Star of David Brooks

Sajit shredded Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World as being unfunny and culturally inastute. I come bearing a lukewarm defense: having seen the movie, it is much better than its trailer and is on balance good for the South Asian brand launch.

The main flaw of the movie, a simple-minded farce, is that it’s done by Albert Brooks. Brooks is the Jewish Bill Cosby, his character a throwback, a Mr. Smith Goes to Delhi; his humor is suburban, family-friendly, with all its edges rounded off. The centerpiece of the movie is a comedy show Brooks performs in Delhi, funny to neither the Indians on-screen nor the American audience off-. He does have some choice one-liners, though none stray beyond the safety of stereotype (he gets neither green M&M’s nor a greenroom in Delhi). Even the inevitable outsourcing jokes happen only as background chatter. It isn’t insightful, but for the most part it isn’t brain-dead or offensive either.Sheetal Sheth plays a clueless, shiny-haired chipmunk. I couldn’t decide whether to smack her or take her home

You also get a Brooksian touch like Sheetal Sheth’s character, a wide-eyed naïf. Sheth plays the role like a shiny-haired chipmunk with saucer eyes and a bottomless supply of perk and oblivion. She’s Clueless in Connaught Place; I couldn’t decide whether to smack her or take her home. Sheth gets second billing in the credits. My college buddy Shaheen Sheik also got two brief closeups; it’s always cool seeing someone I went to school with.

The central elision is intact, India is not the center of the Muslim world, and the exculpatory hand wave fails even on screen. But the India-Pakistan subplot is cute in a Sleeper kind of way. And in one witty riff, the sitar on the score switches from desi ishtyle to ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business.’

There are some cultural oddities about the script. Brooks is way overdressed in formal sherwanis for a day at the office. A Native American teepee makes a baffling appearance and leaves you wondering whether exposition was cut from the script; it’s not Brooks’ style to make you think. The Iranian boyfriend’s accent sounds like a cat in a blender, the unhappy coincidence of an inflated resume (‘Dialects: Hindi’) and actually landing the role. Sheth’s own accent is painfully inexact, but you get used to it as the movie wears on. At least they’re attempting Indian accents (Casanova: the Venezians speak in British accents? Really?).

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Math nerds needed. ASAP.

The Washington Post reports on news that is music to my ears. Scientists AND “big business” are actually joining forces for a cause that they know to be important:

Business and science groups are reviving images of the Cold War space race in an effort to persuade lawmakers to spend millions to recruit and train high-caliber math teachers.

They argue that, just as a stronger focus on math helped the United States top the Soviet Sputnik launch by putting a man on the moon, the country needs to improve math education to win an economic race with China and India and a national security race against terrorism…

“The interesting sort of difference in the dynamic then and the dynamic now is that we were competing with a military threat, whereas now it’s much more an economic threat,” said Susan Traiman, an education and work force policy lobbyist for the Business Roundtable. [Link]

Many groups have been sounding this alarm bell for a while now, but nobody listens. From 2002:

The U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century warns, “The harsh fact is that the U.S. need for the highest quality human capital in science, mathematics, and engineering is not being met… We not only lack the homegrown science, technology, and engineering professionals necessary to ensure national prosperity and security, but also the next generation of teachers of science and math at the K-12 level… The nation is on the verge of a downward spiral in which current shortages will beget even more acute future shortages of high-quality professionals and competent teachers.”

According to the 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), student science scores for grades 4 and 8 are flat and there has been a slight decline in scores for grade 12 since the assessment was last administered in 1996. Furthermore, 84 percent of science teachers and 86 percent of mathematics teachers in grades 5-8 did not major in science or mathematics. This report further underscores the need for reform and investment in math and science education, particularly at a time when our economy, national security and technological advances are heavily dependent on the quality of our future workforce. [Link]

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Woodruff’s other wingman

Most news outlets have been covering the serious injuries sustained by ABC news anchor Bob Woodruff, and his camera-man Doug Vogt. Soldiers in Iraq get killed by IEDs every day, but it is much more “in your living room” when it happens to a guy who’s whose face is actually in your living room every night.

