In Memory of Navroze Mody

in%20memory%20of%20navroze%20mody%2c%20v2 In Memory of Navroze Mody

 (Note:   This is a story I wrote for India Abroad that appeared in the Oct. 5,  2007 issue.   There’s nothing filmi about it, though a young life suddenly cut short has been depicted often enough on screen.   But I wanted to post  this story here, in the hope that more people will learn about Navroze Mody’s life, and to counterbalance all that’s been written about  his violent  death.)

In 1987, I worked at the Argentine Embassy’s trade office in midtown Manhattan.   It was my first proper job while starting college, and it was fun.   Most of the handful of staff there were very young, and we were always laughing.

I would come in from Long Island and catch the E train at Penn Station to the stop under the Citicorp building at Lexington Avenue and 53rd street.   I often noticed an intriguing-looking young guy, in a sharp suit and aviator-frame eyeglasses – it was the Eighties – who would get on one stop after me every day.   He stood out because he was completely bald, years before it was in vogue for men to shave their heads, and I assumed he must have been undergoing cancer treatment.   He looked about 30 years old, and he was Indian.

He would occasionally be with someone he knew, chatting in a British accent.   We both got off at the same stop and headed in different directions.   I even commented to Alfredo, a co-worker, about this unusual guy I kept seeing on the subway, leading him to pester me often with ” ¿Cómo está tu hindue?   Did you speak to him today?”   I’d blush, saying “No way!   I’m not approaching some total stranger on the subway.”   And we’d leave it at that.   I never imagined that I would try to track him down 20 years later.

[Read more...]

Shame on you, PlanetM

 Shame on you, PlanetM  

Here it is, late Thursday night.   I’ve just put in a full day at the office, finished a novel I’m reviewing on the way home on the train, spoke to the author for close to an hour for the same article, made some pasta for dinner, chatted on the  phone  while The Celebrity Apprentice wrapped up in the background.   (Well played, Piers and Trace.)

And before turning in, I was in the mood for some light entertainment, some filmi song and dance.   Hey, where’s the stash I brough back from Bombay?   What will it be?   Partner or Jhoom Barabar Jhoom?   Well, I’d seen chunks of JBJ over and over on a long flight a few months ago, so I opt for  ChiChi’s fedora-clad megahit from last year.

After I unwrap  the cellophane, still bearing the Rs 399 sticker from PlanetM in downtown Bombay, where I plunked down a considerable amount of greenbacks on my last trip back, I open the silly cardboard cut-out flaps of the DVD box, and see the hot pink T-series DVD laying there.   I lift it up and – don’t ask me why – flip it over, and I don’t believe it:   the disc is SO scratched and dusty, it looks like it’s been left on the Juhu Tara  Road and driven over by rush hour traffic.

 Shame on you, PlanetM

Call me optimistic (anyone who knows how long I endured  through a certain  relationship can attest to that), but, after some gentle cleaning with an appropriate dry cloth, I pop the scarred disc into the tray of my player, hoping beyond hope that it will go.

But, alas  no.  

Shame on you, PlanetM, for selling such damaged merchandise, and/or shame on T-Series for packing such crap to sell to the public.   I’ll be over to see you one of these days.

Moon Over My Abhi

bluffmaster abhi priyanka%202 Moon Over My Abhi  

The Miami Herald reports that the KJo Dostana entourage has touched down in Florida and begun shooting:

The production is expected to have all the kitschy trappings that have made Bollywood movies such a hit worldwide, including a zany musical number to be filmed on Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road.

Filmi fans will get to see a rematch of Bluffmaster jodi Roy and Simmi (AB 2.0 and Priyanka Chopra).      

Two former colonies united by a gift of the gab

ben%20bulben%202%2c%20smaller Two former colonies united by a gift of the gab

How could I let March 17th  go by without some reference to the small island that gave us The Commitments, Into the West, The Pogues, and those guys who sang “Two Hearts Beat as One“?

The question is how to link the country where  I spent all those  summers as a kid (in the same neighborhood that was/is home to Neil Jordan, Phil Lynott  and Gerry Ryan)  to films from another one of Her Majesty’s former colonies?     Hmmm….

