Sunday, September 12, 2004

Bride and Prejudice PR Blitz

I am currently in London, awaiting onward travel to South Asia. I just entered the lounge and was basically hit in the face by the coer of the Mail on Sunday's (UK)cover. It features a quite colorful collage on the cover featuring the Indra Verma, bollywood star Namrata Shirodkar, and a larger image of Aishwarya Rai. The cover leads to a larger story/interview with Aishwarya Rai (and a brilliant photo spread)and her involvement in Gurinder Chadha's latest. Unfortunately, at this moment I cannot seem to be able to find the online version of this.

Additionally, Newsweek is running a piece on women in filmaking, a large component of which focuses on Gurinder Chadha and Bride and Prejudice.

When British director Gurinder Chadha started work on "Bend It Like Beckham," she was determined to prove that a film with an Asian star could be a mainstream commercial success. Now Chadha is taking her inventive melding of East and West a step further: her new film, "Bride and Prejudice," due out next month, features the Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai in her first English-language role, and transplants Jane Austen's 19th-century country-house classic to 21st-century India, Britain and Los Angeles. "I wanted to show that there is an alternative to Hollywood," says Chadha. "I wanted to do a Bollywood-style movie for audiences around the world. I thought because I would be introducing new concepts and styles, it would be best to use a story that people were familiar with."

I presume this is just the beginning of a larger PR blitz in preparation for the release of the film, which opens in the UK and in India in October. The Indian version is entitled “Balle Balle - Amritsar to LA!”

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Cowboys Fans Jeered... For Being Muslim

The Dallas Morning News (free subscription req) yesterday published this account of Dallas Cowboys fans, the Voras, who:

stood and cheered enthusiastically when U.S. soldiers were shown on the
big screens at Texas Stadium the other night during a "fan of the game" contest. A few seconds later, the Voras were thrilled to see themselves on the video screens at the Cowboys game as the final contestants in the fan popularity contest. "We were so excited," Hujefa said. "I'm a huge Cowboys fan. And to get your picture up on the Jumbotron man, that's every Cowboys fan's dream." But that dream was soured when some in the crowd that night booed and hissed the Voras because of their Muslim appearance.

The Vora's, who wore what they always wear to the four or five Cowboys games they attend each year. Hujefa, a physician, wore a head covering and his beloved No. 59 Dat Nguyen jersey. ("My absolute favorite Cowboy.") Insiyah, an elementary school teacher, wore a rida (ree-DAH) as she always does in public, a long skirt and hooded shawl. But you couldn't exactly call this a "traditional" rida . It's blue and white with silver stars and "Cowboys" imprinted on it.

The cold slap in the face came the next morning when Hujefa listened to his
favorite radio station, the all-sports "The Ticket" (KTCK-AM). "They were talking about this Muslim couple at the game that was oblivious to`the fact they were being made fun of," Hujefa said. "And I knew they had to mean us." Later he heard all about the boos from friends who were at the game. "But part of me still wants to believe the best. Part of me wants to believe the Cowboys showed us just to show the wonderful diversity of Cowboys fans."

When the reporter talked to a Cowboys spokesman last week, he apologized and said contrasting soldiers against the then-unidentified Muslim couple was unintentional and a lapse in judgment. But when Hujefa called the Cowboys office to discuss the incident, just hoping to understand what happened, neither call was returned. "I want something very positive to come out of this," Hujefa said. "Nobody loves this country more than I do, and I want people to understand that," he said. "You can be a good American and a good Muslim, too."

Read the full article here.

Emailing Blog Posts/ Mira Nair Directing The Namesake

For those of you that don't know, blogger has this nifty feature that allows you to blog directly from email. Since I will be travelling quite a bit for the next month, I thought I would try and test the feature with this post. Well it hasn't worked yet, so I am posting manually. Apologies if it ends up working later and leads to a double post.

Also, I thought I would note more Mira Nair news. Apparently Nair, the director of Vanity Fair, Monsoon Wedding, and Mississippi Masala, among others, has signed on to do a film version of Jhumpa Lahiri's brilliant The Namesake. (See Manish Vij's post from Sepia Mutiny for more details on this). Interestingly enough, Nair, according to Bombay's Mid-day, has selected another Bollywood beauty, Rani Mukerji, to play Ashima, the mother of the story's main protagonist, a Bengali girl who ages from her final teen years to the mid-40s.

The Namesake is about the Bengali-American experience in the US, or for that matter can be applied to many desi families experiences in the U.S.--particularly those who immigrated in the late sixties and early seventies and then stayed and made homes here.

