the integrity, you have to remake everything we've done anyway. I go to see Martin Scorsese, and I say, Don't you think I should tell you about the lenses? And he says, What do you mean? And I said, Well, you're remaking my film, which is Infernal Affairs. Infernal Affairs was probably written in one week, we shot it in a month and you're going to remake it! Ha ha, good luck! What the fuck is this about? I mean, come on. In other words, if you read The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, then you'd actually have a very clear idea [laughs] about what's really happening in the U.S. right now. So what do we do? You tell me.

FILMMAKER: Don't you think these bloated Hollywood films are an easy target? Do you watch any American independent film?

DOYLE: Does anybody? Hello! Come on. Come on, you can't be so naive that you don't know that the only thing they do in the U.S. is look at the box office. It's not a film industry anymore, it's an accounting department. [laughs] There's only two departments in American cinema - the insurance department and the accounting department. There are no filmmakers anymore.

FILMMAKER: You don't think so?

DOYLE: No, absolutely not.

FILMMAKER: There are no more filmmakers in America?

DOYLE: Uh-uh. If Martin Scorsese can make a piece of shit called The Aviator and then go on to remake a Hong Kong film, don't you think he's lost the plot? Think it through. "I need my Oscar, I need my fucking Oscar!" Are you crazy? There's not a single person in the Oscar voting department who's under 65 years old. They don't even know how to get online. They have no idea what the real world is about. They have no visual experience anymore. They have preoccupations. So why the fuck would a great filmmaker need to suck the dick of the Academy with a piece of shit called The Aviator? And now he has to remake our film? I mean this is bullshit. This is total bullshit. I love Marty, I think he's a great person. And the other one is Tarantino. Oh yeah, let's appropriate everything. Are you lost? Yes, you are lost.

Some parting words of advice:

DOYLE: I mean, I go to NYU, and all the teachers are there, and then they're interpreting what I say. I say, "Just do it. "And the teachers say, "What he really means is if you really work hard within the system, then you'll get somewhere." [laughs] So what can we do? Well, there's a lot we can do that is not expensive. You could send a DVD to your friends, it could be online, and you could be in all these film festivals. And just with a digital camera. In other words, you could even make a film with your bloody phone now, you know what I mean? [laughs] Isn't that fantastic in a certain way? It's so strange that young people are actually hedging their bets instead of just going out there and starting to do stuff. The only way that any of us became so-called filmmakers is by not hedging the bets, and trying, and then seeing if something works. Don't worry. Yeah, people can steal your ideas, but they're not going to steal your heart. [laughs] What are you going to do? Are you going to wait?
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- December 23, 2005 9:59 AM // Film , Politics

December 21, 2005

BlogMela

The PRM Bharateeya Blog Mela,a weekly roundup of what the desi bloggers are saying, is up and Saket had kind words for yours truly's entry:

And if you were to ever start a desi rock-fusion band, Soam has great tips on naming it, and a ready list of names you could consider giving it. You must however, supply free passes to Soam if you decide to take up one of the names suggested by him. A very amusing read.

Thanks mate! The rest of the mela is well worth a look too.

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- December 21, 2005 6:02 PM // General

December 20, 2005

Carma Update

Last week, we were talking to Anand Chandrasekaran about the difficulties of getting an indie flick noticed, let alone distributed. Typically, you submit a film to the festival circuit and hope to pick up representation and, if you're lucky, some type of distribution. The producer's rep is invaluable in this process, particularly in the USA. Filmmaker explains:

Regardless of whether filmmakers are hoping to cover a new Saab or just back rent, when faced with the job of selling their film, most still wind up in the arms of the one person who might be best able to broker that big-ticket deal - the producer's rep.

"producer's rep" has become a catchall term for an agent, manager or anybody who works on selling a film," says Ruth Vitale, co-president of Paramount Classics, the distributor of You Can Count on Me and The Virgin Suicides. "[producer's reps] know the business, know the players, and can give the production team guidance where they need it."

REPS - WHO NEEDS 'EM?
According to attorney and longtime rep John Sloss of Cinetic Media, who has repped such indie milestones as Boys Don't Cry, Ulee's Gold and, more recently, [Michael Almereyda's] Hamlet and [Richard Linklater's] Waking Life, the producer's rep has to be something of a chameleon. "The ideal producer's rep would actually be two people," Sloss says. "One is the ingratiating good cop who beats the drum for a movie and is all of the distributors' best friends. The other is the quote-unquote bad cop, strategizing behind the scenes and manipulating interest, once created, to obtain the most beneficial deal for the filmmaker."

