Great Expectations for Slumdog Millionaire

The Oscar buzz has already started and it’s only been one day since “Slumdog Millionaire” was released. So far, the new offering from British director Danny Boyle (of Trainspotting fame) has been referred to by The New York Times as a film that “could be the breakthrough work that leads the world to focus on the genre …of Parallel Cinema, a more personal narrative type of film like Mira Nair’s art house hit “Monsoon Wedding.” slumdog2.jpg

And, Roger Ebert predicts the film will win an Best Picture Oscar nomination, calling it “a breathless, exciting story, heartbreaking and exhilarating at the same time [whose] universal appeal will present the real India to millions of moviegoers for the first time.”

When you read gushing reviews like Ebert’s, you can’t help but walk into the movie hall with high expectations, wondering whether a film can really live up to all the hype. The answer is: Yes.

“Slumdog Millionaire” is being billed as a film about “first love, determination, and realizing your destiny.” Not quite the pitch that you’d expect from a mainstream film about a kid from an Indian slum. This is a film that will surprise viewers who think they’re going in to watch a movie about India’s tremendous poverty and rich-poor gap. It switches swiftly between scenes that take you into an India that is at once poor and wealthy, moral and crime-ridden, developed and undeveloped, hopeful and disappointing. And, though the story is laced with a trace of Bollywood romance, goondas, and some implausability, it is for the most part, as Roger Ebert says, “real.” Add to that a soundtrack by A.R. Rahman and Danny Boyle’s directorial talent for bringing India’s sensory overload and motion to life without the typical exoticism or “oh those poor things” mentality and you have a winner.

More of my review below the fold. Continue reading

Another Desi Reality Show Contestant!

Shazia is on Top Design.jpg …this time, it’s Shazia Kirmani, of Houston/Dallas, Texas (thanks for the tip, Sadaf). She’s an ABD whose parents are from Pakistan, and she’s one of the contestants on Bravo TV’s excruciatingly boring show, Top Design. I ain’t tryin’ to hate, but I couldn’t get through all of the one episode which I had DVR’d in preparation for writing this post.

That’s sad, really, because I asked for and received a subscription to Conde Nasty’s HG as one of my sixth-grade graduation gifts, way back in 1986. I already had this. Keeping all that in mind, you can understand why I was extra let-down at the utter crappiness of this show. But I digress. Let’s meet Shazzers:

Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Shazia was part of the first generation of American born children in her family. From a very young age her father pushed her to become a doctor, but after her first semester at The University of Texas at Austin studying Biochemistry, Shazia realized she was more passionate about redesigning her bedroom than anything that was going on in the classroom.
Upon graduation, she accepted a position at the Gap as a visuals specialist, where she finally found the direction she needed. At the age of 25, familial and societal expectations thrown to the wind, Shazia entered The Art Institute of Dallas studying Interior Design. Three short months after graduation, she was awarded a contract with a multi-billion dollar healthcare services company and from there she started her own company, Egospace Interiors, Inc.
Shazia is inspired by everything – the environment, politics, fashion, etc. She prefers her designs to be functional, with a touch of contemporary edge. In 2006, her apartment was recognized in Dallas’ D Home and Garden Magazine and she was named the ‘It’ gal of interiors.
Now at 30, Shazia is as successful and ambitious as ever. Her company is growing and she is taking on commercial/residential rehabs and clientele such as The Trelivings, whose patriarch, Jim Treliving, is star of CBC’s Dragons’ Den and owner of Boston Pizza International. By staying true to her deepest desires, whether business or personal, Shazia has mastered the ability to take on any challenge without letting fear of the unknown stand in her way. [bravotv]

I love Bravo for Project Runway, Top Chef and my dirty little secret, The Real Housewives of New York City, so I tolerate their shameless cross-promotional crassness (“You only have five minutes to get your models to the TRESemme Hair station. TRESemme hair products provide professional quality hair care at an affordable price. Make it work!“), but just barely.

