Cross posted on sharidelic.

The SMS/Text shortcuts seem to have become the new lexicon of the 21st century. What started off as a language of convenience is gradually taking over the English language. I often get emails written in short-form, like the following (from a very sweet friend, I should add):

recd ur msg on fb.
nice to hear from u after so long.
u must have been busy with ur lil one.
see u n da lil one soon!

I have to admit that I find this extremely annoying — why bother to write when you don’t have time to spell out words? I haven’t figured out a way to politely convey that to this friend of mine. Perhaps she’ll get the point when she reads this post :-) It’s okay to use it for text messaging, for tweeting (to best utilize the 140 word-limit on Twitter) and maybe for a quick Facebook update but it’s not nice to write letters just with initials. I have also noticed that this trend is more popular in India as compared to the US — my inference is based on my experience of living in these two countries only. I’m guessing, it’s the influence of the rampant SMS culture there, which can probably translate to any heavy text using community across the globe.

This brilliant piece by an an Indian American Comedian Dalia McPhee called “What’s with all the initials?”, describes my sentiments perfectly! Here’s how it goes…

I got up and that was the good part.

Then I got on my PC to see CNN, then I IM-ed my friend JD on AOL, then my CPU went AWOL. And, JD’s all LOL, guess ur S.O.L. And, I’m LOL? LOL?, FU u SOB!!…

Check out the rest of her show along with four other talented Indian comedians on the Indian Comedy Tour DVD available on Netflix. You don't have to be an Indian to enjoy the jokes, they are pretty universal!

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Shari Acharya - June 3, 2010 12:06 PM // Humour , TV , Theater

East Indians in American Media

Cross posted on sharidelic.

Over the past few years we certainly have seen more South Asians in the American media though the term “South Asian” is becoming obsolete. I see more ads looking for “East Indians” than anything else. Not quite sure why but my guess is because India is becoming more prominent amongst the South Asian countries and hence taking over the identity. Anyway, though the numbers have risen, the roles in Hollywood still fall prey to stereotypes. As filmmakers, Soam and I have watched this evolution closely and have had long discussions on what the requirements might be for Indian actors in Hollywood. About 10 years ago, it would definitely be the short, dark, simple looking Indian guy who was non-threatening and could be a cab driver or, if he got lucky, a doctor. 9/11 opened up the floodgates for Indian actors to play terrorists. However, the cabbie, the doctor and the New York street vendor continue to appear.

The few actors who have been able to make a breakthrough in recent times are Naveen Andrews (Lost), Kal Penn (Harold and Kumar), Sendhil Ramamurthy (Heroes), Mindy Kaling (Office), Rekha Sharma (Battlestar Galactica) and Aziz Ansari (Parks and Recreation). Though Andrews was typecast as an Iraqi soldier (falling into the “terrorist category”), it was good to see Kumar’s character break away from the stereotype. That being said, Kal Penn played a doctor and a terrorist subsequently in House and 24….poor guy has to make his living after all! Ramamurthy plays a nerdy scientist in Heroes who drones on with profound insights….oh come on, can there be no normal Indian guy ever? I know his character has evolved from the first few episodes I saw but I haven’t re-visited Heroes since then, so pardon me if I’m blatantly wrong. As for Kaling, she created her role herself being the co-executive producer and writer of Office! The role of Sharma in Battlestar Galactica is probably the most experimental out of the lot, though she doesn’t quite play an East Indian. I haven’t seen Parks and Recreation yet but from what I’ve read Ansari’s character is pretty interesting. He is called Tom Haverford, again not an East Indian name. Color blind casting at work?

Apart from these few successes there seems to be very few opportunities for the majority of East Indian actors in Hollywood. I’d say it’s worse for the desi sistas – they have to make do with the occasional demand for a brown face in a “diverse” crowd or a bit role as an exotic girl friend/coworker.

Being an actor/model myself, I’ve been noticing the trend over the last few years. Though I’ve been cast as a doctor and as part of an East Indian family, most of my gigs were for ethnically ambiguous roles where they needed a non-Caucasian. For example, for one of my auditions from a few weeks ago, I was supposed to play an East Indian doctor for a well-known Pharmaceutical company. My agent hadn’t briefed me on the details but the moment I arrived at the casting, I was quite certain that I would not make a good fit. I was a little too glamorously dressed for the occasion. And here I was thinking in terms of Scrubs and House while choosing my wardrobe. Go figure! I guess the same rules don’t quite apply to East Indian actors! You would think all the talk of Bollywood and seeing Bollywood actresses like Aishwarya Rai and Freida Pinto in the media would change perspectives a bit? I guess it will take longer for the casting directors here to realize that East Indian actors/models can be “versatile” too! However, my experience is limited to San Francisco and doing this as a side profession, which means I don’t go to that many auditions. So, I welcome my desi brothers and sisters to fill me in on this, if I’m wrong.