The two countries have so much in common (beyond the colonial past):  green, white and orange tricolors, a love of story-telling, a history of people leaving home and settling thousands of miles away, a certain conservatism and insularity followed by the liberalism and social upheaval that accompanied an economic boom,  and just see if the architecture in Belfast doesn’t remind you of Bombay (or vice versa).   We know who we both have to thank for that…

But filmi Ireland…..   Well, let’s see.   In ’06 the Trib carried a story  about a concerted effort that Ireland was making to court the Indian film industry and entice people away from the ubiquitous Old Blighty to greener shores for those song picturizations when a  phoren location is required.

(To date, some seven or so films have touched down in Eire.)

On  the non-filmi front, Madras-native-now-settled-in-Kildare Cauvery Madhavan has penned a novel several years back that told the tale of an Indian med school student doing his residency in Ireland.

paddy%20indian Two former colonies united by a gift of the gab

The last I heard from her, she was working on a book about the Indo-Irish link, from the time period when the men of Erin touched down on Indian shores, boat tickets courtesy of HRH.

On a day like today, most people think of Ireland, and picture an image like the one at the top of this post (Yeats’ beloved Ben Bulben, in County Sligo), but the ones  I have from home are more urban (and still make me as sentimental as the Irish tourism ads on TV):

work consume die%2c%202 Two former colonies united by a gift of the gab

But, oh, how far the country’s come since I went to see  Maureen Potter in the panto and ate  Choc Ices  with my little playmates….while listening recently to a podcast of morning drivetime personality Gerry Ryan, I was amazed to hear  him compare notes about Indian food with a man who called in to rave about a meal he just had in Cavan, of all places!   As the conversation progressed, I came to learn that Ryan’s place of residence, the Dublin suburb famous for the Good Friday battle between the Vikings and Brian Boru’s men, now was home to, not one, but two Indian restaurants.   Holy cow.   We didn’t even have Chinese food when I was growing up there, only the chipper on Vernon Avenue.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone.

Omkara, the back story

stephen%20alter%20book%20cover Omkara, the back story  

In 2007, we saw Anupama Chopra’s SRK book released, which told of Khan’s bio and career trajectory, while also giving readers an intro to the Bombay film industry.

Later in the same year, Stephen Alter’s Confessions of a Bollywood Love Thief made its appearance.   (Try reading a book with that title on the subway and note the looks on the faces of fellow commuters  pondering the meaning.)

Alter’s book takes readers behind the scenes of the making of Vishal Bhardwaj’s Omkara, while splicing in history and background information about the Hindi film industry (visits to Dev Anand, Shekar Kapur, Shyam Benegal, etc.).  

He takes us from the  birth of the concept for the film, to the music  composition, the casting, the location scouting and set-building, to the shooting, choreography and, the screening.   Along the way we –  the filmi fans –  will find many interesting  details: there was great doubt until the first scene was shot as to whether Saif would go ahead and cut his hair short, Ajay Devgan is quite hands-on when it comes to camera set-ups and cut-away shots, that was real dung Konkona Sen Sharma was making cakes out of during the scene with Kareena and Vivek, and on and on.

I wish there were more books like this, to feed our appetites for the behind-the-scenes info without falling into baseless gossip.   My only complaint  is that the non-Omkara chapters (while all interesting) don’t mesh that well with the flow of the story.   For anyone new, or not that new, to the B’wood juggernaut, those chapters are still welcome, but perhaps they would have been better suited to a separate book.

What Alter does have, in spades, is great access.   (His cousin, Tom Alter, an FTI Pune grad, has acted in over 200 Hindi movies.)     Through his eyes, we get to watch the Beedi item number being filmed for the Shakespearean hit,  the crew setting up and working their magic so we’ll find it all credible on screen, and the actors doing a line reading at the Sun-N-Sand.

Interestingly, like Chopra’s book, this one was published by an American house (Harcourt).

15 Years Ago in Bombay

 15 Years Ago in Bombay

…one of the March 12th bombs went off here, inside the Sea Rock.

When I first saw the hotel, in 2005, I was told by my companion that it was rumored to be haunted.   We had drinks and bad Chinese food in the quasi-Tiki bar at the back, looking directly down on the blackness of the ocean as we ate.   As we left through the lobby afterward, the place was indeed eerily deserted.

Now, when back there in December last year, the hotel was vacated, windows all removed, street dogs and  guards stationed out front.   On my last day in the city, I was told that the property had been bought by Mandarin Oriental  and is due to be renovated.

A brilliant rendition of that horrible Black Friday can be seen in Anurag Kashyap’s 2007 release.