But will anyone change the spelling of a name?

Rediff reports that AB 2.0 and the glacial Miss Ash  -  Bachchans père et mère too –  have been to see a particular astrologer several times while filming Guru, and word has been leaked that the World’s Most Beautiful Couple will tie the knot in 2007.

All well and good, but I want to know if either half of the power duo  will have to change the spelling of  his or her  name.   (A particular favorite topic of mine to harp on, as well as yer man in Bombay, Manish.)

The mind boggles at the possibilities….Aishwarya Rye….Abeeshek…..  Ashwarrior… Ashworrier…Abhisheik….

IAAC Film Festival Line-up

masthead%202 IAAC Film Festival Line up  

Here are the titles being screened at  the Indo-American Arts Council Sixth Film Festival.  

The opening night film is Mira Nair’s The Namesake on Wednesday night, the 1st of November, and the closing night film (on Sunday, 5th of November) is Backwaters, set in Kerala.  

At the press conference hosted at the Indian Consulate last week, a large  number of the fimmakers were present, and tantalizing 60-second clips of the movies were shown.

Now if i can just clone myself a few times before next weekend.  


Art Malik in NYC

art%20malik%20 %20NHD%202 Art Malik in NYC

Well, on screen at least.  

He was  Hari Kumar in the Beeb’s Jewel in the Crown.    Later he went on to do the best book-on-tape I’ll ever own (The Moor’s Last Sigh), and  since then is almost never seen in anything in the U.S. (let’s not mention that terrorist turn in a certain movie with Aaaahnold the Governator).

Next week, I’ll finally get my Art Malik fix, albeit a small one.   The Indo-American Arts Council’s Film Festival kicks off on Wednesday (more on that very soon), and nestled in there, among 50+ feature and short films, is Pratibha Parmar’s  Nina’s Heavenly Delights.  

The movie promises to be a tale of love set in Glasgow.   One half of the couple is Nina Shah,  the daughter of an Indian restaurant owner, who returns after her father’s death to sort out a lot of things, and participate in a Best of the West curry competition.

NHD%202 Art Malik in NYC  

That‘s an interesting sub-set of the desi community I never thought much about before: Indian – Scots mix.    Like my favorite cold weather aperitif: a glass of Knockando, neat, with some moong dal.

All well and good, but I have one burning question:   does  Art wear  a kilt in this movie?

Happy Diwali !

 Happy Diwali !

Don – the Chase Begins Again

Don%202006,%202 Don   the Chase Begins Again

Well, who knew?

My only motivation for going to  theater tonight were (1) the excitement of  seeing a Diwali hit on Thursday night at 8pm (EST) while India is  still  waking up and the cinemas there have yet to open, and (2) the  picturization of the Ganapati Morya Re  song.  

I mean, come on, how do you re-do an Amitabh Bachchan film, especially one as cool and campy as the original 1978 Don, and that, while the Master himself is still alive and romancing 18-year-old heroines?   Then, pile on that the extreme disappointment of SRK in Kabhi Alvida, and one  doesn’t have very high expectations as one climbs up to the  stadium seats in the AMC theater in the heart of Times Square.

But wait,  only minutes into the movie I realized I had underestimated  how much I would enjoy Don – the Chase Begins Again.    It’s not a Deep and Meaningful Film, but nor do we expect it to be.    It’s one fun ride.   And as one friend commented as we left the cinema “You forget you’re watching a Hindi movie.”

srk%20in%20black%202 Don   the Chase Begins Again

From the opening scene in Paris,  a doublecross drug deal with Chunky Pandey (looking very trippy), Shahrukh Khan is clearly not the nice boy we’ve seen in so many earlier movies.   Two negative roles in two of the biggest releases in  one year.    On the brink of 41,  perhaps he’s seeking to do  new things, or rather, go back to his roots, given that some of his earlier roles were negative (Baazigar and Darr).   The interesting thing is, whereas in Kabhi Alvida he was a loose, uncontrolled mess, in Don, SRK  reins himself in and behaves like someone driving a Maserati around the hilly twists of Monte Carlo.