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Shari Acharya - April 25, 2010 5:49 PM // Diaspora , Film , India , TV

Indians Can't Write For Indians?

Caught this comment from a Sendhil Ramamurthy (who plays Mohinder on Heroes) interview with The Onion's AVClub from 2007:

AVC: One thing they should be happy about is you've helped break stereotypes for Indian actors on TV. Do you think there's still an ingrained racism in the way Hollywood writes and casts for Indian actors?

SR: I think so. There isn't any question about that. I've managed to luck out that they've given me a fully rounded character on the show, but in general, yeah. And you know, now more than ever I get everything "Indian" that's ever written. It all comes across my desk. Since Heroes started I've probably had about 15 or 16 film scripts sent to me with Indian characters, and out of those maybe one was good. And the depressing thing is, they're all being written by Indians! Like, how many more scripts can there be about an arranged marriage or an abusive husband? It's the same thing over and over again. I think that Indian writers think this is the kind of thing that people want to see, and it's kind of sad. I literally fling those scripts across the room as soon as I start reading them. [Laughs.]

Fascinating, if somewhat downbeat, observation.

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- October 25, 2009 6:38 PM // Film , TV

The Office - Indian Remake?

#tv #india

From The Guardian, Ricky Gervais: 'Before The Office I never tried hard at anything':

It is about to be remade for India and his eyes light up at the prospect of another billion potential viewers – "I'm going to take executive producer on that one!" he says with his maniacal laugh.

Please please don't:

  • set it in a call center. Paper products thrive in India. Just step out into the streets and you'll see what I mean.
  • situate it in a major metropolitan area. How about Kanpur?

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- September 27, 2009 6:00 PM // TV

How Not To Run A Desi Restaurant

Have you ever been to a curry house to eat where the food is just no good?
I mean the naan is soggy, the makhani mushed and the tikka dry cardboard?"

Chef Gordon Ramsay is big in the UK and his program, "Kitchen Nightmares," where he dispenses tough love and witty zingers aplenty to ailing restaurants, a top show. In this particular segment, he takes on the Curry Lounge in Nottingham, a place torpedoed by an overambitious menu and decor that's a cross between "Bollywood Bling" and a lap dance club. Run by a salesman turned restaurateur, this establishment was apparently losing tons of money per week when it attracted the attentions of Mr. Ramsay.

Now, I am as suspicious of these rescue tales as anyone, but I found this particular show to be a fascinating watch regardless, not the least because what ailed the Curry Lounge was no different than desi restaurants in the SF Bay Area. Most Indian restaurants here, at one point, seemed to be run by folks new to the business. Moreover, their target audience is never desis like us, but rather the upscale, Caucasian crowd. In an effort to attract their target clientele, such places inevitably turn to "fusion" creations which run the risk of being inauthentic and thus end up pretty much alienating everybody. And meanwhile, the best places to go to for Indian food in the Peninsula region at least, end up being the Pakistani joints who at least don't try to be anything they're not.

Consequently, I wasn't skeptical about Ramsay intervening in the affairs of the Curry Lounge - after all, he is part of their target demographic. I was curious about his point of view though. And while his comments likening the naan over there to a "large pair of knickers" must have stung, I would imagine his criticism of their menu as being a dodgy DIY nightmare (apparently they allowed you to mix and match your own curry dish) and the food as being oily, dry and bland hurt more. Moreover, his discovery of the kitchen using tinned pineapple, store bought curry paste and pre-made frozen samosas was equally horrifying.

I enjoyed the changes Ramsay brought to the joint and his efforts at out of the box thinking in terms of marketing. While his effort to refashion the Curry Lounge menu into simpler, more authentic dishes was straightforward, I found his idea to introduce the notion of tiffin lunch deliveries fascinating. Certainly non obvious - the easy choice would have been to go buffet. In addition, hiring ladies versed in the art of Bollywood dance and parading them up and down the streets of Nottingham is a stunt that, I would daresay, not occur to most Indian restaurants as a way of drumming up business. While tacky, again, this is something that would appeal to the target audience. In addition, Ramsay is not afraid to consult his friends that are more knowledgeable as regards desi khana and that lends some weight to the proceedings.

There's more in the actual program including a power struggle and a taste test that Ramsay tries on the restaurant stuff where they discover they themselves can't tell any of the dishes apart. Have fun!

Part 1 (no embedding, sadly).

Part 2

Part 3

This particular episode was a big hit in the UK apparently:

The audience for Channel 4's Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares hit a series high of 4.3 million last night, Tuesday December 11.

Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, which last night featured a curry restaurant in Nottingham, drew an 18% share of the audience between 9pm and 10pm, ahead of the series' 15% average, according to unofficial overnight ratings.

The current series of Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares debuted with 3.9 million on October 30 but fell to as low as 2.5 million and a 10% share on November 20. It has since recovered, hitting a previous high of 4 million two weeks ago.