Originally, after Vanity Fair Nair was supposed to go into a different project: a movie adaptation of American playwright Tony Kushner’s long political play Homebody/Kabul. However, the New York based filmmaker changed her mind because she wanted to do something Indian after Vanity Fair.

Nair is apparently coming to India next month to finalise the rest of the cast, though the male protagonist — a Bengali American Born Confused Desi — could be played by an Indian actor in the US.

DESIBLOG wants to "big-up" Nair, as she is definitely doing her part to help Desi artists make it into the mainstream.

Uniting and Dividing

This picture is from and entitled "Bush Supporters: Classy." Way too funny of a picture to not post. This is apparently a picture of a member of the audience pulling a demonstrator's hair as he forces her out of an auditorium where President Bush was addressing a crowd of supporters at Byers Choice in Colmar, Pa. I just noticed that the old man has this freaky look on his face and is actually using two hands to restrain the demonstrator. It seems as if he is almost living out some sort of weird fantasy.

Uniting, not dividing, right?

Friday, September 10, 2004

Mohini isn't the only Desi Olympic medalist

I am surprised to not see too much floating around in the blogosphere on 17 year-old British Desi Amir Khan's success in winning a silver medal at the recent Athens Olympics in Boxing. The BBC has published an in-depth piece on Amir, who is of Pakistani descent, and his biographical information. It makes for an interesting read.

Now, Britain's youngest Olympic boxer since Colin Jones in 1976 is firmly in the spotlight. That Khan is his country's only fighter makes the glare even brighter. But if he is feeling the strain, the graduate of Bury Amateur Boxing Club is keeping it well hidden. "I don't feel any added pressure. I'm just going to box like I normally do," he said. "All the media attention I'm getting is brilliant, it's everyone's dream at my age. All my mates are buzzing about it and everyone from school and college is proud of me. "I'm only 17 and it's an experience for me. At the next Olympics I'll be a lot more mature, a lot stronger and I'll also have a lot more pressure on me because I'll be tipped for gold." Refreshingly self-aware, Khan also realises the significance of his Pakistani background and what his appearance in a British vest could do for race relations. "Asians are thin on the ground in British teams and it's a big thing for me to get a medal," he said. "I hope it could push a lot of Asians into sport and show that, with the support of your family, as an Asian you can get anything you want."

And in other Amir Khan news, the BBC has announcedthat the 17 year old silver medalist will be the youngest contestant ever to feature in the BBC sports show Superstars, which is being filmed in Spain this month.

Asif Mandvi on His Faith and His Craft

The NYT ran an interesting profile of Asif Mandvi, one of the first desi actors to make it into mainstream this past weekend.
Mandvi's first lesson on the racism that can come with living in a community where you are different should have prepared him for his second. As a small Indian-born schoolboy in the working-class town of Bradford, England, he was often taunted and chased home from school by "the white boys." The experience, fading over time, rushed back to him after the attacks of 9/11, which produced a backlash that made him, as a Muslim, again feel the sting of being "an outsider."

But Mr. Mandvi, an actor, has reacted to what he sees as the current assault on Islam - born of indiscriminate fear and suspicion - by identifying with those who are attacked rather than those who are doing the attacking. "I never heard the word 'jihad' until it came out of the mouth of an American television reporter," he said, "and I was raised Muslim. I was never interested in being a political artist, but all this has forced me to become a more political artist. And it has made me a better artist.

I want to do work that is honest, work that allows people to see another dimension of life." To that end, Mr. Mandvi, who says he is in his 30's, is turning his one-man show, "Sakina's Restaurant," for which he won an Obie Award, into a film. "Sakina's Restaurant" is a comedy that chronicles life in a family-owned Indian restaurant, which in the movie will be set in Jackson Heights, Queens. "I think it is possible to portray Muslims without having to set them against the backdrop of a post-9/11 world," he said. "This is the story of an American family that happens to be Muslim."

Wouldn't it be great if we could return to this frame-of-mind?

Click here to read the full story.

Bhangra: Taking over mainstream aerobics?

BBC news reports on the growing Bhangra-cize phenomenon in the United States. From what has entered the popular music fray, Bhangra is now entering the mainstream excercise industry.

The traditional Punjabi folk dance is fast emerging as a popular alternative to regular aerobics among Americans and winning rave reviews from fitness experts.

"Bhangra aerobics provide a change from the routine that was created 30 years ago," says Dr Meg Jordan, a medical anthropologist, author and international health journalist. "Aerobics moves have hardly changed over the years and are notoriously boring. But this new fad is vivacious, dynamic and provides a break."

