Something old, something new, something madrasi, something blue?


royal%20wedding%20souvenir%202 Something old, something new, something madrasi, something blue?

Yes, in spite, or perhaps because of my Irish roots, I was up before daylight to watch The Wedding.  So sue me.

My mother and her generation grew up watching the royals across the Irish Sea and observing how they marked their big milestones.  On Christmas Day, people would listen to the Queen’s address, and so on and so on.  Then, there was Diana and her little princes, who grew up before our eyes.  When I lived in Spain, Wednesday was the day the “pink press” magazines would appear (Hola!, Semana, etc.) and they chronicled the Spanish royalty, the Monégasque royalty, the British royalty and everyone else with a title from Sweden to Lichtenstein and all others in between.  The portero in my building and I would pour over them, dissecting what they were wearing and who they were dating, marrying and burying.  (By the way, if you ever want to read a scathing and hilarious take on what it’s like to write for this special subset of Spanish media, get a copy of Maruja Torres’ Oh!  Es él! Viaje fantástico hacia Julio Iglesias)

So today, in between watching all the hats of varying brim sizes and architectural flourishes, as the BBC America coverage cut away at one point to one of the many celebrations going on around the island, I stopped dead in my tracks when I heard someone mention “Madras pipes”.

Er, wha?

Is that some band of hardcore Carnatic musicians, of the kind you see perform in Chennai in December?

Not quite.

It turns out that the good folks at the University of St. Andrews – where the now-newlyweds first met – were having a party to celebrate the nuptials of their two famous graduates, and one part of the morning’s entertainment was some musical accompaniment from the Madras College Pipe Band, a group of 26 traditional Scottish pipers.

Madras College?  So what’s that, then?

Here’s how the school’s website describes the history:

Madras College takes its name from the system of education devised by the school’s founder the Rev Dr Andrew Bell. He was born in St Andrews in 1753, the son of a local magistrate and wig-maker. He studied at the University where he distinguished himself in mathematics. He became a clergyman of the Church of England and took up an appointment as chaplain to the regiments of the East India Company in Madras. One of his duties was to educate the soldiers’ children. Because there was a shortage of teachers, he used the older boys, who had been taught the lesson by the master, to instruct groups of younger pupils. The pupils who assisted the teacher were called ‘monitors’. This method of education became widely used in schools at home and abroad. After his return from India, Dr Bell made it his life’s work to travel the country and encourage schools to adopt ‘the Madras system’, as it had come to be known. By the time of his death in 1832, over 10,000 schools were using his methods.

To make sure that his educational ideas would be preserved for the future, he made arrangements for the fortune his success had brought him to be used to found a school in his native town of St Andrews. By selling some land he owned he was also able to give money to the neighbouring town of Cupar so that in the end he founded two schools. One is the present Bell Baxter High School in Cupar which was originally called Madras Academy. The other is Madras College in St Andrews. The senior part of the school is still on the original site in South Street where the modern school has grown up behind the impressive 1833 quadrangle.

There’s even a Madras tartan!

US Release of 3 Idiots DVD with Extra Features

3%20idiots%20scratching%202 US Release of 3 Idiots DVD with Extra Features

Thank you, Rajkumar Hirani. While you might not have done a director’s commentary on the 3 Idiots DVD that was released today here in the US from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, nor did you include a full-on “making of” documentary type feature that was an hour or two in length, what you did do was include four featurettes that serve as a wonderful little amuse bouches for what either of those might have been.  You left me wanting more, which is, I suppose, better than the contrary.

The most engaging of the four extra features directed by Karan Narvekar, for me, is Idiots in Ladakh.  This may be partially due to the fact that I’ve had an obsession with Ladakh since 1998 when I first caught a glimpse of it in Mani Ratnam’s Dil Se.  To my delight, several films since have also made the trek there (Bose-The Forgotten Hero, LOC Kargil, Lakshya, The Fakir of Venice, Tashan).  How can you not be mesmerized by this place

But ok, my obsession aside, the short film is a little drama in itself, as it tells of the episode the cast and crew had when they all went to Ladakh to shoot.  They had established themselves in a tent village of their own, with trucks and trucks of equipment, etc.  Just as they were about to start shooting, clouds rolled in and they had to stop.  One member of the team, a costume assistant, fell ill due to the altitude while the cast were trying to keep warm and distract themselves with card games and the like.  They got a doctor and took care of her, but no sooner had they done that, then it started to snow, lightly at first, and then it really came down.  I won’t spoil the rest of the story for you, but this featurette gave a facinating glimpse into the behind-the-scenes aspect of the making of 3 Idiots.

