Paisa Proselytization

He is dressed like Crocodile Dundee sans massive knife. He sees us maneuvering into the just vacated table in front of the Starbucks at the crowded food court.

"Punjabi?" he asks.

"Pardon?" I ask trying to be polite while nudging Virj into a chair and, at the same time, whipping out some wipes to clean the spilled Panda Express noodles from the previous occupants.

"What do you speak? Punjabi or Filipino?"

I can imagine us being mistaken for the former. If you tie Virj's hair with a handkerchief, he can easily pass for a Sikh boy. The latter however leaves me flabbergasted. How on earth do we remotely look Pinoy?

"No," I say. "We speak Bengali."

"Hold on, I think I might have that in my belt."

He fishes around in his pockets and pulls out a couple of shiny disks.

"Here, have these."

Before I can say anything more, he puts them on the table and is heading towards a Latin couple. Virj scoops up three of the coins, leaving one for me:

Proselytization by Way Of Bengali Coin in CA

"How will you spend your eternal life?"

Because he's gone, I can't tell him the irony in all of this. In the middle of a suburban California strip mall, a stranger has given me a couple of Bengali inscribed coins on Poila Baishaki.

That's the Bengali New Year.

Shubho nobo borsho (an auspicious New Year) to you too!

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- April 15, 2012 9:53 PM // Bangla , Bay Area

YBCA Exhibition: New Contemporary Art In India

The Asian Art Museum's Maharaja exhibit in San Francisco isn't the only Indian exhibit in town. Running through Jan 29th, 2012, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts also has Matter Within - New Contemporary Art of India. Owing to Shari's stint at YBCA in the earlier part of this millennium, we still get the occasional invite and felt we couldn't pass this one up. I am hardly an art critic, but took advantage of YBCA's liberal attitude towards photography in the gallery (all ok as long as no flash). Here are the results.

Outside YBCA

And inside

The Roster

Virj looks up at the Matka installation. It moves!

Photograph by Nikhil Chopra

From a series of photos by Pushpamala N whereby she literally recreates various film and other stills

A set of installations on the main gallery floor

From Mumbai's Project 88

Also running continuously at the exhibit are several films including one from the Otolith Group ("Otolith III") that looked particularly fascinating. I didn't get a chance to catch all of it but it looked to derive inspiration from Satyajit Ray's failed attempts to make a film out of his The Alien script in Hollywood.

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- December 30, 2011 1:43 AM // Bay Area , India

Extra Contagious — My Hollywood Experience

Crossposted on Sharidelic.

A couple of weeks ago, while idly facebooking away, a shared link led to me an article talking up a Hollywood production, "Contagion", starring Matt Damon, being shot in San Francisco. And yes, they were looking for extras. In general, I don't really do that stuff because my agent doesn't think it's particularly worthwhile. However, I was curious about this one. First, it was a big budget shoot. Second, it was directed by Steven Soderbergh. Wouldn't look too bad on my resume at all! So, on a fine sunny Sunday morning, I went up to San Francisco, stood in the long line outside the YMCA at the Embarcadero and submitted by headshot. I saw some recognizable faces - apparently the whole town had turned up to try their luck! I also overheard that a couple of thousand people had already submitted their photos the previous day and they were expecting another couple thousand that day. Daunting but that's showbiz, isn't it?

A week went by and I heard nothing. Then, lo and behold, the phone rang and it was the Contagion casting agent. I'd been selected for the role of an office worker at the FBI building in SF for the coming Friday. I was also told I'd be getting another call later in the week with more details. That call directed me to a hotline number I was supposed to ring the night before the shoot for directions/wardrobe details. Ringing the hotline yielded a recorded message asking us to bring a couple of sets of clothes to the shoot. Resisting the temptation to lug half my wardrobe to the set, I decided to stick to the basics because from my experience, that's usually sufficient.

My actual reporting time was 8:30 in the morning. Early but miles better than something like 5 in the am. Phew! I took BART to the Civic Center stop and walked to my assigned location, the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. Getting closer to the building, I saw Grove Street had entirely been blocked off and people were unloading equipment from trucks. They were putting up big yellow signs that said "Vaccination Center" on the top followed by instructions in English, Chinese, Arabic and another language I couldn't recognize. As I wandered confused through this activity, a crew member was kind enough to point me to the entrance of the extras holding area. Inside, I checked in, was handed a form to fill and directed to inside to the huge auditorium where the rest of the cast were waiting. The space was full of small tables and chairs occupied by well-dressed men and women, mostly attired in business suits, working on filling out their forms. One side had been converted into a makeup area with ten or so dressing bays lined with chairs and surround lights and being manned by makeup artists. In another corner, there was the wardrobe area with clothes racks lined up against the wall. Actors stood in line to be inspected by two ladies. Most folks carried luggage filled with clothes or garment bags of business suits. I realized that the initial message about the FBI building and business attire must have created some confusion. Finally, there were two tables with breakfast food, snacks and beverage in the center of the room.

The form we had to fill out was quite elaborate and I could see enlarged photocopies posted around the room for reference. A woman came around the tables checking everyone's form along with IDs and signing them off. She was quite particular about mine. I ended up having to call home several times to get information. After all this, one of the makeup folks called me to do my hair. She spent a lot of time straightening it out but took off what little makeup I had on. Apparently, we were all supposed to look tired and somewhat ill, like, in their words, "after being stranded in the airport for three days." I suppose extras in a film entitled "Contagion" aren't supposed to resemble partygoers in Club Med, more like the poor hordes stranded in European airports over Christmas! I didn't understand, however, why then would they spend so much time on getting my hair to look so good?

My actual wardrobe check was quick as I had the right outfit on - my experience of dressing for auditions proved to be useful. Each of us extras were given different types of masks to cover our faces. I appreciated the depth of thinking by wardrobe department here. After all, if this was supposed to be an epidemic, many would be wearing makeshift masks of various types. They shouldn't look alike.

We sat around chatting for the next couple of hours while we waited to be called in. Ages and background varied widely from opera singers, SAG affiliated actors to kids, moms, tourists, retirees and regular office workers who had taken the day off to be a part of this experience. Some actually came for the free food and the paycheck! There were doctors and medical professionals in the mix as well as SF policemen and members of the National Guard, here to lend authenticity to the proceedings. I even spoke to a systems engineer who was very excited to have been selected. It felt more like a big block party than work!

We were finally called for the shoot and asked to line up in front of the building. The set was ready by then with more signs on the building and border patrol trucks parked all over. And we had an audience - passers by had gathered around the cordoned area to watch. We were given fake vaccination cards to hold. We were also told that Jude Law would be on the set, so we should control our urges to throw ourselves at him .. er .. not get in the way or take pictures. Then, a couple of assistant casting directors came by, picking some of us out of the line to appear in a special scene. A mother and her young daughter standing in front of me were asked to step aside. Next, an African American girl a few feet behind me. Just when I started wondering if I would be that lucky, I was asked to join them as well! It turned out seven of us had been selected for a special scene with Jude Law. In addition to the mother/daughter and the girl, we also had a mother/son, myself and a middle aged Asian lady. SF diversity represent!

What followed was a series of rehearsals and practice takes to determine the exact sequence. We had to walk through the park situated across the auditorium while Mr. Law passed us on his way to take some photos of the building. I believe he's playing a journalist. The director, Steven Soderbergh, along with the rest of his crew were present at the location, shooting from a distance. There was a small black tent for the monitors as well as editing equipment but the rest of the folks stood around in the sun in between takes. All of the actors waited near a snack area that had been set up next to the border patrol trucks that provided some shade. Jude Law stood a few feet from us, sipping some water and waiting. It was pretty amazing to see the level of professionalism on the set, nothing like the stories of high maintenance Hollywood and Bollywood divas and their entourages.