Getting a good producer rep is tough, particularly for an unknown. In that case, they won't even talk to you unless the film gets into a reputable festival. But, a good producer's rep can also help you get into one. Bit of a catch-22 situation there! That didn't stop the Carma team of director Ray Arthur Wang and Anand from upending the order of things and approaching top producer reps directly for Carma. And it paid off:

CARMA Signs Prominent Producers' Representative Harris E. Tulchin Thursday December 15, 5:34 pm ET

Gripping Debut Film From Director Ray Arthur Wang (RAW) and RAW Power Productions Teams Up With Top Producers' Representative En-Route to World Premiere

SAN FRANCISCO, CA--(MARKET WIRE)--Dec 15, 2005 -- Raw Power Productions, Inc. announced that it has teamed up with Harris Tulchin and Associates, prominent producers' representatives, to release the company's debut feature length film, the thriller CARMA, featuring Academy Award nominee Karen Black.

Harris Tulchin has repped such films as Monster, the Charlize Theron starrer, so this is quite a coup for Carma. Impressive!

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- December 20, 2005 10:09 AM // Film

December 17, 2005

BadKarma NYC

Our friend Biraj Lala, one of the few desi folks we know who has genuinely earned the right to call himself a thespian, recently upped his digs in SF and left for the colder climes of NYC. BadKarma NYC is his new venture - their mission is to create a clothing line geared exclusively towards South Asians, a desi version of FUBU (For Us By Us) if you will. They've initially started off with tees but, if this thing really clicks, there's more gear planned. Our best to Biraj on his new effort and here's to many ladies sporting "Brown Sugar" and "Spicy" t-shirts at a party near you!

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- December 17, 2005 11:01 AM // Fashion

December 15, 2005

One World

mike-kotao.jpg

Mike Novak, of Mike's World Tour fame, is finally winding down his travels. On a post entitled, Personal Ramblings, he has some thoughts about his experiences:

"One World" - In the mid-1980s, after participating in various exchange programs (Kenya, Thailand, and Poland) I was enamored with the concept of "One World". "One World" centers on the belief that people are basically the same throughout the world - they want to be happy, live in peace, raise families, and lead productive lives. What make them different are generally not innate but learned differences - learned through their own culture, traditions and religion beliefs. Overtime these learned differences between countries and their cultures tend to shrink and merge – facilitated by such things as cheap travel costs, information technology, the internet, TV and movies, cultural awareness and education . The result is a single culture or "One World".

After this trip I still believe in the concept of "One World" (a.k.a. "globalization" in economic parlance), albeit, this trip made me realize that the reality of a single culture is a lot further away than I previously surmised - decades, even centuries away. There are a lot of uneducated, poor, immobile people in the world that still maintain their own culture, tradition and value systems.

It seems to me, the flip side of this observation is that much that is unique about various societies comes from the poor, deprived folks in their midst. This is, of course, not restricted to third world countries. Musically speaking for example, the ghettos in the US, the favelas in Brazil, tribals in India and rural enclaves in Morocco, all have been fecund sources of various sounds. All have been exploited accordingly and absorbed into the global "one culture" machine by cool-hunters, musical explorers, and media outlets looking for the next big thing. What's amazing to me is how some of these places continue to innovate various musical styles one after the other - it seems to be a curious balance of isolation from the greater culture at large and familiarity with it.

There are more musings here. Check it out.

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- December 15, 2005 11:22 AM // Music , Travel

December 9, 2005

Naming Your Desi Band

"So you want to be a rock'n'roll star" sang The Byrdsand the call of stardom is something every sensitive, artistic South Asian type has contemplated. Lord knows, I'm no exception. But long before the guitars, the drums, the samplers, the turntables, the sequencers, the dholak player mishaps, the perenially drunk tabla players, the screwed up hanger-ons and that record deal with Sony Asia can come your way, you must face your first challenge.

You have to find a name for your group.