“While Mr. Woodruff, 44, faces months of recovery and the full extent of his injuries are not yet known, Colonel Tellez said he could imagine him going back to work someday as a broadcast journalist. ‘He has a very good chance,’ Colonel Tellez said.

The cameraman, Doug Vogt, who was not as severely injured by the explosion, was ‘awake a lot, and talking to family and friends,’ said Marie Shaw, a spokeswoman for Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. [Link]

Another person that was with both Woodruff and Vogt in Iraq, but who doesn’t get any camera time, is ABC News producer Vinnie Malhotra.

Just before the C-17 jet lifted off early Monday from Balad Air Base near Baghdad, an ABC Television News producer, Vinnie Malhotra, stood somberly to the side as doctors and nurses strapped his colleagues and friends Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt in for the five-hour flight.

“They’re hanging in there,” said a subdued Malhotra, who was working with Woodruff and Vogt when they were seriously wounded by a roadside bomb Sunday in Iraq. [Link]

In a poignant report on Monday’s “World News Tonight,” ABC News said that after the attack Woodruff asked his producer, Vinnie Malhotra: “Am I alive?”[Link]

A quick search reveals that Emmy nominated Malhotra has been right there in the thick of things, having spent months reporting from Afghanistan, in addition to Iraq. Much respect. If I hadn’t pursued the line of work that I am pursuing, than I can’t think of a job I’d rather have than reporting from a war zone.

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Bollywood Passions

Growing up in what was initially a one-TV household, I was often forced to watch what my mom and sister were watching. From the 3-4 slot, this usually meant a heavy dose of Luke and Laura, Edward and Lila, Frisco and Felicia, and Tony and Bobby. For those of you that I know what I am talking about, we were General Hospital addicts. I hate to admit it, but I knew I had a problem when I started referring to it as GH, and would have conversations, that to anyone not familiar with the soap, would seem like jibber-jabber. I finally kicked my soap habit my sophomore year after studying abroad and now of course, work thankfully gets in the way. But when tipster Noelle (and all the other SM tipsters) informed us awhile back that television’s newest soap opera Passions was going Bollywood, I thought why couldn’t GH do that? Anyway, we over here at SM headquarters apologize for not mentioning this earlier, but most of the mutineers aren’t usually home to watch the show during the day, and for that reason we also wanted to wait for a video clip of the Bollywood item to be available before posting. So, now that the clip is available, you can find the video here. More information on the shoot, the clothes, the song, the choreography, and the video is available here. (The video only opens up in MS Explorer.) From what I gather from my five minute perusal of the show clips, the Bollywood triangle involves three characters: Ethan, Gwen, and Theresa. Gwen is scared of Theresa’s attempts to lure Ethan away from her, and convinces Ethan to travel with her to India so they could renew their vows. This is where the dance number begins and then turns into full on Bollywood melodrama. Featuring an ensemble cast of desi background dancers, Gwen and Ethan’s impending infinite bliss, and romp around the tree of life (I have no idea what that is about) is interrupted by the appearence of temptress Theresa in a ‘minimalist’ version of a sari and a black veil.

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Karnik the Magnificent

Keep an eye out for Rani Karnik, a NYC lawyer auditioning for the new season of American Idol who saves some money by reusing her Halloween costume:

In law school, she was president of an org which bears the best name ever:

I’m a lawyer by day, actor by night. [Link]

My Extracurricular Activities at Penn Law: President, South Asian Law Students Association (“SALSA”)… Prior Education: 2000, B.A. in English… Columbia University… [Link]

She also does voiceover work, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the photo, in which she’s apparently advertising an ottoman. She’s a disciple of Vanna White’s Path of the Open Hand, horizontal variation.

Related post: American Idol bhangra remix, South Asian crooners belt it out on ‘Idol’, Devika Mathur — one Righteous sister, Can an American Idol save a Bombay dream

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Are you a biased voter?