While waiting, the seven of us started chatting in a bid to take our minds off Jude The Not-So-Obscure standing close to us. "Where's the director?", one of the mothers asked. When we pointed Steven out to her she said, "oh, he was just talking to my son a little while ago, showing us pictures of his kids on his phone!"

The way the scene ended up being structured, I had the privilege of walking past Jude Law in one of the shots. If it makes it through edit, I hope to see myself on the big screen! A couple more takes and it was over. We were asked to go back inside the building and wait. In a while, we were called back again, this time for a group shot of all us walking out of the building. And that was it for us. We were given the option of staying for lunch or leaving early. I was starving by then, so I decided to stay for the elaborate spread. By the time I left, about 6 hours from when I arrived, the whole set was wrapped up and the crew had left for the next San Francisco location for another scene.

PS: A special thanks to the set crew for letting me take pictures after the shooting was over!

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Shari Acharya - March 6, 2011 7:40 PM // Bay Area , Film

Jis Lahore

Naatak's latest production. Go here for details.

Jis Lahore poster

Given that this is a production in Silicon Valley, I would be remiss if I didn't report on the presence of the:

Couldn't find the YouTube channel, Ustream type live stream, Foursquare checkin or the rockin' Groupon deal on tickets. They must be around somewhere :-)

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- February 24, 2011 9:59 PM // Bay Area , Theater

Chaat Baat

When I was forwarded yet another link on Vik's Chaat House in Berkeley, I have to admit rolling my eyes. Over the years, I've read enough gushing pieces about the glorious aloo tiki, the wondrous pav bhaji, the pioneering nature of the place etc etc to feel I could crank out a copycat piece while whistling RD Burman classics, picking lint out of Virj's hair and dunking a Noni's biscotti in ginger tea, all at the same time. It would go something like this:

It is an early morning Sunday in Berkeley, California and Declan McManus is late. "Gotta get there soon," he mutters to himself while circling for parking in the warehouse area of this laid back college city. You would think he is trying to make a protest on time. Or perhaps attend a nondenominational service in the local Buddhist temple. In fact he is not doing either. By the time Declan arrives panting outside the doors of Trader Vik's, the line has spilled out into the parking lot.

Vik Patel first set out his stall outside the University of California college campus in 1985. He remembers the initial reaction as one of bemusement. "At first, the students would look at the stuff I'd piled up for them," he says. "They would ask, 'how am I supposed to eat this?' I told them it was an Indian delicacy. That they would offend Shiva if they didn't partake," he guffaws.

Now, there is no such problem. Chaat, the Indian version of small plates, has swept the Bay Area. In upscale places like Haldi, you can find small shrimp, fried in butter and turmeric, nestling on a bed of coconut flakes and sev, made of grated, fried potatoes.

Then I actually read the piece and it was nothing I had envisioned. Encomiums to chaat aside, two lines really rang loud and true:

When Vinod Chopra moved to California in the early ’80s, chaat was virtually unheard of in America. There was what Americans call Indian food and Indians call Punjabi food — gooey sauces and garlic naan.

Thank you.

An argument can be made that what passes for Indian culture in the rest of the world is derived in great part from Punjabi culture but that's a post for another day. For now, here's some chaat porn. Yum!

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- April 26, 2010 10:56 PM // Bay Area , Food

Ad Casting Requirement Fail

From Craigslist:

Nancy Hayes Casting is searching for 2 real Lipitor users for a SAG national commercial & print ad campaign.

Caucasian Male 50-65 (preferred age is 55-65)
Patient must currently be taking Lipitor brand name medication (non generic) for 1+ years
Patient must have had a heart attack

African American Male 50-65 (preferred age is 55-65)
Patient must currently be taking Lipitor brand name medication (non generic) for 1+ years
Patient cannot be taking any other cholesterol lowering medication

I am sure they must require proof of a) heart attack and b) Lipitor usage. Otherwise, expect lots of people to show up clutching their chests.

"You hear that, Elizabeth? I'm coming to join ya, honey!"

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- February 26, 2010 5:14 PM // Bay Area , Humour

Virj's Modeling Assignment

Last weekend, we went out to an elementary school in San Francisco's Excelsior district for a photoshoot featuring Virj and a couple of other kids or should I say modelettes? This was for Nohi Kids, a new boutique baby clothes store in the city featuring the output of Janel Jones, a local designer. Heidi, Virj's photographer, was clearly a natural in handling kids. She had four of her own, all boys. That certainly helped!

Here's a representative shot:

It was an overcast, cold day but that does not seem to have been a hindrance to either the subject or the photographer. Extracting useful shots is difficult with children, particularly extremely active ones like Virj. However, he was much more compliant this time around perhaps because we found an entire array of sidewalk chalk markers for him in the school playground. You don't see the chalk in his hand but his "art" is all over the school entrance pavement. At least until the latest bout of rain...

Virj's Afro gets him a lot of attention in the USA. During this shoot, for example, we heard several times about his "unique look." During our trip to Kolkata, on the other hand, such comments were scant. Rather, we received many polite and not so polite inquiries about when his haircut was coming next.

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- February 23, 2010 5:37 PM // Bay Area , Virj

Marketing To Asians

From Pineapple Express:

The San Francisco Giants are one organization that seems to understand that Asians aren't a monolithic group. Or that Asians automatically imply only those hailing from the Pacific Rim countries. Part of the GIants' 2009 marketing campaign targeting Asian Americans in the Bay Area involved organizing separate theme nights for each community complete with "exclusive" tchotchkes.

All events apparently featured pre and in-game "cultural entertainment." Not sure exactly what those were. However, I thought it would be interesting to list all the promos on offer and see how they differed.

Indian Heritage Night:

"Come be a part of the Second Annual Indian Heritage Night Celebration! The San Francisco Giants have partnered with the National Federation of Indian American Associations and the Hindu American Foundation and are thrilled to be hosting this event during the 2009 season, kicking off Asian Heritage Week!"

"Your package will also include a very special Indian / Hindi themed Giants t-shirt"

Chinese Heritage Night;

With the purchase of this special ticket package at only $20.00, you will not only get to sit in the Chinese Heritage Night section but will receive a unique gift to commemorate your trip to the park - a Lou Seal themed Lion Dancing bobblehead!"

Korean Heritage Night:

"When you purchase your ticket for a special price of $20.00, you will get to experience the pre-game AND in-game cultural entertainment, special seating in the Korean Heritage Night section as well as a Giants/Korean headband and thundersticks."

Japanese Heritage Night:

"When you buy the $20.00 ticket package you will receive a limited edition Giants themed Sake Set, a Sake Tasting Punch-Card which allows you five free tastings AND a seat in the Japanese Heritage Night section. Further details on pre-game party to posted shortly."

Filipino Heritage Night:

"For only $20 you will get a seat in the Filipino Heritage Night section, cultural entertainment prior to and throughout the game, and a special edition Filipino-themed Giants T-shirt (right)"

Some Impressions

  • Sake sets, headbands, bobbleheads .. but only T shirts for Desi Night, no mini Taj replicas? Meh.
  • All the themed nights save for the Indian one sold out. The Filipino event was extended to two nights due to heavy demand.
  • No Middle Eastern events then?

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    - January 17, 2010 10:16 AM // Bay Area

    Raccoons vs MUNI

    Raccoons awaiting their turn at the MUNI stop, Legion of Honor, San Francisco:

    Hat tip.

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    - November 6, 2009 8:22 AM // Bay Area

    There but for the grace of ..

    In this article (In San Jose's east hills, owners at The Ranch 'had it all' until housing bust) detailing the collapse of a high end gated community in San Jose there's this tantalizing description:

    "It's a mess," said Joe Fierro, who built a waterfall that cascades between his front steps. When he moved into The Ranch, he had a lucrative loan business; now he's a property manager. "I know of three in the immediate area that got foreclosed on."