On the episode I only minimally fast-forwarded through last night, Top Design hopefuls were instructed to create a window design to showcase a dress created by…wait, for it…wait, for it…past contestants of Project Runway. While it was fun to see crunchy Sweet P, the exquisitely sensitive Andrae, and the ferocious Santino again, it was NOT FUN to watch TD teams create some of the most boring installations I’ve ever seen. Continue reading

Razib on Reihan + Grand New Party (updated)

Razib beat me to the punch in profiling the rising desi-pundit Reihan Salam. We first mentioned Reihan on SM a few years ago when he, as a blogging neophyte, held a guest spot on Daniel Drezner’s prominent blog & raved about PunjabiMC and H&K. Since then, his footprint has grown both through his own blog as well as via coauthoring a provocative new book, Grand New Party which advocates a sort of Natalism to “save” the Republican Party.

Reihan classifies himself as -

Rawlsekian neoconservative singulatarian meliorist humanist neoliberal infosocialist Viridian postliberal incrementalist.

SM Favorite Razib heard Reihan speak recently and characterized him this way

WITNESSING Reihan Salam speak off-the-cuff feels like some intensely demanding, habit-forming new spectator sport. While he’s in full rapid-fire, animated flow, the rapt listener remains completely engrossed, delighted by his insights, analysis, and wide-ranging references, wowed by his effortless formulations and disarmed by his wry asides.

…So, who is Reihan Salam? If you don’t know of him yet, you will. Salam is an American-born son of Bangladeshi immigrants, Harvard graduate, prominent political blogger and journalist, and now co-author of a serious and fast-selling political manifesto Grand New Party.

To add that he also blogs about pop culture doesn’t begin to describe the man’s breadth or curiosity. He has long posted original poetry and rap lyrics on the web and steeped himself in pop music, both Japanese and Anglophone.

Continue reading

Slowly, Slowly, Rafta, Rafta Grows On You

Rafta Rafta The New Group Through June 21, 2008 Tickets $55 ($41.25 with promo code)

When I was in London last year, there was one West End production that I was determined to see—Ayub Khan-Din’s “Rafta, Rafta” at the National Theatre. Of course, as my luck would have it, the one parents rafta.jpgweekend I was there was when the play was on a hiatus, so I returned stateside without having watched the stage event which was described by the Daily Telegraph as “’an irresistible mixture of bonhomie, bumptiousness and egomania…irresistibly comic.” It goes without saying that when “Rafta, Rafta” made its off-Broadway debut at the Acorn Theatre in NYC earlier this month, I was eager to see how it had survived its journey across the Atlantic.

“Rafta, Rafta” is brought to us by Ayub Khan-Din, he who is best known for the brilliant “East is East,” which shone a spotlight on middle class British-Indian family in the 70s. While “East is East” also addressed themes of race and cultural adjustment—i.e. political issues outside the home, “Rafta Rafta” is much more of a comedy and drama about domestic politics.

Based on Bill Naughton’s 1963 play “All in Good Time,” “Rafta, Rafta” (directed by Scott Elliot who also directed the 1999 production of “East is East” and the original “Avenue Q” production at The New Group) is a comic yet poignant look at the challenges of extended family living in contemporary UK. [read the rest of this review below the fold] Continue reading

A Mutinous Look Back at 2007

There is no point to this picture except to consider it a reminder of how INSANE this year was.

Unlike many of you lucky bastards mutineers, I am at work today, so this might be one of the most compendious posts I will ever write (stop applauding, haterz).

For the last week or so, I kept hearing variations on “I can’t believe the year is almost over!”. I was feeling that way myself until I started to pore through our archives. Now I feel like this has been a very long year, one which lasted at least 365 days.

Can you even conceive of a time before Sanjaya? Believe it or not, there was, way back in the beginning of 2007.

Let that sink in.

NOW doesn’t it feel like January 17th–the last day that the mutiny was papaya-free– was a long time ago? Speaking of Sanjaya, he’s on the list. What list? The list I made of interesting, notable or significant posts from this year.