Makes you wonder why Ramsay waited so long to feature an Indian restaurant in his program. I suppose the hunger for all things curry in the UK continues unabated.


Manoj writes:

You'd be interested to know that Ramsay did work on an Indian restaurant on the American version (Dillons, NYC). Sounds similar to the Nottingham setup. Health violations galore, blah menu and a power struggle.

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- May 9, 2009 3:56 PM // Food , TV

What's In A Name?

A little while back, I wrote about the naming process for our son, Virj, and I hoped:

Now, if everyone would only pronounce it properly :-)

I thought I was being facetious. Hard to go wrong with something so succinct, right? It's been four months now, so what's been our experience?

Amongst folks originating from the subcontinent there wasn't a problem. More or less perfect enunciation every time. However, for everyone else, particularly if they happened to have been born and brought up in the USA and had little or no exposure to Indian culture, it was more hit and miss. Correct pronunciation is "veerj" with stress on the "e" sound. But we were equally likely to get "verge" as in parents on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I exaggerate but imagine our plight. The early months of parenthood are particularly brutal - add to that regrets about picking a name that I thought was bulletproof, but one that turned out to have loopholes regardless - it certainly doesn't help.

At this juncture, we found the following skit from the hit BBC show Goodness Gracious Me particularly calming. The sketch, which came out around 1998 or so, is eerily prescient. We have Jonathan moving from the UK to join a firm in India where they have trouble with his name:

I don't see you progressing in this firm with a name like that!

In today's mobile, intertwined, economically shifting world, there's really no guarantee our son will choose or even necessarily be able to live in the USA. Consequently, we tried to pick a name for all seasons and continents. On the whole, we're pleased.

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- March 29, 2008 3:08 PM // Diaspora , TV , Virj

Rajesh Is Like Steve

A headnod to Scrubs, consistently one of the funniest and most integrated shows on TV. Scrubs may not feature desis or other Asians in the meatiest roles, but it never condescends to any race, not the colored ones anyway. Engaged as I was in a quest to name my son, I found the following exchange particularly hilarious. This is from Season 6, episode 3 ("My Coffee"):

Scrubs Season 6

[JD and Turk have just finished a game of basketball]

JD: Man we got smoked. That's what you get for playing a bunch of Gs from the hood.

Turk: Those guys are Indian.

JD: So Rajesh isn't one of those cool black homie names like Anfernee?

Turk: No, Rajesh is like Steve in India

JD: Oh.

Turk: Yeah.

Scrubs Season 6

[Later in the scene]

Vijay: Could you guys look at my shoulder? I tweaked it pretty good

JD: Come on Vijay, first you dunk on me and yell "who's your bitch!" and now you want free medical advice. How did I not know these guys were Indian?

[Vijay holds out some money]

Vijay: I'll give you 20 bucks!

JD: I am sorry my friend, that's just unethical.

[Vijay turns to Turk who takes the money]

Turk: Done and done!

Free medical advice indeed. Ha ha!

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- December 10, 2007 11:47 PM // Diaspora , TV

Desi Grocery Could Save Veronica Mars

Some of you might be familiar with Veronica Mars, the chick detective show that, after struggling for a couple of seasons, was finally dispatched to the great TV in the sky. However, dedicated fans, following the lead of another recently axed yet resurrected show, Jericho, have launched a campaign to bring their show back. In this, they've found a very unlikely ally indeed: an Indian grocery store based in Houston. Key here is the fact that a) TheIndianFoodStore has an online storefront and b) features British imports including candies. Yep, the idea is for fans to buy Mars bars from here and have them fedex'ed to the CW headquarters ASAP. The initial surge caught the store by surprise, but, to their credit, they adjusted quickly in true web 2.0 style. More info from their freshly launched "Bars From Mars" campaign:

I'll be honest, we've never watched the show before but WOW, we are impressed! Your enthusiasm and support for the show has awed us all! I have been in contact with some of you in the past day or two and I realized how powerful this has become! Apparently, CBS's Jericho had a similar campaign and it worked! I'm fired up to make this work too!

If you are curious, we are a small family business located in Houston, TX that just recently started our online operations. We have been importing from India and England for several years now and primarily distribute to retail stores and grocery stores around the country. We have yet to become profitable in this aspect of our operation, but this publicity will certainly help! More importantly, I am so happy that I am involved in this, especially since I have been able to communicate with so many fans directly. Once things settle down a little, I'll be sure to watch all of the shows in the past seasons!

As we attempt to inform you with updates on the Amazon website, we are calling all distributors we know around the country trying to buy Mars Bars. (We had to raise the prices $.20 just to reflect this, so we apologize for this!). I've created this blog to get fans to post their comments and give us suggestions on how we can improve this. We've only got until Monday to make this work since it will take some time for FedEx to arrive to their facility! (By the way, can anyone get a video of the FedEx driver pulling into the CW facility so we can show all the fans?)