    Fierro looked out across Mountaire Lane to the hulking shell across the street, where his neighbor left behind dying palm trees, children's toys next to the outdoor kitchen, and an iron archway leading to the sport court customized with the family's name: "Som Residence." They vanished five months ago.

    Yikes. I don't usually see many news articles involving variations of my first name so this stood out. I find it surprising though to hear about more and more desis falling prone to the housing bust. I suppose owning a million dollar house in Silicon Valley is of such high cachet, it shouldn't be so discomfiting. Many people over-leveraged themselves and why shouldn't desis be part of that wave too?

    What I find more interesting though is seeing some of our acquaintances jump feet first into the current housing market in the Bay Area. Were I to be consulted (and I am not), I'd be the first to say prices still have a ways to go down, particularly in the more desirable zip codes. Who wants to catch a falling knife?

    As this graph from one of the local housing bubble blogs shows..

    .. median income to median housing price ratios in the high price areas are still way out of whack compared with the lower income counties.

    However, cold numbers notwithstanding, owning a house has still been very much an emotional decision, a statement saying "I've made it in America" and this holds even more resonance amongst Indians in the Bay Area. We've known folks who saved for years and years, staying in one bedroom apartments and limiting their expenses, only to go hogwild when it came time to put down a downpayment. Now, with California ground zero for the mortgage crisis, unemployment and host of other ills, it's somewhat sobering to see even the model minorities aren't immune.

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    - July 5, 2009 8:59 PM // Bay Area , Diaspora

    Bhakti Fail

    Picture taken at the Livermore Temple here in the Bay Area. For those times when demonstrating your devotion reduces line throughput:

    temple,sign bhakti

    BTW sashtanga namashkara can roughly be translated as worship while prostrated. You can imagine why this might slow things down when others are in line.

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    - April 19, 2009 3:41 PM // Bay Area , Diaspora

    Family Outing

    More by Shari here.

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    - April 15, 2009 5:25 PM // Bay Area


    One of the pros of living in the Bay Area is the sheer level of talent - you never know who you might bump into. And when you do, chances are he/she are very good at their chosen profession. I ran into Mindy Pines yesterday at a birthday party and she invited me to check out her photoblog. I did and was blown away. Her mission statement reads in part:

    Mention Marin and most think money. Touted the most affluent county in the nation with median home prices surpassing a million, no wonder.

    But many of us who call Marin home are renters. Others are homeless. Some drive old cars. Some take the bus. Some work blue collar jobs. Some are unemployed. Whether we're doctors or nurses' aides, restaurant owners or servers, wealthy or not-so-wealthy, we who live here are fortunate to be in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

    I have to say she does a bang up job. Take for example, "Daddy's Girl," her picture from the aforementioned party:

    Note the way she captures the love and playfulness.

    As another example, take the Golden Gate bridge. It's been photographed so many times, it's tough to find a different perspective. I found two here though. The first is entitled "Below Golden Gate":

    and the second is "Aliens, GGB":

    And as for Marin itself, here are some additional goodies. "Local Color/San Rafael:"

    and "Boxtops, Greenbrae:"

    I could go on and on. Suffice it to say, the blog is jam packed with great shots like this. Very addictive indeed.

    If you want to know more about Mindy, here's an article link.

    OK - one more! "Determination/ Marin Headlands":

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    - February 15, 2009 12:41 PM // Bay Area

    Final Solutions

    A PSA for Naatak. The play is authored by Mahesh Dattani of "Bravely Fought The Queen" and "On A Muggy Night In Mumbai" fame. Should be a scorcher:

    presents its 28th production

    A play about bias, bigotry and bloodshed

    October 11 Saturday 8pm
    October 12 Sunday 5pm
    October 17 Friday 8pm

    Cubberley Theater
    4000 Middlefield Rd, Palo Alto, CA 94303

    VIP: $25 till September 25 ($35 thereafter)
    General: $15 till September 25 ($20 thereafter)
    Child: $10 till September 25 ($15 thereafter)

    VIP tickets include preferential assigned seating and complimentary snacks.
    Children under 8 will be admitted ONLY to the Sunday October 12 show.
    Child tickets are general admission only.
    Child-tickets are required for all children under 8, including infants.
    People accompanied by children will be asked to sit in "exit-friendly"
    assigned seats.
    While this is not a children's play, it does not contain language or content
    inappropriate for children.
    Buy online at
    Or email
    Or call Soumya, 408 425 2647

    This critically acclaimed play by Sahitya Akademi award-winning playwright
    Mahesh Dattani examines the never-ending saga of Hindu-Muslim conflict in India. Which "side" should take the blame for the madness?

    What does the future hold? The play ponders these difficult questions through the lens of three generations of a middle-class Gujarati family as they harbor two Muslim boys during a communal riot. Through a stylishly choreographed "mob" that represents the collective voice of either community, and a narrative that slickly moves back and forth between today and 1947, Final Solutions makes us rethink own communal prejudices and perceptions.
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    - September 21, 2008 10:12 PM // Bay Area , Theater


    Sandip Roy profiles Sujit Saraf, founder of the Bay Area theater group Naatak and their upcoming production, "Mataji:"

    Saraf says he's realizing that the stories he wants to tell increasingly don't happen in India anymore. "We didn't do plays in English in the beginning," he says.

    "Over the years it's become clear that some Hindi plays we do are as foreign to us as 'A Streetcar Named Desire' is in India," he says. " 'Mataji' is really our play." The house it's set in could belong to any of the cast. The play skewers India's penchant for exporting gurus and god-men. Some promise to manifest themselves on the moon. Others conjure up Rolex watches or cure cancer by touch. Saraf's Mataji hugs.

    Over the years, we've had any number of films from Hollywood trying to poke fun at the same thing: fake gurus with tenuous Indian connections. The Guru and The Love Guru come to mind. It's good to see the same creative territory explored from a different and more realistic perspective which I am sure Naatak will bring. Here's to a complete absence of tired Bollywood pastiches that seemed to fill those aforementioned films and to something different.

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    - July 24, 2008 6:38 PM // Bay Area , Diaspora , Theater

    Downsizing - Silicon Valley Style

    In the article, How Silicon Valley families are downsizing their lives, Mike Cassidy sketches the portraits of a number of families in the Bay Area affected by the recent economic downturn. There's the story of the landscape architect, the occasional personal assistant, the butcher, and the low income couple, all struggling to get by. Then, there's this:

    And even those well beyond middle class, like computer scientists Radha Chandika and Ravi Duvvuri, are discovering they've got it good, but not nearly as good as they once had it. Chandika and her husband, Duvvuri, moved to Silicon Valley in 1994 and joined the successful tech crowd.

    By early 2007, they had two kids and a house in Cupertino. Duvvuri was a software architect at Blue Coat Systems, and Chandika was a software engineer at Google. Their household income was about $300,000.

    Duvvuri left his job to start an Indian social-networking company with a friend and former business partner, reducing the family income by about half. He says he would have done it no matter the economic conditions, but with rising prices the family has cut spending more than they anticipated.

    Duvvuri, who draws no salary, says he's concluded the Bay Area is no place to live as a family on one income. At the end of the year, he and Chandika plan to move their family back to India, where their lives and prospects will be better.

    "I have more reasons to go back," he says, "than to stay."

    But more than all that, the Big Squeeze has Chandika and Duvvuri thinking about how lucky they are and how difficult tough times must be for those who have much less.

    I suspect many eyebrows will be raised by this one, particularly as the income cut in here was purely voluntary. While it is true the Valley is becoming tougher for entrepreneurs due to rising costs, it is disconcerting to note $150K doesn't go as far as it used to. Or is it just the high standards to which we subject ourselves? If anything, there are similarities between another report in the NY Times which caused quite a stir in the blogosphere, particularly in the valley. Remember?

