Signs of Political Animals in NYC

Political%20Animals%20full%202 Signs of Political Animals in NYC

Last week ads for the USA Network‘s summer mini-series Political Animals started appearing around Manhattan.

The six-part series stars Sigourney Weaver and (Belfast-born)  Ciáran Hinds as the ersatz Hillary and Bill, here known as Elaine Barrish Hammond and Bud Hammond.

Also part of the cast – and in a role that looks like good fun – is Ellen Burstyn as the opinionated mother of the Secretary of State, Margaret Barrish.

Political%20Animals%20partial%202 Signs of Political Animals in NYC

Sadly, so far all of the short cast promos the USA Network has been running feature everyone but Ciáran Hinds, which is a pity because even if audiences don’t recognize his name, they will know his face, given his work in so many movies, both mainstream and independent.

For Zohra-ji on her 100th birthday

This is how I first came to know of her:

Lady%20Lili For Zohra ji on her 100th birthday

She was Lady Lili Chatterjee of the MacGregor house in The Jewel in the Crown, the wonderful Granada TV serial adaptation of Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet.  In that role, Zohra Sehgal was elegant and knowing, the very person you would want to live with on your first outing to a country you’d never visited before.

She left a lasting impression on me back then, as did the entire series and its stellar cast.

JITC%20trio%202 For Zohra ji on her 100th birthday

Art Malik, Susan Wooldridge and Tim Pigott-Smith in The Jewel in the Crown


I was thrilled to see her again about 10 years later here:

bhaji%20on%20the%20beach%202 For Zohra ji on her 100th birthday

Bhaji on the Beach directed by Gurinder Chadha


This time, Zohra was one member of the Saheli women’s group heading to Blackpool for the day in Gurinder Chadha’s feature film debut Bhaji on the Beach.

And here’s one place where I wished I had seen Zohra, in Tamasha Theater‘s A Yearning, their British Punjabi retelling of Garcia Lorca’s Yerma.

yearning%202 For Zohra ji on her 100th birthday

Zohra Sehgal in Tamasha Theater's A Yearning


I’ve not yet had the opportunity to meet Zohra Sehgal, but in anticipation of her 100th birthday today, I was so very pleased to be able to reach out to those actors and directors she had worked with over the years and hear what memories they wanted to share, including Susan Wooldridge and Tim Pigott-Smith from The Jewel in the Crown, James Ivory, Aasif Mandvi, Gurinder Chadha, Sakina Jaffrey, Sudha Bhuchar and Kristine Landon-Smith.  You can read the story here.

Happy 100th Birthday, Zohra-ji.  Thank you for so many years of so many great performances.

NBC’s in love with India

Well, at the very least, is quite fond of India and her many cultural riches.

On Monday, April 23rd, the NBC show Smash will have its Bollywood moment:

Must say, between Outsourced, Sendhil Ramamurthy’s recurring presence (first on Heroes, now he’s popped up on The Office) and now this number on Smash, NBC seems to be one network that’s quite fond of including South Asian talent and culture in its offerings, moreso than the other 2/3 of The Big Three.

Bye-bye Barkha Dutt and NDTV

NDTV Bye bye Barkha Dutt and NDTV

This is my first Sunday without Barkha Dutt’s We the People in several years now, and it’s been quite an adjustment.

I signed on to Directv’s offering of Hindi channels back in 2006 and it wasn’t long before Barkha Dutt was competing with Tim Russert, then David Gregory and Fareed Zakaria for my attention over coffee and the Sunday papers every week.  I loved being able – at the press of a button on a TV remote – to have a steady stream of news live from India flow into the living room, kitchen and so on.  For someone like me, who has grown up with the television as almost another member of the household, it was lovely to be able to remain that much more connected to what was going on 9000 miles away.  If RTE were also available, I’d probably be handing over part of my paycheck for them too.  If I ever won the Lotto, some cable or satellite provider would be very happy, as my subscription to a slew of other channels would be one of the changes I’d make early on.

There were other news shows and other hosts (Shekhar Gupta, Srinivasan Jain, Anupama Chopra, Amitabh Revi) I also made it a point to never miss, and whose absence I also feel.

Yes, I am aware that @BDUTT has taken a lot of brickbats for her talkative 26/11 coverage and then the recent recordings with politicians that were released in 2011, but the variety of current affairs her Sunday panels on the show would cover – everything from blogging in India, to the use of Twitter, to the situation in Kashmir, to women in the film business and on and on – I found had value.

True, some guests were on an awful lot, no matter what the subject (Suhel Seth, for example), but for me, it was an interesting (albeit limited) window into the current state of affairs in urban India, given that it was being broadcast on a primarily English-language satellite channel, so both guests and audience too were mostly from that segment of society.  But still, beyond the guest speakers on the often times too large a panel, there were also the audience members to hear from.