And in a later update, they inform us they are now considering Snickers Almond Bars:

Someone in the comment section gave us a suggestion that Snickers Almond Bars are the same as Mars Bars and they prominently display a "Mars" logo. If the majority agrees, we can try to arrange 4-5 thousand bars of that and send it along with this big shipment. Of course, these are more readily available (and cheaper!) than the Mars Bars. So, if everyone can give us a show of support for this, we can look into it and get it (hopefully!) arranged. Once the Mars bars run out, we will lower the price, of course, to reflect the lower cost.

Fast turnaround indeed! I was never a big fan of the show myself but my best wishes to the enterprising fans, the producers and to the little desi store that could.

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- June 7, 2007 7:51 PM // Food , TV

House Divided

House MD Season 2

There was an article in Salon a couple of weeks ago that took the Fox TV show, House, to task for its implausibility. In summary:

I call "House's" world the Beautiful Hospital. There are the wide, bright hallways, miles of floor-to-ceiling glass, and the many private, luxurious patient rooms (none of which appear to belong inside the hulking brick institution seen in the bird's-eye credits). Mostly it is a Beautiful Hospital because it is staffed almost entirely by a trio of gorgeous and impossibly brilliant physicians. No one else works at the Beautiful Hospital except a few secondary gorgeous and brilliant doctors and an ever-changing cast of extras whose only job is walking down the hallways in scrubs.

By my incomplete count, the three handsome doctors who work under House -- Cameron, Chase and Foreman -- all sadly lacking a sense of humor, are educated in the entire gamut of medical specialties, from brain surgery to dermatology to obstetrics. Their patients have diseases like adrenoleukodystrophy, cervical spondylosis and Miller-Fisher syndrome; a surprising number wind up getting experimental surgeries, organ transplants and drugs not on the FDA-approved list. (On "House," the correct diagnosis always follows a lot of wrong ones and the patient's near death at the hands of the brilliant diagnosticians.)

I just finished Seasons one and two of House on DVD and I would concur with most of the slings and arrows hurled. Not that it stops my enjoyment of the show which I actually first started viewing on recommendation of my brother, the cardiologist (Jewish mother-like reference intentional). After all, House MD rests on two pillars; first is Gregory House, played with bug eyed brilliance by the former Bertie Wooster himself, Stephen Fry. The second column is whatever malevolent spitting critter is starring as the disease of the week. Consequently, none of the crticisms levelled in the article actually detracts from the show, IMHO. No, my problem with House is this: for a show that purports to be set in Jersey, there are no desis in the hospital.

No Indians in Princeton-Plainsboro. Are you kidding me? This is is not Montana or Wyoming, this is the Garden State we're talking about here, the original desi wonderland, the place where "American Born Confused Desis Emigrated From Gujarat Housed In Jersey" comes from! Stir in the first gen immigrant parents' mentality of sending their kids to med school if possible (I should know :-), and wonder why is it that a hospital series set in the middle of Jersey doesn't have a single desi doctor or patient in its first two seasons? That I find hard to believe!

However, this is not to say India itself doesn't make any notable appearances. Reference to vindaloo curry aside, there is an episode in Season two which starts with House poring over a Hindi journal on neuroscience. I have no idea whether any such publication exists but subsequently that episode then segues into a discussion of the prevalence of clinical trials in India and on the questionable ethics thereof. Kudos for bringing that up at least.

House MD Season 2
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- May 20, 2007 9:50 AM // TV

Brown Power or Kung Fu? - Hollywood Tries To Pick

Variety writes about the ongoing debate in Hollywood regarding where to invest next. India or China?

Nearly a decade ago, Sony opened a Chinese-language production office in Hong Kong. But the unit has had trouble finding success on the scale of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." In fact, it hasn't made a movie in the past two years.

By contrast, India has proven bountiful for Sony Entertainment Television, which has become an established TV player in the country and is now expanding from movie buyer into local production.

Kaiju Shakedown elaborates more on the difficulties facing Hollywood in China:

China is the world’s biggest movie market but with four times the population of the United States it only has 2,396 movie screens, one fifteenth of America’s 38,000. Hollywood is eager to sell movies to what it views as an underserved market, but China only allows 20 foreign movies to be imported each year. Hollywood wants to increase the screen count by building multiplex chains across rural China, but China won’t allow foreign companies to own more than 49% of cinemas outside of the seven major cities. Hollywood is desperate to stamp out piracy, but China’s efforts to cooperate are sporadic at best. And so China is the beautiful, unattainable market that drives Hollywood crazy.

China does its best to flummox its suitor. Their State Administration of Radio, Film and Television is a massive Mao-era bureaucracy that operates like an eccentric uncle.

