Monday, January 25, 2016

Dear Hollywood Entertainment Journalists: Bollywood is not synonymous with Indian.

Blame the blizzard, if you must. It's been so long since I've written one of these but today I can't help myself. So, my man Dhanush is going to be in some English language middlebrow flick also starring Uma Thurman. Thankfully I've only seen one usage of "Bollywood star" (so far), which was in that Variety piece I linked to but just in case other entertainment beat reporters are googling around for information about Dhanush, let me throw a few facts at you:

Bollywood is not synonymous with Indian. "Bollywood" is one of many entertainment industries in India. "Indian" is a nationality. Some Indian actors work in Bollywood; many do not. Some actors who work in Bollywood are Bollywood stars but some are better described as actors who occasionally work in Bollywood film. Most actors who work in Bollywood are Indian but not all of them are.

Here's a handy cheat sheet:

* Kunal Nayyar from the Big Bang Theory and Freida Pinto from Slumdog Millionaire are Indian actors but do not and have not worked in Bollywood. (Not Bollywood stars.)

* Kal Penn of Harold and Kumar, Aziz Ansari, and Mindy Kaling are all Americans. Archie Panjabi aka "Kalinda" and Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire are British. None of the above have worked in Bollywood film. (None are Bollywood stars.)

* Kumail Nanjiani is Pakistani. (Not a Bollywood star.)

* Irrfan Khan is an Indian actor who sometimes works in Bollywood but is better known for his artsier films. (Not a Bollywood star.)

* Anupam Kher is an Indian actor works in Bollywood ALL THE FREAKING TIME but he's better known a character actor playing fathers, crazy uncles, and villains, etc. I suppose you could call him a "Bollywood actor".

* Purab Kohli from Sense8 has worked in Bollywood but it's a huge stretch to say "star." He's much better known as a former MTV VJ. (Yes, they still have those in India.)

* Pitobash from Million Dollar Arm is an Indian actor who, like Irrfan Khan, is known for work in artier films. (Not a Bollywood star but he is a sweetheart.)

* Anil Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra have starred in many, many Bollywood films are legitimate Bollywood stars.

Dhanush is Indian and has starred in one legit Bollywood film (Raanjhanaa) and acted in a great Hindi language film (Shamitabh) but he's not a Bollywood star. His main fanbase and most of his best work is done in Tamil films, not Bollywood. You can call him a Tamil film star if you must but for a middlebrow arthouse film like The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir is set to be, why not respect him as an actor and just say "award-winning Indian actor Dhanush" or something and perhaps list some of his films. He has some great ones; his performance in Maryan was phenomenal for a start.

When Bollywood is used as a synonym for "Indian" it's not only inaccurate and lazy reporting but it also erases the humanity of actors of South Asian descent working in Hollywood and turns them into caricatures. Years of lazy and biased criticism have turned "Bollywood" into a huge punchline in the West and, sadly, that's not going to change anytime soon. I've stopped expecting useful discussion of any popular Indian film out of the Western media but at the very least they should be treating the actors who make those films (and the people who happen to share an ethnicity with the people who make those films) with some respect and dignity. Throwing the word "Bollywood" around at anybody with brown skin is not a useful descriptor.

The point is this: Bollywood is one of many film industries in India; Bollywood is not an ethnicity.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Christopher Wheeldon's "A Winter's Tale" : Kennedy Center 1/19/2016

One of my goals for 2016 is to make an effort to attend more live performances. Although I often travel to see performances--sometimes all the way to Japan--I realized I also needed to make more of an effort to see things locally. With my own performing days long over (unless somebody needs a trombonist) one of the greatest pleasures I have in life is being part of an audience and, lucky me, I have easy access to the Kennedy Center, a monument to a type of civic engagement with the arts that is almost extinct.

(Image from Kennedy Center website)

The performance I had the pleasure of seeing on Tuesday was the Canadian National Ballet’s production of choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A few thoughts around the Fitoor Trailer

After watching the Fitoor trailer, I'm tentatively on board the bandwagon. Although I admit that if it wasn't Katrina as the heroine, I probably wouldn't be as forgiving.

Here's the thing-- I like Abhishek Kapoor as a director. I loved Rock On and Kai Po Che and think he has a talent for wringing likable performances out of otherwise soggy actors. In other words, there's a good chance I might even find the notably soggy Aditya Roy Kapur tolerable. However. Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, on which the film is based, is a tricky work to get right. Much like Romeo & Juliet it is often misread as a modern romance, which it is not. This isn't poor boy meets rich girl, some troubles, happily ever after. Pip, the main character of Dickens's work, is a total dick... a fact that often gets left out of adaptations. He's the kind of guy who feels that the world OWES him things because he wants them, including the heart of a beautiful rich girl. Estella, the heroine, is often depicted as a cold-hearted bitch but how much of that is because we get given the story through that dick Pip's eyes? You know?

If Abhishek Kapoor understands the story this way, I'm going to be fine with this adaptation and with dickish Aditya Roy Kapur as the hero. Actually, as long as we're not supposed to sympathize with a dickish Pip, see Estella as cold-hearted bitch, and there's no "happy" ending, I'll probably be okay.

When I first read Great Expectations in high school, I did think it was a romance but coming back to it later, as a young woman with a little more experience in life, I understood that it wasn't. And over the years I have really grown to dislike stories of hearts "owed" to pining heroes or heroines, especially when they are "nice guys (tm)" like Pip, who is exactly the type of character to whine about getting friendzoned instead of respecting a woman's autonomy to chose whatever the hell life she wants for herself.

That said, over the weekend I re-watched one of my all time favorite films: The Cutting Edge. It's a film that's remembered fondly today by a large number of women but has gotten zero critical respect and I think that's a shame because it's a remarkable work. On the surface it's a romance. Kate, a cold-hearted figure skater, meets Doug, a hot-blooded hockey player. Shades of "Taming of the Shrew", right? WRONG. It's Doug, the prototypical American dude, who learns that "women's work" (aka figure skating) is not only really difficult but also worthwhile. It's Doug who learns to respect his partner as a human being, not just some babe for sleeping with, and it's Doug who falls in love first. Kate's growth has nothing to do with being "tamed" and everything to do with acknowledging her own emotions. It's an intoxicating fairytale of female empowerment and respect and one I return to again and again for that reason... as well as the fun of the figure skating, the humor in the writing, and the great performances.

What I'm saying is I don't dislike romances but I do dislike romances where the woman is an object to be won. Great Expectations is sometimes interpreted that way rather than how I see it: a cautionary tale about a dick who gets butthurt when he can't "have" a lady he wants. We'll see how Fitoor handles it. I like Katrina, Tabu, and Abhishek Kapoor enough to give it a chance.

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