(Interesting to note, when SRK  is first seen  on the screen, we behold  only his lips, poised over a cup at a Paris cafe, and just that sight provoked whistles in the theater tonight.)

The opening credits are no match for acid-toned, thwacka-wacka, fabulous ’70s original titles, but these ones, all techno  green and black, zoom and loop with the names of the ensemble, in an architecture that foreshadows the highways and on- and off-ramps that encircle modern day Kuala Lumpur, where  80% of the film takes place.

We hear in a briefing made to Malaysian cops by Indian Chief Inspector Desilva (Boman Irani), some tale about a guy named Boris who emerged after the break-up of the Soviet Union and who formed a major drug ring, whose 2 top bhais are based in KL.   Hamara Don, it turns out, is the  man who manages business for one,  Singhania.  

kareena%202 Don   the Chase Begins Again

Shortly after, Kareena Kapoor makes her brief appearance, as  the fiancée of one of Don’s thugs, who’s quitting the business to run away with her.   Oh, too late,  Don finds out and kills him, thereby setting Kareena on the path of revenge, as she attempts to step into the biggest strappy dance sandals in Bollywood, namely those of our  beloved Helen.

yeh%20mera%20dil%202 Don   the Chase Begins Again

It’s an impossibly tall order.   There’s just no match for Helen in that white outfit and blue contact lenses slinking along the shag carpet toward the sullen and unresponsive Amitabh, but for what it’s worth, Bebo gives the number a lot of oomph.   The choreography itself is softer and rounder than in the original, and the emphasis  seems to be more on posing the former Poo in that  shiny gold halter dress for maximum exposure, allowing the camera to linger on her perfectly made up, heavily kohl-lined eyes and  high gloss lips, and let me tell you, this girl has some solid calves.

One annoying sartorial trend started in the “Yeh Mera Dil” scene is SRK in these print shirts with a little necktie of the same fabric wrapped directly around his neck, inside the collar, inside the shirt.   Ick.   This just looks like  a leftover from the days when women new to  the workforce wore floppy bow ties to try to ape the men already in the ratrace.   Let’s just hope no abundantly confident Bombay dandies (Gaurav, Manish, Chandrahas, soniye, please) out there see this film and think “Hey, I can pull that off!”   (Thank Heavens the Wardrobe Gods smiled on Arjun Rampal.   More on him later.)  

don%20icky%20shirt Don   the Chase Begins Again

Somewhere around here Priyanka Chopra, as Roma, makes her presence known.   Turns out, she’s the sister of Kareena’s dead boyfriend and she wants vengence too.   She infiltrates SRK’s gang and waits for her chance to bring him down.

srk%20priyanka%20silver%20grey%202 Don   the Chase Begins Again

We see Don in his high tech lair, where  the best part is his walk-in closet/safe, with floor-to-ceiling shelves laden with packs of dollars, drugs and complemented by the recently recovered Edward Munch painting The Scream (that was one cute little in-joke).   For some reason, the criminal mastermind backs up all his tippest, toppest secret data on a tiny disc, which he allows to slip through his fingers and become the Maltese Falcon in this film.

While called on business to India, Don gets injured and caught, and the storyline follows that of the original, namely that the cops replace him with Vijay, a well-meaning  guy struggling to feed and educate a young runaway boy, Deepu, who he’s taken under his wing.  

And cue the song I’ve had in my head for the past week at least – Morya Re – which replaces the Bombay Nagariya number that Amitabh did 28 years ago.   It’s set  during the Ganesh Utsav festival in Bombay and it’s got all the rhythm and exuberance that you expect from a Bollywood movie.   Shahrukh in simple jeans,  white shirt, Teva-like sandals and a saffron bandana leads the band as he sashays down the road with a float bearing a very large pastel-toned Ganapati toward the sea.   Funny enough, if you listen to the opening bars of this song, before the bells and cymbals kick in, you’d think you were listening to Bahia’s native sons, Olodum.