Last January I posted a link to an online test that you can take, which supposedly reveals if you have even a subconscious racial bias. One of the researchers conducting the study was Harvard’s Mahzarin Banaji. Banaji and her colleagues have just revealed results from their latest set of experiments which, if true, corroborates what many of us have suspected about politics. I love a bit of controversy on a Monday. From the Washington Post:

The field of social psychology has long been focused on how social environments affect the way people behave. But social psychologists are people, too, and as the United States has become increasingly politically polarized, they have grown increasingly interested in examining what drives these sharp divides: red states vs. blue states; pro-Iraq war vs. anti-Iraq war; pro-same-sex marriage vs. anti-same-sex marriage. And they have begun to study political behavior using such specialized tools as sophisticated psychological tests and brain scans…

Emory University psychologist Drew Westen put self-identified Democratic and Republican partisans in brain scanners and asked them to evaluate negative information about various candidates. Both groups were quick to spot inconsistency and hypocrisy — but only in candidates they opposed.

When presented with negative information about the candidates they liked, partisans of all stripes found ways to discount it, Westen said. When the unpalatable information was rejected, furthermore, the brain scans showed that volunteers gave themselves feel-good pats — the scans showed that “reward centers” in volunteers’ brains were activated. The psychologist observed that the way these subjects dealt with unwelcome information had curious parallels with drug addiction as addicts also reward themselves for wrong-headed behavior.

Another study presented at the conference, which was in Palm Springs, Calif., explored relationships between racial bias and political affiliation by analyzing self-reported beliefs, voting patterns and the results of psychological tests that measure implicit attitudes — subtle stereotypes people hold about various groups.

That study found that supporters of President Bush and other conservatives had stronger self-admitted and implicit biases against blacks than liberals did.

Not so fast, say a few expected critics.

Brian Jones, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said he disagreed with the study’s conclusions but that it was difficult to offer a detailed critique, as the research had not yet been published and he could not review the methodology. He also questioned whether the researchers themselves had implicit biases — against Republicans — noting that Nosek and Harvard psychologist Mahzarin Banaji had given campaign contributions to Democrats.

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Desperate to lock up oil supplies and fresh off a smarting Central Asian oil field loss to China, India has signed a deal with Saudi Arabia:

India and Saudi Arabia have signed a deal to develop a strategic energy partnership and have agreed to “fight the menace of terrorism” together… The deal promises to provide India with a “reliable, stable and increased volume” of crude oil supplies…

Saudi Arabia currently supplies nearly 175 million barrels of crude oil a year – a quarter of India’s oil needs. India imports 70% of its supplies and is currently exploring fresh supplies from Central Asia to South America. [Link]

Meanwhile, the Saudi government continues to fund madrassas in Pakistan which churn out militants for Al-Qaeda and Kashmir:

Since the1980s, Pakistan’s education ministry has depended solely on the tuition-free madrassa system of religious education, funded by Saudi Arabia and other orthodox Sunnis, to see a large number of poor Pakistani children get to school. The theocratic education of Pakistan’s orthodox madrassas was tailored to produce the leaders of the Taliban movement. The madrassas also produced the Sunni militants and others who protected the anti-American Taliban and al-Qaeda militants… [Asia Times – author also writes for Indian defense publications]

Zahidullah, 31, a grad student in Islamic law at the Bahrul Uloom madrassa in Pakistan’s northern mountains, boasts of how many recruits he has gained for the outlawed Kashmiri guerrilla force Harkatul Mujahedin: “Many youths here are anxious to join the jihad when I tell them stories of our heroic Islamic resistance against Indian aggression…”

In recent months, thousands of young Afghan men have swarmed to madrassas just inside Pakistan… On the Afghan side, meanwhile, the influx of madrassa students and graduates has helped to produce Taliban battle units as large as 100 fighters, where a year ago the guerrillas were mustering squads of barely a half-dozen men. [Link]

The madrassas are popular because the military-controlled government spends far more on bombs than brains:

