Finally, Indian Christmas carols

On our News Tab SM reader Pallavi introduces us to the music of “Boymongoose.” They’ll be dropping their album, Christmas in Asia Minor, just in time for the Holidays:

1. Thanking You
2. 12 Days Of Christmas
3. Single Girls
4. Internet Dating (Radio Saffron)
5. Once In Rahul Dravid’s City
6. Oh Therapy
7. No More Brown
8. It Had To Be Said (Radio Saffron)
9. Hark the Herald, Angel Singh
10. The Worst Motel
11. Miss India (Radio Saffron)
12. We Are Wishing You A Merry Christmas
13. Think Of The Children

Here is a video of their version of 12 Days of Christmas. It’s an outstanding 4 minute waste of time (and the animation is solid):

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Apu-calypse Now!

It’s probably not a surprise that I’m a Simpsons fanatic, and have been since the first days (we collected Matt Groening cartoons in junior high) but it was the evolution of the character of Apu that really clinched it for me.

Now, the first reaction upon encountering or hearing about Apu Nahasapeemapetalan is invariably a groan–yet another stereotypical 7-11 manager/operator–whether when he debuted, or today. But Apu evolved, as most Simpsons’ characters, into someone complex, worthy of both ridicule and empathy. He has a PhD, entered into an arranged marriage (but not before a stint as Springfield’s most happening bachelor, Trans Am and all) with the witty Manjula, sired octoplets, revealed his veganism and his illegal immigrant status, which he fixed by getting that long-awaited H-1 Visa. His worst sins are quirky saying in accented English, his two instances of infidelity to his wife and a tendency to overcharge (nothing compared to miser Mr.Burns or desperate Moe). Despite repeated attempts to run away from the overwhelming demands of his family of octoplets, Apu remains an excellent vehicle for Simpsons writers to explore desi issues. I highly recommend Wikipedia’s detailed biography of Apu here.

But Apu was absent in the most recent Simpsons exploration of desi culture, when Homer gets outsourced to India. Desi culture has become too big even for Apu. Continue reading

The saga continues in Lanka

Things in present day Sri Lanka have been taking a depressing turn of late:

At least 150 people have fled the village of Allaipiddy in the northern Sri Lankan peninsula of Jaffna.

It follows last weekend’s murder of 13 Tamil civilians. The navy has been accused of the killings – they deny it.

Police and international truce monitors have both launched investigations into the incident.

The killings came only two days after Tamil Tiger rebels launched a suicide assault on a naval convoy in which 18 sailors died. [Link]

To take your minds off of the grim reality of the present I feel that I must point you to animator and SM commenter Nina Paley’s website. She has just released the newest segment of the her multi-part saga, Sita Sings the Blues. It is titled “Battle of Lanka.”

A pivotal scene from “Battle of Lanka”

Battle of Lanka was made about a year ago, and is chapter 4 in Sita Sings the Blues, after Hanuman Finds Sita and before Trial By Fire. In this episode, Rama, Hanuman, and the monkey armies cross the sea to Lanka to conquer Ravana and the rakshasas, and rescue the captive Sita. Assisting me was Jake Friedman, the only animation apprentice I’ve ever had. Jake wanted to learn Flash and had excellent animation chops and a good eye, so he came to Brooklyn almost every day for a month. Jake animated much of the monkey-on-demon violence: monkey swinging axe, monkey throwing axe, monkey bashing demon with club, monkey kicking demon, etc. A panorama of Jake’s animation occurs at 1:28, in which I took pretty much everything he’d animated on the project and composited it into a single scene. It’s worth multiple viewings, to catch all his lovingly considered variations. Thanks Jake… [Link]

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Kali’s video game debut

File this under “It’s only offensive if somebody else does it.”

