Banking on Chris Rock

We’ve heard of Hollywood investing money in the Indian film industry. Now it looks like the cash money is already flowing in the opposite direction.

Last night when I was flipping channels, I paused to see the trailer for Chris Rock’s I Think I Love My Wife. Now, it wasn’t the trailer itself that made me stop flipping (it doesn’t look anything I’d pay ten dollars to watch). No, it was the fact that the UTV logo flashed on the screen, billed as the movie’s producer. Yes, that UTV. The same Indian production company that made Rang De Basanti, Don, and Chalte Chalte is apparently cranking out Hollywood movies now, too.

Although I couldn’t find any mention of ITILMW on UTV’s website, a few google searches confirmed my suspicion. According to Rediff:

UTV inked co-production deals with Fox Searchlight and Will Smith’s production company Overbrook Entertainment and Sony Pictures Entertainment [back in 2006] to create and distribute films worldwide – making it the largest co-production deal out of South Asia worth $37 million. The $14 million production, I Think I Love My Wife, starring Chris Rock, will be UTV Motion Pictures’ second venture with Fox after Mira Nair’s The Namesake.

According to Variety, UTV provided half of the budget for ITILMY, with the intention of distributing it in India and sharing in the rights. In return, Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment will co-produce a film for $10 million that will have its backdrop set in India. (I’m thinking a song-and-dance version of Hitch.) Continue reading

Talwinder, Virgil and the Universal Plot Line

talwinder.jpgHere’s a story that bubbled up in the New York tabloids and local TV news a few days ago but didn’t make it any further. That’s because as incidents of police brutality go, the two shots fired into the legs of construction worker Talwinder Singh by off-duty NYPD officer Quillian Virgil don’t really seem, on current evidence, to be that egregious an abuse. In fact it seems that brother Talwinder (pictured, via NY Daily News) may well have put himself in position to get hurt through a series of frankly bizarre actions.

“OFF-DUTY COP SHOOTS ENRAGED PURSUER IN QUEENS,” blared the New York Post, making clear who it thinks was the victim in the confrontation that led to the shots being fired, near the corner of 103rd Avenue and 116th Street in Ozone Park, which in that stretch is heavily desi — Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and Indo-Caribbeans from Guyana and Trinidad. (According to the 2000 census, the three census tracts that abut that particular corner are nearly one-third “Asian” — which around here means desi, with another 18% classified as “two or more races;” the foreign-born population is nearly 65%. In other words typical outer-borough New York, with these trends likely to have only accelerated since the census was taken.)

Anyway, piecing together the info — the Daily News has the fullest article — it seems that Talwinder Singh had already once thrown a brick through Sgt. Virgil’s home window before returning last Friday evening for more mischief. Apparently Talwinder had a metal exercise bar — one of these joints, specifically — and was using it to smash the sergeant’s screen door. Alerted by his wife, Virgil got out of bed and stepped outside to find Singh wilding out. The papers say Singh then pursued Virgil down the block and at some point Virgil stopped, turned, and told Singh to drop the metal bar. The reports say Singh then lunged at Virgil, who then shot him in the legs to immobilize him.

Without endorsing any particular version of events, the whole story seems a bit… unhinged. I mean, who goes and vandalizes a police officer’s house — repeatedly? There has to be some other dimension and the tabloids are happy to provide it:

Talwinder Singh, 20, reportedly was sneaking up to see his landlord’s wife, and neighbor Sgt. Quillian Virgil informed the husband, the source said.

Aha! The love interest! It’s alleged that the landlord then consulted Virgil for advice about how to evict the young rascal. Talwinder got wind of this and decided to go for revenge. Now the landlords haven’t been named so we don’t know if they’re desi — a good chance they are, but it’s piquant either way. However lips are sealed:

The landlord’s wife wasn’t talking about the man who lives one floor beneath her in a basement apartment.

“I have nothing to say,” she told reporters at the 116th St. home yesterday. “Nothing.”

Meanwhile the peanut gallery is weighing in:

Some neighbors described Talwinder Singh, a construction worker, as a troublemaker.

“These fellas were always drinking and fighting,” Nazimudin Mohamed, 47, said of Talwinder Singh and his relatives. “I knew something was going to happen.”

