Kumaré. Believe.

As Razib pointed out in the post immediately preceding, Sathya Sai Baba is dead. Who will stand up now to replace him? May I offer a humble suggestion? Kumaré:

What? Ok yes, I did just go there.

Kumaré is an enlightened guru from the East who builds a following of disciples in the West. But Kumaré is not real. He is an American filmmaker named Vikram Gandhi, who has transformed himself into Kumaré as the centerpiece of a social experiment designed to explore and test one of the world’s most sacred taboos. Concealing his true identity from all he meets, Kumaré forges profound, spiritual connections with real people from all walks of life. At the same time, in the absurdity of living as an entirely different person, Vikram the filmmaker is forced to confront difficult questions about his own identity. At the height of his popularity he reveals his greatest teaching: his true self. A playful yet genuine and insightful look at belief and spirituality, the film crosses a line few have dared to cross, all to discover: from illusion comes truth. [Link]

Check a review from SXSW.

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M. Night Shyamalan’s “Film School 2”

It was 1999, the movie “Sixth Sense” was packing theaters and M. Night Shyamalan The Next Spiel.jpglooked like a genius, a directing prodigy destined to win more Oscars than Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson combined. He was soon dubbed “The Next Spielberg” and every moviegoer learned to pronounce his name — or at least gave it a game try: “M. Night Shy May Lawn.”

A movie trailer trumpeting his name — “FROM THE MIND OF M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN” — would keep you from running to the bathroom during a Monday Night Football timeout, never mind that you’d just downed five Budweisers. You’d sit there and try to imagine what suspense and intrigue the mastermind had conjured this time — and how soon Spielberg would make his concession speech.

Shyamalan was the biggest South Asian name in America, with apologies to Deepak Chopra and Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. Malayalis were quick to pronounce him a fellow Malayali. Tamils were quick to say, “No, he’s a Tamil.” And Philly Grrl was quick to say, “No, he’s a Philly Gy.”

Then came a string of movies that caused critics to groan and audiences to moan. His last offering, “The Last Airbender,” was the last straw for many fans. It virtually swept the Golden Raspberry Awards, winning five Razzies, including “Worst Director” and “Worst Picture.” Roger Ebert gave the movie half a star and called it “an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented.” Malayalis conceded that he’s a Tamil. Tamils insisted that he’s a Malayali. And Philly Grrl said, “You’re both right.”

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2011 Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles. Who’s in?

I can’t tell you just how excited I am. After being away from LA for the past three Aprils I am now back to enjoy this year’s film festival which, as always, will be at the Arclight. In the past I would have done a detailed breakdown of the films and then maybe recommended some to you based on my LA street sources. Nah. Times have changed and I have been out of that kind of hard slog blogging for much too long. I am going to crowdsource this. Here is the program complete with trailers to most of the films. Tell me what you think I should go see either because the trailer “speaks” to you or because you know that one of these films has serious buzz or you’ve seen it. Better yet, if you made one of these films then leave a comment. The artist is the best advocate. Filmmaker Geeta Malik sent me the trailer to her film which will be playing at the festival so I will feature it:

Also, do any of you plan to go to some of these films? Please let other like-minded readers know in the comments below and maybe we will see each other there.

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Somebody’s Gonna Get Hurt Real Bad… in Source Code

russell.jpgOn Saturday, I had the opportunity to see Source Code, the new thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal as an army helicopter pilot serving in Afghanistan who awakens to find himself in a Chicago man’s body in a train headed for disaster. He’s given the difficult task of attempting to stop a terrorist who plans to blow up the train and other parts of Chicago. Imagine my surprise when I saw Canadian comedian Russell Peters (who Manish first introduced back in the 2004) playing the role of one of the passengers in the train. Certainly he doesn’t play a leading character in the film, but he does have a somewhat significant part in the plot. No spoilers, don’t worry. And not to worry Peters fans, the brusque, comedian plays pretty much himself in the entire movie. As Max Denoff, Peters plays a comedian whose sharp wit doesn’t leave him out of the terrorist suspect pool. Take a look at the first five minutes of the film in the trailer below. Continue reading

Asian Am Filum Festiwal

This weekend in the Bay Area is the 29th Annual San Francisco Asian American Film Festival hosted by the Center for Asian American Media I was debating going but thought to myself, “Nah…they’re probably only going to have East Asian American films featured and will completely ignore the South Asian American films…so why bother.” Then, I found this video on YouTube.