They recently baffled the world by banning all foreign movies that mix live action and animation, such as “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and “Space Jams”. Then they ruffled feathers further by yanking “The Da Vinci Code” from theaters at the peak of its successful run, with no explanations given.

In addition to being more open, India offers a number of additional advantages. From Variety:

  • Due to a wave of multiplex construction, the theatrical market is expanding. That's allowing the first steps toward nationwide (rather than state by state) releasing.
  • The pay TV market may boom if mandatory set-top decoders allow subscription revenues to flow to rights owners, rather than mom-and-pop cable pirates. The country is expected to have five DTH satellite platforms by the end of 2007.
  • The development of an organized retail sector of chain stores and supermarkets is driving growth of home entertainment, even as it looks wobbly in the rest of the world.
  • With cell phone numbers growing at more than 5 million per month, mobile entertainment is delivering real gaming and music returns. Because TV penetration is low compared with other, more developed countries, including China, some analysts expect mobile ownership to even outstrip TV.

Other distribution channels like Madhouse and SeventyMM are also emerging. Both adopt the Netflix model with one crucial difference - DVDs are not delivered by mail (the public mail service is utterly unreliable) but via private courier services.

However, as Variety notes, all is not peachykeen in the Indian market. Roadblocks remain:

India's big drawback has been that the level of overall economic development is significantly behind China and its entertainment industry is largely isolated from the rest of the world. Local-language movies account for 95% of the box office, and the soundtracks of Bollywood dominate the music industry.


Indian regulators are just as capable of infuriating congloms. Barely a month had passed after a new policy was put in place for mandatory conditional access systems, or set-top boxes, in order to curb cable TV theft by mom-and-pop pirates. But then regulators decreed that pay channels should not be allowed to charge more than 1 rupee (2 cents) per month, in order that the poor also can afford their shows.

Appeals are ongoing, but the notion that either country will enact reforms for the benefit of foreign interests is somewhat ridiculous.

In the big picture, however, the Indian film industry still lags behind that of China in the global sweepstakes:

Although Bollywood is bigger in absolute terms, the Chinese industry has been more successful on a world scale.

"The Chinese films generally have had larger success outside of China than the Indian pictures have had outside of India," says Sony's Michael Lynton. "The market outside India is largely people who are part of the Indian diaspora."

True enough. That's why, while all the cine buffs keep track of Zhang Yimou's latest release (Curse of the Golden Flower), events like Dhoom 2 racking up close to a million bucks in the USA over Thanksgiving weekend while playing in just a handful of screens, continue to surprise. I'm not saying the film is any good mind you - but it just goes to show the power of the brown dollar (and rupee for that matter) cannot be underestimated.

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- February 10, 2007 11:46 AM // Bollywood , Diaspora , Film , India , TV

Asian Superheroes

Jeff Yang has an excellent article in the Chronicle today summarizing the state of Asian superheroes. He talks about the fascination Asian American kids have with superheroes:

"Comics have always been a refuge for kids who are shy or socially unconfident," says Chow. "The storylines of many titles, like 'Spiderman,' are all about outcasts who are also heroes. For many Asian Americans, the parallels with a title like 'X-Men' are really strong: You grow up in an all-white neighborhood, you feel like an outsider, and then when you go away to school, you meet other people like yourself, you discover your secret heritage, this thing inside you that makes you special. Even if you can't shoot lasers out of your eyes. And I think that's why so much of the fan base is Asian American kids -- go to a comic-book convention, a quarter of the kids are Asian."

And of the special fascination with Superman:

Superman has always appealed to Asian Americans. He has dark hair, his public identity is a meek guy with glasses, he's from a faraway place -- why not? ("Sure there are parallels," says Hama. "But remember he was created by [Jerry] Siegel and [Joe] Shuster. He's a Jewish immigrant fantasy." Jewish, Asian -- same difference.)

I've always been partial to Spiderman myself, perhaps because unlike Superman, Spiderman is human in origin, cursed with powers he cannot control, always self-questioning and chock full of raging hormones. If that's not the quintessential adolescent, I don't know what is. Perhaps other desis feel the same way, why else would there be an Indian version of Spiderman? Ironically enough, the artwork is done in Bangalore.

One more interesting tidbit from the original article:

The real joy, however, may come in the fall, when NBC debuts its new sci-fi-esque thriller "Heroes," about a bunch of normal folk who discover that they have paranormal powers. Japanese office worker Hiro Nakamura, played by Masi Oka, is a member of the super-ized select, while Sendhil Ramamurthy plays Mohinder Suresh, the researcher who uncovers the secret of the hidden talents among us. Wow, two Asian American males in a 10-person ensemble cast -- the success of "Lost" is really revamping the television landscape.