While Vijay learns how to be Don, we meet Jasjit, the handsome and  handicapped Mr. Rampal, sweating in a cut banyan as he does push-ups on some parallel bars, looking very determined indeed.   We see his mental movie and learn that he was once a mild-mannered  IT whiz (how would someone who is so devastatingly beautiful ever be mild-mannered??) coerced into a crime because his wife has been kidnapped.   It’s during that melée that he sustains the leg injury and loses his son (can you guess where the son ends up?).

Cut to interval and all the double crosses keep rolling on.   None of the main characters in this film plays just one role, everyone’s got something else going on.   For all the twists and switchbacks, and false starts and false endings, Farhan Akhtar is able to keep all the storylines from getting tangled and sustain our interest to see how it all turns out.   He has also clearly taken the long view in calling  his version of Don – the Chase Begins Again, for he must  have sequel(s) on his mind.

Never mind plot twists and acting, what about the clothes and the makeup and the sets, you say.   Well darling, the clothes were quite nice, but ugh, how does anyone wear so much leather in steamy Malaysia?   Vijay appears in a  screaming Bruce Lee long-sleeved t-shirt that was quite a howler, and Don himself wears a variety of pairs of sunglasses, most quite cool, but please, there’s one pair that would look much more at home on Karl Lagerfeld’s countenance than that of an underworld kingpin.   The best items of the men’s wardrobe went to Arjun Rampal, especially a very delicious, form-fitting black t-shirt that stood him very well while his muscles flexed and rippled in a fight scene with SRK.   Arrey vah.  

Make-up on the ladies was dewy and smoky and fresh, which is a plus for Priyanka Chopra, who was so overspackled in Krrish she must have had breakouts for weeks after shooting wrapped.  

Set decor was lush and appropriately affluent, and looked solid, which is one detail that helps this movie in beliveability, as so many sets in past Hindi movies looked remarkably flimsy.   I had to laugh in one scene when I saw the King Khan reclining on the very same green striped Indian silk pillow covers that I have, and that you can have too, as they come from IKEA.

don%20ishaa%20pillows Don   the Chase Begins Again

This has been an auspicious beginning to the holiday movie season.   Let’s see what the coming weeks bring us…

See it or skip it?    

See it!   Bilkul bindaas hai!

Interview: Tejaswini Ganti, Pt 1

bollywood%20t%20ganti%20cover Interview: Tejaswini Ganti, Pt 1

Tejaswini Ganti, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at New York University and author of Bollywood, A Guidebook to Popular Hindi Cinema, was one of the academics presenting a paper at the  conference hosted by NYU earlier this year.   The  subject of the conference was  The Social  and Material Life of Indian Cinema, and it  was chock-a-block with a slew of Hindi movie experts (and counted among audience members one very animated  Ms. Arundhati Roy).

Amardeep Singh has a terrific post on Tejaswini’s book here.  

The young professor, writer and mother set aside  some time for a long,  in-depth interview about Hindi cinema recently.   The first part of that interview appears here, the rest will follow in subsequent days.

Maria: Let’s start with movie audiences and the assumptions that filmmakers hold about them.   Can you speak about the NRI audience versus the broad, broad Indian audience?

Tejaswini: As in, how filmmakers construe that difference?

Maria: Exactly.  

Tejaswini:   When analyzing this industry, the thing that I always keep in mind, and always like to point out to whomever I’m speaking to, is that there’s this broader, complex reality of audiences,  people everywhere, what they like, don’t like, how they respond, and that is infinitely complicated and then there’s the discourse and discussion about audiences that the industry indulges in, the media, the press, and even viewers themselves also indulge in, which is usually much more simplistic, much more stereotypical, reduces all the complexity of the way people respond to films.  

And then we have these truisms that operate about audiences, and we have them in the U.S. regarding Hollywood but definitely in the context of the Bombay film industry they revel in lots of and lots of truisms about audiences and definitely there is a distinction  that  Bombay filmmakers make between an NRI audiences and audiences in India, that’s one large distinction.   Then of course they also distinguish among audiences within India and that’s a whole other set of issues that I’ve written about a lot.