Well. I’ve been convinced. Now I have to go. A parody of the King’s Speech, the above clip features friends Pia Shah, Sunil Malhotra, and my buddy Rasika Mathur. And of course I’ll be at the film festival – The Taqwacores Motion Picture is screening, finally, in the Bay Area.

I was curious. What are these films on the list that called for Pia, Rasika and Sunil to create the above video? These are the South Asian-ish featured filums at this year’s festiwal:

From the Gala Presentations we have Upaj and the sequel to East is East, the new movie out of the UK West is West.

Under Special Presentations we have the classic Bend It Like Beckham and the abysmal It’s a Wonderful Afterlife. Continue reading

Catch the New Wave of Tamil Film

This weekend marks the beginning of a new film series from 3rd I Films that will tour in certain cities across the U.S. Cruel Cinema: New Directions in Tamil Film opens today at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, California (1/30-2/19), and will “travel on to the Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington, DC and BAMcinematek in Brooklyn, NY among other venues” according to 3rd I. The series provides an introduction to four new wave Tamil films from the latter half of the 2000s.

The program notes (quoted below) by Lalitha Gopalan and Anuj Vaidya definitely piqued my interest, and so did clips from the featured films, sometimes because and sometimes in spite of the cruelty portrayed. If you caught the wave earlier and saw any of these films, what did you think?  

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Slumgod Mandeep Sethi Drops the Boom Bap Rap

Poor Peoples Planet.png This past Friday, Bay Area Sikh-American hip-hop lyricist Mandeep Sethi dropped his latest album Poor Peoples Planet, a concept album produced by X9 of Xitanos Matematikos that weaves in the teaching Jiddu Krishnamurti, Punjabi gypsy origins, and classical elements of hip hop. At only 22 years old, Mandeep has already developed a strong base of followers having appeared on stage with artists such as Ziggy Marley and Dead Prez and having jumped on the mic with folks I’ve written about before such as Humble the Poet, Sikh Knowledge and Ras Ceylon. You can get Poor Peoples Planet on iTunes later this week and if you visit Mandeep’s BandCamp you can download the album now. Still not sure? Check out the single below Moving Swiftly, Guerrilla Tactics.

[Moving Swiftly::][GuerillaTactics][POORPEOPLESPLANET by mandeep.sethi.music

Full disclosure, I’ve been helping get the word out for Poor Peoples Planet and am excited to support a young Desi American whose lyrics are smart, conscious, and inspired by the hyphenated identity. But in the course of hanging out with Mandeep this week, I was really impressed to find out that he is one of the co-founders of Slumgods. Based in India, Slumgods was founded in 2010 as the first B-Boy collective in India bringing together emcees, breakers, artists of India and America. The Slumgods are bringing it hard and fresh using the the five elements of hip hop as a tool of empowerment for the slum youth in the Dharavi slums with a community center called Tiny Drops Hip Hop Center.

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Even North Koreans Bend It Like Beckham

Korean Bend It.jpgYou have to wonder… In a country like North Korea where the nation is stuck 1950s time warp and Western influences have officially not been allowed in… Why the 2002 film Bend It Like Beckham? Why now?

The 2002 film starring Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys Myers and Parminder Nagra aired Dec. 26 — a break from the regular programming of news, documentaries and soap operas in North Korea, where Western films are largely off limits.

“This was the first Western film to be broadcast on North Korean TV, and as well as football covered issues such as multiculturalism, equality and tolerance,” British Ambassador Peter Hughes told The Associated Press from Pyongyang, where his embassy helped arranged the Boxing Day broadcast.

Britain has been seeking to reach out to North Koreans through football, a sport that has connected the two nations since North Korea first sent a team to the World Cup in England in 1966. [yahoo]

I get it. Soccer can unite the world, teaches sportsmanship, crosses boundaries of nation states, blah, blah, blah. I can understand why the British government would choose this movie to develop ties with North Koreans. What I’m curious about is the South Asian hyphenated identity and pop cultural references. I would think that in a nation sheltered the way North Korea is, that a lot of these subtle nuances would be totally missed. In a nation where immigration simply doesn’t exist, how much of the immigrant experience story line did the North Koreans actually understand?