This reminds me of Unbreakable, M. Night Shymalan's tribute to comics, but Alan Sepinwall feels otherwise:

The idea of "What would happen if people got super powers in the real world?" has been done plenty of times before, from "Watchmen" to "Unbreakable," but Kring has a nice spin on it: not nearly as solemn and pretentious as "Unbreakable," but serious enough that it doesn't seem like camp. I particularly liked Masi Oka as the Japanese hero (named Hiro, of course) and Sendhil Ramamurthy as an Indian genetics professor obsessed with proving that humans can evolve into superhumans. Also, director David Semel finds a way to shoot certain scenes as if they were comic book panels without cribbing the visual style of Ang Lee's "Hulk."

Could be interesting!

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- June 1, 2006 8:44 PM // Diaspora , TV

Tasteful Dishonor

Sorry, couldn't resist! Here's an article from Mid-Day regarding future plot points in an Indian TV serial. Apparently,

Sonal, the creative head for the show, confirmed that there would be a rape scene in the serial soon.

Well, it must be sweeps week over there then! But it's the "actress'" comments on this matter that has to be read to be believed:

Snigdha, too, confirmed the development. "Yes, we will be shooting a rape sequence."

It's a sequence, you see. Like a mathematical progression or a Japanese haiku.

"But I am not aware of Mihir's position on this. I will think about it, when I have to do it."

Position, eh? Are they trying to decide between the "yawning position", the "twining position", "the splitting of a bamboo" or just plain missionary?

"As an actress, I am required to be ready to deliver what's asked of me. However, I will make sure that it's done aesthetically, and is in good taste."

How does one film such a scene tastefully? Perhaps, the rapist will gently remove her clothing and fold them neatly before he proceeds? Just imagine:

The bed is a 16th century piece with chunky wooden bedposts carved by artisans from Jodhpur. The bed sheets are 300 thread count premium egyptian cotton and the walls are painted a soothing pashmina blue to evoke a sense of peace and harmony. Peacocks wander in the courtyard. Debussy or Beethoven's Midnight Sonata tinkles in the background.

It will be the classiest violation ever filmed.


Note:: Co-written with Amar Parikh.

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- May 19, 2006 7:41 PM // TV

Making It In LA

In a piece in Salon, veteran actor turned author, Peter Birkenhead, talks about the difficulty of making it in LA:

But I got better. I did some recurring roles on a few shows, and I was a guest star on a bunch of others. I even did another Steven Bochco show, "NYPD Blue," playing a fast-talking schmuck of a stockbroker (hey, wait a minute …), whom Dennis Franz "liked" for a murder, and I started settling into the Los Angeles version of the working actor's life.

Here's what that life is like: Only 5 percent of people who call themselves actors earn enough each year from acting to support themselves. So the number of actors who drive to work in a Porsche, or home through ornate electronic gates, is microscopic. I drive a Honda Hybrid, and I park it on the street in front of my apartment building. I did own a house once, with my ex-wife, but home ownership and marriage are pretty fragile things for people who sometimes wonder if they'll ever work again.

In response, a letter writer, only identifying herself as the wife of a desi actor in LA, confesses:

This is such a true observation. I support my husband's choice of career 100% (and thankfully, I have a great and steady job of my own). But life often feels like a rollercoaster for us, with my husband's career completely at the whim of casting directors who are failed actors/writers/directors themselves. He has a great audition for a really good part, and then we play the waiting game, and then we don't hear anything after 3 days, and then by day 4 or 5, I can see the disappointment on his face. It hurts my heart, even though I know he has better defense mechanisms than I do. We are also not white -- our families are from India --and the racist/stereotypical comments he gets really blow our mind. One casting director told him he's "not Indian enough" and proceeded to cast a very dark skinned, shorter Indian man with thick lips for that same part. The conceptions about race and ethnicity are so narrow, and casting directors are sometimes the most uneducated when it comes to the tremendous diversity out there in the real world.

This is something we've noticed - the desis cast in TV shows here invariably tend to be short, dark skinned with hilariously fake Indian accents, more a reflection of US perceptions of Indians rather than being representative of desis as a whole. You'd think the casting directors never met anyone from Punjab! Said wife continues:

The thing that keeps us going, with all of this, is his passion for the craft, our belief that he can and will succeed, and the support of family and friends. And a sense of humor about all the b.s. that you do experience in this career! We keep ourselves entertained with the foibles of big stars -- people that he's worked with on various tv shows. Which actor wears a tooth whitening retainer in between each and every take? Which actor can't pronounce any names at all? Which actor fumbles medical jargon really badly, and she works on a hospital drama?

Not Parminder Nagra, surely?

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- March 28, 2006 9:12 PM // TV

The Rise of Ethnic Channels

Recently, the Chronicle ran a nice article on the recent emergence of "ethnic" channels. The reasons seem to be simple economics:

... ethnic Asian American peers have quietly become the target audience for a growing number of media outlets, including Imaginasian TV, AZN TV, American Desi and MTV. "Asian Americans are the third-largest ethnic group in the country. They happen to be the fastest-growing group in the U.S.," says Nusrat Durrani, the 45-year-old general manager/senior vice president of MTV World. "More importantly, though, it's a very influential audience. It's the most educated, it's also the most tech-savvy, and it is an underserved audience."