Without further contradiction of my use of the word “compendious”, here they are, for your procrastination and pleasure:

• Obama
• Sanjaya
• Gigi
• Aish
• Gogol
• Neyyappam
• Grace
Continue reading

Shalini Sparkles on “The Lot”

Okay, not sure how many of you are watching Fox’s kinda awful reality show “The Lot” right now, but I have to say, I’m actually glad I am. One of you let us know that our girl Shalini is up this week. This time, Shalini had to make a comedy, in just five days. Since she’s more of a documentary/serious filmmaker, this quite understandably freaked her out. However, once I saw the montage of her having trouble directing her short and then heard one of her actors disparage her, I knew she must have done a brilliant job, since that’s how transparent these stupid shows are.

Shalini’s film is called “Dr-in-law” and it made me do that “LOL”-thing those whippersnappers are always exclaiming. It really is funny– and extra awesome because the two main characters are both Asian…and neither of them are the doctor. I don’t require it, but if I can see myself in or otherwise relate to a piece of art, it’s that much more precious. Somewhere, a put-upon brown kid dreams of doing what she shot. ;)

Anyway, when the show is over, it will be time to vote– and if I’m not mistaken, there is just a two hour window after “The Lot” airs in your time zone in which to do so. Shalini went first, so her phone number will end in “01″ (and isn’t that fortuitous? I always feel like numbers ending in “01″ are superior, but I’m fobulous like that)…but who uses a phone these days, if there’s a way to do something online? What, you like your phone? Fine, dial 1-88-The Lot-01.

Some of us may be skeptical about Shalini’s skills, but compare her work to second, third and fourth the rest of the films in the competition (which, except for the last one, were all kinds of lame), and it’s hard to dismiss her talent; I found myself cheering at the TV repeatedly for the brown girl in the ring. It’s also hard to dismiss her glittery make-up, which inspired the title of this post. Feel free to discuss it (or her film, even) below. Continue reading

Skin deep

Last week I was standing in a bookstore, looking for something trashy and utterly mindless to buy. I picked up Deborah Rodriguez’s “Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil.” and read the first chapter, which was around all I could handle.

I realize that I was far from the target audience for such a book. I’ve never had a haircut in my life, and I’ve never been to a spa. I’m not a very sympathetic audience for stories about how the women of Kabul felt better inside because they felt more glamorous outside (well, inside their burkas). Furthermore, I am a guy, and this was a tremendously girly book:

When Deborah Rodriguez arrived in Kabul in 2002 as part of a charitable aid mission, what she saw appalled her… It was a land of bad haircuts, poorly applied makeup and no styling gel. To Rodriguez, a Michigan hairdresser with a can-do attitude, task No. 1 was obvious: get these poor people some beauty salons. [Link]

Despite my lack of personal experience with the topic, I was willing to suspend disbelief and work with the book’s basic premise, namely:

…hairdressing … is one of the few truly viable options for would-be female Afghan entrepreneurs. There’s a huge demand for such services, as many Afghan women sport elaborate hair and makeup styles under their burqas. At the same time, it’s work that can be done entirely in female company – a necessity in a segregated society. [Link]

My problem was not the subject but the condescending tone of the book. It was “City of Joy” meets “Steel Magnolias,” the usual story of somebody in the first world who finds their calling “helping” people in the third world, where the only purpose of the poor and unfortunate is to serve as a backdrop to the protagonist’s journey.

For example, the opening chapter tells of “Roshanna,” a friend who had been raped and thus was no longer a virgin. Roshanna was terrified of her wedding night, when eager crowds await a bloody rag — the telltale sign of virginity.

Ms. Rodriguez sprung into action, whipping out nail clippers, cutting her finger, dripping blood on a handkerchief and instructing Roshanna to place it under a cushion. When the time came, she could swap it with another one. The next morning, she writes: “When I rush into the hallway, I see that Roshanna’s mother is wailing for joy. ‘Virgin!’ she shouts at me triumphantly, waving the handkerchief stained with my blood. ‘Virgin!’ “… [Link]

C’mon now. Afghan women have never figured out how to fool their husbands with chicken blood after thousands of years? It took a spunky hairdresser from Michigan with a can do attitude to come up with this? Roshanna’s mother didn’t help her, and was even fooled by the simple deception? As if!