Aerobics bhangra was introduced to the US by fitness instructor Sarina Jain, who created the routine four years ago. She found the health market had all sorts of dance aerobic videos - from Latin to belly dancing. And now others are entering the fray. Veera Mahajan, from Massachusetts, has made an exercise DVD, which is available in all the leading stores. She got her inspiration from the dance parties her family hosted.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Aishwarya's L'oreal Commercial/Ash in Wax

For months now I have been hearing about the L'oreal Commercial starring Aishwarya Rai, but dubbed with someone elses voice for American audiences. I don't know how necessary the dubbing is, considering Aishwarya speaks English, and pretty well at that, but nonetheless, one step closer to Aishwarya making it into mainstream America. Anyway, right click on the link, and then open.

Aishwarya's Loreal Commercial

Additionally, The Times of India is reporting that London's legendary museum, Madame Tussauds, will make Aishwarya only the second Bollywood star--the first being Amitabh Bachchan to make into waxform and be placed in the Museum.

Aishwarya is elated. "It's difficult to put down what I'm feeling in words," she says. "But I am thankful to God and people who love me for what's happening to me. My journey to this position has been very enriching." Ash will be present at the installation ceremony, informs Juliet Reese, UK publicist of Ash's first international film Bride and Prejudice .

Pop Culture's Appropriation of Hindu Icons

I don't necessarily think the appropriation by popular culture of Hindu icons is always offensive. Any deity on a toilet seat, sure that is offensive, a deity on a t-shirt...I don't know.

Anyway, Time Magazine (Asia) recently published an interesting story on Pop culture's appropriation of Hindu icons and how "the faithful" is up in arms about it. The article is essentially a listing of some of the more recent examples of this, including Roberto Cavalli's ingenious Holy Bikini and undergarments which made a stir earler this summer, and were subsequently removed from the famed British department store, Harrods.

It's been five years since the spirituality-seeking Madonna, dressed in a sari and adorned with a tilaka marking on her forehead, sang a self-composed Sanskrit song at the MTV awards before a backdrop of Hindu god images—simultaneously raising the West's awareness of Hinduism and incurring the ire of the religion's faith police. Things Indian have only gotten trendier since. But as Madonna discovered, cashing in on Hinduism can be a mixed blessing.

To read the full article, click here.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

A New Desi Pundit

I don't know if any of you have been following PBS News Hour's election coverage, but by the looks of it, Fareed Zakaria is no longer the only desi pundit featuring on the mainstream American news media. Dr. Meena Bose, a professor of American politics at West Point, has become somewhat of a regular, joining presidential scholar Michael Beschloss, regularly for convention/election coverage.

A video of Bose on the show can be found here.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Mira Nair's Vanity Fair

Mira Nair's Vanity Fair, starring Reese Witherspoon and Jonathon Rhys-Meyers, opens at theatres across the country today. Nair gave an interesting interview to the New York Times Magazine's Deborah Solomon this past week. Actually, some of Solomon's questions are kind of stupid--but I will let you discern that for yourself.

Your new film, ''Vanity Fair,'' is based not on the magazine but on the great English novel. Reese Witherspoon plays Becky Sharp, one of the most conniving heroines in literature. As someone once said of Becky, she is not just a social climber; she's a mountaineer.
Becky Sharp was a girl who bucked the system. She didn't like the cards that society gave her. So she created her own deck, and created it at a time when a woman was supposed to sit still in a drawing room and hope a guy was going to come and propose.
You grew up in India and set films like ''Salaam Bombay!'' and ''Monsoon Wedding'' there. Were you drawn to Thackeray because he was also born in India?
When I was young, I spent summers in Calcutta and worked in political protest theater. And every morning, walking to my theater company, I would pass Thackeray's bungalow. There is still a crooked board there saying, ''William Makepeace Thackeray was born here.''
As an Indian citizen living in New York, do you see the U.S. as a force for good?
No. Islamophobia has completely raged in the Western world since 9/11. Americans are only given one very biased point of view about the Islamic faith.
You seem to be suggesting that Americans view all Muslims as terrorists.
Living in New York, we never felt foreign. After 9/11, we felt foreign.
Click here to read the full NYT interview.

A review of the film from the San Francisco Chronicle can be found here, and here is a larger profile of Nair from MSNBC.

Incidentally, rumor has it that Mira Nair has been offerred to direct the next in the Harry Potter series: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix