Devi Brown: Director's Note

Devi BrownWe're in the process of assembling a press kit for Devi Brown. The Director's Note is something that took me a while to put together. It's work in progress and subject to change but thought I would share regardless.

Devi Brown grew out of a simple observation: '70s blaxploitation and Bollywood masala movies are long lost twins separated at birth. Perhaps not identical twins, but certainly fraternal. Consider the similarities: over the top costumes. Sticking it to The Man from an Angry Young Man. Melodrama by the pound. Vavavoom heroines. Nutty sidekicks. And last but not least, the audio. Whatever the surface trimmings, the pulsating greasy funk at the core of soundtracks on both sides of the world knew no boundaries. Small wonder then beat producers, tired of digging in their crates of blaxploitation LPs, have now increasingly started to mine Bollywood soundtracks of the same period.

Speaking of music creation, Devi Brown is our attempt to apply some of the hip hop production aesthetics to filmmaking. The time honored approach to producing a hip hop track is to start with a collection of samples from various sources, process/chop them, overlay drums and other instruments as necessary, and weld into a cohesive whole via a rapped narrative. Similarly, source material for Devi Brown was assembled from a number of Bollywood films of the 70s and early 80s. These clips or rather "samples" were then trimmed, sequenced, processed, overlaid with additional soundtrack elements from blaxploitation classics, and topped with an appropriate voiceover serving as narrative. The final product is best described as a masala mashup.

Our approach allows us to deconstruct the original source material and have a little fun with some Bollywood conventions of the time. The heroine, often relegated to a side role, now becomes the centerpiece. The hero becomes the villain. Slow expositions are dramatically accelerated; many hours worth of movies are now packed into five minutes consisting only of the action stuff, the "good parts" version, as it were. Whether our effort is successful, whether something coherent has emerged from all this mashery, is ultimately up to the viewer to discern. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did putting it together. If not, at least it will be over quickly!

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- March 26, 2008 8:42 AM // Devi Brown

As The World Turns

When we first came out with Bollywood and Globalization a couple of years ago, it was tough going to get any real interest on the web. Shari's advisors at SFSU really liked it, we knew it made for a great addition to her portfolio and it was a great conversation piece. However, connecting with like minded people proved to be really difficult. It was like spitting into the Grand Canyon. Fast forward three years and much has changed. India's increasing global presence has led to much more awareness and interest in Bollywood and by extension, anything related to it. We are fairly sure this is one of the reasons we've found Devi Brown much easier to promote thus far, knock on wood!

None of this should take away from Andrew Leonard's excellent Salon blog How The World Works. Over the past two years, Andrew has assiduously tracked various global trends including the subprime loan mess, the quest for renewable energy, the Indian diaspora and Bollywood's increasing global footprint. It is his evident fascination with the latter that convinced me to gather up the gumption to drop him a line. I primarily wanted to talk about "Devi Brown" but I also included a link to Bollywood and Globalization.

As luck would have it, a) he dug both and b) I happened to write to him on the eve of the two year anniversary of his blog. In his words:

But one of the glories of blogging is that information flows in multiple directions. I'm not just sitting here finding out stuff -- it's also out there finding me.

Yesterday's Obama posting encouraged Soam and Shari Acharya, a San Francisco-based duo of multimedia producers, to introduce themselves to me by e-mail. They wanted to let me know about their film short "Devi Brown," which they described as a trailer for a "nonexistent film" that answers the question of "what happens when blaxploitation meets Bollywood."

Anyone who has been reading this blog for the last two years will know that such questions smack right into the sweet spot of my preoccupations, along with the politics of microfinance, carbon offsets, home-brewed biodiesel, and collateralized debt obligations. But it gets better, because the e-mail also linked to Shari Acharya's nifty online multimedia presentation "Bollywood and Globalization" -- an interactive distillation of her San Francisco State University industrial arts master's thesis. In her thesis, Acharya explores how the opening up of India's economy to global trade in the 1990s both challenged, and ultimately revitalized, Bollywood.

I can't wait to see "Devi Brown." I also have a rapidly expanding list of must-see Indian movies. I feel ... better informed.

Thanks a lot for the vote of confidence and for making us part of your two year anniversary celebration, Andrew!

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- December 9, 2007 12:20 AM // Bollywood , Devi Brown

Press For Devi Brown

Sandip Roy writes about the new Bollywood (The New Bollywood: Slick, Sophisticated and High-Tech) in New American Media and we're in it! Go read the article, it's good. Not because we're in it mind you but because it's a succinct summary of the current state of affairs in filmiland. First, some excerpts to set the context:

“The films are definitely far more slick and technically really smooth,” says Ivan Jaigirdar, artistic director of 3rd I, whose annual festival of South Asian cinema opens today in San Francisco. A festival that showcases “independent South Asian cinema” might once have turned its nose up at Bollywood’s crass commercialism. But no longer. “Bollywood is definitely part of the language of cinema coming out of South Asia,” says Jaigirdar.