The subsequent three – All Izz Well, 100% Idiots and Making of Miss Idiot - contain similarly interesting episodes, about the choreography & shooting of the song, of a drunk scene in the film, and about getting the right look for Kareena Kapoor, and the sum total of them plus the Ladakh short are so enjoyable they’ll leave you wishing Raju Hirani had done a longer “making of” feature and/or a director’s commentary.  Maybe next time…yes, Raju?

Dum Maaro Dum: Go Ahead, Take a Toke

DMD%20Poster%202 Dum Maaro Dum: Go Ahead, Take a Toke

Friends, here are some rather rushed initial thoughts from the road, trying to get these online before the coffee shop and its Wifi close down….

Something happens to me when we’re at the beginning of spring, and the days are getting warmer. A movie will come along that offers a welcome glimpse of summer for two hours, until you exit the theater and the still-cold night air hits you. Three years back, it was Tashan, a film I really enjoyed and still do.

Last night in Manhattan, it was Dum Maaro Dum.

abhi%20and%20team%202 Dum Maaro Dum: Go Ahead, Take a Toke

Boarding school buddies Rohan Sippy and Abhishek Bachchan (here sporting a Freddie Mercury ‘tache) have again collaborated (this is their third flic after Kuch Naa Kaho and Bluffmaster). Located in Goa, the story has ACP Vishnu Kamath (Abhishek Bachchan) chasing down the city’s biggest druglord Lorsa Biscuita (Aditya Pancholi) for very personal motives. Biscuita’s drug business has managed to cause a domino effect of ruination in the lives of a string of interconnected people: Lorry (Prateik), the lovesick teen desperate to follow his girlfriend to the US but who doesn’t have the money, Zoe (Bipasha Basu) the ambitious would-be air hostess, and her shaggy, bighearted boyfriend Joki (Rana Daggubati).

As he did with Bluffmaster, Rohan Sippy creates a sometimes funny, dark, stylish story that has at its core a man who has lost his love and is trying to set things right because of that. Rather than watching Abhi and Piggy Chops cavort around Bombay, here he is older and jaded as he roughs up the bad guys in Goa. The colors are bleached from all the sun and sand and the costumes reflect the hang loose vibe present at all beachfront resorts from Rio to Kingston to Ibiza, a look that particularly suits Bips and Rana.

bips%20on%20beach%202 Dum Maaro Dum: Go Ahead, Take a Toke

Both look sunkissed and fabulous (she in lacy white sundresses and he in long baggy shorts & tees) and one can understand how some folks might speculate as to their possible involvement.

rana%20and%20bips%202 Dum Maaro Dum: Go Ahead, Take a Toke

Prateik’s role here plays up his youth and vulnerability to the max. While it’s not as nuanced or demanding as his Munna in Dhobi Ghat, he still conveys a sweet innocence that will inspire many viewers to want to protect and comfort him.

prateik%202 Dum Maaro Dum: Go Ahead, Take a Toke

Like many folks, this is my first time seeing Rana, and based on his work here as the faithful musician boyfriend, I would definitely check out his future work in any films, Telugu or otherwise.

I was particularly happy to see Aditya Pancholi back in major roles again recently, but I would have loved to see a little more meat on the bones of his part as Biscuita, maybe not to explain or justify his bad behavior, but just to see him not in full-on slimy crime boss mode.

bips%20and%20aditya%202 Dum Maaro Dum: Go Ahead, Take a Toke

Abhi does as well as he can as the man on a crimefighting mission, but his role too, aside from the glimpse of his life before The Really Bad Thing happened, is rather thin on substance too. Yes, he’s a cop, but is there nothing more to him when he’s off duty?

abhi%202 Dum Maaro Dum: Go Ahead, Take a Toke

See it or skip it?

Based on what I’d seen in Bluffmaster, I had really high hopes for Dum Maaro Dum, but sadly, they weren’t quite met. Not that I was expecting the same type of film or the same type of story, but while Bluffmaster had gloss and good looks too, it also had some fun characters of which you grew fond.