Talwinder was taken to Jamaica Hospital and charged with a variety of offenses. Internal Affairs is investigating Virgil’s side of the story. Again, we’ll see how it all shakes out but what I dig about this story is how archetypal it is, with respect to characters, motive and dénouement. You could take out the desi names and put in Italian, Irish or Greek ones and you’d have an American urban story from a previous wave of immigration and settlement. Or you could keep the characters and change the setting to London, for instance, and it would work the same way. It’s confirmation that there are some constants in metropolitan life, and, perhaps, of that old writer’s saw that claims there are only four plots in human affairs, and all stories are merely variations. Continue reading

You better start behaving before dad cuts your allowance

The big news out of Washington this morning was that the White House has confronted Pakistan about their lame efforts in going after terrorists within their borders:

President Bush has decided to send an unusually tough message to one of his most important allies, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the president of Pakistan, warning him that the newly Democratic Congress could cut aid to his country unless his forces become far more aggressive in hunting down operatives with Al Qaeda, senior administration officials say…

American intelligence officials have concluded that the terrorist infrastructure is being rebuilt, and that while Pakistan has attacked some camps, its overall effort has flagged…

For the time being, officials say, the White House has ruled out unilateral strikes against the training camps that American spy satellites are monitoring in North Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal areas on the border. The fear is that such strikes would result in what one administration official referred to as a “shock to the stability” of General Musharraf’s government. [Link]

I find some humor in the fact that Bush is telling Musharraf to be worried that the Democrats will be more stern than him. It is a little like a mother saying, “you better shape up or you will be in big trouble with daddy.”

The Blotter reports additional details:

In a highly unusual move, the deputy director of the CIA, Stephen R. Kappes, was flown to Pakistan to personally present President Pervez Musharraf today with “compelling” CIA evidence of al Qaeda’s resurgence on Pakistani soil, U.S. officials say.

Kappes joined Vice President Dick Cheney for the surprise showdown meeting in Musharraf’s office in Pakistan.

The CIA evidence reportedly included satellite photos and electronic intercepts of al Qaeda leaders operating in Pakistan. [Link]

Of course, we all know that if El General goes down then things could get a lot worse in Pakistan. And so the dance continues (at least until daddy comes home).

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Wallflower once more

Oscar season has come and gone, and Indian film came nowhere close to being honored with Rang de Basanti failing to even make the foreign films shortlist and Water getting passed over. Reacting to RDB’s poor showing in the BAFTAs (the British Oscars), actor Naseeruddin Shah had this to say:

“We just don’t make films of an international standard… I really don’t think we make films that can match those from other parts of the world. And I am not referring to Hollywood – we make copies of Hollywood,” [Link]

Criticisms of Bollywood’s lack of originality and quality are nothing new, but coming from Shah they carry more weight. When I make similar statements, my Bollydefending friends justly point out that as an ABD I just don’t get the genre-specific joys, but it’s harder to rebut somebody who has acted in both mainstream Bollywood film and alternative cinema in India, appearing in over 130 films with 3 Filmfare magazine awards to his name. Furthermore, his statements appear to be more than an indictment against Bollywood; as quoted they are a criticism of the entire Indian film industry.

This is not to hold Hollywood up as an exemplar of good taste and originality. M.Night won worst director at this year’s Razzies and this year’s Best Film, The Departed, is a less exciting copy of Hong Kong’s Infernal Affairs. [Granted it really won as a deferred reward for Scorcese, but still ...]

What makes Shah’s criticism interesting is that he’s not saying India should be like Hollywood, instead he’s comparing India to other third world countries, saying that they produce better movies:

“We can’t match the types of films made in Iran for example, Poland, Japan, Mexico or Brazil, Vietnam or Korea… These countries are producing the most incredible movies and we are still plodding on with our boy-meets-girl safe, old formula. That is the reason I think our films aren’t taken seriously”. [Link]

Others point not to quality but to the lack of an adequate marketing budget (thanks Anil). The producer of The Departed had this advice:

… the financers who fund Bollywood movies must spend double or triple of the production costs they are currently spending just in marketing efforts and use it to promote the beauty of Indian cinema to a mainstream audience. As far as ‘The Departed’ is concerned, the promotion budget exceeded the costs of the production of the movie [Link]

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All That Glitters Ain’t (Banarasi) Gold

waterredcarpet.jpgApparently the only surprise about Deepa Mehta’s Water losing out on the Best Foreign Film award last night was that the eventual winner wasn’t Pan’s Labyrinth, the consensus favorite, but rather The Lives of Others, by an impossibly tall German director with an impossibly aristocratic Prussian name. So there’s little gnashing of teeth or rending of garments in the Indian press today, simply matter-of-fact recognition that “India’s Oscar jinx” carries on. It’s also apparently a known fact (I never get to the movies, so I’m just repeating what I read) that the entire field for the foreign-film award was extremely strong. So no injustice here any way you cut it.

However, I am rather exercised at the Monday morning snub from the newspaper round-ups of red carpet fashion, which roundly ignore the gorgeous heirloom gold-threaded Banarasi sari in which Mehta graced the ceremony. Los Angeles Times, New York Times — no one paid the slightest notice, positive or negative, to the passage across the red carpet of the Water crew. Even my mellow Hank Stuever in the Washington Post — political, worldly, and queer as the proverbial three-dollar bill — ignored the desi contingent, his confessed ogling of Ryan Gosling affording John Abraham no residual love.