In addition to NDTV 24/7, the Hindi Direct package also included NDTV Profit and NDTV Good Times, from where I got hooked on Rocky and Mayur’s Highway on My Plate, and Ritu Dalmia’s Italian Khana (two shows to never watch on an empty stomach), and the Saturday morning broadcast of Sunil Sethi’s Just Books, which kept me up-to-date on the book market in India, new releases, and also the goings-on at literary festivals around the Subcontinent.

And last weekend, as if to make the pain of imminent loss that much more acute, first, on Sunday, there was the Jaipur LitFest and the mega star Oprah as the only guest for the 60 minutes+ of We the People, with Barkha and Oprah sitting onstage, chatting from their matching peacock armchairs.  And just 24 hours later, the latest installment in l’affaire Rushdie erupted, garnering wall-to-wall coverage by NDTV, including Barkha Dutt getting to finally do that interview with Sir Salman, though not up on a big screen in Rajasthan.

But Directv, surely looking at some bottom line, decided, as they did one year ago with the Tamil channel Star Vijay, that they no longer wished to pay what it was costing them to offer the NDTV channels as part of their two Hindi packages, and so, on the morning of January 25th, the tap went dry.  Sure, I’ve still got access to MTV India and the Star channels, but the sexist images of that Grind show makes me want to scream at the TV, and all I get from the Star channels are the weekend films, and the award shows, having so far managed to escape the siren call of the matching-matching bindis and bangles on the many soaps .  Sadly, I’ve yet to see one decent news programme on the Star channels, and don’t get me started on the state of the homegrown US-desi ads.

And for the sin of lobbing off the NDTV trio of channels, Directv – already too pricey – have reduced my monthly bill by only a few dollars.

Yes, yes, I know, you can see a ton of NDTV content online, but sorry, for me, it’s just not the same as being able to switch on the TV and get my news or other programmes there, rather than on my laptop.

And lo and behold, what appeared on NDTV’s website the same day that Directv dropped them?  A press release trumpeting their partnership with Dish Network in the US.  Clearly, Directv is slowly throwing up its corporate hands as far as the South Asian viewer is concerned, and ceding the territory to the Dish Network.

So now I have to decide if I want to go through the hassle of switching to Dish (ugh, what will that entail?  Two sets of technicians – one to remove the Directv dish, another to put up the Dish dish?  After my recent dealings with Directv and their multiple faulty and moribund DVRs over the holidays, the thought of all that makes me want to lie down in a dark room with a cool compress on my forehead.)

There’s also Optimum, but they have no decent news channels that I’m aware of, and there’s this new service from, who have a great line-up of Southern channels, but no NDTV.

Can’t some bright MBA out there in the industry come up with a way that the customer can actually get what she wants, namely, a long a la carte list of channels, instead of all these dreadful prepackaged sets?

Anyone out there who uses Dish or, or anything else, please do write in and tell me what you think.

Salman & Katrina filming at Trinity College Dublin

Kabir Khan’s Ek Tha Tiger might be the first Hindi film shot in Ireland, but the Tamil film folk have been there already several years before…Still, it’s great to see them on Irish soil, and as Kabir suggests, I hope this will be the first of many more Hindi flics on location in Ireland.



Abhay Deol interview

Here’s an interview with Abhay Deol appearing in today’s Firstpost that I did when he was here to promote (more about them, their service and the event later).

If explicit nudity helps the story, I’ll do it: Abhay Deol

Clad in a yellow t-shirt, a navy Armani Exchange blazer and jeans, Abhay Deol breezed through New York City recently to promote the launch of this month, a broadband service that will provide Indian TV and film content across the United States. In between press conferences and meet-and-greets, he stopped to talk about the changes happening in Indian cinema, corruption and more.

On that Sunday morning, Deol had considerably more perk in his demeanor than many of the press people in attendance, and he seemed more at ease than during the summer, on stage at various malls to promote Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.  While Hrithik Roshan tripped the light fantastic front and centre with Katrina Kaif, and Farhan Akhtar hoofed along doing his own thing, Dev.D co-stars Deol and Kalki Koechlin were the two who smiled bravely, but underneath it all looked liked they’d rather not be prancing around.

Dressing up formula films

When asked about that part of being an actor, the promotional gimmicks in the lead-up to the release date, Deol was sanguine:  “You keep getting asked the same question over and over again and you want to keep it fresh. And then the whole dance thing; I’m always uncomfortable going up on stage and public speaking is not my strongest point. It always takes a little bit for me to warm up to it.”