But definitely one of the first differences that filmmakers always talk about in relation to NRI versus Indian audiences is that not every film will circulate overseas and do well in the NRI market, but the NRI market is overall presented by filmmakers – I’m talking about how Hindi filmmakers talk about the NRI audience – generally conservative when it comes to the stars.   There are certain big stars who do well in the NRI market, not every film can get released, not every film  will do well.   You yourself know this; you’ve been following it.   The three Khans do well, there’s a fewer number of people that do really well abroad in the NRI market.   That’s one distinction.

There’s a basic assumption that some audiences outside of India are less apt to go for experimentation with stars, non-stars, and then there’s the whole issue of content, themes and the Indian press since the late ’90s has been critical of the NRI audience and disapora audiences because they feel that those of us that live outside of India only like a certain type of film, which are what I call the glossy, happy family wedding films (genres of Hum Apke Hain Kaun, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge).   They feel that those are the only type of films that do well here and hence there’s been a kind of criticism  or  blaming of NRI audiences for a phase in the Bombay film production history where those were the main type of films that everyone was wanting to make.   And somehow the Indian press   says “Those people out there are nostalgic, they only want to see these type of films”, we’re driving the market, so to speak.

Another dimension about NRI audiences that doesn’t come up as much in the press but definitely in my conversations with filmmakers is that they are really aware that in an overseas market they’re less able to compete with Hollywood films in certain genres, like the real huge action films which have these huge budgets, they feel they can’t compete at that same level because they don’t have the same budgets.

Hence, there’s a tendancy for the NRI market is these films with a lot of songs and dances and cultural spectacles which Hindi filmmakers do so well.   That gives them a kind of edge within this market and they feel they can’t do these other types of films that could be equally popular in India don’t have as much popularity outside India among NRIs because of the fact that NRIs could be watching these big budget Hollywood films.

With NRI audiences, there’s this funny dichotomy where they are presented as nostalgic, and interested in seeing things that remind them of India, but they’re also represented, since they’re outside the country they’re seen as educated and more cinematically literate because of those other types of films, so there’s a  kind of duality about the NRI audience whereas the Indian audience gets, of course, characterized  based on region and class and the whole set of distinctions that the filmmakers generate as well, and that’s a whole other topic.

Maria: Has any filmmaker, or anyone in the business,  admitted to you that they’ve consciously made decisions in a movie about what they’re going to  do, with a view to attracting an NRI audience?

Tejaswini: No one admits that overtly because at the end of the day,    the filmmakers want as many people to see their film as possible, they want the widest audience possible.

It’s funny, I see the kind of analysis the press indulges in, that the filmmakers indulge in, is usually a post-facto analysis.   After the film hasn’t done well in certain places, they’ll say “Ah well, it’s really only meant for these other places.”   The industry operates mostly with hindsight analysis, so the kind of niches that  people talk about  usually are generated after something’s done well or not  so well in certain markets.

Having said that, there’s definitely been a lot of public debate over the last, since the film Taal came out in ’99, when Taal did better, there were a few films that year that did better overseas than in India, and that actually generated a lot of debate in the industry about “Who are you making films for?   Is it enough to make films for the overseas market?”   And some people said “Sure, why not?” and other people said “No, we can’t do that, you can’t be sustainable that way.”

I would say that a lot of discussion about this, no one  will overtly say “I’m only making films for certain markets” although there are people like Ram Gopal Verma who says “I’m only making this for the urban audiences” or multiplexes…

So there definitely is a change in the discourse about who they’re targeting within India.   Frequently I feel that there is a defensive type of response and I did see a little bit  of  the Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna  shooting and talked to  Karan Johar and he  understands that he is popular overseas and knows his films haven’t done as well in certain parts of India.  

So that’s how the market has shaped up, so then that becomes part of how you identify and describe yourself.   You don’t necessarily set out saying “I don’t want to make films that people everywhere don’t want to watch.”   They take what’s happened and use that to spin the analysis.

So it’s all post-facto analysis, except with the recent case of very small budget films only getting a limited release, but that’s a whole other different set of issues that have come about in the last 3 or 4 years with the rise of the multiplexes.  

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Stay tuned for the next installment of the series, and more with Tejaswini Ganti about the Hindi film industry.