Globalization has been good for Bollywood,” says India-West’s Tsering.

It’s opened up a whole new market in the diaspora. It’s also opened up the industry to a new pool of talent. Indians, like Manish Acharya, who went to film school in the United States, are returning to India with new ideas and tech savvy.

That's a good thing. In addition to there being more Acharyas in the industry (sadly, Manish is no relation - although I am certain if we spoke at greater length, somewhere some connection might emerge, particularly if he goes on to attain Shyamalan levels of success :-), the influx of talent from abroad and the emergence of multi screen film complexes has allowed the proliferation of multiplex films, something I've talked about before.

However, there are consequences. In addition to increased audience fragmentation,

“Rural India has fallen off the map,” says Shyam Benegal, probably India’s most famous art house director, who made a landmark rural quartet of films in the seventies. “When your revenues come from overseas or from the cities, it influences the kinds of films that are being made.”

Finally, there are issues such as external audience perception and others that crop up regularly in dishumdishum entries. This is where we come in:

But the bigger issue is Bollywood’s image. “Even the term Bollywood implies it’s a copy of something,” says filmmaker Soam Acharya. Bollywood’s image in the West is still all about camp and kitsch. Soam gave up on Bollywood years ago until his wife Shari reintroduced him to the films as a condition of their marriage.

Now their short film, Devi Brown, a blaxploitation-style twist on Bollywood action films of the seventies, plays with everything that he once hated about the industry. Stripping the macho hero out of the plot and overdubbing it, the Acharyas created Devi Brown, kickass heroine out to avenge the loss of both her honor and “her famous egg biryani recipe.” At four minutes, Soam says Devi Brown is “the deconstructed Cliff notes version” of a Bollywood film that has mayhem, romance and everything else. But more importantly, it’s been a way for a new generation to come home to an old faithful.

To be mentioned in the same column as Shyam Benegal and other industry heavyweights? We're still pinching ourselves.

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- November 18, 2007 9:49 AM // Bollywood , Devi Brown , Diaspora , Film

"Devi Brown" Plays At Third I South Asian Film Fest

Devi Brown

Do join us for the first public screening of Devi Brown.

About "Devi Brown"

What happens when blaxploitation meets Bollywood? Deshploitation of course! "Devi Brown" is a masala mashup, a trailer for a non existent film where the wah wah is seasoned liberally with doses of old school dishum dishum. Pack the funk in your Ambassador trunk with "Devi Brown!"

Credits: written, directed and produced by Soam and Shari Acharya
Length: 4 minutes 15 seconds
Year: 2007

Screening Details

Organizer: San Francisco South Asian Film Festival
Venue: 7:00 pm, Friday November 16th, Victoria Theater, San Francisco
Admission: $9
Program: Local South Asian short films

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- October 20, 2007 2:39 PM // Devi Brown

Devi Brown Update I

So, as a first step, we e-mailed out previews of "Devi Brown" to a couple of folks whose opinions I trust - filmmakers, film critic/curators, actors and acquaintances. At this stage, we weren't looking for sugarcoating. If we were going to hear harsh words, we would rather get them from this audience than pats on the head from friends (and snickers elsewhere).

After a day or so of nervous pacing, the responses began coming in. We were suitably mortified - the words of praise were better than we'd hoped! And, without even asking for it, "Devi Brown" was accepted to its first festival! That's right: "Devi Brown" will play at the Third I South Asian Film Festival in San Francisco this November! Needless to say, we're chuffed. Ivan - you rock :-)

Interestingly enough - this acceptance also brings up a conundrum that I expect many filmmakers face these days. Would it just be easier to upload the damn thing to some video sharing site somewhere and take your chances at being an overnight sensation? Or is it more worthwhile touring the festival circuit? The latter takes time and some money - the festival entry fees are non-trivial and festivals are spread out in time and location. It's impossible to attend them all, particularly if you, like us, have fairly intense day jobs. On the other hand, you do get to interact with a dedicated audience of film-lovers and make contacts therein. When you upload to YouTube, you are automatically competing with millions and millions of other videos of all types - fratboys lighting their farts, cats sleeping, Mexican gang bang boasts, movie clips, politics, etc etc. Without some kind of online marketing strategy, it's easy to get lost in the tsunami. Bear with us as we try to navigate our baby through all of this.

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- August 3, 2007 9:13 AM // Devi Brown

Announcing ... Devi Brown!

Devi Brown

Wondering what

Gunga Din
Aziz Ahmed
P. Godbole
Apu Nahasapeemapetition
Hrundi V. Bakshi
Ramu Gupta
Samir Nagheenanajar
Ben Jabituya

have in common? Hint: it's nothing to do with Devi Brown, our new masala mashup tribute to the deshploitation genre, an intersection of blaxploitation and Bollywood. Coming soon ...

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- July 22, 2007 10:32 PM // Bollywood , Devi Brown