Continue reading

Our Foremost Political Philosopher

dineshbook.jpg“The worst nonfiction book about terrorism published by a major house since 9/11″ is what Warren Bass, senior books editor at the Washington Post (and, the byline notes, a former staff member of the 9/11 Commission), calls the latest from desi Talking Android nonpareil Dinesh D’Souza. The book is called THE ENEMY AT HOME: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, a title that begs little further explication. Indeed, Bass points out at the end of a sharp review that’s less blustering and more cutting than that of Alan Wolfe in the New York Times, the whole exercise of D’Souza’s book seems so plainly intended to cause a kerfuffle in the blogosphere that I feel tawdry even bringing it up here, despite the Desi Angle (TM). As Bass notes:

Either D’Souza is blaming liberals for 9/11 because he truly believes that they’re culpable, or he’s blaming liberals for 9/11 because he’s cynically calculating that an incendiary polemic will sell books. I just don’t know which is scarier. One has to wonder why his publisher, agent, editors and publicists went along for the ride, and it’s hard not to conclude that they thought the thing would cause a cable-news and blogosphere sensation that would spike sales — a ruckus triggered not despite the book’s silliness but because of it. This sort of scam has worked before (think of Christopher Hitchens’s gleeful broadside against Mother Teresa or the calculated slurs of Ann Coulter), but rarely has the gap between the seriousness of the issues and the quality of the book yawned as wide. This time, let’s just not bother with the flap; this dim, dishonorable book isn’t worth it.

And perhaps, indeed, it isn’t. Still, as the rituals of the publishing biz dictate, Brother D’Souza has been getting his publicity on since the book’s release last week. Yesterday he had an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle that begins with a piece of logical reasoning that might have done Descartes proud:

The Pelosi Democrats sometimes appear to be just as eager as Osama bin Laden for President Bush to lose his war on terror. Why do I say this? Because if the Pelosi Democrats were seeking Bush’s success, then their rhetoric and actions now and over the past three years are pretty much incomprehensible. By contrast, if you presume that they want Bush’s war on terror to fail, then their words and behavior make perfect sense.

Continue reading

InstaReview: SAWCC’s “In a State of Emergency?” Exhibition

sawccemergency.jpgEarlier this evening I checked out the opening of “In a State of Emergency? Women, War & the Politics of Urban Survival,” an exhibition presented by the South Asian Women’s Creative Collaborative here in New York. The show is up at the Alwan Center for the Arts in Lower Manhattan through December 9th. It features photography, video, multimedia and installation pieces by nine desi sisters: Salma Arastu, Meherunnisa Asad, Kiran Chandra, Mona Kamal, Bindu Mehra, Carol Pereira, Maryum Saifee, Tahera Seher Shah, and Vandana Sood.

I’ll go straight to the insta-review, dangerous as that is since I only just got back and the air-kissing, red-wine-in-plastic-cups opening atmosphere perhaps wasn’t the most conducive to critical contemplation (though I did stay away from the wine). So I hope other folks will chime in with their own impressions. Visually, I most enjoyed Shah’s “Jihad Pop” series of digital prints, with their stencils of desi and Islamic iconography set amid fields of sheer black and white. The most thought-provoking to me was Saifee’s series of “Postcards from the Middle East,” which she bills as self-portraits stemming from her experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Jordan: as she explains in the catalog, “my skin color made my authenticity as an American up for debate. On the street, I would either be mistaken as a Sri Lankan maid or as a Bollywood film star.” And I found Arastu’s “New York and I” series frustrating: visually fabulous in their superimpositions of New York street and subway scenes with armies of unhinged, chattering silhouettes, but marred by the poems written into each piece, which struck me as trite and superfluous.

The show is a project of SAWCC, the estimable organization that is now in its tenth year and that sponsors, among other events, the annual literary conference that a number of Mutineering types attended last year. SAWCC (pronounced, delightfully, “saucy”) continues to do the Lord’s work for culturally minded macacas, and they deserve all our support.