Sure you can take the easy way out. But honestly, will people really come to hear Soam and The Band? I didn't think so. Besides, the rest of the artistically inclined souls in your group might take umbrage at your getting top billing, never mind the fact that it's your apartment where they create the racket, much to your long suffering neighbor's chagrin, and it's your samosas and beer they're destroying. So, a catchy name it is then. But what? It really should have something to do with South Asian culture and be cool. After all, how else would you get on MTV Desi? If your primary influences are Norwegian death metal, more power to you, but that's not something desi and world music audiences are necessarily interested in unless you can throw in power sitar chords in there somewhere. Thus, I'm assuming you want to do a fusion band, go back to your roots, make funky beats, score with henna-ed groupies, whatever. But you want your band moniker to reflect the music you make. I've faced this problem a couple of times, so what I can do is share with you some of my own thought processes on the matter:

  • No masala or spice in the title. That's so played. No Spicy Beats or Masala Music here, no sirree!

  • Anything "mutiny" related is also getting overused. I mean, it's already made it's way into a NYC music gathering, a website, and a music documentary. All good stuff and rebellion is good for the image but you have to find some other Indian insurrection. Perhaps Gandhi's Non-cooperation movement? Salt March?

  • Likewise with karma. Sorry lads, John Lennon beat you to it with Instant Karma and I've really heard no variation that comes close since then. Yes, I know that's a song title but it's so good, it's been taken for band names, both in the West and India.

  • Kama Sutra: yes, it's tempting, particularly for the daring and the desperate amongst you, but it's been ripped off many many times worldwide. Just musically alone, there's at least one famous record label with that title.

As you can see, this is not a trivial challenge. All the obvious names have long been spoken for or are too overused in other settings. Thinking of Om? Too bad, in the USA there's Om Records, an SF based electronica/house label that, to my knowledge, has no desi connections whatsoever. How about Guru? Nope, that's one half of Gang Starr, the premier NYC hip hop outfit. And there's Loop Guru too. So, how does one get around this impasse? Some suggestions:

  • Perhaps the term desi itself may still not be overkill. I like Funkadesi. Alas, desibeats is gone. Perhaps Desi Wonderland? Desi Boogie? A bit retro, but not without charm. A name I've used in the past for my creative efforts is Desi Jersey Mafia. I'm particularly proud of that one. It hits the trifecta: desis in New Jersey involved with the mafia! True, it was intended for satirical purposes, but hey, so was Spinal Tap.

  • Names of Indian express trains. I once thought of the Deccan Queen but resisted, thinking of the inevitable comparisons. Toofan Mail is still a possibility. Bonus: it's also the title of a famous old time Bollywood song.

  • Indian states/cities: other than Mumbai/Bombay, I think all other cities/states are fair game. Certainly, that must've been the idea behind the group State of Bengal. But too many names with Bombay in it: Bombay Vikings, just for starters. My candidate here was the Royal Bengal Brothers, but, alas, my brother nixed that one. Pity - you would be getting a state and a state animal at the same time!

  • Indian regional groups: unless you are Punjabi. Starting from Punjabi MC to Bohemia, the Punjabi Rapper, this is one busy term. However, if you're say Gujrati or Tamil, there's hope. As far as I know, Gujrati MC or Tamil Rapper has not been taken. For Bengalis, it's a rich vein to mine, particularly with Bengalis referring to themselves as bongs (no drug references implied here - really). My own favorite here is The Big Bong Theory. "What's The Big Bong Theory?," I hear you ask. Well, the universe started with a Bong!

  • Movies: a good idea in theory, but tough in reality. Naming yourself after Bollywood titles is not really an option unless you specifically are looking for that audience. Outside India, however, precious few films are identified with India or Indians, at least in a positive way. Tha Gandhis (sic) just doesn't work for me. I suppose, you could try subversion of titles: Band Of Joy or, my favorite, Gunga's Din.

  • Brevity: If all else fails, keep it short and punchy. But beware - most of the words implying good times in an Indian language are out of bounds. Dhun, Nasha, and Dhamaal are all accounted for. Don't even think of Dhamaka.

Okay, that should be enough of a starting point. Just remember, if you do decide to use one of my suggestions, I want lifetime backstage passes and a copy of your first CD. Happy naming!