In DMD, the good people are likeable but very much in a surface kind of way. And the story, after the climactic confrontation at a forest rave starring Deepika Padukone, has one twist and switchback too many in an ending that takes about 10 minutes too long to reach.

I’d say, see it, even with these imperfections. (It’s showing in 101 theaters across the US & Canada!) The sum total of Abhi, Bips, Rana, Prateik and Aditya is worth it.

Satyajit Ray Returns to NY

Distant%20Thunder%202 Satyajit Ray Returns to NY

Once again, we lucky New Yorkers, spoiled for choice, have a chance to enjoy a special treat from India.

The Film Society of Lincoln Center is collaborating with Columbia University to present Long Shadows: The Late Work of Satyajit Ray, starting today, April 19th, and running for one week, through to April 26th.

What’s unique about this collection of films is that they were all made during the final two decades of the maestro’s life.  The line-up includes: The Home and the World, Distant Thunder, The Elephant God, The Chess Players and Sikkim, among others.  It also includes Ray’s final film, The Stranger, which stars Utpal Dutt, and was filmed in 1991, the year before Ray died.

The new, desified Upstairs, Downstairs

Upstairs%20Downstairs%20cast%2c%202 The new, desified Upstairs, Downstairs

Shown: (left to right) Eileen Atkins as Lady Maud Holland, Claire Foy as Lady Persie, Nico Mirallegro as Johnny Proude, Art Malik as Amanjit Singh, Ellie Kendrick as Ivy Morris, Neil Jackson as Harry Spargo, Keeley Hawes as Lady Agnes Holland, Ed Stoppard as Sir Hallam Holland, Adrian Scarborough as Mr. Pritchard, Jean Marsh as Rose Buck, and Anne Reid as Mrs. Thackeray. Photo: BBC/MASTERPIECE Co-production


If you too do some desi-spotting – that is, noticing when some reference to or influence from the Subcontinent appears in a non-South Asian setting or context – then tune in to tonight to your local PBS station for the first of the three-part series of the new Upstairs, Downstairs.

The story picks up at number 165 Eaton Place in Belgravia, London several years after the previous family of aristocrats and their servants vacated the house.

A young diplomat, Sir Hallam Holland (played by Ed Stoppard), and his wife, Lady Agnes (Keeley Hawes) are returning from a posting in Washington, DC and are about to take up residence at the former Bellamy home, after they do extensive renovations.   No sooner are they standing amid dropcloths in the foyer, examining a shortlist of possible maids, when the family matriarch, Lady Maud Holland (played by Dame Eileen Atkins) waltzes in with an urn of her late husband’s ashes tucked under one arm and announces that she is back from her three-decade sojourn in India, to settle down to write her memoirs.   As you might guess, her daughter-in-law, whom she’s never met, is less than thrilled.

Lady Holland has not returned from India alone.   In that same scene in the foyer we soon meet Solomon, her monkey who has a fondness for sweet tea and thick cut marmalade, and Mr. Amanjit (Art Malik), Lady Holland’s personal secretary, always elegant in charcoal three-piece suits, cufflinks and a turban, who we soon see is most adept at handling not just the monkey, but also his imperious boss.

Mr%20Amanjit The new, desified Upstairs, Downstairs

Art Malik as Mr. Amanjit

Art Malik, you may recall, shot to fame in 1984 after playing the vulnerable, between-two-worlds Hari Kumar in the British mini-series The Jewel in the Crown based on Paul Scott’s “Raj Quartet” of novels.   He also had starring roles in A Passage to India and The Far Pavillions around the same time.   In the late “˜80s and into the “˜90s, other roles came his way – the British- educated mujahedin in a Bond film, and a terrorist opposite Ahhhhhnold in True Lies and again in Path to Paradise, a film about the first World Trade Center bombers.

As with the first Upstairs, Downstairs, the new series follows the intrigues and day-to-day dramas of the wealthy Holland family, and those of their serving staff (housekeeper, butler, cook, footman, maid).   Over these three Sundays, they will include run-ins with Wallis Simpson, celebrity photog Cecil Beaton, Fascist Sir Oswald Mosely, and a German Jewish woman who had left behind her own “Upstairs” life (silk nightgowns, a mink coat, her own maid) and fled the Nazis, to work as a maid in London.   The only returning member from the original cast is Jean Marsh, reprising her crucial role as Rose Buck, the heart of the whole enterprise, and it is wonderful to see her again, now, older and wiser, but still Rose.