    MENLO PARK, Calif. — By almost any definition — except his own and perhaps those of

    Mr. Steger, 51, a self-described geek, has banked more than $2 million. The $1.3 million house he and his wife own on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean is paid off. The couple’s net worth of roughly $3.5 million places them in the top 2 percent of families in the United States.

    Yet each day Mr. Steger continues to toil in what a colleague calls “the Silicon Valley salt mines,” working as a marketing executive for a technology start-up company, still striving for his big strike. Most mornings, he can be found at his desk by 7. He typically works 12 hours a day and logs an extra 10 hours over the weekend.

    “I know people looking in from the outside will ask why someone like me keeps working so hard,” Mr. Steger says. “But a few million doesn’t go as far as it used to. Maybe in the ’70s, a few million bucks meant ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,’ or Richie Rich living in a big house with a butler. But not anymore.”

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    - June 2, 2008 10:54 AM // Bay Area

    Naatak (Re) Presents Sleuth

    By popular demand, Naatak brings back their version of Sleuth. Details:

    presents its twenty-fifth production

    Anthony Shaffer's


    Adapted and Directed by Harish Sunderam Agastya
    Produced by Soumya Agastya

    8 pm, Thursday, Oct 25 2007
    8 pm, Friday, Oct 26 2007

    Cubberley Theater
    4000 Middlefield Rd, Palo Alto, CA 94303 .

    General: $15 until Oct 10 ($20 thereafter)
    VIP: $25 until Oct 10 ($35 thereafter)

    (VIP tickets include preferential seating, official copy of Sleuth DVD & complimentary refreshments)

    BUY ONLINE at (ticketing by Sulekha)
    CALL 408.431.2318

    Naatak is proud to present its 25 th production – Sleuth, a play in English - back on stage due to popular demand from our patrons. Critically acclaimed as one of the greatest stage thrillers ever written, Sleuth is a tale of two men from different walks of life entangled in a dangerous web of gamesmanship, manipulation, deception and death. Sleuth was originally written by British playwright Anthony Shaffer and was subsequently made into a movie of the same name with Oscar-nominated performances from Sir Lawrence Olivier and Michael Caine. Our version of Sleuth, suitably adapted and Indianized by director Harish Sunderam Agastya (Italian-British Milo Tindle becomes Maharashtrian Milind Tindle for instance) retains the fast pace, comic wit and spine-chilling twists of the original. Sleuth was previously staged by Naatak in January 2007.

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    - October 6, 2007 7:14 PM // Bay Area , Theater

    Surya Dub Tonight


    Surya Dub plays tonight at Club Six on sixth street in SF with special guests SoulSalaam and Dov. Surya's last engagement took place on a particularly damp SF night - Maneesh joked they should have renamed their group from Surya Dub (Sun Dub) to Varuna Dub instead. Varuna is the Rain God in the Hindu pantheon. Regardless, this night promises to be a sizzler inside the joint, just like last time, so check it out.

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    - April 28, 2007 8:02 PM // Bay Area

    World Cup in the Bay Area

    The San Jose Mercury News writes:

    Back in the day, Anupam Singh of San Jose would be among the hundreds of cricket fans lined up in front of Fremont's Naz8 Cinema, one of the Bay Area's biggest Indian movie theaters and one of the few places to watch cricket's world cup.

    But in today's tech-driven society, there are a host of ways to watch the world's biggest cricket tournament, which started Tuesday in the Caribbean. Singh watched the West Indies-Pakistan match over the Internet while at work at Oracle.

    Hundreds of cricket fans were expected at the Naz, but only about 15 showed up. Just two popped into Britannia Arms, the British pub in San Jose. Both venues are broadcasting the games for free.

    I feel somewhat bad for Naz and these other establishments, but as soon as I walked into Yahoo's Santa Clara campus cafe area the other day, I knew my days of tracking down cafes, theaters and pubs across California were over: in the bright plasma displays lining the seating area, Sri Lanka were busy thrashing a hapless Bermuda. Yes! Yahoo would be showing all the World Cup matches! Attendance has been a tad sparse thus far, but just wait 'til India starts playing :-)

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    - March 17, 2007 9:40 AM // Bay Area

    Keepin' It Surreal, Desi Style

    From Valleywag/PEHub comes this sad tale:

    Sequoia Capital obtained a restraining order against Anand Lyer Vaidyanathan, an Iowa man who repeatedly tried to gain access to investor Michael Moritz at the firm’s Sand Hill Road Offices and later claimed he worked there.

    Vaidyanathan went to Sequoia’s offices five times during the last week in October and the first week of November 2006, according to testimony from a private investigator hired by the firm. On his first visit, Vaidyanathan asked to meet with Moritz about an investment opportunity. On subsequent visits, he asked about employment at the firm. The receptionist asked him to leave, but he often remained in the lobby for extended periods of time.

    Vaidyanathan returned on November 27, handed the receptionist his bank deposit slip and waited in the lobby while the Sequoia team called the police, according to the PI’s testimony. The police arrested Vaidyanathan for trespassing. At the time of his arrest, Vaidyanathan told police the receptionist had made a mistake: that he was actually an employee of Sequoia Capital, according to the PI’s testimony.

    Given the rush of VC firms to invest in India lately, perhaps Mr. Vaidyanathan might have had more luck at Sequoia Capital's India offices in Bangalore. Uttering the magic words "middle class", "mobile" and "wi-max" seems to open quite a few doors in the overheated market down there ;-)

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    - February 27, 2007 10:46 AM // Bay Area , Technology

    Surya Dub @ Club Six

    "When they'd strung the cables, according to some complex scheme of Molly's, they hung them with battered sheets of yellow plastic. As they worked, Case gradually became aware of the music that pulsed constantly through the cluster. It was called dub, a sensuous mosaic cooked from vast libraries of digitalized pop; it was worship, Molly said, and a sense of
    community." - Neuromancer - William Gibson (1983)

    Towards the fag end of last year, I received an e-mail from Maneesh The Twister. The gist of it was that the Dhamaal collective was coming to an end and there was something new in the works: an aggregation called "Surya Dub" (Surya meaning sun in Sanskrit). The focus of the new outfit would be on "Global Dubwize Vibes and Dread Bass Culture - more of a dub aesthetic but still incorporating a world element."

    Honestly, I was bummed about Dhamaal coming to an end - apart from providing high quality night outs for those of us uninterested in the rest of the desiparty scene, the outfit genuinely pushed into new musical territories, particularly in the field of asian electronica. Check out their two releases if you haven't already. I pressed Maneesh for more detail and he would merely say he felt the outfit had "run its course." More's the pity.

    In an interview with SFWeekly, Maneesh provided more info about his new dub direction:

    Evidently, the definition of dub is open to multiple interpretations. The Surya Dub DJs share different ideas on the subject, but they all believe the music has universal qualities. To bhang ragga — a musical style combining bhangra and ragamuffin reggae — innovator-DJ-producer Kush Aurora, "Dub music is musical meditation." To dubstepper Kid Kameleon, "Dub is like a code word for experimentation, and a license to do things in a nonlinear style." DJ Ripley, meanwhile, says he feels that "Dub has always been ahead of its time, based in playful misuse of technology for creative purposes." And to hip-hop/reggae head Ross Hogg, dub is "as much about what's missing in the music as what's present. The silence, the dropouts, the echoes ... "

    To Maneesh, dub — usually defined in its original sense as an instrumental, remixed form of reggae — isn't just a musical genre or production style, but a culture in and of itself that's shared influences with other cultures all over the world. For example, "Indian music has had influences in the Caribbean; there's a lot of sociohistoric things that tie those things together on a nonmusical level," he says.