… Pakistan desperately needs its madrassas. Without them, an estimated 1.5 million young Pakistanis would get no formal education at all. According to a recent analysis by the U.S. Agency for International Development, Pakistan spends only 2.2 percent of its GDP on public education, the tiniest share for any country in South or Southeast Asia. [Link]
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Good Blend of East and West

Lunar / “Asian” New Years is always an occasion for me to reflect on how different South (brown) Asians are from East and Southeast (yellow) Asians. However, there is an area in which we, apparently, are a mix of both African/European and East Asian genotypes. The area in question is earwax:

Earwax comes in two types, wet and dry. The wet form predominates in Africa and Europe, where 97 percent or more of people have it, and the dry form among East Asians. The populations of South and Central Asia are roughly half and half. [Link]

This is evidence, apparently, of some yellow in the woodpile:

The dry form, the researchers say, presumably arose later in northern Asia, because they detected it almost universally in their tests of northern Han Chinese and Koreans. The dry form becomes less common in southern Asia, probably because the northerners with the dry earwax gene intermarried with southern Asians carrying the default wet earwax gene. [Link]

There must have been a lot of intermarriage if half the populations of South Asia have the East Asian gene. It turns out that the earwax gene is also related to that other, oh so polite topic of conversation, body odor:

Since it seems unlikely that having wet or dry earwax could have made much difference to an individual’s fitness, the earwax gene may have some other, more important function. Dr. Yoshiura and his colleagues suggest that the gene would have been favored because of its role in sweating. They write that earwax type and armpit odor are correlated, since populations with dry earwax, such as those of East Asia, tend to sweat less and have little or no body odor, while the wet earwax populations of Africa and Europe sweat more and so may have more body odor. [Link]

This would imply that half of all South Asians sweat little and have little B.O. Having recently ridden the Delhi metro, my question is … where are they ?

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Banner Shout Outs

One of Sepia Mutiny’s signatures is our revolving banners. Back when Abhi first proposed a desi group blog, we pretty quickly figured out the overall theme on the writing side. But, interestingly enough, the banners took more rounds of discussion, trial & error to nail down — in part cuz too many of us were budding artistes / advertising impressarios but also cuz we recognized that the banners greatly shape the overall emotional tone of the site.

Our / my goal with the banners was sorta summarized in this old email conversation w/ the other proto-mutineers –

The logo needs to be dirt simple, pref monochromatic and scale well w/ size…. my ideal example is the Absolut Vodka bottle. In one of the many posts that went back and forth between me / Kiran & the Absolut Vodka company [re: the] Mulit ad, the Absolut folks said that the key to thier ad campaign was to extend the theme of Absolut as the “universal cultural observer” on behalf of the viewer. The Absolut bottle bonds w/ the ad viewer by showing the viewer an interpretation of an otherwise familiar / interesting scene.

Sepia Mutiny[‘s banners] could be the same thing….

How about just locking / loading on a single, stylized font and then printing that font in diff colors across diff desi themed picts?

Now, back in the day, banners were mostly made by SM staff (esp. Manish) although we did have a round of submissions from a few friends of the blog.

Recently, however, we received an extraordinarily beautiful set of banners submitted by Sank of EthnoTechno which totally captured the spirit. As we learned at the NYC meetup, Sank’s a designer by trade and his eye for layout, color, and detail are readily apparent in these images. A few of his submissions are below –

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Amar Akbar Shabana-ji

Now here’s a matchup you don’t see every day: Shabana Azmi and Muhammad Ali being honored at Davos (thanks, nycpepe).

Muhammad Ali and Shabana Azmi

Honorees Ali, Azmi, Michael Douglas, Gilberto Gil

… veteran actress Shabana Azmi has been honoured by the World Economic forum… at Davos in Switzerland. The Bollywood actor was honoured with the prestigious Crystal Award… alongside Hollywood actor Michael Douglas. The honour places Shabana in the league of… Paulo Coelho, Peter Gabriel, Richard Gere and Nikita Mikhalkov, who have won the award in previous years. [Link]

See more photos.

Related post: Browns take over Davos

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