Most of this activity has been quite recent and there's more on the way:

To fill the gap in the market, the past two years have seen a flurry of firsts. In August 2004, Imaginasian TV became the first 24-hour, seven-day-a-week Asian American channel. Comcast soon followed, transforming its International Channel into the primarily English-language AZN TV. American Desi, aimed at South Asian Americans, premiered in December 2004 on the Dish Network. Durrani's efforts at MTV World include MTV Desi, which launched in July, and Chi, which launched Dec. 6. MTV K, for Korean Americans, will premiere later this year, and a fourth channel is in development.

Some background on Nusrat Durrani, the biggest backer of this effort at MTV:

A native of Lucknow, India, raised on the sounds of Begum Akhtar and Osibisa, Cliff Richard and Little Richard, Durrani embodies a casual sort of progressive cool. He dresses in black-on-black high-end denim and keeps his hair in a fashionable George Harrison mop top. A poster for D.A. Pennebaker's Dylan film "Don't Look Back" that hangs in his office seems to have been chosen not just for what it signifies but also because its black-and-white op-art design nicely matches his outfit.

Durrani describes his first encounter with MTV in 1993 as something of an awakening. Although he had a comfortable job in marketing at Honda in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, he uprooted his family and moved to New York City in order to land a job at MTV. He started as an unpaid intern. At the end of 2004, he was named the head of MTV World.

Nice work if you can create it! Hats off to Nusrat for spotting the gap in the market and believing in it enough to take such a large risk. As for the channels themselves, they still face an uphill struggle, however, and there's been at least one casualty already:

But building from boutiques to big business is difficult work. The upstart Imaginasian has had to carve out cable contracts city by city, and is still available in San Francisco only on Comcast Channel 28 on weekday evenings and late-night weekends. Even with MTV's muscle, both MTV Desi and MTV Chi are sold only as part of ethnic-specific "international" packages. In a more troubling development, parent company Comcast fired most of AZN's staff a day after MTV Chi's launch. The network still broadcasts a trickle of new content, but many insiders worry that Comcast officials have already decided that a network-scale business model is premature.

The circumstances of the cancellation were apparently quite ironic:

Last Thursday, some of the biggest names in cable television gathered in the grand ballroom of Manhattan's Marriott Marquis to celebrate the man who's arguably the biggest name of all: Brian Roberts, CEO and chairman of Comcast, the industry's reigning colossus. The occasion was the 25th anniversary of the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications, an organization that has spent the past quarter-century helping to bring diversity to cable TV, both on screen and behind the scenes.

According to president Manish Jha, NAMIC named Roberts as recipient of its Silver Anniversary tribute not just because of his leadership in hiring and promoting minorities at Comcast but also because of his dedication to providing unique multicultural programming, as demonstrated by the company's recent launch of two highly touted new channels: TVOne, a joint venture with African American radio powerhouse RadioOne, and AZN TV, the "Network for Asian America." "We wanted to recognize this publicly," said Jha, when reached before the event. "We're pleased and we'd like to see this kind of commitment continue."

However, unknown to the folks at AZN, a purge was apparently already in the works:

But at the event, the mood at the AZN TV table was oddly strained; executives seemed less than festive. And then came the highlight of the program: a candid live interview with Roberts. "As Brian was speaking, he talked a lot about TVOne, going on and on about how great it was," says one AZN guest, who declined to be identified by name. "He basically didn't mention AZN at all. All of the invited guests at the table were looking around, thinking, 'What's going on?' It was quite surreal."

The surreality went deeper than AZN's guests knew. According to multiple sources -- who requested anonymity because severance and transition details are not yet final -- a hard decision had been made more than two weeks earlier: The network was slated to be stripped down to a minimal operational team, its senior creative staff eliminated and its ambitious plans to produce a rich stream of original content by and for Asian Americans terminated, all before even a single season of programming ever aired.

The reason for the termination may have been more to do with arcane IRS regulations than the size of the Asian American market:

And hidden behind the hype and glory of AZN's launch were some financial intricacies that suggest the channel is ultimately as valuable to Comcast dead as alive, if not more so. This is because the deal that landed the channel in Comcast's lap was actually part of an intricate fiscal tango in which Comcast received $545 million in tax-free cash, called a "cash-rich split-off."

So, the jury's still out on the viability of the channels. However, the MTV properties may have a slightly easier time of it. MTV Desi, for example, certainly leverages off of some shows from MTV India. Though MTV Desi probably programs more South Asian Massive style of music, both MTV Desi and India still have Bollywood in common (in terms of audience sensibilities and preferences). Ditto for the other MTV channels - the huge audience for J-Pop, Mandopop and Cantopop in the USA probably ensures production costs are lower because of shared programming from their MTV Pacific counterparts. Nonetheless, it's a challenge, to say the least. However, given MTV's previous track record for trend spotting, it'll be tough to bet against them.