A show like this one, however, also suffers from self-imposed boundaries. It is imbued with a very 1990s, hyper-theoretical approach to the politics of representation that makes the inherent whimsy and improvisation of artistic creation — and, importantly, artistic consumption — feel secondary. The catalog essay, and the shorter version handed out on flyers, are nearly illegible, and I’ve got Ivy degrees and a reasonably honed appreciation for theory. It frustrates me no end — and this is not a knock on this exhibition specifically; far from it, it’s a common problem — when art is “explained” by its sponsors and presenters using language like this:

These increasingly paranoid urban spaces harbour fears of the irrational violence equated with terrorism, inducing a society of control in which surveillance, intimidation, and the erosion of personal liberty forces forms of resistance that employ the strategies of the absurd. Increasingly aware of the machine that governs and questioning the methods and motives of the state, the artists in this exhibition rely on the absurd, irrational, and uncanny to produce counter hegemonic narratives to ideological, religious, cultural, and social modes of control.

Like the artists of Dada, these contemporary practitioners respond to the presence of war, excess, and other degenerate transgressions of contemporary urban life. Like the women of Dada, they also respond to issues of identity altered by male repression and subjugation, aware of a world in which urban social orders are based on the governance of space, each system of control based on meta-structuring agents, making each space, city, and response, culturally specific. Such disciplinary systems of control exude masculinity, often necessitating a physical, emotional, and psychological domination of women, placing them in a “state of emergency.”

Got that? Read it again: It’s not gibberish, it just feels like it is. There is plenty of meaning, and indeed, a viable argument or several in those hyper-extended, comma-laden sentences. The problem is, those arguments are being beaten into us with the implicit presumption that, ultimately, there is a right way and a wrong way to apprehend this art. And that, plainly, is bullshit. For one thing, taken as theory alone, the argument above merits unpacking; it cobbles together numerous assumptions and interpolations about the world about us with verbs like “induce,” “force,” and “necessitate,” that are dead giveaways of a lack of interest in, or openness to, the serendipitous and the unexpected. Rigidity and art make poor companions, as previous uses of the word “degenerate” in the context of art criticism have made abundantly clear; and I think it’s a disservice to a whole class of potentially interested viewers, as well as to the artists themselves, to fence a potentially interesting exhibition behind such a grim gateway. Continue reading

DC Restaurant Review: Tandoori Nights

Tandoori Nights.JPG

Oy, I almost don’t want to write this– but I took so many pages of notes during my disastrous dinner at Tandoori Nights in Clarendon, that all that information deserves to be used. I know you’ll appreciate reading some of it, since our threads on dining, fine or otherwise are consistently popular. So let’s get this over with.

I’ve recently become an addict of EMS. I know, I’m the only one who has ever entered the store in stiletto heels, but what can I say? You can only spend so much time underground with Abhi before he begins to influence you. While I work up my nerve to (gulp) actually go camping for the first time, I’m going to keep frequenting EMS; for some reason, it makes urban-me want to be outside. Powerfully magical, I know. So between my forays to gear mecca and the container store (and yet– my apartment is still disorganized), I noticed that a potentially brown restaurant had opened on the second floor of the ritzy Market Common at Clarendon, just outside of D.C.

Yesterday, I decided to give it a shot, even though I was a little put off by the restaurant’s font. Yup, I’m that kind of dork. Why wouldn’t I be? If words are my life, the shapes of the letters which create them matter, too. I looked down at my outfit, which I had worn earlier to the amazing lecture Sajit blogged about at the Smithsonian. It was casual, but to me, so was the font. So imagine my shock when I tentatively walked through the front doors and saw a lounge sleek enough to impress, a distinguished man in a well-cut suit who looked like the manager and a mural of brown women on the ceiling which made me want to faint because I spent so much time craning my neck back to memorize it. “WOW,” I thought to myself, “it’s GORGEOUS.”

I simultaneously regretted my clothes while planning a meetup or party that just had to take place in this space. Much like it jinxes the shit out of my crushes on boys to imagine my first name with their surname, all of my moony swooning, my counting parties before they were hatched…well, it virtually guaranteed doom. :(

My friend and I were seated in a beautiful, semi-private room and were asked if we wanted still or sparkling. I opted for the first and the busboy blurted out, “it’s bottled”. Um, okay. I wasn’t sure what to do with that so I asked him what brand. He didnÂ’t know. When he came back, he said “Voss” and my pretentious-meter went off so hard it broke. How very glam. And everything on the menu was spelled properly! Well played. Continue reading