About Lakshmi

Lakshmi Gandhi is a freelance journalist based in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @LakshmiGandhi.

Mathai Rocks ‘The Voice’

Could an 18-year-old singer named Mathai be the next winner of NBC’s The Voice?

Billboard called Mathai’s performance on the show last week “awe-inspiring” and noted she was “one of the few [contestants] who understands nuance and power.”

I hope that as the season progresses we’ll get to see Mathai do more ballads. This 2010 talent show performance, in which a then-16-year-old Mathai covers Adele’s version of To Make You Feel My Love, is incredible. (You can check out more of her songs at her official YouTube channel.)

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy Wins Oscar For ‘Saving Face’

Journalist and documentary filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy became Pakistan’s first Oscar winner last night when her film Saving Face won best documentary short.

Saving Face tells the story of two women (39-year-old Zakia and 23-year-old Rukhsana) who were severely disfigured after becoming victims of acid attacks. According to the film’s website:

Every year in Pakistan, at least 100 people are victimized by brutal acid attacks. The majority of these are women, and many more cases go unreported. With little or no access to reconstructive surgery, survivors are physically and emotionally scarred, while many reported assailants – typically a husband or someone close to the victim – are let go with minimal punishment from the state.

 

The film follows Dr. Mohammad Jawad, a British-Pakistani plastic surgeon who traveled back to Pakistan in order to assist Pakistan’s acid attack victims. During her acceptance speech Obaid-Chinoy dedicated the award to Dr. Jawad, Rukhasana and Zakia, and “to all the women in Pakistan who are working for change.” She added, “Don’t give up on your dreams.”

Hopefully Obaid-Chinoy’s Oscar win will mean that more people in Pakistan will have the opportunity to see the film. The filmmaker told the Wall Street Journal in November that she planned to show the film in private venues and recently told the Asia Society that “contractual restraints” prevented her from showing it to large audiences.

HBO will be broadcasting Saving Face on March 8. Mark your calendars.

Raza Jaffrey Stars in NBC’s “Smash”

Raza Jaffrey of NBC's SmashDid anyone catch the premiere of the new NBC drama Smash? It debuted on Monday after a multi-million dollar promotional campaign and many hope that it will be the hit show NBC desperately needs. The hour-long musical drama is about the creation of a Broadway show based on the life of Marilyn Monroe and is produced by Steven Spielberg.

British actor Raza Jaffrey plays Dev Sundaram, the live-in boyfriend of main character/Broadway actress Karen Cartwright (played by former American Idol contestant Katharine McPhee). Jaffrey’s best known for his role as Zafar Younis in the BBC drama Spooks.

From his character’s mini-bio on the show’s official website:

Devan “Dev” Sundaram was born in Wimbledon in the United Kingdom, but has split his time with relatives in Queens for much of his life and has lived in New York City for several years. With a B.A. in Classics and Political Science from Oxford University and M.A.s in Communications (from Columbia University) and International Relations and Journalism (from NYU), Dev has worked as Deputy Press Secretary in Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s office since 2010. He lives in Lower Manhattan with his girlfriend, Karen Cartwright.

 

Masters degrees plural. Of course. It will be interesting to see how the show portrays New York’s South Asian community and, since the show films in New York, to see if they visit any notable landmarks. I also wonder if there will be any subplots involving the character’s relatives in Queens. I only caught a few minutes of the episode, so I don’t have an opinion on the show yet. The entire pilot episode can be seen here.

Joe Biden imitates Indian accent during NH speech

Vice President Joe Biden (who I like to think of as America’s wacky, slightly off-color Uncle Joe) briefly imitated an Indian accent while giving a speech in New Hampshire on Thursday.

As longtime readers know, this isn’t the first time Biden’s gotten into hot water with the desi community. Back in 2006, the then-Senator noted that “You cannot go into a Dunkin Donuts or a 7-Eleven unless you have a slight Indian accent.”

Watch the video of yesterday’s speech below. The imitation begins at 00:09 and ends rather abruptly. As one Buzzfeed commenter noted, “It’s like halfway through the impression he thought, “Oh sh–, better not follow through with this one.”

‘Skewed Demographic’ Highlights Bone Marrow Disparity

The online art exhibit Skewed Demographic brings together artists to address the racial disparity in the bone marrow registry. Each piece in the online gallery is being auctioned off with proceeds going towards processing bone marrow testing kits.

Photographers Shirin Adhami and Sunita Prasad curated the show in honor of Photojojo founder Amit Gupta and other South Asian leukemia patients. Adhami first met Amit Gupta when both were undergraduates at Amherst College a decade ago. When Gupta first announced his diagnosis and his need for a bone marrow donor, Adhami was one of his many friends who rallied to action.

“Personally, I was working on doing drives and I was thinking of doing a more symbolic gesture,” said Adhami during a recent phone interview. “How could I reach an audience that maybe couldn’t donate marrow? How could it be more than a request for money?”

Adhami decided to put the call out to her contacts to see if they would be willing to donate their work to the cause. “The idea is photo-based, but the artists are not necessarily all photographers. The inspiration is really from Amit’s photo interest,” she said. “There were times that I have not even realized I was using one of his inventions until much later. He has really affected the photo world with Photojojo.”

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A conversation with Unladylike’s Radhika Vaz

In her one-woman show Unladylike: The Pitfalls of Propriety, comedian Radhika Vaz tackles subjects like “proper” female behavior, modern relationships, and the ubiquity of bikini waxes. Having recently returned from touring India, Vaz will be performing Unladylike at the The Producers Club in New York City on Friday, December 9 (more details below). I recently had the chance to ask her a few questions about the show.