Oh well. Perhaps it’s all for the best that our peoples passed by under the radar, considering the standard-issue snark that’s become de rigueur in such coverage. Or perhaps coverage was the point — body coverage, that is: with so much exposed bosom and leg to take in — let alone Jack Nicholson’s creepily depilated dome — those who took cover in dignified, discreet outfits necessarily condemned themselves to oblivion in the morning news.

deepatoronto.jpg Deepa could have joined the flesh parade, had she wanted to match up against Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren in the “do they still got it?” division, a bit of a rigged fixture for a director against two actresses. The dresses were there for the wearing, but the sista had a much better plan:

They must have been throwing clothes at Mehta once the nominations were announced.

“Yes, they were,” she admits. “Chanel, Armani, Prada etc. … approached me. `No, thank you. I’m wearing my mother’s sari.’ For one thing, I’ll never wear a dress in my life: I’m more blue jeans and cargo pants. It was just a question of what sari.”

Her mother’s sari was part of her trousseau.

“My paternal grandmother gave it to my mom when she got married,” she recalls. “It’s gold but because it is so old (from the ’40s), it’s burnished. It’s very subtle. The gold thread is a weave not done anymore. It’s gorgeous and it’s personal. It’s Mom’s.

“And Bulgari wanted to do my jewellery. But I’ll wear my antique Indian jewellery because it goes with the sari.”

Read the full, friendly feature from the Toronto Star here. As for the Oscars, if you’re feeling the pain of desi exclusion, the Economic Times offers you here a kind of consolation. Continue reading

Bharat Gheewala’s dream

We’ve all seen a movie and been inspired to change our lives. Usually, with me, that impulse lasts around as long as it takes me to get home and then I forget or move on. However, in Bharat Gheewala’s case [I can't make that name up - what could be a better name than that?], he plans to act on this impulse.

Gheewala’s inspiration came from an unlikely place — the movie “The Last King of Scotland” which should earn Forest Whitaker an Oscar tonight. Watching the movie reminded Gheewala of his own experiences in Uganda over 30 years ago:

“It was a case of leaving the kitchen and the bathroom and all our belongings and just getting out,” he said. “At first no one knew if Amin had meant what he said. But when it became clear that he had there was real panic… “In the end most of us left with nothing. People knew Amin … was a killer and would carry out his threats if we did not obey him…” [Link]

Interestingly enough, it also made Gheewala, now a successful businessman in the UK, feel he should do something to help Uganda:

“There is a saying that when you prosper you should give something back to the land of your birth, the land that created you as a person and that’s what I want to do.” [Link]

Gheewala says he now wants to build a hydroelectric plant to generate electricity in the south of Uganda, and create a lasting legacy for his family. I can’t tell if he’s serious or not, or if this is all clever PR, but I thought, on Oscar night, it would be nice to spotlight somebody who at least claims to have been inspired by the silver screen.

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There’s No Place Like Om

tattva.jpgOh no. Hot on the heels of Amrita’s most excellent rant on her visit to the “Gateway of India” themed event at New York’s ABC Carpet & Home, and the subsequent deployment on the same thread of the neologism “Ho-rientalists,” here comes, via the SAJA mailing list, a new development that brings it all together more beautifully than one could have dreamed for. It turns out that if you visit the ABC show, which runs til March 14, you can enter to win one of “Six Unique Travel Experiences” being offered by the Taj Hotels group in conjunction with a desi-owned New York travel agency called Our Personal Guest, and known as Tattva Tours.

Tattva? The term the brochure uses to translate this rather complex mystical concept is essence — as in, the essence of India. The press release explains:

Each 10-day tour explores a distinctive cultural perspective of India; some tours also offer a choice of Northern or Southern India itineraries. They are designed to bring out the essence of an Indian experience and are named after the elements that, according to Eastern philosophy, form the basis of all existence.

For details may I direct you to the tour brochure, which is a marvel of — shit, every single last damn cliché you could possibly round up about the mysterious, mystical, spiritual, romantic, esoteric, and not least, luxurious Orient, all set against glowing ochres and purples and yellows and labeled in the requisite faux-Devanagari script. It offers conceptual summaries of the six tours, which include Agni (“The delicacies by Indian fire – It’s not what you taste, it’s what you spice your memory with”), Vaayu (“A flight of fancy with Indian royalty – It’s not how you fly, it’s how high you soar”), Bhoomi (“The earthy splendour of Indian crafts – It’s not what you touch, it’s how it caresses you within”), Aakash, Jal, and Kham.

If we start quoting the descriptive copy for each of these tours we’ll never get out of here, so let me just offer one editorial gem:

Vaayu – Wind
Knowing no bounds, the royalty of India knew no limits when it came to revelry and celebrations. Without India’s royalty, pink would not have become the navy blue of India.