Starting from the opening credits (a slow-mo shot of the crystal chandelier twirling and sparkling), the series is high on gloss and appearance, from the many slinky evening gowns and jewels to the gorgeous period furniture, to the set for 165 Eaton Place itself (which looks and has been declared by the cast to be solid enough as to feel like a genuine house).   But even sitting by the fire with the servants enjoying a chocolate biscuit and Palm Court Orchestra on the wireless, you do feel as if you are there among the characters.

India is ever-present in the mini-series, in the décor of Lady Holland’s study – which has a distinctly Orientalist feel of that time to it (richer, deeper colors, a leopard skin, with head still attached, draped over one chair) – and in her dress (for a cocktails party she wears a gold and green ensemble with a zari border), and often summoned in her speech, with reference to a bazaar in Bangalore and the soothing lily pond she had installed at the back of her home in Delhi.

And then there is the unflappable and always proper Mr. Amanjit, with razor-sharp folds in his burgundy or navy turbans, and the tic of always adjusting his French cuffs and cufflinks as he embarks on one task or another.   At first, he seems somewhat apart, not quite with the downstairs crowd, yet not really with the aristocrats either.   The distance from the servants arises from Lady Maud’s directive that his meals be served to him on a tray in the morning room, but eventually, with the nudging of Rachel (the German refugee) he is able to broker a relationship with them.

As one member of an ensemble cast of 12, the screen time one gets is limited, and the opportunities are few to really shine, but over the three hours writer Heidi Thomas has given each cast member their “party piece”, as they say in Ireland, that is, their bit where they can show what they’ve got.   I was particularly fond of and touched by the gentle friendship that developed between Rachel and Mr. Amanjit, which you will see in the second episode.   It provides Mr. Malik an opportunity to give us a glimpse at the human heart behind all that reserve.

Friends will know that, aside from the delight at revisiting Upstairs, Downstairs after such a long time, I was particularly anticipating Art Malik’s role in this series, as I think he’s got much talent that we sadly don’t get to see a lot of over on this side of the puddle.   For example, I’ve heard nothing but great things about his time on the medical drama Holby City  in the UK, yet for some reason it’s never made it over here.   (Hello, BBC America, perhaps we might have a few less Gordon Ramsay marathons and a few new dramatic series, yes?)

One avenue any budding Malik fans out there can explore is his reading of books on tape/CD/MP3.   My appreciation for Mr. Malik’s work soared years ago after I found his recording of an abridged version of Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh and it is a treasure.   First, you have the rather silken quality of his voice anyway, but when you combine that with his ability to do a myriad of different voices and accents for all the characters piled into TMLS, you too will appreciate his talent.

In more recent years, he has done Something to Tell You by Hanif Kureishi which is also wonderful and at times hilarious.   And my most recent and best beloved acquisition is the Silksoundbooks recording of Art Malik doing Rudyard Kipling’s The Just-So Stories - complete with Kipling’s illustrations.   They are pure joy as he reads them, and also terribly smart and funny.   Shame on me for never having read them before!   The tales of the little Ethiopian girl and her father creating the alphabet are alone worth the price of admission.

And finally, here is a trivia question: which two members of the cast of the new Upstairs, Downstairs have a connection to the illustrious Kapoor family of actors in India?

Answer: Art Malik and Ed Stoppard.

Here’s how it is: Art Malik once starred on the British and American stage along with Felicity Kendal (bhabhi to Shashi Kapoor, who was married to her sister Jennifer – you must check them out together in Merchant Ivory’s Bombay Talkies).   The two were in a play called Indian Ink, written by Tom Stoppard, who is the father of Ed Stoppard (Sir Hallam Holland in U,D).   Moreover, as a child, Tom Stoppard fled from Europe during the 1940s with his family and ended up living in Darjeeling for a period of time.

See it or skip it?

If you loved the original series, or if you ever loved anything that the former Masterpiece Theater (now just Masterpiece) has run in the past, then by all means, don’t miss Upstairs, Downstairs.   It has all the thousand-and-one magnificent small details that make all their productions so rich.

And even if you have never seen Masterpiece before, but enjoy crisp writing and some priceless lines delivered by a wonderful ensemble cast in an evocative setting, you should catch it too.