Only desis could get away with making a video game about Emperor Ashoka that uses figures from Hindu mythology and art just to give you something to fight:

Kali is appearing in the forthcoming Emperor Ashoka … which recreates battles from the life of a legendary Indian king who lived in the third century B.C. The game allows players to engage in bloody historic battles based in ancient temples and other antique environments. Some mythical creatures are also thrown in — in addition to Kali, there are gargoyle-like interpretations of the voluptuous female statues that adorn sacred buildings in India, who come alive and fight. “We wanted to have an edge,” says Indiagames CEO Vishal Gondal. “It’s a storyline that hasn’t been seen before” [Link]

If the game makers had been white, the blogosphere would have been up in arms with people yelling “Temple of Doom, never again!” Continue reading

Skype’s Sepia Avatars

Disco DJ Ennis in da virtual hiz-ouse!

Remember “flesh colored” bandaids – the ones that didn’t look anything like your flesh, and which stood out like a pink gash on your arm? This same problem recurs in the virtual world. Cyberspace is oddly eurocentric given the vast number of cyber-coolies who work to maintain and extend it. Despite the years that have elapsed since the end of the flesh-colored crayon, very little of the virtual world is easily extensible to look like me.

One noteworthy exception is a company called Weeworld that specializes in the creation of avatars for use with Skype or other services. Their web application lets you specify settings for 23 variables, each of which can take on multiple values, to create an image of yourself for only 1.5 Euros. Not only can you specify whatever skin, hair and eye color you want, but you can also give your icon facial hair and even a fairly realistic looking turban! It is a profound demonstration of the deep penetration of desis into British cultural life when a British company, producing for a largely European audience, includes a turban as a standard option. [Hat tip to Mr Sikhnet]

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Rollin’ down the street

A faux remnant of the British Raj…

Bombay Sapphire is a brand of gin distributed by Bacardi. The name hints at the origins of gin’s popularity in the British Raj. During their administration, the British took quinine in order to protect against malaria in the form of tonic water. This was mixed with gin in order to make a more pleasing and sociable drink of this medical necessity. [Link]

… put out a moody, animated, Simba-esque ad some time ago. It updates the look of old Chinese scrolls (cherry blossoms, carp) with dandelions, butterflies and… a bug zapper? It starts off in silhouette like a film studio intro, but gets more innovative from there. Watch the clip.

Turns out that not only tonic water, but also vermouth, contain the antimalarial drug quinine. Keep that druggy mixture in mind the next time you watch 007 toss off a martini:

Tonic water was never intended as a cure or preventive for malaria, but malaria is the reason the quinine is in there. Quinine has a bitter taste. To make the stuff palatable when used as an antidote for fevers, legend has it, British colonials in India mixed quinine with gin and lemon or lime. Over time they learned to love the godawful stuff. (You can see this principle at work in a lot of British cuisine…) Quinine is also used, along with other herbs, to flavor vermouth…[Link]

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Blood brother

SM reader Ravi Swami is an animation designer, and I love what little of his work I’ve seen. His demo reel includes retro desi artwork, war propaganda-style satire, psychedelic flying Bugs and a kitschy robot that’s a cross between Sky Captain and Futurama.

Swami mashes up kaleidoscopes, lotus mandalas, Indian revolutionaries and multi-armed deities. Behind a Bollywood theater, London’s Erotic Gherkin lurks erect. It’s all set to the moody atmospherics of Domenico Modugno’s original recording of ‘Volare,’ popularized again by the Gipsy Kings. Watch the demo reel.

The Spitfire beer ad is quite witty: pouring a draught becomes a visual pun about rolling a fighter plane. Brill! The reel also includes a snippet of an animation called ‘Mr. and Mrs. Singh.’ Its visual style is tremendous, 3D with a watercolor look:

A few years ago Ravi developed a short film with Gurinder Chadha which was to be shown before the film Bend it Like Beckham. When the Channel 4 animation department folded, so did the short. A real shame because… such a high profile film [could] have helped to resurrect the feature film trailer as a legitimate forum for quality animation shorts… [Link]

Most of the desi bits in the demo reel are from his short film ‘Blood Sutra,’ with director Rajesh Thind and a title shared by a Vijay Iyer album. As part of a public health campaign, the short fights desi superstitions about donating blood. Paper doll doctors dance bhangra at the hospital; a phillum poster announces the debut of an Indian starlet, ‘Heema Globin.’