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- February 28, 2006 5:47 PM // Diaspora , Music , TV

Lost and 9/11

Please note, whatever thoughts I have on this series comes after viewing Season One on DVD. I haven't seen any part of Season Two (currently on primetime TV) yet.

Initially, I went into Lost expecting a cross between Survivor and Gilligan's Island. While there were elements of both, the show very quickly staked out its own ground. After a strong opening salvo of episodes, it got bogged down in relationship minutae before recovering for the season finale (which proved to be a riddle wrapped up in an enigma). Soggy middle notwithstanding, Lost's basic premise made for compelling viewing. Beyond the soap opera of the plane survivors, the bikini and beefcake shots and the Lord of the Flies type shenangians, there was something else about the show that resonated deeply with the US audience (and still does). I believe it to be this: the core concept of Lost is a metaphor of the USA's post 9/11 predicament.

The plane strikes of 9/11 thrust the USA in uncharted waters. Suddenly, the world as we knew it had changed. It was full of enemies that could be nowhere and everywhere at the same time. The old laws no longer seemed to apply. Yet, the outpouring of sympathy and affection for the US after the attack, seemed to offer a second chance at creating a new world order, of overcoming whatever "blowback" type policies that had at least partly led to this tragedy. Unfortunately, the subsequent policies of the US government led to the increasing isolation of the country from the rest of the world. Furthermore, within the land itself, a diverse group of people had to find a way of communicating, cooperating and, ultimately, rising above the politics of division and suspicion.

Similarly, Lost starts off with a plane crash, hurtling its motley group of survivors into an island beset by invisible monsters and occurrences that just do not make sense. Polar bears in a tropical island anyone? Additionally, throughout the course of the first season, many of the survivors come to the conclusion they are getting a second chance to right whatever wrong they wrought in their pre-crash lives. This is particularly true of the character Locke who finds himself mysteriously cured of his paralysis immediately after the landing. The survivors themselves represent a cross section of the US population and their initial squabbles and mutual suspicions again look painfully familiar. Witness the early vituperation towards Sayed the Iraqi and the Korean couple who cannot speak English.

Glen Fuller has a great post on the post 9/11 genre of TV shows. His thoughts on Lost are similar:

'We have to get along' trope

The last one to hit my radar is the Lost tv series. Lost is so far the ultimate post-9/11 tv show. My mind boggles at how the creators/writers came up with a tv show that has such a homologous relation to the affective temperament of the post-9/11 audience. Lost is produced for the ABC tv network, filmed on location in Hawaii, and was first broadcast on the 22 September, 2004. The survivors of a plane crash have to learn to 'get along'; from the show's official website:

The band of friends, family, enemies and strangers must work together against the cruel weather and harsh terrain if they want to stay alive. But the island holds many secrets, including the intense howls of the mysterious creatures stalking the jungle, which fill them all with fear.

To trace a line in the universe of Lost and a line in the historical circumstances of 9/11 is very easy.

Lost (Historical circumstances of 9/11)

Plane leaves Sydney. (2000 Sydney Olympics last big global event before 'War on Terror.')

Goes off course, but no one from the 'outside world' knows it because the radio is broken. (Warning signs for a catastrophe go unheaded by the 'government'; failure of 'intelligence services.')

Plane crash. (9/11.)

48 passengers survive. Each major ethnic, racial and class group has some form of representation. (Global response to 9/11 transcended most cultural and political divisions.)

Survivors in constant terror from the strange beasts of the island. ('Survivors' of 9/11 are plunged into a global 'War on Terror.')

And so on. There are countless parallels. My brain hurts and if you watch the show you can find more specific examples.

However, so busy were the Lost creators in setting up their microcosm and the character conflicts and backstories, they didn't seem to get much of a chance to comment on the current state of affairs in the USA. Of course, the timeline gets in the way because the first season of Lost occurs over the first month of the plane crash. It also doesn't make aesthetic sense - setting up a parallel universe is fine but mirroring all the subsequent events is too limiting. However, the season one finale does hint at the start of a schism between Locke, the man of faith and visions, and Jack, the rational man of science. Perhaps this is a commentary on the current US political climate (evolution vs. intelligent design, for example)? There are other allusions that develop late on in the season as well - consider the terrorist acts by "The Others" and the use of torture by the survivors themselves. One theme I did not see much of though was how fear could be used to manipulate folks for your own gains. Perhaps there'll be more of that next season. That the possibility is still open is a measure of the richness of the show's concept.

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- January 5, 2006 6:43 PM // TV


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

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

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

In addition:

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

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

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

It's the promise of a pot of gold.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Humble suggestions for TV shows

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

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

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

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

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