Part of his time in New York that day was to attend a special screening of the ensemble hit, the latest of several he’s been part of,  Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.  Deol agrees that there are different and positive changes happening in Hindi cinema, albeit slower than he might wish.  “I still think there’s a huge resistance to change from within the industry,” he says. “I think formula will always be (there).  Some of the biggest hits this year follow the formula, whether they be Ready or Murder 2, so that’s here to stay.  More actors need to step out and take chances, and some do, like Aamir Khan.  But it’s all about ‘Ok, we’re gonna pick this subject that’s not conventional but we’ll dress it up a little bit so that it doesn’t come across too arty-farty as people say, too alternative’.”

“That’s the start of the process and I think it’s just starting, whether we will actually achieve something extreme that will appeal to the whole world, I don’t think it’s gonna happen any time soon, because you can’t just suddenly introduce people to something that is completely alien to them; you need to ease them into it. And that’s the angst I feel as an artist because I want to go the whole extreme but I know that I need to strike a balance.”

According to Deol, even the edgy Dev.D  struck a balance. “The original treatment had him start dealing drugs and he gets shot by the cops. But Anurag wanted to lighten it a little bit towards the end, and it made sense, the film’s done well. Zindagi in that sense is quite radical for Bollywood ‘cause  a lot of people who were traditionalists were like ‘What is it about?’” he mimics, his voice getting tighter and higher, before he breaks into laughter. “For them it’s about nothing, there’s no external conflict, all the conflicts are internal, but Zoya’s brilliant in that sense. She dressed it up with the fancy locations and the songs and all that stuff, but within, it’s a new idea.”

If sex works in a scene, why not?

Given how some new writers and directors in Indian cinema are pushing more boundaries in the past few years, the next logical conclusion might be the appearance of nudity and more explicit content, which leads one to wonder if Deol would go with that flow, should he be asked.  After a loud burst of laughter, he is more serious:  “See, for me, it’s just my comfort zone with the director and convincing me that it actually helps the narrative, in which case if I’m really excited about the story and if explicit nudity works within it, then ya, I’d crib and cry but I’ll do it because I know it helps. Or, I take it back, I won’t crib and cry, I’ll be like… I’ll admit to myself this works. And I would put that towards even doing song and dance.  If a song actually works in pushing the narrative forward, why not?  If sex in a scene works, then why not?”

“But what’s happening now is that the easiest way to be provocative is through sex, and I can see a lot of people end up doing that, and it doesn’t appeal to me, because if it’s only to be provocative, can you do it without sex? Let’s see then, how would you provoke? Then it could be politics for that matter. It’s what route do you use and is it an easy route, because then I lose interest. Is it actually original? Then it appeals to me.”

Entrenched in corruption

With that reference to politics, since almost every other actor has expressed his or her thoughts on the recent skirmish involving Anna Hazare and the Lokpal bill, Deol was willing to share his thoughts too, reasoning, “Being a public figure, I think it’s important to partake of what’s happening within a culture and if there’s something pressing and urgent, we should step out and speak about it.”

“Corruption is very rampant in our country. All of us have experienced it. If you want to buy property, you have to pay black money, everybody’s faced that. Back in the day, if you wanted to have your phone connected, you could always give a tip to the guy or he would give you problems.”

“I do support Anna Hazare with Lokpal the bill, but I do have a few questions about it. My question – and I asked this of Justice Hegde on TV – was ‘How do you guarantee the people on the panel are not corrupt and have no past of being corrupt?’ ‘Cause corruption has touched the Indian public from every level. Corruption starts at home in India. It’s not just with the politicians and the parties, it’s in your house, even when you’re tipping the guy for your connection or paying a little amount of black to buy that house, because, well, you can’t help it, you are also taking part of corruption.”
“This was my question to Justice Hegde. Tomorrow you might have someone really clean, really straightforward and he’s the best man for the job, but because the system is corrupt, he’s had to pay some money black to buy an apartment, now he can’t escape that, and I would not kick him out of it because of that ‘cause I know it affects all of us and we have to deal with it, but if some opposition wanted to dig deeper and prosecute him for being corrupt, they could use that!  We’re so entrenched in corruption, how do you pick the guys on your panel?”

“I will support Anna Hazare simply for the fact that he is an honest man and I know he believes what he’s standing for, that’s the thing that I find most attractive about him.”

Before letting Deol go, especially in view of his recent foray onto Simi Garewal’s chat show, I had to ask him — given the tremendous love and interest so many Indians have in cinema — why are there no shows along the lines of Inside the Actor’s Studio, and why they all focus so much on celebrity and not on the  films themselves, a question which provoked more laughter but then seemed to leave him at a loss: “I don’t know… I think maybe no one’s thought about being more seriously content-oriented, it’s more lifestyle-oriented. I think that’s what they think appeals to people and that’s what they go for, that’s what I’m guessing,” he replied while gesturing helplessly as if to emphasise, “How should I know?”