… Rajesh and Ravi have also gone for a rapid-fire episode series… Shorts within a short if you like. This approach may have something to do with Ravi’s early obsession with Zagreb School Animation and the ‘Mini-mini’ series. The influence of the animated one-minute gag can certainly be seen in ‘Blood Sutra.’ Ravi’s views on the irony of the communist Zagreb School evolving into the capitalist Red Bull adverts could spawn a whole Ph.D. thesis… [Link]

Most who mine old Indian health propaganda (‘An Ideal Boy‘) do so purely for art’s sake, winkily adorning a coffee table book or T-shirt. But Swami re-applies the parody to the source. What can you say about making doctor cutouts do a silly dance, then sticking them back in a hospital? It subverts without subverting. I’ve never had so much fun watching a health film. Watch the short (3:01).

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Terrorist tech support

This tech support parody (warning: sound) has a wild-eyed Sikh wearing an Afghan-style turban surrounded by Hindu icons in southern India (thanks, Avi). The usual bad Indian accent and cow jokes ensue. I supposed we should thank the animator for drawing him in an office instead of squatting on the ground with an abacus. Its dissection of brainless tech support is pretty cute, though.

Screwy Flash animations shouldn’t be politically correct, but they shouldn’t be ignorant either. Team America knowingly poked fun at American stereotyping even while engaging in it, by putting together a Middle Eastern disguise for the protagonist. The ‘disguise’ consisted of stray bits of toilet paper stuck to his jawline and brownface splashed on as if by a 2-year-old. That’s about how well Americans understand the Middle East, the movie was saying.

This animation doesn’t do that — it cheaps out with crude, wildly inaccurate ethnic stereotypes. I’m not saying don’t poke fun at desis. Hell, we do it all the time. I’m saying: Ill Will Press, this creative work is trite and lame. Get it right next time. There are a quarter million of us right in your backyard, the second-largest Asian-American group in NYC, so just ask somebody.

Granted, it might be a strained conversation (‘Say, dude, fact-check this animation and do a bad accent so I can make fun of your country of origin’)… :)

Related posts: 1, 2, 3

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Giants, dwarves and lemurs

Like that VW ad, NYC sometimes has moments of spooky synchronicity. Like the time two weeks ago when I hailed a cab to SoHo. The fellow who picked me up was an uncle crooning along to Hindi ghazals in the direction of his steering wheel. After crossing the Williamsburg Bridge, we passed a Sikh guy with a black pug and a cute Punjaban walking toward chic bar Mecca. A block later, a group of desi high school kids sounded their barbaric yawps over the sidewalks of the world. The louche lounge turned out all Arabic and Hindi tunes, Turkish lanterns and Bombay tones; ’twas hookahs and wine, you know the kind.


Similarly, both major movies released last weekend, Madagascar and The Longest Yard, had desi influences. In the animated film Madagascar, a major character speaks in a comical desi accent mouthed by Ali G. His Julian the lemur king is pompous and faintly ridiculous, though aside from the accent he’s funny in his own right. The sound isn’t exactly Sellers, but this movie confirms the cycle of immigrant visibility: first ignored, then laughed at, then accepted. (And finally The Man? Only in spelling bees.)


The hilarious thing is, American movie reviewers couldn’t place the accent. It was clearly a desi parody, though rounded off via the West Indies or just the fertile mind of Sacha Baron Cohen. Reviewers guessed all over the map: Eurotrash, Middle Eastern, Caribbean. Here’s what the director said:

We had this two-line character, Julian, and we got a tape of the show “Ali G” with Sacha Baron Cohen. He came in and he invented this Indian accent. We gave him a couple of lines and he turned them into eight minutes of dialogue. We were just in tears on the floor and thought, “This guy has to be the king.” So that was just a two-line part that he invented and it turned into that role.

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