    Dub's status as future music has been around for a while and while the Wachowski brothers co-opted the community part of it for their Matrix trilogy, I was curious to see how it would play out in real life. As the pics show, I needn't have worried. With block rocking beats and bowel loosening bass (well, nearly :-), Surya Dub is off to a flying start. Some snaps:


    Yah mon! And here are some pics of Maneesh and Kush in action:

    Note to the gentleman who left his shots on the speaker stacks: no one took them. It is usually not a good idea to park breakables on speakers generating deep sub bass. Said objects tend to vibrate and fall off :-)

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    - January 28, 2007 8:06 PM // Bay Area , Diaspora , Music

    Naatak Presents Sleuth

    Hey folks, breaking my silence to announce Naatak is presenting its 25th production, Sleuth this weekend at the West Valley College Center in Saratoga, CA. From their announcement:

    Sleuth is an Indianized adaptation of the play by Anthony Shaffer, one of the greatest ever thrillers performed on stage. It was also adapted into a Oscar-nominated movie starring Michael Caine and Lawrence Olivier. Sleuth is directed by Harish S. Agastya and features Harish Agastya, Ashish Joshi and Kal Pandya in the cast.

    This is the last week to get your tickets for this action-packed production. Don't miss out on this one for sure and please don't reveal the suspense to your friends until they've had a chance to check it out too.

    I guess desi audiences aren't that good at keeping secrets then. I remember an anecdote about a group of friends sitting down to see Kaun, that Ram Gopal Verma thriller from a couple of years ago. Anyway, said friends had their experience ruined completely by a wiseass in their group who gave away the main twist just to score a cheap point. Sort of like going to a group of people waiting to see The Sixth Sense and yelling, "he's dead!"


    Anyway, here's the poster for the production:

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    - January 16, 2007 7:50 PM // Bay Area , Diaspora , Theater

    Summer Cleaning

    Sometimes snaps are better than endless bloviating. So, here goes. First, summer cleaning:

    Next, is the summer party. Jesse, our DJ friend, getting ready to rock the same backyard:

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    - August 13, 2006 11:55 AM // Bay Area

    Margaret Jenkins @ YBCA

    Here are some pictures from yesterday's final performance of Slipping Glimpse from the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company. This was a collaboration with the Kolkata based Tanushree Shankar Dance Company. Following an initial meet at Kochi last year where:

    Many hours were spent trying to communicate concepts as well as steps. We were privileged to learn from Padma and the Indian dancers about their respective forms. We talked about making work, the nature of audience, the definitions and varieties of modern dance and the space that both our arts embrace. Western dance, more often than not, takes over space, moves through and around it: The more we have, the more pleasure abounds. The classical Indian forms look for center within and on the stage. Little space is needed to give voice to that art.

    We spent most of our days creating the 13-minute work for our performances. Our goal was to explore how to share our vocabularies with an eye to the evening-length work premiering at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in May. The Indian dancers will travel to the United States to be part of this larger dance.

    Subsequent choreography involved the exchange of video materials and DVDs across India and the USA between the troupes prior to the dancers once again uniting for the actual performances. Talk about globalization in action :-) Demand was unexpectedly high with nearly all the performances getting sold out. The images are from the 10 minute prologue of the show:

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    - May 28, 2006 10:12 AM // Bangla , Bay Area , Dance

    Local Productions

    Catching up on local productions, we start with Hijra, a production by the New Conservatory Theatre Center . The Chronicle has the goods:

    Ancient gender-bending traditions of South Asia reach into the New York of the Indian diaspora in Ash Kotak's "Hijra" at the New Conservatory Theatre Center. Sometimes funny, at times enlightening and generally engaging, the handsomely designed American premiere that opened Saturday is a mildly promising effort a bit too weighed down by sitcom ideas and filmic structures to take flight onstage.

    What's most interesting about "Hijra" is the extent to which Kotak sheds light on its titular subject. This is "hijra" not as one of the more common alternate spellings of the "hegira" of Muslim history, but as the ancient group of male-to-female transgenders of mysterious origin and long tradition who often appear, uninvited, to dance at and bless weddings in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The role of hijras in South Asian customs is apparently a blend of Islamic and Hindu traditions, and many held high positions in the courts of the Muslim kings.

    Though the review of the production itself is lukewarm, Dishum Dishum patron Maya Capur escapes unscathed. To wit:

    It isn't always easy to tell how much in love Nils and Raj are supposed to be. Kotak's dialogue is much more quip- and plot-driven than concerned with character or emotional development, and neither director Andrew Nance nor his actors have been able to fill in the blanks. From Venkatesh's boyishly standoffish performance, it's hard to tell whether Nils has any more real interest in Raj than Sheila until late in the second act. By then, Raj, disguised as a woman, has arrived in New York -- and so have Madhu, Sheila and her ferocious mother (crisply played by Sukanya Sarkar).

    With an exceptionally nosy neighbor (a very nice turn by Capur) stirring the pot, Kotak sets the stage for farcical complications he only partly develops.

    Way to go, Maya!

    Meanwhile, could Carma be the first indie film to promote itself using a Flash mob? The idea involved four women dressing up as one of the characters from the film and chanting:

    Normie Burns took an axe
    Gave his mother 40 whacks,
    When she saw what he had done,
    She said proudly, "that's my son!"

    This went down at a screening in Stanford last weekend. Here's a picture of the mob:

    Also, FilmThreat has a review of Carma here.

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    - April 17, 2006 8:11 PM // Bay Area , Film , Theater

    Cost Cuts

    I received this notice recently from my city of residence:

    In an effort to standardize and simplify the City's utility billing schedule, all bills will now be generated and mailed on the 28th of the month. Customers can expect to receive their utility bill at the end of the month, every other month. This change allows the City to take full advantage of bulk mailing rates in an effort to contain costs.

    As far as cost cutting is concerned, they're off to a great start. In the space of two days, I've received five separate letters all proclaiming exactly the same thing. Perhaps some genius in City Hall is taking the "bulk" in "bulk mail" a little too literally.

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    - April 14, 2006 10:45 PM // Bay Area

    Carma Update #2

    Carma, the Bay Area indie from Ray Wang, keeps rolling! From the festival circuit:

    • Delray Beach Film Festival, Palm Theatre, Boca Raton Embassy Suites Hotel, 661 Northwest 53rd St, Boca Raton, Florida 33487, Tel: +1-561-994-8200 (Yelophant - Official Selection by Invitation, Carma - Official Selection by Invitation, Screening Back-to-Back on Friday, March 10, 2006 at 11:59 PM as a special midnight screening with FREE coffee, look out for legendary filmmakers Roger Corman and Julie Corman at the screening!). More news about Delray here.
    • Stanford Alumni Association Special Screening by Invitation, Stanford University, Exact Venue TBA (Carma - 04/14/06 8 pm)
    • Bare Bones International Film Festival, One of the "Best Truly Independent Film Festivals," Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide ( Carma - Official Selection - 04/22/06 10:30 PM, playing at the Roxy Theatre, in Muskogee, Oklahoma)
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    - March 18, 2006 6:24 PM // Bay Area , Film

    24th SF Asian American Film Fest

    The 24th San Francisco Asian American Film Festival starts tonight onwards and it promises to be as manic and comfy as ever. What a roller coaster ride it's been!

    Nine years ago the festival had a record four Asian American narrative feature films, with the rest of the slate filled with documentaries, shorts and a large number of international features. This year it has 12, culled from about 250 submissions, beginning with Thursday's opening night film at the Castro Theatre, Eric Byler's "Americanese," an adaptation of Shawn Wong's breakthrough novel "American Knees."

    "There were twice as many (submissions) as last year," says Yang, the festival's director. "What's amazing is there is almost no market in the traditional sense for these films, yet they are being made. ... So we need to do a better job of getting the films beyond the festival. It's the only way that Asian American cinema is going to grow. That's so critical right now."