But typically of the censoring Communist state, eight minutes were cut from the 112-minute show….The Boxing Day screening was a rare treat in a country whose TV normally focuses on docum­entaries about farms and others glorifying its leaders and Army. [mirror]

Of course, they had to censor something. But I wonder what exactly those eight minutes of censored scenes were in this fairly PG rated movie. Was it when the girls were at the club? Religious references? Who knows. All I can say is thank goodness they chose this movie instead of Bride and Prejudice. Continue reading

The Ashes of Ajay Naidu

Even though we may recognize Ajay Naidu for his comedic talent, particularly in his breakthrough cult classic Office Space, his latest film Ashes takes us on a more serious journey. For this indie-flick in which Ajay writes, directs and stars in, the film deals with heavy topics such as mental health issues, growing up in a hyphenated culture, and survival. The film premiered in New York City last month and will be making the indie-film circuit this upcoming year.

Ashes – Movie Trailer from angelo fabara on Vimeo.

I haven’t seen the film yet, but would be interested to hear what people thought who were able to make the premiere for the film. Here’s what Abdullah at MTV Desi had to say:

[Ajay] is Ashes (short for Ashish), an Indian New Yorker charged with caring for his mentally ill older brother Kartik (Faran Tahir) who is fresh out of a care facility. We follow Ashes as he rejects the conventional path of working at an Indian restaurant and instead pursues his chosen hustle, the weed game….Though his drug dealing career is boosting his income, with money comes trouble, and soon Ashes is embroiled in a chess game between high-powered drug dealers. Ashes, who vows only to deal with marijuana and no harder substance, finds himself an accessory to the heroin trafficking. As the stakes rise, so does the number of people involved, complicating the story.

While Ashes and Kartik’s relationship tugs at the heartstrings, the drug game described in Ashes at times becomes cumbersome under the weight of its characters…Moreover, it becomes hard to believe that the business of moving high grade marijuana in New York is under the control of armed South Asian gangsters. [mtvdesi]

Ashes Poster.jpgTo abate my curiosity, I asked Ajay Naidu himself some questions about his making this film, what it means to be a South Asian actor this day and age and creative process. Check out my interview with the poignant Ajay Naidu below.

Taz: You are one of the most recognizable South Asian actors in the US, notable for picking roles where you are hilarious. Most people recognize you as Samir from Office Space though I personally adored your role on American Chai. This film, Ashes, is on the more serious side covering a grittier life story. Do you think the shift from comedy to serious was particularly sudden? How do you think the film will be accepted by your fans who are used to seeing you in comedic roles?

Ajay: It’s a strange thing to think of being called strictly a “comedic” actor. That’s a brand that other people put on actors. I grew up acting in the classical theater playing all kinds of roles not strictly related to funny or humorous subjects. It’s not a “shift” – it is a logical progression for a normal actor to take on roles that challenges them. Actually, the only other time I was noticed for a serious actor, I was nominated for the Independent Spirit Award for my role in Suburbia. That was a very, very serious role.

T:You not only co-wrote this film, but you also directed and star in it as well. What is the story about and why did you feel it was an important story to tell?

A: This story is about a small time drug dealer who takes care of his mentally ill older brother. I felt it was important to tell this story because I lost my sister to manic depressive schizoid disorder. I wanted to share that story with others who have suffered through similar losses and to discuss the subject through a modality wherein I could be as honest as possible about it. Film is that mode. Continue reading

What Happened to All the South Asians in Hollywood?


Last Friday my boyfriend and I went to the theater to watch The Social Network, a movie that tells the story of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s creation of the ubiquitous social media site. The film itself was fantastic – cleverly told, with fast-paced, witty dialogue and a group of young, talented actors. To nobody’s surprise, it garnered excellent reviews and made a respectful first-place opening at the box-office. But one detail did bother me – and many others that I spoke with – the fact that the only major minority character in the film, Indian-American Divya Narendra, was played by Italian-American Max Minghella. Continue reading