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- December 9, 2005 10:59 AM // Diaspora , Music , Select

December 7, 2005

Diversidad

The annual diversity reports from the National Latino Media Council and the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition are out - apparently these grade the efforts of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox towards presenting a more visible Latino/Asian Pacific presence. An excerpt :

The four biggest broadcast networks received passing grades Thursday from two media watchdog groups for promoting diversity, but ABC was placed at the head of the class for increasing Latino presence both on-screen and behind the camera.

ABC is the only network with Latinos as title characters in two separate shows: "The George Lopez Show" and "Freddie" starring Freddie Prinze Jr. Additionally, top-rated "Desperate Housewives" has Latina actress Eva Longoria as one of its five principals and all three shows have additional Latino cast members.

In addition:

"Achieving true diversity across the entire network both in front of and behind the camera is a high priority for us and we appreciate the acknowledgment of our effort by both the (NLMC) and the (APAMC)," Robert Mendez, senior vice president of diversity for the Disney-ABC Television Group, said in a statement. "That said, while we have made significant strides in certain areas, we fully recognize that we still have more work to do."

All well and good but what's the real incentive here? Surprise, it's good for business!

In the push for diversity in television -- the campaign to add people of color to key positions on both sides of the camera -- it's not the beauty of the rainbow that ultimately brings the big networks around.

It's the promise of a pot of gold.

...

Not the least of those reasons, however, is that dinero talks.

``The genesis is good business,'' said Stephen McPherson, president of ABC Entertainment. ``We're a broadcast network, and you look at the multicultural nature of this country these days and I think you would be making a big mistake as a broadcaster to not recognize that and program for it.''

With the fight for viewers ever-more competitive, thanks to the growing number of entertainment options, ABC has identified U.S. Latinos, a population more than 40 million strong, as a target of opportunity, even if almost half their number watch mainly Spanish-language TV.
...
This has fueled a run on Latino talent in a bid to better reflect the world that would-be viewers actually live in. Or the world in which they wish they lived.

That's part of why Jimmy Smits is a would-be presidential successor to Martin Sheen on NBC's ``The West Wing,'' and why Benjamin Bratt stars on the Pentagon series ``E-Ring.'' It's also part of why Fox's ``24'' has Carlos Bernard and ``That '70s Show'' has Wilmer Valderrama.

Extend similar logic to the global Indian market and now you can finally see why Aishwarya Rai is suddenly winning awards for diversity. Hollywood-wallahs want to extend their audience. Financial clout aside, Indians in the US by themselves are too small in numbers which is probably why the one desi Naveen Andrews on the much ballyhooed "Lost" plays an Iraqi! Talk about covering as a big a base (Indian-American, Arab-American ..) as possible! But our numbers worldwide add up. Consequently, it can be argued that Ms. Rai's worldwide "bringing India to Hollywood" campaign, is really intended to set her up as a person who can bring Hollywood to India i.e. deliver an Indian audience for Hollywood products.

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- December 7, 2005 12:02 AM // TV

December 2, 2005

Spike Lee Talks To Slate

Slate has an interview with Spike Lee where he's his usual direct self. His current project:

Lee: We're doing the score for my new film. The film is called Inside Man. It's about a bank robbery that becomes a hostage situation. Denzel Washington is a New York City detective; he runs a hostage-negotiation team. He has to match wits with the mastermind behind the bank robbery, who is played by Clive Owen.

As always, he has choice words about the state of film today:

Slate: A friend of mine has started using the word "business" as a verb, and I think that's right. Everything's "businessed" these days. Do you think a movie like Do the Right Thing could be made now?

Lee: It would be really hard.

Slate: Would audiences even respond?

Lee: Oh, I think they would. I don't think it's the audience's fault. I'm putting that on the studio.

Slate: But people don't seem to like discord.

Lee: There is that part of the moviegoing segment, but I'm still convinced that a larger segment wants to be stimulated. People are getting tired of seeing TV shows remade, or movies from the 1950s, and comic books, and sequels. People say, well, it can't be the films; it's the video games, it's the 900 channels, it's this and that. All those things are a factor, but I think the biggest factor is that films aren't connecting with the audience. I mean, look. March of the Penguins. How much did that movie make?

Slate: A fortune.

Lee: I'm telling you, it's my belief that people went to see that film because there was nothing else to see. If there were good movies in the theater, they're not going to see a documentary about penguins.

Nicely said. There's more here.

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- December 2, 2005 12:12 PM // Film