    FYI, Third I will be co-presenting the following:

    3rd i South Asian Shorts 2006
    Sun 3/19 2:30 PM, Kabuki 8 Theatres, 1881 Post Street, San Francisco
    Sun 3/26 6:45 PM, Camera 12 Cinemas, San Jose

    An exciting and inspiring array of South Asian short films from India, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States

    Water (Director, Deepa Mehta in person)
    Sun 3/19 | 6:00 PM | Castro Theatre
    In the long-awaited and magnificent conclusion to her “Elemental Trilogy,” Deepa Mehta builds upon her explorations of desire (FIRE, SFIAAFF Closing Night ’97) and nationalism (EARTH), to take on religion and the resilient power of the human spirit


    Sat 3/18 | 9:15 PM | Castro Theatre
    The works of Bengali novelist Sarat Chandra Chatterjee have proved a popular source of material for Indian cinema over the years, most notably the recent lavish production of DEVDAS by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Equally beloved has been the love story PARINEETA, filmed four times beforehand. It is now brought to life by veteran producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra


    Punching At The Sun
    Fri 3/17 | 7:00 PM | Kabuki 8 Theatres
    Sat 3/18 | 7:00 PM | Pacific Film Archive
    Fri 3/24 | 7:00 PM | San Jose Camera 12

    Set during the sweltering heat of summer in post-9/11 Queens, PUNCHING AT THE SUN concerns a South Asian teen, Mameet Nayak, who is consumed with both personal and social demons after his older brother, a local streetball legend, is murdered in their family’s corner store


    View From A Grain Of Sand
    Mon 3/20 7:00 PM, Kabuki 8 Theatres
    Three remarkable Afghan refugee women consider the effects of the past 30 years of Afghan politics in Meena Nanji’s new work, which continues her exploration of “the global diaspora of post-colonial peoples and the disruption of cultural values, traditions and ideologies that result from these migrations”


    Memories in the Mist
    Sat 3/18 4:30 PM, Pacific Film Archive
    Tue 3/21 7:30 PM, Kabuki 8 Theatres

    A shy Calcutta office clerk is haunted by memories of his father in this Buñuelian fable of family relationships, class, and global politics from Buddhadeb Dasgupta, director of THE WRESTLERS (SFIAAFF '01) and “India’s foremost director today” (International Film Festival of India)

    We hope to attend most of them save for Parineeta which I couldn't sit through, even at home. Enough with the hokey melodrama already! Writing the reviews should be fun, the better half (Shari) permitting of course :-)

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    - March 16, 2006 9:33 PM // Bay Area , Film

    Dhamaal Collective @YBCA


    (Above) Maneesh The Twista (clot of darkness on the left of the picture), Samba Guisse (center), and Farhan Qureishi (on tabla) play at the YBCA Forum as part of the Young Artist At Work program. A lovely blend of dub chillout from vinyl with live vocals and tabla. Maneesh proved to be a really approachable, nice guy too. I'm hoping to speak more indepth with him in the near future.

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    - March 3, 2006 9:14 PM // Bay Area , Music

    Bay Area Bhangra

    The San Francisco Bay Guardian has a nice writeup of the Bay Area Bhangra scene. First the intro:

    Bhangra's heated dhol drumming and bomb-tastic hip-hop beats are emerging as a new force in the San Francisco club scene, fueled by a young crop of DJ-producers, in addition to wise promoters who've been around the dance music block. Bhangra didn't just drop out of the sky one night and land in San Francisco; rather, it grew from ancient field harvest songs in the Punjab region of northern India, danced through the UK via immigration, mingled with rap stars in New York in the '90s, and finally ended up at eclectic Bay Area parties.

    Given the strong Punjabi presence in the West Coast, the strength of bhangra in the region is not a surprise. The article continues:

    In 1990 I copped a copy of Indian producer Bally Sagoo's remix of Pakistani Sufi singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's "Jewel" (Oriental Star). The mix of reggae-dub bass, Soul II Soul-style hip-hop beats, and ecstatic singing was mind-blowing. But there's no way it prepared me for the nuclear bomb that is contemporary bhangra music and the incredible South Asian scene in the Bay Area.

    I knew little about bhangra's early roots as the music embraced by Indian and Pakistani immigrants to Britain in the 1970s and '80s. Then remixes like Jay-Z '03 remake of Panjabi MC's "Mundian To Bach Ke Rahi" sparked my interest.

    It's interesting the author didn't come across Bally Sagoo's earlier bhangra mixes (like Mera Laung Gawacha)and Apache Indian'sfirst album No Reservations, which cannily blended bhangra and dancehall reggae to create bhangramuffin and led to its first UK crossover success in the early '90s. The latest legion of Bay Area producers, though, seem to be determined to blend in hip hop with greater vigor than before:

    Born in Oakland and based in Tracy, 20-year-old JT Bhachu, a.k.a. DJ JT, got started in music at age 10, playing dhol drums in school competitions. His family moved from the Punjab region in India and settled in the Bay two decades ago. JT mixes hip-hop with bhangra and spins everywhere from high school dances and weddings to the main rooms at clubs – even San Francisco's Avalon Ballroom, where JT and his BPR Promotions friends put on a show with Birmingham, UK, bhangra megastar Sukshinder Shinda last year.

    JT still relies on his kin for his creative projects, founding a record label (Sick 'Em Entertainment) with his uncle and recruiting his teenage cousins to play in his Explizit Dholies drum ensemble. "My mission is to bring bhangra into a lot of hip-hop clubs. In the future it'll be the next thing people are talking about when they go out every weekend," he says. His self-confidence and vision are shared by other young desi DJs in the Bay, including producer Kush Arora.

    The old style bhangra parties (and we've been to some) could become, not to sugarcoat it, really juvenile affairs. Scuffles over women, not getting enough "respect" and rival gang posturings were not unheard of. Then there's the promos:

    "Most bhangra concerts with big singers are in the South Bay," he explains. "These can be fun but usually very cheesy, with fliers that say 'Guys - dress GQ; girls - dress sexy/elegant,' with related bullshit like that, so I really wouldn't consider it a hot party."

    There are many other regional music forms in India, but nothing has succeeded so well on such a global scale. Even in India, bhangra was fairly local even until say twenty years ago. The popularity of stars like Daler Mehndiin India in the '90s brought bhangra to the point where no feel-good big budget Bollywood flick could afford not to have such a song in its soundtrack. Outside India, the Punjabi diaspora sustained the scene whereever they settled and the second generation UK and Canadian producers sucked in a whole host of other influences - dub and dancehall, hip hop, garage, and even ambient chillout (listen to Talvin Singh'sHafor examples). It's paying off big time! Not bad for a style of music whose core sound relies on a set of drums and mandolins and conjures traditional images of a bunch of blokes in mixed pattern lungis lunging around in circles. Pretty damn impressive actually.

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    - February 4, 2006 3:21 PM // Bay Area , Music


    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


    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

    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

    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

    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

    Domino and the Scavenger Hunt

    Recently, we finagled free passes to a screening of Tony Scott's latest, Domino. That it was being marketed to an urban audience became abundantly clear when we arrived at the AMC Kabuki at San Francisco's Japantown. Bag search? Check. Extra security? Check. Hip hop playing through a separate soundsystem in the hall? Check. Hip hop and R & B stars present in the film? Check. The movie itself was dressed up Hollywood masala and not particularly memorable. Nice summary from Ain't It Cool:

    Its biggest problem is that we can never see what the hell is going on. Every image Scott uses is toyed or tinkered with. Sped up or slowed down. Every shot is washed out colors, grainy images, or littered with those stupid flashes of light in the background, that would pose a problem to people with epilepsy. Tony Scott needs to just chill out for a little bit. Calm down. Take some Ritalin. Or a Xanax. And call his brother in the morning or something. Domino is so hyper-stylized it makes Oliver Stone look like Gus Van Sant. The other problem is that the film lacks a heart. It’s all sizzle and no steak. What’s the story really about? Three misunderstood misfits who join forces to eliminate the bad guys of the world? Why did Domino want to be a bounty hunter so badly? And why should we root for them? At no point in the film did Domino, Ed, or Choco feel like a hero.