What inspired you to write Unladylike?

I had been doing improv for a really long time and then I started writing monologues. I always wanted to do a one-hour show on my own for a few reasons. I was auditioning for parts and wasn’t getting anything. You know, I am practically 40. I am Indian with an Indian accent, I’m not even an Indian with an American accent, so I wasn’t fitting into any of the roles. Writing the show was what really pushed me out there.

Stories about your husband and family often appear in your work. Have any of your relatives ever told you that something was off-limits?

No, they haven’t. I definitely do believe that I have to at least show them the piece before I post it to my blog. Most of my pieces start out on the blog, I usually post it before it is performed.

I remember I posted something once and my husband was like, “You really should have shown me this before you posted.” If it is something related something like alcohol abuse or anything embarrassing, I show it to them. When writing about my friends I change names a lot.

Do you consider Unladylike to be a feminist show?

I hope it is. I am certainly not the first person to talk about these things, but I definitely hope that people look at it that way. To elaborate a little bit, I definitely think that I speak a lot about the wide disparity in the way that men and women are viewed.

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Aziz wants you to give a spit

Aziz Ansari and his Parks and Recreation co-star Chris Pratt just released this PSA encouraging young people to get their cheeks swabbed for the bone marrow registry.

DoSomething.org’s Give a Spit campaign is specifically targeting young people between the ages of 18-24. The campaign and its partners Be The Match and DKMS “need inspired young people like you to take the lead and register more committed college-age donors, especially minority donors. You can save lives by running a “Give a Spit” drive on your campus. Just sign up and we’ll get you everything you need to run a drive.”

Plus, there are prizes: The drive that gets the most donors signed up wins $2,000 for a celebratory party and everyone who enters the registry through a Give a Spit drive is eligible for a $500 college scholarship.

Readers who are curious about what donating entails should check out Taz’s recent interview with two donors. You should also check Amit Gupta Needs You for a list of drives across the country.

(Via Gawker)

Learning How to Embrace Thanksgiving Turkey

As Thanksgiving 2011 winds down, I thought I’d share this fun piece the playwright Wajahat Ali wrote for Salon about how his family eventually came to embraced that “confounding bird,” the turkey:

Now, I don’t begrudge my parents their position toward turkey. It’s a confounding bird for most immigrants, who are generally more comfortable with the bleats of a goat or a lamb, the squawks of the simple-minded chicken. The turkey was an enigma: a heavy, feathered bird with its “gobbledygook” mutterings, freakish red wattle and vast supply of dry, juiceless meat.     “Do the Amreekans realize it is dry?” ask my still perplexed relatives living in Pakistan. “Where is the masala? The taste? The juices? Why do they eat this bird?”  

 

What did you serve this Thanksgiving? Did you desi-fy your turkey? (Aarti Sequeira has a recipe for tandoori turkey here.) I grew up in a vegetarian household, so no turkey for me, but we did have pumpkin raita and cranberry chutney on the table as a nod to the holiday.

A conversation with Kal Penn: Harold and Kumar, the White House, NPH and more

Kal Penn and John Cho star in A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas

Kal Penn surprised many of his fans two years ago when he put his acting career on hold to join the Obama White House as a mid-level staffer. After a two year hiatus, Penn returns to the silver screen this weekend with the release of A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas. I recently spoke to Penn about his new film, working at the White House, and Asian Americans in the media.

Tell us about the new film. This obviously isn’t your typical Christmas movie.

In a lot of ways it is a traditional Christmas movie. What was cool is that a lot of things you see are traditional. Santa Claus is in the film- Harold accidentally shoots him in the face. There’s family, friendship, and love [in the movie]. What’s different is that it’s in 3D, and it is vulgar.

This is your first film since leaving your job as an advisor to the White House. I just read this great quote of yours from an interview you did with the LA Times: “When you’re working there, you always think, ‘What is the best time to tell the president that you played a stoner who escaped from Guantanamo Bay?’ Did Harold and Kumar or any of your other roles ever come up in conversation while you were at the White House?

The nice thing about working in the White House is that almost everyone has put a private sector career on hold. There isn’t a lot of conversation about what people put on hold, it’s more about working together to push the president’s agenda.

Currently you are also guest starring on How I Met Your Mother, which means of course that you are working with Neil Patrick Harris again. Is working with him on HIMYM different from the Harold and Kumar movies?

Neil is incredible. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the chance to see him on Broadway, but he’s a legit Broadway actor. He subs for Regis on Regis and Kelly. There’s really nothing that guy can’t do. Continue reading

Brawl breaks out at Queens gurdwara

A brawl broke out at a Queens, NY gurdwara Sunday after a dispute about membership rolls turned violent.

The New York Daily News reports:

Seven people were arraigned on riot and assault charges Monday for their roles in a vicious turf battle at a Sikh temple in Queens.

Assailants wielding cricket bats and small swords disrupted prayer services Sunday morning at the Baba Makhan Shah Lubana Sikh Center in Richmond Hill, police and witnesses said.

“I’m going to kill you,” defendant Harinder Singh, 47, screamed before punching Joginder Singh in the face, says a criminal complaint filed in Queens Supreme Court.

Gurnam Singh, 47, rushed into the temple swinging a stick and lunging at others while religious ceremonies were underway, the complaint says.

The NY Post adds a bit more detail:

The attackers brought the long sword and at least one other blade, as well as a hammer, mallet and cricket bats to the temple at 101st Avenue and 114th Street at around 11 a.m., witnesses and police said.

As you can imagine, New York City’s tabloids (which include the Post and the Daily News) have had a field day with this story. Be sure to read the Langer Hall’s analysis of the coverage. Continue reading