Now hold on a second. This might sound like gibberish to you, but then again, chances are you just aren’t sophisticated enough to understand it. After all, Our Personal Guest is aimed at a very specific type of client, the OPG Traveler: Continue reading

Medicine Entertainment

Alright, macacas. We don’t want you to get the wrong idea. It’s only because we’ve all been crazy busy lately that we haven’t gotten to this one yet. We certainly don’t want you to think that we here at the Mutiny consider ourselves too high-brow(n) to address the strange case of Dr. Sandeep Kapoor, a.k.a. the “meth doctor” who has found himself in the limelight due to his involvement in the now-ended life of Anna Nicole Smith.

kapoor.jpgQuestion One: Is that T-shirt for real, or is it Photoshopped? Either way it’s a remarkable image. Almost as remarkable as the image the gossip sites had of the brother sans shirt, apparently launching into woozy canoodle with Ms. Smith on a couch in a club before some other sycophant shoves a hand on the camera lens. Almost as remarkable as that of the brother astride a West Hollywood Gay Pride Parade “float” — actually a black Saab convertible — gazing fondly down at Ms. Smith while she — oh, just click the link. (I have absolutely no idea whether it’s SFW or NSFW, by the way. I can’t gauge these things anymore.)

One of my Sepia colleagues commented to me that the brewing controversy over Dr. Kapoor, who is now under investigation by the California medical board for his alleged role in supplying Ms. Smith with the alleged pharmaceutical products that are alleged to have contributed to her demise (I think we’re safe with that phrasing), is actually good for the race, in that no one has commented on Kapoor’s ethnicity, leaving his incompetence and general gross-ness to speak for itself without racial qualifiers — he is being judged, if you will, not on the color of his skin but on the content of his character. Well, my co-Mutineer didn’t actually phrase it that way; I’m embellishing, but it’s still his basic point. Which means: Yay! Desis are now so normalized into the field of medicine that they are expected to be insane, incompetent, quacks at no greater or lesser rate than found in the general medical population.

The gossip sites also inform us (caution: clothed but scary picture) that Dr. Kapoor advertised at some point for a position (chick pea, are you listening?) in which he describes one of his practice’s specialties as Entertainment Medicine. This is, apparently, a hitherto-unknown field. He also does travel immunizations and (ahem) “several national and international clinical pharmaceutical trials.” I don’t know about Entertainment Medicine, but when it comes to Medicine Entertainment, this brother’s gotta be a shoo-in for the Oscar. Continue reading

Hari the Comic on Kimmel (UPDATE: Kimmel Clip Found!)

A friend emailed me over the weekend, notifying me that desi stand-up comedian Hari Kondabolu was going to appear to on Jimmy Kimmel on Monday, February 19. Unfortunately, I was out of town and didn’t get to check my email in time (drat!) so I missed the whole thing. And I’ve been scouring the internet since then, trying to find the clip for this post but I have yet to find it. (If anyone can point me to it, I’ll upload it here.)

UPDATE: My friend emailed Hari and asked him for the clip, and he was nice enough to send it to her. Here you go. I love it!

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The economics of dating

Two stories have caught my attention in the past two days, and both deal with everyone’s favorite subject: dating! Or rather, I should say the stories are more about the lack of suitable mating options that has resulted from the intersection of two topics we blog about quite often on SM: 1) the growing new economies of India and China; and 2) the messed up sex ratio resulting from female foeticide and infanticide.

Yesterday, PRI’s Marketplace sent a reporter in to the heart of “Parent’s Matchmaker’s Corner” in Shanghai. The corner is basically a trading floor where worried Chinese parents gather to trade biodata on their late-twentysomething children, mostly without the knowledge of said children. The story was set in Shanghai but it might as well have been Delhi, as almost identical market forces are at work. Among the many great insights (some humorous) in the radio story (please listen) are the following:

1) Chinese A-list men date B-list women because they don’t want someone as smart as them. They want a trophy wife.

2) Many Chinese A-list men go abroad to seek their fortune, thus restricting supply.

3) Chinese A-list women get screwed because they are in high demand (since there is an overall shortage of women), but only have B and C-list men to choose from.

4) A-list women throw themselves into work and/or fool around waiting for an A-list man that might never materialize.

5) B and C-list men grow increasingly bitter and frustrated because all the B and C-list women have traded up and the A-list women only want them for their bods.

This chain of events is set into motion for two reasons: 1) there is a skewed sex ratio; and 2) in the “new” economies you have as many or more educated women as men. Again, everything above seems to apply to India as well. You’ll also note that in America reason #2 is already applicable, but what saves us from the same spiral is that we don’t perform sex selection.

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