    We left when the film began showing diagrams on screen to explain the plot points. That's diagrams with a "d" complete with pictures and arrows. I kid you not! There's only so much dumbing down you can take.

    Anyway, the most interesting part of the evening was prior to the screening. In the theater, an MC got up and asked for three volunteers to come onstage. Four folks (three guys and a girl) l did the bumrush. The MC then asked them to go on a scavenger hunt inside the theater. They had to find the following:

    • A large shoe
    • A quarter dated 1994
    • A Palmpilot
    • An old movie ticket
    • A $100 dollar bill

    The prize was a pair of tickets to an auto show. The person who collected the most items from the list would win. Of course, nobody parted with a 100 dollar bill! Or a palmpilot. But they did find folks willing to give up shoes, quarters and movie stubs. There was a tie which the MC broke by asking the audience to cheer and picking the contestant who received the most noise. The lone girl walked away with the tickets and I picked up some insight into "street marketing" techniques.

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    - October 24, 2005 12:36 PM // Bay Area , Film

    Man Of The Heart

    We first met Drama Professor Sudipto Chatterjee when he conducted a drama workshop under ENAD's aegis about two years ago. It was an exhilarating experience and, needless to say, we were looking forward to his latest performance, Man of the Heart, on the UC Berkeley campus.

    This was a one man show on the life and times of Lalon Fakir, a 19th century Bengali mystic and folk singer. Such minstrels, or Bauls as they are known, have played an integral role in Bengali folkore:

    Bauls (Bangla: বাউল) are a group of mystic minstrels from the Bengal region, now divided into Bangladesh and West Bengal. Bauls are a part of the culture of rural Bengal. They are thought to have been influenced greatly by the Hindu tantric sect of the Kartabhajas. Bauls travel in search of the internal ideal, Maner Manush (Man of the Heart). The origin of the word is debated. However, it is widely agreed that is comes either from Sanskrit batul, meaning divinely inspired insanity or byakul, meaning fervently eager.

    The music of the Bauls, bAul saMgeet refers to a particular type of folk song of sung by Bauls. It carries influences of Hindu bhakti movements as well as the shuphi, a form of Sufi song mediated by many thousand miles of cultural intermixing, exemplified by the songs of Kabir, for instance.

    Baul music celebrates celestial love, but does this in very earthy terms, as in declarations of love by the bAul for his boshTomi or lifemate. With such a liberal interpretation of love, it is only natural that Baul devotional music transcends religion, and some of the most famous baul composers, such as Lalon Fakir have been of muslim birth.

    The actual show itself was a blend of monologues, live singing and dancing, pre-recorded songs and sounds, video clips and projected slides. Nothing if not ambitious! However, while the technical production values were impeccable and Prof. Chatterjee a real live dynamo onstage, the show could have benefitted from a real narrative spine. There were many tantalizing nuggets buried in the material bespeaking the importance of Lalon in 19th century colonial India. For example, while the British were busy creating a buffer class of brown sahibs to better administer the sub-continent, bauls such as Lalon played a big role in resisting these divide and conquer tactics. I thought it was great for the production to contextualize Lalon's importance thus but I didn't really get a clearer picture as to how he really accomplished this. Instead, the bulk of the presentation was on how Lalon deliberately shrouded his origins in riddles and how, scholars on both sides of the Hindu-Muslim divide, went to great lengths to claim him as one of their own. Interesting stuff but I would have preferred to get an idea of why was gathering proof of this type so important. Perhaps an Indian audience would be better placed to understand the significance of this quest but, most probably, not an international one. Similarly, towards the end, we learned of some of the practices Lalon (and his female spiritual companion) perfected after years of sadhana. These techniques, which seemed to have tantric roots, were left unexplored after being hinted at.

    Clearly, Sudipto Chatterjee and director Suman Mukherjee hold Lalon very close to their hearts - in the post-show Q&A, both spoke of discovering their mutual interest while roommates in NYC in the early '90s. Given what we witnessed was an edited version of a full length script, which reportedly ran to a couple of hours, its turgidity was understandable - as a matter of fact, the whole event was advertised as a work-in-progress workshop. Hence, I would expect the whole thing to take better dramatic shape with more performances. Nevertheless, there were many things to enjoy and learn here. As mentioned before, Sudipto held the audience's attention easily and, in addition to his other skills, possesses a fine singing voice. Of late, I've been noticing the technique of an actor or dancer using one's own robes to intercept the images from a projector - this distortion technique was used pretty effectively in the production. The musical accompaniment, lighting and sets were also good - mention must be made of ENAD-ites Sambit Basu and Bodhi Das who helped out so capably.

    I have mixed feelings as to Baul music itself - in some sense, it is similar to the blues, and hence can be an acquired taste. Too much of it can end up sounding the same. Plus, Baul music has been all the rage in Kolkata of late and many Bengali rock bands (yes, they exist) have actually jumped on the bandwagon. So there's a bit of an overkill involved. It might be blasphemous to admit, but I actually prefer the hybridized version as practiced by bands like Bhoomi. But the standout in this genre is the drum'n'bass/baul fusion of UK based State of Bengal and Purna Das Baul's collaboration Tana tani. Anyway, overall, the show contains much to ponder over and our best wishes to Prof. Chatterjee and Suman Mukherjee in actualizing a dynamite final version.

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    - October 9, 2005 4:49 PM // Bangla , Bay Area , Theater

    Kronos/Asha at the YBCA

    There have been many words of praise for Asha Bhosle over the years, some conventional ("most recorded artist"), some musical ("largest vocabulary of vocal techniques") and some offbeat ("grandmotherly Elvis"). To this I would simply add: she must take her share of blame for India's population explosion. The reason is simple enough. In her own words:

    As Asha Bhosle struggled to make her mark, her biggest competition and mark for comparison was her own sister. "Didi [the elder sister] was singing the love songs, the sad songs, and I knew that if I did something different, something new, only then would people give me songs," says Bhosle.

    The "something different" was cabaret songs. At that time, in Bollywood films the heroine had a holier-than-thou virginal image that was made even more ethereal by Lata Mangeshkar's singing. But filmmakers also wanted a little masala to spice up their films. That was where the vamps came in. Some actresses, like the exotic-looking Helen, made an entire career playing the vamp in hundreds of films. And the voice behind the vamp was invariably Bhosle's. In the film "Taxi Driver" she sings "Jeene Do Jiyo" [Live and Let Live], probably the first cabaret song in Hindi cinema.

    It clicked. "Many have tried to imitate Lata, and some have come close. But no one has tried to imitate Asha, because no one can," says music aficionado Arvind Kumar, the founding editor of India Currents magazine.

    To date, the songs she sung under the aegis of R. D. Burman have probably been some of the most remixed/covered songs out of Bollywood. Additionally,

    Instead of cringing at the remixes that were pouring into the market, she did the next best thing - she joined the bandwagon and brought out the remixed variety of own old numbers. She also came out with a video cassette entitled "Janam Samjha Karo". Then there is the new album "Rahul and I". Asha never ceases to amaze. She is constantly repackaging herself. And so the Asha magic continues to enthral.

    However, the Kronos Quartet represented a new level of collaboration for Asha-ji and I was curious as all heck to see how it would turn out on September 22, 2005, at the Yerba Buena Center Theater in San Francisco, the first of a limited set of dates. I needn't have worried - Asha-ji sounds as great as ever. But first things first - the first half of the concert was devoted to Kronos premiering San Francisco based minimalist composer Terry Riley's The Cusp of Magic, a work in six parts. In tone, the parts varied from apocalyptic (The Cusp of Magic) to staccato (Buddha's Bedroom) to whimsical (The Nursery). The latter, in particular, was augmented by a backdrop of noises from stuffed animals, the last sound of the movement being that of a lone toy frog being wrung. Throughout, I was impressed by the sheer aural variety on offer, not to mention the virtuoso ensemble playing. In addition to Wu Man on pipa, the Quartet featured David Harrington on violin (and various percussive instruments), John Sherba on violin, Hank Dutt on viola and keyboards and Jeffrey Zeigler on cello. In addition, we had the wild and wacky samples being triggered from time to time. A good harbinger for the second half and the main event!

    "Atithi Deva Bhava - the guest is god. You are my guests and I'll try my best to please you," were Asha-ji's opening words when she strode to the stage at the start of the second half of the show. Apart from a little feedback in the first song and perhaps the hint of a cracked voice in another, this was an audio sensory experience. That included Asha-ji's banter between shows. She apologized for her poor command of English and asked band leader David Harrington to translate the song titles. Her in-song banter quickly endeared her to the audience, an eclectic mix of desis and the San Francisco art crowd. The choice of songs was inspired - a mixture of Bollywood staples such as Dum Maro Dum ("Take Another Toke") and Chura Liya Hai Tum Ne ("You've Stolen My Heart") with more leftfield titles. "They picked the most difficult songs," she complained to the audience at one point, rather jokingly of course and that endeared her to us all the more. Of the more adventurous songs, we were particularly impressed by the choice of two Bengali songs of R. D. Burman. Asha-ji sang Ekta Deshlai Kathi Jalao ("Light a Match") with all the coquettishness of a sixteen year girl. For Nadir Pare Uttche Dhoa ("Smoke Rises Across The River"), she took a break, and Quartet played with all the might and passion of many times their number. Upon returning, she commented that, accustomed as she was to working with hundreds of musicians at any given time, she found Kronos' versatility to be simply amazing. Their arrangements sparkled as well - subtly extending Asha-ji's vocals in one song, setting up a counterpoint in another, they were always less than obvious. By the time she started Piya Tu Ab To Aaja ("Lover Come To Me Now"), the incongruous sight of a grandmotherly figure providing breathy, panting vocals had been replaced by that of a diva still in regal command of her faculties (if you closed your eyes).

    I found the audience attendance for the first show to be disappointing but, in retrospect, it was to be expected given the eclectic nature of the musical marriage. I understand the attendance was much higher the next day and, overall, CD sales outside the hall were unusually brisk. A good harbinger of things to come perhaps?

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    - September 28, 2005 6:27 PM // Bay Area , Bollywood , Music , Review , Select

    Triptyque Sans Titre

    When it comes to evaluating dance as performance, particularly modern ones, I am the first to admit my critical faculties are woefully short. In particular, the absence of narrative often forces me to gauge such pieces purely on visceral impact. And on that criteria, I have to say Congolese choreographer Faustin Linyekula's latest work, Triptyque Sans Titre. performed at the Yerba Buena Center on Sept 17th, is particularly effective. I can't say whether it's any good or not but I do know it left an impact. Loosely billed as the flashback memories of an amnesiac who has a story to tell (but has now forgotten it), the piece is an exploration of the horrors of colonialism and internecine warfare suffered by the people of Congo. As befits the title, there are three main parts each accompanied by a live soundscape from the musician Joachim Montessuis. Armed with a laptop, a mic and one or two electronic gadgets, he crouches on the floor amidst a landscape of naked electric bulbs hanging from the ceiling and plastic bags littered all over. The pattern is the same each time: a drone in the beginning which grows and ebbs and finally builds to a shattering crescendo (so much so that the Yerba Buena management provided earplugs to patrons prior to the start of the show), finally falling away to silence when we can finally hear the dancers chant. The dancers run to and fro, perhaps suggesting escape from external enemies, fight with each other, cover themselves with bags and then, at the end of it all, come together in unison, suggesting a rapproachment of some sort. A projector throws up pictures of babies and families, the real victims of the Congo war. Strong stuff.

    PS - The San Francisco Bay Guardian has a review here.

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    - September 26, 2005 6:01 PM // Bay Area , Dance , Review

    Brimful of Asha II

    Both the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News are carrying articles on the Asha Bhosle and Kronos Quartet concert at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts tomorrow. Both pieces are intended to be introductions to the music of Bollywood (and legendary music director R. D. Burman in particular) that will be performed tomorrow. What I find interesting, though, is the differences in the tone of the two articles, perhaps due to the gap in desi population between San Francisco (not very many) and South Bay (lots). The San Francisco Chronicle piece is more explanatory, although not necessarily accurate:

    While Bollywood cinema is more visible in American pop culture today than ever before, the music of Bollywood, which millions of Indians just have hardwired into their brains, has a harder time crossing over. The West might have MTV, but "Indian films, each with 6-10 songs, are the original MTV," says Bhosle's son and manager, Anand. American audiences have difficulty relating to the songs, missing the cultural references and the poetry of the lyrics, fixating instead on the crescendo of 101 shrieking violins.

    Of course the truth of the matter is shrieking violins have been out of vogue in Bollywood for at least the past ten years. In addition, of late, big budget films such as Black and Sarkar have eschewed embedding music sequences all together. They've been hits, thus showing films don't have to contain music for audience acceptance. And there is such a beast as MTV-India.

    The San Jose Mercury News article is more concise, perhaps trusting many of its readers to already know about the basics of Bollywood and Asha Bhosle. But this way, you can miss some nuggets. Consider this graf on Asha in the Mercury News:

    She also became the wife of R.D. Burman, who by Harrington's formulation stands alongside other giants of 20th-century music. The ingenious songwriter and film composer has some 330 film scores to his credit. In many cases, it was Bhosle who ended up introducing his songs, such as ``Dum Maro Dum'' (Take Another Toke), a giddy international hit from Dev Anand's 1971 study of the hippies drawn to Nepal and India, ``Hare Rama, Hare Krishna.''

    This is expanded greatly in the Chronicle to:

    Tongues wagged when she married R. D. Burman in 1980. In fact, the two had met years before: He was first a fan while she was singing for his father, himself a leading composer. "I remember he was thin and short, and I of course looked older and was also quite fat," she laughs. "He just took my autograph and left." Years later, when he quit his studies to become a composer, she scolded him for not graduating. "He didn't like it -- he got up and left," she recalls.

    Later, she became one of his best-known collaborators. When rumors bubbled about their professional relationship turning romantic, conservative Indian society frowned on this middle-aged mother of three embarking on a love affair. "People don't like it if you live honestly," says Bhosle with a shrug. "They like hypocrisy and lies." She married Burman to end the swirling gossip around their relationship.

    But their collaboration set the music industry ablaze. Her son Anand remembers going to a concert in 1972 or 1973 where all the biggest stars of Indian music, including his aunt, Lata Mangeshkar, were performing. "Right at the end it was Mom's turn, and when she and R. D. Burman entered together the audience went berserk," says Anand.

    At that time their biggest hit, "Dum Maro Dum" (literally, "Take Another Toke") from a film about hippies, was banned on All India Radio. People listened to it on neighboring Sri Lanka's Radio Ceylon. When R. D. and Bhosle came on, says Anand, "it was as if Tom Jones had been performing and suddenly a superstar like Michael Jackson or Elvis Presley came on stage."

    Should be a great concert tomorrow. Looking forward to it.

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    - September 21, 2005 8:27 PM // Bay Area , Bollywood , Music

    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 ...

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

    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.

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